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Chapter Three: Washing of the Hands
By Myths n’ Wraiths
Edited by Vindea
“Thank you for tuning in everybody; and welcome to the The Hot Seat!” Chris Pantin proclaimed with all the charisma and vitality his twenty-eight-year-old persona could muster. Fighting off the itching sensation that the full ounce of hair gel was causing his scalp, he somehow managed to broaden his smile and flash his pearly white teeth.
“I am Chris Pantin and today I have with me Perez Park’s assistant security chief, Lieutenant Martin Stanfield.” Despite the smile on his face, Chris cursed his producers for not getting their hands on Perez Park’s head security chief. Even with all that was going on, what kind of a leader would defer a prime-time television showing to his second in charge?
“Now, Lieutenant Stanfield, the question that is on everyone’s mind in Paragon today is this: who is responsible for this massive retaliation against the criminal world? Do the police have any leads?”
Forcing himself to keep from shifting in his seat, Martin met Chris’s chiding stare with a steady one of his own. At least he hoped it was steady. “A full investigation has been launched into last night’s horrific events, Chris, but this is obviously the work of a large and proficient operation. Our focus will be on apprehending those responsible for organizing the attack as well as those responsible for the various acts of violence, and that takes time.”
“Last night’s horrific events?” Chris cut in, repeating Martin’s words with a small degree of skepticism. “These acts were aimed solely at people with gang affiliations, correct?”
“That is true, but no matter how base the victims of the acts may be, these actions are still highly illegal. Murder is murder no matter who the victim,” Martin countered, composing his frustration. Should have seen that coming.
“Let’s take a look at this,” Chris said and on television screens across the city a picture of gruff, scar-etched face was shown. The man whose likeness was being depicted had a wild mane of dirty blonde hair and on his cheek was a tattoo of a fireball.
“This is Jessie Marconie, a victim of last nights ‘horrific events’,” Chris continued, a triumphant smirk on his lips. “Marconie was, until last night, a member of the infamous organization known as the Hellions and is believed to be personally responsible for over a dozen acts of arson and nearly three times that many murders. Marconie was, until last night, on Paragon’s Ten Most Wanted list, wasn’t he Lieutenant Stanfield?”
With a grim nod, Martin spoke. “That is true.”
“Sounds to me like these guys are doing you a favor. That is the opinion of the general public. An online poll this morning revealed that sixty-two percent of Paragon’s populace believe that if the events of last night help to lower the acts of violence against hard working citizens, then they are willing to condone it.”
In truth it had only been forty-two percent but since the results of the poll would never be common knowledge, neither would the lie.
“Now be honest, Martin, isn’t a culling just what this city needs after years of being subject to the depravities of madmen?” Chris shot the question to his guest, leaning heavily on his desk to appear more intimidating.
Wondering why it was suddenly ‘Martin’ instead of ‘Lieutenant Stanfield’, Martin responded. “With all due respect, Chris, the Paragon Police Department does not act on anyone’s whims, not even those of the general public. Acts of vengeance are not tolerated in this country, no matter what the grievance; that’s the reason we have laws. That’s the reason we have a police force. That is the reason we have a judicial system-,”
“Sounds to me like ol’ Martin is preaching to the choir.” Wraith’s gruff voice cut into the broadcast from somewhere behind Myth.
“He’s right, though,” Myth countered, spinning his chair away from the TV to face his twin brother.
“Yeah, and if the police or the Hero Corp knew half the stuff we’ve done, we’d be hauled off faster than a beaded prom dress,” Wraith replied with an amused smirk.
“I meant from a legal standpoint,” Myth said. Wraith could tell by his tone that Myth’s mind was only partially on their conversation, but he continued anyway.
“Still, I wouldn’t mind messing that Pantin guy’s hair up… permanently. What kind of an asshole would kick a guy like Stanfield in the nuts on public television when he is the one that keeps the li’l prick safe at night?” Dark eyes flashed behind wild strands of black hair.
With a curious expression on his face, Myth shot his darker twin a glance. Then, after a long pause to reflect, said, “Permission granted.”
“Wha’?” Wraith questioned, unsure of his sibling’s meaning.
Myth hit a button on the remote he held in his hand and the digital recorder rewound the television image. Pressing play once again and upping the volume, Chris’s words filled the room.
