Tuesday, 19 March 2024 00:00

Dirty Deeds Don't Come Cheap (Part 2)

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A Second Generation Whateley Academy Adventure

Dirty Deeds Don't Come Cheap

by

MaLAguA

 

Part Two

 

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“Damnit, press it in harder! Maintain pressure!" Pastel yelled as her colorful hands, green at the time as she made use of her healing abilities, prodded through the water’s surface. Her fingers traced down Sterling’s neck around the grizzly cut alongside it.

Vic shared the same sentiment. His blood was still boiling at how the killer shrouded in darkness had managed to defeat each of the members of the rescue team. It might’ve been improvised, but no member was a slouch. And yet, the culprit had managed to escape them, but not before delivering a lethal strike into Sterling’s throat. Tanya’s roommate laid on the floor, her body spasmed as it tried to breathe only for red to start to slip over to cover the girl’s green skin and, on the side, the tail of the shadow slipped out down the hallway.

He didn’t remember whether it was by his own volition or because he was ordered by the rainbow girl, but the next moment he was sitting on the girl’s stomach with both hands wrapped around his neck, using the remaining of his water to create a pressure bubble. Wait… that wasn’t right… That’s not how he applied the treatment…

But doubts were quickly pushed away as he heard Pastel scream.

"No, no, no... I don't fucking know what's wrong!" she wailed. "Everything's fitting together, knitting up right, but something keeps pulling her away! She's dying… Stay with us!"

Vic was bought back into the situation, his powers hard at work in keeping the flow of blood. Unsure if he would even be able to keep her stable, forcing in as much pressure onto the wound as he could muster within his state of mind. It felt impossible. Someone was dying in his hands, something that he’d dealt with before, and even if Pastel’s voice was still there, even if it was a blur, he felt as if it all depended on him. He could feel the pulse of Sterling’s heart as his own and his power coming into contact with that of her.

“It was all that figure’s fault… But…” He thought, the words coming out weakly from his lips. In his mind, maybe he could’ve prevented this from happening. The moment his tentacle caught their wrist, it should’ve been the end of the matter. But they figured him out and brought a hand onto it, severing the connection and cutting themselves free. He could’ve tried to extend more tentacles from the liquid’s body backup… he could’ve tried to strengthen his control, maybe his control would’ve survived the severing… He could’ve been more brutal about it and pulled them in. He knew that, according to the power rating, he probably didn’t have the power for that… But it didn’t take away the bitterness of regret from his failure of just mere minutes ago.

“I should’ve been more decisive… better.” He thought to himself. His hands trembled from anger as his heart shuddered at the feeling of the other person slipping.

“Don’t let your emotions get in the way,” A thought popped up in his head at the time. It felt like the advice from an old lesson or the overcoming of an old memory. Thoughts that were guiding his hand down to the fingertips and even through the water, strand and imaginary vein that was his control.

“Flow and be careful. If you panic, you fill her with water. If you despair, you’ll lose control. If you grow angry, you’ll strangle her.” The voice whispered, encouraging Vic to take in a deep breath for the fleeting peace of mind.

“Now Control and restrain yourselves. Think of the fine things. Things as to what you want and want not. Feel the blood in contact with your influence… take control of it and lead it down back into the vein. The life of the person in your grasp, do not fear it,” And as the thoughts paused, Vic realized that’s what he was doing, Sterling’s blood was nothing but another extension of his influence. And he didn’t like it as the fluid appeared to break apart. “Keep them separate… keep them unsullied… If the blood drinks too much, it’ll destroy itself…”

Suddenly, Vic felt as if he’d found his stride in this treatment. He was holding… holding well enough. Sterling would survive and he would’ve managed to heal her from the cut of a sword… a …

No… that wasn’t right…

Sterling didn’t make it. Sterling was left comatose, practically brain dead!

This wasn’t real.

The realization snapped Vic out of the trance as the world appeared to have transformed itself right under his eyes and yet he never noticed up until now. Sterling’s large body had been replaced. Her silver hair had turned black, and a pair of fins poked out at the height of the eyes. Her eyes were open with her pupils twitching, tears welling up in the corner of her eyes that showed signs of life. Her green skin was now of a blue hue… a couple of shades lighter than Laura, with subtle scales visible whenever on the shoulders when the sun hit.

The sun… Vic was now outside, with the sand of the beach resting around them and the crashing of the waves. There was no black shade… no wall from the tunnels. No Tanya and no pastel. Just the sight of a war.

The awareness of the fakeness of the world didn’t go unnoticed. Everything around rippled and quaked, like a drop falling on a still pond of water and the glass starting to crack. A dream-like collapse as the world appeared to retreat and the attention and focus faded off on everything.

But even as it happened. He could still make out bits of the context. In the surroundings, it wasn’t just the once-Sterling, but also several figures that laid down scattered between the sands and as the frozen salt water appeared to seek to lap at them. And just ahead stood humanoid outlines over the outline of a large creature, with the eye of a beast and multiple outlines of limbs… at least that much he imagined as he had some trouble focusing past the midsection of their bodies. Swords and spears were born in each of the hands, but there was one standing at the center of the group, with a trail of pulled water from the ocean, rising itself up above their heads in the form of a snake. Eyes could be seen within the construct as it’s maw opened revealing huge fangs.

The world kept on breaking apart and suddenly Vic’s focus went inward, to the patient that had taken the place of his girlfriend’s roommate… And that’s when he saw it, his own hands were just about the same as that of the creature girl that laid beneath him, with a membrane between his fingers and fingernails that resembled short claws.

And then that was the end of it.

WA Break Small_Solid

Sunday, November 26th, 2016 - 9:40 am
Doyle’s waiting room, back in Whateley

Vic sighed as he leaned back against the wall of his seat. The past couple of days have been a horrible experience, one that just felt like it would never stop haunting his memories. Thanksgiving and time with Tanya gave way to the search after her missing roommate, the girl Sterling. The girl with the unfortunate ability to make herself forgettable in the minds of others. A hunt, a killer and a murder happened… a sequence that he just wished he could forget about… and yet, there was no walking away from it.

He spent as much time with Tanya as he could, but the girl was heartbroken, and he had no idea what to do to help her. How could he try to cheer up a girl whose roommate got practically killed before her eyes. She spent as much time as she could in Doyle last night by her friend’s side, even if the doctors said that she wouldn’t wake up again… well, they said it was a non-zero chance but that couldn’t be taken as a fact… So, she’d held on to hope as best as she could, trying to be patient by her side. Even asking Vic for some time alone.

There was a sense of shame on not knowing how to help her. The girl had gone through losses for quite some time. In the span of just a couple of days, she found she could lose her father and failed to rescue a friend. He would probably have little advice he could provide as he had little experience over overcoming grief.

Less than a year ago, he lost Urresti’s crew, except for Iggy, in the tanker incident in Massachusetts… In that time, Vic tried to keep a certain emotional distance from them, knowing what they did for a living and the danger of the profession. They were still kind to him and treated him and his friend, Josh, as part of the family… so, despite his own efforts to protect himself… when the news came that the ship sank and none of the members of the gang made it to shore, it still pained him…. But it was… a distant pain.

Then, it was his mother. Esmeralda Rivera. A woman who also lived in a certain degree of danger in her life, running her own investigative vigilante group. But, to Vic, his mother was a superheroine… not just her, but every member of the group that run with her and the thought never crossed to her she wouldn’t make it back.

It was such a naive idea, in hindsight.

It happened on the fifteenth of January… On Vic’s birthday, he walked out of his room expecting for there to be someone to greet him with cheer and a special breakfast, only to meet silence. A ten year old Vic awaited and awaited for her to arrive… but nothing. He replayed the last conversation he had with her the night before while his mother was on a job and, at that moment, he began to realize what might’ve come to happen… but it was later confirmed when the police knocked on his apartment’s door.

His mom and her team were gone… Aunt Lily, Uncle Oscar, Uncle Gus -Danny and Lizzy’s father.

Vic rubbed his eyes. It always stung to think of those names. Almost five years would have passed, and he still had a hard time believing it was true. He could even admit that he’d never gotten over that tenth birthday when he just heard of their passing… Imagining that, in any moment, the door would open, and she would be there to wish him happy birthday for all of the years they’d missed together.

