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Lista had left the boat room by the maintenance door and climbed to about 1000 feet to look for any aircraft that may have already left the platform. She couldn’t see or hear anything so she circled back to try and catch them on take off. Her reasoning was that they may be waiting for Agent Phelps, not realizing that their cover had been blown. There was no sign of them on the platform either. She went back to the casino and found Marcus to inform him that Phelps, Nikolai, and Johnson were all in on it with Isaac, and that the Johnson and Isaac had vanished. Marcus called for an evacuation of the hotel with a security detail to inspect every aircraft that left the platform. Lista went back to find the others.
As Lista arrived, Agent Waters said, "Before I tell you what HomeSec knows, I’d like to know what you all know. There may be something you already know about that I’m not authorized to reveal to you.”
Mourning stiffened. “That doesn’t work for me.” At the offended look from Vickie, she explained. “You see, for all we know, you’re workin’ with the others, but are higher up the ladder. You sacrifice them to win our trust and then use it to your advantage later on. Our deal is this. We will come into a HomeSec office in the next couple of days, but we choose the office. We will give you enough notice to drop what you’re doing and get there in time to hear it all, but this can only take place in a known, official office.”
“Or I could arrest you as being part if it all.”
“There’s three other chairs in this room you haven’t been thrown over yet.”
As the hotel security came on scene, Doug directed them to the pile of bad guys crammed against the wall. They were cuffed and taken to the cells as Lista returned. Vickie turned her attention away from Mourning, “Oh, you’re back. Did you find them?”
“Nothing I could see and all aircraft are accounted for. They’re either still here, or they left by sub.”
“Damn.” Morning went over to the reception desk at the infirmary and called Marcus. “We lost them. Johnson and Isaac are working together. We got Phelps and Nikolai down here. We need to make sure no one leaves the station until it gets swept.”
“Okay, I’ve got my people on it already. We’re going to put everyone in the banquet room while we clear the rest of the hotel. We’ll start at the top and try and drive them down to you, unless they’re in the Base already. In either case, it should trap them.”
“Right, we’ll wait here to hear from you.”
The next several hours were spent in nervous silence. There was very little conversation as the four people in waited outside the infirmary, listening for any sound that might lead to combat. It was nearly when Marcus appeared in person to say that there was no doubt at all that the top sections were clear. He had let the patrons back in their rooms and sealed off all points of entry to the lower section. If they weren’t down here, then they must have made it off.
With a small contingent of guards at the transfer point, the heroes set off with the remaining guards to search the base. The jail security rooms, the infirmary, kitchen, staff quarters, machine shop, desalination plant, and boat room were all clear. Tog met up with Marcus after the sweep. “And you’re sure there is no where else to hide?”
“We’ve looked everywhere. They must have made it off.”
“Turds. Any reports of anything odd going on in the country?”
“Nothing like last time. Luckily.
There was one pretty major thing though. There was a
“Wow, that’s good. I wonder if there was a connection.”
“We may never know. You could always, you know… ‘talk’ to Nikolai and Phelps.”
“Not a bad idea, really. Can I use the kitchen before I do though?”
Marcus took him back to the kitchen where Tog took a file normally used for scraping the skin off of lemons to his knuckles. “I think I’ll go tell Nikolai that Phelps was not as cooperative as I’d hoped.” With that he left the room.
In his cell, Nikolai sat huddled in the corner. He sat up expectantly when he heard the door open, but adopted a different posture when he saw Tog.
“We’re going to talk, but I need you to know where my mind is right now. Lisa’s dead and one of your pals did it. Phelps was pretty convincing about not knowing anything. For a while. I still think might have been lying about some of it. We’ll probably never know now.”
Tog made sure to stand in a shadow with his back to a fairly bright light. This would help to accent any blood dripping from his hands. Nikolai swallowed hard when one such drop caught his eye. “I know nothing,” he said as he pressed closer to the wall behind him.
“I really don’t care. You see. Getting information that confirms what Phelps told me would be nice, but the real fun will be in hearing the bones crush. I’m in that kind of mood. You ever heard that sound? I’m not talking about a fast snap, like when you break an arm. I’m talking about that low lingering crackling sound a ribcage makes when each one breaks just a little later than the one before. It a room like this, it might sound like distant fireworks. God I love that sound! Skulls do it too, sort of. They don’t really last as long though. So here’s the deal. I have three different sources of information. My team, Homeland Security, and Phelps. I’m either going to tell you something I think I really know, or I’m going to tell you something I suspect to be true. Either way, you tell me if it’s right, or wrong. The catch is that if I tell you something I know for an absolute fact to be true, and you tell me it’s not, I’ll break one of your favorite bones. If you don’t answer me at all, I’ll break two. I hope you can understand that there are a limited number of bones in your body, and that some are just too small for big ol’ clumsy hands. I may end up getting more than the one or two I’m after, but I think you understand the spirit of the game. Are we ready?”
Nikolai screamed out for help but the cry was cut short by a massive hand closing on his throat. “Perhaps I didn’t really make myself clear. All the air in this room is mine. If you behave, I’ll let you use some. You have to use it responsibly though. I ask again, are you ready?”
Nikolai nodded. A few minutes later Tog came back to the waiting area to speak with the others. “Well, I got some answers. We’ll go over them and bring the tape to the debriefing later in the week.”
