Tuesday, 07 May 2024 00:00

The Infiltrator

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Morpheus’s Legacy Universe – Part 13

The Inflitrator

by

Morpheus

 

I slowly walked down the corridor with my boots making a nice click with every step, announcing my presence before anyone saw me. The fact that I wore taps helped. Those were the metal clickers that drill instructors frequently wore on the heels of their boots to help create a more crisp and distinct image. I wasn't a drill instructor, but a disciplined and controlled image was every bit as important for my job.

When I stopped at the heavy metal door that was my destination, I absently reached down to my hip to check my sidearm. It was a rather unusual weapon, far more advanced than anything available to common soldiers. It fired several kinds of rounds, including a high powered one that could blow a hole through armor plating and a taser round. My sidearm was even customized to me, scanning my fingerprints and DNA before it would fire. If anyone else tried using it, it would be about as useful as a paper weight.

Once I was satisfied that my sidearm was secure and loaded, both of which I'd already verified when I put it on, I glanced over my uniform. My uniform was actually a gray and red light weight body armor and it was in perfect condition, just as it had been when I put it on less than half an hour ago.

Since I was satisfied that everything was acceptable, I looked into the optical scanner by the metal door and announced, "Edward Briggs reporting for my shift." Then I had to wait just several seconds as it verified my identity and confirmed it to the people on the other side.

A moment later, the door opened and I stepped through, seeing two other men dressed identically to myself. "Hey Eddie," one of them nodded to me. "Glad you're here... I can't wait to go home and take a shower..."

"Have fun Mitch," I told him with a nod as he left, closing the heavy door behind him.

Once the door was sealed, I nodded to the man who remained with me and looked over the room. It was actually more of a short hallway than a room and there were eight other doors besides the one we'd come through. Of course, these doors were all different from that one and more importantly each of them sealed in a very dangerous criminal.

My name is Edward Briggs and I was a guard at the most dangerous prison in the entire world, Mount Prometheus. Physically, Mount Prometheus is an extremely secure complex built inside a hollowed out mountain and created for the sole purpose of holding developed prisoners. The fact that we kept their powers neutralized and under control didn't make them any less dangerous. Some of these people had literally killed thousands single handed.

"Any problems today?" I asked my partner Neil as I started my shift.

"Toxic has been acting up again," Neil told me, "And Ms. Bitch threatened to disembowel my entire family. About the usual."

I nodded at that and started to walk around, looking at the various cell doors. I knew exactly who was held behind each of them, having not only studied their files but also having dealt with them personally for the last two months since I'd been transferred into D section.

Mount Prometheus was broken up into various sections for security purposes, each one having it's own separate backup power and security systems. Each of them also only held eight prisoners. Each section had two guards on hand at all times and a central monitoring center could send reinforcements at a moments notice.

Neil and I were assigned to D section, a medium threat level area. But in spite of the fact that these prisoners were classified only a medium threat level, I had no doubt that any of them could be quite lethal to me. I might be 6 foot 3 and in great shape, but several of them could literally snap me in half with almost no effort and others could do even worse things. Fortunately, Mount Prometheus had a lot of experience keeping those powers from being used against us.

As I walked past each cell door, I looked into the cell at the prisoner inside and mentally reminded myself of who they were and what crimes they'd committed. It was always good to stay on your toes around these people, even if their powers weren't active at the moment.

In the first cell was our prisoner Manticore, a cyborg who'd been created by the villain Cyberius He was tall and muscular, with several cybernetic grafts and implants, the most noticeable of which was the metal scorpions tail that came out of his spine.

When Manticore was at his best, he was strong...very strong. He could bench press a car, had razor sharp claws, and that nasty metal scorpion tail that was filled with some extremely corrosive acids. I always wondered why they hadn't surgically removed the tail, but it was tied into his nervous system in such a way that his lawyer argued that removing it might kill him. Personally, I thought that might be a good thing but it wasn't my decision to make.

The next cell contained Ms. Bitch, some kind of magic user. I didn't understand magic, but I knew she'd been responsible for some pretty nasty deaths. She'd been convicted of killing 29 people in a particularly gruesome fashion and was suspected in the deaths of at least a dozen more.

I looked over the next two prisoners then stopped in front of Toxic. She was sitting back in her cell, trying to look innocent and friendly, though I knew it was only an act. Her expression shifted slightly and I could see the dark predatory look in her eye that I took to be her real personality.

"Good morning Angela," I said, intentionally using her real name since I knew she hated it.

"You know I'm going to kill you," she responded in a casual tone, even smiling as though talking about her favorite TV show.

"You've said that several times," I responded calmly, feeling pretty confident since she was locked behind the cell.

Toxic was actually quite pretty, but I thought of that more as a camouflage to her true nature than anything else. She was 5 foot 4, had a very nice and athletic body. She had shoulder length green and black streaked hair and tended to wear green makeup and nail polish when not in custody. I was also well aware that if she were free and able to use her powers, she could probably follow through with her threat without breaking a sweat. Fortunately, she was locked up and even if she wasn't, I was a damn good shot.

"I hear you've been acting up again," I said calmly, rather enjoying these little exchanges that Toxic and I frequently had. "You know you'll never get out of here on good behavior if you keep misbehaving..."

"But I'm a bad girl at heart," she smirked, "I am going to get out of here and when I do I'll kill you and everyone else who held me..."

"That's nice to know," I told her, then grinned, "Oh... I just saw the lunch menu today. It's fish sticks...your favorite."

"I hate fish," she spat out angrily, "When I get out, I'm gonna kill everyone in your kitchen... They deserve to die for feeding me this crap."

I just smiled politely and commented, "Maybe I should take you to visit my high school cafeteria then..." Then I told Toxic, "Just be thankful we're not feeding you MREs..."

"MREs?" Toxic gave me a suspicious look.

"Meals Ready to Eat," I explained, "Military rations."

Toxic nodded, then suddenly jumped straight at me. I quickly stepped back, feeling a surge of fear in spite of the fact that I knew she couldn't get past the door. She was just messing with me, and as much as it annoyed me to admit, she'd gotten to me. I'd already drawn my sidearm out of instinct.

Now Toxic stood back and watched me with a smirk, "It's only a matter of time guard..."

I was embarrassed at the way I'd reacted and tried to cover it up and regain my dignity by calmly turning and continuing my daily tour of the prison cells. I kind of rushed through the remaining cells, returning to my position by the door, right next to Neil. He gave me a look to let me know what he thought of my exchange with Toxic, though he didn't say anything aloud, for which I was grateful.

The next several hours of my shift were uneventful, with the exception of the psychotic Sister Vicious being transferred to another section for some more psychiatric testing. And since other guards were brought in to escort her, Neil and I only had to be concerned about her during the short time between her being moved from her cell to leaving D section.

The most difficult part of my job is the boredom. Since the prisoners are locked up and under control we have to deal with long periods of nothing happening. That's also the most dangerous part since when you let your guard down, that's the perfect time for something to go wrong. I have to ignore the boredom and remain alert in spite of doing nothing but staring at the cell doors for hours on end.

I scowled, trying to keep myself alert and aware, doing the same mental tricks that I had when I spent long hours on guard duty in the Marines. That kind of thing is one of the main reasons they like to hire former military to be guards at Mount Prometheus. We tend to have more discipline when it comes to remaining alert during long hours of boring guard duty.

Neil looked at his watch with an impatient expression and I knew exactly what he was thinking. He had less than an hour left on his shift and was eager to get out of here. I knew exactly how he felt. Long periods of boredom mixed with an awareness that you were surrounded by very dangerous people could really get to you.

"Almost time for DJ to get here," Neil said unnecessarily. I just nodded, feeling a little envious since my shift wasn't even half over.

Just then, my radio came to life and I heard an excited voice blaring through my ear piece, "Code 39 in L section..."

"Code 39," I gasped, turning to Neil. Both of simultaneously blurted out, "The Key!"

Mount Prometheus was a highly secure prison facility, but even we've had a number of escapes over the years and nearly every one of them has been attributed to the Key. No one knew much about the Key and that lack of knowledge made him into our boogie man.

The Key could somehow get through any and all security measures no matter how extreme they were. He could have been an extremely successful villain, slipping in and out of bank vaults and even Fort Knox at will. But for some reason, he avoided doing the dirty work himself and set himself up as a super villain insurance agent instead. Instead of selling normal insurance, they'd pay him to get them out of jail if they were ever caught. He normally broke his clients out before they ever made it to Mount Prometheus but occasionally he made an appearance here...such as he appeared to be doing right now.

"Shit," I cursed, drawing my sidearm and holding it at the read ready. If the Key came into D section, he'd find me ready to take him down. Neil mimicked my actions and took a position on the opposite end of the hall.

"What's going on?" Ms. Bitch shouted from her cell, noticing that something was up. That drew the attention of the other prisoners who started to watch with interest.

"Something seems to be wrong," Toxic mused, her eye looking around, ready to notice any opportunity no matter how small.

My radio continued to blurt out reports, reports which grew more frantic, "Code 39 in G section. Code RED in G section... He let them out...!" That voice terminated in a scream.

"I hope he's not going for Alpha Core," Neil exclaimed with a look of nervousness in his eyes.

"That would be bad," I agreed in an extreme understatement.

Alpha Core was the most secure area in all of Mount Prometheus, where all the most powerful and most dangerous developed prisoners were held. Prisoners such as Mistress Meyhem, The Annihilator, Blaspheme...and that rogue hero Force. If they were to get loose... If the Key were to penetrate the Alpha Core, they just might activate the nuclear fail safe to prevent an escape. And if that happened, it would all be over for me and just about everyone else inside Mount Prometheus.

The radio continued to blurt out reports, mostly about the breakout attempt going on in G section. All the reinforcements in the prison would be split between going there and trying to catch the Key. Of course, no one had ever caught the Key yet.

"Code 39 in R section," the radio blared in my ear, followed moments later by, "Code RED in R section..." I heard more yelling from the line before the guards in R section went silent...perhaps for good. I wanted to rush to help them, but I knew I couldn't. My duty was to stay here, to lock down D section and keep it secure.

I felt a cold chill running down my spine even as the adrenaline surged through my veins. This was wrong... I'd never heard of the Key doing anything like this before. It was completely against his normal method of operation. From everything I'd heard, he normally showed up, grabbed the prisoner he came for and vanished before anyone even knew he was there. The few times people had even caught a glimpse of him had been almost pure luck. But this...this was something completely different.

I squeezed my firearm tightly, my finger feeling almost itchy on the trigger. I wanted to just get this done and over with though forced myself to remain calm and focused. I had a job to do and I was going to do it.

"Damn," Neil muttered, whispering some prayers that I couldn't quite make out.

"What the hell is going on?" Manticore demanded from his cell.

Toxic just watched us with a look of intense interest, not hearing what Manticore had just asked. The cells were specially designed to prevent much communication between prisoners. However, Ms. Bitch in the cell beside him and somehow heard and exclaimed, "It's a breakout..."

"Shut up," Neil snapped at her, looking extremely worried. I was worried too, though I probably did a better job of hiding it.

Suddenly, there was a flash of red light and he was there...the Key. He was about average height and rather slender in build, dressed entirely in a costume of red and scarlet. He had a red mask that covered his entire head so I couldn't make out any features at all, not even his skin color. Around his waist, he wore a belt that held a large white metal key ring, filled with at least a half dozen old fashioned keys that looked as though they'd be perfect for opening a pirates chest.

Even as I took in the sight of the Key appearing in the middle of the corridor, I was yelling, "Code 39 in D sector," into the radio and aiming my gun at him.

Before I could get off a single shot, the Key threw a glowing green ball onto the floor. It exploded on impact in a flash of light that blinded me for just a second. I pulled the trigger, but my gun exploded into sparks...as did Neil's and all the cell doors. I squeezed the trigger again to no effect, then gasped in horror as all eight cell doors opened at once.

"Code RED in D sector," I yelled into my radio.

The prisoners all started to come out of their cells, except for Manticore who was actually laying on the floor inside his with sparks coming from his body. It seemed that whatever the Key had used to knock out our weapons and the cell doors had also knocked out the technology in Manticore's body.

While I was noticing this, the Key held out his hand and made a glowing red portal of energy open in the air. "Ms. Bitch and Toxic," the Key said, his voice muffled a bit by his mask, "Come with me..."

Ms. Bitch snarled and suddenly threw a ball of glowing red light straight at Neil. He tried jumping out of the way but wasn't fast enough. A moment later, he was dropping to his knees and screaming in agony. That only lasted for several seconds though before he died, his body broken and twisted in unnatural ways.

"It's good to have my powers back," Ms. Bitch sneered, turning her attention to me.

However, Toxic suddenly got between us and grinned evilly, "No... This one's mine..."

Then Toxic came at me, throwing a fast punch which I just barely managed to block. I was well aware of the fact that this first punch was just her playing with me the way a cat plays with it's prey. I'd read her file and knew exactly what she was capable of and just how easily she could kill me. She was a developed with enhanced strength, speed, agility and reflexes, not to mention something much more dangerous. In spite of the fact that I towered over her by a foot, she was at least three times stronger than I was. Now that she had her powers back and I was unarmed, I didn't stand a chance. But I sure as hell wasn't about to give up.

I grimaced and braced myself, then tried to punch her back. Of course, Toxic easily avoided my fastest attacks and I had the feeling that she was still intentionally slowing herself down in order to keep playing with me.

"We don't have time for this," the Key warned her.

Toxic scowled and suddenly caught my arm in mid punch, immediately twisting it in such a way that she tore the cartilage in my shoulder and elbow and shattered several bones. I didn't know the details of the damage she'd done though, only that my entire arm exploded in pain. However, Toxic wasn't done and swept around, delivering a powerful kick to the middle of my back. I heard a crunch and then started to collapse to the ground before she caught me and held me up.

Then Toxic held out one of her hands and I saw it begin to glow green. Even through my pain I realized what this was. This was her other power...her really dangerous power. It was some sort of neurotoxic touch, the ability which had earned Toxic her name.

"Toxic... Ms. Bitch," the Key said impatiently, "We have to go now..."

"Hey, take me with you," a big muscular brute named Slammer demanded.

But the Key responded, "You're not on my list..."

Toxic snarled and grabbed my good arm with her glowing hand, sending a surge of new pain through me. This pain shot through my entire body, even the parts that had become numb and lifeless. It was a burning agony, as though someone had injected acid into my veins.

"You're dead little man," Toxic whispered to me before she dropped me unceremoniously and vanished through the glowing red portal with Ms. Bitch and the Key.

Six other prisoners remained in D section if not their cells, but I no longer cared about them. I cared about little except for the burning agony and the darkness that was quickly closing in on me. The last things I was aware of before I lost consciousness were the reinforcements finally bursting through the door and a voice on the radio screaming, "CODE 39 IN ALPHA CORE. MY GOD...WE'VE GOT A BREACH..."

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Beep... Beep... Beep... The ever present sound of the heart rate monitor filled my ears. It wasn't very loud, but I couldn't escape it's sound which managed to cut through even the TV in the corner. It seemed at times that I would never be rid of it's incessant beeping.

I grimaced and shifted position in my hospital bed to get a better look at the clock. Then I muttered a brief curse and wondered where the nurse was. She was more than an hour late with my pain killer and I needed it bad.

Back when I'd been in the Marines, I had a buddy who'd been injured in combat and who'd gotten hooked on pain killers while healing up. That addiction eventually got him kicked out of the core. At the time, I'd been pretty ashamed of him...thinking him weak and pitiful. Now I had a much better understanding and a whole lot more sympathy.

My whole world consisted of pain, frustration, boredom and depression. This was all that was left to me since Toxic had left me for dead in Mount Prometheus two months ago. She'd left me broken...shattered...a shell of a man. But I knew I wouldn't even be that for much longer.

Toxic had utterly destroyed my body in a matter of seconds. She'd left one arm so badly mangled that it would take a lot of time and physical therapy to make it even halfway useful again. Her kick had crushed my spine, leaving me paralyzed from about the waist down. And then there was the fact that she'd grabbed my other arm with her neurotoxic touch.

I looked over to the stump of my arm and winced, sickened by the sight. Toxic's poison had killed the flesh of my arm and left it so contaminated that the doctors had to amputate it in order to save my life. Unfortunately, they'd been too late and some of the poison had already spread to the rest of my body. It latched onto my nervous system, sparking almost constant pain...even in places that I can't otherwise feel. And more than that, it was killing me...slowly and painfully.

"That bitch," I grimaced, pausing for a spasm of coughing. I could taste a little blood coming up.

Normally, Toxic's power would have been enough to kill me almost immediately, but she'd been locked up long enough that it had been severely weakened. So instead of a quick death, I was left with a lingering one. And not for the first time, I wished that she had killed me then. I wished that I'd died doing my duty instead of being left broken and useless.

Of course, I hadn't been the only casualty of the breakout. I had to keep reminding myself of that when I felt the self-pity getting too strong. That day had been a disaster for everyone at Mount Prometheus. A lot of guards had been killed, crippled...or worse. The Key had escaped with a dozen prisoners, including several from the Alpha Core. A few more prisoners had even managed to get the rest of the way out on their own while the rest were contained and forced back into their cells. It was the worst breakout in Mount Prometheus history and the biggest disaster for the guards.

I grimaced and looked at the clock again, "Where the hell is that damn nurse?"

"She'll be in a little later," a voice surprised me from the doorway.

I looked up and saw a man standing there. He was probably in his forties with dark hair that was fast turning gray. He was dressed in a gray suit and held a briefcase, but he didn't strike me as a business man. In fact, his body language reminded me more of a cop or soldier, perhaps influenced by the character adding scar on his jaw.

"I instructed the nurse to hold off on your painkillers until after we've had a chance to talk," the man stated, "I need you able to think clearly."

"Who are you?" I demanded, staring at him suspiciously.

The man didn't say a word as he locked the door behind him and then pulled out a small device the size of a remote control from his pocket. He held it out and slowly waved it around the room with a serious expression. Then he put the device back into his pocket with a faint nod.

"I want to ensure we have privacy for this conversation," the man said with a serious expression.

"You were looking for bugs," I stated, becoming more suspicious.

As a prison guard for a prison full of developed villains, this wasn't the first time I'd run across the idea of being bugged. Some people want to find out everything they can about those watching over the prisoners, looking for any weak spots they can exploit. I wondered if this was more of the same, though I didn't see what I could offer anyone now. I've been out of the loop for two months.

The man wordlessly came to me and held out a badge and ID. He didn't flash his badge quickly like you see in so many cop shows, but actually held it out long enough for me to get a good look. Either his ID was genuine, or it was a damn good fake.

"My name is Donald Rice," he said unnecessarily, giving the name that was on his ID. "I'm with DAD."

"The Developed Affairs Department," I said grimly.

The Developed Affairs Department was a small federal agency that focused on crimes involving the developed. They were sort of like the FBI for the super powered set. They liked to keep their existence quiet so most of the public hadn't really heard much about them, but you couldn't work at Mount Prometheus and not know about them.

"You here investigating the breakout?" I asked, bracing myself for a lot questions about the Key. Not many people had seen him before this so I was a relatively rare witness. I'd already been questioned about the Key and the breakout several times, but government investigators loved being redundant.

"Yes and no," Rice told me with a scowl. "I am here about the breakout, but probably not for the reason you think."

I shifted in my bed, wincing at how much even that much hurt. I scowled in annoyance, my eyes darting to the door as I wished the nurse would come in with the pain killer. But that wasn't going to happen just yet. I took a deep breath and forced myself to stay focused on the matter at hand.

"You do understand," Rice stared at me grimly, "Everything we talk about here is highly classified."

I nodded at that, not needing him to explain what that meant. As a former Marine, I was well aware of the importance of protecting classified information...and the penalties for revealing it. Of course, those penalties didn't concern me much at the moment but I still took the label of classified very seriously.

"We know who's responsible for the breakout," Rice stated.

I grimaced, "The Key."

"No," Rice shook his head, surprising me with his answer. "I mean the people who hired him. The Black Guild."

"The Black Guild?" I asked. I'd heard the name mentioned once or twice back in the prison, but I didn't really know much about it.

Rice set his brief case down and then took a seat in the chair beside my bed. He scowled thoughtfully, then explained, "They started off as a loose knit group of developed criminals who worked together on occasion for common benefit. Unfortunately for us, they've grown larger and more organized. We have reason to believe they hired the Key and orchestrated the breakout in order to free and recruit a number of specific prisoners. But why they went through so much effort and why they wanted these specific prisoners we don't know."

I just nodded, not sure what to say to this information since I was mostly wondering why Rice was giving it to me. "The Black Guild was behind it..." I said that more as a way to encourage Rice to continue and get to the real point than anything else.

"Unfortunately," Rice told me, "we don't know nearly enough about the Black Guild and their operations. We don't even know for certain how extensive their organization is, though we've positively nearly two dozen active developed members and believe there are at least that many again. This isn't even counting those they recruited during the beak out."

I winced, but more from pain than from how bad this Black Guild seemed to be. However, Rice took it as acknowledgment of how nasty this group was and I didn't disabuse him of that notion. Still, he hadn't gotten to the point as to why he'd come to me.

Rice continued, "They were difficult to deal with before, but they've recently begun organizing and breaking down into specific cells. Intelligence indicates that they're preparing for something big, but we still don't know what it is."

"So," I said a little more gruffly than I'd intended, "Why are you telling me this?"

Rice stood up again and stared at me for a long moment before finally answering. "Because we have an opportunity to infiltrate the Black Guild and find out what they're up to." He gave me an intense look as he added, "And we want you to be our mole."

For a moment, I just stared at Rice, sure that he was joking. Then I burst out laughing but it quickly turned into a very painful spasm of coughing. Rice watched me with an expression of sympathy as I coughed up blood for nearly a minute, not saying a word.

Once I finally stopped coughing, I winced in pain, wishing the nurse would hurry up and get her ass in her with the pain killer. Then I turned my attention back to Rice and snorted, "I don't know who you think I am..."

"I know exactly who you are," Rice answered, opening up his brief case and pulling out a folder. He opened it up and continued, "You're Edward Hayworth Briggs, thirty-six years old and never married. You joined the Marines straight out of high school, and after serving eight years you left to work for a private security company. You worked there for six years before applying for and being accepted for a guard position at Mount Prometheus."

"And where in that," I demanded sarcastically, "does it suggest I'm even remotely qualified to infiltrate a group of super villains?" Then I vaguely gestured at my body with my cast covered remaining arm, bitterly spitting out, "And I sure as hell ain't in any kind of physical condition..."

"Your physical condition is irrelevant," Rice told me after a moment. "In fact, it's one of the reasons you were selected as our best choice."

That made no sense to me and I was hurting too much to be polite, "What the hell are you talking about?"

Rice didn't seem any more bothered by my abruptness than he had by any of my other comments. He continued to remain calm, though he did look pretty tense. Whatever this was, he obviously thought it was pretty serious.

"Our intention is to have our agent exchange bodies with a known developed criminal and recent recruit of the Black Guild," Rice finally said. I stared at him in disbelief, sure he was joking. But before I could say anything, he held up a hand to forestall my comments and continued, "We've confiscated a body switching device, which was ironically enough, invented by a Black Guild associate known as Dr. Nasty."

"You have a body switching device," I said quietly, taking him seriously for the first time.

"How we acquired the device is classified," Rice told me with a nod, "But the events surrounding it gave me the idea of how we could slip in an agent. They won't suspect someone who's already been proven as one of their own."

"But why me?" I asked him seriously, "Surely you've got your own people... Hell, there have to be a lot of people more qualified than me."

"Because," Rice answered slowly, "the body swap is one time only. When we acquired the device, it was effectively out of power. We discovered afterwards that it has just enough residual power to perform one more mind exchange." He gave me a very intense look, "Whoever we use can't go back to their own body."

"No wonder you don't have any volunteers," I responded thoughtfully, imagining that most people wouldn't willingly give up their body and life. "So you looked for someone who wouldn't mind getting a new body." Still, I had to ask, "There still has to be someone better for this than me."

"Probably," Rice admitted, "But we don't have time to find them. We have a very limited window of opportunity."

"What do you mean?" I asked with a scowl.

"We've just recaptured one of the Mount Prometheus escapees," Rice told me with a deep scowl. "One who's been confirmed as a recent Black Guild recruit. We only have several days to switch our agent with the prisoner and get her back before they notice her absence and become suspicious."

I just nodded at that, though I was so distracted from my pain that I missed one important detail at first. Then I blinked, "Her?" I narrowed my eyes suspiciously, "Your prisoner is a woman..."

Rice looked a little embarrassed at that, but then he opened his briefcase again and pulled out another folder. He opened it and set it on my lap, letting me see several photos of a woman. It was a woman that I immediately recognized as well.

"Toxic," I bitterly spat out the name of the woman who'd killed me. I glared at Rice, "You've got to be kidding me."

"Yes," Rice responded almost apologetically. "She is the one we recaptured."

"You want me to become a woman?" I spat out angrily, "You want me to become HER?"

