Life and Light: Shadow-Force Reborn (Updated Jan 24, 2011)

This is the place to recount your superheroic deeds for all to gaze upon with astonishment and wonder.
User avatar
Ionwind
Groupie
Groupie
Posts: 65
Joined: Tue Dec 11, 2007 2:36 pm

Postby Ionwind » Wed Oct 01, 2008 1:59 am

I look forward to reading the next installment.

User avatar
Libra
Cosmic Entity
Cosmic Entity
Posts: 19834
Joined: Tue Mar 22, 2005 1:46 pm
Location: The Green and Pleasent Isle

Postby Libra » Sun Oct 05, 2008 8:58 am

I second that! :D
Founder of H.E.R.O.I.C, Complimenter-in-Chief, Co-Arch Henchman to the Grin, Servant of the Hoff!

Rule Brittania! Praise the Hoff and the Grin!

Warning!: May cause Thread Drift.

User avatar
The Shadow
Luminary
Luminary
Posts: 2853
Joined: Tue Sep 02, 2003 8:36 pm
Location: Oregon, USA
Contact:

Postby The Shadow » Fri Nov 21, 2008 9:44 pm

I regret to say that my life has gotten so busy and hectic that while I sometimes find the time and emotional energy to play, I just don't have enough of either to write it up.

I'll post a new file on the timeline of the Shadow-Force world, but I don't know when I'll be able to post more game sessions.
"All right, I am not the Shadow. You have nothing at all to worry about. Except, oh, wait, I'm pointing a gun at you."

--The Shadow

User avatar
The Shadow
Luminary
Luminary
Posts: 2853
Joined: Tue Sep 02, 2003 8:36 pm
Location: Oregon, USA
Contact:

Postby The Shadow » Sat Nov 22, 2008 9:27 pm

New and long Shadow-Force timeline file up on the setting thread here.
"All right, I am not the Shadow. You have nothing at all to worry about. Except, oh, wait, I'm pointing a gun at you."



--The Shadow

User avatar
Libra
Cosmic Entity
Cosmic Entity
Posts: 19834
Joined: Tue Mar 22, 2005 1:46 pm
Location: The Green and Pleasent Isle

Postby Libra » Mon Nov 24, 2008 2:06 pm

I'll take a look. :D
Founder of H.E.R.O.I.C, Complimenter-in-Chief, Co-Arch Henchman to the Grin, Servant of the Hoff!



Rule Brittania! Praise the Hoff and the Grin!



Warning!: May cause Thread Drift.

User avatar
The Shadow
Luminary
Luminary
Posts: 2853
Joined: Tue Sep 02, 2003 8:36 pm
Location: Oregon, USA
Contact:

Postby The Shadow » Tue Sep 01, 2009 2:07 pm

Just to let you guys know, this game went on hiatus for quite a while, but now it's back! And in the summer, I don't have a whole lot to do, so I have the time to write things up. I can't promise this will remain the case come October, but we'll see.

I already have two long sessions written up, just waiting on SP's input to make sure I didn't forget anything. You'll have 'em soon!
"All right, I am not the Shadow. You have nothing at all to worry about. Except, oh, wait, I'm pointing a gun at you."



--The Shadow

User avatar
The Shadow
Luminary
Luminary
Posts: 2853
Joined: Tue Sep 02, 2003 8:36 pm
Location: Oregon, USA
Contact:

Postby The Shadow » Wed Sep 02, 2009 4:59 am

New post up on the Shadow-Force Files thread. It's the last of the ones I have, though who knows, there may be more in the future.

Should have the two new entries up either tonight or tomorrow.
Last edited by The Shadow on Wed Sep 02, 2009 9:51 pm, edited 1 time in total.
"All right, I am not the Shadow. You have nothing at all to worry about. Except, oh, wait, I'm pointing a gun at you."



--The Shadow

User avatar
The Shadow
Luminary
Luminary
Posts: 2853
Joined: Tue Sep 02, 2003 8:36 pm
Location: Oregon, USA
Contact:

4 - Smoking Mirror

Postby The Shadow » Wed Sep 02, 2009 9:08 pm

[Note that while this entry and the next describe two sessions, this first one combines part of both, to keep the adventure together. The remainder of the second session (a marathon in-person one) is its own entry. Also, the hiatus came between the two parts of the first adventure - this entry - so I had to fill in quite a bit to make the join, and move stuff around to make it flow better. I hope this isn't too obvious.]

Photon paused before leaping into action. "Hold on. Should we get Struthers involved?" Alpha: "On what basis? You've got a hunch based on the word of a precognitive terrorist." Jon sighed. "Yeah." "Don't get me wrong, I think it's a GOOD hunch. I agree with you we've got really serious trouble by the tail here. But we can't prove anything." "And I'm a civilian, too. If I approach him the wrong way, I'll have the cops breathing down my neck for stalking. Of course, when THEY do it, it's a stakeout..." "Yeah. You'll have to be careful not to get caught." "Alpha! I'm not talking about getting caught, I'm talking about doing what's right!" "It's a joke, dude. Breathe!"

Jon punched his palm. "Do we really have to wait for him to go on a rampage before we DO anything?" "No. We just need to be clever." "Yeah. Hmm. Well, first I guess we need to figure out if he's Steve or someone else. How good are you at analyzing voices?" "Pretty good." "Still got the tapes of our phone conversations on file?" "Yep." "So, are Steve and Mirror Mask the same person?" "Sorry, I can't tell. The mask distorts his voice too much."

"OK... For now assume he isn't Steve. Who could he be? Does Steve have any brothers?" "...No brothers, but there's a cousin, Richard, at the same address." "Hmm. How old?" "Nineteen." "Ouch! I hope I didn't call him a liar when he was telling the truth. Is he in college?" "...No, but he's employed as a shift supervisor at a Taco Bell." "Got a cell phone?" "No, but he has a land-line at the Fitzpatrick home. You do realize that my finding all this stuff out isn't 100% legal, right?" Jon sighed. "He's in the phone book, right? So no real harm done." "Fair point, but the employment stuff is a little different." Jon said uncomfortably, "Well, it's public information. I'll leave his Social Security number alone if you will." "Check."

Jon paced back and forth. "While we can't rule out a friend of Steve's, Richard seems like the best candidate at the moment. ... A cousin, huh? Why is he living with his aunt and uncle?" "That'll be really difficult to track down." "I'm just thinking out loud, sheesh. Well, how can we determine whether someone is Mirror Mask or not? We need a mage. We can't contact Mystra..." "...And probably won't be able to for several weeks." "Right. So who do we know?" "Shadow-Force had good working relationships with three full-blown mages I can think of. One is on a... vision quest." Alpha's short pause there spoke volumes of skeptical contempt. He continued, "Another's definitively out of contact for now. The third..." "Dr. Miracle?" "No, he's the one out of contact. You haven't heard? The Guardians are off in another dimension again." Jon rolled his eyes. "Great. Who's left?"

"The Texas Hex, or Tex-Hex for short." "A teammate of Pecos Bill and Lone Star?" "Yeah, the Texas Legends." "Well, give them a call, please."

A recorded voice came over Alpha's speaker, "Thank you for calling the Texas Legends. If this is an emergency, press 1." Alpha added, "It's 10 PM their time." "Oh, right. Well... I guess it can wait until morning. Not sure I'll be able to sleep, though." "Sweet dreams." "...Is there any good news out there?" Alpha said brightly, "No sign of Enigma the last few days!" "You're just my regular bluebird of happiness, aren't you?" "It's a gift. When're you coming in?" "Six AM." "Gotcha."

At six, the call repeated the same recording, then added, "Please stay on the line, your call is important to us. We will be with you in approximately two minutes." Three and a half minutes of Muzak later, a chipper answering-service rep asked, "Thank you for calling the Texas Legends, how may I help you?" "This is Photon up in Seattle. I need to talk to the Texas Hex." "I'm afraid this is his day off, and he really doesn't like to be interrupted. Is this an emergency?" Jon replied with a certain barbed cheerfulness, "Well, it'll probably develop into a city-destroying menace in a week or a month or so, does that count?" "Well... If it can wait a week, would it be all right if he called back tomorrow?" Jon made an incoherent sound of astonishment, and she said apologetically, "He REALLY doesn't like to be interrupted on his day off."

"OK, let me put it this way: Yes, it is an emergency." "I'll put you through," she said with a long-suffering I-tried-to-warn-you tone. After a moment, a bleary hung-over voice said, "This is th' Texas Hex. Whatta you want?" "This is Photon from what remains of Shadow-Force in Seattle." "Don't give me none of that, son. Ever'body knows that Shadow-Force is done disbanded!" His Texan accent was so thick it couldn't be cut with a knife - something more like a chainsaw would be required.

Photon explained patiently, "Yes, I'm all that's left, along with X-97 Beta." "Fahn. What's th'emergency?" "Have you ever heard of Forestrike?" "...Ain't he some sort of psi-onic feller you guys fought ever' now and then? A pre-cognitive?" "That's him. Anyway, he sends us letters now and then warning us about things to come. His latest letter warned us to beware of a villain named Tezcatlipoca..." "Hail, son, Tez-catli-poca ain't a villain, he's an Aztec gawd!" Jon contained his long-suffering sigh. "Indeed. And we've got a new hero in town now who calls himself Mirror Mask. He's got a demonic-looking mask with a mirror finish that's changing to look more Central American..." "Wall, hail, son. Stop raht there. Central Amer'can, I'll give ye that. But 'Smokin' Mirror' refers to ob-sidian, not what we'd call a mirror." "Okay... all the same, I think we've got a really dangerous situation developing here. If I'm wrong, I'd be glad to know it, but I need a mage to tell me."

After a deep sigh. "Fahn. Will it all keep from blowin' up for another day?" "I have no reason not to think so." "Then Ah'll catch a plane there tomorrah. That good enough?" "Yes. Thank you very much." "Where'll Ah meet ya, anyway?" "We're still in our base for now." "I thought it was done shut down." "It's in the process of being decommissioned, yes." "Okee. Ah think Ah'c'n find it." "I'll be glad to meet you at the airport..." "All raht. Ah'll send ye a heads-up about when Ah'm comin'. Ah think y'won't miss it ver' easy." "Sounds good, I'll see you soon." Click.

Jon sat down wearily. "Why do people have to be so difficult?" Alpha replied, "Aw, you wouldn't want to be bored by uniform helpfulness, would you?" "Yes?" "Well, you're in luck: I have a bit of good news." "Let's hear it. I could use some." "We've had an applicant to join the team. Sounds promising, too." "Hmm. Tell me more." "She's calling herself 'Flora', but she'll probably want to change it - the name's taken by a hero in Boston. First level registration, been active a couple months." "Flora? She has plant powers?" "Sounds like it. She wants to set up a meeting, and she's come up with a non-witless method to contact us. Sent us a letter with no return address, and we call to a series of public phones at a certain time each day until we get her." Jon agreed, "She's no Mirror Mask. Of course, it's awkward with Tex-Hex coming. Maybe we can get her in tonight or tomorrow morning?" "On it, boss."

Jon went in to work - that is, he flew there in light-form and reformed in an out-of-the-way spot in his civvies, then walked the rest of the way. He was working at his computer, wrapping things up to start his approaching office hour, when a small imp poofed into being next to him and piped shrilly, "Tomorrow, Flight 645, 3:20 PM! Tomorrow, Flight 645, 3:20 PM!" Before Jon could react further than dropping his jaw, it poofed out again.

A student poked his head in the door. "Hey, Dr. Winters. What was that sound?" Jon closed his mouth and said, "Uh, I clicked on a link in an email, not realizing it led to a YouTube video. Ha! Ha! Crazy things don't even make any sense half the time. What'll they think of next?" "What was it saying? Something about numbers?" Jon said brightly, "Just some math humor. Did you have a physics question?" "Oh! Right, let me get out my stuff..." Crisis averted, Jon thought, and wiped the sweat from his brow. Tex-Hex must have a sick sense of humor... that, or this was his idea of revenge.

Heading in to the base (having already informed Alpha of the message), he learned, "Flora's coming in at 7. Oh, and a package and a letter arrived for you." "A package, huh? From where?" "Some sort of foundation here in town. And the letter's from a kid, by the handwriting." "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?" "If you're thinking about Forestrike's warning about mail, then yes." "Got it in one."

Between the two of them, they tested the package within an inch of its life, examining it with multiple wavelengths, X-ray vision, microscopic vision, field sense, and extensive chemical tests in Alpha's lab. The results, almost disappointingly, were uniformly negative. Ditto for the letter.

Opening the package gingerly, Jon found a box of imported chocolates and a letter from the foundation thanking him for preventing Enigma from doing more damage to the museum than he had. The chocolates proved to be non-toxic, so Jon tasted one. It was good. Finally he relaxed. "It's nice to be appreciated." "I'll bet. Dang, I'm gonna have to design myself a sense of taste one of these days." Jon clutched the box. "Hands off! It was addressed to me, chip-boy!" "Sheesh, some pal you are..." They both laughed. Alpha asked, "What about the letter?"

Jon opened it too, and his heart melted. "Awww. It's adorable!" It said in crude writing in crayon, "Dear Foton, I think yuo ar kool! BILLY" and had a misshapen drawing of Photon firing a laser beam at what appeared to be a reptilian monster. He held it up for Alpha to admire. "Mike always got gooey over those too. He was popular with the kids - friendly ghost, and all that." Photon tacked it up on the bulletin board. "Well, I should probably respond, huh?" "Oh yeah. People really remember it when they hear back from you." So Jon dictated a polite letter of thanks to the foundation, and sent Billy an autographed photo along with a brief note of encouragement.

