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A Curious Encounter - Episode 2

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Kartanian
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A Curious Encounter - Episode 2

“Got another one for you,” Kisya D’Amico reported with an amused sneer as she watched the odd two dozen windows floating around her in the Curiosity Kilz control center. She magnified one window and studied it. “The ‘Red Cross Emergency Action Fund’ out of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. At least, that’s their registered physical location. They’re actually operating out of Cameroon and Malaysia.”

“Fraudulent charity action?” Kartanian asked.

“Yep. A good five thousand victims already. Average donation of two-hundred and fifty-three dollars, U.S. And it's a mirror organization with seven... no, nine... copycats. And counting. They all funnel to the same accounts. Suckers.” She snickered.

“Good. I love bleeding those parasites. Suck, suck, suck, suck, suck! Siphoning cash out of them like they do to their victims.” The spymaster chuckle-purred. “Makes me feel like a vampire. I'll get right on that. More operating cash for us!”

“Oh, and this just came in, too. A private inquiry.” She flicked him the virtual mail. He opened it on his retinal display.

“Ooh! A real job!”

“Real pay, you mean? Not just a do-gooder opportunity?”

“Exactly!” He read further and then listened to the pitch on the voice message. “Somebody wants to build a new lair. Seems that the Memorial Day thing with the villain war blew their cover. Now, they need a ‘deniable resource’ to help clear out some candidate sites and make arrangements so that no one will know who’s doing the action, or where they are ending up.”

“High risk of employer betrayal in that kind of work.”

“Yep. Goes with the territory.”

“And did they really say ‘lair?’”

Kartanian grinned broadly. “No shit, he did!” He adjusted his voice to imitate the man on the voice recording. “Ah, Mister Kartanian, we would, ah, like to engage your services in finding and building another, ah, ‘secret lair’ from which to base our operations. Compensation to be negotiated. Secrecy absolutely required. Let’s, ah, talk through terms, at your earliest convenience.”

The hostile secretary laughed despite herself. “All right! I know you’re going to take that one. Need any help to set up the meeting?”

“Not at the moment, but put the tracers back on this data. See if we can find out more about our potential employers. And see if you can project availability of assets. I’ve got a feeling that this is going to be much bigger than a one-cat job.”

“You got it, boss.”

A Wing and a Prayer, A Strong, Strong Wind, All Forests are One - Venture City metahuman novels in the spirit of City of Heroes and other comic book superhero fiction. (http://bit.ly/sdpbooks)

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The bodybuilder in the neo

The bodybuilder in the neo-Nazi Stormtrooper getup gestured at the damaged spots in the conduit that ran along the cavern ceiling. The leather, spandex, and battle armor completely concealed his identity, but Kartanian didn’t care. He would know exactly who he was dealing with soon enough. In the meantime, he wore his human guise to better put the fellow at ease.

“Here, here, and… here,” the patron said in a thick New England accept. “That’s where the water came in, with the quakes.”

The rogue nodded. “That was after the second attack you mentioned, right?”

“Correct. That was the Tarot meddlers. We still aren’t sure whether they had a grudge against ARYAN or were hired to attack us.”

“Did you want me to find out?”

The bulky officer shook his helmeted head. “No, we’ll take care of that. We need your services to move our operations. Discreetly.”

“Understood,” Kartanian agreed. “And the new location will need to meet your own special requirements, of course.”

“Exactly.”

“Do you want a diversion plan, so that anyone watching your organization’s activities will be confused about where you really intend to move?”

“Yes. And the construction will have to be concealed, and silenced.”

“No problem there. I have mindwiping talent available on staff.”

Kartanian fancied that the patron looked surprised beneath his helmet. “You do?”

“Yes. Several methods, in fact.” He shrugged with an agreeable grin. “It’s a hobby of one of my people.”

“Ah. Well, I will also keep that in mind. Now, about payment….”

“Yes, I can suggest several holding sources, but The Broker is most reliable for both of us for something like this. I will require a 25% retainer, plus expenses, with a payment of 25% delivered when you agree on the location, 25% on approval of the plans, and the final 25% on completion of construction.”

The neo-Nazi nodded. “Very well.”

“Just to let you know, I will install defenses as soon as the site is okayed. I’ll give you the keys and codes on completion of our deal. I recommend that you hire a third-party security expert to verify that I have left no surprises behind for you. That way, we are both covered.”

“Sensible, yes.”

“If you decide that you want a base that is currently occupied by another hostile owner, I am happy to accommodate most requests. If your selection runs counter to any existing security and mutual benefit contracts I might have, I will inform you and recommend an alternative. If you choose to proceed with that location anyway, you will be responsible for removing the current owners. I will remain as neutral as possible given the specifics, and will continue with the project once the site is secured. Otherwise, I will make arrangements for ‘pest removal’ and change of ownership, at agreed-upon prices.”

The villain chuckled. “’Pest removal,’ nice! Yes, that’s all fine.”

“This is all very do-able,” Kartanian concluded. “If you’re ready, let’s talk specific pricing.”

A Wing and a Prayer, A Strong, Strong Wind, All Forests are One - Venture City metahuman novels in the spirit of City of Heroes and other comic book superhero fiction. (http://bit.ly/sdpbooks)

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It was just a little

It was just a little advertisement, passed along discreetly to several of Kartanian's contacts.

Wanted: Leads on new villain lair locations. Secure locations needed for powerful nasties. Preferably close to the best things in life (if you're a vampiric cockroach): Darkness, power, air, food, shelter, and victims. Finders fee.

"Are you sure you want to pass that around to the heroes, too, boss?" Kisya asked dubiously.

"Yes, I'm sure. I have something in mind," the spymaster answered.

"Are you crowdsourcing the ARYAN lair?" she asked in disbelief.

Kartanian grinned. His tail twitched. "Sharing the need of something so beautiful, seeking to hide from the light... raising questions where none were before... Is that wrong?"

The hostile secretary laughed and turned back to her fashion magazine.

A Wing and a Prayer, A Strong, Strong Wind, All Forests are One - Venture City metahuman novels in the spirit of City of Heroes and other comic book superhero fiction. (http://bit.ly/sdpbooks)

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In many shady locations and

In many shady locations and bars that air the pirate station, Villain T.V. the screens change to show the virtual avatar of the Network operator, owner, and star Hotwire. "Hello out there in the underbelly of Titan City! We got a few advertisements for you. First from our friends at Minion Inc. Tired of getting local thugs and goons to fill your ranks? Well come to Minion Inc and have your very own clone troopers! Yes using Vril technology... May or may not be actual Vril tech. The fine mad scientists can whip you up a batch of your own clone troopers today!"

"Now we have a job posting! Wanted Leads on a new Villain Lair locations. Secure Locations needed for nasties. Oh come on who wrote this I can come up with a better aid! Really they even say Villain Lair... oh well it's a paid ad. Preferably close to the best things in life, if you're a vampiric cockroach... Sounds like my ex-boyfriend. Darkness, Power, air, food, shelter, and victims. A nice Finders Fee. Contact information posted below." At the bottom of the screen was how to report a possible location for a lair.

"With the Ads out of the way, it's on to more combat and fights. Our next event is a bank robbery in action by a guy named Boulder Dash... Who names these newbies? Well, lets see if he can make it or get busted. Odds going up as soon as a Hero arrives!"

--------------------------------------------------------
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Karhythadrizsa the Bookwyrm

Karhythadrizsa the Bookwyrm perched on the chair of the study carrel, flipping the pages of the book with her foreclaw until she found the story she wanted. The cavern described would do, if no one had claimed it already. The book was over seventy years old, and it had been more than twenty years before that when Karhy had seen the cavern herself.

She paused to consider the ad she'd seen. It might pay well, but the clients did not seem like the sort of people she really wanted as neighbors. On the gripping hand, though, the information was already available here in her "lending hoard". Anybody could find the cavern from this story, if they could get into the restricted areas of the subway. Her decision made, she left, flying back to the F&SF racks where the secret passage to her main lair was concealed.
________________________________________________________________________________

Hypatia Argyros was one of at least two people who noticed the bookwyrm leave. She held her finger to her lips to preempt the squeal of the child who had looked up from the story circle at the wrong time. Then she went to put the book away. It was most unlike Karhy to leave "her" books out and opened. It was so unusual as to be effectively begging one of the librarians to take notice of what the bookwyrm was reading. "The North Bradford Cavern", from Titan City Subway Tales. She looked over towards the speculative fiction shelves. Maybe that's exactly what the dragon wanted...

Hypatia put the book back where it belonged, then went and tapped on the shelf under McCaffrey, shave and a haircut. There was no answer.

Following directly was out of the question. With her staff, she was sure she could break the wards on the secret door, but it would be noisy and cost her a valuable information resource, not to mention friend. Besides, she had almost an hour left on her shift. So she retrieved the book and brought it to her desk, and read about how the people digging the subway had found a large cavern...

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And it was a very large

And it was a very large cavern, indeed. An old cavern filled with things that went bump in the night. Shadows that moved by themselves. Patches of phosphorescent lichen that grew in curious double patches and winked like eyes as the shadows shifted. Odd things like that. Certainly, this sort of cavern was too spooky for a high tech villain lair... or was it?

