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By Josef Koelbl III


                The woman exited the monorail in Atlas Park, pausing at the platform railing to look towards City Hall. The large globe rested as always on the great shoulders of Atlas, the statue a favored sightseeing destination for vacationers from around the world, although she suspected they came to hero watch more than anything else.


                She walked purposefully down the ramp, making her way to the government building. Her dark hair was pulled back into a tight bun on the top of her head and she stared straight ahead with unwavering eyes as she came closer to the buildings courtyard. She wore a simple skirt and a white blouse, black rimmed glasses on her nose and tennis shoes on her feet, as many women wore while out of the office. She was well dressed but not flashy, pretty but not beautiful. A casual observer would surmise she was just another girl returning to her office after lunch.


                She gazed up, shaking her head at the myriad of heroes gathered beneath the huge statue. It was here that super powered beings new to the city congregated, meeting, trading, joining teams and supergroups, generally learning the way of things in Paragon City. She gripped the nylon backpack on her shoulder tighter and made her way up the stairs and through the doors into the cool busy marble foyer of City Hall.


                She moved quickly to the right, standing near the stairs that lead down to the hero assignment rooms. Research had discovered that the powers of these heroes originated in only four ways: through magical means, technology, individual mutation and sometimes one was simply born with them.  These steps brought the heroes to their first contacts and their first missions.


                She watched the heroes move past her, waiting…waiting for…there…she grinned. A young man in a white lab coat walked downstairs and she fell in behind him. She followed as he moved down the large hall, passing the assignment rooms and stopped in front of a thick wooden door marked with a golden placard stating “NO ADMITTENCE”. He swiped a keycard through a reader then punched a code into the nearby keypad. The door opened with a hiss and he disappeared within.


                The girl hurried forward, catching the closing door with her hand and slipping silently inside. It clicked behind her and she pressed her back against the hard wood, watching as “Lab coat” shuffled down the narrow hall. She took a few steps, following again, slowly…silently. The man paused before another door, placing his hand on the knob. Suddenly, he looked up, noticing the girl, a surprised expression leaping onto his face.


                “What? You…you’re not supposed to be back here!” he stammered. “Where’s your identification?”


                The girl smiled with disarming embarrassment. “I’m sorry. It’s my first day upstairs and I was…well…looking for the…umm…ladies room.” She moved closer as she spoke until finally she was directly before him.


                The man frowned, his brow furrowing with annoyance. “Well, you’ll have to leave. You don’t have clearance to be down here.”


                “All right,” she smiled then struck him in the jaw, her knee already coming up and burying itself deep in his abdomen.


                “Wha…!” he blurted as the air left his lungs. He fell heavily to the floor and the woman kicked him viciously in the head. She opened the door and dragged his unconscious body into the room.  The small office contained three computer terminals on a long desk. The wall beside the door consisted of a floor to ceiling window and she quickly drew the blinds, blocking the outside world from her movements.


                She sat at one of the terminals, placing the backpack at her feet. She pulled her hair free and let it fall over her shoulders as she reached into her pocket and removed a small earpiece with an attached microphone. She placed it in her ear and clicked it on. It hummed for a moment and then the crackle of static greeted her.


                “Control…this is Operative Eight-One,” she said calmly, “I am at target and waiting instructions.” She sat motionless, waiting for the static to dissipate.


                Finally a metallic voice echoed in her ear, “Eight-One…Control, please repeat last.”


                “Control…Eight-One. At target and waiting instructions, confirm.”


                “Confirm, Eight-One at target. Hold for Command.”


                Several seconds of silence followed, making the time seem like an oppressive hand. Every moment she was delayed, her chances of discovery increased exponentially. Operative Eight-One looked dispassionately at the senseless technician on the floor and smirked. At last her communicator buzzed and an ethereal voice filled her ear.


                “Eight-One, this is Command. Relay status.”


                “Command…Eight-One. I say again at target and waiting instructions, confirm.”


                “Excellent, my dear,” the nether worldly voice cooed. “Open the computer application.”


                Eight-One clicked the “Start” tab on the computer monitor. “Command…Eight-One. Confirm ready to proceed.”


                “Good. Enter the following: run slash PCHManifest slash system slash config.”


                “Hold for confirm.” The clack of the keyboard seemed to echo throughout the cramped office. Finally, the screen changed and Eight-One spoke softly. “Requesting password.”


                The shallow voice of Command responded immediately. “Password reads in lower case ‘marcusmonicastefan’ all one word.”


