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Chapter 7

            The High Point neighborhood of Kings Row was in the shallow end of the societal cesspool. This particular morning residents were torn from sleep earlier than usual thanks to a territorial dispute between the Lost and the Skulls. Gunfire had erupted ricocheting stray bullets throughout the entire area. Members of the Top Ten supergroup were among the first to respond to the summons of the Paragon Police Department. Top Ten was joined by even more members of the Archangels of Apocalypse and together they canvassed the surrounding neighborhoods securing the peace. With a convoy of police cars and SWAT vans blockading the intersections of several streets, residents crept unto the sidewalks in robes and pajamas to deliver their perspective on the events to Paragon City’s finest. Both supergroups left when reports came in of a large assemblage of Clockwork automatons gathering on the south side. About mid-morning most of everyone had moved on with their day albeit groggily.

            Far from the eyes of all, tucked away in the east neighborhood of Royal Refinery, an energy pulse erupted from one of the streets running east and west. Followed by several more flashes and air pressure changes, the event spawned a large white delivery truck.

            TT spun the wheel sending the van into a swerving fishtail. He hated teleporting a moving vehicle using the mediport system. The system was not really designed to be used like a futuristic transport system because the inertia and kinetics of moving objects always were thrown out-of-whack. Then there was the annoying disorientation, but frequent use helped lessen the effects. Trying to bring the vehicle to a slow stop, he only ended up slamming on the breaks.

            “Ayee!” Mickey yelled his cheap vinyl strap snapping from its rivet from back of the van. The thud of his face slamming into the back of Jack’s seat sounded worse than it had been.

            Jimmy quickly initiated their urban camouflage of the truck’s electronic skin choosing the PC Delivery Xpress logo to materialize along the surface. He initiated the vehicle’s damage report and brought up all the on-board video cameras. Unbuckling his seat, he helped Keith in giving first aid to Mickey’s bloody nose. Jimmy may not have liked how the arsonist acted most of the time, but he was still a team member.

            “Damn’s meh,” Mickey pleaded, “damn’s meh all to Hell.”

            Jack unbuckled and rose from his seat and looked to Keith, “Is he going to be alright?”

            Keith, the team’s unofficial paramedic due to his previous medical training, nodded helping the wounded man to the rear of the truck. Jimmy already was charging the triage beacon containing the healing element from the newest periodic table. When manipulated properly it’s radiation actually healed wounds. Visually, the emitted rays took on a bright green glow that seemed to crawl over the surface of the interior.

            “Damn’s meh,” Mickey again pleaded grasping his broken nose. “Meh’s suppose to change out ‘dose straps last week.” He hated the cruel Fates.

            “Yeah,” Keith agreed, “I warned you it was bad karma to put it off.”
            “Keep driving,” Jack said to TT. They usually ensure nobody saw them materialize, but they needed get out of sight quickly.

            “Think we’re clear,” Cecil said from the passenger seat looking back from the three video monitors displaying the surrounding area.

            Jack sat down at Jimmy’s terminal to read the vehicle’s damage report, which was minor. The battle against Longbow had been brief thanks to the Fish’s excellent computer hacking skills. Jack had been assisted by Keith, both suppressing Longbow’s attempts at entering the cargo hold with gunfire. Meanwhile, TT and Jimmy remained in the vehicle so when the mediport signal was hacked they could initiate transport. Mickey and Cecil had started setting up acid mortars and toxic gas bombs to anchor their defense and provide cover.

            Holding off the first line of troops was easy enough, their red and white form-fitting uniforms making quite the easy target. When three Longbow Wardens entered the skirmish things promised to get tougher, but the Fish had saved the day again. Mickey literally provided the team with covering fire sending up a large wall of flame between the invaders and the team. TT had put the truck in gear and sped off to put distance between them and Longbow in hopes to hide the dematerialization. From behind the flames, they vanished into the safety of the mediport system.

