Cherry 9/With Leave

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With Leave

((With Leave was a large scale open RP by S.C.O.R.P.I.O. members.))

By: Cherry 9

The rising sun painted the horizon orange and red over the rooftops of Skyway City. The vista was new and only occasionally interrupted by the sound of a car on the nearby express way. The morning was crisp, and clear, typical for this time of year in Rhode Island, it wasn't quite winter, but fall hadn't completely overtaken the warmth of summer.

A siren blared for a moment a few blocks away, the redhead sitting on the edge of the roof tilted her head a moment to look before going back to her hands. It was with practiced ease that she wrapped them, the knuckles torn and bruised. Scars and calluses a testament to how much she practiced. There was little mercy in her for the crude wooden practice dummy set up a few feet away on the roof. She'd punched it till blood poured down her hands leaving the makeshift pads stained.

Now as the adrenaline wore off she wrapped her hands numbly her mind still sifting through the events of the previous day. It was some vague attempt at trying to find the exact point at which everything went to hell in a hand basket. Maybe it was when McConnell had requested her assistance with a time sensitive recon in the war zone. It would be a lie to say she hadn't been intrigued when he mentioned he'd come across several old military reports. They detailed strange Rikti activity prior to Vanguard's take over of the Rikti crash site in White Plains. These were also the same reports that Vanguard received when they took over the operation.

An operation for Vanguard had already been planned for the day. But far as Vanguard intel and information received indicated it would be the normal run of the mill walk in the park for her agents. It certainly wouldn't be anything Jankowski couldn't handle, he'd done plenty of them before, even if this was a bit higher profile working directly with the Dark Watcher. Drop a group of good operatives with Tyler and he'd walk straight through hell itself and come out nonetheless worse for wear.

So she'd decided to go with McConnell personally and leave a group of operatives to assist Jankowski along with a run down of her status. The warehouse ended up being a major lead. Rikti automatons, and a Nemesis supply depot, right in Vanguard's backyard. Soon as the site was secure, and the communications dampener was blown, headquarters had raised her with the high priority alert. Seems the cakewalk Jankowski was on ended up as something big after all.

End of the day result, lots of Rikti and Nemesis dispatched under the mothership, the debrief put the rest of the pieces together. But it didn't make sense, Nemesis was apparently behind the Rikti war, they'd found proof, encrypted details of the Nemesis plans and some automatons of Freedom Phlanax heroes. Knowing Nemesis as shocking as the very thought was, it really wasn't too far fetched, the bastard had plenty of time and resources. After all this was the same guy who managed to bring the entire United States to its knees after World War II. No the part that didn't add up was Vanguard's claim to no previous knowledge of Nemesis involvement in starting the war. Six years, not counting the war, and somehow Vanguard had completely missed this obviously gigantic piece of the puzzle.

Previous military reports alone made references to strange Rikti activity, yet Vanguard seemed to never follow up on any of those reports passed down to them. Vanguard claimed to be chronically over worked as well, yet their own fortifications never seemed to be short of staff or supplies, their agents in the field seemed aptly able to dispatch Rikti, and they only ever seemed to be in short number in the most convenient of situations. With the ungodly amount of money being funneled to them from the UN funneled by countries desperate to have Vanguard protect them from the Rikti threat it just didn't add up. There was a reason Vanguard didn't send any of their own people on the operation, they knew what was coming. Far as she saw it they had been left in the dark deliberately.

Jack had contacts within Vanguard, he'd even managed to swindle the Cyber Knight, one of their premiere toys, into S.C.O.R.P.I.O. ranks. Yet for some reason they'd been left in the dark, leaving the agents assigned to the operation under prepared and at a higher potential risk then necessary. There were few things she couldn't tolerate, unnecessary risk to her personnel was at the top of that list. Its safe to say she was fairly angry when she'd had words with Slayton at the debrief, the conversation had been brief and left a bad taste in her mouth.

She found herself questioning whether Jack was trying to ensure Vanguard was being open with them, or if he was just trying to ensure Lady Grey would be open with him, and most certainly not open in regards to Intel. She'd come to the organization trusting Slayton because Saints had, and she had no reason to believe he couldn't be trusted to do the job. At least that was before the incident with Vanguard, before the situation with Guevara.

Mercy Guevara was Slayton's newest project, a punk kid with no sense, a big mouth, brand new cybernetics and a bad attitude. Why he hadn't turned her ass over to the cops after she put two boys in blue in the hospital while stealing money to support her dyne habit she would probably never know. The kid needed to learn their were consequences and obviously nothing else that had happened to her to date had drilled that lesson home.

If anyone was familiar with having a hard life it was Cherry. She had zero sympathy for the kid who couldn't manage to pull herself together without a crutch. No one had forced her to make the choices she did and as far as she was concerned the kid was a liability and a hazard to her own operatives. Yet Slayton gave her a second chance, something he never did, and the kid wasn't any more repentant for what she'd done then before she got the camera put in her head. If anything she now had just one more thing to use to show the world just how tortured she was. Guevara it seemed thought the whole thing was just one more joke, and another example of how the world had done her wrong.

Typically it wasn't hard to ignore her, but after the rest of the day, it was just one more thing. And coming into the D, whining about her inability to drink and downplaying what she had done to those cops, was more then she wanted to hear just then. It was just another reminder of the fact Slayton was letting his house go to pot, and that vote of no confidence got one more "Yay".

She'd left the D and gone off grid, her comm was black, she'd even jammed her locater. Right now she had no desire to be found, and it was unlikely that most people would be able to though not for lack of trying. She'd put the gears in motion, Bowman was a loose cannon but generally with this sort of thing he was reliable. He'd put the scare into Mercy that she needed, and hopefully track down some Intel on Vanguard.

Her mind was working too hard, she was rethinking on to many things, her time with Scorpio, the war, especially the lost of her squad, and Harbinger. Again she wondered what would be different if he'd survived, maybe even instead of her. He always had a better sense for these sort of things, it was why he just didn't trust anyone.

Like Marksman she'd given him hell for it, and now here she sat on the roof of a new apartment she'd moved to just last night while still a bit tipsy from beer, her mind reeling over every detail of the past 24 hours. Add to that the fact that she was now, for all intents and purposes AWOL. She'd dealt with feelings of isolation on and off since she'd left the 823rd, but now it was combined with a deep sense of worry and question.

Questions about the last operation her squad did for Vanguard nagged in her mind again, all of the little details over the past few years started to piece themselves together.

The head butting at her side followed by that spine chilling meow broke her thoughts and she looked down to find the Cat next to her. Head cocked to the side he seemed to glare at her with that one good eye for a long moment before howling again at her. She dropped her hand scritching behind his ears with a sigh.

"I don't want to know how you got up here..."

Nudging her hand away with his head the Cat climbed into her lap with a grunt of pain at the weight of the large beast, he curled up and began to purr with a sound not unlike the signature Harley Davidson growl. Sighing to herself she pet him looking back out over the city

"I don't know bout you, but I'm sick of lemonade. You'd think I'd catch a decent break sometime."

Looking downwards she caught the Cat looking back at her mournfully. Mostly because her hand at stopped and rested on his back instead of petting him. She managed a laugh and took a deep breath fighting off the moment of what she generally called estrogen overload and stritched again behind his ears.

"Yeah I know, I have you, what more could a girl ask for. Now I just need to figure out what the hell to do."

By: Mercy Guevara

Unbelievable, seriously… un-fucking-believable.

I get it, people are pissed, they figure I got special treatment cuz Slayton gave me a second chance. Really? Everyone raise your hand if you would’ve agreed to the blatant invasion of privacy that is having a camera mounted in your head. Am I complaining? No. I got what I deserved, but to act like it was a slap on the wrist is asinine. It was either jail or have total strangers monitoring my every move twenty-four/seven. I made the choice that most are saying they wouldn’t have and I only have myself to blame. I’m dealing with it, and everyone needs to move the fuck on.

Case in point, I’m invited to the D the other night to hang with Ashen cuz she wanted me to meet this creepy dead guy that’s got her all hot and bothered. I walk in there, take a seat and Cherry mentions that she’s buying drinks. Says that everyone should take advantage now while she’s in the mood. I ask her if it’s okay if I drink, given that drinking could lead to me getting zapped. Xelos, who is evidently Nick’s caretaker, asks why I’d get zapped for drinking. I start to give him the quick and dirty version of the story and BAM, Cherry goes off on a tangent about how I’m a worthless piece of shit whiner. Telling everyone within earshot that I’m nothing more than a dramatic, attention-starved sob story. I was floored. I hadn’t been rude to her, didn’t made a single smart remark… which I know is totally out of character for me… but I wasn’t there to fight with Cherry, I was there to unwind and hang with Ash. But on and on she went. Railing about the waste of space that is me. So yeah, I fought back. It was pissing contest 101. Insults, exaggerations, shit you wish you could take back put probably wouldn’t even if given the chance.

We lit into each other pretty good. I know she said some stuff I hadn’t heard from her before. She seemed uninhibited; let’s just leave it at that. Next thing I know she’s taking her ball and going home, ripping into Ashen for good measure because she came to my defense.

Now all I hear about is how Mercy and Cherry got into this huge dust up in the D. How Mercy’s unrepentant for her previous actions. Give me a fucking break. Sorry if the fairytale ending isn’t coming quick enough. People don’t change overnight and half of what I said was said purely to piss Cherry off. She baited me and I took it hook, line and sinker, and I’m big enough to admit I shouldn’t have fallen into her trap so easily. I’m half to blame for our blow up but there’s no way in hell that blame falls solely on me.

If she’s the better person? If she’s the one wearing the big girl pants while I’m just some immature, disrespectful greenhorn? Then come talk to me face-to-face. Pull me into your office and read me the riot act. Assign me grunt work until I repent and fall worshipping at your feet. Don’t goad me into a fight. Cuz all you did was sink down to my supposed level and when you got there you didn’t like the temperature so you ran home.

Everyone who runs with me, everyone who truly knows me, seems to feel differently about me than the bullshit public opinion that gets bandied about. If Cherry and I don’t mix? If we’re like oil and water? Then fine, let’s just stay the fuck away from each other… then everybody wins.

By: XelosTi

XelosTi yawned deeply, as the Teleporter released him in the cold morning air in Talos Island. Following the events in the D he had followed Agents Wren and Guevara to the S.C.O.R.P.I.O.’s Base and stayed there all night long mixing drinks for them and Raatikainen. They had been talking about his comrade Nick-Tus and Guevara’s position in S.C.O.R.P.I.O. Xelos sensed that Mercy was a capable young woman and with proper guidance she’d be a hell of an officer. Slayton had a keen instinct for people and he chooses his Agents wisely.

He asked Nick to watch over Serenity who had been drinking way more than she should have. At first he was unsure if it had been a good idea to do so, because Serenity and Mercy were commenting how “hot” the undead Warshade looked. He had studied human mating and reproduction rituals too, but since his race had abandoned the physical act itself and turned to genetic breeding he couldn’t understand the human obsession with it.

The Alien stretched, blinked into the rising sun and pushed himself off the ground. He gained altitude and left the New Thebes district in direction of Helen Point. Xelos enjoyed the fresh breeze and the way the dawn turned the ocean into the color of gold. Short time later he left the war wall tunnel on the skyway side and flew southward to the Overbrook tunnel.

He had just passed the green line monorail station as a purple energy portal opened directly in front of him. With a yelp of surprise he passed the threshold. The Land of the Lost turned into the inside of an apartment. Without the chance to break Xelos crashed through a partition wall and was stopped by the outer brick wall of the building.

Ignoring the dizziness and the pain from the concussion in his forearms and head Xelos pulled himself up and crouched into a defensive posture. He waited, his hands glowing with blue source energy, for the next move of his assailant. The pain clouded his vision and he felt like his right radius bone had been partially fractured in the impact.

A stark white face appeared in the Xelos-shaped hole in the partition wall and fixed the gaze of its glazed eyes on the Alien. “Xeeeloss hurt?” It was Nick. Xelos relaxed, opened his mouth to say something but lost his consciousness before he could utter a word.

With a soft moaning he awoke some time later, the first thing he felt was pain shooting through is injured forearm. He opened his eyes a bit. Through blurry vision he saw Nick standing over him. “Why is he holding a bucket?”, Xelos thought. But his question was answered as his comrade emptied the bucket over him; a flush of ice cold water cleared his head instantly.

“Xeelos, Cherry flower gone!”

By: Echo-3

Echo grunted as the morning sun began to shine brightly through the windows on the east side of his apartment; hands feebly raised to block the light from hitting his face for a few minutes as he laid on the cold, hard wood floor. A muddled maelstrom of disjointed thoughts attempted to swim through his head but a pounding headache threw apart anything that managed to make sense. Several grumbled lines of choice vulgarities and a few that he made up spilled for as Tyler pulled himself up until he managed to slouch back against the support beam near the middle of his living room; averting his eyes down away from the bright sunlight, where he found a bottle of Jim Bean and an empty one of Jack Daniels. Letting out a long, deep sigh while grabbing the Jim Bean and then taking a swig he tried to collect his scattered thoughts and ignore the drumming headache.

Slowly bits and pieces of Operation Autumn Lightning drifted together in his head. Jankowski r took another swig, remembering him briefing Director Slayton, Agents Tennin, Normal, Msimacho, Meta Captain Cyber Knight, and the support Vanguard gave them and hero that he worked with in the past, Albatross. He chuckled with a grimace at Slayton asking if they could cut the shit and get to work at the end of the briefing – slouching further when his mind moved onwards to the first mission and Captain Sherman. In his mind he remembered flanking the thirty-odd Nemmies guarding Captain Sherman and escorting him out with the team; an extra few minutes of thought were spent recalling in detail the glory of nothing short of decimating the seven or eight Fake Nemesis automatons and the forty-odd Nemesis soldiers trying to ambush and assassinate Sherman.

Another knock-back of whiskey was used to punctuate and close that thought as Tyler watched his apartment slowly light up with the rising sun until his mind re-focused to Captain Sherman, trying to remember what was so important about him… Eventually remembering Nemesis having his hand in the Rikti invasion somehow… Then recalling, with a pit in his stomach dropping and not from the alcohol, the awful truth that Sherman had risked his life to deliver to the team and Vanguard – Nemesis plotted the Rikti invasion. He shook his head wishing that he hadn't remembered that, slurring more vulgarities and once again making up a few on the spot. The rest of the operation would of blurred with his memories of the Rikti War were it not for the people in them.

The proverbial capstone to the ordeal was the assault against the brunt of the entire Restructurist Rikti army in the Rikti War Zone by only his team and at the very last step of the way Spec Ops Captain Cherry. Echo took a swig as he remembered bits and pieces of his team surgically cutting through the Rikti held territory in the network of tunnels beneath the War Zone, another swig at eliminating the Restructurist military Commander, and a final swig at eliminating Nemesis himself when that robotic bastard grew the balls to try and stop the team himself.

Tyler's head began to mellow as the fresh alcohol settled in and the headache began to subside. With renewed confidence in his motor skills he set the near-empty bottle of Jim Bean on the floor and slowly pulled himself up the support beam and off of the floor; taking a few wobbly steps until he supported himself on the back of the nearby couch. His mind began to swirl from the head rush of getting up off the floor but a nagging thought began to smolder in the very back of his mind – it turning into the intuition that something was out of place. A mental checklist began to go through his intoxicated mind until he was positive his apartment was as it should be but the nagging thought remained until he rewound his thoughts back to Operation Autumn Lightning. Soon his head was swarming with every thought, doubt, and emotion he associated with the Nemesis plot discovered by his team.

Stumbling around the couch, he practically threw himself down onto it to rest, unable to remove the plot from his mind. Could Nemesis really of done that? Were Sherman and his evidence telling the truth? Did evidence turned over by Traditionalist Rikti collaborate with that? Every question he asked himself was immediately retorted by a yes.

…Was the last decade of his life wasted on the failed musings of Nemesis?...

Tyler did his best to argue with himself - inside his head - over this question but was left with only one answer that he could find: Yes. That answer was soon followed with a torrent of questions about every military operation he was in, every command he was under, and every order he executed as a model soldier who did not stop to think about those above him, and those who were above them. As his mind jumped from mission to mission it finally stopped at the last wartime mission that Jankowski was on as a Green Beret during the First Rikti Invasion; the mission where his brother-in-arms, call sign Mike 1, went AWOL and resurfaced post-war as a mercenary.

