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

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The Shadow
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Postby The Shadow » Thu Jan 06, 2011 10:28 pm

Okay! I'm pleased to announce that SuentisPo's housing issues are fully resolved, various personal crises on both our parts are mostly resolved, and the holidays are behind us. We are back to GAME ON! mode. :)

In fact, SP came down for a marathon gaming session last week, and I've already got it mostly written up. There's so much material that I think I'm gonna have to split it into two or perhaps even three parts; right now I'm pondering where best to split it.

So, expect an update in a matter of days! And in further news, SP hopes to make it down for *another* marathon session later this month!
"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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Re: Life and Light: After Shadow-Force (Updated Aug. 4, 2010)

Postby McGuffin » Fri Jan 07, 2011 8:23 am

Great to hear things are going well for you two, I look forward to reading more from you. :D
McGuffin's Workshop: Warp, Naga

Why crawl when you can walk? Why walk when you can run? Why run when you can fly?

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The Shadow
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13 - Snake Handling

Postby The Shadow » Sun Jan 09, 2011 2:48 pm

[So I agonized for quite a while on how to split up the big marathon session. When combined with the tail-end of the last session we had before the hiatus, the first natural split ended up being quite long compared to the other(s), and there was a second natural split that would end up making the middle segment somewhat short. In the end, I decided that drama had to rule over neatness. :) Enjoy!]

Monday morning, and Jon groaned as he got up. If Alpha'd had any luck, he anticipated a really long day.

Going in to the bathroom for his shower, he was looking at himself blearily in the mirror when something suddenly caught his eye. I've lost some weight, he realized, and my muscle tone is better; hero-ing must be doing me good.

But after a few moments of self-congratulation, he realized there was something else different... He couldn't put his finger on it at first, and it troubled him. Fully awake now, he examined his face carefully. There it was... Or rather, wasn't. A small mole on his cheekbone that he'd never liked was gone.

He stared at his reflection for a moment, then started checking his arms and torso. Sure enough - no moles, just smooth uniform skin. How...?

Jon leaned hard on the counter, the words of the RR medic coming back to him: 'Wow, you're in impressively good health.' I mentally 'edit' my body when I enter light-form, but I didn't do this... at least not consciously.

Aloud, he asked himself, his reflection, the universe: "What's happening to me?" He didn't get a reply from any of them.

Jon took a long, troubled shower. In itself, this isn't that big of a deal, he told himself. But what else am I doing to myself without even realizing it? He elected to fly in to the base the slow way, ostensibly to give himself more time to think... but self-honesty forced him to admit that light-form didn't seem as appealing as it had previously.

He waved at one of Alpha's cameras as he arrived, stopping in the lounge to make a cup of coffee before settling down in the Situation Room. "So what've you got for me?" He didn't strictly need to come in during the morning before work, but he liked chatting with Alpha when nobody else was likely to wander in.

"An embarrassment of riches, actually." "Oh? Do tell." "No less than three suspicious places for you to check out. They aren't necessarily all VIPER, but even if not, they're worth a look in their own right." "Okay... lay it on me."

"The first I consider the most likely candidate for a VIPER base - it fits their style. There's been construction in the marina for a couple years now that raises some red flags - more material being used than seems needed for the stated projects, that sort of thing. And the area is ideal for their purposes; there's a lot of traffic they could use to smuggle people in and out."

Jon nodded. "Okay, that'll be the first priority, then. Tell me... does VIPER have a history of using submarines?" "Not often, but they have. Why?" "It's yet another way of getting in and out, I'd guess. Man, I'd like to see them run into Captain Kidd if so!" "Heh. Yeah, maybe they could do each other in for us." "We can dream. What else do you have?"

"An office building downtown. About half the tenants - scattered throughout the building - I can't trace. They're dummy corps, existing only on paper. It's really suspicious and worth checking out, but I'm not positive it's VIPER's work." "And the third?"

"A newly-built youth center, put up by a startup charity. Its construction used materials that seem out of line for the building's stated purpose; they're supposed to be helping at-risk youth stay off the streets, not constructing a fortress. Also, the type of kids they're reaching out to are just the sort VIPER likes to try to recruit."

Jon pondered. "Hmmm. Do they have any programs involving guns?" "A course on gun safety, and a small firing range. I thought the latter was a little weird, yeah, but why do you ask?" "Any connection to a group called the Urban Defense League?" "...They provided 5% of the funding for the center. What do you know that I don't?"

Jon explained what he'd heard from Karen about the UDL, and asked, "Think they could be connected to VIPER? What do their financials look like?" "Hmm. ... Clean on the first pass. I'll take a closer look, though." "Yeah, please do. We don't want to let it get out that we only protect rich people, after all!" "Yeah, it pays ten times as much as protecting poor folks... also ten times less, of course."

They chuckled together, then Jon said, "Okay, let's call and let Struthers know what we've got so far." That being done, Struthers said, "Not a whole lot to work with as yet, Photon." "You wanted to be kept in the loop," Jon reminded him, "This is what being kept in the loop looks like." The man laughed. "Yeah, I had that coming. Let me know what you scare up as you investigate further." "Will do."

Jon leaned back in his chair. "Looks like I've got my work cut out for me this evening. Anything else?" "Well," Alpha mentioned, "I've scared up some counsellors for you, like you asked." Jon sighed. "Okay. Who?" "Once again, I've got three options for your consideration. Number one, a former police psychiatrist in Boston who made his name pioneering work with supers. Bit of a celebrity these days. Very good reputation, but pricey." "How much?" Alpha told him, and Jon blanched. "I don't feel like taking out a loan, thanks. The other two?"

"A guy who's a super himself, codenamed Icon. Got a public ID these days, though." "Hm, I think I've heard of him. Remind me?" "Magical flying brick with some other minor tricks - he can compel people to speak the truth, among other things. He moonlights as a hostage negotiator for the LAPD." "Huh. Truth compulsion sounds useful - but also a bit threatening in his line of work." "Oh, he knows all about that. He's got an artifact that will nullify his power for nervous clients." "Is he any good?" "Seems so; he's very well thought of." "What's he charge?" Alpha named a figure that would cut a bit into Jon's savings, but not outrageously so.

"Okay, and number three?" "Guy in Miami who's been working with supers for years. He doesn't come cheap, but he gives a really steep discount for heroes who agree to help defend him, his family, and his office in case of emergency. Most people don't mind - they aren't exactly eager to have their medical records stolen." Jon frowned. "Yeah, but it's still a bit mercenary. And I don't need any entangling responsibilities, I've got enough on my plate. I'll go with Icon - the fact he's been in the field counts for a lot."

"Check. Want me to set up an appointment for you?" "Please. How far out will it be?" "Dunno yet, but undoubtedly at least a couple weeks." "All right, let me know." "Will do, boss. Anything else?"

Jon got to his feet and drained the last of his coffee. "Keep checking on VIPER stuff and the UDL. I'll see you this afternoon to do the legwork." "Will do. ... Are you okay, Jon? You seem tense this morning." Jon paused, then admitted, "Yeah. I've been around more than my share of mental-health types in my life, and I'm not eager to take up with another, even if I do intellectually see it as a good idea. And... I've got something personal going on that I need to sort out a bit before I talk about it." "Okay, hang in there." "Thanks, Alpha."

Jon zipped in to work, carefully monitoring his body's transition to light-form. There were no changes happening he could detect, other than the shift from his costume to his civvies. He paused to greet Hu on the way to his office. "Feeling better?" Hu nodded solemnly. "Yes, Dr. Winters. I have had an idea I want to show you." "Oh? Go for it."

After several minutes at a whiteboard detailing a new approach to membrane field theory, Jon whistled. "I'm impressed. It's right out of left field, but it might just be crazy enough to work. Supposing you tweaked this bit here like so..." Soon they'd spent a couple hours discussing it. Jon looked at his RA with renewed respect; Gerhard was brilliant, but Hu had that indefinable spark that might be genius. "Take this as far as you can. And how about you come with me to my next get-together with Devindar? I have a feeling this will intrigue him." Hu nodded. "Thank you, Dr. Winters. I would like that."

Jon threw himself into his own work, relieved for the distraction. The rest of the day was uneventful, and he zipped in to the base. Once again he checked the transition, and found nothing. That makes me nervous, he thought; if it were something I could detect, I could probably stop it.

He met Sirocco on the way in, getting ready to go out with Beta. "Hey, how are you doing?" Sirocco shrugged. "I'll live." "Well, I was taking that for granted. You okay?" The other hero sighed. "That's kind of the point - I'm not so much taking it for granted right now." Photon gripped his shoulder. "Tex'll be out here in a couple days; it's under control. Hang in there, man." Sirocco summoned up a weak smile from somewhere. "Yeah, thanks."

Jon made his way to the Situation Room. "Hey Alpha. Ready to get started?" "Hey. First things first - Moke left a message for you, saying he's on shift." "Right! Call him back, please." "Here ya go..."

Soon Moke's blunt, honest visage filled a viewscreen. "Photon, just returning your call. What's up?" "Several things I've been wanting to discuss with you actually." "I'm listening."

Jon nodded. "Okay, first of all, I've heard through the grapevine that you're having red tape troubles with the teleportals. What's up with that?" Moke sighed. "Your legislature up there is getting mulish on the issue, and now your governor's gotten into the act too." "How long has this been going on?" "Not very. Oh, there's been the occasional bit of noise about it, but nothing serious until the last couple months."

Jon mulled it over. "Think VIPER could be behind it?" Moke shrugged. "I doubt it. What would they have to gain?" "A relatively free hand up here in Seattle? How much trouble do you have with them in Portland?" "Some. Their local nest leader is a canny, careful one; we've tangled with them occasionally but they keep a really low profile..."

Portland's Everyman pondered it a little more. "Well, anything's possible, I suppose. But frankly, I've never seen any need for special explanations when politicians do stupid things." Jon laughed. "You've got a point there." "What else did you want to discuss?"

"I was thinking it'd be a good idea to have a social occasion for the two teams - and American Eagle too - so we can all get to know each other." Moke rolled his eyes and joked, "You mean so we can prevent the inevitable mistaken identity and fight?" Jon laughed with him - while the comic-book genre did get some Super traditions right, the community found that particular convention profoundly stupid. "Something like that!"

Moke chuckled. "It's a good idea, but perhaps we should hold off just now. You've got the whole Hybrid thing to deal with, and FAQ's on personal leave." Jon asked, concerned, "Yeah, Thunderwing mentioned that. Is he okay?" Moke nodded judiciously. "He was really shaken up by your fight with Technoid, and needed to take some time to sort it all out." "He told me about that. I hope he works it all through." "He will. After the first shock, I feel sure he'll be fine." "Well, please do have him call me when he gets back." "Will do. Anything else?"

"Yes, actually - one more thing. When Enigma drained some of my powers, it was brought home to me rather abruptly that I could use some hand-to-hand training. Erebus taught me a few self-defense moves, but other than that I'm pretty much a sitting duck. I was wondering if you'd be willing to give me a hand in that area?"

Moke thought about it. "Hmm. I don't think I'm the best choice, actually. My fighting ability is inborn; I've never been a beginner. While I do hone my skills on a regular basis, I wouldn't have the first idea of how to teach them to someone else, to be frank. I'd recommend Thunderwing. If you wish, I'll talk it over with him for when your current caper winds down?" "Please. I'd appreciate it."

"Is that all, Photon?" "It is. Thanks again, Moke!" "My pleasure. And Photon..." Moke's voice became grave. "Our best wishes in dealing with Hybrid. We've heard a lot about him." Jon nodded solemnly. "Thanks. We're taking him very seriously." "Until next." "And you!"

Photon paused to collect his thoughts. "Okay... the marina first?" "Sure." Jon zipped out there, materializing invisibly. He opened his field sense to the max and started flying about slowly, occasionally pausing to bring his X-ray vision back online to check a building in more detail.

It didn't take long to spot something unusual, now that he was looking for it - an underwater shape, several hundred feet long, that was opaque to his enhanced sight. Refracting into the water in light-form, he soon spotted a massive circular gate, easily large enough to accomodate a medium-sized submarine. There was also a human-sized access tunnel next to it, covered with a grate.

Extending his senses, Jon found there was an electromagnetic field present that began just inside the grate. He didn't think it would block solid matter, but he wasn't sure what if anything it would do to his light-form. Most likely it was meant for intruder detection. I'm doing recon, Jon reminded himself; this isn't the time for experimentation.

The field covered the whole mass of the presumed VIPER base and was probably what was fuzzing his X-ray vision. Jon carefully circumnavigated the area, mapping out the limits of the field. He found that there was an above-ground access point as well - a warehouse with a stairwell and freight elevator that led down to a landing with a twelve-foot-diameter massive circular door reminiscent of a bank vault. The intruder field covered the surface of the door and the touchpad next to it.

Examining the field more closely, Jon found that it was actually a series of overlapping spherical segments. He hypothesized that each sphere had its own distinct generator. That'll make life interesting, he thought. Now, are the spheres solid, or are we dealing with a crustal defense? The latter seems more likely, but let's not take any chances. He also spotted a concentration of energy that was likely a reactor or generator supplying the base's power.

