The Consequences (Part 6)

With her routine disrupted and having spent a while confined to her bed, Sophie’s track of time had slipped. It might have been four days since the shooting, or it may have been seven. With the rad-shielded headphones on she at least could be certain that she’d listened to the symphonic metal album currently playing eight times, even if she had drifted off during three of those.

“Miss Reynolds?” A medical gynoid asked. It was the medical Vigilant that had brought her gifts, with the black and blonde-striped hair. She had been in several times since, on some of those occasions her eyes lacked the vibrant green colour. When that was gone, so was the more animated facial movements and the personable nature. Now, with her eyes bright, her expression was one of concern.

Peeling the headphones off with one hand, Sophie flashed her a smile. “Hi again, is everything okay?”

“I was going to ask you that question. You are holding your wound, are you in pain?”

“Oh! Uh, no, actually. It feels better when I hold it there.” The teenager replied, glancing down to where her hand had slid under the paper top she had changed into that morning.

The gynoid drew a medical trolley closer. “May I take a look? Your dressings are due to be changed soon anyway.”

“Sure… um, what do I call you? Other than Santa.”

With a soft chuckle, the robot in the black and white leotard gloved up and peeled back the outer layer of the bandage. “Alice will do, Miss Reynolds.” With skilled hands Alice discarded the previous dressing into the hazardous material bucket attached to the trolley and started to clean the wound.

“Call me Sophie.” She said, trying not to wince too much. “You don’t look much like an Alice to me. More like a Kaitlyn, or a Paige. Or an Avril!”

“I picked Alice at random. While I do have a designation, it is safer that you do not know it.” Alice pursed her lips as she peered at the wound. “You are healing quicker than expected. There has been a marked improvement since this morning in the qualities of your wound. Reductions in redness, size, and the drainage quality.” On noting the look of surprise, Alice pointed at her head. “Vigilants share medical data to keep up to date on a patient’s treatment.”

“That’s a good thing though, right?” Sophie quickly asked.

“Yes, though… please, pass me your hand.” With the pale arm brought into distance, Alice swiftly sanitized the hand and rolled a blue glove over it. “I want you to hold your hand over your wound, at a slight distance.”

Doing as commanded, Sophie watched the gynoid observe intently.

“All right,” Alice picked up one of the small radiator monitors and held it near, “I want you to focus on your hand. How does it feel?”

Sophie mused for a moment. “… Warm. A bit tingly.”

Nodding, Alice grabbed a small torch from the trolley to shine on the wound. “Focus on that warmth, and make it warmer.”

“I’ll try. I’m not a space heater, so I don’t have a temperature contro-ooh!” Sophie’s body jolted a little. “That actually feels warmer. Still tingly, too.”

“Fascinating.” Alice spoke in hushed tones. “This is-”

The doors to the medical room rushed open as Teknight strode in, flanked by someone in a dark containment suit similar to the one she wore on the mission to Eighth Creek Nuclear Plant. “Step away from the patient and identify yourself!” The hero demanded, a gauntlet raised. The man in the suit grabbed a spare IV stand to brandish in Alice’s direction.

“Oh put that down, Bradley,” Alice huffed in the direction of the man before glancing to the hero. “And you? Stop charging your weapon and come take a look at this… Doctor.”

Both came to a stop, exchanging visor-concealed looks. It was Doctor Spiner who spoke first. “Who are you and what’s going on here?” He asked, still clutching the drip pole like a staff.

Sophie sat up with the biggest smile splitting her face, looking at her carer with her face full of wonder. “Brad! I’m healing!” She declared as Alice stepped to the side. Both doctors could clearly see the grey skin as it encroached on the area of her bullet wound. “I’m healing myself!”

 

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The Consequences (Part 5)

“Teknight, wait.”

The edge to Doctor Spiner’s voice chipped away at Zahir’s resolve as he came to a stop just near the airlock doors to Sophie’s apartment at Raven Ridge. Mustering his courage, he turned the suit around to face the specialist. “Doctor, I was going to come and see you afterwards.” He spoke, the suit modulating his voice to help hide his identity.

