Part 1: The Trade
ITEA HQ, London, UK
Since receiving the demands of a kidnapper who had captured three IT agents and one of their support technicians, practically no one in the agency building had gone home; they slept in shifts in the office itself while trying to figure out how to deal with the scenario ahead. A man calling himself Void who said he was a part of a group called Ouroboros wanted to exchange the captured people for Tasia Spiro, leader of Team Alpha and one of two known people in the world who possessed the temporal gene. Lucienne Christophe didn't like that fact and a team sent to search the apartment of Anna Federov were able to confirm she did have copied data on her personal hard-drive about Tasia's abilities. An alarming call from Erika Stone's lover Mary Hamilton confirmed their fears that the billionaire, the only other person known to the ITEA who possessed the gene, was also missing and presumed kidnapped.
Lucienne, the head director of IT, was now sitting in her office with three concerned representatives of law enforcement from outside her own agency: Raymond Bishop, the man who'd trained Lucienne when she'd been with Interpol and the current London section chief; Mira Stolar, senior Europol Liaison Officer in the UK; and Conrad Kennedy, a major member of the Diplomatic Protection Group, a sub-division of Scotland Yard charged with protecting diplomats and, in Conrad's case, the Prime Minister himself. The group was in Lucienne's office due to the amount of attention the attacks on IT personnel had received, including a very public firefight in a grocery store.
"I do understand your position," Lucienne told Kennedy, exhausted but nonetheless managing to stay on top of things. "Anyone using a Special Forces assault rifle with an extended magazine in a very public location is horrific. Only way it could be worse is if it happened at a place with some if not heavy security."
"Horrific is an understatement," pointed out Conrad. "Gun crime itself is fairly low in this country, granted that our crime rate is slightly higher than in America. It's imperative that we find out how the shooter got that weapon into the UK in the first place." It was the second time Lucienne had ever met Conrad, the first being when the ITEA had briefed the Metropolitan Police back when they first formed, warning the locals about the threat of Type-7 as a rare but troublesome weapon. Conrad was a year or two older than Lucienne and, like her, in a position of power usually unheard of for someone their age. The Prime Minister's last chief of security had been nearly fifty. Conrad possessed a bit of a stone face and combed back spiky hair, the result giving him a professional yet menacing appearance, which was ideal for a bodyguard, or at least in Lucienne's opinion.
"I can give you quite a bit of good news," revealed Lucienne, sliding a folder on her desk forward and opening it, revealing several photos. "The Tesco shooter is Derek Grisham, a man with suspected mob ties. He was sent to jail in 2007 for assault but was broken out in early 2009, then attacking Erika Stone. We suspect whoever recruited him from jail to target Miss Stone also sent him after my people at that grocery store. The person or people employing him also seem to be interested in what we work against, given his use of Type-7."
"What have you got on who is employing him?" asked Mira, studying Derek's face carefully. Derek did look a bit different in the camera footage stills from the grocery store, having a full beard and full head of hair. IT analysts were able to properly confirm that it was Derek however, thanks to advanced facial recognition software.
"We were able to clear up the distortion on a call we received from a man calling himself Void," offered Lucienne, shuffling the photos around to reveal a surveillance picture taken from an odd angle. "His voice matched with this man, Roch Chevalier. Unfortunately itÕs a fake identity, and his true name isn't known. We do know, however, that he also went under the alias Peter Knight and has been living somewhere in the UK for the past month or so."
"Peter Knight, Roch Chevalier..." mused Ray, noting the theme.
"Turns out he was living out of London's Stilton, and we have footage of him approaching our missing agent Anna Federov at the hotel's bar," continued Lucienne, showing more photos. "From what we can determine Anna had no idea who Knight was, given she didn't work the original case where we encountered him. She appears to be how they found out about us."
"Seduction, one of the oldest tricks there is," noted Ray, Mira nodding in agreement. "So you think this man hired Grisham?"
"It's more complicated than that," corrected Lucienne, shaking her head. "Void, as we're calling him for simplicity's sake, said he was a part of an organization called Ouroboros. Our four current prisoners all seem to be connected with the group as well, having themed code-names of their own. Given the money needed to back such and operation and how unknown this Void is, we suspect he has a large financial backer. Analysts are working on trying to discover who, but we just don't have the time to finish before the exchange tomorrow."
"Before we talk about that part, I want to know more about your captives," declared Conrad, now sitting down on Lucienne's couch; prior to this the man having been standing with the other two. "What have they disclosed after interrogation?"
"Two of them have broken and admitted they work for someone else, Void appearing to just be a second-in-command," explained Lucienne. "None of the prisoners got the man's name, though they did note a couple of their fellow agents seemed to recognize him. If what they've said is true, while they saw faces they don't know where they were even based out of. Type-7 was used to keep a great deal of information from them, including where when they got their assignments. We've got our graphic artist Zachary Song working with one of them, Rajni Arora, to try and recreate the apparent leader's face."
"Mixed bag really," noted Mira, moving to sit as well; choosing a chair instead of the couch and crossing her long legs. "You've captured a few of the opposition and while they're not giving you everything, you've still got some decent leads for an investigation. If it wasn't for the fact that they had some of your people and wanted to do this trade tomorrow, not to mention how public some of these attacks were, you'd be okay."
"Let's talk about this exchange now," suggested Raymond. "What's the game plan?"
"It's bad," admitted Lucienne, shaking her head. "South side of Waterloo station. Not on a platform either, right in the middle. Probably planning to use the crowd as a way to disappear. Combine that with the fact that there are trains, buses, cabs, and cars all in the area and itÕs a nightmare to predict where they'll be going and coming from."
"Plus itÕs one of the most public places in the entire bloody city," groaned Ray, sitting in another empty chair.
"Have you spoken with the transit authority?" asked Conrad, the question a predictable but necessary one.
"I've got people briefing them now," confirmed Lucienne. "We plan to deploy nearly our entire field force on this one. The few who won't be active at the exchange will be on standby at the airport, just in case."
"Probably smart, but these people do seem fairly smart themselves, given their own agents don't know who they're really working for," noted Mira. "If they get away from the station we might lose them completely."
"We're going to be equipping Tasia with a tracking device and we'll have her picture on stand-by to send to major transit locations all over the world, but we are aware of how badly this could go," confirmed Lucienne. "Unfortunately we're dealing with people who have no problem using shock and awe tactics. I've got Chita Francisco working on a cover article to hopefully keep the Type-7 use that was witnessed explained differently than the real substance, but aside from the obvious threats we're risking public knowledge of a black market drug that could conceivably be treated as a super-weapon."
"Aside from calling off the exchange for a more ideal location it doesn't look like we have much of a choice," sighed Ray, tapping his hands together while in thought. "Still, it is a situation that you can't afford to pass up, even with the heightened risks. We can't condone leaving the four agents to their fates and, more importantly, this is your best chance to find out who these people are."
"I suppose I'll sign off on it then, but I'm not thrilled," added Conrad, shaking his head with a sigh of his own. "Mira?"
"I'm satisfied, but be sure to let us know right away if something goes wrong," requested the Europol officer, rising and heading for the door. "Good luck Lucienne." With that Ray and Conrad left as well, Raymond going last and offering Lucienne a short look of worry. In spite of the age difference between them not being that great Lucienne and Ray did share a deep bond that was nearly like father and daughter, though perhaps more comparable to an older brother and younger sister. With that the three agency representatives were gone and Lucienne let out a massive sigh of her own, just happy they'd approved of the plan she'd worked out with her people.
After sitting in her office for nearly five minutes, just thinking about upcoming events, Lucienne finally rose out of her chair and stepped out into the analysis center where the technical wing was hard at work making preparations for the mission. Strangely, no one from the wing approached her, but instead Rachel Clarke of Human Resources was the first to come to her side. "Director, I've gone over the documentation and timetable, plus I've spoken with both security heads," revealed the blond American, holding a clipboard in her hands. "If you need them we can transfer two or three security personnel to temporary field agent status, but even then they'd have to act more as bodyguards than proper agents. I should also add doing such a thing would make us look pretty desperate..."
"I'm aware Rachel, I just can't have this failing," explained Lucienne, rubbing her eyes. "If things go south and we need extra firepower, I want people who are familiar with what we'll be up against. I don't care if that makes this op look like an 'everything and the kitchen sink' scenario. Results are what we need, and good ones."
"Fair enough," nodded Rachel, writing something down as Caesar and Ivan were the next to approach Lucienne. Caesar looked the more ragged of the two, his hair tied in a ponytail, which was unusual for him and his clothes having blatant food stains on them. Lucienne had heard earlier that the Mexican agent had literally fallen asleep with a Chinese food box balanced on his chest, hence the strange stains. Ivan, meanwhile, was just squinting more than usual and needed a shave.
"Delta is briefed, we've already picked out the best locations for us to be positioned at the station," announced Caesar, indicating the nearby smart board where Waterloo station blueprints and maps were called up. Icons featuring the faces of members of Team Delta were placed where they'd be waiting during the exchange the next day.
"I've got Makeda meeting with transit security and the local police unit, briefing them in detail," offered Ivan, rubbing his stubble-covered chin. "We did get a request, however."
"What's that?" asked Lucienne, curious.
"The transit authority would prefer it if I was on hand in person to help them monitor things," revealed a voice that caused Lucienne to turn. Rhonda Evens, the young woman in charge of ITEA HQ security systems, was the one who'd spoken up.
"Field work?" asked Lucienne, surprised. "Rachel, is she cleared for it?"
"As long as she remains in the security room, yes," confirmed Rachel, looking at her list. "Ideally she'll need an escort if she needs to move."
"Tak can handle that if necessary," declared Caesar, noting the board. "I see no problem with this."
"The security room will be heavily locked down and the vents will be checked thoroughly," pointed out Ivan. "They won't be able to just gas the room to cripple us, I guarantee it."
"Alright, make the arrangements," agreed Lucienne, nodding at both Rhonda and Rachel. The two blonds headed into the HR director's office while Ivan and Caesar walked over to the smart board to talk, those two being the leads on the assignment since they'd be in the terminal itself.
"Director," came Tasia's voice, Lucienne's lover walking over from her own office with Jelena Hendraille in tow. "Agent Hendraille has volunteered to by my allowed escort for the exchange."
"Are you up for this Jelena?" asked Lucienne, concerned. Jelena had her left arm in a sling, bandages around her eye and, while not visible, there was padding around her damaged ribs. "I could request Hui or Malai do it..."
"I can remove the bandages tomorrow morning," revealed Jelena, indicating her medical dressings. "My arm was minor as is the eye, I'll just need to wear sunglasses to hide the bruising. My ribs are a bit of an issue but pain-killers and padding should reduce the risks."
"I don't like it," remarked Lucienne, not a fan of having one of her own people being protected by someone with significant physical limitations. Malai Kasem and Hui Lan were also top shooters and combat specialists, Ivan Popov being no slouch himself and Marcus Corrado considered ideal due to his high proficiency in hand to hand combat. Jelena was, however, the best shot Lucienne had ever seen, even better than Hui, and if not for her injuries there wouldn't have been an issue, especially since Jelena wasn't a team leader.
"I understand your concerns Lucienne, but I have faith in Jelena," declared Tasia. "In between her and myself, plus everyone else stationed around the area, we'll be fine. They won't take me."
* * *
Stilton Corporation Headquarters, New York City, USA
"I am serious Julio, I want you to be my first volunteer," confirmed Richard Stilton, standing before the long-awaited Immortality Gate. The CEO of the Stilton Corporation stood before the archway in one of his best suits, indicating the spot where a person would have to stand for the machine to work. Xavier Alberic, one of Richard's most trusted advisers, stood next to Julio Sanchez, Richard's old friend who'd once dreamed of stopping time itself to allow for a global take-over. With them were Patricia Mero, Richard's head of Asian Operations and his secret aide, and Sarah Hardy, the scientist who had built the gate. In two transparent tubes were Erika and Ingrid Stone, both nude and connected to the Gate. Type-7 kept the pair frozen, their bodies prone and their eyes open, the advanced technology based on the chips connected to them.