"I know it's not ideal," Rice sighed as he sat back down beside me, giving me a steady look. "Ideally, we'd have a qualified female agent who could do this. Unfortunately, we don't have time to find the right one. You are our best option in the short time we have."

"Why her?" I demanded coldly, "Why not one of the male prisoners in Mount Prometheus? There sure are enough to choose from."

"That wouldn't work," Rice explained patiently. "The Black Guild would get suspicious if someone who was known to be in Mount Prometheus suddenly appeared trying to join their organization. And secondly, DAD doesn't have authority over Mount Prometheus or the prisoners. Our only chance was to capture a member of the Black Guild and replace them without anyone finding out. Toxic..." He pointed to the pictures on my lap, "She's our only choice."

I was silent for a long moment as I thought about what he said. I couldn't believe he'd even suggest such a thing as this, especially after what Toxic had done to me.

"You are the best choice for this mission," Rice stated, glancing through one of the folders again. "You're a trained soldier who knows the value of completing the mission at all costs. You've read Toxic's files thoroughly, and more importantly, you have personal experience with her. You know the way she speaks, acts, and interacts with others. You know her habits and mannerisms. You know things that can't be picked out of a file. No one remaining in Mount Prometheus has your level of experience dealing with her, and that experience will be invaluable in impersonating her."

"Great," I grimaced, never having imagined that the time I'd spent watching over Toxic and having those oh so enjoyable conversations with her would be turned to this kind of purpose.

However, Rice wasn't through giving me reasons as to why I was chosen for the mission. "Whoever goes through this will have to end their old life for good and you don't have any close friends or family to leave behind, only a brother that you haven't seen in five years."

"Four years," I corrected him, suddenly having regrets about the distant relationship I had with my only sibling.

"No close ties," Rice agreed. Then he stood up again and looked down at me with a sympathetic expression. "Your body is broken and crippled," he said, starting to explain why I should accept his proposal. "And you're dying. The doctors tell me you probably won't live another three months."

I nodded faintly at that, trying to keep my emotions from showing on my face. I just gave him a steady look, trying to show that I wasn't afraid of death. Of course I was bluffing but he didn't need to know that.

"This is probably your only chance," Rice told me, giving me a very steady look. Then his tone shifted and he changed tactics again. "The Black Guild is an extremely dangerous organization. You've seen the damage they caused when they organized the breakout, and that was just a preliminary to something else...to something even bigger. Who knows how many innocents could be killed if they're not stopped."

Rice continued on for a minute but I barely heard him. I shook as a spasm if intense pain rushed through me, hurting most on the arm that I no longer even possessed. These phantom pains were particularly nasty since I knew there was nothing that could be done about them. Rice paused, looking as though he wanted to call the nurse for me. But if he did, our interview would be over and he didn't want that until he got an answer.

Once my current spasm had passed, I bit back on the remaining pain and weakly told him, "You were saying..."

"If you turn this down," Rice told me quietly, "we will find someone else. They won't have as much intimate knowledge about Toxic and they'll have to sacrifice much more than you...but we can find someone else." He paused for a moment to return the folders to his briefcase. Only then did he continue, "If you accept... If you accept, you'll have a healthy new body and a new life. And once this is over, we'll put you in witness protection and set you up with a new identity. It's your choice, but I need a decision fast. We don't have much time."

"What about Toxic?" I asked curiously, "What happens to her?"

Rice scowled, "She'll be transferred into your body and will then be secured and loaded with pain killers for the rest of her life." He didn't look as though he was pleased with that, though he probably saw no other options.

"A living hell," I whispered.

I sank back into my pillow and let out a long sigh, though it came out sounding more like a grunt. I needed to think about this... This was a major decision, one that was even larger than when I'd made the decision to enlist. But even as I thought about it, I knew that I'd already made my decision. I'd made it several minutes ago and was only considering the consequences.

I've always considered myself a practical man, and though there were a lot of things about this offer that I didn't like, I couldn't escape one undeniable fact. This was my one and only chance to survive. I might not want to be a woman, especially not HER, but my male pride was nothing compared to my survival. However, not all of my reasoning was so self-centered. This Black Guild had caused a lot of death and destruction when they caused the breakout at Mount Prometheus, and if I could do anything to stop them from doing it again I would.

After I'd considered my decision for nearly five minutes, I stared at Rice and said, "So, I'll get a healthy new body, a chance to stop the bad guys, and I'll get even with the bitch who did this to me..." Then I gave him a cold smile, "So what's the downside?"

Rice nodded at that, letting out a faint sigh of relief. "We'll get things started right away then." He nodded to me as he turned to leave, pausing at the door. "I'll send the nurse in but you might not have much time for the pain killers. We're going to be moving fast." And with that he was gone, leaving me to wonder if I'd made the right decision. However, when I started coughing up blood again, I knew I had.

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The building was nondescript, the kind used in nearly every strip mall across the country. There were spaces in it for a half dozen shops, all but two of which had been closed. The door we went through still had the sign above it for the timeshare liquidation company that used to be there, though the closed and going out of business signs made it clear they were long gone.

This was not the kind of location that one would be suspicious of, nor would it enter your mind that it was really an operations center for a government agency. At least it had never entered my mind and I never would have guessed if Rice hadn't told me.

At the moment I was being pushed in my wheelchair by a nondescript middle-aged woman who worked for Rice. She had brown hair pulled back into a bun and was dressed so that she'd blend in at any grocery store or park without drawing any attention. Of course, since she was working for Rice I knew that there was more to her than meets the eye.

The woman whose name I still hadn't been given pushed me through the abandoned office to a spot in the back. She pulled a fire alarm to the side, revealing a hidden key hole behind it. She silently entered a key and turned it, then waited patiently for a moment. Then a section of the wall slid open, revealing a hidden elevator.

"Going down," the woman told me with a faint smile as she pushed my wheelchair inside. "We'll meet up with Agent Rice again in just a few minutes."

When the elevator stopped descending, I found that we were at one end of a long concrete hallway. The woman said nothing as she began pushing my wheelchair again, nor did she need to. I already knew that we were just going to the sub basement of a DAD owned building a short distance away. The abandoned store front was just a back door entrance for people that shouldn't be seen actually going there, such as a prospective undercover agent like myself.

"There used to be a real office back there," the woman told me casually, "It was a front of course, but it closed down when the agency moved to a newer facility about ten years ago."

The hallway ended soon enough with us at a thick metal door that looked almost like it belonged on a safe. This door had an electronic security keypad with a hand print scanner, both of which my guide quickly used to unlock it and let us through.

"Right this way," she told me, as though I could have gone somewhere other than where she pushed me.

This side of the door was much nicer than the concrete hallway we'd just come from, though still noticeably outdated. The tan carpets looked worn and should have been replaced several years ago, but since the building had been in 'official' use for ten years, there probably wasn't any budget for it or enough people using it for anyone to care.

We'd barely gone inside when Rice greeted us, "Good...you made it." He looked at his watch and nodded faintly, "I hope there were no problems."

"None worth mentioning Agent Rice," the woman responded.

"So what now?" I demanded, hiding my apprehension behind gruffness.

"This way," Rice said, turning and walking down another hall while my guide pushed me after him.

We went into another room where there were two more men waiting, both of them dressed in nearly the same kind of suit as Rice. One was a skinny blonde guy while the other was a stocky Hispanic. Both of them stared at me with impassive expressions, though I thought I noticed a glimpse of pity behind the eyes of the Hispanic.

"These are Agents Miller and Vasquez," Rice gestured to the two men. Then he nodded to the woman who'd been pushing my wheelchair, "You've already met Agent Cullough."

"We hadn't exactly been introduced," I looked to her, finding it hard to believe she was a federal agent. A housewife yes...a DAD agent...no. Of course, that would probably be an advantage in undercover work.

"You can call me Debra," she said holding out her hand before taking a look at me and pulling it back with a blush of embarrassment.

"This is my team," Rice gestured to the three people around him, "They're the only ones besides the two of us who know the details of this operation. The fewer people who know, the less chance there is of a leak."

I nodded at that, knowing full well that if the wrong people found out about this, I'd be killed at the very least. Then I winced as a surge of pain hit me, making me wish I had more pain killers on me. However, I'd kept my last dose light enough that I'd be able to think clearly.

"This is the device I told you about," Rice said, nodding to Miller and Vasquez who went to a large curtain on the other side of the room and pulled it aside.

Behind the curtain was a large machine that looked like it had come straight out of a mad scientists lab...or a torture chamber. There was a mass of machinery about the size of a vending machine and which looked like some sort of strange computer. Two chairs were positioned along the sides of it and there were even a pair of helmets that had cables running from them into the machine. I couldn't quite decide if the whole thing looked ridiculous or impressive.

"It isn't too late," Debra told me with a worried expression. "You can still back out..."

Rice glared at her and she shut up. However, he turned to me and asked, "Do you fully understand what you're getting into? Once we start, there's no turning back...ever."

I just stared at the strange looking machine, thinking about what this would me for me...for my life. It was then that I was hit with another spasm of pain and a bout of coughing. I coughed up more blood, a clear sign that my the poison in my body was tearing at my vital organs as well as my nervous system. I turned to Rice, even more determined than before.

"Lets get this started," I told him grimly, biting back the pain I felt.

Rice nodded, then turned to Miller and Vasquez, "Bring her in."

Miller and Vasquez quickly left through another door in the room. Almost immediately after they were gone, Debra said, "We're going to have to strap you down...for afterwards."

It took a few seconds for the meaning of her words to sink in, then I nodded, "Okay..."

With that, Rice and Debra began to strap me into my wheel chair. Even though I was paralyzed from the waist down, they still strapped down my legs, along with my torso and cast covered arm. I could barely move around as it was, and now I was completely and totally helpless. However, I refused to show how uncomfortable this made me feel and tried putting on a brave face.

"What's that?" I looked a the syringe in Debra's hand.

"A very strong painkiller," Rice answered my question. "We can't give it to you yet since we want your mind clear for the transference, but it should help keep Toxic under control afterwards."

Just a minute later, Miller and Vasquez returned. Vasquez came through the door first, holding a firearm of the same model that I'd used at Mount Prometheus. Miller followed closely afterwards, pushing an extremely sturdy looking wheelchair that had a familiar person strapped to it.

"Toxic," I whispered, feeling a surge of fear at the sight of her. I couldn't help but remembering what she'd done to me the last time I saw her. But that fear quickly turned to rage and loathing. The moment I saw her, I lost all regrets and guilt about what we were going to do to her.

Toxic was not only strapped into the chair with some very solid metal constraints, but she also had a power inhibitor collar around her neck. Rice and his people certainly weren't taking any chances with her and I wholeheartedly approved. The fact that Toxic was snarling and looking pissed only brought a smile to my face.

"I'm gonna kill you when I get loose," Toxic hissed to Vasquez, then paused to stare at me with a look of surprised recognition. "YOU? I thought I killed you..."

"You did," I spat at her, meeting her eyes and refusing to look away first. "It's just taking awhile..."

Toxic stared at me for a moment and then actually burst out laughing, taking a cruel delight in my suffering. "Perhaps you should end it quickly then," she sneered, then added, "Or you can let me go and I'll finish the job..."

I continued staring at her, my heart now fully hardened to what was to come. "I hope you remember how much pride you take in what you've done when it's your turn to deal with it."

Toxic just rolled her eyes and turned her attention to Rice, "Fine...you've made me see what I've done. Now I'm going to feel all guilty and have something to think about when you take me back to Mount Prometheus."

"I know better than to expect you to feel guilt," Rice responded grimly, then added, "And who ever said you were going back to Mount Prometheus?"

"What?" Toxic asked in surprise.

With that, Miller and Vasquez quickly pushed Toxic's wheelchair to the machine while she struggled to get loose. Of course, their constraints and the power inhibitor collar both worked to keep her from escaping, but she wasn't about to let that stop her from fighting it...for all the good it did her.

"What the fuck are you doing?" Toxic screamed out with a growing fear in her voice. "You're going to put me in the electric chair...? I thought you were cops..." She let loose a vicious barrage of profanity and threats while they put the strange helmet on her.

"Your turn," Debra told me, already moving my chair to the machine as well. Once I was strapped in with the helmet on my head, she injected me with the syringe, saying, "It'll take just a couple minutes to really kick in."

I have to give Rice and his people credit for being fast and efficient. Rice was at the controls of the machine, turning it on almost the instant Debra had backed away from me. I felt a strange humming building up around me and then through me. Then it hit, a sudden surge of something hitting my brain and causing everything to be torn away and thrown into darkness.

Reality returned to me in a snap and all my senses flooded back to life. Sight, sound, and everything else came crashing back with enough force to leave me dazed and confused. I had no idea how long I'd been out of it, but I knew immediately that something was very different. It took me a moment longer for my senses to resettle enough that I could actually look around.

"What...did...you...do...to...me...?" a man said from the side, though his voice was weak and unsteady. It took me a moment to realize that it was my voice, or at least my old voice.

I blinked in amazement, realizing that for the first time in months I wasn't in pain. I didn't feel any of the pain and agony that I'd been suffering through. In fact, I felt amazingly good.

"I think it worked," I said, surprised by the sound of my own voice. It wasn't my voice, or at least not the one I was used to hearing. Instead, it was a woman's voice.

I tried reaching up to feel my face but my hand was was held down and tightly constrained, as was the rest of my body. However, I was delighted to note that I could feel my legs...that I could wiggle my toes. I never would have imagined that something so simple could excite me so much, but that was all it took after several months of paralysis.

"Is that you Briggs?" Rice asked me with a serious expression.

"Yeah," I responded, then realized that he was waiting for the password we'd set up earlier. "The password is Hippopotamus..."

"Good," Rice smiled now that my identity had been confirmed.

"Let me get that," Miller said, taking off my helmet but hesitating a moment before he began undoing the metal constraints that held me.

Once I was released, I slowly climbed out of the wheelchair, feeling wobbly and unbalanced. But at the same time, I also felt light on my feet and so very healthy. I took my time, marveling at the sensations from my new body but trying to remain focused enough that I wouldn't lose my balance and fall over.

"It worked," I whispered in awe, looking down at myself and seeing a pair of breasts pushing out from my chest. "It fucking worked..."

I looked at Rice, surprised that I hadn't noticed how tall he was before. Then I quickly reminded myself that I was in a new body, one that was nearly a foot shorter than I was used to. It was strange to think of myself as being short, but there was no doubt that I certainly was when compared to my old self.

It was then that I noticed a burning smell. "What is that smell?" I asked, looking around and then noticing a little smoke coming from the body switching machine.

"We used the last of its power and pushed it too far," Rice explained, "It burned out."

"We thought that might happen," Miller told me with a scowl. "But it doesn't matter. It's not like we had the power to ever use it again anyway..."

"Oh," I responded, feeling strangely numb to the idea that my old life was gone for good.

"What did you do to me?" Toxic demanded from my body, still strapped into my wheel chair. She winced, "It hurts..."

I stared at her without any sympathy or pity. "Most of that's from your neurotoxic touch," I reminded her. "It's attacking the nerves and slowly killing everything else."

Toxic stared at me with a look of horror, "I'll kill you for this..."

"You already tried that," Debra reminded her, "And look at where you are because of it. You're not in a position to ever hurt anyone again."

"You did quite a job on that body," I almost smirked, "It only seemed fair that you get to try it out yourself."

Toxic started to blurt out some profanity laced threats but then suddenly went into a nasty coughing fit. I knew quite well what she had to be feeling at the moment. Her lungs would feel like they were on fire and she'd be tasting the blood in her mouth. I felt nothing except relief that it wasn't me and never would be again.

After Toxic stopped coughing, she didn't have enough energy to continue her threatening rant. In fact, her eyes were starting to glaze over and her expression was going blank. Obviously the pain killer that Debra injected me with before the mind switch was kicking in.

"What's going to happen to her now?" I asked, more out of curiosity than any concern. After all, that had been my body for over three decades, and though I was glad to be rid of it I still wanted to know what was going to happen to it.

"She's been given a death sentence now," Rice said quietly, "The one she gave you. We'll keep her secure, isolated and on pain killers for the time she has left. We might have put her in your body, but there's no need to be any more cruel about it than we have to be."

Toxic quickly descended into a dazed state, too drugged to offer even a token verbal resistance. I wasn't even sure how much of her environment she was aware of at the moment. I just hoped she could still feel the pain through the pain killers. I know it wasn't very nice of me, but I wanted that bitch to suffer.

A minute later, Miller and Vasquez wheeled Toxic out of the room, taking her to wherever they were going to store her. I hoped it was a cold and uncomfortable prison cell, but I had a feeling that it was more likely to be a nice comfortable hospital bed. That was more than that psychotic bitch deserved.

Once they were gone, Rice turned and stared at me with a strange expression. I could imagine what was going on in his head and how disconcerting it would be talking to me like this. Of course, that couldn't match what it was like for me to be in the body of the woman who'd murdered me.

"You should probably clean up before we start," Rice said uncomfortably, "We haven't let Toxic near a shower since we captured her." He nodded to Debra.

"I'll show you the womens shower," Debra told me with a nervous smile.

I nodded, feeling strangely numb as I followed after Debra. I looked back at Rice who was still staring at me oddly, then turned my attention to the matter at hand. I had no doubt that having me take a shower now was more about giving me a chance to check out my new body than it was about getting clean. However, if they had the good manners to keep up the pretense I wasn't about to stop them.

"Here we are," Debra told me when we stepped into the locker room.

I looked around, immediately feeling like I was out of place because I'd gone through the door clearly marked 'women'. Of course, I knew that I'd have to get used to that because it now applied to me. From now on, the boys room would be forbidden to me while the women's room would be where I belonged. It was a strange thought to get my mind around.

In spite of that, the locker room didn't look any different than any other locker room I'd ever been in. It almost could have been the same locker room I'd used in my old high school, scaled down for use by only a dozen people at a time. The group shower stall had three nozzles in it and was big enough for three men...or three women to shower at the same time without touching. All in all, the sheer familiarity helped me relax.

"I'll be back in an hour so we can get started," Debra told me with a scowl, "We have a lot to do and we only have two days to get you ready and inserted." Then she turned and left the locker room, leaving me to myself.

"An hour is a long time to clean up," I muttered to myself as I looked at the shower stall.

Of course, I was well aware that the time wasn't for cleaning but for the inevitable exploration of my new body. There was a practical reason for the giving me this private time as well. After all, how could I impersonate Toxic or any woman if I wasn't familiar with her body. I decided to take it one step at a time and be professional about it. It was an easy decision to make, though much harder to follow through with. Fortunately, the discipline I'd learned in the Marines helped me maintain my focus for the most part.

I slowly pulled down the zipper on the front of the orange prisoner jumpsuit Toxic had been wearing and then removed it. A few seconds later, I was standing there naked, all except for the power inhibitor collar that I still wore. It was the one constraint they hadn't removed after the body switch and one that I felt extremely apprehensive about. After all, the thought of actually using the very power Toxic had used on me as enough to make my stomach knot up.

After a moment of absently touching the collar around my neck, I finally looked down at my body, gulping as I did so. A single glance was enough to reveal what I already knew...that my new body was definitely female. And as nasty as Toxic was, I had to admit that she had a nice figure with great muscle tone.

I spent several minutes just standing there and looking down at myself before I slowly walked to the mirror, feeling almost like a prisoner walking to his execution. It was kind of ironic because I wasn't the prisoner with the death sentence and this had actually been my reprieve. When I reminded myself of that fact, I felt much better.

"Toxic," I said when I stared into the mirror above a sink, seeing her face reflected back at me. "My face," I reminded myself, knowing that I'd have to start thinking of it as such. After all, it would be mine for the rest of my life.

I ran my fingers across my face, finding it's smooth contours strange and unfamiliar. Then I opened my mouth to look at my teeth. I felt almost as though I was examining a horse I was thinking about buying, except this was an animal I'd already purchased lock, stock and barrel.

After I'd spent several minutes just looking over my face, I turned my attention to the rest of my body. I performed a relatively quick examination, then went over it again, running my hands over my skin and trying to stay focused. The goal was just to familiarize myself with my new body, but my heart was racing with a strange mixture of nerves and excitement. I had to admit that I was growing more curious by the moment.

"Strange," I finally said, looking down at myself, "Very VERY strange..."

My new body was quite different from the old one, being much shorter and thinner, not to mention the whole gender thing. Instead of being rough and hairy, my skin was sort and smooth, though I did have a number of new scars courtesy of Toxic's criminal lifestyle. And when I stared at my feminine hands, I had to remind myself that they were the hands of a killler...the hands of a woman who murdered people for fun and profit. But now they were also my hands.

"I already had blood on my hands," I muttered, thinking back to my time as a Marine. But this was different... There was a drastic difference between killing enemy soldiers during war and murdering innocent people. "Damn."

I shook my head with a grimace and tried to shake those thoughts from my mind. I didn't want to sit here philosophizing about what it meant to have the hands of a murderer. Instead, I focused on doing what I could to get ready for my mission. That meant getting cleaned up and ready for whatever Rice had in mind to help prepare me.

My shower started off as a quick and efficient way to get clean, but it didn't quite stay that way. While I was washing, I found myself running my hands over my body and exploring every inch of my new skin. I even started to check out my new sensitive parts. It wasn't the first time I'd had my hands on tits and twat, but it sure as hell was the most interesting.

When I finally finished my shower, I'd spent at least ten times longer in there than I'd intended. I was definitely cleaner than when I'd gone in as well as a little more familiar with my body. Of course, just playing a little grab-ass with myself wasn't going to make me feel at home and comfortable in my new body, but it was a start.

I took my time stepping out of the shower stall, still a bit distracted by the reality of my new body and aware that I still had at least ten minutes before my hour was up. That was plenty of time to throw the jumpsuit back on. But when I looked at the bench where I'd left the dirty jumpsuit, I was startled to see that it was gone and in it's place were a towel and small stack of new clothing.

"Good," I muttered as I grabbed the towel, glad I wouldn't have to put on the dirty clothes again after taking a shower. I quickly dried off my body then went to work on my hair. It was thicker and longer than my hair had ever been before so I knew it would take a bit of work. "Pain in the ass hair..."

Once my hair was as dry as I was going to get it with a towel, I turned my attention to the clothes. I held up what seemed to be a one piece body suit that covered everything from the neck down, though it was missing any arms or sleeves. It was mostly green though it had some black trim, including a black belt with a black metallic skull on it. It was a costume, Toxic's super villain costume to be exact. I'd seen pictures of her wearing it.

"Of course," I said, not too surprised. I'd already known that impersonating Toxic would require me to dress up and act like a super villain. I just hadn't expected someone to sneak in and drop the costume off while I was taking my shower. I blushed as I thought about what they might have seen me doing then shook it off. "They obviously want me to start wearing it now."

I stared at the costume for a few more seconds though, just trying to figure out how to get into it. Once I did, I climbed in through a slit in the back, then reach back and pulled up the tiny zipper to close the slit. The outfit was lightweight, flexible, and a perfect fit. It even seemed to have built in athletic support for my breasts.

"Not bad," I grudgingly admitted as I ran my hand over the costume. I guessed the material to be that half spandex and half kevlar stuff that was so popular among the developed set.

After a moment, I put on the rest of the costume, snapping the black belt with the black skull buckle around my waist and then putting on a pair of fingerless green gloves. I noticed that the gloves both had metal knuckle guards which were bound to make any punch I threw more damaging, which was obviously the intention.

I spent nearly a minute looking myself over and making sure my new outfit was properly adjusted. As strange as it was, I had a long ingrained habit of keeping my uniforms crisp and clean when I wore them and that extended to this one. If I was going to wear this outfit, I wanted it to fit properly and look it's best.

When I was satisfied, I turned and went to the mirror above the sink again. I stared at myself for a moment, fighting back the knot in my stomach at the sight. Whenever I'd seen Toxic at Mount Prometheus, it had always been while she was wearing her prison uniform and not her professional costume. But still, I somehow looked much more like her than before.

Unable to resist the temptation, I glared at my reflection with a cold and lethal look, trying to look as evil and dangerous as I possibly could. The reflected image was so much the Toxic that I knew that I nearly scared myself. If I could keep that up, maybe I really could get away with impersonating her.

Just then, I heard Debra's voice coming from the door to the locker room, calling out, "Are you decent?"

I quickly glanced at the clock and saw that it was about an hour since Rice told me to get showered and cleaned up. "No," I called back with a faint smile, "But I am dressed."

Debra came into the locker room and paused to stare at me, her expression carefully guarded as she did so. She finally nodded, "You look so much like her..."

"That is the point," I reminded Debra, glancing at myself in the mirror one more time before giving her my full attention. "What now?"

"We'll get you briefed and then start your training," Debra told me as she led me to another room, "You have a lot to learn if we're going to pull this off."

Debra took me to a room that looked almost like an office meeting room. It even had the big table and an overhead projector. Rice was in there waiting to us and didn't say a thing before dropping a thick folder onto the table in front of me. It had TOP SECRET stamped clearly right on the front. I hesitated a moment to glance at him for permission before I opened up the folder.