“She could have died.” Bradley Spiner’s brown eyes bored into the hero’s visior, even if he had to strain his neck to look up at Teknight’s head. He looked in his mid-thirties, with soft brown hair gathered at the back in a ponytail and an athletic build.

“I know. If we were aware then of what we were now, I would have taken more support with me.” Zahir replied, doing his best to keep his tone level.

“That’s a little too late. In any case, if you’re here to offer her more work you can forget it.” Brad snapped. “Until she turns eighteen, Sophie is under our protective care. It’s dangerous enough for her as is without going into situations like that.”

Taking a deep breath from the cleaned and cool air that the suit’s systems re-circulate, Zahir drew himself up. “I am here to apologize to her, and to see how she is doing.”

“Come see me afterwards, Teknight. We’ve been having some issues with the monitoring equipment.” The Doctor said, walking away with hands in his lab coat pockets.

 

“You can come in.” Sophie called from inside the room, not quite as excited as the first time Teknight came to visit her.

Stepping through into the hospital room, his eyes were drawn to the assorted items littering her bedside table. She was sat up in bed, her hair rather messy even when tied back. Sophie managed a wan smile at him, her eyes glowing softly.

“Presents from the staff here?” Teknight inquired with a gesture of one large white and black metallic gauntlet.

“Oh, they’re… um, Santa.” The girl lied, eyes looking ever so briefly to the monitoring equipment. Minute little reactions like that were easily captured by the vision analysis software in the helmet.

“I… see. Well, I was going to bring you something, until I could not work out what to get.” The hero shrugged, crouching down by the bed to avoid causing any more neck aches to anyone at the facility. “I’m sorry, Sophie.”

“Don’t be.” Sophie smiled weakly. “I mean, I got to go out for a day and…” Her eyes were starting to brim as her voice trailed off into pained sobs, a hand clasping against her bandages.

Zahir’s armour-clad hand hovered helplessly, halfway between trying to pat her shoulder and backing off to give her space. Glancing about, he quickly grabbed several wads of tissue paper to wrap around a metallic finger. Reaching out, he carefully wiped the tears from Sophie’s grey cheeks. “You did well in that situation, given your circumstances and experiences. I’m proud to have worked with you that day.”

Sniffing loudly, Sophie plucked the tissue from the finger to finish drying her eyes. “Can you stay for a while?” She asked in a small voice, radiant blue eyes locking onto the pale blue of Zahir’s visor. Gesturing up with the patient-controlled pain relief device in her other hand, she explained “It makes me tired, but it takes a bit.”

Zahir took a moment to peer at the radiation tolerance levels of the Teknight suit. She was putting out less than she had been on his first visit. “I can stay.” Glancing about, he picked up one of the albums from the table near him. “Do you think I would like ‘Her Darkest Shadows’?”

Turning a little to better face the hero, Sophie caught her breath before pursing her lips. “That depends. Do you like symph-metal?”

Teknight laughed. “I have no idea what that is, but I’m willing to learn.”

Reaching for her bottle of fruit juice, a quick sip was all she needed to start lecturing the scientist on musical sub-genres and trends, the pain of her wounds soon pushed to the back of her mind.

 

“You were in there for almost five hours.” Doctor Spiner stated, a cup of coffee in his hand. He was separated from the hero by the wall of the decontamination unit.

“Time flies. She is putting out less power currently, so the suit was able to handle the radiation.” Teknight shrugged, an array of nozzles squirting a mixture of liquids over the armour.

“Even so, you may wish to limit your exposure for a while, just in case.” Brad counseled. When the decontamination procedure had finished, he waved Teknight through.

“Let’s take a look at the monitoring equipment.” Zahir spoke, ignoring the rumbling sound from his stomach. Breakfast had been skipped on account of his nerves, and lunch had long since been and gone. “I’ve something to discuss with you while we do.”

 

The Consequences (Part 4)

Sophie Reynolds remembered going to hospital in pain for the first time. She had been nine, fell over while rollerskating and had broken her wrist. The physical pain was beyond any stubbed toe or cut from playing about, and at the time her young mind thought she’d never feel anything that bad ever again.