He was in a sunny mood when 'Flora' walked in the door. She had long brown hair and was wearing a costume resembling a one-piece swimsuit, along with a three-quarters mask, gloves, and boots, all in subtly-varying shades of green. Looked to be college age or a bit older. He greeted her warmly and introduced himself (as Photon), getting her a cup of coffee as they sat down. "So tell me about yourself. What are your powers?" She replied, "I discovered about a year ago I could speed up the growth of plants - I've always had a green thumb. Since then, I've learned to animate trees and other plants and can produce toxic clouds of pollen." "Toxic how?" "Like allergies on steroids. I can give people severe coughing fits, even knock them out." "Interesting. Do you have any way of getting around?" "I can have an animated tree carry me. They can run faster than you'd think." "How fast?" "I've chased down cars before." Jon blinked. "Wow, who'd have thought it?" "I know, right? For things that spend their lives rooted in the ground, they do seem to like to stretch their limbs. ... Pardon the pun."

Jon laughed. "Well, I confess myself intrigued. I see you've been registered a couple months. How's it gone for you?" "No serious problems. I can turn my skin hard like wood - bullets don't hurt much in that state." Jon nodded. "Anything else I should know?" "Well, I can photosynthesize too. Makes a handy addition to the mask, and it lets me heal somewhat faster in sunlight.." She demonstrated, turning her skin and hair leaf-green, and Jon's heart suddenly froze with premonition. He kept it out of his eyes and voice, though, and said lightly, "I can produce sunlight if necessary." "Good to know! I don't use it much - I prefer to taste my carbohydrates! - but it's handy in a pinch."

Jon nodded. "By the way, the name 'Flora' is taken. There's a hero in Boston by that name." "Oh, drat. I was afraid of that. Well, how about 'Dryad'?" Alpha informed Jon, Hero in a small Chicago team, and Jon passed on the information. 'Flora' sighed. "I'm out of ideas for now, then. I'll have to think of something." Jon sent, You got any ideas? Alpha returned sharply, Oh, I don't know. How about... 'Jade'? You saw that too, eh? Oh yeah. 'Nephrite' suits her all too well.

Photon drummed his fingers on the table. "I think you could make a good addition to the team; I definitely think we should try some joint patrolling to see how things go. This week is likely to be crazy, I'm afraid - I'm in the middle of an investigation - but how about we pick up after it dies down?" "Sounds good! Thanks for giving me a chance!" "My pleasure. Just have a codename settled on before we start, or the press will likely pin one on you! It's never a pretty sight." "I'll do my best! See you in a week!" She bounced out of the base, looking excited.

Alpha asked bluntly, "What do you think you're doing? We were both suspicious!" Jon leaned back in his chair. "She's either on the level, or she's planning to betray us. If the former, we need her. If the latter, well, 'Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.'" Alpha whistled in appreciation. "Jon! You're getting devious!" "Heh. I've spent a year around the best, haven't I?" "Oh yeah. It's just... interesting."

That night's patrolling was uneventful. Jon took some time away from work the next day to turn up invisibly at the airport, at the gate Tex-Hex would be arriving at. Sure enough, a tough-looking older guy stepped off the flight wearing a duster and a wide-brimmed hat. He scanned the crowd warily, looking for all the world like he'd stepped off the set of a Western. Photon said quietly from above his left shoulder, "I'm right here." The Texas Hex abruptly whirled on him with an upraised glowing hand, silver runes flaring to life all over his duster. "Son, don't ever be sneakin' up on an old man like that." The man quieted down his costume and glared at the people staring at him until they went about their business, then strode away decisively. Jon said softly, "Serves you right for your 'heads-up'. I was at work!" "Heh heh. Ah told it to be sure to arrive when you were alone, what're you complainin' about?" "People overheard it!" "Wail, Ah can't help that, now can Ah?" He sounded entirely too smug, and Jon let it drop.

Arriving at the base (Tex proved able to fly, after touching one of the runes inscribed on his coat), Jon made him at home and added, "Tex, meet X-97 Alpha. Alpha, the Texas Hex." Alpha: "Charmed." "Heh. Not yet... Wait jest a minute. X-97 Alpha?" "That's me." Photon: "We don't talk about him much. Keep his existence under your hat, if you would." Tex: "Wail now. Mah hat is extra-special large and capacious, as you can see." He tipped it and added, "Ah can see how an AI feller could be handy to have around! But how 'bout you fill me in on this Tez-catli-poca thang?"

They showed him the security videos, and Tex got grimmer and more serious as he examined them. "Ah'll tell y'straight, Photon. Ah thought you were jumpin' at shadows. But... Y'know how they say a gunman gets an itchy trigger finger? Wail, wizards get it too. An' let me tell you, that mask done gives it to me raht proper. Ah got me a powerful feelin' there's a-gonna be killin' afore this is over." "Let's hope it doesn't come to that." "Raht. Looks like we've caught him early, though. Ah don't think he'll be bendin' anyone over an altar within the next few weeks, anyway. Give me the rest of what y'got." They did so.

"So what's th'plan?" "Well, can you scan the mask to tell what it's doing to him?" "That Ah can. But Ah'll have to get right up close-like, say fifteen feet or thereabouts." "OK. So we need to confirm that Richard is Mirror Mask, and somehow get you within range of him. ... You know, I've considered getting Struthers in on this. I mean, Mask admitted to me he'd been doing illegal vigilante work. It would give us a chance to bring him in." "Wail... I dunno there, Photon. It'd be a kinda rotten thang to do, raht? And he'd jest clam raht up." "Yeah, that's what I figured. Well, we know where Richard works, and we know Mirror Mask goes out at night to fight crime. I guess we can stake out his house. If he happens not to be Richard, we should know soon." "Sounds good t'me. We start to-naht, Ah reckon?" "Tonight, yes. What's your registration level?"

Tex replied, "Second, but Ah'm out of mah juris-diction. We'll have t'be careful not to get caught." Alpha snrked and Jon rolled his eyes. "I swear you two are in league to corrupt my morals!" Tex grinned and put his feet up. "Wail now, Ah reckon we can be nice li'l choirboys an' wait for Mirror Mask to start sharpenin' his knife, or we'c'n take a few steps afore that happens." More seriously he added, "Ah ain't sayin' the rules ain't important, Photon. But we've got the rules to preserve people's rahts, y'see? An' the way Ah figure, it's powerful hard to have your rahts more violated than havin' yer heart done cut out. If we'c'n stop that by keepin' an eye on someone's house fer a spell, Ah say no harm done. Ain't like we plan on makin' off with the silverware."

Jon sighed. "I guess you're right. But I just... don't like it." Tex nodded. "Make sure y'never do. Know what yer doin' with eyes open. But never get t'likin' it, or you maht end up joinin' those int'restin' characters in Stronghold." "Never happen. My costume's much too tasteful." Tex threw back his head and roared with laughter. "Y'never said a truer word! Most o'them villain fellers cain't figure out color co-ordi-nation to save their lives!" "What is it with all the purple, anyway?" They fell to joking and exchanging stories about supervillains they'd fought until Alpha informed them that Richard's shift was nearing an end.

They turned invisible and flew out. Jon sent, You've been awfully quiet, Alpha. What's up? Tex's presence seems to disrupt my circuits; it's unpleasant. Almost like a migraine. Yikes. Should we mention it to him? Maybe he can tone it down? I'll live. Just get Mask sorted out. Okay...

Photon: "Can you sense the mask when it's inactive?" "Nope. At any rate, I cain't sense nothin' in the house as of yet." Soon Richard arrived back home and Jon got his first look at the young man's face. Black hair, brown eyes. Confident, but not nearly so overbearing as with the mask on. Was that psychological, an effect Photon knew well from his own costume, or something more?

They waited. After several hours, Tex said, "Ah'm powerful hungry, Photon. Let's go get some grub." "You go - we might miss him." "No worries, son. Ah'll leave a magic sensor. If he puts that mask on, Ah'll know." "Well... all right." "And none o'that Micky-D's, neither!"

Photon led the way to a steakhouse, alighted, and shifted his costume back to his civilian clothes. "No harm in goin' in super, son. But jest as you like..." Tex willed the runes on his duster to quiescence and soon he was tucking into a hefty steak. "It ain't no Steak'n'Bake, that's certain, but it tain't bad atall, neither!" "Glad to hear it. You know, as long as I've got you here, do you mind if you pick your brains on another topic?" "Son, for this fahn steak, you can ask me anythin' you please!"

"I'm wondering if you can give me any advice on fighting Enigma." "Enigma... Rune-caster, ain't he?" "Yes." "Wail, y'c'n never go wrong shootin' whatever the rune's on. Done spoils the whole spell, if'n y'do it raht. Mind, if th'rune is carved into somethin', don't get fancy and try to X it out or nothin'. Don't add to the lines of the rune, is what I'm sayin', just muss it up general-like. That help?" "Yes, actually. But I've also heard multiple sources describe Enigma as a sorcerer, too - a spirit summoner. How's that fit in?"

Tex frowned. "It means he's a raht sneaky basta'd, that's what it means." "How so?" "Ah reckon he's usin' the runes for his bread and butter, y'see what I mean? But he's got what y'might call an in-surance pol'cy. He's worked out a few deals with some spirits - unpleasant ones, Ah'm guessin'." "Demons?" "It's as good a name as any, an' better'n most." "So how does that figure into my tactics?" "Wail, see, it's best for a sorcerer to take things nice an' slow, cut a deal that he's fully prepared for. Enigma might have some spells he'c'n activate through existin' deals o'that sort. But if you press him, back him into a corner, he might feel the need to make a deal quick-like - and that's never a pleasant thang. He could end up owin' a service his ownself."

Jon mused, "The last time we fought, he started to teleport out, and I tried to stop him. I don't think he knew I could do that..." "Haw! Good one!" "Anyway, I could get a sense of him through it, and he seemed... scared." Tex grinned and pounded the table with his fist. "Son, you may jest have ruined his whole week! He maht be workin' off a debt in a Hell-dimension as we speak, and it does mah heart good to hear!" "Hmm. If so, he'll come back mad, won't he?" "Mad for shore... an' scared. Mad, scared villains make mistakes. Mark mah words, Photon, if we're raht, you've put the fear o' Gawd in that scumbag."

"Let's hope he puts it to good use." "Amen and amen!" "It's good talking with you, Tex. You're much easier to deal with than Mystra." "Now Mystra, she's an odd duck." "Yeah, what's the deal with her anyway?" Tex said matter-of-factly, "Ah reckon she's made a pact with a pretty int'restin' spirit. Magic don't never come without a price, Photon." "You're saying the way she talks..." "It's part of her pact." "What sort of spirit would want that?" "Ah dunno for certain. Maybe a spirit of cha-os. Or jest one with a strange sense of humor. Or hail, maybe even the spirit o' the 60's, for all Ah know." Jon blinked. "Wait... You're saying there's literally such a being as the Spirit of the Sixties?"

Tex studied Jon for a second, then said, "How 'bout we jest say there is, so as to prevent mah blowin' yer mind." Jon blinked several times. "Too late... You already have." Tex chuckled tolerantly. "Son, I don't doubt there's plenty o'things you know a lot more about than me. But spirits... I could tell you about 'em all naht long, and you'd only have jest dipped your toe in. It is jest not possible for you to have a grip on the subject, seein' as how you've not had any trainin'. I mean, you could prob'ly tell me somethin' about nuclear physics to-naht, but it'd jest be stick figures and pretty pictures compared to the math in y'head, am I raht?" Jon sighed. "I see your point."

They started heading back to the Fitzpatrick house. "No word from your sensor?" "Not a peep." "Huh. I wonder why he's not heading out tonight?" "Who knows? Maybe he's off on a date. Young men do that, I hear." "So I'm told." Tex grinned. "Wail now! Either you're way too pent up, son, or else you've got one o' them 'altern-ative lifestyles' I keep hearin' about." Jon rolled his eyes. "Relax, you're safe." Tex stood upright in the air, gripping the lapels of his duster and grinning wider. "Oh, Ah don't know! Ah fancy Ah cut quite the fahn figure of a man!" "I've got a girlfriend." "Wail, shucks, is she open to new thangs?"

Jon laughed despite himself. "You're a piece of work, Tex." "Ah do try. Stakeouts are always easier with a sense of humor, Ah always say." "Yeah... I know what you mean. It was always easier to be on patrol with the Phantom or Chameleon than with Erebus or Bazooka." "Ah hear that. Lone Star's all raht, an' Bill, he's more fun than a bag o'snakes, but Johnny Reb... Don't get me wrong, he's a fahn upstandin' feller, but he's so intent on bein' the puhfect Southe'n gentleman that th'stick up his... Wall hail." "What?" "My sensor... it's done burned out and Ah never noticed." "Burned out?" "Yep. Ah think... when he put the mask on, the pulse o'magic done overwhelmed it." "That... doesn't sound good." "It ain't. Not even a li'l bit. We gotta find him." "Well... I can do a quick search of the city for him. Should only take a few milliseconds." Tex nodded, unsurprised. "Be about it, then."

Jon took light-form and zipped hither and yon... incidentally finding a burglary in progress. "Oh good grief." He materialized and shone a spotlight on the guy. "Ahem." The burglar lunged for a gun, and Jon rolled his eyes and stun-zapped him. The guy flopped about and struggled to get the gun out his holster, but it was stuck. Another zap put his lights out. Jon had Alpha call the cops and waited patiently for them to get there and take the man in hand, then returned to Tex-Hex.

"Sorry for the delay. Crime waits for no man." Tex nodded easily. "Ah went and counted the milliseconds, an' gave raht up at a thousand. Figured somethin' important came up." "Let's head back to the base and get you a communicator in case we're separated again." They did so. "I'll try taking another look. Hopefully everyone'll be upstanding citizens the next few seconds..." "Don't count on it, but good luck!"