            “I got to admit,” TT the getaway driver said, “I never drove around the insides of a cargo ship before.”

            “You did well,” Jack reassured still sitting behind Jimmy’s monitors. “Let’s hope none of us get to dodge gunfire on a cargo ship again. Or that the Alton doesn’t burn and sink.”

            “We need to get out of sight,” Cecil urged Jack while still fiddling with identifying the radio frequencies they intercepted on the ocean.

            TT had not been to Kings Row in well over a year. He had apprenticed at Fixit Autobody repair shop before then, but could not immediately recall the reason why he was here last. It was then he knew where they could hide and immediately drove toward the shop. He heard his old boss John Fix, had disappeared or just walked off in search of a new challenge. TT could see him doing latter.

            “We need to figure out where to hold up.” Jack said looking around the truck and opening the idea up for suggestions, “Preferably for awhile, until the delivery time.”

            Keith shrugged trying to hold Mickey’s head still while Jimmy tried to clean up the arsonists face.

            “I recommend not going to one of our safe houses,” Cecil said. “Just in case some one saw us materialize on the street.”

            TT did not hear the question his mind stuck in revelry. He had also spent his early childhood growing up in Kings Row and the dam of time was overflowing. Weaving in and out of streets, he traveled past a couple costumed vigilantes, known as heroes in Paragon City, chasing the more established criminal elements in town. The Skulls, Hellions, Circle of Thorns, and Lost were always around somewhere in King Row. Even the Clockwork scavengers, which not only pick abandoned vehicles clean, but sometimes do not even wait for drivers to abandon them.

            Jack returned to his seat noting TT’s focus, “Where are you headed, TT?”

            The bruiser suddenly jerked the wheel and slammed on the break sending everyone and everything not bolted in racks flying about. Through the onslaught of complaints, TT jumped in from the truck, which was now sitting in front of Fixit Autobody. Two members of the Skull gang dressed in their grey vests and jeans were attempting to break through the chained service door. They stopped momentarily and looked at each other when the mountain of a human cast a portent shadow over them.

            “Hey you­­­­­­­--,” one tried to say before TT grabbed both young punks up and slammed their heads together. They were lucky; TT would have killed them, but kept enough clear of mind to know unconsciousness was better. He casually cast them aside like bags of flour. Snapping the chain the Skulls were cutting with his boulder fists, he opened the sliding door. The OSI truck was just barely going to clear the doorframe. TT returned to the truck rubbing his hands. Fix may not be here anymore, but he was excited to be running around his old stomping grounds. His boss may have been stern, but he was fair.

            “What the hell you doing?” Jack asked.

            “I heard one of my old bosses has gone missing. He has been gone for a while and this is his place. I figured the building would still be deserted.”

            “Ah,” Jack commented looking at the abandoned building. It did indeed look neglected. It blended into the neighborhood beautifully. “Good idea.”

            The team, henchmen of the Out Sourcer, entered the building and secured it behind them taking the two Skull members inside. Jack had the gang-bangers plastic cuffed and secured in a cleaning supply closet. Then he instructed Jimmy, Mickey, and Keith to secure the perimeter while he took a good look around inventorying their new assets in the garage. Cecil was finishing his analysis in the truck and Jack would feel better if he knew whom they were attempting to out maneuver. TT began a brief inspection of the truck for any serious damage.

            The shop, while looking in disrepair from the outside still had power and running water. Somebody was still maintaining the upkeep of the facility, if not actively. Jack even found several footprints in the dust. Apparently, someone had been in here recently. Examining the footprints more closely, he realized they were from the same person and were made several times over the last few months. There was enough dust accumulating to suggest it had been many months since this, John Fix person, had gone missing. It almost appeared the owner stopped what he was doing and just walked off. Jack decided OSI might want to look into purchasing the building; it would make a good false front. This place was quite the find indeed. And, it was available.

