"My name is Doug. What are you doing here and how come I have the feeling I know you from somewhere? Also you know you have some oil on your nose? Also why are you so concerned for me?"
Jennifer smiled ruefully, then fished a rag from one of the pockets on her coveralls, wiping the oil off with it. "I'm working late, actually–that's from the car in back. Being concerned for people is a habit… has been for about the last eleven or twelve years, when someone showed some concern for me."
The glowing face above him swam in and out of focus then grew clear. He knew her.
"Jenny Jordan, it's me, your younger brother. I think I was drugged by whatever hit me. I keep seeing you go in and out of focus and see light shining from you."
As the stranger spoke, it seemed to fall into place… his face… older now, harder but it was… She blinked. "I haven't heard that name in a long time." She leaned in. "It is you…"
Warp slowly sat up, "This your garage I stumbled into? What happened that you and the rest of the family disappeared?"
His head and stomach churned violently when he sat up. Jen saw sweat glisten on his forehead, he looked pale and weak.
"Oh, geez. What were you hit with?"
Warp couldn't think. It sounded like her voice was coming from far away. Dizzily laying back down, he replied, "I don't know… just know someone ambushed me, I thought it was a grazing shot… didn't see a dart or anything in the wound and…" He fell unconscious.
"Shit." The oath was uncharacteristic. She quickly ran for a phone, calling an ambulance.
An smooth and calming voice came over the line. "Please enter the code of your Medical Service Provider… if you have none or are on governmental supplement, please call during regular business hours or report to a Medicare station."
"Grr… I should have remembered." She moved back to her brother's prone form, quickly checking him, trying to figure out how to get him to the station. He didn't look too heavy, and there was the garage van. The nearest Medcenter was about 3 blocks from here. Jesse would shit a brick about her using it like this, but he would live.
Jennifer grabbed her brother under the arms, dragging him to the van. Jesse be damned, this was probably poison and he'd die otherwise. After managing to get him in, she grabbed the keys and tore off toward the center.
Late night traffic was unusually light. She made the center in about 15 minutes. It was a squat converted warehouse; the sidewalk around it was crowded with squatters and other dregs. A few bored-looking security goons hung around to keep down the worst of the trouble. There was a short line–screaming ganger kids, a homeless man clutching his head trying to stem the flow of blood and a girl, maybe 16, with no visible injuries but smeared with blood, her jumpsuit hanging in tattered strips. Jennifer stepped up behind her, trying to support Warp. Slowly eyes were drawn to her glowing form.
Jennifer waited impatiently behind the girl. She didn't really like being stared at, but right now she couldn't afford the concentration it would take to stop glowing. She kept an eye on the onlookers as she struggled to support her brother's weight.
Murmur spread through the crowd, muttered words that rang familiar to Jennifer, painfully so. Freak, mutant. Gritting her teeth she stood a little straighter. The girl in front turned and stared directly at her, glazed eyes seeming to focus on Jennifer's.
She shifted Doug's weight around, trying to ease muscles that were starting to cramp. To distract herself from her increasing discomfort, both mental and physical, she studied the girl in front of her.
The girl looked young, perhaps 16 or so. The bloodied jumpsuit was once white, one of the cheap recyclable ones you could get from a vendmachine, more or less really tough paper. Her hair was matted and coarse black the same black as her eyes. She stepped closer. "Light… so pretty… so many colors…"
Not sure what to do, Jennifer stood her ground. At least the girl wasn't hostile, like much of the rest of the crowd. "Thanks." That's a first, she thought to herself. Not many even accept me, much less say it looks pretty…
She nodded, stepping closer invading Jennifer's personal space. She smelled, grime and weeks old body odor. Reflexively, Jennifer took a step back.
"Next!" the attendant barked out. The girl stepped out of line, letting Jennifer pass and take her place. The processing was quick and impersonal. Name of subject, age, suspected injury, standard disclaimer forms. Warp's thumb print was taken and they were ushered back to the "ward." Medtechs scurried back and forth among screaming, bleeding, and dying "patients." Warp was dumped onto a stained gurney, stripped, and several tubes and catheters attached to his form. Jennifer was reminded of the diagnostics hook up for the motor she just checked. The tech was a short portly woman, her blues covered with spatters of blood and other things.