There were several alternate locations he had already discovered, but this one was intriguing. Kartanian sat down on a rock, making no special effort to remain unseen, but nearly invisible anyway. He just cast his senses out to see what was here in the gloom. This smelled right for something. It just might not be a racial supremacist lair.

A Wing and a Prayer, A Strong, Strong Wind, All Forests are One - Venture City metahuman novels in the spirit of City of Heroes and other comic book superhero fiction. (http://bit.ly/sdpbooks)

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In her tiny form, Kahry could

In her tiny form, Karhy could be very stealthy, between a natural lack of noise as she crept along to the last corner, a subtle spell that changed the color of her scales to match the concrete, and a slightly less subtle spell that caused the viewer to disregard the subject of the spell as supremely unimportant, unless the viewer was magically or psionicly warded. Or was a non-sapient machine or spell...

She poked her head, a bit larger than a cat's head and decidedly saurian, around the corner and looked at the spot where the cave had been, then some instinct made her look to the far side of the opening. It took her a moment to recognize the humanoid shape as a human, or something close to human... She recalled a report of a new player in Titan City's covert community, and she raised a claw to her mouth, in a manner that would be instantly familiar to any patron of a library, and looked straight at the stranger.

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It was a slight movement, and

It was a slight movement, and not important. That was what drew the rogue's attention. A powerful little misdirection like that was an invitation to investigate. He glanced over at the source of the motion and spotted something. That is, something other than the shifting shadows, denizens of the dark, and whatever else the cavern concealed. But the little--yes, it was a dragon--apparently wanted him to be quiet.

That, he could do. Kartanian sat quietly and waited for the creature to do something else. He wondered whether the little dragon was an intruder, belonged to this lair, or something else yet again. His whiskers would have been quivering with interest, had he not been wearing his human form.

A Wing and a Prayer, A Strong, Strong Wind, All Forests are One - Venture City metahuman novels in the spirit of City of Heroes and other comic book superhero fiction. (http://bit.ly/sdpbooks)

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Karhy looked into the cavern

Karhy looked into the cavern as she walked along the wall opposite the opening. The traces she remembered when she'd first scouted it were still there, no stronger, but not any weaker, either. The Beast would seem to be asleep, still. Whatever it was.

She crossed over to the humanoid, closing to within a few feet and sniffing briefly before speaking softly. "You're new here, aren't you? To Titan City, if not Earth..."

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"Hello there," Kartanian

"Hello there," Kartanian replied as softly as the dragon had spoken. "New, yes. That fits well enough."

He breathed in and glanced once around the chamber. No, not a good place for the ARYANs, unless he wanted to blow both his contract and a whole lot more. It felt like some of those "don't touch it!" places he had been in before. After a couple of near escapes, and a whole lot of extra effort, he'd managed to deal with the things. He'd rather indulge his curiosity in less extravagant ways.

"How can I help you? Or, was your intention leaning more to the reverse?"

A Wing and a Prayer, A Strong, Strong Wind, All Forests are One - Venture City metahuman novels in the spirit of City of Heroes and other comic book superhero fiction. (http://bit.ly/sdpbooks)

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Karhy sat back on her

Karhy sat back on her haunches and folded her wings. "That depends on one's point of view, I suppose. I've heard that certain persons were looking for a lair- that is to say, a base of operations. And much as it might be entertaining to see this group deal with what is sleeping in the back -" she indicated the cavern with a claw that looked opposible to the others on that forefoot -"from a safe distance, my own lair is here in Titan City, not Sri Lanka. So I'm thinking about warning people off of this cave, maybe hire contractors to seal it off... Oh, where are my manners? I'm Karhythadrizsa, also known locally as the Bookwyrm." She produced a business card from some extra-dimensional space, with her names, email (with the same domain as the Titan City Libraries), and the profession "Information Broker", and handed it to the odd visitor who didn't quite smell like anything else on Earth.

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"Ah, that sounds very

"Ah, that sounds very reasonable." Kartanian tilted his head and looked at the card at an angle so his enhanced vision could make out the details in the gloom. "And what is that thing back there? It's both like and unlike things I've encountered before. I have not yet ventured to investigate further, but forewarned is forearmed, as the saying goes."

A Wing and a Prayer, A Strong, Strong Wind, All Forests are One - Venture City metahuman novels in the spirit of City of Heroes and other comic book superhero fiction. (http://bit.ly/sdpbooks)

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"You're in luck, that

"You're in luck, that information I'll give you in exchange for your name. Or at least what you use most commonly around here." Karhy grinned, showing lots of small but sharp teeth. "Or you can wait until I post it on the appropriate weird websites after I get this sealed off, and get it for free..."

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Kartanian chuckled. "I am

Kartanian chuckled. "I am Kartanian, notorious rogue, sneak, spy, and ne'er-do-well. Sometime assassin and sometime hero, maidens rescued, with an extra fee for maintenance of original condition. Proprietor of Curiosity Kilz, gray espionage service. We also walk dogs."

He gestured at himself with a gloved thumb and a further wink. "And this human form laid over the top of me, as it were, is known as 'Ken Tanner.' He's a respectable individual with a real job and a soft spot for blondes."

"Nice to meet you, Lady Karhythadrizsa. I predict that the two of us will have a mutually beneficial relationship, being that I am in the information acquisition business." He even managed to pull off the pronunciation correctly.

A Wing and a Prayer, A Strong, Strong Wind, All Forests are One - Venture City metahuman novels in the spirit of City of Heroes and other comic book superhero fiction. (http://bit.ly/sdpbooks)

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Karhy put the name of his

Karhy put the name of his company together with certain aspects of Kartanian's scent and snickered. "A cat that walks dogs? I like that. Pleased to meet you, 'Mr. Tanner'.
"As to what's back there, I'm not entirely certain. When I first found this cave, in 1918 AD, I was using a spell that worked within natural stone and earth to find its boundaries." A wave of a forefoot, the digits in an unusual position, produced an image of the fifty meter long cave, with a "You are Here" arrow at on end and a bowl shape at the other. A creek cut from the near right side to the bowl and into a crack on the other side. "That circular depression at the far end attracted my attention. So I used that data to cast a spell that determined that the last sapient being, or agent of a sapient being, to have entered that cavern had entered it about eleven thousand one hundred twenty-eight BCE."

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"That's a long time," the

"That's a long time," the rogue observed. "And I'm no geologist, but from the younger shear planes of the rock at the near side of the cave, I would have thought this would have been opened up more recently. Is it an older natural space back there? And what did you learn about the sapient?"

A Wing and a Prayer, A Strong, Strong Wind, All Forests are One - Venture City metahuman novels in the spirit of City of Heroes and other comic book superhero fiction. (http://bit.ly/sdpbooks)

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"Not really long in

"Not really long in geological terms, it's just before the end of our most recent Ice Age. Although there do seem to be a lot of little caverns like this under Titan City, some of them may not be as 'natural' as my spell indicated. As for the sleeper, I did some careful probing, and there is a sapient in some sort of stasis; it wasn't actually thinking or dreaming when I checked. I am fairly sure that it is not a human, dragon, or any sort of Fae I've encountered. It could be some other sort of extraplanar creature, possibly extraterrestrial, and possibly artificial. But someone had put a sort of warning ward on that end of the cavern, any animal would have to be coerced into going into that depression, sapient beings without shields would feel unease. So far, I've thought it best to respect the warning."

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"Hrr...," Kartanian murmured

"Hrr...," Kartanian murmured to himself, looking back into the gloom. "Maybe if I just check out that ward...."

He rose and stepped forward until he could feel the pressure of what Karhy was referring to. Something had bubbled the thing in here. He stood for a moment considering the age of the item of interest, and the sensations he was picking up. Not for the first time, he wished he had some of his sister's wizardly abilities to poke and investigate.

A Wing and a Prayer, A Strong, Strong Wind, All Forests are One - Venture City metahuman novels in the spirit of City of Heroes and other comic book superhero fiction. (http://bit.ly/sdpbooks)

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The ward was either psionic

The ward was either psionic or mental magic, inducing an increasing level of fear, but even the most basic of natural, trained, or artificial shielding would blunt its effect. An image was buried in it: a human-like face, contorted in rage, behind clawed hands gripping vertical bars and trying to shake them. Perhaps it is intended to represent a violent prisoner?

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The notorious spy chuckled to

The notorious spy chuckled to himself. "You know, Lady Karhy, the forces of evil don't do this. They kill or transform their captives or, if unable to do so, put them into terrible torturous prisons; not mere stasis. And they don't post warnings like this one. Therefore, this is an imprisoned threat that the erstwhile forces of Light--or of ordinary self-interest--could not further resolve themselves. As curious as I am, I have to admit that it is better left alone."

He stepped back a pace, then cast a sly glance over his shoulder at the dragon. "But, since we two are here, you can bet your tail tip that no more than a year will pass before whatever it is will be unleashed by someone or something else, unless we take steps to see it otherwise. Your thoughts?"