            Walking through the rest of the building he noted there were different car parts stacked here and there and even a motorcycle in storage. All the tools for the trade seemed present and the office equipment seemed untouched. Somebody was hoping the owner was coming back. Jack came across the supply closet with the two Skull members tied up. He opened the door and stared at the two gang-bangers. The dam of time broke sending Jack back to his days on the Paragon Police Department SWAT team before he was kicked out. Reliving his entire short career, he once again experienced all the death the gangs called. The streets became rivers of blood. Pulling the knife out was all he could do to stop himself form slitting the throats of the Skulls and watching them bleed-out. They deserved it.

            “Hey, TT,” Crazy Jack said raising his voice and shutting the supply room door in a daze. He turned around putting the switchblade away and noticed the bruiser had found a push broom and had begun sweeping the shop.

            “Fix would not have allowed this place to get so dusty,” TT said shaking his head and mumbling.

            “What exactly happened to your old boss?” Jack asked.

            TT continued sweeping, “I never heard for sure. Some of my pals asked me if I heard what happened to him. I said no, and they told me. About a half dozen different stories too.”

            “What do think happened?”

            TT stopped and shrugged while staring at the clean path he made on the dusty floor. “I really don’t know. He was strict boss, almost like a drill instructor, but less gruff. Or maybe more. He was always yelling at me.”

            “Hmm…,” Jack thought aloud. He had never seen TT seem so reverent of someone before. “Sounds like you miss him.”

            TT did not answer. He did miss him and could not explain it. Fix had taught him a lot, more than any punk kid at the time was willing to admit. Much of what he learned of automobile bodywork helped him design and construct their high tech truck. He had not seen his old boss in a few years now. Some apprentice I was, he thought.

            Jack felt the awkwardness of not getting an answer and left it hanging in the air. He realized TT must have had some history here and decided just to leave it. He walked back to the truck and checked on Cecil.

            “How goes it?”

            Cecil placed the headset down on the digital table with a serious look on his face.

            “What?” Jack said unsure on what could rattle his friend.

            “It’s Malta… well one of them.”

            Malta?” Jack said wishing it were someone else. When people talked of them or they; when reports of black helicopters were spotted and conspiracy theorists, like Mickey, said they were being watched; it was the black operations organization named Malta to whom they referred. The Out Sourcer classified Crey Industry and Malta as equals in the food chain. OSI’s only strength is it did not discriminate against potential employees. Many of the employees were poor or downtrodden. Out Source Incorporated offered training and educational benefits to all members so they could improve the quality of their life. In return, they demanded loyalty, and paid well for it. Whether the company truly measured up to the quality of Malta was constantly being challenged.

            “Yeah, this is going to be tough. Hopefully, we lost them with our little vanishing act. At minimum, we bought ourselves enough time.”         

            “Who else?” Jack asked.

            “Sky Raiders. Wyvern. And for sure you can be counting on Longbow too.”

            “Well, that’s not too bad,” said Jack. The Sky Raiders were mercenaries. A private army for hire, they actually would not be a problem. Wyvern would live up to their name and be a thorn in their side, but the team had them out-gunned and out-thought. Longbow? Well, mosquitoes came to mind, swarms of annoying mosquitoes. That organization had an illegal presence on the Rogue Isles and OSI was very familiar with their tactics and incompetence. They did have numbers on their side. Numbers they could muster quickly. Fortunately, Out Source Incorporated was all of the above and more.

            While the two enforcers discussed the team’s options, TT finished sweeping up the shop. Mickey, Keith, and Jimmy checked all the windows and doors noting the fields of fire and potential external sniper positions. Keith slowly went outside and walked the perimeter once, while Mickey, still in bandages, stood by the backdoor waiting. Jimmy managed to find his way into the small office Fix used and began copying the computer’s image onto a portable drive he always kept stashed in the truck.

            “Hey, Jimmy,” Jack said entering the office with Cecil following stopping at the doorway, “anything interesting on the computer?”

