"Should we delay until another night?" a man asked anxiously. "I hear they have a full Defender team in place!"
"We've been planning this for nearly a year," someone else grumbled. "Our alibis are good for tonight. Tonight. Tomorrow, next week, they won't hold up."
"He's right," a woman agreed. "If we don't go tonight, we don't go at all. I don't know about you, but I really don't want to leave those freaks there any longer than we absolutely have to."
"But it's a Defender team," someone else complained. "An entire group of freaks trained specifically for combat. Can we really take them out?"
"In a stand up fight?" the leader asked, smiling. "No. Not in a stand up fight. But that's not the plan, is it?"
"He's right," another person agreed. "Our plan is to sneak in under their guard. One of our agents has already bypassed their alarms and opened a hole in their perimeter fence. We'll be inside the building before they know what's coming, and even freaks can't survive it if you riddle them full of bullets before they know what's coming."
"And we're all bachelors, widowers, widows, and the like for a reason," the leader pointed out. "We knew we might not come back. None of us has family waiting for us. If it comes down to it, we'll teach them how real Americans die."
The second in command threw a knife into the rough wooden table they were gathered around. It so hard it sank nearly half an inch into the wood. "Hard," he smiled. "We die hard."
Andy bounced back and forth in his seat as the interview drew to a close. The second the station went to commercial break, he jumped out and started shouting at Angela, "That's not what I said!"
Jessica laughed. "I think the camera proves otherwise," she grinned.
"Well, yeah, but that's not how it really was!" Andy complained. "You moved stuff around!"
Jessica laughed again. "I'm sorry, but your expression..." she waved at Andy's splutters. "Andy, the editors did cut a lot of stuff out," she agreed, "but what they cut was the cruft. Me prompting you from place to place, or you trying to figure out how to say something. What's left was the heart of what you wanted to say."
"Yeah, but that's not how I said it!" Andy complained.
"Kiddo, that was one of the most favorable interviews I have ever seen the news hand out," Fred cut in. "You just single-handedly gave augments the greatest PR boost since the Defender program was instituted. Oh, I'm sure the Church of Purity is going to try to spin it, but you practically oozed likeability and sincerity."
"And not in a sleazy way, either," Angela cut in. "You came across as pure gold. You're the son any mother would want, despite being an augment. Normally the news can't get close to a new augment until after they finish BEST training, but in your case you barely had a week at BEST camp. Barely. More like a few days, and don't think that they won't be pointing that out before long."
"Four and a half days before he was put in the hospital for another day and a half," Jessica smiled. "My editors were able to dig that up out of the public record as soon as they got the kid's name."
"Kid, every edit they made, every line they adjusted, was in your favor," Fred broke back in. "I've been interviewed before, you have no idea how many ways they could have twisted what you said around. They could have gone the opposite route and tried to make you sound like a blithering, malevolent idiot. Feel lucky, few escape their first brush with the fourth estate so lightly."
"I think I've shown my sign of good faith," Jessica told them. "Do you think your bosses will agree with the deal?"
Fred's phone rang. "I'll be right back," he told her. "That'll be them now." Pulling his phone out, he walked over to the door.
"I'll take it up with my chain of command," Angela rose to her feet. "I'll recommend it in the strongest possible terms, but it's his chain you'll have to worry about."
"I'll have my editors get the documentation ready," Jessica pulled out her own phone. "As a further sign of good faith, if you promise to not try and take it from me, I'll have them courier it over."
"Done," Angela said instantly.
"And just to be clear, that was a plural you," Jessica added. "If you can't get your hubby to agree to it..." Letting her voice trail off, she shrugged.
Angela smiled. "Consider our word given," she replied. "Neither my husband nor I will attempt to force it out of you. I'll even extend that; my Defender team won't try it."
Jessica hit a button on her phone. "Hey Phil. Get the packet over here. No, the deal isn't on yet, but I want it on hand for when they get the OK from their bosses. Thanks." Jessica looked at Angela. "It'll be here inside half an hour."
"Good," Fred said from the door. "My bosses will have their answer inside twenty minutes. I think they'll agree."
"You think?" Jessica asked, arching an eyebrow.
"Fred, I need to use the restroom again," Andy broke in.
"Alright, there's one right down the hallway," Fred smiled.
"Aren't you going to come with me?" Andy asked softly.
"Under the circumstances, I think I'm actually inclined to trust you alone," Fred shrugged. "It's not like Eric is going to pop out of the woodwork and attack you again. And your interview..." Fred's eyes glanced over to Jessica's cameraman, who was sitting quietly in the corner of the room.
"I think he was about to say that your interview has provided a lot of reassurance about the degree of control you possess," Jessica commented. "He would probably also like to comment about not undermining that confidence by implying you need an escort simply to run to the restroom and back again. The good news is that Michael will delete any such conversation that might have occurred."
"In that case, I don't see any reason why you shouldn't run out to the restroom, yourself," Fred shrugged. "Let the docs see that I trust you to walk around. The bad PR I was trying to avoid has already happened, and much to my shock I find that I actually do trust your control."
"Why?" Andy asked, curious.
