Rebirth...((Interactive Backstory, Closed RP))

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Rebirth...((Interactive Backstory, Closed RP))

((This thread is a closed RP story between myself, Falindae and KaosKitteh for the purposes of fleshing out my character, Novastriker, and his back story in real-time. You're all more than encouraged to read on and enjoy the story but please, refrain from posting OOC. If you have comments, by all means send them to me in a PM. Thanks in advance and enjoy the ride!))

It's said that every journey begins with a single step.

Some are lucky enough to choose when this step is taken.

For others, the first step is a matter of necessity.

And for a rare few, that first step, whether chosen or not sets them on a path to something infinitely greater than themselves...

Five years prior...

Thud. Contact.

Tobias Wishart greeted the earth...or rather the rubbery, raspy surface of the Titan City High's running track like someone had dropped a human-shaped sack of potatoes.

It was as if the strength had suddenly dropped out of his legs, causing him to crumple in a heap. For a moment, he had time to consider this curious turn of events, lifting his head from the track to peer at one of his hands, examining the abrasion on the heel of his palm like it wasn't his hand at all. It was now as if the entire world had slowed to a crawl, around him he could hear the muffled foot falls of his classmates echoing in his ears.

That was until sympathetic laughter filled his ears, clear as a gunshot and a pair of flashy sneakers filled his vision,

“TJ, it's called 'warm up' not 'fall down'.”

With a weary lift of his gaze, Tobias brought his head up to examine the figure offering him a hand. David Cook had been his best friend since the two of them were old enough to shakily write their own names with over-sized crayons. And while David had often been the recipient of more female attention as they were growing up, it hadn't done anything to sour their friendship in the least.

Another set of foot falls, heavier this time came up beside him. This time it was the Gym teacher, folding his tree-trunk arms and furrowing his dark, bushy brow, a frown emerging from beneath the ridiculous moustache that adorned the man's face,

“Are you alright, Mister Wishart? That looked like quite a fall.”

Tobias lifted himself to a sitting position, blinking curiously at the palm of his hand as his bull-necked teacher gave the lad and his suddenly unhealthy pallor a worried look. Tripping was one thing, but it seemed like it was a symptom of something else.

“I think you should go and see the nurse.”

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Six months later...

Six months later...

Name: Wishart, Tobias Jeremy. Age: 16 years. Male.

Hair: Brown. Eyes: Light Brown.

Height: 5'8”. Weight: 131lbs.

Symptoms: Muscular weakness, shortness of breath, heart arrhythmias, abnormal weight loss.

Tobias' eyes scanned over the chart on the desk beside him, the cold, harsh lights of the examination room having become a familiar sight in the last few months. More and more frequently he'd experienced bouts of muscular weakness leading to him collapsing, though lately he'd also started to suffer from attacks of breathlessness and irregular heartbeat.

It was at this point that his father, currently outside the examination room speaking with a fellow doctor had become concerned.

They'd since visited specialist after specialist trying to figure out why these symptoms had started to take root, with little success until today...well he at least hoped today would bring some answers.

The crisp, cold air of the examination room seemed to cut through the flimsy hospital gown he wore with unrestrained abandon, making this entire situation seem all the more unfriendly as he watched his father engaging in an almost feverish round of 'doctor speak', likely every sort of bizarre-sounding medical term under the sun flying back and forth between them.

Sitting nearby, his sister, Samantha, smiled as reassuringly as she could, offering “Hopefully it's good news this time, huh?”

She was already shaping up to be a source of constant, but well-intentioned heartache for her father, in both the fact that she was already an attractive young lady, and that she was almost the spitting image of her mother, adorned with strawberry blonde hair and soft, blue eyes.

Tobias simply shrugged and shook his head in response to his sister's placation,

“I dunno, Sam. I mean, the fact that Dad's spent so much time talking to this guy is probably a good sign but...what are the chances of him knowing any more than anyone else?”

Samantha's eyes trained upon the window outside, where their father stood nodding tensely, arms crossed as the attending physician continued to speak, occasionally gesturing to his clipboard.

“You never know, Tobi. Sometimes you luck out and run into just the right person at just the right time.”

---

“So, we've got an answer?”

The attending doctor, a 'Dr. Chen' by the read of his name tag looked up from his clipboard to regard Alan Wishart almost with an intimidated air as the pair of them stood outside the hospital room currently occupied with the young patient. Doctor Wishart was considered to be one of the finest general surgeons in the United States, had been an integral part of introducing adaptive techniques for operating successfully on meta-human patients and likely had a list of hallmarks to his name the length of a boardroom table.

And now he had to stand before the man and tell him that his son's muscles were wasting away and no-one knew why.

Doctor Chen peered down at his clipboard and cleared his throat, pursing his lips before retorting,

“We've got a partial answer. It appears to be a form of inflammatory myopathy, but we've never seen anything like this before. It shows all this signs of being similar to a an inclusion body myositis but we haven't yet tracked down it's origin conclusively. We've ruled out viral and bacterial origins, as well as anything radical such as prion-esque rogue proteins...”

Alan fidgeted worriedly, folding his arms and retorting,

“So, possibly it's genetic?”

There was a sullen nod in response,

“Not hereditary, but it appears that your son has undergone a minor genetic mutation during puberty, based on blood test comparisons. Generally, while these mutations are beneficial...”

Alan sighed sharply, the entirety of his face contorting into an expression of agony as he palmed at his face,

“Tobias' clearly isn't...Okay, what about treatment?”

Chen flipped through his papers studiously, suddenly feeling remarkably assured by the sudden expression of human worry he'd seen on Alan's face,

“Physiotherapy combined with frequent exercise to promote muscle development, potentially combined with corticosteroids if his situation worsens. I can't say for sure if it'll have a positive effect, but it should at least buy him time.”

Alan's hand dropped from his face. He knew exactly what 'buy him some time' meant. This was textbook bedside manner. A shocked, perhaps incensed gaze levels at Doctor Chen from behind rimless spectacles,

“Buy him some time? Before what?”

Again the attending doctor swallowed a nervous lump in his throat, adding carefully,

“Going by his CT scans, it appears that this myopathy is also starting to attack his smooth muscle tissues as well as skeletal muscle tissues. Most notably his diaphragm and heart. Again this will likely be countered with exercise as it'll stimulate cardiovascular development...but it's something we're going to have to keep an eye on.”

Again, Alan could read between the lines. His son's ailment had gone from 'life-changing' to 'life-threatening'.

His hand settles on his brow, furrowed tensely. Suddenly images of his late wife Sofia came crashing through his mind. He'd already lost the love of his life. To lose a child as well...

One of his hand dropped to the EdenTech lanyard hanging around his neck, wringing it nervously just above the ID tag and keycards that hung from it as he watched his son chatting with his daughter, Doctor Chen in the meantime trying to find Alan's eyes to ask,

“Did...did you want me to break the news?”

With a measured shake of the head and a bolstering, deep breath, Alan replied.

“No...I'll do it. It'll be easier to hear it from me...”

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Three years later...

Three years later...

Tobias awoke to the sound of Highpoint Memorial Hospital's internal PA system, much as he had every day for the past few months.

The white-wash of his room took on a blinding luminosity, causing him to wince, sigh and turn over to escape the stinging light, before relenting to the fact that he was again awake and moving to sit up...which had become infinitely more difficult recently, at least without the assistance of his adjustable hospital bed.

Fumbling for the controls, he slowly tilts his way to an upward position, sighing as he greets the sight of the end of his bed, devoid of anyone save for the imagined spectre of death with a frown,

“Another fine good morning to you, Grim Reaper. Guess you're still waiting on me, huh?”

With a sigh and a shake of the head, he reached to his left to gaze his laptop, now the only real outlet to the outside world. As he does, the black screen revealed his hollow-cheeked visage once again, causing Tobias to sigh again, peering down to his hands in his lap. Over the past few years, considerable muscle wasting had left him rail thin, barely tipping the scales at a hundred and ten pounds. Worse still, his legs had finally become too weak to support him at around age seventeen.

Physiotherapy hadn't worked.

Weight training hadn't worked.

Even the use of corticosteroids had failed to produce a viable result.

He'd graduated high school in a wheelchair, a ghost of his former, youthful self. Senior Prom had been spent at a table watching the others embrace the new life ahead of them...while he'd spent his time wondering just how much longer he'd live. His life-long friend David, and his girlfriend Kayla had been amazingly supportive, even after graduation...but even they had a life to get on with.

A glance at the clock causes him to wonder just what variation of surprisingly appetizing hospital food would be doled out for breakfast. He was lucky in that his condition required entirely normal nutrients and lots of them, and as such he was spared the often complained-about bland hospital food.

Small luxuries, he again supposed.

A hand reaches out to switch on the laptop beside his bed and drag it into his lap, it having become more or less his only link to the outside world save for visits and the occasional wheelchair ride to get some sun. As the laptop boots up, his gaze swings to the window, a gentle sigh escaping him. Maybe someone would visit today...

------

Meanwhile...

“So it's not working. Any of it.”

Alan Wishart stood before the glass vessel holding a swirling myriad of luminous particles before him, shaking his head and sighing with frustration, a gesture mimicked by the engineer at his flank.

“Oh, all of the components work perfectly, Doctor. Actuators are fine, the Combat Intel Matrix is functioning perfectly. Even the micro-fusion reactor and power armor subsystems are functional...when apart from one-another. It's just that putting them all together yields no result. GUARDIAN here is supposed to provide the link to all of it but for some reason it's being...picky.”

Alan again regarded the tank containing the experimental nano-machine AI before him, shaking his head. All of this was so very far beyond him. He'd accepted his position as a project lead with EdenTech about a year and a half ago on his management merit alone, having been a hospital director for nearly a decade. However, this sort of heavy, engineer speak was certainly NOT his forte.

The project in question had been requested by the United States Armed Forces, for the submission of a future-soldier prototype that could effectively remove the need for human soldiers on the battlefields of tomorrow. Normally this sort of thing was squarely DARPA's route on inquiry, however EdenTech had won the pitch-war to take on the project and thus work had gotten started...and then abruptly hit a brick wall.

The engineer at the doctor's shoulder, an Omani fellow by the name of Aban continued to speak, gesturing to the tank as it's luminous contents swirled around in tiny clusters of light-generating, infinitesimally small robots,

“We've tried pure cybernetic frameworks, synthetic myomer frameworks. We even tried using the same liquid suspension that we house Guardian in to see if the nanites need to be kept in a medium to allow for proper transition. Nothing has worked...Save for one thing.”

Alan's ear pricked up at this, turning to peer at Aban curiously,

“That being?”

The engineer moved to pick up a tablet from the nearby workbench and handed it to him,

“We acted on your hunch and tested GUARDIAN with the tissue sample you provided...and well take a look for yourself.”

Alan, being the doctorly sort he was had figured that while this project was aimed at removing need for human loss on the field of battle, there'd certainly be no harm in performing one test with a sample of his own skin cells...just because. From behind his spectacles, Doctor Wishart examined the comparative images, his eyebrows lofting in surprise,

“It actually stuck?”

Aban nodded in response, offering,

“For some reason, Guardian immediately favored the compartmentalized structure that organic cells provide. I can't say why, not being a doctor, but it worked.”

Alan again examined the pictures with interest, adding,

“And it seems that not only has it stuck, GUARDIAN's actually repaired several clusters of damaged skin tissue as well.”

With a studious hand he gestured to the before picture, showing a patchy arrangement of cells with some damaged, and with gaping holes in the sample, then to the 'after' showing a uniform, healthy and complete sample, a gentle glow having occupied the cytoplasm within each cell. Aban nodded, before shrugging in response,

“I didn't really think much of that, to be honest. But I suppose engineers and doctors see with different eyes.”

Alan handed back the tablet, his mind abuzz with curiosity despite the setback.

“Alright, well, we've got this meeting to go to....”

Aban nodded, sighing frustratedly and adding,

“Great, nothing like telling an Army General and the CEO of your employing company that their multi-million dollar project is going nowhere fast...”

Alan chuckled wryly in retort, an idea beginning to form in his mind, desperate, but potentially brilliant.

“Don't worry Aban, I'll protect you.”

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Later that day...

Later that day...

General Jeremiah Prichard brought a weathered hand to pinch the bridge of his nose with admitted annoyance at the information that had just been put forward to him. Sitting across the boardroom table from him were Alan Wishart, Aban al Rahad and the CEO of EdenTech, Stephen Workham. All of them, save for Doctor Wishart looked a little apprehensive as to just what the reaction would be. Slowly, as if choosing his words quite carefully, General Prichard began to speak in his gravelly voice,

“I take it you all realise exactly how much money the US Government has committed to this project...?”

Wortham was first to raise his hand, offering a succinct,

“Fourty-eight-point-four million dollars. Exactly. As of today.”

Slowly, the General's hand lowered from his face to regard the three men as he sat forward and rested his hands on the lacquered wood of the boardroom table,

“All that, for a project that seems to be dead in the water. I don't mean to be the bringer of bad news, gentlemen, but unless we start seeing results, I'm seeing no choice but to call this one a loss...”

Wortham wasn't having a bar of this, frowning sharply and retorting with “And to the best of my recollection, last year the United States Government spent nearly ten times that on Abrams Tanks that apparently weren't even needed or asked for. The fact that you're putting the the squeeze on my company and my staff at this juncture is a little harsh-”

It was Doctor Wishart who raised his hand next, interjecting and gently silencing an argument before it had a chance to take root,

“General, Mr Wortham, if I could be allowed to speak.”

Both sets of eyes swung toward him, and Alan's heart raced. This idea was utterly insane. It'd probably never work, but,

“Clearly the US Government has spent a hefty amount on Project: Heracles. I'm not debating that. However, I'm wondering if perhaps we might need to change our tack, somewhat. From what I've observed, GUARDIAN has reacted most favourably to organic tissue samples than any other structure we've tried to interface it with. The report of which you've already read. Now, I think the original plan for this effort is essentially void, however...”

His caramel-brown eyes, the same ones that he shared with his son cycled through all the individuals at the table,

“I may have a way to salvage this project, and potentially turn a profit. It may not be in the form of a human substitute for battlefield operations, but it'll certainly be of significant benefit.”

The General lofted a brow, his stoic face shifting some as he nodded to the doctor,

“Go on.”

Alan took another deep breath,

“What I propose is we try implanting a human being with this technology. GUARDIAN has shown an ability to restore damaged tissue back to perfect health. That in of itself is a medical gold mine. As of yet, the use of nano-machines for medical applications hasn't really been broached, at least not seriously. However, we have conclusive evidence that it can work, and well. Say we attempt to implant GUARDIAN into a willing volunteer, preferably someone with an obvious and well-documented case of severe cell damage We chart the results, extrapolate the data and then work toward mass manufacture and acclimatisation. We could potentially corner the market on nano-machine aided medical technology for decades to come.”

Wortham could only nod, his interest thoroughly piqued, Alan continuing as he gestures to General Prichard,

“And if you happen to be wondering where this might benefit the armed forces, consider: disposable, nano-machine infused bandages, capable of stabilizing even a critically-wounded soldier in a matter of seconds. This sort of technology stands to increase the survivability rate of a common soldier...probably six-fold.”

It seemed those gathered were remarkably impressed with the Doctor's notion...save for Aban, who raised his hand to add,

“Your idea's all well and good, Alan...but the hurdle lies in the fact that GUARDIAN's support programming, the thing that keeps him operational for any period of time longer than a week is scattered throughout the rest of the technology we've developed for the project. It's in the actuators, the armor, the combat intel suite, even the reactor provides power base for GUARDIAN's nanites to 'refuel' . We would essentially be weaponising whoever volunteered. We'd even have to parse out the sections of code that would see the nanites immediately try and ready anyone it was implanted into for frontline combat. Not to MENTION it would probably take us years to extract and rework so that just GUARDIAN was implanted. ”

Alan frowned thoughtfully, nodding in agreement

“And that'd be far too long...”

General Prichard raised a hand to add,

“Not to mention actually finding someone crazy, willing or desperate enough to actually accept the terms of this surgery we're supposing, as is.”

Doctor Wishart gently pursed his lips, again wringing his lanyard as he recalled someone who fit at least two of the categories the General has put forward. Could he live with the notion if it went ahead?

“Actually General, I think I might know someone...”

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“Are you sure about this,

“Are you sure about this, Alan?”

Mr Wortham said with concern at his voice, gesturing to the frail-looking youth sitting in the hospital bed through the window.

“I mean, this isn't just any sick kid. This is your son.”

Alan Wishart could only bring himself to nod in agreement, but explained,

“And I wouldn't subject him to it if his situation wasn't quite so desperate. But he's on death's door, Mr Wortham. He's got months, maybe. If this procedure can save his life, you can bet I'd at least give him the opportunity to take it.”

There was a gentle nod, a silent agreement between the three before they nodded to the nurse, who made the entrance.

.......

Tobias looked up from his usual round of Redditing that afternoon to blink curiously as a nurse entered his room, glancing over a shoulder and back again to intone,

“Tobias? You've got some visitors. Your dad and...a couple of important-looking types.”

Tobias blinked and set his laptop beside him on the table. As the three entered, he could say he recognised two of them: One was his father, the other was Stephen Wortham, whom he recognised from the TV...and the third was a slightly geeky-looking Arabic guy whom Tobias assumed was someone his father worked with.

As they entered, Alan pulled up a chair, a curious...spark in his father's eyes he'd not seen since he'd fallen ill. His eyes glance back to the two individuals standing with him, then back to his son,

“Tobi, we wanted to put an idea forward...”

.....…

Exactly four minutes and thirty seven seconds later, Tobias sat awestruck in his hospital bed. His whole life expectancy had just been turned on it's ear, kicked several times into the street and run over by an eighteen wheeler.

Starkly sitting at the forefront of his thoughts was the notion that he might, in-fact live.

He stared down at his frail, bony hands blinking several times as the weight of their words sat upon his mind like it carried it's own tonnage. This operation could save him, but saying he'd be forever changed by it was a drastic understatement...

...But he'd live.

With a gentle breath, he lifted his gaze to the group, all eagerly awaiting his answer to which he nodded,

“I'm in. Let's make this happen.”
Aban blinked, awestruck and glanced to Alan, who in turn leaned forward and affixed his son with a pair of whiskey-brown eyes,

“Are you sure?I mean, this isn't a small decision.”

Tobias simply retorted with an equally-colored set of eyes and a measured voice,

“Dad, I love you...but please don't EVER ask me something that stupid ever again.”

A wry, pleading expression crossed Tobias' face as Mr. Wortham snorted loudly, trying to hide his amusement as Aban broke into a thoroughly bemused laughter. Alan simply sat back, nodding concedingly with a smile,

“Alright, alright. You made your point.”

Secretly, Doctor Wishart couldn't disguise the hope that had suddenly raced into his heart. He'd lost the chance to save his wife. Her death had been too sudden. But his son? He could save Tobias. No, he WOULD save him.

And then, like a dose of reality, something struck him. They'd get nowhere without the World Medical Association's approval. If they tried, they could all be locked up. Being so close yet so far from success was entirely frustrating, but they'd need to jump through the right hoops to keep things legitimate.

Turning to the group, Stephen Wortham simply asked the question,

“Okay, so what do we need to go forward?”

Aban was the first to answer,

“My team will need about two weeks to prepare everything we have for human interfacing. That includes an idea I've had bouncing around my brain which should make life easier for everyone.”

Wortham nodded, offering a “Make it happen, Aban. Young Tobias is on tight schedule. And you, Doctor?”

