“Suit up everyone, you’re going on a mission!” James announced loudly. He’d barely made it three whole steps into the room before the news bubbled out of him. That meant the Anarchist had been telling the truth. Great. How far could her powers reach? It couldn’t be global; I’d ever heard of someone with that kind of reach at least.
Whitney sat up so fast I was afraid she’d given herself whiplash. “Really!?” She exclaimed, peering over the back of the couch at James. He nodded with shared excitement and she let off a whoop as a shower of sparks rained down from her hands like miniature fireworks.
“Where are we going?” Erin asked, trying not to laugh with excitement of her own.
“South Africa,” Hollands replied in his perpetual business mode. “Normally, I’d send A.S.E.T. since Nate still hasn’t been tested, but you shouldn’t get into any trouble on this one.”
“Aww, really?” Whitney asked, looking a little less thrilled.
“Come on, Whit. It won’t be so bad,” Corey offered, standing up to stretch before walking towards his room.
“Yeah, but my powers don’t exactly do ‘no trouble’,” she sighed. “Still, it’ll be nice to get out for a bit.”
“Looks like you should have waited to unpack,” Ian said to me as he closed his laptop and got out of his chair.
“Yeah, guess so,” I mumbled, still feeling stiff and unnatural being here. I guess he was trying, maybe I should do the same.
“Gather your uniforms and what you’ll need for a day, maybe two, and meet us on the south landing pad; I’ll brief you on the way,” James said.
“I’ll get Adam up,” Erin said as she lifted herself out of the chair.
The room devolved into a swarm of activity as everyone went their own ways to grab their things as Hollands and James saw themselves out. Erin was pounding on Adam’s door only to receive a string of muffled profanity. Whitney was nearly bouncing off the walls, letting off a small series of sparks every so often. Corey was calmer, but it was clear he was excited too. His feathers were, literally, slightly ruffled.
Ian, though, seemed totally collected, but I noticed he was stealing glances at me. They were subtle, and he always turned away as I looked. Still, I’ve noticed looks like that before. Usually when people found out I was a meta. This was… slightly different. He seemed like a nice enough guy, it could be he was just trying to figure out the new guy, but it was still slightly unnerving.
Adam shuffled out of his room in the same uniform he was wearing before sans mask. He had dark skin with a short frohawk. Like the rest of them, he just seemed like a normal guy.
“Where are we going?” He muttered, rubbing his eyes.
“South Africa,” Whitney said, emerging from her room in black body armor. There was a red stripe running down the top and bottom of the outfit’s right sleeve, clearly painted on and left unfinished. She was strapping on a utility belt of some kind with pockets of various sizes. Erin was already wearing what I guess was her ‘uniform’ during the exercise. It was mostly crimson red with black shoulder pads and no sleeves. Ian stepped out wearing the same clothes as before, dressedway too nice for the occasion. Brown slacks and vest with a white collard shirt and black tie.
Probably not a front-line fighter I thought as I went to my room to re-pack my duffle. I didn’t have any costume or uniform to speak of. Maybe that was something I should look into at some point. After all, I was vulnerable without my powers.
Corey was out of his room when I joined the rest of the team in the common room. He’d changed into some kind of body armor, but I could only see the pants-portion of it. A heavy jacket covered the rest of it. I mean, it was kind of chilly outside, but nothing that would warrant something like that.
“Alright, lets go, I guess,” I sighed.
“You don’t have a costume?” Whitney asked, frowning as she looked me over. Way to make me feel underdressed, I thought.
“Uh, no, not really. Like I said, I’m very new to the superhero thing.”
“Nah, I like it. Jeans and a t-shirt? Villains won’t look at you twice,” Corey said.
“Until I start glowing,” I said.
Corey chuckled, “True.”
“Alright, fashion choices aside, lets get moving,” Erin ordered, leading us towards the door.
I’m not sure exactly what it was, maybe a combination of the strange uniforms, walking in a group, and the aircraft waiting for us, but I couldn’t help but feel like we were astronauts getting ready for launch.
Argo-nauts, I mused to myself. Despite everything hanging over my head, I grinned at my own bad pun.