Echo thought that he finally knew why.

By: Celtic Arrow

Andrew McConnell sat at the one of the work benches in the penthouse in Steel Canyon he'd called home. He sat and the grinder on his desk as the sparks flew he continued working the metal in his hands, turning it from it's original formless shape into something useful.

He used this time to think, the last 48 hours had changed the level of the battlefield. Things had gotten messy, much faster than he would have liked. Andrew pulled the small piece of metal away from the grinder. Holding the arrowhead between his thumb and forefinger, It's razor edges glistened in the dim light. Reaching across the table he took an already made titanium arrow shaft and attached the two, he examined the complete arrow making sure it was straight. Satisfied, he stood up and grabbed his bow from the adjacent workbench and walked several paces toward one of the penthouse windows that had been covered with heavy curtains to keep the light out. McConnell took a deep breath, closing his eyes for a moment before spinning around and nocking the shaft to the bowstring drawing back, letting go, the metal Arrow sung as it streaked across the penthouse finding it's target with a satisfying *thunk!*

Andrew opened his eyes and looked for the arrow, the forehead of the target dummy on the opposing side of the penthouse was caved in, the new arrow protruding out through it. The expensive art and vases that sat on the shelving that flanked it were pristine.

Andrew walked back to one of the workbenches, and keyed a locked drawer, tools shifted heavily as he opened it then removed it from it's track, he set the drawer on the workbench then reached up under the overhang created by the missing drawer, pushing a small panel in the wooden panel a simple locking mechanism clicked free and opened, a journal slid out into Andrews hand.

He sat down and started thumbing through it's worn pages. It was time to find some answers.

  • An hour later.*

Celtic Arrow stood on the roof of one of the high rises that dotted the Paragon city skyline, night had fallen and the cold wind howled as if Fenrir itself loomed hungrily over the city.

The comm in his ear squawked, **Assault in progress, Shots fired** he reached up under his hood, and turned it off. Someone else would have to handle that, any other night things would be different. Celtic walked to the corner of the building, he'd be meeting his contact soon, and following yet another trail of questions. He spread his arms out wide before shifting his weight forward and letting gravity take hold. The howl of the night wind turned deafening as he fell, the readout in his glasses relaying information of his decent.

Reaching behind his back he grabbed his bow and clicked a thumb switch that unfolded the compacted compound bow. Nocking an arrow with a tether attached a pack on his belt, Celtic fired, the arrows flight was straight and true as it embedded itself into the outcropping of a building, Celtic clipped the bow to his combat webbing and grabbed another peice of gear attaching it to the flailing tether, upon doing so Celtic could hear its motors pull on the tether until it went taught, his angle of fall started to change and his descent slowed.

It was time to go to work.

By: Reika

This is her first big operation with S.C.O.R.P.I.O., and so Reika wants to make a good impression. Unfortunately, she's not as in tune with the way they work as she is with others she has patrolled with, and spends most of the time feeling out of step with the team, and trying to figure out why it seems like Echo-3 is pointing to the left and everyone is running right. Since everything else is working out of sync, Reika figures it's part of temporal disorientation, and tries to keep up. At least she knows Albatross. Sort of.

And things are happening out of sync. Yeah, it has always been a Nemesis plot (except when it isn't), but it doesn't seem to her that anyone but the Vanguard knew about that already. Or maybe S.C.O.R.P.I.O. did, because Reika didn't work with them before she came back, and other people found out later. Or maybe everyone knows, and no one is talking about it.

Reika doesn't know these people, which is disturbing in an otherwise sea of familiarity. She vaguely remembers her mother mentioning an Echo-3 when she was a kid, and then stopping, and Reika has a feeling that's about when she showed up. If Mom know she'd end up back here eventually, she probably didn't want so many preconceived notions and familiarity like she has with Ms. Davis or Weston's people. She knows Weston grows up eventually, but it makes his current dickiness nearly unbearable. She knows he's better than that. Or will be. Sometimes it's hard to keep back excitement about seeing her old friends again, and it's unfair and confusing when they haven't actually met her yet. Instead, S.C.O.R.P.I.O. gets to be confusing in its own way. A more... normal, way, Reika supposes.

When the operation is over and the officers go in for a debrief, Reika returns to patrol until Ms. Davis calls saying she wants Reika's help in squelching a problem in Cimerorian past that may negatively affect the future.

All Reika can think is, "Well, of course you do."


At least that dance goes well, but Reika's known Davis' people for longer than they've known her, and she knows the steps to their routine without the choreographer's signal. Later, when she steps out of the Midnighter's Club and to this present, Cherry-9 is telling her to get to Pocket D and be social. Reika doesn't much understand why one can't be social and patrol at the same time, but figures she should at least try doing it their way.

Agent Murmr is a familiar and calm face at the Monkey Bar, at least, where Cherry-9, Mercy, and Ashen Wren are taking verbal shots at one another. And while Reika would like to get to know the people she works with, she sees this as something she doesn't want to become intertwined with, especially with two of the captains involved. She's been there before, she's even been that person. No reason to repeat mistakes, even if she is in the past.

"If I'd known then what I know now...," is the saying, isn't it? Well, Reika thinks, I suppose you do.


When Echo-3 sends out a call for help at Portal Corporation, Reika finds herself back in her element, leading the dance for her small group of teammates. Portal Corporation always makes her feel a little better because the dimensional timelines are already so screwed up and disparate that she doesn't have to compare it to her own, because it's not her own. At least, she doesn't think it is.

The timeline changing should be a good thing. That's why she's here. But the acceleration of events makes her uneasy, and makes her wonder if ruin is coming faster, instead of giving them more time to prepare for the Coming Storm. Menders aren't supposed to talk about the future, and for all she disagrees with many of their philosophies, that's one she agrees with. Besides the future is supposed to be wrong. That's the point. If the dominoes fall the way she expects them to, that means nothing is changing.

Upon finishing her mission with Echo-3 and the team, Reika heads back to HQ and is paging through books in the quiet of the library when her phone rings. It's Ms. Davis. "Reika, there's a problem in Cimerora. If you're available, I'd like you to help us out."

Reika holds back a sigh, starting to feel like a hamster in a wheel.

Well, of course you do.

By: Cherry 9

Mid day light finally found its way to Tyler's face as the sun lined up perfectly with the window across the large room. Swatting angrily at the light he rolled over on his back with a grunt. Making a face somewhere between annoyance and pain as he reached down groggily and yanked the Jim Beam bottle out from under him. The bottle clanked noisily across the floor and came to a rest with a plink as it met the far wall.

The scent of fresh coffee slowly wafted into his nostrils, and for a moment Tyler wondered if he was still sleeping. It was a scent luring his mind slowly to consciousness. He tried to remember if he'd turned on the coffee pots automatic timer. Long moments passed before he remembered that his bitch ex had taken the good coffee pot and he'd never bothered replacing it. The hair on his neck began to rise and that innate sense of danger sparked to life, it was the same sense that had kept him alive over the years, and it was well honed after so many life or death situations

Eyes flying open Echo found himself staring a bit bleary eyed into a pair of eyes with irises the color of robins eggs and flecked with purple. They were hovering barely 4 inches from his face watching him in an entirely unnerving and unblinking fashion. If it wasn't for the fact that his heightened sense of smell told him it was a living being, he might have thought it was a statue. Propped up over him, unmoving like a predator waiting for its prey to move first.

Instinctively he moved to disable, even still half asleep and bleary eyed his movements were fast. Unfortunately the other person was by far faster and before he even got his hands into position to grip and yank his hands were immobilized. The grip was strong, surprisingly so considering the softness of the skin and smaller size of the hands.

It was the laugh, a soft almost giggle of amusement that jarred him the rest of the way awake. That was a laugh he knew all too well. If looks good kill she'd have dropped dead that very moment as Tyler glared daggers at the woman. Lilia Drake, commonly referred to as the Azure Tracer was grinning from ear to ear, her grip on his hands still held fast.

"Morning Snookems, or maybe I should say good afternoon. You smell like stale booze and at least two women that really should learn to buy real perfume and work on their hygiene practices, " Lilia, as normal spoke in a matter of fact tone even if edged with amusement at his current predicament, "On the plus side they at least weren't diseased."

"You better have a good reason for breaking into my apartment and waking me up. Or a sandwich."

Lilia scowls at him somewhat making a tsking noise at him, "Strong words considering I have the upper hand. Going to do something if I don't have a good reason?"

Tyler grumbles groggily, "Yeah, go the fuck back asleep."

Sticking her tongue out and making a face at him she let go of his hands and pulled herself quickly. Grabbing the rafter with her hands and flipping over she dropped to her feet silently on the floor between the couch and the TV.

"Coffee, donuts, pain killers, sorry the store was out of dignity."

He rolled over onto his stomach, burying his face in the couch's cushion as if to hide from the afternoon sun and causing his voice to be muffled, "What the hell is with the house-call?"

Laughing again walking away from the couch, "Well easy, you're wanted at HQ, and I happened to be there when they were going to send Gutrie over to get you up."

Leaning over and picking up the coffee and bag before walking back, "I mean if you'd rather have the scary old woman wake you up that's your perogative. But really the mole on her nose that shakes when she talks is scary."

Stopping again in front of the couch she held out the coffee.

Scowling, Tyler pushed himself up and off the couch to stand. He took the coffee from Azure and walked into the bedroom where he replaced the clothes from last night that reeked of booze with his usual Spec-Ops uniform - camo pants and a long sleeve shirt. "What's the matter now? An FNG shoot himself in the foot?"

As he walks out she holds up a pair of torn pink silk underwear with a bemused look before tossing them at him. The civvies she'd be wearing before were gone, replaced with the skin tight and entirely distracting blue outfit, "No clue, didn't have a reason to ask."

Dropping the bag of donuts on the couch, "I'm heading back in, next time at least invite me to your wild parties."

"Fine. You prefer Asian, brunette, blonde, or red heads?" He asks sarcastically coming out of his room in clean clothes, picking a donut out of the bag on the couch.

Laughing to herself and hitting the recall on her porter, "Why choose a preference when I worked with a wide variety of vapid rich models."

Tyler smirks, grabbing his keys and walking out with a coffee and a donut while she ports off, "Because the girls I like charge by the hour."

"Well guess I'll be bringing friends, better things to blow cash on," waves with a smirk and disappears.

By: Paleface Phantom

Xelos stood, spitting out some of the cold Water Nick had doused him with. "What do you mean, Gone?"

Nick pulled his green friend to his feet, then, ate the bucket. "Is gone. Not at secret spot."

Looking about, Xel wondered how Nick had managed to find his apartment, and how that wall was getting fixed. "Maybe she's at home, what's wrong?"

The white face twisted, as the alien struggled to find words. "Self Am... confused. Question-seeking. Cherry, Answer-give."

Walking over to his (now messy) kitchen, Xelos set a pot of water on for a bit of tea. "Maybe I could answer, What questions do you have?"

"Xelos, wise." Nick answered in that dry, raspy voice of his, phasing through the countertop like it wasn't there. "Questions, Humanity."

"Ahh." The green-skinned man nodded to his semi-dead friend, getting mugs ready. "That's not something I've developed mastery of. Maybe Cherry could help you. But I don't know where she is."

The Nictus wearing the dead man hung his head.

"Cheer up, my friend!" Xelos grinned, patting his comrade on the shoulder. "Perhaps you could look for her?"

Raising his head, Nick gave a quick nod, and in a rupturing of space-time, he was gone, leaving behind a purple-ish glow that faded over seconds, and a very surprised looking green alien.

"... Well, at least he didn't eat all my tea."


The moon seems a lonely, windswept place. Cold, devoid of life, and all that could support it.

But what means a vacume when you are already dead?

Nick's work-boots touched down on the sand, followed by the rest of him, as he sat cross-legged on the ground. Closing his dead, icy eyes, purple light and what seemed to be a reflection of endless blackness bled from his eyes and body.

Kheldians are beings of energy, but Nictus have a mastery over gravity and space. Through that mastery, they teleport great distances with ease, and create pocket black holes upon command.

Both races are space-born. As the Warshade known to his peers as Paleface Phantom, his first memories were of dancing in forming nebulae. Such a being is never lost in the massive voids between stars.

Once, he had found his way to a planet he had never visited, from the other side of the Galexy. A planet called Earth.

What trouble is it to find one, of almost 7 billion humans, when he already knows her energy pattern?

Easier then finding one planet out of trillions.

Easier, for Nick Tus, the Paleface Phantom, then understanding humanity.

By: Ashen Wren

Wren woke with a start covered in a cold sweat. She closed her eyes and tried to breathe calmly, but after a moment her stomach lurched again and her mouth began filling with saliva. Her eyes shot open. "Oh God," she said and bolted from the room. She flew across her living room and over the couch that cradled her sleeping roommate. Mercy squalled and flailed and nearly tumbled from the couch. Ignoring her distress Wren finished her dash to the bathroom, threw the toilet seat back, grabbed it like a steering wheel, stuck her head between her arms to hold her hair back, and proceded to heave up the remains of three screwdrivers, a martini, and one lonely olive.

"What the hell Ash!" Mercy started from the couch, but was interrupted by the sloppy sounds coming from the bathroom. Mercy untangled herself from her sheets and walked to the bathroom door. "Gross Ash. You kicked me in the gut you know," She said cradling her stomach.

Wren pressed her face against the side of the toilet bowl and looked blearily at her roommate. "Sorry." She nuzzled into the cool porcelain like it was a soft pillow. "We need to either do that more often or never again," she mumbled.

"Hate to rush ya, but are you done yet? I gotta pee now," Mercy said doing a little dance in the doorway.

Wren nodded, wiped the rim of the toilet bowl with a wad of toilet paper, and flushed the offensive soup away for her roommate. She got to her feet on shakey knees and proceeded to the kitchen to find something to wash the bile out of her mouth with.

Had she thought to check, she would have noticed that she'd only been asleep for three hours. Even so, the morning sun had just begun to color the buildings of the Row a dull orange, giving the impression that it was warmer outside than it actually was. Through the windows she could faintly hear the sounds of pigeons and robins as they began to start their day.

Mercy strolled in a moment later to find the redhead wrapping a bag of frozen peas in a handtowel and then grabbing a freshly poured glass of flat soda. Wren took a drink and made a face then held the makeshift coldpack to her temple. Mercy and Wren eyed each other for a moment both seeming to realize the irony of thier situation. "I could get you a bottle of Drano," Mercy smirked. "What the hell happend last night anyway? If this is going to be a regular thing I'm moving the couch."

Wren took another swig of her soda and crinkled her forhead trying to think. "Well Cherry was pretty moody when I arrived, but I just figured she'd had a bad day or it was that time of month."

"Pfft. With Cherry it's always that time of month."

Wren stared blankly at the interruption and continued, "It took me a while to notice that she was actually drinking beer. I'm telling you Merce, in the time I've known her I've never seen her drink anything but coffee. It spooked me a bit truth be told. I thought something really bad had happened on the op earlier that day - like someone dying bad - but when I asked her about it she just mumbled stuff about Vanguard withholding intel and paranoia.

"And then you showed up," Wren sighed. "I'm not saying Cherry didn't goad you and she certainly didn't have any call to spread your business around like that, but damn Merce, you're a big girl. I know you know better. You're lucky as hell none of your techs were feeling trigger happy. I don't think you crossed any lines but you were sure as hell dancing on them.

"Then I had to go and stick my nose in it, and I've been around enough pissy drunks to know better." She made a face of disgust at the memory. "I should've kept my damn mouth shut and let you two go at it, but Cherry was pissin' me off carrying on about your screwups, and there you were moments from getting zapped just for defending yourself. I guess I figured I'd paint a bullseye on myself so she'd leave you alone." Wren held up a hand to preempt the lecture she assumed was coming. "I know, I know. You can take care of yourself and I should've let you. I sure wasn't in any shape to take care of myself last night, don't know why I thought I should get in your business."

Mercy blinked for a second and looked a little taken aback. "Wow. No Ash, that really means a lot. Thanks. I'm sorry I dragged you into things in the first place. And you're right, I do know better and I shoulda just let things slide. She just gets under my skin sometimes, ya know?"

Wren nodded and sighed, "What's done is done I guess. We'll both just have to do better next time. Still, I feel bad. Cherry and I may not always see eye to eye, but she takes care of her people and I respect the hell out of her. Oh well, I go back on duty in a couple days. That'll give her time to cool down and I'll apologize when I see her."

