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To the Victor…
Chapter 16: Ethics, and Other Trivialities
by Tog
(Part 1 of 3)

March 21st was supposed to be a day of renewal; of rebirth.  The mood in the wing shared by Tog on the others was anything but spring-like.  There was still no sign of Lista.

Epim had maintained a professional air around the others; always ready should they ever need to talk to her.  Secretly, she had been spending afternoons on the other side of the notebook for some time.

Entimangler was shaken as well.  She had come to see Lista as her closest friend, as well as her confidant.

Sliss seemed to understand most of the time, but still spoke of her as if she were due back any minute.  The others chalked it up to the optimism of youth.

Tog was probably the most visibly upset about it.  The return of his father and the disappearance of one of his people were a lot to take in the same week.

Mourning didn’t let it show in a way that most of the others could see, but it was eating at her.  Lista was more than just a friend.  They had vowed, more than once, to always be there for each other.  What was she doing when Lista had vanished?  Spending time in a hotel room with Beau.  It was an unfulfilling activity for many reasons, but not least of which was the idea that if she had just gone with Lista to the office, this wouldn’t have happened.  Others had told her there was nothing she could have done to prevent it, but that didn’t help.  She had failed a friend.  A sister.

When Athena got the call for Lista that morning, she debated for what seemed like hours to her, finally passing on the call to Epim.

“Epim here.”

“Oh. Hi, Doc.  We were hoping to talk to Lista first.”

“JYN?  Where have you been?  How come you never contacted us again?”

“Things have been nuts here with the new baby and all.”

“Baby?  Is that why you left?  And you just tell us now?  Where is Tonix?”

I’m here, on the other line.”

“Are the others around, we can make this a full on party.”

Epim paused.  “Well, most of us are here, but I think a party might be too much to hope for.  Lista is missing?”

“What?”

When?

“Just after Thanksgiving.  She went into a warehouse, it exploded, and we haven’t seen any sign of her yet.”

“Oh my god!”

“Hey, I know everyone will want to talk to you and get caught up and stuff, but I want you to know.  The morning they all woke up and you were gone, they were all a little hurt.  Mourning was really hurt.  Now with this, she may seem really different.  Just be prepared.”

“Okay.”

“Hold on a minute.”  Epim returned to the room where the others were seated.  “Jyn and Tonix are on the line, they want to talk to us all.”

Some quick glances were followed by a pair of chairs scraping along the tile as Tog and Ent stood up to go into the conference room to take the call.

Greetings were exchanged and much of what had passed in the last fifteen months or so was talked about by both sides.  About halfway though, the door slid open and Mourning walked in to join them all.

The call ended too soon, but by then nearly everyone was smiling, and all were in better spirits.  Shortly afterwards, some teams were formed and many of the members set off to do some good around the city.

~~~~~

In the alcove, another applicant for Enforcer waited.  Her conviction was strong, and her blade sharp.  Still, this was her first death match in the new class.  She had considered coming out defensively.  It had always worked well in the past.  She was very hard to hit when she fought that way.  Then again, it might make a better impression to come out aggressively.  If she launched her attack as soon as they opened the gate, she could get in a lucky strike.  If it missed, she could always switch to defense when she landed.  The crowd noise was different this time.  Usually there were cheers just before the gate opened.  This time is was dull low sound, like many thousands of people talking amongst themselves.

The gate swung open and she launched herself into the air.  The crowd cheered, and she told herself it would all be over before the echo faded.  Then she saw the reason they had sounded confused.   Before her was not her target, but a swirling block of light.  There was nothing she could do to avoid it, and she passed through it to land in a darkened room the likes of which she had never seen before.

~~~~~

Sliss caught the train to Brickstown.  Since his team disbanded, he’d been feeling rather useless.  He would still pitch in where he could, but after being raised around a full team of heroes and battling scores of villains day after day, there wasn’t much that could hold his interest.

He was growing tired of sweeping the Council off of the streets when he got a call from a group in Peregrine Island that needed some help in another dimension.

“This could be fun,” he thought, and agreed to join them at once.

Peregrine Island was a dangerous place.  Just about the only safe place was the main courtyard at the Portal Corp facility.  Portal Corp was a business based on the exploration of other dimensions.  Some of these were similar to Earth, but with alternate timelines; while others bore no resemblance to Earth in any way.