She looks over the wound. "Nasty… looks like your Input caught a flechette, hon, you should look for a better date." She started to clean and suture the damage, then paused to look up at a readout. "Ouch… somatox… 12mgs… it'll be bit before he can walk much." She sprayed some plastiflesh on the wound, covering it with a bright pink seal, and left.
Warp stirred on the gurney, opening his eyes. He smelled disinfectant, blood and a faint hint of other less savory smells. A hospital. He couldn't be here…
"Jenny? Jenny please get me out of here." He tried to sit up. "Please Jenny get me out of here I don't care for hospitals too…" Doug said with a frown.
"I don't care much for them either, but for now, you're staying right where you are." Her tone came very close to matching the 'superior older sister' voice he'd heard so often when he was younger. "Unless, of course, you'd prefer to limp?" Her voice became noticeably softer. "I will get you out of here as soon as I can, okay? Just give whatever it was they gave you a chance to circulate."
"Well, if you insist, Jenny. Anyway, I'm still to dizzy and woozy to walk by myself," Doug said while laying back down and closing his eyes. "Just do me a favor… when we get out of here, there is something I need to pick up back at where we met. I was carrying some possessions that I don't seem to have with me now."
Jennifer cellular chirped in her overall pocket.
Cell phone? Wonder what job she has that she can afford that…. Wait a second, she said she was a mechanic, didn't think they made enough money to afford cell phones… Need to ask when we get out of here… Doug mused to himself.
She winced and cast a glance skyward. Not the boss, please. She pulled the device from her pocket, flipped it open, and… "Hello?"
It was Paragon. "Hello Jennifer. This is urgent, you must remain at the medcenter with the subject, it's critical that he not leave, but do not put yourself at risk."
"Well, judging by some of the comments in the waiting room, it's a little late to avoid putting myself at risk," she paused, "but I'll do what I can. What's this about, anyway?"
"His scan registered as a suspected metahuman criminal, a thief," Paragon replied quietly.
"I… understand," she replied, just as quietly. Just great. "I'll see you later, then?"
"Right." She pressed the "end" button, cutting the connection.
"Who was that you were talking to?" Doug asked towards Jenny. "How long did they say getting rid of the poison would take?"
She didn't reply at first. When she did, she avoided his first question. "They didn't say… just something like, 'it'll be a while before he'll be walking out of here.'"
Sweat beaded on his forehead as Doug said, "No, we need to leave now. Especially if you used my real name to get me healed. There are people out to kill me… They'll see that I was checked in and come immediately." A pleading look came over his face. "Jenny, please get my clothes and help me get away from here."
She sighed. Then she pulled the cellphone back out of her pocket and quickly dialed Paragon's number.
"This is Jen. How long until you get here?"
"5 minutes." he replied. she could tell from the back ground noise he was flying.
"Good. You'll probably want to know that he says there are people out to kill him–and judging by the wound in his leg, I don't think he's exaggerating." She paused briefly. "I'm also going to have to tell him that you're on the way. It would be… a breach of trust if I didn't."
"Trust… how so?" he asked, a note of further concern coming into his voice.
"I know him," she replied shortly. "I'll explain more when you get here."
"Understood. Paragon out." He signed off.
She turned the phone off and put it away again. At the same time, she began looking around for his clothes. Oughta be right around here, I can't see them taking the clothes anywhere… Warp's clothes had been dumped into a plastic bag by the bed. She grabbed the bag and handed it to Warp.
"Who's coming, and how do I know you just didn't call the people out to get me?" Doug said with a worried look on his face.
"That was the same guy who called me. And I know who he is. He absolutely will not harm you. Arrest you, maybe, but he won't harm you. You'll be out of here in five minutes. The person on the phone–both times–was Paragon. He's on his way here now."
"Paragon? You called Paragon? Why did you call him?" A frightened look came over his face. He sat up and started pulling on his clothes, and continually scanning for danger. "Man, they say once Paragon has his hands on anyone they disappear permanently… You called him? Why did you call him?" Damn damn damn… first someone starts shooting at me, probably that damned Jared… He stared at Jenny. Kills a very reliable customer who pays in full and no funny business, and now my own sister calls Paragon in on me… Today must be Friday the 13th… Damn it all… He looked at Jenny with a hurt expression. "Why?"
The rippling that she'd seen before began again. Jennifer's skin crawled as space itself seem to run and shimmer like water. Warp seemed to be engulfed by it, starting to fade away.