A Wing and a Prayer, A Strong, Strong Wind, All Forests are One - Venture City metahuman novels in the spirit of City of Heroes and other comic book superhero fiction. (http://bit.ly/sdpbooks)

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"I'd put the spread at two

"I'd put the spread at two months. Maybe longer if those... vampiric cockroaches are known to have found another lair before this gets found." The pause was very short. Karhy wasn't certain if Kartanian had even seen the ad, but she'd bet hardcovers to used paperbacks he had. "Magic isn't my specialty, but I did leave a message with someone who has the skill and patience to beef up these wards and add in some basic alarm spells. Might not be a bad idea call in a real professional in that area, maybe even someone who's worked the other side of that coin. Then after that's done we can figure out how to keep that creek from undercutting whatever physical defense we can put in." She sighed. "I'd hoped to be able to figure out how to get some books out of this before it became more important to fix the problem than to profit on it."

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"Mrrr...," the rogue murmured

"Mrrr...," the rogue murmured. "I can certainly do something about the roaches. I'm somewhat of an exterminator, in that regard. Besides, I think I might be able divert them to an attractive hidey-hole elsewhere. And magic isn't my specialty, either, but I have trusted resources I can call on. And my favorite resource would just love to get her claws on this little puzzle!"

He paused and looked thoughtful. "By get some books out of it, do you mean mining it for information, or something else?"

A Wing and a Prayer, A Strong, Strong Wind, All Forests are One - Venture City metahuman novels in the spirit of City of Heroes and other comic book superhero fiction. (http://bit.ly/sdpbooks)

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"No, I meant books. I'm not

"No, I meant books. I'm not sure how much of Earth's popular culture you've seen, but the depiction of Smaug's lair in The Hobbit is a bit of an outdated stereotype. Not all dragons crave gold and jewels, but they were the ones that caused problems that got heroes and villains alike going after them. My ancestors got along quite well with humans, aside from the odd fanatic who thought all dragons were greedy monsters. Actually, we are all greedy, but my kind are greedy for books. The older and rarer the better, though most of us have no problem with copies being made. Most of what I earn in the information broker business goes to buying more books."

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He chuckled. "I can

He chuckled. "I can definitely understand that, then."

Kartanian straightened up and stretched fluidly. "All right. This is going to cost me. I hope it's worth the investment. I'll have my special resource check out the situation and I will personally do a security analysis of how to keep this protected. Meanwhile, I have other sites to visit, too."

"What will be likely to get you the most books, given how things stand currently?"

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"That depends. You could give

"That depends. You could give me cash, and I could use that to buy books, or..." The dragon grinned again. "How many books did you bring from wherever you came? I'm thinking hardcopies, not electronic editions. Bound, preferably hardbound. Digital copies will do if the work is in the public domain where it was written, or if we can arrange compensation to reach the author. But something that's never before been published on this world is, naturally, much, much more valuable to me than anything I can pick up for twenty dollars at Books-A-Million. I'll pay my consultant, most likely in credit, and the more you can add to my collection the more I'll be able to help defray your other expenses."

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"Ooh, hard copies! Now there

"Ooh, hard copies! Now there's an interesting thought."

Kartanian mused for a moment. "Mrr... not hard to arrange. Seventeen master playwrights' full collected works from around the Four Kingdoms, plus Ishan, Prreshtuwan, and the Isles. Never before seen here, of course. Traditional binding...." His eyes focused again and he looked at Karhy. "That will take some fourteen or fifteen boxes, I think. Where do you want them delivered?"

He chuckled again. "And, do you desire translations, or original language editions? As you might imagine, none of these are in English."

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"Original language, of course

"Original language, of course. I have some excellent translation spells, and it's not as if English was my mother tongue, either. Although we may want to consider the possibility of publishing the translations locally, later, some things like that do quite well..." Karhy pulled a tablet and claw sheaths out of the XDS and began some calculations. "Boxes about so big? Pages about a tenth of a millimeter thick?" Other variables either tended to cancel out, or were not definable without actually reading the works in question, and for those a minimum assumption of goodwill on Kartanian's part - or at least a desire not to be seen as overly greedy - set a value she could work with. She showed him the results of her work, a figure comparable to a state lottery jackpot that hadn't been paid out for three weeks or so... "I have a contract with a courier service called Psychopomp and Circumstance; they can complete the delivery."

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Kartanian smiled. "I've heard

Kartanian smiled. "I've heard of them. It sounds like they do good work. Anyway, that's a generous offer, and I accept. I will go collect those volumes this evening and have P & C deliver them tomorrow."

"In the meantime," he glanced about the cavern again, "I have more work to do. It has been a pleasure meeting you, Lady Karhythadrizsa. Perhaps you might recommend a book for me to read at some point. Given your expertise, I'm sure your selections would be thrilling!" He bowed sweepingly and faded away. He still had a lair to locate for the ARYAN crew.

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Kathy nodded, "Farewell,

Kathy nodded, "Farewell, Chesire Cat." She used the tablet to send messages to her associate and her delivery service, to let Goldenrod know of the prisoner on the verge of freedom and to let Psi&C know about the expected delivery.

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So, not that location. There

So, not that location. There were others, and the visit had produced a bounty of additional opportunities. The book dragon was a jewel of a find. Kartanian hoped he would be able to stay on good terms with her and whatever network she had going for her.

He made his way back up to the subway levels, and then over and around to an alternative access tunnel, following the 3D map in his retinal display. Along the way, when he was sure that it was safe to do so, he shared instructions with Kisya. With a quirk of an eyebrow, he noted that she was out at a media interview. "Going on Hotwire's show? Now that's curious!" he murmured to himself. "Hope she's enjoying herself."

He booked the security analysis on the calendar and continued to the big steel hatch. This location had the advantage of being two levels down beneath a main Ironport subway station. That was also its big disadvantage--too easy for the opposition to find. Still, that might not bother the fascists. With a trivial effort to bypass the security and make it look like nothing had happened, he slipped inside and looked about.

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Karhy watched as Goldenrod

Karhy watched as Goldenrod shaped the wall of the cave to cover the cheap - one might almost say disposable - cell phone. "Okay," the young witch said, "If anyone tampers with that prison, or if it cracks open from age or whatever, that cell phone will send out appropriate texts to you, to me, and to the Hot Seat at the Titan's Legacy. And because this phone," she pulled out an apparently identical phone, "is linked by similarity, it will send them, as well. I'll put this where it can get lots of bars." Unlike some modern wizards, advanced technology didn't have problems with Goldenrod's magic, unless that was the point of the magic. Sometimes she could integrate them in useful ways.

"But you can't do that time-view thing with a mirror to see what happened here?" asked Karhy.

"Nope. Even with my staff and ideal conditions, my limit seems to be about fourteen hundred years. Thirteen thousand is a bit beyond that. So far."

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Yes, this is better, the spy

Yes, this is better, the spy thought to himself. Much better. But, someone is still here!

The secure access area for pumping out water from the various levels of the nearby subway system was in fine working order. The maintenance tag said the equipment had last been checked three weeks ago. The secret area beyond, through the double-locked door with the old, peeling crime scene tape, was a human-modified underground lair. It was built in the 1970's and only partially finished before the city's heroes had found and stopped Dr. Devastation. And the lights were on, and sounds of machinery thunked and hummed somewhere deeper in the tunnels beyond.

Kartanian checked the floor. No fresh footprints. And the locked door he had slipped through--literally--remained locked and taped up. There must be some other access.

He moved forward, silent as a shadow, to investigate.

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The voices became

The voices became intelligible (at least to moderately enhanced hearing) about the same time that the electric eye fence came into view. Walls and floors had been knocked out, opening a volume twelve meters (about four stories) high and wide, and over thirty meters long off to the north, where there seemed to be some excavation going on. On the east wall, a cargo elevator was lifting up a mining cart, and a short distance north of it, two figures looked at something on a table.

The taller figure was a tanned human male with straight black hair in a ponytail, and mostly Native American features. The other person had digitigrade feet, back and brown fur under her light body armor, and a distinctly canine appearance. She spoke with an accent, possible due to the shape of her vocal cords. "...ithin limits, tensile strength to volume is more important than mass, for our purposes. And of course you are familiar with outgassing problems with natural rubber."

The human replied, "Yes, Sister Wolf, if you get me the materials,I can build this hull for you." He glanced north. "And if you can get it into space, it will hold air, at least until you run into a big enough micrometeor."

"Then, we have a deal, Mr. Proudfoot."

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Kartanian paused and captured

Kartanian paused and captured pictures, then ordered a search on the individuals he had apparently stumbled across. He consulted the map on his retinal display to see where the shaft might lead, and what lay on top of the site in the city above.

The spy considered the air currents in the chamber, and made allowances for masking his scent. He set some tiny devices in place on his circuitous path forward toward the excavation. Most importantly, he looked for weapons--armed workers or signs of active automated defenses. The sensor fence did not appear to be of a type calibrated for mystic disturbances, and there was plenty of dust in the air, so he disappeared and stepped through, reasonably confident that the light beams would continue on their merry way without interruption.