"How does this work?" asked Julio, blown away by the idea. "I don't fully understand..."
"Without getting too technical, it reduces the rate of cellular decay and, ideally, when cells are replaced the ageing effect is more or less nullified," explained Sarah, showing the former Paradise Foundation leader some diagrams on her CyPad. "True immortality is a bit of a stretch as you would still age but it would be at an incredibly slow rate. Even my least-favorable calculations suggest a reduced state of ageing of around one thousand percent, meaning ten years would be the physical equivalent of one."
"I still prefer the term immortality as it would also make the cells more resistant to damage of any sort, making a person able to better withstand viruses and some injuries," pointed out Richard. "I admit it isn't complete immortality, but its certainly closer than anything that has come before it."
"This is... phenomenal..." breathed Julio, taken aback. "I'd like to speak with Dr. Hardy a bit more before I decide. Is that acceptable Richard?"
"I want you to volunteer Julio, I can have any old person be forced to," remarked Richard, nodding. "Go ahead, let me know when you've made up your mind." Richard stepped down from the machine and walked towards Xavier and Patricia while Sarah and Julio walked off towards the pods containing the two Stone women.
"He'll do it," declared Patricia, noting Julio. "When we talked earlier he explained he'd had a similar dream but the Paradise scientists had told him that it wasn't viable."
"They didn't consider actually having multiple people with the gene," suggested Xavier. "I do think he'll agree as well."
"I'd be shocked if he didn't," chuckled Richard, eyeing his friend. "The idea of living longer is something all men dream of. Then again, if people lived longer I wouldn't have such a lovely treasure working for me." As Richard spoke the final sentence he affectionately touched Patricia's shoulder, getting her to smile in return.
"It's just nice to finally get some payback on that bitch for ruining my chances to run the company I helped make incredibly profitable," remarked Patricia. It was in January of 2007 that Erika Stone had convinced the board of directors of Stone Enterprises to choose her over Patricia after a strange incident had occurred. Patricia had lost everything but her work with Stone Travel in Asia had caught the interest of the Stilton Corporation, thus Richard had agreed to hire her. When Richard learned more about Erika's unique nature he approached Patricia, having rarely spoken with her before that, and they'd determined Erika had used her time-stopping power to sabotage Patricia's chance to be CEO. Eager for revenge and a place of power within the Stilton Corporation, Patricia had acted as Richard's secret adviser on the function of Ouroboros, especially when it came to Erika Stone. Patricia had spent the last two years gathering dirt and personal information on Erika in hopes of one day using it for revenge.
"I'll do it!" shouted Julio, stepping away from Sarah and standing directly under the archway of the Immortality Gate.
"You're sure?" asked Richard, walking toward his friend while Sarah headed over to get things started.
"Richard, I was facing life in jail," pointed out Julio, adjusting the fine suit he wore. "Even if this kills me, I'll know I went out defying the laws of lesser men. I thank you for that." Richard nodded and the two men shook hands, Richard then stepping back to join Xavier and Patricia as Sarah started the process.
The gate sprung to life, LED displays lighting up all over the place as a hum was heard, the pods containing Ingrid and Erika being raised back up towards the ceiling. The low mechanical hum got louder and louder, electrical currents starting to run across the gate's archway. Finally bolts of electricity shot out from the gate before forming blue field of light within it, Julio vanished from clear sight as everyone but Sarah covered their eyes, the scientist having donned special glasses.
After what seemed like minutes but was only thirty seconds the field of light faded and the humming stopped, the lights on the machines blinking off. Richard lowered his arms and saw Julio lying on the ground, his body seeming to be steaming. There was no movement.
"Sarah!" yelled Richard, suddenly worried as his top scientist ran to check the body. While Hardy wasn't a doctor of medicine, she did know a fair bit about biology, though granted physics was her main field. The blond doctor examined Julio for a few moments before slowly getting up and shaking her head.
"I can't be sure but he seemed to have suffered a fatal heart attack," revealed the scientist with a shaky voice. "He's dead, Richard."
"No..." muttered Richard, genuinely stunned. While the machine was said to have risks, Sarah had insisted they were minimal; Tasia Spiro was only needed to allow for an even greater effect. Julio and Richard had been friends, even if they hadn't always seen eye-to-eye and worked for different companies. In spite of his faults Julio didn't deserve to die like that, at least in Richard's eyes.
"I thought you were confident this would work!" screamed Xavier, his shock manifesting itself as pure rage while Patricia seemed like a blank slate. If it werenÕt for her occasional blinks Richard would have sworn Patricia was frozen.
"It did work!" countered Sarah, holding up her CyPad. "Look at the data! We created the proper distortion field! It was even colored blue like we wanted so we could see it! The field was just not precise enough and some of his blood supply stopped, causing the attack!"
"So we need more of the gene," muttered Richard, his voice low.
"I can't be certain just yet, I need to—" began Sarah, but Richard cut her off. With his special chip remote he froze Sarah in mid-sentence, her pad held to her chest while she gestured towards the Gate behind her with her right index finger. Sarah's lips were open and her polarized sunglasses were hanging from her lap coat right breast pocket.
"Is that—" began Patricia, about to protest Sarah being frozen, only to end up immobilized herself. Patricia's arms were crossed and her face was almost blank, her open lips and the slight furrow of her brow the only way to tell she was expressing an emotion.
"Xavier," said Richard, pocketing his remote. Patricia and Sarah were both wearing chips, a requirement for all of his Ouroboros staff save for Xavier and No Name, his two most trusted lieutenants.
"Yes, sir?" asked Xavier, seemingly calmer.
"Get that mess cleaned up," uttered Richard, starting to walk away. "Leave those two here until you're done. I'm going to call No Name and make sure he gets us what we need so that doesn't happen to me."
Waterloo Station, London, UK
"All units check in," requested Victor Morozov, who was on Rhonda's right as they both sat in the main security room for the station. The exchange was set to begin in less than five minutes thus the IT agents were getting antsy. Rhonda was not one to judge, being both nervous and excited herself to be out in the field for the first time, even if it was just at a train station she sometimes used. Currently Rhonda was sitting at a terminal alongside a few of the station's regular security personnel, Victor and Makeda were also there since it was decided that a forensic expert should be present along with an IT agent that could fight if needed. Makeda was competent with a firearm but Victor was more capable, also doubling as a translator thanks to the several languages that he at least had a grasp on. While fluent only in Russian and English, Victor knew quite a bit of French, Portuguese and Arabic as well as rudimentary German.
"This is Team Beta, North end is quiet," announced Cassandra Flick over the radio. Team Beta was standing by on the north side of the southern part of the station. The team had managed to get the manager of a Sheffield Express to agree to let them idle in the shop for observation purposes with transit security vouching for them.
"Team Gamma, got a lot to cover but I don't see anyone we know," reported Hui Lan, outside at the window of a nearby building while her team was on the ground at a cafe and a bus stop respectively.
"Ivan, no hits on people getting tickets," called in the leader of Team Epsilon, in the station's police headquarters monitoring the information of people making purchases.
"Caesar reporting, I don't have anything either," reported the leader of Team Delta, who was currently eating at a fast food place not far from the meeting point. Jelena and Tasia weren't far from Caesar, sitting on a bench that was in between two sets of escalators. Tasia was dressed formally in a tan business suit with a pink blouse on underneath, her hair pulled back into a ponytail that had a bit of a bun effect. Jelena was wearing a white business suit, her blouse a light grey and her hair straight. As the Croatian had promised, she wasn't wearing bandages, her eye was looking healed and her arm seeming no worse for wear.
"No sign of the contact," confirmed Tasia. While it wasn't entirely clear who the exchange would be made with it was known they'd have all four captives with them, plus to be safe they'd made sure to brush up on the identified kidnappers and their known associates, which included Void, Xavier Alberic, Tamaya Qillaq and Derek Grisham.
"This waiting is brutal," muttered Rhonda, shifting in her seat. Expecting to sweat a bit, Rhonda had dressed down a bit in a black tank top and jeans, her hair just back in a ponytail, but the room was actually very cool.
"My favorite part of these missions actually," admitted Victor, taking a bite of an apple he'd had handy and swallowing without chewing, something Rhonda found stupid and impressive at the same time. "You learn a lot about people's behaviors just looking for the unusual. It's like a sociology lesson."
"I don't know if that's poetic or just insightful," remarked Makeda, shaking her head. It was then that something finally occurred, causing everyone to jump. Rhonda saw it on the monitors as well.
"Guys, we've got Anna on the top of the escalator!" shouted Victor into the radio, people chiming in to confirm. Sure enough, Anna Federov was in plain sight, heading down an escalator in a not uncommon light grey long-coat, not exactly of the trench variety but close. Anna's hair was unmistakable, though she was wearing very large sunglasses, which was probably why people didn't sport her right away.
"We didn't see her come in, they must have taken a train in," noted Cassandra. "No way she got that far without being spotted otherwise."
"I'll notify transit authority, have them on stand-by at the platforms with the police," chimed in Ivan. "We got eyes on anyone else?"
"I have a visual," came Marcus Corrado. "I also see Megan and Colette. No sign of Palmira." Checking the cameras Rhonda confirmed, first seeing Megan in the same outfit she'd been kidnapped in save for a dark pair of sunglasses. Colette was with Megan and was dressed similarly to Anna, wearing a long jacket with her hair her usual style but large glasses over her eyes.
"What's with the glasses?" remarked Victor after a bit of chatter, confirming the next set of sightings.
"They're probably chipped and it helps hide their unnatural gaze," pointed out Makeda, eyes not being that hard to program with chips but still one of the more advanced concepts. The idea that the glasses were to avoid suspicion from civilians made sense, chipped people almost acting as if on drugs at some points.
"I've got Palmira coming up from the south," reported Tak, with a visual established a moment later with the Brazilian dressed like both Anna and Colette, her hair in a ponytail. "She definitely just came from a platform. They used multiple trains."
"Clever, though I doubt it'll help them escape," mused Rhonda, watching as the four captured agents converged near the bench Jelena and Tasia were sitting on. The four appeared to be having a conversation, but a quick call from Caesar confirmed it was fake, just an act to ward off suspicion.
"Bingo, got Void coming in from the north," reported Anna Sokolov, a member of Team Beta. Using a camera phone, Anna was able to send video to Makeda, who put it up on a non-vital screen. Void was there, dressed in grey pants, a maroon long-sleeved shirt and a tan vest, glasses over his eyes as well plus a grey cabbie hat, most likely a vain attempt to hide his identity.
"I just had a known associate of Rajni Arora go by," reported Jason Holland, also using a camera phone to capture the target's movement.
"That's Charles Truman III," confirmed Makeda upon getting the footage. The man was young, mid-twenties, and blond, wearing a trendy London suit with sunglasses, a noticeable theme.
"That weasel?" scoffed Jelena over the radio. "These Ouroboros people are getting desperate after all..."
"I've got a contact of my own," announced Rurik Chekhol. "Tamaya Qillaq, she's with them alright." Sure enough, Rhonda and the rest soon had eyes on the former smuggler, who was wearing Arsenal football colors, including a baseball cap and themed sunglasses.
"Great, I still owe her a punch in the face," noted Hui, oddly unprofessional of her.
"That just leaves Derek Grisham in the realm of known associates who haven't been sighted," observed Cassandra. "Maybe because his face has been shown all over he's laying low?"
"As much as I'd like to believe that, we can't rely on it," declared Ivan. "Last time he showed up he fired upon civilians regardless of consequences. If you see him, neutralize him right away."