She moved to the couch, pushed Mercy's pillow and sheets out of the way, plopped down and turned on the TV. "Go ahead and make some breakfast for yourself, I don't think I can do food right now. I'm going to veg for a bit and hopefully I can get back to sleep."

She sat while Mercy fixed some food, but didn't pay any attention to the television. She just kept replaying the last nights events and feeling more and more in the wrong. I'll definitly have to make up with Cherry next time I see her. She deserves better from me. She thought to herself as she began to drift back to sleep.

By: Jack Slayton

A quarter after midnight, Slayton walked slowly down the corridor to his office in SCORPIO's Control Center as notable highlights from the previous evening's "Mercy Guevara Show" downloaded to his wrist comm unit. He had been away again on assignment... though not a particularly fun or successful one, as the hidden gauze and field dressing beneath his black turtleneck could attest to. Jack sat in his chair slowly and at an angle, as to protect bruised ribs. A short, low beep let him know that HUD video playback was now possible.

Twenty minutes passed and Jack finally turned off the display, his brow furled. This wasn't how things were supposed to go. Mercy didn't seem the least bit humbled... and where the hell was the voltage? So disrespectful.

Slayton tapped his comlink, "Tech, Slayton. Please respond."

"Agent Cruz here, Director Slayton. How may I assist you?"

"Cruz... good. You were monitoring Agent Guevara last evening, yes? Apparently, there has been a misunderstanding as to some of the terminology I set forth in the guide to Guevara's 'reprimanding'...?"

"N-No sir! Neither Agent Jackson nor myself saw anyth-"

"Let me ask you a question, Agent." Slayton asked, interrupting.

"Y-yes, sir...?"

"Would you address me in the same manner Agent Guevara addressed Captain Jericho?"

"No, sir!"

"Let that be your guide, then. Update the terminology in the guide to reflect this change."

"Yes, sir!"

"Thankyou, Cruz. It's been nice talking to you. Slayton out."

Jack relaxed and put his feet up on the desk, going over what he'd seen in the playback. He was irritated about Mercy, of course, but something else was bothering him. Something seemed 'off'.

He played the recording once again, this time taking note of what his most trusted Captain was doing at the bar... drinking beer. No harm, certainly, though certainly uncharacteristic. He then thought back to their exchange after the RWZ mission... and the fact that he hadn't received her usually on-time nightly report.

Jack sat up, growing concerned, "Computer... list Captain Jericho's log-ins for the past 24 hours..."

"- Captain Jericho has not reported for the past 24 hours. -"

A feeling of dread washed over Slayton. "Jericho's current location...?"

"- Captain Jericho's current location is unknown. -"

Jack slumped back into his chair. "...shit."

By: Cherry 9

Reaching up Cherry opened the hatch in the ceiling of her loft apartment and finished climbing the ladder to the roof. A chill gust blew past the icy edge a reminder of autumns close arrival. Not that Cherry particularly minded. Even in just a tank top, the Red horse emblazoned sweats and socks she was still too numb to feel the particular frosty wind.

It was 0300, and the streets were strangely quiet, even the thugs had turned in for the night, and the normally busy Skyway city was mostly devoid of sound or activity. Sleep hadn't been forth coming, being honest she'd half expected her first day on the lamb would come to a quick end. Most of the day had been spent in anxious expectation of that crash then hiss of tear gas preceding her apartment being raided by her own agents. Or the worst case scenario, a personal visit by Jack himself.

But the raid and the visit never came, not that it did her nerves much good. She'd had half a mind to just track down Tyler. Their last conversation had been interrupted by Agent Geistesblitz who had stumbled into the D by accident from New Overbrook while attempting to find a location. She was starting to regret somewhat not having finished it, Tyler might get into his moods but generally speaking he was the steady voice of rational. That was one of the many reasons they worked together so well.

Pacing a bit along the roof Cherry tried to center her thoughts, she was wasting her time. It could be only a matter of time before she was tracked down, or until it became necessary to track her down. Before then waiting around twiddling her thumbs waiting for Kowalski to do his thing wasn't going to do any good.

Contacting Saints was out, that was probably the first place anyone would look for her and really at this point there wasn't a damn thing he would be able to do. The thought had already crossed her mind to start her own digging into Vanguard, it wouldn't be hard to come up with a basic cover identity. The FSBA was notoriously bad about verifying information provided by applicants for their Hero License.

It still was a risk however, all it would take it one ping on the S.C.O.R.P.I.O. radar and she'd be scooped back up faster then she could blink. Swinging angrily she took a few hits on the practice dummy, and while she made no sound other then her increasing breathing and the sound of her fists hitting the pads, the anger and frustration was clear on her face.

Time can pass without notice once that zone is found, and an hour passed while she took out more anger on the dummy, well abused already from the previous night. Not even the building burning or ache in her freshly re-torn knuckles staved the intensity. Exhaustion took over as the energy born of emotion began to subside and Cherry sank at the edge of the building roof. Her eyes not really seeing the empty street below and her hands moved in an automatic fashion to rebind her hands.

For a moment the air behind her grew cold then imploded inwardly as space and time rupture for a brief moment before depositing Nick into the air a few feet over the roof. Ebon tendrils burned in the air with a dim purple glow before fading to nothingness.

Tilting her head slightly at the noise Cherry continues staring below somewhere beyond the road. It was a noise and a sensation she'd experienced many times before and she was almost certain she knew the source, "Nick?"

The dead man nodded, though she couldn't see it, ebon energy bleeding out from his form. Nick appeared as Cherry had certainly never seen him before, dressed in the armor he received from Shadowstar. He took particular interest in her hands as he watched her continue re-wrapping them

"Cherry... Broken?"

"No, not broken, practicin', " she glanced at him briefly, it wasn't completely a lie after all. She never really considered that perhaps the Warshade, who had taken a curious and occasionally annoying interest in her wouldn't be able to find her.

Some people might consider Nick to be dumb due to his less then expansive vernacular, but she knew otherwise. The body might be dead but the Nictus inhabiting it was incredible smart. It seemed like every time she happened across Nick, or more often then not him happening across her, he'd advanced in learning and developing.

While Nick was intelligent he didn't pick up subtly and his understanding of human nature and emotion was limited to non-existent. She couldn't be sure without telling him that he'd know not to share her location. She eyed him for a moment before sighing as he reached down touching her hand out of curiosity.

Raising her hand up so he can see closer she motioned briefly to the practice dummy as an explanation, "You can't tell anyone I'm here Nick."

Nick gave the dummy only a passing glance, "Dummy.. hurt Cherry? Why self not tell?"

"I think the hurt the dummy more'n it hurt me. An' right now Cherry needs time away."

"... Why?"

Rubbing her hands and looking back towards the street she fell quiet for a long moment. Why did she need the time away, what exactly was driving her to cut out on her own. Was she really so sure of the conclusions she'd come to. Sure enough that she was risking everything for them.

"Jus' need ta clear my head, can't do that right now around the others."

"Cherry have... head-fog? Cherry need fan?"

"Head fog? No, no... more of head clutter I need to sort through."

"Self-help? Why Cherry have head-fog?"

" ... not really sure you can help, " she shook her head a bit shifting slightly where she sat. Carefully choosing her words, she didn't like to talk to him like he was stupid but without being careful a short conversation quickly became frustratingly long, "Bit hard to explain... if I knew why it would be easier to fix."

".. Cherry IS broken."

"By that definition everyone is broken."

Sitting down near her on the roof Nick stared at her back unblinking, "Self not broken."

Glancing at him for a moment Cherry almost broken a smile at the dead alien inhabited body sitting a couple feet away, "That body ain't exactly a spring chicken, but I meant humans in general."

"... Chicken? Human... is chicken? Chicken.. is human?"

Sighing to herself she realized she'd done it again, "It's a euphemism Nick."

The dead man blinked at her, "..."

"It means to use a phrase that is related in place of something else. Spring chicken is just a phrase for young or in good shape. They are also called Cornish game hens."

"Oh. Host, terminated. Self whole. Cherry is broken.. Like Ash is Broken?"

Stiffen slightly her immediately response and tone was abrupt, "No." Catching herself she shook her head and looked back at the street below, "Not broken like her."

"Ashen broken. Ashen missing piece."

"Missing more then a piece, " Cherry muttered to herself.

"When Ashen think of missing piece. Look like Cherry broken. Cherry, missing piece?"

"No, I'm just trying to make sense of something confusing."

Nick held his hands together a ball of light forming. Raising his hands the light floated, swirling with purple and black, "Self. Broken, once."

Glancing back at him catching the light from the corner of her eye she turned watching the light for a moment. It began to grow and images began to flash across it. Images of war, of slaughter on a plant-wide scale. Images of a multi-legged race of creatures being massacred by flying things that turned their buildings to ash. Things that would dive into bodies causing them to explode from inside.

Nick watched the orb, and his memories pass before him. Cherry's eyes widened slightly as she saw the pictures go past.

"Broken. Inside. Felt. wrong. Nictus not see. Not feel. Self knew."

Tilting her head slightly trying to think about what he was telling her, "This is more something outside of me. A conflict with what my brain sees but my instinct knows."

Nick nodded to her gesturing to the ball, "Knew. Wrong. Nictus said right. Knew. Wrong.

Nodding she finally understood his point, "So it is the same thing."

Dissipating the orb soaked slowly back into the dead man pores as the pictures stopped.

"Thats why I don't want anyone knowing where I am." Rubbing her hands again something in her voice changing for a moment, "Not sure right now if I can trust them, not sure what was and wasn't true."

"Oh..." Nick looked around the buildings roof suddenly and nodded with approval, "Thinking spot. Is your moon."


Nick pointed upwards to the moon low in the sky, "Moon."

Tilting her head a bit looking confused, "How is this my moon?"

"Is thinking spot."

Realization dawned on Cherry, "You go there to think? Thats a little far to travel... Skyway isn't bad its quiet enough at night at least."

"Is quiet. Cherry feel something wrong. Cherry fix wrong?"

Frowning a bit Cherry looked back down at the street. She remained quiet for awhile, clenching her fist slightly, "I dunno if I can, not even sure what the 'wrong' is."

Standing oddly, almost as it wasn't really his muscles controlling his moment, "Cherry will. Self learn something. All humans, broken."

"Its what makes us human, none of us are perfect, " shaking her head a bit, "What differentiates people however is how they deal with that imperfection. Some wallow in it unable or unwilling to fix it. Others at least try and occasionally overcome, if humans are anything we're persistent."

Nick nods, "Stay Nictus. Become Warshade."

"Yeah... probably about the same."

"Self hopes. Cherry Become Warshade."

"Well I guess thats the real question, what action makes me the Warshade, and which action makes me the Nictus."

Tendrils of ebon energy flow out again from Nick as he pants Cherry on the head attempting to mimic a human gesture. He failed horribly, only managing to muss her hair and compress her neck, "Cherry Strong. Be Warshade. Self Know."

Making a face Cherry looks up at him with an eyebrow raised and an unamused look on her face. At that same moment he pulls some DVDs from the storage area of his shoulder pads holding them out to her.


Cherry eyes him a bit incredulously for a moment and sighs again, "Yeah I just hope your right. And you can keep those if you want..."

Nick without hesitation eats the dvds, "Self-go. Leave moon to Cherry."

The tendrils of energy pull in around him as the rip in space and time ushers him from the rooftop.

Rubbing her forehead Cherry squinting across the rooftop catching sight of two eyes under the AC unit, "You can come out now Jarhead, he's gone."

Sauntering out from the shadows the Cat crossed the roof head butting her almost hard enough to knock her off. Rubbing his body roughly along her side purring like an engine in need of a tune up Cherry scowled at him, "A zombie with a squid in its brain and a mutant beast that was once a cat."

The cat sniffed at her and promptly sneezed on her leg. Cherry slumped slightly, "Least your afraid of him and I don't have to put up with you both at once."

Begrudgingly she petted him for a moment before standing up and moving to the hatch. Pulling the prepaid cell phone she'd picked up with some cash she kept for emergencies she started dialing a number. "Well nothing better to do then get the ball rolling."

By: Mercy Guevara

Dusk falls over Kings Row as Mercy Guevara walks down the ramp of the Yellow Line station, cell phone pressed against her ear. While she speaks a smile crosses her face.

“Yeah, I’m just stepping off the train. You want sushi? Totally my treat. C’mon Ash, I owe you big time. Alright, I’ll be home in a few.”

She flips the phone shut and slides it into her pocket. Out of nowhere a wooden baton slams full force into her ribs, driving the wind from her lungs. She drops to all fours, heaving in an effort to catch her breath, staring at a pair of black Doc Martens directly in front of her.

“Son of a bitch. You’re gonna be sorry when I get u…”

The butt of a rifle rocks the base of her skull and everything goes dark.

Electricity assails her cybernetic body, voltage pulsing through her skeletal system causing every muscle to quiver in an involuntary spasm. Her eyes spring open, bulging from their sockets as she wails in pain. The current stops and the spasms cease, her vision clearing as tears run down her cheeks. Two figures come into focus. Men wearing ski masks… dressed in uniforms… PPD uniforms… their badge numbers concealed behind strips of black electrical tape. She attempts to wipe the tears from her eyes but finds her movement’s restricted. Arms held high over head, cuffed around a pipe that suspends her from the ceiling, her feet barely touching the floor below. This realization brings a burning sensation that tears through her shoulders as she struggles to gain firm footing and relieve some of the pressure.

The sound of rushing water echoes off the stone walls and the smell of raw sewage wafts upward, assaulting her senses.

“Not the sewers… I hate the fucking sewers.”

“Seems like the perfect place for a piece of trash like you.” One of the officers steps forward eyeballing her through his mask. He runs the back of his gloved hand along her cheek and her first instinct is to kick her legs up around his neck and snap it like a twig, but her eyes flash to the badge fastened to his chest and she thinks better of it.

“Such a waste. A beautiful girl stumbles into some powers and suddenly she thinks she’s above the law. You’re a meta, right? You’d have to be to drop two of our finest the way you did. Plus that phone call I got pretty much confirmed it.”

Mercy’s eyes narrow as she tries to ignore the throbbing pain pulsing through her skull. “What phone call?”

“The one that told us exactly where to find you and that you were responsible for ripping off Gideon’s Pawnshop while sending two cops to the hospital. Two GOOD cops I might add.”

Mercy forces a smirk. “You shouldn’t trust those damn telemarketers; they’ll tell you anything to make a sale.”

The officer grabs her jaw with one hand, squeezing until her mouth’s pried open as her jerks her head so they’re eye to eye.

“Does this look like a joke to you? You put one of my friends through eight hours of oral surgery and the other narrowly avoided a liver transplant. So you’ll have to excuse me if I’m less than impressed by your wit. ”

He releases his grip, shoving her backwards, causing her to sway on the pipe.

Her voice low as she stares at the floor, “I’m sorry.”

“Sorry you ruined the lives of two men, or sorry you got caught?”

“Sorry for what I did to those men…” Her eyes rising. “…and for what I’m about to do if you don’t let me go.”

Reacting to the threat on pure instinct the officer buries a taser in her gut and pulls the trigger. Voltage again ripping through her body and she cries out, jolting and shaking until the officer figures he’s made his point.

“SON OF A BITCH!!” Her voice wavering, still experiencing the ripples of the convulsions. “Why does everyone feel the need to shock me?”

“Are you done with the hollow threats?”

“Hollow?” She scoffs while collecting herself. “You think just because you have me chained to a pipe that I’m defenseless? Right now I can think of at least a dozen ways I can end you right from where I’m standing, but in the interest of time I’ll just give you my top two.”

“The first mistake you made was not securing my legs. They’re capable of inflicting a lot more damage than my arms and you’re not doing yourself any favors by standing so close. Trust me, I can generate more than enough torque to shatter your nose, blacken both your eyes and give you one hell of a case of whiplash, not to mention knocking you the fuck out in the process.”

Mercy glances at the second cop who judging from his limited features and hesitant demeanor seems much younger than the first.

“By that time Junior over there will probably have shit his pants, not that anybody would know given the stench down here. The question is would he man up and pop a cap in my ass or would he tuck tail and run? I’m betting I’d walk out of here bullet free.”

She scans the men’s masked faces.

