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To the Victor…
Entimangler and HAAL returned from their recent stake out. It was pretty clear that it had not been any more fruitful than the previous attempts.
It had been nearly three months since Heather and Zach had been able to pin down the most likely location of the tropical resort where the man they were seeking had spent a week on vacation. From that information, they had managed to get a list of 73 people that were here that week, and who traveled from the north-eastern US. Of those, only 14 fit the general physical description of the man, though Ent was unable to provide anything more than a fuzzy general description, seeing him mainly in the ultra-violet spectrum.
In three months, they had managed to track down twelve of the fourteen. All twelve had been ruled out by Ent. Tonight, they scratched number thirteen off of the list.
“I’m not even going to bother asking of you’re sure,” said Tog. “What if it’s not this last guy? How sure are we that our guy is even on this list?”
“We can’t be positive he is,” said Epim. But, Athena, Zach, and Heather all agree that based on the pictures we recovered, it absolutely had to be Jamaica in late February.”
“Well, couldn’t he have gotten there by private plane or sailed there on his own? Off the books?”
“We’ve discussed this. We all knew it was a long shot before we started.”
Tog sat down and rested his head on his fist. “I know. It doesn’t make it any less frustrating though.”
“I really wish you’d call me Ahm-ee,” said the small girl with the bright pink hair, dyed to match her armor.”
“But that’s not a good hero name,” said Sliss. “Besides, I like this name. It fits you. You’re fast. And twitchy.”
“Then why does Kym get to go by her name?”
“She’s meaner than you. You fight good, and you’re all deadly and stuff, but Kym will do stuff to you in your sleep and mess with your food.”
The girl thought about this for a minute. “I can see that. I guess being known as ‘Fast Twitch’ is just one of the many things I’m going to have to get used to here.”
“Ha! Yeah. That’s the spirit. There’s the entrance.”
The pair arrived at one of the many entrances to the sewers. Twitch had been given an assignment to clear out all of the Vahzilok from this section and return anything she found to her contact. The Vahz were a good choice for her. Most of them were re-animated corpses, so she could work on perfecting her non-lethal sword strikes without the hassle of having accidentally killed a real person. Sliss was tagging along to help her out, and to make sure she got out alright.
Kym and Debi rounded the corner of the building and approached the entrance. They looked like total opposites with Kym in a black hooded cloak and Debi in a pink and white cheerleader’s outfit. After the short greetings were over, Kym spoke up.
“Okay, there are supposed to be a lot of them in here. We need to stick together, but still work in pairs. Debi, work with Sliss. Stay by his side as best you can. If he takes off, he’ll be back in a second. Just wait for him; don’t follow.
“Twitch, you’re with me. I’ll go after the real people and you go after the dead guys. If you get in trouble, run to Sliss.”
The others acknowledged the basic plan and they entered the sewers. Once inside, they took a moment to let their eyes adjust while Sliss tasted the air for anything dangerous, or possibly edible.
“Everyone ready? I’ve got point.” Kym started off through the brick-lined maze. About fifty yards in, the passage opened to a room with a large turbine on either side. In the room were at least three different groups of seven to ten foes each.
“Right side first,” she said. Debi, you stick tight to Sliss and cover from the entry way here. Twitch, you follow me in and stick to the walls. We don’t want one of those other groups to see us before we’re ready.”
She checked for nods, then moved off to the right. All was going well on the approach until one of the Mortificators saw her and attacked. With him came 5 of the walking dead and two more humans dressed in ghoulish surgeon’s outfits. Behind them all was a tall male figure, dressed in black leather.
“Get the big guy first!” yelled Kym.
Twitch was already in the air, over the crowd surrounding Kym, and behind the Eidolon. A quick double slash across it’s back opened a pair of superficial wounds. This earned her a blast to the face with some sort of inky energy. It was a feeling that left her cold and unable to see clearly.
Suddenly, the Eidolon lit up like a beacon. Sliss had done that thing again, like he did with the selnar the day they met. Even through her clouded vision, her target shone like a pillar of yellow-green light. Another slash across the chest was followed by a quick double cut across the lead leg, then a broad horizontal slash across the abdomen. The Eidolon was losing much of its life sustaining fluid now. A few more cuts and it would slip into unconsciousness. Or back into death.