Getting some distance from the base, he radioed in and reported his findings to Alpha. Yeah, that sounds like VIPER all right. No sign of any insignia, though? Nope. Keeping a low profile, I guess? Must be. Ready for the next target? As I'll ever be.

Flashing over to the office building Alpha had flagged, Jon scanned it gingerly and rapidly found multiple points of interest. There were three large labs in the building; one held what his senses told him was likely to be a fusion reactor, though it was currently powered down. Another held three massive pieces of sophisticated machinery he couldn't make head or tail of, currently inactive. He could tell they would draw huge amounts of power when activated, though - the conduits connected to them were massive. Finally, the third held a series of upright cylinders filled with electronics.

Jon pondered. I can't enhance my vision much while maintaining my invisibility, and I can't get a closer look without actually entering the building. Doesn't seem like a good risk just now; I can see stuff wired into the walls that are probably security systems. This is recon, and it'd be stupid to go in alone and without backup.

Once again he reported in to Alpha. Hmm. Hard to say at this point who they are, but I definitely don't like it. Me neither! It'll bear watching, for sure. But for now, the youth shelter? Right. Here's the address.

Zipping around the place a few times, Jon quickly ascertained there was nothing obvious out of the ordinary, other than unusually dense outer walls. Well, not much I can see as Photon. But Jonathan Winters is known to do volunteer work with youth; maybe I need to branch out a - Photon! I've got a fourth weird site! Huh?

Just spotted it - a mini-mall in Tacoma with apartments on the upper floor. Yeah? There are no rental agreements on record of any kind, either for the mall or the apartments. And no rental agency I can find has taken them on. Really! How long has this been going on? Over a year. ...Yeah, that's weird all right. They're losing money every month on the place. We'll have to let A.E. know - but it can't hurt to take a look as long as I'm out and about.

Once again Alpha passed on the address. Photon quickly found that the mall was mostly empty, except for an ethnic supermarket with foods labelled in a flowing script he'd never seen before - it was vaguely reminscent of Arabic. Nobody appeared to be on duty.

The apartments above the mall were even weirder. A few were obviously set aside for storage, but others had had their interior walls knocked out to make a communal living space. Occupying that space were some people Jon definitely hadn't been expecting.

They were dark-skinned and dark-haired, but not of any ethnicity he was familiar with. Their beetle-browed visages reminded him of something, but he couldn't put his finger on what. They were mostly male, and uniformly wore sweepy white robes. After some observation it seemed clear that they were quite hierarchical, with obeisances being made on a regular basis to those of higher status. At any given moment several of them would be off by themselves, kneeling and perhaps praying. They didn't seem to have living spaces of their own, nor any personal property.

The overall effect was reminiscent of a monastery... or an army. It made Jon distinctly uneasy. A symbol of a multi-headed hydra was much in evidence. Reporting in once again to Alpha, he asked, Does VIPER ever use a symbol like that? ...Dang, that's REALLY weird. No, they don't. I'll lay long odds these guys are unrelated. Okay, we'll leave them off the list for now... but we'll definitely keep an eye on them for the future. Agreed.

Zipping back in to the base, Jon said, "Looks like we've got our work cut out for us. Notify people when you see them to report in for a team meeting tomorrow afternoon at, say, four. Warn them there's likely to be action." "Got it. Anything else?"

Jon deflated a bit and admitted, "Yeah. I'm nervous." "Perfectly natural, m'friend." "I guess." "Get a good night's sleep." "I'll try."

Try he did, with only limited success. Jon got ready for work the next morning with the entire annual Monarch migration in his stomach. Streaking in to the base for his usual morning chat with Alpha, he found four cell-phones neatly lined up on the table of the Situation Room. "'Morning, Jon. As you can see, I've got the cells for you guys. I've already, ah, well, let's just say I've voided the warranties!" Jon laughed. "Put some 'interesting' programming in them, have you?" "Well, I like to think it's interesting... I suspect anyone trying to hack or trace them will find it more like 'maddening', though." "Sounds good to me!" Jon picked up a cell and was about to pocket it; then he thought better of it and replaced it. Better for team cohesion if we get them together.

Alpha observed that in studied silence, then asked, "So who's on the call list today?" "Take a wild guess." "American Eagle?" "She's at the top, yep." "Coming right up!"

Jon tersely informed her of developments and asked her to be present at the meeting that evening. "I'll be there!" she told him energetically. "Oh, and A.E?" "Yeah?" "It's probably best for operational security that you not be seen to fly in. We don't want anyone asking questions about what you're doing here." "Got it!"

"Okay, Alpha, now Struthers. I want the office building watched while we hit the marina." "Mmm. Probably better for op-sec if you go in personally. The cops have no phone security to speak of." "Huh, good point. Consider it d-"

Already there. "-one." His sudden appearance caused a mild stir, but they were getting used to him. It didn't take him long to track down Struthers' secretary. "I'm sorry, Mr. Photon, but Captain Struthers isn't in today. He's sick." Jon's heart sank. "Oh. Who's filling in for him?" "That would be Captain Smith. He'll be free in a few minutes, if you can wait?" Jon's heart sank yet further - his previous brush with Smith [in "Smoking Mirror"] having been brief but unpleasant. "Certainly."

The man was gruff this time around, but not overtly hostile. "Photon. What do you want." Photon coolly outlined the situation, and asked, "Can you have some eyes on the office building here while we hit the base in the marina?"

Smith rolled his eyes. "And I'm supposed to pull an observation team out of my back pocket, is that it? Well... I might be able to swing it. We definitely can't let VIPER have the run of the city. But what evidence do you have that they're really VIPER? Who's your analyst? What odds are you giving it?"

Photon tried to be vague, but Smith insisted, "I have to be able to give my people some parameters. I can't justify pulling together a team based on guesswork." Jon sighed. "All right, but this is a matter of Shadow-Force team security; I need it kept secret." When Smith nodded sharply once, Jon told him, "Our analyst is an AI. A hacker extraordinaire. He's the one who tracked down the unusual activity that pointed to these sites in the first place."

The man's eyes widened slightly. "Okay... What odds is he giving on these places belonging to VIPER?" After a rapid radio consultation with Alpha, Photon reported, "90% likely for the marina, 70% or so for the office building."

Smith pondered, drumming his fingers on the table. Then he nodded again. "Okay, Photon, we'll back your play. Can you come in at, say, one, to help brief the team?" Jon pondered his university schedule; it would cut into one of his office hours, but such is life. "Yes." "One sharp, then." With that, the interview was over.

The morning's work passed in a blur. Gerhard was visibly troubled by his distracted state - constantly shooting him glances - but didn't work up the courage to say anything. He did agree to cover Jon's office hour, though. (Hu, for his part, was either oblivious or too polite to let anything show.) At 1 PM, Photon showed up at the police station as promised.

The observation team proved to be Detective Espinoza - a tall Latino man who looked vaguely irked over the whole thing - and Detective Lucy Doyle, a pretty young woman who hardly looked old enough to be out of the academy. They were dressed in street clothes, in prepartion for their role as a couple enjoying a night out in the park.

Photon outlined the situation, producing a hologram of the building and environs to supplement the cops' map. (That raised a few eyebrows.) "Basically, we want to know if the people in this building are related to VIPER. If they are, they're likely to react when we hit the underwater base in the marina. We're looking for anything unusual - anything from sudden movements of people or cars to glowing lights to explosions."

Espinoza rolled his eyes. "Wow, you really need to be trained professionals to spot explosions!" Smith told him bluntly to cut the chatter, and was obeyed. Doyle asked, "Okay, so is this park here," she pointed, "a good vantage point?" Photon nodded. "It commands a good view of two of the labs I spotted." Espinoza rubbed his chin, fully engaged now. "You want cameras, or is Mark One Eyeball good enough?" "The latter." "That makes it easier. Okay, when do you want us on site?" "We're hitting the marina at seven." "We'll be there at six then, to establish as much of a baseline as we can." "Good. Thank you for your time."

The rest of the day was even more of a blur than the morning. Jon zipped in to the base with relief at a quarter to four.

He chatted with Alpha a bit to calm his nerves. "Any word from the others?" "Not yet, but they're all coming in. Oh look, here's American Eagle now. Heh." "What?" "She's... actually pretty sneaky, but not as much as she thinks. She's bypassing all the obvious stuff we keep around for show, but all of Technoid's real stuff is picking her up fine. Check it out."

He brought up an image on a viewscreen, and Jon had to laugh. "Is that really a trenchcoat?!" Alpha laughed with him. "Yeah. She IS a newbie, recall."

A.E.'s head jerked around on the screen when Alpha's voice came through a nearby outdoor speaker, "Welcome, please step this way." A path lighted up for her, and soon she stepped into the Situation Room with chagrin. "Okay, how did you spot me?"

Jon laughed. "Relax, the security systems you can see are all for show. The real stuff is much more subtle." "How subtle?" Alpha informed her, "Not all the blades of grass are really grass!" She looked at the speaker, startled, and Jon made introductions.

Then he asked, "So, um, what's with the trenchcoat?" "Oh, well, I thought it would hide the wings." Alpha said tactfully, "They make a rather unusual bump - HOLY CRAP!"

Jon, startled, left the ground and nearly shot the wall. "WHAT?!" Alpha said sourly, "Demeter just arrived. In grand style." When she strode in, looking pleased as punch, the computer demanded, "Okay, just how did you do it?!" "Do what?" Jon wanted to know.

Demeter smirked and explained, "I just figured out yesterday I could travel through the root systems of plants. I wasn't sure the lawn had a solid enough network to let me pass, but evidently it does. I started at that tree at the northwest corner and popped up in front of the main door." "Teleportation?!" "Not exactly. But it should still be handy." "I'll say! How are you with marine plants?" Demeter blinked. "I'm not sure, actually. I've never thought about it. Why?" "You'll see soon enough."

Sirocco showed up fashionably late - three minutes past the hour. Jon said sarcastically, "Sirocco, thanks for joining us." The young man rolled his eyes and displayed his watch - sure enough, it read one minute 'til. "Well," Jon said, "let's get synchronized now," and Sirocco agreed, setting his watch to match the clock in the Situation Room.

Jon decided not to get into the whole cell-phone thing with American Eagle present. "Okay people, this is what we've got. If you don't mind, Alpha, I'll handle the visuals today." He produced holograms of the places he'd seen and tersely outlined the situation. "I've got the cops watching the office building. The marina's our target today." He enlarged the holo of that base, paused, then quoted the Phantom from many an operational meeting: "We need a plan. I am open to ideas." While he had his own thoughts - as he strongly suspected Mike had always had - experience had shown that brainstorming was likely to improve on them.

When nobody said anything immediately - still studying the holo in detail - Jon pointed out a spot where a kink in the base prevented the spherical shells from overlapping completely. "I should be able to nullify this spot easily and sneak in. I figure that while you guys are knocking on the 'front door', I can slip in the 'back door', locate the reactor, and shut it down. That should put a serious crimp in their style."

Demeter mused, "I'll want to check out the plant life in the area, but if there's enough, I think I should be at the 'back door' too. I should be able to gum up that big gate but good - that, or force it open, if you want." Jon looked at her, impressed. "The plants are that strong?" She nodded. "If I can get my hands on some kelp, sure. Phytoplankton and algae will be able to gum things up, but they don't have any leverage." "You can't take trees down there?" "They don't like salt water at all, no. I could force the issue, but it'd probably injure or kill them, and I don't like doing that." "Okay. Could you have some trees helping out at the 'front door'?" "...Not easily, no. I wouldn't be able to see to guide them."

Meanwhile, Sirocco asked, "What do they have in the way of air vents?" Jon blinked. "Excellent question. One second." It was a bit less than that, actually; he winked out and reappeared, recreating and refining the hologram. "They've got two major air vents here and here, one of them disguised as a dock piling, and four minor ones. What are you thinking?" Sirocco replied, "Well, if we block their air, they'll have to open the front door, won't they?"

"Hmmm. Definitely a thought... though we'll want to be able to breathe in there as well. Technoid's lab still has a few rebreathers, but there are limits. What would you block them with?" "Sand?" American Eagle added, "I've got some glue grenades that would be effective too."

Jon nodded thoughtfully. "Okay. Suppose we need to knock down the front door. How do we go about it? You guys discuss that while Demeter and I check out the plant life and their security system." He fetched her a rebreather, then covered her with invisibility as they made their way to the marina, Demeter carried by a tree.

She promptly dove into the water, while Jon took a second look at the warehouse leading down to the 'front door'. There were a few security cameras, but plainly the place was intended only to keep out riffraff; any heavy-duty security was evidently inside. He zipped over to wait for Demeter - they were maintaining strict radio silence - and quailed slightly at her evil grin when she rejoined him. "Oh yeah. I can ruin their whole month, I promise." "I almost feel sorry for them."