The first thing I saw in the folder was a picture of a teenage goth girl whom I almost immediately recognized as a much younger and more innocent Toxic. It had to have been taken around the time she first got her powers. Underneath that were other pictures of Toxic, including one with her in junior high school dressed up as a cheerleader. I could hardly believe she'd ever been the cheerleader sort.

Along with the pictures were some detailed records that I quickly scanned through. I'd already known much of the basics from reading her previous file, but this one had a lot more details...including her medical records and everything that was known about her.

I just flipped through the records for a moment, then closed my eyes and considered what I already knew about Toxic. She'd grown up perfectly normal as Angela Devroe, but during her senior year of high school she and several of her friends had been exposed to a highly toxic and somewhat mutagentic chemical. Her friends had all died as a result, but some developed sympathetic genes in her DNA had kicked in and caused her body to adapt to the poison. These adaptations meant that her body not only survived the poisons...but also thrived.

It was at this point when Angela developed her powers though it would be a month before anyone else learned of them. Her strength, speed, agility, and reflexes were all increased to low superhuman levels and she gained her lethal neurotoxic touch. She had another ability too, one which made all the others more dangerous. She was not only immune to any and all poisons, but any toxins she was exposed to only acted to fuel and amplify the strength of her other abilities...such as the one she'd used to kill me.

Angela kept her new abilities a secret at first and might have continued to do so if it wasn't for a specific incident. One day she got into a fight with a romantic rival, and in a moment of rage she used her neurotoxic touch...killing the other girl in front of more than a dozen witnesses. Angela immediately ran away from the scene and kept running.

After this, Angela vanished for several years with no record to where she'd been other than several dead bodies in various places that seemed to have been killed with her neurotoxic touch. And since one was a pimp and one a known mugger, the case could be made that they were merely self-defense. When Angela finally reappeared, she was using the name Toxic and working as an enforcer for a loan shark. From there, she moved her way up the criminal ladder to true super villain status, becoming a bank robber, mercenary and even an assassin.

"This contains absolutely everything we know about Toxic," Rice said, shaking me out of my thoughts. "It has absolutely everything we know about her, including all of her known associates and suspected activities. Read it and memorize as much as you can. Your life may very well count on it."

"I understand," I responded grimly, looking at the picture of the teenage goth Angela again.

"Toxic was in civilian attire when we picked her up," Rice told me, gesturing to a large cardboard box, "This was everything she had on her and in her motel room at the time."

Rice poured the contents out on the table and then began to list them all off. Most of the contents were pretty ordinary, such as the clothes she'd been wearing, money, fake identification, makeup, and a pack of cigarettes. Then Rice carefully set down a gold drinking flask.

"Whiskey?" I asked as I picked it up and unscrewed the top so I could take a sniff.

"No," Debra said with a look of disgust, "It's a snake venom cocktail... Highly poisonous. Apparently she picked up a taste for it."

"Oh," I responded, carefully screwing the lid back on so as not to spill it. It took me a moment to remember that I now had Toxic's immunity to poisons so it couldn't actually hurt me.

"From this moment on," Rice told me, "You'll spend every waking minute learning how to better impersonate Toxic and getting into character. Everything rides on your being able to do that."

"Understood," I nodded, steeling my nerves to start getting into character. Then I uncapped the flask again and took a long gulp. In spite of the knowledge that this poison couldn't hurt me anymore, every survival instinct screamed that this was a bad idea. Still, I didn't show what I was feeling and tried to act as though I'd just done something quite ordinary. "Tastes rather sweet..."

"Good," Rice smiled faintly, apparently pleased by my willingness to get into character.

I decided to continue getting in character by grabbing the pack of cigarettes and lighting one. I've smoke a few times in the past when I was hanging out with some buddies, but I'd never considered myself a smoker or even a light smoker. I knew that I might have to change that though if I was going to be Toxic, though at least I didn't have to worry about any of the health problems. As far as I knew, Toxic was the only person alive to whom smoking was actually a healthy activity, and now that trait was mine.

Debra scowled at the cigarette smoke but Rice seemed not to really notice it. He turned on the overhead projector and pulled out several more thick folders. "Once we're doing with the mission briefing," he told grimly, "That's when your training will really begin."

"Whatever," I said with a sneer, pretending to be bored since that's what I thought the real Toxic would do, but at the same time I gave Rice my full attention. After all, the information in this briefing could protect my cover and save my life.

"When we're done with this mission," Rice told me almost gently, "Once we've stopped the Black Guild from whatever they're planning...we'll set you up with a new identity and a new life. You have my word. But for now...," he gestured to the images on the projector with his expression turning hard again, "We have a lot of work to do."

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I scowled thoughtfully as I considered the briefing that Rice had just given me. He'd given me everything they knew about the Black Guild, which was less than I was comfortable with. He'd also told me all about what was expected of me in my infiltration mission. I'd be surrounded by some extremely dangerous people and couldn't afford to slip up even once. When I thought about it, it almost seemed like a suicide mission.

"Still," I reminded myself grimly, "It's much better than the alternative..." Dying in the line of duty was much preferable than dying a slow and painful death in a hospital bed. Besides, it was too late to back out now. I was in this until the end.

"I know it's a lot to digest," Debra told me as she led me to another room, "I wish we had time to let you think about it more, but we've got too much to do." I just nodded silently at that.

We arrived at what seemed to be a large gym area just a minute later. Debra closed the door behind us, indicating that it was going to be just us for this one. I looked at all the exercise equipment, guessing that this was to get me more familiar with what my current body could do. I had to admit I was curious, especially when I remembered that Toxic was several times stronger than I'd been.

"First off," Debra told me, "Let's get that power inhibitor collar off so you can try out your new abilities."

"I am curious about that," I admitted carefully, not wanting to seem too eager or curious.

"You're just lucky it doesn't inhibit your purely physical abilities," Debra told me with a disapproving look, "Otherwise your body couldn't absorb the poison and you would have killed yourself with that stunt at the briefing."

I nodded slightly at that, not saying anything in response since I couldn't think of anything to say. When I'd drank Toxic's snake venom cocktail, I'd been thinking about her...now my ability to absorb poison, not about the fact that I was still wearing the collar. But I decided it would be best not to mention that and just pretend that I knew about the collars limitations the whole time.

"Now here we go," Debra said, sliding a small metal bolt into the side of the collar. There was a faint click and it came undone. She immediately stepped back, "Keep your distance until you can control that poison touch...."

"Good point," I said, becoming aware that my body felt even more energetic and alive than before. It was hard to describe what I felt and the closest I could think of was that I'd just downed a large bottle of energy drink.

Debra had me start off by doing some stretching, getting more familiar with how much I could stretch and flex my body. I was actually amazed at just how light and limber I was compared to previously. I could bend my body in ways that would have been horribly painful or even impossible before. I had to admit that I was fascinated and even excited to discover what I was capable of now, though that excitement faded when I remembered exactly whose body it was that I now occupied.

"She broke mine," I reminded myself quietly, "So it's only fair that I take hers."

After this, I went to work on a series of other machines. I found that I could indeed bench press several times more than I could before, a fact that completely amazed me since I was so much smaller. It just didn't seem natural but that was the way with any developed. It was just hard believing that I was now one of them.

I spent several hours testing my limits on these machines and then trying out my balance and agility a contraption that looked like it belonged on a children's playground. It was an obstacle course of monkey bars, ropes, and such designed to bring out the most of a persons acrobatics, agility and balance. I was completely stunned at just how well I was able to make my way through the thing, especially once I got warmed up and more familiar with what I could do.

While we were going through all of this though, Debra kept her distance and called out instructions and advice. However, she kept piping up with comments like, "That's not very ladylike," and "Try to be more smooth and graceful..."

It was difficult trying to stay focused on what I was doing, listening to her advice, and staying in character the entire time. Of course, I couldn't really get in character too much because the real Toxic would have killed her for being so annoying. So I had to make due for looking cold and threatening and occasionally making a vicious threat. Debra took them all with a grain of salt and even encouraged me to continue.

Once I was done testing my physical limits, I sat back in a chair resting before we moved on to the next activity. I leaned back and sighed while Debra stared at me for a moment.

"What?" I demanded, wondering if I scared her because I looked like a known murderer. Of course, she didn't seem intimidated at the moment but more as though she was trying to decide what to say.

"You shouldn't sit with your legs spread open like that," Debra said, gesturing to the way I was sitting, "Especially not while wearing a revealing costume like that. Most natural women wouldn't sit like that and I doubt the real Toxic would."

"What are you?" I snapped in annoyance, "A finishing school teacher..."

Debra chuckled, "In this instance I am." She gave me a steady look, "You're not only learning to impersonate Toxic...you're learning to impersonate a woman. In fact, you ARE a woman now and need to learn how to behave like one if you don't want to make anyone suspicious."

I scowled, knowing she was right. One of the biggest flaws in the entire plan of having me impersonate Toxic was that I wasn't a woman and didn't know how to behave like one. Even now I knew that would be the hardest part of this whole impersonation to pull off. After a moment, I nodded my agreement.

"That's why I'm here," Debra told me with an amused look, "I'm here to give you a crash course on womanhood." She shook her head and then almost looked exasperated, "How Agent Rice expects me to teach you a lifetime of experience in two days I have no idea... Trust me, your education in that area has barely begun."

"I believe you," I frowned, once again reminded of how difficult this mission was going to be. "I told Rice it would be better having a woman for this," I shook my head then continued, "You're already part of his team and know what's going on so why didn't you get this mission?"

Debra went silent for a moment as she frowned thoughtfully. "There are three good reasons," she finally said. "First...I'd never met Toxic until I helped capture her. I don't know her habits, her likes, dislikes, and all the other small things that people who know her might recognize and which can't be found in a simple file."

"Perhaps," I responded thoughtfully, "But that kind of thing would probably be easier to fake than trying to fake an all new gender."

"True," Debra agreed, "But there are several more reasons. Two..." She held up two fingers, "I don't have your kind of fighting experience. To be honest, I just don't have what it takes to impersonate someone like Toxic or to infiltrate the Black Guild. I'm just not qualified. And third..." She held up three fingers this time and smiled faintly, "I really don't think my husband or son would understand my coming home in a new body..."

"Ah," I nodded, seeing her point. You couldn't very well go through such a drastic change or that kind of risk when you had family depending on you.

"To be honest," Debra told me, "I am a little disappointed since I'd always wondered what it would like being developed. But, I wouldn't give up my family for all the developed powers in the world."

"Rice told me he'd find someone else for this if I turned it down," I looked at her, "I'd been thinking he meant you..."

"No," Debra shook her head, frowning as she did so. "Actually, I think Agent Rice was planning on doing it himself if he couldn't convince you." At my look of surprise, she forced a smile, "It would have cost him his career even if this mission succeeds...but I think he was willing to do it to stop the Black Guild. He just thought you had a better chance at success."

I stared at Debra for a moment, having a new respect for Rice if he was willing to even consider something like that no matter the cost. I don't think I could have done it if it hadn't been for the fact that I was already crippled and dying. For me, this was the only chance I had to live.

"Well, enough of this useless chit-chat," I sneered, slipping back into character, "I've got more important things to do than waste time talking..."

Debra smiled faintly, realizing exactly what I was doing and not being offended. "Then I suggest we get to it."

With that I went back to my training, this time focusing on an ability that made me very uncomfortable to use. I concentrated and with just a thought I was able to make my hands glow green and tingle strangely at the same time. I could call up Toxic's...my neurotoxic touch with hardly any effort at all. I found that I could turn it off just as easily, much to my relief.

"I'll have to be careful with this one," I mused grimly, knowing that I could easily kill someone with an accidental touch. I grimaced, glaring at my glowing green hands and remembering when I'd been a victim of that very touch.

The neurotoxic touch was a very nasty power and few people would know this as well as me. I could gather my bodies energies and focus them in my hand, covering them with an energy that was much like radiation. Any extra poisons in my body could be used to fuel this and make it much stronger. At full strength, my neurotoxic touch would be able to kill a large man in seconds, making my survival all the more lucky.

I couldn't exactly practice killing people with my neurotoxic touch but I did practice controlling it. I could turn it off and on at will and was soon confident that I wouldn't accidentally kill someone with it.

After this, Debra and I finally broke for dinner though it was hardly the social affair that I was used to in most chow halls and cafeterias. Debra and I were the only ones there eating, though Rice did made a brief appearance in order to hand me some files on known and suspected members of the Black Guild to study.

Dinner itself was unimpressive as well, consisting of cheap microwave dinners that were only marginally better than the MRE's that I used to eat in the Marines. God, I still hated those field rations. And to make it more disgusting, I seasoned my food with rat poison and washed it down with a glass of antifreeze. This was partly to practice staying in character since Toxic had a reputation for doing this in order to keep her power levels up and partly so I could get used to the idea that I could actually consume this kind of thing now.

"If this stuff gives me indigestion...," I glared at Debra after taking a bite of rat poison covered food. But to my relief, my system didn't seem to have any problems at all digesting that or the antifreeze. I didn't get so much as a light case of the runs.

When we were finished eating, I slipped back into character and sneered, "So what now?"

"Now we start the hard part," Debra sighed, "I have to teach you what every woman knows."

I scowled, not looking forward to this in the least. I'd done some pretty unpleasant things in the line of duty, but I'd never considered that one of them might be learning about feminine hygiene and putting on makeup. However, I didn't show my reservations and renewed my determination to do my best. After all, not only would this help me keep my cover, but it just might come in useful afterwards.

"If we're going to be doing that," I said thoughtfully, "I should probably take another shower. I got built up a good sweat while working out."

"Good idea," Debra told me.

When I went back to the locker room, I noticed that Debra had followed me and made no move to leave. I was careful not to show any sign of discomfort or embarrassment when I began undressing in front of her as though she wasn't there , though I nearly smiled a little when she began getting uncomfortable.

"Are you coming in?" I asked, gesturing to the shower stall, "There's plenty of room."

"No thanks," Debra responded, once again looking calm and professional, "I'll be fine out here."

"Suit yourself," I told her, going into the stall and turning on the water.

My previous shower had been a long and slow one since I'd also been examining my body at the same time. Since Debra was standing there and actually watching this time, I avoided all such frivolities and focused on just getting cleaned up fast and efficiently. It reminded me of my time in the Marines.

"Don't forget to clean between your legs," Debra told me, sounding almost like my high school sex ed teacher. "You'll want to keep that area very clean or you'll risk yeast infection."

I nodded as I absorbed this information, carefully showing no emotions in spite of the rather awkward subject. "Actually," I mused, remembering Toxic's files, "I believe that's one of the things that I'm immune to...but I see your point."

Debra continued offering me hygiene tips as I finished washing up and then began to dry off. I just listened to her without making any comments or even responding with more than a grunt or nod. Once I was finished drying off, I realized that the only thing I had to wear was the same outfit I'd just gotten dirty while working out.

Debra saw me look to the dirty outfit and reached for one of the lockers, opening it up and revealing an identical costume, "Toxic had a spare costume on her when we picked her up." She gestured to the other one, "We'll get this one washed...though I don't think the real Toxic was as concerned about changing costumes as frequently."

Once I was dressed again, Debra pointed out that I'd have to do more with hair than just drying it with a towel. She had me use a blow dryer which took a lot longer than I was happy with, and then a brush to get out any tangles. I was used to having short hair that merely needed a few rubs with a towel and maybe running a comb through it, so this seemed like a lot of work for me just to dry and comb my hair.

"Make sure to use the brush every time," Debra told me with an exasperated look.

I just nodded and continued to brush my hair, using all my steely discipline to remain patient. Strangely, I was more patient with this than Debra, who obviously felt somewhat foolish telling me things that any little girl would already know. Still, she continued to do her job and help me prepare for this mission to the best of her abilities which was the mark of a true professional.

"Good," Debra told me when I was done, "Now we can get to work..."

A few minutes later, Debra and I were back in the meeting room. She set a small box the size of a fishing tackle box on the table and opened it up in much the same way, revealing a frightening variety of different makeup items. She paused for a moment, stared at me, then closed the box back up.

"You don't need the full lesson about makeup," Debra told me as she started to reach for some other items, "And we don't have time to make you an expert...or even moderately good. All you need to do is put it on the same way Toxic did." And with that, she set the makeup that had been confiscated with Toxic on the table along with several close up photos of her wearing it. "This will make things much faster and easier."

I reached over to pick up the makeup items, looking over the green lipstick, eye shadow, and nail polish. It was obvious that Toxic didn't believe in a lot of variety. Then again, I suppose she knew how impractical it was wearing much in the way of makeup in her life of work. What she did have seemed designed to last without smearing and to actually fit in with her costume.

"What do I do first?" I asked, remaining focused and professional.

Debra began by explaining the basics of makeup and what each item was for, acting almost as though I'd never heard of the stuff before. I just nodded and tried not to feel insulted. Then she began to demonstrate by slowly putting the eye shadow and lipstick on me while I watched in a mirror. After she was done, she wiped it off...though it was more effort than either of us expected. It seemed that Toxic really did go for the stuff that would last.

"Now it's your turn," she told me, sitting back to offer advice as I practiced.

I scowled slightly then began trying my own hand at the makeup. I felt a bit awkward about putting it on but didn't say a word of complaint as I went to work. It helped to think of it as camouflage, no different in purpose than the camouflage grease paint I used to wear in the Marines. And in this case, it would serve the same purpose of helping to keep me hidden from my enemies.

Once I was finished with the eye shadow and lipstick, I looked at the results in the mirror and scowled. It was sloppy and would never pass. So I cleaned off the makeup and went to work again, repeating the process at least half a dozen times until I was sure I was passable. Even then, I was willing to continue until it was perfect but we didn't have time and Debra assured me it would work fine for what we intended.

Next we turned our attention to my fingernails and the nail polish. I held out my hands and stared at my feminine fingers for a moment, noticing that the feminine nails made nice ovals that weren't too long to get in the way. It was strange seeing hands that looked so unfamiliar yet I felt a tiny surge of delight at the same time. It was damn nice having two usable hands again, especially when I didn't really have any this morning.

The nail polish was much easier than the other makeup, partly because I already had a coat of green polish. We removed that and put a fresh coat on so I could get the experience of applying it, and then I was good to go. The only real hard part was sitting there for several minutes with my fingers spread out until the polish dried.

After this, my lessons in womanhood continued in other even more uncomfortable topics. Debra talked about feminine hygiene, something which might not be strictly necessary for the mission but definitely would be if I was going to be in this body for any length of time. And since the bodyswap machine was out of power and busted, I fully expected to keep this body for the rest of my life.

Then after my hygiene lessons were over, Debra started to lecture me on the way I walk, talk, and everything else. She gave me advice on all of my mannerisms and gestures, making me more aware of the way I moved and trying to get me to move in a more feminine fashion. It was during these lessons that I had to override her input.

"No," I shook my head, "Toxic would never sit like that..."

I frowned thoughtfully, beginning to really see that it was important to have someone who knew Toxic. Toxic might be a woman but that didn't mean her gestures and mannerisms were anything like Debra's. Toxic could have a certain sensuality around her at times, but most of the time she was more hostile and aggressive. Her mannerisms reflected this.

"She'd sit more like this," I changed my position a bit, remembering how I'd seen her sitting in her cell at times.

Debra stared at me for a moment before reluctantly nodding, "You're the one who knows Toxic."

With that agreed upon, this particular part of my training became much more useful. I tried to remember Toxic's way of moving and her mannerisms, then I mimicked them to the best of my ability. Debra's advice and suggestions helped, but for the most part this was where my own experience came into play.

I spent several hours just moving around and making what seemed to be casual gestures but which were actually carefully copied from ones I'd seen Toxic make. Of course, my experience with her was limited since I'd only interacted with her in prison and then usually only from the outside of her prison cell, but it was a lot more experience than anyone else available had with her.

Eventually we stopped our practice and I leaned back, tapping my fingernails on the table in the same way Toxic did when she was thinking. Our practice session might be over, but I would have to stay in character and practice being Toxic constantly until the mission was finally completed.

"That should be it for today," Debra said, looking at the clock, "But remember, you have a long day tomorrow too and an early start."

Once Debra was gone, I turned my attention to the various mission files I'd been given to study. I started off by opening Toxic's rather thick file, scowling as I did so. I wished I could call it a day and relax, but I had far too much work to do for that. I still had to read through all these files, familiarizing myself with everything and memorizing as many important details as I could. I didn't like it but that was part of the mission and the mission came first.

I spent nearly three hours going over the files, trying to learn as much as I could. I'd never been very good at studying things and I had absolutely zero experience with this kind of undercover crap, but I was damn well going to do my best. After all, I'd made a deal with Rice and he'd kept his side. He'd gotten me out of the hell that my own body had become and I owed him for that.

I finally got through the files, or at least I'd looked through them all and gained as much as I could at the moment. I wasn't sure how well I'd be able to hold it all, but I tried. I was just getting too tired to continue any longer so decided that it was time for bed.

The bedroom that they'd assigned me was small and cramped, with little more than a small bed and a dresser. It would be claustrophobic to try living out of a room like that for any length of time, but it was just fine for sleeping in. After all, I'd slept in far worse places.

"Like that ditch in Korea," I muttered, thinking about a particularly rough night of drinking some years ago when I'd been stationed in that country.

With that, I locked the door to the room and began to undress. My outfit dropped to the floor and I stood there naked, looking down at myself and running my hands over my body. I couldn't resist stretching, still amazing myself with just how limber my new body was. I just couldn't get over how light and flexible I felt now.

I was tempted to check out my body in detail now that I had some privacy, but I'd already done that a bit in the bathroom. And besides, I glanced at the old digital clock beside the bed, I had a wakeup call at 4 AM. It wasn't exactly O-dark-hundred as we used to call the early morning hours while in the Marines, but it was close enough. As it was, I barely had six hours to sleep until then.

"It's been one hell of a day," I muttered, thinking back to the events of the day.

It was hard to believe that so much had happened to me in the space of a single day. Just that morning I'd been doped out on pain killers, crippled and dying slowly. Now I had a new body and even a purpose. And as I looked at my new body, I thought it strange that I'd had it for such a short time but had already done so much in it. Then again, life is pretty damn strange. I'd given up trying to make much sense of it years ago.

After just a minute of self-absorbed consideration, I climbed into bed and turned off the light. It would have been so easy to do something kinky like fingering myself and masturbating under the covers...and I briefly even considered doing just that. But the fact was that morning would come fast and I didn't have time for that kind of thing. So as soon as my head hit the pillow, I forced my mind clear and was asleep within minutes.

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I was in the exercise room again, wearing Toxic's uniform and standing in the middle a bunch of floor mats. Vasquez stood a short distance away, watching me with an intent expression as he supervised this part of my training.

I'd spent a good part of the morning with Miller and Vasquez, getting to know them both a bit better. Miller was pretty talkative when he relaxed and I discovered that he was the electronics surveillance expert of the team. Vasquez however was almost the exact opposite, barely saying a word to me or anyone else. And from what I garnered from Miller, he was their sniper, demolition expert and all around one man swat team. That was why he was helping with this phase of my training.

This time, I was in the exercise room not to see what my new body could do...but to learn to fight. Of course, I already knew how to fight and I was pretty damn good at it. But the point here was to learn to fight in a much smaller and lighter body than I was used to...and more importantly...to learn how to fight like Toxic.

Vasquez and I had spent the last hour watching video footage of Toxic in action so I could get a better idea of her fighting style. It was obvious that she'd had some training, either in a kickboxing or tae-kwon-do kind of style. However, it was equally obvious that her training wasn't very intense since she was sloppy, relying more on the speed and strength advantages she'd have over most opponents rather than skill. In fact, I was more skilled than she seemed to be though it made little difference since all she'd had to do is touch someone in order to kill them.

"Damn," I scowled, feeling more than a vague stirring of uneasiness as I remembered our fight at Mount Prometheus...if it could really be called that. She'd been too fast and too strong for me. Now I possessed those advantages but it didn't erase the memory of what had happened and the pain that resulted.

I glanced over to Vasquez who was uneasy around me but trying not to show it. I didn't blame him at all since I looked like a super villain, had the mind of a man and the body of a woman, and had the ability to kill him with just a touch. But to his credit, he remained calm and professional, showing no sign of fear other than an occasional glimpse.

Vasquez nodded and I went to work, mimicking the movements I'd seen Toxic make on the video. I punched and kicked, trying to do so the same way she would. The truth was, I had to purposely make myself sloppier, to tone down what I was capable of and putting it more in line with her skills. I wasn't sure that I'd be able to do this in a real fight, but I should be able to do enough to convince people I was Toxic.

Once I was done practicing the basic movements, I went to work on some practice dummies so as to get the experience of actually connecting with a target. It was a little more satisfying than punching air but not by much.

I'd only been at this for a short time when Vasquez said, "Let's spar..." I noticed that he'd slipped on some light weight pads while I'd been practicing so I wouldn't hurt him.

Vasquez got onto the floor mats with me and we circled each other for a few seconds, neither of us making a move. Then I decided that Toxic wouldn't be the kind to dance around and would just charge in, whether it was the best move to make or not. So I did that, making the first move and punching at my sparring partner. My fist was fast and he barely blocked it, even though I'd been holding back a bit. I still wasn't used to my own increased speed and reflexes.