Damn! "No!" She lunged at him. "I don't know what you've heard, but I promise you that you will not just disappear!"
Grabbing him by the collar, she pulled Warp's fading form toward her. Her voice and the jarring motion broke his concentration. The portal fluxed and shimmered, losing cohesion, and suddenly sweeping out to engulf them both. Jennifer felt a sickening sideways… jerk was the only way to put it, and then a numbness. She couldn't scream… there was nothing to scream into… nothing to see… absolutely nothing. Her mind retreated from the impossibility of it. Warp had long since lost consciousness. The next thing she realized was the scent of something burning.
Ugh… that was dumb. Her nose wrinkled… What's that smell? She opened her eyes and looked around, trying to figure out where she was.
She was looking up at the ceiling, smoke drifted in her field of vision. Sitting up, she looked around. Warp lay nearby on a pile of rubble. Under that, she saw… a woman. Little more than a bit of blonde hair, face and hand. Crackling, flames. Jennifer crawled over to them, staying below the smoke, and nudged Warp. He came to groggily.
"Remind me never to do that again. C'mon, you gotta get up, there's someone buried under here." She shook her head, trying to clear it, then began digging the woman out.
Warp began frantically pull the rest of the rubble off of Circe. "Man, you must be some kind of jinx, Jenny. First you call Paragon on me, and then you make me miswarp and injure a friend." The woman was breathing, but out cold. Jennifer saw she was a blonde woman, tall and lithe. A fine, intricate vine tattoo ran over her face, disappearing into her hairline. The smoke was growing thicker, almost choking now.
"Please!" Her tone was scornful. "Unless you create an explosion and fire every time you miswarp, I didn't make you hurt her. This happened before we got here." She coughed on the increasing levels of smoke. "We've gotta get her and us out of here, now."
"Jenny stay close. Let's get out of here–and no funny moves this time, Jenny." Warp struggled to lift Circe but his muscles, his body felt leaden. The smoke burned his eyes, choked him… couldn't concentrate…
"Here, *cough* I'll get her legs…" Crouching low, Jen grabbed the unconscious woman just above the knees, attempting to help her brother.
Together they hefted the unconscious woman, trying to keep below the smoke. They were behind steel bar… now dented and fire-scorched. The room was a complete ruin, everything smashed and smouldering. The door had been blown out along with most of the wall. Path clear they started for it scrambling over rubble. They emerged in a stairwell leading up to the street, misting rain fell on them, a street light shining down on them. A little above them a lithe figure in urban cammos stood, supporting another, much larger man, dressed identically. Above them stood four figures… silhouetted in the light, one chuckling.
This has got to be the single worst fucking night I've had in the last decade, Jen snarled to herself. This is not good. They must be waiting for her. Her gaze flickered to the tattooed woman. "Set her down," she whispered to Warp, "unless you can get us all out of here… in a hurry."
The active one in the cammos arms snake out, making two quick motions. There was a pause then the chuckles grew into a gurgling scream as red mists in the air. The lead figure fell back, still screaming, pleading to God as he fumbled at his midsection.
Jen fell back into a defensive posture. Without backup… She glanced at her brother. Reliable backup, that is, I'm not about to get in the way of whatever that is. Still… Her light flickered briefly, and a fragile-looking shell appeared around her.
Warp looked over the figures, the big guy looked familiar. Rock? He fumbled for his needler as Circe moaned softly apparently coming to.
Circe tried to screw her eyes shut against the painful light and tried to focus on the face. When I find out who set me up, I am going to strip his fucking mind and make him wish his great grandmother had never been born. You've got some answering to do, Gideon.
Doug whispered to Circe, "It's okay, Mary, I'm here to protect you."
"D… Warp," Circe murmured groggily. "Get us out of here now. I was set up. A bomb." She turned her head away and closed her eyes. "And turn off that frigging light."
"That frigging light can't be turned off without me becoming a danger to both of you. One of the hazards of mutation." Jen continued to keep an eye on the two groups standing at the top of the stairs.
"As if I give a shit that you're a mutant," Circe muttered as she tried to sit up. "If you're not going to get me out of here, I'm going on my own." Above there was the sound of shouting and retreating foot steps. The punks hauling for a safer locale, no doubt.
What was that line…? Oh, yeah. "Bite me."
Jen moved up the steps, peeking over the edge of the stairwell to see what was going on.