Making their way back to the base, he found an enthusiastic Sirocco ready to report their findings. "We've got three options. First and easiest, we have Beta hack into their control panel and just open it." Jon stared at the robot. "I didn't know you could do that!" Beta responded flatly, "I last used the ability during a tactical operation approximately one year, six months, and fourteen days ago," while Alpha added, "It's mostly me acting through our link. Basically he can stick his hand in the panel and let me get to work."

Jon felt an idea sunburst in his brain. "Does that mean you can hack their terminals if Beta can locate one?" "That's the plan!" "Oooh, that'll smart!" Alpha repeated with an audible grin, "That's the plan!"

"Okay. And if the door trick doesn't work, for whatever reason?" Sirocco continued, "We have Beta punch it down." "Simple enough. Option three?" "We use the air supply to force them to open it." "Okay, good enough. Meanwhile, here's what we learned..." He passed on the information.

After some spirited discussion, it was decided to have Photon accompany the 'front door' group until they had established a beachhead, so that they could benefit from invisibility and his ability to circumvent the security cameras. "Though I can block them with sand if need be," Sirocco added. Then Photon would streak around and follow Demeter in the 'back door' if that proved feasible, or nullify the vulnerable spot in the shield if not.

Jon nodded. "Agreed. I'll wear my spacesuit to handle being underwater. What will you guys be doing in the meantime, once I leave you?" Sirocco spoke up for them again, and Jon frowned slightly. Sirocco had the more forceful personality - and admittedly, more experience - but he trusted A.E.'s instincts more.

The young man said, "Simple. Beta's 'armor' and we're 'infantry'. He bulls his way in and we follow, taking shots where necessary. If we locate some computers we cover him while he and Alpha hack them." He added a few more operational details, and Jon nodded. How to point this out without snubbing him...

"Hmm. Sounds good, but let me put it this way: When I was a baby super, I was raised by some really paranoid people. Right, Alpha?" Alpha laughed, remembering. "Oh heck yeah!" Jon continued, "So I'd feel a lot more comfortable if we had some contingencies. What do you guys do if they have electro weapons? Beta's vulnerable to them." When they'd thrashed that out, he continued, "What if those shield generators produce solid spheres? I doubt it - they'd be continuously set off by people walking around - but it's not impossible. In that case I'll have to be with you to help nullify them. What if..."

Several contingencies later, Jon was as satisfied as he reasonably could be. He asked Alpha via radio, What do you think? What would Erebus say? Well... Frankly, Erebus would tell you that you don't have enough intel. Jon felt a cold feeling in the pit of his stomach. You know what? You're right. You're absolutely right. We're jumping the gun. Do we call it off? It doesn't have to be today. It kind of does, Jon. The cops are involved, and they really won't appreciate it if you postpone now. Jon suppressed a sigh. Yeah. Hey, relax. The plan is a good one. I don't think they'll know what hit them. It's just...

Jon repeated numbly, Yeah. ...Why didn't you say anything before now? Alpha replied slowly, You're the leader, Jon. And I'm not out in the field, not really. It's not my place to second-guess you. That and... to be honest, I didn't think of it until now. I'm not much of a tactician, it's not my department.

Jon squared his shoulders. Yeah. But he forced a smile to his face and said, "All right, team. We've got our plan. Now let's take the fight to the bad guys!" That got a round of fierce agreement, and they departed in high spirits.

They flew invisibly to the marina, secreted themselves, then waited to let Demeter get into position. Jon's eyes widened slightly as he saw the Sound getting greener in his nightvision as he watched. He streaked over there for her approval, and she gave him a thumbs-up, so he went back to the others and shepherded them invisibly to the warehouse.

Getting in and down the stairwell without being spotted was trivial for superheroes. When their watches reported 7 PM, Beta strode forward and stuck his hand into the control panel of the massive door... and they received their first check.

Beta's fingers sparked slightly and he reported in a soft boom, "The field blocks my function. I cannot touch the panel; nor will I be able to touch the door." Sirocco and American Eagle turned white faces to Jon; A.E. whispered, "The air supply, then?" Jon abruptly decided, "No. I'm going to blanket-nullify the field."

He concentrated, extending his will through the zero-point over a large fraction of the base. The field's virtual photons responded to his wordless request, and dissipated without fuss. "Now, Beta!"

The massive robot strode up to the yet-larger circular door, found a handhold on the hinge, and strained. With a loud SPANG! the inch-thick bolts broke, and Beta heaved the door open as if it were made of papier-mache. Papier-mache definitely wouldn't have made the loud BOOM the door did as it slammed into the wall, though, nor probably would it have inspired every alarm bell and klaxon in the base to go off.

Jon noted, "Cameras over to you, Sirocco." The young hero nodded and quickly fouled them with sand. Then Jon ordered, "Okay get to it - and good news, I can tell now that the fields are indeed crustal. They'll come back up when I leave, though, so be warned! Good hunting!" "Back at'cha!" Sirocco said, and A.E. grinned at him. They went in behind Beta's hulking form, and Jon zipped over to see how Demeter was doing.

As planned, she had resurfaced so they didn't have to break radio silence. She reported efficiently, "I've got everything in position to do my worst, and I also extended some algae through the grate to get a look around. They've got not one but TWO attack subs in there." "Wow, I wonder what they use them for?!" "Dunno, but I guarantee that by the time I'm done, no VIPER will ever look at pond scum the same way again!" "Let's get to it. Can you get me through the grate?" Demeter nodded with a wicked grin. "Easily."

Jon made sure his suit was sealed and followed her into the water. By the time they got down there, some sturdy kelp had already ripped the grate off, and a sudden wave of organic matter pushed Jon through it and up the ensuing tunnel before he could so much as yelp. It was... disgusting, Jon thought, but at least it's in a good cause.

Demeter quickly followed him, removed her rebreather, and raised her hands commandingly. The subs began to green visibly and Jon shook his head in amazement. He didn't stay to watch, though, but immediately turned invisible and shot through the base to the place he'd sensed the reactor...

...Only to find that things were more complicated than he'd expected. Naturally.

The room was mostly filled with one of those fields, larger than the others he'd seen. In the center was the massive reactor, with two scientists staring at a flashing alarm light and reaching for sidearms... while two armored guards readied themselves for combat. One was frozen in the act of shouldering a nasty-looking rifle, and the other was closing up his armor. (Which bore a VIPER emblem, Jon noted with satisfaction.) The field emanated from a large emitter a short ways from the reactor.

Photon materialized in one of the corners of the room untouched by the field, still invisible. I really don't want to find out the hard way what that field does to my light-form, he thought. Probably nothing, but I'd hate to be wrong. My stun-zap almost certainly won't reach past it, so...

He abruptly nullified the field, then cored the emitter with a swift laser beam. While the scientists and guards were milling in confusion (one of the scientists was urgently reaching for a big red button), he stun-zapped them all into next week. Mission accomplished, Jon thought smugly; now to ruin everybody else's day.

He ran to the reactor, his special senses no longer fuzzed-out by the field. What he saw stopped him in his tracks, gaping in disbelief.

The reactor was a staged fission-fusion model. What the?! Do they want it to double as a hydrogen bomb?! And... The fission segment was starting to go critical as he watched!
"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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Shadow-Force Files: Diabolus

Postby The Shadow » Wed Jan 12, 2011 11:38 pm

There's a new post up on one of the greatest enemies Shadow-Force ever faced:

The Scourge of a Hundred Worlds, DIABOLUS!
"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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Location: Oregon, USA

14 - Kicking Asp

Postby The Shadow » Sun Jan 16, 2011 10:40 pm

[Well, you're in luck. I was going to leave you on another cliffhanger, but after some rereading I became convinced it actually flowed better split a different way.]

Jon studied the controls furiously while simultaneously mapping the reactor's circuitry with his field sense. I've got to drop the control rods, he thought, that'll damp the chain reaction. He gaped all over again in amazement when he realized there weren't nearly enough rods to do the trick. Are they INSANE?!

Photon sighed. Obviously I'm going to need some help. He hauled one of the scientists to his feet and slapped him. "Wake up!" The man came around blearily. "Who're you?!" "I'm the superhero who's shutting your base down. But for now, since your reactor is going critical, I think we're effectively allies." The guy's eyes widened. "Oh my God!" [It's a very, very good thing that I made this Diplomacy check, as you will see. One of the few good rolls I made the whole day.]

Jon let him go and asked, "Where's the rest of your control rods? You guys can't possibly be stupid enough to run a fission reactor that'll go supercritical if you look at it funny." "That's what the field emitter's for! What the HELL happened to it?!" The guy looked around and his eyes went comically wide in alarm when he saw the large hole melted in the emitter. Photon shuffled his feet sheepishly and admitted, "I, uh, shot it." "You. Shot. It." "Um, yeah?"

The guy chewed on that for several long seconds before bursting out, "WHY?!" "It, uh, seemed like a good idea at the time?" The scientist burst into a series of colorful obscenities prominently featuring Photon's ancestry, but the electromagnetic hero cut him off. "You can feel free to yell at me when this is all over. For now, what are we going to DO?"

The guy visibly forced himself to calm down. "Okay, fine. What sort of powers do you have? Anything that could help?" "I've got pretty much total control over electric and magnetic fields." "Er, wow! Yeah, that should help. I don't suppose you can damp a nuclear reaction?" Jon rolled his eyes. "No, or I would have already. Think! That's strong and weak nuclear force. I can do a few things with the weak force from its coupling with EM, but not nearly enough." "Right, right... Well, can you at least do something about the radiation? I'd like to get through this alive."

Jon nodded. "I keep forgetting everyone else isn't immune. I can damp the gamma easily, and redirect the alphas and betas with magnetic fields. Neutrons are going to be harder; the magnetic fields necessary to budge them would be intense." "I'll take my chances." "Where do you want me to put them?" "Straight up!" Jon concentrated, saying, "Okay, coming u-"

There came a shrieking sound that split Jon's world. Abruptly, everything swam before his eyes as he swayed on his feet. He could blearily see the scientist waving his arms and hear him shouting, but his brain wasn't quite up to putting the words together.

[This was the most frustrating time of the whole session. I kept rolling 5 and under for my Fort saves; I was out of it for three rounds, and finally spent a hero point in disgust.]

After several long seconds of near-oblivion, things started to come back to Jon in a rush. He heard the scientist screaming, "We NEED him, you f*cking idiot!! Another minute of this, and you'll never have kids!" The (now-awake) guard growled, "I dunno; never really wanted any of the little rugrats anyway." "Fine! How do you feel about your hair falling out? Just how many orifices do you want to be bleeding out of?! Radiation poisoning is NOT A JOKE, you effing moron!" Grumbling, the guard stood down, and Jon coldly stun-zapped him again. The scientist raged, "What the hell did you do THAT for?!" "He might change his mind. He doesn't seem too bright." "...Point. Look, can I at least sound the evacuation alarm in case things go sour?" After brief consideration, "Sure." The man slapped the red button he'd been reaching for before, and now in addition to intruder alerts, the PA system began ordering everyone to proceed to their designated evacuation points.

Jon redirected the radiation while the scientist started to revive his partner, explaining, "Mark's the expert on the emitter. We're gonna need him." "Right. I'll be right back..." "Wait!"

But Jon had already zipped over to the 'front door' to check on the team there (their communicators weren't very effective in the mostly-metallic base). They were under heavy fire, but giving a good accounting of themselves; they'd already racked up an impressive stack of unconscious bodies. Jon filled them tersely in via communicator, then told them, "You'll have to get the unconscious people out of here." Sirocco rolled his eyes and griped, "Way to make our lives easier!" but he and A.E. concurred. Jon then told Beta to have Alpha pass the news to the cops. Alpha piped up through Beta's radio voice, Defusing a bomb that threatens the city? That's so two weeks ago.

Jon rolled his eyes at the reference to Technoid's construct, then zipped over to check up on Demeter.

He needn't have. She had the two subs hung lengthwise from the ceiling by massive ropes of algae, and was in the process of ripping holes in them via kelp so she could scuttle them properly. After staring a moment in astonishment, he passed on the news. "Understood, Photon!" "You having any trouble?" "Nothing I can't handle!" There were indeed a number of unconscious bodies around her as well, immobilized in algae cocoons. "Can you get them out through the grate?" She shook her head, "Not safely, not while they're unconscious. I'll have to rip the gate open." She sounded quite confident, though. "Okay. And it looks like you'll have no trouble binding them." Demeter grinned. "Disgustingly, but yes, I can do it." "Okay, when you're done here, go around and help the others." "Got it, Photon."

Just then a guard popped out from behind a pillar and aimed. Jon was about to shoot him, but Demeter just grinned and scattered some seeds from the pouch at her waist. Instantly a writhing stand of kudzu engulfed the man, coiling him up. "Wow," Jon said, "I didn't know you could do it that fast." "Neither did I! I seem to be improving - it's fun!" "Heh. Well, keep up the good work."

