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

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And Now For The News!

Postby The Shadow » Sun Nov 15, 2009 1:36 am

Just to keep you guys updated, I've been having a heinous couple weeks at work (three words: "Academic schedule" and "midterms") and SP's job hasn't been a bed of roses either.

We have spoken now and then, but haven't had the time or energy to game. However, we anticipate this will change soon; and in fact, he is hoping to come down and game in person again sometime in December.
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Further Updates

Postby The Shadow » Tue Jan 05, 2010 12:19 am

Well, my job exploded, then SP's job exploded, then SP started to suffer from his usual seasonal depression, then the holidays hit us. It's been INSANE.

We have played one brief session, and we hope to get back in the swing of things over time. My job is very light at the moment, so we'll see how SP's feeling as the days get longer.
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Re: Life and Light: After Shadow-Force (Updated Oct. 30, 2009)

Postby McGuffin » Tue Jan 12, 2010 8:14 am

Whoa, sounds rough. Hang in there guys, I've missed your storytelling.

As for the new team name, how about Dawn/Dusk Patrol?
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Re: Life and Light: After Shadow-Force (Updated Oct. 30, 2009)

Postby The Shadow » Sun Jan 17, 2010 8:51 pm

Thanks for the good wishes, mcguffin. If all goes well, we'll game Wednesday night. (It was supposed to be last Wednesday, but... things didn't go well. :)

As for the team name, I think we're drifting toward keeping the old one.
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10 - Spacing Out

Postby The Shadow » Wed Jul 07, 2010 11:12 pm

[Good news! The long hiatus is finally over! *And* I have a session and a half or so of backlog, so your next update should come relatively soon. My summer schedule is vastly more open than during the school year, so I will both have more time to game and more time to write it up.]

Saturday morning. Jon slept in, his sleep troubled and fitful. Zipping in to the base he was unsurprised when Alpha informed him that Struthers wanted to see him ASAP.

Heading in to the man's office, he took a seat nervously. "Captain, I..." Struthers held up a hand. "Relax. I didn't ask you here to chew you out." Photon swallowed and asked candidly, "Why not?" The older man held his eyes. "You shot a perp who was threatening a bunch of cops with a bomb. It's regrettable, but that's the way it went down. Sometimes it has to go down that way; that's the nature of the beast."

Jon said quietly, "I've got more options than a bullet - or a laser. I should've done it differently." "What, you deliberately shot off his hand to get your jollies? Or to save lives?" Jon flinched at the description of what he'd done, but mumbled, "To... to save lives."

"Yeah. Sounds like a good reason to me. What do you think?" Photon insisted, "I should have done it differently!" "Yeah, well, you didn't think of it in the heat of combat. Super or not, you're human. Sucks, doesn't it?" Jon dropped his eyes. "Yeah."

After a long pause, Struthers said, "I can't give you orders. But if you were one of my men, I'd have you talk to a shrink after something like this. It can help." Jon sighed. "That could be... difficult." "I know there's shrinks who specialize in dealing with supers; look into it, okay?" "All right, I will."

"Good." Struthers paused again, then became all business. "Now, those armed thugs you saw working with Hybrid... We captured a few. Looks like VIPER is back in town, and that's bad news."

Jon wrenched his mind into this new train of thought. "VIPER? I've... never heard of them." "I'm not surprised. They used to be pretty big around here, but Shadow-Force kicked their scaly asses so hard early on that they cleared out. But now it seems they're back." "What, already?!" "No, I'm guessing they've been slowly working toward this for a while; it's the way they operate. They may have accelerated things a bit due to circumstances, but I'll bet we would've been hearing from them regardless."

"Who are they?" Struthers grimaced. "Trouble on an international scale. There's nobody so dangerous as a guy who thinks he can improve on human nature by changing society. You'd think people would learn." "Improve it how?" "Survival of the fittest. They want to clear out all the 'artificial rules' that let the weak dominate the strong, and so on and on."

"So, what, anarchy?" "Oh, no. They're all about the meritocracy. If you prove you're strong - physically, mentally, morally - you get to give the orders. That's the theory, anyway - I've definitely got my doubts about the 'morally'!" He shrugged. "It's not a bad gig if you're a lowlife - you get three squares and the chance to shoot people, and if you test smart they'll educate you up to the level of your incompetence."

"So they want to undermine the government." "Basically. Besides the militant wing, they've also got various initiatives to spread their philosophy by legit means - schools and so on. If they can win people over with sweet reasonableness, they'll do it, but shooting works too."

Jon sighed. "Lovely. Is there anything about Seattle in particular they want?" "They don't have it in their coils yet - that's good enough. Though they do tend to favor major ports." "So what do we do?" "We make them a priority. We don't know what they're up to yet, but we need to find out. I don't know what else you have on your plate, but make room."

"All right, Captain, I'll see what I can find out." "And you'll keep me in the loop this time. I mean it, Photon. This is not a job for the Lone Ranger." "Yessir, I will." "Good enough. Is there anything else?"

Jon swallowed and said, "Yes. I want you to know, sir. The incident with the hand... It won't happen again. I'll take steps to make sure it doesn't. I swear it."

Struthers just looked at him impassively, then leaned forward and said with quiet intensity, "Don't make promises you can't keep."

Jon fled from the man's eyes back to the base.

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

After Alpha was filled in, he said, "VIPER, huh? Figures - Hybrid's known for working with them. I've dug up some stuff on him for the team meeting." "Speaking of digging, if VIPER's been preparing for a while..." "Way ahead of you. I'm already analyzing recent construction, new businesses, that kind of thing. They can't hide from me for long."

"Good. Um, Alpha?" "Yeah?" Jon looked anywhere but at one of Alpha's cameras. "Struthers... suggested I see a counsellor. One who specializes in supers. Could you... look some up for me?" "Sure, Jon. No problem." "Thanks."

Jon bit his lip. "Is my suit packed up?" "Oh. No, I didn't know if you might need it or not, and it's really light anyway. It's in storage." "Ah. Good."

He went to the storage room and got out the spacesuit Scott had made for him last year, after the unfortunate orbit-of-Jupiter incident. Its fabric was amazingly light - not just because of Scott's technical wizardry. He hadn't needed to protect Photon from heat, cold, radiation, or the Sun's unfiltered rays, after all, just provide air and pressure.

Jon removed his cape and stepped into the thing, sealing it with one quick pass of his hand; it clung to itself without further ado. The indicator showed an airtight seal. I'll be back in time for the team meeting, Alpha. OK, Jon. Have fun.

Light form. Out the door, up into the sky, which quickly turned black. Jon scaled back his sensation of time so that it seemed only a twinkling when he materialized to look back at the Earth across the dead lunar plains of Mare Imbrium.

Hovering there, his breathing loud in his ears, he could blot out the whole world with his hand. The people whose lives I've saved, the people who've never heard of me. ... A man being fitted with a prosthetic hand, who probably hates my guts. Mom and Dad. My brothers and sisters - both sets. Bazooka and Brimstone, Mystra and Chameleon. Bolt, Forestrike, Tex, Demeter, FAQ, Starflare, Enigma... Well, maybe not Enigma.

It looks so quiet, so peaceful. Another flicker along null geodesics, and he materialized again in deep space to look back at a pale featureless blue dot. So tiny, and yet so precious.

He turned his back on his world and looked out at the stars, surrounding him on all sides, more brilliant than ever seen on Earth. And he floated. Sometimes he liked to open his senses to their maximum on every wavelength, even his body tingling with the faint tremulo of gravitational waves... but that was noisy, and today he wanted quiet.

After a timeless time, his breathing finally slow and shallow, he thought: OK, universe. Why me? I know you like me and all, but why? Not that I don't appreciate it, being here, seeing this.