"We're running a search for him," announced Makeda. Rhonda and Victor were already using the monitors to scan the crowds. Rhonda didn't see any new familiar faces save a guitar player that she thought might be Cassandra's sister, but something Rhonda did pick up on was a stuck window. As precaution nearly all the station windows were closed via remote control, IT knowing all too well that open windows can be one of many things leading to gas attacks. Not every window was closed but the ones that were open were supposed to only be in minor areas where, even if there was a gas attack, it would be easily contained. The issue was Rhonda spotted a window that was open right near where the meeting was taking place and, after trying to command it to close via software, it was clear that there was a mechanical jam preventing closure.
"Guys, we have a possible window jam," announced Rhonda, now concerned since it looked like the exchange was going to start very soon.
"Call a maintenance guy, we've got to watch for Grisham and the exchange," replied Victor, not giving his associate a glance. Makeda just shrugged, frustrating Rhonda even further. Worried that no maintenance person could get to the window in time, given it was a part of the room so they'd need to go to the catwalk access, Rhonda decided the best move would be to go and take care of it herself, the manual override for the windows being fairly simple since they were just windows.
"Getting maintenance," declared Rhonda, quickly getting up and leaving the room. Practically sprinting, Rhonda hurried down the ground floor of the station, needing to head across the central area to reach catwalk access for where the window was located. Arriving downstairs, Rhonda elected to walk a bit cautiously though the crowd, not wanting to attract attention as No Name and his associates all gathered near the bench where Jelena and Tasia sat, seemingly forming a circle for a group discussion.
"Exchange to begin in one minute, stand by," announced Ivan over the radio, Rhonda having put in an earpiece before stepping out of the security room. After nearly bumping into Rurik, who shot her a confused look, Rhonda finally reached the access point to the stairs, but that's when things went wrong.
Rhonda's fears were validated as a glowing object flew through the open window, apparently a flare. A few people noticed but, as it was silent, most remained oblivious unless they were looking up. It was Victor who first let out a warning. "Incoming threat, possible flash-bang!" shouted Victor into the communication channel. Typical procedure when faced with a possible flash-bang, at least from what Rhonda remembered, was to use one's arms to both cover their ears and eyes at once, greatly reducing the flash and partially dulling the bang. There were other methods, such as just stepping into another room and shutting the door, as fast as you could, but if all else failed the covering over the attacked areas would at least make the person less disoriented than if they didn't. Unfortunately Rhonda failed to actually carry out the method she'd been taught and just watched as the flare detonated, sending out a series of rapid light-flashes that caused here senses to fade.
* * *
Rurik saw the flare streak in through the window and exercised the basic protection tactic even before Victor shouted the warning, covering his eyes and ears. To his surprise there was no bang, just a presumed flash that, thanks to his arms, he didn't see. After lowering his arms however Rurik noticed something was incredibly wrong, even as the radio began blaring.
"What the hell was that?!" shouted Ivan. "Was that Type-7?!"
"Negative, it was some kind of new flare!" replied Makeda.
"The station's turned into a parking lot, how the in the hell did a flare do that?!" yelled Tak, some seemingly random Japanese also slipping into his words.
Glancing around, Rurik was stunned. In an instant hundreds, if not thousands, of people had frozen on the spot, many in mid-step. Front feet were raised, back feet were on their toes, a few even toppled over, but practically no one was moving. Rurik had seen Rhonda hurry by and, glancing over to where she was, he saw the blond was still looking up at where the flare had exploded, her left hand holding the handle to a door that accessed the upper catwalks. Rhonda was apparently frozen as well, but Rurik quickly determined that she'd been most likely going to manually close the open window the flare had come through. "I'm going after the source!" declared Rurik as he hurried over to Rhonda's position.
"Oh shit, we've got civilians panicking!" reported Miranda Ohala, second-in-command of Team Gamma. As Rurik reached Rhonda, he was fully aware of the screams, the terrified cries and the general drone of confusion as things descended into chaos.
"We're coming in, we'll work with the transit to try and get people calmed down!" Hui told the rest, speaking for Team Gamma.
"We've got the North end, anyone have eyes on the exchange?!" asked Cassandra, tension in her own voice.
"Tasia and Jelena are down," announced Victor, managing to keep his voice calm in spite of things. "Fuck, Void and his crew are still mobile."
"Caesar and Marcus are down too," reported Makeda, her voice a bit shaken. "What the hell was that thing?!"
"Team Epsilon, converge on the exchange now!" ordered Ivan. "Tak, what's your status?"
"I've got my hands full, there are some kids screaming right here," Tak informed the rest. "This is bad, if they use another one on the terminal..."
Rurik tried his best to tune out the radio as he carefully moved Rhonda aside, pulling her away from the door by dragging the immobilized young woman via the waist. Once Rhonda had been moved Rurik opened the maintenance door and stormed up the stairs using speed he'd never known he had, reaching the catwalk in seconds.
"They're taking Tasia, they are taking Tasia," Tak alerted the rest over the radio, Rurik listening again as he moved, trying to reach the open window. "I can't see but it looks like one or two of our people are being left behind. Oh shit, they've got guns!" As Tak reported the gun situation a new barrage of screams was heard as were weapon discharges.
"That's a hit, I got one!" reported Victor. "It looks they're heading north, Cassandra!" Finally Rurik reached the window, barely glancing outside as he opened the manual release panel, disabling the clamps that held the window. The glass was then slid up as Rurik managed to get it to move, noticing what looked like a small black box just outside as he did. As the window closed another flare suddenly spiralled out from the box but, as it was heavily reinforced, the projectile bounced off with minimal damage to the glass, Rurik then ducking down to avoid witnessing the flash.
"The window's closed, there was an automatic launcher," reported Rurik, breathing a small sigh of relief. "There shouldn't be any more strikes. I'm going to aid Tak."
* * *
Cassandra's team had been stationed beyond the central foyer where the freeze-inducing flare had detonated, thus Team Beta was finding themselves containing people fleeing the area in horror as well as trying to get in to help. "Get a damn air-horn or something!" Cassandra's fiancˇe JB was yelling at a transit enforcer while a few police officers were blowing their whistles. While the crowds were managing to avoid trampling anyone, people were still more or less panicking and running away, making it hard for the team to cut through.
"Where's a cow-catcher when you need one?" muttered Gregory Barnes, who was more or less right next to Cassandra with Anna right behind them as they tried to move forward. It was taking far too long for Cassandra's liking.
"Ivan, we're not getting very far, it looks like you're going to have to get them," Cassandra reported over the radio, not thrilled to say the least. Finally as Cassandra and the rest managed to even enter the area where people were frozen, Cassandra was almost immediately side-lined when she saw a distressing sight.
"Tamera!" cried out Cassandra, rushing to her sister's side amidst the chaos. Tamera Flick stood with a nylon-string classical guitar strapped to her chest, her fingers in the proper positions to be playing a song, a smile on her face while she gazed vacantly ahead. The woman's dark hair hung loose save for the uniform bangs across her forehead, her outfit a red and white plaid shirt with torn blue jeans and sandals. In spite of all the incidents she'd witnessed over her time with both the ITEA and Interpol Cassandra had never been prepared for her family to ever get involved, thus seeing her sister frozen caused the Team Beta leader to briefly lose herself, placing her hands on her sister's shoulders and pull her close for a moment. The moment passed and Cassandra let go, glancing around as JB joined her and the other two agents.
"We need to stem things here," pointed out JB, indicating what was now a mostly-frozen crowd, those that weren't having almost universally fled the scene in a panic.
"Greg, hold here, Anna go right, JB left, I'll take the middle," rattled off Cassandra, her composure regained. "Lets take this bastards down!"
* * *
"I've got Megan and Colette," announced Makeda as Malai pursued the fleeing Ouroboros personnel. Her team leader Ivan wasn't far behind while Victor had been forced to stop to collect the one he'd managed to freeze with a shot, Makeda handling the two people who'd been left behind with guns to defend the escape. This left Void, Tamaya, Tasia, Anna and Palmira as the only ones left to stop and Malai was closing in fast. After the initial confusion, Malai had spotted them running down into a service tunnel, which if the blueprints she remembered were right would eventually lead to the underground parking lot reserved for station staff. The parking lot did require an ID card to enter and did have some security but it seemed clear that the bad guys had found a way around it. It couldn't be helped as the ITEA had been forced to prioritize where to station people and it was hoped they wouldn't even make it this far, but the flare tactic had caught them by surprise, no one expecting them to risk freezing so many people.
After what seemed like forever, Malai caught up, spotting Tamaya bringing up the rear at the bottom of a stairwell. The former smuggler had a Desert Eagle pointed at Malai but she was faster, moving before the shot was fired. Bouncing off the stairwell wall as she fell, as per Parkour training, Malai managed to land a spinning kick to Tamaya's face as she landed. Both women hit the ground hard but managed to flip to their feet, now in a small room with pipes along the wall while the rest of Void's group continued to run, most likely slowed down a bit thanks to Anna and Palmira having to carry Tasia's frozen form.
"I'm going to tear you apart little girl," taunted Tamaya, going for a quick and brutal strike to Malai's knee. Malai counted with a knee to the gut and pushed Tamaya back into the pipes, a satisfying clang being heard as the woman hit her head.
"Whatever you say old woman," spat back Malai with a grin. Malai knew Tamaya had quite a bit of training in fast takedowns but Malai's own Muay Thai would make clinching-based tactics a bad idea for her opponent. Sure enough as Tamaya moved in for a strike that would crack Malai's ribs she countered with an elbow to the neck, sending Tamaya to the floor and, if not for her aim being off, most likely having damaged Tamaya's windpipe.
"I really hate you people," gasped Tamaya as she quickly rose, managing a move of her own as she was able to kick Malai's own gun away before it could be fired. Malai wasn't one to stop however and tried to set up for a knee blow to the head only to find Tamaya countering. Malai realized too late that Tamaya had put her sunglasses back on when she'd hit the floor moments ago and had a flare gun in her hand, which she fired into the ground. A blinding flash caused Malai to lose consciousness, as if being frozen by Type-7.
* * *
"Oh, that train station whore," muttered Ivan under his breath as he discovered Malai, who stood frozen on the spot just down the stairs. There were scorch marks on the floor and Malai stood with her arms reaching out as if to hold someone's shoulders, her hair in a tight bun as she looked ahead in mute surprise. Ivan's curse, which he'd uttered in his native Russian, was directed at Tamaya, not Malai, as he could see the smuggler hurrying off.
"It's still a mess up here, what's the status of Void?!" yelled Victor into the radio as Ivan hurried, readying his Beretta.
"Still in pursuit, Malai is down!" answered Ivan. "They're headed for the staff parking lot! Hui, can you circle around?!"
"Negative, we've got too many civilians still at risk!" can a hurried answer as Ivan turned a corner and found a door, which, without hesitation, he kicked down by a flying dropkick. As Ivan snapped to his feet he found himself in a crowded parking lot with two transit security guards standing frozen nearby, both with looks of alarm on their faces. Not far away a black van had open rear doors; Tamaya was just climbing inside while Void was about to follow.
"You're not getting away!" yelled Ivan, raising his Beretta and firing. It was a long distance and Ivan almost wanted to curse like mad as he just missed Void's head, a bullet flying right in front of the man's face as he dove into the van and closed the doors. Changing tactics, Ivan began shooting at the tires but the van was already moving, peeling off for the exit.
"The van is on the move, I repeat the van is on the move!" warned Ivan into his radio, running after the vehicle in spite of being unlikely to catch up and his gun's clip running empty. "Black van, Ford Transit, license plate J98257!"