Then he zipped back to the reactor. "Where the hell have you been?!" his 'friend' wanted to know. "Just letting my friends at the two ends of your base know what's going on." The guy rolled his eyes. "Oh great! I guess the alarm's funneling people right toward them, isn't it?" "Probably, yes. Don't worry, they'll get people out of here - in custody." "Joy."

Meanwhile, Mark, the other scientist, was coming around. He went through the various stages of denial, anger, despair, and so forth with record speed. Jon patiently absorbed yet more anatomically-impossible comments about his mother. "Can we get to the part where you do useful things that save our lives?" The guy contained himself. "Right. We've got a spare emitter, but it'll take time to get it here and in place. You're going to have stand in for it while we work." "And just how do you propose that I do that?"

The guy rolled his eyes. "It's electromagnetic, Mr. Light-Up-Your-Life. You shouldn't have any problems." "Well, give me the specs on it." The man described the frequency range and intensity of the field he needed, and Jon collated the information and fed it to the fabric of spacetime. "Okay, but I won't be able to keep it up indefinitely. It'll tire me out." "You can draw power from here." The guy passed him a cable, and added, "Stick this up your ass and start generating, light bulb." He then waltzed out just to be annoying - though at a more rapid pace than most waltzes call for.

Jon got the field up, drawing current mightily from the cable. [SP ruled that under these circumstances I didn't need to take fatigue to do the power stunt.] "He's kind of a jerk, isn't he?" The remaining scientist rolled his eyes. "Oh, he's a complete asshole. But a competent one." Checking his instruments, he added, "You're doing it! It's not a perfect fit - no offense, you can't modulate the same way a computer can - but we've bought some time." "Good. How much?" "At least fifteen minutes. Plenty of time to get the other emitter in." "Even better."

Meanwhile the two guards started to stir, moaning. Jon mentioned, "I don't feel like getting shot again." "Relax, I disarmed them while you were off gallivanting about. And I'll talk them down if they get antsy." "Okay..."

Eventually one of the guards woke up (not the one who shot Jon before) and asked blearily, "So who's Moonbeam the Spaceman?" (Jon was still wearing his space suit.) "The mask who's keeping the reactor from going boom, Peter. So chill." Jon said "That's 'cape', please," just as the guard growled, "That's Petrov." When the scientist glanced between them trying to sort that out, the guard suddenly stared at the emitter. "What idiot shot that thing?!" Jon contained his sigh as he concentrated on maintaining the field. "That would be me." Petrov demanded, "What the hell did you do that for?!" "Not important right now," Jon told him. Petrov launched into a tirade about their training never to shoot high-tech-looking stuff, which Photon bore patiently as his lot in life.

Meanwhile the other guard stirred and started feeling around for his stun-rifle. "Where the hell-" "I moved it so you wouldn't shoot the guy keeping us alive," the scientist told him tersely. "Dammit, I figured that much out! ...Why'd he zap me again?" Photon told him, "Because I didn't trust you. Still don't, in fact." "Well, as long as you're keeping the reactor together, I sure won't shoot you..." "And after it's fine? 'Good' doesn't mean 'stupid', you know."

Petrov sneered, "You coulda fooled me!" and shifted his rant into one on VIPER propaganda about the strong dominating the weak, the evolutionary bankruptcy of traditional morality, and so forth. The two other VIPER representatives present rolled their eyes in unison; evidently Petrov was regarded as a tiresome True Believer.

Eventually Mark returned, rolling another emitter carefully on a cart. He took in Petrov's rant in frank disbelief, then smirked to Photon, "You set him off, didn't you? Peter, put a sock in it and help me lift this thing." "Dammit, Mark, I keep telling people to stop calling me Peter!" "Yeah, but you're not strong enough to make it stick, so who gives a sh!t? Now make yourself useful, okay?"

Petrov hesitated, then did as he was told. Mark told Photon in high humor, "Don't worry about the names, by the way, we aren't all named after Gospels." The other scientist interjected, "Actually, my middle name's 'Lucas'. And 'Peter' isn't a Gospel anyway." Petrov mumbled something about the weakness of Christian slave morality, but clearly nobody cared but him.

"Whatever. Hold it there, Peter. Don't jostle it. And drape this lead there..." Mark went up a stepladder and got to work installing the new emitter, the other guard handing tools up to him when requested, while 'Lucas' monitored the reactor and Photon kept the field as steady as he could. Things were getting positively cozy when a new individual in formidable-looking powered armor came on the scene and surveyed their work, taking special note of Photon's presence.

Petrov paused to salute as this newcomer stated, "I bet it'd ruin your whole week to know I've booby-trapped the reactor for just such occasions as this." He held up a small transmitter and gloated, "This city will feel the consequences of defying VIPER! Nuclear fire will..." Photon was just about to shoot him when Mark drawled, "Sir, with all due respect, shut the hell up." He cranked a dial over hard on the emitter, and the field flared briefly into being, intersecting the man's armor, which promptly froze up. With a creak, he fell over with a crash, the transmitter going flying... only to be caught by a magnetic field of Photon's creation.

Mark said smugly, "I've been wanting to do that for a long time," while Petrov gaped. "You... You can't do that! He's a superior officer!" Photon suggested, "Can we PLEASE get back to saving the city?"

Mark told Petrov, "So? He was acting against policy, and he wasn't strong enough to carry it off. By the manual, that makes me right, doesn't it?" Petrov chewed on that for a moment, then nodded. "Yeah, it does... sir." "I'm glad we've got that settled."

Photon: "Saving. City?!" Mark: "Oh, right, about that." He strode insolently up to Photon. "I want to make a deal with you."

"Oh?" "Yes. I've jury-rigged the emitter. Once I turn it on, it'll last for about ten minutes, and then short out permanently. You'll never repair it in time. There is, however, an alternative." Jon gritted out hostilely, "Go on."

The man gestured to the control panel of the reactor. "I've got all the schematics of the emitter password-protected on there. I'll give you the password and the two of you will have plenty of time to hook it up properly - you seem smart enough and I know he is. In exchange, you let me walk out of here. I'll take my chances with your friends; I just want your word that you personally won't try to stop me."

Photon told him coldly, "I'll let you walk out of this room." Mark smiled, showing his teeth. "Not good enough. You'll let me walk out of this base. After that, I'm fair game. Oh, and by the way? The countdown's starting..." he glanced ostentatiously at his watch, "" Sure enough, the emitter's field activated. "Do we have a deal?"

Jon wrestled with his conscience for a moment, then sighed. "Deal." "Good. The password's 'cocksucker', all lower case." "Named it after yourself, did you?" "Quite. Ta!" With a little wave, he strolled out of the room. After some hesitation, Petrov and the other guard followed him. [I've got this funny feeling I'm going to be hearing from Mark again at some point. :P Mainly because I know the eldritch workings of SuentisPo's evil, evil brain.]

'Lucas' had already typed the password in by the time Jon dropped the cable and joined him. The two of them pored rapidly over the schematics they found, and breathed mutual sighs of relief; it didn't look all that complicated. They got to work, Photon helping hold the thing up with magnetic fields while they started rewiring. "You can call me Photon, if you hadn't already guessed. What should I call you?" "'Lucas' will be good enough for now."

After working a while longer in silence, the guy asked, "So how'd you get your powers, anyway?" Jon shrugged. "Beats me." "What?! You've got all this power over electromagnetic whatever, but you don't know how?! You just woke up one day and it just... worked?" "Pretty much." "Wild."

A little while later, Jon asked, "So what about you? How'd you get involved with VIPER, anyway?" The guy shrugged. "The research is interesting, the pay is good, and they don't mind hiring a guy who padded his expense account a bit. ... Okay, a guy who padded his expense account a lot. ... Will you put in a good word for me, seeing as I'm helping you out?"

Jon nodded. "Yes, I will. How interesting of research?" When 'Lucas' hesitated to answer, he added, "You may as well spill the beans, you've cast your die with me now." 'Lucas' nodded. "Lots of interesting stuff with fusion. It's what I've worked on my whole professional life. Pocket fusion is possible, I tell you!" His eyes glowed with enthusiasm, but when Jon said easily, "I know, I've seen it," he deflated and said without rancor, "I hate you." Jon chuckled as he slipped another wire into place. "We can't all be super-geniuses. I never did figure out how Technoid got his reactors that small."

With a sigh, 'Lucas' nodded. "Yeah. This design - with a fission stage - was a huge mistake in my opinion. I think they wanted a bomb in case things went sour, frankly. I put in to work on the pure fusion reactor downtown, but wasn't accepted." "Oho! So that office building downtown IS yours, is it?" After another hesitation, the man nodded. "Well well well. I'll definitely have to - WHOA!"

A wave of green light passed through the room, momentarily dazzling Jon's eyes. Clearly, once again, it had nothing to do with photons... 'Lucas' asked, "What the hell was that?!" Jon said grimly, "Nothing good. You've got things under control here, so I HAVE to go check that out." "Wait! Send my assistant in here to help, just in case. His name's Al - he'll be easy to spot, nobody could miss that nose."

"Nose?" "Yeah, he could easily be nicknamed 'Pinocchio'. Well, for the nose, I mean. He's actually really bright, and..." Jon said impatiently, "I get it, he's a regular Cyrano de Bergerac! I've got to go." "Nah, he has no luck with the women, at all... Oh my God, that reminds me! If some of your friends are, well, heroines, there could be trouble." Jon raised a brow, and 'Lucas' said sadly, "When you're already a criminal, it's not always easy to hold back from adding more to the list."

Jon didn't pause for more chit-chat. Instead he light-formed his way over to the 'front door'. Beta and A.E. looked to have things well in hand - the evacuation order was sending them plenty of unarmed and unprepared mooks - but Sirocco was down. (His sandstone mask had crumbled, but a bandanna had been tied about his face as a makeshift substitute.) "What happened," he demanded, while stooping to check the young man's pulse. A.E. reported, "He collapsed for no apparent reason a couple minutes ago. Seems stable, though. We haven't had time to evac him." Sure enough, Sirocco's pulse was thready but strong.

Jon nodded. "Okay, get him out ASAP." Feeling at the young man's chest, he went cold as he realized the Amulet was gone. A.E. suddenly yelled "Freeze!" holding a high-tech gun on a man with a knife and a dangerous, contorted expression. Jon straightened, recognizing the nose. He said calmly, "Al, Lucas needs you at the reactor." The guy's knife wavered. "Who the hell is Lucas?" "Your boss. At the reactor. It's going supercritical, and he needs your help." Al visibly calmed as he absorbed that information. He gestured to his knife and asked, "Uh, can we forget this part if I go and help?" "Yes," Jon told him firmly, and Al ran off. A.E. glanced thanks at him, but Photon had already sped to the 'back door' to check on Demeter.

She was busy plucking a VIPER guard off a catwalk with ropes of algae and coiling him up. "Demeter?" She didn't respond, and jerked her captive to the ground with seemingly unnecessary violence. "Demeter?!"

The woman started and drawled slowly, "Oh! Sorry, I didn't realize you were speaking to me." She turned to him, and Jon had the cold creeping realization that it wasn't Demeter.

Oh, it looked like her. But Demeter had brown eyes flecked with green; this woman had eyes so green they practically glowed. Demeter didn't have that cruel smile, or that coy tone of voice save as a joke. The chest of her costume was in rags - evidently she'd been hit there by an energy weapon of some sort. And Jon spotted the mangled remains of a chain hanging from her neck which hadn't been there before...

Mind racing, Jon said, "Hello. Pardon me for my mistake. Whom do I have the honor of addressing?" Not-Demeter smiled slowly, seductively. "I've had many names over the millennia. You might have heard of me as 'Eris'."

Oh GREAT, Jon thought. "Yes, I've heard of you. I'm called Photon." "Yes, yes, I know. I observed, when Sirocco wore me. And Charm before him. And so many others. ... You're boring, you know. So much science." "I see... So, ah, Eris... How's Demeter right now?" She grinned. "She's not taking calls at the moment. Maybe later."

"And Sirocco? Is he going to live?" Eris shrugged, uncaring. "Oh, probably. He didn't use my power for long. ... Don't look at me that way," she chided, "I didn't DO it to them. It's a side-effect; my power wears down the human body and soul. They chose to make use of my power, I can't help what it does to them once I leave them." "So why do you leave? Why did you leave Charm?"

She growled in frustration. "He wasn't DOING anything! Oh, believe me, I'm five thousand years old, I understand the concept of taking a break. But he wasn't taking a break, he retired! He was planning on resting on his laurels indefinitely! I was BORED!" Jon nodded slowly. I've got to keep her talking, he thought; otherwise she might teleport out at any moment, and who knows if we'll ever track her down again. "And Sirocco?"

Eris smiled slowly. "Well, I couldn't pass up a chance like that, could I, Science? This 'Demeter' of yours is practically a druid - a plant witch. She doesn't even know it of course, poor thing. Thinks she's one of your 'mutants'. But I knew, oh yes. And she's female, too. Definitely a plus!"

"So what are your plans now?" She shrugged. "Honestly? Sex. Lots of it. I've been cooped up in that amulet for millennia with no physical body, Science! Do the math."