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For the majority of the

For the majority of the people whose images Kartanian captured, Ciph3r found little of interest: Family photos online, driver's license from MassDOT, union membership, the occasional arrest or military record. They appeared to be construction workers or miners. The two at the table were different.

Matching the face to the name "Proudfoot" brought up records on one William Beauregard Proudfoot: Class of '06 at Annapolis (major in civil engineering, minor in metallurgy), followed by six years in the USMC, MOS 1302 (Combat Engineer Officer) leaving active service as a Captain...Master's Degree from MIT, during which he managed to get a stint on the International Space Station to supervise his professor's experiments as well as running some of his own and his classmates. For the past year, he'd been working for a minor aerospace start-up, until they ran out of funding about a month back. Further checks trace the "Proudfoot" name in his family back over a hundred years to a family of Cherokee living in Oklahoma.

"Sister Wolf" as a name brought no hits, it would appear to be a new nickname for an individual associated in the past two years with the Venetian Cosa Nostra, under the name "Sharlfi Erghen", as an enforcer. The TCPD suspects she is an illegal alien, in both senses of the word, but until they have enough to charge her they don't care to do the INS's job. She had also been spotted fighting both Tinker Belle and the Duchess at a private airfield (the only sighting of the two heroines together since early 2008) and once fleeing an exploding private lab in an abandoned warehouse.

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Kartanian smirked and

Kartanian smirked and adjusted himself, then made his way to the opposite side of the table. He whistled a little tune as he faded in, just out of reach of either individual. With a white shirt, black pants, hair in a ponytail, and wearing a maroon apron, he looked for all the world like a bistro waiter from a place up on the streets above.

"Good day to you both! I'm ready to take your lunch order. Our special today is a very exquisite pastrami on rye decked out with aoli and spicy mustard, or the rigatoni in olive oil reduction is also excellent." He looked at Proudfoot and then Sister Wolf expectantly.

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Will (he never used Bill, it

Will (he never used Bill, it tempted would-be punsters to shorten his middle name and add it on) wasn't used to dealing with supervillains, so he decided to take the waiter at face value. "Sounds good. And unsweet-" He cut himself off when he realized his client wasn't taking the suddenly appearing waiter in stride.

Sharlfi glanced over at elevator and then at the electric eye fence that had been placed over the old entrance. She hadn't felt displaced air, and a scent that had been at the back of her awareness was now front and center. She pulled out one of her pistols and laid it on the table, covering the plans for what looked like the hull of a small cargo vessel and not quite pointing at the "waiter", and interrupted Mr. Proudfoot. "Who are you, how did you get in here, and what do you know about interstellar drives?"

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With a friendly seriousness

With a friendly seriousness he answered, "Ken Tanner, ma'am. With considerable difficulty. And absolutely nothing. But, I had a friend who got stranded here as a scout when her ship got into a scuffle. She eventually got back home, though. Are you trying to go someplace interesting?"

He smiled at Proudfoot. "The pastrami, or the rigatoni with that unsweet tea?"

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Sharlfi put the weapon away,

Sharlfi put the weapon away, but not quickly enough that Will didn't notice it wasn't a normal handgun. "Sharlfi Erghen. I'm trying to get to a region of space called The Interstellar Jump Conduit Network, the nearest point of which I know is about 3600 light-years - light Earth years, that is - away. I also call it 'Home'. Folks there travel between systems via a pre-existing network of..., well, I'm sure you can guess from the name. It overlaps with the region of space which is raided by a race of arachnotauroid arthropods, and they seem to use a different kind of hyperspace drive. I got a good look at one before crashing in the bay. I've done enough experiments to learn that I'm not going to learn more at the bottom of a well, and so I need a launch," she gestured to the plans on the table, "to get up there, run some tests, and get back down here to figure what my next step should be."

Will replied to Ken, "Pastrami. I'm Will Proudfoot. Currently a spaceship hull manufacturer. And might I ask why you're here?"

Shari spoke briefly into a communicator. "Jason, go ahead and weld that back door shut. It seems the laser fence is less useful than I had thought it would be."

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Kartanian nodded at Sharlfi's

Kartanian nodded at Sharlfi's explanation. "Definitely interesting, and not something I think I would be able to help with." He considered for a moment longer, and then shrugged. He turned to answer Proudfoot's question. "Sure, Will. I'm looking at supposedly abandoned locations around the city to find out if there is anything going on at those sites. If there is, I'm indulging my curiosity to try to discover what's going on. It's for a private security contract job I'm doing."

"In this case, there was a forty-year old record of a space back behind that pump access door." He nodded up at the door through which he entered. "The pump back there still has to be checked quarterly for subway maintenance purposes, but the space here beyond the pumping equipment was used as a criminal hideout for a time, until that group was shut down."

He glanced at the two. "If you like, I can have the door removed and walled up, with appropriate records created and bureaucratically lost with the city to preserve your privacy. The waiter outfit is just my twisted sense of humor, but I do happen to know a great bistro where I can grab lunch and deliver it back down here if you like, to make up for disturbing your work."

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"That sounds good. One

"That sounds good. One sealed doorway, and the rigatoni with a root beer." She activated the comm again. "Belay the sealing of the door, Jason. It's been contracted out." Will raised an eyebrow at the nautical expression, but said nothing.

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Kartanian smiled

Kartanian smiled mischievously, nodded at them both, and replied, "Pastrami with unsweet tea, rigatoni with root beer, plus a sealed and forgotten back entrance. Coming right up!"

With that, he activated his teleporter and winked out.

Back in the Curiosity Kilz office, he placed the order for pickup from the Metropolitan and ginned up the paperwork for a small Titan City construction order with his own firm--under a suitable alternate name--as the contractor. He would back-date and lose the order later, after it had been completed. He also added a few details to the growing file of data about spaces and places in the city. "It's a big city, with a rich history, and so space is at a premium," he sighed to himself. "If it were easy, they wouldn't have to pay me to do it, right?"

Having returned to his Ken Tanner human form, he sauntered out of the secure area and chatted briefly with Chelsea, the firm's receptionist, before going to pick up and deliver the lunch. Ten minutes for the whole round trip and he 'ported back into the nascent spacecraft drydock, a little further away from the table to avoid colliding with anyone. He announced, "Lunch is ready!"

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Shari entered a code into her

Shari entered a code into her com, and the teleport alarm was silenced. "Where was I? Ah, yes: I'll need a mass distribution analysis along the indicated axes, and I'll need to know what sections of each of these two areas will be sealed up last, so we can be sure all the major components are installed first..." Her discussion with Will went on, and in due course it was interrupted again as displaced air triggered the alarm. "Nice to know some of my security precautions work, " she commented, as she silenced the alarm again. "Thank you, Ken. Do you want me to keep you updated on my experiments, or do you have your own way home when you want it?"

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He handed them the cardboard

He handed them the cardboard food and drink containers. A Curiosity Kilz business card was tucked into the card holder on the box. "If you don't mind, that would be great," he replied.

"It has been quite some time since I've spoken with any canids. I hope that your project goes as smoothly as you could wish. Contact me any time if I can be of assistance." Kartanian paused as he remembered the alarm. he asked Sharlfi, "Ready for another 'port out again?"

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Sharlfi readied her com and

Sharlfi readied her com and nodded, keying the override code even as he disappeared, then she checked the business card. The food disappeared quickly, and both Sharlfi and Will made notes of the restaurant name and address. To the north, the workers continued installing what looked like a large vault door, over four meters high and wide.

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What better entrance to a

What better entrance to a secret villain lair than behind a seedy bar? Kartanian chuckled silently to himself. And this one was behind the "Harbor Tap" and next to "Jerry's Hardware" as a simple concrete stairwell from the free municipal parking garage beside the store. The exit from the cramped three story ramp was at street level, near the back entrance to the hardware store. At the bottom of the stairwell was an unassuming steel door. It was of the type that one would assume opened into a small utility room, but things were more than they appeared.

"Dis deal is strictly a cash transaction," wheezed the hunched, wire-haired old man. He sucked in the last dregs of his cigarette and flicked the butt in the general direction of the bar's dumpster. He released the smoke from his lungs with a loose huff of air. "I'm retirin'. Finally. An' what you do wid da place is up ta you, King, Jerry, an' da city."

"King?" Kartanian asked. "The bar owner?"

"Tenant. I own da buildings. Includin' da bar an' da bomb shelter. Dey lease from me. Fordy-two years fer Jerry, an' even he's gettin' ready ta retire, and twenny-tree fer King wid 'is bar." The landlord looked "Ken Tanner" up and down again appraisingly. "You don' want ta take my 'partments off my hands, too, do ya? Collectin' rent is a pain in da ass, but it's good enough money if you can keep it fulla immigrants and get 'em to keep da place up demselves."

"Why immigrants?"

"Dey don' really know no better. An' deys afraid a gettin' caught, whedder deys legal 'r not. So dey don' make waves, an' dey report stuff, if you tell 'em to. Den I send 'round somebody from da Rooks, or anudder group, ta get it chilled out. No cops, no reports, no fuss. An' I bill 'em a little bit extra for da 'security.' Dey pretty much like dat."