Part 2: The Decider
ITEA HQ, London, UK
Tasia was gone, as were Anna, Palmira, Tamaya and Void. Those five still being missing was bad enough, but Lucienne had yet to feel the full fallout from the Waterloo incident, only ten hours having passed since that fateful part of their morning. Well over a thousand people were frozen and the Type-7 antidote wasn't working as a cure, leaving the IT science lab in overdrive to try and reverse the immobilizing effect. Until the flash-freeze could be properly studied and reversed, Lucienne was left even more short-handed, Caesar, Marcus, Rhonda and Malai all remained frozen and Cassandra was having trouble dealing with her sister's condition, though she was still managing to work properly.
Lucienne was currently standing outside of an interrogation room with JB, Cassandra and Hui, the four watching as Kioni Abasi leaned on the table in front of Charles Truman III, the latest Ouroboros agent they'd managed to capture. While other agents were also capable at interrogation tactics, Kioni was considered the best for the job, able to take digs at Charles where it hurt.
"Your family legacy is tarnished because you couldn't stand that a girl rejected you!" fired out Kioni, passionate but practically stone-faced as she barely moved while talking, Truman meanwhile sweated up a storm in the seat he was cuffed to. "You end up in jail and align yourself with terrorists?! You're just digging yourself a deeper hole, Charles! What would your father say?!"
"And... there he goes," muttered JB, managing to predict when Charles would break down sobbing, no one smirking in spite of the satisfaction they felt as seeing the man lose his shield of confidence.
"Look, if you want to redeem yourself, tell us who's in charge!" yelled Kioni, moving now and slapping the table for emphasis. "We can swing it so in this case you were forced to do what you did, then you're only looking at your earlier charges." Kioni softened, pulling off 'good cop' and 'bad cop' together with ease. "You'll be out in ten, maybe less with good behavior, more than enough time to save the family name," Kioni told the former millionaire with a tone that, if sultry, would have probably been effective for seduction purposes as well.
"Okay..." muttered Charles, having stopped crying. "I don't know who this Void guy is. Only time I heard him called anything else it was 'No Name,' so I guess he's a street orphan or something. I don't know."
"That hardly helps," pointed out Kioni, a slight edge in her voice.
"Yeah, but I can tell you who his boss is," revealed Charles, nodding a bit. "He doesn't think we know. He probably doesn't even realize I knew where we were being kept before he sent us here. We were in New York. They hid the big landmarks from us but I saw enough. I did go to New York State after all. Idiots let me spot one of my favorite pizza places."
"Who is in charge?" asked Kioni, stern yet not overly so.
"His office isn't far from that place is my point, so it wasn't a big shocker," explained Charles, ending his story. "The guy was Richard Stilton. As in Richard Stilton, CEO and founder of the Stilton Corporation." Kioni nodded but Lucienne turned to look at her companions, stunned.
"Richard Stilton?" repeated Cassandra, also surprised. "Why?"
"He does have vague ties to the Paradise Foundation," pointed out Hui. "He bought his current wife from them, remember?"
"Son of a bitch," muttered Lucienne, shaking her head. "I remember he was in Paris as well, the night Void got away with Xavier Alberic. He'd flown in a couple of hours before Nessa was ambushed..."
"That clinches it then," declared JB, nodding. "How do you want to play this?"
"We're going in, full force," decided Lucienne, not even hesitating. "Three people with temporal genes have been taken, that's no coincidence. Tie that to him being connected to the Foundation, who built that damn generator device, it isn't a big stretch to imagine he's up to something major. Right in the heart of Manhattan, too."
"I hate to be the one to say it, but the evidence is still pretty thin," pointed out Cassandra. "We can mobilize, but we need more of a reason to go in, and even then we can't just step on America's toes, especially with their police."
"Then we do this by the book, but we're still going after him," insisted Lucienne, heading down the hall and towards the elevator. JB hung back, planning to help Kioni get more out of Charles, while Cassandra and Hui followed. When the elevator opened the trio were surprised to see Nessa Kelly pressing against what at first seemed to be the wall, but a quick glance down saw hands resting on her hips. A moment later Nessa turned her head, revealing that she'd actually just been kissing analyst Juro Takashi.
"Director, Assistant Director, Tactical Director," greeted Nessa, breaking off the close bond she'd been sharing with Juro and moving to stand next to him while he adjusted his lop-sided glasses. "Headed upstairs?"
"Yes," confirmed Lucienne, Hui the only one of the three top IT members to be hiding a grin. As the elevator became more crowded and began to rise once more Lucienne did catch Nessa stroking Juro's hand, but while normally such a juicy piece of gossip would have her going in a heartbeat, the current crisis meant she couldn't even think up a good nickname for the relationship. It wasn't until the five arrived at the top floor and both Nessa and Juro hurried off that did someone did it for Lucienne.
"Jessa?" suggested Cassandra as the three women disembarked.
"Works for me," agreed Hui with a slight grin. "I'll assemble my team."
"I'll work with the technical wing, see what we can dig up on Richard Stilton," added Cassandra, heading off to meet with analysts. Lucienne stood where she was for a moment, just off of the elevator and observing the people of her agency working around her. It was Eva Bingham, the accounting assistant, who broke the director out of her stupor.
"Director, I've left the latest assessments from this morning on your desk," announced Eva, headed towards the elevator.
"Eva, hang on," Lucienne told the younger woman, causing her to stop and turn as requested. "Go join the analysts. I know its not your job, but I need someone who can be spared from their normal duties for a couple of hours to help make some very important phone calls."
"Well this should be interesting," noted Eva, going to do as she was ordered. Letting out a breath, Lucienne headed for her office only to quickly be intercepted by Lori Jones, another analyst.
"Director, I thought I should let you know on what we currently have on Richard Stilton," the Brit told her superior. "Aside from the incident with Eva Hallowell, there isn't much to say except for his accounts. There have been irregularities with a lot of non-listed travel being charged to the company account. Private charters that do go to places we've been interested in around the same time. The Stilton Corporation is a big company so it could happen coincidentally, but..."
"Get David and Kimberly to help you with those figures, we need to know how unusual that is from a business standpoint," insisted Lucienne, heading off as Lori did as well. Hoping for a moment of peace, Lucienne's desire was dashed as she found someone waiting in her office for her. "Can I help you?' asked the director, a bit annoyed now.
"Director, Larissa Penbrook, Interpol," explained the woman, standing up to shake Lucienne's hand. The woman was blond and had a very attractive and round face, looking to be around thirty. Larissa's hair was pulled back in a mix of a bun and ponytail, parts of her hair hanging loose while she wore a black business dress with an oddly-chosen canary yellow blouse underneath. What Lucienne liked about Larissa, at least appearance-wise, was her silver-chained necklace that had a small white seashell on the end, the wide part on the bottom. In her youth Lucienne herself had once worn crab claw jewelry, feeling it could be her signature style at the time.
"What can I do for you, Agent Penbrook?" asked Lucienne, moving to sit at her desk. "Oh, and help yourself to some coffee." In one corner of her office Lucienne had a coffee pot set up, the coffee most likely laced with Type-7 as per common IT pranks. Camille had been the one to make the coffee today and Lucienne was fairly certain that the part-time secretary was eager to get in good with the rest of the agency by pranking the director. Lucienne didn't exactly discourage the behavior, usually finding it a good way to relax during off-days.
"Thank you," replied Larissa, going to pour herself a cup. "Chief Bishop sent me here in his place as she's still meeting with local authorities about the incident at Waterloo. I believe Prime Minister Gladstone is being briefed by him at this very moment, in fact."
"Well its a good thing those two seem to like each other," noted Lucienne. "So what did he send you here for to talk to me about?"
"Well, he wanted me to at first mention that he thinks the world of you and is certain that by now you know who was behind the attack," explained Larissa, holding the cup in front of her lips but not drinking just yet, much to Lucienne's chagrin. "I'm honored to be following in your footsteps by the way, as his student that is. Anyhow, while he knows you can get these people he wanted me to warn you against going on a mission in person at this point during the committee review. Given the Waterloo incident, he's worried it'll greatly hurt your position and make you look desperate." With that, Larissa drank from her cup and sure enough was frozen a moment later, her right arm crossed over her body while left formed a V-shape, a slightly steaming cup of coffee held just away from her lips as she stood right behind one of the chairs in front of the desk.
"I am desperate," declared Lucienne, her words unheard by the statue-like Larissa, rising to remove the cup from the Interpol agent's tight grip. The IT director considered perhaps releasing a bit of stress but a phone call interrupted her thoughts. Sighing but nonetheless giving Larissa a quick peck on the cheek, Lucienne moved to answer her phone.
"Is that you Marika?" asked Lucienne, seeing the callerÕs ID. Marika Bran was currently at Waterloo with quite a few science wing techs, looking to find a way to unfreeze everyone.
"Yes, I just wanted to give you some good news and bad news," revealed the scientist. "Which do you want first?"
"Bad," decided Lucienne, eyeing Larissa and her average yet shapely breasts.
"I don't think I can unfreeze these people, at least not yet," admitted the science director.
"What's the good news?" enquired Lucienne, letting out yet another sigh as she spoke.
"I'm pretty certain the effect will wear off naturally or otherwise I would have been able to unfreeze them by now; plus after reviewing the tapes I think I know not only how this flash-freeze works but how to defend against it..."
Stilton Corporation Headquarters, New York City, USA
"Okay, she's fully connected," confirmed Sarah Hardy, standing over the frozen and naked form of Tasia Spiro as she lay in a third tube, the glass having been retracted so Hardy could connect the various wires to the IT agent's head. Richard himself had to admit the scene was a bit erotic, a sultry doctor preparing the fiery Greek redhead for her big task. Sarah then stepped back and the glass automatically encapsulated Tasia, the pod then rising to join the ones containing Erika and Ingrid up near the ceiling.
"How long until the Gate is ready?" asked Richard. In preparation for the next phase of the experiment, Richard had decided to shave and traded in his power suit for something more casual, a dark green golf shirt and tan pants.
"The system is set to automatically correct for the addition of the third gene-carrier, so it should take roughly ten hours to fully synch," revealed Sarah, studying her notes on her CyPad. "After that all you need to do is start it up, and for simplicity's sake you just need to turn a knob."
"Perfect, you are truly brilliant, Sarah," Richard told his scientist, getting her to flash him a tooth-filled smile in return. With her work done Richard saw no reason for Sarah to remain active and once again used his special remote to freeze her, the chip she wore doing its work in the blink of an eye. Sarah once again froze with her pad held in front of her chest, her left hand free to touch the screen while she looked over at Richard with her bright smile on her face.
"Is that necessary?" asked No Name, emerging from another part of the lab. Still fairly fresh from the mission in London, No Name had just returned from sharing a shower with Tamaya. Richard didn't know if it was just a way for them to celebrate getting away or if, of all things, the smuggler and his lieutenant were actually forming a relationship, but in reality the billionaire didn't really care at the moment.
"There's nothing more for her here, I need to start planning for the future," explained Richard, turning to face his trusted aide. "Sarah's done good work but as she's said there's little else that she can do unless something goes wrong. Your success in London will have the ITEA on us, and with all the prisoners they now have they may be able to track us down within hours."
"I barely got out of there alive," recalled No Name, remembering seeing the bullet pass just in front of his face.
"Exactly, and now they're probably mobilizing to take us down," noted Richard, shaking his head.
"I don't see how, we changed the license plate on the van, left hundreds of people frozen for them to deal with..." pointed out No Name.
"DonÕt underestimate ITEA; Xavier told me an hour ago that our flight plans are being heavily scrutinized," revealed Richard. "It's only a matter of time before they figure out how often our private aircraft have been in the same area as an incident tied to Ouroboros. This is the twilight, Drake."
"Drake?" asked No Name, surprised. "Not like you to call me that."
"You were so fond of the name you adapted for yourself while you lived as an orphan," chuckled Richard, shaking his head. "I'm sorry I never came forward to the public to acknowledge you're my brother's son. If I had, you might be considered to replace me as CEO if I should-"
"Don't talk like that old man, you're soon going to live forever," Drake Stilton told his uncle, putting his hand on the older man's shoulder. "As you've said, Sarah's one of the best. This will surely work."