Unfortunately, our ride wasn’t one of the posh converted corporate jets. It was much more spartan inside like the Regent’s ship. There were some Argus soldiers already strapped down in their seats and a few crates and boxes sitting in the middle of the aircraft. James looked like he was talking Mr. Hollands’ ear off while the A.I.D. Director tried to put up with him.
I ended up getting sandwiched between Ian and Adam while the others sat next to James and Mr. Hollands. Once we were onboard, there was a rumble as the engines increased in pitch and we lifted off the ground.
After a while, we finally got up to altitude and the noise from the engines died down enough that it was quiet enough for us to talk. The soldiers unstrapped themselves from their seats and started milling around, opening a few crates and checking their weapons. Likewise, my team unstrapped themselves, which I took as my queue to do the same. In the middle of the plane there was a metal box that came up roughly to waist-level, perfect for use as an impromptu table.
“Alright everyone, so here is the skinny,” James said, placing a file on the crate and flipping it open. “A few hours ago, Site II experienced its first ever prison break.”
“I thought it was supposed to be escape-proof?” Adam said, furrowing his brow.
“That’s what we tell people, but that doesn’t make it true,” Hollands said.
“Right, except this was facilitated from the outside. A lone individual whose powers worked despite the dampeners. And those things affect things over a mile away from the facility,” James said almost like he was in one of those crime dramas on TV.
“How was he able to use his powers?” Ian asked as he scanned over the file.
“We don’t know. It could be advanced tech, or it could be brute strength,” James explained.
“But we’ve never seen anyone with that kind of tech before, so we are going to assume that it’s the latter,” Hollands added.
“Reports say he is capable of telekinesis as well as teleportation. Thirty-two guards were killed, and another five made it out alive with life-threatening injuries. We’ve run facial recognition, but that turned up nothing,” James said, sliding an image of what I assumed was the meta in question. He was wearing a black suit and had short red hair, brighter than James’s.
“Weren’t there any metahuman guards?” I asked, wondering if they might had been more effective.
“No, Site II doesn’t employ any metahumans due to the constant power dampeners in use. Allowing them to use their powers would make it that much more likely the prisoners could.”
“How many prisoners escaped?” Erin asked.
“That’s also what’s strange about this whole thing: he only freed two individuals. They were new arrivals and had only been there for two hours. And, get this, Nate, they were the two nobodies who tried to rob the bank on the day that horde of metas attacked Chicago.”
“Really?” I asked, looking at the pictures of the two men James tossed out next to the picture of the man who broke them out. Sure enough, it was them.
“Why would he break them out of all people? They weren’t exactly intimidating or dangerous. It only took three Regents to take them down if I recal correctly,” Ian said. “
“Well, three Regents isn’t anything to laugh at, especially when you consider they were up against the strongest man in the world and a living atom bomb. But you’re right, it still isn’t clear why he targeted them,” James said.
James really seemed to be getting into his element here, especially compared to me. I felt like a fish out of water whereas he seemed like a bird stretching his wings for the first time.
“So, you want us to track them down?” I asked, still not completely sure why we were being placed on an investigation mission.
“The goal is to have you put them back in Site II. We are starting here to give Ian a chance to see if his powers can reveal anything our initial crime scene technicians missed, and to hopefully give you a vision,” Hollands explained.
“What do you do?” I asked Ian, curious about what his powers were.
“Along with a near-perfect eidetic memory, I can sense and emit electromagnetic energy on a small scale.”
“Basically, he can see Wi-Fi,” Erin added with a smile.
“Yeah, along with other things,” Ian added quickly, shooting Erin a glare.
“Didn’t you just say we wouldn’t be able to use our powers?” I asked.
“Site II will turn off their primary dampeners, relying on secondary dampeners built into the prisoner’s uniforms. That will let your powers work like normal.”
“Sounds fun. I’ve always wanted to go to prison. Might even say I’m a…jailbird,” Corey said with a grin.
“That was terrible,” Whitney said despite the grin on her face.
“Agreed,” James said with a grin of his own.
Under different circumstances, I would have loved to get the opportunity to travel. My new Argus credentials served as a passport, but it wasn’t like I was on a pleasure trip. We had to land at a nearby airport and drive to the prison due to some security protocol, but Durban was a pretty nice place. Sort of like Chicago but with a tropical feel.