Fred took a long moment to think. "The fights. First you managed to vent a power in a non-lethal manner. Then when Eric really came at you... You managed to hold your own, without training, against him, and you did so without lethal force. More than that, you intelligently escalated your actions. You tried to stop his advance, you tried to disarm him, and then you tried to simply block him off. You used a minimum escalation of force in an effort to match his, and only attacked him as an absolute last resort." Fred sighed. "I've received a hell of a lot more training than you have, and if I were in your shoes, I couldn't have done much better."
"You managed to stop Eric!" Andy pointed out.
"I said if I were in your shoes," Fred snapped. "In case you missed the point, I have more powers than you do. I'm a class four myself. Push come to shove, I matched Eric blow for blow and come out ahead. You can't."
"Gently," Angela reminded him.
"Sorry," Fred shook his head. "I just don't like..." he shook his head again. "It's been a rough night all around. Kiddo, go hit the head. You don't need a babysitter, not anymore. The worst has already happened, and pretending you need a babysitter just makes it look worse."
Andy swallowed. "I..." It was stupid. Being scared of the restroom was stupid. "It's been a rough night," he agreed.
"Husband," Angela commented, "please consider what happened the last time you let Andy run off alone. The fight with Eric, the interview... perhaps he wants someone to follow along and make certain nothing goes wrong this time."
Andy glared at her. It was true, really, but did she have to make him sound like such a baby?! "I don't need anyone to hold my hand!" he snapped at her. "I can go by myself, if that's alright with him."
"Then go, kiddo," Fred told him, smiling. "I'm sure she didn't mean to question your manliness."
Before Andy could leave the room, Jessica spoke up, rising to her feet. "Perhaps Andrew would care to show me the way. I find I could use a visit to the little girls room."
"It's a unisex stall, you'll have to take turns," Fred pointed out.
"Then I shall graciously wait outside until he's had a chance to finish his business," she smiled. "Meanwhile, Michael can run out to the front gate and make certain the courier can get in. Perhaps one of your agents could follow along, to reassure you that I'm not trying to sneak another interview with Andrew." She turned and smiled at Andy. "Lead on, my little gentleman."
"Oh you've got to be kidding me," Fred mimed gagging. "He's a bit young, lady!"
"Old enough to be a gentleman," Jessica smiled as she let Andy lead her. "And besides," she whispered to Andy, "I'm sure you'll need the practice. By the time I'm through with you, you'll have to beat the girls off with a stick."
Andy blinked as he closed the door behind himself. "I wouldn't do that" he complained. "My mom would tan my hide if I hurt a girl!"
"Oh, you are precious," Jessica smiled down at him. "I suppose you are a bit young, at that," she admitted. "In time, you'll understand. Oh yes, in time you'll understand."
"Whatever," Andy shrugged. "Ladies first," he pointed to the restroom.
"Oh no," Jessica smiled, "I really must insist. Youth before beauty."
Andy glared up at her for a minute before his bladder overrode his mother's training to always let a lady go first. Not that his mother had ever really thought in terms of using a restroom, he conceded.
"I'll be out as quick as I can," Andy told her, then darted in.
It only took him a few minutes to finish his business, but when he came out, still shaking the water off his hands, Jessica was no where to be found. "Ma'am?" Andy asked. "Ms. Jessica?"
"Something wrong, kid?" a guard asked.
"The lady who was supposed to go next isn't here," Andy told him.
"Ah, she asked me if there was another restroom nearby," the guard told him. "I pointed her down the hall."
Andy looked the direction the guard pointed, and frowned. She'd said she would wait for him! Shrugging, he thanked the guard and walked back to the lounge. "You didn't wait for the reporter to finish?" Fred asked.
Andy shrugged. "She asked a guard where another restroom was while I was inside."
"She what?" Fred asked, head snapping upright. "I'll be right back. Stay here." Fred rushed out of the room, not even waiting for Andy to acknowledge his curt order."
Andy shrugged and turned the TV back on. It was still set to the same news channel. "-was completely irresponsible of BEST to put an augment in with normal children," a suited man was busy expounding.
"He's a child," a woman pointed out, "with a dangerous neurological condition-"
"It doesn't matter Sarah," the man cut her off. "He's a living weapon, a danger to everyone around him. Look at what happened when he was provoked!"
"By provoked, I suppose you mean 'attacked, Phil" Sarah pointed out. "And by another augment, I'd like to point out!"
"And look at what happened," Phil argued. "The hospital's facilities were ruined. If the Eric boy hadn't been provoked by putting an augment amongst decent god-fearing Americans-"
"Oh that's a load of bullshit," a third man cut him off. "You're going to blame one augment for another firing off? I bet you want to just ship them both out to the Pacific Islands!"
"That works," Phil agreed instantly. "Deport that BEST agent that failed to control the situation, while you're at it!"
"Phil, as many things as we agree on, that's utter bullshit," the third man laughed. "Augments are dangerous. Agreed. We need better controls. Agreed. But you can hardly blame the man for a school yard spat that blew up in less than a minute! Short of twenty-four seven surveillance, I don't think anyone can stop that kind of thing."