Placing the larger figure against the wall, the other turned, revealing a bloodied, feral face. Her eyes went from Jennifer to behind her. Jennifer felt that odd rippling tingle she had when Warp, her brother, started using that power of his.
Jen backed away from the other's gaze. Slowly. What have I gotten myself into? Next time, Paragon, I'll listen when you tell me not to take any unnecessary risks… She risked a glance behind her. Warp was forming a portal, fading as she watched with the blonde.
You're not getting rid of me that easily, brother dear. She backed into the portal.
"Hide her well, Warp," Cy whispered.
It enveloped her, Circe and Warp, snapping shut. A moment later, Jen found herself with them… on a roof from the looks of it. Warp lay at her feet trembling beside the blonde. He looked pale and weak, shivering racking his body. The blonde turned her head enough to avoid puking on herself or Warp.
"Dammit, Doug! You haven't recovered from that poison, and you know it! Now stay put or I'll make sure you do." She quickly knelt and checked his vital signs–thank God Paragon insisted we all take that first aid course.
"Poison," Circe said in surprise, the anger she began to feel made her head spin a bit more. Her voice became cold and hard. Professional. "Who did this to you?"
"Don't know what kind of poison… was ambushed…" Warp said while shaking.
"He's been treated for the poison," Jen remarked casually. "What he needs–and what the doctors said he should get–is rest. Which he's now going to get, if I have to physically restrain him. And yes, brother dear, I do mean that."
Circe wiped her mouth again with what was left of her sleeve as she tried to pull herself together. Passing out is not an option, she thought harshly to herself.
"Who are you?" she asked the woman, her voice still cold. She slowly and cautiously opened her senses and sent them out, seeking nearby minds. She did not feel anything worth worrying about, not yet. God, her head hurt.
"Circe, this is my big domineering sister Jenny. Jenny, this is my best friend from childhood Mary. Circe, make sure she doesn't use her phone to call Paragon again. She spoke with him twice and I've heard of a couple of metas who have disappeared permanently because of him." Man this really bites… "Circe I'm sorry I couldn't get us away from her and now she'll probably call him on both of us now." He closed his eyes and lay back down.
"Sister," Circe said in surprise. She took a closer look at the woman. "Jen-bug? No, I can't believe this."
He turned towards Circe. "Believe it, and Jen-bug," he said with a smile, "is friends with Paragon or at least has given her cell phone number to him."
At the mention of Paragon, Circe felt her blood go cold. Damn you Warp, you just gave me away to the enemy. Now what the hell am I going to do? Let's just hope she doesn't put much stock in street rumors. She started to feel sick again, and it had nothing to do with her concussion.
Circe looked down at Warp again. "We're safe enough here for now, but we've got to get away from here, to somewhere safe so we can hole up until we're healed and I can tend to that wound and deal with my concussion."
Circe leaned forwards to put her lips next to Warp's ear. "If you ever call me Circe and Mary in the same breath again, Doug," she breathed, "I will kill you, regardless of how close we were as children. You've just condemned me, and you've just made Jen a very powerful enemy of mine. And you know what I have to do to my enemies." She straightened up and sent Warp a quelling glance when he opened his mouth to speak. This was a Mary Doug never knew, and the cold matter-of-factness of her voice was frightening.
Leaning up to whisper in Circe's ear, "Sorry, Mary, I thought I had already called you by your given name in front of Jen. Also with those tattoos you sorta stick out and are hard to forget. And if Jenny remembers you, maybe she will be able to get us more slack if we do get forced in by Paragon. Can you do illusions or talk mentally?"
"If you hadn't opened your big mouth in the first place," Circe replied in an angry whisper, "there wouldn't be a problem. You broke one of the Rules, Doug. The one about not revealing identities among professionals. My appearance has nothing to do with it. You screwed up, and did it big time. You may have used my given name, but you could have kept on with that. Not mention my trade name."
"Ok, Jen-bug, why are you so persistent in not wanting me to go elsewhere? And would you do me a favor and move back so your light isn't in our eyes." Doug said while shielding his eyes and trying unsuccessfully to stare at Photon.
