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To the Victor…
Chapter 18: Assassination
by Tog
(Part 1 of 3)

Mr. Hastings peered through the slit in the cell door at Lista.  It had been two months since she had been taken out of the chair.  And two months since anyone had even tried to talk to her.  She was forgotten.

To him, it seemed like the worst thing that could have happened to her.  Even while being tormented, she was still getting attention.  This may have been the cruelest torment of all.

~~~~~

Across town, Mourning and Beau were enjoying a nice lunch at an outdoor café in Independence Port.

“So, Sweets, you know how I’ve been getting more interested in the future and stuff?”

“Have you?”  Her tone was sort of coy, almost as if she had been expecting him to bring up the topic of their future.

“Yes.  I’ve been watching the news and stuff.  I’ve been following some of the hero stuff you do and the stories and stuff.  A lot of things lately have been about this Miller guy.  I kind of like the way he thinks.”

“Oh.”  Her tone had changed.

“What?”

“Nothin’.  I was thinkin’ this was about somethin’ else.  What about Miller?”

“Oh, well a lot of what he says makes a lot of sense to me.  Did you know he’s giving a speech in Atlas Park next week?”

“I’d heard somethin’ about it.”

“I think I want to go to it.  I’d like you to come too.”

“Why me?  I’m not really interested in politics.”

“I know.  But you’ve got a really good crap detector, and I’d like you see your take on whether this guy is on the level.”

She gave a quiet sigh and looked down at the bare, metal table.  “Okay.  When?”

A broad grin spread across his face as he replied, “Tuesday, 2 PM.  He’ll be on the steps in back of City Hall.”

~~~~~

Kym returned to the base with Debi, Twitch, and Kat.  She was not in a good mood and raving about some incident at a party at Pocket D.  As the cacophony passed him by, Tog spoke a bit louder into the phone.

“… to meet you.  Yes.  Anytime that’s good for you.  I can set it up, sure.  Well, it would be better if you come here, but we can arrange something I’m sure.  Okay.  I’ll see you in a few weeks.”

He hung up the phone and turned to see who was around.  “Ent!  Hey Ent, you remember the day we met?  At that fair?”

“Yes.”

“Well I was just talking to Dawn.  Do you remember her?  She was the one that brought you that red stuff to drink.”

“That day, unclear.”

“I’m sure you’ll remember her when you see her again.  I can’t wait for her to meet everyone.”

“Not everyone.”

Tog’s expression changed.  “Yeah.  Not everyone.”

~~~~~

“Lista!  Get up!”

It was the first human voice she’d heard in months.  She even imagined it sounded familiar.

“I have been waiting for the green light on this for a long time, babe.”

It was a familiar voice, but she couldn’t place it.  The echoes off of the steel walls distorted things too much.

“I hope you’re rested, cause, you know, I been working out, getting better at certain things.  Things we can use to get to know each other better.”

“I know you, don’t I?” she said to the steel door between her and the voice.

“Not as well you could have.  See, I finally found someone that could appreciate me.  You missed out.”

“Well, I’ve been a little tied up.”

“You’ve been a lot tied up.  I should know.  I made some the gadgets the boss used in that chair.  Some really fine work went into that thing.”

“And does the ability to make ultra high tech torture devices make up for the fact that you have no friends?”

“You know, I’m going to enjoy it so much when the boss finally tells me to take you out.”

“You do know that that means to kill me right?  We won’t be on a date or anything.”

“Oh I know.  I’ve been waiting for a shot at you for over a year.  Looks like I’m finally gonna get it.”

“So, just out of curiosity.  Will you be offering me any form of a fair fight, or will you be drugging me and taking care of it while I’m unable to respond?”

“No, I want you awake for it.”

“Wow, so it really is different than one of your dates.”

A hard thump on the steel door echoed around the tiny room.  “Your days are numbered!”

“Here’s to hoping it’s a number small enough for you to count to on your own.”

He yelled something she couldn’t make out then hit the door again.  She slumped back against the bare wall and slid to the floor as his footsteps trailed off down the hall.  She hoped he was right about one of the things he said.  It would be nice to have a fighting chance, but either way, she just wanted this all to end.  Soon.

