Posts Tagged ‘Ptah-Setker-Osiris’

Blood trailed down the shattered windowpane, around bits of unidentified matter and coagulated on the sharp tip of a piece of glass. Jayson’s eyes followed it to the end, where the blood dripped into nothing. What must it feel like? He wondered. To reach the end of the glass and fall into an abyss?

The end.

This was the end.

His mind couldn’t comprehend the motion of the crowd around him, people running scared, the throng pressing against themselves away from the dead body that lay on the ground. He couldn’t understand so many lives that would just keep on going when the one before him had just been shattered.

Instinct kicked in, the only thing that could possibly carry him through this. His phone was by his ear before he knew why. He didn’t remember taking it out of his pocket or dialing the number to Sam’s office.

“John’s dead.” He could scarcely believe the word’s came so easily. With them came a horrifying reality. “Oh, dear god, John’s dead.”

“What happened, Mr. Allison?”

Her question was calming. The tone the words came in make him believe even for just a second that things were going to be okay.

They weren’t.

“Gun shot. How it happened, I have no idea. It just…oh, God…I j—I just—he’s…John, he’s…” He was blithering now, incapable of finishing a sentence.

“It’s okay, Mr Allison. We’ll talk about this later. Get to a safe place. I’m sending people over.”

She might have said more, but Jay dropped the phone. It clattered into a pool of blood. For a second, he imagined the communication device giving voice to the dead, a voice that was lost to the concrete as the blood soaked into the sidewalk.

Jayson tore the mask from his head, understanding in some vague sense that some low-life, bottom feeding paparazzi was going to take a picture of this moment of vulnerability, and his identity would likely be on some blog tomorrow.

He couldn’t give less of a shit right now. He wanted the damn thing off his face. It was covered in blood.

His hands were slick with it, the red sticky liquid from John’s body. Oh, dear god. He’s dead.

He couldn’t deny it. John lay half supported by the shattered glass window where he’d fallen. His arm looked incredibly uncomfortable, twisted underneath him like a rag doll. Jay resisted the urge to move it.

You should be used to this by now, a voice in his head taunted him.

No shit. This was not the first person he’d seen dead. Ceil, their Arlethaen friend, dead at the hands of the Old Order. The man he’d called Dad, killed by a purposeful strike from an angry god.

His mother had never recovered. To make matters worse, shortly after that Jay found out that the tactical call he’d made cost the lives of three people they were ill equipped to lose. He’d failed the team.

He’d failed John. They were partners. They were friends. He was supposed to protect him.

He couldn’t protect anything after it had half a head shattered all over the sidewalk.

The world shifted as his knees hit the ground, then kissed the palms of his hands. Jayson threw up.

Uniformed Delta Division officers showed up and spread out, pushing back the crowd and ascertaining any immediate danger. One began roping off the area while another snapped pictures.

“Sir?” A hand rested on his shoulder, and he turned to see the face of one of Delta’s investigators. Jayson couldn’t remember the man’s name, or anything about him, which was unfortunate because he was sure he’d interviewed the detective himself. He hoped to hell the guy was competent. If he was on the scene to do a preliminary investigation now, his notes had better be thorough and comprehensible for when Drake took over, or there would be hell to pay. And Drake would take over. He’d be by after the PSO mission to be sure. He wasn’t going to let something like this go to just anybody.

“I…I’m going to take him to the infirmary.” He shouldn’t be making that call, not yet, and not when his judgement was compromised. No one stopped him. Half a second later, they were in the infirmary.

Dr. Elizabeth Franks was there. She wasn’t supposed to be on duty tonight, but in a case like this, Sam had pulled in the best. Liz didn’t often work as a mortician, but she was more than capable. And she was personally invested. Tears pooled in her eyes, and her pale skin was nearly translucent. She was shaken. Jay hadn’t been kidding when he’s said the good doctor had more than a little bit of a crush on the paragon.