"Wasn't that his job, Jake?" Phil argued. "He was there to keep an eye on the freak since he hadn't-"
"'Freak' certainly sums up your opinion of the entire matter, doesn't it," Sarah cut him off. "You'd rather Andrew died without treatment, and rid the world of some surplus population. Why not just shoot them all while you're at it."
"Sarah, he's hardly arguing for Nazi-style concentration camps," Jake pointed out.
"Isn't he?" she asked. "Lists of augments, armbands warning people that they're augments, doesn't that sound like how the Nazi's started? Just like how they started, in fact?"
"The difference there is that Jews were just plain human beings," Jake argued. "Augments really are dangerous. The marks aren't just for us, it's for their protection. I'll remind you that the bill that proposes requiring them to wear identification also increases the penalties for provoking them. It gives them a legal protection if they lose control over their powers."
"By the time they reach adulthood, they usually have control," Sarah disagreed. "All you're doing it putting a bullseye on them. Look at what happens in schools-"
"Where children are regularly being hurt when an augment loses control and does something unexpected," Phil cut in.
"That's enough of that," Angela snapped from behind Andy, grabbing the remote. "You really don't need to be watching that."
Andy looked up at her. "They really hate us, don't they?"
"Some do," Angela agreed, snapping the TV off. "But I'm sure you noticed Sarah Flares' position. She's one of our strongest advocates, and she doesn't have even one family member who's an augment." Angela sighed. "Not that she has much family to begin with. I suspect her hatred of the Church of Purity begins and ends with her family history."
"Family history?" Andy asked.
"Nevermind that," Angela shook her head. "I've talked to the docs. It's just about your bed time."
Andy looked at the clock and shrugged. "I suppose," he admitted.
"Well, lets get you to bed then," Angela told him, opening the door and shooing him out. "Fred..." she started to say after they got a few feet down the hallway. "Fred needs to stay near Eric," she said after a minute, "just in case, so he won't be available. I've got some other men who can stay with you tonight."
Andy wanted to protest, but when he opened his mouth all he could say was a simple, "Thank you." He remembered what had happened with Eric too clearly.
"The three of them are sitting outside your door now," Angela told him. "You can spend a few minutes getting to know them, then it's off to bed. One of them will sleep in your room with you to make absolutely certain that everything is controlled."
"Kinda like a sleepover?" Andy half said, half asked.
Angela laughed gently. "Yes, except he'll be the one shushing you if you try to talk."
Andy laughed, remembering when his mother had come into his room to do just that.
In a not so distant room, a group of men gathered around a cheap plastic table, gazing at the maps spread over it. "There is an entire Defender team sleeping inside the building tonight," the leader pointed to a series of rooms. "Our agent was able to confirm which rooms they were assigned, along with exactly where the augmented staff are going to be." The leader pointed to another series of marked rooms. "I can't make this decision for all of you. We'll be moving nearly a week early, without our full equipment load, and before our alibis are firmly in place. But if you ask me, it's worth it."
"Catching an entire Defender team, napping?" someone else giggled. "That'll make the news. 'Defender Team Powerless Against Shadowy Threat,'" he mocked. "Oh, and 'Defender Team Completely Fails to Defend Anything'," he added. "Our friends in the media can spin that so many ways, and every last spin will hurt those bastards more."
"'Friends'," someone else snarled. "Did you see that interview?"
"Exactly why we need to move this up," the leader argued. "I won't give orders, not on this, but we need to make an agreement. Do we go, now, tonight? Skip the training, skip the alibis, and just kill the bastards?"
"I say yes," the only woman in the group hissed. "Please, lets do this."
It only took a moment for the leader to see everyone nodding in agreement. "Very well then," he nodded. "The freaks are going down!"
Andy's eyes snapped open in the dark. The room was quiet, other than the soft sound of Night Whisper's breath. At least, Andy assumed it was Night Whisper. The man had promised to be there if Andy needed anything, and then, with a touch, had put Andy to sleep.
Andy slipped out of his covers and padded over to the window. "What is it?" Night Whisper yawned.
"Sorry, didn't mean to wake you," Andy said over his shoulder, then resumed staring out the window.
"I sleep lightly," Night Whisper told him, rising. "Don't worry about it. You should be in bed though."
Andy nodded in agreement, but continued to peer out the window. "I know, but..." Andy shrugged. "I don't know. There's just..."
"Night Whisper to perimeter patrol, any sign of trouble?" Night Whisper said softly. The room was so quiet Andy could clearly hear the reply over the radio.
"It's quiet out here," an unfamiliar voice replied. "Real quiet. I miss the sound of traffic."
Night Whisper snorted in amusement. "Yeah, well, Andy is acting like a dog on alert. He woke up, suddenly, and is busy staring out his window like he's expecting an army to come charging out of the forest."
"Kid doesn't have any sensory empowerments, does he?" the other voice asked.
"Even if he doesn't have anything known, we still need to check it out," another voice cut in. "Maintain full contact. Assume there's something to be found out here, just in case he has one we don't know about."
"It's probably just a bad dream," Andy protested softly. "I mean, I'll get back to bed in a minute. No need to tell everyone about it!"