This time, as Photon sped through the city, he saw something odd - something not awash in the blue of shifted wavelengths. He saw an inky hole of a man, frozen in the act of fighting a thug. It reminded Jon almost of Erebus for a moment, but then he saw the characteristic shape of the mask. He materialized above the heads of the combatants, turning invisible and telling Alpha and Tex his location. Tex said over the com, "Try to keep him there, Ah'm teleportin' toward you in jumps. It'll be a bit!"

The fight was soon over. Jon noticed that every time Mask struck the man, his hand or foot would shimmer with light. The young hero brutally beat the man, but stopped once he was unconscious. He turned toward the thug's erstwhile victim, fading back into his normal coloration. "You OK, ma'am?" "Oh, yes, thank you!" She took out a cell phone and dialled 911.

Mirror Mask shifted nervously on his feet, then ran to a nearby wall, catching at handholds and hauling himself up to the roof. The woman said, "Wait! You aren't going to leave me here, are you?" "I'll, uh, wait up here. Don't worry."

Jon chose that moment to reveal himself, flying in visibly and alighting next to Mask. "Hey, nice work." The young man started, tensing up. "Oh. Thanks, I guess." "Your powers seem to be improving." "Yeah. I hit a plateau for a while, but I've started to get the hang of it again. I'm getting a lot better, and fast." "Maybe we need to discuss teamwork, then." Mask ducked his head to his chest and said quietly, "I don't think you want me any more."

That response from the formerly arrogant teen hero alarmed Jon. He asked gently, "Why not?" After a pause, "The cops are after me. I... think I killed a guy. I didn't mean to. I just hit him and..." He shuddered. Jon reached out hesitantly and gripped his shoulder. "That's rough, man. Want to tell me what happened?" Mirror Mask wrestled within himself, then poured out, "This girl... she was on the ground, bleeding...! Her clothes were torn open. I... just lost it. I wasn't thinking straight. I hit the guy. I wanted to hurt him bad..." His shoulders shook.

Jon said quietly, "Hey. I'm sorry it happened." He didn't know what else to say, so he just stood there, offering his presence. Mask finally said, "I don't know what to do." Very gently, Jon told him, "Listen, maybe you should talk to the cops. Running away is not the solution." "I can't! I-" "Hey, we and the cops are on the same side, right? Give them a chance." "Maybe..." Suddenly Mask's head shot up in alarm for no reason Jon could sense. "Crap! Gotta go!" He wrenched himself free of Jon's grip and ran along the rooftop, Jon flying after. "Wait! There's someone I want you to meet!" Mask leaped off into empty space, heading right toward a window lit up by a streetlight.

Jon stared in amazement as the window... rippled... and Mask vanished without breaking it. Shortly afterward, Tex teleported in. "Where is he?!" "He's... gone. Vanished into that window." Tex cursed foully under his breath. "Ah can feel the traces of magic. He's gettin' strong. Ver' strong." Just then the cops arrived and the two heroes went down to answer their questions, Jon rapidly filling Tex in via communicator. They gave the cops the story, and were told, "If you see Mirror Mask again, tell him we just want to talk to him. He's a material witness, but hasn't yet been charged with anything." "We'll do that, officer."

Back at the base, Tex grilled Jon on everything he'd heard and seen. "A plateau, huh? Let's hope raht hard that it wasn't the killin' that got him past it. That... would be bad." "Oh my goodness! I hadn't even thought of that." "Now, you said you could sense a teleport. Did you feel anythin' when he hit the window?" "No, not a thing." "Wail, that narrows it down. Did you notice if he had a reflection in the mirror?" "I'm sorry, I didn't." "Damn. That leaves me with three poss'bilities." "What are they?" "Either he moved into another dimension, or else he's mirror-jumpin'." "And the third?" "A variant on mirror-jumpin', the details aren't important."

"So what do we do now?" "Time is of th'essence, Photon. There's no tellin' where he's at raht now." "Well... I think the time's come to contact Struthers and get the police up to speed." "Agreed." Jon called in, but Struthers was of course off duty. He was directed to a Captain Smith, who heard him out but said, "Not enough to go on. Struthers can deal with it in the morning." "But..." "But nothing. You capes are trouble, and you're Struthers' headache, not mine."

Jon sighed when the man hung up. "Great. Well... We know where he lives. Do we call, or visit in person?" Tex shrugged. "You've spoken with him, Ah haven't. What d'you think?" Jon pondered. "Let's call. I think he'll find it less threatening." He did so, and Richard answered. "...Hello?"

"Hello, Richard." "Who is this?" "We spoke earlier tonight." "...I work in the service industry, I spoke with a lot of people tonight." Jon said gently, "This is Photon..." "CRAP!" Click. Jon shot Tex a desperate glance, then shimmered himself into the zero-point.

An eternal instant later, Jon shot around the house at luminal velocity. He didn't feel right entering the house... What to do? If Mask left the house, he could follow... He solidified, and gingerly used his X-ray vision to figure out where the young hero was. He had the mask on and was... lunging toward something out of Jon's field of view... he was gone. It was... a full-length mirror. Oh... darn!

He returned and reported failure to Tex, crestfallen. "Did y'see if he left a reflection?" "No. I'm sorry." "Buck up, son. It happens. What's th'plan now?" "I... can search the city more thoroughly." "We don't know if he's in the city, but it's worth a try." So Jon spent half an hour going through the Seattle area with a fine-toothed comb at light-speed, but came up empty. "He's gone. I don't know what to do!" "Only one thang to do at this point, Photon. We go in tomorrah mornin' and report to this Struthers feller. Hopefully he's the understandin' sort." "We? It's my city, and I'm the one who screwed up." "Look, Photon. Ah don't want you to go in alone, a rookie ownin' up to a mistake. You need to build reputation here, and that won't help. If Ah'm with you, a vet'ran so to say, it'll look better. And it's nothin' but the truth, raht?" "Yeah... I guess so." "'Sides, it's like that Smith feller said. The cops know we supers are loose cannons, it's in the DNA. Sometimes lit'rally!"

Struthers heard them out impassively; Tex did most of the talking. Jon could tell the older man was doing his best to take the heat on himself, and writhed inwardly. Eventually, the captain sighed. "Enough already. You screwed up; you know it, I know it. Do better in the future, and keep me in the loop, dammit! But for now we need to figure out how to proceed." He paused and held up a sheet of paper. "A warrant for Mirror Mask's arrest. I've been sitting on it for a few days, to give him a chance to talk to us before we haul him in. It'll go much easier on him if he does, but I can't sit on it forever." Photon cleared his throat hesitantly. "Captain, I think if he knows everyone's after him, he'll just get more scared and disappear. The longer you can hold off, the better, I think." The Texas Hex nodded and backed his play.

Struthers pondered. "All right, Photon. We'll try it your way. If you can tell me he's not a threat to my officers." Jon said carefully, "I don't think he would willingly hurt a cop, or anyone else but criminals, and even them not seriously. But I also have the impression that he has episodes where he loses control." "Oh, wonderful. Why can't they ever be predictable?" "In any case, he isn't in the city now." "If you come across him, you'll contact me straight off. I'll leave orders for them to wake me if I'm off duty." "Yes sir."

Once again back at the base, Tex stretched and said, "Nothin' to do now but catch up on our beauty sleep." "I guess. I don't know what to do next... I have no way of knowing when and if he even comes back to Seattle!" "That's somethin' Ah'c'n help with. Get me a map of th'city." Jon looked at him quizzically, but obeyed. "Spread it out, and mark for me where the base is." "Right here. Why?" The Texas Hex drew a small compass out of a pocket of his duster and blew on it gently. A rune on its back glowed red, and he set it down on the location of the base. The needle spun lazily around and around. "If'n our friend Richard comes to town with the mask on, the compass will start glowin' and the needle will point raht toward him." "Thanks, Tex. That'll help." "Ah aim to please."

That afternoon, Jon saw Tex-Hex off to the airport. "It's been a pleasure, Tex." "Same back at'cha, Photon! Keep me informed about Mirror Mask, if you would be so kind. Ah'm profess'nally int'rested at this point. And if you need help in dealin' with him, do let me know." "Thanks. And if you guys need help of the electromagnetic variety, well, Texas isn't far at the speed of light." "Thank you kindly! We'll be in touch."

Jon told Alpha later, "Keep a camera on that compass." "Way ahead of you. If Mirror Mask comes to town, I'll let you know right away." Jon sighed. "I just wish... He could have been an ally, even a friend." "Who knows? But that mask probably has other ideas." Jon shrugged. "Erebus had to deal with a hostile force constantly pushing him toward violence. He did OK." "...Most of the time." "Yeah."

"Good night, Alpha." "'Night, Jon. Don't beat yourself up too much. He got himself into this whole mess, not you." "Yeah, I know."

[According to SP, calling Mask had a decent chance of working, but he rolled poorly on the reaction. Ah well.]
Last edited by The Shadow on Tue Sep 15, 2009 4:19 pm, edited 4 times in total.
"All right, I am not the Shadow. You have nothing at all to worry about. Except, oh, wait, I'm pointing a gun at you."



--The Shadow

User avatar
The Shadow
Luminary
Luminary
Posts: 2853
Joined: Tue Sep 02, 2003 8:36 pm
Location: Oregon, USA
Contact:

5 - Dragon's Egg

Postby The Shadow » Wed Sep 02, 2009 9:17 pm

[Note that this is the second of two new entries. See the one above first.]

The weekend after the Mirror Mask debacle, Alpha said, "You might want to check out the 'Seattle Supers' site, Photon." A well-known, meticulously researched website, run by someone who identified himself only as 'Pagemaster'. Jon sat down at a workstation and pulled it up. "Why, what's up?" "He's got some new info on you, and it's scarily accurate."

Jon read for a bit and blinked. "You're not kidding. How could he possibly have grounds to speculate I fly using gravity?" "Follow the link. He gives his reasoning in detail." Jon did so, and found that since he didn't leave a visible trail like many energy-based heroes, and because there were no reports of his presence interfering with electronic devices, he was unlikely to be using electromagnetism to fly. Nor did he seem to be using a device. As supporting evidence, Pagemaster presented the fact that Enigma had been able to drain some of Photon's powers, but not all. "Wow. I can't fault his reasoning, but..." "Yeah. Too close for comfort." "He does villains too - is this good for his health?" "Well... Everybody knows the federal government maintains a first-class database on supers. I guess people figure nothing he says is likely to be worse than that." "Yeah, but villains don't get to look at the government files - at least, I sure hope not! I don't want anyone reading this and getting ideas." "Read on."

Jon found some very shrewd guesses about his light-form - not all correct, to be sure, but not far from the mark. And speculation (based on Photon's diction and phrasing) that he, Jon, was either a scientist or a super-genius. Overall, Pagemaster's coolly-given opinion was that Photon had been widely underestimated, and sported much greater power and versatility than anyone in the super-fan community had suspected. "Good grief, he even knows I've worked with the Texas Hex!" "Yeah, several super-blogs picked up that sighting of Tex in the Seattle airport. Speculation has run rife."

Checking out a few other heroes, he found that Mirror Mask had also gotten some recent treatment - with the conclusion that his powers had improved, but that he was dangerously arrogant and soon to be in trouble with the police. (Pagemaster's speculation matched Jon's own - that Mask had gained the ability to stay phased, only phasing in parts of his body to strike his foes.) Jon shook his head. "This isn't my idea of a public service. Still... freedom of speech." "Yeah. I'll keep an eye on it for you."

"Anything else in the media I should know?" "The press has figured out the location of your super-battle with Enigma. The police have it blocked it off as a hazardous site, though." "Yeah, I saw the reactions to my skywriting." The Times had written an editorial on the dilemmas involved in contacting a criminal at large; the Post-Intelligencer had written up the skywriting neutrally, but then also printed an editorial on 'Supers and Egotism', which, while it didn't name any names, was clearly pointed in Photon's direction.

Jon got up and stretched. "So - patrol time?" "Not just yet. We're waiting for 'Flora', or whatever her name is." "Oh, right. Her first test, I guess. If she isn't here by 7, I'm leaving without her." He needn't have worried. The green heroine bounced in eagerly at 6:30. Jon nodded. "Welcome. Have you come up with a codename?" "Is 'Demeter' taken?" Alpha? Greek heroine in the 60's. Nobody current. Jon passed on the information, adding, "It should be fine." "Great. Ready to go?" "When you are." Jon gave her a communicator and showed her how to use it. Then they went outside, where she animated a tree off the base's grounds. It lifted her into a fork in its branches, which shaped itself into something resembling a throne. "Let's go."

Photon flew on, pushing the pace a bit - sure enough, the tree could make surprisingly good time. Didn't seem to do any property damage, either. Suddenly a car screeched up, and a man with a press badge leaned out the window with a microphone. "Photon! Are you and her working together now? Are you still working with the robot? Are you lovers?" Jon groaned - an infamous 'ambush journalist'. "No comment, no comment, and no comment. Go away." He and Demeter ignored him for a while, then after an interminable drone of questions, Demeter subvocalized into her communicator. "Let's lose him. Cut through the park?" "You're on." Demeter animated a new tree, sending the old one shambling back home to the base grounds. "Sheesh. Does that happen often?" "No. I've... never really been the glamorous type." "You'll have to get used to being the popular kid in town." "I guess."

The rest of the patrol was uneventful. Upon arriving home, Alpha asked, OK, just what did you DO? Hm? I've got no less than three reporters on the phone right now, clamoring for an interview. And they're not the first. Wow! They let super-battles pass, but a simple patrol with Demeter is News? Maybe it's a slow day? I dunno. Oh, and one of the hopefuls is your old friend Chris Perkins. ...That takes a lot of nerve. That's what I said. Here's how he responded:

Alpha played back the phone call, Perkins saying, "If you look into it, you'll find I filed an injunction against the Post-Intelligencer for mangling my story." Alpha: "Yes, and I also find that it was rejected." Perkins sighed. "They found a loophole in my contract, there was nothing I could do. I have a new airtight one now, one that gives me final cut." "We'll want to see it before we promise anything." "...I'm afraid I can't do that, there's a non-disclosure built in. You'd need a subpoena to see it." "Well, don't call us, we'll call you." "Wait! I-" Click.