Kym had been working over the Mortificator with blow after blow of her shrouded fists. Her efforts were backed up by both Sliss and his dark energy blasts and the disrupting sound waves coming from Debi’s amplified voice. She may have lacked the damage output of Ent, and even Twitch, but the black mist that surrounded her kept her quite safe for as long as was needed.
“Well done, guys,” said Kym. “Next group, same thing.”
HAAL’s voice came across the radio. “Kym, are you still in Atlas Park?”
“Head to Steel Canyon gate. We stumbled across the man we have been seeking. We need to arrange a capture, but we can’t risk him seeing anyone he may know.”
“Got it. Okay all. Change of plans. Exit.”
The group left the sewers and Sliss took off to find a safe place to teleport the two girls. Kym jumped into the sky and contacted HAAL again.”
“You guys have a plan? I’ve got two rookies and Sliss.”
“Mourning Angel is headed your way. If she can subdue him before he gets a chance to call for a teleport, we should be able to grab him. If she can’t get there in time, I need for your group to try and take him.”
“This is gonna make for bad press.”
“It cannot be helped.”
Kym signed off and turned to the others who had just arrived in the alley way. “Okay, see the old guy in the blue suit? We need to take him. He’s got people ready to teleport him away at a moment’s notice, so Mourning is on her way to try and take him. If she can’t lock him down, we’re the back up plan.”
“And what is our plan?” asked Twitch.
“Not a freaking clue.”
“He’s heading for the train,” squealed Debi. “We just need to stall him, right? “Til Mourning Angel can get here?”
“Yeah, if we can stall him without spooking him that would be best, I just don’t want to have to beat down a civilian in broad daylight.”
“I can do it. Let me do it.”
“Debi, you don’t really know what’s going on here. I don’t think this is a good idea.”
“I have about 20 seconds to get into position before it’s too late. Kym. Trust me. Seriously.”
Kym seemed to take forever to decide. “Fine. Go! But be careful.”
Debi took off on a dead sprint to the train platform. As she made the corner around the large route map and vanished from sight, Twitch said, “I thought you didn’t like her.”
“I don’t. Can’t stand her.”
“And you trust her? I’m confused.”
“I don’t like her. But, yes, I trust her. The two are mutually exclusive. I like Sliss here, and while I trust him to be there to save my butt in a brawl, I wouldn’t trust him to do something like this. No offense there, Sliss.”
Sliss looked up with what appeared to be the tail of something sticking out of his mouth. “Huh?”
“Thus, my point is made.”
Debi had just turned the corner behind the map, when she realized that a key prop in her plan was missing. She needed a notebook, or a clipboard. It was too late, the man she was supposed to stall had just appeared.
“Good afternoon, Sir. My name is Debi, and I’m here asking for the good citizens of Paragon City to help save part of our school. As you may be aware, there are a lot of programs in school that are getting the funding cut. These are the same programs that can help give kids something to do other than join one of the many gangs that plague our streets. I just gave away our last flier, but I’d be more than happy to answer any questions you may have, including where you go to make a donation.”
“I’m not interested.”
“Oh, but sir…” she added a slight pout to her voice as she said it. She was no stranger to fund raising in Paragon City, and this approach often seemed to work on gruff, middle aged men.
“Get away from me. I’m not giving you any money. I’m not giving you my name. Nothing. I get enough harassment from the thugs on the street. I don’t need it here too.”
“I’m not asking for any money. I actually couldn’t take it if you wanted to give it. It’s not safe for someone like me to carry cash. I just want to make people aware of the problems facing the kids in this city. If you could just wait for the next train, I’m sure I could convince you that the problem is a serious one. What’s two more minutes? Please?”
“All you want is to talk to me. That’s it?”
“Yes, sir. Just talk. Not just to you but to everyone here. See, the thing is. The Hellions, the Skulls, the Outcast, and maybe even the Trolls, were all kids, like me. Somewhere along the road, something happened and they got lost. Ohh, maybe the Lost too. But they’re mostly older I think. Anyway. If they had been in a sport, or a music club, or any of the afterschool programs meant to give kids something to do other than hang out and cause trouble, there would be fewer people in the gangs, and life will be better in the city.”
“And you have proof of this? Something you can show me that would convince me of this?”