A sense of Presence grew on him, more and more, tugging at strings of his heart he didn't often use. Oh, knock it off, he thought lightly. You're not God, you know that, I know that. For all I know you're just a figment of my imagination, a rationalization for my metapowers.

The Presence grew stronger, and he became aware of spacetime itself, its gentle curves as it caressed the Earth, the sun, the stars; its loops coruscating with joy as they intertwined with the complementary loops of matter. Without any words, the universe told him softly: no

Jon blinked, the vision fading at once, yet etched in his memory. "OK then," he said aloud in his helmet. "That was... interesting." Hard to believe my subconscious mind has that good of an imagination. Then again, the human mind can do some pretty crazy things.

"Tell me straight," he challenged. "What are you? You can't just leave it at 'no'. If you're not just a private neurosis of my own, you're going to have to be a little clearer than that."

No reply.

"Fine. Be that way." The stars twinkled impossibly around him, ripples of gravity deflecting their beams as the cosmos laughed.

Jon shivered. "This is just too weird. Far out, as Mystra would say. I meant it: You're not God." He said the Lord's Prayer, a bit defiantly. He'd never been a really strong believer, but he did stop in on a Sunday now and then.

The ancient words calmed him. After basking a timeless while longer in the now-dispassionate starlight, he said, "OK, fine. But I'm not giving up. We'll hash this out later."

No reply.

He sighed and turned to look at the pale blue dot again. "Not like I don't have plenty else to think about."

I will need to save the world.

Checking the suit's chronometer, he saw he still had an hour and a half. So he flickered himself over to Mars for a bit and relaxed as he gazed out over scarlet vistas seen by few human eyes. (He resisted the urge to mug for Opportunity's camera as he flashed past its telemetry.)

When he saw he had twenty minutes or so left, he regretfully headed back to Earth. This time he scaled his time-sense so that he could clearly see the pale blue dot getting bigger, bigger... dominating his whole vision... North America leaping toward him... Puget Sound... Seattle... The base grounds.

Hovering in the Situation Room, he unsealed the suit with a soft hiss and pushed his helmet back. "I needed that." "Yeah," Alpha said, a bit wistfully, "I can only imagine." "I can take a camera up for you again sometime." "It's not the same." "No," Jon replied candidly, "it's not."

He gyrated in the air as he peeled the suit off; Demeter walked in on him and stared. "...Is that what I think it is?" Jon grinned, at peace with the universe, and alighted. "Depends on what you think it is." He draped the suit over a chair and flared his cape back over his shoulders in a swirl of red.

"...A spacesuit?" "Yep." "Where...?" "Let's just say I managed to refrain from ruining a NASA staffer's day." "Why?" Jon laughed. "Because it would've been rude." "No, I mean... I didn't know you could do that."

Jon said seriously, "We've got a lot of responsibility. Nothing wrong with having some fun with our powers too, now and then." "Yeah but... Somehow dancing with trees doesn't seem quite as awesome as it did a few minutes ago." "Sounds awesome to me! Hey Alpha - remember the Phantom playing with his telekinesis?" Alpha chuckled. "Oh yeah. I'd have trouble finding things for days!"

Demeter looked between the two of them. "So, um, what did Erebus do?" Jon and Alpha stopped laughing. "Uh," Jon said, "Let's not go there, okay?" Demeter raised a brow. Jon cleared his throat and explained, "Erebus didn't find combat stressful, really. At all." Alpha: "Quite the opposite, in fact. It helped him unwind."

"Oh," Demeter said. Jon replied defensively, "It comes with having a hostile, ravening extradimensional force embedded in your psyche and all. We should all be glad he didn't go villain." "I guess so!"

Jon said into the awkward silence, "So, uh, how have the two of you been getting along?" Alpha said playfully, "Oh, peachy. I'm in hock to her for only half my immortal soul now." Demeter laughed. "Soul?! What would I do with it? No, I'll settle for indentured servitude, chip-boy." "As you say, m'lady." "...That 'm' doesn't stand for 'meat', does it?" "The world may never know."

Jon laughed. "And Sirocco?" Demeter: "He's okay. Seems a little cocky, though." Alpha: "I've been waiting for us to be formally introduced." Jon blinked. "Oh, sorry. We'll take care of that in the meeting." "No worries."

As they waited, Demeter showed Photon a small pouch. "I've picked up some seeds, by the way. I think these'll work fine." "Great!"

Soon Sirocco and Beta returned from their patrol. Jon greeted them and all sat down at the table in the Situation Room. He paused for a moment, looking around; it'd been too long since the other seats were filled. "OK," he finally said, "first order of business: Sirocco, meet X-97 Alpha. Alpha, Sirocco." Alpha: "Hey." Sirocco took his first meeting with the AI with good grace after the initial shock, and agreed to keep mum about his existence.

"Now then," Jon resumed, "you'll need to fill this out," and handed the young man a protocol form with an envelope. Sirocco looked it over, frowning. "Who's going to see this?" "Nobody, I promise, unless something happens to you. It'll be kept in a very secure place - same place where mine and Demeter's are." "Mine too," Alpha added. Sirocco mulled it over. "Well... okay, I guess. Can I bring it back in?" "Sure. Just don't take too long." "All right."

Jon cleared his throat. "So, I contacted your reference in Detroit." "Yeah?" "Yes. I regret to say he died two months ago." Sirocco's jaw dropped, and Demeter sat up straight, eyes wide. "Oh my God," Sirocco breathed. "Lieutenant Taylor... How did he die?!" "Shot in the line of duty," Jon told him solemnly, and Demeter closed her eyes in empathy.

Sirocco shook his head. "Damn, I'm sorry to hear that. He was a good man. Took a chance on me... This didn't have anything to do with me, did it?!" "I have no reason to think so," Photon assured him. "Okay... Wow, I'm going to have to see if I can do anything for his family."

After a little more commisseration, Jon said gently, "I know this is a real shock for you. And it's very sad. But I do need to ask if there's anyone else in Michigan who can act as a reference." Sirocco paused for a time, collecting his thoughts. "...No, not really. Oh, there's a couple other guys on the force who know me, but I didn't work with them closely." "All right, that'll do for a start. How about reporters?" "I've never exactly been a front page story." "The Great Lakes Guardians?" "Like I told you, I've worked with them a couple times. But they don't really know me."

Photon sighed. "What about Charm?" "If you can find him. He's out of the game for good." "You don't know how to contact him, then." "Nope, I'm afraid not. He said that when he retired he wanted to be out all the way."

"This is... a little awkward." "Yeah, well, I'm sorry, but that's how it is." Demeter looked between the two of them, her face impassive. Jon thought, not for the first time, that he wouldn't want to play poker against her.

He finally asked, "One more question." "Yeah?" "I... would feel a lot better if you could at least tell us why you want to keep the source of your flight power secret." Now it was Sirocco's turn to sigh. He nodded and explained, "It's like... If it gets out how I do it, then people will know how to nullify it, you know? I'm not thrilled at the idea of plummeting to the ground." Jon mulled that over, then reluctantly agreed, "Okay, I understand. That'll do... for now."

He changed the subject. "All right. For now, let's turn to the next item. We need to be able to contact each other if something comes up on patrol or the like, and of course we can't carry Shadow-Force communicators when we're with Sidney." He paused, then explained ruefully, "The original Shadow-Force was a 'high trust' team; we all knew each others' names and contact info. For better or worse, though, we're just not there yet. I've been giving some thought to how this is going to work."

His teammates absorbed that in silence. Jon resumed, "My best idea so far is to obtain pay-as-you-go cell phones and keep them on us, using them for nothing except team matters. I'm open to suggestions if anyone has a better idea." Sirocco groaned faintly: "Another one." Demeter nodded. "Makes sense. How're we going to refer to each other, though? We'll need some sort of code." Jon nodded. "Let's work out the logistics first. Alpha?"