Now she was laying in a secure and rad-shielded hospital room back at Raven Ridge, an IV drip hooked up to her arm and the latest in medical dressing technology protecting the gunshot wound to her stomach. The staff that came in to visit her were on loan from VIGIL, robots designed to look like humans and provide medical care in emergency situations. They were polite, and wouldn’t come down with radiation sickness due to her presence, but she still preferred talking to Doctor Spiner.

A knock at the door roused her attention, though it took a lot of effort just to look towards the door rather than staring at the ceiling. A dark-haired woman poked her head around the door, blonde streaks dyed through it and her eyes a most vibrant green. She looked around furtively before slipping into the room. Her outfit was the same black and white jumpsuit that the ‘Vigilants’ wore, but her mannerisms?

“You… aaah, shouldn’t be in here. It’s dangerous…” Sophie weakly warned, trying to shift her position on the bed to sit up.

“I will be fine, Miss Reynolds. It is you that I am concerned about, so I thought I would bring you a care package.” The gynoid replied, before touching a finger to her lips. “If anyone asks though, you did not see me. Santa brought them early.”

The mix of injury and painkillers made Sophie’s head feel packed with damp wool. Rather than try to formulate a reply, she just watched her visitor stroll towards the bed with a bright pink gift bag she procured from behind her.

“I must be quick, so there will be little pizazz or fanfare.” The woman winked. The new Her Darkest Shadows album was out of the bag first, along with what looked to be a bulky CD player and headphone set. “Rad-hardened.” Her visitor commented. “The box provides additional shielding too.”

Sophie’s head swam, weighing heavily on her neck as she tried to shake the fog from her mind. “Who are you?”

“A friend.” Came the reply, along with a stack of assorted CDs, many by groups she’d never heard of before. Then there was a couple of dark fantasy books, a bottle of apparently home-made juice judging by the handwritten label, and a soft plush cat dressed in a raver outfit complete with spiked collar.

“I don’t have many of those, being in here.” Sophie admitted quietly, her tiredness trying to draw the darkness over her vision.

“I do not have many either.” The gynoid spoke. Her hand reached deep into the bag to pull out a make-up gift set, then a bottle of “Steady” by Tia Henderson. The gifts were piling up by her bedside table.

“Sorry.” Sophie yawned. “I just can’t seem to keep my eyes open.” Another yawn brought a wince of pain with it. “You didn’t have to get all this…”

“I did not have to, but I wanted to. I shall leave the last thing in the bag for you to see later, then.” Her mysterious guest replied, placing it on the pointlessly placed chair near the bed. “You will heal up soon, Miss Reynolds. Try not to let what happened stop you from getting out.”

“Sophie? Is everything all right?” Doctor Spiner’s voice sounded over the comms system. “We lost communications for a little bit.”

Forcing her eyes open, Sophie saw the gynoid with her finger pressed to her lips again as she started towards the door. “I’m okay… I think I’d like to get some more sleep though.”

A soft laugh sounded throughout the room. “Get as much sleep as you need, Glow Bug. Huh, someone forgot to turn the camera back on after your dressings were changed.”

Sophie just managed to mumble out a “Night, Doctor.”

“It’s eleven in the morning, Sophie, but sleep well in any case.” Brad replied.

 

As the camera feed came back online Doctor Bradley Spiner blinked rapidly before mopping his brown hair back, a confused expression over his face. “Where did all those presents come from?!”

The Consequences (Part 3)

When Albert Starr returned to the apartment of Doctor Zahir Kader, the hero known as Radiant breathed a sigh of relief at the lack of any red dragons. His next sigh was not one of relief. Once admitted to the apartment, he had the pleasure of being glared at by a pair of cats.

“Sorry,” the dark haired scientist apologized, doing his best to placate them to little avail. Eventually the two felines hopped down from where they perched and slunk off towards the kitchen. “They’re… a little protective.” Zahir lamely shrugged. He was dressed in a loose fitting blue tee and had grey jogging bottoms covering his prosthetic legs. While there were still the dark bags under his slightly bloodshot eyes, his face was fuller than Albert had seen in a while.