Debi began to speak up, so the whole platform could hear. “Well, no. But think about it like this. If each person on this platform gave just ten dollars a month, that would come to… about… um… sixteen… a hundred and sixty dollars a month for a school program. That would actually pay for that one program for the month. One hour a day, three days a week, and a teacher there to supervise. How many people here lose ten bucks or more per month to street thugs? See that. Half. Now the truth is, we don’t know if it will make a difference for the better, but it can’t make things any worse. And that’s just for the people here waiting for one train in one section of the city. If everyone that rode the train pitched in just one dollar per month, we could fund a lot of extra programs to keep the kids out of trouble. Like I said. I’m not asking for any donations now. I can’t accept them even if you want to give them to me. What I’m asking you to do, is to stop by City Hall, or any school in your area and tell them you’re interested in contributing. It looks like the train is here, so I’ll let you all go. Thanks for listening.”
As the man began to board the train, she grabbed his sleeve. “Sir, one last thing. This was my first time talking like that by myself. You look like you’re in business, or maybe a lawyer. Did I do okay?”
The young girl’s question caught him off guard. Was she really asking him, a complete stranger, for approval? Even more strange was the fact that he had been the only one that seemed hostile to her. His mind flashed through some options. Was she hitting on him? Was she genuine? Was she a pick pocket? Was it a trap of some kind? As the last of the patrons passed him to board the train, his answer came in the form of a lungful of soot and ash that caused him to choke uncontrollably.
Mourning had arrived.
Debi screamed at the crowd, “Everyone get on the train! Thorns! Circle mages! Get on the train! Hurry!”
There was panic on the platform as Sliss and Kym appeared on either side of the big map. Kym was yelling for everyone to get on the train. Sliss was fully alert for the attack they said was coming. Twitch had positioned herself at the bottom of the ramp to the platform to better fend off the mages.
The train pulled away while the heroes set up around the choking man, in an effort to protect him from the mages that weren’t really there. Once the coast was clear, they called for a teleport and five vanished in a flash of light. Debi was not among them.
Tog met the group at the entrance to the base and took a quick head count while Ent and HAAL escorted the man off to a holding room.
“Kym, where’s Debi?”
“She got pulled onto the train by someone trying to save her.”
“Save her from what?”
“We had to grab this guy from a crowded train platform, so we faked a Thorn attack to get everyone on the train. One of them must have grabbed Debi because he thought she was just a regular girl.”
“Oh great! How many people saw you grab this guy?”
“Any chance at all that you got away clean?”
Mourning stepped forward in response. “Yeah. It’s fine. It was actually really clean. Debi was really good, and Kym followed her lead perfectly. They actually make a pretty good team.”
“Oh hell no! No-no. I’m not working with her any more than I absolutely have to.”
Tog placed a large hand on Kym’s shoulder. “Later. We’ll get it all worked out later. Right now, we’ve got some answers to get.”
“There was no attack.” A sudden chill ran up Kym’s back as she realized the implications of Twitch’s words. “You lied to everyone there.”
Kym turned to face her, but kept the darkness in check. “Yes. I did. So did Debi. There are times a lie has to be made for the greater good.”
“How was this lie needed?”
“You came into this thing really late, so I’ll fill in the highlights for you. There is a group out there who says that we heroes are abusing our power.”
“You did at the train.”
“Let me finish.” Kym was watching the other girl’s hand as it hovered just a little too close to the grip of her sword. “At the start, there were no actual events like those described on the news. They reported about 3 per day, but there was never a single shred of evidence that any of it actually happened. This other group was lying about the hero community and we don’t know why.”
“So you counter a lie with a lie and an abuse of power, which proves their accusations to be valid.”
“You could see it that way, sure. Or you pull your head out of your butt and see the full picture.”
A moment of nervous tension passed between them, which Kym took as an invitation to continue.
“They lied to the people about us. This makes the people afraid of those that take it upon themselves to protect them. In your world, do the citizens fear the Enforcers?”
“Citizens have no reason fear them.”
“Okay, now imagine that someone started telling lies about the Enforcers. This person started saying that Enforcers were killing people in the street even if no crime was committed, just because they have to kill one a week to remain certified. What would happen?”
“We would find the person telling the lie and kill them.”
Kym felt the momentum swing to her favor. “How would you find this person?”
“We would ask the Citizens who they were.”