Alpha mused, "I can obtain the phones anonymously and keep them paid up for you easily enough. And I can think of a few refinements, in case the phones fall into the wrong hands." "Great! Any way we could scramble the signal, just in case?" "Dunno, maybe FAQ could think of something?" "I'll ask him."

Returning to the issue of code, they agreed to refer to Alpha as 'Al', Beta as 'Bert' ("This supersedes what I told you about 'Sidney', Beta,") Photon as 'Phil', Demeter as 'Diane', and Sirocco as 'Sam'. They further agreed on a few key phrases: "Dropping by" would mean heading to the base, while "Meet for lunch" would mean there was an issue elsewhere in the city. "When you get a chance" meant less urgency than "Later this week". It was also mutually decided that texting would usually be better than calling, which would be reserved for more complicated matters.

There followed an intensive session of patrol scheduling. Jon insisted that patrols always be in pairs; thankfully Beta's greater availability made that less taxing for the other three than it otherwise would have been. Jon asked Sirocco, "Any trouble working with Beta so far?" "Not much, though I don't always know what sort of instructions he's looking for. Demeter said you did a patrol with the three of you?" They agreed to meet the next day in the afternoon to shake the kinks out.

Finally, Photon said, "All right. Now, have you two heard about the events at American Eagle's press conference last night?" Demeter said, "I saw it on the late night news," while Sirocco shook his head.

Jon tersely filled them in on the fight. He started to gloss over the whole hand business, then took a deep breath and took the bull by the horns. "Yeah, I hurt the guy because in the heat of the moment I couldn't think of anything else to do. It just goes to show that we need to plan for contingencies like this, figure out ahead of time how we're going to handle tough situations. I'm going to be pondering different scenarios we can discuss at future team meetings." His two teammates heard him out quietly. They were both looking a little overwhelmed, honestly.

Jon took a deep breath and continued, "OK, so we need to track this guy down, and figure out what VIPER's up to. And keep an eye open for Black Phantom's materiel. I believe Alpha has some information on Hybrid for us?"

Alpha responded, "Sure do. Here's the sitch." A viewscreen lit up showing a picture of Hybrid in armor (without a mirror finish in this photo). "Hybrid's been around the block. He's been hiring himself out as a super-mercenary for the last fifteen years, though I can't account for him during all of that time. VIPER is one of his best customers, but he's not very discriminating. Anyway, team, this guy has a reputation: He's smart and he's tough and he learns from his mistakes. While he's lost his share of fights, he's usually gotten away, and he's never lost the second time around with the same people. He adapts to people's powers and tactics and takes them apart."

A new picture came up, this one of Hybrid fighting a team of supers. "He got his start in New York City, as so many do. Got beaten down hard as a newbie and put away. When he got out, he started playing things smart. His next big caper - and still his most infamous - was against the St. Louis Paladins." Another picture came up, of another fight.

Jon said, puzzled, "I thought the St. Louis team was called the Gatekeepers?" "Yeah, the current team. This was the prior one." Sirocco suddenly said, "Ohhh. I think I've heard of this one." Alpha: "Yeah, it wasn't pretty."

"His first tangle with them ended in a narrow loss," Alpha resumed. "Hybrid had a hard time dealing with Jack Frost, one of their big guns." Another screen lit up, showing the rime-covered face of the well-known super. "The next time? He came back virtually immune to cold, and took them down single-handed, except for backup from a few minions. The Paladins never really recovered from that fight, and broke up amidst infighting several months later."

Sirocco asked incredulously, "And this is the guy we've got to take down?" Photon reminded him, "I told you this is the big leagues. Shadow-Force has taken down bigger guys than Hybrid." Sirocco shook his head. Meanwhile Demeter said quietly, "Yeah. And we'll do it again."

Jon was suddenly overwhelmed. And I thought we were going to change the team's name! No way. "That's right," he affirmed, his heart full of emotion. "We will."

Sirocco caught the mood and grinned. "The guy's doomed already." "It'll take careful planning," Photon warned, "We're going to have to be smart and cautious. But we can do it." He looked at them both, then at Beta, at Alpha. "I know we can."

The meeting broke up on a high point. Jon leaned back in his chair and massaged his brows. "Wow." "You did well," Alpha told him. "I'm glad you think so."

Alpha paused, then said emphatically, "I do." Then he added, "Sirocco's gonna be trouble." "Tell me about it. My own personal Erebus to deal with." "You should be so lucky! ... That bit about his references, or lack thereof... You think he's telling the truth?" Jon said wearily, "Put it this way... I think it's true there isn't anyone back there willing to say nice things about him." Alpha sighed. "Yeah, I figured that's what he meant by people 'knowing him well' too."

Jon shook his head. "I feel so... old... around those two." "I know what you mean! And here I am, all of seven years old!" That got an honest chuckle out of Jon. "Yeah, but that's like dog years, isn't it? How long in human years?" "More than you know, Grasshopper." "Sure, sensei. So in your great wisdom, what should I do next?" "Well, in the famous words of an early artificial intelligence... 'Reply hazy, ask again later'."

Jon laughed, shaking his head. "For a seven year old, you sure do know how to make me laugh." "It's a gift." "So when are you switching off for the move?" "Late next week. Not looking forward to it." "Me neither. I missed you the last time, ya big lug." "Yeah. And Jon? Thanks."

Jon paused, his heart full. "You're welcome, Alpha. ... And I guess you should thank Forestrike too." "OH! Never thought of that. ... Gives me kind of a greasy sensation, know what I mean?" "All too well."

"Get to bed, Jon. The world will keep spinning." "Yeah, I know." "...That's part of what you do out in space, isn't it? Look back at the world?" Jon shook his head. "It's scary sometimes, how well you know me." "We've been through a lot together. Kept this city in one piece all alone, didn't we?"

Photon smiled as he got to his feet. "We did at that. Now to keep it up. 'Night, Alpha." "'Night, my friend." With that, Jon shimmered and was gone.

[This one was put together from memory and a lot of back-and-forth with SP from a few mini-sessions that were played several months ago. Also added some stuff from whole cloth - notably the space scene. (Did get SP to approve went on during it, though. Obviously it's pretty 'sensitive' stuff to the overarching story.)]
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Re: Life and Light: After Shadow-Force (Updated July 7, 2010)

Postby McGuffin » Fri Jul 09, 2010 12:38 pm

Good to hear from you Shadow! :) Great read as always, I look forward to reading more.
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Re: Life and Light: After Shadow-Force (Updated July 7, 2010)

Postby Winter » Sat Jul 10, 2010 5:47 pm

Great to see the return of this story!

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Re: Life and Light: After Shadow-Force (Updated July 7, 2010)

Postby The Shadow » Sun Jul 11, 2010 9:35 pm

Thanks, guys. Always good to be appreciated. :) I've got a couple new items for Shadow-Force Files, which I'll be getting up eventually, too.
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Shadow-Force Files: McCarthyism

Postby The Shadow » Mon Jul 12, 2010 7:16 pm

There's a new post up at Shadow-Force Files, on McCarthyism in the Shadow-Force timeline.
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Re: Life and Light: After Shadow-Force (Updated July 7, 2010)

Postby The Shadow » Tue Jul 20, 2010 12:23 am

Should have the next post up for you as soon as I hear back from SP on a technical point.

And we had a short session last Wednesday, so things are still moving ahead!
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11 - Loose Ends

Postby The Shadow » Thu Jul 22, 2010 1:24 am

[So I was left with a session-and-a-half or so that ended up quite long. I decided it flowed better split in two - here's the first half.]