"It's nice to be noticed," Jen murmured. She moved back several feet, keeping her eyes on the two. Joy. My brother's a suspected thief, and Mary… Circe? Jen strained to remember what she'd heard about Circe. "One, you're my brother–much as I've sometimes wished otherwise–and you're not in any condition to go anywhere. And two, I was told to keep you at the medcenter. Since I didn't do that, I'm settling for the next best thing." She paused. "Of course, I was also told not to take unnecessary risks…"
"And just what is the next best thing?" Circe asked, keeping one eye on Jen and the other eye out for attack.
"Staying with him. Though it's rapidly becoming apparent that staying with him may in and of itself be an unnecessary risk."
"Then, by all means, don't let us keep you," Circe replied.
"Don't worry." She looked around, checking for the roof access. It lay a few feet away, chained and padlocked but they looked rusty.
"So what is it exactly you want out of me? And why should I stay with you?" Warp queried while keeping an eye for approaching flying figures.
She sighed. "I don't remember you being this paranoid, Doug. What makes you think I want anything from you?" Spying the building's roof access, she began walking toward it. Motion out of the corner of her eye made her pause. Looking in that direction, she saw nothing, just rain and shadows. Then something, a shifting in the darkness, but it was small. A rat or cat, possibly.
Jennifer paused. I must be getting paranoid myself. Still… She slowly shifted her vision. New colors flowed into existence, patterns of waste heat seeping from vents, shifting air currents and the occasionally shaft of UV light seeping through the smog pall hanging over the city. There was a glow in the darkness a bright speck of UV… radiation. She squinted. It technically didn't help her perception at this level. Something faintly radioactive perhaps.
Noticing Jennifer stare, Circe probed the area in her own way, mental senses drifting over like a gossamer net. Nothing, not a trace of mental activity, not even the residual "thoughts" of vermin. Her head throbbed again as she strained. She pushed it back.
Jennifer kept her perceptions shifted as she approached the door. She carefully examined the lock and chain, checking to see if she could remove them without having to cut through them. The chain was fairly heavy but old and rusted. The lock looked about 10 years older than Jennifer herself. Opening it with the key might be difficult.
Circe put her lips to Warp's ear. "Are you strong enough to get us away?" she breathed.
Not sure what the others were looking at, Warp kept watching the roofs and sky for approaching figures. He almost felt up to trying it, nodding to Circe's whisper. From the shadows there was a soft hiss and something stung Warp. A long silver needle was sticking from his shoulder, embedded in the material of his ballistic vest.
Circe swore, wishing she had brought one of her guns, rather than just her knives. She tried to heft Warp to his feet but ending up more or less dragging him behind some battered machinery near the edge of the roof. The effort left her panting and shaking, back to the cold damp metal. She heard scurrying, like dozens of tiny feet.
Several small metal… spiders scuttled from the shadows. They were about the size of small dogs, blocky metal bodies on long segmented legs. The head was denoted by a segmented eye of a sort. Jennifer could make out long thin barrel slung under their bodies. They ignored her, scuttling toward where Warp used to be.
Warp tried to focus, sent space wavering rippling and folding back into a swirling portal. Circe looked up at the vortex, saw another roof through the hole.
Jennifer took careful aim at one of the 'spiders', then a beam of light lanced out toward it. The night lit up like day as Jennifer's laser hissed though the rain misted air and reduced one of the spiders to molten metal.
"Let's go through, Circe…" Warp muttered, while trying to stay conscious.
Jennifer kept herself between her brother and Circe and the spiders, and continued to fire on the spiders. She risked a quick glance back at them, but kept her attention on her targets.
Circe stood and took hold of Warp's arm pulling him along. As she prepared to jump a strange sensation passed through her, almost a tingling, that swiftly grew into a numbing sensation of "pins and needles" that ran through her entire body. She fell to her knees then pitched forward onto her face. Warp got a fleeting glance of a humanoid figure, more of a wavy outline, hovering a few feet away from the edge of the building.
Jennifer lasered another "spider" into slag as they marched relentless toward Warp. They seemed to not acknowledge her existence at all, despite her destruction of two of their number. A familiar sensation tickled her inner ear, a soft buzzing she recognized. Stingray! One of the Knights, her vibratory powers created that odd ripple! Risking a glance she saw the girl's form, partially cloaked in the rain, darkness adding to her concealment.
"About time!" Jennifer yelled, waving acknowledgment.
Forcing himself to stand, Warp pulled Circe a bit closer and focused, bending the space about him to cover them both in a shroud of space/time. Circe was nearly out of it, shivering as if in a seizure.