“Option number two entails a little less impact and a little more tact. The second you lean in or get too close, I’ll swing my legs up around your throat, slide them into a figure four and squeeze, cutting off the oxygen to your brain. While you flail and turn six different shades of purple I’d give the bed wetter the option of dropping his gun and freeing me from the cuffs… or watching you fade and succumb to brain damage. Then he could go home and explain to your wife, girlfriend or life partner that because he was indecisive they now get to spend the rest of their days suctioning your mucus with a straw.”

Mercy smirks.

“So? Still think my threats are hollow?”

Abandoning the taser the older officer rears back and ROCKS Mercy with a thunderous right to the jaw. Her head jolts to the side as her whole world goes black before snapping back into hazy focus.

The officer flexes his hand and shakes out the sting. “Never mention my family, you got that?”

Mercy nods her head, trying to clear the cobwebs while pain radiates through her jaw.

“A broken jaw might do you some good; you’ve got a smart mouth.”

“Yeah, I get that a lot.” Opening her jaw wide in an effort to release the pressure. “So now what? Do I hang here like a piñata while you boys get your aggressions out, or is there a bigger plan?”

“Well considering the way your case conveniently slipped through the cracks, I’m guessing that bringing you in would only lead to you getting off on some minor technicality. So what I want are answers. I want to know how a meta sends two cops to the hospital and walks away scot-free?”

“Just lucky I guess.”

“No, it’s more than luck. You know people. Let’s start with an easy question. Why’d you steal the money in the first place?”

Mercy’s eyes lock with the officers, “I’m a junkie. A ‘dyne addict and at the time mister Gideon was making his deposit I was jonesin’ something fierce… only my wallet was empty. My thought was that I’d jet in, snatch the case out of Gideon’s hands and blaze before anyone even knew what happened. Only Gideon had the case cuffed to his wrist and the best plan B my drug-starved brain could come up with was to drop your boys and Gideon too. Not one of my proudest moments.”

“Where’s the money now?”

“Lining the pockets of some Skull. A wrong I eventually plan to right… once I get my shit together.”

“You seem confident you’re getting out of here.”

“Honestly? For all my tough talk about plan A and plan B, I won’t lay a finger on either of you. I don’t care what you do to me. I may have made a lot of mistakes but I’m not stupid. I know the last thing you need is some meta running around dropping cops for sport. You need to make an example out of me. So go ahead. Rough me up. Work me over. But as far as me getting out of here? You’re not going to kill me. It’s not who you are. You just need to send a message, and I get that.”

The cop eyes her cautiously, “Who’s your dealer?”

“Don’t bother, he and his buddies ended up with an arrow lodged in all their major joints.” Chuckles. “Cried like a bunch of bitches.”

“Fine. Then who’s your connection? How’d your case get squashed?”

Shakes her head. “That’s one question that’ll have to go unanswered. Let’s just say someone took a chance on me, and if I give that person up, then I’ve failed them… and for the time being I’m done disappointing people.”

“You’re disappointing me.”

“Hit me a couple more times, you’ll feel better.”

“Actually I won’t.”

The two stare at each other in silence. The cop trying to wrap his head around the bizarre situation. Stepping closer he leers at the young woman, making a stern presence and showing absolutely no fear. As he hovers over Mercy her mind races with ways to drop him. Like a projector casting subliminal images on her mind’s eye, she literally sees one scenario after another play out. Grasping the pipe and squeezing she does her best to push the images from her head, squashing one urge after another while hoping the cops will leave soon.

“If you ever touch another cop again… hell, if I so much as catch you jaywalking… I don’t care who you know, I’ll make sure you see the inside of a jail cell. You got that?”


“Don’t make me regret giving you a second chance.”

“Been getting that a lot lately too.”

The older officer motions to his partner and the two head down one of the many labyrinth-like passageways of the sewers, leaving Mercy to fend for herself.

After a few moments she begins kicking her legs up around the pipe in an effort to hold her body parallel while she figures out a way to free the cuffs.

Just as she’s about to gain enough momentum to wrap around the pipe she’s startled by a glowing skull that appears inches from her face. She lets out a scream but a gloved hand instantly clamps over her mouth.

“Shhh. There’s all sorts of scum down here. You wouldn’t want to alert them to our presence.”

Bowman releases her mouth and removes his mask.

“I warned you. I told you if HE let you out, THEY would have justice. But you didn’t listen.”

Mercy hangs her head, staring down for a moment before raising her eyes to meet Bowman’s piercing gaze.

“So it was you?”

“Me who what? Be specific kid, I’ve done a lot of shit in my day.”

“You sold me out.”

“Sold? No. I offered you up free of charge.”


“Because you haven’t shown the slightest bit of remorse.”

“How would you know?”

“The D the other night. You told Cherry all you did was send those cops on a much-needed vacation.”

“I was pissed at Cherry, I said things I shouldn’t have.”

Bowman laughs.

“Toughen up kid, life’s hard wear a cup… or in your case at least some body armor.”

“So this is her doing? She put you up to this?”

“No one put me up to anything. We talked and discovered we both share the same concerns, that you’re a self-centered little bitch who slid one past Jack. So I found a way to make you repent for real.”

“By allowing the PPD to beat the shit out of me?”

Bowman shakes his head, a quizzical look taking hold.

“That’s where it got interesting. I didn’t allow them to beat the shit out of you… you did. So either you were paralyzed with fear or you actually believe you deserved that.”

Her eyes narrowing due to her distaste for Bowman.

“I could’ve done without the tasers, but yeah I deserved it.”

“So why didn’t you bust out a little chop-sockey when you’d had enough?”

“Rules are rules, right? Dropping them wouldn’t have done me any favors and it would’ve just confirmed their suspicion that I was some out of control meta who gets her rocks off by beating on cops. It was a no win situation so I figured I’d try something new and exercise a little restraint.”

“Good, because it saved your life.”

“How so?”

“As far as I’m concerned S.C.O.R.P.I.O. is better off without you, so I was prepared to leave you hanging here for some of the more undesirables to feast on. The only reason I was even watching over these proceedings was to make sure you didn’t send any more cops to the hospital.”

“So you expected me to fuck up?”

Bowman shrugs. “Let’s just say I didn’t expect you to take as much as you did, and I certainly didn’t expect to be walking out of here with you by my side.”

“Of course not.”

“You surprised me, so you get to live another day.”

“Who made you God?”

“Nobody, and today you learned that you’re not untouchable either. Consider it the first step towards removing your training wheels. Though my guess is the second they come off you’ll fall flat on your face. ”

“Gee, thanks for the vote of confidence. What does this mean for my relationship with S.C.O.R.P.I.O… and Cherry?”

“Cherry’s got other things on her mind and it’ll be a long, hard road before she ever begins to trust you. So just go about your business and hopefully you’ll take something away from today. That restraint can sometimes save your ass. Even a spiteful, undeserving ass like yours.”

By: Cyph'on

"That's enough, Bowman," a deep, slightly metallic voice said suddenly from above. Bowman and Mercy's eyes shot upwards as the large, heavily muscled form of Cyph'on floated down from the shadows, eyes glowing an eerie green in the darkness. "I assume you either didn't know or didn't care that whatever Mercy sees, SCORPIOtech sees... and Jack didn't consent to your little lesson. Me personally? I think it was quite well done... a real treat to watch unfold ... but now it's at an end. Orders. Sorry."

Bowman's eyes narrowed at the tall, cyber-magically-enhanced being as he pulled his skull mask back on, slipping into the shadows.

Cyph'on's head turned slightly diagonal as he watched the archer disappear. "Cool. I just love that guy. Not someone to be trifled with."

"I am here at Director Slayton's request to get you to medical care." he said, turning his attentions once again towards Guevara. Mercy's swollen eyes followed his every movement. He placed his hand in between her hands on the handcuff chains and pipe as black tendrils erupted from his palm, causing the chain as well as the surrounding area of the pipe to decay and break. She fell in a clump to the filthy cement sewer floor. She was free.

Cyph'on stared down at her blankly, though his voice sounded oddly cheery. "Ready?"

By: Mercy Guevara

Ready? Now there was a loaded question if ever she’d heard one. Ready for what? When it came to requests involving Mercy, Jack’s usually started off warm and fuzzy and ended cold and harsh…

Come to my office, eat, regain your strength… you fucked up, go to jail or let me plant a camera in your head.

It felt a bit like déjà vu. She started replaying the events in her head in an attempt to figure out what she may have done wrong. Had she given the cops too much lip? Should she have completely denied the notion that someone had pulled strings to sweep her little crime under the carpet?

At this point she didn’t have the strength to stress and cycle though it. She was cold, her head was throbbing and it smelt like shit down there. If Jack wanted her to follow the cyber guy with the funny voice and glowing eyes, then who was she to argue. Hopefully she could take this request at face value and soon she’d be home, curled up on Ash’s couch ranting about what a lunatic Bowman is. She smiled at the thought.

“Yeah I’m ready… and thanks for cutting me loose.” Smirks. “There’s nothing worse than being a captive audience once Bowman gets going.”

By: Cyph'on

Cyph'on stared into the pleasant-looking cyborg girl's face, sensing some measure of distrust. It was a reasonable feeling. She had, in an ignorant and sort of extreme manner, crossed Jack Slayton... a man who was more willing than most to solve problems by making them 'disappear'. The Obsidian Bowman had been wrong, though. She hadn't 'slid one past Jack'. It was folly to think so. The fact that she was still around was testament to Slayton's belief that she could still be of some use, and that it was all on his terms. That's how it worked. That's how it had always worked with men like Slayton.

"Do not fear, Agent Guevara. I am an independent operative and of my own mind and choice in all things." Cyph'on said firmly, easily sweeping the girl into his arms as his feet once again left the ground. "While your crimes were... unnacceptable, I trust that since you are still alive, you are paying for them. There is no need for further judgement."

Soon the two were high in the air and above the rooftops, headed towards the nearest hospital.

By: Celtic Arrow
-=2008-Oct-15 21:10 HOURS EST - Big Sary-Oba Lake - Kazakhstan - 51°11'01.49"N 072°06'16.25"E=-

Celtic sat down in a concrete pad on top of a hill that overlooked the western shores of the lake, on the far eastern shore he could see an expensive multi-story home. He looked over the dossier in his hands one more time; he wanted to be sure this was the man he needed. Sergei Grigoriev an ex-KGB spook turned arms dealer and corrupt politician after the end of the cold war. Celtic had met the man once in Moscow several years ago and hadn't been impressed with him in the slightest.

Grigoriev did business with anyone as long as they had enough money regardless of who they were, insurgents, terrorist organizations you name it. The information wasn't difficult to find, sooner or later someone would have taken notice. He had been a small time player with big aspirations and he'd gotten lucky up until now. Celtic closed the file and shoved it into a duffel bag next to him, standing up he pulled out his Colt M1911A1, loaded it and put it back in the holster, he didn't plan on using it, but it paid to be prepared.

Celtic reached down and pulled open the Iron grating he had been sitting on and tossed the lock and chain he had cut earlier aside, he dropped the heavy duffel bag with his gear down into the shaft below before descending himself.

-=22:30 HOURS EST=-

It had been a quiet evening in the vacation home of Sergei Grigoriev, the balding portly man had just eaten a large dinner and was just sitting down in his office to take care of some of the details of his "side business", his life as a politician would never have afforded him this home the body guards or the excess he enjoyed, but it put him in a position that helped accommodate his buyers needs and allowed him access to things the average gun runner couldn't get a hold of, it also allowed him to expedite the shipments. Sergei grinned to himself as he started working on his computer.

That was until all hell broke loose, a blast rocked the house and the power cut out. Sergei stood up and ran for the office door just as two of his bodyguards threw open the door with guns at the ready and raced inside slamming the door shut and locking it nearly bowling the heavier man over in the process.

(Translated from Russian)

"Wh...What's going on?" Sergei said as he regained his balance.

"We're not sure, Please just sit down and remain calm we will handle this."

Sergei sat down in his plush leather chair taking comfort that his bodyguards would handle what ever the situation may be. Though he jumped when he heard yelling and automatic weapons fire erupt from the lower floors of the house.

Downstairs, Celtic took cover around a hallway corner as a hail of bullets slammed into the wall near him, reaching for the quiver on his back Celtic nocked an arrow of his own design, drawing it back, he dove for the corner just opposite of him, and as he did he loosed the arrow down the hall. It flew past the guards smashing into the wall behind them, letting out a brilliant flash of light and sound stunning the guards down the hall. Hearing the guard’s reactions from the flash bang, Celtic used the opportunity he'd created to prime another arrow, this one not nearly as friendly as the last. Loosing the projectile and taking cover, the arrow impacted the chest of one of the guards just as he stood up, and as it did a pressure sensitive detonator was pressed. The screams as the explosive tore through his enemies were cut short and blackened debris flew in all directions.

Celtic stepped over the bodies and pressed the thumb trigger on his bow to collapse it holstering it as he turned the corner in of the hallway. He'd eliminated a good portion of the guards already and was confident there would be little resistance. Entering what appeared to be a living room, Celtic was blindsided from the left by a heavy punch that sent him into the wall then falling to the ground. Celtic rolled over onto his back just in time to be grabbed tossed like a rag doll across the room by a very big, very burly Russian man. Celtic scrambled to his feet and blocked a punch that nearly knocked him over again before leveling a quick series of punches to the man's midsection himself.

The Russian backed off for a moment grinning widely, "This' is goin te hurt." Celtic muttered before moving in on the large man. The Russian took a right hook at Celtic, which he promptly ducked. Doing so left him open as the Russian's knee met Celtic's midsection. Celtic knew it had been coming and he'd left himself open on purpose sacrificing that hit to slam himself into the Russian and shove him into the bookcase behind him. The wooden shelves broke throwing books to the floor, Celtic backed up a step as the larger man regained his balance and took another swing, this time Celtic was ready, Ducking out of harms way and grabbing and twisting the mans arm forcing the large Russian to turn about. Using all of his weight and leverage Celtic slammed the large man into another section of the book case face first, destroying what little was left of it in the first place.

Celtic stepped back a moment and wiped the blood from the corner of his mouth expecting there to be very little fight left in the larger man. The Russian shook his head slightly to clear the cobwebs and turned to face his opponent. A large gash had been opened in the larger mans forehead from the splintered wood but he raised his fists and grinned some more as he started to goad Celtic into attacking him again. Celtic took the initiative, trying to keep the big man off guard. The first two swings were expertly blocked, the third had been anticipated, as the big Russian grabbed Celtic by the wrist and violently twisted, forcing him to bend over. The Russian leveled a ham fisted smash to Celtic's shoulder blade and nearly dislocated his arm. The hit very nearly drove Celtic to his knees as the Russian let him go.

Celtic staggered back and the Russian goaded him some more "Come on little man hit me some more!" Celtic shook his head no slightly as he held his shoulder before taking a fighting stance. The larger man laughed and came at him, only to have Celtic's heel get planted firmly into the man's nose with a roundhouse kick. The man wavered long enough for Celtic to grab the Russians head and smash his face into the wall hard enough to cause the larger man's head to bounce and send him to the floor. Celtic backed off again as the Russian got up his demeanor was no longer quite so jovial as his nose was now misplaced and he was bleeding profusely. "Little man I'm going to kill you!"

The Russian attempted a kick, but Celtic was prepared, he caught the man's leg and in one quick movement reached for an arrow in his quiver, spun it about and drove it deep into the Russian's knee. Celtic used the lodged arrow as a lever and twisted. The man screamed as he was sent head first into a coffee table. The table shattered under the man's weight, and he immediately began to clutch his knee. Celtic took a step back and was about to turn to leave and finish what he'd come here to do. It was when the Russian pulled the arrow lodged in his leg out, yelling obscenities as he did and started getting up that Celtic swore under his breath "Give me a damn break. Stay down already!"

The Russian charged Celtic and grabbed him, the two traded a few hits before stumbling through an open door into a small kitchen, The Russian gripped Celtic by the throat and lifted him up off the ground. Gagging and gasping for air Celtic flailed helplessly for a moment before his hand found something on the kitchen counter. Things were starting to go dark as Celtic swung the heavy iron skillet into the large man's face. Once then twice the skillet impacted the Russian's face with a satisfying sound of thick metal on bone. The Russian reeled from the impacts dropping the Marine, Celtic staggered, gasping for air for a moment before he hit the Russian with the skillet a third time as he started to get up. This time Celtic hefted the large groggy Russian to the sink, reaching to his quiver he pulled out two more arrows and spun them about ramming them both through the Burly man's shoulders and pinning him to the counter. Celtic turned the water on and held the mans head under, It took a few minutes for the flailing to stop, but Celtic held the man's head under for a bit more, to make sure this was over.