That sounded like an opportunity to the alien rogue. "Where?"

"Over on 13th. Tree blocks from here. Twenny-four units. You innerested?"

"Yeah, I am." Kartanian gestured at the property in front of him. "This place, too. What will Jerry and King have to say about a new landlord taking over?"

The older man shrugged. "Dey know I'm lookin' for a buyer, an gettin' set to retire. Got a condo in Florida picked out, alreddy."

Kartanian chuckled, audibly, this time. "Watch out for the alligators and the rising storm tides."

"Yeah, no shit. Place I'm lookin' at is up Tampa way. Not so freaky wid' da hurricanes."

"Great. Let me take another look at the bomb shelter thing, and I think we can talk about the money. You got any special friends in the city for inspection and permitting I should use?"

"Yeah, a couple'a guys. Dey're gettin' old like me. Make sure you send 'em birdday an' anniversary gifts, and know when dey're gonna retire, demselves. Get in wid dem an' find out who da new guys're gonna be, an' yer set."

The rogue nodded. "Yep. Done all that before. Good to know people who can help."

"'Zactly," the landlord agreed. "C'mon, lemme show you da backup 'lectrical dey installed in da nineties."

Kartanian let the man escort him through the little subterranean complex again, making note of the details he pointed out. With a bit of work and some judicious expansion beneath the existing construction, this could be made to fit the ARYAN group's need perfectly. He made a quick note to ask his metahuman contacts about what they knew about this neighborhood of northeast Ironport. Who owned the territory, and what heroes and villains might take an interest in the area?

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The ARYAN leader looked

The ARYAN leader looked around the low cavern beneath Ironport at Kartanian's direction. Beneath the helmet, the rogue could tell that the man was impressed. It had taken a while to get through the paperwork without tipping off the community's heroes. The Wanderers in particular had turned out to be a challenge to avoid.

"Yeah," the thug agreed, "This'll do it. You're sure that you can get it done without the capes finding out? I don't want to mess around getting this built only to have the goody-goodies find it right away. Pain in the ass, they are."

The spy nodded. "Don't I know it. Yes, I can get that done. The real security risk will be your own people going in and out, as usual. But this is a hell of a lot better than warehouses."

"Yeah, it sure is." The supremacist boss nodded. "Let's talk about specifics."

Kartanian was only too happy to oblige as they settled into a walk-through of what the villain wanted where in his newly-acquired underground lair.

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The capes may not have

The capes may not have learned where, but the advertisement made the what very clear, as well as the general type of who. Some capes made a habit of keeping track of such ads, filing the clues away for later use. Hypatia Argyros (also known as Goldenrod), on the other hand, spread what she knew amongst colleagues, friends, fellow neo-pagans, etc. From her the story went to (among other residents of the building called Whitehold) Rotten Luck and Crux. Crux let the gydhja Mei-Ling Kowalski know. She told her colleague, the gydhja Evaine McAllister, who told her daughter Signy. From her the Wanderers would have learnt of it, except that it was already a subject of much discussion at James Duncan High School amongst the proto-cape cliques.

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Of course what High School

Of course what High School gossip be without the school spirit hearing. Misty Spirit having spent some time around the Wanderers tower as well as haunting the school heard the whispers. Being dead does have some advantages turning incorporeal and invisible all that marked her approach to the bar was the flickering of the lights she passed by. 'Bad guys setting up a base. In this town that's nearly every day wonder what they are up to?' she thought to herself as she phased through the door causing a slight frost to appear where her ghostly form caused the water vapor to crystallize.

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"The best leaked secret is

"The best leaked secret is one that the subject of the secret knows nothing about," Kartanian purred around the straw of his bourbon milkshake. They were chatting at the bar of the Event Horizon nightclub a couple of hours before it opened for the evening. The feline alien had stopped by to watch his friend's band rehearse before the show. Gayle's group had just split for a dinner break leaving them alone with the staff. "You aren't going to take down ARYAN by busting this base. Let it be. Watch it. Follow the ARYAN goons discreetly. Stop their plans. Just don't do the normal, thick-headed hero thing and try to break in and cause a mess. I just set it up, for Bast's sake!"

"What's the point, then?" Gayle Force asked. She raised her hands and backed off at the spy's raised eyebrow and exasperated tail quirk. "Yeah, yeah. Okay, I think I get it."

"We use this as the net to go for the big fish! And make sushi of the small fry away from their spawning grounds." The feline spy's expression changed as he realized what he was saying.

The wind controller laughed at his suddenly perked whiskers. "You just made yourself hungry, didn't you?"

Kartanian had the grace to look abashed. He nodded quickly and changed the subject. "Anyway, the security I installed is rather clever, if I do say so myself."

"Really? Spill it!" Gayle's constant breeze swirled with a stronger scent of limes, a sure sign of her curiosity.

The spy shook his head. "Ah, ah, ah! That would be telling!"

"Aw, come on! Just a hint, then?" She bobbed into the air and whirled in a circle around him playfully.

"Two words, then." Kartanian grinned mischievously and crooked his fingers. "Frickin' lasers!"

The green-clad heroine laughed. "Too easy! What's the catch?"

With a shrug, the alien smiled smugly. "Cross-dimensional beams. They'll affect quite a bit more--and less--than people will be expecting. Like, phased, armored up, vibrating, magically shielded, undead, energy form beings, and so on. There are plenty of weaknesses, but I did want to do some good work for the price I'm getting paid."

"Uh huh."

He shot her an innocent look. "Remember, Lady of the Winds... I am a mercenary and a rogue!"

A Wing and a Prayer, A Strong, Strong Wind, All Forests are One - Venture City metahuman novels in the spirit of City of Heroes and other comic book superhero fiction. (http://bit.ly/sdpbooks)

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Back at the "Harbor Tap," a

Back at the "Harbor Tap," a regular dockworker type named Bobby was introducing a couple of friends to the bartender. "Ey, Mike, these are my buds, Chuck and Danny. They just moved into the neighborhood again. Figured I'd bring 'em by. See the Tap."

The old rail-thin barkeep looked them both over with a skeptical eye. His fuzzy eyebrows folded into a disapproving frown, making his face take on the approximate look of a Scottish terrier. "You lift, bro?" he asked with a sneer. He'd been around Ironport for almost fifty years, and he'd seen this type before.

"Uh, yeah," the one named Chuck answered. "Why?"

Mike shrugged. He grabbed a trio of beer mugs from the shelf behind the bar and set them up. Without asking what they wanted, he poured them each a beer from the tap. "You just look built like some guys I've seen before. Like you're gettin' yourself ready for trouble, and you ain't afraid to start it if'n it doesn't find you first."

Danny squinted suspiciously at the bartender. "Yeah? Why d'you say that?"

Mike shrugged again. "Lemme give you one piece of advice, son, and then I'll just shut up and mind my own business. Ironport has its own protectors. They don't like competition, and they do like things to go smooth for us locals, so long as we pay them what we owe. If you're not in with them already--which you're not--it's best for your skins if you just lay low and get to know the neighborhood. Leave the foreigners and the blacks and the metas and the weirdos alone. Don't go starting anything."

Bobby was about to protest when the beer mugs suddenly frosted up. The three younger men looked around nervously.

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Meanwhile, back at Curiosity

Meanwhile, back at Curiosity Kilz headquarters, Kisya frowned. She reached out a slender arm and gestured at the computer, which obediently displayed a video image. The hostile secretary's frown deepened. "What is this I'm seeing?"

"Video from camera 12 of ARYAN base," the AI responded.

"What triggered this alert?" she asked with irritation. The stupid thing was good at what it did, but literal.

"Match with threat parameters. Please acknowledge and evaluate this alert."

Kisya flicked through several different screens and feeds. She groaned. "Not the giant robot thing again! And how are they going to even get it out of... Oh, it's a 'joiner' type. Great."

She sent Kartanian a message. "Boss, the ARYAN activity triggered an alert. Giant robot construction. You're gonna want to see this."

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Misty's head appeared

Misty's head appeared hovering at the door "Oops sorry guys. I'm just checking out the joint I was sure this was where the Party was. Enjoy the cold beer!" With that, she pulled back and went up into the air. "Hmm, was sure the rumour said the place was a front. Did I get the wrong bar?" She bobbed in the air much like the ghost she was.

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While the three younger men

While the three younger men stared in surprise and horror at the ghost, Mike just shrugged. "Yeah, case in point."

"Hey! What bar do ya want, Missy?" he called after the spirit.

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Kartanian's outline faded in

Kartanian's outline faded in first. It grew solid and he reached out and slapped the thick red plastic shutoff button embedded in the heavy steel framework of the dimensional gate. He released a long, tense breath as the shifting pool of colors quickly swirled to a stop and vanished behind him like a galaxy dropping into a black hole. Then everything was quiet and the mundane sounds of the ventilation and the idling electrical grid registered to his senses. The screaming in his ears had stopped.

The spymaster straightened and drew in a breath to replace both his lungful of air and his composure. He stepped down from the platform and glanced back at the ring of metal behind him. His tail lashed twice. Nothing seemed ready to follow him. The machinery stood inert.