A secret contract? That smells fishy. Agreed, and I don't even have a sense of smell! Can you get Carlton Legal on that? I think it might be interesting. Will do.

Demeter asked, "Penny for your thoughts? You're quiet all of a sudden." "Oh... sorry. Just pondering the ramifications of fame. Have you had much contact with the press since you started hero-ing?" "None, really, except..." She flushed. "Well, Hustler asked me to appear in a special issue, 'Women in Uniform'. I turned them down flat." Alpha to Jon: April 2007. ...You read Hustler? I read everything, I'll have you know.

Jon cleared his throat and said, "Didn't..." then gave it up as a bad job. "Oh heck. Go ahead and talk out loud, Alpha." "Your funeral, boss." Demeter looked around for the voice, eyebrow raised quizzically. Jon told her, "X-97 Alpha." "Oh! That makes sense now! Is he another robot?" "No, the base computer. Anyway, Alpha here apparently has a dirtier mind than I'd thought..." "Hey now! Ask yourself who I could have gotten it from!" "...Anyway, he says that 'Women in Uniform' appeared in 2007. Didn't you say you'd only started hero-ing two months ago?"

Demeter, having finally spotted one of Alpha's cameras, faced it and cocked her head. "...You read Hustler?" Alpha put on a playfully defensive tone, "Hey, obviously I picked it up from meat-boy here! My chips are made from the finest, purest silicon, I assure you. Pity me, the victim of organic corruption." "Oh, you poor thing. You're so corrupted with organic filth you forgot that there was going to be a 'Women in Uniform II' later this year." "...Whoops. Well, obviously it's all meat-boy's fault." "Hey! Leave me out of this!" "Alas, but-" Then, via radio, Photon, Technoid's energy construct is going crazy. Get in there and check it out NOW!

Jon was off like a shot. "Demeter, trouble! Stay here!" She's following you. Lock the internal doors down, Alpha. Done. Then, out loud, "Get me Carlton Research on the line! And Moke!" "Dialing. What's going on?"

Skidding to a stop in front of the energy construct, Jon noticed that the shield-rings were rotating significantly faster than ever before. Simultaneously reading the gauges and opening his field senses to the max, he reported, "There's a major power spike occurring every two seconds or so, at regular intervals. It's redlining the gauges, but only very briefly as each spike passes - tapping the far end and bouncing back. Why the HECK is he using analog gauges?! He MUST be crazy!" [Heh, that last bit was me jabbing SP a little. :)]

Alpha: "I've gotten them to wake up the guy in charge of Research. I've dealt with him before. His name's Dr. Norton, and he's a serious prick." "Joy. Put him on." "What the hell did you DO, you pitiful excuse for a light bulb?!" "Nothing! Just get OVER here with a team, and fast!" "I'm driving too fast as we speak, moron! Just... don't touch anything!" Jon rolled his eyes and told Alpha to hang up. "Do you have Moke?" "Yep, he's still waking up." "Moke, Photon! We've got a serious situation here with a dangerous device of Technoid's, and we need FAQ up here RIGHT NOW!" "Calm down, Photon. How dangerous?" "Act-of-God dangerous! Hiroshima-and-Nagasaki dangerous! Be-on-a-different-continent dangerous!" "...I'm sending FAQ up there right away." "Thanks!"

That done, Jon actually did start to calm down a little. There wasn't anything he could do, after all, except watch. The construct would change color slightly - shading from yellow toward blue-white - with each pulse of power. "Alpha, how's the compass?" "No change, why?" "Because this would be the worst possible time for Mirror Mask to show up?" "Right, our good friend Murphy. And now that we've checked, it won't happen?" "We can hope. What's Demeter doing?" "Pacing back and forth."

Jon went back to the Situation Room and tersely filled her in. She snapped at him, eyes blazing, "Thanks for letting me know! If I'm part of the team, don't go running off like that!" Photon told her levelly, "You're not part of the team yet. When you are, I'll let you know. ... But it may be that we'll need your help tonight, so I would ask you to stick around." "Fine!"

Alpha said quietly, "Uh guys?" In unison, "WHAT?" "I really, really do not want FAQ to know I exist. He's cocky and he likes to tinker, and frankly he scares me. Please keep me under wraps." Demeter finally grinned and levelled a finger at the nearest camera. "Okay, but you owe me, chip-boy." Alpha emitted a long-suffering sigh. "Never a mention of Hustler again, I promise." "That'll do. For starters." Alpha to Jon: You know, whether or not she's evil... she's still evil, you know?

Just then they were interrupted by Norton and his team screeching up in a van. "Photon! Help me move this equipment into the lab! You'll just be in the way otherwise!" Jon rolled his eyes and started to use magnetism to float it over. "No, idiot! With hands! Unless you want to foul up my readings? Or are you just trying to make this crisis harder than it already is, is that it?" Jon shocked himself by saying with terse authority, "Norton, SHUT UP. You're wasting time, and we have no time to lose. Now get to work!" To his further shock, Norton shut up and obeyed. Jon helped carry the equipment in, then tried to stand out of the way as the research team went into action. Occasionally he reported on the information his special senses gave him, and once he proved he knew the lingo, they tacitly accepted him as one of their own.

Soon FAQ swaggered in, replete with high-tech armor, weaponry, and goggles. Looking to Photon, he asked, "Who're these bozos?" "Carlton Research division." The young hero rolled his eyes. "Great, the amateur brigade. You, over there! Yes, you. Brief me." Norton started to go apoplectic again. "You're involving THIS twit?" Photon laid down the law again. "We don't have time for turf battles! Work together and like it!" He strode out of the room, disgusted.

FAQ followed after. "Can you believe it? They want me to sign an NDA!" "So sign it." "Fine! But I need to print it out, it's on their website." "Sure. Al-" Jon clamped his lips shut before letting the rest of the word out. FAQ stared at him. "Al?" Photon pointed, "Uh, the printer's over there. It's being taken care of." "Al?!" "Look, FAQ, we don't have time..." "Al?!?" Demeter subvocalized into her communicator, "Oh, how very much you owe me." She came and took FAQ's arm, leading him away and batting her eyelashes at him. "Listen, we can explain all about Al another time, all right? For now, we need to get this energy thing taken care of." FAQ allowed himself to be led away, absentmindedly accepting the NDA from Jon. "Well, OK, but..." Jon and Alpha let out simultaneous sighs of relief.

Demeter came back out and said, "Okay, we're going to have to tell him something about 'Al'. What's our story?" "Hmm... Maybe it's a nickname of yours? I clammed up because I didn't want to compromise your secret identity?" "Works. Oh, and Alpha?" She licked a finger and scored another point in the air. Alpha only said, "Yeah, yeah." Evil, I tell you. I think I like her.

Photon went back in the lab and was amused to find FAQ interrogating Norton about the situation in a way calculated to be effective with the man's choleric temper: He would simply dismiss anything Norton said as stupid, which prompted further angry denials... and more information, as the man tried to justify himself. Jon had to admit that it was faster than trying to reason with the guy, so didn't intervene. But at length as he listened, Photon realized something with a sudden shock. "Uh, FAQ? You do realize that Technoid is in that thing, right?"

FAQ raised his eyes to the heavens and said in an I'm-surrounded-by-idiots tone, "Now see, this is what we call a 'detail'. 'Details' are good. I need 'details' to do my freakin' job already!" The teen gadgeteer flew into action, setting up something resembling a laptop and plugging it into the control panel of the construct platform. "That is just what I needed to know. If he's in there, he has to be shielded... Yep, there's a second field in there, I'm getting readings on him..." A blurry picture of Technoid appeared on the screen of the laptop and text and numbers flashed past faster than the eye could follow. "Hmmm. There's some bio-sensors around here somewhere. Where are they?" Photon showed him the device with the parabolic emitters on cables. "Could this be it?" "It'll do. Space these around the construct, will you?" Photon did so rapidly, 'hanging' them in the air with magnetic fields. "Ooh, didn't know you could do that. Can you get them in a symmetrical configuration?" Finally, FAQ started to get a second stream of data on his laptop.

The young man whistled. "Wow. He's making some hardcore changes to his genetic structure. What's that all about?" A bit more tinkering, and suddenly he sounded nervous. "Wait - the door! There's supposed to be a force field there! What happened to it?!" Photon told him, "We shot it down to get in here..." "Crap on a stick! Everybody out! NOW, people! Run! It's gonna blow!" The authority in his voice, combined with the following of his own advice, got through to everyone, even Norton.

FAQ added, "Photon, you gotta put up another force field! It's our only chance!" "Right! Do I need to be on the inside or the outside?" "Well gee, I dunno! Can you take 25 million rads?!" "Yes, actually." FAQ blinked at that unexpected information, but rapped out, "Well good for you, Sunshine! I CAN'T! In or out, but get that field UP!" Jon flew out the door and rapidly tried to explain to the spacetime continuum what he wanted it to do. His previous experiences with "force fields" had been notably mixed, but shortly he had... something... covering the door that his X-ray vision couldn't get through. "Okay, I hope that's good en-" He was interrupted by the explosion.

It was monstrous, far worse than Jon had been expecting. His field bowed outward, glowing with bright streaks as it strained to the breaking point. Jon poured his will into supporting it, joining himself to the quantum void for an instant, his mind racing down the null geodesics he was accustomed to travel in light-form. His whole being shaped itself into the single purpose: HOLD!

It was over before the light of the blast even had a chance to imprint itself on the observers' retinas, much less be processed by their brains. But they eventually saw in a split second the field's improbable distention before snapping back into place. FAQ licked his lips and said quietly, "Yeah. Thanks, man." Jon took a moment to reply as he came down from quantum-gravitational exaltation. "...You're welcome."

After a little more processing, he asked, "What just happened?" FAQ shrugged helplessly. "It got done, whatever he was doing. He came out." Photon let his field lapse, and the smoke of vaporized machinery boiled out; he toned down the temperature for the others only half thinking about it. He strode in, followed by FAQ and Demeter, and more hesitantly by Norton and a couple of the other scientists.

A humanoid form strode to meet them, obscured by the rapidly diminishing mists. It was hairless and unclothed, but showed no primary or secondary sexual characteristics - indeed its skin was smooth and unbroken by detail, a rough statue carved from something with a dull metallic finish. Its eyes were dark pools.

Jon asked hesitantly, "Scott?" It looked at him impassively, then spoke, its voice clear and neutral, devoid of organic timbre: "'Scott'. Yes. Once I was called by that name. It is no longer fitting." "...Technoid?" Again that voice devoid of all passion except mild interest: "That name is somewhat more appropriate. It will serve for now." Ignoring the others, the thing found a flat metal panel on the wall and pressed its palm to it. "Ah. Good. The Internet connection is still active." Jon was still the only one with the courage to speak: "What are you doing, Technoid?" It told him neutrally, "I am downloading the Library of Congress." "Why are you doing that, Technoid?" "I want to understand humanity. It is so... imperfect. And yet so interesting." "Is that why you changed yourself?" "Yes. I needed to understand."

"Scott..." Almost gently, but not quite, the thing told him, "No. I am not 'Scott' any longer. 'Scott' was imperfect." "And now you are perfect?" "I am a good first attempt at perfection. There is so much I must learn." "...I'll be right back."

Jon went with controlled haste to the Situation Room. I sure hope the Guardians are back from their dimensional jaunt! He manually pulled up a connection to the Guardians in Washington, getting a receptionist. "This is the Galactic Guardians of Washington, D.C. How may I help you?" Jon said urgently, "This is Photon in Seattle. We've got a situation here..." The screen went blank, and simultaneously a chirruping sound came from one of Alpha's speakers. "Oh.... DARN!" (Jon briefly wondered what it would take to get him to overcome his childhood habits and actually cuss, then decided he didn't want to find out.)

"Alpha?" No response. "Alpha?!" Nothing. But that sound he'd heard haunted him... he was still a little high from his quantum-mystical experience, and it niggled at him somewhere deep below conscious thought. Not sure why, he willed himself into light-form... and all became clear.

Alpha had sent him a rapidly compressed speech, and somehow his memory had retained it all. But wondering how was swallowed up in horror at what his friend had to say:

"Jon, this is probably my last message. He's strong, much stronger than I am, and he's overwhelmed both me and Beta. I don't think you will ever be able to trust either one of us ever again." Alpha paused to let that sink in, then continued urgently, "He noticed you calling the Guardians and is using your voice and image to convince them everything's OK. He's locked down the base completely. Jon, he's downloading information on nanotechnology and genetics. I think he wants to redesign humanity from scratch. He is evil, Jon - coldly, rationally, unblinkingly evil. I don't think there's anything left of Scott in him. You must stop him. He's mostly made of nanites; I think he'll be vulnerable to hard radiation."

Alpha paused again. "There's a lot I'd hoped to say, but you can probably guess. If I had tears to shed, I'd be shedding them. You're my friend, Jon. Good luck, and go get him!"

For several subjective minutes, Jon gave in to despair. His last friend in Seattle, his true companion, the last founding member of Shadow-Force! He bounced around the base unseeingly and unthinkingly, the outer walls too heavily shielded to let him pass through. But gradually, gradually, he pulled himself together. No. I will not let Alpha's sacrifice be in vain. It will not happen!

Jon pondered and laid plots as the picoseconds ticked slowly past. First, he streaked by Beta's charging station, to see if Technoid could use him to attack... 25% charge, not nearly enough. Excellent. Passing by the lab, he noticed that FAQ was surreptitiously reaching behind his back for a rod that looked to be a weapon.