When he was satisfied, he left to continue his mission, leaving the dead Russian pinned to the counter.

The commotion and gunfire had stopped in the lower level of the house, Grigoriev's bodyguards were trying to verify from the guards on the lower levels over the radio if things were all clear. It had been a harrowing experience for Sergei, who wondered what the state of his home was in after the sounds of explosions and furniture being smashed echoed through the house. "Go find out if the intruders are dead!" Sergei commanded. One of the bodyguards nodded, before unlocking and opening the door slightly to see of the coast was clear. The only sounds were of the other guards on this floor. The guard opened the door the rest of the way and was just about to step out, as an explosion from below them rocked the room.

Sergei, sitting in his favorite chair was eager to find out what was going on. But his sudden yelp of terror was drowned out as several explosive shaped charges blew a hole cleanly from underneath him. Sergei dropped two floors as similar holes were blown out as well. A hooded man in green jumped down the newly created holes into the steam tunnels that ran below the house binding a stunned Sergei's hands and dragging him to his feet then forcing him hurriedly down the tunnel. After a hundred yards or so the man slowed, pulled a device from his belt and clicked a trigger before hauling Sergei further down the tunnel. "P..Please!" he started to plead. The man said nothing as the moved further down the tunnel and rounded a corner then stopped.

Celtic listened as several of the remaining guards were now in the steam tunnels behind them looking to retrieve their employer. Their footsteps and voices echoed through the tunnels as they spoke. Sergei grinned as he looked at his captor "You're a dead man you kno..." Sergei's words were cut short as Celtic bounced the balding mans head off of one of the pipes lining the walls. The look that crossed the portly man's face was one of sheer surprise.

A team of bodyguards moved through the tunnel with weapons drawn. "It looks like they've gone this way." one of them said motioning to tracks in the dust. "They can't be..." The words were cut short as they turned into a muffled group of screams as the explosives that had been set on the walls caused the tunnel to cave in.

Celtic, satisfied they wouldn't be followed now dragged his prisoner further down the tunnel. Eventually he stopped and shoved Sergei against the wall, binding him to one of the myriad pipes of that lined the walls. Celtic pulled a photo from a pouch on his belt and handed it to Sergei.

"Where is he?" Celtic asked in nearly perfect Russian.

Sergei shrugged, "I.... I don't know this man, I ca..." Sergei's head was bounced off another pipe, he went cross eyed for a moment as blood started to pour down his face.

"You're lying to me. Where is he!? You worked with him after the rikti invaded!" Celtic shouted, inches from Sergei's face.

"Pl... Please, if I tell you, will you let me go?"

"I'll consider it."

The two men talked for a moment, before Celtic stood up and pulled out a revolver and loaded a single bullet and spinning the cylinder before flipping it shut. Sergei started to beg, "Please, please! Don't kill me, I told you everything I know!" Celtic put the handgun just outside of Sergei's reach on the pipes.

"You've been dealing weapons to insurgents in the Middle East, and those insurgents have killed a few of my friends."

"I know this because I've planted some of the explosives you sold them over your head." Celtic pointed to the ceiling and sure enough there were several shaped charges pointed upward. "And...We’re currently in under the middle of the lake, I've giving you a choice today, you can drown when those go off and the tunnel floods, or you can use this." Celtic motioned to the handgun.

"You have five minutes.... starting now." Celtic said as he clicked a trigger on a detonator, set it down so Sergei could see the timer, then got up and walked away down the tunnel and stepped through a heavy iron door then shut and sealed it.

Sergei started to panic, trying desperately to free himself. Watching the timer the entire time. Three minutes passed, and Sergei changed from trying to free himself to trying to reach the revolver. His wrists rubbed raw to the point of bleeding he finally reached the gun with only twenty-five seconds left. Putting the gun in his mouth he pulled the trigger. *Click*...... No shot, he tried again *Click*.....*Click*.... *Click*...*Click* Still nothing, Sergei closed his eyes ready to take the fatal pull of the trigger as the clock reached the ten second mark, *Click* A look of horror crossed the portly mans face...

On shore Celtic sat, holding a single bullet, a boom could be heard from the shaft of the steam tunnel behind him and felt as the shockwave passed through the earth. Bubbles started to erupt from the surface of the water in the middle of the lake. He looked one more time at that bullet before standing up and flicking it into the water, he'd gotten what he'd needed.

By: Mercy Guevara

Clutching a brown paper bag in her right hand an exhausted Mercy walks into the apartment she shares with Wren. Working on her ’49 Indian Scout, a grease-covered Ashen looks up from the bike, immediately concerned by Mercy’s disheveled appearance.

Rising to meet her roommate halfway while wiping the grease from her hands, “You look like shit, what the hell happened?”

Eyes puffy, jaw swollen, hair saturated with the stench of the sewers, Mercy drops the bag on the table and absently ambles past Wren. “There’s your sushi, I’d join you but I smell like ass.”

Wren grabs the cyborg’s shoulder as she walks past, their eyes locking. “Merce, you’re over two hours late and you look like you just crawled out of the gutter. What gives?”

“Yeah, sorry ‘bout that. Bumped into a couple of old friends... they wanted to chat.”

Ash reaches out, gently raising Mercy’s chin into the light. “Looks like they did more than talk.”

Pushing Ashen’s hand away. “I fell. Bit of a klutz.”

Ashen’s eyes narrow. “You’re a cybernetically-enhanced soldier, grace and coordination are two of your strong suits, you don’t exactly trip over your feet.”

“Must be havin’ an off day.” Mercy shrugs and heads towards the bathroom.

Wren grabs her arm, stopping the frustrated girl in her tracks. “Are you using again?”

Mercy turns on Ash, ripping her arm from her roommate’s grasp. She steps forward, anger and aggression coursing through her veins. Then she sees the genuine look of concern in Wren’s eyes and the rage melts away.

“I’m not using.” Her eyes hit the floor, filled with shame that she’d made an aggressive move towards Ashen after all she’s done.

“Then what is it Merce? Let me help.”

Mercy’s eyes rise, a slight smile taking hold. “That’s why I can’t tell you. Because you’ll want to help. Something happened… but it wasn’t entirely a bad thing… and I’ll deal. If I tell you the who and the why, you’ll go into big sister mode and only end up getting yourself in trouble.” Shrugs. “So this time I’m protecting you.”

“Is this a S.C.O.R.P.I.O. thing? Because if it is I’m a captain and I should know.”

Mercy stifles a laugh. “You’re horrible at pulling rank Ash.”

Her shoulders slumping forward, “I know, I’d rather not bring S.C.O.R.P.I.O. politics into our living arrangement.”

“Then don’t. You’ve already gotten in enough trouble because of me. The two-week suspension, the fight with Cherry… let this one go. When I need your help, I’ll ask for it… trust me.”

Wren quirks an eyebrow at the statement but says nothing, her expression conveying her doubt.

“I brought you the sushi I promised, didn’t I?”

Wren frowns, "That's not exactly the same."

“I know. But this isn't your fight."

The two stare at each other in silence until Mercy suddenly perks up and breaks the tension.

"I call for a moratorium on all things S.C.O.R.P.I.O. I’m gonna go take a shower, and when I get back we’ll pound a pint of Hagen-Daz and talk about girlie shit.”

“I don’t do Hagen-Daz.”

“Humor me.”

“And I don’t do girlie shit.”

Mercy stops dead in her tracks, her eyebrow arching, “You SO do.”

By: Echo-3

Echo had met with Slayton earlier expecting just an update on some policy. Instead, he was briefed on the situation about Cherry being AWOL and to treat it as her being on an extended assignment if any Agents started asking questions. Tyler should have been more surprised by Cherry’s actions but he himself hadn’t been holding up much better. After all, it had been because of the uncovering nearly the same reasons that Cherry had gone AWOL that Echo was drinking heavily the night before and now starting his own business on the side.

A loud ‘click’ echoed throughout the large warehouse building as the light switches were flipped, causing hanging lamps to flood light onto the recently dusted floor. Jankowski walked a short distance and stepped into the newly founded Mercenary Command storage area. Continuing on he entered into his new administrative office where he dropped a large stack of paperwork that he had been carrying.

SCORPIO Agent Azure Tracer sits perched on a filing cabinet near the entrance to the office. She's silent, the only movement the slight waving of her toe in the air. Next to her on another cabinet is a bag from the local hamburger joint.

Waiting until just after the paperwork hits the desk with a loud thump, "New digs? Really kinda dirty."

Echo just sighed, the realization that he didn’t notice his office door being unlocked or the lights already being turned on hitting him, “Guess there could be worse people stalking me. You at least have the decency to bring some dinner?”

Grinning broadly as she snags one of the burgers from the bag before tossing the bag to him, "Careful snookems, someone might hear you and think you actually like me."

"So planning on moonlighting?" unwrapping her burger before taking a bite eying him carefully. Intuition tells her something is up; the fact that he'd left the door unlocked and hadn't checked behind it before entering only being the newest clues.

“Aint planning if I already started,” he said as he caught the burger and unwrapping it, taking a bite and chewing for a moment, “Half of SCORPIO already thinks we got something going on and the way you’ve been breaking and entering lately I think there might be something to Agent Jackson and Cruz’s gossip.”

Lilia smirks while licking ketchup from her upper lip, "You make that sound like it’s some horrible fate. I don't keep up with the sapien gossip, Cruz and Jackson especially, “she rolls her eyes, "trying to bleed me for Intel on the boss." Glancing around the office she takes another bite of her burger in relative silence for a few before continuing, "Being honest didn't see you as much of the lone ranger type. Much more of the stable anchor surrounded by chaos."

A shrug was given in response as he finished a bite of food, “I do what I got to do to keep from shooting myself in the foot and getting a ticket the fuck out of there.” Tyler looks like he was about to say more but keeps back whatever words he had in mind behind another bite of food. “Any reason for you tracking me down to here and waiting or do you just enjoy my company so damn much?”

She watches him quietly for a long moment, long enough that it becomes an awkward amount of silence. Her expression remains impassive but the look is far from impassive, almost predatory as she tries to read him. "And what would be solved by shooting yourself to get out? Even if you may not believe me I do enjoy your presence, it amuses me... no amuse is the wrong word. Intrigue is more accurate."

He sighs, “It’s a figure of speech, it means-… Screw it, it’s a military thing.” An eyebrow peaks up above the top edge of his sunglasses which hide tell-tale signs of too much alcohol the night before – Echo sizing her up as well for a moment, “I’ll just take that as a compliment, then. Still didn’t answer my question, though.”

Drake rolls her eyes, "I know the figure of speech it was a bad attempt at humor. I meant more why would you be looking for an out. And no I didn't, did I?" Hopping off the cabinets and tossing her wrapper into the waste can, "Fine, " her tone becomes a bit more serious then Azure usually manages, "For starters you're acting off, beyond my natural curiosity you're a comrade and your ability in the field is directly tied to your state of mine which can have an impact on mission success."

"But really I'm just trying to be helpful, sometimes a distraction goes a long way, and beyond much else I make a decent distraction by most standards. " pauses and smirks, "Well and it’s nice to not have to eat alone."

Echo pauses, taking a few moments to consider his words before responding, “I doubt you went through all the trouble of tracking me down to this place just for that, Drake; but fine, I’ll have to just take it at face value for now.” He wraps up the last bite of his hamburger, tossing it in the trash and leaning against the side of a nearby desk, “And I never said I was looking for a way out.”

She only gives a cross of her arms with an impassive voice, "It was implied well enough. But tell me, is that wall you like to keep erected more for your own sake or the sake of others?"

Tyler shoots her another arched brow, “Could ask you the same thing, honestly. Aint one to go spilling my guts and life story to every Agent I meet.”

A shrug is given in response, "Yeah well you also don't get people prying as much, tends to be easier to just give them something up front so they drop it. I didn't however ask about your past. I asked about the wall you put up, especially within the past few days." Tilting her head slightly looking at him, "We are comrades yet you act as if there is something horrible you know that we do not, thus you separate yourself to spare us or you."

“Fine, I’ll humor you, Tracer. We all have our ways of dealing with stressful bullshit and right now I’m trying to come to terms with the fact that the last decade of living – sometimes literally – with my life on the razors edge was just some fucking little bid by a giant robotic asshole to take us over. And you can tell me that I’ve saved however many innocents or killed whatever the shit number of our enemies; but at the end of the day I’ve just been a god damn puppet on strings.” Echo gives her an even look, not raising his voice as he speaks.

"I might but again sapiens are generally selfish in mind set so I wouldn't be foolish enough to think that might actually work. Actually what I would ask is are you truly naive to think that you are ever going to exist without someone or thing manipulating you?"

He shakes his head, “No, but I can at least try to trim off some of the puppet strings”

"Ah so you will trade the puppet strings you know for those you do not?" She tilts her head a bit.

“Better than being blind, deaf, and dumb to what the hell is going on around the next corner. Too much shit happens because of that.”

"And you think that you will be something other than blind deaf and dumb on your own?" Azure smirks a bit, "Well that’s quite a bit of an ego even I have to admit, ego or overconfidence."

“It’s because people got content following others that shit happened the way it did,” he folds his arms across his chest, “I don’t expect you to understand me or give any sympathy.”

"Sympathy serves no one, nor does defensiveness," she watches him still impassively, "I believe you are grasping for control that you feel you have lost. But again I also doubt that it was simply because others were toeing the line."

“Like I said, I don’t expect you to understand. Are you done playing twenty-questions or was there something else you wanted?”

Scrunching her nose a bit she looks at him finally with frustration, "I'm not the enemy, probably the only person who doesn't want a single thing out of or from you. I don't need to understand anything beyond seeing a comrade off their game."

"To many other bigger things to worry about then who is pulling who's strings or being paranoid about who might be plotting against you. Life, especially for sapiens is way too short, and that mind set will just put you into an early grave. There is a bigger picture to everything if you're willing to see it," she says before she turns towards the door, pausing to say something but decides against it.

Echo furrows his brows, watching her as she turns, "Obviously you do want something. People in this business don't act the way you do unless they're after something."

Suddenly Azure pauses in mid step and tilts her head a bit, "Tell me what exactly could you possibly offer or provide?"

“Amusement, apparently.”

"I believe you have that backwards."

"Hmph. Thanks for the grammar lesson."

"No, I meant that you find me more amusing then I find you."

"You're better than most of the Agents, I'll give you that, but don't give yourself too much credit."

She shakes her head, "I'm better then basically anyone walking around this version of Earth. Trust me I have enough money and time that I don't need you to keep me amused. No I'm sorry Snookems, hard as I'm sure it is for your paranoid primate brain to comprehend, I am really not after anything."

"And you think I should get a grip," Tyler snorts, "You're good, but not nearly that good."

"It’s not exaggeration, wish it was, might not be nearly so bored. The boredom has made me lazy," Lilia says with a shake of her head again.

"Keep telling yourself that. You know the way out, unless you have something else to say."

As she waves, her civilian gear shifts as she walks out the door into her full body suit outfit, "Find me a challenge you think I can't take and we'll talk."

By: XelosTi

„…oh God. I can’t believe he invited me. I say yes! No, that would make me seem easy to get. His look… oh no, he think’s I’m dumb…”

“S**t, I have to clean up my place. She won’t be with me, if she sees this mess.”

“…Bagels, butter, eggs, toothpaste and… damn… coffee. How can I forget the coffee?”

“C’mon… only one step and I get a clear shot.”

“Yeah baby… don’t stop! F**k. I wish Agnes were so good. I have married the wrong twin…”

Martin Küchenmeister heard the door behind him slide open. He pulled his consciousness back into his physical self and opened his eyes. “Hello, Director. Guten Tag.”

Jack Slayton arched an eyebrow. “Good day, Agent Geistesblitz. You know there are meditation chambers up in the AO und PO Divisions? You didn’t have to lock yourself in a dark holding cell.”

“I’m aware of them, Sir. But it is quieter down here both on sound and the mind level. And the darkness helps.”

“I see. Have you…”

Martin shook his head. “…found Cherry? No, I’m sorry. Not yet. It takes a lot of time to find a single person in this city. And if I assess Agent Jericho correctly, she will shield her mind from us finding her. Oh, by the way – there are a couple of PPD Officers that have followed Agent Guevara to her and Agent Wrens apartment. We should warn them.”