~~~~~

Tog returned from a recent mission battered and worn.  He plopped down on one of the couches and looked over at Mourning who was playing with the dogs.

“You okay?” he said.

She didn’t look up, but kept playing with the dogs as she replied, “No.  No I’m not.  It’s not anything I want to talk about though.  Not yet.”

“Well, I’m available if you need me.”

“I know.”  She stood up and called the dogs, who followed her to her room.

Tog sat alone for a moment and enjoyed the silence.  It wasn’t often that the main common room was quiet.  It didn’t last long.

“How many times do I have to explain it to you, Debi?  We are not friends.  I don’t like you at all.  I can separate your skill as a hero from your personality well enough to run with you from time to time, but unless we’re surrounded by bad guys, don’t talk to me.”

“Oh come on!  It’s only for one night!  I’ll wash it and everything!  I’ve got the perfect top to go with that skirt.  Lemme borrow it?  Please?”

He closed his eyes at the slamming of one door, then another.

The next thing he knew, Mourning was passing by in regular clothes.  “You going out?” he asked.

“Sorry.  I didn’t mean to wake you.  Yeah, Beau and I are goin’ to that rally for Miller in Atlas Park.  Beau is a big fan, I guess.  Anyway, I’ll be home tonight.  For sure.  It might be late, but dependin’ on things tonight, I might need a shoulder to cry on.  We’re goin’ to have a long talk, but he doesn’t know it yet.”

“I hope it works out for the best.  Whatever that might be.  And if I’m asleep when you get back, wake me up if you need to talk.”

“Thanks. I’ll see you later.”

~~~~~

Mourning and Beau arrived at City Hall just in time to see Mr. Miller arrive.  He was tall and looked good.  He projected a confidence that seemed to say he knew he was right about everything, but he also gave off a feeling that everything would work out in the end.  As soon as she saw him, she realized that he really was the perfect candidate.

She followed his speech, and everything about it rang true.  Not just that “true enough for now” that most politicians use to get by, but actual truth.  It was refreshing in a way.  He had a workable plan for just about every problem facing the nation, but none were perfect.  That was what impressed her.  He listed his plans in three phases.  First was to address the problem and explain exactly how his idea would help correct it.  Second was to list all of the problems it might face.  Third was a list of plausible ways around those problems if they came up.  Even some of the people carrying anti-Miller signs put them away and joined the rally to support him.

As he wrapped up his speech, Mourning was trying to find a good way to suggest that she and Beau go someplace quiet to talk about a few things.  She wasn’t really able to make any progress due to the cheers from the crowd, Beau among them.

It wasn’t until the screaming started that she became aware of any type of threat.  People scattered, and she saw the secret service men grab Mr. Miller and shove him into the car.  Around the outside of the car, several people were hit with what appeared to be tranquilizer darts.  None seemed seriously harmed.

She fired of a puff of healing energy and told Beau she’d call him soon.  With that, she leapt into the air and watched as the car carrying the man sped through the gate to Steel Canyon.  She turned her attention to the scene of the attack.

Those darts have a limited rage, and there were a lot of them.  Too many to be one shooter, but too obvious to be a mob of them, she thought. 

She circled over the area again and saw that the injured had been set aside and the police had cordoned off the area.  Several other heroes were in the air, looking for runners.  It was then that she spotted a familiar face.  Sort of.  Arcing into a steep dive, she flew straight at the man she knew, pulling up at the last second and landing just in front of him.

“Captain Pruitt.  I doubt you’ll remember me.  We met in your office once,” she said.

“I remember.  I thought you were up to something then.  You’re a hero then?”

“Yes.  Mourning Angel.  I’m sorry about the deception last year, but I think I have some idea about this attack.  Where did the limo take Mr. Miller?”

“I can’t say.  Security reasons.”

“Fair enough.  From the air I saw about seven of those darts.  There’s no way they all came from the same gun and that many shooters would have been noticed.  I’d get your guys looking for some sort of device, like a missile rack, but smaller.  Something that could launch a volley in a second or two.”

“We already found it.  It’s built into the podium.”

Mourning glanced over at the podium and saw that there were three officers around it to keep people away.  “You know them all?  Right?”

The Captain looked at her strangely, almost hurt, but more indignant.  “Yes.  We know our job, Missy.”

“I didn’t mean to imply otherwise, Captain.  I simply want to be sure that none of them was someone simply pretending to be a police officer in order to destroy the thing before it could be…” Here eyes darted around the area as she ran thought a list of possibilities.  “Oh god.  Clear this area!”

She hovered up to about 10 feet above the crowd.  “Everyone!  Please!  There is still a chance that we are in danger here.  Please get down behind the walls here.  Get out of the open.”  She then swooped down to direct people to the safe spots as Captain Pruitt directed his men to do the same.

“What are you thinking here, uh… whatever your name is?”

“Mourning will do.  I’m worried that there may be something else built into that podium.  Something that the makers added to destroy it.”

“You three give that thing some room!” he directed at the officers around the podium.

As they stepped back, Mourning continued.  “This was too clumsy for an assassination attempt.  Get people you trust to the limo and make sure he’s okay.  If it was a real attack it would have fired out the other side of the podium, while he was speaking.  I think this was meant to scare him and that the real attack is set to take place at wherever the fallback position is.  Possibly at the same time the confusion caused by reports about this podium exploding and taking out the investigators.  That would distract the detail guarding him.”

The Captain got on his radio and had a series of hurried conversations.  As he turned back to Mourning, she could see the news wasn’t good.

“He’s dead.”

“How?” she asked.

“He had some sort of seizure or something.  Poison in the darts probably.  They said one hit him in the stomach.  He was dead before they even got him to the medical building in Steel Canyon.”

A loud hissing sound caught their attention.  As they looked up at the podium, a small cloud of yellow-brown smoke covered the podium and drifted down the stairs.

Mourning looked the Captain in the eye and said, “I’m truly sorry.  I’ve got to get back to my people now.  I’ll see you in a day or two.”

She found Beau helping some of the injured on the side of the stairs.  “What the hell?” he said.

“I’m not sure of the details yet.  I’m even less sure of what I can say in the open.  Look, I need to get home and get working on this.  You stick around and talk to the cops.  Tell them everything.  I’ve already talked to the Captain.  He knows me.  I’ll see you when I can.”

Before he could respond, she leapt into the sky and flew off towards Steel Canyon.