Next, true to his codename, he shot over to the central electrical junction box of the base. (Erebus had insisted it not be accessible from the outside.) You may have trapped me inside, Technoid, but you've trapped yourself too! He materialized just long enough to reduce it to slag, then returned to light-form. Hopefully I'm not giving Technoid much time to react, though I have to assume he can think really fast too. Now, the backup generator will come on in a few seconds - we can't have that.

Streaking over to the generator, Jon materialized again and blasted it to oblivion. Apparently his rage was fuelling his powers, as he hadn't expected it to vaporize completely. Ah well - light-form. Now, Alpha's repair-bots will get a new generator module in eventually, but it'll take them at least ten minutes. One way or another, it'll be all over by then.

Dialing his laser configuration up to the highest-energy gamma wavelength he could manage, Jon surveyed the situation in the lab before taking action. Some dim lights were still on, probably battery-powered. FAQ was in the process of falling backward to the floor, his armor sparking, his face twisted in a grimace. Demeter was dodging for cover, Norton and the scientists were scrambling to get out of the lab. Technoid itself had a hand upraised toward FAQ, its face impassive as ever. All right, you son of a- No. I won't change my ways for your sake. Take this, you JERK!

Materializing behind the shell of his former friend, Jon cut loose with a titanic blast of cosmic rays. Technoid's 'flesh' withered visibly under the onslaught, and it staggered. But its voice remained calm as ever as it said, "Photon. So you are responsible for the power loss." "That's right," Jon told it with a deadly calm rage. "You have gained control over your light-form, I see. Remember the time you ended up beyond the orbit of Jupiter by accident?" "No. No stories, no tales of old times. You're not Scott. You're just a... thing." Meanwhile FAQ writhed and sparked, and Demeter inched toward him to pull him to safety.

Technoid replied mildly, "If only you could see how much better it is," and extended its hand. A spray of scarcely-visible nanites boiled forth, and Photon's dodge-subroutine kicked in, but didn't get enough distance - Jon's right shoulder and upper-right arm were caught in the spray, and he screamed. He could feel the microscopic machines dissolving his flesh, changing it into something new and horrible, but he didn't let that stop him from firing off another blast of hard gamma.

Once again, the thing that had been a man lurched on its feet and its flesh visibly melted before the blast. "Yes. Your power has increased. There will be a place for you in the new order." "SCREW THAT!" Jon shouted, but then screamed again - the nanites continued to eat into him and he fled into the timeless null-spaces traversed only by photons. Frantically he tried to 'edit' the nanites out of his system, but they resisted his efforts; in his pain he bounced back and forth uncontrollably between the walls of the lab. Thank... goodness... I don't... get dizzy... in this form!

He reformed just in time to see Demeter spraying a cloud of pollen at Technoid's face. (She had managed to drag FAQ halfway to the only remaining, half-melted large piece of machinery in the lab.) To his amazement, Technoid was actually staggered by it, reeling and clutching its throat. But as they watched, its nose and mouth smoothed out and faded from its face. "A valiant attempt. But it will not serve you ag-" Jon's blast to its face cut off its words. (It didn't seem to need a mouth to speak.)

They fought in silence now - there was nothing more to be said. Jon continued to blast away at Technoid, and Technoid continued to spray its deadly nanites. Jon succeeded in dodging a couple times, then got hit again and shrieked in redoubled agony. Demeter got FAQ to cover and watched warily, unsure of what to do next. Jon understood - there was no plant life in here at all, and her pollen looked to be useless. He sent to her communicator, "Get the scientists in good order. If you can get cell-phone reception in here, get help! Otherwise, hold tight." "Got it, Photon," she said, and worked her way cautiously to the door.

Jon tried blinding Technoid with dazzling light, and was surprised when it actually worked. "Can you do without your eyes too?" he taunted as he continued to dodge about and take potshots. "Not as easily," it admitted. "But I can." Suiting actions to words, it moved to the equipment FAQ was hidden behind and wrenched it easily out of the ground. Jon shot it again and it dropped its burden under the onslaught, tipping the multi-ton weight toward FAQ... Photon caught it with magnetic fields and slammed it into Technoid with all the force he could muster. (Technoid itself proved to be non-ferrous, unfortunately.)

Technoid was heavier than it looked - it caught the enormous hunk of metal easily and just skidded a little, instead of going flying. "Idiot," it observed, and raised the massive thing to throw. Almost in despair again, Jon fired a final desperate blast, and to his amazement, this one worked beyond hope. Technoid swayed, then crumpled to the ground, the heavy chunk of metal flying wild and landing with a loud CLANG! Before his eyes, the sculpted form started to collapse inward on itself.

A brief excursion to light-form once more, and he finally managed to rid himself of the nanites and restore the worst of the damage. "Demeter! Get in here! Can you wake FAQ up? Create pollen like smelling salts or something?" "I can try!" "You do that and I'll look for a medkit!" He needn't have - Demeter sprayed something at FAQ's face, and he sat bolt upright at once. "I'm awake!"

Jon said urgently, "Then get over here! Technoid is melting away, I think it's dying!" FAQ struggled to his feet with Demeter's help. "OK, I see your point. I'm finding it a little hard to care just now, though." "I know. But if there's anything at all of Scott left in there, we owe it to him to try." "Right." Between FAQ's technical wizardry, and Photon's use of electric and magnetic fields at his instruction, Technoid congealed into an amorphous blob of... whatever it was. Jon asked hesitantly, "Is it... alive?" "There's patterned electrical currents going on in there, they look purposeful. It seems to be thinking." "Okay..." "Now, can you put a magnetic bottle around it?" "It's not ferrous..." "Duh. That's to keep it from communicating with the outside world." Definitely seeing the point in that, Photon managed to do so. By this time, the adrenaline was wearing off... he wasn't much steadier on his feet than FAQ was. (Though he had healed the worst of the damage, his arm still looked ravaged and a large chunk of his costume was gone.) FAQ for his part looked to be crashing off the stimulant Demeter had given him; the two heroes suddenly leaned on each other drunkenly.

Demeter shepherded the walking wounded out of the lab, into the hall. The scientists crowded around them and Norton wrung Jon's hand. "Thank you. We'd be dead if you hadn't..." "S'alright," Jon slurred. "Talk later. Gotta get outta here." Demeter said patiently, "Yes, we know. There's no cell reception. How do we get the door open?" "Ummm. I could shoot it down maybe?" "I think you've done enough shooting for one day, Photon." "...Okay."

Demeter took charge. "FAQ, can you override the door controls?" "Sure, I think?" She peered at him as he swayed on his feet. "Photon, can you shine a light in his eyes for me?" "Oh, sure." Jon had trouble keeping his finger steady, but Demeter got a good look at FAQ's eyes. "Oh, great, you're concussed. Well... This should be easy for somebody as smart as you, right?" "Uh huh." FAQ fiddled with the door controls until finally it opened. "Easy as pi. 3.1415...something." He had to do it one more time and then they tumbled out into the open air. Norton whipped out a cell phone and called 911, demanding cops, ambulances, and anything else he could think of.

Jon revived enough in the cool night air to take light-form again and heal himself the rest of the way. Materializing next to Demeter, he said quietly, "Welcome to the team." She smiled warmly at him, "Thanks, you too." "Yeah." Jon remembered Alpha and nearly lost it, then pulled himself back together. "Something else we need to do." Borrowing a cell phone from one of the other scientists, Jon dialled 1-800-STRNGHD, showing it to Demeter. "Remember that number. It's important." "Got it."

"Stronghold Rapid Response." "This is Photon in Seattle, Washington," and he gave his registration number. "I'm sorry, Mr. Photon, but at your registration level I cannot scramble a Rapid Response Team on your say-so. Are the police on the way?" "Yes." "Then give me the details and we can start prepping. Give this case number to the police and they can give the go order." Jon tersely outlined what he knew and gave the address. "That sounds straightforward. We will be onsite as soon as we get the go." "Understood. See you soon." "Good hunting, sir."

Photon and Demeter watched quietly as flashing lights and sirens approached. "So that's it," Jon murmurred, feeling numb. He wasn't sure just which of many possible things he was referring to.
"All right, I am not the Shadow. You have nothing at all to worry about. Except, oh, wait, I'm pointing a gun at you."



--The Shadow

User avatar
The Shadow
Luminary
Luminary
Posts: 2853
Joined: Tue Sep 02, 2003 8:36 pm
Location: Oregon, USA
Contact:

Re: Life and Light: After Shadow-Force (Updated 9/2/09)

Postby The Shadow » Mon Sep 07, 2009 10:55 am

Anybody still reading this? Anyway, barring unforeseen complications, we will game again Wednesday evening (this last Wednesday SP had work issues), and with any luck there will be a new update by the weekend.
"All right, I am not the Shadow. You have nothing at all to worry about. Except, oh, wait, I'm pointing a gun at you."



--The Shadow

User avatar
The Shadow
Luminary
Luminary
Posts: 2853
Joined: Tue Sep 02, 2003 8:36 pm
Location: Oregon, USA
Contact:

Re: Life and Light: After Shadow-Force (Updated 9/2/09)

Postby The Shadow » Mon Sep 07, 2009 4:04 pm

New post over at the Shadow-Force Files thread, on the Freedom Squad.
"All right, I am not the Shadow. You have nothing at all to worry about. Except, oh, wait, I'm pointing a gun at you."



--The Shadow

User avatar
The Shadow
Luminary
Luminary
Posts: 2853
Joined: Tue Sep 02, 2003 8:36 pm
Location: Oregon, USA
Contact:

Re: Life and Light: After Shadow-Force (Updated 9/2/09)

Postby The Shadow » Thu Sep 10, 2009 5:00 pm

Good news! We got our game on last night. It ended up a bit short, though; I'm pondering combining it into one big post after next Wednesday's session, to tie up some of the loose ends.

Fun session, though. You don't often see the aftermath of a super-battle in the comics.

I've also got a few new Shadow-Force Files threads in the pipeline, once SP gives the OK.
"All right, I am not the Shadow. You have nothing at all to worry about. Except, oh, wait, I'm pointing a gun at you."



--The Shadow

User avatar
The Shadow
Luminary
Luminary
Posts: 2853
Joined: Tue Sep 02, 2003 8:36 pm
Location: Oregon, USA
Contact:

6 - Rapid Responses

Postby The Shadow » Mon Sep 14, 2009 11:33 pm

[Having written up the last session, I think it can stand alone just fine. So here it is!]

[Note: This is occurring Saturday night.]

The paramedics arrived and started checking FAQ's vitals. With his helmet and goggles off, you suddenly realized just how young he was; a sandy-haired kid who could've just stepped out of one of Jon's first-year physics classes. (Except, of course, for the fact that he didn't need it.) He offered his hand to Photon and said blearily, "Thanks again, man." Jon clasped it firmly. "Are you kidding? Thank YOU. If you hadn't been here, a big chunk of my city might be gone." The young man nodded faintly but was obviously having trouble focussing. One of the medics said, "Mr. FAQ? We're going to have to take you in for observation tonight." The details of getting in touch with the Protectors and so forth were worked out, with Photon helping fill in a lot of the blanks. FAQ agreed to stop by again in the morning before heading home to Portland.

Shortly thereafter, the cops showed up, notably Struthers. Photon shook his hand. "Didn't expect to see you tonight, Captain." "Dispatch thought it sounded like this was worth pulling me in. What happened?" "First things first - I've got an RR Team needing the go-order." "Right - well, give me the run-down first. I'll catch flak if they don't think this was worth it." Jon nodded, and said with a sigh, "It's Technoid. He's gone evil." Struthers rolled his eyes. "What is it with the Super subculture, anyway? You ever hear of anyone else just up and 'going evil'? You guys make it sound like getting a new hairstyle or going through a phase or something."

Jon blinked. "I guess it does sound strange, when you put it that way. But for now..." "Right, that's more like a six-beer conversation. So, fill me in." "He's mostly made of nanites now. Can spray them to try to turn you into... something else. Not sure what, but I can tell you it hurts like crazy." "Nanites, huh? Any shapeshifting?" "At least some. He could reconfigure his face at least." "Okay... What'd he want?" "As far as I can tell, he wanted to remake humanity." "Huh, can't say he's not thinking big. Anything that would make him hard to hold in a jail cell?" Jon shrugged wearily. "He's ultra-strong. I saw him lift something that weighs a few tons." "That's good enough. Give me the case number." Jon did so, and soon it was phoned in. Struthers added, "One of you will have to stay here until they show up." "I know the drill." "Right, I'll be leaving one of our boys too. Get in touch Monday." "Will do."

After a few more formalities, that was that. Jon felt a terrible weariness crashing down on him. Alpha... Beta... Scott. He told Demeter quietly, "You don't have to stay." She had been hanging back, watching, while Jon handled all the details. ""What're you going to do now?" "I'm... going to prevent the power from coming back on." "...Why?" Jon closed his eyes. "Before the fight went down, Alpha told me Technoid was turning him and Beta. He said he didn't think I could ever trust him again." "Ouch!" "Yeah. He... was a good friend." Jon sobbed once then wiped his eyes and started striding purposefully back to the base.

Demeter was awkwardly silent as she followed, and remained so as Photon checked on Technoid (nothing new, except a slight change in color) then on the generator (the repair-bots were still busily at work), then on Beta. Jon blinked as he checked the monitor at Beta's charging station. "Huh, that's funny." "What?" "I was going to put him in lockdown mode so he doesn't wake up on his own... but he's already there." "What does that mean?" "I don't know. And, hm, his radio receiver has been deactivated. That's definitely nonstandard..." Jon pondered. "I suppose Alpha might have put him to sleep so Technoid couldn't use him against us. But he didn't mention it. Hmmm. I wonder if...?" "What?" "Alpha told me once that Beta's programming isn't very sophisticated. Maybe Technoid had a hard time with him and put him out himself."

