This short serves, just as it says on the tin, as a prologue to Over-Powered: The Androgyne Task Force (Arc ID: 474014). I had hoped to get some more writing done to build up to it before the arc was completed for our groups to play through, but for once I held myself to a deadline and couldn't squeeze in more, and even this wasn't posted until a day or two after. I might yet come back to this in the future, but for now it serves its purpose.
Vanguard Headquarters, White Plains. November, 2010.
Ani spread eir arms to sprawl across three seats in the briefing auditorium, and let eir head flop backwards over the back of eir own. Eir face stony to mimic the humorless, stiff tone and expression of the Shield Captain speaking, e lip-synced along with a recitation of encounter protocol e'd heard a hundred times before. The perpetually haggard Black Seven, a friend, frequent War Zone associate and now fellow Reciprocator to the Androgyne, suppressed a laugh that wanted out into a somehow serenely feral grin.
Eventually Ani resigned emself to the fact that Seven was just too cool to crack and gave up. E let eir head fall forward and listened as the Captain droned on. And on. At least now he had moved on to less routine information, so despite eir dislike for the man's lack of presentational flair, Ani listened carefully.
According to the Shield's spotters in the region, Rikti movements were increasing in regularity around Point du Hoc, due southwest of the crashed mothership that was both their stronghold and gateway to Earth. More and more parties were being encountered scouting in and surveilling from the ruins near Pylon 18, and seismic monitoring suggested a lot of troops were moving through the abandoned mines and natural cave networks beneath that part of the War Zone. Shield strategists were now beginning preparations for a defense of the Vanguard's fortress in the area, Point du Hoc being a primary staging ground for assaults on the ship.
Ani's hand shot up when the time came to volunteer to lead a battalion in the fort's defense, but e was passed over by the Captain in favor of older, more militarily inclined operatives who in most cases outranked the Sword Lieutenant, not to mention who were less openly disdainful of the Captain's delivery. A scowl threatened to twist Ani's mouth downwards, but e held it back as the Captain tapped em to conduct reconnaissance in the caves under du Hoc. Fighting down there was dicey, with great risks to both sides posed by the environment, but it was Ani's favorite place to hunt the enemy. The Rikti thought moving underground could give them the elements of secrecy and surprise, but they were also consigning themselves to a battleground they could not easily escape.
After the briefing, Ani stood and sprang out of the auditorium, eir legs limber and twitchy with the repressed energy of sitting still for so long while e was technically on-duty. Sloth, leisure, and luxury were the Androgyne's watchwords on eir own time, but when e was on call, e did not like to be still a moment. Despite having been sitting a row further down than Seven, e made it out well before her. E turned outside to wait, exchanging the occasional nod or fistbump with operatives e'd worked with in the past as they filtered out.
Seven ambled casually up the steps, letting the crowd of armor-clad heroes and villains flow around her, neither obstructing nor allowing herself to be hurried. "What do you think, Ken?" The pet name always made Ani grin. Several people tried to use Ken doll references to insult or mock the Androgyne's genderless physiology, never to any effect greater than a roll of the eyes. Seven instead made it a term of affection, a reference to their nearly instant easygoing camaraderie and the meshing of their abilities in the field that positioned her as the "Vanguard Barbie".
Ani pivoted on eir heel and fell in step beside her. "That you could use a nap, and that Captain Wilkins direly needs a lesson in presentational flair, but what else is new."
Seven snorted, dismissing both of Ani's thoughts as unlikely to become realities. "Heading up to du Hoc now? I'm freshly caffeinated and not especially motivated to join that blowhard's team." She gestured with a jerk of her head back towards the operative put in charge of the fort's surface defense where he was milling about waiting to schmooze Wilkins.
Ani nodded and went to speak, but was interrupted by an urgent call from down the corridor. "Lieutenant! Lieutenant Hess!" A voice Ani vaguely recognized drew closer, though e couldn't see the source through the crowd of operatives still heading off to their various assignments. The voice was reedy and had perfect diction, though it always sounded just on the edge of cracking. When the speaker came into view edging along the wall to avoid being run over by one of the more hulking operatives, his small frame and somewhat enlarged cranium clicked for Ani. E met eyes with Seven and gave her a nod to indicate e would catch up, and moved to meet the operative seeking eir attention.
"Fish, hey!" Ani reached out to the Helm translator who operated under the handle "Babelfish" and shook his hand. For his part, Babelfish clung to Ani's hand as if expecting to be swept away in the rush of operatives coordinating their next moves against the Rikti. Ani gestured up to the catwalks above the operational center and Babelfish nodded gratefully before following em.
"Thank you! I'm glad I found you, I wasn't sure if you would remember me." Babelfish took a moment to breathe, slumping against the catwalk railing and hanging onto one of the steel cables suspending it from the ceiling.