"Just... if it doesn't, watch after your cousin," asked Richard, his voice low. "Patricia can be her public mentor, and you can teach her privately. Together the three of you can take the Stilton Corporation to new heights, and continue Ouroboros after the ITEA thinks that we're gone."
"We're not going to lose you, but I promise I'll help Maris," agreed Drake, patting his uncle on the back. "Now get some rest, I'm going to go brief Sloane in case we get some company."
"Try to avoid using chips if you can, our guards feel too robotic when we do," requested Richard as Drake slowly walked off, giving the man a wave. Richard let out a breath and eyed Sarah, considering what to do with his frozen scientist. Another person then arrived and Richard knew what the plan would be.
"I won't lie, I'm going to be sad to leave Palmira here to help guard you," remarked Xavier, approaching Richard from another entrance. "Did you tell Drake that Stone Travel is working on booking flights to here from London?"
"As close as we are, I don't think I could ever be that honest with him," noted Richard, shaking his head again. "I'm sorry to have you leave Palmira behind, Xavier. I've made you give her up twice, but we can't risk you keeping her."
"I know, that just doesn't mean I can't be sad about it," agreed Xavier, shaking his head. "It's funny, I never thought of love, especially the kind you get at first sight, as being a real thing, but with her... well..."
"Speaking as a man who cheated on the love of his life, I can sympathize," chuckled Richard, shaking Xavier's hand. "Now, take Sarah with you. If this goes wrong, Patricia and No Name will need her to rebuild."
"And I won't?" asked Xavier, surprised.
"Come on Xavier, you won't be staying," pointed out Richard. "You're too smart. You'll go underground again. Just, please, get the women out of here. I don't want Patricia or Maris tied to this in any way."
"You can count on it," Xavier told his employer. "Just remember, Richard, who wants to live forever?"
Ninth Precinct, New York City, USA
"Thank you for your co-operation, Captain," Lucienne told Police Captain Lennie Logan, who was standing with her as a mix of local police, ESU and IT agents finished finding their seats. The massive group, easily sixty people, sat in the largest conference room the precinct had, it being the closest to the Stilton Corporation administration building in the city. By the time the IT force had arrived at JFK the proper channels had been cleared, the decision being to just work with the local law and only involve agencies like the FBI if something went awry.
"Not a problem, I'm just glad you already have the mayor and governor on board," acknowledged the captain, waving off the response. "This is your show, I'm frankly just glad to be a part of the briefing. I've had situations like this before and they've been a lot more... inconvenient." Lucienne just nodded knowingly, her experience with jurisdiction collisions in the past while working for Interpol reminding her of why it was important to keep on good terms with the local law. The captain stepped back as Lucienne stood by in front of a smart board, the last of the crowd settling in.
"Good morning everyone, for those that don't know me I'm Director Lucienne Christophe," announced the Frenchwoman, feeling a bit of a rush as she spoke. "I represent an agency called the ITEA, or IT if you're in a hurry; for security reasons I can't explain what that stands for or everything you're about to witness if there's any conflict today. To keep things vague but give you an idea of what we're about, we're an international agency that tracks down people dealing in technology that hasn't been approved for regular use, possibly being even just flat-out illegal. We specialize in this, which is why our agency is running this." Lucienne paused, glancing around the room as she saw members of the NYPD nod knowingly, Cassandra also flashing her a small thumbs-up as she'd helped Lucy prep her little intro for the non-agency personnel. It wasn't entirely accurate but general enough to serve their needs.
"This is Stilton Corporation headquarters," explained Lucienne indicating the building on the screen behind her. "Eight stories, nothing major, though it is only one of three such places in the world, the other two being in Hong Kong and London. What is unique about this location compared to the other two, however, is that it contains a massive underground area, one that took advantage of existing subway and sewer tunnels." As Lucienne spoke her final sentence the screen shifted, showing the layout of the underground area. "This section is massive, going under several other buildings, though it appears to only have access from the headquarters itself. We have reason to believe that Richard Stilton himself is harboring illegal technology in this area. We know he has ties to an organization calling itself Ouroboros, which has definitely used illegal tech recently, and it is our goal to shut them down. Stilton is believed to be either in charge of this organization or is at the very least financing it."
"Before anyone makes a James Bond remark, this is serious," warned Captain Logan, before nodding at Lucienne to continue.
"While itÕs possible that the situation will be fine and we won't need the force we're deploying, there is a chance that Stilton's massive security force will attempt to resist," continued Lucienne, pulling up a picture of the woman in charge of the building security, a former ESU sniper named Sloane Taylor. "There are thirty-two guards as listing as working at the building today, which is a staggering amount, I know. We have to assume they may all turn out to be hostile, though again we could get lucky and things will go smoothly."
The screen shifted again, bringing up the entrance. "The ITEA will be deploying five teams on the operation, with Megan Gage providing local technical support from here in the precinct while Parisa Golzar does so from back in London. Teams Gamma and Beta will be the entry teams, with Zeta and Epsilon going in for support while Alpha will go in last. Due to a recent shortage of staff, the team assignments have changed slightly. Beta and Gamma are the same, but Epsilon will have Takahishi Nakamura assigned to it while remaining under Ivan's command. Zeta will go under Sophia Katsopolis with Rurik Chekhol added. I'll take charge of Team Alpha, which will also consist of Colette Landry, Suzanna Ortiz, Christina Merritt and Carmen Pared." A few members of the ITEA seemed surprised to hear Lucienne would be going into the field, let alone that she'd be taking two security guards with her. Rachel had cleared the pair for field duty on the grounds that it was for bodyguard protection only, which Lucienne would need with Alpha since neither Suzanna nor Colette were capable with anything bigger than a pistol.
"Our first objective will be to establish and contain a perimeter," explained Lennie, taking a moment to indicate the screen as red dots appeared around the building itself. "We'll have ESU snipers in place as well s a few on the ground while patrols set up a proper perimeter. I'll be in a chopper in case we need air support."
"I'd now like to turn it over to our Science Director Marika Bran, who will via satellite offer some important tips on what we'll be facing," revealed Lucienne, both she and Logan stepping back as the screen changed to show Marika, who was sitting in her office back in London, a few items on her desk in the foreground.
"Good morning," greeted Marika, waving. "This first part is specifically for those not involved directly in our agency. The ITEA is testing some new field gear, specifically a new form of dart that could potentially revolutionize non-lethal combat as we know it. The big thing you need to know is it causes a state of utter paralysis if delivered successfully, so if you see someone who isn't moving but isn't laying on the ground or is standing stiffly like a statue, they've most likely been affected. IT personnel will be standing by with the counter-agent and there are currently no known medical risks so while the immobilized state can leave a person vulnerable, the victims are actually fine."
Marika next picked up a pair of polarized glasses. "Recently a new flash weapon has been developed that does cause a similar frozen state," explained Marika, gesturing with the glasses. "The weapon has so far just been appearing in the form of flares and flash-bombs. To protect against the effect we've developed specially polarized glasses, not much different from the kind used by crime scene investigators when utilizing a black light. We cannot guarantee the glasses are a hundred percent effective, however, so if a flash weapon is deployed it is still recommended you cover your eyes immediately. Just closing your eyes won't work, the flash can still have its effect."
Marika then disappeared from the screen, suddenly replaced with Parisa. "Director Christophe, I just wanted to warn you that we've tapped into the buildingÕs electrical grid and whatever is under there is using up quite a bit of power," warned the technical support specialist. The woman disappeared as fast as she had appeared, the transmission having ended.
"Alright, everyone get ready; we move out in twenty!" shouted Captain Logan, the police quickly dismissing themselves amidst some muttering. The IT agents began to quietly talk as well, a few no doubt interested in whatever Stilton was powering under his building.
"Director, the device..." began Suzanna, only for Lucienne to hold up a hand.
"We can't be sure what it is, there's no point in speculating," warned Lucienne, though understanding the agent's worries. The last time a massive power supply was being drained in such a facility it had turned out be a machine seemingly capable of stopping time, quite possibly on a global scale. The original device, the Uranus Generator, had never been tested, instead of being dismantled out of fear, but it had definitely worked to some extent. As Lucienne had pointed out, however, that was pure speculation with no clear sign of what was using so much power.
"Fair enough," agreed Suzanna, turning to speak with Christina, who was nearby with Colette. Lucienne was tempted to go and talk to the group, that is once Carmen gathered as well, but her cell phone chirped instead.
"This is Lucienne," answered the IT director.
"This is Robert Warner," announced the voice on the other end of the line. "I understand you're currently leading an operation personally against the CEO of a major international corporation with two security guards in your ranks. Is that correct?"
Lucienne's blood went cold, not liking the question. "It is," admitted the director.
"And this incident in Waterloo was caused by a piece of technology you'd never even seen before?" Robert asked next, sounding more stunned than angry.
"Yes," confirmed Lucienne.
"You'd better hope your data is right about Stilton, Director, as this may be the last day I call you by that title," warned Warner, promptly ending the call. Lucienne slowly lowered her phone and looked at it, stunned. The ITEA did answer to the committee Robert had put together on behalf of the UN security council, but Lucienne had created the agency in the first place. Being threatened with being fired from a position she herself had created certainly threw Lucienne for a loop, and that wasn't the only one that would hit her.
"Lucy," whispered Takahishi, causing Lucienne to turn in surprise. Her secret lover was standing there, a neutral look on his face.
"What is it Tak?" asked Lucienne, surprised to see him appearing her. "Concerns about the mission?"
"I hate to do this now, but you should keep this in mind," sighed Tak, shaking his head. "She knows, Lucy. Tasia knows that we're still doing what we started when she was gone. After this is over... we need to sort it out."
Lucienne watched Tak walk away to join Ivan and his team, stunned at what had just occurred. Soon after learning that the man they were going after might have some kind of super device in his hideout, Lucienne had proceeded to have her seemingly secure job threatened and her love life shaken up. Lucienne was stunned for a moment, but then knew it just meant she'd have all the more reason to tear Ouroboros a new one.
Stilton Corporation Headquarters, New York City, USA
Any hope of Stilton's security just standing aside was dashed almost immediately as Hui and her team arrived, deploying with Beta. While the NYPD had managed to set up an effective perimeter and had had ESU vans parked successfully, there were armored men and women visible inside the main lobby, some even posted at the railings from the second floor. The outside of the building was clear, but Hui didn't like the look of things inside. The agents, airing on the side of caution, were wearing the special glasses Marika had issued them, which were now being called Chrono Glasses with the weapon they protected against nick-named the Chrono Flash, as well as wearing Noi Industries Impact Armor.
"Hui," greeted Cassandra, coming up to her fellow team leader. Cassandra held an MP5 sub-machine gun, the standard issue for the ITEA, while behind her JB and Gregory both had C7 assault rifles and Anna was carrying a grenade launcher, in this case loaded with gas shells.
"Cassie," returned Hui, glancing at her own team. Hui had elected to carry the smaller M4 carbine but had an NI Immobilizer and both of her side arms as well, making her one of the most heavily armed officers present. With Hui was Miranda, who like Anna carried a gas-loaded grenade launcher, while Tatiana had a scoped C7 and Jason carried an MP5. All of the team's weapons were loaded with the new Type-7 darts, though the smaller ones still didn't fire quite as effectively as the ones from the modified pistols.
"Guys, this is Megan," came a voice over the shared radio. "I've tapped into the lobby's security cameras, but it looks like the underground facility runs on a separate grid. Parisa is working on that, but I'll help you here and now. There are at least twelve guards in the lobby, and it looks like they have gas masks on standby. From their radio chatter it sounds like theyÕve been told this is some big hoax and we're really terrorists pretending to be police. They are armed with Type-7 rounds but I don't think anyone is chipped so you don't need your special ammo, at least not yet. The captain's up on the second floor and she has a nasty-looking sniper rifle."