Without a word, Vasquez went offensive, launching a series of punches and kicks, revealing at the same time that he definitely knew what he was doing. I was fast enough that I could block all his attacks without much effort but he didn't look pleased. Of course, he wouldn't be happy that I wasn't doing well against me. I decided to make him even less happy by going offensive again, getting past his defenses and hitting him once in the chest before I swept his legs beneath him, slamming him onto the mats.

"I don't think Toxic would use those moves," Vasquez said with a scowl. He didn't waste much time on words so when he did talk it was usually worth listening to.

"You're right," I reluctantly admitted, seeing his point. He wasn't complaining about my beating him but reminding me that I'd forgotten the point of this exercise. I'd gotten so carried away in the sparring that I'd stopped fighting like Toxic and used moves she probably didn't know. The point wasn't to win...it was to fight with the right style.

"Again," Vasquez told me as he took his fighting stance.

We went at it again, this time I was able to limit myself to moves that Toxic was more likely to make. I punched and kicked, charged at him and planted my hand on his chest. If this was a real fight and I was using the neurotoxic touch, he would have been dead. However, we didn't end the sparring just because I'd 'won' but we continued to practice so I could get more experience fighting like Toxic.

After we'd been at it for an hour, Vasquez wiped the sweat from his forehead and smiled, "Good work Jarhead."

I grinned back, "Semper Fi...do or die."

"Hooya!" Vasquez responded with the traditional Marine grunt, giving it the same emphasis that could only come from someone who'd served.

Vasquez and I didn't stop sparring to swap old military stories but continued to spar. It soon became obvious though that he was getting tired faster than I was. Apparently, my new body came with a somewhat increased endurance as well. We sparred for a little longer but as my sparring partner became slower and less effective, we both realized this wasn't doing me any good. I'd gotten as much from our sparring as I was going to.

"Thank you," I told Vasquez before slipping back into my nasty Toxic persona and snapping, "Next time I'll kill you..." He smiled faintly, showing that he understood I was just getting in character. I gave him another nod though before I turned and left to get cleaned up again.

The rest of the day was much like yesterday, though there was an even greater sense of urgency since our time was running out. I spent two hours with Debra working on my ability to pass as a woman, another two hours with Rice going over files for the Black Guild and all the details of the mission, and I spend the whole thing getting even more serious about staying in character.

It was later that evening that I was finished with what training and preparation we had time for. We all would have liked to have more time, but the plan was to insert me in the early hours of the morning when Toxic was scheduled to meet with someone from the Black Guild. So now I only had to get the equipment I would need and a few hours of sleep before then.

I stood in the briefing room with Rice, Debra and Miller as we made our final preparations before my insertion. Only Vasquez wasn't there to offer his input because of the need for him to watch over Toxic in case she caused trouble...as unlikely as that was in her current condition.

"You're going into a dangerous situation but we can't give you much equipment to help you," Rice said with an apologetic look. "Unfortunately, we can't take the risk of getting anyone suspicious."

"I understand," I scowled, not surprised by this since he'd already told me much the same thing during our earlier briefing.

"I regret not being able to give you a weapon," Rice frowned, looking at my hands, "However, a gun might not only be suspicious but perhaps unnecessary."

"You can say that again," Miller responded with a nervous glance at my hands.

Debra nodded faintly, then asked what I'd been thinking, "What equipment do we have for her?"

Rice held out his hand and Miller put something into it without a word. A moment later, Rice held up a cell phone. "For communicating with us."

I stared at it in surprise, having expected something a little more high tech. "Not quite what I expected," I said after a few seconds.

Rice smiled faintly while Miller actually broke out into a broad grin and explained, "It's a special model used for operations. It works like a normal cell phone but also provides a secure link to a number we'll give you. It has a camera with a much better picture than any you'll find on the market and it can record sound with high clarity, both with a convenient push of a button on the side. Great for getting evidence and intelligence and best of all...everyone has a cell phone so no one will think twice about you having one. Just be careful not to contact us too often or from a location that might be under surveillance."

I accepted the cell phone and took a quick look at it and it's functions. Then with a nod, I urged them to continue, "Okay." I just hoped this wasn't the only thing they had or I'd be really disappointed.

Next Miller pulled out a belt that looked identical to the one I currently wore, black with a black skull on the buckle. "This is your panic button," he explained, turning it to reveal a small switch that was hidden behind the buckle. "Push this and it sends out an emergency beacon that lets us know exactly where you and tells us to come running."

"You can use it to tag a location for us if you find something important," Rice said with a grim expression.

"Or for an emergency extraction," Debra added, giving Rice a quick glare. Rice just nodded agreement.

Miller reached into a box and pulled out another item, a green fingerless glove like the ones I was already wearing. I curiously wondered what its real purpose was since I knew it had to be more than just a glove. Then he held it so that I could see there was more than just fabric and metal knuckles to it. There was something built into it as well.

"This is a powerful taser that can knock just about any normal person unconscious," Miller explained with a grin, "It's only good for maybe two shots, but it might come in useful for keeping your cover. You can make it look like you're taking someone down with your poison touch without actually killing them." Then he demonstrated how it worked while I watched with interest.

"I wish we could provide you with more than this," Rice told me with a scowl, looking almost apologetic.

I just nodded and started to put on the new equipment. I switched out my current glove for the one with the built in taser, then I slipped on the new belt which contained a subtle cell phone pouch in the back. Once I was done, I looked myself over to make sure that everything was nice, neat and in place. I didn't want to look sloppy.

"Now you're ready for your mission," Rice said, sounding as though he wished he could do more.

"As ready as I can be," I agreed, wishing that I had more time to prepare. Of course, if there was more time then they would have found someone more qualified to start with. Then I paused, realizing that there was still one more thing that I had to do before leaving. "I want to see Toxic."

Rice, Debra and Miller shared a look before Rice responded, "Very well."

Debra and Miller remained behind while Rice led me to an elevator, up a floor, and then to heavy locked door. He unlocked it by rapidly pushing a series of buttons on a number pad, then led me through. There were several other locked doors along the hallway on the other side with Vasquez sitting in a chair beside one of them. He immediately shot to his feet when he saw us.

"She's in here," Rice told me, gesturing to the door Vasquez was guarding.

I looked through the barred and screened window of the door and saw what looked more like a hospital room than a prison. There was a hospital bed in the middle of the room with a very familiar figure in it. I felt myself tense at the sight.

Rice didn't say a word as he unlocked that door and let me inside. I slowly walked towards the hospital be, stopping to stare at my old body. There was an IV drip which was obviously keeping Toxic in painkiller and out of any potential trouble. The look on my old face was so out of it that I knew she must be pretty doped up. I didn't even think she was aware of my presence.

I just stood there for a minute, staring at her without a word. It was a strange experience to see her like this, knowing that this was exactly what I'd looked like just days before. And if it hadn't been for Rice needing me I'd still be in that position...dying slowly and painfully. She looked so pitiful that I almost even felt sorry for her. Almost.

Then she finally seemed to notice me, turning and looking straight at me. At first her expression was one of blank incomprehension, then who I really was must have filtered through to her drug filled brain. Her expression turned dark and filled with hate though it was fleeting and quickly sank beneath the glazed expression again.

"I've seen enough," I told Rice, turning and leaving the room without another look back at her. Once the door was closed behind me, I took a deep breath and stared him in the eyes. "I'm ready to go now."

linebreak shadow

It was in the earliest hours of the morning that I stood out in the pouring rain, kept dry only by the trench coat and hat I wore over my uniform. All around me were condemned buildings and ones that should have been condemned years ago. This was the bad part of town...the slums. It was also exactly where and when Toxic had been scheduled to meet up with some members of the Black Guild.

Though I saw no signs of life...no bums, drug addicts, or even people peaking at me from their windows, I was fully aware that I did indeed have eyes watching me. For one, Vasquez was positioned somewhere nearby with a sniper rifle and a high powered scope that was locked on me. It was his job to watch and make sure nothing went wrong with my insertion, and to help me out if it did. Of course, if it came to that then the mission was a bust and this was all for nothing.

I was also aware that Vasquez wasn't the only one watching me. The people Toxic was supposed to meet were the paranoid kind, the kind that would be sure to watch me for awhile before approaching me. After all, if they went through the trouble to meet in a place like this then they'd want to make sure I wasn't followed.

Since I had an audience, I made sure to stay in character. I scowled and lit a cigarette, then looked around suspiciously. I wanted them to think that I was just as paranoid and suspicious as they were. The fact that I actually was paranoid and suspicious certainly helped with that.

After I'd been waiting out in the rain for over half an hour, my contact finally arrived. I didn't know he was there until he said, "Toxic," from behind me.

I snapped around in surprise, seeing a man wearing a gray trench coat, fedora, and a gold metal mask that covered his entire face. I recognized him from a picture Rice had shown me, though Rice hadn't known anything about him other than that he was called Griffin and that he'd recently been seen among the Black Guild.

"About fucking time Griffin," I snapped, increasing the annoyance and hostility in my voice.

"Patience is a virtue Toxic," he told me calmly. "Now come..."

I flicked my cigarette to the ground and followed behind him, careful not to look around for Vasquez. Instead, I took a deep breath and steadied myself, knowing that from now on I would have to stay in character virtually every moment until my mission was over. From now on, I would have to BE Toxic.

Griffin walked down a dark and dirty alley that was beside where I'd been waiting, then merely opened up a well concealed door at the far end. I stepped through and into a large empty space that looked as though it could have been used as a small warehouse once. I also immediately noticed that there were three other people in costumes already there waiting.

I felt a surge of fear though I was in control enough not to show it. I recognized two of them from various files I'd seen, and I knew they were dangerous people. I felt almost like I was back in Mount Prometheus, but this time without any bars between me and the prisoners. It was all I could do to keep the sneer on my face and not show any sign of what I was really thinking as I looked them over.

The first was a big black man who was over six and a half feet tall and covered in muscle. He was completely bald and wore a spandex costume of dark blue and black with white trim. I immediately recognized him from his file as Glacier, a developed criminal with the power to absorb thermal energy and use it to power his increased strength and toughness. I could feel the temperature drop several degrees as I got closer to him and could just imagine how cold it might get if he was actually using his powers.

Glacier had started off as a college football player with huge prospects...until it was revealed that he'd been using developed powers on the field. Of course, he'd been disqualified and banned from the sport. And with football stardom taken away from him, he turned his abilities towards getting easy money in other ways. That's how he eventually ended up in Mount Prometheus where the Black Guild had recruited him from during the breakout.

The second person was a woman called Sister Wyrd. She was tall and willowy with long hair that went down to her ankles. Strangely enough, her hair kept changing color every few seconds, going from pink to bright blue to a red and yellow zebra stripe and so on. Her skin was just as strange, having a chalk white base but with tattoo like symbols all over that kept changing color and shape as I watched.

I'd read about Sister Wyrd in Rice's files, mostly because she was also one of the Mount Prometheus escapees. From what little was known of her past, it's believed that her parents had been taking some form of strangely tainted LSD before conceiving her. She was born with it in her blood and has lived her entire life on one constant acid trip, living in a hallucinogenic fantasy. And to make it worse, she has the power to temporarily project these effects to others...making them hallucinate as well.

The last member of the trio was one I wasn't familiar with. He was dressed in a sort of green ninja outfit with black trim and a katana strapped across his back. He stared at me with a curious expression...one that made me extremely uncomfortable. He was actually giving me 'the look', the one every guy gives a woman they're interested in. That was one problem I hadn't been trained to deal with.

"What are you looking at?" I glared at the green ninja, letting my power activate so that my hand turned green. I had a feeling that this might be how Toxic would deal with unwanted attention. It seemed to work because the green ninja backed away with a nervous expression.

"We have one more to wait for," Griffin announced, looking us over for a moment before adding, "I will go wait for him..." Then as he turned to leave, he called back, "Do not kill each other while I am gone."

Once Griffin was gone, Glacier asked, "Any of you guys ever heard of this Griffin guy before?"

"I have," the green ninja responded slowly. "I heard he's into selling secrets...and keeping them...for a price."

"Blackmail," I mused, trying to stay in character, "That can be profitable...but a little too boring."

"I heard you like things more exciting," Glacier commented flatly.

Sister Wyrd just gave me a strange smile before musing, "What pretty butterflies..."

"Whoever this Griffin guy is," Glacier scratched his chin, "He's been put in charge...for now."

I stared at Glacier for a moment, taking in his choice of words. Rice told me that the Black Guild was normally very loose knit without much organization. But lately, they've not only become very organized...they seem to have developed some sort of actual leadership. I knew Rice would want to know more about that, especially about who was in charge. I'd just have to keep my eyes and ears open to learn more.

The four of us looked at each other suspiciously, or at least Glacier, the green ninja and I did while Sister Wyrd just walked around staring at the walls. I could imagine what was going on in their heads, at least in Glacier and the green ninja's. It was hard to guess what Sister Wyrd was thinking, but the rest of us were remembering what we'd heard about the others.

We waited nearly half an hour with barley another word to each other before Griffin returned with another person. The man with Griffin took of the plastic rain poncho he was wearing and casually dropped it to the side, revealing a man who looked vaguely familiar. He was young, about twenty or so with brown hair and wearing a red and white costume with a red mask over the top half of his face.

"Hey everyone," the newcomer grinned cheerfully.

Then I suddenly placed him. He was called Speed Trap, and Rice had shown me his file as well, listing him as merely a suspected associate of the Black Guild. Because he was merely a 'suspected associate', I'd only read over his file once and spared most of my effort for those who had more confirmed connections.

I couldn't remember a whole lot about Speed Trap other than that he had some sort of velocity resistance field. If I remembered right, his power could create some sort of resistance to moving objects and the faster the object moved...the more resistance his field created. That didn't make a whole lot of sense to me, but hard science was never my thing.

"Did we have to come so early?" Speed Trap whined, "I'm exhausted... You know I need my beauty sleep."

"Shut up," Glacier glared down at him, looking more threatening.

"Enough of that," Griffin said, "We're all professionals here and were chosen for this task for a reason."

"Even her?" the green ninja gestured to Sister Wyrd, who looked as though she were playing a game of jacks on the floor...though there was no sign of any ball or actual jacks.

"Focus may not be one of Sister Wyrd's strengths," Griffin admitted, "But her abilities will be just as invaluable to this undertaking as yours Locust."

"Locust," I mused, faintly pleased to finally know the green ninja's name.

"At least she didn't get her ass handed to her by the Slackers last week," Glacier laughed at Locust, "You got beat by a bunch of punk ass kids..."

"Watch it," Locust hissed, pulling his sword in a move so fast that I barely saw it. My impression of his abilities went up a notch, or at least my estimate of his reflexes.

I just leaned back and lit a cigarette, exclaiming, "A bunch of fucking amateurs..."

"What did you say?" Locust demanded angrily.

"We've got a job to do," I snapped, "I don't want to waste my time sitting around watching you guys do a circle jerk. Let's get this over with."

"Enough," Griffin raised his voice. He looked to me for a moment though I couldn't see his eyes or his expression past his mask. "Toxic has a point. We're here together because we have work to do."

Speed Trap winced, "But it's too damn early to work..."

"I want to ride the horse," Sister Wyrd commented from the side, though no one paid her much attention.

"Some of you know each other and have even worked together before," Griffin stated.

Glacier nodded at that, glancing to me and Sister Wyrd. I remembered from Toxic's file that she'd been seen working with Glacier since escaping from Mount Prometheus so knew I'd have to be careful around him. If he actually knew Toxic, he'd be a lot more likely to spot any mistakes I made than anyone else.

"But since this is the first time you've ever worked with me," Griffin continued, "I would suggest you all remember to follow my lead. I don't need anyone acting recklessly and ruining our plans." And with that, Griffin turned and walked away, leaving the rest of us

"That's a real morale booster," Speed Trap muttered.

"Purple," Sister Wyrd said with a nod, almost as if she was agreeing though to what I didn't know.

"We don't have to like him or each other," Locust reminded the others, "We just have to get the job done..."

I just nodded along with the others, burning with curiosity about what this job was but knowing it would be out of character to ask. But as they others talked, I soon realized that none of them had many details about our specific job either. Apparently the Black Guild had formed this cell for a specific task but only Griffin knew what it really was.

"Paranoid," I muttered, knowing that I shouldn't be surprised. After all, this was a criminal organization we were dealing with.

I've dealt with people in authority who used the Griffin's leadership style before. They would keep their people in the dark, feeding them only what little information they needed at the moment. That way, they'd be able to keep their position secure since they were the only ones able to make informed decisions. In this particular case, it would make my real job all the more difficult.

When Griffin returned a short time later, he immediately announced, "The Black Guild put us together to perform several specific tasks that will help the Black Guild...and therefor ourselves acquire a great deal of power. Most of us are used to working alone but we all joined the Black Guild because we realize the value of cooperation. Tonight we will start demonstrating this."

"So what are these tasks?" Locust asked.

"Yeah," Speed Trap nodded agreement, looking almost professional. "All I was told was that I had to meet up with you guys for something big."

"Same here," Glacier added.

"Pickles are good," Sister Wyrd nodded her agreement.

Griffin nodded, "Our first task is to acquire a certain unstable mutagenic compound from McFadden Chemicals. We'll raid their plant just after dawn, right before their day shift arrives. There will be a minimum number of people present and the security personnel will likely be tired at the end of their shifts."

Everyone nodded, suddenly acting quite professional. Even Sister Wyrd was watching him with an intent expression, though it was hard to take her serious with bright violet hair and glowing green symbols on her face. Of course, she was quickly distracted again by some imaginary thing she saw floating past.

"It's not like any security could stop us anyway though," Glacier smirked.

"No, but they could slow us down," Griffin responded.

"What about the local hero Breakneck?" Locust asked thoughtfully, "I read up on the local heroes when I found out where we were meeting...just in case."

Griffin nodded approvingly, "Breakneck's prisons has been taken into account and there is a contingency plan if he attempts to interfere."

After this, Griffin pulled out a map of the chemical plant compound and began to explain the plan, though he didn't say anything more about what he had planned for this Breakneck Locust had mentioned. I carefully turned on the sound recording of my cell phone, though I knew I didn't dare transmit any of this to Rice just yet. I'd just have to hope I had an opportunity and some privacy before the raid started.

When Griffin was finished, he looked around at us, "Any questions before we depart?"

"Just one," Speed Trap asked with a smirk, "How much are we gonna make on this?"

"I was wondering the same thing," I said, more because I'd been quiet for perhaps a little too long than for any other reason. "What's in this for us?"

Griffin was silent for a moment, probably trying to think of how to answer this. After all, you didn't tell a group of greedy criminals that you expected them to work for free. If they were that altruistic they probably wouldn't be criminals in the first place.

"Immediately...nothing," Griffin responded in a dangerous tone. "I'm not here to motivate you... I'm here to get the job done...and so are all of you. And if you'd like...think of this as preparation for the big heist to come." And with that, Griffin turned and started to leave, gesturing for the rest of us to follow. "Now let's go..."

Griffin led us out a door on the other side of the warehouse where our vehicle was waiting for us. If you think of something a group of villains would use for transportation, this would be about the last thing you'd probably imagine. Right in front of us was an old 70's model Winabago RV. It would provide transportation for all of us without drawing too much attention. To be honest though, I felt disappointed. I'd been expecting something a little more dramatic and evil looking.

"Shotgun," Speed Trap immediately called out.

"That's a pretty horsy," Sister Wyrd commented as she began drawing flowers on the side of the dirty RV.

I began climbing into the back behind Locust when I suddenly felt someone pinch my ass. I snapped around, instinctively charging my powers so my clenched fist glowed with my neurotoxic powers. Then I saw that it was Speed Trap behind me with a smirk on his face, though he took a step back and his expression turned to one more of fear when he noticed my hand. However, that only lasted a moment before the cocky smirk returned.

"Damn you've got a nice ass," Speed Trap grinned at me. "Maybe when we get back you and I can go somewhere and shag..."

"Don't make me kill you," I hissed, giving him a glare every bit as nasty as what the real Toxic would have. And at the moment, I was damn tempted to kill him anyway.

"Shag?" Glacier demanded, "Who the hell talks like that? Who do you think you are...Austin Powers?"

"I've always been more partial to Doctor Evil," Griffin commented as he climbed into the drivers seat, "Now hurry up. We have a schedule to keep."

I glared at Speed Trap again and hissed, "You're going to die very painfully..." Then I turned and climbed into the RV, satisfied that I'd acted in character. In this particular case, it had been pretty easy.

In spite of Speed Trap's claiming shotgun, that particular honor fell to Sister Wyrd who'd taken the opportunity to silently claim the seat for herself while Speed Trap and I had our encounter. Speed Trap briefly tried ordering her out of it, but paused in the middle of his demand to stare off into space with a goofy look on his face. A minute later, we were on our way...with the annoying Speed Trap sitting in the back with the rest of us.

For the next half hour we drove in a near silence that was only occasionally broken by Sister Wyrd's nonsensical comments. My mind raced the entire time as I considered how I might call Rice and warn him about this raid. Unfortunately, I didn't have a private moment where something like that would be possible. Instead, I had to stay in character and keep my cover.

When we arrived at our destination, Griffin parked the RV just a short distance outside McFadden Chemical's high security compound. Griffin climbed out of the RV without a word so the rest of us did the same, joining him in staring at the chain link fence in the near distance.

"We're far enough away that the guards shouldn't really notice us here for awhile," Griffin commented in a professional tone.

I just nodded without taking my eyes from the fence. I could see the movement of several guards but knew that there would be more resistance than that if we just charged in. McFadden Chemicals was on the cutting edge of chemical research and was strongly rumored to have government contracts to develop chemical weapons. In fact, the target of our raid was supposed to be something they'd created by accident while developing one of these chemical weapons. I had no idea what the Black Guild wanted it for but it certainly couldn't be anything good.

For a moment, my hand started to inch towards my belt almost of it's own accord. I was nearly ready to push the panic button hidden there and warn Rice about the raid but then I remembered the big picture. Sure, they might be able to stop this small group if they got the warning, but I still had no idea what the Black Guild was really up to and where this chemical fit into it.

"Damn," I grimaced, clenching my fists in frustration.

Rice had warned me that I'd probably face this kind of dilemma. He'd told me that I'd not only see criminal acts being performed, but told me that I'd probably have to participate in order to keep my cover. As much as I wanted to stop this raid, my mission came first. Catching these criminals would mean nothing if we couldn't find out what the Black Guild was up to and stop them.

"Damn," I muttered again, forcing my hand away from my belt.

"Locust," Griffin announced, "You know what to do."

"Yes," Locust nodded, "I'm to get in and cut the security sensors and cameras so they'll be blind and confused."

With that, Locust suddenly split into two identical versions of himself, though they were each much smaller than the original. In fact, each had only half the mass of the original since Locust's mass was split evenly between them. Then each of them split again and again. Within moments there were a hundred action figure sized versions of Locust scattered around on the ground. There was a whole army of Locusts...

"No," I whispered in realization, "A swarm of Locusts..."

Suddenly the Locust swarm was off with all of them jumping incredibly high and far for their size. They went straight for the fence, splitting up and going in different directions as they did so. Within moments they were through fence and running around the compound, too small to be easily seen and numerous enough that they should have no problem finding and killing all the security sensors in short order.

"Now we wait for Locust to finish his job," Griffin said, leaning back against the RV and getting comfortable.

"Why don't we just charge right in," Glacier growled impatiently, "It's not like they can stop us..."

"No," Griffin admitted, "But they'd be alert and coordinated enough to slow us down...perhaps long enough for some developed reinforcements to arrive. And besides, don't underestimate their firepower. Not all of us are bullet proof you know."

"You know," Speed Trap mused aloud, staring at Griffin curiously, "We don't even know what your powers are..."

"What powers I have...if any...is entirely irrelevant," Griffin responded.

"He's named after a mythological creature with a reputation for being fierce," I said, unable to resist joining the conversation. I'd been wondering about Griffin as well and hoped I could get him to reveal something.

"You sure don't look fierce," Glacier told Griffin with a skeptical look.

"And you look kind of like that hero the Face," Speed Trap exclaimed suspiciously, "I mean you've both got trench coats, hats and gold face masks... How do we know you're not really the Face in disguise?"

"Stop being stupid," Griffin snorted in annoyance, sounding almost offended. He adjusted his coat and added, "I assure you that any similarities between the Face and I are merely superficial and purely coincidental."

After about ten minutes, Griffin looked at his watch and abruptly said, "Now we charge in." He looked at Glacier, "You take point. Speed Trap and Sister Wyrd...stay close to me and remember your instructions. Speed Trap will provide defense while Sister Wyrd neutralizes threats."

"Dandelions?" Sister Wyrd asked with a somewhat blank expression.

"He means you use your powers on anyone who isn't one of us," Speed Trap told her.

Sister Wyrd grinned, "Okie dokie..." I was a little startled since this was the first time I'd actually seen her give a relevant response to anything. I suddenly had a brief suspicion that she might exaggerating her craziness a bit to make people underestimate her.