“As is Rubarios.” Radiant replied, settling in one of the smaller chairs near the scientist. The vast Teknight suit was sat on an even larger chair, cables running from exposed ports on the suit to a diagnostics console wheeled into position nearby. “Zahir, please take this in the most well-meaning way possible-”

“I should take another leave of absence?”

Radiant nodded, then paused. “There are still support roles available if you need to keep busy. Just not in the suit for now.” Adjusting the tight fitting blue and gold jumpsuit that formed his costume, Albert’s hand found its way to his chin to stroke as he fidgeted. “When Shining Starr was ill, I found myself becoming reckless and heated. I’m not saying you were today, I’m just- It’s only been a year, Zahir. You’ve lost so much.” Albert couldn’t stop his eyes from dipping down to look at the legs of the doctor, or glancing over at the face-down pictures on one of the cabinets. “I hit a low after Father passed, and it took me a long time to get back to my old self.”

“Will I be able to use it to visit Sophie? I need to apologize in person to her.” Zahir asked, sitting forwards a little.

“Of course. Then Rozalin wants you to use your suit as a testbed for some upgrades she wishes to make to hers. Prototyping, fitting and testing should keep you busy for a while. We can arrange some other activities.” Radiant paused again, carefully regarding Zahir before speaking. “Rozalin has found someone to join us as our new counselor. Once they’re settled in, the other members of the senior team think you should take some time to talk to her.”

“I’ll consider it.” The noncommittal answer drew a long look from Radiant. Zahir’s discomfort grew more evident before he relented. “All right. What about the government? And the press?”

“We’ve got the press statements being drawn up now. Darren’s good at what he does, he knows what to focus on and how to say it.” Radiant gave a small smile. “The government are a little more difficult. Just focus on yourself for now.”

“I’m sorry I’ve gotten you into this mess, Albert.” Zahir said, slumping back against his chair while shading his eyes from the light with a hand.

“If I’m honest, Zahir, it makes a change from my children doing it. Glimmer blew out a load of solar panels during a fight the other day, and Prism almost caused a flight traffic incident.” Rising from his chair Albert stretched his arms up, the nimbus of light surrounding him increasing a little before going back to its baseline level. “B-VOS, prepare a transport pad for my departure.”

“Of course, Radiant. Will there be anything else?” The AI responded instantly.

Zahir’s hand had fallen to the side of the chair, light snoring coming from the scientist. “Just keep an eye on him.” The older man sighed, letting himself out of the apartment.

“I always do.”

 

The Consequences (Part 2)

“I’ll help you out of that.” Ruby was saying, drumming her knuckles lightly against the top of their helmet. “Just… take a seat so I can reach.”

With a nod, Teknight fell back onto the extra-large custom recliner in the reception room of the armoured hero’s apartment. The pair had only just arrived back at Unity Station, the orbiting space base of VIGIL.

The low Earth orbit structure contained planet-facing monitoring and imaging technology, links to a satellite network for secure communications and reporting, and space-facing systems to watch over the stars and protect the world from threats. The artificial gravity drive and array of facilities made it a popular home for some of the more globe-trotting heroes.

On hearing the click of the helmet locks releasing, Ruby carefully lifted it clear to reveal dark ring-framed eyes, puffy and red. “Oh, Zahir…” The red-head sighed softly, pressing her lips to his forehead after sweeping some of the sweat-slicked black hair back.

“It wasn’t supposed to-” His words were cut off by sobs as his head bowed, shoulders shaking with each sorrowful gasp. “It… if…”

“Just let it out, Z.” The dragon soothed, moving behind the grief-stricken man so she could slip her arms around him as he sat. She let him cry for a while before speaking again. “It could have been much worse.”

“But I-” Zahir’s voice failed him again, hoarse from his tears.

“Rozalin’s team is beginning the clean up. We all agreed that a limited team would go in to deal with a containment situation. Your new recruit is stable and continuing to improve with medical treatment.” The dragon woman’s fingers flicked out one by one as she made each point. “And yes, while they got away, the amount of spent fuel they stole was small in the grand scheme of things.”