Of course, all that mattered exactly nothing now.

“He…hm…He—I think the cause of death is a gunshot wound to the head.”

It was an incredibly poor attempt at humor that wasn’t all that funny anyway.

Dr. Franks nodded and didn’t look at him.

Jay gripped his mask and ran his hands through his hair. “I…this isn’t supposed to happen. He’s supposed to be invincible. Invulnerable to anything people could throw at him.”

That was the story they told anyway. There was one thing John was vulnerable to. The machines in his world that stole powers. Maybe that had something to do with it.

It wasn’t doing any good to try to figure it out. Jay felt nauseous again.

“I’m sorry.” he didn’t even know why he was apologizing.

“Yeah. Um. I’ll be a bit, okay?”

“Okay. Hey, doc?”

“Yeah?”

“Where’s my wife?”

He didn’t really need to ask. He knew where she usually was—in her office, more often than not—and seeing that he’d given Sam sufficient time to do something, she probably knew something was up now, and was heading down here.

With that thought in mind, he ran outside of the morgue and caught her.

“Where is he?” Her voice was panicked. “Sam said something was wrong. What happened? You’re okay, thank God you’re okay. Joleon, is he…”

How in every hell that existed was he going to tell her?

“Merelise…” The use of her Alethaen given name interrupted her small rant.

“Oh, God, no…”

“Meryl…Joleon is dead.”

She caught her breath. Everything in her body just sank, and she collapsed to the floor with a sob. “No, no, no, God no, please, no!”

Jay caught her around the arms and held her to him. He just let her cry, because that’s all he wanted to do himself. The aching, sickening feeling in his stomach tightened, and he was pretty sure he’d never eat again.

He didn’t want to. He didn’t care anymore. There was nothing left.

Once, he’d stood toe to toe with Kronos and told the angry god that he had nothing left to lose, so bring it on. Idiot, idiot, idiot! Did he honestly think he was going to sneak around the god of time? Just because he was imprisoned, that didn’t mean the world was out of his reach.

Oh, dear God, please tell me John isn’t dead because of me.

Stop jumping to conclusions, another voice said, this one of reason. You don’t yet know the how our why or what happened. Blaming yourself will just blind you with guilt, and then you’ll never see the truth.

The suits from Arlethae was the only thing Jay could think of that would nullify a Gifted’s abilities, but he hadn’t seen one in the alleyway. What the hell was happening? Who would do something like this, and why? He just didn’t understand.

For a moment, he was angry. Not that this unspeakable thing happened, but that right now, he would have to be the strong one. Why me? Why is it my responsibility all the time to make sure everyone else is okay? When is it my turn to fall apart?

That lasted hardly for a moment. This was his wife. He would hold her up, and he would support her as much as she needed.

Even though right now, he didn’t have a dammed clue how.

* * * *

“Delta HQ to Thundra, abort mission.”

Charity exchanged a confused look with Drake. “Say again, HQ?”

“Abort mission. Return to base. Immediately.”

Drake shrugged. He’s gotten the data he needed, and besides, the computers were now destroyed. He’d go through the information later in his own lab.

“Okay, kids, back to the van, we’re taking off.” In the Maverick, she did a headcount. “Drake, let’s port back.” She’d saved the teleportation for an emergency, and there was an urgency in Sam’s voice that make her think this was the time for that.

They appeared back at HQ and piled into the hanger. Sam stood waiting for them, a dark, angry look on her face. Instantly Charity’s mind jumped to the conclusion that Sam was angry with them. Why, she had no idea, and it didn’t matter at all. It didn’t occur to her to ask. Her mind just raced to find a justification for every action she’d directed that night.

But that was unnecessary.

“Stryker is dead.”

For some reason Charity had the bizarre impression that Sam was talking about her favorite reality show character, which made no sense because that wasn’t the character’s name, and Sam didn’t watch television anyway, and even if she did, why would she be this upset about it?