Jon nodded encouragingly, feeling sick to his stomach. "Millennia, huh? You must have seen a lot of history!" "You have no idea. Oh -" and suddenly her face was a mask of fury, "and that lying Homer BASTARD?! Ignore him! That blind lying SOT -- ! He wouldn't know the truth if it bit him!"

"I never did enjoy the Iliad much," Jon agreed easily, not mentioning he'd always rather liked the Odyssey. Eris continued to fume, "He got it all WRONG! Trust me, Science. There was no Athena. No Hera, no Aphrodite. Faugh! He even made ME out to be a goddess, but don't you believe it! I'm a human woman, with a woman's needs." Jon nodded sagely. "I'll definitely bear that in mind."

She grinned at him and purred coyly, "Only in mind? My needs are... extensive, Science. Sure, you're boring, but you're kind of cute... and it's been a long time." Jon, flustered, could only say, "Uh." "I may not be a goddess in the metaphysical sense, but I assure you that I can be heavenly in the sack!" She bowed modestly with a wicked grin, adding, "And don't look at my boobs, it's rude. Unless you plan on touching as well..." Jon managed to get out, "So, uh, Homer got everything wrong?" "Oh! Right, him. Yeah, most of that stuff he wrote about is totally fake..."

Eris trailed off, apparently lost in reminiscence. Eventually she murmured, "Helen was real, though. She wore me, you know." "Oh?" "Oh yes. And she was nearly as hot as they say - I helped with that, of course." "Of course." "Pity she was married to that Menelaus oaf. Mind you, the guy had a great body! You could bounce a drachma off his abs and make change. But no brain to speak of. And to him? Women are for sex, keeping house, and making babies. Blah. So this Paris kid comes along, right? And he's like, 'Gee Helen, I kind of appreciate you as a human being,' there's potential to work with there, you know? He wore me too, for quite a while."

"Did he really?" "Yeah. Sure, he was male, but we shared similar tastes in women. Different tastes in men, but hey, he was Greek, he was willing to learn." Jon decided, stomach roiling, that it was time to get things a little more back on-topic. "So, Eris... How exactly is Demeter doing right now?"

Eris laughed. "Relax, Science. I'll let her come out and play at some point, when I get bored. It's her body too." "Kind of hard on her, isn't it? I mean, she didn't choose this. You're sort of using her, aren't you?" Eris glared - that barb seemed to have struck home. "I didn't choose it either, Science. I grabbed the opportunity I was given, that's all!"

Jon said politely, "Eris, I would really appreciate speaking to Demeter and hearing what she has to say about it. Now, please."

Eris went stone-cold at the word 'now', her glare intensifying to a glowing green threat. She hissed, "You don't give me orders, Science. You never give me orders." Then, relenting just slightly, she added, "Anyway, I can't. She's unconscious right now." Oho! Jon thought. If I can just keep her around until Demeter wakes up, things could get a lot less one-sided!

"I apologize, Eris. I'm just worried about my friend, that's all. You can understand that, can't you? ... It just doesn't seem quite fair for Demeter to have to rely on your boredom. Surely the two of you can work out some sort of timeshare arrangement?"

Eris mulled that over. "Well... maybe." She sounded bored with the whole concept, so Photon changed the subject in a bright tone: "Say, I'm sure Demeter will want to continue being a superhero. What do you think of that?"

Eris replied breezily, "Sure, why not? Sounds fun! You need another member for the team anyway, don't you? And that Forestrike fellow seems to have predicted me, too. I think I'll use the name 'Jade' - 'Eris' would probably lead to unfortunate misunderstandings in modern circumstances, don't you think?"

Jon asked, nonplussed, "You don't mind being described as 'faithless' and 'worthless'?" Eris laughed. "Oh, Science! I've already told you I don't believe in gods, any of them. Never seen one, have no use for 'em. So there's 'faithless' for you. If you'd seen the cruelties I've seen in the names of various gods, you'd be with me on that... Charm got so tiresome, with his Catholic-this and his Catholic-that! Though," she added reflectively, "I do have to say, even the Spanish Inquisition had NOTHING on the Assyrians. Once you've seen those lads piling up skulls in neat pyramids, well, let's just say nothing much shocks you after that. And the Aztecs...!"

Photon cleared his throat. "And 'worthless'?" "Oh please! Obviously Forestrike spread partial lies into each of his prophecies. I'm clearly not 'worthless', am I?"

Jon had no idea how to answer that question tactfully while retaining any shred of self-respect. He finally settled on, "You're certainly... unique, that's for sure." "You got that right, Sci-" Eris suddenly frowned and swayed on her feet. "Eris?" Jon prompted.

Abruptly she shrieked and clutched her head. Jon swiftly asked, "Demeter! Is that you?!" "I... I... think so?!" "Concentrate on the plants, Demeter!" Jon urged, "You can sense them, right? That's you, not her!" "Right, I... Yeah! Th-thanks, Photon..."

"How are you feeling?" "...Weird. She's still there, pushing..." After some further thought, clutching her temples, she continued shakily, "I don't think she can get through unless I let her..." Jon noticed her eyes were back to their normal color. "Let me... It's so confusing. Wait a minute..." Then suddenly, she burst out with outrage, "TIMESHARE?!"

Soothingly, Jon told her, "I was just trying to keep her talking, Demeter. I didn't really mean it." "This is my BODY, not a CONDO!!" "Yes, I know. Can you tell me what happened to the Amulet?"

Demeter visibly struggled to remember. "After the planning session... Sirocco offered it to me and I took it. It seemed somehow... like it was the right thing to do. I don't know why." Jon sighed. Great. "And where is it now, Demeter?" "It... I don't know, I think it got shot? No, I got shot..." Jon asked slowly, patiently, "Is it all right with you if I look inside your body for it, just in case?"

For a moment, she smirked and said, "I knew you couldn't resist me... Aaargh, no, that's her talking. No, Eris! We're going to keep our relationship strictly professional! Not that kind of profession! Professional! No, not Sirocco either! What, him? Gross, no way!" "Who?" asked Jon, feeling lost. "A co-worker of mine who's a real jerk." "Ah. Is it all right..." "Yes, sorry. Go ahead."

Gingerly using his X-ray vision, Jon scanned for the Amulet. There was nothing left of it except shrapnel, little pieces embedded in Demeter's skin. She didn't seem injured other than mild contusions, though.

After sharing that info, Jon asked, "Are you going to be okay for now? There's a lot going on." "Yeah.... I think so. Yeah. She can't take control unless I let her... She would've by now if she could." "You sure?" "Yeah. Go get 'em. And make sure Sirocco's OK!" "I will," Jon promised.

He zipped over to the 'front door'; things were getting a lot less chaotic over there. Scooping up Sirocco's slim form, he radioed the others, I'm taking him in. Then it's off to the office building. Alpha, tell Smith to get some people over there, I'd appreciate at least a little backup. I've confirmed they're VIPER, by the way. Alpha replied, Done. Oh, and there's cops on-site now, they can take care of Sirocco. (The base's infirmary had been decommissioned about the same time Mike's body had been moved.) A.E. added, "I'll head over there when I get a chance!"

Jon sped out the circular door, then out of the warehouse. Sure enough, the place was ringed with cop cars, and police were busy cuffing VIPER personnel, both conscious and unconscious. He tersely informed the man in charge of the situation, especially that the reactor was under control. "I'm heading downtown. Take care of him!" The cop nodded and saluted. "Will do, Photon! Good hunting!" "Right," Photon said, and vanished...

...Only to reappear just outside the building in question, glowing with determination. Espinoza and Doyle must be getting quite the show, he thought, let's not disappoint. The security systems he'd spotted before were all electronic in nature; shorting them out was easy. Diving into the building, he found people frantically shredding papers and wiping computers; a few stun-zaps was all it took to send them down the rabbit-hole.

His X-ray vision couldn't penetrate several VIPER-related rooms, though, too heavily shielded. He was rapidly considering his options to pry them open when the question became moot: An explosion rocked the building, tearing a huge hole in the wall. For a moment, all Jon could think was, Yep, they're getting quite the show... Then he was off after the rocket-sled that'd just departed the building the hard way.

He studied the thing as it lay there pinned in mid-air, streaking around it in light-form. It seemed to be mostly made of carbon composites, so magnetism wasn't going to be any help. Its engines were huge; it had already picked up a lot of speed, and was only going to get faster. It'll be almost anywhere in the world before too much longer, he thought. Radar-baffled, too. If I snuff the thrust, it'll plunge straight into the city - can't have that. Maybe crashland it in the ocean?

Disturbed by a sudden thought, he flashed back to the building to see how it was holding up. Sighing silently in dismay, he saw that its structural members were buckling. The upper floors are gonna pancake within minutes if I don't do something.

Jon resigned himself to letting the VIPER bigwigs get away. What's a hero for, if not to keep buildings from collapsing on innocent people? [SP gave me a hero point for doing the right thing.] Materializing, he heard deep basso groans as the huge structure slowly started to give way.

Photon extended his hands, gritting his teeth; I've never held anything this big up before. Magnetic field lines coiled and snapped in response to his will, extending to embrace the upper half of the skyscraper. Jon groaned sympathetically as he 'felt' the load impinge upon his will. No, not today, he thought - someday you'll fall down, but today is NOT. THAT. DAY!

It held. Gasping and sweating, Jon managed to fly over to one of the damaged members and spot-weld it with laser light and arcs of electricity. He melted concrete to fill cracks, straightened bent beams with magnetic fields, and shifted lesser structures to load-bearing positions. When he guessed it would probably hold, he did some more for a while, then gingerly let its weight settle back to its natural state.

There were loud creaks and groans for a moment... but it held. Jon breathed a sigh of relief, suddenly exhausted. He announced over the police band, Photon here. The building's safe for now. I've got unconscious people, evidence, and materiel on floors 12, 13, 14, and 15. (Cop cars had sped up to the building not long previous.) After they confirmed and started taking matters in hand, Jon sped off looking for the rocket sled again, not with the highest of hopes.

After a long but fruitless search, he streaked over to the marina. Things had been mopped up there by now, an exhausted but glowing American Eagle greeting him with high spirits. Beta stood impassively to one side, waiting for his talents to be called upon... Demeter was sitting on a step, head in her hands. After receiving word from the cop he'd spoken to before that Sirocco had been taken to Swedish Hospital, he went and sat next to her.

"Hey. How are you doing?" "I'm... kind of sorting that out." "I understand. But Tex-Hex'll be here soon, he'll check you out." "Yeah."

"Is there anything else I can do for you?" "Not really... I just need to think for a while, then probably sleep for a week." "Um. Will Eris be able to seize control while you're out?" "I... Wow, hadn't thought of that. I don't think so. And she claims not, for whatever that's worth." "Not much." "Yeah."

"Maybe you should spend the night in the base, so Alpha can keep an eye on you?" Demeter sighed. "You're assuming he'll be able to; remember how the Amulet affected him?" "Oh. Right." "Honestly, I'll do best in my own bed. Eris has a vested interest in not pissing me off." "Does she? Is there anything stopping her from jumping to someone else?" "Apparently - she wasn't able to jump out of the Amulet short of it being destroyed. She claims she needed it to stay together without her body."

Jon nodded. "Well... Be sure to check in with Alpha every so often, okay? So we know you're all right, and so you know when Tex arrives." "Okay, I will."

A young cop approached them. "Mr. Photon? Captain Smith said he wants to talk to you tomorrow morning." "I'll do that, officer, thank you." The man grinned at him. "No, thank you, sir! This's been a righteous bust." "I certainly hope so." "Never seen anything like it before. But I guess you supers get this kind of excitement all the time, huh?"

Photon and Demeter looked at each other. Jon sighed. "Something like that. One does develop a taste for boredom after a while, let me tell you." Demeter laughed suddenly, with a faint edge of hysteria. "I'm of two minds on that subject." Jon laughed bitterly at the pun himself, and the cop edged away a bit. "Uh, I gotta get back to work."

"So soon?" Demeter purred, then clenched her fists and gritted her teeth in fury. Utterly bewildered by that reaction, the young man all but fled from them. Jon asked softly, "Demeter... are you sure you're going to be okay?" After a moment, she said. "Yes. I'm getting a feel for how this works... and making it clear to that bitch where the boundaries lie." "Well... Let me get you one of the new cell-phones so we can call you, all right?" She nodded. "Yeah... not a bad idea." Photon went and fetched one, pausing to give Alpha a rapid radio summary of events, then she animated a tree to leave.

Jon then zipped to Swedish Hospital to check on Sirocco. It's been a long day, he thought to himself. And it's not over yet.
"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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The Shadow
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15 - Mounting Discord

Postby The Shadow » Mon Jan 24, 2011 9:55 am

[And here's the last bit of the marathon session, supplemented by an email exchange and a phone call or two. The last half of this is unusual, in that I had to write it almost entirely from scratch. A lot of the details were glossed over in play in the form of 'You find this out'; but that wasn't at all satisfying from a writing perspective. I think it turned out all right. SP says everyone's in character, anyway, and he's the expert!]