Slayton folded his arms above his chest. “That seems a good idea, Agent. But…”

“I’m sorry, Director. I didn’t knew that you don’t like to be called ‘Sir’.”, interrupted Martin automatically and blushed slightly. “And I promise not to answer your surface thoughts, before you formulate a question. Oh… From now on.”

“Thank you.”, Slayton replied slightly irritated. “Keep on a look out for Cherry. And apprise me on any progress.”

“Gladly, Sir… I mean…”

Jack turned and waved it aside. “Just carry on, Agent Küchenmeister.”

Martin repressed a sigh and returned to his lotus position on the mattress he had pulled from the narrow bed. He closed his eyes and imagined himself leaving his body. He sensed Slayton talking into his wrist comm, possibly to warn Wren and Guevara. Then he moved out of the base back to Kings Row where he had been searching before.

“…should stop to carry a handbag, with all the muggers around…”

"...Yes, with this ancient bone I can finally build my invention. Maybe I get a badge..."

“Bring metal, build my children, build another… WHO ARE YOU? GET OUT OF MY THOUGHTS! I AM THE CLOCKWORK K…”

Martin’s let his consciousness snap back into his body. He was breathing heavily. “Maybe, I should take a break…”

By: Jack Slayton

... an unremarkable Brickstown warehouse owned by 'Operation: Nextep', a King's Row-based charity/thrift store....

Jack had sent the signal just over an hour ago.

He stepped into the quiet, private alley on the west side of the building and moved towards a darkened corner near a large green dumpster. Placing his palm on the camouflaged scanning device, he waited for deceptively rusted metal piping and faux brick to part, sliding noiselessly on large, fortified ball bearing roller assemblies until the muted sound of gear shifting could be heard. Slayton stepped casually into the darkness, the wall closing behind him as quietly as it had opened. Steel-plated cage lights flickered on near the ground, revealing a hallway of thick, reinforced steel and concrete walls towards the heavy metal doors of a large industrial freight elevator.

A retinal scan and 3.5 minutes later, Slayton stepped out of the elevator 30 yards below his entrance point and onto the tiled steel flooring of 'Grey Razor' headquarters, his heavy boots echoing slightly off the walls as he moved.

"Must be a real pain in the ass, huh, Jackal?" a southern-accented voice said over the base's loudspeaker. "Havin' ta use slow, conventional means 'a gettin' inta the base after bein' spoiled by yer fancy SCORPIO 'porters?" Jack looked directly ahead and pointed his arm in the direction of the surveillance camera, flipping his middle finger. He smiled only very thinly and turned the corner to see Outrider, aka Erik Varnell, sitting at the control center, looking slightly amused.

"They're on their way, asswipe." Jack said calmly, picking up and reading a digital logging tablet. "You know how these things go. The kind of security we need in our porters is newer tech. Has to be untraceable. Had to have SCORPIOtech reverse-engineer them ... then acquire the parts... anyhow, where's Zero? He's scheduled."

Outrider rolled his eyes and sat back. "There was some issue with one of his 'brothers'. He had ta go. I had ta be here anyway an' meet wit you."

"Ah... ok." Slayton sat on the edge of a large storage cabinet, a grave look washing over his face. Varnell noticed the change in tone and sat up, his back stiffening, ready for whatever was to come, the sign of a good operative and a born soldier.

Jack stared at the floor for a moment, then lifted his eyes to meet the other man's. "We have a problem, Varnell. It's Cherr... Jericho. There some missions in RWZ... some evidence came to light. She knows, Varnell... Nemesis... The Rikti Invasion..."

Varnell tensed at the news, and the name, "Vanguard?"

"No... but she suspects. I tried to bluff and redirect. Too bright. The girl knows something is up... and she's pissed."

Varnell paused, a crinkle forming in his brow. "Ok.. well... ok, so what, we move the time line up a little...? I still don't want her involved in this, Jack, I-"

"It's more complicated than that, Varnell." Jack stood, leaning against the wall with one arm as he contemplated the next move. "She's gone off-grid. She obviously means to find out what's going on and take action."

"Oh for fuck's sake..." Varnell buried his face in his hands, frustrated and more than a little worried. "This could blow the whole god dammed deal. You know she won't stop until.... I've sacrificed too much. We have to find her, Slayton, we-"

"I already have people working on it, but you know how it is with people like us... we don't want to be found, we don't get found."

At that moment, the monitors detected an incoming message coming over an encrypted line. Outrider turned to receive it.

It was Saints. "- Jack, I just received some intel. Someone is following a trail towards our 'friend' in Kazakhstan. -"

"Cherry?" Varnell said, barely masking his emotions.

"- No, son. Looks like McConnell, at least judgin' from the M.O. That is unless Jericho has taken up archery recently. -"

Varnell glared at Jack. "McConnell...? He's involved? I thought you said he-"

"What... do I have to tell you everything?" Jack said, incredulous. "I'm trying to 'de-superohero-ize him before I try to bring him into the Razors."

"He's still wearin' the green?"


Outrider rolled his eyes as Saints continued, "- We need ta stop McConnell an' Jericho, Jack. Things will get ugly real fast otherwise. Saints out. -"

Jack looked at Varnell, resolute. "Go. Find McConnell. Do not kill him unless he makes you."

Outrider turned and ran down the hall, wasting no time. Jack popped open his SCORPIO comlink.

"Slayton. Encrypt. ... Danielle, there is an emergency. I need some 'divine' intervention. I want you to find someone for me..."

By: Cherry 9

Turning away from the lake Celtic froze in mid step his eyes suddenly focused on the barrel of a silencer pointed steadily between and just below his eyes. On the opposite end of the gun, which Celtic took a guess at being a MK23, the shadows of evening seemed to cling. It was of course an optical illusion, created by the tactical suit they wore, expensive and nice gear was the first thought through Celtic's mind as he took in the situation.

Aside from the muted blue glow of the tactical goggles, only brown hair gave any sort of individuality to the figure in front of him.

"Never were good at listenin' when people warned ya not ta stick yer nose in somethin', " the voice was muted through the covering over their lower face but did nothing to hide the southern drawl.

"I'd have te agree, mum always got on me bout' tha'."

Perhaps it was a smirk under the face mask that caused the momentary shift, "Well consider this me askin' ya, an none to nicely I might add. Drop it an' stop diggin' fer yer own good."

Ignoring the gun barely an inch from his face Celtic watched the other man carefully. Talking was good, it'd give him time to find a weakness, a moment of doubt perhaps. It didn't particularly matter as long as he was a chance to turn the tables, "Ye know? I hear tha' a lot in this line o' work. Never seems te pan out th' way the one sayin' it thinks it will."

Creases appeared momentarily on the other man's brow but his hand remained steady, "In this case, I ain't tellin' ya fer my own good. This ain't something thats ready ta be dug up. It goes beyond anything I'm sure you've considered, an you're just gonna stir up the hornets nest without doin' a damn lick 'a good."

"Aye? Seems what I'm lookin' for is doin' enough damage in it's own right. Tha's enough reason for me te root it out an put an' end te it. Last one tha' tried te get in my way, well..." Celtic's voice trailed off as he took a chance to motion at the lake, "Ye get the idea."

Unfortunately the other man didn't comply by looking, the tact goggles stared back at Celtic impassively even while he could hear a subtle change in the other's tone. Something in the conversation had changed as emotion seeped into the other figures voice, "Only reason ya ain't dead an' we're having this chat McConnell is 'cause it's preferable ta keep you breathin'. If you let this out now its goin' to have very bad repercussions on people who don't deserve it.

Jackpot Celtic thought and he pressed, "Aye? An who would tha' be now? You? From where I'm standin' yer lookin' pretty deservin' so ye best start convincin' me."

Brow creasing again the other figure uttered something under his breath involving jarheads and stubbornness, "Me? Would be a bit hard given we're workin' on the same damn thing. Difference bein' I ain't rushin' about like a chicken wit my head cut off."

Frustration was now clear in the other man's voice, but as a testament to his training the gun never wavered and his gaze remained on Celtic, "But iffn' yer curious, how exactly do ya think yer Captain is going ta take it when she finds out her squad was set up as glorified sacrificial lambs by a few corrupt vanguard and military leaders? An' what exactly do ya think you'll be able ta manage on yer own?"

Jericho's mention threw Celtic for a moment, his mind swirled over the possibilities. More then anyone else perhaps he wasn't foolish enough to think Slayton didn't have other projects going. At the start of the conversation he'd had an inkling that perhaps this involved Slayton, the mention of Jericho increased those odds.

But something wasn't right, if it was just one of Slayton's operatives then why the emotional attachment. A dark thought crossed Celtic's mind, the puzzle pieces started to fit themselves together in his mind.

"Probably nae much better than she takin' recent news." regardless, he had a foothold now he just had to press, "An I can find th' answers an' decide what te do with them. Now, how about ye take tha' gun out o' my face before I get tired o' it and break yer arm relievin' ye o' it."

Celtic's breath caught for a moment, for a brief moment he watched the other man's hand clench around the gun. It had been a gamble, a bit of a far fetched one, it seemed he might pay the price for that gamble here and now. Focused on the gun he almost missed the other movement as without missing a beat or so much as shifting his gun hand the other man ripped off the tactical goggles and face mask.

Anger, frustration and growing rage were plain on the other man's face, and it was a face, abeit more then a few years worn, Celtic's recognized, "God damn you sonuvabitch... don't make me shoot you mate, cause ta save 'er that I will."

Erik Varnell, more affectionately known as Harbinger, it had been a long shot gamble, but the emotional response after pressing after Jericho had raised the probability. Celtic's gamble had paid off, "Was wonderin' when ye'd give up the bullshit charade Harb. So how about ye lay it on the level with me, I'm tired o' chasin' lies, an I'm losin' my patience."

Shaking his head realizing then that he'd been played by the other man Erik dropped the gun, "You know I can't. What I can tell you is that it ain't time yet ta deal wit any of it head on. It's more important fer someone to track down Rikki before she goes 'n does something stupid."

"Jericho's a big girl, she dinnae need me lookin' over her shoulder."

Frowning somewhat at the comment Erik eyed Celtic his tone somewhat patronizing, "I think I know better then you do what she can and can't handle," catching himself he sighed and paused a moment before continuing, "Look I'm asking you to do this for me because I can't."

Grinding his teeth his voice terse Celtic stared daggers at the other man, "Fine, I'll do it only because ye asked, an ye pulled my ass out o' the fire in Columbia..." For a brief moment relief washes over Erik's face, even with the request, and their past he hadn't been sure Celtic would agree. It would however only be a brief moment of relief as Celtic continued, "..but I want some answers, ye got me?""

Frustration quickly furrowed Erik's brow his own voice becoming terse, "Should've known that was comin'. Fine ask an' I'll answer what I can."

"So who're ye workin' fer that has ye playin' dead? An this Vanguard business?"

Erik knew he'd said to much earlier, he'd only put McConnell's brain into high gear, "What makes you think I didn't just' decide ta play dead myself. As fer Vanguard, it started jus' before the war, a few people in tha right places lookin' ta make a profit. Fer them the war was jus' unexpected icin' on the cake. They profited heavily from the war."

"Aye an yer answer was te play dead? Nae yer on someone's payroll an ye bein' dead fits thier agenda."

Frustration quickly turning to tiredness Erik just stared at Celtic for a long moment, "Or maybe I was tryin' ta spare Jericho."

"Sparin' her? She's been borderline headcase with ye bein' dead."

"Ah yes because playing cloak and dagger with me without a choice would have been a better option."

"Perhaps ye dinnae know her as well as ye think then boyo."

"Spare me, " Erik practically glared for a moment at the other man, "It was the decision made at the time, for good or ill. Right now isn't the time to change that, there are bigger things at play."

"Aye, I figured tha', so tell me about vanguard, what happened?"

Shifting slightly Erik uncocked the MK23 and slipped it away after hitting the safety. "Started noticin' things early on in the war. You've seen the journal, though I didn't put the majority of it in there. Missions where people disappeared, the circumstances didn't add up."

"Aye, I've read the journal front te back a few times. It's an interestin read, though I have te say yer lucky I got my hands on it an nae someone else."

"Wouldn't have happened, " shaking his head Erik continued glossing past the issue of the journal, "Regardless, someone higher up in command was "acquiring" engineers 'n other people of importance. Didn't have proof until they tried it wit Jericho."

"I'm listenin'."

"It was in Latvia, we were sent in ta secure a portal at an airfield, unfortunately Intel gave us the wrong numbers, or they knew we were coming."

"Aye, the Op where you an Jericho disappeared?"

Nodding Erik continued, "They weren't Rikti. Looked like them, didn't act like them."

"Lemme guess. Automatons?"

Erik eyed Celtic a moment before continuing, "Didn't know at the time, only figured that out recently."

"So what happened after the extraction what happened te you an Jericho?"

"Bein' honest I'm not completely sure. We were captured after everyone got out an' the disrupter failed. I was out fer what I figure was a bit over a day. Managed ta get out, an she was unconscious when I got to her. She was out fer four days, had ta carry 'er mosta the way. She didn't remember anything, " he paused for a moment and decided not to go into the details of those few weeks, especially the first few days.

She'd been pretty bad off, long jags of crying, unable to walk properly as if her body wasn't getting the signals from her brain properly. It'd been then that he'd had enough, and he decided it was time to act. Watching a woman he respected and come love over a short few months broken and left an incoherent mumbling mess even now raised an anger in him there weren't words for. The plus side had been for whatever they had done she never did remember it, and after about a week she slowly started to act normal. He'd never told her the details, he doubted it was something she needed to know.

"The facility wasn't Rikti," Erik continued after that short pause Celtic eying him.

"Hmm," it was obvious that Erik wasn't telling him everything. Celtic debated for a moment whether or not to press his luck when Erik cut off his train of thought.

"I pulled data out of the facility. That however I cannot share. At least for now."

"Fair enough, " it would be something to look in to later, "So what do ye need me te do about Jericho?"

"Find her for starters, she's been AWOL now fer about 72 hours. She doesn't need ta know any of this, at least not yet."

"I assume she went AWOL over th' Op in Paragon beneath th' war zone fer Vanguard?

Erik shrugged in a gallic fashion, "Not going ta pretend I know everythin' goin' on in 'er head. Honestly I haven't got a clue, but I'd assume the revelation from that is part of it. Rikki is a bit to smart fer her own good, I wouldn't put it past her to be doing exactly what you've been doin'."

"Alright, short o' findin' her then incapacitatin' her an' draggin' her back te scorpio HQ I know tha' won't pull her attention away from it. She'll be like a dog with a bone.. goin te have te give her somethin'."

"Workin' on that already." Erik's voice hinted at nothing however, "Jus' find her and try ta talk some sense in to 'er. Runnin' off half cocked ain't like 'er so I doubt she's very comfortable bein' off on 'er own. She's always had someone else wit her."

Celtic looked away for a moment his gaze falling to the lake as the last bubble of air releases in the middle with a muted pop, "Ok, I'll do tha'. I hope tha guy dinnae owe you any money."

Tilting his head as Celtic looks away glancing a bit to the west Erik hit the stealth field on his suit fading rapidly from view, "Not by a long shot, a bit angry you took my chance at him, but I'll admit it was with good style..... and thank you."

"Nae a problem..." turning back around Celtic eyed the space where Varnell had stood for a moment before walking away. Now to deal with the more immediate problem before figuring out the rest of this burgeoning mystery.

By: Suspire

Jessica "Suspire" Grant walked briskly along the grey, concrete walls of the S.C.O.R.P.I.O compound, a brown paper folder tucked under one arm and the gritty feeling of a mild hangover playing around her eyesockets like dull needles.

She approached the desk of a support officer, a trim, youthful man with black hair, and laid the papers down.

"Grant," he remarked.

It still felt strange to hear her own name, not an assumed alias, or a military honorific, but the name of her mother and father.

"Anything I can help you with, Operative?" he prompted.

Grant glanced down to the papers. The officer followed her lead and shuffled through the collection.

"It seems you have enough intel here to launch an op. Want me to put this through to the Captain?"

The Captain. Cherry 9. Jessica nodded a little.

"Alright, just so you know, the turnaround on paperwork has been a little slow lately."

Jessica arched a brow. "Why?"

The officer shrugged, as the tapped the papers back into a neat, cohesive pile. "Guess she has alot on her plate. Don't see much of her around, the papers just come back. Maybe she's working nights."