Night Whisper shook his head. "Kid, if anyone on the team had a sudden hunch we'd check it out, just in case. Same goes for you."
Andy looked back out the window. "Fine," he sighed. "But won't they complain if there's nothing out there?"
"This is Angel Blade, I see motion on the grounds," Angela's voice came over the radio. "I say again, motion on the grounds. Perimeter patrol, please confirm that you have remained close to the buildings."
"That's an affirmative Angel Blade," one of the voices said firmly. "I'm right under the boy's window, and I have eyes on Black Pit, he's at the corner of the building."
"I can answer for myself, Swift Shadow," the second voice replied. "Negative on visible movement, can you give me a bearing?"
"Looks like multiple individuals, wide front," Angela replied. "Night Whisper, I want you to wake the other team members. Quietly, no alarms. Inform the staff, as well, but make certain they understand the need to be quiet. No lights. No sirens. I don't want to disturb our uninvited guests."
"Planning an ambush?" Night Whisper asked.
"While I always enjoy the element of surprise, primary priority is to get the civilians under cover before anyone drops the ball," Angela ordered. "Silver Star, are you awake?"
"Sleep Whip woke me up when she heard my radio go off," Fred replied. "Eric is not, I say again, is not stable enough to move safely."
"Understood," Angela replied. "Get the doctors in that wing moving, then hold that position."
"Understood. Time frame?"
"These guys are moving slow. Probably don't think they've been seen. I don't think they'll be in a position to penetrate the building for five minutes, but if you can get everyone moving in three..." Angela's voice trailed off. "Stand by."
"Moving out," Night Whisper said into his radio. "Come on Andy, we need to get moving."
Andy pulled himself away from the window. "Can I help?" he asked.
Night Whisper sighed. "Yes. The rest of our team is bunked across the hall from here. You wake them while I get the duty nurses informed of what's going on."
"Alright," Andy nodded. Night Whisper opened the door and began running down the hall, making no more noise than a whisper in the entire process. Andy watched him storm away for a moment, understanding the source of the man's name, before turning to the door he was tasked to go through.
Opening it, he reflexively reached for the switch before changing his mind. The dim light in the hallway had already ruined his night sight, but he crept further into the room and closed the door behind himself. Operating on what little he'd seen in the light from the door, he took a few steps into the room and reached down. Only a few inches further away from him than he'd expected, he found the frame of a cot. Kneeling down, he reached out and grabbed where he expected to find the person's shoulder.
"Huh?" a woman asked sleepily, sitting up.
"Sorry, sorry!" Andy whispered. "I was aiming for your shoulder. Wake up."
"What's up?" the woman asked.
"I was supposed to wake you guys, quietly," Andy told her. "There's about to be a fight."
"A fight?" a man asked. "What kind of fight?"
"What's going on," another man asked groggily from where the bed should be.
"Something about a fight, I think," a woman commented, sounding like she was right beside him.
"Shhh," Andy whispered. "Night Whisper will be here in a minute."
"I'm already here," Night Whisper commented. "Thanks for getting them started, kid. Everyone wake up and stand by for action. Unknown personnel are attempting to penetrate the secure zone, and are presumed hostile. Angel Blade wants us to get staff and patients away from the fighting before it begins."
"Andy," Night Whisper knelt down by him, "there are going to be a lot of scared kids moving through this hallway in a minute. I want you to help the nurses keep them quiet and moving. Can you do that?"
Andy nodded eagerly, then ran for the door. "Should he really be doing anything?" one of the woman complained.
"He's the only reason we detected these guys inbound," Night Whisper pointed out as Andy closed the door behind himself.
"Well, I'm glad to see you're already out of bed," one of the duty nurses told Andy. "Move along down the hall to the nurses station, we'll get you moving from there."
Andy shook his head. "I'm supposed to help you get kids moving," he told her. "I'll take that side of the corridor," he pointed to his room. "Tell them to head to the nurses room, right?" he asked over his shoulder as he opened the door down from him.
The kid in the bed moaned quietly as the light flashed over his head. Andy knelt down beside him and shook his shoulder, gently.
"What?" the kid complained, not opening his eyes.
"You need to wake up," Andy told him. "Can you walk to the nurses station?"
"Go away," the kid slurred, rolling over.
"Hey, wake up," Andy shook him harder. "You need to get up."
"Fine, fine, I'm awake," the kid lied, pulling his covers closer before starting to snore.
Andy almost growled in frustration and reached out to rip the covers away, but events made that unnecessary.
"Everyone's through the fence, sir," Jean Fowler reported, voice barely above a whisper.
"Good, good, and the schedule?" Oscar Banks asked in the same tone. Both of them were lying down in a small depression, ignoring the dew that already dotted the grass they crawled through.
"We're a minute or two behind, but nothing critical," she replied.
They continued their slow, gradual approach for several dozen more yards. The monotony of lifting their weight on one elbow and knee, pushing forward, and then switching to the other pair mounted, but when Oscar popped his head up for a moment to survey the area, he could see everyone was maintaining a proper low crawl. He pulled his binoculars out and began looking over the building himself. It seemed almost too good to be true. "No signs of exterior guards, just like you said," he muttered at his second in command. "And with everyone staying flush to the ground like they should, I doubt anyone stationed inside will even see us coming in the dark."