Glacier grinned and suddenly the temperature near him dropped at least twenty degrees and was continuing to drop further. I backed off as he began drawing all the heat from the surrounding air, causing a layer of frost to form on his skin and the ground while some snow flakes even appeared in the air. I could almost feel his power level increasing by the second as he charged up.

Seconds later, Glacier ran charging towards the chain link fence, tearing right through it. Several security guards who were armed more highly than any I'd ever seen before opened fire on him. Glacier barely seemed to notice it, though it stopped to grab a guard and just hold him at arms length until the guard froze to death in his hands. It was only then that the rest of us came in.

"Damn," I grimaced at the sight of the dead guards, wishing they'd run away and live. I wondered if I might be able to do something to prevent any more killing but didn't see how short of completely blowing my cover.

Griffin came strolling through the compound with Speed Trap and Sister Wyrd by his side. Guards opened fire and Speed Trap threw up his arms. Suddenly a strange pink glow spread out from around them, forming a hazy cloud. When the bullets hit this glowing pink cloud, then started to just drop to the ground. I stared in amazement, seeing how Speed Trap's powers worked. His energy field offered so much resistance to the fast moving bullets that it was almost like the bullets just hit a wall. It was a virtual force field.

Sister Wyrd gestured to a group of guards who suddenly started to shoot all over at random before dropping the guns and just standing there with strange expressions on their faces. One looked happy and completely dazed, one was staring up in the sky in horror, and one turned and ran away with a haunted look on his face. Strangely, Sister Wyrd seemed increasingly focused and in control as though giving these hallucinations to others freed her from them and cleared her mind.

My abilities weren't particularly useful at the moment since I wasn't bullet proof and could only fight hand to hand. However, I was fast enough that I could get around and start taking out guards myself though I was careful not to hurt them too much. Still, I told myself that it was better they were unconscious and with a concussion from me than dead as a result of the others.

Then Locust returned, jumping through the air and landing just a short distance away. He was about three quarters of his normal size at the moment, and as I watched several smaller versions of him jumped into him and merged with him, adding their mass to his and returning him to his full human size.

The now singular Locust drew his sword and charged at a group of guards, slashing across their chests before I even realized what was going on. Then he split up again and a whole swarm of tiny Locusts jumped at a group of other guards, their tiny blades through flesh with enough tiny cuts that the guards were overwhelmed with the sheer volume.

"Oh shit," I grimaced, knowing that this was getting bad.

I had to keep my cover... I had to... Then again, I reminded myself that the real Toxic wouldn't be as gentle with the guards as I've been. She'd be using her neurotoxic touch and killing them. I took a deep breath and braced myself for what I'd have to do to keep my cover.

"You're dead meat," I exclaimed as I grabbed one of the guards, making sure that the others saw me doing this. I grinned as cruelly as I could as I twisted his arm and snapped the bone. He screamed in pain and I laughed evilly as I kicked him and left him on the ground. He was hurting but he'd live and heal. "Now for you..." I turned my attention to another guard who dropped his gun and held his arms up in a gesture of surrender. I only wished I could accept it.

I continued to give this guard the same evil grin while turning on my neurotoxic touch and ensuring the green glow around my hands was clearly visible. Then I charged at him, slamming my hand against his chest before he could even think about blocking me. My reflexes were fast enough that I was able to turn off my neurotoxic touch before I actually made contact, though the taser in my glove hit him at full charge. The guard gasped and collapsed to the ground unconscious, appearing to be dead of my neurotoxic touch. As far as my 'team' was concerned, I'd just killed him and proven my super villain credibility.

"Thank you for thinking ahead," I muttered to myself, grateful for the foresight that provided the trick glove.

"I'm beginning to get bored of this," I exclaimed so the others could hear.

At this point, all the guards in the compound had been neutralized as had all the ones who'd come rushing out as reinforcements. However, I knew our goal wasn't complete and that there could very well be more deaths before we were finished. I just hoped I could find a way to avoid it.

"Locust," Griffin called to him, "Clear the path of surprises." Without a word, the swarm of Locusts jumped off ahead of us.

The heavy metal door to the main building was locked and sealed to prevent our gaining access...though it only slowed us down for the five seconds it took Glacier to get a grip and tear it out of its frame. We went inside, only to find two more guards standing in our path. Sister Wyrd neutralized them as a threat and we walked past without even bothering to finish them, much to my relief.

"We have to hurry," Griffin said, "We don't have time to waste... If we take too long there are bound to be some annoying so called heroes arriving."

We hurried through the building, encountering several guards who'd been killed with a hundred tiny sword cuts courtesy of Locust. Griffin led us without fail, seeming to know exactly where he was going almost as though he'd been in here before. Whenever we encountered a locked security door, Glacier would tear right through it. We soon arrived in a highly secure storage area where our target was waiting.

Griffin finally stopped in front of a large metal canister that was hooked up to a cooling system and covered with frost. It looked about the same size as the hot water tank from my old house, though much more solid. He pulled a piece of paper from his pocket and used it to verify a long string of numbers painted on the side of the canister.

"This is it," Griffin said a moment later as he began turning off the coolant and removing the cables. He gestured to Glacier who then picked up the canister without a word, acting as though it weighed nothing though I knew better. "Make sure you protect it and keep it cold. The chemicals inside become highly unstable and dangerous when warm."

"Keeping it cold isn't a problem," Glacier smirked and the temperature dropped again. The layer of frost which covered his body thickened and started to form more solid and substantial ice crystals. "I'll keep it chilled..."

"That's why Glacier was chosen for this team, wasn't it?" Locust asked, stepping into view once again back as a single full sized ninja. "He can carry it and keep it cold at the same time..."

Griffin didn't bother answering that and only said, "Let's go..."

We left the building through the same path that we'd entered, though we didn't encounter any guards. Either they'd already been neutralized, or they realized they had no chance of stopping us and were staying out of the way.

When we stepped out of the building, my hand twitched towards the panic button on my belt again but I controlled it. As much as I hated letting these guys get away with this chemical, I couldn't do anything about it. I'd have to keep helping Griffin and hope I could get word to Rice about where we took and it and what it was intended for.

Just then, there was the sudden sound of a strong wind though I didn't feel anything of the sort. A moment later, a man suddenly appeared standing in front of us, wearing a red and white spandex costume with a mask that included a pair of goggles. He stood there in a dramatic pose, giving us all a nasty glare.

"Stop right there," the mysterious newcomer ordered.

"Breakneck I presume," Griffin greeting him.

"You've heard of me," the her grinned proudly. "Then you know I'm far too fast for you."

"I have heard such a thing," Griffin admitted.

Suddenly Locust jumped at Breakneck, splitting into two smaller versions of himself as he did. However, Breakneck moved so fast that I barely saw him and he easily avoided Locust's attacks. Locust split several more times but even numbers didn't help him against an opponent who moved fast enough to dance around him without effort.

I braced myself to jump in, knowing my enhanced reflexes stood a slightly better chance against Breakneck, but also wondering if my taser had enough power remaining for one more use. Then again, maybe this was exactly what I was hoping for...a way to stop them without actually blowing my cover. I felt a surge of hope.

"What should I do?" Glacier asked, still holding the canister.

"Nothing," Griffin told him with an odd confidence in his voice. "Speed Trap."

"Oh yeah," Speed Trap grinned. He stepped forward and held out his hands, suddenly the entire area was covered with the glowing pink cloud of his powers.

Suddenly Breakneck stopped and collapsed to the ground, almost as though he'd just run into a wall which I quickly realized is almost exactly what happened. He'd been moving at super speed when he hit the velocity resistance field, so it did the same thing it did to the bullets and stopped him dead.

I stared at Breakneck in surprise, seeing that he was still alive and moving a bit but he was badly injured. It must have been the equivalent of falling from a great height into a body of water. Normally water is no problem, but when you're moving that fast it might as well be concrete.

"That's why you're here," Locust exclaimed as he started pulling himself back together. He stared at Speed Trap in amazement, "You weren't here to block bullets... You were brought on to stop Breakneck... You're the contingency plan Griffin was talking about."

"Yeah," Speed Trap grinned proudly as he walked over to the squirming Breakneck. "They told me I'd get a chance at him if I came... I've been wanting to try my powers out on a speedster for awhile now..." Then he grinned down at Breakneck, "It looks like you lived up to your name, I mean, breaking your neck and all. You see, the faster you move the more dangerous I am, but you've probably already figured that out..."

Breakneck was fighting to say something but Griffin exclaimed, "We don't have time for this." And with that, he pulled a hand gun with a silencer from his coat and fired two shots into Breakneck, one into his chest and the other his head.

"No," I started to protest but it was too late. Griffin had already killed him before the word even escaped my lips.

"Do you have a problem?" Griffin asked me.

I grimaced in rage at this cold blooded murder of someone who was no longer any form of threat. Then I glared at Griffin and gave him the only explanation that would keep my cover. "I wanted to be the one to kill him."

"You know," Glacier commented, "You're one bloodthirsty bitch."

"You have a problem with that?" I sneered at him, glad that my ruse was working.

Glacier just shook his head and turned to Griffin, "Back to the RV?"

"No," Griffin responded, reaching into his coat.

A moment later, there was a massive explosion coming from where we'd left the RV. I stared in surprise as I saw a column of flame that would be sure to attract a lot of attention.

"A distraction," Griffin explained, "for the authorities and the like who are certain to arrive soon. As for transportation, that too has been planned for."

"You had us riding with a bunch of explosives and you didn't tell us?" Speed Trap gasped in surprise while Locust glared silently.

"Pretty fireworks," Sister Wyrd commented, still staring at the fire from the explosion.

Griffin didn't say a word as he reached into his coat again and pulled out a black metallic cylinder about the same shape as a can of tuna but about three times the size. "Please put that down gently," he gestured to Glacier who carefully placed the chemical container on the ground. It was coated with even more frost and ice than it had been inside. Griffin then stuck the small canister onto the side of the larger one where it remained stuck in place.

"So how are we getting out of here?" Locust asked with a hint of suspicion in his voice.

"This is a recall teleporter created by Doctor Nasty before she left the Black Guild," Griffin explained, looking around though his mask kept any of us from seeing his eyes. "It can teleport us all but only to a specific destination and it will burn out once used."

"Why didn't we just use it down in the building?" Glacier grumbled, "Then I wouldn't have had to haul this stuff up here..."

"Because the satellite can't get a lock on it if it's shielded inside the building," Griffin explained impatiently, placing his gloved hand on the device. "Now everyone either touch the teleporter, the canister, or me. If you aren't connected when it activates you will be left behind."

Everyone immediately complied having no doubt that Griffin would leave us behind without hesitation. A few seconds later there was a blinding flash of light and an intense sensation of dizziness. It all passed in just a moment and I realized we were all in a new location.

"Holy shit," Speed Trap exclaimed as he looked around our new environment.

I looked around in surprise as well but kept quiet. We were now in a large but nearly empty room that only had a black metallic platform in the middle of the floor. In fact, all of us had suddenly appeared on the platform. I didn't know much about science, but I was guessing this platform was tied to that recall teleporter of Griffin's. If I had to guess, I'd guess the recall teleporter could only teleport things to this platform. Of course, that was only a guess.

"We'll be staying here until our next mission in four days," Griffin announced, gesturing to one door and adding, "Sleeping quarters are in that direction. Don't make a mess...the Black Guild is borrowing this base from Lord Dread and he isn't known for tolerance."

"No," Speed Trap muttered, "He's known for nuking Canada."

"Come," Griffin gestured to Glacier, "Bring the canister so we can put it in cold storage..."

After Griffin and Glacier left the room with our stolen prize, the others started to drift off. Locust and Speed Trap both went straight for where Griffin said the sleeping quarters were while Sister Wyrd wandered off, apparently following an invisible puppy she wanted to pet.

I remained where I was for a few minutes, thinking about what had happened. So far my insertion had been without a hitch and I'd successfully infiltrated the Black Guild. But after the deaths of numerous security guards and a developed hero I'd never even heard of, I had a hard time being pleased or even thinking of this as a success. What I did know was that I was now more determined than ever to stop whatever it was the Black Guild had planned.

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I leaned back in my chair and scowled in deep annoyance, realizing as I did so that my bad mood and frustration was actually helping me stay in character much more easily. I tapped my nails impatiently on the table in front of me then slowly looked around at my various 'team mates'.

"I'm sick of waiting," I finally snapped, saying what the others were all thinking. "We've been here for three days and that faceless freak Griffin still hasn't told us what our next mission is."

"He says that it's tomorrow," Speed Trap commented with a casual shrug, as though the lack of information wasn't bothering him.

"Like that does us a lot of good," Locust hissed in a controlled voice, though he was just as frustrated as I was though for an entirely different reason.

I was bursting with frustration over the status of my mission...my real mission. I was an experienced soldier and guard, but not a spy. I barely had two days of training to be a spy and that was obviously not enough. After being surrounded by these criminals for nearly four days, I'd helped commit a robbery and was an accessory to the murder of a super hero but I was absolutely no closer to my goal of finding out what the Black Guild was really up to.

After we'd arrived at this base Griffin put the chemical container we'd stolen into a freezer and mostly left the rest of us to our own devices. I'd barely even seen Griffin since then much less heard about what the chemicals were intended for or what was planned for the next mission.

"I bet we're gonna threaten to bust open that canister in the middle of some city unless they pay up," Glacier said thoughtfully.

"Perhaps," Locust responded skeptically, "But I think our illustrious organizers have something a little more complicated than that."

I looked at Glacier and Locust, then at Speed Trap who still didn't seem all that concerned. Then again, I'd noticed that this seemed to be his normal attitude. He didn't seem to have much sense of urgency about anything...except perhaps making a name for himself by taking down Breakneck. And now that he'd done that, he seemed to view the rest of this as nothing important.

Then out of curiosity, I looked to Sister Wyrd to see how she what she thought, though I didn't expect much. Nor was I disappointed. Sister Wyrd was off in the corner doing a hand stand against the wall and seeming to pay absolutely no attention to our conversation. However, she did look over at us several times with an almost thoughtful expression that made me wonder.

"I'm about ready to start ASKING some questions," I snarled, turning on my neurotoxic touch as I clenched my fist. The glowing green fist made a rather dramatic statement which was exactly what I'd intended. It seemed the sort of thing that the real Toxic would do.

"There is no need for impatience," Griffin's voice said from behind me. I snapped around, startled that he'd managed to come up without me or any of the others noticing. "I was just about to tell you all of our next mission."

"About time," I sneered.

"So," Glacier grinned eagerly, "Are we gonna get paid big this time?"

"This move will be just another one in the game," Griffin answered as he walked around the table and went to the front of the room where everyone could see him more clearly. "But it will be a move that will help place the Black Guild for a checkmate." Then he looked at Glacier, "Or for you more football minded...a winning touch down."

"Home run," Sister Wyrd exclaimed with a cheerful grin.

"So what's up?" Speed Trap asked with a bored look while Locust appeared calm and professional.

"Have you ever heard of Slaughter?" Griffin asked after a moment.

"No," Speed Trap shook his head.

"That beast?" Locust asked with a scowl. "I heard it was killed a couple years ago..."

"The same," Griffin responded. Then for those of us who'd never heard of Slaughter, he explained, "Slaughter was created as a genetic experiment by Doctor Nasty. He was a savage and nearly mindless killing machine that delighted in consuming his victims. His most notable feature was his ability to absorb the DNA and genetic advantages of anyone he consumed."

"And it must have consumed a lot," Locust muttered.

Griffin nodded, "Yes. He killed and ate several of Doctor Nasty's other experiments while escaping from her lab along with two developed hirelings...gaining all of their combined abilities in the process. Once free, Slaughter went on the vicious rampage that earned him his name. A number of so called heroes tried stopping him, only to suffer several casualties that only made him more powerful."

"I heard it damn near beat Grendel single-handedly," Glacier finally said.

"Lollypop," Sister Wyrd nodded gravely.

"There are no witnesses to the fight between the two monsters," Griffin said carefully, "What is known is that Grendel won...but not before Slaughter took a bit of his flesh. It was enough for Slaughter to add Grendel's power to his own and make him nearly unstoppable. Somehow though, Doctor Power and his allies in the Lightning Force still found a way to kill him."

"And what does this dead Slaughter monster have to do with us?" Speed Trap asked.

"Our mission is to find his body in the Morgue," Griffin stated.

"The MORGUE?" Glacier gasped with a visible shudder.

I frowned at that, knowing that this mission could very well be messier than the last...and more dangerous. I may not have heard of Slaughter before this but I had heard of the Morgue. The Morgue is a secure facility created in cooperation between the US government and several prominent super groups for the purpose of storing the bodies of deceased aliens and genetic anomalies. Simply put, the Morgue where they put the dead monsters.

"Freak central," Locust scowled, reminding all of us of the horror stories that we'd heard about the Morgue.

Most people were uncomfortable in places of the dead but that discomfort grew exponentially when the dead were aliens, hideous monsters, and things out of your nightmares. Their being dead often only served to make them even more scary.

Back when I'd been a guard at Mount Prometheus, I'd heard a story from a credible source who said that a few years earlier one of the dead aliens at the Morgue had not only gotten up and started walking around again, but also animated several other corpses. Before anyone realized it, the Morgue had been infested with flesh eating alien zombies that had to be put down hard by the hero group Lightning Force.

"The security is going to be a lot tougher than the rent-a-cops from the last place," I scowled, "Even if they were well armed..."

"These guys probably have some super heroes on speed dial too," Glacier added thoughtfully.

"That has all been taken into consideration," Griffin announced, "This is what I have in mind..."

Griffin spent the next hour going over his plan, though there didn't seem to really be much to it. His primary plan was to just sneak up on the Morgue, catch them by surprise, and then just force our way inside. It might work but I had a bad feeling about this. Something just seemed wrong with it.

I listened to Griffin's plan, nodding occasionally and making the appropriate comments. However, I spent the entire time thinking about how I could possibly stop this mission. How could I possibly stop them from killing more people? And though I had no idea why the Black Guild wanted Slaughter's body, I knew it sure as hell wasn't good. By the time Griffin was finished explaining himself I'd already made my decision. I was going to report this to Rice...even if it was risky to make a call out from this base.

Once Griffin was through everyone went their separate ways. I calmly strolled through the small base acting as though I belonged there and had absolutely nothing to hide. I slowly made my way away from the others trying to find a place where I could get some privacy. I quickly found such a place only to discover that my cell phone couldn't get a signal.

"Damn," I grimaced in annoyance. I should have realized that I wouldn't be able to get any kind of signal inside here. I've have to get outside and then hope there was a cell tower in range.

I cursed impatiently then began heading to the back door I'd been shown. I'd avoided going out in the first place because the chances of one the others seeing me there was a little higher. Still, I didn't have much choice.

Just minutes later I'd opened the heavy metal door and stepped outside. I wasn't surprised to find myself standing by what appeared to be a large cluster of rocks in the New Mexico desert. Griffin had revealed our general location shortly after we arrived, though he'd kept quiet about our specific coordinates.

"Hopefully this works," I said, looking at my cell phone and being surprised that I had a signal. I looked around, not seeing any sign of a cell tower or any place that was likely to have one. Then I looked up, suddenly wondering if maybe this was actually a satellite phone along with the other tricks it held. I quickly dialed the secure number Rice had made me memorize, then stated, "It's me..."

I gave Rice a quick review of what I'd seen and learned so far, though it wasn't what we were looking for yet. "If the Black Guild wants Slaughter's body...that can't be good," Rice said, echoing my own thoughts. "I'll see what I can do about that without compromising your cover..."

"What about that guard I tasered the other day?" I asked, thinking about my fake kill during that last robbery.

"Alive and well," Rice answered, "Though fairly bruised from the rough treatment. You did good."

"Not good enough," I scowled, thinking about everyone who'd died. "Breakneck..."

Rice cut me off, "He knew the risks when he got into this line of work. It's not your fault. We can't afford to talk long so we'll end this now. Good luck and be careful." And with that the phone went dead.

"I hope that did some good," I muttered as I away my phone.

Just then a voice behind me demanded, "Who were you talking to?" I snapped around to see Speed Trap standing a short distance away with a suspicious look on his face.

"Shit," I muttered under my breath with a surge of wariness. Then I sneered, "My damn bookie... I'll be able to pay the bastard what I owe him and get him off my back when we're done with this shit..."

For a moment, I thought Speed Trap was going to buy that. But then he responded, "It didn't sound like you were talking to any kind of bookie... In fact, it sounded like you were telling someone about what we're up to..."

"Damn," I grimaced, clenching my fist and bracing myself for what was about to come.

Then Speed Trap glared at me, "Who are you working for? The Lethal Legion? I know you used to be a member... Or maybe you're still working for the Clock Maker. I bet that's it... The Clock Maker is trying to cut in the Black Guild's action..."

I let out a faint sign of relief as I glared at Speed Trap. My cover had been blown, but not nearly as bad as it could have been. He still had no idea that I wasn't who I seemed to be or that I was working for DAD. However, I couldn't let him give up even this much or my mission to infiltrate the Black Guild would be history and I might very well be dead.

"I'm finally starting to make a name for myself," Speed Trap exclaimed almost angrily, looking at me as though I'd personally betrayed him, "I'm not gonna let you ruin this for me..."

"You don't know what you're talking about kid," I sneered, trying to see if I could bluff, "And as for making a name for yourself, you're not the one who really killed Breakneck. Remember, it was Griffin who did that..."

That might have been the wrong thing to say though as Speed Trap snarled, "He might do the same thing to you after I tell him you sold us out..."

I didn't waste time threatening him or ordering him not to. Instead, I jumped straight at him only to find myself suddenly hitting his glowing pink field. Suddenly, it was as though I was trying to move under water...or something a little more dense. I could move, but the faster I tried to do so the harder it was.

"I've gotcha," Speed Trap grinned smugly.

I fought back the temptation to make a snide comeback and instead focused on what I needed to do. Snappy banter might be traditional in fights between developed, but I was more concerned with winning than tradition.

I threw a few punches...or at least tried to. My own speed worked against me and it felt as though I was punching through taffy. Strangely, Speed Trap himself didn't seem to have that problem. He was moving just as though his velocity resistance field wasn't even there. He laughed as he darted forward and punched me in the face while his power kept me from responding fast enough to block it.

"Taking you down will really boost my rep," Speed Trap exclaimed, "You don't seem nearly as tough as everyone says..."

"Fuck you," I spat back, trying to figure out how I could attack or defend myself when I couldn't even move properly.

Speed Trap just gave me a cocky and lecherous grin as he danced around freely. He didn't seem to really have any skill and he punched like a girl. Unfortunately, he could move and I was stuck fighting his power. It was a good thing for me he didn't have a gun or even a baseball bat or I'd really be taking damage. Then again, I wondered if maybe his power didn't work like that. Maybe his immunity to his velocity resistance field only covered himself. In that case, his body was the only weapon he could use.

Suddenly Speed Trap darted forward to punch me again, this time punching me right on one of my breasts. I grimaced in pain as it hurt a hell of a lot more than I would have expected. These new body parts of mine were damn sensitive, though it wasn't quite as bad as being kicked in the balls.

"You hit like a girl," I taunted Speed Trap, trying to get him close enough so I could try something else.

I shifted my position into a defensive stance, knowing that this way I'd be able to block with a minimum amount of movement. However, I wasn't getting defensive so much as changing tactics. I was laying bait for the trap.

"Oh yeah," Speed Trap glared at me angrily, looking as though I'd struck a nerve.

Speed Trap took the bait and came at me, throwing another punch at my face. I didn't try dodging it, though when he was close enough I spat right in his face. The punch still connected and hurt a bit, but I'd been hit harder than that on more than a few occasions.

"Gross," Speed Trap grimaced as he wiped my spit off my face.

"And highly poisonous," I told him in a cold voice. "My spit is toxic enough that you'll be dead in minutes..."

"WHAT?" Speed Trap gasped, staring at me in shock and horror.

I was bluffing...or lying if you want to get technical. As far as I know Toxic's spit wasn't any more poisonous than anyone elses...or at least there was no mention of such a thing in her files. Still, with Toxic's....my biology, I certainly wouldn't have been surprised if Speed Trap fell over dead right this instant either.

I immediately took advantage of my opponent's distraction to shift my position, holding out my arms and step forward. I wasn't moving at a fast pace so the resistance field didn't offer much trouble. Then I simply let myself fall forward against Speed Trap, catching him between my arms and taking us both to the ground. By this point I had a good grip on him and it was far too late for Speed Trap to jump out of my reach.

Now that I'd switched our method of fighting to grappling, Speed Trap's advantage in speed would be removed. For this kind of fighting strength, leverage, and skill were what counted. Speed Trap might be bigger than me and 6 inches taller, but I was far stronger than him and a lot more experienced. There was no way Speed Trap could beat me now even with his powers.

"YOU BITCH!" Speed Trap yelled at me as he struggled to get free.

I stared at Speed Trap, filled with the same cold calmness that always came when I prepared to do what needed to be done. Without a word, I activated my power and felt my palm burn with the neurotoxic touch. Then I drove my palm right into his chest. He let out a gasp of horror and gurgled. My neurotoxic touch was fully charged and far more potent than when Toxic had used it on me. He was dead in mere seconds.