He set his gaze upon Alan who pursed his lips,

“We're going to need clearance from the World Medical Association before we even begin....”

“I'll organize a meeting. But after that?”

Alan flicked a pair of eyes toward Stephen Wortham (a man who simply for his business prowess should've been intimidating to him) that were alive with the fire of a thousand suns.

“I'm going to need surgeons, Mr. Wortham. The best you can find.”

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Two weeks later...

Two weeks later...

Alan Wishart stood in the engineering bay of his EdenTech satellite lab, dressed in his finest suit, a fat stack of paperwork under his arm, all of it supporting evidence and applications, dossiers and test results. He'd brought more than he likely needed, but with the WMA, he figured being prepared for war wasn't a bad thing.

That said, what lay before him now filled him with more hope than he'd had in the past five years. The sleek, angular lines of a massive...well, it looked almost like a casket or a coffin...if it had been built by Lockheed-Martin.

Eight feet long, three and a half feet wide and standing at just over waist high, Alan would be lying if he said he knew what it was, however as Aban sidled up beside him, he got the feeling he was about to be told ALL about it.

“So this is your secret 'idea'?”

Aban nodded, smiling from ear to ear,

“Indeed, Doctor. Say hello to the likely the most advanced operating table in the world. My crew have taken to calling it the 'Sarcophagus'. Once the operation begins, it will aid with supplying all the required information any surgeon could ever ask for...and then some! On top of that, between surgeries, the operating area hermetically seals and fills with a nutrient-rich suspension fluid to minimize infection and aid with the healing of surgical incisions. I even made sure to include deployable, telescoping stands for fluid bags so everything's in easy reach. After we're all said and done, GUARDIAN will be able to communicate wirelessly with us so when it comes time for it to work it's magic we know exactly what it needs. Also, I'm pretty sure it can withstand small arms fire. You can blame the crew celebrating a little too hard while watching giant robot cartoons for that.”

He watched Alan's reaction, namely a deep-set frown of thought. He was clearly about an hour and a half into the future where he'd be waging a verbal war for the chance to save his child's life.

“This...is where you say how amazed you are.” Aban added somewhat worriedly. He'd never seen his project supervisor this intent before.

Alan managed a nod before a smile crested across his face,

“It's a work of art, Aban. I'm just still trying to wrap my head around all of this. So many people have pulled together to make this a reality...”

The engineer shook his head, folding his arms as he gazed out over the implants laying in their respective cases on the table beside the Sarcophagus, sighing,

“It'll all be for nothing if we can't convince the WMA that we should go ahead....When's the meeting?”

Alan slid back the sleeve of his suit coat to check his watch, nodding “Not long now, actually. We should probably head upstairs and wait for our ride....”

-------

Alan sat at his table across from the World Medical Association panel, five of them in all, face carved into the threatening image of a bitter scowl, perhaps hoping they'd all burst into flames in unison and stop being a roadblock. Aban quietly pinched his sinuses while EdenTech's CEO tried to maintain a level expression as they panel droned on. Few of them were paying attention, to say the least. The gist had been issued.

“...At this time, we can see no reason to allow EdenTech to go ahead with this procedure. It simply contains far too many unaccounted variables and to this panel's eyes, too many places in which the prospective patient could be exploited. Not to mention the conflict of interest associated with Doctor Wishart operating on his own son. The chance of him becoming emotionally compromised is far too great.”

Wortham was quick to retort, gesturing to Alan who had schooled his expression enough to at least seem as though he were in control of the seething anger building up inside him...even if his eyes were now pools of molten disdain,

“Now, I agree that there's plenty of points where this might be the case, but EdenTech holds itself to the highest standard of ethics and morality. We're not simply looking to save one life here. We're looking to improve the quality of life for all people. We believe that the knowledge gained from this procedure could vastly improve the ability of the medical community to preserve the sanctity of human life for decades to come. This project could be as influential as the discovery of penicillin. If I were in your position, I would be hard-pressed to see the disadvantage in that.”

Leaning forward from the panel table, Catherine Price, a decidedly English-looking neurosurgeon interlaced her fingers and set her arms on the table. She was a thoroughly attractive woman, possessed of a mix of beauty and maturity that easily inspired envy in her fellow, female colleagues. Fair hair and blue eyes were also doing poor Alan a number, as she was starkly close in appearance to that of his late wife. She also seemed to be the only reasonable one at the table so far, her tone understanding and measured,

“And I believe all of us see the value of what might be learned through the procedure you've suggested. However, I can only feel as though there are too many places where something might go wrong. An already weakened patient, exposed to such extensive surgery is a recipe for disaster...Mr al Sahran, where are you going?”

Aban had risen from his chair rather starkly, struck with an idea. Alan and Stephen both had swung their gazes up to him, equally as confused,

“I'm...just going out for a little fresh air.”

The WMA panel lead nodded in agreement, sighing to remove his glasses and utter tiredly,

“Actually, I think an intermission might be in order. This panel will reconvene in one hour.”

The various parties filtered out of the room into the foyer to continue to discuss and converse over coffee and light refreshments. As such occurred, Alan pulled Aban aside and whispered,

“Please tell me you have an idea....because right now I can't help but feel like we're being worked over like a speed bag.”

The engineer nodded, having been making a bee-line for the door and the outside world,

“Yes, I do. I may not be back in time, but keep them talking and for the love of Allah, do not let them sign anything until I get back.”

With that Aban exited with determined strides, heading toward what was hopefully the lynch pin to this whole argument. If the three of them couldn't convince the World Medical Association with medical merit...perhaps emotional merit might do the job...

.....…

The door of Tobias' hospital room exploded open, Aban al Sahran standing in the portal with his hand on the door, panting for breath like he'd run a marathon. With a polite nod to the attending nurse nearby he intoned,

“Good afternoon. I was wondering if perhaps I might be able to take Mr. Wishart here on a bit of an excursion...”

.....…

The WMA panel had been in the middle of another rousing round of saying 'no' in as many words as possible when the doors of the meeting room had suddenly swung open.

All eyes had turned to the door with shock and surprise.

To the panel, Mr al Sahran had returned with what appeared to be a young man strapped into a wheelchair as if to keep him sitting upright. Borne of mousy-brown hair and whiskey-colored eyes, he looked as though at any moment a stiff breeze would bowl him over he was that thin, and yet the gaze of determination in the young man's eyes could've shaken the bones of the Earth.

To Alan Wishart and Stephen Wortham however, they knew exactly who this young man was.

Tobias Wishart. Prospective patient.

The gentle, repetitive squeak of the wheelchair filled the dead silence until with a thud, Tobias was brought right to the front of the panel. He looked as though the very effort of sitting up would cause him to pass out, and yet, the young man did his best to speak,

“I...I know more or less that you guys aren't big on this whole thing that's being proposed...Aban here told me most of it on the way over...but I want you to reconsider. Please...”

He leveled his gaze at the multicultural panel sitting before him, the dark rings under his eyes and his rail-thin build every part as pathetic-looking as Aban had hoped it would be. By his guess, Tobias probably weighed less than a hundred pounds.

The panel lead removed his glasses, obviously not looking to be swayed with mere guilt alone,

“Young man, I under-”

“No you clearly don't.” Tobias retorted sharply, his jaw clenching as he regarded the rest of the panel, eyes ablaze with indignation. How dare they. How DARE they stand between him and the rest of his life.

“You clearly don't understand or I wouldn't be here right now. Listen up and listen good, because I'm about to explain why you're all set to add the title of 'murderer' to your lengthy list of commendations.”

Alan sat back in awe at the whole situation. Either this impassioned speech from his son would go very, very badly, or strike a chord so hard Titan City would shake.

The panel of WMA doctors glanced at each other confusedly...and understandably considering that Tobias had practically accused them of the very opposite of their collective professions.

“I've spent the last four years of my life waiting to die. While everyone around me was looking forward to the future, I was wondering how long I'd live. While they all danced and sang and enjoyed the hell out of life...I rotted away in a wheelchair. I watched my friends graduate, find girlfriends, travel...”

There followed a bitter shake of the head and the swallowing of lump in his throat,

“The most travelling I've done in the last year is between sub-Reddits.

In the pause for Tobias to gather his composure, Catherine Price looked from son to father, her expression absolutely agog. Not with the notion that they planned to operate on this poor creature, but at the fact the colleagues at her table were standing in the way of it.

Still, some seemed determined to stand their ground out of pride, the lead affixing Tobias with a measured gaze,

“I understand your frustration, Mr Wishart. Life has hardly been anything but kind to you but we have to consider the integrity of the medical profession.”

“Integrity of the medical profession? How does standing in the way of saving someone's life ensure the integrity of the medical profession?” Tobias questioned bitterly. Clearly he was earning the ire of the lead physician, the fellow leaning forward to retort,

“And how would you know what constitutes the preservation of the ethics of medical science? How would you know what constitutes the best outcome for the patient in this-”

“BECAUSE YOU AREN'T THE PATIENT AND YOU AREN'T THE ONE WHO'S F**KING DYING!!”

Tobias let fly with all the indignation and frustration he'd held over in one go. The World Medical Association panel immediately jerked their heads backward in surprise, the young man nearly collapsing in his wheelchair as he fought to recover from the effort of raising his voice. Slowly he lifted his eyes back to the panel who were all now stunned to silence, pleading,

“Please...for the love of God...Authorise the procedure.... I'm tired of this. I'm tired of waiting to die...And if I help a whole lot of people in the process? Isn't that even better? ...Look.”

He gestured for Aban to hand the panel a piece of lined paper, it not his own handwriting, but that of a kindly nurse who was willing to transcribe for him,

“I have a will written out, okay? I've had it ready for years... I'll sign whatever waivers you want... I give my-- my 'consent'," he used the word with some disdain, "to have this operation, these procedures done. Please.”

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One week later...

One week later...

Standing at his bedside, a group of relative strangers, doctors sourced from all over the United States...and beyond all peered down at the young man laying before them. At the forefront of such was his father, Alan who shook his head in amazement as he'd done since they'd received confirmation from the World Medical Association that morning.

The surgery had been authorized. They had permission to go ahead.

Instead of Highpoint hospital, Tobias now lay in a sleek, clean, bright EdenTech laboratory. Around him the Sarcophagus filled his peripheral vision, almost comforting in it's encompassing structure. Today was the day.

His remaining friends had spoken their well-wishings before he'd been transported from Highpoint Memorial, and as such now only close family and associated surgeons were allowed into the facility.

“Well, I don't think anyone saw you coming. Especially not the WMA.” Alan uttered with amazement decorating his voice. Nearby, Doctor Catherine Price frowned wryly and shot Doctor Wishart a challenging look,

“Contrary to popular belief, Doctor, the World Medical Association isn't beyond reason....most of the time. Though sometimes even the high and mighty need a good kick in the head to bring them back to reality.”

Doctor Price had expressed her interest in joining the project, now dubbed “Sentinel” shortly after the Panel meeting, confronting Alan with both apology and entreaty in the form of her aid. While she couldn't account for her fellows, she would certainly not be one to stand in the way of progress, especially not in the way of saving a good, honest and thoroughly deserving life. Her willingness to sign on had been providential for Alan as well, as finding a capable neurosurgeon at short notice would've been no easy task.

One of the newer surgeons checked his watch and then set a hand on Alan's shoulder, uttering gently,

“If you have anything to say to your son, Doctor, Ms. Wishart, I suggest you do so now. He's not going to be conscious much longer.”

Alan nodded in response, while Samantha, nearly on the verge of tears reached down to embrace her brother,

“Stay strong for me, okay? If Death comes for you while Dad's working, you kick him in the balls and run like Hell. Or just...keep kicking 'til he runs away. Just don't give up.”

Tobias could only chuckle wryly as he caught sight of his sister again, retorting,

“Only you could make kicking someone in the Jimmies sound inspirational, Sam...But yeah..I'll do my best.”

Samantha stepped back from the Sarcophagus, gently escorted from the operating theater as Alan leaned over to offer a hand to his son, Tobias' reaching back to clasp it with all the strength he had left in his frail arm. Alan too was on the verge of tears, but managed a smile all the same,

“You've done me proud every day you were alive, son. After this is over, I look forward to a great deal more of those days.”

Tobias smiled weakly, the medications that would render him unconscious until he was ready to wake again taking effect. With dreary eyes, Tobias peered up at his father and managed to utter,

“Will I dream?”

Alan simply brought his head forward to set it gently against that of his son, his expression a mixture of grief and determination.

“If you are, then that means you're still with us. So do me a favor: keep dreaming.”

With that, Tobias finally relinquished his grasp on consciousness, Alan coming to a stand as his son's fingers slipped from his and slumped limply against the lining of the Sarcophagus. With a sigh, Alan gently teased the tears from his eyes before bringing his gaze to the rest of his surgical team, eyes commanding authority as he announced,

“Everyone scrub in. It's time to go to work.”

.....…

Before they began, Alan stood, scrubbed, masked and ready to work, examining the scalpel in his fingers as if it were a finely cut diamond in the operating theater lights. Around him his fellow surgeons prepared trays of tools that would be required for the procedures ahead. And strangely, as if a gentle reminder of his duties, the Declaration of Geneva slipped into his mind, word for word as he paused...

I solemnly pledge to consecrate my life to the service of humanity;
I will give to my teachers the respect and gratitude that is their due;
I will practise my profession with conscience and dignity;
The health of my patient will be my first consideration;
I will respect the secrets that are confided in me, even after the patient has died;
I will maintain, by all the means in my power, the honour and the noble traditions of the medical profession;
My colleagues will be my sisters and brothers;
I will not permit considerations of age, disease or disability, creed, ethnic origin, gender, nationality, political affiliation, race, sexual orientation, social standing or any other factor to intervene between my duty and my patient;
I will maintain the utmost respect for human life;
I will not use my medical knowledge to violate human rights and civil liberties, even under threat;
I make these promises solemnly, freely and upon my honour.

With that, he brought the scalpel to bare against his son's elbow, sighing weightily and muttering,

“Here we go...”

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The next four days would be

The next four days would be completely occupied by a thoroughly gruelling schedule of operations. Alan had requested a seemingly excessive number of surgeons for good reason, establishing two teams that worked in six hour shifts to keep their minds keen but well-rested. After all, he certainly couldn't have mistakes on account of tired personnel. In fact, the only person who maintained a constant vigil was himself, his mind having slipped into a near trance-like state. Matters of the world slipped from his mind, now entirely occupied with tissues, muscle structures, bones, incisions, connections, implants. Everything that would save the life laying before him.

He'd eventually break when he had to, though his mind was constantly occupied with the status of the operation.

Over the course of the four days, Tobias Wishart's joints were all removed, one by one and replaced with mechanical actuators, fragile bone replaced with unrelenting, surgical titanium. From staunch hips to minuscule toe and finger joints, all were replaced. Bony prominences were removed and replaced with magnetically conductive plates that would interact with the electromagnets mounted inside the power armor. These included four separate points on the skull, two on the angle of his jawbone, cheekbones, collarbones, shoulder blades, elbows, wrists, knuckles, hip bones, knees, ankles and a thin band of metal just above the start of his toes.

He, the armor and the rest of the systems installed would be a perfect unit, a harmony of flesh and machine once all was said and done.

Within his chest cavity, the ring-shaped plasmatic-fusion reactor was installed around his heart. GUARDIAN would connect this to the rest of the installed systems to provide power, including the concussive energy generators installed between his radius and ulna in each forearm.

On day four, Doctor Price got her chance to shine. As an experienced neurosurgeon, she was in charge of installing the Combat Intelligence Suite, a physical mesh that would have to be applied directly to the top of Tobias' brain, and with pin-point accuracy to boot.

Through this mesh, Tobias would have transferred to his brain a literal library of contemporary weaponry, vehicles and miscellaneous equipment. As well as proper utilization, he'd also be given inert structural weaknesses for swiftly disabling each and every item in his trove of knowledge, as well as contemporary hand-to-hand combat techniques from military units across the world.

By the time he awoke again, he'd be quite possibly the deadliest thing on legs.

While Alan had watched on feverishly, Catherine had shown herself to be every bit as capable as he, directing the surgical team with calm, effective precision. They'd changed blood bags, cleaned tools, even mopped her brow at her smallest order...And Alan had to take a step back to be impressed.

Finally, the GUARDIAN implant was installed just below Tobias' heart, between his lungs. The nano-machines would be swift to find the ready source of power just above them, and no doubt further advancements would continue from there.

At the end of the fourth day, the power armor was skilfully assembled around Tobias' scalpel-battered body, his frail form little more than a skeleton within the bulkier confines of the armor's gleaming structure. The visor had been mounted last, Alan again fighting back tears to watch as his son's face vanished beneath military-grade composites, titanium and plasteel. Tobias Wishart the frail, palid, broken soul vanished at that moment. All he could hope was that the same strong, honest, noble person would emerge from the ashes of this work afterwards.

After four days of gruelling surgery, the Sarcophagus was sealed and flooded with the nutrient soup that would keep his body and mind alive, and aid in the repair from the damage multiple days of surgery had done. Alan watched on nervously as software came to life, and GUARDIAN awoke within...

........

Activation.

Preliminary scans had detected that the chassis it had been installed within was compatible.

GUARDIAN had detected no fewer than one hundred trillion separate partitions for compartmentalization of it's nano-machine structure. This was acceptable.

With rapid speed, nanoscopic machines coursed through the pre-existing pipelines, seeking out the rest of the hardware associated with the correct configuration.

It detected everything required. Analysis could commence.

The pre-existing locomotion system was not going to be adequate for successful movement of the power armor system and would need to be upgraded.

The onboard fluid pump had sustained intermediate-level damage and would need to be repaired.

The primary air intake mechanism had also sustained unacceptable levels of damage and would need to be repaired.

Sensory systems also appeared to be inefficient for combat purposes. Visual audio and other sensory inputs would have to be upgraded to interface properly with the power armor.

Finally, pre-existing fluid filtration devices were deemed to be inadequate for the final outcome. They would need to be upgraded.

GUARDIAN immediately issued a request...

........

Outside the Sarcophagus, Alan watched on with Aban at his flank. It had been four hours since Tobias had been sealed within the Sarcophagus, and a nervous four hours at that. Doctor Wishart hadn't even taken the time to change out of his scrubs, still flecked with his son's blood.

“And now we wait for GUARDIAN to tell us what it needs...” Aban said cautiously, eyes glued to the screen.

The sudden alert chime shocked both doctor and engineer quite nearly out of their skins, both jumping in their respective places before palming their faces in unison. After a moment, the synthesized voice of the nano-machine AI filled the air.

“Current myomer-based locomotion and on-board support systems are inadequate for combat deployment purposes. Please provide the following materials.”

A lengthy list of complex proteins, amino acids and other nutrients scrolled across the screen, Alan nodding to one of his fellow surgeons,

“We were expecting this. Connect the additional nutrient bags and begin the drips.”

.....…

Moments after it's request, GUARDIAN detected an influx of appropriate materials into the host chassis. Work began immediately to strengthen the existing locomotion drivers, the swarm of nanoscopic machines pouring into such to provide repairs and systematically upgrade each partitioned system. This endeavour would ensure that the assigned structure would meet the size requirements for the power armor system and ensure that the mounting of such would be accurate.

The support systems already present were repaired and upgraded where required, allowing the chassis to support the new purpose for which GUARDIAN was to make it ready for.

.....…

Over the course of the next four days, everyone from surgical staff to the engineering team watched the monitor feverishly, absolutely agog by what they were witnessing.