Photon waited impatiently as the hospital dithered over clearing him to see Sirocco. The interactions of patient privacy laws with secret identity issues made for some 'interesting' bureaucratic snarls as he struggled to see his teammate... In the end, they checked his registration number, verified it with the BSA, and called Captain Smith for approval before finally escorting him to Sirocco's private room.

The bandanna had been removed to make way for various tubes. Sirocco just lay there in a hospital gown with an IV in his arm, breathing very slowly. (Jon was reminded of Mike with a sudden pang.) A doctor explained to him that Sirocco was in a coma of unknown etiology. "How long will he take to come out of it?" Jon asked, and was told with a helpless shrug that there was simply no way to tell - perhaps in a few minutes, perhaps in years.

Jon nodded somberly. "I will be coming frequently to visit him." It wasn't a request. "And I expect to be informed immediately when he wakes. Call this number." He gave Alpha's number, which the doctor accepted.

Jon sat next to the bed and took Sirocco's hand as the doctor left the room. "They say it's good to talk to coma patients. I'm not sure what to say, though. Except I'm sorry. I should've postponed the operation until after Tex came up here and performed the ritual. VIPER had been building up a presence here for at least a couple years, a couple more days wouldn't have mattered." He sighed. "Used to be when I made stupid rookie mistakes, the worst that would happen was Erebus would chew me out. Now when I make them, people get hurt."

He continued to pour out his heart to Sirocco's inert form, describing his hopes, fears, and anxieties. When he'd run out of things to say, he felt drained but at peace. "It's weird, caring this much about you when I don't even know your name. I can see already that you're going to give me plenty of headaches, but it just doesn't matter."

"...Well, I guess that's not so strange. My brother Jason gives me almost nothing but verbal abuse when I visit him in prison, but I love him too. And the weird thing is, I know he loves me back, in his own dysfunctional way. He'd feel terrible if I didn't visit him. Abandoned. Lost. The insults and put-downs are his way of dealing with his fear of needing me, of being vulnerable. I'm the only family he's got except for Cindy, and she can't visit him - she's in prison too." He chuckled wearily. "Visits with her are much more civil - and I suspect it's because she doesn't have much of a bond with me any more. How messed up is that, huh?"

"I wonder, are you afraid in sort of the same way? Don't get me wrong, you're a much better man than Jase! Just a feeling I've gotten, though - that you push people away sometimes. Well, whether you are or not... I'm not going to abandon you either."

"I really hope we can get back to the high-trust place Shadow-Force used to be in. It's bizarre, trusting someone with your life but not your name."

Jon yawned. "I really should go, sorry. A hero's work is never done - you'll find out soon enough." He zipped home and tried to sleep. His body had more sense than his mind; after a wakeful hour, thoughts tumbling randomly, exhaustion claimed him.


He woke up early to spend some time with Sirocco again. But when the hour grew more civilized, he sped in to talk to Smith as promised.

Smith normally frosty demeanor was almost perky this time. He actually smiled as he shook Photon's hand. "We're getting a wealth of information from the VIPER sites. Still a lot of interrogation to be done, but it's clear we've hurt them here. ... It turns out that the marina base was their barracks for this region, while the office building was central command. Their coded link to VIPER High Command slagged itself automatically - their SOP is to put them on a hair-trigger - but there's still a lot to be gotten off their computers." He shrugged. "It would have been better to hit the building first, but there's no way you could have known that at the time. All in all, a fine day's work, Photon."

Jon nodded somberly. "Thank you, Captain." "I thought you'd like to know a few details we've uncovered. The Seattle nest leader got out in the rocket, no surprise there. But Hybrid was with him. Our source says he'd been really pensive since your fight, the way he gets when he's getting inspired to go off and invent things. So we may not see him for a while, but when we do, brace yourself. Oh, and the same guy says Hybrid's on a sonics kick lately, for whatever that's worth."

Photon absorbed that. "All right, definitely worth knowing. Was the rocket tracked by satellite?" Smith shook his head. "No, it didn't show up at all - and nobody knows how they worked it. I'll bet the NSA is freaked." "Couldn't happen to a bunch of nicer guys." Smith actually smirked. "Amen to that." "Anything else?"

"Yeah. The DA is going to want you to confirm that a-" he glanced at a sheet on his desk, "Dr. Jeremiah Williamson helped you contain the reactor." "If his middle name is Lucas, then yes he did." "He'll probably call you about that." "All right." Smith added, "That Williamson guy is singing like a canary. I think he's pulling for Witness Protection, and he'll probably get it." "He'll need it. And really, it's the least we can do. ... Did Espinoza and Doyle spot anything interesting I don't know about?"

Smith shrugged. "Not really. When you hit the marina, a bunch of lights went on, a number of cars left in a hurry, and then you showed up. By the way, please hold off on talking to the media. We want to keep VIPER guessing a while; we'll release a statement later this week." "All right, I will."

"How's Sirocco doing?" Jon sighed. "He's in a coma. No timeline on recovery, but there's somebody coming tomorrow or the next day who can possibly tell us more." "We're pulling for him." "Thank you. Is Captain Struthers feeling better?"

Smith shrugged. "Haven't heard from him..." A phone rang on his desk. "I should take that." Photon nodded and got up to go. As he was heading out the door, Smith suddenly said urgently, "Photon, sit back down."

Jon did so, brows raised. "Yes?" After a few more moments of listening, Smith hung up the phone and said gravely, "Captain Struthers has vanished. No sign of struggle at his house, no note, he's just gone." Jon blinked. "And his wife?" "She's gone too." Jon struggled to process that. "Who would want to do that?" "At this point, you know everything I do." "...Wow. If there's no objection, I'll take some steps to try to find him." "By all means. Just let me know whatever you find." "I will."

Jon headed in to the base, mind whirling. He filled Alpha in, adding, "See if you can dig up anything on Struthers - old enemies, that kind of thing. It's a longshot, but it can't hurt." "Will do. Oh, and Tex called - he's flying in this afternoon." "That's something." "Yeah, no kidding. And Demeter showed up for her scheduled patrol with Beta. She seems really on edge, but otherwise fine."

"Alpha?" "Yeah?" "Does it ever get less crazy than this?" The computer sighed. "Not often - enjoy the lulls when you can. Though this Eris witch isn't the sort of thing you see every day." "Tell me about it."

"Oh - and I guess you haven't read the papers yet, have you?" "No... why?" "Heh. You'll get a kick out of it."

The workday once again passed in a blur; Jon zipped to the hospital frequently to check if Sirocco was awake. He picked up a paper at lunch and did indeed get a laugh out of it: The front-page headline blared, "Mystery Super!" and featured a grainy photograph of his own space-suited form hovering and extending its arms toward the building. The article was full of breathless speculation and Jon shook his head, chuckling. Naturally, they wouldn't guess it was Photon.

On a whim, he checked a few super-blogs - just as breathless, with even wilder speculation. As usual, Pagemaster at Seattle Supers was a step ahead of everyone else - Photon was his first guess, followed by Mystra, then by an unknown. (His fourth and fifth guesses were Technoid and Beta, respectively - in fairness to him, largely because fans clamored for them to be considered.) His conclusions were being openly scoffed at elsewhere; Jon wryly noted that his wasn't going to be the only reputation to get a boost.

Jon turned up at the airport invisibly again, but this time Tex was prepared. He grinned up at Photon's floating form. "Didn't really reckon on foolin' an old man twice in a row, didja son?" Jon chuckled wearily. "Worth a try." When they got back to the base, Jon broke the news that the ritual wasn't going to be needed. "The situation has... changed." He went on to give Tex a complete briefing.

Tex was grave when he'd heard Photon out. "That's some powerful hard news, Photon. Ah cain't conclude much afore checkin' 'em both out." "Well, Sirocco isn't going anywhere. How about we go visit him, and Alpha can call Demeter in to be ready for when you return?" "Ah concur."

Flying to the hospital, Jon had little patience with the bureaucratic nonsense. When they finally got to Sirocco's room, Tex checked the young man's pulse, counting beats with a somber expression. Then he touched a rune on his duster and spread his glowing hands out over Sirocco's still form, concentrating. Jon waited with patient trepidation.

Tex brightened visibly after a few minutes of scanning, then touched another rune and laid his hand on Sirocco's forehead. After a moment, he nodded. "As Ah thought! He should be raht as rain in a few days. Maybe even to-morrah." Jon sighed in relief, slumping as the air left him. "What exactly is wrong with him?" "Wail... there ain't really any mundane words fer it, Photon..." Jon sighed again. "Well, if you can't paint me a picture, at least give me the crayon stick-figure version. Anything's better than knowing nothing."

Tex nodded. "Wail... His... innate, uh, magical energy, Ah guess you'd say, is lower'n a snake's belly. He's got to... build it back up?" He chuckled ruefully. "Ah feel almost dirty sayin' it that way, but there y'are." Jon managed to chuckle with him. "Thanks for making the effort for the unwashed natives. There shouldn't be any lasting effects?" "Nope. But if he'd worn that-there Amu-let much longer, he'd be a goner for shore."

They headed back to the base; Demeter had already arrived. (According to her, Eris had been keeping a low profile in the meantime.) They sat down in the lounge and after introducing them and putting some coffee on, Jon started to leave... but to his mild surprise Demeter said, "No, I'd like you to stay, please." Tex debriefed her carefully, asking her many arcane questions about her experiences - he seemed to dwell at great length on seemingly minor nuances, while glossing lightly over things that Jon would have thought important.

Finally he said, "So, Miss Demeter, you feel, uh, comf't'ble letting this Eris talk to me direct-like? Or would y'rather relay mah questions to her?" Demeter shrugged. "No, it's all right. Here..."

Abruptly, her eyes glowed green, and she stretched, then crossed her legs sinuously. "Ahhhh. It's so good to be out and about." She seemed amused with the whole situation. A rune flared on the sleeve of Tex's duster, and he touched it, not taking his eyes from her face; his own was unreadable. "So, pleased to meet ye, Miss Eris."

She grinned. "Wrong on several counts, mageling. We met before, in Dallas. I believe you compared me to a woman who was 'PMS-ing'? And spare me the 'Miss' - I assure you I'm not a virgin. For that matter, I've been married before." Tex shrugged, but there was nothing casual about his manner otherwise. "Jest Eris, then." "That's one of my names."

"What would some of t'others be, then?" "You won't recognize any of them; Homer may have been a liar, but he's a widely-read one." "Try me." "Oh, please. Even if you did manage to winkle my truename out of me, it wouldn't do you the slightest good."

Tex raised a brow with sarcastic curiosity. "Really now." Eris grinned at him, slowly, showing teeth. "Nope. Not even a li'l bit." (She mimicked his accent.) She gestured at his duster with contempt and added, "You rely on runes. I predate the invention of writing, Cowboy. We didn't use your pathetic little symbols. We delved deeper than you can even imagine."

Tex laughed heartily. "I dunno there, Eris! Like that Han Solo feller said, Ah kin imagine quite a bit!" "Keep telling yourself that." She looked at Photon. "Turns out he's even more boring than you are. What's the good of banter when you know what the opposite party's going to say? Shall I tell you what he thinks he knows?" Jon glanced at Tex, a little alarmed, but the older man nodded minutely to him. "All right, Eris. Go ahead."

Eris grinned. "There's been whole dimensions of this conversation that went over your head, Science. He's figured out that I'm indeed human, and that I'm inextricably bound to your Demeter. He's decided I fit into the artificial pigeonhole he calls 'sorcerer' and he's trying to work out just what sort of spirits I work with - good luck with that, mageling! And he's determined that my power is tightly constrained by not being in my native body. He is just beginning to be afraid of how powerful I must have been before - how'm I doin', Cowboy?" Tex yawned elaborately. "Not too bad, Ah reckon. 'Cept for the bein' afeared part." "Wow, you're even dumber than I thought."

Jon asked cautiously, "So if you're not a sorcerer, Eris, what are you?" She laughed. "It's quite funny, really, that he thinks I summon spirits. In his mind, that's the only genuine alternative to pushing symbols around. You see, what you moderns call 'spirits' are just the foam on top of a very deep sea. Back in my day, there was no foam. Just the sea." Tex scoffed, "Pull the other one! That ain't poss'ble." Ignoring him, she told Jon, "So we dove in. We dove deep, seeking the depths of the abyss. Many of us perished. But those who survived, why, we entered into the raw primaeval concepts of Creation itself."

Tex shook his head. "Im-poss'ble. Ain't nobody could live through that, much less stay sane!" Eris finally looked at him, smiling an unpleasant smile. "I said nothing of being sane, Cowboy. Nor am I insane. I transcend your categories." Her voice rose. "I am a facet of Chaos Itself, little man. It transformed me, but in my tiny way I also transformed It. When I finally perish, a small but integral part of Seamless Reality will perish with me."

Tex was shaking his head, visibly pale now. He repeated flatly, "Im-poss'ble." She laughed. "You keep using that word! I do not think it means what you think it means." Jon froze, remembering the time he and Sirocco had used that quote, and she actually winked at him.