“I’m really not alright with it…” Vic muttered as he pushed the thoughts away.

It certainly made Vic regretful that he couldn’t have gotten to interact with Sterling… or that the thought hadn’t crossed his mind when, in truth, he’d actually seen and remembered the girl next to Tanya every now and then. He could forget her and get confused for a couple of moments… but something else would push that disruption out of his head and it would become clearer. That was as long as he could actually see her. Then he would forget about eighty percent of her presence…

“If I’d been better…” Vic sighed as he rested his head back.

The lack of sleep wasn’t exactly helping his mind… Even after he tried to attain sleep that night, that weird vivid dream reared its head, startling him awake. One moment, he was helping Pastel keep Sterling from bleeding out, the next one he was somewhere else doing the same thing for a person that wasn’t human. Both felt just as real… but then again, that’s the deal with dreams.

And now, he received a message from Doyle telling him to come over for a meeting regarding his condition. Vic thought of dismissing the matter and just not going but he figured it was best to get this over with.

What happened? Weeks ago, during the ring incident Gwen ‘accidentally’ broke his fingers, leaving them… admittedly quite gross, swollen and overall painful to even move. That evening, Vic was taken to Doyle where they treated him and… a couple of days later, he was already getting the bandage removed to reveal his healed fingers.

Vic didn’t think much of it, imagining it was thanks to some sort of super special treatment the first aid medic had used… but they told him that wasn’t the case. That his fingers should’ve fully healed in a matter of weeks. That just seemed to raise some alarms while he didn’t wish for there to be any. All he cared about was that he was fully healed and he could move on.

Still, this prompted the medical staff on campus to start running all sorts of extra tests on him, just in case there was something that had been missed off his rating. And, while he didn’t wish to think much of it, it was starting to stress him which, considering everything that had been happening, wasn’t helping his situation.

Vic produced his phone and checked on his messages. He had some from Lizzy and Danny, wishing a good thanksgiving… if they only knew. There was another one from Iggy giving him an update on his current status in Berlin, letting him know that if he ever needed to drop by and play some videogames, his door would always be open.

That got a brief smile on him, but that was it because, as of now, he still had no answer from Tanya. In fact, the app said she hadn’t logged in since before the incident. It didn’t bode well… and he still wasn’t sure what to do.

So he opted for the more sensible: to reach out and ask her how she was doing. He was already halfway through typing the final draft of his one sentence post when something caught his attention on the side of the room, where the doors had just opened.

Entering into the room was a lady, an adult that had clearly arrived from outside the school. Of light brown hair and youthful appearance, she peered down from her shaded glasses and smiled upon seeing the only other person in the room.

“Caroline?” Vic blurted out in surprise. Certainly the surprises of the day didn’t seem to stop. “What are you doing here?”

Caroline Kythe, also known as Lifeward. She was once a former heroine, now working for the syndicate as a representative of the organization within the Recruiting, Operational Support, and Evaluation department. It was because of that job that she met Vic in Massachusetts and the reason why he was attending this expensive school. As part of her endorsement, she’d been made Vic’s legal guardian given his status as a runaway. And, while he wasn’t exactly thrilled to have signed a contract with the organization, Caroline was one of the few people he felt he could trust within the organization. She also happened to be Megaton’s mother, who is Gwen’s boyfriend.

“Hey Vic,” she greeted, earning herself an amended greeting from him. “I just happened to be in the state as part of my job. But, with some time to spare, I decided to come by and pay you a visit… maybe get a clearer picture about this updates I’ve been hearing about.”

“You’ve heard about them?” Vic asked.

“Of course,” Caroline said as she approached but opted to remain standing, rather than sitting down. “It’s part of the terms for… ahem… contracted students. Whenever a development of this caliber is made, tutors and legal guardians have to be asked for approval to perform the extra battery of tests.”

“I… I don’t think it’s anything.” Vic sighed. “I just don’t wish for it to be something more.”

“Just nothing? Let’s hope that’s the case,” Lifeward answered as she leaned in closer. “Are you worried about it?”

“Sorta but… I’m also worried about other things that happened on campus.” Vic sighed.

“Want to tell me about it?” Caroline asked. “I’ll be quiet about it…” she added, noting Vic’s hesitation.

After a couple of seconds of consideration, he relented, figuring asking for advice could be something he could trust her on. So he made a retelling of the events of thanksgiving, being as abridged as he could be on the matter. To his surprise, it took less than ten minutes.

In the end, Caroline looked down with a concerned look. “So, a dangerous element in this school. Can’t say that is surprising, but the fact that a grave casualty has happened is concerning… Although, from what you tell me, the girl’s own powers would’ve made her the perfect victim… and now your girlfriend’s roommate is…”

“Braindead… It was declared less than a day ago with almost full certainty,” It didn’t matter how much Vic could stress the word ‘almost’ as if that would change the fact that recovery was near impossible. “And I’m not sure how to help… how to get Tanya to smile. I don’t want to tell her to be strong and move on because the memory will always be there. I’m not sure how to just walk past it. Am I selfish for wanting that?”

Caroline shook her head. “Not at all. You probably wish that you could fix this. That there is a way with which you can undo this incident and bring someone back to life… Sadly, there isn’t an easy answer. It’s something every doctor, police, firefighter, and hero deals with. The knowledge that a failure led to someone to be grasped into darkness.”

“Does it get easy?”

“Everyone finds their own way to overcome it. If they can’t, a helping hand should always be there… so be there for your girlfriend, Tanya,” Caroline said, with a courteous smile. “Keep moving forward but do not let yourself be numbed or cynical about life because that’s…,” Caroline paused before turning away with a slight smile. “I was going to say ‘that’s what makes the world shine’… but I figured it would be too cheesy.”

“You still said it,” Vic noted.

“I did, but since I clarified it, it doesn’t count.” Caroline said, clearly hoping to get Vic to smile, even if it was a side smirk… It worked. “Now… care to tell me about this girl? You told me she’s into super heroics, right, isn’t she? I take it you haven’t told her about your scholarship, haven’t you?”

“Eh…” Vic mused sheepishly… “You said you happened to just be passing by the state as part of your job. What is it about this time.”

“Want a peek into confidential Syndicate matters?” Caroline mused.

“Well…” Vic was about to insist when a figure emerged from down the hallway, it was doctor Carmelita Gutierrez, the one that had been tending to his injury since the first day and providing the subsequent exams with the assistance of the Power testing staff to determine what was the matter.

“Doctor Gutierrez,” Caroline said, straightening herself and reaching for a handshake. “I’m Caroline Kythe, Vic’s legal guardian. I’ve been keeping up with the updates you sent to me on the situation.”

“Greetings Mrs. Kythe. Vic,” the doctor answered cordially. Although there was something about her expression that didn’t reassure Vic. He might’ve been expecting her to bear a relieved smile if they’d actually discovered it was ‘nothing’. It didn’t appear to be the case or, at least, that didn’t appear to be her way of breaking news.

“Hello, Doc,” Vic chimed in. “Did you find anything?”

“Hmm… we may have a working theory. If you could follow me to my office.”

WA Break Small_Solid

Sunday, November 26th, 2016 - 10:03 am
Doctor Gutierrez’s office, Doyle

Within the doctor’s office, Vic shifted on his seat, feeling the butterflies in his stomach spreading to gnaw at his bones. He wasn’t used to this sort of waiting for the news. He hoped it was nothing. He hoped it wasn’t anything that couldn’t be solved… but it was the inkling of ‘what if it’s not’. The idea that it might change his life. He wanted the answers straight away, but the doctor being occupied typing away behind the keyboard didn’t help.

Eventually, though, it was the time for the results and Doctor Gutierrez pushed her computer’s screen back and swiveled it to share it with Vic and Caroline. “So… to recapitulate. Three weeks ago, Victor Rivera came to Doyle with a broken finger and a slightly traumatized elbow as a result of a fall.”

Vic winced. After the incident with the ring, he couldn’t cast blame on Gwen, mind controlled or not. So the cover story, as flimsy as it might come across, was one he was sticking to.