            “Nah,” Jimmy said while surfing the directory structure of the operating system more out of habit than function.

            Jack picked up the phone on the desk and listened for a dial tone, “Bingo!”

            “Make sure the boss activates the Ladies,” Cecil said.

            “Didn’t you hear,” Jack asked. “It’s not just ladies anymore,” Jack disconnected the phone and attached a small palm-sized device to the phone jack. He reconnected the landline and dialed the number for information.

            “Really,” Cecil exclaimed, “who’s the lucky guy?”

            Jack shrugged.

            The phone rang and Jack pressed the pound sign on the phone three times triggering the device he hooked up to the phone. It sent out an encoded signal that stealth circuits secretly installed in the phone company’s network recognized. He was re-routed to the switchboard located at the headquarters of OSI hidden somewhere in the Rogue Isles.   

            “Hello, Barbara.” Jack said. “Please connect me to the boss.”

            Jack waited for the connection.

            “Hey boss, this is Jack. We have a serious issue… I’d rather not say over the phone. It’s that big…”

            Jack snapped his fingers motioning quickly to Cecil who then handed him a notepad.

            “If you check Sutter file Alpha Five stroke 1 dot 1, you will have who are customer is. We have acquired a Flavor and identified a Shake. We will look to the Sky for Snakes and beware Deliveries. Cecil recommends asking the Ladies out, if you concur… Yes sir.”

            Jack hung up the phone when Mickey and Keith walked up to the office.

            “It’s done,” Jack said. “And he has decided to come here.”

            “Figured he would when you mentioned the Shake,” Cecil replied referring to the code words.

            “When he sees who our customer is he would most definitely want to be involved.”

            “Cheez’ and rice man,” Mickey whined. “Will you be telling meh ‘da deal. Meh thinks yous’ not be likin’ Mickey.”

            Jack straightened the collar on his duster and faced his teammate. He was right, they should tell everyone what they faced and Mickey who they had contracted with. “Your right Mickey.”

            “Meh is?” He said slack jawed.

            “Longbow will be looking for us. The Sky Raiders and Wyvern have been tailing us…”

            “’Dems it?” Mickey questioned almost drawing a breath of relief. “’dey nutin’.”

            Jack looked directly at Jimmy, “And Malta.”

            Jimmy let a moan escape from his lips and slouched against the wall. If they discovered who he was, he would be in trouble. This small milk run, as Mickey once put it, just became a bumpy ride in a stagecoach full of nitroglycerin.

            Keith stared at the floor silent. With all the luck charms he was carrying, and something like this happened anyway. He could not figure it out where he went wrong in failing the team. He silently berated himself for letting them down. One of his charms had to be cursed.

            “Nos,” Mickey wailed covering his eyes. “We’s doomed. Nobudies gunna make it. Des’ gunna fine meh and tell ‘dose aliens.”

            Cecil rolled his eyes. He knew telling Mickey was a mistake. Not that Mickey’s worry was completely misplaced; the mission lying ahead of them was going to be challenging, but not impossible. It was then he decided to read the report they were carrying. The team would need a plan and depending on what the papers detailed, the plan would have to reflect.

            Jack shook his head and looked to Cecil. “You tell him who were working for and start digging in. It’s going to be a long day and I am hungry on top of it.”

            Cecil smiled and headed for the truck, “Come one Mickey I’ll show you who is signing your paycheck today. And I don’t want to hear aliens on the moon again.”

            Mickey froze in his tracks, eyes bulging wide. The sharpest blade on Earth could not have etched the look of shock on his face.

            “’dey found meh,” he muttered.




            Roger McNally, aka the Out Sourcer, hung up the phone trying to recall from memory what was contained in the Sutter file Jack mentioned. The files themselves were the foundation of Out Source Incorporated’s information gathering given to him by his silent partner. The company would not have been what it was without those files. So large and detailed they were they allowed him to gain much influence over those involved in nefarious practices abroad. Hell, without the files, there would be no OSI and he still would be unemployed cursing Countess Crey’s name. She would rue the day she fired him.

