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It all started in the summer of 2004. That was when I met a group of people in Perez Park. Three of us already knew each other, then we met three others, then finally, the last person joined up.
While looking into an office building that was under attack from the Vahzilok, we found a body that had been electrocuted. It was out of place, so we did some checking.
He was the puzzle editor for the newspaper and had stumbled across something that got him killed. We found the code he did, but couldn’t break it. When we were following up on that, Lista got ambushed.
A few months later, the guy that led that ambush was released from prison and met with a shady guy we would later identify as Martin Flaherty. This guy teleported away and Ent followed the Outcast to a hideout in The Hollows. She lost him in the confusion.
A while later, Lista met Marcus and went to a house on a secluded lake for the weekend. He was there to meet with several other people, each at the top of their fields in some way. Before anything could be revealed, the power went out and the host was killed. Overnight, there was a break in of the office and some reports were burned. In the end, it seems that two guests and the security man were all in on the plot to keep that report under wraps. The report that was passed out was a fake. As all of this was happening, there were riots nation-wide.
While the local police showed no interest in following up any part of it, Mourning, Lista, and myself were invited to Marcus’ hotel in the Atlantic. He thought that the riots might be related to a poker tournament that he had hosted that weekend. This led us to a murder and a plot to pass on secret information using playing cards as symbols for a cipher. The message didn’t get out, so the riots that were supposed to be used for cover never happened. It highlighted the assassination attempt on the Governor’s convention in Paragon City.
That’s when the media war started. Reports came in every night about heroes going too far and committing acts of violence against the people they—we, were supposed to protect. No actual attacks could be documented for months though.
That’s when Reginald Danforth stepped in an offered to fund a school for new heroes. He eventually dropped that support. He was also the one that was behind a new type of energy to power the police cars. The savings in fuel was enough to put a lot more officers on the street. Unfortunately, a lot of those officers were prone to corruption. That was also part of the plan.
October 2005 saw a massive assault on the monster in the bay in Indy Port. It also saw the accidental destruction of a storage container at the other end of the bay. This tank was storing something that exploded when exposed to direct sunlight. We thought it was odd that the EPA had a team in place before the accident. Now we think that the whole assault on Luska was just a plot by Manticore to divert attention from the storage tanks he thought were being used by Crey. We think he arranged to have them cracked to get an inspection team in there and get around the wall of lawyers Crey uses. We didn’t know how that related for quite a while. The investigation was stalled when there was a massive breakout at the Zig.
We met with a reporter that told us that a lot of pressure was being put on them to report things a certain way. Most of this was coming from the advertisers putting pressure on the owners and editors to put pressure on the reporters.
That was when Lista got the package. It was the actual report that was supposed to be handed out at the lakehouse. This detailed a plan by two people to control a large part of the magazine publishing industry as well as passing on more coded information via newspapers and television. The eavesdropping was discovered and more information was leaked that led to the assassination team being put in place at the lakehouse. Following this up, Lista was captured by someone and held for over a year.
March of 2006 brought us a real lead. It was a memory card from a digital camera used by the man that had arranged the ambush nearly two years before. We were able to put together a list of suspects from stuff in the pictures and that led to our capture of Martin Flaherty. He indicated that Mr. Hastings, the security man at the lakehouse was actually his superior but that things were so compartmentalized, he didn’t know much else. That was when Miller, a new Presidential candidate came on the scene.
Miller was a really good candidate and a lot of people were behind him. He was popular enough that he was killed by the person we’d been tracking. His own secret service man turned out to have been the killer. We found him dead in a hotel room. At Miller’s funeral, there was an attack on Mourning by a score of small Robots. She was able to hold them off thanks to Lista arriving in the nick of time. All three of Mourning’s dogs were killed.
In her grief, Mourning went after Danforth, eventually torturing him on the roof of his office in Steel Canyon. He told her that Martin Flaherty was behind it all. He told the rest of us it was Judge Evers.
Around the first of 2007, Reginald Danforth was killed. After Mourning’s behavior towards him, even her friend the police captain couldn’t bring her in on it officially. Danforth was killed in much the same way as the Secret Service man. It was staged to look like suicide. After Danforth’s funeral, we were able to track the main bad guy to Talos Island. We eventually ended up with a DVD of his plan that self destructed.
His plan was to arrange for the country to lose faith in the justice system. With that gone, there would only be the police and the heroes. With Heroes discredited, only the police would remain, and he had admitted to filling the police across the nation with officers that were easily corruptible to his way of thinking. When he had done all the damage he possibly could, steps would be taken to put the country under martial law. From there it would be a short step to simply taking over. Worst of all, the people would have been largely in favor of it.
The final play was to plant the idea that there were powerful magical artifacts buried in the city. This would cause the magic inclined gangs to seek them out. The locations given would all be Hero gathering points. Heroes would react to the incursion with force, and the press would be there to catch it all.