Sliss arrived at the gate, took a deep breath, and stepped through the circular portal.  A flash of light dazzled his vision for an instant.  As things came back into view, he took note of his surroundings.  He seemed to be in an ancient arena.  It was sort of like the ones they showed on that TV channel that Epim made him watch.  The one where all the people talked funny and there were no commercials.  He stood on dry dirt, stained in places with blood.  The taste of the air gave it away to him. 

He listened for the sounds of his temporary team, and as he listened, the sound of them grew stronger.  Before he could race off to meet with them, they appeared through a doorway.  There were six of them, one seemed to be severely injured.  Behind them was a wall of armored bodies wielding swords and polearms.

“OUT!  Get out!  RUN!” shouted the team leader.  “Everyone out!”

Sliss waited for the injured man to come within range, and emitted a pulse of healing energy, then followed them into the portal.  Again the light flashed.  This time the darkened room on the Portal Corp basement took longer to come into focus.

“Screw that!  I’m not going back in there unless we get more guys,” said one of the heroes; a very tall man with bright white hair and dark green tights.

“Yeah.  I thought we could do it, but there’s just too many for us.  I’ll talk to my guy and tell him to send in a more experienced team.”  The leader turned to Sliss and said, “Sorry.  Looks like it’s off.”

Sliss watched them leave the portal room as he sat down on a crate beside the portal.  There was something oddly familiar about its rhythmic, pulsing sound.  It was soothing in a way.

~~~~~

Entimangler had gone to Talos Island.  She liked it there, both for the sun, and the Warriors.  Her sessions with Epim and her talks with Lista had opened her to the possibility that although she was born to be a Guard, there was more to life if she chose to look for it.  Still, her interests tended to mirror her programming.  The few days she spent on Striga Island had given her an appreciation for the Warriors.  They liked to get in close, and she didn’t have to chase them.  She was doing what she could to inspire nightmares among their lower ranks, and was even (what might pass for) pleased to see that she was recognized among them from time to time.

Her favored patrol route took her to the water’s edge, below the raised section of the city.  It was here that she would happen upon some of the larger gatherings of Warriors, as well as the occasional Circle of Thorns ritual.  As she headed to the beach, a mugging caught her eye.  It was not the crime that drew her in, but the victim.

She landed a short distance away and listened in.  The man being menaced was short for a human, and was lacking much of the natural head covering.  His outer skin was layered and blue, but what caught her eye was the light she could see reflected in the ultra-violet spectrum.  It was something she recognized from over a year ago.  Something she has seen in an alley way on a chilly night near the equinox.  It was the man that had hired the thugs that had gone after Lista.

This was something she knew.  In her mind, this man was a prisoner, even if she had never actually had him in custody.  He was a prisoner, and he had escaped.  This time, there would be no chance for him to teleport away.

She summoned up the vapor around her claws and crouched low to leap at the man, when the wind shifted and she heard him speak.  She thought back to her sessions with Epim, and her training with Lista.  Instinct told her to capture all three, but something else told her to wait.  To watch.  She could only make out parts of the conversation due to the traffic noise, but she was able to catch the man saying the object held only family photos, and nothing of value.  She waited. 

The Warrior gave him a quick slap to the side of the head with the flat of a broadsword which convinced the man to give up the item.  The smaller Warrior shoved him to the ground and the pair walked off, laughing.  The laughter ended with the crunching sound of a jaw shattered into bits.  The smaller man fell to the ground, out of the fight.  The larger drew his axe and raised it high overhead.  His strike was intercepted by the forearm spines on her left arm.  His throat was intercepted by the spines on her right.

“You have item from man.  Small item.  With pictures.  Give it.”

“He—here.  Take it.”  He pulled a small memory card from his pocket and dropped it to the ground. “I don’t even know what it’s for anyway.”

Ent pushed him away and looked up just in time to see the man teleport away again.  With card in claw, she returned to the base.

~~~~~

The girl sat behind a crate in the dark room.  The monster stood just eight shafts away.  It was too close to keep her hidden, but too far to attack by surprise.  With all the stealth she could manage, she drew her sword.

The monster failed to stir.

She moved quickly and quietly from shadow to shadow.  If she could get behind it, she might have a chance.  As she got closer she got a good look at it.  Its small, green scales muted the reflected light from the circular doorway.  Its face was pointed in the front and even from 3 shafts away she could see its teeth when it opened its mouth.