“Three days later,” the doctor continued. “He came back for a treatment only to find that his injury has been completely healed, or at least at about ninety percent of a process that should’ve taken about a month to complete.”

“I thought it was irregular…” Caroline muttered. “But not exactly out of the realm of possibility here in Whateley.”

“I would concur,” the doctor conceded. “When you have experimental bio-scientists, magical healers in the staff and alike within the alumni body, it’s not that far off to assume… However the treatment was standard baseline: no experimental ointment, therapy or particular medicament to hasten recovery. And Victor maintains that he had nothing done to his wound at the time. Is that still the case?”

“Yeah… I’m sure I didn’t get my hand operated on in those days,” Vic answered, though part of him wished he would’ve just said he did just to spare himself of what followed.

“That raised some flags and called into question his MID rating of Telekinetic 2 and Telepath 2,” doctor Gutierrez noted.

“And did you find anything?” Caroline asked.

“At first, it only reaffirmed the data compiled in his first power testing…” as she tapped onto the keyboard and the image on the screen changed to a bunch of statistics that read all about Vic’s physical capabilities. Contrasted with the ones that were labeled as from earlier that same year, they appeared the same for the most part. “Well, for the most part…. There is this matter I wanted some clarification before moving further.” And with that, the screen shifted to show off another report to contrast with the more recent one. This one bearing the Syndicate sigil and a couple of annotations in blue on some results. “The syndicate paperwork does show that Vic is a rank higher than his MID. Is this accurate? Or is this a case where the data has been deliberately altered for the MCO’s mistake?”

Vic turned his face away from the data. It was already bad enough that he got himself roped in this situation, but the technicality of the matter was particularly bothersome.

“That would be my doing,” Caroline sheepishly said, raising her hand. “In order for Vic to qualify for his current scholarship, he needed a power rating of at least three in either exemplar or telekinetic skill if he had no magical, devisor or warping aptitude.”

“Really? That’s such a shame, considering he has such a high degree of control of the medium.” Doctor Gutierrez acknowledged, giving Vic a fleeting moment of pride.

“It is something that caught my attention when we toured the facilities where I met him. He was being trained to be an incredibly efficient locksmith,” Caroline said, being deliberately vague as to the circumstances. “Unfortunately, the vacant spot for the syndicate scholarship had some criteria that needed to be filled. Finesse didn’t have as much weight as power. And factoring in the range as a limitation, I had to tweak the value of his evaluation in addition to my sponsorship.”

Vic did appreciate the effort and risk Caroline took for him. Had always been thankful for it, which was why at times, he wasn’t sure how to thank her on that matter, on how to repay her. Which did admittedly get him to overthink and stumble in the way he acted around her.

“That’s a charitable gesture,” Doctor Gutierrez agreed as she turned her attention towards the computer’s screens. “So we’ll proceed with the assumption that the MCO data is the outlier. Very well… from there we proceeded to repeat the same battery of standard tests: Physical conditioning, BIT analysis, Regenerative test, the telepathy simulacrum and the psychokinesis stress test.”

Exams and tests that Vic felt he’d gone through enough times since he manifested that he could already guess what was to be expected. Of course, that didn’t take the tedium of things. Physical tests were the common workout that he’d, in a way, prepared himself for since he arrived at the school through rigorous training. Telepathic test happened to be a headache inducer as attempts to prod into his mind resulted in an obnoxious feedback loop, and the psychokinesis stress test was to make use of his power to lift weights and sample the degree of control he had over them. Though it didn’t feel as different from the usual class of Power Theory where they were trying to figure out the peculiarities of their powerset.

“As mentioned, the results were within the expected parameters,” Doctor Gutierrez said as she moved on to show video recordings of the tests themselves. “Blood clotting prick was within the normal parameters for a baseline.”

“So he isn’t a regenerator, then.” Caroline noted.

“We confirmed it a couple of times just to be sure,” Nurse Gutierrez said. Vic would’ve said something about not enjoying being poked with needles, but she carried on. “However, we did find an outlying situation during the psychokinesis stress test.”

A couple of taps on the keyboard and focus was drawn onto said evaluation. In this case, it showed Vic standing under a bar that was connected to a press controlled via console. In his arms were gloves of water that had projected themselves down to the floor for extra support that were doing a good job in keeping the bar from going down the allotted level.

The volume was turned on and a voice off camera, the examiner, spoke up. “Remember Vic, don’t overstrain yourself, if you feel like it’s becoming too much tell us.”

“Go Vic, go!” Assay, the evaluator’s assistant cheered from the sidelines as well. “You can do it!”

“Assay! Try to avoid distracting the students being tested, especially when it comes to physical or strenuous exams.” The doctor lectured as a whisper that happened to be just close enough to the camera. “Vic, Are you alright?”

“Yeah… I’m fine,” the Vic within the recording said in between grunts.”

“Doctor Tenent…” A woman whispered from the side, barely out of the microphone’s range. Still, Vic could remember the testing well enough. At the time, a woman from the magical department happened to have arrived to have a brief chat with the examiner and left promptly after, seemingly in a hurry without having introduced herself. He had no idea what it was about but soon it became clear.

At the time of the testing, Vic had no idea of how much he was lifting. Now, on the side of the recording, there were data points and stats over the tests, in this case, it displayed “80kg”.

“The test proceeded as normal,” Doctor Gutierrez clarified. “With the use of his powers Vic comfortably lifted at about sixty kilograms, by seventy he began to struggle… at eighty, he was about to go down on one knee. At that point the safety would’ve activated and immediately stopped the pressure. The results would’ve been similar but the examiner opted to do something risky.”

“Vic, keep holding on,” Dr Tenent said within the video and, right after, the number at display began to rise up, starting to go up by ones and then tens until it was well past 175 kilograms.

And yet, the Vic of the video barely appeared to feel the difference outside from his body going slightly lower and his legs coming close to buckling… but that was it, he then rose up back into the original neutral position.

He remembered that moment quite well. He saw the examiner tap onto the console, out of view, and felt the weight fall over him only for it to ease up just before he would call it quits, even getting much lighter than he expected. He just assumes that the examiner had reeled the weight back… Though in hindsight, the wide-eyed look on Assay’s face should’ve been enough to clue him in on something being off.

Shortly after it, the test ended and Dr. Tenent approached him to ask him. “Are you alright? Did you feel anything?” Only for Vic to just nod. And then the Video reached an end.

Caroline looked in Vic’s way, who still held the shocked expression on his face when he saw the weight number reach the three digits. “I guess, I wasn’t particularly wrong in my assessment.”

Doctor Gutierrez nodded. “My colleague repeated the stress test with the same parameters as before without repeating the extreme scenario. He left the range within ninety kilograms, ten kilos past Vic’s recorded limit only for Vic to either call it or have his legs buckled and trigger the safety.”

“I thought the doctor had it against me,” Vic muttered.

The doctor moved the video to the side of her large screen and showed up the set of statistics that had been recording. Most of which were numbers or attributes that were beyond his understanding, but Caroline was curiously reading through each line of the chart as she reached over to tap the touch screen, getting some of those data points to expand.

“From this we gather that he is able to push himself past the recorded power rating when put under duress into a new rating.” All eyes fell upon Vic as if demanding for him to be truthful on the next question. “So… the simpler explanation would be that he has been lying and putting up an act when it came to testing.”

“I haven’t… Why would I lie about it?” Vic said, though inwardly, he did get several reasons as to why someone would want to downplay their powers and limits. Were it up to him to define the powers he would present to the MCO for the MID emission, he would’ve rated himself even lower… He just didn’t think that was an option. “I honestly thought that was my upper limit.”

“I’m inclined to believe him,” Caroline noted. “Otherwise, his classification for the syndicate would’ve been much easier for him.”

“I believe him as well,” the doctor conceded. “He would’ve definitely realized he’d been found out in the video… So the second explanation I have might complicate things,” She moved the screen down the chart onto values recorded during the spike: Aether release, Psychometric energy, Mystirian aura.

“Those are… Mage values,” Caroline interpreted. “You’re not telling me…”

“That Victor here gained some magical attributes during the test? That’s where the evidence points. It’s clearly magical, though at least not to the point it would get him invited into the magical track… yet.”