In the end, we simply stood our ground. There was nothing to report aside from a wall of capes that refused to yield. A few days later we figured that the locations the gangs were given would be well clear of the actual base of operations, so we ruled out a few places and made a list of our own. It was only a matter of time before our gangs got too close for his comfort. Once we saw them, we entered the building. True to his word, he had planned for even this, and evacuated long before we arrived. There was no trace of him.
Tog sat alone in his office looking over the report he had written just under two years ago. The words were the same ones he’d sent to Statesman back in 2007. Not only had they not changed, none of the facts had either. Professor Payback was still missing.
It had been two years since the last contact with the person they came to know as Professor Payback. He had promised to leave the country alone, and so far he seemed to be keeping that promise. He also promised that things would get worse. Sadly, that had come about as well. A knock on the door brought him out of his head.
“Sorry to bother you, Doug.”
“No problem, Dawn. What’s up?”
“We’re just about done setting up that training program and wondered if you want to be first through the door.”
“Sure. Thanks. I could use a diversion. Hey, you got a second to talk?”
“Yeah, sure. What’s on your mind?”
“Have I changed?”
“In what way?”
“I used to think I was sort of fun to be around. Now I’m not so sure. Losing the Professor was a blow to me. Losing you was worse.”
“You didn’t really lose me, Doug.”
“We’re not as close as we used to be. Not by a long shot.”
“You’ve gotten distant. No point in denying that. But we were done before that started. You spend more time alone than you used to. You seem sad a lot of the time. I have to think a bit of that is my fault. Well, not entirely mine.”
Tog sat a little lower in his chair. “Between the two of us, there are basically four personalities that are aware of everything going on. That makes it hard to be alone.”
“We talked about that before I merged. We’ve talked about it since. I’m not saying I don’t have regrets, but I really don’t think I’d change anything. Would you?”
“I guess not.”
“Then what’s really bothering you?”
Tog inhaled deeply, then remained quiet for a full minute. “What if this is all my fault? Everything going on right now? Would it have really been worse if we had let the Professor carry out his plans? Look at what’s happening here? I allowed it to happen. I chose to stop this guy. Now he’s screwing up other countries too. All I did was make it worse.”
Dawn pulled his head to her shoulder. “Maybe you did. Maybe he was right all along. You have regrets, but would you really change anything? Would the rest of these people have let you? If you had opted to stay out of it, what would really have happened? Lista would have gone after him for sure. So would Mourning. He hurt both of them in ways we can’t imagine. He took a part of them.”
“I know. I just can’t help but feel that every headline I see should end with the words ‘and Tog is to blame.’”
“I’m going back out there. If you want to follow, you’re welcome to. If I don’t see you in two minutes, I’m sending Epim in here. Maybe Kym.”
Dawn stood and walked to the door. She paused and turned back to Tog to see him sitting on the couch, head hung low in a sliver of light. Silently, she pulled the door shut.
“Epim. I think you may need to visit Doug. I’m worried about him.”
“He’ll be okay. We’ve been talking a lot lately. Tonight is the two year mark from the day he got away.”
Tog emerged from his office and looked around the room. Dozens of faces were present, but there was one in particular he was seeking. He looked at her as she looked at Beau, her smile broad across her face. The old song played in his mind again, just as it had that first day, the first time he saw Mourning Smile.
Both the times she smiled it was a portrait of the sun, She calls herself St. Matthew when she is on the run.
As the song faded, TOG’s thoughts became clear.
She’s fine. No one blames us but you. Let it go.
A small hand in his pulled him from his thoughts. Kym was looking up at him with a wry grin.
“You know, Tog. I know how bad you feel. I feel that way every time I make fun of Debi anymore. You’ll either grow to accept it, or you’ll die inside. The key is to find something to make it all worth it. You can’t let your feelings hide the reality of the situation. You won. We all did.”
“Won what? All we got was the bad stuff. The misery, the chaos. Where is the re-birth? Where is the hope?”
“It’s here. Look around. People are laughing and happy. Not just here but all over. People are trusting us again. That’s a change for the better. Yeah, some things suck, but others are just fine. God, look at Mourning.”
“Yeah. She’s happy. Even you seem to be okay tonight.”
“Yeah. Tonight I am. I’ll have to get bitchy when we go into the simulation, but that’s just a part of things. Right now though, out here, the only one that seems fed up with life is you and you need to snap out of it. I’m the moody one in this place.”
“You really think we won?”
“I’m sure of it.”
“Why don’t I feel better then?”
“Because, you’re the big brother. You try to make everything better for everyone, and when you can’t you take it as a personal failure. You need to accept that sometimes even winning sucks.”
“What did we win? In the end? What’s our prize? How can you be so sure we won?”
“The spoils he talked about. The Spoils of War are just what he said it was. The good and the bad. We’ve got it all and that means we won. You know the saying. To the Victor…”