Ani laughed lightly, resting more easily against the opposite rail. "Of course, we worked together in April after I was reactivated, with Lia and Creepy Moustache Guy." A faint grin touched Ani's lips at the recollection, despite being reminded of Mattermeld and his lecherous propositioning, as it was the first time e'd met Boom. She and Ani had created a distraction to draw out some of the ship's defenders by attacking a pylon, while Meld took Babel into the mothership to search for intelligence. It had been a harrowing ordeal for all of them, especially Boom, but the operation was ultimately a success.
Babelfish seemed to brighten at the mention of Lia "Boom" Bezerra, and perked up noticably. "Do you know if Lia's well? I heard she's no longer with Hero Corps, joined a proper group."
"Depends on your definition of proper, but she's doing really well with the Misfits, yeah. The Reciprocators work closely with them, I see her a lot actually these days."
Babelfish didn't miss the quirk of Ani's mouth as e spoke about her, and his shoulders threatened to slump as he realized without an instant's doubt thanks to his advanced mutant brain's deciphering of the Androgyne's body language that e and Boom were closer than merely coalition-mates.
Ani felt a rare moment of genuine awkwardness as e perceived Fish's disappointment, and quickly sought to change the subject for the superlinguist's sake. "So hey! Sounded like you were looking for me, not just to catch up. Was there something I can help you with?"
Babelfish snapped to attention as he was reminded of his purpose, then nodded vigorously. "Oh of course, yes! I stumbled onto something odd in a batch of communications from one of our ship monitoring sites, they're experimenting with oscillating ultrasonics to pierce the interference caused by the shield harmonics. I've been trying to correlate what it said with other intelligence but I've turned up nothing more after days no matter where in the Helm databases I have access to I look."
Ani furrowed eir brow, relaxing as the conversation focused on Vanguard matters. "That sounds like a security clearance conflict, Helm issue more than the Sword, not sure how I can help with that."
Babelfish gave his egg-shaped head a slight shake. "I'm not sure how you could either, but you're of a higher rank than I as an operative, and I thought you in particular might be interested. We picked up snippets of transmissions from a signal so powerful it bled through the shield enough for us to get a few clear segments to translate; that amount of power behind the transmission leads me to suspect it was a message to the Homeworld."
"What was the transmission?"
"It was a report on research being conducted in the ship as near as I can gather. The most important segment I was able to translate went as follows." Babelfish leaned towards the Androgyne and lowered his voice, as it was highly unorthodox to spread about Helm intelligence in this manner. Ani didn't need to be a mutant universal translator to detect Fish's frustration with standard protocol at the moment, though. "'Weapon results: unreliable. Suggest: narrow focus. Acquire: test subjects: various mutations. Baseline captives: control. Potential if perfected: Vanguard devastated."
Ani gave the translation a moment to sink in, the Rikti grammar rearranging in eir mind. "They're working on a weapon aimed at humans, but they haven't perfected it. They plan to test it against mutants and non-metas?"
Babelfish nodded. "And they wouldn't have risked diverting enough power from the shields to transmit such a mundane interdimensional progress report if they didn't believe in its potential."
"I don't understand, why isn't the Helm all over something like this?" Ani planted eir hands on eir hips and scowled faintly down at the people passing below who weren't paying any attention to the two on the catwalk.
"I don't know, Lieutenant. Every time I try to investigate further or link it to any of our other intel, I hit a roadblock due to security clearance, or something comes up and by the time I resume my search the promising lead I found has been reclassified. It's almost as if the Helm doesn't want us to learn anything."
"So you're thinking it might be a job for the Sword."
"You outrank me, perhaps your clearances will let you access some of the reclassified files, or your pull can get more of the Helm's related intelligence released to the Sword to be acted on. Lt. Hess, the Vanguard relies on our kind a great deal." Fish referred to their shared status as mutants.
Ani nodded eir agreement. "Mutants make up more of the Vanguard than any other kind of meta, save magic wielders unless you factor in Mu blood as a mutation. If they've developed a way to take us out of the fight, it gives them a huge advantage." Ani frowned deeply, then nodded again, more firmly. "I'll look into it, see if my superiors can lean on the Helm for something actionable."
Babelfish looked immediately relieved. "Thank you, Lieutenant. I don't understand why there isn't more attention on this in my branch, but pressure from the Sword could see some action taken. Please, let me know if you uncover anything, I'll help in any way I can."
Ani nodded, brushing his thumb over a medallion embedded in one gauntlet to summon the cape, mantle and cowl that completed the Vanguard armor e was already mostly clad in. "Absolutely Fish. And thanks for the tip-off. I'll tell Boom you said hi?"
"Oh yes! Er, please." Babelfish flushed slightly, then thanked the Androgyne again and made his way down from the catwalk as the Androgyne seized onto the thread of fate spiralling out towards Black Seven's location in the War Zone and threw himself towards Point du Hoc.