“That can’t be it,” Caroline said puzzled. “Syndicate values magic and tech within the recruiters, so when we tested him in the Syndicate offices, we had him take two different magical aptitude tests on him, he failed them both.”

“And, on our end, we skipped the magical testing since we mostly ratify what’s already been assessed in the MID. Although, from what we’ve seen, we wouldn’t have found anything.”

“Because, for the most part, that extra element appears to only flare out when the Vic is under duress, right?” Caroline inquired.

“Rather extreme duress that is,” Doctor Gutierrez said. “When he finds himself in dire straits, some other element within him will step in to provide minor boosts. When his fingers were broken, they flared to provide a certain degree of healing or regeneration. When his own hydrokinesis was lacking, it provided a power boost… But only in those two fields as it doesn’t seem to enhance the physical aspect.”

“Wait!” Vic blinked. “That’s why, during the physical testing they made me do afterwards, the treadmill suddenly jumped up in speed? The same with the endurance test?”

“Yes, according to the exam, which was the purpose. Whatever is within you doesn’t seem to influence that aspect as much… for now.”

Caroline, though, appeared more seriously puzzled on the matter. “Wait, doctor. It almost sounds as if you’re saying that Vic could be…”

“…An avatar,” Doctor Gutierrez completed. “It’s not exactly my area of expertise… but Avatar studies are a bit of a wild card. But given the symbiotic behavior observed, that seems like the more likely explanation. Something, or rather, someone intrinsically is nudging Vic, boosting him up whenever he finds himself lacking and yet he doesn’t seem to notice at the time whenever he borrows of this strength.”

“An… Avatar?” Vic repeated as he tried to process it. He… an avatar? After being in Whateley for weeks now, he’d gotten a good look at some of his classmates that were avatars. People whose bodies and spirits had the ability of taking up guests: entities or spirits that let their powers or, sometimes exercised some sort of influence on the host be it in personality or physical appearance. Of course, there was hardly anything standard about them. Bianca didn’t seem to delve on the matter of her powers, but she made it clear that hers was basically an entity without a particular voice. Ratel was a girl that did honor to the honey badger spirit that appeared to possess her, making him wonder if she was like she was because of the spirit or that her spirit chose her because she already had a rambunctious attitude… Malefis and his roommate Sedrynnor were technically avatars but their spirits tended to reside outside of their bodies… which felt like the better deal.

Needless to say, he found himself apprehensive at the idea. “No… no, I can’t be an avatar.”

“It’s only a theory, but that one seems more likely,” the doctor tried to reassure. “We’ll test on the matter just to be certain.”

“Hm… we tested him with a member that happens to be a medium, and it yielded negative.” Caroline muttered. “Though, admittedly, he probably can detect the spirit itself rather than the slot in question.”

“If we could get the contacts of the medium, we would appreciate it,” the doctor said before turning towards Vic. “Has anything happened in between that test and now? Have you come in contact with spirit charged places or objects? Is there anything that has happened to you that you don’t know how to explain? Heard voices? Known things you had no way of knowing? Felt the presence in your power?”

Vic held silence for a couple of seconds, which felt overly stretched out. He didn’t recall coming in contact with anything ‘spirit’ infested or haunted. He was also sure that he hadn’t heard any particular voices nor hadn’t come with any information he shouldn’t have or… And then his mind went from last night’s dream? The one where the memory of him helping pastel stabilize Sterling morphed into the perspective of a war medic in the middle of a fantasy war… Could that be?… No no no… It was just a dream, wasn’t it?

“I… I don’t know,” Vic finally said. His lack of conviction was showing.

“It’s not a certain thing… but we’ll dig in deeper,” the doctor said as he turned to Caroline. “We’ll need your permission to perform the tests, as it’d been the case.”

“Of course,” Caroline conceded.

“Very well,” Dr. Gutierrez said, taking a deep breath. “There’s one more.” She tapped onto the screen and showed what appeared to be x-rays of his fingers as well as studies and reports pointing at observations. “These are the x-rays we took when Vic got his fingers checked when he arrived two weeks ago… and this other is the more recent scans.”

He could already tell he wouldn’t like this as the doctor continued.

“There’s… differences. Bone structure has shifted slightly, and muscle fibers had altered themselves slightly to adapt… Skin appears to be subtly influenced by it. Up to what degree it goes… I don’t know, but the form appears stable and seamless.”

“So… he’s changing,” Caroline muttered, voicing Vic’s thoughts.

“No… no… no. That can't be,” Vic said, his hand wanting to clutch his stomach as a sinking feeling spread there, akin to an invisible hand just grasping at his organ for there was nothing there to support them. Changing? Changing? Into what? Something inhuman?… Like the dream?

He shook his head wanting to ignore it, not noticing when Caroline’s hand came to rest on his shoulder.

“I’m sorry,” Dr. Gutierrez anticipated the reaction. “For the time being, we don’t have the answers, but the process appears to have been going incredibly slow in between the examinations…” She said trying to come in as clear as possible, but all Vic could fixate on was the implication that the change was still happening.

Vic gritted his teeth just to not choke or sob. “I can’t… I.” In that moment, his eyes were laid down on his fingers on his right hand, the ones that had been broken. At first sight… there didn’t appear to be anything off but… the more he focused under the light the more he could swear he could see a pattern under his skin, one that he could guess looked like curved diamonds with a hint of blue under the skin when he pressed his finger…

“No!” He gasped in panic as he got off his seat and against the wall. His legs trembling, just wanting to run… But there was no place that would fix the problem.

“We’ll have to keep a close eye on the progress but… As with many students that happen to develop a GSD…”

“I understand…” Caroline answered.

“This ruins my life,” Vic said, his voice breaking as a sob escaped him. His ideal… the want for a life that was normal despite the weirdness about him now… it just felt dashed against the rocks.

WA Break Small_Solid

About an hour later…

The view of the campus’ ample parking lot gave way to the gated exit for the school and, not long after, their car was cruising through the lone interstate road, framed by a bunch of trees that were a welcomed green sight for the incoming autumn.

“So… he didn’t take it well?” Asked the man at the wheel. Unlike his companion and the rental car they were driving in, he was clad in a laxer outfit, looking like someone who’d just come back from the gym.

“How could he?” Caroline sighed, resting her head against the side of the car. “A kid that was living off the streets having this rather special focus on getting a good life for himself suddenly finding that he might not be able to get everything he wants… And I know that’s about the story of every young mutant who develops a GSD. It just doesn’t make it any easier. Or take away from the personal reaction.”

“What other option does he have?” Cole asked.

“Well… I figured that if things went for the worse for the worse, I could always pull him out of Whateley and have him transferred to a school in Oregon.”

Cole shook his head. “Perhaps you’re being too rushed on the matter. Sure, I didn’t go to that fancy mutant school in my youth, but from what I gather, that place is the best one for his case. If he starts to change physically then it might just become an issue. More damage to the psyche and all that stuff.”

“I know… That was the plan, before. I guess I thought of it as it would cancel part of the debt with the syndicate that was allotted to the tuition.”

“Well… I can only imagine that either option would be entertaining.” Cole muttered, seemingly considering the alternative to the idea. “Anything in life will forge character, be it living as a mutant in the real world… or getting into crazy troubles in Whateley. The Syndicate extracurricular part can always be cultivated as a side activity, so he doesn’t lose his edge…”

“It felt like the least I could do. After all, it was I who nudged him into taking the deal, so it’s partly my fault.” Caroline shook her head.

“It’s not your fault… stop thinking in the egocentric way some heroes do. You didn’t force the kid to run away from his home, just as much as you forced him to join that doomed gang. All you did was try to spare his life and give him a chance. For him and his friend. You can sit down and doubt yourself wondering if it’s a way you compensate for your estranged son, which it isn’t, or if it was the right thing to do at the time, which it was… But don’t internalize the misfortunes on you.” Cole lectured.

“I do tend to forget that you can be insightful.”

“I’m just direct,” Cole smirked. “It also helps that I’m your partner. So, most of the time, I’m stuck in an enclosed space with you.”

Caroline found herself smiling, albeit briefly. “You’re right. I can only be there if he needs help. And make sure I don’t get moved every time I run into kid runaways during our missions.”