~~~~~

She arrived at the base to find nearly everyone already talking about things.  The news had been showing the attack over and over.  Once she arrived she asked to see all of the footage they had.  There were only two angles that caught anything useful.

The first was from the helicopter.  It was in position to see a puff of something come from the front of the podium, then recorded the reactions of the people that were actually hit by the darts.  A secret service agent shoved Mr. Miller into the car, the door closed and the car sped off.  That clip ended with Mourning delivering the healing pulse.

The second was from the back of the car on the upper section of the steps.  The angle was nearly ideal for seeing what happened at the door.  Mr. Miller waved to the crowd, then a few objects streaked through the frame from the right.  A few seemed to bounce off of the car.  At least one hit the secret service man in the back as he pushed Mr. Miller into the car.  A slow motion review showed Mr. Miller’s head hitting the door frame as he was pushed inside and two darts being tossed out of the car just as the door closed.

Mourning picked up the phone and quickly dialed the number for the police.  “Yes, I need to be patched through to Captain Pruitt.  It’s urgent.  Captain?  Mournin’.  I just saw some of the news footage of the attack.  Someone in the car tossed out two darts just as the door closed.  I think they landed in the gutter.  Oh.  You did.  Okay.  No, no.  It makes sense.  Sorry to have bothered you.”

“They already found the darts, didn’t they?” asked Tog.

“Yeah.  They reviewed the news tapes at the scene.  I mean, I should have expected that, but for some reason, it just seems like the sort of thing that they might over look, you know?”

“I know.”

“I just.  I can’t.  I’ve got to do something.  I feel so useless.  I was standing right there when it happened.  I didn’t even know until everyone screamed.”

Epim placed an arm around her shoulder and said, softly, “Why don’t you do what you do best.  Have a seat and think about it.”

“You’re right,” she said as she moved to a chair and slumped down into it.  There’s nothing I can do about it now.  We can’t start on who, until we know how.  It seems pretty obvious that the darts were part of it.  I mean, that’s a no brainer.  Still, it seems like a lot of trouble to go though to fire some poison darts that only had a slim chance of hitting.  Oh.  Oh wow.  I didn’t even think…  How many others were killed?”