The next morning, Jon called Hei and managed to get her this time. "Hey," he said wearily, "Sorry I've been so scarce. I don't know if you've noticed, but things've been CRAZY." "I've been watching the news; believe me, I understand." "Thanks! I'm not sure I really understand it all yet myself... How about dinner, soon? Tonight, maybe?" "Love to! But how about Friday? Work has been crazy for me, too." "I'll be there! Short of full-scale extradimensional invasion, anyway." "...What odds are they giving on that these days?" "Too high if it has the potential to keep me from ya!" She laughed, and they chatted a bit more before signing off.

The Sunday papers were full of the American Eagle announcement and the Hybrid fight. To Jon's surprise both major Seattle papers treated him quite well, downplaying the loss of the man's hand and emphasizing the bomb; while the Tacoma News-Tribune all but fawned on him. The Tacoma police were vocal in their gratitude for Photon's work, both at the mayor's office and during the chase. Maybe I do need some more perspective on what happened, he thought; when you get down to it, what kind of maniac tries to blow himself up in that situation? Hybrid had already gotten away!

He stopped by his office to check up on a simulation he had running... he didn't expect to have a chance to do so later. He was heading for Gerhard's office nearby to give him some instruction on how to massage the code for further work when he heard Melissa's voice eagerly expounding something involving supers, and even Photon.

Frowning slightly, Jon listened. Something about how Photon's battles with Enigma, Technoid, and Hybrid proved something about his solar identity? He went in. "Hey Jerry, Melissa. How's it going?" Melissa started as if at a gunshot. "Oh, uh, hi, Dr. Winters. Wow, I just remembered I have to get going!" She hurried out.

Jon looked after her. "Jerry... Have I offended Melissa somehow recently? She seems really abrupt and jumpy around me lately." Gerhard laughed and waved it off, not meeting his eyes. "Nah, Doc, she's just stressed out about her classes. She about bit my head off earlier over nothing!"

"Ah. ... She sure sounded excited about supers or something." "Yeah, it's her latest pet theory; interesting, I guess, though I don't follow the news the way she does." "Oh? What kind of theory?" "She thinks supers are the modern mythology: Gods for people who think they don't have any. She was just going on about how Photon's latest fights have parallels to myths about sun deities or something."

Jon pondered that. Sounds harmless enough identity-wise, but wow, that's uncomfortable. I don't want to be a god... "Supers are gods, huh? Seems to me they're just ordinary people who have abilities beyond the norm. It's not like they're on a higher plane or anything." Gerhard shrugged. "I don't fully buy into it myself. But Melissa says that people need somebody to look up to; that they'll lift somebody up to that higher plane whether they start there or not. If it weren't for supers, she thinks we'd be idolizing movie stars or professional athletes or something."

Laughing now, Jon said, "Oh, come on! That's pretty far-fetched... I mean, sure people like that are well-known, but they're entertainers! It's not like they actually DO anything." Gerhard laughed with him. "That's exactly what I said, but she has an answer for it. According to her, it doesn't have to make any sense; it's a human need, and people will pound square pegs into the round holes if they can't find round pegs. Did you know that before supers started emerging, big sports stars were sometimes called 'heroes'?"

Jon paused, chewing on that. "Huh. Really? What sort of villains were they supposed to be fighting?" "The other team, I guess?" "Weird. Sounds like she's really put some thought into this, though." "Yeah, she has. Anyway, I've got some preliminary results on that Calabi-Yau sim..." "Oh! Right, and I wanted you to tweak this routine..." After discussing business with Jerry, Jon slipped out, chuckling a bit as he pondered Melissa's theory a bit more. Imagine a world with movie actors as serious Presidential candidates, or with comedians and football players in Congress... Wild.

Zipping in to the base, he called the mayor of Tacoma's office only to be told by a staffer that they hadn't been contacted by Hybrid and to the best of her knowledge had no major new leads.

"Well Alpha, let's try to tie up some loose ends before things get uglier than they already are. Think the Great Lakes Guardians have anyone on duty on a Sunday?" "Worth a try; we do, after all. Dialing..."

Soon an image came to life on one of the Situation Room viewscreens, and for an instant Jon thought there were technical problems - then he recognized the elongated granite-grey features of the extradimensional wizard Shatterstone. The earth mage said gravely, "Salutations." He bowed his head, the sheer mail he wore chiming slightly with his movement.

Jon nodded. "Hello, this is Photon of Shadow-Force in Seattle... I'm calling about our newest member Sirocco, who is from your area; I'm wondering if any of you could give him a reference for me?" Shatterstone paused in some consternation. "Ah, that sounds like a human cultural matter. I am ill-equipped to judge of such things; I will contact one of my teammates to respond to your request. I hope this does not give offense?" "No, of course not," Jon assured him. The being nodded solemnly. "It is good. Please grasp." The screen went blank.

Jon cocked his head at one of Alpha's cameras. "'Grasp'?" "I think he means 'hold'." "Ah." Soon the screen came back to life, revealing an Asian woman in a white-and-red costume: The team's tactical leader, Crimson Dragon. She nodded politely. "Photon, good to meet you. We've been following your work now and then... sounds like you gave Hybrid quite a fight. Our best wishes in dealing with him; he's got quite the rep around here." "Hey, thanks! If you know anything about him that could help, I'd be glad to hear it."

She shook her head. "We've never tangled with him directly, but we work with the Gatekeepers now and then, and have gotten an earful." [The Gatekeepers include a couple members from the old St. Louis Paladins, including Jack Frost.] "Anyway," she continued, "you called about Sirocco?"

Photon nodded. "He's just joined our team, and I was hoping one of you could reference him for me?" Crimson Dragon sighed. "Since you're the leader of your team, I'll share some information with you in strictest confidence." Jon blinked. "Uh, okay." "I'll have to ask you to ensure your cyberkinetic isn't listening in." Jon cocked his head. "You mean Technoid? He..." "No," Crimson Dragon informed him firmly, "there are rumors you have another cyberkinetic working with you. I don't know the truth of that and don't need to; I just need your assurance that nobody else is listening."

Jon nodded. "All right, one second." He blanked the screen and told Alpha, "You heard the lady." "Awwww, but dad!" Jon rolled his eyes. "Just don't listen, OK?" "Yeah, yeah."

Jon turned the screen back on. "Okay, we're secure." "Good." Crimson Dragon sighed. "Sirocco is a disaster just waiting to happen. He's a rash, overconfident hothead. Charm was the worst possible mentor for him; the old man got away with being flashy and careless in the field for years because of his superhuman luck, but I doubt Sirocco will. Way too many of Charm's habits rubbed off."

Jon sighed, shaking his head. "I'd pretty much already figured that out for myself." "You haven't figured out everything, though. Because this next bit has been kept under wraps." Jon gaped in dismay. "You mean there's more?" "I'm afraid so."

She paused, then said clinically, "Charm and Sirocco had a loud, vehement, and very public falling-out about a week before Charm announced his retirement to the Super community. A few days after the announcement, Sirocco was seen leaving a house we now know to be Charm's; he is believed to be the last person who saw Charm alive." Photon stared at her. "Charm is dead?!" "Yes." "...Are you telling me that Sirocco is a suspect in his death?"

Crimson Dragon held up a hand. "No. We aren't certain there was any foul play, and in any case the time of death is estimated to be eighteen hours after Sirocco was seen there. What we do know is that Charm's luck seems to have suddenly and spectacularly run out, all at once; the number of improbable events conspiring to kill him is so bizarre it would sound funny if the results weren't so disturbing. And we know that a magical amulet Charm was known to wear was not found on his person or anywhere among his effects."

"So you think that maybe the lack of the amulet reversed his luck?" "That is one hypothesis; we don't know for certain. Charm was always close-mouthed about his powers." Jon pondered this, stunned. Then he asked, "Was Charm able to fly?" "Yes, he was. Why do you ask?" "Because Sirocco can, and he admits that power isn't derived from his metagene." "...I see. He has not previously demonstrated the ability to fly, to the best of my knowledge."