After a few more seconds, I got back to my feet. I felt a twinge of guilt but quickly pushed it aside. This had been necessary and he wasn't someone I should waste guilt on. This certainly wasn't the first time I'd ever killed someone, but it was the first time I'd done it so close and personal...and the first time I'd been looking in their eyes when it happened.

I felt worse about using my neurotoxic touch on Speed Trap than I did about actually killing him since I knew just how painful it was first hand. But of the several ways I could have killed him and finished the fight, it had been the quickest and most efficient. And at least for him it had been a fast death as opposed to the long and painful one I'd been given.

"You should have chosen another line of work," I said quietly as I turned and started back into the base.

Since I couldn't keep Speed Trap's death a secret for long, I'd have to come up with a plausible explanation. By the time I found Griffin in the middle of a conversation with Glacier, I had it.

"You're gonna have to find a replacement for Speed Trap," I told Griffin as casually as I could.

"What are you talking about?" Griffin demanded.

"Did that rookie run off?" Glacier asked with a derisive sneer.

"I told him that if he ever grabbed my ass again that I'd kill him," I responded with a grimace. Then I looked straight into the eye slots of Griffin's mask and coldly added, "This time the prick tried grabbing my tits."

"Ouch," Glacier winced, giving me an appraising look.

"That is...unfortunate," Griffin responded, his voice filled with annoyance.

I just stared at Griffin, daring him to do something about this but gambling he wouldn't. I had a feeling that if our 'team' wasn't already down a member that he might try taking some action against me, but at the moment he couldn't afford to lose another one of us.

"Fortunately," Griffin finally said after a minute, "Speed Trap's primary purpose has already been fulfilled."

"So we're all expendable?" Glacier demanded with a cold edge to his voice. The temperature dropped several degrees as he considered the fact that he'd already served his purpose in getting the canister of chemicals. Griffin stared at him for a moment, then turned and walked off without a word.

"It appears we are," I commented casually, "At least once we've fulfilled our purpose for being put on this team."

Glacier glared down at me and shook his head, "You are one cold psychotic bitch. You know that?" Then he turned and walked off as well.

Once they were both gone and out of sight I let out a sigh of relief. I could hardly believe this had worked. In a shot time I'd gone from blowing my cover as a psychotic villain to cementing it even further. I got lucky this time. One thing was for sure...I was going to have to be a hell of a lot more careful from now on because I doubted I'd get that lucky again.

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I shivered against the cold, wishing I had a jacket as I glared to where Glacier sat several feet away. He was busy absorbing heat so he could be charged up for this mission with the added effect of making our small aircraft feel like the inside of the freezer. However, none of us said a word of complaint since no one wanted to look soft and weak. For a villain that could very well be a mark of death.

"We're almost there," Griffin finally said, "The transport Lord Dread lent us will keep us cloaked until we're within visual distance. At that point, there is a good chance their sensors will be able to pick us up. I expect that to occur any minute so be prepared."

"I always am," Glacier smirked, pounding a frost covered fist into his open palm.

"Too bad we're short a person," Locust commented, giving me a cold glare, "Speed Trap's power could have been a great defense..."

"Bite me," I spat back.

The aircraft descended quickly and after a minute, Griffin announced, "Our presence has been detected."

I immediately imagined a barrage of missiles being sent after us or possibly even some kind of jet. However, nothing of the sort happened and we reached the ground just a minute later without any incident. Then the door of our aircraft opened and we all burst out, Glacier first so he could draw the fire away from the rest of us.

As soon as we hit the ground, I took a quick look around. We were right in front of a stark windowless building in the middle of the Nevada desert, having landed just inside of it's fenced area. The building only looked about 40 feet high though I knew this was deceptive. Most of the Morgue complex was actually beneath our feet.

"Welcome to Area 63," Locust announced, using the official name for this complex before it became more commonly known as the Morgue.

Just then several cylindrical turrets popped up from the ground around us and began firing red energy beams. We all jumped behind Glacier who stood firm and laughed as the beams hit him without doing any harm.

"These things have a lot of heat in them," Glacier announced smugly, making me realize that he was actually absorbing the energy and getting more powerful.

"Speed Trap might be handy about now," Locust muttered, giving me another glare.

"Bite me," I snapped again.

A moment later, the turrets were joined by a dozen robots that were raised to the surface by a previously hidden elevator. Each robot was only roughly humanoid in shape but stood about 8 feet tall. I looked at my 'teammates' nervously, suddenly fearing that we'd all end up dead before I could fulfill my mission and find out what was really going on.

Sister Wyrd gestured hands at the robots with a strange look on her face, making me think that she was trying to use her powers on them. Of course, they were robots and were probably immune to her acid trip inducing powers.

"This is a lot of defense for just some dead aliens," Glacier commented. "What do they need this much firepower for?"

"To keep them from people like us," Locust answered.

Then Locust suddenly started splitting down into his numerous smaller selves. A few seconds later, a swarm of Locusts sprang off to attack the turrets and robots, being small and fast enough that they were very hard to hit. I hesitated only a moment before joining him, counting on my own enhanced reflexes to keep me alive.

I ran up to one turret, moving fast enough to avoid it's blasts and then slamming my hand onto the side by the lens that fired the beams. It cracked in and went dead, no longer a threat. I felt a bit smug at taking it down though there were still a lot more of them along with the robots.

"Too bad you can't poison robots," Glacier called out with a laugh as he charged forward to smash his fist through one of them.

"Maybe not," I responded with a feeling of relief. After all, if they weren't alive I didn't have to worry about hurting them...or worry about my 'teammates' killing people. "But I can still destroy them."

I ran up to one of the robots, charging my neurotoxic touch to try out it anyway. Then I planted my fist into its torso. The robot paused and sparked, making me realize that my neurotoxic tough might have an effect on them anyway. After all, it wasn't just pure poison but closer to a form of lethal radiation. I grinned at that and decided to really test my new abilities.

"Enough of this," Griffin called out, holding up a glowing green sphere the size of a soft ball.

Griffin threw the sphere into the middle of the chaos and suddenly there was a flash of light. A moment later, all the turrets and robots went completely dead. I stared, realizing that his green sphere was like the big brother of the one the Key had used back in Mount Prometheus. He'd just killed all the technology at once, leaving us a clear path inside.

"Why didn't you do that sooner?" Locust demanded as he pulled himself back together.

Griffin didn't answer. Instead, he reached for a sealed plastic box he'd brought with him from the transport and opened it. He still didn't say a word as he pulled out some contents and shoved them into his pockets before I could see what they were. But after what he'd just done, I was guessing these were high tech devices he'd been shielding from that EMP or technology neutralizer thing.

Once Griffin was ready, we all started for the heavy metal doors on the front of the building. But before we got to them, they suddenly started to open on their own. We all stopped to wait and see what was going to come out. When the doors were open, four people stepped out of the building. Four people whom I'd never met but immediately recognized anyway.

"Lighting Force," Locust hissed as he named the small but well known group of super heroes.

I quickly looked them over, recognizing them from various magazines and TV shows. But more than that, I recognized the first one from last year when he'd come to Mount Prometheus to talk to one of the prisoners. He was Doctor Power, their leader and one of the smartest men on the planet. He was tall with black hair that had a white streak on the front. His costume was mostly green with a gold lightning bolt symbol on the chest and several belts with pouches strapped in various places. And though it wasn't obvious from looking at him, I knew he was also a powerful telekinetic.

Standing beside Doctor Power was a woman in violet and blue loose flowing clothes that looked as though they might be made of silk. She had dark blue hair and a symbol on her forehead that looked like an eye. This was Mindseye who was a telepath and could create mental illusions.

Next was Syphon, who looked like a living black shadow in human form. He was all black and darkness except for his glowing white eyes. And from what I remembered, he could absorb any form of energy that he came in contact with.

The last of the four was much less famous than the others, only being a relative newcomer to Lightning Force. She was Hardshell, the woman who'd turned Lightning Force from a trio to it's more current quartet. She was dressed entirely in green and black chitinous armor without a bit of her flesh showing. And though I didn't know nearly as much about her as I did the others, I knew that her alien armor was supposedly quite powerful.

The fact that Lightning Force just happened to be here at the Morgue when we came struck me as just a little too coincidental. Sure, they could have been here dropping off some alien corpse, but I had a feeling that Rice had a hand in this. He probably slipped them a tip about this raid, but whether he took credit for it or let them know about me I had no idea.

"What do we do now?" I demanded of Griffin, only to turn and find that he was gone.

"What?" Glacier gasped, "Where'd he go...?"

"He ditched us," Locust hissed angrily, looking to see where Griffin went but seeing no sign of him.

Sister Wyrd scowled, "The bunnies are getting away..."

"You might as well surrender now and save yourselves a lot of pain," Doctor Power called out to us.

"Don't surrender," Hardshell urged, "I'm having a bad day and kicking some ass would really improve my mood..."

Locust snarled, and without a word he suddenly jumped at them, breaking into smaller versions of himself as he did so. Hardshell fired a beam of energy at him from her hand, but she missed hitting any of the Locusts. Within moments, all of us had jumped into the fight.

"Shit," I grimaced, not wanting to fight the good guys...especially not ones as famous as Lightning Force. Unfortunately, it was necessary for keeping my cover.

I intentionally jumped at Syphon, confident that his power to absorb energy would let him take my neurotoxic touch without harm. But before I even reached him, I suddenly found myself flying back and slamming into the ground courtesy of Doctor Power's telekinesis.

Glacier picked up one of the inactive robots and threw it at Mindseye. Hardshell suddenly dove in, flying right into the path of the robot and smashing it away. When Glacier threw a second robot, Doctor Power caught it in midair with his power and threw it right back.

I got back to my feet, trying to decide what to do now. If this was a real battle that I was actually trying to win I'd be going after the Lightning Force members with the full intention to kill. But as it was, I merely wanted to look as though I was trying to hurt them. I just hoped I could keep my 'teammates' from killing anyone like they had Breakneck.

"Where the fuck is Griffin?" Glacier demanded, absorbing so much heat around him that his body was coated with ice crystals and spikes. He was beginning to look more as though he were made of ice than like a human.

As Glacier's strength and power increased, he charged forward only find himself facing Syphon. He punched at the shadowy hero as hard as he could though it seemed to have no effect. Syphon seemed to be absorbing the force of Glacier's punch just as easily as anything else.

Suddenly, I realized that our situation had just gotten a lot worse. I looked around, horrified to see reinforcements had just come to help the Lightning Force. More people in spandex costumes were coming out of the building and flying down from the sky. My eyes widened as I recognized Vigil, Ms. Miracle and a number of others.

"Oh shit," I exclaimed, clenching my fists and turning on my neurotoxic touch though I'd never actually dare use it on one of them.

"We're outnumbered," Glacier gasped with a look of fear, "Big time..."

"Speak for yourself," Locust blurted out, breaking down yet again until there were hundreds of tiny versions of him scattered about. I had no doubt that he'd be extremely hard to catch that way or at least hard catch all of him. That just made me wonder what would happen if several of his smaller selves where captured or killed while others got away.

But then Sister Wyrd yelled out, "Bubble butt...!"

I had no idea what Sister Wyrd was up to, but suddenly all the heroes vanished. The only ones left were the four we'd started with. And to my surprise, all four of them were looking around with dazed and confused expressions on their faces. Then it dawned on me.

"Where'd they all go?" Glacier demanded.

"Those other heroes were never here in the first place," I snarled, angry at myself for being tricked so completely, "Mindseye was making us see things..."

"Now Sister Wyrd is making them see things," Locust added with a smirk as his smaller selves recombined.

"Oh...no...you...don't," Mindseye exclaimed with a look of concentration. She glared at Sister Wyrd and suddenly the two of them seemed frozen staring at each other.

"What the fuck is going on with Sister Wyrd this time?" Glacier demanded.

"She's fighting Mindseye," Locust answered, "They're attacking each other with their powers..."

I looked at Sister Wyrd and Mindseye, neither of which were moving or looked as though they were fighting. But obviously they were with Sister Wyrd unleashing her acid trip powers against the telepathic might of the heroine.

"You can't effect me with that for long," Hardshell exclaimed triumphantly, shaking herself free from the effects of Sister Wyrd's powers before Syphon or Doctor Power, "My armor protects more than just my body..."

Hardshell opened fire with her energy blasts again, hitting Glacier dead on and shattering most of the ice off of him. However, he didn't seem too phased by the attack and quickly returned the favor by tearing a gun turret out of the ground and throwing that at her.

Locust took advantage of the opportunity to jump at Doctor Power with a dozen small bodies, each with a drawn sword. But Doctor Power recovered from Sister Wyrd's attack enough that he was able to gesture at the action figure ninjas and send the whole swam flying back.

"That was wierd," Syphon said in a strangely hollow voice as he shook off Sister Wyrd's powers as well.

"She was given her name for a reason," Doctor Power told him before turning his attention back on us and sending several robots and broken turrets flying at us as projectiles. I was able to easily jump out of the way as were the various Locusts. Glacier just stood there and smashed anything that hit him, then threw the wreckage right back so it looked almost as though they were playing a game of catch.

"If that chicken shit Griffin hadn't run away..." Glacier snarled.

"Ask and you shall receive," Griffin's voice yelled out. I turned and saw him running towards us from the direction of the Morgue doorway. "To the transport... I've achieved our mission objective..."

"You've got Slaughter's body?" Glacier asked in surprise, looking around but seeing no sign of a monster corpse.

"Our objective was never Slaughter's body," Griffin snapped, holding up a device that looked something like an I-pod, "We merely needed a DNA sample... Now hurry..." And with that he ran towards the aircraft we'd arrived in.

"You're not escaping that easily," Hardshell yelled.

Suddenly, debris and wreckage from our battle began to float in the air in front of us, creating a form of wall that we couldn't get through. Doctor Power was trying to cage us in and it seemed to be working. The wreckage was beginning to get closer and surround us.

Griffin reached into his pocket and pulled out another metallic sphere, this one somewhat different in appearance from the last one. He pushed a button on the side of it and threw it at the ground. A moment later there was a brilliant flash of light and the floating wreckage all fell to the ground. He didn't say a word as he rushed towards the aircraft with the rest of us following.

As soon as we were aboard, Griffin reached into his pocket again and pulled out a familiar looking device. It was another recall teleporter exactly like the one we'd used to get away from our last raid. "Fortunately," he said, "The Black Guild has sufficient technological recourses..."

"So why didn't we do this out there?" Glacier demanded as Griffin started to activate the device.

"Because the auto pilot on the transport is set to take it in another direction," Griffin explained, "Lightning Force will be on a wild goose chase..."

"Wait," I called out, looking around and realizing that someone was missing, "Sister Wyrd is still out there..."

"It's too late," Griffin announced impatiently.

I looked out the aircraft door and saw Sister Wyrd running towards us but she'd never reach us in time. She abruptly stopped and stared at us with a worried expression then waved and called out, "Remember the Alamo..." In a strange way, that almost made sense.

Then an instant later, the recall teleporter activated and in a flash of light we were all back at the base. All except Sister Wyrd who'd been left behind.

linebreak shadow

Our little super villain secret hideaway was filled with silence and tension. We were nearly all in a bad mood and none of us felt like talking, though we each had our own reasons.

Even though our latest mission had been a success, Locust and Glacier weren't celebrating. They'd been used and they knew it. Neither of them was happy that Griffin had kept them in the dark and used them as a mere diversion while he went for the real goal. And though neither said a word, they weren't happy about leaving Sister Wyrd behind either. It not only meant that we were down two people leaving our team smaller and less effective than before. It also meant that we were all expendable as far as Griffin was concerned and they could very well be next.

I had a feeling that they were both getting more than a little fed up with the way Griffin was running things. They were both experienced professionals who didn't like being left in the dark and manipulated like this. If this continued much longer there might even be a chance of them committing some sort of mutiny or leaving. Of course, neither was likely to give up their chance at the payoff after having spent so much time and effort on this.

I was in a grim mood for an entirely different reason. I was furious at myself and growing increasingly frustrated in my own failure. My little group had pulled off another robbery while I hadn't been able to do anything to stop it. I hadn't even really tried for fear of breaking my cover. And even worse, I had made absolutely no progress at all in my real mission of stopping the Black Guild's plot. I was a complete failure as a spy.

The Griffin was the only one who hadn't really changed. He was quiet and secretive before and he was just as much so now. I think he was the only one who was happy with how things were currently going, though he didn't show many signs of it.

"SHIT!" I snarled in frustration, slamming my fist against the wall and leaving a nice dent.

I then grabbed my glass of snake venom cocktail and downed it in a single gulp. It was nasty tasting stuff but rather potent. I felt a buzz almost as soon as it hit my veins. It was easy to see why Toxic liked drinking this stuff. And honestly, I was starting to develop a taste for it myself.

"You want a shot?" I asked Glacier and Locust with a sneer as I poured some more into my glass. Griffin had been kind enough to provide us with a fully stocked bar that contained all our favorite drinks, including the snake venom cocktail Toxic enjoyed so much. "A bit of rattler mixed with some black mamba with just a dash of arsenic."

"I'll pass," Glacier winced in disgust.

I just sneered and took another shot, feeling somewhat smug. This reminded me of my days back in the Marines when a few of us would do some crazy shit just to prove how tough we were. This was basically the same thing and since I'd found something that neither of those two would even consider trying, I'd sort of won the 'macho points'.

"It both sickens me and amuses me that you can drink that," Locust commented as he sipped from a cup of saki.

"I'll stick to my choice of poison," Glacier said as he downed whiskey from the bottle. With his biology, he could probably drink several entire bottles before getting drunk.

Locust put down his cup and frowned, "It concerns me deeply that our numbers have dwindled. We have lost a third of our resources." He gave me a quick glare but continued, "I worry that we won't have enough strength to handle whatever missions come next."

"That is not a concern," Griffin said as he stepped into the room, surprising all of us since we hadn't realized he was there. "I regret the loss of Sister Wyrd on yesterday's mission, but it is not crippling for what we have to do. In fact, I have just completed our most recent task by myself."

"WHAT?" Glacier demanded suspiciously, probably fearing that his lack of involvement in that task meant he would be taking a smaller cut of whatever the ultimate prize would be.

"Why did you not tell us of this before hand?" Locust asked with a carefully controlled voice.

I scowled, again feeling as though I wasn't doing my job properly. I hadn't even noticed that Griffin was gone and had no idea what he'd been up to.

Griffin looked at all of us though I couldn't tell what kind of expression he wore beneath the mask. "It was unnecessary," he finally said, "There was no need for you to know if you were not involved."

"And what is it that you did?" I demanded coldly, "We've been working our asses off for the Black Guild. I think we deserve to know what's going on. What's our cut in all this?" Locust and Glacier both nodded agreement.

"Cut..," Griffin shook his head, "This is about more than a mere cut..."

"How the fuck can we know that if you keep us in the dark?" I glared at him, "If you want us to keep risking our asses on these little missions, you'd better clue us in one what's going on...and what's in it for us."

Griffin was silent for nearly a minute before reluctantly announcing, "Very well." He gestured to the door, "Come with me."

Griffin led us all to the room with the platform for the recall teleporter. Sitting right in the middle of it was a huge metal crate. It must have been over 12 feet tall. And on the side of the crate there was not one, but three recall teleporter devices. All three looked blackened and burned out as they always did after being used.

"What the hell is that?" Glacier demanded.

Glacier went to touch the metal crate but Griffin quickly exclaimed, "Don't..." He sounded nervous, almost afraid. "The contents are very...dangerous."

"What the fuck is in there?" I demanded with a cold feeling that this was what I was looking for. That this might be the very thing Rice had sent me to find.

Griffin stared at the metal crate for a moment before finally answering, "Jabberwock."

"Jabberwock?" Locust gasped, "It's in there? You brought it HERE?"

"Are you STUPID?" Glacier demanded angrily.

I just stared at the crate with a feeling of terror. I'd heard of Jabberwock. Most people had. It was a...monster. That was the only word that seemed to describe the creature...the weapon known only as Jabberwock.

Jabberwock wasn't a living creature so much as a suit of sentient alien battle armor that had somehow been abandoned and forgotten on Earth centuries ago by some unknown alien race. It was programmed to wage war and that's exactly what it did...even if the war it was created to fight had long since ended. It was also completely indestructible and possessed enough raw physical power that it could smash and destroy just about anything in it's path. The general consensus was that it was even more powerful than the monster Grendel. Jabberwock was almost completely unstoppable.

Of course, Jabberwock had a weakness or it wouldn't be locked up inside of some metal crate. The fact was that as powerful as Jabberwock was, it was created as a weapon. And like most weapons it had a safety. It seemed that even though the race that created Jabberwock gave it a mind of it's own, it still required a user to operate. It merely needed a host...someone to climb inside and it could activate and do what it did best. Destroy things.

Unfortunately, the race that created it might have had a way of controlling Jabberwock but no one else did. Once someone was inside of that monstrosity they became a prisoner with no control at all over Jabberwock's actions. And worse, it fed on their life force and would slowly drain them...usually leaving it's hosts with a life span of mere days at most. Only when it's host died would Jabberwock stop, being frozen and helpless until it acquired a new host.

I frowned, remembering the news footage from the first time Jabberwock had appeared and become active. It was a huge shiny black metallic monster that looked something like a giant humanoid beetle. I'd still been in the Marines at the time and was horrified as it tore through tanks and choppers as though they were nothing. The military I'd put so much value in couldn't do anything against a creature like that. The Protectorate and several other developed super groups tried stopping it without much success either.

I stared at the metal crate and shuddered as I remembered the news footage of the rampage. Whenever Jabberwock would finally stop with a dead or nearly dead host, a panel would open in it's back and it would throw out the remains of the old host and a bunch of tentacles would grab some poor person close by and yank them inside as a replacement. They only way they finally defeated it was to keep everyone well away from it so it couldn't get a new host or to blast it on the inside when the panel was open to grab a replacement. Unfortunately, Jabberwock had somehow managed to come back several times since then, each time being stopped in similar fashion. I had no idea where Griffin had found that thing nor was I sure I wanted to.

"It's harmless without a host," Griffin pointed out. "And the protective casing will keep it from being able to grab a new one."

"Why in the world did you get THAT thing?" Glacier demanded grimly. The temperature dropped several degrees.

"Because those were my instructions," Griffin responded with an edge to his voice, "Just as we were all instructed to complete these missions."

"What's the goal?" I scowled, "I mean, what do Jabberwock, Slaughter and these chemicals have to do with each other?"

"These are merely components," Griffin said carefully. Then he slowly looked at Locust, Glacier and myself. "These are components to create an unstoppable weapon."

"An unstoppable weapon?" I urged him to continue, glancing at the metal crate again and thinking that with Jabberwock they pretty much already had that. I kept from pointing that out though, knowing that I was finally getting what I was here for and wanting to hear every detail.

Griffin nodded, "Jabberwock is extremely powerful but is reliant on a host which it quickly depletes. Slaughter was a very powerful creature that only grew more powerful over time. The heroes were fortunate to destroy it when they did or it would have grown too powerful to ever stop."

"And the chemical?" Locust asked

"An unstable mutagen that can cause developed powers to form in some individuals," Griffn explained. "In fact, I was told that this is the very chemical that is likely responsible for creating Lady Hexx."

"And what is it all for?" I asked coldly, recording this entire conversation and wanting to make sure I got every word. This was exactly what Rice had sent me for.

"Until yesterday," Griffin admitted sounding almost embarrassed, "I was under the impression that these were each part of a different plan with other Black Guild cells gathering materials as well. I just learned though that we have been given the primary task of a larger plan while other cells are working on secondary and tertiary aspects. Each of these items we've acquired plays a large role in the Black Guild's plan to create the ultimate weapon."

"I still do not know the details of what the other groups are working on," Griffin continued, having shifted into lecture mode and looking as though he wasn't about to get out of it. "What I do know is that two of them are working on acquiring an army of cannon fodder for the Black Guild while the others are set to create large scale distractions for various heroes."

"And what about this?" I gestured to the metal grate, glaring at Griffin, "What the hell is this ultimate weapon?"

Griffin paused for a long moment and I could tell that he was reluctant to fully answer. "Once we have everything, it will all be turned over for assembly..." His voice was shaking ever so slightly, making me wonder how bad it could be that it would make a professional criminal like him that nervous. "The DNA sample will be used to clone a new Slaughter..."

"Holy shit," Glacier gasped.

"One that will be fed DNA samples from various developed," Griffin continued as though he hadn't been interrupted. "The mutagen will be mixed with a stabilizing agent and used on human test subjects in an attempt to create new developed that can fuel the new Slaughter's power."

I stared at Griffin with a sense of horror, realizing that even he was uncomfortable with that stage. It was refreshing to see that even a hard core criminal like him didn't like the idea of experimenting on people and then feeding them to a monster. Unfortunately, whatever qualms he might have didn't seem to be enough to stop him.