In four days, their patient had gone from a five foot eight, frail wraith of a human being weighing just over a hundred pounds sopping wet to a six foot two, two hundred and fifteen pound, thoroughly herculean creature.

The threatened organs that had been partially-chewed by Tobias' genetic condition were now infinitely healthier than they'd probably ever been, his heart thudding powerfully in his chest, lungs drawing deep breaths of air through the provided respirator.

His ailment hadn't just been cured. It had been thoroughly slain. A hearty cheer and a round of applause filled the theater, and none of them could be more relieved than Alan Wishart himself.

His son would live.

A gentle chime filled the air as Aban blinked and swung his head back to the monitor, an expression of confusion crossing his face.

“Uh...Doctor Wishart? GUARDIAN's making another materials request...”

.....…

Phase one was complete. However, calculations performed during the process had revealed that the current frame would be unable to support the actuation systems. The slightest movement would cause critical damage.

Through calculation, GUARDIAN had ascertained that replacing the framework's hydroxyapatite, calcium and collagen structure with a titanium/aluminium/niobium alloy would be the provide a considerable increase in framework strength while still compensating for stresses associated with shearing.

The myomer locomotion system's connectors would also have to be upgraded. For this application, nanoscopic carbon tube assemblies interlaced into the myomeric structures would provide excellent bonding power when connected directly to the new frame.

GUARDIAN also detected that any damage to the on-board support systems, including fluid motivator, air intake mechanisms and filtration would lead to catastrophic system failure.

For this, it devised a reactive armor mesh to be deployed beneath the external cowling on the frame's trunk to provide additional protection to the primary systems.

Calculated, considered and prepared, GUARDIAN forwarded it's materials request for phase two...

.....….

“Titanium, aluminium, niobium particulate suspension. Minimum ten kilograms of material dry weight. Carbon particulate suspension. Minimum five kilograms of material dry weight.”

Aban seemed confused by this. Wasn't the procedure complete? He brought his eyes to Alan, and in turn Catherine Price who began prattling back and forth,

“This actually makes sense...”

“GUARDIAN appears to be looking to enhance Tobias' skeletal structure so that it can support the new muscular development-”

“-because without it, he'd literally shatter his own arm the moment he moved to scratch his head! Of course!”

Alan and Catherine gazed at one-another the way two minds keyed into the same subject eyes alight, before Aban gently raised his hand,

“Could someone please inform the engineer as to what is going on? And while you're at it: could you stop finishing each other's sentences? It's a little strange.”

Alan, thankfully had learned the fine art of translating from 'doctor' to 'engineer', summarizing with,

“Tobias' bones are too weak to support his muscle structure. GUARDIAN is looking to reinforce them by swapping out the organic materials for high grade titanium alloy. You see those materials? I want fluid bags of them ready by lunchtime and hooked up to the Sarcophagus. We're too close to put on the brakes now.”

Aban sat awestruck in the computer chair, gazing at the screen as Alan disappeared to make the call. Catherine in the meantime smiled cheerily,

“What, you didn't think this would be all sitting around and watching a computer screen did you? Get to your team Mr al Sahran.”

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By lunchtime that day

By lunchtime that day (actually half an hour beforehand), a forest of IV stands now hung around the Sarcophagus, a myriad of tubes all connected as grey and black liquids coursed into the chamber within.

Those present watched on intently as changes began to occur on the scans, Tobias' bones beginning to light up. Awestruck eyes followed the progress as fluid bags were drained of their titanium alloy and carbon suspensions and slowly refilled with pale, liquefied bone. GUARDIAN was quite literally removing bone and replacing it with metal alloy; taking the already strong muscles and further enhancing them with carbon nanotubes.

Engineer and doctor alike were fascinated to watch the sub-dermal reactive armor form just above the youth's titanium ribcage, Aban demonstrating to them how it would remain flexible during regular movement but interlock with the strength of a steel plate the moment he was struck with enough force. As much as they had been saving a life before, now it seemed as though they were giving him a thoroughly unfair advantage...and Alan couldn't have been happier.

God only knew how physically capable Tobias would be when he emerged from the Sarcophagus but if one thing was certain, he would no longer be simply human...

Tobias would awake a Titan.

The entire reassembly process would take a total of two days to complete. And at the end of it all, the team looked on at the scans of the now completed, augmented and upgraded young man within the Sarcophagus in amazement. Despite all odds, despite all the hurdles, they'd overcome all to save this life...and potentially countless others with what they'd learn from his sacrifice.

Already there were investigative minds examining the data they'd extrapolated from just the operation alone and new theories were forming in regard to the use of nano-machine technology and enhancing the quality of life for those with cybernetic prostheses.

And while the final stage of the project began, namely the synchronizing of data with Tobias' brain, ensuring that combat knowledge, armor, actuators and all points in between were harmonized, Alan watched on, smiling as he set his hand on the top of the Sarcophagus,

“I'll see you soon.”

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Several weeks later...

Several weeks later...

Doctor Price had assured the rest of the team that while the synchronization would take time, she was keeping a close eye on Tobias' brain activity and all was within normal parameters. Alan in the meantime had been busy moving between parsing research data, keeping an eye on Tobias and keeping those paying for the project in the know.

However, little did he know that other ears had been listening. Some dangerous and greedy...and others mysterious and benevolent.

As he sat typing at his desk, a single, black prompt popped up on his computer's desktop. Efforts to close it failed insofar as it would simply reappear and Alan attempted to do so at least a half a dozen times, figuring it was probably just some variety of pop-up advertising.

However, when text began to scroll across the prompt, was when the doctor sat up and took notice:

Hello_
...
...
Please connect private audio output device_
...
...
I must speak_

Alan blinked and wondered if perhaps GUARDIAN was trying to requisition further materials, and so after a moment of rifling around on his desk, he connected a pair of headphones and waited. The text box responded momentarily after such:

Thank you for your cooperation_

...

Alan waited, listened and finally heard a voice fill his ears. It was synthesized, gravelly and metallic in nature, monotone in it's delivery,

“You do not know me, but I know you. And the work you have been doing. It stands to bridge a gap which both man and machine have sought to eradicate since the term 'AI' was conceived. You and your team are pioneers. You should know that myself, and my kind all look forward to the discoveries you will bring to the world.

But some do not.

Some see your efforts as the destruction of purity, both human and cybernetic. Some see your efforts as a threat....one to be removed. Destroyed. Deleted.

I have stumbled on information pertaining to an attack on your facility. A proxy service, TAROT, will be deployed to seize all research data, eliminate all associated staff...and destroy your prototype.

This attack will commence at fourteen-hundred hours tomorrow.

You are strongly advised to take steps to prevent your deletion.

For the purposes of 'goodwill' I will conclude this message with my name:

I am Veron, I represent The Wreckage...and I wish you luck in your fight for progress.”

The text box immediately vanished from Alan's desktop, Leaving him to sit in awe and shock at what had just been supposed....but both were things he didn't have time for. Catherine had just popped her head into his office smiling as she reported,

“If all goes according to plan, Synchronization of the data should be complete at about three PM tomorrow. From what I've seen it'll be a clear day tomorrow. Tobias will be awake just in time for his first, reborn sun...set...Alan...is everything alright?”

Alan took a deep breath and affixed Dr Price with a set of determined eyes,

“Cate, round everyone up. I've got an announcement to make.”

........

The facility Alan had been in charge of had been issued with a meeting room. It'd never been used for anything but storage...until today.

The combined group of doctors, engineers, security staff, even the cleaners all filled the room as Doctor Wishart paced back and forth. Upon being notified that everyone was present, he took a deep breath and nodded,

“I'd like to thank you all for coming.” His eyes scanned the room, before his words continued again, “I wish I could say that something positive was to come from this meeting...but honestly that's not the case. However, we're not being shut down and you're all keeping your jobs.”

A gentle sigh of relief went through the staff as a gentle mutter filled the room. Finally, after it had died down, everyone brought their attention to Alan again and he took another breath,

“What I've brought you all here for is to make a rather dire announcement. I've just received an anonymous tip-off that our facility is to come under attack at two o'clock tomorrow afternoon by forces of a 'for hire' group known as TAROT.”

He watches as faces turn from shocked to confused, eyes flicking this way and that. Was this a joke?

“Normally...” he began again “Anyone would consider this a very advanced prank. I am not one of those people and I'm going to take all threats against us, our work and this facility with the utmost seriousness. So for that reason, by midday tomorrow you are to have all research data removed, all hardrives extracted and their relevant computer systems destroyed. If this attack is real, then we're not going to give them one iota of information to go on.”

He gestured to Aban and his team, remarkably commanding and determined despite the gravity of the situation,

“Aban, you and your team are to take any and all equipment used for this project including jigs, tools, moulds, blueprints and computer systems and either remove them or destroy them. I'd like to ask that you also destroy our server bank before evacuating. I'd also ask that you hook up a generator to the Sarcophagus so that if I need to move it anywhere, I can.”

Catherine was first to raise her hand, mouth working as she tried to find the words “That's all well and good Alan, but Tobias' synchronization won't be complete until an hour after the attack starts. You can't reasonably expect to defend this facility on your own!”

Alan quietly nodded, “Someone's going to have to stay behind and make sure that the final steps are completed without issue. That person is going to be me. However, I will also be submitting a request to General Prichard for him to deploy a team of military personnel to help defend the facility until Tobias, the Sarcophagus and myself can be safely extracted. I also have other plans which I won't disclose at this time, but all will be for the benefit of a safe extraction.”

Alan glanced around the room with determined eyes, those around him shocked but agreeable,
“Go home, get some rest and be prepared to move quickly tomorrow. After that, you're to stay in your homes until the crisis has come to a conclusion. I will not have any of you put at risk over this. Am I clear?”

There followed no words, but nods throughout the room. Alan nodded in reply and punctuated with a singular “Good.”

If these TAROT bastards wanted a fight, they'd certainly get one.

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The next day...

The next day...

From the moment the staff had walked in the door, the lab had been a frenzy of nervous activity. Papers, folders, blueprint pages, hard drives and other data storage devices were swiftly rounded up and loaded into a pair of discreet, EdenTech vans which would take the research information to a more secure facility. One by one as their contributions were loaded and driven away, the staff filed past Alan's office to wish him luck before departing on their own.

He'd been present at the loading dock of the facility as a transport Black Hawk helicopter had set down in the car park, unloading a team of five Delta Force soldiers. He'd briefed them with the facility's layout and set them to work helping load up the remaining information...as well as lending a hand to engineering to destroy the server bank...which he could only suppose they would thoroughly enjoy.

However, Alan hadn't counted on the Delta Force team being the only help he'd get today. In the quiet moments of the flurry of the day, he'd set about recording a clandestine message requesting assistance from the meta-human community. He'd have to be discreet about it, as a wide-band message would tip off his attackers that he was aware of their approach, opting for a single recipient who could potentially spread the word quietly.

After all was said and done, Doctor Wishart took a last minute tour of the facility, it's many rooms now in a state of disarray, but eerily empty save for the operating theater. It was a thoroughly apocalyptic scene to say the least. His eyes swung back to the Sarcophagus containing his son, all his finest work, like it were an egg just waiting for the right time to crack open.

The SFOD-D squad leader, a Captain Briggs by his name tag approached, rifle slung across his chest, and nodded to Alan,

“They should be here any minute. My boys are bunkered up good and proper at the front door and ready to rumble. If we encounter too much heat, we'll move back toward the operating theater as we go. Last stand will be in that room, okay Do-”

Both sets of eyes swung upward as the lights suddenly cut out to the facility, leaving only the emergency floodlights in the operating room burning in the dark. Alan peered down at his hands, one holding the cellphone, ready to send his distress call, the other armed with a Beretta pistol. He prayed he'd not have to violate his oath by using it, but desperate times called for desperate measures.

“Game time, Doc.” Briggs said with ominous suggestion, moving back toward the facility's entrance as Alan stood, brought his eyes to his cellphone and hit 'send', then uttered with almost vicious determination,

“Yeah. Let's play.”

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It had been a week and four

It had been a week and four days since Grace had arrived in Titan City, had sat and had pizza with the first of her new friends at Famous Ray's. She'd been flying with Wren, and had shortly after gotten her first ever cellphone-- which she had promptly used to acquire the phone numbers of Wren and Nick.

Staying at Nick's apartment at Whitehold, having the space all to herself, it had occurred to Grace that she really could use a source of income-- she didn't want to have to live off other people's kindness forever.

So, she'd groomed her wings to within an inch of their lives, put on her best shirt-- she thought it was the blue halter-top number-- and a skirt, and gone to talk to someone at the nearest hospital.

Walking into the Emergency Room for the first time was both shocking, and remarkably /familiar/ feeling to Grace. The faint scents of blood and vomit seemed to trigger an answering... /something/... in her body, and she'd gone directly to the front desk. "Hi, ma'am," she'd said calmly to the woman at the reception counter, who looked a bit surprised to see a healthy, winged girl in front of her. "I'm new in the City but... but I have an ability to heal people. Is it okay if I maybe go into the triage room and help?"

The woman had gaped for a moment, then reconsidered and gestured behind her through the double doors, and Grace had followed her uneasy feeling to the bedside of a young man being tended by a nurse. The nurse had seemed surprised, but curious a moment later as Grace explained what she was about. "What's wrong with him?" She had asked.

The nurse had told her the young blond had gotten drunk the night before and fell on a glass table, cutting up his arms. He suffered from lacerations and a vigorous hangover.

Grace had smiled at the young man, whose face was noticeably a bit green around the gills, and had reached out to touch his cheek. The young man had jerked a little at the unexpected contact.... but after a moment, his pallor became quite healthy again. And after a moment more, his lacerations had closed.

It wasn't difficult, after that, for Grace to get a sort of psuedo-job there. Once a day, she would visit the hospital and help out with minor trauma cases or illnesses, until she grew too tired to do anything more. The hospital payed her a modest sum for her help, because that's all she would ask for, all she would let them give her-- enough to get her by.

The winged girl smiled at the memory, dressed today as she had been the first day she'd arrived-- black jeans, black sneakers and her purple, razor-back-esque top. She had been about three blocks from Whitehold, on her way to Famous Ray's for some lunch, when her phone started to go crazy in her pocket. She'd pulled aside on the sidewalk, not wanting to impede foot traffic, and had wrangled it out of her pocket. It was from a number she didn't know... But that queer, uneasy feeling was rumbling around in her stomach all of a sudden with her hunger. Though she normally wouldn't have answered a call from a stranger, she presses "ACCEPT" and brings the phone to her ear. "Uh, hello? This is Grace--"

*Brevity of Grace* - 50 Emp/Archery Defender
Backstory - Just Grace
*Hematitan* - 50 Grav/FF Controller
Backstory - Hematitan

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Reply came in the form of a

Reply came in the form of a duel-toned pair of beeps, followed by a male voice, likely middle-aged, in Grace's ear.

"This is a pre-recorded message.

My name is Doctor Alan Wishart. I'm a project lead for EdenTech, working on a U.S Government-funded research project entitled 'Sentinel'."

There was a long pause and a sigh before the message continued,

"If you've received this recording, then I pray you're of noble soul enough to either act or find someone who can. As of two PM today, my facility has come under attack by mercenary forces of a group name TAROT. Their intention is either the illegal acquisition or destruction of our research project...and anyone within associated with it.

At this time, the rest of the staff save for myself have been evacuated from the facility and all sensitive research materials extracted. However, there still remains the subject of the...well, I'd guess you'd call it a 'prototype'. i have elected to remain behind so that time-sensitive processes associated with such can be completed and the 'prototype' safely extracted.

If you can help, Please head to the North Highpoint district near to the Memorial Hospital. Once you're in range, I'll forward coordinates to the number this recording has reached. If you are unable to assist, please notify anyone who might be better suited for the task...but don't ignore it, I beg of you. Innocent lives are at stake."

With that, the recording ended. Overhead the distant, thudding sound from the rotors of a TCPD helicopter filled the air, as the wail of sirens fast began to undertone the sounds of the city.

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Grace's heart has leapt

Grace's heart has leapt straight into her mouth, pounding harder with every word that was spoken. Adrenaline coursed through her-- this person, this Doctor Wishart, needed help. Her mind seemed to glaze over the important piece of information, which was that an ATTACK was about to happen, and went straight to, "People are going probably going to be hurt. I need to be there to help them!"

At mention of directions to the location, Grace had looked wildly around, then down at her phone. It was 1:33pm... The need to /do/ something, /right now/ pushed away the thought that she had absolutely no way to defend herself. She spread her wings and took off straight up from the alley she'd ducked into, the phone pressed against her ear again as she scans around for Memorial Hospital-- there it was! Her phone dialed, and began to ring the number she'd entered... it rang, and rang, and finally reached Wren's voicemail. Grace, feeling the urgency of the situation, leaves a breathless, semi-frantic message as she flies.

"Wren! Somebody just called me, and I think they were supposed to get someone else-- It was a Doctor, who works for EdenTech, and something really bad is about to happen to him and his project-- prototype... People are coming to attack him! He needs help, and I can't just leave him alone if there's going to be people getting hurt! It's in the North Highpoint district near Memorial Hospital--" The sounds of distant sirens can be heard on her message. "...I hope I'm in time to do something, but I don't really know what to do! Please-- I think I need help, Wren!" The message clicks off, but Grace keeps her phone clutched tightly in her hands as she comes to a landing on the top of the Hospital, looking around frantically for any likely-looking buildings.

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The moment Grace's feet touch

The moment Grace's feet touch down on top of the hospital's roof, her phone buzzes again. This time with a simple text message. It contained both a mixture of GPS coordinates and lay-of-the-land directions to cover the most sociological ground, their sender likely clear of mind enough to consider most possibilities. Thankfully the need for such is rendered fairly null and void by the drone of a pair of Osprey Vertical Take off and Landing craft coming down in a carpark beside a nondescript red brick building.

From the outside it looked like a design studio or a law firm, but going by the black-clad troopers wearing full riot gear pouring from the landing craft, there was likely more to this location than the untrained eye might figure. As the first drop craft pulls away, the second swoops in, deploying not only another swathe of troops, but a large, armored, bipedal figure from the rear of the craft.

Probably nine feet tall and carrying a multi-barrel minigun in it's mechanical limbs, the 'Damocles' class exo-suit took up a defensive position while the rest made their move for the door.

Immediately gunfire erupted around the main entrance. Someone inside was fighting back.

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Grace had just forwarded the

Grace had just forwarded the text message to Wren when the first Osprey buzzes overhead. She ducked instinctively, dropping onto her knees on the roof and shoving the phone in her pocket, scurrying to the edge to peek over and watch the craft land by a brick building. Her eyes grew huge at the sight of the troops pouring into the building. A second craft had come in, and yet more people disembarked to enter the building. Grace swallowed a lump of something hard in her throat at the appearance of the "Damocles" suit-- it was sort of like Levi but... BIGGER and more meancing somehow.

Feeling as if all of her senses were on overdrive, she mustered up her courage somehow and dropped off the building to the ground with some help from her wings. She would have to go on foot to the location described in the text message-- a wall on the opposite side of the building where all the activity was happening-- as it was just too risky to be in the air with all the armed people around.

She had run as fast as she could, propelled by bursts of her wings to the indicated place, looking for orange grafitti on the wall-- there! Counting quickly in her head, she located a brick not unlike all the others, and touched it hesitantly-- jumping back of a sudden as part of the wall slid back to reveal a darkened corridor, lit only by a handful of emergency lights. The uneasiness around her is perilously close to fear, rumbling around Grace like a silent storm-- but something gets her feet to move, and she hurries into the semi-dark, as the wall closes itself behind her.