After a long silence, Jon cleared his throat and asked, "So just how powerful were you, Eris?" She laughed. "That Diabolus fellow you lot were going on about last year? I'd have eaten him for breakfast." Jon asked, honestly curious, "So how'd you end up in that Amulet?" Tex's eyes flew wide at that question, and Eris scowled.

"None of your... Oh, you can't be serious! That's not FAIR!" Eris folded her arms and sulked before saying, "Sharing a body with Demeter is going to be more tedious than I thought. ... I, well. I fought somebody even bigger than me. An Atlantean necromancer. I realize you don't like me much, Science, but trust me, this guy was the baddest news you've ever heard of. He killed me, but I hurt him. Badly. ... Anyway, my Amulet wasn't designed for soul-transference, but let's just say I was strongly motivated to improvise, given the circumstances."

"That necromancer couldn't still be around, could he?" Eris sat up straight, alarmed. "Sweet Chaos, I HOPE not!!" She thought about it, hard. "...No, in his weakened state, he surely couldn't have survived the destruction of Atlantis. And surely he would've popped his head up by now, if he'd gotten out in time..." Jon blinked. "So Atlantis really did exist, then?"

She looked at him with utter exasperation. "SCIENCE! Of course it existed! Plato WROTE about it, didn't he?" "Well... yeah, but most people think he was making it up. We've never found any geological evidence..." She rolled her eyes. "Look, Science. Let's pretend for a second that you have an imagination."

Jon frowned. "What, you think it doesn't take imagination to do science?" "Frankly, no." "And you accuse Tex of making category mistakes? Sheesh. Enigma said I had the creativity to be the making of a master wizard!" Eris shrugged. "Yeah? If he was so good, how'd YOU beat him?"

Jon grinned tightly at her. "I disrupted his teleport." She actually shuddered. "Yikes! Do you have any idea how much that STINGS?!" "Some. I got a sense of him through our contact. ... Tex thinks he had to make a quick sorcerous deal to make it out at all." "OUCH!"

Eris looked Photon up and down, clearly reassessing her opinion of him. "There's more to you than meets the eye, Science. You're cruel." She licked her lips and purred, "I like that."

Jon cleared his throat. "So... imagination?" "Fine, fine. Let's pretend you dream." Jon rolled his eyes. "I do!" She sighed, exasperated. "You may have night visions, you may have ambitious personal goals, but you don't dream!" "I'm plugged into the universe, Eris. I think it counts." "Big deal! I'm plugged into the MULTIVERSE, Science!"

She broke off and said in a pouty, singsong voice, "Demeter says I have to apologize." Jon said with genteel irony, "Accepted in the same spirit it was given." Eris sighed. "Okay, look. Let's pretend you're a MAGE, okay?!" Jon waved his arms and said facetiously, "Look at me, everybody! I'm a MAGE!"

Tex stifled a chuckle while Eris gave Photon a jaundiced look. "So, you're a mage. You get good and scared, and you decide you want to vanish off the face of the earth. What do you do?"

Jon thought about it. "I suppose I create some enchantments to hide the place I'm living. Don't the Atlanteans do that with telepathy, though?" Eris rolled her eyes. "You're thinking too small. They didn't just not want to be found; they wanted to make sure nobody would ever come looking. How'd they do that, Science?" "Hmm. I guess I'd try to pass off my previous existence as just stories. But I don't know enough about magic to guess how to go about that... even though I am a mage."

She grinned triumphantly. "Precisely. You can't even guess. They erased themselves from history, Science. They destroyed all evidence that Atlantis even existed; all the traces in the rocks, almost all the traces in people's minds. After their ritual, all that was left was legends."

Jon wondered, "They erased an entire sunken continent? Where did it... go?" Eris laughed. "No imagination. It didn't 'go' anywhere. It ceased to exist - in memory as well as in physical state." "So how was there anything left for Plato to know about, then?" She shrugged. "Their spell wasn't perfect. Just really, really good." "If it just vanished, why wasn't sea level affected?"

"You still don't get it, do you? The Earth itself forgot! They made it to be as if their entire continent had never existed." Jon stared at her. "...They could DO that?" Eris grinned. "Yup. It just goes to show that magic is better than technology, hm?" Jon looked over at Tex, who seemed less shocked than himself... but not by much.

After processing that for a time, Jon asked her, "So if you're as powerful as you say, how come you're the junior partner in Demeter's body?" Tex winced a bit at that description, but Eris sighed. "I told you, my Amulet wasn't designed for soul-transference. I've been improvising at every stage... Without going into technicalities, it's her body, and nothing I can do can change that. If her subconscious mind gives me an opening, I can... reach through... in small ways. But as she gets used to me, she'll be able to shut even that outlet off if she chooses."

Jon nodded. "Okay. Now, you said before you were interested in being part of the team. That still the case?" She nodded, so Jon asked her point-blank, "How can I trust you?"

She sighed. "In general? You can't. I don't even know what my whims will be from moment to moment. But you can trust me to keep Demeter alive - if she dies, I die." "How can I trust you not to sell us out?" "If nothing else, Demeter won't let me! And anyway, what motive could I possibly have?"

Jon shrugged. "The offer of a body of your own?" She shrugged back. "I'd take it in a hot second. But good luck with that; I couldn't have done that at my height. Not the genuine article, I mean. There are people who could offer me a vessel to dwell in that'd give them power over me, but that'd be worse than what I have now. Demeter can deny me body-access, but she can't touch my mind."

"Okay... I'm still not sure how I can trust you on the team, though." She sighed. "Look, Science. I know we... got off on the wrong foot. But believe me, I'm motivated to be helpful - so I get body-time, if nothing else."

Jon mused, "It occurs to me that's not quite the same as being trustworthy, though." Eris tossed her head. "Fine. Ask me anything. I'll do my best to answer." She grinned. "That's not an offer that comes by every century, Science." Tex for his part looked like he was doing his best fly-on-the-wall impression.

Jon considered. Since this is apparently a team interview, let's start with a softball question. "Where are you from originally? I gather you're not Greek." She nodded. "From what's today called Algeria, I think - or maybe Morocco, I'm not sure which. We had a small kingdom there." "'We'?" "The mages, of course. We ruled over the unwashed, unshaven peasants." She paused, then said to the air, "Because we knew more than they did, of course. 'Wizard' just means 'wise', you know. ... Yes, of course I bathed. What do you take me for, a barbarian?" She rolled her eyes. "No, I didn't shave my legs, razors hadn't been invented yet! Besides, tastes were different back then. Oh, fine. Yes, yes, democracy, uh huh. They were a little too busy not starving to deal with politics. And I haven't even mentioned what some of our neighbors were like!"

Jon cleared his throat, and she started. "Oh, right. Did you say something?" "So I gather that mages tend to have specialties. You've mentioned you're a Chaos mage - what does mean about what you can do?" Eris grinned nastily at Tex. "Modern mages have specialties because they're weak and narrow-minded." Tex rolled his eyes and waved that off, and she added, "There are things I have... philosophical objections to doing, you might say. But it's all about imagination, Science. Name it and I can at least try to do it."

Jon nodded, then asked point-blank, "Did you arrange for the Amulet to get shot?" Eris shrugged. "Maybe." "That's not a yes or a no." She laughed. "Have you stopped beating your wife? Chaos, Science, remember? That question doesn't even admit of a definite yes or no answer. I don't expect you to understand... No imag-"

Eris and Tex both stared blankly as Jon cracked up into helpless laughter. After an interval, Eris finally said in irritation, "What?!" Jon wound down to snickering. "I just can't believe you had the gall to say that to a certified Quantum Mechanic... and expect me not to understand. We know from chaos these days, lady! Okay, so you engaged in Schroedinger's Plot, got it. Want me to go into technical detail about mixed states? Squeezed states? Decoherence? I deal with this stuff every day."

They were both staring at him. Eris contracted Demeter's brows and studied him as if he were a rare and unusual insect - with a poisonous bite. Jon grinned at her. "What's the matter, Eris? Can't have the hoi polloi knowing the esoteric secrets? That's why technology is better than magic, you know - why it's transformed the world in ways you guys never did. At it's best, it's for everybody." Eris shook her head, murmuring, "I knew I should have gotten to Newton earlier." She paused, then added grudgingly, "Maybe you're not quite as boring as I thought."

Jon laughed again. "Why gee, thanks!" He was about to ask another question, when Eris' eyes abruptly faded back to brown. Demeter said, "No offense, but I've gotten an awful lot to process out of this conversation." Tex rose at once and swept off his hat. "Of course, Miss Demeter. We'll take it up again when yore ready."

She smiled gratefully to him. "Thanks." Jon asked, "One more thing? I need to know if it's possible to have a private conversation with you - without being listened in on." Demeter sighed. "Not really. Eris says she can do the equivalent of sticking her fingers in her ears and saying 'Lalalalalalala,' but that's about the extent of it."

"Okay. Hang in there, Demeter." "I'll do my best. Thanks for coming out, Tex... Tell me straight. Is there any way this can be reversed?" The older man said honestly, "Ah'm raht sorry, Miss. There ain't none Ah've ever heard of - at least, none that'd not leave ye worse off than y'are now." She sighed. "I was afraid of that." After a few more pleasantries, Eris' eyes manifested again, and she teleported out.

Jon and Tex looked at each other. Tex wiped the sweat from his brow while Jon asked, "You were awfully quiet there for a while... I wasn't sure what I was doing." Tex nodded. "Jest as well. You handled her better'n Ah could've." Jon blinked. "Oh? Why's that?" Tex said matter-of-factly, "Because yore too ignorant to be terr'fied."

Jon winced. "So you really were scared, then?" "Oh hail yes, son! Ah didn't let it show, 'cause Ah wanted her to under-estimate me. If she thought Ah was stupid, she might let somethin' slip." "So she was telling the truth about all that stuff, then?"

Tex snorted. "Ah didn't say that. She's a terr'ble braggart, that's certain. Some o' what she said was exagger-ation. Some was outraht lies - at least, Ah shore hope so. But... enough was true to make mah hair turn white, as opposed to its current manly gray." "Okay... so which was which?"

Tex scratched his head then put his hat back on absently. "Wail... Ah don't think she was good enough to et Di-abolus fer breakfast. A mage that c'do that wouldn't even FIT in this-here dimension. But Ah do think she could'a gone two falls out'a three with him. An' that's more'n skeery enough!" Jon nodded. "Agreed... And all that stuff about the foam and the sea?"

Tex sighed. "That's the worst part, son. Ever'thing Ah've been taught, ever'thing Ah've seen fer mahself says it's dead im-poss'ble. But... What she said made more sense than anythin' else Ah can come up with in regards to the current intol'rable situ-ation. If she's raht... Wail, the multiverse is one Hail of a lot more int'restin' than Ah ever thought. Int'restin' in the terr'fyin', dangerous, run-around-screamin'-an'-carryin'-on, Chinese-curse fashion, if'n y'catch mah drift."

Jon rested his face in his hand. "Oh joy." "Amen." "Well... I do need to know for certain. Is Demeter really in control? Or can Eris pull a fast one when we least expect it?" Tex nodded. "She really is, of that Ah'm dead certain. Their... union... is downraht bi-zarre. Eris plainly was improvisin', like she said."

"Okay. So what's the plan from here?" Tex shrugged. "Ah'll stay another day or so, make sure Sirocco and Miss Demeter are squared away as much as Ah can. But Ah don't reckon there's much else Ah can do."

Jon nodded and extended his hand. "Right. Thanks so much for coming, Tex." Tex shook hands firmly. "Mah pleasure, Photon. Ah do think Seattle's in good hands."

Jon suddenly laughed. Tex asked, "What now, son?" Jon shook his head, chuckling. "I just caught myself thinking we could get 'lucky' and have Mirror Mask show up while you're here!" Tex threw back his head and roared with laughter. "That much luck Ah'c'd do without!"

Then he looked at Jon keenly. "Yer thinkin' like a team leader now, ain't ye, son?" Jon simply nodded. "Yes." "Ah reckon that means yer blamin' yerself over Eris." Jon nodded again. "Yes, and rightly so." Tex shrugged. "Wail... mebbe so. But Eris an' her Schroedinger Plots maht'a done fer Demeter despite anythin' you could'a done. Don't be lettin' it get under y'skin, hear?" "I'll do my best."

"Where'c'n Ah spend the naht?" "Well... We have guest rooms here, but with the move happening in a matter of days I don't know what shape they're in..." Alpha piped up, "You'll be better off with a hotel. We've got a petty cash fund for that sort of thing."

Jon saw Tex off to a hotel, then returned. "Migraines again?" "Yeah. At least Eris doesn't seem to be affecting me the way... whatever it was... did." "Oh, that's good." "And Jon... Tex is right." Jon sighed. "We'll talk about it at the next team meeting."

"I... All right." "I'm taking Sirocco's patrol. Beta around?" Alpha sounded resigned. "Yeah."