“I thought I was ready to get out there again.” He said quietly.

“I know.” Ruby gave him a quick, gentle squeeze with her arms. “Do you want to get out of the suit yet? Or would you like a cup of tea first?” She leaned over so she could playfully wink at him. “You know I’m good with a teapot, unlike most of the Yanks here.”

That brought a slight smile to his lips, in spite of the day he had. “Tea, please.”

 

Once Ruby had headed to the kitchen, Zahir grabbed his glasses from the table besides the large chair and slipped them on. “B-VOS?”

“Yes, Zahir?” The feminine voice of VIGIL’s command AI came from above.

“Teleport them here from my lab.” He gave the order with weary resignation. Light flashed in front of him as a storage crate suddenly materialized from within a shimmering sphere.

“I am sure Ruby would be happy to assist you in-“

“No.” Zahir’s slender features were set in determination. With a thought, the interlocks released from the chestplate of the Teknight armour. The arms were the next to release. The cool air of the apartment chilled his bare skin, muscles on his arms bunching up as he hauled himself free from the confines. With some acrobatic skill he rolled off the suit and onto the floor, wincing as the plastisteel pelvic region replacement clunked on the floor.

“Is everything alright?” Ruby called from the kitchen.

“Just fine.” He called back, his hands fumbling with the clasps on the storage case. Once opened, he drew one of the prosthetic legs out and hooked it up to the interlock of his artificial hips. With the limb working, he could easily sit up and connect the other.

“Sunshine Grey, just as you like- oh for the love of, I said I’d help!” Ruby grunted, trying her hardest to suppress the wisps of smoke and embers from erupting around her. Uncontrolled combustion was a no-no on Unity Station. Setting the cup down, she easily lifted the scientist up from the floor. Ignoring further protests from him, she slung him over her shoulders in a fireman’s lift, grabbed the cup of tea, and took both of them through into the guest bedroom he had been staying in.

A pair of cats looked up at the sudden entry, eyes alert as they took in the scene. Apparently satisfied, they rolled away from their spot on the pillow. With the tea set on the bedside counter, Ruby then hefted Zahir off and placed him on the bed. The two felines were quick to assume their normal position, the white cat purring against his right arm as the black one nestled up against his waist.

“I was going to say I don’t need to go to bed, but…” Zahir trailed off, his hands moving to fuss over the head of each cat as they nuzzled against him.

“Tea, bed, and beloved pets.” Ruby smiled. The cats gave her a long, hard look at their designation. She had always found something a little unsettling about the pair, a quality even she couldn’t put a finger on. Toshiro was fond enough of them in life, and even before they came into his care Zahir had been besotted with them.

“Zahir?” B-VOS spoke again. “Radiant is here to see you.”

The growing, if still small, smile that had been on his face vanished.

“I’ll hold him off for a bit.” Ruby promised. “Get some tea in you, Z, and don’t let the uptight torch do your head in.”

 

Radiant was only glowing a little as he waited outside the door. The years had been fairly kind to him, his weight only just starting to gather around his middle, and it was only the hair at his temples that had really gone grey, the rest a soft brown. “Rubarios.” He nodded stiffly, before taking a step towards the door.

Ruby’s arm shot out, her crimson fingernails clicking against the doorframe as she blocked his path. “Not yet.”

“Not yet?” An incredulous look crossed the second generation hero’s face. “Teknight was at the center of a serious incident, one which we are still trying to resolve now.”

“He’s only just gotten out of the suit, Albert. Let him get a little settled first.”

The glow around the older man jumped up in intensity as their eyes locked, bright hazel against burning amber.

“B-VOS! Tell him he’s got half an hour, but I then I am coming in there.” Radiant snapped. “No matter who is in the way of the door.”

“Of course, Radiant.” B-VOS dutifully replied as the hero stalked off down the corridors.

