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The deal of the century

 

 

How does one justify the means, the very means by which the end is met?  The city knows a threat, feels its powers, understands its motivations, and with that knowledge, answers in kind.  The response, send in the heroes, send them all in.  Two years of endless fighting, gaining a meter here, loosing one there.  Making friends, only to see them vanish, disappear from sight like their existence had been but a dream.  Of course, one would argue that defending the weak and helpless is a privilege earned, bestowed upon one by the foremost powers to be, calling upon the bravest knights to slay the dragons.  Funny, when put into perspective, that we remember the tales of those who won, they are well known to us, passed down from generation to generation, inspiring us to strive and be more than mere mortals.  Also very humorous that the tales of those who did not slay the dragons are best left forgotten, shameful failures that should never be transmitted, less the people should learn that heroes, can and will die facing the odds.  But these failures, were they less courageous? 

 

The city itself, only honours the victors, their benefactors and saviours, showering them with prestige, recognition and powers.  Granting them access to ever greater dangers, resting on the heroes, the hopes of entire generations living secure in the knowledge that the city, not exactly the city, but the courageous souls it sends in its name, will save the day once more.  That the heroes die, a tragedy, should they come back, a victory celebrated with a pat on the shoulder, a badge and a picture on page three or four of the Paragon Times, next to the daily coupons of the meat market.  Why, when you ask this to yourself, should this go on?  Why, easily answered by our families, friends, neighbours, the love we feel and cherish for ourselves through them.  But, only those that make it home, those that prevail matter.  As for the rest, a sad, very sad loss indeed, which will be expressed by a flower crown for the burial, if the hero was well known, a city’s representative or dignitary present for the big send off.

 

Anger building in a hero’s heart can only be natural at this point, be expected and excused to a certain degree.  Being themselves, entities and conduits of extreme powers, collateral effects are to be foreseen, such as explosions, fires, crumbling buildings and innocent victims either injured or dead.  As for the latter, rarely have they been mentioned, it wouldn’t be proper for the morale and image of heroism, to be known that last night, while hero X was arresting villain Y, sweet little Z was burnt to a crisp by a stray fireball, rendering Z a hideous, blind and hairless piece of human flesh.  Thankfully, the doctors were able to stabilize Z, and at the tender age of fourteen, she would live a long and wonderful life.  It would not be proper to mention that, to remind the population who celebrate their heroes, that they too are killing machines of the highest calibre.

 

Will heroes sometime falter, trip over themselves, be mistaken for the very fiend they fight?  The answer is yes, it happens to most of them, at one point or another they have the urge, the desire, to let it happen.  To stare straight down into the bottomless pit that we call evil, and look for the bottom.  Plunge freely, willingly without a care, and let anger flow free.  Fall into it for once, for just one moment, and let a hero’s soul scream its despair at being so good, the paramount spitting image of all that is proper and faultless. 

 

What should a city do when that happens, is a good question indeed?  Of course, they could call in the new found villain’s former friends, set their hunting dogs after the fallen hero, have the situation contained by these virtuous beings.  Studied for years, the city has delve itself into that subject, and over time, came up with a solution that answered this specific need.  Sending friends and colleagues to arrest a friend, had proven to be at times a mistake, playing the understanding hand and letting the rogue be sent away with a slap on the hand, also.  What was a city sworn to protect its citizens to do, in the case of a hero gone bad?  The answer had come from Crey Industries, almost a year ago now, in the form of a program meant, not to help the heroes, but to outcasts them from society, to exile them away from heroes, away from villains.  And forward was pushed the “Firebase Zulu” project, all the way to the top, onto the mayor’s desk, in the greatest secrecy, as dark plans should be.

 

The project, most auspicious that it was, brought forth the proposition that jailing the rogues was too expensive, and in time would also, fill the prisons with too many powerful beings, as they already were, which would lead to a possible massive breakout.  The contingency plan, approved during a private meeting between selected city representatives and Crey Industries, lead to an agreement between the two parties.  On the one hand, fast and efficient containment of rogue heroes justified for the safety of the public, on the other, test subjects and guinea pigs for Crey Industries that would permit medical and technological breakthroughs to be shared with the city.  The authorities felt that it was better to control the situation in this matter, than having all out battles between heroes in the city streets.  Giving the premises for, and opening the door to the fact that, even though the city needs its heroes, it was also very afraid of them.  The hidden agenda was put into force a year ago, its first victim, an aging controller called Voyager.  More would follow after, all abducted quickly and efficiently, by a crack team of Crey Agents and Malta Operatives, taken away without regards of the consequences. 