"Thanks Megan," replied Hui, glancing at the front doors before looking at Cassandra again. "Want to start with gas but chase it with some suppressing fire, keep them hiding and not thinking about their masks? After that we can let the rifles work on their snipers?"
"Works for me," agreed Cassandra, getting nods from the rest. Not far away Zeta and Epsilon were just assembling themselves, Sophia flashing the other two teams a thumbs-up with Ivan doing the same shortly after. As agreed Gamma and Beta would lead, Hui assuming it was because Hui was the agency's top tactical specialist and because Delta and Epsilon had led last time, Zeta not being viable since while Sophia was capable in command she was rusty.
"Lets go," ordered Hui, leading her team with the wave of her arm. The two IT teams moved up to the glass-covered lobby entrance but no shots were fired, Captain Taylor most likely having ordered for no one to fire until the invaders entered through the door properly. As planned, the ITEA teams took up positions, with Gamma going left and Beta right. Anna and Miranda were then up, both women preparing their launchers.
"Gas them," came Lucienne's voice over the radio, Alpha far back by the building across the street. "Good luck everyone."
"Canister away!" shouted Miranda, Anna echoing the cry a moment later. As the two agents spoke canisters filled with Type-7 gas were fired through the glass of the lobby, landing deep inside. The shattering of glass resulted in a couple of gunshots from inside but after that nothing, at which point Greg and Tatiana were up. The pair used their rifles to fire upon any guards they could see, Hui certain a couple were hit as the rest ducked down, a few slipping on gas masks.
"Give them a bit more gas," Hui told Miranda, who responded by loading her weapon and preparing to fire again.
"Canister-" began Miranda, only to be cut off as a loud gunshot rang out and Miranda stopped, her mouth open with her weapon trained inside, Hui unable to see her lover's eyes through her special glasses but given how stiff she'd just become able to assume a Type-7 dart had just taken effect.
"Canister away!" managed Anna Sokolov, firing off her own shot without getting hit as Jason pulled MirandaÕs rigid form back while Tatiana and Hui took a few shots at the guards that were still moving.
"Remind me again why we aren't using rings?" muttered Jason as he dug around for a counter-shot.
"Still can't guarantee them against Freeze-Keys," Hui reminded her teammate as she ducked back with Tatiana, the pair looking at Miranda in concern as she'd now been lowered to the ground with her head resting against the wall, her mouth still open and her weapon still pointing forward. To be cautious Hui carefully put the safety back on the launcher and pried it from Miranda's hands. It was true that Immunity Rings still had issues with Freeze-Keys and it was decided that, once again, Gamma and Beta would go in with the devices to help take down anyone wearing a chip. Even as Jason tried to revive Miranda Hui saw Anna triggering her Key across the way, but unfortunately some gunfire was still coming from inside. The good news was the agency's new body armor withstood quite a bit of damage, the shot that hit Miranda clearly a sniper rifle dart or else it might not have penetrated.
"Ah," gasped Miranda as she suddenly began to move again, the counter-agent working. "That one hurt!"
"That bitch is mine," declared Hui, heading back up to take aim inside. Using only her carbine's basic iron sights Hui trained her weapon inside, spotting the security captain in spite of her wearing a gas mask, her brown ponytail giving it away. Sloane was luckily targeting Cassandra's team, leaving Hui free to take her shot. Switching to single fire, Hui pulled the trigger and couldn't help but smirk as a dart penetrated the side of Taylor's mask, freezing her in place. Even as Hui looked for another target she knew they'd taken the lobby, the last four guards suddenly starting to run.
"Don't shoot anyone running, they can claim excessive force," warned JB through the radio as the teams began to advance, Miranda back on her feet and moving with Gamma. A good chunk of the building's security was already on the run, but Hui wasn't about to get cocky since they had no idea what Stilton might have in store for them below.
* * *
"The elevators are out of our control," revealed Drake to Tamaya and Derek, who were both with him in the first open room of the underground. The three Ouroboros agents were wearing protective vests and were armed to the teeth: Derek had his drum-clip SCAR rifle, now also boasting a gas launcher under the barrel, plus a pair of pistols, one a Desert Eagle and the other an NI Stinger; Tamaya possessed two Stingers as well as two UMP sub-machine guns and several flash-bombs; Drake finally had his own SCAR and no less than four Desert Eagles, two on his hips and two on his chest with a small gas launcher hanging around his back. In the room with the pair were Anna and Palmira, both also carrying SCAR rifles and dressed in full Kevlar guard body armor. Four guards, all wearing chips, were also present, posted at the entrance to the tunnel that led to the elevator entrance that the ITEA would most likely be using. Given the situation, Drake had elected to remove the chips from both Tamaya and Derek, just in case.
"So we can't even run now?" asked Derek, stunned. "Not even the spare elevator your boss uses or the one Xavier took with those women works?"
"They've gotten into nearly all of our systems, except the ones kept on the back-up generator and computer system," admitted Drake, shaking his head. "If you two want to get out of here you're going to have to fight your way out, and that will not be easy."
"Watch me," scoffed Tamaya, cocking her UMP. "Still, I just want to say... it's been nice working with you both. It's so rare I find fellow criminals that, well, I just enjoy working with."
"Likewise," replied Drake, flashing Tamaya a knowing smile. Tamaya returned it, even if her little shower adventure with him had just been more of a physical expression than an emotional one. Tamaya wasn't the kind of woman to fall in love, though she did enjoy a little wild sex here and there after an intense situation.
"Oh shit!" exclaimed Derek, noting the computer screen that was on the lone table in front of the three. It was clear that the elevator was now moving and that it was full of IT agents.
"I'm falling back," decided Drake, heading for hallway opposite the one leading to the elevator. "Anyone joining me?"
"Absolutely," agreed Derek, but Tamaya held back.
"You guys go, I've got a plan," revealed Tamaya, giving Drake a quick wink before moving to stand with Anna and Palmira. Drake didn't hesitate, instead hurrying out of the room with Derek already ahead of him.
"Okay, you two, get those guns ready and go stand with the others," Tamaya told Anna and Palmira, only to then be perplexed as neither chipped woman responded, both standing with their weapons lowered. "Hey, hello? You two weren't put on pause, what's..." Tamaya stopped talking when she remembered that the ITEA did have tech that could disable chips. As the elevator could be heard reaching the secret basement, Tamaya had to formulate a plan fast.
Moments later gunfire was heard as the IT agents were no doubt shooting at the armed but already frozen guards who were standing at the hallway entrance. The shots soon stopped and Tamaya heard approaching footsteps, the enemy agents clearly playing it smart and moving cautiously in case it was a trick of some kind. Finally Tamaya heard people stop more or less right behind her, but she didn't flinch.
Realizing her enemy wouldn't be able to clearly see the back of her neck thanks to her hair, Tamaya was posing as if also frozen by the chip she'd until recently been wearing was disabled. Tamaya stood with her mouth open, her right index finger gesturing at Palmira, who was on her right, her arm only raised at the elbow while her left held her main UMP at her side, the second one on her back while her Stingers were on her belt. "Looks like the chips were disabled," remarked once voice, Tamaya unsure of whom it belonged to.
"We should hold this position, get Palmira and Anna up to speed," came a second voice, one Tamaya knew as belonging to agent Hui Lan. If it wasn't for the need to preserve the illusion that she was frozen, Tamaya would have smiled, keen to teach the Chinese woman a lesson after their last fight had ended with unexpected interference.
"I'll stay behind, held hold things here," offered a female voice, one that carried a Russian accent.
"Me too, the rest of you need to hurry," added Hui, getting some quick words of acknowledgement in reply before there was the sound of people moving away. So far things were looking good for Tamaya as it seemed like only two people were staying behind, and one was someone she'd been eager to fight again. The problem was becoming Tamaya had taken her unmoving pose by holding her breath, in spite of her mouth being open, and she was starting to run low on air.
"Tatiana, can you remove their chips?" asked Hui. "Hui reporting in. We've found Palmira and Anna. There are guards down here but they were chipped so they've been neutralized." There a silence for a moment as Tamaya heard footsteps coming closer. "Zeta's going to come down shortly, they're helping secure upstairs," Hui told her fellow agent after talking on a radio, or at least that's what Tamaya assumed. "Epsilon is going upstairs. There's some top executives up there and we need to find out what they know, plus they can help call off any security that still thinks we're terrorists." Tamaya nearly wanted to smirk again, amused that the lie Stilton had told his security teams had worked.
Tatiana came up right in front of Tamaya but ignored the frozen Ouroboros agent, instead lowering her assault rifle to reach up behind both Anna and Palmira. Not wanting to take on four agents instead of just two, Tamaya elected to act. "Boo!" shouted Tamaya she raised her UMP and fired nearly point-blank, the large-caliber darts in the gun easily able to penetrate Tatiana's armor as she fell backwards, frozen in surprise as she hit the ground with her arms still raised to touch the others' necks. Not one to hold still when there was a gun no doubt being pointed at her back, Tamaya spun around and continued to fire as she quickly moved behind Palmira, darts being fired at her in retaliation as she moved.
"Give it up Tamaya, the building is crawling with police and IT agents!" yelled Hui, who was crouching behind the table that had been used by Tamaya and the other two Ouroboros agents just moments ago. In the distance gunfire could be heard, no doubt Drake and Derek battling the other agents that had passed by.
"Like I'm scared of internal technicians!" mocked Tamaya in reply, referring to the IT initial-ism. Pulling out a special flash-bomb, Tamaya threw it across the floor, having made sure to cook it for a second first so it would detonate just as it reached Hui. While the flash technology Sarah Hardy had developed was still fairly new, Tamaya knew its risks so even though she was facing the other way she used her arms to cover her eyes. The flash went off and Tamaya quickly moved. Hui was on the ground on her knees, her eyes on where the grenade had detonated with a surprised look on her face, though the polarized glasses did make it hard for Tamaya to tell what Hui's eyes were saying about her situation. "I'd better make sure," mused Tamaya, reaching for one of her Stingers.
"Too late!" yelled Hui, surprising Tamaya but not enough for her to be unable to stop the gun barrel that was nearly pointed at her, instead managing to yank the carbine out of the Chinese woman's grip. The fight then quickly became seeing who could disarm who faster, Tamaya's own large gun getting knocked away as well as both of her pistols, Hui in turn quickly losing her own pistols and gas gun.
"So we both are good at disarming, just not preventing it," Tamaya couldn't help but chuckle as she began to wrestle with Hui for the grip on her own second UMP. Tamaya won the grapple but Hui performed a sweep of her leg, tripping Tamaya and allowing Hui to then kick yet another weapon away. Tamaya wasn't one to just sit down however and used her legs to scissor Hui's neck, tossing the Chinese agent over and then springing after her. Hui and Tamaya ended up with the IT agent on the ground and the Ouroboros agent on top, locking their arms as they tried to overpower one another.
"I'm sending you back to Hong Kong," warned Hui, grunting a bit as she tried to push Tamaya's arms away and most likely go for a neck blow.
"I escaped once already, I even collected a pretty prize," retorted Tamaya, trying to get her own hands closer to Hui's neck.
"Tommy?!" exclaimed Hui, trying to knee Tamaya in the gut but not getting good impact. "Where is he?!"
"Wait, he means something to you?!" laughed Tamaya, amused as she saw Hui's face contort with anger. "Why don't you let me go and I'll tell you where he is?"
"We'll find him here, no deal," shook off Hui, managing to move Tamaya's right arm back only for it to return moments later.