“I guess I’d be that stuck up too if I had all those batteries up my arse.” Ruby muttered as she watched him leave. She would have sworn she heard a barely suppressed laugh coming from the speakers of the AI system. “Did you say something, B?”

“No.”

The Consequences (Part 1)

Escorted by the women of Black Spectrum’s 7th Order, OGRE Lieutenant Simon Glay was marched into the throne room of Tiberius Black with sleek rifles pointed at his back. Behind him, his unit was under similar guard. Of all of them, only his pilot Ciel did not wear a look of terror on her face. Her blind eyes saw nothing of the dimly lit throne, or the massive form sat upon it with a hundred arms jutting out from his back.

“We present the accused, Lieutenant Simon Glay of the 2nd Order!” The elite guard at the front of the procession announced in a harsh voice.

One of Tiberius’s hands gave a little motion. Light poured from the thousands of screens built into the dome on top of The Spire, showing scenes from throughout his domain as the trial was broadcast to his citizens. The illumination from the monitors showed off his bare torso, the skin dark and body defined with a classical depiction of muscle. Fifty pairs of cybernetic limbs were grafted to his large back, making quieting motions to quell the voices of those present in the room and watching the event.

“Proclaim his crimes to the people and I.” Tiberius Black spoke, his voice possessing a rich timbre.

“On a mission to claim valuable resources for us all, he ordered a premature withdrawal, limiting the amount of supplies his team could retrieve.” The woman spoke, gesturing back to the man who had been guided onto his knees. Simon’s helmet had been removed prior to entering the chamber, his white hair and pale, handsome features on display to all. “Furthermore, he requested the ship use valuable resources to remain hidden in N-Space while he conspired with a member of VIGIL, to treat the wounds of one of their members!”

The furore of the crowd of senior figures in the throne room started up again until their leader gestured for their silence.

“Do you have anything else to add before he is granted his right to speak?” Tiberius asked, his silver eyes focusing beyond the cadre of guards to look directly at Simon.

“The Lieutenant claims his orders as his own, and wishes any punishments his unit would receive be placed upon him, instead.” She looked a little confused as she said that. Usually these cases went the other way, with the leading officer placing blame on their troops to lighten their own punishment.

“Noted.” Tiberius nodded, beckoning for him to rise. “You may speak before the people and I, Simon Glay.”

“My actions at the area of operations, while questioned by my immediate commanders, were only to further the goals of our organization, our leader, and our country.” He declared. “Originally, I urged caution and a conservative modus operandi due to the interference of VIGIL. My exact orders to my Sergeant would be ‘Some is better than none’, verifiable in ops communication logs.”

All eyes of those watching fell on Tiberius Black as he leaned back on his throne, stroking his strong, smooth chin in contemplation. “While fortune often favours the bold, greed can blind us and cost us much more than we are willing to pay. You have more to say?”

“I do, Master.” Simon nodded. “A combat situation occurred that resulted in the wounding of a VIGIL member, and the deaths of four of my unit. An opportunity presented itself, to allow me to bring the fallen home for burial, and to acquire something valuable.” Clearing his throat, Simon looked left and right before doing his best to look up at the face of his leader. There was an immense weight and force to the presence of the man they followed, and it took everything Simon had not to crumple before him. “It was to that end that I issued the orders I did, and undertook my course of action.”

The guard who proclaimed his crime wheeled to face him. “You did not present this item to me!”

“In the interests of security, it is only for him, and those he wishes to have access, to know of.” Lieutenant Glay shrugged off the fury of his inquisitor.

A warm chuckle filled the room. All eyes turned to the laughing leader. “You have piqued my interest, Lieutenant. I shall allow you to present this to me in private for my considerat-”

“But-” The guard’s interruption was cut off as Tiberius Black bolted from his chair. With fifty-one pairs of fists clenching, the guard had a second to consider her folly before the weight of his will snuffed her lifeforce out. The guards around him and his unit recoiled from the fury of their master. Several of his team cowered back from the display of wrath, same with some of those present in the room.

To their credit, neither Simon or Ciel flinched.

With another gesture, a wall of force separated the leader and the lieutenant from the eyes and ears of others. “Step forwards, Lieutenant, and hope that you have not displeased me.”