Photon said grimly, "Yeah." Crimson Dragon responded quietly, "I will not offer you advice; that would be out of place under the circumstances. But I will wish you success and good fortune in dealing with these matters." "Thank you. And if there are any new developments in the Charm case, I would greatly appreciate hearing about them." She nodded. "We will be in touch."

Jon signed off, then waved at one of Alpha's cameras... suddenly realizing something. "You read our lips, didn't you?" he accused. "...Mayyyybe." "Alpha! I gave her my word!" "Then aren't you glad you didn't break it? You both just said not to listen, after all." Jon fumed. "Very HAL 9000 of you." Alpha: "...That's not funny." [Besides the obvious, Alpha was once thoroughly hacked - before Photon's time - and turned the base against the team. The only way he could give warning was by talking in a creepy HAL voice and calling everyone 'Dave'.]

"No," Jon bit off, "it wasn't." The computer sighed over the nearest speaker. "All right, I'm sorry. I'll even restore to yesterday's memory files if you want." Jon shook his head. "No, I won't ask you to do brain surgery on yourself - especially not so soon after your big reboot. Just don't do it again?" "Yeah. I promise." "Okay then." "...What're you gonna do about Sirocco?" With a sigh, "I don't really know yet."

They were silent for a little while, then Jon asked, "Did you or Carlton Legal ever find anything out about Chris Perkins?" "Oh! I've been meaning to bring that up, but life's been so distracting." "Tell me about it. What've you got?"

"Trouble. I have found a very disturbing pattern in his previous work - the more so, given recent events." "Go on." "He had average to good grades in journalism school. A pretty ordinary freelance career out of college... but then, about five years ago, something happened."

Jon cocked his head. "What?" "I don't know. But I do know that his writing style subtly changed, all at once. Word count statistics prove it." "So? People change, Alpha. Maybe he had a traumatic event in his life or something." "Yeah, well, if so he got over it really suddenly. Because three years ago his style shifted back to match the old patterns exactly."

"...What are you telling me?" "I'm telling you that for two years, somebody else was writing under his byline. Covering for him." "And then he came back?" "Yep." "So what was he doing during those two years?" "That's just it: I haven't the foggiest idea. Everything else about him checks out, at least on paper. To be blunt, it's really weird and kind of scary."

"And now he pops up with a new, secret contract and wants to interview me." "You got it." "...Something is rotten in the state of Denmark." "Nah. This is more like Greek tragedy." "Oh, joy! So, no interview for Mr. Perkins, then."

"I dunno about that, boss. 'Keep your friends close and your enemies closer', remember?" Jon thought that over. "Yeah, that and 'Better the enemy you know.' You think he's with VIPER?" "Maybe, I don't know. But I guarantee he's with somebody." "Okay, so maybe he does get an interview, then." "Can I make a suggestion?" "Of course!" "You might want to take Demeter with you. She's one sharp cookie, I've noticed; and while I'm no judge, I gather she's rather... distracting." Jon nodded. "I might just. You're right, she's quick on the uptake."

Jon mulled it over some more. "Has he been calling back?" "Once." "Give him a few days to call back again while I figure out what times will work for Demeter. If he doesn't call, act like you're following up. Play hard to get; make him justify why I should even be willing to talk to him. Who knows, he might let something slip." "Hmmm. Unlikely, but it never hurts to try. And then I give in after getting as many concessions as possible, I assume?" "Well, naturally. A prize he had to fight for will be more highly valued, right? And its loss less easily risked." "...You are getting devious!"

Jon smirked. "It comes with the territory..." He abruptly sighed and rested his head in his hand as he thought through the implications of that: "Yeah." Alpha asked quietly, "Any other loose ends before you head to Tacoma?"

Jon paused. "Yes. The Protectors, if you please." "Coming right up!" Soon he had Thunderwing on the line - one of the Protectors he'd only met in passing. "Oh, Photon. Good to hear from you. What do you need?" "I was hoping to get ahold of Moke and FAQ; it's not urgent, so if they're not available they can feel free to call back at their convenience." "FAQ's on personal leave at the moment." Jon asked, concerned, "Is he OK? When do you expect him back?" "Nothing serious, I gather it's some sort of family event. He'll be back in a few days." "OK, good, just leave him a message then. And Moke?" "He's off-shift but on call - I can get him on the line if you give me a few minutes?" "No rush. When's he back on?" "Tomorrow?" "That's fine, just have him call me then." "I'll do that."

Signing off, Jon said, "I'm gone. Wish me luck." "...Where'd he go?" Jon laughed and headed to Tacoma, materializing outside city hall. It didn't take long to get admitted to see the mayor. "Any new news?" "No word from Hybrid, but American Eagle did find the boots to his armor." "Really! Where was this?" "The north part of town, near Ruston. You'd have to ask her for the details." "I will! How can I contact her?" "We've set up an answering service that can connect callers to her pager. ... The service helps weed out frivolous and unsavory calls, you see."

"All right, may I have the number?" "It's publicly available. I'll have my secretary leave a message." "All right, thank you. While we're waiting, can you tell me how long Black Phantom's gear was kept in the location it was stolen from?" "About six weeks." "And you said the deputy mayor and the chief of police knew it was there." "The chief knew largely because we had to get it out of the evidence locker, but yes."

After discussing a little more logistics, Photon took his leave courteously and waited above city hall. Sure enough, American Eagle came flapping up before much longer; she seemed surprised to see him waiting there, but wheeled to join him all the same. Jon, for his part, noted that she'd added a makeshift airtight mask to her costume.

"I see you've added to the decor," he noted, and she nodded. "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. I've already hit #7 on the list, that's enough for me." "Ouch! Well, I've still got you beat." She sighed. "Not just 'Most Embarrassing'. 'Lamest'." Jon nodded somberly. "Well, it's not the first outing that really counts. It's the second, third, fourth, and hundredth." "Point well taken. So what brings you by?"

"I heard you found Hybrid's boots. What's the story there?" She grinned at him. "I loved my uncle, but I think he focussed too much on the sky instead of the ground. Black Phantom advised me to build up a network of contacts and I took his advice - there's a number of people who keep their eyes open for me. One of them tipped me off to the boots." "Nice! I wonder why he left them behind?" "No mystery there. They were cracked open. Looks like a fuel line broke." "That was probably me; I snuffed out his thrust and he fell." "Aha! Anyway, they were pretty messed up, I guess he thought they were beyond repair." "I'm surprised he managed to fly off at the end, then." "They must've conked out not long after that." "Drat! Wish I'd had the chance to follow him. ... We'll have to have a wrench take a look at the boots, we may learn something about his style." "I'll look into it. Like I said before, I know somebody."

"All right. Speaking of Black Phantom, any word on his gear?" "None yet." "Do you think VIPER might be behind the theft?" "Hmm, hard to say. What would they have to gain by it?" "They seem to want to win hearts and minds. Imagine a new hero out on the streets, spouting the party line... If you can imagine a libertarian Black Phantom!"

American Eagle laughed heartily at that mental image, and Photon joined her. Then he said, "Well, we'll have to keep our eyes open; we don't want his legacy to fall through the cracks... What should I call you, by the way? Six syllables is a bit of a mouthful." She laughed again. "I've been going by the initials A.E." "OK, A.E., how do you want to handle this investigation? It's your city." She admitted, "I'm still pondering that. This is my first one." Jon nodded easily. "OK. Well, I should tell you a couple things, then. First, I've got people searching construction records and so on for signs of VIPER in Seattle and Tacoma." "Oh, good! Do you have any results yet?" "Not yet, but I hope to have some by tomorrow; I'll let you know." A.E. nodded gratefully. "That'll help. And the second thing?"