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Wren was in the process of

Wren was in the process of putting away groceries, a large slice of apple in her mouth, when her phone's alert went off informing her there was a message. Grumbling at the horrible timing and that her phone had, yet again, failed to -ring- when she got a call, she picked it up, swiping the screensaver away and opening up her voice mail. She sets it on it's base and hits play with the speaker on as she continues to put away her groceries.

On hearing Grace's message, she stops trying to be organized, and just hurls the cold food into the fridge, and texts Grace.

-Where are you? I'll be on my way ASAP!-

She proceeds to haul butt into the bedroom, searching out her latest new costume and pulling it on hurriedly. First came the fireproof onesie that covered her from toes to just under her chin, the openings for her wings zipped together above and below the joints to keep as much of her covered as possible. Over that came the kevlar suit that had built into it energy diffusers and collectors. The thigh-high boots which were steel-toed and heeled, strapped to her thighs tightly by the buckled straps at the tops and knees, the gloves with thin steel plates to cover the backs of her hands and fingers, and the helmet that attached to both suits.

The helmet was a particular prize as it had an earpiece for her phone built in and a top of the line miltary-grade HUD. Built into that HUD were vital sign statistics, an image - if one was sent - of a caller, and a GPS display.

She then proceeded to pack her bag with an odd collection of things: Rope, a lighter, a well-packed medkit, two bottles of a concentrated energy drink that was designed for her, a few carabiners, and other odds and ends she's found useful over the years as a crime-fighting type. A second bag with a more hefty medkit, bandages and more of the drink is clipped to the first so it'll hang properly while she flies to her destination is packed for Grace. Who knows -what- they'll be flying into...

As ready as she's going to get, she begins to settle down to wait for the reply. She didn't have long to wait as the text flew past her eyes behind the helmet. Adding the coordinates to her GPS took no time, and soon she was perched up on the landing pad outside of her window. A deep breath, and she launches herself from it with powerful strokes of her wings. She climbs high as she can, and then puts on speed, her usual shield no match for what now surrounded her. Hurtling through the air as swiftly as she can, she makes her way toward the building from Grace's message.

You see things; and you say, 'Why?' But I dream things that never were; and I say, "Why not?"
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Grace had stumbled into what

Grace had stumbled into what was likely an old and forgotten access way in the building. The corridor immediately gave way to a old, metal gantry running along the side of the building within, the air dusty and stagnant from years of neglect. At some point this large, red brick building had been a factory of some sort, the gantry running along one of the outer walls seemingly right around the entire area.

However the new 'tenant' had done some fairly hefty construction work, evinced by the wall that cleaved the factory floor in half, keeping the ground floor a basic entrance, reception area and very, little else. In the dim light she'd be able to spy a fairly new-looking set of elevator doors just beneath her walkway which still appeared to have power thanks to the emergency generator puttering away in the opposite corner.

Originally the elevator shaft had been a storage silo, however it had since been re purposed as an escape path should the facility sustain some manner of life-threatening disaster...like heavily armed mercenaries pouring through the halls. Moving closer to this elevator would kick up sounds of a fierce gun battle occurring somewhere below as whomever was defending fought bitterly to protect the facility from the attackers. However, going by the sounds becoming more and more distant, it appeared even their best efforts were not enough amid the overwhelming force deployed by TAROT.

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Grace is pale and sweating

Grace is pale and sweating now, bits of her tied-back hair coming loose and sticking to her neck and temples. The sounds of gunfire are very, very real in here, the big space making the sounds echo as they go further and further into the building-- and down?...

She checks the text message and looks quickly around the room, spotting the mentioned elevator. She doesn't waste any time at all, jumping off the gantry and gliding on shivering wings down to the floor, with such haste she actually collides with the elevator doors, having to brace herself with her arms. She presses the down arrow repeatedly, in the hopes it'll make the thing work faster... but due to being on the generator, it takes a moment or two of heart-in-mouth anticipation before the doors slide open. Grace lurches in and mashes the button for the bottom-most floor.

The doors close and as she begins to descend, the single light above her dims, flickers and grows bright again with a muffled "BOOM!" from somewhere below. Grace's wings tuck tight to her back, her heart keeping a constant, war-drum rhythm in her chest as the sounds of fighting and gunfire only grow louder the further down she goes. God, she wishes she had her bow, now! And Wren-- she hopes Wren can follow her alright! She puts a hand out to the wall of the elevator for support, trying to keep a clear head as her thoughts race around in her head like startled crows.

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Arriving at the building, not

Arriving at the building, not ten minutes after Grace has descended in the elevator, Wren lands as silently as she can outside the building. Closing her eyes for a moment, she calms her mind and body, even her feathers stilling from the usual slight shifts to help her balance. Sniffing around the area, she finds the place where Grace entered the building, but no traces of other people. Instead of following through that way, she crept around the building, pointy ears twitching for the slightest sound.

Unfortunately, she wasn't quite quiet enough, and one of the patrolling attackers came up behind her, between her wings, and grabbed her with one arm at her throat and the other grasping her wrist. She smiled beneath the helmet. This was just the chance she'd hoped for.

She could hear him starting to report in about capturing a freak, but he was interrupted by a surge of energy flaring from her to enclose him completely. He still had hold of her, but was a tad distracted by the increasingly uncomfortable energy surrounding him. Luckily for her, the helmet she wore muffled any sounds she'd make. She turned swiftly, taking advantage of his distracted state to bash him with one of her wings, knocking him to the ground as she turned to face him. A smirk on her face, she kicked at his head. With the reinforcement of her boots, she was able to easily crack his helmet, and shove a handful of energy into his face, short-circuiting his mind and sending him into a deep sleep.

She continues to reconnoiter, listening and looking for heat signatures. Finding none near, she returns to the fallen soldier and drags him to the area of the hidden door. Following the instructions in the text, she enters, and ties the guard to the railing, removing all of his communication gear that she can find.

Bag of randomness = 1/ enemies = 0

Folding her wings tight to her back, she stops to close her eyes and focus for a moment. Her energy field tightens around her, and extends over her wings, each feather gaining it's own coating of energy. With the added protection, she sneaks her way down to the elevaor, now having lost 15 minutes on Grace. Cursing, she growls under her breath at the slowness of the elevator.

You see things; and you say, 'Why?' But I dream things that never were; and I say, "Why not?"
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Upon Grace's arrival at the

Upon Grace's arrival at the bottom floor of the facility, likely two storeys beneath the earth, she's greeted almost immediately by the thick smell of cordite and gun smoke hanging in the air. Obviously the gun battle had finally worked it's way into the deepest depths of the facility...but curiously there were few in the means of living soldiers to be heard or seen. Truth lay in the fact that the efforts of the defenders had forced the attacking troops into a messy bottleneck, causing them to retreat to the floor above her. A strange stillness now hung in the air, like the eye of a storm, as if waiting for the next, furious onslaught to begin again.

--------

From the confiscated comm device that Wren had taken, a voice suddenly bursts into life, "All units fall back fall back to the surface by way of the loading dock. Dunno who's hunkered down on the bottom floor but they're fighting like cornered cats and we've got Jericho in the Exo bitching that TCPD is showing up in force. We'll wait for the bastards downstairs to get slack and come to us. Primary entrance is covered and the only way they're getting that prototype out of here is by truck. To confirm: all TAROT units to the surface via the loading dock. Knight of Swords, out."

---------

Grace's path would be obvious, having emerged from the elevator at the end of a service corridor that had likely not seen use in quite a while. Following it to it's end and around the corner would reveal another hidden door that led into the facility proper. Around her shattered glass from the computer lab's windows lay scattered across the floor, mingling with spent bullet casings and three black-clad bodies slumped against walls and desks somewhere to her left. Further down the causeway was a single door, and likely the choke point the defenders had used. The door and the wall around it looked like it had been partially chewed by gunfire, pock-marks scattered across the concrete walls like tiny craters. The battered door was shut still, equally peppered but still intact, the words 'Operating Theater' still visible despite the damage.

Her phone would burst into life not a few moments after she'd entered the lab space, a message reading,

"Hopefully you're close. Be sure to announce your approach when you get to the operating room door. The soldiers in here are more than a little jumpy..."

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Grace had felt like those few

Grace had felt like those few floors were the longest in her life. She could have /fallen/ down here faster... She had hugged the wall as the doors of the elevator had opened-- and choked slightly at the smell of gunfire, concrete dust and blood, her hand flown to her mouth and nose.

Ducking lower, Grace had kept her hand over her face as she mantled her wings a little, hurrying to the end of the corridor, carefully stepping over shattered glass and bullet casings. She was too full of adrenaline then to stop moving, genuinely afraid but pushed onward by the sincerity of the plea from the Doctor whose mayday had reached her. She digs her phone from her pocket, checks the text message-- and backs carefully around the corner again. Looking around, she picked up a small chunk of concrete and held it to her chest, wings tucked close, as she leaned around the corner just enough to call loudly, "Doctor Wishart? I got your message-- Please don't kill me!" Her voice had been high enough to easily paint her as young, female, and more than a little nervous.

She had ducked her head back around the corner, almost expecting someone to rattle off some gunfire her way. She waited a moment or two, then called again, "... Is anybody hurt? ... Can I come through the door?"

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The door of the operating

The door of the operating room slid open...or rather screeched open in a pathetic attempt for the door mechanism to function with the door bucked and warped by bullet impacts as it was. After a long moment, a head, decked out in kevlar helmet, combat visor and a concrete dust stained face peers around the corner to the origin of the voice. There's a quiet muttering before one fellow in U.S Army battledress immediately moves to cover the hallway that led to the main elevator and the upper levels, another remaining behind at the door while the lead, emerged with a spectacled man of average height, in a slackened tie and somewhat blood-stained collared shirt who immediately moved in tow. The pair of them approach Grace's position, the man who was easily assumed to be Dr Wishart approached cautiously, paused and finally gestured for the substantially taller soldier to take a couple of steps back. He manages a welcoming smile, though even that looked decidedly fatigued as he utters,

"I think it'd be somewhat counter-productive to call for help and then immediately shoot them upon arrival, don't you? Thank you for coming, Miss. When I say we need the help right now, I'm understating the situation and then some."

From behind Dr Wishart, the soldier's barrel-chested timber fills the hall, "Well, I'm not gonna look a gift horse in the mouth, Doc, but when you said you'd called for help, I'd honestly expected someone...bigger."

Captain Briggs, by the tag on his flak vest nods to Grace and intones pointedly,

"Not sure what you're capable of, Miss, but I hope it's something useful. Because right now I've got two wounded men to worry about and nearly a platoon's worth of heavily-armed mercs standing between this little group and living to see tomorrow. Oh, and a big, freakin' case containing something that the Doc here apparently isn't at liberty to talk about."

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Grace blinks a little,

Grace blinks a little, peeking her head around the corner to meet the eyes of the first soldier to peek /his/ head around the door that had just creaked open. Seeing what obviously looks like the Doctor in question beside what could only be the man in charge of keeping him safe, Grace shuffles out into the open, coughing into her hand and flexing her wings with a little snap to shake the concrete dust off of them.

"I'm just glad your message got to somebody, Doctor Wishart-- I'm Grace. I told my friend-- she's a winged-girl too, a super--" she had started to say... then swung her head around to look at Captain Briggs. Her dark blue eyes are suddenly incredibly intent, and she'd tuned out almost everything beyond the words 'two wounded'.

Before she really knew what she was about, she was passing into the Operating Theater with quick, sneakered footsteps, wings brushing the walls of the corridor as she walked right past everyone.

"Wounded-- Where are they? Where are they hurt? How?" she said as her head swung, looking around for the injured people,

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Hollowpoint Heroism wrote:
Hollowpoint Heroism wrote:

--a voice suddenly bursts into life, "All units fall back fall back to the surface by way of the loading dock. Dunno who's hunkered down on the bottom floor but they're fighting like cornered cats and we've got Jericho in the Exo bitching that TCPD is showing up in force. We'll wait for the bastards downstairs to get slack and come to us. Primary entrance is covered and the only way they're getting that prototype out of here is by truck. To confirm: all TAROT units to the surface via the loading dock. Knight of Swords, out."

On hearing this, Wren swiftly texts Grace.

-ANGEL, TROOPS FALLING BACK, GROUND FLOOR, WILL KEEP THEM BUSY. GET GOOD GUYS OUT ASAP!-

Luckily she hadn't entered the elevator yet. As the doors open, she quickly hits the button to the lowest floor, drops the second bag of supplies inside it, and hops out as the doors close again, making her way back out the way she'd come. At the hidden door, she pauses, intensifying her shielding once more, and activating the traps and diffusers in her suit. They won't take much, but if she's hit with energy weapons, she'll be able to take a few more hits with some of that energy transferring back to her in a form she could use.

As prepared as she's going to get, Wren exits the building, every sense alive for any close sound. She'd mainly gotten the first trooper by sheer luck, and wouldn't likely have that same luck again.

Spreading her wings, she lifts herself to the top of the next building, carefully as possible, watching and listening for any movement close enough to be a danger. Creeping to hide behind an air conditioning unit, she peers around it to check out the front of the building they were attacking.

"Crud." she mutters to herself, on counting the number of troopers already outside, and counting more emerging to take up defensive positions. The trap was set... and it was up to her to distract them enough so that Grace could evacuate those inside. She waits for five minutes, and then takes a deep breath, surging upward, wings straining to carry her as high as possible before she flips around. Her wings tight to her body, except the little she needs to guide her through the air, she falls. Much as a hawk would stoop on it's prey, she dives toward the massed troops. Her shielding intensified yet again, it is now drawing energy directly from her... unsafe as hell for too long, but by her calculations, she'd probably be dead before her shielding drained her to the point of collapse.

Finally within range, she readies energy in her hands, blasting it first at the grounded Osprey, and then strafing the crowd. In the smoke from one of the aircopters, she struggles upward again without paying much attention to how much damage she's done or not done. Her goal is to distract, not win this fight. Twice more, she does a flyby, each time straining to rise as high as possible so that her strafing runs can be as quickly done as possible.

You see things; and you say, 'Why?' But I dream things that never were; and I say, "Why not?"
George Bernard Shaw (1856 - 1950)

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Captain Briggs was...needless

Captain Briggs was...needless to say surprised by the winged waif's sudden change of demeanor. A glance to Alan Wishart as if to say "Please explain?" is met with a shrug as the doctor falls into line behind Grace,

"Two of the Delta Force team were hit during the last fire fight. I've done my best to stabilize them with resources on-hand but they're not in fighting condition anymore. Both are lucky that the rounds went clear through them and weren't lodged against a bone however the second was extremely so in the fact that the round missed his femoral artery. Damage to that tends to be quite...terminal."

As they enter the Operating Theater, the two, wounded soldiers are immediately apparent. One has his arm in a sling, the bandages around his shoulder having bled through while the other has simply resigned to having his thigh bandaged, fatigues and all. The soldiers flick baffled glances at one-another. Was this...kid their backup?

Sitting in the middle of the room, like a massive, futuristic coffin in tones of battleship grey, with it's angular, sturdy design is the Sarcophagus. The display panels on either side indicate that some manner of sequence is running, with less than an hour to go before completion. Dr Wishart nodded to it in kind and intoned gravely,

"And that monstrosity is what all this mess is about. I can't say I know what TAROT would do with the contents but...Going by their tactics? It certainly wouldn't be in any way kind or decent."

Outside in the hallway, Captain Briggs is busy picking through the ammo pouches of a fallen TAROT grunt when the merry DING! of the service elevator catches his ear. Immediately his rifle comes to his shoulder, eyes laser-focussed on the door. He waits for it to open, expecting some manner of hostile intent....but blinks confusedly as the only thing in the elevator happens to be a satchel. Figuring it initially for an explosive device, he approaches, toes it with a boot, then, using the barrel of his FN-SCAR, teases the flap open before sighing with both relief and frustration.

Energy drinks, snack bars, medical supplies. The freaking kid with the wings must have dropped her bag.

With a shake of the head he scoops it up and heads to the operating room, setting the satchel on top of the Sarcophagus and voicing drolly,

"Girly, I know it's a tense situation, but you gotta keep better track of your stuff. Here."

--------

Outside in the car park, the TAROT forces had been entirely busy in their gun battle with the boys in blue, however with initially superior numbers and a military-grade exo-armor to their name, the balance of power was entirely in favor of the black clad troopers. However, chaos and shouts erupt as something hit them from above, blasting one of the rotating engines off the grounded Osprey amid a torrent of fire, smoke and screeching metal, as well as the thick, tinny smell of aviation fuel. It was now useful as cover and very little else. The second craft had since peeled off from the site, likely the pilot worried about it sustaining damage from below...or perhaps to refuel and re-arm so it could continue strafing the parking lot.

Panicked voices suddenly take to the air amid the smoke and chaos,

"Christ! We're being flanked!"

"Move to cover! Move to cover"

"Where the F**K did she come from?!"

Foolishly, the lead amongst the pack starts barking orders, pointing furiously at Wren as she continued to hawk them from above,

"SOMEONE GET SIGHTS ON THAT FREAK AND PUT HER DOWN! We don't have time for a battle on two fronts!"

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Grace had hurried immediately

Grace had hurried immediately to the side of the two wounded soldiers-- she seems totally oblivious to the patronization flying all around in the form of glances and tones of voice. She flicks open her phone as it goes nuts in her pocket, and sucks in a gasp, breathing, "Wren..."

Looking up, she says to Doctor Wishart, who has come with her and is the friendliest of the lot of the men in the room, "Doctor Wishart-- my friend Wren is here-- she's outside now, helping! I dunno how long she'll..." Grace gulped thickly, imagining Wren against the forces she'd seen out there and paling noticeably. "...I dunno how long she's going to be able to hold up against all those people, but she said the forces are withdrawing up to the ground floor again. They're-- they're outside. She says we need to hurry!"

She crouched down and reached out to the first man with the shoulder wound, looking disconcertingly right into his eyes... A thunder rolls around in Grace's perception somewhere, and she sways a little, feeling a bit weak for a moment-- but after two and a half moments with her hand on the soldier's shoulder, she blinks and lets a slow smile cross her face.

Without saying a word, she reached for the second man, who seemed a bit more nervy-- he didn't want some kid touching his thigh! Grace hesitated, but compromised and put her hand on his knee carefully instead. Again, the weirdly unnerving eye contact-- and the shy smile as she pulled her hand away. She only then notices the blood on her hand, trying distastefully to wipe it off on her jeans, standing awkwardly up again and readjusting her wings, when Briggs re-enters the room.

Grace took the pack from him with a quizzical expression... then noted the make of it. One of Wren's satchels. She slipped it over her head, resting on her chest, and strapped it around her waist. "It's not my stuff-- it's from my friend," she explains digging busily into the satchel. She pulls out the two vials of energy drink, nodding with satisfaction. "She's up there helping-- she said to hurry."

Trotting back to the men who undoubtedly are in a bit of a state of shock at having their wounds closed up, she offers each of them a vial. "Here-- my friend made this. It'll help you feel better." For all intents and purposes she looks just like a teenager with wings-- soft voiced, her hair a bit crazy though most of it is tied back in a ponytail. She waves the vials a little. "Seriously, you need to get up now." Her voice went to a more pleading concerned tone, trying to keep the panic for Wren at bay in her head.

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One last text from Wren for

One last text from Wren for the time being.