"Almost too easy," she answered.
"Agreed," he complained. "Maybe they're counting on the fence, but I didn't think BEST was quite that stupid."
"I don't think they are," she complained. "Which leaves me to conclude that there aren't any signs of the guards they've posted."
"And where exactly are these imaginary guards?" he asked, annoyed.
"Wait," she hissed. "Look at the top floor, left side of the building. On the corner of the roof."
Oscar popped up head up to eyeball the location, then used his binoculars to get a closer view. It was hard to make anything out in the grainy, green-tinted image the light amplification hardware produced. Their group hadn't bought the best money could buy, just the best they could afford to buy. The high explosives they'd brought with them had been a higher priority. "Is that a gargoyle?" he complained. He couldn't make much out but what looked like a pair of wings. It figures she'd imagine guards where there weren't any.
"Gargoyles don't move," Jean hissed. "I saw those wings shift, sir, like someone who'd sat still for too long. It's a freak."
"High crawl over to third squad and get their sniper on it," Oscar ordered. Damn it, did she have to be right? "If the thing moves, or if the op drops in the crapper, I want that thing dropped, fast. And remind everyone there to keep a closer eye on the roofs and the walls."
Jean nodded and rose slightly, moving at a slightly faster clip. Oscar hated to give up even that minor degree of stealth, but the order needed to be relayed quickly, and he didn't dare use radios to communicate between his four squads. Rising up into a high crawl himself, he pushed off and made for second quad. With First and Fourth squads spreading out to the flanks, second and third squads were forming the point, and he needed to get up there and take charge.
Even at the relatively high speed of the high crawl, it took him several minutes to overtake second squad. "Jenkins, remind everyone to keep an eye on the walls and rooms, the freaks can be just about everywhere," he hissed.
Jenkins nodded sharply, then paused his low crawl long enough to pass it on to the next man over. In less than minute, the order was distributed throughout the squad, with no man speaking in a voice that carried further than a whisper.
Oscar took another pass over the building with his binoculars. Nothing on the walls, no one staring out of any windows, and the thing... "Shit," he hissed under his breath. The thing had moved, and was clearly peering with interest in their direction. "Simon, center building, middle of roof," he said softly. Halfway across the squad, a man stopped low crawling and unslung his rifle. "Got her," he whispered, then looked over at Oscar. "Shoot now?"
Oscar thought it over for a moment. Was their cover really blown? Maybe the thing was just patrolling around, and would move on. If they opened fire, the mission was over. The sniper rifles didn't have silencers, and nothing else was accurate enough to take the thing out.
Still, they could come back another day, and this way at least they'd take one of the freaks out. "Do it," Oscar ordered harshly, reaching into his vest for his radio.
Jenkins nodded, then turned back to his scope. "Ah hell," he swore. "I lost her."
Oscar shoved his radio back into it's pocket and picked his binoculars up to scan the roof himself. "Did she take to the sky?" he asked, craning his head back to look.
"I had eyes on her," Anna said. "I think she crawled back on the roof."
"Should we scrap the mission?" Jenkins asked.
Oscar debated with himself. If the thing had seen them, it would have raised an alarm. Maybe something else had drawn it's attention. Maybe it had missed them, and was simply peering in their direction. Maybe it had heard them, and was climbing down to examine the situation closer.
"Found her again," Jenkins snapped. "Roof, high, right corner."
"Take the shot," Oscar told him.
"One dead augment, coming right up," Jenkins replied with relish, and then gunfire split the quiet night air.
"Captain, someone has cut a hole in the fence," Lieutenant Adams reported.
"Yes, our agent," Captain Warren pointed out the obvious.
"No sir," Lieutenant Adams disagreed. "Our agent was going to bypass the alarm system at the source, sir. The individuals who cut this whole bypassed it here. They created a bypass loop before cutting the wires."
Captain Warren swore, long and inventively. Didn't that just figure. "Alright, with any luck BEST did it so they could sneak out or something. They've got the equipment and training to try something like that. We'll continue the op as planned."
"Yes sir," Lieutenant Adams nodded sharply. "Since the hole is already there-"
"Negative," Captain Warren shook his head. "It might be a trap. Find the hole our operative was supposed to cut."
Lieutenant Adams scurried off, and Captain Warren pulled out his binoculars. They were almost useless at night, but still better for distance viewing than his own equipment.
He froze instinctively when he saw something moving along the top of the roof. He couldn't make out details, but it looked far too big to be a squirrel or cat.
The sound of a barnyard owl's hoot repeated twice, softly. Turning to face the sound, Captain Warren began running slowly through the forest.
"Sir!" a corporal saluted when he saw Warren approach. "We've found our ingress point!"
"Good man," Warren clapped him on the shoulder as the rest of the unit gathered around. Nearly a hundred strong, they filed quickly through the hole in the fence.