"I can search the whole city for Hybrid and VIPER really fast if you wish." She blinked. "You can? What, even inside people's houses and underground and so on?" Jon shrugged. "Depends on how much of a jerk I want to be." American Eagle looked impressed. "Wow. Well, by all means, go ahead - just don't violate anyone's civil rights or anything." "Coming right up, in a minute. Got a couple more questions for you." "Shoot."

"How can we contact each other?" She gave him her pager number, and he passed on Alpha's number. That taken care of, Jon told her seriously, "In the longer run... I realize there's all sorts of reasons why you have to be your own team. But if you're open to the idea, I don't see any reason why we can't coordinate our patrols and so on." "Well, I really should stick to Tacoma... Oh, I get it. You mean making sure we don't have any duplicated effort or gaps." "Exactly. I mean, we've been covering the whole Sea-Tac area thus far, if we could work you in on the Tacoma sweeps it would make life easier for both of us." She nodded. "Agreed. I expect to take the lead in this area, though: Like you said, it's my city." "Of course! But we're always willing to help. We're in this together, after all."

A.E. smiled. "Thanks, Photon. That's good to know. Oh, and it would probably be easiest for me to patrol with someone who can fly - that's what all my tactics are designed around. So it'd have to be you or Beta. Or Sirocco, I guess." Something about the way she said it told Jon that she found Sirocco more than a little attractive, but he let it go. "Sure. And if you think it would help, you're welcome to sit in on some of our team meetings, too. As a non-voting observer, of course." "Mmm. I'll take a rain check on that. I need to establish myself as my own hero first." "However you want to do it."

"OK. How long will it take you to do the search?" "It depends on how thorough I want to be. If I go full fine-toothed-comb mode, about half an hour." [1] She shook her head in amazement. "Well, let me know what you find. Please don't engage without talking to me first." Jon grinned at her. "You worry too much." He winked out of sight.

Half an hour later, Jon caught up to her and reported, "Nothing." "Nothing at all?" "Nope. I didn't do the underground quite as thoroughly as I would like - all those conduits and pipes get confusing - but no sign of them at all." "Huh! Think they're in Seattle?" "I consider it likely, yes. Don't worry, if so we'll bring you in on the big assault. Naturally, we'll expect the same courtesy in Seattle that we extend to you in Tacoma." American Eagle smiled and held out her hand. "We understand each other very well. A pleasure working with you, Photon." "And you! For many years to come, I trust!" They shook hands firmly and parted.

Jon sighed as he headed back to Seattle. Now to deal with Sirocco... This isn't likely to be a fun conversation.

[1] A quick word on Jon's super-speed - it gave us a lot of headaches. He's got Flight 20, to represent light-speed... by analogy with Super-Speed, it made sense to me at first to give him Quickness 20 to go with it. But when I calculated that would let him Take 20 on Search checks throughout the entire Sea-Tac area as a *free action*, SP's response was along the lines of, "Not just no, but HELL NO!" :) (The Phantom's massively good Mind Scan had caused him major problems with adventure design in the original campaign - believe me, Forestrike could tell you *all about* that. :)

After some spirited discussion, he was willing to live with Quickness 9, which lets Photon Take 20 on searching one of the two big cities in about half an hour. (Without Taking 20, it's about a minute and a half.) However, Quickness 9 at light-speed just doesn't cut it - Jon's reaction time would be so glacially slow compared to the speed of light he'd be off the planet many times over.

SP ultimately said he really only cared about Search not being too easy. As far as he was concerned, I could describe doing routine things as fast as I wanted. We also agreed that zipping through the city looking for crime is *much* faster than searching for something specific. So, basically, when it comes to anything but Searching, I just make up numbers that sound good. For Searching, we say that he has to crisscross the area a lot more times than twenty to get a grip on everything. He can't manipulate things in light-form, for one thing, and changing his senses does take effort. For that matter, it's impossible for him to *stand still* in light-form and look at an area for a while from the same vantage point.
"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."



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Shadow-Force Files: Layout of the Base

Postby The Shadow » Fri Jul 30, 2010 9:24 am

There's a new post up about the Shadow-Force base.
"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."



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12 - Good Luck Charm

Postby The Shadow » Wed Aug 04, 2010 8:22 pm

Heading back to the base, Photon found Beta and Sirocco ready for the joint patrol they'd worked out the previous day. "OK, let's go." The patrol was mostly quiet; Jon kept things light, telling funny stories of times with Shadow-Force. Sirocco quickly warmed to him, and proved to be a witty raconteur himself - soon they were laughing together like comrades. (He also got the hang of directing Beta easily enough.) Near the end, there was a bit of excitement - a robbery in progress. Sirocco said easily, "Cover me!" and swooped down to surround the four robbers in a sandstorm, quickly mopping them up. Too impulsive, Jon thought, but at least he's starting to think a little like a team member.

Flying up to the base, Photon said, "Beta, you head back home and recharge. Sirocco, how about you and I go up top?" He pointed at the omnipresent overcast, and Sirocco shrugged. "Sure." They pierced the clouds together, emerging into lovely autumn sunshine. "Nice!" the young man said. "I've been missing the sun." Face to face, Jon could make out a chain about his neck, and sighed to himself.

Jon met his eyes. "I was only a full member of Shadow-Force for about a year, but I developed a bond with them really fast. They became as close to me as my own brothers and sisters - closer, in some ways. That's what happens when you put your life on the line with someone on a regular basis. ... I figure that's where you and I and Demeter are headed before long." He paused, then said deliberately, "And so I'm willing to extend you a lot of emotional credit, on the basis of a relationship that isn't really established yet."

Sirocco nodded, a little warily - plainly he was waiting for the other shoe to drop. Photon continued, "Some matters have come up that I can't kick down the road until I know you better. They have to be resolved now." "Okay... What are they?"

"I need to know what happened between you and Charm." Sirocco sighed. "Well... the details aren't really your business. But I'll give you the broad sweep of things. Basically, I felt I was ready for a solo mission. Charm didn't agree; he said I didn't have enough ability, experience, whatever. That's what the blowup you've apparently heard of was about. Anyway, to make a long story short, I went and smashed the drug ring on my own - they were running Might [1] - and called Charm several times to let him know. He never picked up, and I never saw him again."

Jon folded his arms. "Uh huh. And what about Charm's amulet?" Sirocco recoiled in shock. "What?! How did you-?!" "Answer the question, please." The young hero wrestled to come to terms with the new situation, then finally said, "...All right, tell me straight. Did you know, or were you guessing?" "I had a really good indication, but I didn't know for certain."

With a sigh, "Fine. I didn't exactly lie to you just now, but obviously there's more to the story. I really didn't see Charm again, as Charm. But I did see him as Colin..." Reading Photon's face, he said, "Oh, crap. You didn't know his name, did you?" "It's hardly relevant now." "No, it is, believe me. Please don't look any further into his life, okay?" "Continue your story, please."

Sirocco said quietly, "My understanding was that the Amulet of Fortune had been promised to me. I went to Charm's house and spoke with him about it - he was out of costume. We both got angry. Finally he flung it at me while pronouncing a curse, and told me to get out. So I did."

"What were the terms of the curse?" "...Personal. But the gist was that I wouldn't hold on to the Amulet for long." Photon pondered that, then said quietly, "Charm is dead, Sirocco." Then, studying the young man's posture, "...This doesn't surprise you, does it?"

Sirocco sighed. "I didn't know for sure. But something he said once made me wonder." "He died about eighteen hours after speaking with you. Of a run of extraordinarily bad luck." Sirocco winced. "...Yeah."

Jon told him firmly, "I want to see this amulet." The young hero closed his eyes, took a breath, let it out. "Okay, if you insist. Not here, though." "You don't have to take it off." "No, I mean indoors. Please." "All right."