“...honest, Martin, isn’t a culling just…” Myth paused the image and looped it back to replay the words again, then turned to his brother with a devious grin.
“That’s the same expression Jeremy used,” Wraith said, realization dawning on his face.
“I want you to find out what would motivate him to use such a curious word,” Myth said, the grin on his face broadening.
“Consider it done,” Wraith said, turning to leave.
“Don’t mess his hair up too much.”
Wraith was gone, without a response or as much as a glance over his shoulder. After a moment of reflection, Myth keyed the intercom.
“Yes, love.” The response came instantly from a tired and worn voice.
“How are the tests going?”
“Nearly done. We are waiting for one last blood sample to finish in analysis but so far, nothing,” she replied with a long sigh. “No genetic manipulation, no mutation, no cybernetics or nanites… nothing.”
“Magically endowed?” Myth questioned. With scientific, technological and mutant origins ruled out, it was the only logical explanation for Jeremy’s abilities.
“Looks to be so.”
“All right. Wake Anarchy and have him prep the teleporter for a secure transport to the Paragon Patriots’ base. We’ll move once you have the final results,” Myth said, turning off the television screen and rising from his chair.
All I have to do is let Emerald Queen know I’m dumping this in her lap.
“Anarchy is on recovery; I can prep the telepad,” Haven replied. No sooner did the words come out of her mouth than she realized her mistake.
“Haven…” Myth began, his tone growing stern. Haven did not wait for him to finish his statement.
“Right, I’ll get Anarchy on it,” she said. Myth always had his reasons. Haven rarely understood them, but they did exist.
“Thank you, darlin’. Let him know he only needs to escort Jeremy from the cell to the pad. I’ll have Emerald’s people meet us on the other side.” With that, Myth cancelled the intercom connection and keyed in the secure number that he had stored in the recesses of his mind. A faint, repetitious, buzzing noise told him that the call was waiting to be received.
After a few rings, the picture perfect semblance of femininity filtered into focus on his screen. Light, flowing blonde hair crested down across a round, heart shaped face, accentuating a wide set of bright green eyes.
“Myth!” Emerald Queen exclaimed. Her playful tone was a mix between melody and laughter. “I was beginning to think you had forgotten me.”
“Never, Emerald,” Myth replied with a winning smile. “My people hit that address you gave us last night. Place was cleaned out. There were signs of a struggle there, though.”
“Well, I am sorry to hear it. MAGI was certain that there was a coven of Thorns there. I guess even the best make mistakes every once in a while,” Emerald Queen sighed with an apologetic smile.
“Keep that kind of attitude and you will never be the best,” Myth countered.
“Ahh, but I am the best, at what I do, love.” Green eyes winked on his screen, red lips turned from a playful smile to a smirk of supreme confidence. “Not all of us can be the self-appointed hit men of Paragon. Some empaths actually need to spend their time healing this city.”
“Too true,” Myth replied, holding his hands up in a gesture of truce.
“Thanks again, Myth. If there is anything I can do to repay you, let me know.”
“Funny you should mention that,” he said in a nonchalant tone.
“I have a prisoner that I would like to transfer into your custody. I believe he was involved in the mass murders that took place last night.”
Emerald’s eyes opened even wider in surprise. “That is something.”
“As far as I can tell he was an honest citizen a few days ago, but by supernatural means acquired meta-human powers and turned vigilante. We are tracking down one last lead but I’ll turn the whole thing over to you and your people.” Myth watched Emerald’s green eyes turn skeptical.
“This sounds like it is right down your ally, Myth. Why so anxious to give it up?” Emerald Queen questioned, cocking her head in curiosity.
Myth took a moment, weighing the consequences of telling the whole truth in this matter. Deciding that in the long run Emerald would probably guess the truth of it anyway, Myth proceeded. “This is pretty heavy stuff we are dealing with. The media is all over it and people are going to want to see some results, for good or bad. I’m no hypocrite, Emerald. I’m not going to go after anyone for taking actions that I myself can’t fault them for. I would rather see the whole thing placed in the hands of someone who will look after the public’s interest a little more objectively than I would.”
Emerald nodded slowly, digesting Myth’s answer and weighing its validity. “Sounds reasonable enough,” she concluded. “We’ll take the prisoner and whatever information you have. And, as usual, we’ll keep the Dogs of War’s name out of it.”