Stryker is dead. This time it hit her like a slap to the face. Her hand flew to her mouth. “Oh my God.”

“What happened?” she heard Eric ask.

“Details are still under investigation. What we do know at this time is that he was assassinated, shot at long range. Mr. Hachirobei, I assume you will be—”

Drake was gone. He didn’t even stick around to ask where it happened, but this was Drake. He’d find out. The streets were Mister X’s domain. Not a damn thing happened out there without him knowing about it. Except this.

“Miss London.” Charity’s head jerked up at Sam, pulling her out of her stunned stillness. “Mr. and Mrs. Allison are just outside the infirmary. I expect you’ll want to be there for them.”

“Yeah. Yeah, absolutely.”

She didn’t even remember covering the distance between the hanger and the door, but she was suddenly a few hallways down, on the floor sobbing. John was dead. He was gone. The one they all looked up to, the dependable one, the one they counted on to be there. He was gone.

Her senses dulled with grief, she hadn’t even realized that Eric was beside her, but then he wrapped his arms around her. She really lost it then, a small, internal voice expressing gratitude that she’d managed to put it off long enough not to cry in front of the younger kids.

“Gotta…gotta pull it together, she muttered finally. “Meryl and Jayson…they need me.”

Eric didn’t stop her, didn’t try to talk her out of it. Without a word, he helped her up, his arm around her waist. Her legs nearly gave out from underneath her, but he held her steadily. “I’m here,” he said, his voice gentle.

She nodded, and somehow the two of them made it to the infirmary doors. With a deep breath, she pulled away from Eric, and the two of them walked in.

The look on her friends’ faces was nearly her outdoing. Meryl was nearly prone, her whole body convulsing with uncontrollable sobs. This was her brother, her twin. Charity knew how terrified and angry she was when Marcus was threatened; she couldn’t possibly imagine how she’d feel to lose him. And that was only a fraction of the closeness that Arlathaen siblings felt. It was a trait of their race that every birth produced twins, a boy and a girl. They were meant to be together in everything, two halves of a whole.

Jayson held her. Thank God for him. The two of them were soulmates, and if anyone could pull Meryl through this, it would be Jay. But he was hurting too. He’d gone through too much. Charity could well remember the fear in his eyes when his mother nearly died a few years ago. She survived, but had never been the same. And then, just when Jayson was coming to terms with his adoption and deciding which of the two men in his life was his ‘real’ father, he’d lost them both.

If it wasn’t for that, he’d be running Delta, Charity was sure of it. She wished he was. Maybe then John wouldn’t have died. She never hated Sam more than she had at that moment. That makes no sense, she told herself. It’s not like Sam actually made this happen.

She pulled them both into her embrace. There were no words. The three of them just cried together. They would get through this, they had to.

If only she knew how.

* * * *

Allen followed Charity’s exit with his gaze until she made it through the doors; then his look of disbelief returned to Sam. “The four of you are dismissed. Please have your reports on the mission on my desk by morning. Thank you.”

Then she was gone.

Mitch spun on his heel and backed out through the hanger doors. “And, that’s my cue. Catch you jokers later, hm?”

Allen didn’t respond. He just stood there, his fingers clenched into a fist so hard that his knuckles were white and his fingernails dug into his skin. The sharp pain focused him. “What coward…what goddamn coward would do this? I’ll kill him. I swear to any god listening, I will kill him!”

Lindsay stared at him. “H-how dare you?” Allen glanced up at her in surprise. “How dare you?” She fairly screamed it now. “You have no right to be upset by this! You’ve been here for, what, three months? He was my mentor for three years! What the hell is Stryker to you? What could he possibly mean to you?”

“Lindsay, that’s enough,” Marcus said in a low voice, and tried to pull her away. He might as well have been tugging on a marble statue.