The figure sighed audibly. "Why do the always have to make it complicated… I know you're still there, snookums… let's not make this any harder than it has to be."
Photon finished off the last of the spiders with a wide angle burst of light. She shone like a beacon casting the entire roof into sharp relief. Turning her attention to the battle behind her, she tried to figure out what to do. Circe and Warp were concealed from her by the bulk of some roof vents and environmental machines. Stingray hovered above and a few feet out.
Trying to focus on the shimmering figure in rain, Warp squeezed off a shot, channeling it along twisted space at Stingray. That does it, bitch, you hurt my friend now I hurt you! Stingray's form lurched to the side, growing even more vague. Blinking rain from his eyes, Warp tried to make out if his shots had scored any damage.
"Fucker! You wanna play tough… then choke on this!" Stingray snarled, her voice taking on a the hard edge of a rage. Jennifer knew the tone, when the girl started to lose control. Her vibration edged up a notch, becoming a painful hammering on the inner ear. Shatterwave! Jennifer had seen Stingray pulverize armored plascrete with it, reduce it to dust. The image of what it would do to flesh and bone filled her with horror. "Sting! n-!" She was cut off by a rending shriek, a noise that set her teeth on edge like a million speakers at max all feeding back. The explosion that followed was almost melodic by comparison.
Warp was taken off his feet by the blast, knocked forward as the machinery behind him disintegrated explosively. The concussion knocked the wind from him and sent the pistol spinning off into space. He landed in a heap, twisting his injured leg. Pain then blackness.
Stingray settled to the rooftop, fading into view. She was slim girl, petite with a doll like build. None of her 16 years showed, even through the skin tight dove grey and white body suit she wore. Her face was totally covered by a white cowl, two slim fleshy antennae sprouted from her forehead. A cape ran the length of her body and along the arms of her suit. The right side of it was torn and bloody and she held her arm, starting to sway on her feet unsteadily. "Thought I… was gonna nuke em… didn't ya… Jenn…" she muttered, walking over toward Jennifer unsteadily. "Just knocked 'em flatter than San Fran. Chill trick…huh… use the wave to make something blow, lot less lethal, ya know…"
Breathe, Jen! "Yeah, I did. Not a bad tactic, actually, but do try to warn me next time–please?" She moved over to the girl, helping to support her. "How bad were you hit?" Jen glanced toward her brother and Circe.
"I'll live… unless the needle was doped…" she replied wanly. "Pick up's on the way for these two… " Looking over at the wreckage for a moment she asked. "And what… were those things?"
"Yeah, you'll live." She looked at the remains of the 'spiders'. "I'd guess they were some sort of assassin drone. He's," she gestured with her head toward Warp, "gonna need medical attention again, one of them hit him. And here I thought it was just his paranoia…"
It was only 5 minutes later the AV settled in low, massive downthrust blowing up a small monsoon. It was a blocky civilian model, looking more a like a flying van than an aircraft. Crimson and blue light bars strobed along the sides, however, and several sleek black police skimmers pulled alongside. The side hatch raised and Paragon drifted down, glowing aura pulsing faintly. A small smile crossed his features as he saw Jennifer and Stingray. "Jennifer… you out us through quite a fright back at the med center. It seems Warp has attracted quite a lot of attention from a number of unsavory parties… the Yakuza included."
"Oh, joy. Looks like I made the right decision when I tried to tackle him, then. That would not have been a pretty fight."
Paragon nods then turns concerned to Stingray. "Can you make it to the Medevac, child?"
She nods, "Yeah… day a punk like that can chill me… I'm zeroing out." With that she took flight, heading out toward one of the larger police vehicles. "And what of you Jennifer… you were not injured?"
"Not a scratch. Though that may have been more luck than anything else. Doug wasn't exactly pleased when I told him you were on your way."
"Luck favors the prepared… though that's not terribly accurate in this case," he chuckled. "But the good fortune tonight is undeniable… both of them in one action. We… I owe you a great deal, Jennifer."
"Yeah, well, if he ever trusts me again, I'll be surprised." She sighed. "I'm gonna need a ride back to that medcenter. If I don't put the van back, Jesse'll have my head."
"Trusts… Jennifer, Warp has chosen to live in a traitorous and black-hearted world, it is doubtful he can trust anyone or ever has." Paragon looked from the couple and back to Jennifer. "The woman with him is a suspected assassin, likely a murderer several times over, she may have been the next one to try for him."