 

The rogue heroes were then brought into a laboratory, where Crey Industries tested them, tried several different potential technologies, created for the sole purpose of making sure that the former heroes would become more unstable than they were.  It also provided Crey Industries with countless studies on the nature of their powers, and how to harness it for later usage.  The city looked the other way while this was happening, playing the innocent card, while Crey Industries reaped valuable data that led to important improvements of its discoveries.  Of course, Apocalypse raised a few questions at times, wondering if anyone had heard of their friends, colleagues, disappeared and vanished.  But they remained unanswered until recently. 

 

“Target acquired.”

 

 After thorough study and testing, the heroes would be grafted with a transponder, and set free within the Shard, unable to return to earth.  That they would perish there was expected, that they would survive, unlikely and not desired.  The military played their parts, in exchange for data and technology, which Crey Industries shared with them, albeit in a limited fashion, but enough so that the cooperation would ensue.  The “Firebase Zulu” project has been operating ever since, capturing heroes and using them for the greater good.

 

“Go weapons free now.”

 

Subduing the heroes had proven difficult at first, at times impossible.  Asking Apocalypse to capture them, the city would then stage a daring escape from the prison where the rogues had been held, only to remit them to Crey Industries.  News of their escape would cover the newspaper, but sighting of them, or recapture, had never happened.  The plan was working well, already a serum to treat and regenerate dead cells from cancer had been discovered.  And there, a new optical system had lead to the improvement of magnetic imaging by a tenfold.  Here, a biogenetic armour mesh had been discovered, equipping the police force with a safer and more thorough protection against projectiles and energies.  Crey Industries had become the foremost company, its profit rocketing sky high, surpassing that of WinterTech and its competitors.  Hefty donations were made to the city in return also, providing much needed funds to rebuild structures and provide for the citizens.  By far, and with a certain look back, with all the draw backs it brought at first, “Firebase Zulu” had made everyone richer and far better off, than Apocalypse had been, by merely fighting off crime and destroying entire city districts in the process.

 

 

Icy Heart was running through Brickstown, using super-speed , she was almost at Crey’s Folley’s entrance, when she felt a dozen stinging sensation hit her across her back, the back of her legs, and a very painful one at the bottom of her skull, where the spine met the head.  Her muscles gave way almost right away, and she became a rolling ball of flesh and bones, tumbling on the street without ceremony, to crash land back first and head down, into a parked car, unconscious.  She had just been fired upon by several stun darts, each containing enough to put to sleep an elephant.  A truck applied its brake almost on top of her, and two Malta agents came out the back, and grabbed her.  They threw her in the truck, closed the door, the engine roared into gear.  In less than fourteen seconds, a fallen hero had been subdued and taken off the street.

 

“Target subdued, on our way.”

 

 

Cavalier and Metal Core were the first out of the manhole, followed by Jade Rade and Voyager.  Moon Psyche and Sun Heat were still below with Bear Cat, about to make their way up.  The first comment that came out of Cavalier, when he noticed the delivery truck in the distance, heading west into Crey’s Folley, had been surprise.  What was it doing here, of all places?  Straightening up from behind the dumpster directly west of the entrance to the restricted and also, much polluted zone, Cavalier watched as the security chief and his men simply cleared the non descript truck in.  He couldn’t recall a time when cars and civilians were allowed in here. Ducking himself behind the dumpster, he motioned for Metal Core to quietly do the same, although the tank found it very difficult to hide his unique and imposing shape.  Jade nestled herself between the two of them, while Voyager decided that it would be best to get back into the manhole until he was needed.

 

“Dammit!”  Hissed the square jaw scrapper, as he smacked his forehead.  “I forgot the masks.”

 

“What is it?”  Whispered Metal Core, looking all over for the reason to this outburst.

 

“I left the masks in my office.  I had ordered them for you, Jade and Voyager, so that no one would see your faces, in case of trouble.”  Cavalier shook his head, annoyed at his forgetfulness.  But going back to HQ was not an option now.  Hidden behind the dumpster, they watched the truck roll by their position, heading straight for the heart of Crey’s Folley.  Only its tail lights could be seen in the distance, making a motion for the sidewalk, probably driving around a pile of debris in the road.  Cavalier decided this deserved some investigation.

 

“Stay here, I’ll be back.”  And with that, he super ran across the tarmac, and began to sneak around quickly, never loosing sight of the delivery truck in the distance.  

 

“If he thinks for one second I will hide my face from the enemy, he’s got another coming.”  Mumbled Metal Core, while Jade Rade nodded approval to his comment.

 

Almost a thousand yards from the entrance, the truck veered south, moving slowly.  Cavalier noticed a detail about the route, something he recalled from his early days patrolling Crey’s Folley, occurred to him.  The truck was following a trail heroes had learned to call: Sniper’s Alley.  In about four hundred yards, he knew the vehicle would make two quick turns and resume its trajectory towards the south, then west again.  He watched it move along, he also saw a Ritki patrolling drone come out from the side building to the east.  No sooner was it out in the open, no sooner was it shot down, and judging from the multiple echoing metal sound that followed, the drone was shot down by five different guns.  Sniper’s Alley was a good name for this place, and the truck was more than safe to proceed to its destination. 