Allen could feel hot tears burning in his eyes. “He was my hero. That’s what he meant to me. And yeah, maybe you’re right. I should have joined Delta earlier, and maybe known him a little longer, but you know what? It doesn’t change a damn thing. We lost someone, and come hell or high water, we are going to make sure that he is avenged. So, are you going to stand there bitching at me about it, or are we going to work together to find out who is responsible? Because I can guarantee you I will find out. And God help him when I do.”

Lindsay had no response for that. She leaped into the air so fast, it left shatter marks on the concrete floor, and then took off into the night sky through the open roof.

Marcus shrugged. “Sorry about that,” she said. “Lindsay gets a little…worked up over things. “

“I don’t really blame her.” Allen unclenched his fists. There was blood on them, collected under his fingernails. He laughed a little. “For all my big talk, there’s not a damn thing we can do right now, is there?”

Marcus sighed. “Come on. The training room’s open. Maybe there’s nothing we can really do, but I think we both need to blow off a little steam. How’s about we go dick around in there a bit.” He grinned. “Betcha I’ll kick your ass.”

Allen found himself with a half smile to return. The idea sounded like a good one. God only knew how much he needed something to hit right now. “Okay.” There. That was something he could do. He’d fight and he’d train, and when people a lot smarter than he was figured out what was going on, he’d kick this villain’s ass.

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“That god dammed cantankerous bitch!” Charity was furious. Eric thought it was incredibly hot, but he put his hand over his mouth in a casual, understanding matter, at least in part to keep that idea inside his head. It would not amuse her right now.

“Hey, it’s okay. I’ll be there.”

“No thanks to her,” Charity spat out. “If she had her way, you would be here at all, we’d still be separated, and—” She ran out of words, she was so angry.

There was no love lost between the two women, and Eric didn’t blame her. The decision to go public had to have been in the works months before they’d broken up. When Charity had asked Sam to make an exception so she could tell Eric about Delta, there had been no damn good reason why the director had refused. Eric didn’t think It was spite, but he couldn’t rule it out.

They were in the common room of the Delta Division HQ. From the top down, the whole building was the multiple-triangle shape that made the Delta symbol. The high-rise nearly touched the sky above ground; and below, the man-made island was hollowed out to house several laboratories. This and a group of three other levels were for the agents’ quarters. The common room was a nexus. Several large television screen were placed about the room for entertainment and information. Satellite hook-ups, provided gaming, movies, and other benefits of Internet access. Huge glass doors opened out on to a veranda that surrounded the building.

With the late hour, there were few people in the room, and the screens were silent. A couple sat somewhere in the back, conferring quietly. A lab technician hogged a corner table up against a window with a view out into the lake. Charity and Eric sat at the bar.

Charity gave Eric a look as he swirled his fourth whiskey of the night. “We do have a mission tomorrow,” she scolded him.

“Yeah, I’ll be fine by then.”

“Uh huh. Eric…”

“Really.” He set the glass down. “But if it bothers you that much…” He put his arm around Charity’s waist. “Look, I know I went a little…off the deep end after I thought I’d lost you.” He nuzzled her. The alcohol was getting to his brain a little. “But I don’t need it now. I’m never going to let you go again.”

She smiled, and when he kissed her, she kissed him back, lingering. “So long as I don’t ever lose you.” Her hand brushed up against his face.

He closed his eyes and leaned into her touch. “I love you. So much.”

“And I love you. Now, come on, let’s go home. I have to figure out how the hell I’m going to get a bunch of teenagers to kill monsters instead of each other.”

* * * *

The Maverick was a fantastic machine. Allen had seen it the day before when they went to Russia—he still couldn’t get over the fact that the day before, he was in Russia—but it still took his breath away. It had all the functions of a versatile helicopter, with the sleek exoskeleton of an airplane. Its stealth capabilities were unparalleled, hiding from all but the most sophisticated detection systems. It didn’t seem large from the outside, though it certainly had a commanding presence even as it idled in the hanger. Light bent around its frame, already designed for minimal air resistance. It made the plane look smaller.