“But the citizens are avoiding you because they believe you will kill them on sight.”
“They know we kill only those who commit crimes.”
“But they’ve been told that that is no longer the case, and since no one lies there, they have no reason to think that is untrue.”
Twitch thought about this for a moment. Kym sensed her point was being understood and pressed on.
“Now, you take our world. A world where lies are so much a part of life that it’s not even noticed. If someone asks me how I’m doing, I’ll tell them I’m fine, even if I’m not. Why? Because they don’t really care. They basically lie by way of asking a question they don’t have any interest in knowing the answer to, and I lie by giving them the answer they expect, instead of the truth they couldn’t care less about. These are called ‘white lies’ and we do them all the time.
“Now, we have to investigate something, we can ask anyone we want about it, but we have to assume they are lying unless they can support it with actual proof. In this case, the actual proof might be the guy we grabbed. The only way to prove our story to the public is to have real live proof, and even then about 25% will think we hoaxed it. We had to grab this guy before he teleported away, and the only way to do that was with a lie that kept the rest of the people from seeing a group of heroes doing exactly what we have been accused of doing. In the long run, we did less damage to our reputation by doing exactly what we’ve been accused of, than we would have if’ we’d told the truth and hauled him off anyway.”
“You’re saying that the end justifies the means?”
“In some cases, yes.” Kym stood firm to her line of thought.
“But not always?”
“No. Of course not.”
“Then how do you decide?”
Kym felt her momentum slip away. “Honestly, I’m not sure. Gut feeling, evidence, instinct. A combination of all three maybe.”
“How about personal bias?”
“That can certainly play a role in it.”
“Then how do you know your side is the right one?”
“If you can manage it.”
“I don’t know.” Kym felt sick. She had talked herself into a corner and there was no easy way out of it. “In your world, everything is so black and white. There is right, and wrong, and the line between them is clear and obvious. Here, there is no line. It’s more like a fog. Right is on one side, wrong is on the other, and the fog between them comes and goes. Sometimes the right thing to do is further over the line than many of the wrong things. Who knows how it will all play out for sure?”
“So you admit that you may not be on right side of things?”
“I admit that it’s possible, but it’s complicated. Some times both sides can be right when seen from their own perspective, even though the goals are exactly the opposite.”
“Can you explain that?”
“Actually, yes. I think I can.” Kym felt a renewed confidence. “Let’s say that you and I are the leaders of our countries. You have a great deal of food; more than you could ever use, and we have far too little. Now, in your world, I imagine we could just take what we need and you’d be fine with it, but what if I decided that the best thing for my people was to share your land so we could grow our own food?”
“If we had too much, there would be no problem with this.”
“Right. But now, let’s say that I don’t recognize the Enforcer’s jurisdiction over my people. I view any of my citizens, even those living on land you gave to us, as strictly my responsibility. If one gets cut down by an Enforcer for something I feel is petty, I would feel the need to retaliate. In my culture, I am right and justified. In your culture, you are right. There is no way we will ever agree on the matter, and it may end up in a war. A war where each side feels it is right.”
“But in your example, you are living on the land of my country, and would therefore be subject to my laws and their enforcement.”
“But would that apply to every little bit of your culture? Say we each have our own national dance. Would I need to abandon mine just to live on your land?”
“If you re on my land, then yes. You may still have your dance, but the national dance would the one of the nation itself, which is mine.”
Kym smiled briefly, though she would deny it if anyone ever asked her about it. “So all matters of both law and culture should default to the version that is most normal for the land?”
“Yes. Wait. Damn.”
“I may not know for sure that my side is the right one, but it feels like the right one. The heroes as a community were attacked with lies and deception. If those are the rules, then we’ll play by them until we can change them.
“Twi—Ahm-ee. I know it must be hard for you to accept. And if knowing that this is how we have to do things goes so strongly against your values, I can understand it. I really can. I’d like us to be friends, but more importantly, I’d like us to not be adversaries.”
“I do not agree with your methods, but I think I am beginning to understand them. I won’t stand against you for making your deceptions in time of need, as long as you do not expect me to make them myself.”
“Never. Principles are too rare to ask another to compromise them. In truth, I admire your resolve. I could never make it work for me, but you can, and I’m very happy to know you. Just don’t ever tell anyone I said I was happy. I’ve got a reputation to maintain.”