 

“So, this truck has business here then?”  The squared jaw scrapper thought to himself.

 

Cavalier kept on following from a  distance, creeping from one shadow to the other, at times loosing sight of his target, but never long enough.  When the truck veered west and headed straight into Shanty Town, Cavalier was on its tail.  Then, the delivery vehicle entered the now very abandoned Portal Industries sector, and resumed its course west.  A few hundred yards more and it would be confronted by the make shift walls that composed the Circus, Freaks territory.  But, just before it did so, the brake lights light the night, two small white lights began to glow and the truck was backing up to a door.  Cavalier crept closer still, senses on alert for anything, he loosened the sword from his scabbard.

 

 

Moon Psyche was holding Sun Heat’s hand, while Bear Cat and Voyager were quietly  debating the fact that Crey Industries knew where they were this very second, due to the three active transponders on Jade, Core and Bear Cat.  The former leader of the Hunters of Apocalypse shrugged it off, stating that it did not matter much anymore, even if the world came crashing down, he would face it standing up.  You could tell by watching the old controller and the massive tanker talking, that if this were a bar and not a sewers, a bare knuckle fight would certainly be the outcome to this conversation.  But then again, Voyager had always been not very good with interpersonal relations, his file told countless stories of reports made by other members concerning his attitude.  Above the ground, Metal Core and Jade Rade were gently talking, like old friends, asking each other in no uncertain terms, if this is what they truly wanted.  Rade was telling her friend that as soon as this was over, they would more than likely be arrested once more, and sent to prison.  To which Core disagreed, they would end up back in Firebase Zulu.  

 

They all brought in their own, very unique, set of problems.  All of them did.  Voyager, who was seeking revenge, at all cost.  Cavalier was after redemption, a penance of sort.  Bear Cat wanted to expose the truth.  Jade Rade desired justice and fairness, and hopefully a review of her case.  Metal Core dreamed to bash in Voyager’s head, and also some semblance of justice.  Sun Heat longed to see her child be born in a better world, happily married with Moon Psyche.  They all were here, united under a single objective, brought about by different motives.  Crey Industries had to be stopped, not just arrested, stopped with intent and decisiveness, with prejudice and violence.  Tonight, they would be criminals according to the law, but no one would know, ever.

 

“Am I the only one who hears a phone ringing?”  Whispered Moon Psyche, standing close to the ladder leading up top.  Bear Cat and Voyager hushed down to listen, Sun Heat held her next step in check, cocking her head to the side, intently trying to hear the repeating sound Moon had detected.  Yes, faintly, to the east, she heard it.  Moon looked at her, and made the motion for her to stay where she was.  Nodding his head towards Voyager and Bear Cat, the three of them walked down the sewer’s tunnel, creeping towards the sound, which grew louder and stronger.  It was indeed a phone ringing, here of all places.  They walked carefully to the bend, followed the slope downwards, where at the bottom, a pile of garbage and debris had accumulated itself, blocking partly the water flow.  The telephone ring came from down there, likely seventy yards under street level.

 

“Whatever that brand of phone is, I want one.”  Whispered in awe Moon Psyche.

 

Bear Cat lead the way down and around the pile of garbage, and knelt next to a man, badly injured, from the looks of things.  Voyager followed in and looked at this stranger, dressed in a dirty suit, he was a bleeding mess.  When Moon came around the corner and his eyes fell on the victim, he gasped in shock.

 

“Frank!”  Kneeling, he straightened the man to a sitting position, and started to feel for injuries.  Swelling from the side of the chest told of broken ribs, but there was no bleeding from the mouth, if only from a deep gash in his cheek.  He was wet all over, ranking the smell of the sewers, and very much unconscious.  Reaching inside his jacket, Moon pulled out the cell phone that had been ringing all along.  Bear Cat whistled when he saw it in Moon’s hand and said:

 

“This is one lucky bastard we have here, one inch to the right, he’d be dead.”

 

Moon looked at the phone, what appeared to be a 7.62mm bullet was lodged into the phone, right where the emitter was.  That the phone was working still, was a credit to the company who made it.  The titanium casing might have something to do with it though, Moon acknowledged to himself.  Looking at the screen, it kept flashing about a new message left for Frank Winter.

 

“Get Jade Rade, quickly!”  Said Moon to Voyager, who stood up and ran with all haste to retrieve the defender.  

 

“I’ll tell you this, it’s a good thing he ain’t awake.  If he were, that guy would be in pain, a lot of it.  You know him?  Bear Cat was searching the man’s pockets for identification when Moon’s hand stopped him short, preventing him from pulling the wallet out.

 

“Yes, he is a friend, my friend.”

TO PART 14 >

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