"Oh, I'll agree that he probably doesn't trust anyone any more. Except perhaps her," Jen gestured toward Circe. "He always did have a crush on her… and of course, I never lost the chance to rub it in."
Medical personnel and police came up from the roof access. Among them was a tall dark-skinned woman. Jennifer thought she looked familiar, then placed her. Michelle Laurence of the Special Crimes Task Force. Her rain cloak was smeared with oil and grease. "It's a real pit in this place. Next time I take your advice and ride with you, Paragon," she muttered, watching as Circe and Warp were gathered up. "Over so soon… disappointing."
Jennifer shrugged. "It wouldn't have been much of a fight anyway. She was probably in the middle of an explosion, and he's still recovering from the first dose of poison in his system."
"Explosion?" Michelle turned to the young woman, face quizzical. Up close, Jennifer could see the fine mingling of features in her face, the full lips, slightly slanted eyes and high cheeks.
Paragon nodded. "During the merry chase he lead us on, one stop was a rather seedy bar, bombed by parties as yet unknown."
Michelle nodded. "And she was in the middle of it. Seems someone's following the rules. Number one rule of assassination: Kill the assassin."
"Treacherous business." Paragon nodded. "I think she may be receptive, perhaps more so than Warp… Jennifer… we didn't have time before but please can you explain more of your relationship to him… on the way back to the Medcenter." He smiled. "I would hate to add angering your employer to all the other trials we have put you through tonight."
"Thanks." She was silent until they reached the privacy of Paragon's vehicle.
"You're aware that I was adopted about a year before I joined the Knights, right? I know Doug–and Mary, too–from before that. I haven't seen either of them since I was about 13 or so. You couldn't pry the two of them apart with a crowbar, at the time." Jennifer paused and looked out the window. "He's my brother."
He was quiet for a moment. "Jennifer…this must have been very difficult for you… but perhaps there is something you can do to help him now," he spoke quietly. "Warp is on the selection list of the Purgatory Project… namely the recruitment of criminal metahumans into a high risk enforcement team."
"It wasn't fun." Jennifer watched the buildings as they soared past. "He got sent off to a corporate lab, then my parents disappeared a couple of months later. You can't buy that sense of abandonment." She paused for a second, and Paragon got the impression she was fighting down tears. "So you can imagine how I felt when he turned up at the garage a couple of hours ago. And then when I was told I had to turn him in."
Paragon started to place a hand on her shoulder but paused, suddenly unsure as to how much Jennifer wanted or needed to be comforted, by him in particular. Dealing with the council, armed criminals… simplicity… an upset young woman, now that baffles me completely, she likely blames me for this and rightfully so.
"I'm not sure how much help I can be with him and Purgatory. I didn't handle the situation very well at all…" She trailed off, and continued looking out the window until the vehicle came to a rest.
Paragon spoke quietly as Jennifer climbed out of the vehicle. "I'm going to try to convince Warp to sign on for Purgatory tomorrow… I'd like you there, if you think you're up to it."
Jennifer nodded, still trying to control her emotions. "I don't have to work again until tomorrow night, so I should be free most of the day. Call me on the cell when you've decided when." A few moments later, she'd disengaged the lockout on the van and driven it off into the darkness.
Morning. Jennifer's chronocom chirped merrily beside the bed. When she failed to stir after a moment it kicked into high gear clanging and banging until she slapped it across the room. She sat up, glow strengthening ever so slightly as she came fully awake. Today was the day.
I don't suppose I could just stay in bed all day? No? Ah, well… Jennifer reluctantly rolled out of bed, beginning her morning ritual. Stretch a bit, exercise for a while, hope my roomie is out of the bathroom by now so I can take a shower, swear profusely when I find she's used all the hot water again. Try not to think about Doug.
Her cell phone began ringing while she was in the shower, of course. She managed to get to it in time. "Paragon… wonderful sense of timing, there, I was in the shower. When and where?"
It wasn't Paragon. Finally the morning broke from her predicted pattern. It was someone new, a female voice. The phone's video unit showed a middle-aged woman in a lab coat, dark haired and severe. "I apologize for the poor timing, Photon. I am Dr. Engrid Markham. I am your brother's… supervisor, in a sense, and I needed to tall to you on his case and what you know of him."