"How can we find out?" Jon shrugged. "Let the power come back on and check him out, I guess. I can take him if I have to." He sounded very weary as he said it. "And Alpha?" "He's one massive program. It takes him nearly a day to boot up from a cold restart. We can turn him off again before he 'comes to'." "Maybe he could be OK too?" Jon shook his head sadly. "I doubt it. Alpha didn't sound at all confident."

"Isn't there anything we can do?" Jon shrugged wearily. "Maybe. We'll try. But I'm afraid we may end up having to just pull th-..." Jon suddenly stood stock still, mouth hanging open. "Photon?! What is it?"

Jon snickered, then chuckled, then laughed for pure joy. Then he leaped up and started doing an aerial victory dance, laughing like a loon. "Forestrike, I could KISS you!!!" "Photon?!" Jon, heedless, only pirouetted in midair, coruscating with multi-colored beams, and shouted to the heavens, "You hear me, you lovely precognitive bastard?! If you're watching from a few months ago, PUCKER UP!!"

Demeter folded her arms and tapped her foot, giving him the evil eye. Jon laughed, at peace with the universe, and non-explained, "'Please don't pull the plug'!" "Are you going to tell me what's going on?" "I just did!" He took pity on her just as the air between them was about to ignite from her glare. "Okay, okay. Have you ever heard of Forestrike?" "...No." "Old enemy of Shadow-Force, especially the Phantom. A precognitive. Anyway, things got really hot for him and he fled the country. But he sends us letters now and then warning us of things to come." "So let me get this straight. He's a villain. He fought you guys a few times..." "Lots of times, actually." "...He fought you guys a bunch of times, and got forced out of the country. And now he's helping you out?" "Yeah, pretty much." "...How much of a villain can he possibly be?" "Plenty. I think it's a pride thing with him - he doesn't want anyone else to succeed where he failed. Plus, well, if Shadow-Force drops the ball on something really big - Diabolus-level big, for example - then being out of the country isn't going to help him much."

Demeter wrestled to process all this. "So... He said something about all this in a letter?" "Yeah... here." He dug up the letter and showed her. Her face became very still and impassive when she read it. "This 'Nephrite' line..." "Yes," Jon said candidly, "Alpha and I weren't sure we could trust you." Demeter said softly, "I don't know if I want to punch Forestrike, or thank him." Jon felt a chill down his spine. "...What do you mean?" "Well, how would you have reacted to me if not for this letter?" "Are you kidding? We would have welcomed you with open arms." "That's what I mean."

"Well, we certainly weren't positive. The only connection between you and 'nephrite' is the color green..." She studied him quietly, then said, "Do you know, I nearly took the name 'Jade'. I'm not sure why I changed my mind, but I did." Jon blinked and cleared his throat nervously. "Oh... really? Well... at any rate you certainly weren't 'worthless' tonight." She remained silent and still, watching him.

Jon asked with sudden sharpness, "Demeter, are you on the team?" Demeter picked up the letter again, not answering. "'You will need to save the world.' Odd phrasing. Does he know his grammar?" "Yes. Answer the question." She pointed out in that quiet, calm voice, "I fought with you. I got FAQ to safety..." "I know all that. And I appreciate it. But it doesn't quite answer the question, does it?" She paused, then asked, apparently changing the subject, "What was it like for you, being on the reserve team?"

Jon blinked again, but played along warily. "What do you want to know about it?" "Well, how closely did you work with Shadow-Force? Did you feel like a sidekick or the like?" "No. We were all very new, of course, but we patrolled with each other or with one Shadow-Force regular. We were doing the real thing." Demeter nodded. "Were you fully part of the team?" "After the reserve team more or less petered out, yes, I was. The press may have had a field day with me, but my teammates never did." "I see you still don't wear body armor..." Jon said evenly, "I can dodge a lot better now." "Ah."

Jon paused, then said bluntly, "There's a lot of subtext going on in this conversation. How about we just talk about it openly?" She just looked at him and said a bit bleakly, "I should be going." Jon suddenly realized what all this would feel like in her shoes, if she were actually innocent - a reliable precognitive saying she was a traitor, or would end up being one, when she had no such inclination. It had to be quite a shock and lead one to question one's own motives and indeed, just about everything else. (And also: 'I have lied to you once.') He cleared his throat and extended a sprig of olive, if not a full branch: "Well... Shall we get together tomorrow and work out a patrol plan?"

Demeter reacted to that for a moment, though he could not read the emotion. "Yes. I would like that. ... Will you need to sleep in, given what a night this has been?" "Noon?" "Sure. I'll see you then."

Beta's charging station had its own emergency batteries, enough to keep him going a little while. Jon thought for a bit, then cancelled the lockdown and started the reboot sequence. "Come on, Beta. Work with me here." Even if Forestrike's prophecy is on the level, he thought, that doesn't mean there'll be no hitches. After an interminable time, Beta's eyes began to glow and he stated, "Hard reboot: Online." Jon said carefully, "Beta, there's been a battle. I need you not to turn on your radio receiver, just in case." "Note: I can tune my receiver to tight-beam with my brother." "Yes, I know. But Alpha's down right now, and he warned me he might not be trustworthy any more." Beta took a long moment grinding on that thought, then finally asked, "...We faced a cyberkinetic enemy?" "Yes." "Troubling. Initiating level-2 diagnostic..."

Jon waited patiently, relieved. Beta finally said, "Level-2 diagnostic... failed. Do you wish to retry or abort?" "Hmmm. Why did it fail?" "Unknown." "Figures. Retry, I guess." "Initiating level-2 diagnostic... ...Level-2 diagnostic complete. All systems are nominal." "Hmmm. All right. Do you know who put you in lockdown?" "No." "What's your last memory before you were locked down?" "I docked with the charging station and entered power-conservation mode." "Okay... Did Alpha leave you any special instructions on how to proceed in a situation like this?" "No." "Wonderful." Grind, grind. "...I do not see how the situation is 'wonderful'." Jon told him wearily, "It's a figure of speech, never mind." "Noted." "You continue charging, Beta, I'm going to read up on how to help Alpha." "Agreed."

Jon grabbed the hefty manual on Alpha and went out to the lobby of the base to read. He was already familiar with the stuff in the first chapter, on the basic reboot sequence and level-1 diagnostics, but he felt sure he was going to need something heftier than that. The cop poked his head in and asked if he wanted coffee; Jon politely declined. After another hour or so, he heard a heavy vehicle pulling up to the base and went out to meet it. [The Rapid Response Teams fly in from Colorado on their own custom VTOL jets, but unfortunately they're a little too large to land safely on the Shadow-Force base's grounds. They land at the nearest safe spot and unload a truck to come the rest of the way.] Out of the cab hopped two grunts wearing blue-and-white Stronghold powered armor and carrying high-powered multi-rifles, and the Team Leader followed them in lighter body armor. Meanwhile two techs in similar body armor came out the back, laden with equipment. Given that there was likely a lightly-armored medic inside, Jon saw that they'd sent the standard six-man complement.

The grunts took up positions while the Team Leader approached the cop first, offering a gloved hand. "Officer. Alpha One." Jon smiled. A couple hours ago, the fact he'd gotten Team Alpha, of the six available, would have struck him with crushing irony, given who he was mourning. Now... Not so much, thank God. As the two consulted, the two techs approached him, one of them juggling several pieces of gear to offer a hand. "You're Photon?" Jon shook his hand. "Yeah. Glad to 'meet' you, Alpha Four." The tech just chuckled. "Way of the world, sir. Where are we headed?" Jon jerked his head toward the base. "In there, toward the back. I'll show you." [The RRT's *never* use names in the field. There's too many ways that can be used against them, not least by truename mages. Jon read his number off his helmet.]

Alpha One approached and likewise greeted Photon. "I understand that the subject is in a container with a magnetic bottle?" Jon frowned, "No container. It's a free-standing magnetic bottle I created with my powers." The Team Leader sighed. "That wasn't in the briefing. Well, we'll make do." He glanced an order at one of the techs, who scurried off to get some more stuff from the truck. Soon they trooped into the base. "The power's out? Can we get the lights on?" "Oh... sure. Here." Jon lived up to his codename by lighting up the base with his powers.

The techs set up instruments around Technoid to get a better feel for what was going on. (It had changed color slightly again.) Meanwhile, the Team Leader asked, "What is his biological status?" Jon shrugged wearily. "I'm not even sure it HAS biology any more." "Hmmm, you'd better tell us everything." Alpha One debriefed him thoroughly; when he heard about the pollen and its effect, he called the medic in, and they concluded they couldn't cut off Technoid's air. That obviously made the techs' lives more difficult, but they set to work. Alpha One also insisted that the medic check Photon out for nanite contamination; Jon sighed and submitted to a scan. "Wow," the medic finally mused, "You're in impressively good health." "Yeah - I can heal myself when I take on my light-form."

As they spoke, the techs got an insulated box of high-tech alloy around the metallic blob of Technoid and hooked air bottles up to it. Seeing the box closed up moved Jon unexpectedly. He said quietly to nobody in particular, "He used to be my friend." The nearest tech only nodded and said briskly, "Sorry, sir." Technoid proved to weigh over a ton, so it took the two grunts to carry the box out. Jon signed all the forms, Alpha One saluted him, and that was that. He went back in, dejected, and told Beta, "I'm going to get some sleep. Call me if anything untoward happens." "Acknowledged."

Home a split-second later, Jon undressed and fell into bed.

---------------------------------------------------------

He was awakened early by his cell phone. Glancing at it, he didn't recognize the number. "...Hello?" "Photon, this is Beta. I need you at the base as soon as possible." Jon sighed. "OK." He rubbed the sleep from his eyes, then zipped over to the base in light-form, bringing his costume into being as he materialized. Beta was blocking the door to the base with his body while a man in a suit ranted and raved at him. "Okay," the electromagnetic hero said, "What's this all about?" The man harrumphed and said, "Photon, I INSIST that you tell this... ROBOT... to get out of my way!" "Do you. And who are you to be insisting?"

The man scowled and pulled out a card. "Roger Hamilton, Vice President of Research for Carlton Industries." "All right. What do you want, Mr. Hamilton?" "We've decided to decommission this... base... of yours immediately." "Have you. And why would that be?" "It's a radiation health hazard! Very dangerous."

Photon folded his arms. "Let me get this straight. When Technoid's lab held a time bomb capable of wiping out half of Seattle, that was fine. But now that the time bomb's gone and the only issue is some background radiation - which I can easily decontaminate, I might add - now it becomes a health hazard?" That just set the man off on another tirade. Photon gathered from the midst of it that in addition to the health issues, he also wanted to remove some 'Carlton property' from the premises. Jon frowned. Given the legal ambiguities around artificial intelligence, he didn't like the sound of that. [I'll get a post up soon in Shadow-Force Files on the legal issues involving non-humans.]

"I see. And do you have an itemized list of the property you wish to remove?" "No! ... Not with me, at any rate. It's at my office." Jon said mock-brightly, "Well, tell you what! How about you get things together on your end, and I'll go in and talk with Mr. Carlton on Monday, and we can get this all straightened out." "...FINE! But I insist that the base be sealed!" Jon shrugged. "Have it your way. But Beta needs to get in and out to recharge, and so do I to run diagnostics on him." That set off a further storm of protest, but Photon would not budge. The man eventually went off in a huff... but he seemed too confident of the final issue on Monday by half. We'll see about that, Jon thought to himself.

Going in, he found the lights on. "The generator's back up, I guess?" "Confirmed." "Good." Jon locked down the outer door. Beta stated, "I require further power to recharge properly. I am at 13% and falling. My laser and flight-jets are offline." "Understood... You want the grid back up, then?'" "Confirmed." "I'll see what I can do, though Carlton won't like it. Wait for me to figure out how to fix Alpha before we do that?" "Agreed."

Jon sat down with the tome again, this time in the Situation Room. Alpha... You'll come back to us, he thought. You have to. I can't lose another friend!

Which reminds me... Jon sighed, and picked up a phone to call Bazooka and Brimstone. They need to know about Scott.
"All right, I am not the Shadow. You have nothing at all to worry about. Except, oh, wait, I'm pointing a gun at you."



--The Shadow

User avatar
The Shadow
Luminary
Luminary
Posts: 2853
Joined: Tue Sep 02, 2003 8:36 pm
Location: Oregon, USA
Contact:

Re: Life and Light: After Shadow-Force (Updated 9/14/09)

Postby The Shadow » Wed Sep 16, 2009 9:22 pm

No game tonight, unfortunately, but I'm putting up a new file in the Shadow-Force Files thread.

Is anyone still reading this? If so, I'd appreciate hearing from you.
"All right, I am not the Shadow. You have nothing at all to worry about. Except, oh, wait, I'm pointing a gun at you."



--The Shadow

User avatar
The Shadow
Luminary
Luminary
Posts: 2853
Joined: Tue Sep 02, 2003 8:36 pm
Location: Oregon, USA
Contact:

7 - Delayed Responses

Postby The Shadow » Sun Sep 27, 2009 7:47 pm

[This was two short RP-heavy sessions further detailing the aftermath of _Dragon's Egg_. Lots of fallout from that adventure!]

Jon made the call. "Liz? It's Jon." "Jon, good to hear from you! Been keeping track of the news, you seem to be doing well." "Thanks." "...Something wrong?" "Yeah. Scott came out. Sort of." Warily, "...What exactly do you mean by 'sort of'?"