Inside, it seemed to almost bend space, it was so roomy. Plush chairs lined the walls inside, providing an easy view of a low table that could be folded into the floor. An empty holographic display shone over the table, waiting for information to be input. A door to the back of the plane was bolted shut, but could be opened easily enough for a drop. Drake already sat in the cockpit, surrounded by a holographic heads-up display. His eyes flicked back and forth in sync with his flying fingers as he performed last-minute checks and countdowns.

“Takeoff in two minutes,” Drake informed them. “Get in and buckle your seat belts, I don’t care if you’d survive an impact.”

“The ship’s got teleportation capabilities,” Charity explained, “We’ll save the ship’s teleportation capabilities for an emergency,” Charity decided. “It takes some time to warm up after use.”

“Uploading satellite imagery to the holographic table,” Drake informed them.

Charity nodded and caught the ball of information before she expanded it to sort through. She focused on a sonar image of the laboratory they were going to.

“So, what’s the plan, Boss?” Lindsay asked. Sort of a suck-up, Allen reflected. He wondered what Marcus actually saw in her. She seemed so shallow.

“Entrance here, I think. It looks like an exhaust vent. They have to keep the computers cool somehow. I’m sure it’ll be secure up the wazoo, but you can crack it, right Drake?”

“I can crack it,” Lindsay responded, pounding one fist into the palm of her hand.

“Yeah, let’s keep that kind of crack until they actually discover us. I’d much rather get in and out without them noticing us.”

Lindsay looked disappointed.

“So…” Allen spoke up. All eyes turned to him, and he suddenly felt intimidated. He swallowed and tried again. “So, what kind of things can we expect?”

“Monsters,” Charity said matter-of-factly. Allen noticed an out-of-place twitch in her cheek and a momentary flash of uncertainty in her otherwise controlled demeanor. “PSO does genetic experiments, splicing meta powers into altered humans or animals. You’ll see scientists and laboratory assistants, but don’t let their demure appearance fool you. Most of them exercise some form of mind control over their pets. If they’ve got any sanity left, I can guarantee they’re entirely amoral. The world’s not going to miss them if they happen to end up dead. If their mind is lost…well, the best thing is to put them out of their misery anyway. I’ve been told on no uncertain terms that this is a recon mission, not search and rescue. I…I don’t like it, but those are orders.”

A quiet tension settled over them. Allen suppressed a shudder. When he signed up for this, he knew he’d probably be running into a villain or two—that was part of being a hero, right? But here it was, right in his face, the cost of heroics. Thundra was a hero, no question about it. But Allen was looking under the mask now, and he saw the toll it had taken on her. Her eyes were haunted and he could tell she hadn’t slept well.

Was that what he was going to look like five years from now? So twisted and broken he could barely breathe? He’d heard about things like post-traumatic stress disorder. In his psych eval, Meryl had mentioned something about the super man’s curse. Super heroes had it worse, she told him. They had to shoulder more responsibility, more tragedy, more trauma at a younger age than anyone else. What else had Charity seen? What else was he going to see?

* * * *

They arrived, and the Maverick parked in stealth mode several feet above the lab. Never again, Charity had promised herself a long time ago. Well, that didn’t pan out. In her dreams, she went back to that dreadful place, over and over and over again to save people. No one ever survived. Sometimes, even her waking hours, she’d fantasize about going back, rescuing some poor soul from the clutches of the twisted sycophants, and take him or her under her wing. She could be an inspiration to them, a message that they could live on.

Maybe then, what happened to her would have purpose.

She felt a hand on her arm, and she turned to smile at Eric. Early in their relationship, she’d put off sharing a bed with him because she couldn’t explain her nightmares. Now he knew everything, and Charity couldn’t get over what a support he was. She’d never be able to get out of bed if it wasn’t for him. He could make her forget all those times she woke up screaming, terrified she was trapped forever in a torturous prison.