“It’ll be alright. Having survived in the city as a runaway, making friends with criminals just shows he can endure if he sets his sights on it.”

Yeah, but that was a starting point… this one cuts right to the finish line… Caroline thought as she shook her head and, instead, said. “Things are going to be different.”

“I assume that… because of everything, you didn’t tell Vic that he’s due to have an evaluation at the end of the month, to see if he gets to keep the scholarship…”

“Of course I didn’t. It was clearly not the time… I’ll tell him about it, eventually.”

“Fair enough,” Cole nodded as he kept his eyes down on the road ahead. It was still samey boring, and he was already feeling it as he stifled a yawn. “So, how are things in the school? You know this place well enough, right?”

“What? Didn’t you catch up when you were meeting up with that friend of yours?”

“Amanda is more of a rival than a friend. All we did was just test each other’s strength, kinda like we always do when I pass by New Hampshire.” Cole smirked, expecting a reaction from his partner.

She rolled her eyes in a friendly manner. “Well… From what I heard, there was some sort of event going on surrounding a batch of tainted chocolates. Some rumors about a demon roaming the campus and still anecdotes revolving around the tunnels and whatever hides within there. A devised stink bomb going off within the campus…” Caroline said before adopting a more serious tone. “There’s rumors of a killer on campus by the looks of it.”

“Hm… Interesting,”

“Whoever it was, they got someone who was a couple of degrees of separation from Vic. A girl with the ability to make herself forgettable to others.”

“The perfect target,” Cole noted.

“I thought the same.”

“Any suspicion?” Cole inquired.

“Don’t have enough information. Vic did say that they had to do a whole lot of detective work when it came to tracking them down after the roommate in question had been missing for a day, and even when they did, that person appeared prepared for them, covered in odd darkness.” Caroline muttered. “Vic and a group of students fought against the stranger, but they were ultimately defeated.”

“What a disappointment,” Cole noted. “I guess that’s to be expected. And for facing off against a serial killer, survival is the passing grade.”

“At the end, the figure fled and, as they did, sliced the throat off the poor girl. Seemingly left comatose at best, braindead at worst.” Caroline shook her head. “I passed by the girl’s room before leaving, just to provide some life-support magic that would make the life of the members of the clinic easier, but that’s all I could do with our short schedule.”

“Hm… to retain a hostage for more than a day in a limited space like the campus of a school, that requires some degree of planning and premeditation… even if they were found out at the end of the day.” Cole muttered. “Not to mention that they kept the girl alive up until the end where they obviously couldn’t. Probably they intended to have her alive.”

“It would also be a solved matter if they could just cross-reference the powers witnessed.” Cole shook his head. “More information would be needed for the right assessment. So… odds are someone is hiding powers.”

“If it were only that easy.”

“Do you worry about Dereck and Vic?”

“I worry… but, I can’t be afraid of everything. At best I can give them a warning and hope that the matter is resolved.”

“Yeah… I would leave that to Whateley security and faculty… they’re the experts, are they not? Probably better equipped than any school in a gun-toting state,” Cole shook his head.

“I agree…” Caroline said, leaning back as she produced her tablet and began to reread the briefing she prepared for tonight’s operation and the answer they got from the dispatcher. “We better hurry up. I would prefer to have a word with the team and scope the terrain before everything goes down.”

“We’ll be in Concord in about an hour or so… So just relax and enjoy the ride.” Cole assured.

And to that, Caroline sighed, leaning back on her seat.

WA Break Small_Solid

Sunday, November 26th, 2016 - 1:40 pm
Art club

Vic’s visit to the art club came at the behest of both his doctor and legal guardian, telling him to not overstress on the matter and focus on his day to day activities. That nothing appeared to be happening in the immediate moment and it wasn’t worth stressing over something that he didn’t have the full information on… and yet, he found it hard to believe. It all felt personal and dire… like someone awaiting a diagnosis for a disease…

Coming to the art club for a drawing session should’ve been the cure.

But it wasn’t enough to push his problems away… Sure, the repetitive movement of the hand could entrance him into a more peaceful lull and watching his work take shape was promising, in this case, a rather silly sculpture of SpongeBob in a meme-able pose, courtesy of Rusty, the aspiring clay artist.

However, as he worked, every now and then his eyes would fall on his hands whenever the pencil would still be idle. Fixated on his hand for the time, whether real or imaginary, he would get a glimpse of the tinge of blue-ish color underneath the skin of his fingers and his thoughts would immediately race back to the news.

“Is this what they call a hypochondriac?” He wondered as he flexed his hand to shake off the myriad of tingles manifested by fear and anxiety.

“Why… Why?” Vic said back then, just as soon as they left Doctor Gutierrez’s office.

“Listen Vic… It’s going to be okay…” Caroline reassured him at the time… Thinking back of that time did make him somewhat sorry for the rather cutting way he acted around her. But that was in hindsight.

“I can’t… I can’t be turned into a monster.”

“Even if whatever is happening changes your appearance… You will still be you, have your friends, and the means for a better life. There are always ways around it.”

“How would you know?” Vic said, giving her a judgmental look.

“I know I might be among the mutants who lucked out in the appearance department… but I’ve known about extreme cases of GSD and helped more than a few to be integrated into society… Some might opt to go public with their real forms whereas others have measures that might aid them, disguises and special makeup, holographic technology and magical glamours are easy to get. The latter comes especially easy for me. Your life doesn’t have to be over just because you become different…”

Vic remained silent, but still crestfallen. “But we don’t know the extent of the changes, and we lack a clear understanding of the cause. Until then, the only future you should worry about is what class comes next… Now, try to relax and enjoy your Sunday.” Caroline sighed as she checked down onto her time, inwardly cursing as to what could be expected. “Think you can do it?”

“I… I think I can…” Vic muttered. Although, at the time, he just wanted the conversation to be over. He just wanted to pretend that he hadn’t seen nor heard anything from the argument. Now, he knew that she was indeed trying to help.

“Listen… things were never meant to be easy. In fact, change or not, things are going to get much more complicated moving forward…” She paused for a moment as if hesitating whether the words she would say next were the right ones. “…I say that knowing how things in Whateley are. Things are about to turn up in the winter term… so try to not overproject. Instead look at what’s just ahead of you… find your footing and then worry about the next thing. Think you can do that?”

Vic nodded, the frustration and bitterness never fully disappearing from his face… but he tried.

“Good… Unfortunately, I have to get going. Please, try to take some time for yourself. Go to the club you’re part of and focus on something else immediately. I’ll talk to you in the morning… alright?”

“Okay… Okay,” Vic sighed.

“Good… oh, one more thing. Can you give me your hand?” Caroline said, offering her own.

“What for?” Vic asked but he already had offered his hand, on which Caroline began to trace her finger on the back of it. Wherever her skin made contact, Vic felt a tingling that could be confused by a needlepoint burn and saw light being traced after the touch, creating a sort of sigil that felt somewhat related to the brand of magic he’d seen from glyph.

Once done, the whole pattern glowed up one last time before disappearing into the skin. “There we go,” Caroline said with a slight smile as she let go of his hand.

“What’s that?”

“Something I forgot to give you last time. It’s a small protection ward… just in case things turn out to be dangerous for you again.” Caroline muttered. “You don’t feel it, don’t you?”

Vic looked down at his hand. There was no mark left, but Vic could still feel the tingle of the contact tracing the lines into the sigil that had been drawn, like goosebumps. He imagined that was normal, so he shook his head.

“Good… We’ll talk later,” Caroline said before she departed.

From there, the rest was history as Vic moved himself around the campus for quite some time trying to figure out what to do. Before he settled down on going to the art club, he did imagine making a pass by the M3 table but… considering Tanya’s current turmoil and his own, he thought against it, instead seeking to put some distance and distractions in the way.

”Okay… okay, I need to do something else,” Vic muttered as he settled the pencil down and looked around for a source of distraction.

Today, though, by some weird stroke of luck, no member happened to be on, with the Imp having headed back to the Villages to spend time with her daughter… or make sure she hadn’t escaped her current house arrest, Vic couldn’t pay much attention at the time.