"Alright, remember, speed is key," Warren told them all, looking from face to face. "Get inside the building, fast, fast, fast. Don't give anyone any time to respond. Keep the noise to minimum until they know we're here, then open up. Remember, fast. Kill, move, kill, move. When we're done here, I don't want a single person left alive who isn't one of us. Am I clear?"
"Sir yes sir," the group rumbled.
"Lets go," Warren unslung his rifle and dropped bent over. Keeping as low to the ground as he could, he ran towards the distant building, angling around the shrubbery of the grounds.
A soft noise behind him made him turn, and he saw one of his men fall. "What the hell?" he asked, as another man began to fall. Seeing a group of men lying on the ground, he swore and opened fire with his rifle. "Watch out behind!" he shouted, "guards on the grounds! There are guards on the grounds!"
Warren turned to look back at the building, just in time to see another group rise up to a crouch and turn to face him. "Guards to the front!" he shouted desperately wrenching his assault rifle back around. "We've been ambushed!"
Warren barely had time to rip off a quick trio of unaimed shots before the group in front of him opened fire. He had just enough time to realize just how badly he was outclassed before a .45 slug ended his concerns, permanently.
"Who the hell tipped them off?" Angela demanded angrily, rising to her feet. Maybe some of them had seen her a few minutes ago, but by now the intruders were engaged in a fire fight and too busy to worry about her.
"One of them is shouting something about guards," Black Pit told her. "Did some of the local security guys get frisky and head out for a stroll?"
"Negative," Fred announced over the radio. "The guards don't patrol the grounds, anyway. They're rental cops, not soldiers."
"Well then who the hell are they fighting?" Swift Shadow complained. "I don't exactly think anyone who could sneak in here would fall all over themselves and not even realize it. That takes a certain degree of stupidity, you know."
Angela stretched her wings. Her eyes were eagle-sharp in daylight, but shadow cloaked the grounds and reduced her to barely better than a non-augment could handle. "I think I want to question one of them," she said after a moment. "Everyone, cover your eyes."
"Yee-haw, the Angel is on a roll," Red King commented.
"Shut up," his wife complained. "I'm tired of hearing about her heehaws."
"Red Queen, Red King, both of you shut up," Angela hissed, jumping off the building. Her wings pumped as she clawed upward into the night sky, praying she wouldn't find a tree with her face. During the daytime, life was so much easier.
Focusing, she drew the energy of the night sky towards her slowly, then held out her hand.
A brilliant shard of noontime daylight erupted from her hand, illuminating the grounds. She was lower than she expected, lower than she particularly cared for, so she pulled her wings in and dove. Trying to gain altitude would take too much time, but she could trade altitude for velocity much, much more readily.
In the few seconds she had before impact, she mused over live or dead capture. It didn't take her long to decide on a dead capture. Sure, she could just kill whoever she took and get answers that way, but a corpse wasn't going to struggle and maybe force her to drop it.
Snapping open her wings, she pulled out of the dive and buzzed one side of the conflict. Tossing her sword towards the center of the group, she reached out with both hands and grabbed a corpse.
In moments she was airborne, arms filled with a bloody mess of a body. Still, it looked intact enough to talk. Most of the damage was above the eyes, not anything important.
Side-slipping through the air, she managed to evade the first few shots fired her way. "Watch out," she ordered over her radio, "some of them are recovering from the shock I gave them."
With the corpse in her hands, she couldn't actually reach the roof again or turn invisible, so she again used the age old equation of speed and velocity. This time, she used the speed to fly away from the assault group, banking around the building to land in the front, where it provided her with cover.
"Now, lets see what you can tell me," she hissed, dropping the corpse on the ground. "Awake! Awake and speak to me!"
The corpse shuddered, then it's eyes suddenly opened wide and focused on her as it gave a great, heaving gasp. She felt her own strength begin to trickle away, fuelling the 'resurrection,' such as it was. "Freak!" it howled. "I'll kill you!"
"Oh really?" she asked, "how?" She really, really, really hated this process sometimes.
"Why can't I move?" the corpse hissed. "What did you do to me, monster?"
"I didn't do a thing," she answered. "Think back. What do you remember?"
"You ambushed us," the corpse hissed. "I was shooting you, and then..." the corpse hesitated, eyes flickering over the area. "Then there was peace," it said, "I rested in... in... something... Oh no... God no..."
Rest was all the dead could say about the afterlife. Perhaps someday another augment could call them back with a real memory of what lay beyond, but the religious school of thought said that man was not meant to know what lay beyond, and so would never know a final answer. To them, you had to trust in God's word and believe, not know.
Angela really couldn't give a fart over faith, but she struck without hesitation at the spirit's weakest moment. "You will answer my questions, and you will answer them truly!" she ordered. As she lay the command upon the soul, she felt the trickle of her energy turn into a flow. She couldn't hold this forever.
"Let me go," the corpse whispered hollowly. "Please, let me go back to my rest."
"You can return to your rest after you've answered a few questions," Angela said firmly. "And you will answer them truly!"
"Please!" the corpse begged.
"What is your name?" Angela demanded. She felt the spirit wrestle with her will, but it was a dead thing, and she was still flush with life. Her will was stronger, and her body retained the strength to back that will.
"In life, I was known as George Warren," the corpse responded sullenly.