But she was not going to let that define her life. The group gathered at the door of the Maverick, that was what defined her. Eric, the love of her life; she’d die for any of her friends–for him, she’d live. Drake, her rock. Some saw him as erratic; to her, he was stability itself. Marcus: he was growing to be such a young man. People called him her sidekick, and that was true to a point, but he was really a hero in his own right. Even the others: Lindsay, Mitch, and Allen; she didn’t know them quite as well as she could yet, but they were her students. They would grow and develop their own stories. They looked up to her, and she was their hero. That’s why she kept fighting.

“So much for stealth.” Drake pointed to the sands below. They were stirring. From the dunes, gray in the moonlight, rose countless creatures.

“We need to get Drake into the computer lab. I’ll clear a path. Spark Plug, Inferno, you’re behind me. Clean up any stragglers. Vorg, stick with X, you got his back. Oh, and take this.” She handed him her comm. “Spirit, Spryte, break anything bigger ‘n a breadbox, got it?”

She scarcely waited for a nod before she took a nosedive from the plane. She bent her body at a ninety degree angle to the ground, arms pinned to her sides, one leg tucked behind the other. The wind whistled in her ears. For a moment, she was at peace.

When she was held captive by Ptah-Setker-Osiris, their experiments had unlocked a power hidden deep within. It was another form; a part of herself she could not control. In some ways, it was like another entity altogether, but in her truest moments she had to admit that it was an intrinsic part of her. It had taken it years to master it, years to take back the control PSO had taken from her.

Oh, sure, she’d used it a time or two. When she and the team had fought Kronos, she’d taken on this form because it was the only thing that was equal to the god. But she’d been terrified the entire time…or at least the part of her that was aware. Most of the fight was blacked out from her memory, though it still woke in her dreams. She’d been afraid of herself, afraid of her power.

But that was years ago. Now she was going to kick some ass.

Electricity flashed in the night sky as the energy rippled over her body and exploded into bright light. Time shifted away from her, like it was sucked into another dimension. More to the point, it became irrelevant to her. Past, present, future, it all melded into one. So simple, she mused. It’s all so simple.

It was not the first time she’d had that thought, and she still didn’t have the slightest idea what it meant. It was like this form was a gateway into another universe, and she saw things with a clarity she could never retain when she returned to Earth. Pain, tragedy, guilt, failure, joy, laughter, friends, tears, loss, and so much more: it all left an indelible mark on one’s soul, a purposeful design to…

She was never quite sure what. It was hard to remain anchored to the same plane of existance as her friends when she was in this form. It all seemed so far away, so irrelevant. With some effort, she pulled her mind back to the swirling sands of the Sahara desert. Reality struck a blow to her mind that left her spinning in tears. She wanted to go back to the sensation of timelessness.

But right now, she had a job to do. The air around her heated so fast that the surrounding cold air collapsed in on itself. Winds began to cycle around her supercharged body. Moisture gathered in the air, and a lightning storm formed in response to her presence. In a distant sense, she was aware of the creatures that surrounded her. They were bat-like creatures, their sonic cries enhanced to do more than just feel the world around them. Everyone clutched their ears, and even Charity felt a sharp pain. Well, that wouldn’t last for long. Lightning crackled in an aura around her. Bats fell by the thousands. More joined them as Marcus and Mitch began to fire at will.

The descent was over in seconds. Charity’s booted feet touched the sands, and her aura faded. The world spun.

“Are you okay?” Eric’s hand caressed her shoulder a bit clumsily. His suit was less like a knight’s armor and more like a second skin, but it still made his fingers bulky. The touch grounded her in reality.

She nodded, noting that she was breathing heavily. Her whole body rebelled at being brought back to this realm of existence. Eric looked worried. She didn’t have the faintest idea how he possibly emoted through the metal faceplate, but she could still sense his concern. “I’m fine really.” She sounded breathless even to herself.

The bats were gone, but they had barely a moment’s pause before Drake said, “I’m in.”