Still, that meant there wasn’t much that could distract his mind in the room. And if that were the case, what would be the next best option? Trying to get his daily workout done daily? Wander into the woods? Try to get lost in the tunnels searching for the cat creature? Or just do the normal teenage thing and spend the rest of the afternoon in his room playing games on his new tablet.

And yet before he could start putting his things away, the entrance to the art club opened and a senior girl with glasses stepped right in with a brisk pace. It was Josephine, the Imp’s second in command within the club’s activities and, probably, the most accomplished artist within the student body.

“Vic? Hey,” she greeted as soon as she spotted him. “Are you here alone?”

“Yeah… think I happened to pick the only time when there was no one here.” Vic admitted. “Sorry.”

“Well, that sometimes happens. And you’re an official member of the club, its doors are open to you… that being said, try not to make a mess. One time, a group of unaffiliated gadgeteers tried to use their automated ‘paintfun’ invention to mass produce Pollock style art pieces… the thing’s automated AI failed and suddenly, we were all facing a rather angry turret.”

“Really?” Vic asked, bringing himself to chuckle.

“Oh yeah… weird things happen here too,” Josephine mused as she moved into the backroom, seeming to be gathering items. “On another occasion, students came in wanting to play around with the special gadgeteer drones we have. The flight went awry, and it ended up causing many of the paintings to fall down on us.”

“Really?” Vic muttered as he turned his gaze upward where shelves containing both finished and unfinished canvases and pieces of work were suspended. Softly dangling in any moment by industrial straps and ropes in a haphazard manner. “It’s really bugged me since the start… but isn’t that very dangerous?”

“Yeah… it is…” Josephine grimaced. “Other than the art, that’s the only reason I spent as much time here as I do. Sometimes those things can fall.”

“Why put them up there, then?” Vic asked, looking warily at the piece of wood that hung over his head.

“I’m uncertain. I think she tried to emulate the particular style of a cartoon she enjoyed… But the more logical theories are that she really likes having them up there to hide in… Though the more fitting one is that she really disliked the echo in the room, thanks to the ridiculously high ceiling and was in a sort of petty war with the cleaning staff… Either way, as it turns out, it was probably for the better as the art club does have a tendency for accumulating art pieces fast… so it’s not bad of a storage. Just be mindful of where you sit and… if you hear one of the safety straps snap, roll away.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Vic answered, uneasily glancing up. “Where are you going?”

“Me? Going to Berlin. I have a tutoring job and I’m going to buy art supplies.” Josephine approached the blackboard where a piece of paper was pinned up against it by a magnet. And from under it were also a couple of hundred dollar bills. No doubt left by the Imp for Josephine’s usual shopping trip to Berlin.

At that moment, Vic’s eyes went over to his phone, thinking of a recent message he got from Iggy and figured it was as good of a time as any. “Think I can tag along to Berlin?”

“Really?” Josephine cocked her head in curiosity before shrugging. “Sure thing. I mean, it’s not the first nor second time you’ve tagged along. It’s alright by me but…”

“I have to fill in the paperwork, right?” Vic said, getting up. “I got that sorted out. Planning on making a couple of trips before the end of the year, I pre-filled some copies. It shouldn't take me long.”

“How long?”

“Hm… half an hour?”

“Alright,” Josephine noted. “I’ll meet you in the parking lot before the van.”

To that, Vic lost no time picking up his stuff and already heading out of the room. He wasn’t sure what he could do to relax. Maybe the problem was Whateley… everything felt off and abnormal, tangentially reminding him of the weird situation he was in. Perhaps leaving the campus for an afternoon would do him some good.

Looking down at his phone, he checked to see if Tanya had answered his message. Still didn’t appear to have connected. He sent her a hug and heart emoji, wishing that she was doing well before moving over into his contact list.

“Hey, Iggy,” Vic wrote. “I’m going to Berlin, think it’s okay if I stay with you for a couple of hours?”

If he got a ‘no’ for an answer, he just imagined himself wandering about the city for a good couple of hours to clear his mind… Fortunately, not long after, Iggy answered with a “Sure. Come on over”.

WA Break Small_Solid

Sunday, November 26th, 2016 - 4:31 pm
Preston Crossby’s residence

“…I get it. Things always get complicated in Whateley,” Josephine sighed as she drove away from Berlin’s downtown, where she left Vic. The freshman art club member hadn’t been exactly forward over the source of his discomfort, but she could piece together details and read him in a way that gave her enough of the context to understand his frustrations. It certainly gave her something to mull over on the way to the Preston residence. “I want to think Vic will be able to push through.”

Past a certain point, Josephine opted to shake her concerns off for the time being. At the moment, she had a tutoring job to do and was already running a couple of minutes late. Though she had the feeling Mr. Crossby wouldn’t mind the delay.

As her van already turned to enter the street, she noticed something. Cars on the street weren’t an odd thing… but having been here just a couple of times before, she could tell there was a slightly higher number than the usual, most of which were parked with a certain proximity to Mr. Crossby’s house.

“Is he hosting a gathering? Or a business meeting?” Josephine wondered as she steered her van towards her usual parking spot near the entrance.

As she did, she also noticed that there were strangers scattered in small groups conversing with each other but also attentive at their surroundings. Eyes quickly turned towards Josephine as she parked her car within the invisible perimeter. They were all men, dressed in dark clothes with ill matched patches on one arm that could’ve gone unnoticed if they weren’t worn by every other person present. And now that Josephine was looking at it, she felt she could spot the bulk underneath their jackets that might coincide with the presence of a handgun.

“Have I just run into the trouble other classmates get into while in Berlin?” she wondered. Yet, she had to assume that this wasn’t her trouble and that they wanted nothing to do with her… Still, as a precaution, she took her holdout notebook with her.

“Hey, girlie. Where do you think you’re going?” one of the men as she was halfway to the entrance.

And as if on cue, three more of the men from the surrounding groups stepped closer to wall her in. “Do you have any business here?”

“I… Josephine muttered as she saw through each of the men in a quick study. None of them had their hands ready to draw a gun… so that was a good sign. “I do have business here.”

“Is that so-”

“Hey!” Said a man from behind, immediately drawing the attention of those in the vicinity. At a first glance, Josephine guessed that the stranger was the head of whatever gang was about - by now she’d already accepted that this was one of the rumored gangs Toulouse Arts and Crafts store had warned her about every now and then that roamed Berlin. But the more she looked at it, the more she began to notice some similarities… like were he to trim the stubble and comb his hair in a different way, she would see some resemblance with Mr. Crossby.

A similarity that was confirmed right after as he said. “What are you doing to my niece’s tutor?”

The men exchanged curdled looks as they realized the embarrassing situation, they just got themselves into. Without saying anything, they each took steps back, opening the path for Josephine uttering polite apologies as she walked towards the household.

“Unbelievable. You lot are still too green to be promoted to the B-team. If you guys are too jumpy, do I need to force you to rest?” The man, Mr. Crossby’s brother, chided them in such a spirited and juvenile energy, Josephine could easily imagine him as a classmate. And yet, his tone seemed to change once she reached the doormat. “You must be Josephine. My brother has told me a lot about you. You have an eye for art.”

“Thank you. Mister… Crossby?”

“Call me Declan. Please, come in,” he invited, stepping aside to let Josephine step into the living room. It was a bit of what one could expect in an elegant high class household, with wide couches and pieces of art adorning the walls, with each surface cleaned to attend guests. Which made it somewhat amusing to see more street bound people occupying the seats being offered some beverages by Mrs. Crossby. At least the cordial ambiance reassured her that this wasn’t a serious matter.

“Mister… Declan,” Josephine said. “Nice to meet you. I hope I’m not interrupting.”

“Not at all. We’re just waiting for my brother.” Declan said, turning around. “Thank you, Linda.”

“Oh, it’s not a problem, Declan,” Mrs. Crossby answered. “Preston has always been wanting to have you over. He just isn’t good at admitting it.”

“That’s great!” Declan said, jovially. “We should go ahead when this is over. Nothing would be better than having a family dinner. I can bring my girl instead of these bozos here.”