"What are you doing here?" Angela continued.
"You have called me back from my rest," the corpse answered, "to answer inane questions that do not matter."
"None of that!" Angela snapped her fingers at the corpse, frustrated at overlooking the loophole. "Answer my questions truly I say! Truly, and without twisting my meaning! Why did you come to this place this night?"
The corpse laughed at it's small deception. "We came to kill your kind," it told her.
Angela restrained the urge to curse at it. Even with all her power, there were still limits, and this thing clearly had an idea of them. Which was actually somewhat odd.
"What do you know of the limits of my ability to compel you?" she demanded. "And how do you know it?"
The corpse groaned in fury. "We've kept a file on you and your team," it groaned. "We've managed to put together many news clippings about your powers."
"Answer both questions, I command you!" Angela ordered.
The corpse opened it's mouth wide and screamed. "Answer, I say!" she ordered, hoping it would work. She'd never tried to tie two questions together before, not with an unwilling subject. It wasn't exactly something she experimented with very often. The drain on her energy was large, but eventually the corpse's will failed it.
"You may force any soul to come back from its rest," Warren said slowly, each syllable forced from it. "Having done so, you may command it to speak, if the body that remains after death may do so. Blood does not flow, only air and muscle. Your power provides the strength, if my flesh is yet intact enough to respond."
"If the soul is not willing, you may still compel it to answer," Warren's speech grew faster, more smooth and alive as her power worked on the body. Her power didn't simply grant it speech, but helped restore flesh to allow speech. Not quickly enough to give speech to something that had lost it, but noticeable when dealing with the recently dead. "But if you compel it to speak truly, you pay with the ability to ask each question but once. If the corpse can trick you with an answer that is true, but does not answer your desire, the question remains spent and you cannot compel a new answer on the subject."
"You have refused to even try to bring someone back more than twelve hours from their departure," the corpse continued, "and you refuse to keep them for more than an hour at a time. Why you have these limits, I do not know."
The corpse fell silent, and Angela mused over her next question. "Give me the names of those who came with you," she commanded, pulling out a voice recorder.
"Angel Blade, the fight is heating up and headed our way," Night Whisper announced over the radio. "Permission to engage?"
"First priority is to protect the civilians," Angela ordered angrily. "Second priority is to capture as many of them as you can, alive. Let them thin themselves out first if you can."
Turning her attention back to the corpse, she cursed aloud. Her momentary inattention had allowed it to cease speaking. "Answer the question in full!" she demanded.
"I... will..." the corpse shook and shuddered with the effort of the departed soul's attempt to refuse her. "Not!" it finally gasped.
Angela growled in frustration. This spirit was strong, and wasn't allowing itself to be crushed under the inevitable fact that it would answer her. "Would you care to know why I do not call spirits back for more than an hour, or after the twelve hour limit?" she asked softly. "You are not living, and should not be here. Mere minutes dead, and you already feel the pain of it. Imagine if I held you here for hours, every minute doubling your agony. Imagine if I waited days to call you back, every moment an agony after you return. The most perfect of punishments," she lied. The true limit was her own strength. The further into death a soul had sunk, the more strength it took to call it back. Of course, since being returned to a body that was fundamentally dead was an agony, an agony that mounted as the body continued to decay around it, most souls wouldn't quibble over the details. "So. Who did you love most in life?" she asked. "I shall place this revenge upon them."
The corpse howled fit to wake the dead, struggling with the bindings laid upon it. Angela stepped back and waited. She could feel the strength leeching out of her as the spirit fought her command, could feel the spirit bending and reforming under her will. This was a question it would not answer, that it would break before answering. But break it would.
"My brother," the corpse gasped finally. "Jeremiah Warren."
"Will you now answer all my questions fully, honestly, and directly? No efforts at evasions or deceptive truths?" she asked.
"I cannot refuse," Warren moaned. "I have not the strength left in me."
"You came here as part of an assault team," Angela demanded. "What was your goal?"
"We intended to kill everyone inside the grounds," Warren answered sullenly. "We wanted to destroy you freaks before people starting thinking that you were actually like people, or even picked up that stupid senator's line about being useful animals."
"What happened out there?" Angela gestured to the fire fight.
"Your guards ambushed us," Warren complained. "We must have walked right through them without seeing them. Augment freaks. Have to be."
"We have no patrols out there," she told him. "Are you certain you didn't just have some of your squads run into each other in the dark?"
"Impossible," Warren said with absolute certainty. "We came in as a single group. Besides, whoever killed my man used silenced weapons."
"What can you tell me about the second group?" Angela demanded.
"They rose up out of the ground like shadows," Warren told her angrily. "Augmented freaks, hiding under the good earth. They used silenced weapons to kill several of my men before we even knew we were under attack."
Angela frowned, mind racing. Two separate groups, attacking at the same time and tripping over each other. That had to be one for the history books -- or at the very least, she couldn't think of anything like that that had ever happened before. She hadn't seen a thing until Andy had woken her. In all likelihood, if Andy hadn't roused them, this group would have succeeded in its goal. Even augments had their limits, and chaos and confusion would have weighed heavily against them.