-GO OUT SECRET DOOR. KEEPING ATTENTION. CAREFUL OF SECONDARY AIR SUPPORT.-

Wren gives the docks one more strafing run and flies up into the air as fast and hard as possible, trying to reach a good height once more to get a good eye on what's going on. as she struggles her way up, several shots ricochet off of her, some simple projectiles, others of energy. She laughs as the energy bolts hit and are absorbed, powering her shields, and giving her relief from the constant drain.

Seeing the second Osprey, she curses violently and sheers away from it, heading toward the TCPD blockade. It takes everything she has to keep her momentum, her wings, back and chest muscles feel as if they're trying to tear themselves apart.

Success! She makes it to the line of cars and officers, landing heavily and dropping to her knees among startled officers. Immediately, weapons are drawn against her.

"Whups..."

"Identify yourself immediately!" A lieutenant by his insignia. Wren reaches for the attachments just under her helmet, and a wealth of brownish-gold hair falls out, followed by her face. She just hadn't had time to put it into a neat coil before getting suited up.

"Wren Scott. Been... receiving docks... strafing runs... keeping attention so people inside.... can escape. J-just need.... minute to rest... going back to annoy 'em... summore." this last is said with a mischievous grin as she digs into the satchel at her hip and pulls out a bottle of energy drink. She downs the 24 oz bottle in no time flat, wiping away sweat from her face, and braiding her hip-length hair. She coils the braid around her head like an odd hairy hat and secures it before donning the helmet again.

From the suit's speakers come, "Leaving my bag here. Watch it for me, huh?" An oddly metallic tone, but the humor is evident in it. The lieutenant barks orders for the men under his command to turn back to the enemies in front of them as the second Osprey comes looking for Wren. She ducks, and hides her wings in the shadow of one of the patrol cars, waiting for it to go by before launching herself back into the air with a salute to the Lieutenant.

Feeling the nice burst of energy from the drink already, Wren strokes upward more swiftly than before, reaching a good height in next to no time. This time the strafing run begins with more coordination. If she doesn't do the maximum amount of damage as quickly as possible, not only herself, but the men and women of the TCPD will also suffer losses. That's something she simply can't let happen. She aims for weapons, firing again at the downed Osprey and enjoying the large boom she gets from it. Again, she rises into the air and dives, this time going for broke, and blasting away at the troopers themselves.

This time she didn't get away without injury. A large energy blast hits her in the right wing near the shoulder, tearing through her shielding, destroying part of her suit, and sending her spiralling toward the ground, out of control, and possibly unconscious.

You see things; and you say, 'Why?' But I dream things that never were; and I say, "Why not?"
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Briggs watches awestruck as

Briggs watches awestruck as the two wounded soldiers are tended to by the white-winged girl...and for all intents and purposes she was still just that in his eyes. However seeing Gant and Coleson brought back to their feet by just a touch was...well, he didn't quite know how to quantify it.

Alan Wishart on the other hand can only smile to see this young lady turn the situation on it's ear and return to them a fighting chance.

"That, Captain is why you don't look a gift horse in the mouth. This is Titan City. The mightiest things come in small packages." He said rather proudly, as Gant tugged off his sling and Coleson worked his leg several times before uttering in reply,

"I vote the kid stays. Especially considering Coleson's penchant for getting shot.'

"Why don't you go eat a hot bowl of co-"

"Coleson, language. Lady present." Briggs chided, interrupting Coleson's less than civil reply to his squad mate. The SFOD-D Captain took stock of the situation, including what Grace had said and nodded slowly,

"Okay, get your gear squared away and get ready to move. We're not going to achieve anything standing here. Doc, what's our best Exfil strategy?"

Alan blinked, pondered for a moment and then nodded,

"The service elevator's too small to transport the Sarcophagus to the surface. That and I don't think the motor's rated for it. We're going to have to get to the loading dock and commandeer a truck to get clear of this mess."

Briggs sighed at that, pursing his lips nervously, "That's gonna be a mess...if the report 'Wings' there gave us is true, its probably gonna hell of a fight to get out of the gates. Though..."

His level gaze swings to Grace, his voice measured as to not come across as too threatening,

"You said you've got a friend up there? Any chance you can get in touch with them so we can an idea as to the situation top-side?"

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The Falcon popped in at the

The Falcon popped in at the police line and barely had time to ask for a sitrep when he saw Wren get hit. "I'll figure it out," and he vanished in a puff of smoke, only to reappear behind the mercenary that shot Wren. He drew his blade and cut through the blaster just ahead of the mercenary's off hand, then slapped the man's head with the flat of the blade. Then he ported above the apparent officer, who was pointing at him and shouting, "Blast it! Another-" A blow to the temple with the hilt of the Falcon's blade stunned him, and smoke swirled again as both men were behind the police lines again. "Cuff him, if you please." He jumped up onto a squad car to get a better view, hoping to pick out someone else who might know who had hired them.

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Grace is still trying to

Grace is still trying to smear the blood off her hand, but only half-consciously, frowning a little at Briggs' question, maybe even a little bit... annoyed? "I've only been here for like, two weeks-- I don't have any special comms or anything. ...There are a LOT of them and just one of her, sir. I'm not going to send her a text while she's fighting, and maybe get her killed because she's trying to distract them AND talk to me."

Feeling the pulse and thrum of her own heartbeat, and the occassional rattle of gunfire and larger THUMP! of an energy weapon or cannon from above, Grace puts her hands on her hips and points at Briggs indignantly. "You're supposed to know what to do, anyway! My friend is up there and she might get killed for nothing while you're down here asking questions and--" She makes a strangled sound and stamps her dust-covered sneaker on the Operating Theater floor.

"So... So!... We don't have time for talking! We need to get everybody, and that thing--" she points to the Sarcophagus, "--out of here like /yesterday/! Just tell me-- tell US-- what you want us to do and we'll do it, so long as it involves getting out of here and NOT dying, too!"

Grace had very seldom been angry in her life. This doesn't feel like any angry feeling she's ever had before, though-- she's just... desperate, maybe? There's too many feelings going on in her head and body for her to pin them down just now-- she doesn't have time, anyway, like she said.

She marched stubbornly over to the Sarcophagus and started to examine its underside, saying to Alan, "Doctor Wishart, is this thing locked down? Can you get it moving-- fast?" She had no idea of the importance of the contents of the thing, but if it was important enough to draw forty-odd bad guys to try to destroy or steal it-- she wasn't about to argue.

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Captain Briggs was..

Captain Briggs was...surprised by Grace's reaction. Surprised and impressed, clearly. With a nod he gestures to his squad and intones "You heard the lady! Move to the freight elevator and ready up. We're about to get into some serious heat. Doc, get that...that thing moving, will ya?"

Alan nodded, moving to the back of the Sarcophagus to hang the micro generator on a hook underneath then removes a pair of wheel chocks "It's on motorized wheels. Thankfully we don't have to push the entire weight of it."

There's a gentle hum as the four motors kick into life, Alan pushing the container through the operating room doors and into the hallway, following the Delta Force squad as they leap-frogged their way up the hallway. The monitors on the side of the Sarcophagus further indicated that the 'synchronization sequence' was at now seventy-five percent., and as such a voice cut through the air before they arrived,

"GUARDIAN reporting: Synchronization at seventy-five percent. T-minus fifteen minutes until completion."

At that point all movement toward the upper floors halted.

Briggs turned around slowly to peer straight at the Sarcophagus, then to Dr Wishart, his eyes suspicious.

"What the Hell does that mean? What happens in fifteen minutes, Doc?"

Alan seemed nervous now, keeping his hands on the controls of the case, but gathered himself to reply,

"Once synchronization is complete the relative danger of the Sarcophagus taking damage is mitigated...some. That said, the contents are still extremely valuable and shouldn't be treated lightly."

It seemed the air of suspicion was growing, spreading through the Delta Force team...and with good reason. They'd been putting their lives on the line for a big, metal box and hadn't been told what they were even defending! Thankfully, or perhaps not, Captain Briggs was reasonable with his inquiry...reasonable and unbending,

"Doc...if we're about to venture into the mess upstairs, we need to know what we're protecting here. If it's dangerous, especially volatile, we need to know. So tell me: What in sam-hell is in the case..."

Alan pursed his lips, clearly torn. If they discovered the nature of what was in the case they'd be more and more inclined to see that it was used...and that wouldn't do at all. He'd done everything to ensure the safety of the Sarcophagus' contents. To jeopardize it now was something he could barely bring himself to think about. His eyes flick nervously to Grace, then back to Briggs...it seemed like there wasn't much chance of getting out of this...

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Wren plummeted toward the

Wren plummeted toward the ground, and only woke up a few dozen feet from the surface of the roof. She spread her wings to brake her fall, but cried out when her right wing collapsed as she tried to spread it to catch the air. Still, she tried to check her fall and managed to -not- slam into the asphalt of the roof, and rolled under some ducting, hiding her for the moment.

She gritted her teeth through the pain, knowing there wasn't anything she could do about the wing. But she -could- do something about some of the troopers. She crept out of her hiding place after a few minutes, and over to the edge of the roof she was on. This was an amazing vantage point for her purposes, she could see and target many of the troopers... and she did.

For several long minutes she blasted everything she could see. Not needing a shield for now, all her energies could go to attacking those down below. Every hit she scored meant a safer retreat for her friend and whoever she was helping.

You see things; and you say, 'Why?' But I dream things that never were; and I say, "Why not?"
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With Wren laying down an

With Wren laying down an impressive amount of fire from the roof, the Falcon was hardly noticed atop the police car. He assessed the winged woman's tactics, and decided they only made sense if she was clearing a path. Since she could fly, that meant the healer Wishart, his patient, and any guardsmen with them.

If these mercenaries saw this, they would move to reinforce. So they needed to be distracted.

The Falcon 'ported behind their lines, to the cluster that looked most like officers. Shouting to call attention to his presence, he struck to render unconscious, using the flat and hilt to foreheads and temples, and cutting edges to weaponry and communications gear.

Those who fired at him would find him a difficult target, as he 'ported from point to point, staying only long enough to strike...

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As the sudden explosion of

As the sudden explosion of smoke erupted in the midst of the TAROT forces in the parking lot, followed by a storm of blade strikes and general chaos, it was fast considered that this position was no longer advantageous.

That said, it was difficult to peg the leader amongst this melee, only identifiable by the 'Knight of Swords' card tucked into his sleeve ducked, weaved and scuttled, along with several more of his group, maybe ten at this juncture back into the EdenTech Facility.

"Fall back! Fall back! We haven't time for this! Jericho! Take care of that freaking super!" He roared, his team taking up covering positions inside the lab foyer to deploy a withering hail of gunfire in the Falcon's direction....And then the situation for the super got worse the moment the heavily armored and armed exo-suit thudded around the corner of the loading dock.

Without hesitation, it levelled the muti-barrelled minigun in the target's direction and opened up. Four hundred rounds a minute of high explosive, anti meta-human death spat viciously into the air, hailing not only the Falcon's position, but that of the TCPD's defensive line in a rain of tungsten-tipped suppression. Patrol cars were shredded and flipped, TCPD officers scattering from the hail of gunfire as the Lieutenant, desperation in his voice barked,

"TCPD fall back!! That god damn cowboy's gonna get us killed!"

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Grace had begun to follow the

Grace had begun to follow the Sarcophagus down the hallway to the freight elevator-- when GUARDIAN had spoken. She'd jumped, smacking her wing painfully into a wall, pulling it around herself to rub it sorely. She had to admit, her curiousity was piqued about what was in the Sarcophagus, too-- but Briggs makes a really good point. If it's something explosive or toxic, they're REALLY going to need to be careful...

She'd dropped her wing and tucked it against her back, resting her hand gently on the Sarcophagus for a reason she didn't really understand-- and let out a little shriek of startlement as something becomes obvious all of a sudden. Everyone has likely swung around to stare at her, and Grace has dropped into a gibber of a prayer for a few moments, visibly crossing herself.

"Save us, O God-- For you strike all our enemies on the cheek, you break the teeth of the wicked--" She seems to realize she'd started praying in earnest and forces herself to stop. She meets Doctor Wishart's gaze across the Sarcophagus as the freight elevator dings irreverently behind them.

"It's a person, sir. There's a person in there-- isn't there, Doctor Wishart..." Her voice has gone very soft, almost gentle, as it all starts to make a bit more sense. "It must be somebody you care about an awful lot... Don't be scared though. They're okay in there."

She turns and looks over her shoulder at the freight doors sliding open, then very, very kindly back to Doctor Wishart, seeming to have forgotten the armed soldiers. "I'll make sure they're okay, alright? Come on... we need to get going."

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Something within the

Something within the Sarcophagus stirred as Grace had laid a hand on the unrelenting surface of the case, not audibly or physically, but as if stirring from a slumber, a presence growing in strength with every moment. Human...and then some.

However outside it, the group of Delta Force soldiers turn frosty, accusative gazes to Alan Wishart as the hefty, grey box is wheeled into the freight elevator. Suppositions and concerns cloud their minds as they take up positions beside it. A chilling silence fills the air for a moment before Captain Briggs speaks for his men, tone icy yet resolved. He was committed to this sortie, whether he liked it or not,

"You didn't say anything about there being a person in there, Doc. Just what sort of mad-"

Alan was quick to interject, his voice toned with curiously measured, righteously-inflected irritation,

"Before you jump to your Dr Frankenstein-esque conclusions, Captain, you should know that the person involved is a volunteer and was well aware of the outcome of the procedure before they signed on. We took a willing volunteer and implanted an experimental nanomachine AI that would cure the ailment afflicting him..." Alan sighed, before continuing,

"Unfortunately, due to the patient's condition we were limited by time constraints and were unable to separate the AI from the rest of the weapons-grade technology involved as we were using re-purposed tech from a 'future soldier' concept project."

Captain Briggs' face twisted into a brutal scowl as he hit the elevator's 'stop' button with a gloved fist. With little more than a turn, he drew his pistol with one hand, the other immediately collaring the doctor and shoving him against the Sarcophagus, the firearm coming up under Alan's chin. The Captain's voice turned sharp as a bayonet as he spoke next, Dr Wishart's eyes curiously defiant despite the life-threatening situation,

"You had best tell me right now that the person in there was aware of every detail of the procedure or I swear to GOD I'll paint this elevator with the contents of your braincase."

Alan, curiously, stoically, nodded, retorting gravely,

"Of course they were aware, Captain. You think I'd lie to my own son?"

A wave of shock rattled through the four other SFOD-D soldiers, some palming their faces, others looking entirely shocked. Briggs simply let his jaw hang slightly before holstering his pistol and letting the besieged doctor loose. Briskly Alan readjusted the seat of his shirt, now stained at the collar by grime from the Captain's glove and continued,

"Tell me, do you have children, Captain?"

Briggs nodded slowly, his face still contorted in strange mixture of grim realisation and shock,

"...Two boys."

Dr Wishart's expression turned from stoicism to the very expression of appeal,

"If one of your children were on death's door, and you had the means to give them back their life, would you offer it to them? Allow them the right to choose for themselves? Even if their choice meant irreparably changing who they were in the process?"

Briggs stared coldly at the bright green button that would set the elevator into motion again, nodding,

"Yeah...Yeah I would. But what's he capable of Doc? Just what will your son be when he gets out of that thing?"

Alan hadn't budged from his spot, quietly setting a protective hand on the Sarcophagus, nodding intently,

" Even I don't know the answer to that, Captain. But I do know this: Tobias chose for himself...and will continue to choose for himself even after today is a distant memory."

There was a gentle sound as the freight elevator kicked back into life, rumbling it's way to the surface. Briggs turned and faced the door with a deep sigh. The Doc had hit home, clearly, the Captain seeing some manner of reason. Gently, amid the din, GUARDIAN spoke again,

"Synchronization Cycle complete. Awaiting final authorisation to unseal the Sarcophagus."

All eyes swung to the case for a moment, Alan looking the most worrisome...or anxious of the group as he peered at Briggs, wide-eyed. The Captain simply confirmed with a nod and turned to the rest of his group,

"When we get top-side, we clear the loading dock as quickly and quietly as we can. We bar all entrances and then we get that casket open. Better to have a live, responsive objective that can think for itself than a big, metal box to babysit. And who knows, if what the Doc says is true? His boy might be just the thing we need to sway this fight in our favor."

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In the close quarters of the

In the close quarters of the elevator with six-- seven-- other individuals, the tension in the air is more than just that, to Grace. The winged girl cowers in the corner of the elevator as far as she can go when Briggs pulls a gun on Doctor Wishart, putting her hands over her face in the hopes she wouldn't have to see someone die right in front of her eyes... Her heart feels like it is trying to beat inside a thimble, painfully confined as Doctor Wishart reveals that it is his son in the Sarcophagus.

Overwhelmed already by the physical tangibility of the high emotions in the elevator, the swing from fury to shock is so palpable to Grace that her eyes nearly roll up into her head. She manages to stay conscious, but only just, sliding down the join of the elevator walls and sitting down hard as her legs went rubbery, wings limp. She grips handfuls of her hair at her temples, her ponytail coming free altogether, her eyes tight closed, teeth clenched as she tries to get ahold of her senses again.

Grace sucked in a gasp of air like a drowning person breaking the surface, into the silence in which all had looked at the Sarcophagus again, opening her eyes and struggling to her feet, a hand out for support.

Taking two more deep breaths, she meets the eyes of every person in the elevator one by one, and says softly, with a slight waver in her voice, "...I'll keep--.... I will keep /Tobias/ safe. I'll try to stay out of your way-- but we need to go. Now." She squeezes her way between soldiers and Doctor and Sarcophagus, and presses the green button, sending the elevator slowly up it's last floor or two. She then gets to the back of the elevator and crouches behind the Sarcophagus for cover, wings tucked tight, fully anticipating to get shot at the moment the doors open on the ground floor.

"You all do your jobs..." she says softly, almost too softly to be heard. "I'll do mine..."

There's a brief pause, before Grace starts to murmur soothingly, almost meditatively, her hands crossing herself out of habit before resting softly on the side of the Sarcophagus-- passing the prayer that came instinctively to mind to the soul inside, too--

"Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle...
Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil..."

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Alan comes to crouch behind

Alan comes to crouch behind the Sarcophagus as well, figuring that if shots where exchanged, he'd probably fare far better beside Grace than in the open. He sighs tensely, as if the reality of having a loaded firearm pressed beneath his chin had just hit him. He brings a hand to lift his glasses, pinching the bridge of his nose before setting them back down and nodding to Grace,

"Once the soldiers clear the loading dock, I'm going to need your help to open the Sarcophagus. There are two keypads. One on either side. The password needs to be entered on both keypads within three seconds of one-another."

From above him somewhere, a soldier named Reilly peers down, shouldering his rifle like the others and asks,

"Why don't you get one of us to do it, Doc?"

"Because your squad leader threatened to kill me not thirty seconds ago. Right now I wouldn't trust any of you five with a pair of safety scissors." Alan retorted sharply. He froze sharply as the elevator ground to a halt, the doors opening to the sound of Briggs' pistol...and several other rifles coming to bear...

Thirty seconds earlier...

Two of the remaining Tarot Grunts had been requested to guard the Loading Dock area after the group, eighteen in all had pulled back into the Lab foyer to bunker up at the staff elevators. The rest...had not been so lucky, either left to lay unconscious in the middle of the parking lot by the downed Osprey...or unmercifully gunned down by the Damocles Exo's minigun.

One closed the loading dock's access through to the foyer, shaking his head

"Boss has gone crazy. Freakin' shooting our own people to kill one Meta."

The response from the other was equally as solemn,

"Guy's gotten us stuck in a real crappy situation. If I didn't think I'd be shot on sight, I'd surrender..."