They flew down to the base, and found Demeter in the Situation Room chatting merrily with Alpha. (The two of them seemed to have really hit it off.) Sirocco said quietly to Photon, "Not here. Someplace more private." Jon nodded and said, "Excuse us for a second, we'll join you in a moment." Demeter waved, hardly even looking in his direction.

Jon led the way into the hall off the Situation Room and then into the lounge on the left. He closed the seldom-used door and turned to Sirocco. "Okay." Sirocco nodded uneasily, and slowly unbuttoned the top couple buttons of his shirt. Then he pulled the Amulet forth. Several things then happened all at once.

The Amulet flared with green light, momentarily blinding Jon. (Clearly the blinding effect had nothing to do with actual photons!) While stupefied by the light, Jon heard the door behind him suddenly unlatch, and Demeter cried out.

When his vision came back, Jon saw Sirocco struggling frantically to get the Amulet back under his shirt, but it had somehow snagged on one of his buttons. The thing was still pulsing and flaring with green light, and Jon instinctively shrouded the area with darkness absolute... or nearly absolute. He could still dimly make out the green light, then it seemed to dim further, as if covered with a veil. Sirocco said shakily, "Okay, it's back in." Jon let his darkness lapse, his demeanor poised and grim - he'd seen what the Amulet was made of.

Turning quickly to Demeter, he saw her eyes glowing green, then slowly fading back to their normal color. He asked sharply, "Demeter, are you OK?" "...Yeah," she responded, "that was really weird, though." Then, whirling back to Sirocco, "You want to tell me what the HECK just happened?!"

Sirocco replied bleakly, "You've sealed my death." "What?!" The young man was trembling now. "You've sealed. My death." Jon snarled, "You care to be a little more EXPLICIT about that statement, Sirocco?" Sirocco swallowed hard, then said, "The Amulet has chosen a new bearer." He pointed to Demeter. "Her. At some point it will go to her. And I will die, just like Charm did." Jon asked sharply, "How long?" "There's no telling. I mean, if I gave it to her right now, it'd be done. If I choose not to... I just don't know. I didn't exactly get an instruction manual for the thing!"

Jon strode back to the Situation Room, Sirocco in tow. "Okay. Demeter, what's your story?" "The door opened, and I just happened to be looking in that direction..." Sirocco rolled his eyes. "Of course. It always 'just happens'." "...And I saw a flare of green light. A weird feeling came over me, like... Like something was sizing me up. Then you dropped darkness, and the feeling muted a bit... and when you lifted the darkness, it was gone."

Jon nodded, his mind racing. "Okay... Oh, and by the way, Demeter, you'll be interested to know this thing's made of JADE." Demeter's eyes widened, then her face became an impassive mask. Alpha asked impatiently, "What 'thing' are we talking about?" Jon said, "The amulet Sirocco is wearing, Alpha." "The what now?" "Haven't you been listening to this conversation?" "What conversation?" Jon turned to look fully at Alpha's main interface. "Huh?"

Sirocco explained, "The Amulet doesn't show up in mirrors, on cameras... or apparently for AI's." Alpha demanded, "WHAT doesn't show up for AI's?" Jon said soothingly, "I'll explain later, Alpha. Just please call the Texas Legends for me." "Well... okay, but it better be a really good explanation."

Jon waited. "Alpha?" "Yeah?" "Aren't you calling the Texas Legends?" "Why would I do that?" "...Because I asked you to?" "No you didn't... Wait, the security video of the last few minutes is all blurry and staticky. What's going on?" Jon said patiently, "It's magic, Alpha." "...I hate magic." "Yeah, me too."

Jon went and started pulling up the Texas Legends manually. Alpha asked, "Uh, Photon? Why are you calling the Texas Legends? I can do that for you, you know." "I know, Alpha. Just trust me, OK?" "Okay..."

Soon he had Pecos Bill on the line. "Why, Photon! Always good to hear from y'all! What can we be doin' you for?" "Hi, Bill. We really need to talk to Tex. It's kind of urgent." "Well, Ah don't think he's left yet... One sec." In a minute Tex appeared on the screen. "Photon! Have y'got word of Mirror Mask for me?" "No, Tex. We've got a different deadly magical artifact this time." Tex laughed. "Haw! How'd'y'do it, son?" "Beats me. Anyway, have you ever heard of the Amulet of Fortune?"

"The what now? Your voice fuzzed out." Jon sighed. "It interferes with machines somehow. OK, the A-m-u-l-e-t. Got that?" "Amu-let, shore." "O-f." "Of." "F-o-r-t-u-n-e." "Raht, the-" fuzz fuzz fuzz. "I think you've got it. So have you?" Tex pondered, scratching his head. "Ah know of any number of charms an' amu-lets that're s'posed to help in that area, but none that rates a capital 'The', if'n y'catch mah drift." "Well... I hate to ask, but could you take a look at this thing? It kills people." Tex replied good-naturedly, "Y'all are just bound an' determined to deprahve me of mah days off, ain't ye, son? Why, shore, I'd be glad-"

Pecos Bill broke in. "Hold on now, Tex. We can't spare you right now." "Aw, c'mon Bill, he's only a shaman..." "You're the only one of us with any magical ability, Tex! You're stayin', and that's final." Photon asked desperately, "Can you refer us to anyone, then? Are the Guardians back yet?" Tex sighed. "No, they ain't. As for a referral... Most of the ones comin' to mind are kinda specialized. Or else extra-special cryptic, if'n y'know what Ah mean. Ah guess yore local Sixties reject ain't available?" Jon rolled his eyes. "No, she's off on a vision quest." "Figures."

Jon came to an abrupt decision. "We're coming to you. Is that okay?" Tex looked to Bill, who nodded. "We'll be waitin'." Jon signed off, saying to Sirocco, "I assume you're not willing to take that thing off." "You got that right!" "Okay, you can fly. How long would it take you to get to Dallas?" Sirocco shrugged helplessly. "Several days?" With a sigh, "Okay, I guess it's up to me." Alpha asked crankily, "Will somebody PLEASE tell me what is going on?!" Jon said, "Demeter, you're elected. Alpha, help me get my bearings once we're outside." "...Okay."

Photon and Sirocco went outside and flew into the air. Jon opened his senses, using his field-sense to align with the earth's magnetic field along the bearing Alpha fed him via radio. Straining his radio sense, he picked up the faint signal of a Dallas radio station, which helped him refine things a bit. Then putting an arm about Sirocco's shoulders he explained, "Okay, I can't take you into light-form with me, but I can do... THIS!" He extended his local gravitational disturbance to include Sirocco as well - and in a single tremendous sonic boom, they were there in a few seconds.

He released Sirocco and panted for breath in the hot sun as the young man gaped. "WOW! That was... FAST!" "Yeah, I don't normally do that in a populated airspace. This was a special occasion." Jon spent a couple minutes calming down the local air traffic controllers, then tracked down the Legends base. (That took considerably more time than getting to Dallas had.)

Soon he was tersely explaining the situation to the Texas Hex, who listened gravely; Sirocco added details here and there. Finally Tex said to Sirocco, "Okee, then, let's you an' me take a look at this-here thing private-like." He led Sirocco off to another room, while Pecos Bill chatted with Photon to pass the time.

After an hour or so, they returned. Tex looked grim, and Sirocco was pale. "Ah don't know how y'do it, Photon. Trippin' across powerful artifacts like that... t'ain't natural." Bill rolled his eyes. "He's found what, two?" "In all of two weeks!" Photon cut in: "What's the prognosis?"

Tex sighed. "We're gonna have to convince this thing that Demeter's already wearin' it - an' always has. Otherwise, it'll take all Sirocco's abilities with it, and give 'em to her." "What sort of abilities?" "All of 'em." "...You're saying that Demeter would suddenly have sand powers, in addition to everything else?" "Yup. Along with the him-dyin' part." Sirocco winced just a little at that description.