"Problem is, he isn't here," revealed Tamaya, then activating her trump card. Hui suddenly froze in surprise as a small concealed weapon fired a low-velocity dart into her neck, the Type-7 doing its work. Hui actually ended up posed like Tatiana, only her fists were closed and she had a fury in her eyes that was palatable, plus her gun wasn't resting on her chest. The weapon Tamaya had used was something Sarah Hardy had invented, an extremely small one-shot low-velocity dart gun she called the Aegis.
"Too bad I can't take you with me," sighed Tamaya, quickly standing as she blew the fallen Hui a kiss. The good news was no IT agents that had gone on ahead had come running back in spite of the gunfire, but Drake's computer was still working and indicated the elevator had just been called back upstairs.
"Time to go," decided Tamaya, making a dash for the elevator, stopping only to grab a Stinger. Upon reaching the elevator shaft, Tamaya pulled open a side panel and accessed the manual override, triggering the doors to slide open. The shaft was designed to be wide enough for people to climb the emergency ladder without having to worry about an elevator blocking their way, but there wasn't much room to work with. Tamaya wanted to play it smart however and only climbed up a short way, and then waiting until the elevator came down.
"Easy," whispered Tamaya, waiting until she heard the moving carÕs door close and then climbing onto its roof. The trick was then to just wait until it finally started going up again so she could reach the second floor, which would allow her to in turn access the staff parking garage and escape in someone's trunk. The plan was risky, but Tamaya had managed to do even harder escapes before and, if history were any indication, would continue to do so after today.
* * *
"Parisa, be sure to tell Marika that the glasses do seem to be working, though goggles would stay on better!" Cassandra told one of the many people listening over the IT radio as she continued to lead the fight against the two Ouroboros agents just down the hall. No Name and Derek Grisham had overturned some metal tables and other pieces of lab equipment which was turn giving them a decent makeshift bunker, Cassandra was not certain that even the heavier firearms being used were penetrating. As a test Cassandra had even had everyone switch to electrostatic rounds but the shock delivered by them wasn't conducting through the metal that made up the patchwork bunker. Ideally with automatic weapons with enough time shots would get into the small gap left open but the IT agents were starting to run low on ammunition, Cassandra herself running out of darts.
"Gas-masks on!" ordered Cassandra, the other agents quickly doing as ordered. Gas was a tricky thing in enclosed areas, hence why Anna and Miranda were using their pistols at the moment, but Cassandra had elected to give gas a go since they just weren't hitting anything with conventional firearms.
"Canister away!" shouted Miranda a moment later, everyone having put on their masks. A Type-7 canister was fired and managed to arc well, landing just in front of the quasi-bunker, though ideally behind it would have been better. Unfortunately even after the gas seemed to enter where the shooters were they kept firing.
"This isn't working," commented JB as he managed to calmly reloaded his assault rifle. "Were have high-explosive shells, and while I know we try to avoid lethal action it may be our best bet of getting through."
"This is Lucienne," came the IT director a moment later over the radio. "Miranda, Anna, I'm giving you authorization to use HE shells. I can't have you pinned down, it taking Ivan too long to find other access points to down below."
"We'll be clear of the blast-yield," observed Jason, who knew a little about explosives. "They might hear our warning too and after the blast we can blast them if they got away."
"Do it," agreed Cassandra, just wanting the job to be done with. In the past many of the ITEA agents had been forced to take lethal action, but given how used they were to using electrostatic and Type-7 rounds, as well as the gas and Freeze-Keys, it did feel a bit alien to risk the opposition's lives with the use of an explosive. Nonetheless, Anna quickly loaded her launcher with the right shell and took careful aim, the suppressing fire from No Name and Derek missing her entirely.
"Fire in the hole!" shouted Anna, then firing the explosive. Like Miranda Anna's aim was a bit off, landing just in front of the bunker rather than in it or behind it. A moment later the delayed shell detonated, the IT agents bracing themselves against the walls they were using for cover. The sound of metal rending was audible and even as the noise went silent Cassandra was up and leading the way, opening fire down the hallway with her MP5. JB was the first up to join her and Gregory wasn't far behind, Jason next and both Miranda and Anna last, the final two needing to switch to their pistols again. Cassandra fired experimentally and, as the smoke cleared moments later, was treated to the sight of Derek on the ground, seemingly unscathed from the explosion but clearly hit by the team leader's shots. Not far away was No Name, but the man was clearly hurt as his leg was bleeding and even has he tried to raise his twin pistols Gregory hit him with static rounds, putting him down as well.
"No Name and Grisham are down but alive," reported Cassandra as she led her team through the rubble of the charred improvised bunker. The next room was clearly a laboratory of some kind, beakers, test tubes and other such things scattered around. Derek had seemingly avoided injury from the explosion, there no signs of damage on the fallen man save the static rounds that had penetrated his Kevlar vest. It was clear however that No Name had taken some shrapnel to the leg but wasn't bleeding too badly, Jason sitting down to the stunned man and pulling out some medical dressings.
"Miranda, stay here with Jason, and hold these two, the rest of you come with me," ordered Cassandra, not bothering to glance around the room even more. "We need to find Stilton."
"Sophia here, we've reached Hui and... well, she and Tatiana are down," then came a voice over the radio. "We're securing Anna and Palmira."
"What about Tamaya?" asked Miranda, suddenly concerned.
"She's not here," reported Nessa, at which point Cassandra saw Miranda go white.
"Go check on them, Anna, you stay," ordered Cassandra, then gesturing at Miranda's launcher. Without a moment's thought Miranda handed her grenade launcher to Cassandra as well as the last of her shells, then running back the other way to check on her lover. Cassandra didn't bother to stand around along enough to properly put the bandolier of shells on, instead just slinging it over her shoulder as she started to lead JB and Gregory down the next hallway.
Team Beta quickly passed a few places that looked like they'd been used for museum displays of some kind before eventually opening up into a massive room, one that was decorated more like a house than a bunker. A large metal archway sat in the middle of the room and when Cassandra saw the man standing under it she raised her MP5. "Richard Stilton, surrender!" yelled the British IT agent. "You're under arrest for multiple crimes, including kidnapping and murder!" Cassandra's yell had to be louder than usual as there was a crackling noise, the archway above him even seeming to come alive with light.
"Too late," laughed Richard, and even as the words left his lips electricity arced from the archway before Richard vanished in a field of blue light.
"Shoot!" ordered JB, suddenly firing into the field with Gregory and Cassandra following suit. Their efforts appeared futile however and the light got brighter and brighter, the three forced to stop and shield their eyes. Finally after a loud whoosh the light began to fade and Cassandra picked up a foul smell.
"Oh my god," muttered Gregory in awe, the first to have regained his vision. Cassandra quickly figured what had happened even before she could see, suddenly recognizing the smell as the same one given off by No Name's leg, namely that of burned flesh, only but larger.
"Son of a bitch..." uttered JB as Cassandra scanned the scene, seeing the damage. There were scorch marks where Richard had been standing, smoke even rising from the spot, and some parts of the room even looked a bit dusty when they hadn't before.
"He was... incinerated..." breathed Cassandra, looking around one more time. "Vaporized... What the hell was this thing supposed to do?"
"Well, for that you might want to look up," suggested JB, Cassandra doing as her fiancˇ suggested and doing so. Up on the ceiling were three glass tubes, each with the visible form of a naked person inside.
"Everyone, this is Cassandra," the Team Beta leader reported over the radio a moment later. "We've found the two Stone women and Tasia, but Richard Stilton is dead. I repeat, Richard Stilton is dead."
Part 3: The Consequences
Interpol UK HQ, London, UK
Lucienne silently rode the elevator upstairs, fairly pleased with herself. While Richard Stilton had been killed, IT had also been able to uncover proof of his leadership of Ouroboros, the man formerly just called No Name even admitting as much while still in the hospital. It had been a surprise to learn he was a Stilton himself, but Lucienne was getting used to famous people having long-lost relatives. Besides Stilton being dead the only major misstep was the escape of Tamaya Qillaq, who'd never been found. It wasn't until nearly a day later that IT had learned that a member of the building's staff had been found abandoned on the highway, frozen by Type-7 and his car stolen. Hui in particular wasn't happy and was volunteering Team Gamma to track the elusive woman down. Lucienne had approved but Mira Stolar had requested they work with Europol on it, the special agency having promising leads already.
Besides rescuing Anna Federov, Palmira Tiago and Tasia Spiro, the ITEA had managed to liberate Rina Corde, Eva Hallowell, Mary Thatcher, Carol Wilford, Ingrid Stone, Erika Stone and Kylie McBride. Eva had actually been Richard's apparently legitimate wife but, as she revealed after being revived, she had no memory of the marriage at all. Ariel Landry, who was once friends with Eva, was helping her annul the marriage and get her life back. The Corde and Wilford families were particularly grateful for the rescue, promising to help finance the ITEA. Erika Stone had also personally thanked Lucienne and invited her on a cruise, just the two of them, but Lucienne had requested they postpone it. In spite of kissing Tasia in celebration, it was clear to her that her girlfriend was not thrilled about the Tak situation and wanted to work it out. Luckily, in spite of everything, the NYPD and the local politicians were happy with the Ouroboros take-down.
The problem that now faced Lucienne, besides her personal life, was the fallout from Waterloo. Even as the elevator arrived at the top floor Lucienne was dreading the encounter that awaited her, and she wasn't disappointed. "Lucienne," greeted Robert Warner, his hair slicked back and wearing a light grey suit. "Welcome home."
"Thank you sir," offered Lucienne, stepping off of the elevator and immediately seeing something was off. A young woman with black hair was walking into Tasia's office with a box, the woman someone Lucienne had never seen before. Not far away from Robert was Sonia Castillo, who was standing next to a few boxes, including one for a computer. "You've gotten my report on New York?" asked Lucienne, brushing off the odd sight, at least for the moment.
"Yes and, in spite of some flaws, you succeeded," acknowledged Robert. "Bear in mind however that this decision was made before the operation occurred. The committee voted yesterday and it was decided that while you are a capable director there should be someone more experienced running an agency placed above you."
"You're demoting me, in my own agency?!" exclaimed Lucienne, stunned.
"It wasn't really your agency, Lucienne, you just helped get it going," corrected Sonia, approaching the pair. "If it helps, the vote was four to two and the job was originally offered to Raymond, since he has lived in this city for years, but he turned it down."
"So now you're the director?" asked Lucienne, looking at Sonia and trying her best to hide her contempt. Sonia was a capable section chief for Interpol, but the move was feeling more like a political climb since she was certain Sonia had wanted a higher post in Lyon for at least a year.
"Don't worry, you'll be the assistant director, the only one that is, though the other senior-most agents will get another title to recognize them, and you can even keep your office," offered Sonia, indicating the moving that was going on. Lucienne then realized Sonia was moving into Tasia's office, which most likely meant Tasia had been moved elsewhere.
"So that's that?" asked Lucienne, looking at Robert.
"We just need a change, to see if things get better," insisted Robert. "We were never going to kick you to the curb. Your extended record is still too good for that in spite of your shortcomings." Lucienne appreciated the praise but it felt a bit backhanded.
"Now to dive right in," announced Sonia, pulling Lucienne away from the elevator with her arm around the younger woman's shoulders. "First up, you should know that Palmira Tiago officially resigned this morning, so I'm thinking Sophia Katsopolis can permanently replace her as Team Zeta's leader."
"Wait, what?!" exclaimed Lucienne, having not even known Palmira was debriefed as, come her last update, the woman had just gotten back to London herself.
"Don't worry, Tasia Spiro is an espionage specialist herself so Alpha won't suffer," pointed out Sonia as they continued to walk, Lucienne going along with it in spite of wanting to stop. "In fact, I'm having her office moved to the espionage wing for that reason, she can have Palmira's old space. Second, I really do think we need a medical wing, but we can just make them a part of the science section and give them space on their floor. I've already got the perfect doctor lined up: she's the wife of one of our new agents."
"New agents?" asked Lucienne, still reeling from all the fresh news she had to take in. Lucienne was actually starting to wonder if it was some kind of dream.