"Once Slaughter two has been created and empowered," Griffin said in a quiet voice, "He will be given to Jabberwock as a host..."

We all went silent at that, staring at Griffin in disbelief. Almost as one, Glacier, Locust and myself all looked at the metal crate and shuddered.

"Feed one monster to another?" Glacier shook his head, "Exactly what's that gonna do..."

"Create a VERY powerful host for Jabberwock," Locust said thoughtfully.

"Precisely," Griffin agreed. "Jabberwock is nearly indestructible on his own, but give him a host that will not wear out and all of Slaughter's powers and it will truly be unstoppable."

"And the Black Guild obviously has a way of controlling this super Jabberwock," Locust mused thoughtfully, "Otherwise they wouldn't risk creating him..."

Griffin nodded at that, then turned to look at me. "That task will be completed tomorrow...by just Toxic and myself." And with that he turned and walked away.

"Jabberwock and Slaughter," Glacier shook his head with a scowl, "They only one missing is Grendel..."

"No one has seen the monster Grendel in over a year," Locust pointed out.

Glacier shook his head again, "I've just got the feeling that we're in over our heads."

"But just think of the payoff," I grinned to stay in character, "With these kind of stakes there's bound to be quite the payoff..."

Locust and Glacier nodded agreement as we all stood there staring at the large metal crate. I felt extremely nervous as I looked at it knowing what was inside. I sure as hell didn't want to be anywhere near Jabberwock if it came to. I wasn't a coward and had no problem fighting, but I knew my limits and wasn't suicidal.

Then I turned and walked away with a deep scowl, knowing that I'd have to report all this to Rice. I was relieved and even a bit excited that I'd finally gotten some answers. I finally knew what the Black Guild was up to, or at least a large part of it. However, I was under no illusion that my job was over.

The Black Guild still had to be stopped and if there was a way to control Jabberwock Rice would want to know about it. I could just imagine how valuable that kind of information would be if Jabberwock ever got loose again, especially if it got loose with some Slaughter clone inside it. Fortunately, it seemed that I might be able to do something with that tomorrow.

"The mission isn't done yet," I reminded myself with grim determination. "I've still got a lot of work to do."

linebreak shadow

Griffin and I stood just outside of our small aircraft, nearly identical to the one we'd used on the raid of the Morgue. I knew that this wasn't the same one because the other one had been programmed to self-destruct once it had led Lighting Force far enough on a wild goose chase.

I slowly looked around me, taking in the scenery of this burnt out desert of charred rocks and lifeless land. It wasn't a natural desert but a manmade area of death and destruction with a diameter of about a mile. This was for all intents and purposes a true hell hole. Literally.

Just a short distance in front of me was a huge crater about two hundred yards across. Wreckage of metal and stone stuck out in odd places and were scattered about enough to let me know that at one point there had actually been a building her. I half expected to see it all smoldering, but it had actually been years since whatever had happened here.

I looked around for any signs of life, signs that nature was taking over this area. There were none, not even the smallest weed. That sent a chill down my spine. And the air stank with a horribly foul stench that was strongest near the crater.

"Do you bring all the ladies to such lovely places?" I asked Griffin.

Griffin stood beside me, though not dressed in his usual outfit. Instead, he wore a biohazard suit over it along with the full helmet. He hadn't even offered me anything of the sort though I didn't take it personally. After all, I was immune to just about any poisons and he knew it.

"What the fuck is this place?" I asked with a scowl.

"This place," Griffin answered slowly, "was once a lair of the man known as Lord Dark. He'd created an extremely lethal toxin and was going to launch it at Washington D.C. via a long range missile when an enterprising young hero interfered. I believe it may have been Ms. Miracle... Regardless of who it was, this hero sabotaged the missile so that it exploded before launch." He chuckled, sounding almost amused as he added, "I suppose she hadn't considered the environmental impact of releasing that toxin here..."

"Damn," I muttered, imagining the damage that this kind of chemical weapon could have created in a major city. This place was still dead and lifeless and it had obviously been a long time since this happened. Then I scowled, "And why are we here? You need a sample of this toxin?"

"No," Griffin answered, "We have a different purpose..." He turned to look at the crater before answering, "Lord Dark had acquired an alien artifact of unknown purpose. It was still here at this base when it exploded. That is our target."

"If it was there when the missile exploded," I demanded, gesturing to the crater, "What in the world makes you think it's still around."

"According to my sources," Griffin answered calmly, "It was virtually indestructible. It will have survived."

"And we have to go down there and look for it," I snorted.

"No," Griffin corrected me, "You are going to go down there and search for it. I dare not go any closer. Direct exposure to the toxins could dissolve my protective gear and kill me in an instant. You are one of the few people on the planet capable of surviving in that environment."

"Which is why I was really chosen for this team," I mused aloud, finally seeing exactly where Toxic fit into their plans. I had to admit that their team was well chosen for the tasks they were intended for.

"Precisely," Griffin agreed.

I scowled, not liking this at all. "What exactly am I supposed to look for?"

"This," he responded, handing me an old photograph. It was a picture of a black metallic sphere with ridges all around it, reminding me of a rolled up armadillo. "The picture was taken by the scientists who were studying it before Lord Dark took it from them."

"How big is it?" I asked, my mind racing through the practicalities, "And do we know where in this mess it might possibly be?"

"It is approximately half a meter across," Griffin told me, "And the satellite scans indicated there was something unusually dense of the appropriate size on that end of the crater." He pointed. "Unfortunately, the scans could not determine if it was the artifact we seek and the toxic contamination would render any portable scanners you brought with you unusable."

"Just fucking great," I spat out in annoyance, "So I'm supposed to just crawl around until I find it...? What if it got buried in the explosion. I sure as hell ain't digging for it..."

Griffin didn't say anything to that so I just snorted, muttered some profanity under my breath and started climbing down into the crater. It was a nasty, dirty mess with shards of building and random metal sticking out all over the place. Most of the exposed metal looked corroded and somewhat disolved...far more than it should after only a decade or so. I guessed that chemical weapon was pretty potent indeed. It was no wonder Griffin refused to come down here himself.

"I should refuse too," I muttered grimly.

I felt nauseous and more than a little nervous as I slowly made my way towards the bottom. I knew intellectually that my new biology would keep me safe...and that if it didn't protect me from this poison than I'd already be dead. But still, I couldn't help but thinking of the dead landscape and thinking that this could be me.

"Enough of that," I snarled, angry at myself for being so cared. I clamped down on my emotions as tightly as I could and focused on getting the job done.

The stench grew even stronger as I descended, making me nearly gag at the smell. But at the same time, I began to feel a bit buzzed almost as though I was on a caffeine high. I quickly realized what was causing these hyper feelings. My body was absorbing the poison and becoming supercharged. I was in a place that would kill nearly anyone else instantly, but for me it was one of the healthiest places I could ever be.

"It's a good thing Toxic didn't know about this place," I muttered to myself, suddenly thinking about how much more dangerous she would have been if she'd built a summer home in this pit. Then I sneered, "I hope she's enjoying her new vacation home at morphine central."

As I reached the bottom I began to find more and more patches of crystallized green powder all over the place as well as several puddles of gelatinous green slime. This was obviously the poison...both dehydrated and in liquid form, perhaps dissolved in rainwater. Even if I couldn't smell it and feel my body absorbing the poison I'd immediately know this place was still heavily contaminated.

"Good thing this stuff never spread into a water supply," I grimaced, imagining how nasty that could have been. As it was, this place was ripe picking for any enterprising terrorist looking for a quick supply of toxin...assuming they could collect it without getting themselves killed.

I felt increasingly disgusted as I looked around the crater. I was in a place of death and destruction but I felt more alive, energetic, and healthy than I ever have before in my life. That just seemed wrong somehow. Of course, I'd much rather feel guilty about feeling this good than being stuck back in the hospital bed and feeling like shit.

I spent over an hour just looking around the crater, seeing rubble from the floor, wall and ceiling along with unidentified twisted metal wreckage, some of which looked as though it might have come from the destroyed missile. However, I found nothing that even halfway resembled the sphere Griffin had shown me in the photo.

At this point, I was more than a little frustrated. I hated wasting my time on a wild goose chase, especially when it went against my real mission. Unfortunately, I had to make my best effort to find it in order to keep my cover. I was getting to the point where I was going to go back to Griffin and tell him that it was a bust when I saw something that drew my attention.

"What's this," I exclaimed, tearing a section of wreckage loose and finding an opening behind it. It looked like a section of half collapsed hallway. "So the building wasn't entirely destroyed," I muttered, realizing that several of the rooms might have survived the explosion and the collapse of the building.

I squeezed through the opening and into the larger space behind it. From the light at the opening I could see badly cracked walls and a spot where the roof had caved in. However, I could only see relatively short distance and much of what was further back was completely hidden in shadows. I had no idea how far this opening went or if the floor remained intact.

"Damn," I scowled, wishing I had a source of light besides the small opening. Unfortunately I didn't and had to make due.

I slowly went back into the darkness as far as I felt safe, inching my way and feeling the floor ahead of me with my foot. I found several large chunks of the roof which had fallen in but the way remained clear enough for me to go back about thirty yards. I didn't feel safe going any further since I could no longer see anything at all ahead of me, only the faint light back where I'd come from.

Just as I was about to turn around and climb out of this dark hole, I suddenly noticed a faint red glow in the darkness. I stared at it more intently, noticing that there was indeed something glowing and it didn't seem very large or very bright. At this point my curiosity got the best of me and I knew I had to find out what it was.

I was extremely careful as I slowly made my back even further into the darkness. I felt the ground at my feet before each step, hoping there was no gaping holes in the floor. My heart raced as I considered how dangerous this was. I was underground in the ruins of a building that had totally collapsed. What little there was left certainly didn't look safe either. I was more than half convinced that the wall or ceiling could collapse and drop rubble on me at any moment. But that was only more reason to be slow and careful with my movements.

When I reached the source of the glow a few minutes later, I found that it was in the form of a circle several inches across. I carefully touched the circle, finding that it was actually part of something larger, something that was half buried in rubble. I easily pulled it loose, gasping as I got a good feel. The circle was actually part of a round object about the size of a basketball with ridges all the way around. Even without being able to see it I knew that I'd found the alien artifact.

"It's light," I said in surprise.

The sphere felt hard and solid in my hands, but it was so light that it felt as though it might be made of styrofoam. Because of that I was careful not to squeeze it or give it too much pressure, even if Griffin had said it was virtually indestructible.

A few minutes later I'd made my way back through the darkness until I was at the opening I'd climbed through. I paused there, realizing that once I was out in the open crater again that Griffin might be able to see me but at the moment I had some privacy.

"I wonder," I mused, holding the sphere into the light so I could get a better look. It was all dirty so I tried wiping some off for a better look.

This was definitely the same alien sphere that Griffin had shown me a picture of, but I could see a lot more detail now. It's surface was a black metal with the same kind of rainbow finish you saw on top of a puddle of motor oil. It was round with the ridges going around it, still reminding me of a rolled up a rolled up armadillo or a potato bug. And then on the two opposite sides were all the ridges met, there were small disks that glowed with the faint red.

"There's something familiar about this," I scowled as I stared at the alien sphere, trying to make sense of it.

I continued examining the sphere, knowing that I wouldn't get a chance to do so once Griffin got his hands on it. Before I did anything with it, I wanted to know as much about it as I could. I ran my hands over it, no longer quite as afraid of breaking it. When I touched both of the red disks at the same time, it suddenly made a strange noise and began to open.

"Fuck," I exclaimed, dropping it on the ground.

Now the sphere was even more like an armadillo or potato bug and was opening up the same way. When it finished doing so just seconds later, I carefully picked it back up again. The now exposed inside was made of an entirely different material then the outer shell. It was much softer but also had some exposed things that looked like circuits and wires.

"This looks almost like a helmet," I realized, noticing that one side had a large cavity that looked as though it would fit over a head somewhat larger than my own, with the rest of the opened shell sort of hanging down the neck and upper shoulders. The two disks were now positioned in such a way that if this was worn as a helmet, they would be about where the ears were.

I pushed the two red disks on the side again but nothing happened. Curious, I rolled it up again until it snapped back in place looking exactly as it had before I'd opened it. I stared at it thoughtfully for a moment before suddenly realizing why it seemed familiar. I'd seen this material before...on TV. This shell looked like it was made of the same material as Jabberwock.

"Oh shit," I exclaimed with a cold knot in my stomach.

My mind raced as I considered everything I knew about what the Black Guild was up to. Yesterday, Griffin had even said our mission would let us control the super Jabberwock they were intending to create. This must be how they were going to do it. This alien artifact must have been created by the same race that created Jabberwock, probably for the purpose of controlling it.

"They wouldn't dare create that super Jabberwock unless they had a way of controlling it," I thought aloud, "This MUST be how they plan on doing it..."

I stared at the sphere, knowing that I couldn't let them get their hands on it. I couldn't just hand them control of Jabberwock. But at the same time, I couldn't just return to Griffin empty handed. If I failed to find this artifact, the Black Guild would find another way to search the wreckage for it. I was under no illusion that they'd just give up on their plans if I merely told them I couldn't find it.

"Damn," I scowled, wondering what I should do.

I grabbed my cell phone and tried calling Rice to report what I'd discovered and ask what his instructions were. I couldn't make a decision of this magnitude by myself. Unfortunately, my phone was completely dead. I couldn't even turn the power on.

"Damn," I spat out angrily, remembering Griffin's warning about the toxin being destructive to any scanners we could possibly bring down here. That obviously worked on simple cell phones as well. "Damn... I'm on my own."

I tried to think of what I could do though I knew I didn't have much time. I couldn't stay down here or Griffin would get suspicious and might even call for reinforcements. I had no idea what kind of recourses the Black Guild had at it's disposal but I knew that I certainly didn't want them directed against me. Nor could I just hand the Black Guild the critical element they needed to unleash such a powerful weapon against the world.

I continued examining the alien device while I considered my options and tried to decide what I was going to do. After several minutes I finally came up with a plan. It wasn't perfect but it was the best I could think of for the moment.

A short time later I climbed out of the crater with the sphere in my hands. "Here it is," I told Griffin, keeping my voice and emotions under tight control.

"Place it in here," Griffin said, gesturing to a container that he must have taken from the aircraft while I was searching. "It needs to be kept isolated until it can be decontaminated."

"Right," I muttered, doing as Griffin said and placing the sphere into the container. I would have said something about needing to be decontaminated myself, but I knew that my body would be absorbing any poison that remained on me before long. "I could still use a shower though," I mused, realizing that even if I absorbed the poison I probably still stank of it. After all, I'd been crawling around in that stench filled hell hole for several hours and had undoubtedly picked up the stink.

"That would probably be...advisable," Griffin said as he closed the container and sealed it.

I nodded and looked down at myself, grimacing in disgust. I noticed that my uniform had taken quite a beating in the crater. There were several spots where the material was actually flaking away after exposure to the toxins. No wonder my phone had gone dead.

"So, what exactly is this fucking thing?" I demanded, deciding to fish for more information. I gestured to the container, "Why the hell did we have to come here and get it?"

Griffin was silent for a moment before answering. "I believe Lord Dark had no idea what it was he actually had in his possession... After all, Jabberwock had yet to make his first appearance at the time. But from the location of where this artifact was first found and from the notes taken by the scientists studying it before Lord Dark's theft...it was determined to have been created by the same race that created Jabberwock."

"Really?" I asked, secretly pleased to have my own suspicions confirmed but not wanting him to know I'd already figured that much out. If I played ignorant I might get him to tell me something I didn't know or to at least confirm what I suspected.

"This is believed to be the control device," Griffin said, "The device that the aliens used to control Jabberwock... With this, the Black Guild can control him and direct him against its enemies."

"A very dangerous weapon," I agreed, keeping my voice calm so as not to reveal the horror I felt about this super Jabberwock.

"Yes," Griffin agreed, not sounding at all pleased. "Very dangerous indeed."

I stared at Griffin for a moment, realizing that he didn't like the idea of unleashing a monster like that either. I was a bit surprised at that, but he'd given similar hints yesterday while talking about their plans to create the super Jabberwock. I wondered if I might be able to use that...to turn him as it were.

"It seems a waste to give something like this to the Black Guild when we could probably make better use of it ourselves," I suggested.

"Do not make such a suggestion again," Griffin responded in a cold voice. "We will both follow the Black Guild's plan...or else."

"Okay...Okay..." I shrugged, "But you don't sound happy about it." I stared at him, wondering if he'd deny the bitterness in his voice.

Griffin was silent again before finally asking, "Did you think they would entrust me to complete these missions and turn the results over to them without...insurance?"

"I hadn't really thought about it," I admitted, "I just assumed you were getting a bigger cut than the rest of us..."

"This will be no mere bank robbery," Griffin snorted in a patronizing tone, "The goal is to ultimately overwhelm Washington D.C. and from there seize control of the entire country. Mere money is paltry compared to that..." Then he paused, his voice going quieter and harder, "They would not trust anyone with such stakes as these. That is why the the new leaders of the Black Guild took steps to ensure my loyalty by gaining certain...leverage."

"Leverage?" I asked, wondering what they could possibly have on him.

Griffin turned away without a word, grabbing the containing and bringing it onto the aircraft. That left me to wonder what kind of leverage they could possibly have on him. My mind raced with ideas. Maybe they'd poisoned him and were withholding the antidote until the missions were complete. Maybe they'd planted a bomb in his brain and would detonate it at the slightest sign of treachery. Or maybe...maybe they'd kidnapped someone dear to him. Even criminals and super villains had family they cared about. But the truth was, I had no idea and Griffin didn't look as though he was going to share any more.

I climbed onto the aircraft and stared at Griffin, my hand clenching into a fist and burning with my neurotoxic touch. All I had to do was kill him and get rid of the sphere. Jabberwock, the chemicals, and slaughter clones were all very dangerous on their own, but the sphere was the key to combining them. And if that happened, the danger factor and body count would increase exponentially. I couldn't let that happen.

There was no doubt in my mind that I could kill Griffin. It would be easy, just a single touch. My cold emotional detachment slid into place and I knew I could do it emotionally as well. Griffin was a villain and a murderer. I'd seen him kill Breakneck with my own eyes. I wouldn't feel the least bit of guilt for killing him. And once I did that, all I had to do was take the sphere to Rice.

"No," I whispered, turning off my neurotoxic touch and forcing myself to be patient.

I could kill Griffin and get rid of the alien sphere, bit it would leave far too many loose ends. It would leave several very dangerous items that I'd helped acquire in the hands of the Black Guild. Even without the alien artifact to control Jabberwock, they could do a great deal of damage with those things. I couldn't bear the guilt of that since I played a part in helping the Black Guild get their hands on them.

I forced myself to be patient, to remember the plan. It would be risky but I was going to try getting everything taken care of in one swoop. All I had to do was get back to the base and push my panic button. That would clue Rice and DAD in on the location of their base as well as signal that it was time to come in with guns blazing. I just hoped I'd be able to avoid getting shot in the crossfire.

"So," I asked Griffin, "Aren't we gonna use another of those recall teleporters to get back?" I knew that once we got back my chance of killing Griffin and getting away with it vanished. I had mixed feelings about that.

"No," Griffin responded in a calm voice, "We have already sacrificed one of Lord Dread's transports... I really do not think he would appreciate us destroying a second one unnecessarily."

"Good point," I responded, leaning back in my seat and reaching for the cigarettes I'd left on the aircraft. Griffin didn't want me smoking in here which was the whole point of doing it. One good thing about being a villain was that I could do whatever I liked to piss people off and it would actually be expected.

Just then an alarm began to go off. I sat upright, "What the fuck is that?"

Griffin looked at the controls of the aircraft and exclaimed, "The base... It's being assaulted..."

"What?" I gasped in surprise.

"Damn," Griffin blurted out, cursing for the first time since I'd met him. He sounded almost desperate. Then he reached into his pocket and pulled out a familiar looking cylinder, "It appears you will get your wish. We must return immediately..."

Without another word, Griffin grabbed the container with the sphere and began to activate the recall transporter almost before I had a chance to do anything. I just barely grabbed the container in time. My last thoughts before the flash of light was to wonder what the hell I was getting myself into this time.

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We arrived back at the base in a flash of light, though I saw no sign of what had caused the alarm. Griffin dropped the container holding the alien sphere and quickly stripped out of his biohazard suit. He tossed it aside, already drawing a gun from inside his trench coat.

"We must find and repel the intruders," Griffin exclaimed, "We must protect our acquisitions at all cost."

"What if it's the Black Guild come to collect the stuff on their own?" I asked grimly, seeing my plans collapsing in front of me. I should have taken care of Griffin and the sphere when I had the chance.

Griffin hesitated a moment before reluctantly answering, "That is a possibility." Then he started for the doorway at a quick pace, "We must find the others..."

I nodded, then reached down and pushed the panic button in my belt. I didn't know what was going on yet, but now was definitely the time for Rice and his people to react. I didn't dare let these stolen items get to the main Black Guild.

It was only then that I suddenly realized my panic button might very well not be working. If that toxic pit could take out my phone, then it more than likely destroyed my emergency signal as well. I cursed under my breath, realizing that I was probably going to be on my own.

"What the hell is going on?" Glacier demanded when we found him and Locust in the next room, "That fucking light just started flashing..." He gestured to a red light on the wall.

"That is the intruder alarm," Griffin snapped at him impatiently. "We've got pests..."

"Good," Glacier said coldly, the temperature suddenly dropping quite a bit. "I've been looking for some action."

"Glacier is disappointed that you left us behind this time," Locust commented in a wry tone.

"Find the intruders," Griffin ordered. "We must protect our acquisitions."

All four of us stayed close together as we went from room to room, looking for any sign of an intruder. "Maybe it's a false alarm," Locust suggested though he didn't sound as though he believed it.

"Wait," I called out, hearing something strange, "Listen..."

The others all paused to listen the faint humming sound which seemed to becoming from one wall. "There..." Griffin pointed to the wall with his gun.

Just then, a spot on the wall began to shimmer and glow beneath the surface. Cracks shot out along the wall before a huge section of it suddenly exploded, leaving a gaping hole in the wall. Standing in the opening were four familiar figures. Doctor Power, Mindseye, Syphon and Hardshell.

"Lightning Force," Glacier exclaimed unnecessarily as we all recognized the heroes.

Doctor Power stepped forward, holding up a strange looking device. Then with a smug look, he exclaimed, "You may have distracted us with that exploding aircraft, but as you can see...we found you anyway. Your teleporter left a signal that I traced directly to you."

"Brilliant for you," Griffin responded sarcastically, "I am quite impressed..."

"Surrender," Syphon said in a cold hollow voice that sounded eerie and inhuman.

"I don't surrender," Glacier called out, draining even more heat from the air. His body cracked with a layer of frost and ice that probably gave him even more protection. "I don't need to..."

"Let's just kick their asses and go home," Hardshell exclaimed, "I've got to pick my bike up from the shop before it closes..."

"We stopped you from getting whatever you were after at the Morgue," Doctor Power said calmly, apparently having no idea that that we'd only been after a DNA sample or that we'd gotten it. "We can stop you here just as easily. You're all going to share a cell with your friend Sister Wyrd...but whether it's the easy way or the hard way it's up to you."

I just stood there frozen, amazed at all this posturing. If we'd stopped to talk shit at our enemies before actually fighting back in the Marines, we all would have been dead. But for some reason, spandex seemed to bring out the need to posture and monologue in people. It also drove in the real reason we needed the military even when we had developed with awesome powers running around. Someone needed to be able to get down to business and do what needed to be done without playing these ridiculous games.

Then a thought suddenly occurred to me. This was Lightning Force...the good guys. This could very well be the opportunity I was looking for. Instead of waiting for Rice and his people to get here, I could help Lightning Force to stop my 'teammates' and recover the stolen materials. I'd be able to complete my mission and stop the Black Guild's plans.

But on the other hand, any move I made to help Lightning Force would blow my cover. It might seem that my work was done, but I might still need my cover to finish the deal and Rice would be pissed if I just threw it away. I had a chance to stop the Black Guild versus protecting my cover. I grimaced, not sure which side to take.

Suddenly the choice was taken away from me as everything exploded into chaos. Hardshell opened fire with her energy blasts, shooting straight at Locust who exploded into dozens of smaller versions of himself. Glacier howled out and charged forward, only to be met by Syphon.

"Oh shit," I exclaimed as Doctor Power turned his attention on me.

I had a faint green glow form around my entire body, not because of my neurotoxic touch or anything of the sort...but because this was represented Doctor Power's telekinetic field. I could see it the moment he had old of me and before I could say a thing I was suddenly flung across the room, straight at Griffin who was trying to escape.

"DAMN," I cursed as I got back to my feet, noticing that Doctor Power was now trying to stop the swarm of Locusts that were coming at him with their tiny swords flashing.

"I'll smash you flat," Glacier exclaimed as he punched Syphon as hard as he could. However, the super strong punch didn't seem to do anything as Syphon absorbed the kinetic energy.

"Is that all you have?" Syphon asked in his hollow voice. "How disappointing..."