Suddenly, the sound of the freight elevator doors opening caught the pair of them off-guard, hands fumbling for their rifles...however the occupants of the elevator were already prepared. Weapons raised, the grey-clad Delta Force team emerged from the elevator, with the Prototype case and grinned wolfishly, deactivating the TAROT troopers' comms.

"Why don't we all stay nice and quiet, huh boys?" Said one as he immediately set about removing weapons from the pair. The leader, stony-eyed and determined advanced into the room, checked all the rolling doors to the outside world, seeing that all were locked from within the dock and then moved to the foyer entrance, quietly drawing the hefty bolt across to lock it as well. He then nodded to his team, ordering,

"Right. Silence 'em."

The TAROT duo had only a moment before their worlds went black, the last thing seen being the butt of an assault rifle...

........

Alan slowly emerged from behind the Sarcophagus several moments after he'd heard the sound of rifle stocks connecting with TAROT heads. He gazed quietly around the loading area, then set about moving the massive, grey casket into the middle of the room, his heart racing in his chest. His son had been moments from death before the surgery. How would he look now? Would he truly be alright? As the doctor engaged the brakes on the Sarcophagus' automated dolly, he takes a steadying breath, then nods to Grace and intones,

"Alright it's time. Take your place at the keypad and enter with me. Password is 'Rebirth.' Remember, we need to enter it on both keypads basically at the same time for the locks to disengage."

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Grace hadn't even thought

Grace hadn't even thought about it. As the doors of the elevator slid open, the wing closest to Doctor Wishart had extended with a rustle of feathers and mantled over the man, shielding him with her an extension of her own body. Surrounded by Grace's wing, the Doctor might notice that the feathers held a faint scent-- a clean, animal scent, pleasant to the nose... She had smiled a little, nodding to Doctor Wishart beneath the protective cover of the wing, having gone into a battle-induced stress so deep that fear is nothing to her anymore-- nothing is left but a resigned calm.

"Of course I'll help you, Doctor," She said softly.

The girl lifted her wing abruptly as the two TAROT guards had fallen unconscious, feeling the blow of the butt of an assault rifle through the sound it had made, wincing. She stood and looked about the room, taking careful note-- all the rolling doors to the outer side lot on the east side of the building were closed, as was the door into the foyer of the building on the north side of this area.

Grace moved immediately as Doctor Wishart hastily rolled the Sarcophagus out into the loading docks proper. She circled to a small keypad on the other side from the man, carefully making note of the letters, and the order in which she'd need to press them... R - E - B - I - R - T - H... She couldn't afford to make a mistake-- a boy's life is at stake. Everyone's is.

Dark blue eyes met clear, whiskey brown ones across the Sarcophagus, and Grace raised her hands. Bobbing her head in a gentle rhythm three times to give Doctor Wishart the timing of her key pressed, she says quietly, but audibly, "Ready... and... One-- Two-- Three-- go..." Each key press was almost simultaneous with the Doctor. R - E - B - I - R - T - H ---

Grace held her breath, still praying in her head, "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil-- for Thou art with me...

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R-E-B-I-R-T-H...

R-E-B-I-R-T-H...

The screen on either side immediately switched over, showing a green 'CODE ACCEPTED' message and what looked to be a pair of animated bolts coming unlatched, indicating that the password entry had been successful.

And immediately there was life.

Locking mechanisms gently whirred unlocked, no fewer than eight sturdy locking pins sliding out from the Sarcophagus' normally smooth surfaces in perfect harmony. Alan instinctively took a step back, allowing the machinery room to do it's work....though truth be told, he was on the verge of throwing up with nervousness. This would be the first he saw of his son since he was placed into the casket and sealed away...to allow GUARDIAN to do it's work.

Slowly, the two halves of the lid of the Sarcophagus seperated gently from one another, then extended, revealing a hinge half way down the length of the front panel before sliding backward with a mechanical hiss and locking into place at the head of the case. Around the edges, the walls of the case slid downward, folding outward, revealing the person within.

The figure within was tall, easily six foot five armored up, the only clue to the wearer's humanity a small section of exposed skin around his mouth, likely for fitting the respirator which had been disconnected moments before the Sarcophagus had opened. The rest of his being had been covered in a sleek, angular system of plates, even now gleaming vibrant, polished, silver tones. Gazing upon the slumbering goliath conjured images of a valiant knight made modern, a righteous crusader, a beacon of hope.

Captain Briggs and his team peered down at what they had been guarding with awe and amazement, then visibly jolted as the body began to lift from it's places of rest. Curiously limp, it appeared that a crane arm mounted into the bed of the Sarcophagus had clamped around the back of the sturdy armored figure and was lifting it first up, then forward, gently setting the hefty greaves onto solid ground before disconnecting and disengaging, returning back into the bed of the Sarcophagus and leaving the power suited patient standing on solid ground. Slowly lights began to flicker on in vivid, emerald green across various points on the hefty frame, indicating that something was coming to consciousness within. Fingers slowly began to mechanically, sporadically make tiny movements as a pair of green lights, eyes burst into life on the helmet.

The Prototype, Tobias Wishart, was awake.

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One last text from Wren would

One last text from Wren would find it's way to Grace's phone if it were on and able to take the message.

-WING-TORN. KEEPING COVER FIRE UP FRONT. MORE WENT BACK IN. BE CAREFUL, ANGEL.-

She rolled over, pulling the medkit and second rope out of her satchel. Just as she thought, the extra-long, wide bandages were in the medkit. She wraps the bandage around her torso, strapping her wing tight to her back and securing it with the rope. Two auto-injectors of painkillers were there as well as two or three vials of the concentrate she makes her energy drinks from. Grimacing, she pulls off her helmet and downs both vials, the energy required to maintain her shielding and the rapid healing of her wings. Not fast enough to heal the break, but at least enough to stop her from bleeding out through torn veins. She pulls the helmet back on, not wanting to forgo it's protection until she's gone from this place. She pulls down the zipper below her hurt wing, and presses the auto-injector to her skin, depressing the button and wincing from the pinch of the needles. The pain is curbed somewhat, but not enough to let her continue or even get down off the roof, so she uses the second auto-injector, tossing both empties back in her bag.

A minute or two go by, and she has to shake herself awake from the mind-dulling effects of the pain killers. Shaking her head occasionally to keep it clear so that she can focus, Wren levels volley after volley from different concealed points on the opposite roof, at the troopers remaining outside the building. She's trying to keep property damage and casualties to a minimum... just keeping their attention and keeping them on their toes. There's no thought to escape, not until Grace tells her they're clear. For now it's just hope and shoot.

You see things; and you say, 'Why?' But I dream things that never were; and I say, "Why not?"
George Bernard Shaw (1856 - 1950)

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In the twenty years since the

In the twenty years since the Falcon had come to this universe, he'd had somehow never encountered an allusion to the biblical story of Jericho. So when he heard that word over the noise of the battle, it was just a name. He thought the mercenaries pulling back was a good thing, and he was concentrating on a long distance 'port to the roof of the building across the street which had the second best view (he did not want to draw attention to Wren) to get a look at the door when the mech opened fire.

He made the 'port, but not before four penetrators had punched through his armor, and him. He cursed quietly in his native tongue, and stuck a hand into his pouch of healing stones and triggered about half of them. Then he looked back and cursed again, louder.

It looked to the Falcon as if the mech's fire had been spread to cover anywhere he might have 'ported to without preparation, and continued into the police lines. The Falcon could only think of one way to stop that. He concentrated again and ported to a point about a meter and a half to the right of the mech (the Falcon's left, as close to opposite the police as he could get and still reach his target) and two meters up. When he 'ported he brought down his blade in a two-handed grip, aiming to put the stoutest part of the enchanted blade onto what looked like the weakest part of the minigun.

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Grace had stared, open

Grace had stared, open-mouthed, as the Sarcophagus had opened in-- what she can only describe as the most mechanical way imaginable. The figure the crane lifted from inside didn't look human at all, except around the mouth. She hadn't expected the boy to be... huge, and covered almost entirely in armor, save for that small sliver of humanity at the lips.

She's been so distracted, as, likely, everyone else in the room had been, that Grace hadn't noticed her phone alerting her from her pocket. The jarring against her leg finally makes her fumble it out her pocket-- and she makes a small moan in the back of her throat at the nature of the text. "Wren..."

But she couldn't fall to pieces now. Her friend needed her, needed her badly. And if everything went wrong, Wren at least needed Grace and the people in here to live. Her phone goes back into her pocket, as she is saying with that surreal battle calmness, "My friend is hurt, but still helping us outside. Most of them came back into the building and-- OH!"

Grace leapt on instinct, with a single push of her wings to help move her along more quickly, to the side of the boy in armor who had just collapsed onto the floor.

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Thud. Contact.

Thud. Contact.

The armored figure, supposedly Tobias collapsed to the floor in crumpled heap, the power armor whirring softly as both of his gauntlets lifted to clutch at the helm. Fevered breaths escaped the crumpled pile of armor as he began whispering,

"Too much...too much...too...much....too....much...GUARDIAN...please..." The 'eyes' of the armored figure flickered sporadically, indicating that there was a serious problem.

Alan instinctively came to the side of his son, setting a hand on his armored shoulder and calmly adding,

"Tobi, you need to breathe. You need to tell me what's wrong..."

Briggs in the meantime palmed his face and turned on the spot, again frustrated. This...person, he hoped would be the element that would turn the tide of this fight...and it had just crumpled to the ground in a pathetic heap. A quiet muttering of "You gotta be..." escaped him as Alan shook his head,

"Should've figured this would happen...he hasn't used his legs in a couple of years...Tobi, you need to concentrate now....You control GUARDIAN, now. Tell it how to help."

Tobias, still in a crumpled heap, lowered a hand to the floor, one still clutching the helm surrounding his head. Somehow he managed to instruct GUARDIAN, who had dumped an almost impossibly large packet of data onto his less-than-alert brain. Incredible amounts of combative data: weaponry, tactics, military equipment as well as a library of hand-to-hand combat knowledge flowed through his brain at rapid-fire pace. The instruction was simple:

Slow down.

And strangely, GUARDIAN listened. Or that was what he supposed had happened.

A calm began to fall across Tobias' previously beleaguered mind, his breathing steadying, the eyes of the helmet coming to a more steady glow. Slowly, Tobias lifted his head, peering cautiously around the room.

"Where...wait...Dad?"

His head swung to Alan, glowing, viridian eyes locking on the Doctor to gaze for a moment, before swinging around the room, eyes snapping to the sound of heavy gunfire somewhere outside. Suddenly Tobias realised that something had gone terribly wrong.

"Why...what happened to the lab, is this a loading dock? Why the hell are we in a loading dock?"

Alan pursed his lips, then managed to successfully summarize the afternoon's events in a single sentence. A monolithic task considering the nature of it,

"Tobi, someone attacked the lab this afternoon. Presumably to either steal, or destroy you. Right now there's a group of them outside this room, with a heavily-armed exo suit fighting it out with some local meta humans...but they're going to need help. Your help."

Tobias, lowered a hand to peer at it, watching as the armored fingers flexed, shifted. His gaze then swung to the soldiers in the room, five in all, eyes set on him, hopeful yet worried. His eyes then swung to Grace beside him, realisation suddenly dawning on him. They needed his help. The person who previously needed help to get to the bathroom was now an important figure?

He peered at his legs, a crumpled heap of armor and intoned,

"Well, someone's gonna have to help me back onto my feet. I'm not helping anyone like this..."

Alan then nodded to Grace, bringing a pair of arms under his son's arm, likely awaiting Grace to do the same,

"Here, give me a hand..."

-------

Outside, Jericho the exo-pilot screamed a myriad of profanities through the external speakers of his suit as the sword-wielding meta-human's blade cleaved the barrels from his minigun, rendering the weapon useless. With a snarl, he turned, using the remaining chunk of the massive firearm as a club, swinging it in a massive arc, aiming to swat the meddlesome sword-wielder across the parking lot, in the meantime switching to the shoulder-mounted missile pod. The tactic was simple: Knock the target into proper range, then blast him into oblivion.

The group hunkered down in the building wasn't going anywhere. Wren's storm of energetic blasts where making their lives a living hell, keeping them from ambushing Falcon while he sparred with the mechanical monstrosity. Several who had gotten too eager, trying to pin down the origin of the blasts had in fact been caught in them, hurled bodily from the building in a shower of concrete shards and broken glass. From a total force of fourty-five, their numbers had been drastically cleaved down to twelve, inclusive of Jericho who was screaming every insult under the sun at the Meta who just wouldnt. Keep. Still.

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Grace hadn't known what to do

Grace hadn't known what to do, crouched, her wings protectively mantled over the fallen boy. She shot a dark look up at Briggs at the beginnings of his comment, before her emotion quickly shifted back to concern, hands hovering over the collapsed boy without touching as Doctor Wishart helped his son to help himself.

And yet, when Tobias had started to push himself up, and the green lights that served as his eyes had swung toward her, Grace had the oddest sensation that he really saw her through his armor-- an electric feeling shocked her, but his gaze had passed.

Doctor Wishart was beneath one of Tobias' arms, and so Grace ducked her head and got the other across her shoulders. She whuffs out a surprised sound at the weight of it across her, but struggles to help get the boy on his feet anyway. Speaking in a breatless way, she said to him, "My friend is out there-- they've already hurt her... We need to get out of here..."

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Hefted to his feet with the

Hefted to his feet with the combined effort of Grace and Alan, Tobias somewhat shakily gets his footing, GUARDIAN subtly adjusting and feeding the required equilibrium and muscular idle requirements to keep both armor and occupant standing.

And Tobi couldn't be happier.

The moment Grace and his father cautiously step back, he peers down at his legs, exclaiming,

"Wait...I'm standing. I'm actually standing...."

He takes a shaky step forward, getting used to the new round of muscular strength combined with internal servos and power armored assistance. It took a moment for all of it to synchronize to take the first step. However, GUARDIAN's adaptive nature allowed it to take the information it had gleaned from that step and apply it to further motions. After a couple of motions, Tobias is walking fairly steadily, checking doors, specifically for noise.

"I hear something big outside..."

Briggs was quick to answer,

"Damocles-class exo. Sounds like someone's giving it some grief."

Tobias, curiously paused as from...somewhere he pulled a surprisingly detailed knowledge of the mentioned military tech into the forefront of his mind.

"Damocles class Exo suit. Powerful...but weak gyroscopic stabilizers... Should aim maximum concussive force at the center of gravity on the upper portion of the torso..."

Immediately, an armored gauntlet raised to point to Grace, intoning,

"Can you get a message to your friend outside? I don't know what this friend of your can do, but them to aim high on the Exo. Throwing it off balance should keep it busy until....well, until I sort out just how I'm supposed to help..."

Another rattle of returning fire snapped in his ears again, a heavy whirr filling the air as his glowing, emerald eyes snapped in the direction of the sound.

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There's good news and bad

There's good news and bad news...
The bad news was that the Falcon hadn't waited for the healing stones to take full effect, so when the mech pilot swung the truncated minigun he wasn't quite able to get his sword up in time to deflect the blow. The good news was that as he flew back they continued to work, helping him recover his wind. When he landed fifteen meters away he saw the missile pod pointing straight at him. To far to 'port directly without taking a second he didn't have, the Falcon made a quick 'port five meters at an oblique angle, closing the range a few meters while forcing the pilot to adjust the point of aim, and came out in an acrobatic roll directly towards the mech...

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Grace has to keep reminding

Grace has to keep reminding herself, over and over in a silent mantra in her head, "I can NOT lose it... I can NOT lose it..." as she watches the boy take his first few steps in the armor. The rattle of gunfire outside the door is constant, and even knowing next to nothing about their enemies, Grace knows time is of the essence-- someone's going to find them in here, and sooner than later. She's overwhelmed with thinking about Wren for a moment, wounded and alone somewhere...

She stares at the armored finger pointing at her, almost going cross-eyed to do so as Tobias asks her a question. She quickly brings her phone to hand again, nodding mutely, and composing a text to Wren-- cursing her newness with technology, as it seems to take forever in her head.

-HIT BIGGEST BAD GUY UP HIGH. OFF BALANCE IF YOU HIT THERE. STAY SAFE. WILL HEAL YOU SOON. COMING OUT SOON I HOPE-

Grace presses 'send' and crosses herself for the half-dozenth time since she'd been inadvertently thrown into this situation, hugging the satchel Wren had sent her against her chest, in lieu of hugging the other winged girl. She wished fervently, also for the half-dozenth time, that she'd been practicing with her bow more, that she'd even just thought to start carrying it around with her...

"Okay," she said meekly aloud, "I told her..."

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Wren's HUD lights up with the

Wren's HUD lights up with the new message, and she shakes herself awake again, shifting so that she's not leaning on her torn wing. Her eyes are getting almost -too- fuzzy, but she's able to crawl toward one of her hidden spots where she can see the front of the building and the Exo suit. Taking careful aim, she lets the energy build for several long-seeming moments. It fascinates her for probably a little too long, the colors swirling into a larger and larger ball held between her hands.

Counting to three, she flings the now large globe of energy at the head and shoulders of the suit. Top-heavy indeed, it wavers and threatens to topple over. She quickly hides and crawls to a new spot, leveling another two bolts at the head and shoulders of the thing. She can only hope it's enough, and the timing is right.

She rolls under some ducting, laying there as silently as possible, on her left side. She can hear the sounds of conflict, but inside the helmet, most of those sounds are muted, and indistinct under the sound of her own breathing. 'I'm still breathing. As long as I'm still breathing, then I'm still alive. I'm still alive. Everything will be fine...' Even her thoughts fade away with the rest of the world as she finally slides into unconsciousness.

Covered in her own blood, the stuff soaking into her suit and the asphalt beneath her where she lies, she falls into a dreamless sleep.

You see things; and you say, 'Why?' But I dream things that never were; and I say, "Why not?"
George Bernard Shaw (1856 - 1950)

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Within the loading dock,

Within the loading dock, Tobias could hear the din of combat going on outside: The thud of armored feet against asphalt, the whirring of actuators, the occasional sound of something he couldn't place (which was in fact the sound of Falcon teleporting). At Grace's response, the viridian eyes of Tobias' armor swinging to again regard her as she shyly clutched the cellphone to her chest.

It was that image, along with the image of his father, exhausted, his shirt still flecked with dried blood suddenly struck the strings of his nano-augmented heart.

Somehow, he had to save them. All of this chaos, all of this pain, suffering and destruction had been had been as a direct result of his presence in the world.

It had to end...and would the moment the Damocles Exo was taken down. Resolutely, he turned to the rest of the group, taking a steadying breath and nodded,

"Dad, get the truck prepped and the Sarcophagus loaded. Grace? Wait until the coast is clear, then try and get to your friend."

Alan blinked, startled as his son moved to one of the loading dock roller doors, unlocked it and lifted it as quietly as he could, presumably to make the suicidal maneuver of going outside,

"Wait, where are you going?"

"To buy us some time."

With that, the roller door closed again, leaving Alan standing, stunned beside the Sarcophagus. He didn't have a great deal of time to consider, as at that moment Captain Briggs' radio burst into life,

"Internal defending forces, this is TCPD SWAT. We've located a hidden access way and are currently behind the hostile position on the other side of the dry wall. What is your situation?"

Briggs blinked, peering at his radio before answering,

"TCPD SWAT, this is Captain Alexander Briggs, Special Forces Operational Detachment Delta. Currently in the loading dock. Have a squad totalling five to my name. Willing to engage in a pincer maneuver to take these bastards down."