She stifled a gasp as it opened its eyes and looked around.  It seemed to be licking the air; its short, pink tongue pulsing from within its huge maw.  Could it taste her?  Her heart was pounding as she drew back her blade for the strike that should sever the beast’s head.

~~~~~

Mourning had spent most of the day tutoring some new arrivals in some of the basic things.  It had gone well enough, and she was certainly able to draw on many of her darker feelings to power her abilities, but there was just something amiss.  Was it really her place to be teaching these people, many of them kids, how to be a hero?  What if they vanished like Lista?  What if something worse happened?  Maybe she should be discouraging them instead?

Her focus was off and she new it.  She called HAAL in to cover for her and made up some excuse to go off alone.  Once free of her charges, she contacted Beau to ask if she could hang out as his place for the day.  She was sure that he wouldn’t mind.  There was something about his little rooftop apartment that she found inviting, even though she’d never actually been there.  It just sounded like a good place to be for a while.

~~~~~

Whether it was some shred of animal instinct, or just a year of living in Paragon City, Sliss became keenly aware of the danger.  He sat up and looked around quickly; there, behind him and to his right, was the creature. 

It was a bit larger than a big dog, and reptile-like, though its mouth was far too large for its body.  The tail was slashing through the air as it crouched behind the crates, watching him.  To the left of the creature was a small girl.  She had a light pink hair coloring and wore some sort of armor to match.  Sliss guessed it was mostly decorative.  It didn’t look all that resistant.  Held above her head was a long, curved sword.

He looked at the creature, then at the girl.  Both were agitated, but unafraid.  He stood up and looked at the creature.  An instant later he had teleported to within 30 feet of it.  A mire of black tentacles emerged from the floor to surround it, while clouds of radioactive gas began to float around it, disrupting its vision and reeking havoc on whatever armor its scales might provide. 

It turned to face him, and in so doing stretched the left side of its neck taut.  The girl saw this and reacted the way Sliss had hoped she would; the way CP would have.  A single downward stoke through one side of the monster’s neck drawing its attention away from him.

The creature, now unable to turn its head to that side, shifted around to its right.  The girl leaped over its slashing tail, with a small flip to her right.  This placed her right beside the creature’s neck, but too close for a strike.  She executed a nearly flawless back flip away from the creature’s snapping maw, as a fusillade of dark energy erupted from the outstretched arms of the lizard-man behind it.  Whatever feeling the energy gave the creature was obviously unpleasant and it expressed this with a sound that left no doubt.

The girl once again leapt in, this time, the range was perfect.  The head of the creature fell before the echo of its howl could fade.

“Hi, I’m Sliss.  You’re twitchy, you know that?  Not in a bad way like they used to say it about me, but in a good way.  You even dodged the blood and stuff!  That’s cool.  You’re fast.  Fast and Twitchy.  Do you live here?  I’ve never seen you before, but I don’t get out much on my own.  You don’t’ talk much, huh?”

The girl looked at this thing before her.  It fought on her side, and it seemed to want to be friends, but it was reptilian.  “Where is here, exactly?”

“Um, well this room is in the basement of Portal Corp.  That’s in Peregrine Island, which is in Paragon City, and that’s… umm, I know there’s more, but I can’t remember the order.  What’s the dead thing?”

“We call them Selnars.  They roam the southlands and have been known to plague villages.  You don’t have them here?”

“Southlands?  You mean like Florida and that one I can’t say?  We call them alligators, but they don’t look like that on TV.”

“I don’t know of those places.  Is there someone I could talk to that is, well, not you?”

“Oh sure!  I can take you back to the base.  We have a school there, and teachers and stuff.  I bet Mourning would like to meet you.  She’s from the southlands.  The one I can’t say, I think.”

“That sounds like a good idea.”

~~~~~

Entimangler returned to the base with her prize.  This was no easy feat given its size and her anatomical limitations.  As soon as she was able, she passed it on to Epim.

“You’re sure it was the guy from the alley?”

“Yes.  Humans have purple glow.  Each has own.  Like face.  It shows better in darkness.  Same man.”

“Good enough for me.  Let’s see what’s on it.”

Sliss stepped out of the portal and grabbed Epim by the arm.  “Come see!  Come see!  I found her.  I can keep her right?”

Epim shot a look at Ent that the Bug understood and the three of them hurried up to the visitor’s lounge.

The girl was standing with her back to the wall, and one hand on the grip of her sword.  The few people in the room either paid her no notice, or eyed her as if to appraise her intentions.

Epim looked at the girl, then turned to Ent and said, “Honestly, I was expecting a puppy.”






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