"Oh yeah," Glacier grimaced, becoming pissed off and punching Syphon again in a series of powerful blows, none of which seemed to do much good. However, that didn't seem to stop him from punching or trying to absorb the heat from Syphon.

At this point, Mindseye tried helping Doctor Power out with the Locusts while Hardshell turned her attention on me. She fired several energy blasts at me which I dodged. Then she flew at me and grabbed hold of me with an iron grip. There was no doubt her armor was pretty powerful, though I used a move I technically shouldn't have...one I'd learned in the Marines rather than one Toxic would have performed. I slipped out of her grip and slammed her onto the ground though her armor protected her from any real injury.

"Your poison touch won't be able to get through my armor," Hardshell exclaimed, kicking me and sending me back with what felt like bruised ribs.

Then Hardshell turned her attention to Glacier who was now coated in a thick layer of ice. He was still pounding away at Syphon and trying to freeze the hero, but Syphon's absorption powers seemed to protect him from having his own heat stolen. In fact, Syphon started to absorb the heat around them as well, perhaps in order to keep Glacier from charging up any further.

"Surprise," Hardshell called out as she opened fire with her energy blasts on Glacier. She didn't seem to care if she hit Syphon or not, but that was no surprise. With his power Syphon had no worry about being injured by her attack. It hardly seemed to do much to Glacier either except for shattering his ice coating. "Why won't you go down...?"

"It'll take more than you've got to bring me down," Glacier smirked.

Glacier looked as though he was about to charge straight at Hardshell, but I suddenly noticed the grin on his face and the way his eyes darted back towards another target. In an instant I realized what he had planned. I didn't even worry about my cover as I charged forward, hitting Mindseye and knocking her out of the way just a moment before Glacier's fist would have connected with her head. If he'd hit her with his strength, she would have been killed instantly.

"Watch it," I snapped at Glacier, making an effort to keep my cover, "I would have had her if you hadn't damn near hit me..."

"You got in MY way bitch," Glacier snapped back, angry that I'd spoiled his attempt to kill Mindseye.

"Enough of this," Doctor Power exclaimed, suddenly sending all of the Locusts flying back where they slammed into the far wall with painful force. They all started falling back to the ground limply, many of them reemerging as they did so. Still, Locust was obviously out of the fight.

"Now it's your turn," Mindseye glared at Glacier.

The violet eye shaped tattoo on her forehead began to glow and suddenly Glacier started to stagger and grab his head. I had no idea if she was making him see things, doing some kind of mental blast, or if she was doing something else. All I knew was that she was using her powers on him and as tough as Glacier was, he was no match for her. He collapsed to the ground just moments later.

I stared at Doctor Power and the others, impressed with just how effective they were. They'd come charging in and were beating my 'team' with hardly any effort. Of course, I shouldn't be surprised. They were not only more powerful than us but had a well earned reputation as one of the best super teams out there.

My thoughts were quickly interrupted though as Syphon and Hardshell both came after me. I was fast enough to evade Syphon and avoid Hardshell's energy blasts, but I knew I couldn't avoid them for long...especially once Mindseye and Doctor Power turned their attention to me.

"This fight is a lost cause," Griffin exclaimed, not having done any of the fighting himself. He'd just stood back and watched. And with that, he turned and ran out of the room. I didn't even hesitate before following him. I might really be on the same side as Lightning Force, but they didn't know that and I sure as hell didn't want to face all of them by myself.

"Wait up for me," I called to Griffin before we were both suddenly stopped by Doctor Power's telekinesis.

"Don't think you're going anywhere," Doctor Power said as he came up behind us, letting me and Griffin both drop back to the ground. At the same time, Griffin's gun was telekinetically pulled form his hand and send flying across the room. He'd already made his point about how easily he could catch us with his powers so now he was just showing off.

"You should have surrendered when we asked," Hardshell told us as she came up behind Doctor Power. Mindseye and Syphon were still in the other room so I guessed they were keeping an eye on the other two prisoners while Doctor Power and Hardshell took care of us. "It would have made things much easier on you..."

"You know," Doctor Power looked at Griffin with a disappointed shake of his head, "For someone named after a mythological creature known for it's courage and ferocity...you hardly put up a fight."

"That's because I'm not named for some mythological creature," Griffin responded in a patronizing tone. "My name is a literary allusion. I'm named after the title character in one of the worlds most famous science fiction stories..." And with that, Griffin dramatically pulled off his hat and mask...revealing absolutely NOTHING beneath. Griffin had no face...no head. There was nothing there but empty air.

"The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells," Doctor Power gasped in realization, "The Invisible Man's real name in the story was Doctor Griffin..."

"An accident left my flesh permanently invisible," Griffin explained with an almost amused tone, though his voice sounded different without his mask to muffle it.

"So what?" Hardshell demanded, "Do you really think we're just gonna let you strip outa your clothes and walk out of here?"

Griffin just started laughing, then his body began to fade away until absolutely nothing remained. I couldn't see a thing but knew he was still here. "No need for such measures. My flesh may be permanently invisible...but I can extend the effect outwards with some effort." There was a moment of silence before he continued in a smug tone, "And I happen to know Doctor Power...that your power will not work on what you can't see..."

"STOP!" Doctor Power called out, but there was no answer from Griffin.

I had no idea if he was in the room still or if he'd made a run for it while they couldn't see him. I grimaced and let out a curse, hoping they did catch him. I sure as hell didn't want Griffin to get away after what he'd been doing, especially not when I'd been caught.

Doctor Power and Hardshell were both pissed at the way Griffin had slipped away from them. And then to make up for it and make sure I didn't get any ideas, I suddenly found myself slammed painfully into the floor. They quickly made it very clear that I wasn't going to be escaping as well.

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I took a deep breath and tried not to feel claustrophobic as I looked around my tiny prison cell. It was small, cramped, and nearly identical to the cells in Mount Prometheus, though I wasn't anywhere near the familiar prison. Instead, I was locked up at the Lighting Force headquarters until they turned me and the others over to the government.

"Damn," I muttered, absently reaching to push the 'panic button' in my belt again though I knew it would do no good. Even if my trip on toxic hell hole hadn't destroyed it, Lightning Force was sure to have this cell and their base shielded against transmissions of that kind. However, pushing it did make me feel a little better and not quite as alone.

I shifted positions on my narrow cot and looked at the thick metal door that sealed my cell. I knew very well that a large panel that covered most of the door was more than it seemed. After all, this prison cell was just like the ones I was familiar with. At the moment, anyone standing outside the cell could be watching me through it like a one way mirror. Then with a simple flip of a switch, I'd be able to see out and communicate with them as well. However, it might as well be solid titanium for all the good it did me right now.

For a moment, I briefly considered breaking cover and telling Doctor Power who I really was. Then I squashed that idea, just as I did the last half dozen times I'd thought it. I knew first hand that prisoners would make all sorts of claims to get out of their cells. I didn't do it. I was framed. I was under mind control by a powerful villain. There was no way they'd believe any claims I made, especially when I was physically Toxic all the way down to my DNA.

Eventually the panel in the door came to life and it was suddenly almost like a window. I could look out of my cell but I could only see straight ahead. It somehow blocked me from really seeing anything to either side. The person responsible for the switch was a cute blonde girl with short dirty blonde hair and some sort of bone tiara on her forehead. She was standing right in front of me so it had to be her. I didn't recognize her but that didn't mean anything. For all I knew she was their housekeeper or something.

"Do I get to call my lawyer now?" I asked, hoping I could call Rice and tell him what had happened to me. He must be worried since I'd dropped out of contact entirely. Then again, I'd only been caught by Lighting Force last night so he might not know yet.

The girl glared at me, "Hell no. We're not the cops so we don't have to give you jack shit until we turn you over."

I scowled at that, then calmly asked, "So why are you here?"

"Lunch time you psycho bitch," the girl said with a sneer, putting a tray of food through a slot that had opened in the door.

I took the tray without a word then watched as she turned and stepped out of my view. She might be giving food to Locust or Glacier in a cell next to mine or she might have left the room entirely. I couldn't see her and knew that the cell would block out any sound that didn't come from directly in front of it.

"Fish sticks," I muttered as I looked over the tray of cheap fish and chips.

For a moment, I wondered if they knew the real Toxic hated fish and that's why they gave it to me. Fortunately for me, I actually liked fish...even in the unnatural form of these deep friend sticks. Of course, in order to keep my cover I should pretend that I was disgusted and throw them against the wall, but I was hungry and tired of acting like someone else. I only wished that I had some tartar sauce and ketchup to go with my lunch.

Once I finished eating, I returned to a long stretch of boredom, fully aware of the irony in my situation. I used to be a prison guard watching over Toxic as she wasted away in her cell. Now I was not only on the other side of the bars, I was also the very prisoner I used to help keep there. I hate irony.

"At least it's better than the other prison I was in," I muttered to myself, thinking of the hospital bed. I smiled coldly as I remembered that the real Toxic was still in that prison and probably would be for another couple months. Her only escape from that prison would be death.

About two hours after my lunch, the girl with the tiara returned to pick up the tray. "I hope you get the death penalty" she told me with nasty glare, "I heard about what you did to that guard when you broke out of Mount Prometheus."

I winced at that and she had a faint gleam of satisfaction in her eyes. Of course, she didn't realize that the reason I winced and the reason she thought I did weren't the same. It was strange to realize that some complete stranger felt pity for me, and stranger still to be the target of her hatred because of that pity.

"Trust me," I said carefully, "No one regrets what happened to that guard more than I do..."

The girl snorted in disbelief. "Fuck you..."

Just then the girl suddenly turned to look at something off to the side. I was immediately curious and wished I could get a better look, but the door only let me look straight ahead at her. A moment later though, Doctor Power stepped into view as well.

"Who the hell is this?" the girl demanded aggressively.

Then someone else stepped into my field of view. It was Rice. "My lawyer," I said with a grin, earning a nasty glare from the girl.

"This is agent Rice of the Developed Affairs Department," Doctor Power introduced Rice.

"I'm pleased to meet you Hardshell," Rice greeted the woman. I just stared at her in surprise, not having recognized her without the armor.

"I'm surprised you guys came to pick up the prisoners yourselves," the girl...Hardshell told him. "I mean, we usually drop them off..."

"I'm not here for all your prisoners," Rice said, turning to look at me with a grim expression. "I'm only here for this one."

"Why is Toxic so important to you?" Doctor Power asked with a thoughtful expression, "You didn't say."

Rice scowled, looking as though he was considering something. "I could easily get an order to have her transferred to my custody...but in this case I have a good reason for avoiding paperwork."

"Why?" Doctor Power asked, turning to look at me suspiciously.

"Let her out of the cell for a moment and I'll explain," Rice said. Doctor Power straight out refused and then argued with Rice for a minute before finally giving in and unlocking the door.

I slowly stepped out of the cell, being careful not to make any sudden movements or seem threatening. However, Doctor Power and Hardshell both looked as though they were ready to attack me at the slightest provocation.

"Rice," I nodded to him, still a bit surprised to see him. I certainly hadn't expected him to find out about me so fast. I hadn't expected to hear anything from him until after Lighting Force had turned me over to Mount Prometheus.

"Are you okay?" another voice asked from the side. I turned and was surprised to see Debra standing near the door next to Mindseye. She was dressed in a professional 'government agent' type suit instead of the 'soccer mom' clothes I was used to seeing her in.

"I'm all right," I forced a smile, "I'm a hell of a lot better than I was a couple weeks ago."

"This isn't the real Toxic," Rice announced, looking at me, "She's a DAD agent that we sent undercover in the Black Guild."

Doctor Power, Mindseye, and Hardshell all stared at me with more than a little skepticism on their faces. "I find that hard to believe," Doctor Power responded.

"Nevertheless, it's true," Rice told him. "She's the one who fed us the information about the Black Guild making a raid on the Morgue. She's the one responsible for that tip I gave you."

"That's why we'd like to avoid paperwork," Debra said coming closer. "We want to keep her real role quiet so the Black Guild doesn't come after her in retaliation."

"Impossible," Doctor Power shook his head, "I took a DNA scan of her when we brought her in..."

"Yes, she has Toxic's DNA," Rice admitted, "But no, she is not Toxic..."

I scowled as I turned my attention from one to another of them, not at all surprised that Doctor Power doubted Rice's claims. After all, Doctor Power was a genius and all physical evidence pointed to me being the escaped killer Toxic. I was even caught fighting alongside the bad guys. Fortunately, I'd actually been thinking about this while wasting away in my cell.

"Isn't she a telepath?" I asked, pointing at Mindseye who blinked in surprise. "Can't she check and see that we're telling the truth?"

"You actually want me to read your mind?" Mindseye asked, looking as though she suspected this to be some sort of trap.

"Not really," I winced, "I mean, I sure as hell don't want someone else poking around in my head...but if it's the only way to get my ass out of here..."

Mindseye looked to both Rice and Doctor Power, both of whom nodded their agreement. Then she turned to stare at me. The eye symbol on her forehead began to glow and I suddenly felt a presence inside my mind. I instinctively started to try fighting it off but held myself back. It was sort of like keeping your mouth open so the dentist could work on your teeth.

After a few seconds, the presence pulled back and Mindseye gasped, "She's not Toxic..." She stared at me with a look of stunned disbelief, "She...she saved my life."

"What?" Hardshell stared at her in disbelief.

"I thought she was trying to kill me," Mindseye shook her head, giving me a faint smile, "Glacier was going to kill me but she stopped him..." Then she turned to Doctor Power, "They're telling the truth. She most definitely is NOT the real Toxic."

"Then who are you?" Hardshell demanded as she looked at me, seeming only a little less hostile than before.

"That doesn't matter," I told her defensively, not sure that I wanted all my private details made public.

Mindseye stared at me for a moment and laughed, "You two should probably talk. You both have a lot in common..." I frowned at that, wondering what she was talking about.

"We need to debrief you as soon as possible," Rice told me with a grim expression while I nodded understanding.

"If you don't mind," Doctor Power said with an intent look, "I'd like to be in on this..."

Rice hesitated a moment before nodding, "Very well."

"Excellent," Doctor Power gestured to the doorway, "We happen to have a place that should work..."

I looked around the small prison room, looking at the seven other cell doors besides the one I'd just stepped out of. It reminded me a great deal of D section which in turn reminded me of what had happened there. Then I turned and left the room with an intense feeling of relief.

Doctor Power led us to a conference room where we all sat around a large table. I looked around, noticing that Syphon was the only one not present. I was actually kind of thankful for that since the guy was pretty creepy. However, I couldn't let myself dwell on such things and instead focused on shifting to a professional mindset where I could give a clear and precise report.

I emotionally detached myself and began to calmly describe nearly everything I'd discovered since going undercover. I told them about each operation we went on, about how I slowly discovered the Black Guild's plan, and even about how Griffin was somehow being kept under control of the Black Guild. Unfortunately, I had almost nothing I could tell them about who was now in charge of the Black Guild and a number of other things.

Once I was finished, the others sat around and absorbed what I'd told them while considering what questions to ask me. Doctor Power was first, giving me a cold look, "You actually gave them the sphere that controls Jabberwock...even knowing what they intended to use it for?" He obviously disapproved and so did most of the others.

"Yes and no," I responded, deciding that I should probably tell them one of the important details I'd intentionally left out of my report. "When I had the helmet open, I found I could remove one of the glowing red disks on the side. When I closed it back up, I discovered that it couldn't be opened again without that second disk." I looked at Doctor Power, meeting his eyes as I explained, "I locked it so they can't use it then hid the key."

"And where did you hide this key?" Doctor Power asked with a scowl.

I glanced to Rice who nodded approval, then I grinned evilly, "I hid it in a toxic pit where most people can't survive."

"Damn," Hardshell grinned appreciatively, "That's a good place all right."

"So the key is most likely out of their reach," Doctor Power mused, "Assuming they even discovered it's existence much less where you left it. And I intend to ensure they never get their hands on the sphere itself." Then he looked at me, "However, we may need to use it ourselves some day to stop Jabberwock."

"And I'll happily go get the key if we need it for that," I told him.

Doctor Power nodded, not looking completely happy but at least he was satisfied, as was Rice. "Unfortunately, we still have several problems." He looked at me with a grim expression, "We found the stolen chemicals and the alien sphere when we raided the base, but there was no sign of Slaughter's DNA. It's quite possible that Griffin took it with him when he escaped."

"Damn," I slammed my fist on the table, imagining an army of Slaughter clones on the loose. That could be even nastier than a super Jabberwock, though somewhat less likely since the Black Guild wouldn't be able to actually control them. "But at least you have Jabberwock..."

Doctor Power hesitated, "We found the crate you told us about...but it was empty."

"What?" I gasped in surprise.

He shook his head, "The crate was empty and we found no sign of Jabberwock anywhere in the base. Did you ever actually see Jabberwock?"

"No," I admitted after a moment, feeling a cold knot in my gut. "I only saw the crate and took Griffin's word that it was inside..."

"Then we don't know for sure if Jabberwock was ever actually inside," Rice commented thoughtfully. "It's possible that Jabberwock was removed from the crate, but it's also possible that it was never in there in the first place. Griffin might have been lying to you all for some reason and playing his own game."

"He wasn't happy being controlled by the Black Guild," I agreed, remembering how furious he seemed to be when he mentioned they had 'leverage' over him.

"So we have another wild card to deal with," Rice scowled, "And we can't really classify this operation as either a success or a failure."

"She did help stop the Black Guild from getting their super Jabberwock," Debra said thoughtfully, speaking for the first time since I'd started my report. "Locking up that alien device was pretty clever. And we know a lot more about what the Black Guild is really up to now."

"But the Black Guild still has Slaughter's DNA," Rice pointed out, "And Jabberwock's location remains a rather large question. Either of those two monsters could be extremely dangerous in the hands of the Black Guild."

"But the Black Guild won't be able to control either of them now," Doctor Power mused, "It's extremely unlikely that they'll unleash such dangerous creatures unless they have the means to control them. And if they did...we now have the means of stopping Jabberwock...thanks to..." He looked at me with a questioning expression, obviously wondering what to call me since he didn't know my real name.

"Briggs," I supplied, giving him my last name. I saw no reason not to give him something to call me since he already knew I wasn't the real Toxic.

"Briggs," he mused, then paused for a moment. I thought I saw a flicker of recognition pass over his face though it was gone so fast that it might have been my imagination.

"It certainly isn't all a loss," Mindseye nodded, "Thanks to your agent," she nodded to me, "we now know what the Black Guild is up to."

Doctor Power nodded his agreement as well. "Now that we have a better understanding of their intentions, we'll work with the Protectorate to take down these other cells and stop the Black Guild for good." Then he smiled, "And if we take the lead in this, DAD's involvement can remain quiet."

"I would appreciate that," Rice responded with a faint smile.

I just leaned back in my chair and silently listened as the others talked. They speculated on what Griffin was really up to, what the Black Guild had on him, and what had happened with Jabberwock. And of course, there were a lot of guesses as to who the mysterious new leadership of the Black Guild was. So far there were no answers.

Not surprisingly, speculation quickly turned into planning. Doctor Power and Rice did most of the planning on how to find and hit the other Black Guild cells while everyone else made occasional contributions. I remained silent through most of it but couldn't resist adding a few suggestions based not only off my undercover experience with the Black Guild but also my tactical combat experience with the Marines. Amazingly enough, Doctor Power was one of the smartest men on the planet and he actually seemed to appreciate my input.

When they were finally finished, everyone started to file out of the room. I overheard Hardshell asking Mindseye, "Are you sure she's not Toxic? She sure looks like her..."

"Trust me," Mindseye responded with a shake of her head, "No one hates the real Toxic more than her..."

"That's certainly true," I muttered to myself.

Rice waited until the Lightning Force members had gone while Debra hung back as well. "I don't want to seem ungrateful," Rice told me, putting a hand on my shoulder. "I want you to know that we really do appreciate all that you've done."

I just nodded, "I'm glad to help..."

I looked down at myself and my healthy body, thinking that I'd certainly been well paid for my undercover work. I would have chosen a different body...one that was male, but I couldn't complain. I was healthy, free of pain, and I was going to live. Spending a bit of time spying on some bad guys was a small price to pay for this.

"I know you have no prior experience in undercover work," Rice said with a faint smile, "But you did a damn fine job with what you had. I don't really think anyone else could have done any better in your situation."

Debra laughed, "Anyone else probably would have blown their cover by doing something that the real Toxic wouldn't have."

"Yeah," I nodded agreement, remembering that Glacier had worked with her previously and Griffin seemed to have known a lot about her. "Maybe."

"Thanks to your infiltration we finally have something to work with," Rice told me, holding out his hand. "I'm glad you chose to accept my offer."

I hesitated only a moment before I shook his hand and responded, "Me too."

"When we get back," Rice said with a faint sigh, "we'll start getting your new identity set up. You'll be able to vanish and start a whole new life without any of this in it." He gestured around the room and turned to leave, "You've done everything we asked and more."

"Wait," I said quietly, slowly sitting back down into a chair with a sigh.

The idea of a new identity...a new life... It was something that Rice had promised me from the beginning. But truthfully, I hadn't given it too much thought. I'd been too focused on my mission and staying in character to give much consideration to my future.

Now that I did think about it, I realized that I was looking forward to this new identity. I'd only recently become a woman and had little idea of what kind of life I might possibly live. I had almost no idea what kind of woman I would become. At the moment, I only knew how to be one particular kind of woman and that wasn't a pleasant one. That wasn't the kind of woman...or the kind of person I wanted to be. I was looking forward to being able to figure it all and discover the woman I would one day become.

"What's wrong?" Debra asked with a worried look.

I scowled, wondering if I could tell her that after all the time I'd already spent in my new body I was finally having something of an identity crisis. I rather doubted it. But at the same time, I knew that my growing worries about my identity and future weren't what was really bothering me.

The truth was, I still had unfinished business from my current life and wasn't ready to start another just yet. I was still furious at the Black Guild. They were the one's who'd sent the Key to break the prisoners out from Mount Prometheus. They were responsible for the deaths of several guards and for releasing Toxic so she could kill me. And of course they were responsible for so much more.

"Unfinished business," I muttered thoughtfully, still not sure where my thoughts were going with this.

Rice might think that I'd completed my mission and stopped the Black Guild from unleashing their super Jabberwock, but it certainly didn't feel that way to me. There were too many loose ends and things that needed to be done. The Black Guild was still out there and they still needed to be stopped.

I considered my options for a moment before looking back at Rice and stating, "I'm not done yet."

"What?" he asked with a raised eyebrow.

"The Black Guild," I said grimly, clenching my hands with a growing determination, "They're still out there. We've barely hurt them at all. We still don't even know where they're at or who the hell is leading them."

"That's certainly true," Rice responded patiently, watching me with a knowing look.

"I want to help stop them," I announced firmly. "I want to go back undercover...or do whatever the hell it takes to bring them down." Then I grimly added, "I've never been one to leave a job half done."

Rice just smiled, looking almost relieved. "I'd hoped you'd feel that way."

"We really need your help," Debra admitted.

I nodded, my thoughts once again focused on my duty and my mission. I was still looking forward to having time to myself, time to figure out what I would do and who I would become. But at the moment my duty still came first.

Rice went and got Doctor Power and they quickly ironed out the details. I would go back into my cell and be transferred to prison along with Glacier, Locust and Sister Wyrd. But on the way there, Doctor Power would leave an opening for me to escape in a flashy manner, doing so in front of my 'fellow prisoners' so as to further boost my villain credit. And after that, I would find my way back to the Black Guild and continue my undercover work.

"I'm positive they'll bring you back in as soon as they discover you've escaped," Rice told me, "It fits with how the Black Guild has been operating so far."

"And since the prisoners are to be turned over tomorrow," Debra told me, "That gives us nearly a full day to rest and prepare."

I nodded at that and smiled faintly as she and Rice hurried off. I knew that they would be pretty busy getting things in position and replacing all my ruined spy gear. For the moment, I didn't have a whole lot to do since I didn't have to be back in my cell until tomorrow.

"I've finally got some time to think," I mused, realizing that it was the first time since I'd been transferred to my new body. Of course, I quickly reminded myself, I had plenty of time to think when I was locked up in my cell. But that was different.

I looked down at myself and took in the body that was quickly becoming familiar to me. I wondered if I would ever become so used to it that I stopped thinking of it as having belonged to Toxic and would just start to think of it as 'me'. I wondered if I would ever try it out...if I would ever do certain womanly things that I hadn't even considered until that very moment. And above all, I wondered what kind of woman I might one day become.

"The hell with that," I blurted out a minute later with a disgusted shake of my head, "I don't have time to dwell on that kind of shit... Not yet."

Then I turned to go find Rice and Debra and see if I could give them a hand making the preparations. Undercover work might not be my area of expertise, but it was my ass that was going to be on the line and I didn't want it shot off unnecessarily. I'd long ago learned that the best way to stay alive wasn't to relax and dream about 'some day'...but to be aware and prepared. And in this case, I wanted to be as ready as I possibly could. After all, I had a dangerous group of super villains to infiltrate.

 

The End

Read 1982 times Last modified on Monday, 06 May 2024 19:02
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