“None.  So far,” said Epim.

“But I saw people hit.”

“I don’t think the darts were poisoned,” Epim said with a shrug.

“They had to be, Miller died.”

“But he was the only one then.  Maybe your healing stopped it before it could affect anyone else.”

“Then the agent that got hit the back should have died too.  He was gone before I did it.”

The room fell silent again, and over the next hour, everyone came to the conclusion that there was nothing more they could do that night.  They needed more information, and that would have to come from the police.

~~~~~

10 AM found Mourning waiting outside the office of Captain Pruitt with Heather and Ent.  They had drawn quite a crowd.

The door opened and Mourning introduced her friends to the Captain.  “This is Heather.  She’s a friend and is here to help me over any of the really technical bits.  The big bug is Entimangler.  She’s here to make sure Heather gets home and to be sure no one comes in while we’re talking.”

“That’s Entimangler?  You know we’ve had a few members of the Warriors try to get a restraining order against it?”

Heather bristled.  “Ent is a female of her species, so you calling her ‘it’ could be taken as insulting.”

“Sorry, Heather.  And my apologies to Entimangler as well.  I’m just not that used to being around non-humans.”  He pulled the door shut.

“So,” he began.  “You want some more information?”

“Yes.  Please.  Anythin’ you found out.  What was in the darts?  What destroyed the podium?”

“Fine.  The darts had basically peanut oil.  The same kind you could get from the top of any jar of all natural peanut butter.  As it turns out, Miller was allergic to it.”

“So the killer knew that.  How public was that knowledge?”

“He talked about it in an interview a few months back.  Someone accused him of being a drug addict after seeing he carried his own syringes.  He pulled them out to show that they were epinephrine.”

“Okay, so everyone on earth but me could have known about that.  What about the darts.  How were they delivered?”

“The front panel of the podium was rigged to slide down and expose a row of tubes.  Eight tubes wide, and six rows.  Each tube contained needle on a spring.  When the panel dropped, it tripped the trigger to that row of darts causing the needles to strike the back of a little CO2 bottle, like in an air gun.  This made each dart like a little rocket.  They had more than enough power to fly 200 feet and still deliver the dose in the tip.”

“How did that get through the screening?”

“Dogs are trained to sniff out chemicals used in bombs.  There was nothing there that they were trained to hit on.”

“What about the brown cloud that destroyed the podium.”

“Well, it really didn’t destroy the podium as much as it delayed the initial investigation.  There was another bottle in there.  This one was filled with some kind of acid based on fluoride gas.”

Heather shifted in her seat to create a break.  “Flourine is really toxic and corrosive in most of its forms.  Some acids made from it will dissolve glass.  It’s also really hard on metal oxides.  Aluminum oxidizes nearly instantly, so any trace evidence that may have been on the surfaces inside the podium is probably long gone.”

“Exactly what we found.  Very impressive, young lady.”

“So,” said Mourning.  “Where does that put us?  Is there anythin’ else?”

“Just the pictures of the injuries.”  The Captain looked at Heather, then cast an unsure glance at Mourning before opening the folder.  There before them were a total of eleven puncture wounds from eleven different darts.  Heather lost interest fairly quickly and addressed the Captain again.

“I don’t’ suppose you got any fingerprints off of the darts?”

“None we didn’t expect.  Most were pulled out by other people in the crowd.  One of the ones thrown from the limo had some smudged prints, and the other had a clean set.”

“Which one hit Mr. Miller?”

“The blood on the tips says the one with the smudged prints did.  We were able to match the edges of the smudges to the agent that pulled the dart out.  Same guy got hit in the back with the other one, actually.”

“Captain.”  Mourning was holding up a picture.  “Is this circular mark around the puncture a bruise from the cylinder of the dart?”

“I guess so.”

“We need to look at the tape again.  And pick up that secret service agent.”

“It will take time to get that cleared.”

Mourning keyed her radio as Heather gave a quick grin and said, “Bet it won’t.”

“Tog.  Mourning here.  Find that secret service agent that was in the limo after the attack.  Umm… Bruce Holt.  He’s involved in the assassination, I think.  Call me when you’ve got him.”








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