That, however, didn’t make Corey shed his coat. “It’s like seventy degrees, how are you still wearing that?”
Corey shrugged. “I get cold easy.”
“Forget that,” Whitney said, arching her back to stretch. “How are you guys not stiff? We were stuck in that tin can for days!”
“It was eight hours, hardly ‘days’,” Ian said as he climbed out of the truck.
“Figure of speech, Ian,” Erin chided.
“I know,” Ian muttered rolling his eyes.
Adam kept to himself as James rounded the side of the armored truck that had driven us from the airport. He had the driver in tow, and from the sound of It, he was in the middle of an anecdote. Then he clapped the tortured man on the shoulder, releasing him from his gregarious bonds, letting him walk away shaking his head.
“Alright, everyone, lets get to it,” James said, as Mr. Hollands pulled up in a car. “Great, now we’re all here.”
“Where’d you go?” Erin asked Hollands who continued to walk once he passed us.
“I checked with the Site II Warden to make sure you all had access to investigate freely.”
“Aww, thanks, Grey. I knew you cared,” Whitney said.
“Don’t call me that,” Hollands droned.
“What’s that about?” I asked Adam quietly, partially because he was the closest and because I wanted to try and make connections with the team.
Adam glanced at me strangely, but not angrily: more like he was just surprised. “It’s his ‘unofficial-official’ alias. Or nickname, whatever you want to call it. He’s a meta, clairvoyant or something like that. His eyes turn grey and cloudy when he uses his powers.”
“I guess it’s fitting.”
Adam nodded in a way I could only describe as sympathetic.
Site II didn’t really seem like it was any kind of special meta prison from the outside. There was a series of parking lots in front of a large metal fence topped with barbed wire.
“Gotta say, it’s inviting.”
Hollands and James glanced back at me. James grinning, and Hollands looking stern. “The crime scene starts here at the gate,” Grey began, pointed to the small guardhouse next to the main gate.
The bulletproof glass had a noticeable blood stain and a few cracks. “What happened here?” Erin asked.
“You said he was a telekinetic, right?” Ian asked, walking past the crime scene barriers to get a closer look.
“Yes, that is the working theory,” James answered.
Inside wasn’t a very pretty scene. Looking through the dirty glass, I saw the two bodies laying on the ground. The man on the left was sprawled out on his back, but his head was rotated almost completely around. It was less than glamorous or respectable. The bones in his neck caused the skin to bulge where they were out of place.
On the other hand, the girl wasn’t any better off. It looked like she was a ragdoll dropped unceremoniously to the floor. The front of her head and face were caved in and flattened. I guess it wasn’t a mystery where the blood on the glass came from.
It really put how dangerous powers in the wrong hands could be. I tore myself away from the scene and migrated to the back of the group. Seeing the looks on their faces… it was unsettling to say the least.
“You okay?” Erin asked. She looked sympathetic, and not too eager to investigate the corpses herself.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” I said, forcing a smile when it was one of the last things I wanted to do.
Thankfully, Erin didn’t push it.
“Ugh, this is gross,” Whitney said. “Do we have to be here for this?”
“Yes,” Hollands said, cutting James off. “If you can’t handle this, you should reconsider being on this team. Ian may be the most well suited of you to gain any information from this, but you all need to be able to pull some information from your surroundings.”
“Ian isn’t the only one with useful powers,” Erin said, a faint blue light coming from glowing lines that appeared on her skin. It was strange, they seemed almost runic in appearance. She glanced around before appearing to find what she was looking for.
“Was the male guard holding something in his hand?” Erin asked James and Hollands.
“The attacker gave the guard what appeared to be a business card. The CSI techs bagged it, but if you think it’s important, I can arrange for you to see it,” Hollands said.
“No, just proving a point,” Erin replied, smirking at Ian who rolled his eyes.
“I, for one, would like to see it,” Ian stated matter-of-factly. “But I can just access the Argus systems to see the photos they took of it.”