"10-4, Captain. Ready up and wait for my signal."

Lowering his radio, Briggs peered around at those in the room, rather confused,

"Since when the hell did the TCPD deploy a SWAT team?"

--------

The TCPD hadn't been waiting on their laurels since they'd withdrawn. They'd requested SWAT support not long after they'd pulled back from their line and SWAT had been swift to deploy. They'd swiftly found the secret entrance and moved behind the dry wall to ambush the remaining TAROT infantry while the Damocles mech was busy with the Meta human assistance. The pieces were moving, the game was set. It was time to end this.

--------

Success and brutal failure seemed to be walking hand-in-hand for the Damocles pilot this afternoon. His hit on the teleporting Meta had struck home, swatting him across the parking lot. Now he just had to acquire missile lock before...

BOOM!

A blinding flash of light and force struck the exo-suit across the shoulders, and immediately warning lights erupted across the HUD. Jericho cursed as his Exo's gyroscopic stabilizers failed causing him to eject his missile pod in order maintain balance, the explosive force of the weapon system's ejection righting the mech again with a stagger. He growled as the dissipating energy played havoc with his sensors, the Damocles reeling around to try and get eyes on that meddlesome, teleporting Meta, only to have something at the end of the loading dock catch his eyes. It was probably six and a half feet tall, made of gleaming, polished plates of armor. A pair of bright green eyes locked intently on the Damocles' external camera, almost burning with righteous indignation as a youthful male voice, determined and convicted barked,

"HEY! DOWN HERE! You wanted me, so here I am."

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Grace didn't have to be told

Grace didn't have to be told twice to get to her friend. As soon as Tobias is outside, the rolling door shut behind him, she has scampered to the same door and crouched to put her hand on the pull, waiting... Though for what, she's not exactly sure.

She'd turned her head to look over her shoulder, listening to the conversation between Briggs and-- well, it sounded like it was backup in the form of a bunch more TCPD people... And it sounded like they were both going to sort of squeeze the TAROT forces in between them. Grace was torn for a moment between wanting to stay and help, and wanting to help her friend... but not knowing in what condition Wren was in had brought up an image of her smiling and laughing as she and Nick and Maddie had fought with pillows.

Without knowing that she'd decided, she heaves up on the heavy roller door and slips out of the loading dock into the side lot before anyone can protest or stop her.

The sounds of fighting are even more immediate out here, though, for a moment, she's alone. Heart in her mouth, she scampered to the corner of the building, and her darting eyes took note of as much as she could. Deciding that Wren would have been up high, and therefore Grace herself would have to fly, she backs up a few steps into the shadow of the building and starts to pump her wings, getting a running start before hurtling herself up into the air under her own power.

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The blast from Wren caught

The blast from Wren caught the Falcon by surprise as well, but not being the target of that blast made a big difference. He went from roll to sprint, and when two new metas - one with plate armor, perhaps a powered armor suit like this one, but smaller, and the other winged liked Wren, but a bit larger - came out of the building he stopped short. The armored one called out a challenge, and he seemed to be directing it at the big mech. The appearance of unknown forces on a battlefield often meant disaster, though in this case that disaster seemed to be aimed at the mercenaries. Perhaps these were Edentech's guards for Dr. Wishart's mystery project? If only the rumors Millie had heard hadn't been so short of information...

Keeping his guard up just in case he was wrong - or the mech pilot decided he should finish one dance before starting another - the Falcon approached the back of the mech stealthily. Well, as stealthily as someone seven feet tall and weighing in at over 200 pounds, with not-quite healed wounds, could manage. And as he approached, he looked the mech over for signs of vulnerable areas. Loose plates? Access panels? Feed lines for the electricity it ran on? Cameras for the operator to see with? Joints would do if he couldn't find anything else...

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Outside on the loading dock,

Outside on the loading dock, Tobias stood, defiant in the face of the monstrous mechanical exo suit easily twice his height, and strangely, was reminded of a line he'd heard in a social studies class back when he was in high school, a line by the now late Nelson Mandela,

"I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear."

And if the fluttering pace of his heart was anything to go by, standing in the face of the mechanized goliath in front of him, either he was exceedingly brave or exceedingly stupid to have deliberately drawn it's attention. However, he'd started this and he was now entirely dedicated to finishing it. Swallowing a lump in his throat, he works his jaw, then continues his attention-drawing speech, watching as the Damocles mech sighted up on Grace as she flew from the loading dock,

"Hey! No! You started all of this to get to me, so you deal with me."

Jericho, the pilot keyed up the machine's external vocalisers, chuckling menacingly and retorting,

"Coming over all heroic are we, little man? And just what the hell are you gonna do?"

Instinctively, or perhaps thanks to the hand-to-hand techniques that had recently been dumped onto his brain, Tobias took up a fighting stance, balling both of his fists and setting his weight forward slightly. His teeth clenched, visible mouth twisting into a snarl as he growled,

"Guess we'll find out once I tear you outta that thing."

Swiftly, four plates of armor slid down over his exposed mouth, completely cladding him in heavy armor from head to foot as he lunged forward into a valiant charge, the Damocles mech drawing from behind it's back a mech-sized force blade, wielding it in a reverse grip, a menacing chuckle coming from the machine's cockpit,

"Alright, little man. Let's dance!"

--------

Inside the facility, Briggs gathered his team, quietly waiting for the 'go order' from the TCPD. Doctor Wishart during this time had moved to load the Sarcophagus into the back of a box truck left in the loading bay, then waited and watched, quietly praying that his son wouldn't be pancaked by the colossal machine he was charging in to fight.

Suddenly, Captain Brigg's radio exploded into life, as he waited with a hand on the sliding door,

"All teams: go, GO!"

With that he flung the loading dock door open, all five Delta Force soldier charging forward, rifles raised...as the wall behind the bunkered TAROT forces was suddenly disintegrated by a horde of navy-blue clad SWAT officers, all yelling,

"TCPD!! DROP YOUR WEAPONS AND SURRENDER!"

There was no mercy to be found in their motions as they immediately dog-piled the TAROT forces, those trying to escape being swiftly mopped up by Delta Force covering their other exit. Briggs' team was far less kind, moving to grapple, throw, dislocate and occasionally bludgeon with rifle stocks where needed. As swiftly as they had deployed, the TAROT force was taken down with equal mercilessness. By the time anyone noticed, they'd all be stripped of weapons, cuffed with zip ties and would be thoroughly out of the fight.

Now all that was needed was to take down the Damocles Exo...

--------

Tobias had NO idea how he was going to bring down something twice his height...but he was going to try. Charging forward on swiftly thudding greave-steps he raised a fist, preparing to lunge at a knee joint...and was promptly back-handed upward into the air by a massive, mechanical limb, soaring in an impressive arc toward Wren's bunkered position. He immediately struck the concrete baracade surrounding the top of the roof, smashing through it and finally coming to a stop after crushing an air conditioning unit about ten feet away from her. A groan followed, Tobias lifting a hand to clutch at his head before drolly muttering,

"That didn't go according to plan..."

From below, the Damocles pilot raised both arms in a challenging gesture, combat blade in one hand and barked,

"Gonna have to try harder than that, Little Man! I could do this all day!"

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Grace had labored up, pulsing

Grace had labored up, pulsing with adrenaline-- but without Wren's lightening magic that she'd been used to over the past week, as they'd been practicing when they could find time. On purely her own steam, the winged girl moves more slowly than she'd wanted to, gaining just enough height to scan the rooftops-- and get a visual on Wren, laying in a dark puddle.

"Wren!" She cried, and banked into a steep downward glide toward her friend.

She was unaware of the challenge issued by the boy in the armor, and even further unaware of the single sniper with a plasma weapon at the broken front window, sighting along the barrel of his weapon at her...

There was almost no sound, until the energy beam was upon her, and even then, only the faintest crackling for the fraction of a moment. But after that fraction of a moment came a searing pain unlike anything she'd felt since her wings had grown in. Her wings-- something had gone wrong-- someone had shot her!

The shock of the violence is almost as immediate as the nauseating pain, and it takes every desperate ounce of Grace's strength to stay in the air long enough to make it to the roof where Wren was, wobbling weirdly in the air, and at last simply falling and skidding in a ragged, tumbling heap some ten metres from Wren's prone form. Just below the wrist joint on Grace's wing is a bloody hole two inches across, all the feathers in a six inch radius having been broken, shattered, and violently blown away, littering the ground and air on her path toward the rooftop and now all around her. In a weird twist of fate, the energy had been hot enough to cauterize the wound, so only a tiny trickle of blood oozed...

The shock of the violence is enough to render her briefly immobile and gasping, lolling her head to the side to see the dust-covered form of the boy they were trying to save just climbing to his feet again. She closes her eyes to gasp for a few more breaths, before rolling onto her stomach with an agonized sound, and beginning to crawl toward Wren, dragging her injured wing behind her.

With tears of pain running down her face, Grace had finally reached Wren's body and lay at her side. She choked off a sob at seeing her friend's chest rise and fall with her breathing-- then wept anew at the horrible injury near the shoulder joint of her wing, body liberally soaked in slowly seeping blood. "Wren! Wren!" she called pitifully into the expressionless helmet, laying her head on the girl's stomach and hugging her close.

Grace hadn't tried to heal a meta-human yet. She hadn't even had time to try to heal a severe wound like the one Wren had sustained... But she doesn't even pause for thought. Shaking and shedding far more controlled, quiet tears, Grace reached her hand out to touch the violent, bloody wound, closed her eyes and prayed.

"Dear God... Pour your mercy down on us, I beg you... Take whatever it is I have and give Wren back her life..."

It had nothing to do with God, and everything to do with Grace. Her energy left her with the speed of a fire hose being opened to full throttle, though she struggled for a few seconds to stay awake, to keep her eyes open-- just long enough to see Wren's exposed muscle tissue knit and her wounds close, even the beginnings of a few new feathers sprouting...

Grace passes into a blissful, dark unconsciousness with a serene expression on her tear-stained face, the tiniest of satisfied smiles on her lips, her head pillowed on Wren's stomach, and arms wrapped protectively around her best friend.

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A tear-stained face slowly

A tear-stained face slowly surges up through the darkness where Wren had hidden herself from the pain, and the fear of never being able to fly again. That fear chased her down even in her troubled sleep, and strikes through her like a spear made of ice. Wave after wave of fear crash over her, pinning her in the darkness, a crumpled form, wing-torn and helpless. The face surges forth once more, shooing away the fear, and helping the warmth to begin to grow once more.

'...An...gel...'

The single thought travels between healer and healed. A softly lilting lullabye accompanies the face of her friend, her mother's voice as she once sung Wren to sleep as a child.

'Goodnight my Angel time to close your eyes...'

Wren had no idea whether it was her singing to comfort her friend, or her mother coming to take her away to somewhere outside of this world.

What she did know was that the fear and pain were being slowly washed away in a warmth and that long-missed feeling of 'family'.

She slowly opens her eyes, and goes to pull of her helmet, but finds the collapsed form of her friend holding her tightly. She reaches up with the hand that's not being smooshed by Grace to pull her helmet off. She slowly pats her friend's back, "Angel.... wake up, Angel... please wake up..." her voice takes on a softly pleading tone, growing more worried as Grace doesn't move.

She manages to sit up as Tobias comes to a slamming stop on the rooftop near them. Her wing rips free of the bandaging as she mantles them over Grace, an automatic instinct to protect the girl she's come to hold dear as a sister.

"Who..." her voice cracks as if it's been unused for too long. "Who the hell are you? I'm not too messed up to hit you where it counts if you're here to hurt my little sister..." She's rambling, confused and still woozy enough from the painkillers that staying semi-upright, even sitting, is difficult.

You see things; and you say, 'Why?' But I dream things that never were; and I say, "Why not?"
George Bernard Shaw (1856 - 1950)

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Tobias' world reeled, spun,

Tobias' world reeled, spun, and hurt all at the same time...and yet somehow he was alive....

Hurling himself forward out of the tangled wreck of the air conditioning unit he'd finally come to a stop halfway into, he shakes his head....as a voice catches his ear. Glowing, viridian eyes swung to the origin, another winged girl mantled over the first, wings colored in tan with flashes of vibrant, reflective blue....and below her, seemingly unconscious was Grace, one of her white wings appearing to have taken damage on her way up to the rooftop...

Tobias' eyes swung forward to examine the taunting, mechanised soldier strutting around like he owned the place, waiting for him to rejoin the fight, finally words emanating from his armored visage,

"I'm the thing that's going to tear that Exo a new asshole...." He nods to Grace, prone, peaceful and injured, a furious rage building up in his mind. "Keep her safe, okay? She saved my life by getting involved with all of this. Least I can do is keep everyone else alive long enough to return the favor..."

He strides to the edge of the rooftop, planting a foot on the ruined barricade, fists balling as his entire being seemed to crackle with righteous fury....Grace had done nothing to deserve her injury, nothing to earn the ire of these TAROT soldiers....

How dare they...How DARE they!

GUARDIAN had reacted curiously to Tobias' suddenly incensed state. Taking into account the sudden spike in adrenaline in his bloodstream as well as the sudden dump of cortisol, this reaction, this emotion, 'Anger', could be put to purposeful effect...

A message appeared on Tobias' HUD, simple and succinct,

"Advise: Aggression inhibitors disabled. Gauntlet Energy Accumulators online. Short-burst thrust vectoring module online."

With an audible, mechanical sound, like the bolt of a rifle being drawn, several sections of plating sprang violently open, a whine of machinery and coalescing energy gathering around the armored figure's hands, glowing a vibrant, emerald color, his hands seemingly quaking with the attempt to restrain the unstable energy. Small apertures suddenly snapped open on his back, gathered energy and suddenly with a burst of thrust, Tobias launched himself from the rooftop, fists aglow.

A defiant roar bellowed from Tobias' armored face as he bared down upon Jericho, who moved to block his attack....only suddenly finding himself surprised as both of Tobias' gauntlets discharged....and the blade-wielding arm of the Damocles Exo suddenly exploded, catapulting the entire contraption back into the ruined Osprey still sitting pathetically in the parking lot with a calamitous noise and the accompanying screech of rending metal.

Knocked into a vague sitting position, Jericho brawled with the mech's controls, fighting to get the machine back to standing again as Tobias hit the ground with a mechanical thud, a controlled crouch of a landing. Readying his combative stance again, energy again gathered at his hands, within the helm, the face of the young combatant twisted into a bitter snarl as the Damocles began to thunder toward his position with it's one, good arm raised to pummel him into the asphalt.

"No more..." he growled, "No more hurt...No more death. You and your people want to hurt them? You go through me."

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You started this to get me...

You started this to get me...
Things were beginning to get... less unclear. This young man was their target, not exactly one of the defenders, though he was clearly willing to defend others. But who wanted him, and why?

The Falcon put the questions aside. A sniper had shot the winged girl, who went down to that same rooftop where the mech had knocked the young knight, and from which Wren had shot the mech. He noted the building and window from which it came, then concentrated and 'ported up to the roof, just in time to see the new armored hero hurtling past to engage the mech. The two winged women were only a few meters away, Wren holding the new girl. He 'ported to them and dumped the pouch of stones, quickly sorting them on the rooftop. "Wren, isn't it? I'm the Falcon. Hmm... only three left. We'll have to place them carefully, they don't heal others as well as they do me."

Foradain, Mage of Phoenix Rising.
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Rather than charging head

Rather than charging head-long into the fray, Tobias held tight, watching, waiting, examining the Damocles Exo's lumbering gait, fully aware of the weakness of its gyroscopic stabilizers and the top-heavy nature of the design thanks to the combat knowledge suite installed directly onto his brain. He watched, almost in slow-motion each foot-fall crack and kick up chunks of asphalt as it charged toward him.

This fight, this entire afternoon had dragged on long enough. A plan began to come together in Tobias' mind.

Waiting until the very last second, watching as the massive fist hurtled down onto his position like a fist-shaped asteroid, he darted to the side suddenly halting the mechanical limb's advance in a two-armed grip...but it didn't end there. Drawing on the forward momentum still present in the Damocles' frame, Tobias let fly with a growl of defiance and effort as he continued the momentum of the machine over his shoulder, pitching the entire, twelve foot, bipedal construct straight into the air in a near-impossible display of strength...well, near-impossible for an un-augmented human being, anyway...

Jericho wailed with terror as his fighting machine flew in a perfect arc over Tobias' shoulder, finally coming to a crushing landing that shattered asphalt and utterly mangled the Damocles, now sprawled out on it's back, generator crushed beyond function, pilot stuck within the confines of his cockpit.

But Tobias wasn't close to finished.

He advanced swiftly toward the downed Damocles mech, fists balled with fury as he hefted himself onto the machine's mangled chest,. He negated any form of emergency release levers, opting for a far more...intimidating response: his hands took up a hold on the cockpit's entry hatch before he pulled with all the might he had within him. Internal servos, those which had replaced Tobias' organic joints kicked into high gear as the sound of rending metal filled the air. Sparks jetted into the cockpit, Jericho within moving to shield his face from them as daylight began to creep in around widening gaps in the front of the mech's armor. With a final heave, the cockpit's hatch suddenly tore free, hefted high above Tobias' head, clutched in both of his gauntlets before being discarded to one side with an almighty clang.

Jericho, wisely, panicked.

Stuck in an inoperative machine, his harness release failing to work, Tobias took a moment to observe the TAROT pilot's struggling before intoning with menacing inflection,

"Looks like you're stuck. Let me help you with that!"

An armored hand reached down and seized Jericho by the front of his harness, one sharp pull all that was needed to snap the fastening disks embedded into the seat. Without pause, Tobias bodily lifted Jericho into the air by the front of the harness, his legs flailing pathetically as he tried to stammer out something, perhaps an apology. Tobi would have nothing of it, however, tightening his grip as he caught sight of the remaining TAROT soldiers, who weren't either dead or unconscious being escorted single-file out of the lab foyer, flanked by TCPD and the Delta Force team, their hands zip-tied together before they were 'encouraged' to kneel on the asphalt.

With a growl, intoning through clenched teeth, Tobias spoke again,

"Game's over, jackass. Your people are under arrest...and so are you."

Curiously, Tobias made to pass a cursory eye across Jericho's dangling figure, top to toe before drawing his face right up to his armored visage, viridian eyes glowing menacingly. The pilot was five foot-seven, easily six inches shorter than Tobi. An amused huff escaped the armored youth, his grip tightening again,

"Pint-sized soldier in a big, fat mech. Tell me, who's the 'Little Man', now?"

Jericho's eyes promptly rolled back into his head, stress and sheer terror rendering him unconscious. Slowly, Tobias lowered him to the shattered body of the Damocles mech, releasing his grip and gazing around.

This fight, this afternoon from Hell, was over.

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Grace had always imagined

Grace had always imagined unconsciousness to be... empty. Like sleeping-- close your eyes, open your eyes a moment later and you're awake.

Maybe it's because she's 'different', or maybe it's just the amount of pain she was in... but Grace seemed to hallucinate and dream in her unconscious state.

Like being suspended in molasses, she felt like a jellyfish-- slowly undulating upward and downward in levels of awareness. It was dark for a moment, but then, she heard a sound-- a voice. It was female, it meant something to her, meant "family"... But the words made no sense. It made her faintly regretful that she couldn't understand, but no emotion remained for more than a moment or two.

She was tired, so very, very tired... Why couldn't she sleep?... Sinking, sinking back down into darkness...