"Yes, I have two of my top agents from Madrid joining me on this assignment," explained Sonia. "They're siblings, I'm sure you'll like them. Speaking of new agents, I was looking to establish a department that handles minor problems, agents who can act alone and handle the smaller crises or join other teams if they need a little extra manpower. I was thinking of calling them GRID, or 'General Response Investigation Department.' Good acronym huh?"
"Anything else?" breathed Lucienne, certain her alarm would go off at any second. It was then that they reached Tasia's old office, where the dark-haired girl, who couldn't be much older than eighteen, was placing some office supplies in the new desk that had been moved in. The desk itself was made of a nice piece of Ash wood, Tasia's desk most likely moved to the office she now shared with her team.
"Hey, mom, is this the woman you were telling me about?" asked the dark-haired girl, looking up from the drawers she was filling.
"Yes," acknowledged Sonia, then looking at Lucienne. "Actually, I was hoping to have my daughter Angelita work here as an intern."
"Great," muttered Lucienne, waiting for the alarm sound that wouldn't come.
Palmira Tiago's Apartment, Sevenoaks, UK
Palmira moaned in pleasure as Xavier was doing some post-sex tongue work, kissing the back of her neck as they lay in bed together. While recovering in the hospital back in New York Palmira had gone to see Drake Stilton, who after a bit of effort had given up a number that Xavier could be reached at. Contacting her old lover, Palmira had invited him back to London and they were now finishing up the celebration of their reunion, one free of his obligation to Ouroboros.
"So what happens now?" asked Xavier as he kissed Palmira's shoulder and touched her hair. "I'm a criminal, one tied to murders. Even knowing Richard and Drake forced me to go along with it, are you sure you want me around?"
"That isn't why I invited you here," revealed Palmira, rolling around and giving Xavier a long kiss on the lips. "I've quit the ITEA, Xavier."
"What?!" exclaimed Xavier in surprise, but not recoiling at the news. "Why would you do that?"
"Several reasons," admitted Palmira, sitting up in bed with Xavier joining her, kissing her right arm as he did. "The obvious is I've now been kidnapped by you twice and while that hasn't come out yet it will eventually. It's hard to be a team leader when you keep letting your emotions cloud your judgment, especially to that degree. I'm certain I'd be reprimanded."
"You'd still have your career," pointed out Xavier, who tried to put his arms around Palmira. Palmira however resisted, sliding out of bed and revealing her lusciously nude body.
"One of my co-workers, Colette, she's been threatening me with blackmail for months," revealed Palmira, shaking a bit with tears starting to form. "I know, I'm supposed to be this tough woman, but having to live working with a woman that could blackmail me out of a job at any time she wanted... it's taken its toll. I wouldn't put it past her to give it to the new director just to get in her good graces."
"I guess that can hurt your future with the agency," acknowledged Xavier, letting out a small sigh. "So what now? I've got plenty of money stashed away. We could go wherever you want."
"I do want to be with you Xavier," confessed Palmira, pouring herself a glass of wine from a table in the bedroom. "I barely know you, but... the way you look at me, even when I'm not facing you like I am now, it just feels..." Palmira paused, turning around to look at the man in her bed. "I love you," admitted Palmira.
"I love you too," replied Xavier, getting out of bed. "I know people would argue with that claim, but I know we two believe it, and that's all I need."
"The thing is, though," continued Palmira, stopping Xavier before he could continue, "The thing is... I've never felt better than when I was frozen and you were making love to me. I want to hold onto that feeling... forever."
"Hey, wait!" Xavier suddenly exclaimed, but Palmira had already downed what had appeared to be a massive glass of wine. Palmira then froze in place, her glass barely lowered from her lips as her watery eyes looked at Xavier. Letting out a sigh, Xavier got close to the woman he loved and saw a note by the wine. Curious, Xavier picked it up and read it.
The wine isn't wine, itÕs Type-7 colored yellow. I drank enough for an overdose. Please don't wake me up, I'll be happiest just to be your beautiful mannequin... forever. XOXOXOXOXO Palmira
"Palmira..." muttered Xavier, stunned by the action. Putting the note aside, Xavier carefully removed the glass from her stiffened hand and pulled her body close, kissing her on the forehead. "My love... I'll keep you with me... always," promised Xavier. There were several problems, including the fact that the apartment would need to be dealt with as well as everything in Palmira's name, but, just for the moment, Xavier didn't care, wanting to honor his lover's wish.
Stilton Corporation Headquarters, New York City, USA
In front of an assembled stage was a small crowd of reporters, and up in front of them, at a podium, were people that had been demanded to make statements. Maris Stilton, the daughter of the rumored-dead Richard Stilton, was dressed in a very formal business dress, white with a blouse the same color, so proper, if bland. Maris also had her hair back in an Asian bun, needles used to hold it in place. With Maris was Patricia Mero, who in contrast to Maris was wearing all black and her own hair was up in a complex bun that almost resembled a beehive. With the pair was a curly redhead no one seemed to recognize, though she'd later be identified as Selena Chandler, Patricia's personal aide and secretary, who was wearing a short-sleeved blouse and a black skirt.
"This is Tamsyn Marshall, Global News Agency, reporting live from New York City," announced a short-haired reporter in front of a news camera. "It's been two days since the mysterious raid on the Stilton Corporation headquarters here in the city and the alleged death of Richard Stilton. The events are unclear, but we know two men were arrested and several people reported missing days or even weeks ago were sent to a nearby hospital. Faced with a possible stock collapse, Maris Stilton is preparing to make a statement with the help or Patricia Mero, the head of the company's Asian operations."
The camera zoomed up on the stage where Maris was taking to the podium. "People of New York, the United States and the world," came the blond's voice, clearly speaking a prepared statement as she sounded like she was reading from a prompter in spite of none being available. "Two days ago police invaded this building looking for my father. During this raid, my father died by his own hand, in an accidental suicide. My father was secretly using company resources to engage in terrorist activities, he being ultimately responsible for the incident that occurred at Waterloo Station in London earlier in the week."
The listening reporters started yelling questions but Maris ignored them. "My father's colleagues were arrested and, while his loss is tragic, I must think of the Stilton Corporation's future. It is my intent to salvage the company's reputation, but at the moment I do not feel educated or respected enough to take the position. I do not want to be seen as the next Erika Stone. It is my plan, therefore, to attend school overseas to learn more about international business and, hopefully soon, help run the outstanding company my father built before whatever madness that drove him to acts of terrorism took over. However, in the meantime I, as the major shareholder due to the inheritance of my father's shares, am appointing Patricia Mero to act as interim CEO."
More questions arose from the crowd but Maris stepped back, Patricia then stepped up in her place. "We will not be taking questions as we are still working with officers of the New York Police Department to clarify what exactly Richard Stilton was responsible for, but I promise you that as acting CEO I will not let this incident bury us!" declared Patricia, keeping it short. "Stilton Hotels are still some of the finest in the world and will continue to be! We will bounce back! Thank you." With that the surprisingly short press conference came to an end.
"Well, it looks like Patricia Mero, who was once acting CEO of Stone Enterprises, will be the new captain for the Stilton Corporation's continuing cruise," remarked Tamsyn to the camera. "What will this mean for the company? Our economic analysts are standing by. Back to you in the studio." The camera shut off and Tamsyn frowned.
"Captain a cruise?" muttered the reporter, shaking her head as she made sure the camera was off. "For fuck's sake... I can ad lib better than that crap."
* * *
Patricia Mero was beaming like the Cheshire Cat as the elevator brought her up to the top floor, where she'd be entering her new office. Beside her was Maris, who stood idly at attention, her gaze blank. "I think that went well, Miss Mero, don't you?" asked Selena, Patricia's personal assistant, who also happened to double as her bodyguard.
"They ate it up, I'm just curious what Erika's reaction will be to our little show," chuckled Patricia, patting Maris on the shoulder without getting any reaction. The elevator door opened a moment later and Patricia stepped out while Selena hung back, getting around Maris and then dragging the unresponsive blond out of the car on her heels. It was clear the chipped heiress was going to remain their obedient spokes-puppet.
"Good job boss," offered Patricia's old friend Canella Kim, who she'd just called in from Houston. The Asian woman was beaming with Patricia's other old aide and friend Darcy Keibler, the latter also having come in from Houston.
"No, good job to you Darcy for programming her right," laughed Patricia, indicating Maris as Selena stood her up with the group, which also consisted of a tall brown-haired man in a red track jacket.
"Won't they wonder what school she's going to?" asked Thomas Hood. Patricia had met Tom through Richard, the man a mercenary of sorts that even worked for a couple of warlords in the past, but now he was looking for career in something less bloody.
"It doesn't matter, she's no longer news," dismissed Patricia, waving off the concerns. "Where's Sarah?"
"She's setting up her new lab," revealed Darcy, indicating the area past the big doors in the reception area of the floor that the group was standing in. "She's a bit sad to have lost Carol and Kylie apparently, but we still have that French woman and the gang member."
"Oh, I'm sure we'll find her more test subjects soon enough," chuckled Patricia, glancing around the room. "Selena, bring the champagne! We'll drink to the future of the Stilton Corporation, and the foundation of the Gorgon Sisterhood!"
Lucienne Christophe - Josie Maran
Raymond Bishop - Clive Owen
Conrad Kennedy - Ray Park
Mira Stolar - Stana Katic
Rachel Clarke - Elizabeth Banks
Caesar Francisco - Jared Leto
Ivan Popov - Timothy Olyphant
Rhonda Evens - Kate Nauta
Tasia Spiro - Doukissa Nomikou
Jelena Hendraille - Briana Evigan
Richard Stilton - Malcolm McDowell
Xavier Alberic - Chace Crawford
Julio Sanchez - Joaquim Del Ameida
Patricia Mero - Rena Mero
Sarah Hardy - Tricia Helfer
Erika Stone - Hilarie Burton
Ingrid Stone - Kim Cattrall
Victor Morozov - Victor Webster
Makeda Getachew - Faune Chambers
Cassandra Flick - Emily Deschanel
Hui Lan - Cecilia Cheung
Anna Federov - Sasha Alexander
Marcus Corrado - Alessio Sakara
Megan Gage - Summer Glau
Colette Landry - Laura Vandervoort
Takahishi Nakamura - Takuya Kimura
Palmira Tiago - Jennifer Lopez
Anna Sokolov - Allison Mack
No Name - Nolan North
Jason Holland - David Tennant
Charles Truman III - Mark Webber
Rurik Chekhol - Ryan Phillippe
Tamaya Qillaq - Mickie James
Miranda Ohala - Malika Dudley
Jean-Baptiste Odilon - Edward Norton
Gregory Barnes - Milo Ventimiglia
Tamera Flick - Zooey Deschanel
Malai Kasem - Pumwaree Yodkamol
Kioni Abasi - Zoe Saldana
Nessa Kelly - Olivia Wilde
Juro Takashi - Masi Oka
Eva Bingham - Gemma Atkinson
Lori Jones - Billie Piper
Larissa Penbrook - Sophia Myles
Marika Bran - Charlize Theron
Lennie Logan - Chris Noth
Parisa Golzar - Sarah Shahi
Suzanna Ortiz - Eva La Rue
Christina Merritt - Michelle Ryan
Robert Warner - Alfred Molina
Tatiana Lebedev - Yvonne Strahovski
Sloane Taylor - Amy Jo Johnson
Sophia Katsopolis - Sofia Milos
Angelita Castillo - Selena Gomez
Sonia Castillo - Catherine Zeta-Jones
Maris Stilton - Paris Hilton
Selena Chandler - Scarlett Johannson
Tamsyn Marshall - Charisma Carpenter
Canella Kim - Gail Kim
Darcy Keibler - Stacy Keibler
Thomas Hood - Vinnie Jones