                “Acknowledge, Command. Hold for confirm.” The keyboard chattered again. “Command…Eight-One. Requesting secondary password.”


                The corners of Command’s lips turned upward. “Excellent, my dear. Set up is as follows: black candle, bowl, white candle, dried leaf.”


                Eight-One grasped the nylon backpack at her feet and drew forth its contents. Beside the terminal she placed a short, stubby black candle, a small white bowl, the white candle and the dried leaf. She opened a bottle of water and filled the bowl half way. “Command…Eight-One. Confirm ready.”


                “Good. Now…do as I say. Light the black candle then the white. As you crumple the leaf into the bowl recite the incantation ‘What the Fates have caused concealed let all now be revealed.’ Then extinguish both candles in the bowl simultaneously and enter. Is this clear?”


                “Affirmative, Command. Hold for confirm.” The operative lit the candles in turn and as she crushed the leaf in her hands and dropped it into the water she spoke the strange words. “What the Fates have caused concealed let all now be revealed.” She placed the candles into the bowl, their tiny tongues of flame snuffing out with a hiss. She was startled by a bright flash of blue-white light which blinded her for a moment and the stench of brimstone filled the office. Operative Eight-One then pressed the Enter key and waited.


                Far away, Command waited, frowning. She cleared her throat finally and spoke. “Eight-One…Command. Relay status.” No answer. “Eight-One…respond.” No sound came from the room’s monitoring speakers. “Eight-One…confirm.” Command’s eyebrow’s knitted together in anger. The technicians in front of her cringed, trying to make themselves smaller so as to avoid her notice.


                Suddenly, the speakers popped to life. “Command…Eight-One. I’m…I’m in!” a surprised voice said.


                “Eight-One…Command. Say again.”


                “Command, I say again…access is granted. File is displayed. It’s…My God…it’s all here.”


                “Eight-One,” Command said excitedly, “commence transmission immediately.”


                “Confirm transmit. Verify receipt.”


                Command gazed to her left and a technician nodded. “Receiving now. Twenty seconds to completion…ten…file received. Verifying…” He looked at command and nodded again. “Verified. We have it.”


                Command smiled, leaning back in her chair. “Excellent. Come home, Eight-One. Very well done, my child.”


                “Confirm mission end. Eight-One homeward bound. Out.” There was a crackle and then nothing.


                Ghost Widow rose from her command chair, hovering several inches above the ground and holding out her hand to the technician. “Make a disc of the information ready.”


                The technician was already placing the CD into a jewel case. “Done, my mistress.”


                She smiled as he placed the disc in her hand. “Excellent, my minion. Well done, all of you,” she said as she floated to the circular steel door of the command center. Before leaving she spoke over her shoulder, “When Blood Widow Operative Eight-One returns…send her to my chambers. I would convey my congratulations personally.”


                “As you command, my mistress.” Ghost Widow’s black lips smiled as she left the room.



                Lord Recluse stood in the center of his huge office. Three enormous curved plasma screen televisions made up each wall of the circular room. All six screens displayed the various zones in Paragon City in addition to other dimensions of those same zones. Many of his operatives had died bringing this technology to him. He never knew their names, they were unimportant. Three steps lead to his large desk, sitting regally atop a rounded dais. Behind the desk was a map of the Rogue Isles, a collection of islands where lawlessness reigned and which he ruled with a hard ruthless hand.


                A knock at the chamber door caused him to frown, unseen beneath his dark helmet, his red glowing eyes the only glimmer of his displeasure. “Enter,” he growled his voice a guttural bark. He crossed the polished floor, a replica of the great seal of Paragon City, cracked and broken beneath his booted feet, and sat gracefully at his desk. Ghost Widow entered and hovered at the center of the room. “I left word I was to be undisturbed, woman.” The malice in his voice was a near physical presence and the spider-like tentacles from his back moved and swayed as though they had a life of their own.


                “Forgive me, my Lord,” Ghost Widow said softly, coming forward and placing the disc she held on his desk. “But I bring a gift.”


                Recluse fingered the disc, examining its front and back. “A gift? Explain.”


                She bowed her head and smirked. “The disc you hold, my dread Lord, contains the names, addresses and secret identities of all the registered heroes in Paragon City.”


                Lord Recluse placed the disc carefully before him. Then he began to laugh, a hard deep bellow that reverberated off the walls, filling the room with echoes of joyless rancor.








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