“You didn’t hurt him did you?” asked Mourning.
“Nah. Not really. I did scare him pretty bad though. And I feel a little unclean. He confirmed quite a bit of what we thought, and confessed to killing Derek. Ballistics should be able to match his gun to the bullets.”
The following morning the group left the hotel with the prisoners. Nikolai seemed very upset at seeing both Lista and Phelps alive and well. Once back at the airport, a detail from Homeland Security took the two men into custody. After a few days had passed, Mourning contacted Agent Victoria Waters of Homeland Security with the details of where the debriefing would take place.
In the office, the recorders were started and the debriefing began.
“My name, as far as this is concerned is Mournin’
Angel. I’m a registered Hero in
“In September, we managed to track one of the Outcast that ambushed Lista. We heard him meet with a man we couldn’t see clearly. That conversation strongly implied that the Outcast was hired by the unknown man, and that it might happen again. The man was teleported away, but we followed the Outcast to the Hollows. He was hidin’ in a building with some friends, but the building turned out to be a Troll hideout. Our team was spilt up and in the confusion trying to help one member that was in way over her head, we lost the Outcast.
“Then, last October, Lista hooked up with Marcus Gauthier and
got an invitation to a weekend at a lake house in
“Last week, an intern at the hotel broadcast center found a link to the riots and the broadcast. Marcus asked us to come and help. The day we arrived we found that the intern had been killed. During the broadcast, we figured out that the code the newspaper man was working on was based on playing cards. 52 symbols, 52 cards. We can’t seem to crack the code though. We have a small sample size from 9 different weeks, and two broadcasts, but the key seems to be different for each one.
“Finally, we found out from Nikolai that the events at the lake house were related to the other two because Nikolai knew who Lista was and that she was a Paragon Hero. That could only have come from someone at the house, or on the investigation team.”
Agent Waters looked over at her supervisor for a sign and took a deep breath.
“You’ve all stumbled into something big. I know
you think that what you know is big already, but it’s only a tiny part of what
we’ve been working on. For a while now, we’ve been seeing signs of
a very powerful organization operating inside the
“We don’t think this is a foreign group. We
think it’s made up of US citizens mostly. There is no evidence
that anything is coming from outside at any rate. What Phelps told
you was one of our early ideas; that the hotel was used as an entry point since
there were no passports needed to get from the hotel to the mainland.
This theory lasted all of about 7 minutes when we saw that the only way
an aircraft would be permitted to land there was if it came from the
“For us, it began when we got a bulletin from the NSA about a number of local elections for minor offices have to be re-run due to accidental death of the winner, or some other event that removed them from office. We looked into the people that took over each office and found nothing unusual about any of it. It was marked of as one of those odd coincidences that needed to be watched but was probably nothing.
“Next came our discovery of the code. This was again from the NSA. They run all national print ads though a scanner to pick out any differences like the ones you mentioned. We have a copy of 38 versions of the code from those ads, but have been unable to crack it. This weekend has brought new data. We were looking at it as symbols used to represent letters. The use of playing cards made us look at it as symbols representing cards, which represented letters. That probably doesn’t seem like a big difference, but it is. We know how the keys were changed so frequently and flawlessly. They were published in the same newspaper. Each paper had a puzzle page that included bridge tips. These tips showed the whole deck of cards as it might appear in a bridge hand. There is a key, like a grid of letters and each week the cards as shown in the paper the previous week are placed over that grid. It’s a new code every week, and the grid alone will mean nothing if it’s found.
“We’re still working on figuring out the grid, but now that we know what we’re looking for, the computers should narrow down the possibilities very soon.
“I got into the first tournament because I could play really
well and had the week off. It was a personal thing.
Once we tied the riots to the broadcast, I was a natural to go back in
and see if I could find out anything. I don’t think I could have
figured this out though. Best guess on the message this time was
to have another riot start in a few cities to give the police and heroes
something to do while some other plot was carried out. This time
it looks like it was in
“As for the wife of Senator Wilson, we’ve been watching her. We can’t seem to really dig up anything on her, or the Senator, but they don’t really seem clean either.”
Mourning asked, “So there is no idea who might be behind this all?”
“None. We’re hearing some stirrings from the
“Wow. This is a lot bigger than we
thought. I have to be honest though. We’re not
likely to stay out of things if it happens in
“We’d never ask you to stand by if something big was happening, but be aware that the people behind this have a lot of planning on their side and that they may arrange it so that stopping the obvious plot advances the hidden one, which works out better in the long run for them.”
“We’ll keep that in mind. One last question. Is there any chance at all that Beau was involved?”
“No. He passed all the checks we ran. Why?”
“He gave me his number and I think I’m just insecure enough to wonder if it’s a trap.”
“It’s not. He was checking you out the whole weekend. Perk of being in the player’s lounge. I say go for it. He seems like a great guy.”
“This is unacceptable. Isaac got away, but he’s known to them now. Did Johnson dispose of him?”
“And did you dispose of Johnson?”
“Good. We can’t afford any loose ends like that. Do we know how much Phleps and Nikolai may have said?”
“They have yet to be questioned, but they will not make it through the night.”
“Very well. Find out what you can about these three heroes and we’ll take steps to get them out of the way. I’m tired of their interference.