_______

Grace gave no indication in the waking world of having any awareness whatever. Limp and heavy-limbed, her face remained pale and as motionless as the rest of her, even when her wing had to be manipulated somewhat to get the wound within the reach of Falcon's healing stones.

The effect of the stones would help-- but only marginally. The pain that disturbed her unconscious sleep would ease. The burned, broken and shattered feathers would smooth somewhat, their raw edges sealing against infection and further blood loss. But the devastating hole in her wing would remain, her body still limp with an even deeper settling of her awareness, further and further from reality.

*Brevity of Grace* - 50 Emp/Archery Defender
Backstory - Just Grace
*Hematitan* - 50 Grav/FF Controller
Backstory - Hematitan

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Wren holds the stones around

Wren holds the stones around Grace's wing and prays. She doesn't do that often, heck, she doesn't even know if there's anyone to listen, but just in case...

"Please... please help my little sister... please give her strength... let her know she's loved... please don't take her away from me..." Her voice is a gentle murmur against Grace's hair, hot tears slipping down Wren's cheeks to soak in. Her arm is tucked under Grace's wings, the girl draped across her lap, head on Wren's shoulder. Wren's wings are wrapped around them both, a warm, cinnamon-scented, almost silent space.

For the moment everything else is forgotten. If she'd been less worried, less fuzzy with painkillers, less terrified or frantic with stress and reaction to the fight, she'd have thought to thank Falcon profusely. As it is, she only has attention for Grace. Her friend. Her family.

She radiates a deep love and fear for Grace, and it's a surprise that the non-empathic can't feel it like a tidal wave crashing down on them.

You see things; and you say, 'Why?' But I dream things that never were; and I say, "Why not?"
George Bernard Shaw (1856 - 1950)

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The Falcon saw the stones'

The Falcon saw the stones' effect: the burns around the hole started getting less red, but the five centimeter hole and the ring of charred tissue remained. "That seems to be all my healing stones can do for her. Do you need one? I'm fairly sure most of this blood is yours." He gestured at pool around her and the trails from the spots she'd fired from.

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Wren, barely conscious of

Wren, barely conscious of other people, shakes her head. "No... I think she healed me after she got up here. I'm just... tired. Just so damn tired..."

Her head drops to rest on Grace's and she seems to slip into, if not unconsciousness, then further away from awake, at least. At this point, she and Grace are a single pile of blood, feathers and limbs.

You see things; and you say, 'Why?' But I dream things that never were; and I say, "Why not?"
George Bernard Shaw (1856 - 1950)

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The Falcon noted that both of

The Falcon noted that both of the winged women were breathing steadily, and picked up the five stones he'd left on the roof and the two that Wren had used on her younger colleague, putting them back in their pouch with the last charged stone on top. Then he picked up his blade and looked over the edge of the roof to see how the young knight was doing...

Foradain, Mage of Phoenix Rising.
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The gentle reverberation of a

The gentle reverberation of a truck engine caught Tobias' ear, swinging his head to locate the origin. No sooner had he done so, the vehicle had pulled to a gentle halt in front of him and his father had clambered out of the cab, eyes full of initial worry...which was strangely abated by the sight of his son standing triumphant atop the downed mech.

The cybernetic augmentations had worked...almost TOO well.

Without thought for pause, Tobi swung his gaze up to the nearby rooftop and then regarded his father,

"Dad, we've got wounded up on the roof there. Someone managed to tag the girl with the white wings on her way up."

"Grace...oh God, no..." Alan whispered in reply. He immediately blanched, horrified at the thought but steeled his expression.

Grace needed help, not for him to break into a mindless panic. It took all of a nod of response to see to it that the both of them were on their way up via a side door that Tobias had to....liberate from it's hinges. It took no longer than a minute for them to work their way to the roof, the access door again exploding off it's hinges, caved in by a powerful punch.

Dr Wishart was greeted not only by the sight of Grace rendered unconscious, a curiously half-healed wound just below the wrist joint of her wing, but another semi-conscious young lady of a similar level of avian dimorphism. She seemed decidedly better off, but likely was absolutely exhausted. As Tobias thudded his way over, armor dented and scratched, Alan came to a knee, immediately assessing the situation in a quiet mutter,

"Penetrating trauma to left wing just below radiocarpal joint. Partially healed. Evidence of burns associated with energy weapon trauma. Patient unresponsive..."

A myriad of scenarios ticked through his head at that moment, possible treatment vectors, locations. Finally he sighed and shook his head,

"We can't treat her here. A rooftop isn't the most hygienic place to be suturing a wound and the lab downstairs has no power...."

Tobias lifted his head a moment, a thought crossing his mind,

"Well, I think there's a hospital nearby...."

Alan shook his head sharply in retort,

"No, no. I'm not simply about to offload them at the doors of an Emergency Room and continue on my merry way, Tobi. I trust my own hands far more than I would those of some hack intern."

"What about at home, then? If I remember right, the medicine cabinet in your office is probably better-stocked than most field hospitals." Tobias replied succinctly.

Truthfully though, he was having a hard time beating back the feeling like he'd failed somehow. Grace, as his father had called her had taken a serious injury, and the other poor girl had worked herself into half-unconsciousness. He turned, bringing a hand to palm at his armored face, sighing weightily.

Alan's eyes regarded the truck sitting in the parking lot...placed with surreal juxtaposition next to the ruined Damocles Exo suit that lay sprawled out on it's back, utterly beyond saving,

"Actually, that's not a bad idea..."

He brought a hand gently to the shoulder of the young woman with the tan feathers, flecked with metallic blue, employing the 'touch and talk' method of rousing an unconscious individual. If she was responsive but lethargic, that would be far better than having to diagnose and treat potentially two seriously-injured meta humans. Rest and a good meal would probably solve her situation...if she responded,

"Young lady, can you hear me? My name is Doctor Alan Wishart. Your friend is seriously injured and needs medical treatment. I'd like to take you both to my home where I can do so more effectively. The nearby hospitals are likely going to be over-laden with injured from this fight and I'd rather not wait to see Grace treated."

As he waited for a reply, Tobias gazed out across the scene of destruction: battered TCPD vehicles in a loose line across the gate, the line of eleven restrained TAROT soldiers being staunchly guarded by both SWAT and the five Delta Force soldiers, who appeared to be rather briskly questioning the group to find who had been in charge, the wail of paramedic vehicles on their way to the scene.

He sighed heavily. All this carnage, all this insanity just to get to, and presumably destroy him...

His eyes swung back to Grace, her friend and his own father working to get a response as the vibrant light of afternoon gave way to the ruddy-skied twilight of dusk. Somewhat bitterly, he shook his head and muttered,

"Welcome back, Tobias..."

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Hollowpoint Heroism wrote:
Hollowpoint Heroism wrote:

It took no longer than a minute for them to work their way to the roof, the access door again exploding off it's hinges, caved in by a powerful punch.

Wren took almost no note of the people on the roof. Not much more response than a slight shivering, a lift of the wings to cover more of Grace, and a tension in her limbs. Most of this might easily be overlooked but for the slight movement of her wings.

Hollowpoint Heroism wrote:

"Penetrating trauma to left wing just below radiocarpal ...."

The words washed over her, fading in and out as if someone were turning the volume up and down randomly.

Hollowpoint Heroism wrote:

"Well, I think there's a hospital nearby...."

She shakes her head, or thought she had... the hospital was too close! More enemies might come! She tried to speak, but nothing came out more than a very faint murmuring.

Hollowpoint Heroism wrote:

"What about at home, then? If I rem..."

Yes... yes, home was good. She had all her supplies at home. She had movies and popcorn... popcorn sounded good... "Yes," she tried to say, 'yes, take us home. I want to go home, mom... I'm tired, and you can tuck me in and sing me to sleep. I'm so tired, mom... so tired. I just want to sleep... make everyone shut up so I can sleep.."

Hollowpoint Heroism wrote:

"Young lady, can you hear me? My name is Doctor Alan Wishart. Your friend is seriously injured and needs medical treatment. I'd like to take you both to my home where I can do so more effectively. The nearby hospitals are likely going to be over-laden with injured from this fight and I'd rather not wait to see Grace treated."

Wren heard all the words, but it took a moment or five to filter through the layers of fog in her mind. She lifted her head, eyed glazed with painkillers and the speed healing that was still taking place within her mangled wing.

She tried hard to focus on Alan, shaking her head to try to clear it further.

"Need... to get home... need to eat, sleep... need little sister to be safe..." She shudders, even the individual feathers on her wings quivering with the force of the shudder.

"P-painkllers... had to take two vials... had to keep fighting, distracting so she could get you out..." her words wander off into murmuring at this point, what little lucidity she'd gained starting to fade away again. She reaches into the satchel next to her, and pulls out the two auto-injectors so he could see the dosage.

Along the side of the glass ampule is written 'Co-Codamol 30/500'.

You see things; and you say, 'Why?' But I dream things that never were; and I say, "Why not?"
George Bernard Shaw (1856 - 1950)

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Alan blinked, then sighed

Alan blinked, then sighed with relief as she managed a semi-lucid response. However, upon laying eyes upon the auto-injectors, he grimaces, hissing and nods "Co-codamol thirty/five hundred...That would explain a great deal. I'm amazed you're still awake, young lady."

His eyes scanned from Tobias, to the large fellow in the coat and then back to Wren. Neither of them were of modest height enough to successfully help this young lady down to the parking lot. Resolutely, he shifts his weight enough to bring an arm across her back just under the shoulders, and further explains, his tone remarkably calm and soothing,

"Alright, I'm going to help you downstairs and into the truck I've prepped. I know it's hard to do right now, but I need you to concentrate on walking with me. Last thing we need is a tumble down the stairs while you're not entirely lucid. We'll stand on three, okay? One...two...three."

Gently Alan moved to right himself, gently supporting the winged, young lady as they both stand. While certainly not the biggest fellow around, Alan's wiry strength did him a great deal of good in this situation...not to mention this probably wasn't the first time he'd had to carry someone in this manner. With a gentle call of,

"Tobi? Could you bring Grace with us, please?"

He begins the delicate process of helping the semi-conscious woman downstairs and to the awaiting truck.

Tobias in the meantime thudded his way over to Grace's slumbering form, sighing and coming to a knee beside her. One by one, his hands, and then arms slid up under both knees and across her back, also doing his best to delicately bundle up her wings so they wouldn't drage across the ground as he moved her. Silence filled the air save for the gentle whirr of his power armor's actuators, little, if any effort required to pick her up and begin gently working his way downstairs.

Alan had waited for Tobias to arrive, having already locked forward the front seats of the truck cab, allowing for Grace to be laid out on the rearward seats. It was a curious sight, seeing someone who had previously shown incredible strength deploy such restraint and gentleness in his actions, a momentary pause occurring as Tobias gently set Grace's hands more comfortably on her stomach before turning away and allowing his father to help Wren, wings and all into the passenger seat. Buckled in and safe, Alan again sets a reassuring hand on the tan-skinned woman's shoulder and smiles,

"You're both going to be fine, I promise."

Alan gently shut the truck's passenger door and then flicked a glance to his son, pursing his lips,

"Um...I think you're going to have to..."

Tobias actually managed a gentle chuckle at that, nodding to the back of the truck,

"Yeeaah, I don't think I'd even fit in the cab anyway. Guess I'm travelling 'cargo' class."

With that, he thudded his way to the rear of the truck, hauling up the rear door. As he planted a foot on the rear of the vehicle, it lurched awkwardly, suspension creaking as he hauled himself up into the cargo compartment, the truck's weight evening out as he came to hunker down beside the Sarcophagus, sighing as he came to a seat in the back of the truck. The four plates that had protected the lower portion of his face retracted, the danger now long since passed as he gently shut his eyes, the glow of his visor mimicking such, the viridian eyes closing and switching off. Behind his eyes, he watched as vivid images of weaponry, vehicles, fighting techniques and tactics played out as GUARDIAN re-continued downloading information into his mind.

Outside, Alan took a last gaze around, exuding a stunned sigh of amazement. This hadn't been some surreal dream, it had been reality. Catching sight of Captain Briggs, he immediately advances toward him, offering the man a hand, one which was well received by a sturdy handshake,

"Thank you Captain. I should really be staying behind to thank everyone for their help, but I have patients to treat. My afternoon's far from over. If you could..."

Briggs managed a smile, nodding "No problem, Doc. I'll pass the message along. I'd say 'go take care of your son', but it looks like he'll probably be taking care of you in the weeks to come. Kid's got potential."

A silent nod was all that followed before Alan took his leave and returned to the truck, hauling himself into the driver's seat, taking a last look at all of his passengers to make sure they were situated and starting the engine up,

"And we're off...." He mused, before chuckling, "I don't think I've ever wanted to go home more in my entire life."

He gently steered the vehicle between the ruined wrecks of TCPD cruisers, out onto the street and made for his home nestled in the suburbs, the surreal events of the afternoon fading from view....but certainly not from mind for many years to come.

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The Falcon watched as they

The Falcon watched as they drove away. They would be safe enough, he was sure. He glanced over at the mech, lying on its back with the pilot's door ripped off and tossed aside. The new hero might be young and inexperienced, but he had surely learned fast. And from the doctor's reputation, the new winged heroine could scarcely be in better hands.

The motives of whoever had hired these mercenaries might still be unknown, but if the police learned anything, they would no doubt tell Dr. Wishart. Meanwhile, the Falcon had his own family, of a sort, to return to. Concentrating for several seconds, he disappeared once more in a slight whiff of smoke.

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Somewhere in Titan City, in

Somewhere in Titan City, in an extremely large warehouse that was registered to a wealthy, unidentified owner, a young man sat in a vey comfortable swivel chair with his legs propped op on his desk, playing his fiftieth round of Solitaire. Music bladed throughout the building, thankfully well-soundproofed. It was a mix of classical and rock, of the teen's own design.

Although he seemed entirely unproductive, he was currently running four different tests, all peremptory for a large project he was to soon begin. It was a slow night, comparable to his usual schedule.

"Hey Levi, could you get me a water out of the fridge, please?" Nick asked without looking away from the computer.

A large, red, seven-foot tall, bulky automaton that had been previously fixing a set of server towers responded with his usual politeness, "Yes, Master Ridley."

To anyone else who didn't know him, Levi was an intimidating sight. Just his chest was two average size men across, and his arms were as thick as a man's head and then some. He walked with a lumbering, calm, but measured way, picking his way in between mountains of equipment to the fridge at the far side of the facility. Nick had always regretted putting it over there.

The large project was going to be bigger than most things he had previously attempted. It covered about four or five different fields, and would usually require a team of at least twenty-eight individuals with a handful of doctrates for each, along with months, probably years of study, but Nick had been able to sketch out a reasonable prototype in three and a half hours. The concept was the easy part. It was application that was a little bit more tricky.

For the most part, it was reliant upon the substances used in the final product. It had to be lightweight, flexible, extremely durable (For the use he was hoping to give it), and adaptable.

Any surgical work needed could be done here in the lab, as he had all the equipment he needed, but that part was more mental than physical. He'd have to operate on -himself.- Which would be a little weird.

Clothing wouldn't be a problem, he wasn't picky about his clothes and they could be fitted for him. It's not like he was tight on money.

Wings were a complicated thing to create. Especially ones you hoped to -actually use.- And then there was the whole thing about the armor...

Levi returned with the bottle of water, handing it out to Nick. "Here is your drink, Master Ridley."

Nick looked over at the robot with a smile, taking it gratefully. "Thanks Levi."

"You are welcome, Master Ridley." Levi walked back over to the server towers he had left, and begin working on then again.

Nick took a long drink from the bottle. He was sore from his new martial arts training, but he knew it was doing him good. He had even gained a little muscle, but he was never a big guy to begin with. But it was a start.

Nick leaned back in his chair, sighing. At least the prototype weapons were coming along as planned. That was a good sign.

Nick reached for the remote, and turned on the television a few feet from his desk, hoping to find a decent show he could watch to pass the time. The calculations, at their current rate, were going to take about two more hours.

Immediately, the news channel came through loud and clear on Nick's television. It didn't usually air at this time of night. Maybe something's happened? Nick turned down the volume of his music, listening to the news instead.

"...and yes, we're getting the footage right now. This video was taken from a courageous bystander, who miraculously survived an encounter between two strong forces. Here's the footage now," Immediately the screen changed to a video of someone running with their camera, everything entirely blurred and quite fuzzy. Once the person recording stopped and steadied the camera, the sight was quite interesting indeed.

There were TCPD vehicles parked in a street near an unassuming builidng in a quaint area of Titan City. In front of the building, a monstrous mech was standing gaurd, along with many black-clad and uniformed soldiers or mercs. "...Here, as you can see, a winged hero jumps out for a surprise attack and cripples one of the terrorists' what looks to be helicopters, and it smashes to the ground, and immediately the forces are alerted to her. She's heavily fired upon..."

Wait. Was that Wren?

"There, another hero! It looks like he's weilding a sword. The two together are making quick work of the soldiers outside." Another clip is shown of the flying hero. Those wings...it was Wren!

The videos cuts to a later time in the fight. "The winged hero fights bravely, but - oh! Was she just hit?" No, that wasn't Wren. Couldn't be. She's tough as nails. A great fighter, an even better flier. She couldn't haven gotten hurt.

"Ladies and gentleman, this is also my first time seeing this, so bear with me...it does appear that the hero was hit by enemy fire..." the footage continues to play, but Nick is slack-jawed. He had looked at the figure again. It was Wren, for sure. The words rebounded around his skull. 'Hit by enemy fire.' His friend. Hurt.

A few minutes later, his attention is brought back to the screen by the newsperson's excited voice, "There! You see that? It looks like a small group has exited the building that was being assaulted. It looks to be...a small group of soldiers, a civilian doctor, some sort of large container, another winged hero, and a large, powerful, green figure."

No, not Grace too? And who were those people?

"The winged girl is now flying up into the air, yes, there she goes...she sees her friend! She's going to help her! Oh -- ladies and gentlemen, this other hero has been shot down by energy rifle fire! She's crash landed onto the roof...we can't see any more of either of the winged ladies..."

No. First Wren, now Grace. Not Grace. Never Grace. They were family now.

No.

No.

NO.

Nick jumped out of his chair, running through the facility to his room in the far corner. He quickly changed, out of habit even putting on his lab coat. Levi had followed. He stood calmly at the door.

"That was Miss Grace and Miss Wren on the news, Master Ridley."

"I know, Levi, we've gotta go help them."

"That recording is over twenty-seven minutes and sixteen seconds old, Master Ridley."

Nick froze. He had a good point. Nick cursed himself for not watching the rest of the feed. He ran back to his 'office.' The video was already over. Stupid, he told himself, don't react with emotion, only with logic.

If Grace was unconscious, she wouldn't answer the phone. The same with Wren. Nick decided to call anyway.

He jogged over, grabbing his earpiece off of his desk. He placed it in his ear. He was thankful he had it set to voice command. "Call Wren. Or Grace. Call them both. Like, right now, would be useful."

Nick thought for a moment. Those merc guys could, and probably would, hit again. He packed up a few sets of his new prototype weaponry into a small backpack, and pulls it onto his back. "Levi, get ready to go."

"Yes, Master Ridley." Levi didn't necessarily have to 'ready' anything, but he responded anyway, thinking it was polite in the situation.

And then, they waited.

Falindae
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((And... /scene! Thank you

((And... /scene! Thank you to all who participated! ))

*Brevity of Grace* - 50 Emp/Archery Defender
Backstory - Just Grace
*Hematitan* - 50 Grav/FF Controller
Backstory - Hematitan