Jon flew off into the night, scouring his city for those that would break its peace.

[Incidentally, regarding Jon's brother Jason, I actually have a short-short I wrote to feel out how their relationship worked and to set up an arc down the road. Thing is, SP felt the arc as presented was tilting things in too dark a direction for this game... But I think it's still interesting as character study. If anyone's interested, I'll consider posting it.]

[That's the way things work with me. I've got another vignette that doubled as a retrospective on Jon's time with Shadow-Force, while also setting up a future arc... SP had mixed feelings about the arc, which probably won't get used, but he absolutely loved the glimpse into the relationships in Shadow-Force's past.]
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Blog Post: SuperBuzz

Postby The Shadow » Sun Jan 30, 2011 3:40 pm

[So I got mildly inspired the other night and wrote up a typical super-blog posting on Photon's adventures. Enjoy!]

SuperBuzz: Your source for up-to-the-minute Super news!

Seattle Shocker!

So, amazing news from the Emerald City this week! VIPER slithered back into town after getting trounced by Shadow-Force a few years ago, only to get trounced all over again. The humiliating part? This particular beatdown was delivered by a team of all-rookie heroes, led by none other than the uber-noob himself, Photon.

This was no ordinary setback for the snake-eyed set, folks. They got their asps handed to them: Two of their bases blown, dozens of their people captured - along with a number of unwiped computers! - and their nest leader fleeing town with his tail between his legs, along with their pet mercenary Hybrid.

Oh yeah, that Hybrid. The one who single-handedly took down the Paladins? The one that Jack Frost still wants to turn into a popsicle? The one who barely saved his bacon this previous week when fighting the aforementioned Photon?

So, with all that under his belt, what does everyone's favorite laughingstock do for an encore? Nothing much, just holds a collapsing skyscraper up. With his mind. And fixes it.

Yours truly can perhaps be forgiven for thinking, "...Nah! It's another guy with the same codename!" The Seattle papers evidently thought the same thing - check out this nifty headline from the Times. [image: MYSTERY SUPER!] The Seattle PD begs to differ, though. According to them? The same guy who famously got shot his first day for spouting corny platitudes to guys with guns planned the whole operation. His idea, start to finish. His plan. And he had the class not to say anything about it himself, either.

The guy must be eating his Wheaties lately, that's all I can say. And at this rate, he'll end up on the box!

Kudos and a H/T to Pagemaster over at Seattle Supers. I honestly thought he'd developed a huge man-crush on Photon when he predicted how this story would fall out, but I gotta say he was right.

P.S. Send some good karma the way of new Shadow-Force member Sirocco. Word is he's in a coma, no details as yet.


So Photon's a telekinetic now? I always figured him for an elemental. Photokinesis? As for the rest, I'll have to ponder it. Interesting news out of Seattle the last couple months though, no question!

Oh please - you buy that ridiculous story? Since when does Photon wear a spacesuit, much less do anything remotely competent? It's Technoid, I tell you. That whole bit about the exploding hibernation whatsis was pure set-up. He went undercover against VIPER, or something even bigger. Mark my words!

Wrenchie's got a point. Pagemaster's gone off the deep end - his second guess, after Photon, was Mystra! I mean, come on!

I don't know why everyone dumps on Photon so much. Sure, he had a terrible first day. But what's he done since then that's so bad? Let's not forget he was a full member of Shadow-Force for a year, training under the Phantom.

You and your hard-on for the Phantom, sheesh. Get a room!

You're one to talk, you <post scrubbed by moderator - keep it civil, folks!>

Thanks for the HT. And if anyone thinks I'm wrong, he's welcome to rebut my arguments. You know, those things that require thinking instead of knee-jerk typing.

@Ghost Yeah? <post scrubbed - I won't say it again, good people!>

You tell 'em, Page! But I do have to say I think you're wrong on this one. Commenting over at your site in a few.

@Page: Bite me. This IS Photon we're talking about.

Fine, sorry mod. But how long does Photon have to suffer for one screwup? How many criminals have we fought, again? I'm guessing that's a big fat zero.

Good people?! You <scrubbed> mods <more scrubbage - look, up in the sky! It's Captain Banhammer! Scourge of repeat offenders!>

Speak for yourself, Ghostie. Some of us around here walk the walk, y'know.

Actually, I think Page makes some good points this time around - Photon's been showing clear signs of improvement ever since Shadow-Force broke up. And he's unquestionably leading the team these days. People do rise to the occasion at times.

@wrench Pics or it didn't happen!

Sending lots of karma Sirocco's way! He's hawt!

I repeat: Get a room!

Anyone thought that the spacesuited figure might've been Nocturne? The suit might protect him from the sun...

drnasty, the day will come when I reveal my work. That day is not yet. @Superfan: Yeah, sometimes they do. But what's Photon's record? Bolt: Okay, so he stomped him - RPS. [Rock-paper-scissors] Enigma: Got away. Hybrid: Got away. Supposedly he stomped Technoid, but that's clearly part of the whole coverup.

Funny, I don't see anyone dumping on the Phantom and Erebus for the time Enigma got away from them. As for Hybrid, how about you go ask the Paladins about the time he 'got away'!

Excellent points, GhostKnight. When I read that Photon had given a solid accounting of himself against Hybrid almost solo - that Victrix and X-97 got taken out but he not only kept fighting but kept the guy on the run - I had a hard time believing it. But that's what the evidence says, and so I find this VIPER thing a lot easier to believe. And nobody's mentioned the fact that the Texas Hex went out to Seattle to team up - that guy is no slouch.

We don't know that Tex-Hex went to Seattle to 'team up'. That's pure speculation - for all we know he might've been visiting family, or anything else. The rest is food for thought, though.

Thank you, Superfan. That means a lot coming from you.

[Forgive me one unrealistic bit - there aren't enough misspellings and grammar mistakes. There's only so far I'm willing to torture the English language for verisimilitude. ;)]

[Depending on inspiration level, I might do more of these.]
"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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Re: Blog Post: SuperBuzz

Postby Northlander » Mon Feb 07, 2011 9:34 am

The Shadow wrote:<snip>

[Forgive me one unrealistic bit - there aren't enough misspellings and grammar mistakes. There's only so far I'm willing to torture the English language for verisimilitude. ;)]

[Depending on inspiration level, I might do more of these.]

Wat d u mean? R u somkind of gramar nazi lol!?!!? Grt story byth eway lol!

Seems I am more willing to torture English than you are *evil laugh* ... though I feel dirty now. Yet, I have to admit I like the story so far, even if "the Photon" seems to be the classic unbeatable superman that can do anything as far as powers go. Not normally my type of character because they tend to overshadow everyone else. Hmm, I wonder what is his kryptonite... *whistles innocently*

He is way too good for his own good, too. Boy is gonna get smacked hard if he continues with his "I'm too good to kill" attitude. Heck, even in the escape scene with the flunkie I'd have shot off more than the hand. Mmmhmm. *smirk*

Oh and from the perspective of someone who doesn't have english as their native language... hum, well, probably too much work for you but I'd appreciate if you could color code spoken lines. I have sometimes hard time following who talks even if you do use quotation marks.

Still. Keep up the good work. Looking forward to next installment.

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Re: Blog Post: SuperBuzz

Postby The Shadow » Mon Feb 07, 2011 10:16 am

Northlander wrote:Seems I am more willing to torture English than you are *evil laugh* ... though I feel dirty now. Yet, I have to admit I like the story so far, even if "the Photon" seems to be the classic unbeatable superman that can do anything as far as powers go. Not normally my type of character because they tend to overshadow everyone else. Hmm, I wonder what is his kryptonite... *whistles innocently*

He's quite versatile, yes - but he's far from unbeatable. His Fort save is as low as it gets. And while his Will is better than that, it's nothing to write home to Mother about.

It was a challenge to design him so that he could survive as a loner hero for a while, then fit into a group of NPC's. But since they *are* NPC's, he doesn't have to fit TOO well. :) But I imagine that now he's got people to back him up, SP won't play nearly as nice. ;)

His story has always been, though, that his power basically has no limit other than his imagination and will. That's... a scarier thing than it may sound like. I'm glad to finally get to explore it after all these years - though the concept has evolved quite a bit since the old days, as I'm sure you can guess.

=He is way too good for his own good, too. Boy is gonna get smacked hard if he continues with his "I'm too good to kill" attitude. Heck, even in the escape scene with the flunkie I'd have shot off more than the hand. Mmmhmm. *smirk*

Oh good grief, you should have seen him in the original game! I hammed him up to the max back then. He consciously tried to be the embodiment of the corniest comic-book tropes. "Halt, evildoer! You will learn that Crime Does Not Pay!" You can imagine the look the Phantom and Erebus gave each other when he first greeted them as, "Greetings, defenders of our fair city!" No joke!

Yeah, that got ground out of him pretty fast - and the process is still underway. You'll see in the next installment that Alpha gives him a bit of a tongue-lashing over nobly taking the weight of the world on his shoulders.

Oh and from the perspective of someone who doesn't have english as their native language... hum, well, probably too much work for you but I'd appreciate if you could color code spoken lines. I have sometimes hard time following who talks even if you do use quotation marks.

Still. Keep up the good work. Looking forward to next installment.

I'm afraid I find color-coded speech to be rather an eyesore. And it is, as you say, more work. I can try to put in more whitespace, though.

Thanks for commenting! Hang around, things will continue to get interesting, I'm sure! At a minimum, they'll get more complicated, I can guarantee that. (SP and I have long since hammered out the major arcs of the campaign, which isn't to say he doesn't surprise me a fair bit with the final details!)
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Re: Life and Light: Shadow-Force Reborn (Updated Jan 24, 2011)

Postby The Somnambulist » Fri Feb 11, 2011 1:21 am

I finished reading these Shadow Force threads of yours yesterday evening and I was so excited about them that I tried to log in and shower you with compliments, eventually finding out I never registered. :lol:
I am lurking in this forum from a year (or so) looking for interesting things like yours, and till now my lazyness and plain hostility against remembering foreign languages always kept me at bay.
Well, keep posting man, you and SP are doing a really good work and I will sure check weekly your threads. You will always have a reader.

By the way... I'm right if I consider the first prophecy of Forestrike, the one about wispering to a knife, fullfilled by the episode in wich Photon and Siren fight Enigma? (wispering -sound -siren)
"Poor little villain... You're not having a nightmare. It's me that's having a marvellous dream!"

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

Postby The Shadow » Fri Feb 11, 2011 10:39 am

The Somnambulist wrote:I finished reading these Shadow Force threads of yours yesterday evening and I was so excited about them that I tried to log in and shower you with compliments, eventually finding out I never registered. :lol:
I am lurking in this forum from a year (or so) looking for interesting things like yours, and till now my lazyness and plain hostility against remembering foreign languages always kept me at bay.

Wow, thanks! Glad to hear from you. Perhaps you'd also like my other story hour (finished for some time now), The Shadow Knows! No relation to Shadow-Force, it's much darker and grimmer.

Well, keep posting man, you and SP are doing a really good work and I will sure check weekly your threads. You will always have a reader.

Fantastic! I try to have *something* to post every couple weeks or so, but the simple fact is that my job and SP's job don't always mesh very well. And yes, RL crises have intervened as well. But we keep trucking!

By the way... I'm right if I consider the first prophecy of Forestrike, the one about wispering to a knife, fullfilled by the episode in wich Photon and Siren fight Enigma? (wispering -sound -siren)

No, I don't think so. Have you seen the Shadow-Force Files thread? The Portland Protectors include a telepath named Whisper; I think that prophecy will involve her.
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Re: Life and Light: Shadow-Force Reborn (Updated Jan 24, 2011)

Postby Winter » Sun Feb 20, 2011 1:48 am

OK I'm finally caught up. Sorry it took a while. Great stuff as always!

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Good News!

Postby The Shadow » Fri Mar 25, 2011 9:09 pm

Okay! After a number of unbelievably grueling weeks at work in which I had almost no time to think about gaming, I now have a bit of a break. And between putting together some brief phone sessions over this time and the in-person visit SP just left from, I'll have enough for one monster update or two medium-size ones, not sure which yet.

Which means you'll get an update in a few days! (Barring the unexpected.)

Furthermore, in addition to a solid chunk of gaming, SP also shared with me some mental blocks he was having about Sirocco's character, so we thrashed those out together in a satisfying fashion. Suffice to say that Sirocco's background is now pretty much fleshed out and we have a lot better idea of what makes him tick. Which in turn will set up some juicy interaction further down the road, so yay.
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Re: 7 - Delayed Responses

Postby Nikodemus » Mon Jun 25, 2012 2:42 am

The Shadow wrote:[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."

awesome!! :D

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

Postby The Shadow » Fri Jul 27, 2012 12:33 pm

Hey, glad you're enjoying it! There is more material, I just haven't had the energy to write it all up. Work and life have been their usual crazy selves, and also the GM and I both got addicted to Minecraft...

I haven't forgotten about this story, though, and hope to update it before too much longer.
"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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