"So how do we convince it?" "That's the interestin' part of this-here problem. It's... Hmm, no, not 'it'. 'She'." "She?" "That's how it comes across... Like a woman who's PMSin'." Jon rolled his eyes. "You were saying?" "Raht. She's pretty smart... I'm gonna have to be up there in Se-attle, with Demeter and Sirocco. We'll perform ourselves a li'l ritual to make the Amu-let all comfy-like. It'll need to be in a place Demeter's familiar with, that 'belongs' to her somehow. She don't have a room in thet fancy base of your'n, does she?" "She's only been part of the team for a week... And we're moving out anyway." "Oh. Wail... she's got plant powers, raht? She can make plants grow?" "Yeah?" "Wail, that should help."

"How so?" "We'll jest have her grow herself a li'l garden, raht? She'll be 'at home' there. Then we'll have her grow a vine around the Amu-let, twine Sirocco up 'til he cain't move a muscle..." Sirocco: "...What good will that do?" "None atall, it's jest more funny thet way!"

Bill rolled his eyes. "You and your sense of humor, Tex, Ah declare." Jon laughed. "When he was in Seattle, he propositioned both me and my girlfriend!" "Ah'm not surprised." Tex said indignantly, "Ah don't recall prop-ositionin' yer girlfriend!" "You asked if she was open to 'new thangs'." "Oh! Raht, Ah remember. So, is she?" Jon laughed again, shaking his head, while Sirocco looked between the two of them, a tiny grin starting to form.

Jon finally asked, "So I guess this ritual will have to wait until your current caper dies down?" Bill nodded. "Yessir. I'm thinkin' a day or two, most like." "Oh, that's not so bad. What should we do in the meantime?" Tex jerked a thumb at Sirocco. "Keep him alive." Jon rolled his eyes. "I was planning on doing that anyway, as it happens." Sirocco added, "So was I!" "Wail, there y'are!"

Photon asked, "As long as I'm here, Tex, I've got another question for you." "Shoot." "We're going to be moving out of our base soon. What should I do with that compass?" Tex shrugged. "Jest move it. Take care to keep it level - if it tilts too much, it'll confuse the sensor - but other than that, nothin' special needed." "And put it on the spot on the map where the new base is once it's moved, I'm guessing?" "That's raht."

"Okay. I really appreciate your help, and we'll look forward to seeing you in a few days." "Back at'cha, Photon! The weather makes a nice change, as does th'good company!" Bill laughed and punched him in the arm. Photon and Sirocco took their leave, and one sonic boom later were back in Seattle. Sirocco shook his head. "Damn, you've got a fun set of powers." "I like to think so."

Soon they were back in the Situation Room. Jon told Demeter, "Good news, you're not 'Nephrite'." She said quietly, "Yeah, but it sounds like I'm going to be wearing Nephrite." "Hopefully not," Jon told her, and outlined Tex's plan. Meanwhile, Sirocco asked, "Nephrite?" "Right, you haven't heard about that yet." Jon fetched the letter and showed it to him, explaining about Forestrike.

Sirocco read through it carefully. "So what's 'Nephrite' mean, anyway?" "It's a kind of jade." "...Oh." "Yeah. You're going to be well shut of that thing. Why did you want it, anyway?" "Well, I didn't know about all THIS! Charm didn't tell me much about it." "Yeah." Alpha asked plaintively, "About what?" Jon tried spelling out the name of the amulet again... "OK, Amulet, got it. Of. I can spell, you know." "F-o-r-t-u-n-e." "Yeah?" "So, that's it." "...What's it?" Demeter chuckled exasperatedly and explained, "You can give him all the pieces, but as soon as he tries to put them together he loses everything."

"Loses WHAT? ... I HATE magic! Wait... I've said that already tonight, haven't I?" Demeter replied, "Yes, several times." "So that's what deja vu feels like!" Photon: "Alpha, I'm afraid you're just going to have to resign yourself to being confused about this one." "... I REALLY hate magic! It doesn't make SENSE!" "Yeah, I know." Silence reigned for a time.

Finally Jon broke it, saying quietly, "Well, team, I'd say it's been the equivalent of a formal introduction. How high-trust are we willing to go at this point?" Demeter pondered her answer while Sirocco held up a hand. "Let's hold off on that until after the ritual. I don't know if Tex would recommend it, given all the 'familiarity' stuff he was talking about." "Okay, good point." Demeter also nodded agreement.

More silence. Then, Jon said to Sirocco, "I wish - well, if wishes were fishes. But I wish you'd trusted us a little more. Maybe this could've been prevented." Sirocco sighed. "I wish you hadn't pushed me so hard for answers." "Well, you have to admit, it looked pretty bad - what with you being the last person to see Charm alive and all." "I was? Damn." The young man sighed. "I wish you'd told me that straight up - the conversation might have gone differently. Well, hindsight is 20/20 - I understand where you were coming from."

Jon sighed deeply. "I'm just sorry that I didn't get an opening to use the movie quote I had all prepared for our talk." "Huh?!" Jon darkened the air in the room a bit, then abruptly thundered, "Do not take me for some conjuror of cheap tricks! I'm not trying to rob you! I'm trying to help you."

Sirocco gaped at him open-mouthed, then face-palmed. "Aw, MAN!" Then Demeter clasped her hands together and said in very uncharacteristic syrupy-sweet tones, "Gee, Uncle Bilbo! Are you really gonna leave me Bag End and everything in it?" Meanwhile Alpha brought up the looming, lidless Eye of Sauron on a viewscreen - with a question mark at its center. He boomed in a malevolent voice, "...What am I looking for, again?"

Sirocco stared at the three of them, then cracked up and laughed helplessly as if he would never stop. It proved infectious; soon Demeter and Photon were laughing like loons with him, pounding on the table. Even Alpha joined in. When they were finally winding down a bit, Jon gathered the breath to thunder, "BILBO BAGGINS!" and that set them off all over again. Eventually they trailed off to exhausted giggles, the tension of the day completely spent.

Serious once more, Jon gripped Sirocco's shoulder. "I want you to hear something." "...Yeah?" "No matter what's gone before... We've got your back, Sirocco. We're NOT going to let you die." Sirocco nodded slowly. "Right. ... Thanks." He did seem a little relieved.

The team parted shortly after. We do feel like a team now, Jon realized.

It was a good feeling.

[1] Might is the street name of a super-drug originally developed by the Soviets from dissecting the corpse of a Polish hero they'd liquidated - Wojownik (roughly, 'Warrior'). It confers temporary super-strength, while also increasing aggression and draining the subject's sense of empathy. (In essence, it's super-PCP.) The Soviets also isolated several other useful super-drugs from Wojownik's body, but Might is the most common.
Last edited by The Shadow on Sun Jan 09, 2011 1:51 am, 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."



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The News

Postby The Shadow » Mon Aug 09, 2010 8:19 pm

Sigh. The house that SuentisPo (the GM) rents got foreclosed on, and he and his housemates have to find new places to live quickly. The result is that he hasn't had the time or energy to game the last couple weeks, and can't promise anything for the next month.

Send some thoughts, prayers, karma, or whatever it is you do his way, if you would be so kind.
"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

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And Now For The News!

Postby The Shadow » Sat Sep 11, 2010 8:59 pm

Well, I regret to say that SuentisPo, the GM, has had no luck finding a new place to live thus far. He's too stressed out about it to game right now, and in fact I've had trouble even getting hold of him the last few weeks. I'm backing off to let him deal with Real Life; once that's squared away we'll get back to gaming. I have no timeline on that so far.

However, I do have one bit of good news - a new post in Shadow-Force Files, a humorous take on the Shadow-Force campaigns from the point of view of the comics industry.
"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."



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