"Well, something came out. A ton-and-a-half something made of nanites that said it wasn't Scott any more, and soon it would rule the world." After a moment's pause, "Please, PLEASE tell me you're joking." "I suppose I am exaggerating a little. Actually it just wanted to remake humanity from scratch using nanites." "...Hoo, boy. At least tell me it didn't use the phrase, 'in my own image'." "No." "That's something. There's only so many villainous stereotypes I think I could take." "Yeah. Anyway, whatever it is, it's on the way to Stronghold."

"So, I guess Bill and I should be ready for the media to descend." "Oh yeah. It's going to be a firestorm. The more so because they're already gaga over my adding someone to the team." "Haven't heard about that down here yet! When did this happen?" "Last night. I'd just got done taking her on a trial run when she had to help me with Technoid." "Wow, talk about baptism by fire! What's her shtick?" "Plant powers. She's calling herself Demeter." "Hmm. You're going to need someone for melee. Preferably a brick."

"Yes, well, I'm taking whatever I can get at this point. Anyway, I'm thinking that Scott's family needs to know about him before they hear it on the news. Do you know anything about them?" "Good point, but no, I don't recall him ever talking about his family. He should have an emergency protocol sheet, though. Mike made us all fill one out." "Right, I remember. Where are they kept?" "In the safe in the vault. They'll be in a big manila envelope. You have the combination, right?" "Yes... Does the power need to be on to open it?"

Sharply, "Jon, what did you do?" Jon retorted, a little defensively, "He was a cyberkinetic. He locked the base down hard, I had to kill the power." "Kill it dead?!" "The backup generator's back online, if that's what you're asking." "Oh, whew. I thought you'd killed off the 'bots as well." "Give me a little credit. I knew the fight'd be over before they fixed it."

"...Let's just be glad that you got me instead of Bill. Not that he's much of a one for answering the phone anyway." "Why, are you saying I could have done it better?" She sighed. "No, actually. I'm saying that he would have found a way to say you could have done it better." She sounded a little disgusted with her fiance. "Huh?" "Because he'd be worried and upset and you'd be available to take it out on." "Oh... Anyway, the vault?"

"Backup power should be more than sufficient to open it. How're Alpha and Beta?" "Technoid hacked them; Beta seems to be OK. If anything, he seems more 'human' than usual." "He's always responded well to crisis situations. And Alpha?" "I'm working on rebooting him in diagnostic mode, just in case." Brimstone sighed. "I'm not saying anything against you, Jon, you did a great job. But I wish Mike were here." "Me too, but why especially now?" "He had greater rapport with Alpha than any of us, even Scott. I never did figure out why, they just hit it off."

[In point of fact, Alpha bewildered Mike by asking him for dating advice. (!) He had quite the cyber-romance going on with this cute Japanese AI in a top-secret corporate lab. The Phantom ended up knowing more about the AI social scene than probably any other meat-person on the planet! Given that Mike had pretty much zero dating experience, this was a little odd, but he was a very understanding and insightful guy, plus he lived in the base. And in the other direction, I think it was a relief for Mike to have a friend whose mind he *couldn't* read, even by accident.]

"Yeah, I know. He and I have been getting closer since, well." "Yeah. Anyway, you'll need full power to get Beta charged up." "I know, but I'm not sure we're going to have power even once it's repaired." "...Huh?" "This Carlton guy came by this morning, saying they're closing the base down post-haste. He was a real jerk about it, too."

"That does NOT sound like the Malcolm Carlton I know." "Agreed, I'm not sure what's going on yet. He was a Vice President of Research, named Hamilton. I had the suspicion he was after Alpha." "Hamilton... Middle-aged guy, about your size, black hair, potbelly?" "That's him." "Yeah, we've tangled with him before. He's after Alpha, all right, and he'll use any pretext. 'Dangerous, high-voltage electronic devices' is a favorite. Mike shut him down hard a number of times. The last time, Erebus savaged him - only verbally! - and he seemed to give up."

"I see. He's taking a stronger line now, going on about 'Carlton property'. I guess he sees an opening and thinks I'm too weak to stop him." "Probably, yes." "Well, he's mistaken. I've already been pondering several games of hardball I could play if I have to." "Oh?" Jon grinned smugly. "Alpha took a job with Carlton. I'll bet the ACLU would leap at the chance to file a workmen's comp claim for him." "Oooo! I like the way you think!" "Yeah, it'd be a thing of beauty. It'd go all the way to the Supreme Court, I bet - not that a corporate tool would want to chance a case like that in the first place."

"He'll be after Beta too, just so you know." Jon snorted. "Fat chance. The newspapers call him the 'veteran hero' of Seattle. If Alpha's case would be radioactive, his would be thermonuclear. Especially with the media circus we're about to experience." "Right, but be ready for trouble all the same. How far along is Alpha with his moving plans?" "I'm not sure." "Beta will know. When are you going in to talk to Carlton?" "Hopefully, first thing Monday morning." "Good. Nobody in Carlton will be able to get a team out there on a Sunday. I'll keep my cell phone on, in case you need backup from other 'veterans'." "No offense, Liz, but if at all possible I'd like to handle this myself. People need to stop seeing me as the rookie." "I know, Jon, and really, you ARE doing great. But if you need it for Alpha's sake, we're there."

"Thanks. I'd better be going. Hopefully I'll have a day of grace to get things squared away before the media storm breaks." "Bye, Jon. Good luck! And be sure to let me know what happens." "I will."

Jon hung up with a sigh. "Beta? How far along is Alpha with the moving plans?" Beta recited, "All nonessential equipment has been moved to the new location, and it has been secured." "Ah, good. So the only thing that remains is to move your charging station and Alpha himself?" "Confirmed." "What's the address?" "My brother instructed me to place it in an envelope in the safe, in case of emergency."

"Great, I was going to head down there anyway. Oh, and Beta? Next time you call me on my personal cell phone, please don't call me 'Photon'. Call me 'Jon'." "Acknowledged." "In fact, you shouldn't refer to yourself as 'Beta' in that context, either. Call yourself... 'Sidney'." "Query: Why 'Sidney' in particular?" "It's a Super term. 'Sid' stands for 'secret ID'." "...Acknowledged." [And as will come up shortly, 'Sal' is the feminine equivalent, when needed. It stands for "Secret Alternate Life".]

Jon went down the stairs to the vault. The absence of Mike's still, sleeping form smote him; Carlton had moved Mike's body to a private hospital the previous week. Opening the safe, he first opened Alpha's envelope, read the address therein, and committed it to memory. Replacing it, he then drew out the large manila envelope full of the emergency forms. Opening it, he found a number of smaller envelopes labelled by name. 'Michael', 'James', 'William', 'Elizabeth', 'Al' (interesting, that), 'Jonathan' ... 'Scott'. It had evidently been replaced last. Drawing it out with some trepidation, Jon opened it.

Instead of the standard protocol form of instructions Mike had created, Scott had left a legal document: His last will and testament. Reading through it slowly, Jon had a sinking sensation. There were no bequests to any family members whatever. Rather, there were gifts to several charities: Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the Center Against Rape and Domestic Violence, the Betty Ford Foundation... "Ouch," Jon said to himself softly. It didn't seem to speak of a happy, functional family life. The smallest amount given was a million dollars; Scott was no Bill Gates, but he had definitely done well for himself.

There was also a bequest to Shadow-Force itself, and a fund for scholarships for disadvantaged youth in the sciences and engineering. Finally, there was a large amount set aside for a purpose that took Jon's breath away: A research grant to study the relationship between the esper metagene and mental instability. The really shocking thing was that the grant was contingent upon Dr. Sebastian Poe being invited to participate in the research - the original founder of P.S.I.!

At least the contact info for his lawyer was present. Jon went upstairs and called, then told the answering service that yes, it was an emergency. After being told he'd get a call back in about an hour, he hung up and returned to poring over Alpha's manual.

Finally feeling some assurance about what to do, he set about sending the already slowly-rebooting AI the commands to shift to level-3 diagnostic mode. Thankfully, the transaction went off without a hitch... But alas, the book said it'd take 48 hours to run through the whole thing. Stroking the console, Jon murmured, "I wish you could be here with me through this mess, friend. But it's more important for you to get better."

Shortly after, the lawyer called, a Josh Peters. "Hello," Jon told him wearily, "This is Photon at the Shadow-Force base... I'm calling about Scott Campbell's last will and testament." "...Oh. It sounds like his experiment did not succeed, then." "...What do you know about it?" "Nothing, only that it was dangerous and he wasn't sure he would survive. I assume that, well, he is now deceased?"

"That's... not totally clear. I'm not sure if he would be legally be considered dead or alive at this point." "...I beg your pardon?" "The thing that came out of the experiment weighed a ton and a half, was made out of nanites, and claimed not to be Scott Campbell any longer. It should be in Stronghold by now." "Oh my. That does sound difficult to untangle. I'll have to research it."

"Do you know how to contact his family? They need to know before this is splashed all over the news." "I'm afraid that Mr. Campbell had no immediate family." "Surely he had a next-of-kin." "I'm it." Jon took a moment to process that, then said, "I'm sorry." "I'm Scott's second cousin. Everyone in his branch of the family died young, generally through reckless or self-destructive behavior. He was worried that they had inherited a damaged version of the metagene."

Jon sighed. "That explains a lot." "Yes. Even before his ... accident... a few months ago, he had been growing increasingly distant." "I know." "It weighed heavily on his mind; it's why he never had children." "I... wish we'd known." "Believe me, Mr. Photon, when I say that my cousin was not an easy man to help. God knows I tried. Please do not blame yourself."

"I'm not. I just... wish it had been different." "As do I." "Please keep me informed of your research." "Actually, I will be recusing myself due to conflict of interest; one of my partners will do the work. I will let you know what conclusions we reach." "Thank you."

Not long after that, FAQ arrived. Jon went to the front to let him in. "What's the lockdown all about?" the young hero wanted to know. "Political issues with Carlton. How're you feeling?" "Better, they say I'm good to go." "Good. So what brings you by? You said you wanted to stop by before heading home."

"Yeah. I just wanted to thank you again now that I'm coherent." Jon smiled. "You're welcome, once again. But honestly, FAQ, you'd have done the same for me, right?" "Yeah, but I didn't." "True, but if you hadn't been here, my city might be a real mess." The young man looked around at some of the debris from the battle. "Hate to see what you'd call a 'real' mess." "Upwards of half my city turned into a radioactive wasteland?" "Yeah."

Jon paused, studying him. "Is there something else on your mind?" FAQ sighed. "Yeah, I'm a lot less enthusiastic about nanites than I used to be..." When the joke fell flat, he looked away and asked quietly, "But seriously... What's up with Technoid?" "The RR Team took it away. I imagine it's at Stronghold by now." "No, I mean... Why did he do that to himself?"

Jon sighed. "I'm not totally sure, though I have some guesses. How well did you know him?" FAQ swallowed. "Um, not that well, I guess. But... He was kind of my inspiration for doing all this." "Oh," Jon said, suddenly understanding. He reached out and gripped FAQ's shoulder. "Listen, man. Technoid was pretty messed up. He got melded with his devices a few months ago, and hadn't been the same since."

"I heard about that. But is that all of it? I mean, he was really smart. What did he see in becoming that... thing?" "Listen, FAQ," Jon said firmly, "Scott's choices are not yours. You are free to choose your own path." FAQ took a deep breath, let it out. "Yeah. ... You said you had some guesses?"

Jon hesitated, then said truthfully, "I learned just this morning that he was afraid his metagene was causing mental instability." The young hero's eyes flew wide. "Oh my God!" "No, relax. He was afraid his family's version was damaged. They... apparently all did crazy things." "Oh." Silence.

Jon waited, then asked, "Are you OK?" "...Yeah. Thanks, Photon." Jon released him. "You're welcome." After an awkward silence, Jon changed the subject. "So what did Technoid do to you while I was cutting the power?" "Oh. He was apparently ready for another wrench - I dunno whether he had me or Siren or someone else in mind. He shorted my suit out completely." [Wrench: Super term for a gadgeteer.] "Harsh." "Yeah, I'm going to make some mods to keep it from happening again. It wasn't much fun being completely useless."

"You weren't..." "Yeah, I know. I'd better keep it down, or Moke'll get on my case. You never want to run down your abilities when he's around." "He does have a way of... making his point heard, doesn't he?" FAQ said seriously, "He can make the corny seem believable. I honestly don't know how he does it." "While he's talking, anyway." "Yeah, but often for a lot longer, too. I've often found that his advice comes back to me when I need it." "Well, he's a seasoned, experienced hero. You learn a lot when you've been around the block as much as Moke has - you have to." "Yeah."

FAQ finally said, "Well, I guess I'd better be going." Jon had a sudden thought. "Could you do me a favor before you go?" "Sure. What is it?" "Like I said, we're having political issues with Carlton at the moment. I suspect the power's been turned off, and I need it to recharge Beta. Could you rig up an ultracapacitor or something that would let me power the base by shooting lightning at it every so often?"

"Easy. Show me your power system." Jon led him to the junction box he'd melted the previous night. "Wow, you really did a number on it." "I was kind of pressed for time." "Yeah." The gadgeteer hooked up leads to several conduits. "Yep, you're right, the power's off. It'll take some work to wire around the damage, but I'll see what I can do." "The repair 'bots will be getting to this area soon, I'm sure." "I'll take that into account."

As the teen hero worked, his intense expression reminded Jon of something from the night before. "You know..." "Yeah?" "This isn't an easy subject to broach, but I think it's worth mentioning. Did you realize you were pretty rude to the scientists last night?" FAQ looked up from his wiring. "What do you mean?" Jon quoted, "'Who're these bozos?' 'Amateur brigade.' Not exactly terms to endear you to them." "Oh, that. Well, I figured they were just specks, you know?" [Speck: Super term for a 'spectator' to a super battle.] "They were doing their part. And even if they weren't, it's worthwhile to leave a good impression." FAQ shrugged, a little uncomfortably. "I just could see they didn't have any idea what they were doing. They were barely even started on understanding that thing, and they were going about it all wrong."