"Team, be aware that we have two, I say again two, separate groups of infiltrators," she announced. "This isn't blue on blue, and the officers of at least one group were completely certain that they were engaged with us. Swift Shadow, see what you can do to increase that belief. Everyone else, stay as far out of it as you can."
"We have most of the staff and children evacuated to the relative security of the operating rooms," Fred told her. "We're doing a head count now, but- One moment."
Angela rolled her eyes. Only her husband would break off in the middle of a report like that. 'But I think we got them all', just three more words than he'd actually said!
Below her, Warren began raving in frustration. Belatedly, he understood the truth. He'd run smack into another group that was probably on exactly the same mission.
Unfortunately for him, he couldn't tell his friends about it.
"Trouble, we're missing Andy," Fred announced.
"Are you certain Silver Star?" Night Whisper asked. "Last I saw, he was helping two boys down the hall to the nurses station."
"Well, he didn't make it!" Fred growled. "I swear, if he's planning to try some kind of stunt I will lock his powers down just so I can tan his damned hide!"
"Under the circumstances, I'd have to agree with you," Angela leapt up into the sky, releasing her grip on the soul she'd called back. She felt it settle back to its rest, the weight of its death dragging it down deeper and faster than before. Hopefully she had all the information she really needed from it, because she couldn't call him back again. "Everyone, keep your eyes out for the kid. I want his location pinpointed ASAP. Swift Shadow, get them an idea where to look!"
"On it," Swift Shadow replied. "Sorry," he came back far too quickly. "There are too many augments here. All I'm getting is a general sense of pressure."
Angela smacked her head in frustration. It was hard enough for Swift Shadow to 'see' past the white noise generated by the team; add in the staff, which was heavily seeded with augments, and the best they could hope for was a three second warning before a class five crashed the party. Which probably wasn't going to happen tonight. "Don't waste your time trying," she sighed, invoking her invisibility augmentation. "Focus on your tricks."
"Oh, I'm having fun," Swift Shadow told her. "That light you dropped is helpful."
As Angela soared over the conflict, she had to agree it looked like things were already settling down. The attackers had inflicted most of their injuries themselves, though at least a part of that was probably due to Swift Shadow's actions.
In the middle of a night action, with a blazing light to provide shadows, Swift Shadow was at his deadliest. Every man cast a long, deep, vibrant shadow, which Swift reached out and touched, shaped, moulded. Even without giving the shadow physical form, they were horribly lethal. In the middle of a fire fight, you didn't stop to ask questions when you saw someone point a gun at you: you shot back.
And all too often, shot straight through the someone you thought was going to kill you, and into someone who was covering your flank. Combine that with Swift Shadow's ability to create actual illusions, of making it look like a ravening dog was about to rip your face off, and chaos reigned.
"Cut the smoke and mirrors," Angela ordered after a moment. "There's enough of them down we can take them in a stand up fight if we have to. Give them a surrender call, Swift Shadow."
"Clear the sky," Swift Shadow told her. "I'm going to borrow your face."
"Clear," Angela told him, dropping into a rapid dive. "I'll land on the roof in three." Her wings snapped open just moments before impact, cupping the air with violent force. She felt the strain, an abrupt searing warning that she was overdoing it that stretched from the back of her shoulder blades to wrap around her front.
Men liked her oversized mammaries, but the truth was most of the mass was the muscle needed to maintain flight. Augmentation had bent the laws of physics somewhat, but something the size of a human being still needed a huge amount of strength if it wanted to fly. Thankfully, her empowerments included strength to spare.
Roof tiles cracked under the impact, and her invisibility shredded. Trying to cloak herself was doable, but something as large as a building just wasn't in her weight class. Hopefully, there wasn't an augment anywhere that could turn an entire building invisible for any length of time.
"Fear me!" an angel roared, wings glowing with holy fire as it exploded into being, thirty feet tall and hovering in the air.
"Ixnay on the asphemy-blay," Angela muttered over her radio, crouching on the edge of the roof, hand clenched firmly around the lip.
"Can't a boy have a little fun?" Swift Shadow complained.
"I am the commander of the US Defender team defending this installation!" the fiery figure roared. "Throw your weapons down and surrender, immediately!"
The fighting had died down for a moment, but suddenly every last figure below was riddling 'Angela' with weapons fire.
Including at least one RPG that ripped straight through the mirage, aimed directly at Angela's real location.
Time stretched around her as she breathed in, already leaning forward. Some part of her tried to identify the round, but the rest of her just screamed profanities. She already had a tight grip on the edge of the roof, and she used that to pull down. She probably couldn't gain altitude quickly enough, but if she pulled down and ducked, maybe the roof would absurd most of the blast. Or maybe she'd be lucky enough that the thing wouldn't detonate nearby.
Then again, she probably wasn't that lucky. So she kicked her legs back the moment she could and let gravity assist her fall. Wings tucked tight, she dove hard, praying that there was enough room to pull out before she used her head for a jack hammer.
The RPG round sizzled past her feet before detonating, throwing her into an uncontrolled tumble. "I'm down," she announced over her radio in the moment before she hit the ground.