He shook his head with a rueful twist to his whiskers and toggled his comm circuit. "Okay, Kisya, I'm back. The demons are getting close. I may not be able to hop so easily while all that stuff is still going on. But I'll take giant robots over a dimensional cross-rip any day."

"Good to know, boss," the mutant whispered into his ear circuit. "Just keep 'em away from where I am. By the way, you're gonna need help on this one. They don't have just one bot. The one we spotted is the command unit."

"But, it's a joiner?" Kartanian was puzzled. "Modules that link up to make a bigger bot?"

"Yeah, that's the type. All anime and shit. With a pilot. Or pilots, I'm not sure."

"Okay, so if it's a command unit, what does it command?"

"The ARYAN guy giving the pep talk said that their rural bases had built the stormtrooper units in secret and were almost ready to go. I don't know much more than that. I'm still gathering info while keeping the connection in stealth mode. Per instructions," she reminded him.

The rogue hesitated. "I'm not sure whether this was a good idea, or a bad idea, finding and getting the base built for them."

"Yeah. Jury's still out on that. But at least we've got a little warning."

"Yes." He mused over several plans as he made his way through the sub-basement level of his own secret base beneath Titan City. "We'll have to make good use of it. Alert the hero groups we can trust not to probe too heavily into where the tip is coming from. I want to give them as much of that warning as we can afford."

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Misty looked puzzled thinking

Misty looked puzzled thinking then replied to the fellow "I don't know. Perhaps I'm chasing ghosts" Laughs "Old memories or such. Been fun!" Then she took off flying in what was a random direction.

Sure she acted like an air head but she wasn't stupid one doesn't talk about missions out loud. The rules didn't change from when she was alive and working with... him. So she wasn't going to say she was looking for some slime ball Nazi type. Then she stopped flying and smiled she had just made a new friend one who fought the real Nazis in a former life.

"Maybe it's time for the Graveyard shift to make their debut!" She flew to the groups base.

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Location Graveyard Shift

Location Graveyard Shift Mausoleum base.

"ROTTEN! Jacob! We Got a MISSION!" The Specter terror known as Misty came flying in through the front door.

Sitting at a desk doing paperwork. In truth, he was going over school work from his day job. "What is it Misty?"

"Like I heard about a group of Nazi wannabes that are up to no good. The set up a base and everything."

He looked up and look at her "The Vril are on the move?"

"Oh no, not the clones. Another group of Nazi wannabes. The bird brains call themselves Avians."

"Avians? You mean Aryans right?"

"Oh them too!"

Ron rubbed his temples sometimes handling Misty was harder then supervillains. "Alright, Aryans. Any idea what they are up too?"

"Um...no. I don't even know where the base is."

"Then there really nothing we can do till they make a move. See if Jacob is up to making his debut."

"On the way Boss!" She flew down the hall to Jacob's room.

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Jacob was experimenting with

Jacob was experimenting with the full-sensory illusion that surrounded the shell in which his ghost resided, and now looked rather like The Cooler King from The Great Escape, but without the glove or baseball. As Misty entered his room, his uniform became clean and sharply pressed. "What's up, Misty?"

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"Oh, well I was at the school

"Oh, well I was at the school and the kids are talking about some Aryan group. Nazi wannabees that moved into some base that using a bar as a front. Tried to find it and couldn't, I think I don't know I did find a bar but it was boring!" She bobbed up and down floating in the air before him.

"Well, then I got to thinking that if these guys are Nazi, you be like the best to fight them. You fought the real things not some copy cats. So I thought we could make our debut as the Graveyard Shift stopping these Racist Nutjobs." Then she zoomed real close just inches from his face was hers.

"So what you say? Are we going to bust Nazi heads?"

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Jake shook his head. "Go

Jake shook his head. "Go find them, sure. Maybe say, 'Hi!' But we can't thump them, just because they're idiots. Not until they break the law, and then only enough to make 'em stop. It's not a war, however much they might wish they had the power to make it one. But you might want to look up 'conspiracy', and what it takes to turn a bunch of idiots talking to each other into a crime." A thought occurred to him. "Might be they don't own their base. Might be they're trespassing. We should look into that, first. Where is this bar?"

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A message announced itself on

A message announced itself on what passed for the Graveyard Shift alert screen and several others throughout the city.

The anti-meta superiority group, ARYAN, is organizing an attack on Titan City to begin within the next 36 hours. They are planning to use a multi-part piloted giant robot as a command and control unit, with possibly hundreds of human-sized "stormtrooper" robots as infantry. Information about their specific objectives is limited at this time, but we believe that businesses, schools, and communities that specifically employ or welcome meta-humans are primary targets. Their strategy is to create fear of meta-humans and turn popular opinion against them, whether through direct intimidation or the "these people are too dangerous to allow in society" ploy. This may play into bigger efforts by ARYAN or other criminal organizations to monitor, regulate, control, and "de-program" meta-humans.

Expect probing groups of 12-20 stormtrooper bots to appear as they are brought into the city and activated. ARYAN expects that Titan City heroes will be called in to deal with these groups. When groups of heroes are identified attacking the scouts, they will then strike with heavier forces.

It is not believed that ARYAN is in direct coordination with any other criminal group. Individual members of ARYAN may share, leak, or unwittingly reveal information to others, however. Be alert to the possibility that other groups will seize the opportunity of the spotlight being on the ARYAN attack to commit other unrelated crimes while the attention of the city's law enforcement and heroes are otherwise directed on the obvious threat.

More information will be made available as it is obtained. This message is being shared with several super-groups that we consider able to contain the potential threat without unnecessary publicity, drama, or collateral damage to people and property.

--Charlie Kane, Investigative Reporter

(( OOC: For the record: There is no Charlie Kane anywhere in cyberspace that could reasonably link up with this message. Attempted traces, backtracks, and divinations will fail for the purposes of this story. There is an air gap between the origination and dissemination of the message. ))

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"Rosebud..." breathed Jake

"Rosebud..." breathed Jake softly. "Dollars to donuts that's a fake name. Is that still good odds? Anywho, I don't think we can ignore this. But while we're waiting for them to show up, Misty, can you point out that bar on this map? We can check for potential targets near it."

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Ron walks in "Might be an

Ron walks in "Might be an inside informant. Not wantin' to be caught. Well, Misty seems tha talk ya heard had some grounds to it. Robots.. why does it have to be robots."

Misty touched her necklace and landed she looked solid thought extremely pale. Still didn't breath as she brought up Ironport map on the computer. "Like the bar called the Harbor Tap and it in the port area. Lost of storage buildings for shipping." A pin icon appeared at the bar location. "There like this ugly parking garage nearby."

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"I was thinking targets for

"I was thinking targets for them, but sure, we can go after their base if we can find it. So, Misty. Suppose we go to this warehouse." Jake pointed to the one nearest the bar. "What might we find without breaking in, to let us us know we got the right place?"

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"In this city? They won't

"In this city? They won't need to advertise once thin's start heroes will show up there be plenty of targets. It's our nature." Ron looked at the map "I can't port us there directly. Have to make a few jumps."

"Oh, I can go and scout and stuff. Being a ghost has its advantages. It seems I'm a bit stronger now I got this necklace from my friends. I frosted the guy's drinks at the bar. The other ghost kind of stopped listening to me too. Think Ron here spook them. Working for a goddess of death and the underworld would do that. Good news I might be able to drain more energy from any bots and freeze things." Misty hopped on the seat a bit.

"Don't get carried away experimenting Misty. We test what ya can do now later. Jacob, have ya thought of a code name? Don't want to leak ya secret identity. Oh, and I haven't ask ya got a means of transport or ya be joining me on the Porting?"

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"If I dump my shell into that

"If I dump my shell into that pocket with the weapons, I can fly pretty fast, and there's a Harley in there that's faster on the straights, but I think your portals are faster still over that distance. And you can call me Old Soldier in the field, Arr Ell."

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"Alright then let's get goin'

"Alright then let's get goin'. I personally don't want to fight rampaging giant robots if we can stop them before they activate would be better."

Ron turned and opened the portal thought it would take a few jumps the last portal opened on top of a building. Stepping out he looked around "Got to love Titan City building codes. Don't think half the buildings would stand people jumping and standing on roofs elsewhere."

Misty was now back to her ghost state and hovered over to the others. "The bar is over in that direction."

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Jake looked around at the

Jake looked around at the other buildings in the area. "Yeap, that is one ugly parking garage. Bar first?"

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"What th' hell?"

"What th' hell?"

"What's it, Liuz?" The carpenter's partner asked from inside the shop. He held his end of the window board and readied the nailgun to fasten it down. They had a lot of work to do this morning to get caught up on the customer's remodeling job.

"Uh, robots? Is that what you call them?" Luiz stared down the street.

"What? You kiddin' me?" Pete ducked around and tried to look at what Luiz was seeing, but the plastic construction sheeting wasn't transparent. He couldn't see through it. "Robots?"

"Si. I think we take our break now." The carpenter quickly put down the board and hurried through the big storefront window opening to press his back up against the wall.