            Rubbing his tired eyes and stepping back from the workbench, Roger picked up a mug of coffee emblazoned with the OSI logo and tossed the remaining lukewarm liquid down his throat. Making his way to the lunchroom and helping himself to a fresh cup, he decided it was time for a break anyways. He had been promising to hire, or kidnap, scientists to help advance the technological edge of his company. That time was probably at hand. He was no scientist and struggled with night classes and his own experiments. He bought technical and scientific manuals by the pound in an effort to teach himself what he needed to advance his ideas and company. While not completely inept, he needed help.

            Making his way past the front desk, being manned by Barbara, he asked her to prep his travel bag. He entered into the file room reading the labels on the cabinets until he reached the one he wanted. Jack had not used a code word, which meant whatever his team had stumbled across was considered inactive. That alone had intrigued him and convinced him to be present for the team’s handoff. He opened the drawer, setting his coffee mug on top. Flipping to the number, he removed the manila folder and reclaimed his drink. Walking over to a small table, he picked a desk chair from a group of rogue pieces of furniture that seemed to find their way into the room. He sat down and sipped his coffee flipping the folder open…

            He spat coffee at the wall sprinkling some on the paper. Coughing robbed him of his breath and he struggled with the liquid that went into his lungs. He cleared his throat and took a long hard look at what he saw almost not believing it.

            “Barbara,” he spoke into a microphone contained in his wristwatch. “Make that a Code Red. I am leaving now.”

            His team was right to call him and he snatched up the folder and ran back to the front desk. They were an extension of him, taking almost ten months of job interviews and coercions to put together. The foundation of his company started with him and them. If one of them died, it would be like cutting off one of his fingers. Maybe worse, like cutting off a limb. They were on one of the biggest modern secrets of recent history and the information the carried could be invaluable.

            Roger left the folder on Barbara’s desk, “Make that an active file now, code word Nickel. Or something like that.”

            “Okay,” Barbara said. The morning had started out as usual and now she saw her boss almost panicked.

            “No time to make travel arrangements,” Roger ordered. “I need you to text me the location of Jack when you determine his coordinates.”

            “Yes, sir.”

            The Out Sourcer picked up his duffel bag, filled with the weapons for the field, small arms, mini-mortar, seeker drones, explosives, and more importantly stacks of cash. He made his way into the transportation room and stood before a large cylindrical machine supported by four electronic metallic pillars. Underneath the circuits and power generators, a special sensor pad sat tied into a computer monitor. It was yet fully untested, but the theory was sound and it worked in Paragon City. Just nobody tried it the way he was about to. He hoped Jimmy’s programming was perfect.

            Pressing the touch screen the machine whirred to life. Different districts of the Rogue Isles appeared on a map. A small box marked with the text Paragon City sat to the left. Roger tapped the button initiating a link from the Isles own mediport signal to Paragon’s. OSI had commissioned the construction of several communication buoys that would relay the signal when and where he wanted it. Essentially, the two networks would work as one. The original designers back in the States had left more security holes in the network than authorities had realized. These holes allowed for an unconventional use of the system. Well, that was the theory. He never tested before, but he had to move quickly. There was no way he was going to let this situation slip through his grasp.

            He closed his eyes… and initiated transport.

            Barbara heard the machine fire up and the pop of at the creation of an instant vacuum. She thought the teleporter had not worked and was surprised the boss had used it. Shrugging she flipped open the file and jumped startled at what was staring back at her. What stared back was a logo of a long-toothed white skull nestled between a Roman numerical V and sitting upon a red-circled background.

            Barbara gasped. The fate of the organization to which the logo belonged had been well broadcast on television a few years ago. She thought they were overthrown by the Council and all killed. Television pundits said some might have escaped and others may have been willing to be absorbed into the new hierarchy. It was the symbol was of the defunct Fifth Column.

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