Grant pondered the answer. "Preparing for something big?"

"You know I can't tell you that, Grant," he said, leaning forward he dropped his voice to a conspirative whisper, "but given you're psychic and all, I suppose you don't need me to tell you nothing big has come through my desk."

The agent didn't seem to react. In a black-ops world, it was hardly unusual for the lights to go dark prior to a big operation.

"I'll see she gets it," confirmed the officer as he leaned back into his seat.

"Thanks," replied Grant, who turned on her heel and departed.

By: Cherry 9


Since the dawn of time, man has coveted, and taken that which he desires from his fellow man. From food, to wives, if it exists, it can be stolen.

Yet there are always consequences.

Music blares loudly in a gym in Kings Row.

“Yo, check the rep, yep, enough respect, If not for the jewels I drop, the chunky neck. I'm funky fresh, Equipped with a rusty Tek. Am I the best? Well I gotta put it bluntly, yes.”

James Kowalski was on the bag, his hands wrapped and sweat running down his face as the several hundred-pound punching bag swung on a thick chain. Dodging the lumbering movement of the bag, he would hit it again, switching it up to a kick that would do a Spartan proud.

“I'm a killer and I usually know my victims.

So I catch a lot of bodies on the homie system, uh. Don't get it twisted, I'll break your jaw. You'll be sippin' fried chicken through a crazy straw.”

His thoughts came clearer with the violence. They always did. Finishing the bag with a devastating head butt, the Obsidian Bowman turned, walking to the showers. He knew what he needed to do.

“I ain't a thug, pimp, gangsta or grimey, done But you can check on the rep, yep, second to none. Check on the rep, second to none. This how we get this done, You can check on the rep, second to none.”

-Days before, in the War Zone.-

Most of the computers had been wiped at the old Vanguard recon post, but enough evidence was left behind to build the trail. A trail Bowman had been following since Cherry had asked him to find intel, proof. Proof about the invasion and what Vanguard really knew about the Nemesis involvement, and information about her squad.

The Official reports were standard, intel had dropped the ball and Cherry’s old squad was mutilated. Something didn’t add up right with that, though. How was it intel managed to warn the capes on Omega Team about the risk, yet somehow forget to tell the soldiers covering the collective asses of the capes.

Computers can’t be threatened. You can’t cut off a hard drive and make them spill what’s hidden. But people? They’re just flesh and meat.

“You want me to crack VANGUARD?” The girl’s voice was shocked.

“Yeah. I need a file search, I can get in there but I can’t break that passwall.” Bowman asked a teenager with short red hair. “You in?”

The young woman rubbed her hands together with maniacal glee.

Nighttime in the War Zone. While a raid of the Mothership drew all attention, a single unadorned Vanguard Agent stepped out of the camera’s view. The Intel office computer was heavily monitored, both by software, and by various thermal and video cameras. Bowman, in his Vanguard uniform, hid in the doorway, counting the seconds until the Mothership Shield went back up.

When it did, that EMP flash, plus the teleporters pulling all the agents to safety, would make a brief hiccup in the cameras, a hiccup he was counting on. His Talosian Bow was held in his hand, inert, and disguised in a gun handle. He unfolded three arrows from his gauntlet, gleaming electronic bulbs in place of sharp tips.

And he counted. Until a small red light blinked off. Split-second, he dove, his bow blazing into life, and the fistful of arrows flying, shattering before the cameras in a display of pyrotechnic brilliance.

The tech in those tips had cost him. But was worth every penny. For a few moments, the cameras were repeating a “Safe” image. For how long, he could only guess. It would have to be long enough.

The USB from the girl did the rest. Disabling the lockout programs and jamming the computer’s self-monitoring. The download was quick, thank god for up-to-date hardware.

Later in the safety of his Kings Row home, Bowman read the files.

For days he filtered through all the seemingly endless text, never leaving his apartment. Compiling, reading, and processing. Slowly the picture began to take shape.

A rogue faction within Vanguard. Reports by intel speculating on it, background gathered by various Vanguard spies over the past several years confirmed it. Vanguard Intel however was in the dark, they were being played from the inside.

It was a shadow cabal, their traces were all over the reports. Odd financing, missing or incomplete reports, erroneous records, rerouted tactical information. They covered their tracks well, press work glossed over involvement in certain attacks. All while they operated within their own rogue faction of the Vanguard sword itself.

Every bit of it lead to War Profiteers. And a nice long list of suspects. Various people who prior to the Rikti attack were positioned to make a killing on the military industrial complex. Those same people simply saw the Rikti War as a golden opportunity.

Bowman went through the suspects, the boring computer detective work he practiced in his youth. Narrowing the list down to who seemed to profit most.

Leaning back in his chair, he let the thoughts come.

A shadow cabal of war profiteers had set up Cherry’s old squad to take the hit. Orders were there, rerouted intel reports, reassignment orders pushed through without being checked. Even if the exact reason why was missing.

Those same signs also pointed to the groups involvement with the Nemesis cove up, they were intent on prolonging the war. More disturbingly there were signs up a build up within the Rogue sword, their movements were increasing since the involvement of Nemesis was uncovered. But why? Diplomats were disappearing and loyal operatives were being moved into positions.

Was the cabal finally making a move to take over? Were they tired of working in the shadows and under the radar of the Lady Grey and those loyal to her?

He needed to think, needed to plan.

Hours later, would find him in the gym.

At the bag.


Only the hum of electronics broke the silence in the darkened room that Jack called his office. The man himself sat behind his desk, his elbows planted on the blotter and his fingers steepled as he eyed the man across from him with his good eye. Across from him Andrew McConnell sat, the look on his face was unreadable in the gloom of Jack's office. If the look unnerved him it wasn't immediately apparent.

"Let me see if I get this straight, " Jack started disbelief and frustration plain in his voice, "In two weeks you've had no luck tracking her down? The best you've come up with is a few hits on Council supply depots that could potentially be her?"



Jack sat back suddenly in his chair, "And you think Kowalski knows where she is?" It was a statement more then a question. It was an unexpected turn of events, he'd known Jericho was good when he took her on, but this went beyond even his hopes. "Why exactly would she have gone to Kowalski?"

"Because she dinnae come to me."

Leveling another steeled gaze on Celtic, "We could just send a whole team of hunter trackers from Spec after her."

"Ye really think its a good idea te send her own people afta her?"

"She works for me."

"They deal directly with her."

The two men stared at each other for a long tense moment neither willing to relent their point. It had been a frustrating two weeks punctuated by the fact that people within the Spec-ops division were starting to question more often about their missing captain. It was becoming very apparent that operations were only going to run smoothly for so long without her.

"I'm also certain it was Kowalski who beat us te the Vanguard intel." Celtic held up the unassuming shaft of black material, "Boyo probably assumed Vanguard wouldn't be able te trace it. Hell our lab boys wouldn't have been able te. But I'd recognize his handy work anywhere. He beat us te the facility."

"So you want us to risk Kowalski getting that information to her?"

"Ye see any other choice in tha matter?"

Jack sighed and leaned back forward grabbing his communicator from the desk, "You checked every lead?"

"Even doubled over what your friends had already checked."

Another tense moment passed the two men eying each other poker faced.

"You know what they say about assumption Agent McConnell?"

"Aye, it's the mother o' all fuck ups. I checked all of Marksman's safe houses and supply caches, check with her mom, and traced all of her back accounts and transactions. Not a blessed thing. Girl is smart she's gone completely off the grid. She's not even using the gear she was issued, assuming that's why she's hitting those Council depots."

Jack watched the other man now somewhat cautiously, this game was going far to long now the variable were moving beyond a controllable level. "Fine, we'll try to use Bowman, after this though..."

Celtic stood and spoke before walking out the door the look on Jack's face telling him the conversation was over, "Aye, I know."


It felt like being sent to the principle’s office.

Summoned, no, commanded into the presence of Jack Slayton, Scorpio’s commanding officer, for unknown reasons.

James Kowalski walked towards the office when he was stopped by two of the Scorpio guard detail.

“Safety prodocal, Agent Kowalski, we need to search you.” The one on the right said, Tall guy, muscular.

“This fer everybody? Or am I the special case.”

“Safety prodocal.” The tall man hid a smirk, but Bowman could see it in his eyes.

“A’ight, A’ight, frisk the Jew.” Bowman grunted, putting his arms out wide as they patted him and scanned him. They took his weapons, the knives, his bag with his bow, and the pistol under his arm. When one of them found a USB storage device in his pocket, the tall man held it in front of Bowman’s face. His breath smelled like peanut butter.

Bowman hated peanut butter.

“What’s on this?” Tall Guard asked, shaking the thin tube in front of Bowman’s nose.

“Pictures of me fucking your mom. Keep it, I can always take more.” Bowman locked eyes, smiling.

Tall guard was furious, spitting in his rage. “My Mom’s dead you little fucker!”

Bowman was silent , his face breaking into a twisted grin. “Means she ain’t sayin’ No, right?”

His hand reaching for his gun, tall guard’s face was shaking with hate, when a commanding voice called from inside the office. “Johnson! DISMISSED! Kowalski. Inside.”

Bowman shoved his way past the seething guard, giving him one last grin over his shoulder.

Slayton was sitting, waving Bowman inside, pointing him to a chair. “Have a seat.”

Both men understood that wasn’t a request. Though, Bowman realized that he and Slayton had never met face to face before. It was silent for a bit at first, Bowman remembering all the times he’d had to sit before a judge.

“You’re good friends with Captain Jericho, isn’t that true?” Slayton spoke, looking up from his paperwork.

So that’s what this’s about. They want Cherry. Bowman realized, Stealing his mind against any invaders, who knew what the Psi-ops were up to? Soon, Bowman gave Slayton his answer. “Yeah, enough I guess.”

“As such, if she were in danger, you’d help her, correct?”


“As you may not know, Agent Kowalski, Cherry has been MIA for some time now.-“

“She prolly needed a vacation.” Bowman interrupted.

Jack eyed Bowman wondering for a brief moment is maybe it might have been better to just let Cyph'on rough him up, “…Maybe. As it stands, we need to find her. She might be in danger.”


Slayton nodded, giving Bowman a dismissal gesture. “You’re free to go, but Bowman?”

“Yeah?” he asked, standing up.

“Loyalty to your commanding officer is admirable, but I remain Cherry’s boss. I need you to come to me if you know where she might be. I also expect you to understand that knowledge of the Captain being missing cannot go beyond this office.”

Bowman stood at the doorway, looking back at Slayton. “Right. Soon as I know where she is.” And he left.


That USB had his information stolen from Vanguard, but, thankfully he kept a copy, in a hollowed out section of his boot heel. A trick he’d learned from an old western show from his childhood.

Hours later, Bowman was jogging, with his armor and weapons in a gym bag carried over his shoulder. He ran past a market in Indy Port, with people hawking their wares from stalls. He slowed by a fruit vendor, an old hispanic man greeting him.

“Ayah! My scowling friend! So good to see you again, I’ve some very nice apples here, try them, you’ll flip!” The man’s teeth were half missing, and smile-lines crossed his face.

Bowman looked at the apples, then turned to a crate of opened cherries. “Actually, more in the mood fer some’a these today.” He said as he painstakingly picked nine ripe ones. As he opened his bag to get at his wallet, the shopkeep got a good look at his skull mask.

“Is pretty late for holloween, yes?” The man asked, extending his hand for the money.

“Yeah, but just in time for hunting season.” Bowman put the billfold in his hand. Then, with a wave, walked off back towards Kings Row. Giving the small bag of cherries to a friend at the hospital.

He hated cherries.


Cherry walked through the same market around dusk, while all the shop keeps were packing up. She was picking up some supplies, fresh fish for the Cat, markets were the best way to make purchases when you didn't want to be tracked. She stopped by the fruit vendor.

“I’m here for the cherries?”

“Ahh, I am sorry, I am all sold out, very popular with the hunters, you see.”

“Anything for a late Day of the Dead?”

“Ah, miss, I’ve just the thing.” He handed her a small box of skull-shaped cakes.

She selected the one in green saran wrap, and payed in cash.

Walking off she slipped the cake into her bag and pulled the hood of her torn hoodie down. Almost time to move.

By: Cherry 9

Ice, it's what that pit in her stomach had turned into. The computer screen in front of Cherry washed out her skin coloring making her seem pale and sickly in the dim light. It was hard to tell if the hollows under her eyes were shadows or real. Yet something in her eyes, spoke volumes more, something inside her had fizzled out and died. When you think you've seen the bottom, experienced the best hell could manage, life decides to remind you there is always one more hell to see.

Knowledge sometimes is best left unconfirmed, even something you know deep down to your bones, your brain can't cope with seeing.

Mere text on the screen, a single memo, barely 1/3 of a page of paper and yet it showed her plainly what she'd always known. They'd been killed, all of them. Ripped from their families, torn from their lives, and strewn across the battle field like so many broken dolls on whim.

It was the sort of pain that transcends physical discomfort, it was the kind of pain for which the only way to cope is to shut down. It went beyond pain, anger, or rage, there was no word for this feeling.

Reaching forward the monitor clicked off silently as Cherry stood and crossed the small room grabbing a pair of welding goggles from the wall. There would be time later to mourn, to sort through the pain. Right now however, there was justice to be done, and a war to be waged.


Bowman weaved his way through the market, a sack of already purchased items in one hand. Walking towards the exit a woman moved in front of him. To most men she would have been a knockout beauty, curves in all the right places, dark skin and mocha colored skin that went well with the bright red of the ethnic sari she wore. She had the sort of eyes you could almost fall into as she smiled brightly.

"You look like a man who has not yet heard the beckoning call of the sirens," her perfect British English was punctuated with a soft Punjabi accent.

"That depends on if ya got a Siren worth listenin' to."

Bowman looked past her almost impatiently as she pull out a music disc in a jewel case, "For you, seven dollars." She flashed that brilliant smile again.

"Seven you say, make it six an we got a deal." producing a ten Bowman offer the bill to her.

"You drive a hard bargain my friend but six it shall be."

Accepting the offered bill she removes four singles from a small bag and presses it to his palm with a knowing smile. "May Kali guide you."

Nodding and taking the singles and the disc case Bowman moves past the woman disappearing onto the streets.


Across the bay the sun was setting on Sirens Call. It was a fitting place to start, the war ravaged porter was a daily battle field between Arachnos and the defenders of the city. A lone figure stood on a sewer grate facing out towards the ocean.

"He who fights wit monsters should be careful lest they become a monster." Bowman's voice came before he faded into view, the flaming skull mask first. It would have been intimidating, had he not been staring straight into the barrel of a gun. Even faced with the weapon he sounded more amused then anything else.

"Very few monsters are worth the fear people have fer em." Cherry pushed her goggles up eyeing Bowman the gun unwavering, "Last chance ta back out an walk away."

"An miss out on the fun?" Bowman chuckled, "'sides, what would I do wit out you ta threaten me."

Lowering the gun and setting the safety, "You smell like a distillery."

"Want me ta take off the mask an' finish horrifyin' ya?"

Bowman watched Cherry carefully for a moment, something was different. It was a look he knew well, one he saw quite often, a look he wore himself.

Shaking her head Cherry turned suddenly and began walking down the beach to a small boat, "Lets go, we got a flyer ta steal an a man in Europe ta see bout some retribution."

"Retribution, now yer speakin' my language."

By: Obsidian Bowman

The Arachnos Flyer took off with a heave, leaving the bloodied Arachnos soldiers lying in the dirt.

Cherry sat at the controls, making a mental note about how eerily familiar the controls were.

The Obsidian Bowman stood in the back of the ship, looking through a window at the rear hatch, as the city got smaller and smaller. For a moment, he could see the smokey, war-walled section of grime he loved and called home. Then it was gone, another spec on the horizon, and he was surrounded by endless ocean.

He’d never been out this far away from land. His “horizon” had always been caged by the war-walls, for the first time in his life, he could see forever.

A sound brought him to look at his hand, shaking involuntarily. Annoyed, he forced it steady.

Walking back towards the cockpit, he found the ship on Auto-pilot, and Cherry readying her weapons. She glanced up at him as he entered the small room.

“Hope yer ain’t thinkin’ of jumpin’ Kowalski. I need another target down there.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it, chief. What’s the plan?”

Under three hours later, the Arachnos Flyer was fast approaching the walled Villa of the target, it scraped low, shattering the wall, almost touching the ground. A small, shadowy figure dropped out of it, rolling along the ground, stealth field kicking in as soon as she slowed. But the ship didn’t stop, it kept going, breaking into the villa itself, spreading fire and carnage it a managed crash.