Pete could hear a metallic marching sound like a hundred roller-skating slinkies coming down the street. Outside, someone screamed in surprise and fear.

A strident voice echoed through a megaphone, "Citizens of Clarkstown, do not be alarmed! We are here to set you free from the metahuman oppression! Throw off your chains! Demand that your rights be respected, not just theirs! Unnatural powers have no place in a peaceful world! ARYAN is here to protect you from their violence!"

Inside the shop Pete whispered to his partner, "I don't think they're gonna be protecting anyone from no violence! Come on. Let's get out of here!"

Luiz nodded and followed him through the store to the alley exit.

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This bar didn't look like a

This bar didn't look like a front for an Aryan base. Way to much variety in the clientele, even in the middle of the day with only a handful of customers. They all looked to be working class, but that seemed to be all they had in common. Of course, smart racists might conceal their dislike of their customers. Jake nodded at the bartender, then looked at the selection behind the bar, pretending to decide on his order while he considered how to delicately ask if bar was a front. Then the TV announced some breaking news.

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Misty said standing and

Misty said standing and floated down to the Bar she visited earlier and just walked in going through the door. "Hey, Guys seems the party might be coming here anyway. Have you noticed any guys with sticks up their behinds moving heavy gear around here?"

Rotten looked around "Soldier focus on range during the fight. Just like Misty, we don't want to test how resistant to damage ya are."

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"Christ! You a ghost?" a

"Christ! You a ghost?" a scarred bar patron cried out as he backpedaled out of his seat and away from Misty.

"Nah, probably just one of them metas," spat a thin dock worker. He turned a sour, jaded gaze on the ghost. "Heavy equipment's been down on seventh. They're doin' the street again. But they're union, so don't go dissin' 'em, kid."

The bartender, Mike, glanced around at his customers shrewdly. He looked back at Misty. "What party?"

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"Some morons calling

"Some morons calling themselves Ayvans going to use giant robots to hurt people. There was some information leaked that said the base was somewhere around this neighborhood." She smiled at the fellow who called her a ghost then at Mike.

"I didn't want to scare anyone when I was looking around earlier but the Ayvans made broadcasts. They are going to attack soon say they are targeting Metas. Not like any normal person could get caught in the crossfire or stray shots."

Then she flashed another smile "Oh I'm not a Meta I died seven years ago, I think. Gunshot got a grave and everything. I really am a GHHOOOSSSTTT!" She said as she faded into invisibility and flew out through the roof.

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"Kids are so dramatic, these

"Kids are so dramatic, these days. But these guys are calling themselves "Aryans", and the last eighty-odd years or so any bunch of folks making a big deal outta Aryan ancestry seem to use it as an excuse to cause trouble with other folks. Maybe I'm wrong about this group, but the first group I ran into left an impression, makes me want to look into what their followers are up to. Say, could you turn the sound up on that TV?"

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Mike pressed his eyes shut

Mike pressed his eyes shut for a good ten-count before Misty did her disappearing act, and then opened them again. She was still there, but vanished before his eyes. And then he noticed Rotten Luck. He nodded and sighed, a long-suffering sort of sound, and reached for the remote.

The would-be tough-guy who had jerked back in shock from the ghost said, "I knew it! It ain't natural! We've all said it!" He almost tripped over himself again hustling out the door, followed by two of his friends. That left only a handful of older men and the bartender.

The dock worker put down his beer and mused with thinly-veiled interest, "Well. Don't know if I've seen that before. Even in Titan City." He glanced at Jake. "Ayrans, huh? Figures. Why can't they leave well enough alone. They lost. Get over it, already."

Mike turned up the sound on the TV. Breaking news was showing the robot march in Clarkstown. And another not far away from the bar in Ironport. The bartender shook his head. "Robots? Nazi robots? There's another one that's been done before, too." He glanced back and forth between Jake and Rotten Luck. "You guys going to do somethin' 'bout that, or do you want to ask specific questions?"

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"Well, we got to earn that

"Well, we got to earn that hero license one way or another. Figure if they are using bots they don't really have the human manpower. Most groups like that resort to bots or clones to fill the ranks." He looked around and then to the bar keep "Those guys that left they normally around here and complain about the unnatural? Heck, stories of the dead not being all dead been around longer than any nation."

He shrugs "Misty get over here stop showin' off." With a look at the T.V. ", I know that location so we get a one-way portal."

Misty reappeared "Oww you're no fun. Okay, let's teach some Nazi wannabes that not all Super beings are Metas. We are SuperNaturals!"

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Elsewhere in the city

Elsewhere in the city

He stood before the mirror tugging on his last glove. "Aryans, I fought the real things like hell I'm going to let some two-bit copy cats attack a city in the good old U.S.A. with out a fight."

D-Day uniform was inspired by the standard WW2 US uniform just with modifications and updated flair. An almost retro look. Walking out onto the balcony he leaps over the side dropping three stories before impacting and absorbing the kinetic energy. It was the limit he had at first beyond that three stories he would have wounded himself. Now with the kinetic energy, it was double so he used that same force to start running and jumping each jump higher and farther than the last as his power built up. He really wants to hit those Ayrans with maximum force.

"For every brother that fell on Normandy, I am damned if I let some NAZI group get away with attacking Titans City!"

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And in yet another place:

And in yet another place:

The Mini Countryman was parked two blocks off of the line of march of one of the columns, at least as long as they didn't turn left at the wrong spot. The programmable sign on the sides was turned off, so that it did not read "Morrison and O'Brian, Architecture, Engineering, and Gadgeteering", as it normally did. Not that that would matter if the robots or their handlers had seen certain videos from a couple years back. No matter. What precautions the young African-American woman could take to protect her family, she did. Not being able to take all precautions would not prevent her from acting.

She strode briskly down a block, activating a cloak as she turned the corner. Two blocks more, and the cloak dropped as she flew around the corner, now in her Tinker Belle attire: Kelly green labcoat and high boots, flight pack, belt of many devices, and goggles that let her see across most of the electromagnetic spectrum. The costume didn't disguise her skin color, and it was possible that the robots might have sensors that would peg her as a metahuman, although her power was more useful in a lab than on the street. She landed one block ahead of the column, facing them with perhaps more confidence than her 168 cm height warranted.

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A uniformed, fully helmeted

A uniformed, fully helmeted ARYAN marcher--apparently human under the getup--zipped forward on a motorcycle toward Tinker Belle. He had the look of a courier or flunky, rather than one of the boldly-garbed leaders at the front of the platoon of robots. He came to one side of her at a safe distance and said, "Ma'am, please clear the street. We're here to keep peace and order, not to get into a confrontation with you."

The robots continued ahead at the same marching pace. There were a handful of ARYAN supporters with the marching robots--several along the sides and a trio of officer-types up front. The bullhorn message kept playing as they advanced. "METAHUMANS ARE DANGEROUS! LICENSING ISN'T ENOUGH! DEMAND YOUR RIGHTS! MAKE AMERICA SAFE AGAIN!"

-----

On the west side of Alexandria, a similar platoon of ARYAN robots was parked outside a known metahuman school, creating a loud ruckus of protest. So far, no one had been hurt and no property damaged. Three TCPD police offers hesitantly approached the leader and were engaged in some kind of conversation.

-----

The situation board now showed eight ARYAN robot groups active in the city.

A Wing and a Prayer, A Strong, Strong Wind, All Forests are One - Venture City metahuman novels in the spirit of City of Heroes and other comic book superhero fiction. (http://bit.ly/sdpbooks)

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"Oh, really?" asked Tinker

"Oh, really?" asked Tinker Belle in her trademark southern drawl. She stepped slowly to the side, timing the movement to take her out of the way, if just barely. "Then these robots are likely to go out of control? 'Cause they look like the second biggest threat to peace here. After those people at the front of the column, of course."

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"Thank you, ma'am," the

"Thank you, ma'am," the motorcycle trooper responded. He didn't reply to her comments, but merely wheeled out of the way of the robot column to head up to serve as traffic guard at the next intersection. She noticed that he didn't attempt to hand her a pamphlet from the carry bag at his side.

The red and black-suited man at the head of the ARYAN group made the little two-fingered eye to eye "I'm watching you" gesture at Tinker Belle as he passed by. The robots continued to march in orderly rows behind him, shouting their slogans.

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Not far from where Tinker

Not far from where Tinker Belle appeared D-Day made his entrance landing on the pavement. "Do you have a Permanent for this gathering? I been actively protecting America since June 6, 1944 I like to know what your formal complaints about my duty are?" He makes a quick assessment of their weapons. Ballistics and explosions he could handle fine, lasers and energy weaponry not so much. "Are those weapons licensed and comply with gun and firearm safety?"

----------------------

Rotten Luck spotted the school on the T.V. at the bar. "Change of plans guys. They are at my school I can't let them harm the students. Damn it was supposed to be my day off!" He spun and opened a portal to the roof of the school. "Come on Graveyard Shift, time to earn our pay." His eyes flashes as runes seem to mark his skin, Rotten was now tapping into Hel's orb.