It took every ounce of grit and determination to step close enough to present his sole-working cybernetic arm. After a moment of intense thought to operate the field medic attachment, a pair of vials were procured and presented. “This is genetic material and blood from Sophie Reynolds, known to the media as ‘The Walking Chernobyl’, responsible for the Owens Grove incident four years ago.”

Leaning forwards, Tiberius rather gently took the pair of vials into his hands. Reaching back, he passed it into the mass of artificial arms behind him and lowered the barrier around them. “Lieutenant Simon Glay, know that you have pleased me this day. Earlier I said fortune favours the bold, and fortune smiles upon you now, as do I.” The smile of Tiberius Black was a brilliant white one from a row of perfect teeth. “You acted in the best interest of Black Spectrum, and sought glory for us all rather than just yourself.”

The corpse of the slain guard staggered to her feet, animated solely by the will of their master. “The verdict is yours to proclaim.” A deathly whisper issued from the blue lips of the body.

“In the eyes of the people and I: Innocent.” Tiberius stated, releasing his will to let the guard fall once more. “And before we rest tonight, we should reflect on those who lost their lives in service to us all, and how they have come to rest in our sacred soil.” With a stomp of his foot, a bell sounded throughout the dome to sound the end of the trial.

 

A pair of arms wrapped around Simon’s neck the minute he was out of the room as Ciel threw herself against him. Still dressed in the form-fitting grey and black pilots suit she wore on duty, the blind woman pulled herself up to kiss him on the cheek.

“I wasn’t scared,” the voice of the strawberry blonde sounded in his mind, “as I knew you’d be alright.”

Easily carrying her along with him as he walked clear of all the hubbub outside the throne room, Simon found a recess to wait for the crowds to clear. “Are your powers of foresight so strong now that you can know the future so?” He teased.

Her head shook, a smile touching her lips. “No. I just know you.”

A Dangerous Op

The two armour-clad individuals, one hero and one villain, crawled on their stomachs towards the injured girl in the room. Sophie Reynolds was laying on her back, hands clasped over the gunshot wound to her abdomen.

“Sophie?” Teknight called out.

The teen started to move a little.

“No, stay where you are. You need to move your hands so we can treat your wound.” The hero ordered, looking over to Lieutenant Glay. The soldier was changing the head over on his sole cybernetic limb.

“Can you do anything about the radiation from the wound?” The soldier asked.

Adjusting the output levels on their gauntlets, Teknight started to project the dampening field over the oozing wound. Sophie’s body clenched from the added discomfort until Simon jabbed a needle full of serum into her thigh.

“It’s Revita.” Glay said, waiting a moment before removing the needle. “Promotes tissue regeneration and dulls pain.” Noting the sort of look Teknight was giving him, he added “Fifth generation, addiction doesn’t start to form with this until three uses in a five day period.”

“I said nothing.”

“You were saying nothing quite loudly, in fact.” Simon chuckled, carefully moving the field medic attachment on his cybernetic arm into position over the wound. “Initiating the medical scan… there is still some interference, but nothing critical.”

“I’ll see if I can dampen the radiation any more. Stay strong, Sophie.” Teknight spoke, altering the field projector settings on the fly. “Once we can move her, we have artificial blood products on our ship.”

The soldier just gave a nod of his head, going over all the data pouring into his field of view. Carefully lowering the arm, a cylinder popped out of it and started to push needles from its body, pricking the wound and injecting numbing agents to help with the pain as much as possible. Sweat beaded on his forehead inside the suit as he exercised the fine control needed to operate the limbs with such precise and minute movements.

“Why are you doing this?” The question came from the hero eventually.

“Those who die for Black Spectrum deserve to rest in its soil.” The reply was quick and confident. “Tending to your injured comrade on our terms assures my ability to carry out that sacred duty.”

“I meant coming here to take nuclear waste.”

“Ah.” Simon sounded rather amused. “When Tiberius Black commands, we obey. Perhaps another time we could debate the role and effectiveness of sanctions, but as for now…” The head on the field medic attachment quickly switched over to a claw device on a flexible cable that lowered into the wound. “The bullet did not go deep.”