“Thanks, Emerald. We’ll transport the prisoner in,” he glanced at his watch, “two hours. I’ll have the rest of my information to you by midnight.”
The conversation ended with a few pleasantries and Myth left the Comm center to make his way back to the detention cell. Haven had left to finish up the screening tests and the place was empty except for Jeremy, who sat motionless on his bunk.
Jeremy’s eyes opened slowly and he turned to face Myth. The empath did not need to use his extrasensory perception to recognize the fear and confusion on the man’s angular features.
Their eyes met and Myth found himself wondering if Lusion hadn’t done more than just send him to sleep when he danced in Jeremy’s mind. The eyes were glazed and vague, drifting over Myth’s face without focus or purpose. He was spent, powerless.
* * *
Anarchy’s eyes popped open when he heard the faint chime of his Comm unit. His super reflexes kicked in and he keyed the Comm before the first chime even finished ringing. “What?” he asked gruffly.
“Sorry to wake you, Anarchy.” Haven’s soft voice echoed into his room, the distinctly feminine tone seemingly out of place in the Spartan setting. “But Myth wants you present for the prisoner transfer.”
“You didn’t wake me,” Anarchy lied, rubbing the sleep from his face. “I was… still working out.” Shaking his head at his own stupidity, the old soldier quickly hopped out of bed. “Tell the boss man that I’ll be there in a few minutes.”
“Sure,” Haven replied simply and ended the call.
Moving at what would seem to most people to be a break-neck speed, Anarchy casually cleaned himself up and donned a clean set of dark fatigues. He caught his reflection in the mirror before pulling on his muscle shirt and marveled once again that the scars and pain from his earlier encounter with Jeremy had completely disappeared. Just one more benefit of having an empath around.
The base was equipped with a basic Emergency Teleportation System for medical purposes, but due to the power restrictions on secure bases, their healing abilities would never rival that of the ETS’s found in all of Paragon’s Hospitals. For these reasons and more the team generally deferred all matters of healing to Myth.
Shrugging into a dark leather jacket, Anarchy made his way out of his room and towards the detention cell. He walked briskly through the shimmering metal corridors, adventitiously looking over the walls and searching for imperfections but finding none.
Just as it should be. Old Sarge would roll over in his grave to know I lived in a place this clean. Anarchy chuckled to himself as he reminisced over the years he had spent in the Army and the many times he had gotten in trouble for not keeping his living area ‘up to standard’ as Old Sarge used to say.
Too bad his standards didn’t keep his ass alive. Anarchy frowned to himself. Combat was an ugly and unpredictable thing. The former soldier had seen Special Forces troops bite the bullet on missions while the greenest soldiers, fresh out of Ranger school, walked away unscathed.
That realization was a sobering thing to swallow for a soldier. No matter what your skill or abilities, when it’s your time to go, it’s your time.
Anarchy’s frown deepened when he entered the detention area and saw the shell of a human being that was Jeremy Welsh lying on the floor of his cell. Every ounce of the intensity and strength that had battered Anarchy the night before was gone; only a pale, listless fatigue remained on the older man’s face.
“What did ya’ll do to him?” Anarchy asked Haven, who had been sitting quietly at one of the control consoles waiting for him.
“Nothing,” she replied with a shrug. “His abilities seem to be deteriorating at a rapid rate and it’s draining him of his vitality.”
An unusually concerned expression crossed Anarchy’s face. “Will it kill him?” he asked, looking once again at the weakening man.
“I don’t know. His abilities have an uncharted magical source. Without studying the source, there is no way to tell what will happen to him,” Haven said, hitting a few keys on her console and locking down the area between the detention cell and the tele-pad. The lights faded to a dull red in the detention area and the halls outside. A light beep announced that the area was secure.
“The Paragon Patriots will be better suited to help this guy anyway. With all their connections they should be able to find some way to stabilize him,” Haven added, and then nodded to Anarchy that she was ready to lower the force field to Jeremy’s cell.
“Let’s get this over with then,” Anarchy replied.
Haven deactivated the force field and the two mutants entered the cell. Jeremy watched them with a detached sense of indifference. If he even recognized the man that had so brutally subdued him the night before, then he made no show of it.
They half-escorted, half-carried the prisoner out of the detention area and quickly moved down the hall toward the tele-pad. All of the doors along their way were sealed and locked except for those they needed to move through and they quickly arrived at their destination despite Jeremy’s dead weight.