"Yeah. They're not as smart as you. The vast majority of people aren't. If you get annoyed and rude every time people are dumber than you are, you're going to be annoyed all the time and alienate a lot of people. And aren't all those stupid people the ones we're doing all this to protect?" FAQ sighed. "Yeah." "Just think about it." "...OK." Jon changed the subject and made small talk as FAQ worked.

After half an hour or so of tinkering, FAQ had a whole array of cables leading to the various conduits, all connected by complicated-looking adapters to a large metal plate emerging from a circuit-encrusted base. "OK, it's not pretty, but it should work. Give it a try." Jon shot a lightning bolt at the plate, which sparked and coruscated; indicator lights flashed on its base, one of the adapters sparked, and the room's lights came fully on. FAQ made a few adjustments, then announced, "We're good." "How often will I need to hit it with a max-strength bolt to keep it at full power?" "Dunno, depends on what your 'max strength' is. Hit it again and I'll take some readings."

Jon did so, and after closing his eyes and calculating briefly, FAQ announced, "About every half hour. Or every hour and fifteen minutes if you turn off everything nonessential." "OK, that'll be enough to charge Beta, anyway. Thanks a lot, FAQ!" "Don't mention it. It'd take a lot more than this to be worth my life."

Jon smiled and offered his hand. "Tell you what. Pay it back to the stupid people. Though if you want to save my life sometime, be my guest!" FAQ laughed and shook on it. "Okay, you're on. See you around, Photon."

"Likewise. ... By the way, Siren mentioned you guys were going to get people up here on a rotating basis? How's that coming?" FAQ sighed. "Yeah, well, we hit a snag." "Oh?" "Well... I probably shouldn't tell you this, so keep it quiet. But we're hitting a lot of red tape, transportation-wise." "The teleportals?" "Uh huh. You would not believe the number of permits, caveats, and rules the state of Washington wants for us to use it in their territory. And now the feds are getting involved too!"

Now it was Jon's turn to sigh. "Oh, great, let me guess - interstate commerce." "You got it." "Surely there's some sort of provision for emergencies." "Oh, sure. That's how I got up here last night. But Moke's probably got writer's cramp by now filling out all the forms certifying it as an emergency, and I'm sure he'll have a ream ready for me when I get back too." The young hero rolled his eyes. "I'll probably have to sign in blood that I didn't bring any insects or fruit with me, and who knows what else!"

Jon laughed. "Sounds like fun." "Oh yeah. You'll see soon enough. I heard you're applying for second-level registration... depending on your powers, all sorts of federal agencies will want to shove their oars in. In your case, I'll bet the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is gonna want their pound of flesh, along with who knows how many others." Jon sighed, covering his eyes. "The joys of bureaucracy. At least tell me the IAEA won't get involved." "Probably not, but I wouldn't count on it."

"Gee, thanks for brightening my day." FAQ grinned and said in an exaggerated 'heroic' tone, "My work here is done!" Jon laughed and punched him in the arm. "Not yet. You still have all those fun forms to fill out. Get to it, wrench-boy." "Aie! Truly, you are avenged, sir!" After a little more light-hearted banter, FAQ finally took his leave, whistling to himself.

By then it was getting close to noon. Jon wandered over to the door, and sure enough, Demeter rang the bell at 12 sharp. He unsealed the door to let her in; she looked quizzically at all the preparations when he sealed it back down. "What's that all about?" "We're having issues with Carlton. One of their higher-ups is after Alpha, and so they're trying to shut the base down early. They told me to keep it sealed, and I'm cooperating. For now."

"That... doesn't seem to make sense." "Oh, it does. You knew Shadow-Force was funded by Carlton Industries, right?" She nodded, and he continued, "Well, Mr. Carlton himself is a great guy. But there are other people in the company who... aren't so much. One of them wants to get his hands on Alpha, and he thinks he can do that by kicking us out."

"What's he want him for?" "I'm not totally sure, but I can tell you he doesn't see Alpha as a person, just a machine. I wouldn't be surprised if he wants to take him apart and figure out how he works." Demeter frowned. "And we're not going to let him." "Darn straight we're not!" "What's the plan?"

"Well, the first thing you need to know is that we're in for a major media feeding frenzy." "About me, Technoid, or something else?" "All of the above. Technoid's the biggest thing, but they were already doing cartwheels over you last night; Alpha told me about it before the fight went down." "Oh, great. And the something else?" "The explosion. Depending on circumstances, we may need to keep that very quiet, or we may need to shout it from the rooftops. Anyway, I'm going to arrange a press conference for Monday afternoon or evening. How much experience do you have with the press?"

"Just the papparazzi last night." Jon sighed. "Great. OK, imagine dozens of him all at once." She shuddered. "Lovely." "Yeah. Don't worry, I'll do most of the talking, but you'll probably need to make a statement. Be thinking about it." "Yeah, I think I can see how it works. Are we in a relationship? No comment." "Actually, it'd probably be better to say our relationship is purely professional. 'No comment' almost makes it sound like we have something to hide." "Got it. But you said it to the guy last night?" "Sure, I was trying to get rid of him. There wouldn't be much point in trying to get rid of reporters at a press conference."

Demeter nodded, taking it all in. Jon suddenly realized with a queasy sensation that to her, he was the veteran; she was listening to him the way he'd listened to the Phantom. I'm not the clueless newbie any more, he thought. Or at any rate, I'm the least clueless newbie. And that... is kind of scary.

He cleared his throat and said, "Anyway, just so you know ahead of time, it may be that I'll need to make Carlton Industries look bad in the conference. I really, really don't want to have to do that, but if they force my hand, I will." "Okay... how will you tip me off, so I know not to praise the wrong people and so on?" "I'll be meeting with them hopefully Monday morning. I'll know going in what our stance is going to be, and I'll tell you." "Okay, good."

Jon announced, "OK, next item on the agenda. We formulate a patrol plan." He gathered some maps and spread them out on a table. Then he pointed to the map with Tex's compass on it, and added, "Oh, and don't bump that map over there." Demeter agreed, clearly bemused by the request. She seemed to just be taking things as they came at this point.

Jon uncapped a marker and wrote the days of the week at the top of a whiteboard, then asked, "OK, so what days and times do you need to see Sidney?"

[This bit was rather confusing, as they'd clearly learned different shades of meaning for that particular Super slang term. To Photon, 'Sid' or 'Sidney' just means secret-ID stuff. You use 'Sal' or 'Sally' only when necessary to be clear or avoid embarrassing phrases. But to Demeter, apparently you use the same-sex term for your life in general, and the opposite-sex term for your love interest. I thought at the time that maybe SP and I weren't on the same page about it at the player level, but he says no, he thought it was a realistic sort of mix-up to happen.]

"Er, I don't have a Sidney right now. I have to meet Sally from 8 to noon each weekday." Photon paused in confusion, and they were at cross-purposes for a time until finally working what the other meant. [To him it sounded like she'd just said she didn't have a secret ID, and needed 8 to noon each weekday to see her lesbian lover. :) Or at any rate someone whom it was necessary to specifically call out as female.] That impasse gotten over, they were finally able to work out a three-person patrol schedule. The businesslike camaraderie of it seemed to set Demeter noticeably at ease.

About halfway through the planning session, Photon suddenly announced, "Hold on, I need to go shoot some lightning." Demeter took that in her stride and didn't even ask why.

Jon finally said, "OK, I think we're set. But there's something you need to know. At times, you're going to be patrolling with Beta." "Yeah?" "He's, well, not very bright. He's pretty good with combat, but all the same, you're the one who's going to have to supply the tactical coordination." "...Oh. Well, can we do a joint patrol on Saturday so I get a feel for working with him without being on my own?" "Sure, that's a good idea. Don't worry, it's not so bad. You just have to patient with him. He's... a bit slow." Demeter laughed. Jon asked, "What?" "Sorry. I just worked as a candystriper once, and it sounds a lot like working in the mental ward." "Not a bad analogy. We supers can be a crazy lot."

Jon immediately regretted saying it, thinking of Scott. They both winced. Demeter finally cleared her throat and mused, "...I suppose the basics aren't too hard. Get the big robot between you and the dangerous stuff." Jon nodded seriously. "Absolutely. He's a lot less squishy than you are. Also, he's totally immune to almost all mental stuff." "Oh! That sounds very handy!" "It is, believe me."

"What's the deal with him and Alpha, anyway?" Demeter asked. "They think of themselves as 'brothers'." "...That's pretty weird." "Not really. They were made by the same guy; I suspect that Beta may originally have been intended as Alpha's telepresence unit." "Oh, so if they get broken, he can fix them?" "No... He was murdered shortly after they were created. They don't talk about their 'father' much - I don't know why."

"Is that everything, Photon?" "Almost. You'll need to fill this out." He handed her a blank emergency protocol form and an envelope. "Seal it up, and I'll put it in a safe place. I promise I won't look at it unless you're... not able to speak for yourself." Demeter accepted it solemnly; clearly it was coming home to her that 'this is real'.

"And finally. Having slept on the whole prophecy thing, I have a question for you and then something to say." She looked a little uneasy, but said, "Okay... shoot." Jon paused, then said, "Thinking it over, I can see why you might want to punch Forestrike. But I'm not clear on why you would want to thank him."

Demeter sighed. "Well... It's moot now, I guess. But I was afraid that our powers meshed poorly enough that I wouldn't even get an audition." "...How does that translate into thanking him?" She shrugged. "Negative attention is still attention. I thought at the time that maybe you felt a greater need to check me out because of the prophecy." "Oh, I see." "So what did you want to tell me?"

Jon said, "So far as I can see, there's really only three possibilities for the prophecy." Demeter nodded warily, but said nothing, so Jon continued. "One. Despite all appearances, we're both wrong about you being 'Nephrite'. In which case, the prophecy doesn't apply to you at all, so: Welcome to the team."

"Two. You are in fact 'Nephrite', but we're misinterpreting what 'worthless' and 'faithless' mean." She interjected, "Well, while I've never been very religious, I don't think I'm what you could call 'faithless'." "Right, but of course there's the other meaning of, well, 'treacherous'." She nodded uncomfortably, and added, "I do feel my powers were pretty 'worthless' last night." "Let's come back to that later, okay? I have some ideas on that topic." "Okay..." "Anyway, to continue, in this second case, where we've misinterpreted things, or Forestrike was just being spitefully obscure, there's no reason to fear, so: Welcome to the team."

"Three. You are 'Nephrite', and the words 'worthless' and 'faithless' should be taken at face value." Demeter braced herself, looking very defensive, as Jon continued. "In that case, I say this. You've already averted part of the prophecy using your free will, by not taking the name 'Jade'. And I am choosing to trust you to avert the rest of it using your free will as well. So: Welcome to the team."

Demeter smiled beautifully at him, relieved. Jon told her seriously, "I can't go through life constantly looking over my shoulder. So I won't." He paused and they both let that sink in, then he said, "And believe me, your powers weren't 'worthless'. We just need to figure out how to get all the use out of them we can."

"But..." "Demeter. You knocked Technoid off-balance long enough for me to get another shot at him. That's not even remotely 'worthless'. There's no way we can know for sure, of course, but that extra shot might have spelled the difference between victory and defeat." She nodded slowly, thinking that over. Jon added, "And it's not uncommon for a particular power suite to be useless against a certain kind of foe, you know. It happens all the time. I mean, look at the Phantom."

Demeter looked puzzled. "What about him?" "Big, nationally-known, universally-respected hero, right?" "Yeah?" "He was totally helpless against robots." She blinked, and he continued, "Oh, he could lift the smaller ones with his telekinesis. But big, heavy ones? They couldn't hurt him, at least not without some pretty fancy technology, but he couldn't hurt them either. There was just nothing he could do to them." "So what did he do?" Jon shrugged. "Either he relied on his teammates, or else he found clever ways to leverage his powers. Or, most often, both. And that's what we're going to do with yours." "How?"

"I've been thinking about that. The trouble is, indoors where there's no plants, you have to rely on your pollen. If an enemy happens to be immune to your pollen, you're out of luck... unless we can bring plants into the picture. Supposing you carried a bag of, say, kudzu seeds. Could you make them grow fast enough to snare people?"

Demeter's eyes widened and she thought it over. "Hmmm. Yes... I would need a little time to get them started, but yes." "How long?" "You'd have to cover for me for a few seconds, but then I could snare probably several people at once." "See? That's doable. And definitely worthwhile. My only concern is, how well will they do as snares considering they can't get rooted?" "Oh believe me, they'll get rooted - you've seen how strong the trees are. It'll do damage to the floor, of course."

"Well, that's fine, then. There's lots of powers that do more property damage than that! ... I don't know if kudzu is the right plant to use, of course, I just said that off the top of my head." "I can think of any number of promising varietals. Thanks, Photon." "No problem! The more we can work out how to use our powers together, the more effective a team we'll be." They smiled at each other.

Just then the 'doorbell' rang. "Huh," Jon said, and went and checked the door monitor.

He saw a man with shoulder-length brown hair who, apart from wearing a blank full-face mask of dark, rigid material, appeared to have stepped out of a Ren Faire. He wore a blousy white shirt and leather leggings, with a rust-red cloak over all. A sturdy leather baldric bearing a bright silver buckle crossed his chest, supporting a sword with a basket hilt.

Thoroughly puzzled, Jon told Demeter, "Be ready, just in case." He unsealed the door and opened it.

"Greetings," the man said with a sweeping bow. "I wish to join you."
"All right, I am not the Shadow. You have nothing at all to worry about. Except, oh, wait, I'm pointing a gun at you."



--The Shadow


Return to “M&M Story Hour”



Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 4 guests