When the guards came over, guns drawn, a hatch opened, and standing, wrapped in the flames of leaking gas-lines, was the Obsidian Bowman, screaming over the roar of the fire, “I AM DEATH!” As black arrows were loosed into the night.

Jack and Celtic knew as soon as the Arachnos flyer left Rouge Island airspace. And they knew that if Cherry wasn’t on board, Kowalski was. A tracking device had been attached to his boot by a agent placed at the market. And they weren’t far behind.

Far enough, to miss when everything went to heck.

By: Cherry 9

Explosions punctuated the sounds of gunfire and the orders barked in Armenian from the compound grounds and the building below. Shaking slightly the old stone villa weathered the attack like a storm wall against the seas sudden surge. The same could not be said however for the occupant of the stately room on the upper floor, trembling on the floor his hands cuffed behind his back, his sobs were broken with moments of pleading.

Behind him a gun clicked and the cold metal muzzle pressed against that sweet spot at the base of his skull. His voiced hitched and there was a moment of silence that not even the din from the villa below or the compound outside could pierce. Even the pleading had stopped, he knew better, there was no mercy in the angel of death that stood over him.

"I'd kill ya once fer each of the people you betrayed to their deaths. Thankfully fer you I ..."

"You're a real pain in the ass to track, you know that? Please put the gun down, Jericho... it's over."

Sputtering out the breath he had been holding, the captive didn't have a chance to look at his savior, the gun however remained firmly planted at the back of his skull. She didn't waver, or even look at the new voice, they must have come in on the stone balcony they wrapped the upper level. It was a voice she knew well.

"I 'eard you've been lookin fer me Slayton. Ain't like you ta keep a girl waiting."

"I'd deny it, except I try to avoid bold face lies... when I can." Jack took two steps into the spacious suite, "I think the kids are tired of macaroni and cheese every night."

"Been givin' em to much slack."

"Apparently so... proven by the fact that you are still holding that gun after I asked you so sweetly to put it down."

Cherry finally looked up to see Jack, flanked by two figures. Each wore head to toe tactical gear... a soft, sapphire blue glow from their goggles. It wasn't SCORPIO gear, and the silhouettes weren't that of any of her own people.

"That show of force fer my benefit?"

"Not unless it needs to be... vacation time is over, Captain. We need you back on board."

Sighing a bit to herself Cherry removed the gun from the man's head and took a step back. From the ground the man finally took a sighing breath of relief. The two figures with Slayton didn't so much as move when Cherry raised the gun, pointing skyward as she disengaged the round and flipped the safety.

"Fine, you win, I ain't gonna shoot 'em."

As she walked past the man towards Slayton he started to speak, tripping over his own words, "Thank you! I'll see to it that you're rewarded for saving me from this madwoman." He was looking at Jack his voice frantic with joy.

"I'm not your savior, ass wipe." Jack looking directly at the man, and whatever the prostrate man saw there made him almost gag on the rest of whatever he was going to say. "You're going to end up wishing she had killed you."

Cherry stopped a few steps in front of the man watching Slayton for a long moment before glancing back at the man.

"Fuck you," he spat bloodily on the carpeting, "I'll see you dead, you hear me! Just like your teammates. All of you, we'll hunt you down and kill you and there won't be a damn thing you can about it."

Looking back at Slayton Cherry slipped her gun back into its normal place at the small of her back and took another step forward. "Bowman?"

It was less a question, more a request, perhaps even a predetermined order. But on that single word a black arrow flashed in the dim light before planting itself with a satisfying thunk into the man's left eye. He remained sitting for a few seconds, the shock clear on his face as life bled from his eyes before falling forward driving the arrow the rest of the way through his skull.

"...I needed him alive, Cherry." Jack's voice was restrained.

"An I wanted him dead, funny how a woman's wants always outweigh a man's needs." Her voice was more tired then sarcasm and edged with the weariness that comes when your whole life is a battlefield.

Taking several more steps forward Cherry dropped a file folder and a USB stick at Jack's feet. "You can court martial me later. Right now I gotta operation to plan fer saving yer girlfriend the Lady Grey first. I'd take a good hard look at that folder. You wouldn't be gettin' anything else outta the bastard anyways."

Slayton could barely suppress a very slight grin, "Good to see you too, Cherry."

Pulling out a cell phone Cherry made a call as she walked away. She'd begun listing off instructions in her typical rapid fire manner. Those instructions were more then likely being issued to a half asleep and probably quite cranky Tyler Jankowski. "Cry me a river grunt, ya 'eard me, 8 man infiltration squad, an I needed it yesterday... yer damn well right I expect you ta read my damn mind, didn't yer ex teach ya that lesson bout women? Work off tha hangover later an learn ta buy better booze..."

Watching her disappear onto the balcony Jack marveled after her more with approval then anger. Jack almost felt sorry for Tyler, almost. Echo and the rest of them had gotten a quiet three week vacation from Cherry. They were about to get a swift kick in the ass it seemed.

Celtic came in over the comm in Jack's ear, "Kowalski's been neutralized."

"Gee, thanks. Bit late don't you think McConnell."

"I'd say it was perfect timing. All things considered." there was amusement in Celtic's voice. "She played 'er hand well."

Jack now scowled a bit. He wasn't very happy with Bowman's obvious disrespect, but it was blatantly apparent that Kowalski was extremely loyal to his captain. Disrespect or not, Jack wouldn't take that away from her, she needed people like that.

"Now what exactly were you expectin'?" it was a new voice from the doorway to the balcony. "You can cage a tiger, you can even get em ta work together. Ain't gonna stop em from proven to ya every so often they still got teeth."

Removing the comm from his ear Jack glanced off to the side and the voice, "Expecting it doesn't make it any less annoying."

"I'd say she passed wit flyin' colors." Saints stepped away from the curtains framing the balcony door, his eyes held a certain amount of weariness at the path they found themselves traversing.

"Still wish she hadn't killed him." Jack prodded the man with the toe of his boot before turning back to face the other man, "There was further intel to be had... she's letting her anger make the decisions... but all in all, I'd say it was a good test of them both."

Movement. It happened too fast for the other two people present to catch, but it ended with a crash and Jack pinning the form of one of the soldiers in tactical gear to the ground his arm behind his back.

"You're getting slow, Outrider."

"Fuck off Jackal, she wasn't suppose to find out. Especially not like this."

"You underestimated her, she was bound to find out on her own. She's a big girl, and she's far from stupid, I'd say she took it fairly well."

"She ain't suppose ta be involved in yer games."

"It ain't Jackal's game son." Saints stepped forward, a lucky perched on his lower lip as he lit it, "We knew she was bound ta find out, an we needed ta test her. We needed ta know she wasn't gonna go off the deep end like last time."

Last time had been four months under psych eval for throwing the Air Force Cross into the face of a General. For someone who showed true anger as rarely as Cherry did it was significant. The last thing anyone needed was her losing her cool and running off half cocked. When she'd first gone off the radar Slayton and Saints had a long talk. They'd wanted a chance to test her, and it seemed like no better time then the present. They needed to know if her cooler head would prevail over her desire for vengeance.

Sparing a glance at the dead man on the floor and the file folder Jack couldn't help but find himself impressed by the fact she'd managed to get both. Leave it to a woman to know the right way to exact her revenge and vindicate herself in one fell swoop.

"Its not personal Outrider, you know I'd have done anything to spare her that. But facts are facts, hiding the truth from her isn't doing her any good. Its only delaying the inevitable."

Jack could hear Outrider grinding his teeth, he could understand the other man's anger, he could even accept it. After all, he'd given everything for her to retain some measure of peace. Too bad for him she wasn't the type of just sit quietly at home.

Letting go of Outrider the other man stood, Jack couldn't see it but he knew the anger was there, it would be awhile before Varnell let it go. The fact that Outrider had swung at him instead of using a weapon showed he was still thinking with a mostly level head. If their situations had been reversed Jack would have readily punched himself.

Had he gone for the gun, Jack had no doubt Zero would have shot Outrider without question, before a bead was even drawn. Its part of the risk in these sort of cells and operations. You never know who you can't trust, which is why Jack had brought both of them with him. It was a good test for Outrider, and whether or not he could be trusted in regards to Cherry.

Reaching down Jack grabbing the file folder and USB stick leafing briefly through the folder. It was all there, the detailed information on the Renegade Sword within Vanguard. Kidnappings, recent operations, and the plan to usurp power by taking out the Lady Grey.

"Looks like its time to finally approach Gaussian for a bit of a chat." Jack closed the folder and looked back at the dead man, "Don't want to know what she did to get him to squeal that fast."

"Aye, ye probably don't. More'n likely though it was Kowalski. Boyo has a bit of a hand fer it." Celtic leaned in the doorway arms crossed.

Glancing backward at Celtic, Slayton grinned, "You'd be one to talk."

"As would you." Celtic straightened up his eyes falling on the dead man, "Wouldn't be too concerned bout him, her an Kowalski did a bang up job on the compound. Got a coupla Vanguard boys, more'n likely part of that renegade group. Should be good barterin' chips, after they receive the tender mercy of the boys in interrogation."

"On the plus side at least that's one less of the bastards ta worry about, fer now at least." Saints walked back out on the balcony Jack not far behind slipping the ear piece back on as they walked.

"Someone will fill the void inevitably." Jack sighed. "They always do."

"True, but it'll be easier fer us to get one of our own people into his place." Saints dropped his Lucky crushing it under foot.

Jack's earpiece came to life, "You comin' old man? Clock's tickin'." Cherry it seemed had requisitioned a comm, "An bring the green rabbit wit you."

Jack eyed Celtic amused, "Rabbit?"

"Aye..." Celtic's teeth were clenched and his voice a low grumble as the two walked off Jack chuckling a few steps behind him.

By: Cherry 9

--=12 Hours Later - Rikti War Zone, Vanguard Complex=--

It had been a long day, punctuated by the complex affairs of coordination and the frustrations of diplomatic hand holding. As always Gaussian was grateful for the dark silence off the office. It was a chance to get his thoughts together, and get more important work done in the little bit of extra time he was afforded, which lately seemed more and more scarce. With attacks escalating at seemingly random times, Vanguard was stretched to it's limit. Pulling assistance from local metas, regardless of their affiliation, had helped ease the personnel strain. Conversely it had only managed to increase his work load, and often times merely complicated the efforts at intelligence gathering and understanding what had been learned.

Behind him the security door to the classified tactical wing of the Vanguard compound sealed shut. Entering his office he heard a soft hiss as the security system identified him and turned on the comfort system to adjust the temperature. Stepping through the door however Gaussian realized he was no longer alone. Very few people had access to this wing, even fewer had access to his office, so he crossed the moderate sized room and sat at his desk. Setting the coffee cup and papers down he looked up and directly at the figure leaning against a wall, arms crossed watching him.

Tearing the tops off two packs of sugar he poured them into the coffee and tossed the wrappers away, keeping his voice as neutral as the look he wore. "And to what do I owe this unexpected visit, Jack."

Leaving the wall, and the shadow that had seemingly placed it self there for dramatic effect, Gaussian watched the other man cross the room towards him. There was a certainty in his steps that a man only gains after years of work in a field very few were equipped for. They were the steps of a predator, a man who even short an eye had very few peers. Even Gaussian had to marvel, Jack Slayton had been a legend in the intelligence and counter intelligence fields long before him. Known as a gentlemen with a smile that could melt the ice on the heart of even the most cold woman, Jack Slayon was also well known as a calculated, highly effective and extremely talented spy.

It was one of the many reasons he'd been concerned when he found out Jack was working his charms on the Lady Grey. Gaussian hadn't agreed with the decision to let Jack's organization, S.C.O.R.P.I.O., take over the Cyber Knight project. However it was the Lady Grey's decision to make, and while he may not have agreed with the idea of an extra-governmental organization taking over a project that had been largely sponsored by government agencies, he trusted in the Lady's judgment call.

That however did not explain why Jack Slayton was in his office now.

"Between friends, chum," Jack sat down in the chair in front of the desk and tossed an open dossier folder on the desk in front of Gaussian, "I'd say you have a bit of a problem."

Surveillance photos, grainy, but they were clear enough, several Vanguard sword agents assaulting a diplomatic group. The Rikti diplomat in the picture was one that had gone missing just two days before. It wasn't public information, but he didn't put it past an organization with the scope that Jack's had to not be keeping tabs on them. However, seeing his own agents executing the assault was chilling.

He'd had suspicions, there had been reports, inconsistencies, but nothing had ever added up. Time was always short, especially now with the pressure from governments about the raids and the desire for peace. He'd never had the time to really try and dig through the whole thing, look for the trail. Now it was sitting in front of him in all its bone-chilling glory. Renegades within the Vanguard Sword. How could he admit that though? He didn't even know how much Jack or his people knew... which meant it was time to find out.

"Could be anyone, we issue the armor to outside recruits after they've proven themselves." Gaussian watched Jack, his face neutral.

"True, though facial recognition verified and identified them," Jack tossed a USB stick on top of the photos, "But I'm a man that prefers to be thorough, so let's be thorough."

Eying the USB stick Gaussian picked it up and hooked it into the system on his desk. Thorough didn't even begin to cover the information it held. The picture it painted was all the more disturbing, but he got the distinct feeling it wasn't everything, though it was more then enough. He had a problem, a big one, and someone else knew.

It was a trail that started with Director Timothy Forsythe. He'd been with Vanguard since it's formation during the war. Seems he had interests in keeping the war going, interests that involved profits. He wasn't alone, and had somehow managed to convert several agents within the Vanguard Sword. Reading the memos Gaussian couldn't help but to feel betrayed. Anger however was the first thing he felt... anger that someone could be so greedy.

That anger was nothing compared to the rage he felt as his eyes fell over the last memo.

"He's plotting to remove the Lady Grey." Jack's voice was even, he could see the rage in the eyes of the other man. As good as Gaussian was at his poker face, very few men can take such blatant betrayal and swallow it down.

"Forsythe should be in Europe..."

"I wouldn't worry about the good Director." Slayton cut Gaussian off, and the tone alone told him Forsythe would be dead.

"He was a lead!" the anger had a focal point. His pride was wounded, that this needed to come from outside and he hadn't even gotten the satisfaction of dealing with it himself.

"Key word being was. I'm not particularly happy that the Director was... dispatched, but it was unavoidable, I'm afraid." Jack lied, but Gaussian had no way to know for certain, "All that he knew is on that USB stick. I'm not the person to be angry with, Gaussian... and anger right now won't stop the plot against the Lady Grey that's already under way."

"Why tell me? You've already dealt with part of it."

"Because I need Vanguard to be on the straight and narrow with me and my Agents. We're not enemies, and working against one other isn't solving anything." Jack's tone changed a bit, "You risked my Agents by sending them on that operation a month back without fully briefing them on the known intel. It's obvious there are gaps in your intelligence, and I'm well aware that Vanguard is stretched. But risking the lives of my Agents because of your gaps in intel is something I can't have."

Gaussian stared at him. He'd known about the operation, the intel gathered regarding Nemesis involvement in the war, it had gone well, but only because of the people S.C.O.R.P.I.O. had loaned them. What Jack was asking was a lot, though. Even though Vanguard accepted outside help, they were a recognized UN organization with backing from several countries. SCORPIO was not... it was an organization outside the boundaries of government and had no official recognition from the UN. Sharing information with them was a dicey proposition at best.

He also knew that Jack had him over a barrel. He knew a lot, more then Gaussian was comfortable about, he probably knew even more then he was letting on now. Considering the favor, Gaussian supposed it was a small request. The details could be handled later, for now his pressing concern would be dealing with the issue surrounding the Lady Grey.

"Fine, I understand your position Jack. Hell I'd probably do the same were I in your situation. You have to know its not going to be that easy, but we'll work out the details. Right now I need to address the standing issue of the attempt on the Lady Grey."

Standing up, Jack turned to walk away and stopped, glancing back, "Its already being handled. We'll be in touch."

Gaussian watched him walk out with both annoyance and awe. He'd trust SCORPIO to handle it. They'd proven effective in the past and the Cyber Knight would undoubtedly be with them. He'd post a few agents on it to assist, but for now this gave him time to do his own digging. Jack hadn't given him everything... that wouldn't be in either man's nature... but it was a start he didn't have before.

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