Her eyes narrowed slightly. I should probably be careful here… "I'm not sure how much help I can be. Before last night, the last time I saw my brother was 12 years ago."
"But as a sibling you have some insight into him and any slight amount helps. I have some hopes for his rehabilitation." She sighed softly, rubbing her temple with one finger. "But he is stubborn and willful, life lived in the shadows so long has almost completely closed of his ability to trust anyone or know there is any different way to live. Warp would be a great triumph for this project…" Trailing off, she gave Photon an apologetic look. "Sorry, I'm preaching again."
"Don't worry about it… you've probably described him quite well." Jennifer sighed. "And I think I may have helped it along last night, to be honest."
"From what I understand you did what you could," she tried to smile reassuringly but the expression seemed unusual for her, and a little embarrassing, perhaps.
"Anyway, enough wallowing. What was it you needed to know?"
"I think it would be best to handle this in person, if you don't mind." She looks thoughtful for a moment. "Before you meet him this morning."
Jennifer nods. "Where and when, then?"
"I hoped to meet you at the Special Crimes Enforcement Building, I can have a car sent for you within an hour."
"Okay. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to dry off; I'll see you later." Jennifer pressed a button, cutting the connection.
As promised, she was met an hour later on the roof of her apartment tower by a government skimmer. The pilot was a thin, quiet man dressed in a black and grey Metro security uniform. Aside from a perfunctory greeting he said nothing to her and seemed amazingly unsurprised at her glowing form. The skimmer pulled out over the Aqua-city district, miles of city actually built into the ocean, marked by lower buildings and twisting "canals" choked with the boat homes of nomads and traders, then out into the ocean proper.
The Detention/Processing Center was built on its own artificial island, a circular squat grey building, utterly featureless, jutting several hundred feet into the sky like a man made mountain, dominating the horizon. In the sealed passenger's compartment, Jennifer couldn't hear it, but knew a rigorous security routine was being performed as she approached. The skimmer set down on the roof, and the door slid open, admitting a gust of cool, vaguely salty air carrying a hint of machine oil. Dr. Markham stood a few feet away. Armored guards were posted everywhere, the tension in the air was tangible. These are men and women conditioned to living in ticking bomb. She nodded to Jennifer as she stepped up, motioning to a waiting electric car. "I thank you again for coming… do you prefer Jennifer or Photon?" The car took them into a low access tunnel.
"Either's acceptable–it's not like I can hide my identity–but I prefer Jennifer."
Nodding she continued. "Please call me Engrid. I have had an opportunity to talk to your… brother, I believe? Anyhow… it seems the he will accept the plan but is not… truly willing. He blames society for his problems and refuses to take much responsibility for them himself. Would you say… from what you remember of him for this to be accurate assessment of him?" The car pulled to a stop, allowing them to exit. Engrid leads Jennifer into a quiet meeting area, with a long table and several chairs arranged before a panoramic view of the ocean. Judging from what she'd seen on approach, it had to be a holograph. Engrid got a small tray from a table near the rear of the room. "Coffee? It's synthetic I'm afraid… budget restraints."
"Hey, as long as the caffeine's real." Jen smiled, taking a cup. "Real coffee is better, of course, but with Ivy being the way she is, I'm not surprised that it costs so much…" She took a sip, looking thoughtful, then answered Engrid's earlier question. "Like I said on the phone, last night was the first time I've seen Doug–Warp, if you prefer–in about 12 years. We lived in one of Arasaka's corporate towns, and the last time I saw him, he was being taken off to one of the corporate labs. And to be honest, before that I didn't really know him all that well… I was in the 'snotty older sister' mode. I'm not sure I can give you a good answer on that."
"Hmm understandable… Arasaka? Odd for them to incorporate any one not from Nippon." Engrid frowned slightly. "Some of the men after your brother last night may have had mafia ties…" The statement seemed to more to herself than to Jen. "Would you like to speak with him?"
Jennifer sighed. This wasn't going to be pleasant. "I suppose it can't hurt."
"All right." She smiled slightly, seemingly eager and pulled out a small headset. "Close your eyes and concentrate on clearing your mind." She placed it on Jennifer's head. There was a slight tingling, a sensation of falling, and then she was… somewhere else. A small grey room. Circe and Warp were there, in formless off-white jumpsuits. They looked up, startled and stared for a moment.
It took Jen a second to realize… she was naked.