Myth was waiting for them by the tele-pad. His dark eyes fixed on Jeremy and a grim look of concern filled his face. The empath reached out with his senses and found an emotional void where Jeremy had once been.
“I’ll escort him through the portal,” Myth both decided and announced at the same time. In such a weak state, being teleported could have adverse affects on the human body and Myth wanted to be sure that Jeremy made it into Emerald Queen’s hands alive, even if just barely so.
Haven nodded and she and Anarchy walked Jeremy onto the hexagonal pad where Myth took their place supporting the prisoner. Taking her position at the control panel, Haven sent a call to the Paragon Patriots requesting permission to transport. The conformation came quickly and with a touch of a button, Myth and Jeremy disappeared in a flash of light and hiss of energy.
“One less headache hanging around here,” Anarchy muttered, turning to leave.
“Maybe now I can get some sleep,” Haven agreed with a long sigh.
* * *
Chris Pantin cursed audibly for the third time since he had left his office on the fourth floor of the Paragon Proclaimer Network building. Though unlike the first two times, one of which was over not finding the right key to his office on the first try and the other for having to wait two seconds longer than he thought he should have for an elevator, this time was for something he found rather pleasant.
A slender feminine frame, topped in long, wild, blonde hair and covered in black leather, which hugged in all the right places, strode by. Chris’s eyes followed the alluring form until his foot missed the curb and he nearly fell in front of passing Greyhound bus. This, of course, elicited yet another expletive from him before he finally made it to his two-week-old BMW.
Wraith’s eyes were steady as stone, taking in every move the pristinely groomed, sorry excuse for a reporter made, reading every word his glossed lips uttered. From the shadows in the corner of the parking lot, he was able to watch Chris’s trek from the network building, his fantasy encounter with the beautiful blonde, and his near-death encounter with the bus.
His coal-black eyes never left his prey, even when the woman who had proved such a distraction to Chris Pantin walked up next to him and leaned comfortably against the wall.
“So that is the big-time news reporter?” Vindea asked, her tone sounding anything but impressed. Wraith only nodded.
“Well, at least he’s got good taste in cars,” she continued. At this Wraith cocked an eyebrow and looked at his partner with a degree of uncertainty.
“You don’t agree?”
“I prefer American muscle,” the darkly garbed man said with a note of superiority.
“Those cars are only good for one thing,” Vindea replied with a giggle. “Compensating.”
Wraith didn’t bother responding. Instead his attention was drawn to a disheveled looking, middle-aged woman who was rapidly approaching Chris. She had dirty blonde hair and bore a slight resemblance to the reporter in feature and stature but that’s where the similarities ended. While Chris looked like he had never spent the night more than a mile from the luxurious heart of Founder’s Falls, this woman looked liked she hadn’t seen a soft bed or shower in days.
Chris started so badly at the sight of the woman that he dropped the keys to his BMW and frantically tried to recover them before she reached him. He failed miserably however, and before he could even wrap his fumbling fingers around his keys, the woman was within arms reach and speaking hysterically.
“Who is she?” Vindea asked.
Again, Wraith did not answer but instead focused on the rapid movement of the woman’s lips. He had been taught at a young age to read lips, but the distance and the speed at which the woman was talking made it difficult for the practiced surveyor. If that was not enough, the pair began to move around in animated conversation, periodically hiding their lips from Wraith’s view. One thing was certain, Chris was not happy to see this woman and she was little more pleased with him.
Piece by piece, word by word, Wraith began to put together the conversation. Weeding out the many expletives and meaningless threats, Wraith found the subject of which they spoke.
“That’s his contact. That’s how he knows about the culling,” Wraith said gravely.
“Are you certain?” Vindea questioned and instantly knew she would not get a response.
The pair seemed to finish their conversation and, with faces red with rage and heightened blood pressure, went their separate ways.
“Follow her,” Wraith told Vindea. “Keep your distance, but see where she leads you.”
“Are you going after the pretty boy?”
“I want to see what else the guy knows,” Wraith said with a nod. “I’ll catch up with you when I’m finished with him.”
Vindea nodded to her partner and flashed him a seductive wink before saying, “Don’t have too much fun without me.”“Same to you,” Wraith warned sternly before going his separate way.