The men on the couch protested, but for the most part, joined in the joke. “Oh, come on boss.” “Not even going to treat us with dinner?” We’re the ones who lay our lives on the-”

That was as far as that last one got as he got an elbow nudge from the men nearby. Still, by then, Josephine had a pretty clear idea that something shady was taking place… of course, whatever it would happen she wouldn’t want to get involved.

She adjusted her belongings: sketchbooks and art supplies and cleared her throat. “Well, if you excuse me. I should get to Beth’s lessons.”

“Oh, of course,” Declan said after taking a sip from the provided beverage. “It was good meeting you, Josephine.”

“Likewise,” she answered as cordially as she slipped into the hallway. As she left, she picked up the sound of the men hissing warnings to the one with the loose tongue and before quickly devolving itself into a more calm and spirited laughter. Fortunately, despite everything, she felt no danger on the matter.

Still, there was no denying there was something shady going on. From the looks of it, it was apparent to Josephine that Mr. Crossby’s brother, Declan, was a member of a gang with men at his service. Now, how effective or dangerous they were up for debate, but it would make sense for Preston, who was up until recently running for mayor of the city, to keep his brother at arm’s length. Fortunately, the two brothers appeared to be on amicable terms… or up to something.

“It’s not my problem. It’s not my problem,” she told herself as she moved down the hallway only to pass by a room door that opened not long after. Mr. Crossby, Preston, emerged from the other side, dressed in a suit, ready to head off to work, with a bulky bag hanging under his arm. His expression appeared serious for a moment, but that quickly changed when he realized that it was Josephine he heard down the hallway. His attitude quickly changed.

“Josephine.” He gasped. In a brief moment, she could see him slip something in the pocket of his bag, all she saw was that it was a hard black glossy thing… a hard drive? She guessed.

“I honestly forgot you were coming.” He said, just as a couple of laughters could be glimpsed from down the hallway. “I’d guess that you’ve already met my brother and his workers, haven’t you? They specialize in city cleaning… so excuse the rough attitude.”

“Your brother is… quite charming.”

“Yeah, we’re both people persons. Though he’s the more charismatic while I’m the intellectual one. Which is why he tends to gather up such rough personalities… I trust they didn’t say anything outlandish, didn’t they?”

“Not at all,” Josephine said, wondering if he was prodding for any indiscretions, so she opted to change the topic. “Sorry about your mayoral election”

Still, the man waved it off dismissively. “It wasn’t my time yet… I still got what I wanted out of it.”

“How so?”

“Well, my opponent reached out to me asking me to withdraw from the race, in exchange for implementing the policies I wanted. He ended up hiring me as a consultant,” Preston said.

That got Josephine wondering if he was telling the full story or if he’d made use of his brother’s gang to get his way on the matter. Still, she felt she had no reason to distrust him. “That’s a good agreement… although I’m not into politics.”

“Neither would I if it were up to me. But then again, someone has to make sure they’re doing the job they’re supposed to.” The sound of ruckus from down the living room reminded him of the guests about. Mr. Crossby sighed. “Unfortunately, tonight happens to be one of those. I’ll be out for the rest of the night, but I’ll leave your payment with my wife.”

“Thank you,” She curtsied. “Now, I’ll be over to the tutoring lessons. Hope your meeting goes well,” Josephine mused as she began to move down the hallway.

“Oh, don’t worry. Things have been prepared thoroughly,” Preston said. Although that was mostly for himself. “Until next time.”

“Until next time,” Josephine answered. She carried on down the corridor, acting as though she didn’t have suspicions on what was taking place. As with everything, her insight wasn’t flawless and there was a slight chance that she was, as her classmates would say, ‘finding the more artistic twist’.

Still, she couldn’t deny that there was something intriguing about the Crossby family… and it wasn’t just because there was a sophomore attending Whateley with the same last name. But for now, she had to worry about how to get a girl, fresh out of school, to take art seriously if she was really interested in pursuing it as a hobby as her father said.

“I guess we’ll see…” she shook her head.

WA Break Small_Solid

Back in the living room, heads turned as Preston emerged from the corridor.

“About time, brother,” Declan mused as a greeting.

Preston rolled his eyes, only appeased as his wife approached him with a glass of iced scotch to ease up his tensions. A sip and the touch of her lips was enough to get him to ease off and carry on. “Couldn’t you be a bit more discreet? I’m pretty sure my daughter’s tutor suspects of the whole gang that is parked in our yard.”

“I’m sorry about that, but we can’t really skimp on protection,” Declan answered. “After all, no one normal dares to blackmail the MCO. And before you can say it, yes, we’re no slouches. I spare no expense when it comes to my family and crew.”

“I love your checkered background… but, hearing things like that is quite concerning,” His wife, Linda, admitted. Her tone, though, might come across as somewhat dramatic to some, but it was still genuine nonetheless, only reassured by Preston’s arm around her shoulders.

“Linda, my dear. There’s nothing to worry about. I’ve taken plenty of precautions on the matter. You won’t have to worry about it,” Preston said with confidence about him.

“Damn right! He has us and the crew.”

“Oh, about that…” Preston said as he handed back the empty glass. “I had to pull a couple of favors to get us some extra backup.”

“Another group?” Declan said, sounding offended. “Aren’t we enough?”

“You know well enough that this group employs people with special powers. We need some extra muscle,” Preston said, snapping his fingers and pointing at the door. It was as if the gesture had come from Declan himself, as the gang-members got up and began to make their way towards the door. “Let’s get going. I’ll fill you in on the way to Concord!”

“Alright!” Declan said amusedly as he put his arm around his brother’s shoulders. “Onward to mischief. Decaf and Prohibition are now at it again.”

WA Break Small_Solid

Sunday, November 26th, 2016 - 5:57 pm
Parking building, Concord

Lloyd Barten’s car reached the end of the ramp, taking him to the upper levels of the parking lot building annexed to one of the older malls in the area. And it quite showed as the place was in need of a tune-up, with most of the windowless spaces being cast into shadows as stacks of the lights had stopped working. It being the Sunday after thanksgiving, the number of cars this tediously deep into the building was negligible… which made it the best place for a shady meeting.

As it was to be expected, near the back of the aisle, where the nearby lights were at the flickering point, one could spot a bunch of cars that had been parked in the not-so-close proximity of one another, with the drivers and passengers seemingly loitering around. Some familiar faces but, interestingly, also a new bunch about them.

“Hey, Void!” one of the men called out by his shortened codename, holding out his hand in an L sign, and to that, a similarly looking man from the open driver’s seat in one of the cars, repeated the gesture. “You’re last. That means you pay for the beers later.” That wasn’t a thing they did but, unsurprisingly, Schrodinger was just seeing if he could get away with it.

“Oh quiet,” Lloyd, Voidgrip, snorted as he finished drinking the espresso that was keeping him awake past the time shift. He then exited the car. “Just about a day ago, I was in Dubai claiming over a million dollars in bounties only to get redirected into coming here from an assignment. Poor sleep in the airplane, a kid just wouldn’t stop crying. My luggage fell off the conveyor belt, so I had to wait for them to find it and the cab here stunk. I’m not in the mood.”

“If you don’t want to be here, then leave,” A man of brown colored skin said. His voice carried a bit of a middle eastern accent and not much sympathy for Voidgrip’s woes. “Then we’ll see about how Vince deals with you.”

“Pfft. I don’t think he’ll mind… And, even if he did, what’s the worst that he can do?” Voidgrip laughed, though no one of the members of the crowd present joined him. The question often popped, and it baffled him how much power and influence could a rich guy have on the crew… He thought it was a bluff, the biggest bluff he had ever seen, spoken with true certainty that was enough to convince some. But in reality, with certain powers that were fully committed to the cause, there would be danger regardless.

He certainly didn’t like to face the killer shaman who seldom spoke a word… Or the man who would demolish a building if he was in a destructive mood, but he had the feeling that, if it came down to it, he could still prevail… After all, if he wanted to kill anyone, he laid his eyes on, he certainly could.

“But then again… it’s not worth the hassle, if we’re getting paid in the end. Isn’t that right, Efreet?”

“I can agree to that,” Efreet muttered as he leaned back against the sturdy jeep that was, presumably, his.