On the roof top, he walked out "Are Ya only angry about Metas or is Super Naturals on yar list as well. This is Titan City we don't just tolerate the differences we embrace it."

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Tinker Belle smiled at the

Tinker Belle smiled at the leader and returned gesture with a tap of a finger on her goggles. Anyone doing signals analysis with appropriate gear would note the burst transmission, apparently directed toward a communication satellite. She noted D-Day landing, and nodded at him, as well. Then she turned her attention to the robots. Were they sapient protesters, or programmed nuisances? More data would have to be gathered.

_______________________________________________________________________________________

Jake followed Ron through the portal and looked out at robots arrayed below. "Not a good position, here. Anything that misses us is likely to hit the school." He looked down the street for a spot that would offer less collateral damage.

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Behind the shielded helmet,

Behind the shielded helmet, the ARYAN leader nodded. "D-Day. Of course. Protecting the world for your own kind since 1944. I am well aware of the kind of justice you serve. For the true clean-up of criminals and low-life scum, thank you. For the protecting of a liberal socialist puppet government run by the metas and the Jews, shame on you. Regardless, I think you will find that our activities do not need 'permits,' if that's what you are asking about."

"As long as we keep moving, that is." The leader gestured to the street ahead. "Feel free to watch, and even to learn something. But by law, you may not impede us, or you will be the one causing a violation."

Curiously, a scan of the ARYAN robots showed nothing that qualified as lethal weaponry in the Titan City municipal code. The robots would have to rely on mechanical power and whatever kind of energy powered them. The flesh and blood ARYANs each had sidearms, which may or may not have been legally owned, but were definitely not illegally concealed. That didn't make any of the thugs or their 'bots safe, but it kept them within the letter of the law.

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They did seem to be robots,

They did seem to be robots, not cyborgs, but that didn't settle the question of sapience. Best to treat them as potential sapients. And so Tinker Belle would take no direct action, yet. Indirectly, though, the first priority was to reduce the chance of violence. Blue Tail drones, their camouflage reducing the chance of spotting them, were dispatched one to each column, two to the school. Their observations went to a series of live streaming websites, and the URLs were made available to the police. And where ever on the net people were trying to arrange counter-demonstrations, a warning went up. "Remember, y'all: if these guys are looking for an excuse, don't give one to them. DO NOT START ANY FIGHTS. Speak Softly. Don't threaten, and if they start using violence, record it if you can, and leave if you can."

The robots wouldn't be likely to notice, but some of the human marchers passing by might recognize the tune Tinker Belle was humming as her fingers flew across the virtual keyboard. De pony run, he jump, he pitch; he throw my master in de ditch. My master died, and de jury wondered why...de verdict was de blue tail fly

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"Funny how the laws of a

"Funny how the laws of a corrupted government work in your favor." D-Day steps aside and leans against the walls and starts humming his own tune this one is the national anthem.
____________________

Rotten Luck looks over at Jake. "This place has been built to handle over emotional, hyperactive, teenagers with superpowers. Not sure if a tactical nuke would take it down. But I'm betting some students would come out and I want to get them inside. Besides if they do fire on a school well their whole argument is null and void. I also figured out a trick a villain did to me. Her name was Contessa and she used portals defensively."

Misty pouted "Oh come on we going to let these morons march down the street like they own it? Isn't it like against the law to obstruct traffic not to mention they are calling to cause harm to people. I mean isn't there like some law that says you can't use your freedom of speech to initiate a riot or cause harm? That's why you can't yell Fire in a building, or Bomb, or he has a gun, or even let's kill that guy."

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"All units be advised," the

"All units be advised," the police dispatcher warned, "we have violence at 6th and Walker in Ironport. Firebrand and Kinesis attacked the ARYAN marchers. The ARYANs responded. Units 12 and 17 are on the scene with threat response backup. Medical help is en route. " Dispatch added some code numbers for the various crimes in progress. Informed listeners recognized that registered Titan City heroes attacking the ARYAN demonstrations might spark a response.

"Update," the dispatcher added. "Shots fired. Five individuals wearing clothing similar to the Black Rose gang have destroyed the ARYAN robots at Upton and Market in Weston. They have also fired on the ARYANs. Units 23 and 41 are on the scene. Units 42, 45, and 46 move to provide backup."

-----

The ARYAN leader at the school nodded to the police officers and returned to his other compatriots. The robots stopped repeating their loud protest screed. After a quick discussion, the quartet issued orders to the robots and the bots organized themselves into smaller lines; one behind each of their leaders. Then they began marching out of the school zone.

Before they reached the end of the block, they all started slipping and tripping over themselves. Robot and ARYAN leaders alike fell to the ground as if it were a slick patch of ice. Or a frictionless surface. Fireworks popped and dazzled the air above them. Colored smoke left by the fireworks began to spell out a message. "You Suck!"

-----

On the street near D-Day and Tinker Belle, the ARYAN leader shot back, "The laws of a corrupt government still leave us some room to warn people. Let's talk again when they actually protect regular people's jobs and heritage!" He trotted away to catch up to the head of the column. The heroes' humming was more than easily drowned out by the metallic, slinky noises of two dozen robotic legs and the rhetoric they were spewing, but perhaps it made them feel better.

(( My police radio procedure is terrible, but you get the idea. ))

EDIT: Updated and corrected Charleston to be Weston, as the district name was changed.

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A large black and orange

A large black and orange tiger-striped cat sitting on an air conditioner to the Graveyard shift's left shook his head, then began cleaning a paw. "I see the problem. As long as they don't break the law, and are seen to cooperate with the guard, your law has to treat them as just another bunch of protestors, or else the precedent cold be applied to anyone else when they protest. So anyone attacking them directly with more than words, just gives them ammunition. Looks like my squire learned more in that 'civics' class than I had guessed." He nodded to Ron and Misty, then looked at Jake. "Greetings, Warrior. I am Sir Sings Loudly, a Knight of the Summer Court."

Jake had gotten the surprise at a cat speaking to him off of his face, but only just. "Jake Stein. Late of the O.S.S., now I'm 'Old Soldier' of the Graveyard Shift."

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Rotten Luck calls out "James

Rotten Luck calls out "James Duncan High Students! I Better not see ya attacking! Remeber these jerk wads are still protected by tha constitution of our nation. If ya attack they have tha right to fight back. Tha what they want! Hold ya fire until they attack!" He looks about spotting the ice "In tha mean time get some water guns super soakers and raid the Science lab see if any mad scientist got some super slick lube."

He then looked to the cat "Fraid so Sir Sings Loudly. Until they do break the law we kind of got our hands tied. Old Soldier is our group newest member."

Misty smiled and lifted into the air "Think if I possess one of those bots and start shooting would it count?"

Ron sighed "Sadly you be breaking the law then Misty."

--------------------

Where the Black Rose had destroyed a set of robots a blue bolt of lightning jumps from a power line and then among the remains. At the same time the T.V.s, Radios, and anything connected to the internet flashed and sure enough, a voice was heard. "Ladies and Gentlemen! It's your Digital Diva, the Sexy Cyber Vixen! Hotwire! Well, our fair city is having a minor invasion of the Third Reich wannabes! Unfortunately, the Aryans are playing nice and obeying the law. So no bashing Nazis for the heroes. Well in our part of town we don't play by the law and order. What the old saying? Might make Right? Well, the Firebrands and Black Roses showed those tin cans who really in charge and it's not the government!"

"I chose to join in the play and cut all feeds! I don't know how long I can keep the Stations from showing the News. But for now how about some entertainment!" The robots stood back up repairing themselves and then start dancing the Macarena. "In the words of the late great villain 'Killer Klown' (Only because Joker copy writed ;p ) "“I may be a criminal lunatic, but I'm an AMERICAN criminal lunatic!”

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Somewhere below, in the not

Somewhere below, in the not-so-secret lair of the Drama Club, Toni Mercer asked, "So, who's up for doing a bit of 'The Producers', next time those jerks show up? The old version." He began singing in his lowest register, a clear tenor, "Spring-time for Hit-ler, and Ger-man-y..." while imitating the manner of the hippie Lorenzo St. DuBois from the 1968 film.

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"Menaces! All of them!"

"Menaces! All of them!" screeched the ARYAN leader slipping and sliding on the ground in a most undignified manner. "The day will come for you...." He lost his footing again and crashed to the ground. A robot outside the slick zone reached out and hauled him up to his feet. "The day will come when you are all gone and packed off and normal people can be safe again!"

"Go! Move out!" he turned and ordered. The robots and shaken humans withdrew further, with much complaining and grumbling by the humans.

-----

"Good enough?" an ARYAN officer in a remote location asked his commander.

"Yeah, that'll work." He toggled the main radio channel. "Launch it! Get Hotwire! They'll draw in more metas, and victory will be ours!"

Mecha flyers rocketed from their concealed exits about the city and converged on the electric villain's location, ready to respond to her challenge.

A Wing and a Prayer, A Strong, Strong Wind, All Forests are One - Venture City metahuman novels in the spirit of City of Heroes and other comic book superhero fiction. (http://bit.ly/sdpbooks)

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