“So, what happened next?” Hollands asked, obviously trying to encourage us to follow what happened during the attack as best we could. I hung back as Erin and Ian took turns trying to out-sherlock each other as they ‘searched for clues’, leading us further into the prison.
That’s when we came to the first large group of bodies. Whatever this guy had done… he didn’t leave them looking human. Edged on by some kind of morbid curiosity, I couldn’t stop myself from getting closer. Chills washed over my body, flooding into my stomach which felt like a brick had recently taken up residency. We were a few dozen feet from the front gate, about to round the first corner of one of the twelve-foot-high walls that surrounded the prison blocks when we saw them laying on the ground.
They were strewn about in a pile, laying where they had fallen. Most of them looked like they had been torn to mincemeat. Their arms and legs had a few stray cuts, but their torsos and faces were indescribable. Any clothes they had been wearing were cut to tatters indistinguishable from the ribbons of flesh. Chunks of their skin, muscles, and organs were missing, scattering the ground around them in a pool of blood. I could see bits of white bone and yellow fat exposed by the strips of their bodies that had been carved away. Filleted and minced were the only words I could thing off.
One of the poor guards had her head missing, but it hadn’t been removed cleanly. The stump of her neck was ripped and torn by layers of shallow cuts. It looked like a blade had been used over and over and over again.
“Oh fuck…” Adam choked.
Whitney couldn’t take it, she had to walk away, clutching her stomach. I couldn’t blame her. I glanced at James, and he didn’t seem to be doing much better. His normal chipper demeanor had all but vanished. Hollands didn’t seem as fazed as the rest of us. The usual stone-carved stoicism was gone, and he looked almost sympathetic.
“Ian, do you need any more time?” Hollands asked.
“No. No, I got it,” He replied, managing to stay composed, if only barely.
“There’s more to see,” The Brit said. I followed him, glad for an excuse to get away from the gore, even if it was temporary. I looked over at Erin who had stopped glowing. I think that seeing the mangled bodies had taken her and Ian out of their joshing moods. We were here because people died. Then a thought struck me.
“Mr. Hollands,” I locked up for a split second when he looked back at me. A faint wisp of what looked like smoke rushed to the corners of his eyes as his head turned. It was almost instant; fast enough I thought it was some kind of illusion or trick of the light at first. “Uh…” I stammered, realizing I was staring, “I was wondering why you don’t contact someone like Cypher. Couldn’t he be the best chance of finding whoever did this?”
“We don’t involve elements like Cypher, or Holmes from the Guards in matters like this because they are internal Argus affairs. Showing favoritism to one team or individual that doesn’t explicitly work for us can lead to finger-pointing and name calling among other things. Argus’s impartiality could be called into question if we rely on people we are meant to be policing and keeping in line.”
I suppose that made sense, but I was interested that he mentioned Holmes. I didn’t know much about her team: The Guards of Britannia, but I knew they were the British equivalent of The Regents, or the Shield of Freedom. I was pretty sure she wasn’t the team leader, but I know I’d seen her give some speeches and press conferences in the past.
While I was preoccupied with thoughts of the British hero team, we had rounded the corner of the cell block’s outer wall and pushed through a set of doubled doors that led to a hallway. There was still a swarm of activity inside with guards walking in small groups, a stray herd of CSI technicians carrying cases and equipment, and intermittent flashes of cameras as they recorded every…grisly detail. I had thought the pile of bodies outside was bad but this…it made my stomach churn.
The first few feet of the hallway were clean, spotless even. But the closer we got to the security room at the end of the hall, the worse things got. Bodies littered the hall, some with small, precise wounds, but some had been ripped apart. Some were missing arms or legs that had been torn away violently, spraying the walls with blood.
One poor guy had been…crushed. Crumpled up like tin foil. It was like they were dolls broken by a psychopathic child. They were dismembered, broken, and ripped apart like they were nothing. One person with powers had done this, all of this. And he didn’t just kill them.
They were slaughtered.
Once we reached the round security room, it was worse. The glass from the guard rooms had all been broken out and used as shrapnel. Most of the dead had their eyes all but gouged out by the needles of glass.
And in the middle of the room, a man had been used like a macabre paintbrush to write “Shard” on the floor.