Voidgrip produced his personal tablet. Normally, he would just pick one of the games he had installed to kill time, but he just happened to find the open files Vince sent during the flight. The notes that were pertinent for the occasion and the dossiers of the people that would be working for Carn.

Swiftly, his eyes made a headcount of those present.

First of all, Efreet. The mercenary from the middle east whose services could turn the tide of the battle. It was his powers that made him quite a threat. Control of both fire and smoke to varying degrees. He could summon and direct a cloud of smoke to hide his troops behind just as well as he could unleash a barrage of searing bolts that could melt walls and steel. He was also deft in hand-to-hand combat and a good marksman, having mastered many different types of military weapons.

Just like Voidgrip, Efreet was one of the original members of Carn - knights, as Vince referred to the positions. In the seven years since he first joined, he expanded his services and wealth, using the money accrued to start his own paramilitary group that sold its service to whoever paid the highest price… this included local warlords, rich men with ill intent or even countries (in secret, of course).

And yet, when Vince summoned him, he alone came here rather than bringing his full squad. One could assume that it was because he loved the fight and still did, even as the head of his battalion… but Voidgrip had the feeling that he just wanted the money Vince dangled over his head and, with Schrodinger around, he had no need to bring personnel.

Which brought Voidgrip’s attention to another original member of the crew. Schrodinger. A man who, at the time appeared to be having a conversation with himself, almost in the form of an argument as they tried to lay claim to the disk track playing.

His powers were quite self-explanatory: He could duplicate himself, an ability that was shared by each of his copies as long as they had the energy to do it. Even though each of the repeats was relatively fragile, breaking apart into light moments after receiving lethal, or even grievous, injuries, the threat was that the replication also applied to every piece of gear they had on their person. Were the original to don body armor, every copy that would stem from them would also have the same piece of gear. Granted, any repeated object would fade into nothing ten seconds after it was last touched, so it couldn’t be used to multiply money… but that had no consequence on bullets and timely-released grenades.

The only thing keeping him back was the fact that Schrodinger wasn’t the most ambitious or smartest member of the bunch. Heck, he didn’t really fully understand the concept that gave him the name. Just seeking a good time full of mayhem, he was willing to follow Vince’s orders as per commanded.

The other three members of the crew were new faces recruited by Vince or brought along by other members.

The first one was an invite from Efreet, presumably a soldier from his company. According to the pictures, he was either an animan or had a GSD that made him look like a panther, with black fur and a short muzzle, both of which he kept concealed under a hood and scarf. Not exactly the kind of person that one would pick for an urban operation… However, all this would happen at night, so his abilities could be worth it. Apart from that, being from Efreet’s company, he was likely skilled in combat.

On the side, by one of the parking lot columns, was a man that appeared to be a late addition to the dossier. He dressed in a simple yet rather fashionable looking trench coat that was clearly meant to conceal the uniform underneath. There was certainly something about him that screamed ‘European master thief criminal’ about him. Slipper, as he went by, had warping powers that allowed him and whoever he wanted, to phase through solid matter. Quite useful for reaching the blackmail meeting room…

The next member of the team was a rather lithe woman in her twenties… However, looks could be deceiving, considering how one could spy the weapon concealed under her coat and the thin sheen of metal that coated her arm. According to the notes, Diskette was a gadgeteer who was oftentimes hired to create computer-bricking softwares. A cyberpunk aficionado, she was probably invited to delete the evidence’s digital footprint, if she happened to make it to the hard drive.

And last, but not least, was a girl by the codename Je ne se, who appeared some years younger than Diskette. Constantly looking down onto her hands and wrists, she was doing a poor job at masking the horror and terror in her expression. This one was clearly new to this sort of life, barely bothering to conceal the borrowed combat uniform under her coat. Voidgrip wasn’t usually one to play in teams so he was already growing concerned of how she might end up becoming a liability to the mission. But then again, Vince had somehow dragged the girl into the assignment because of her powers: the ability to search through minds and delete knowledge about specific ‘objects’. She was clearly intended to work in conjunction with Disquette to erase the blackmail leverage…

Of course, despite these precautions, the plan still felt quite half-assed. Too many questions left in the air.

“If this is everyone.” Voidgrip began just so that something would feel the silence with that many people present and the sound of music from Schrodinger’s car playing out, there was quite a bit of interference in the surroundings… plus odds were that they would spot the lights of any cars peeking over the ramp before the cars would drive in. “Does everyone know about the mission?”

As was expected, Schrodinger didn’t raise his hand, but a couple of the others present did.

“It’s simple intimidation and terror.” Efreet noted. “Our ‘client’ and his assistant are meeting with a blackmailer, presumably so that the latter can reassert his leverage on him and the MCO organization. Our mission is to break into the meeting and let our two specialists here erase the physical, digital and mental evidence of the blackmailing.”

“Are we really jumping into the MCO meeting?” Schrodinger asked with the excitement of a challenge. “Agents will be like, ‘who are these guys not in our database?’”

“That won’t happen… fortunately,” Efreet noted. “According to Vince, the client won’t be pulling out resources from the organization for this meeting. Supposedly, it would just be him and his assistance in the meeting.” He said as he reached into his pocket and produced a couple of folded prints, photos of the MCO administrative, Pollux Garland, and his assistant, Arno. “Be sure to memorize who you’re not supposed to shoot. We don’t want a repeat of Sri Lanka.”

“That was an accident,” Schrodinger sulked as he focused on the pictures, sharing one of the photos with his copy.

“What else do we know?” Voidgrip asked.

Efreet’s frown spelled it well enough. “Unfortunately, we know little of this third party. For almost five years, they’ve been reaching out in secret, making demands without really showing much about them… The client has met with him personally, though, and even tried to take pictures, but he seems to be wearing some sort of id-scrambler that messes with electronic recognition. The descriptions don’t really say much… Caucasian, often clean in appearance, about 1.79 meters of height-”

“That short?” Schrodinger said, trying to measure the height with his hands.

“It’s about 5 foot 10,” Efreet rolled his eyes. “Anyway, we know little about the blackmailer outside from general appearance. Only certainties we have is that he’s a man and has money… and the balls to make demands of dangerous people.”

This time, the girl on the side, Diskette, ventured to speak. “I don’t really want to get killed in this blackmailing business. Do we know where we’re fighting? It would help me to plan some countermeasures.”

“We don’t even know that. The blackmailer instructed the client to come to Concord’s main park, from where he will, presumably, redirect him to the actual meeting spot. They will probably do that several times over just to shake off any tails.”

“We’re waiting for Pollux, the client, to give us the call,” Voidgrip added.

“So, the best thing we can do is be prepared.” Efreet said as he opened the trunk of his jeep and pulled up a fake floor to reveal an entire armory. Guns, rifles, even grenades, stacked up neatly in a rather nice display. “I can loan you guns, if you need them…”

“You trying to charge us for holdouts?” Schrodinger said, almost outraged, but not

“I’ll make it affordable,” Efreet snorted.

Pantho, the man Efreet brought, was already going through the armory, curating through the assault rifles and attachments on display while Schrodinger, despite his complaints, knew better than to go into this situation unarmed. Diskette and Je ne se appeared both uninterested by the idea, the latter because she was a gadgeteer with her own tools and the former because she appeared afraid of the idea of using a gun. And Slipper maintained his distance… The file did make it clear that he wasn’t the combat type.

One gun was offered to Voidgrip, but he dismissed it. After all, a gun was just a flawed way of killing what the eye could see, why would he need it when his powers did just that?

Still, he did his best to play off his concerns … but they were clearly at a disadvantage. Practically playing at the tune of the other blackmailers. Even if the client’s claim that they were weaker than them were true, they would still have the element of surprise and foresight for this situation.

“No wonder Vince wasn’t feeling confident of the outcome,” Voidgrip thought. “I suppose I’ll just keep that in mind for whatever happens.”

About a couple of minutes had passed when the cell phone rang with a message from the client. The other blackmailer got in contact with them and directed them to another spot, as it was predicted. Still, each of the people present exchanged looks as they moved over into Efreet’s jeep and Diskette’s car to head off.

 

To Be Continued
Read 1853 times Last modified on Monday, 18 March 2024 23:52

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