Noticing Sophie’s bloodied hand reaching over, Teknight took it and gave it a reassuring squeeze. “Stay strong.”

“I’d chide Sanders for his lack of trigger discipline but…” His damaged artificial arm gestured to where the corpse was. With a clink, the now irradiated bullet landed on the floor. The arm switched tasks again, patching the damage as best he could in the situation before filling the wound with a dollop of pink paste that quickly set. “She’s safe to move now.”

Cutting off the projected dampening field made the Teknight suit’s onboard computer a little happier as heat and power drain levels started to return to normal. With the uttermost care the hero gathered Sophie up and rose. “I’ll take her to be further treated. See to your men, I will inform my allies of our terms.”

Lieutenant Glay was already lifting one of the bodies to sling over his broad, exoframe-clad shoulders. “Wise, we would not want a misunderstanding, would we?”

 

“What the hell’s happening here, Tek?” Ruby demanded, flaming sword in hand. Between the long red hair, the red leather trenchcoat and the matching trousers, it was clear she had a penchant for crimson.

“There’s an OGRE Lieutenant in the fuel facility. Adrian? Go in and apprehend him as peacefully as possible.”

Adrian looked over and nodded. At ten foot tall and six wide, the massive robot did not seem like an Adrian, but it was what he elected to name himself. “Proceeding.” The deep synthetic voice stated, stomping off towards the target location.

Teknight kept moving towards the unit Sophie had been transported in, issuing orders to the control AI on both ships to prep for medical treatment. With a team of androids and gynoids loading with the latest medical treatment programs to work on her, Sophie would be in good hands. Ruby’s question was ignored for as long as possible, at least until the red-head dragged them aside.

“Are you sure you’re fit to back at work?” The woman asked with concern written all over her face. “No one would blame you if you needed more time off.”

Armour plated shoulders sagged down. “I need to be doing something, Ru.”

“Questions are going to be asked, though. You need to-” A chirp in Ruby’s earpiece distracted both of them as a flurry of communications came in.

“Target is not found.” Adrian reported in a rumbling monotone.

“Another spatial disturbance is occurring behind the plant.” B-VOS added. “The Black Spectrum ship is appearing again.”

With a crackle of flame, Ruby’s coat split down the back into a pair of scaled wings. With a quick beat of them she was up in the air and darting towards the location in question. Just as she crested over part of the building, the ship lurched away and faded out of sight, leaving the woman swearing and spitting flame with equal intensity.

“The trapped technicians have the system back under control.” Adrian reported from inside the facility. “They are beginning automated services. I will escort them out in the mobile shelter once they are ready.”

Getting her tempter under control, Ruby tapped a finger to her ear. “B, transfer mission control to me. Tek, you’re off duty for the moment. Get in a decontamination shower.” She ordered, looking over to where her friend was. With weary movements, Teknight departed towards the showers that had been set up at the perimeter. Every step was followed by Ruby’s worried gaze.

Overpowered

“Black Spectrum’s training style must have improved.” Teknight grumbled, soaring through the sky dodging gunfire and energy blasts from the cybernetically-enhanced soldier. Building up the energy charge destined for the blasters, the hero shot back down with gauntlets glowing brightly. The first shot blazed incandescent, and following behind the light got the drop on Lieutenant Glay.

So concerned with blasting back the shot fired at him, he didn’t see the suit drop down from behind. With fists roaring with power a single punch sent him hurtling back. The pursuit after Simon was cut short. Skidding along the ground, the soldier’s feet lashed back. The massive boots collided with the shielding around Teknight’s head, jolting the hero back.

Simon rolled to his feet and darted back, striking with solid blows from his armoured fists, knees, and the ends of his cybernetic arms. It only took a moment for Teknight to get their bearings, then the pair were brawling against the backdrop of the Eighth Creek Nuclear Power Plant.

“Not much you can do up close, Teknight!” He chuckled, snaring the wrists of both arms with his hands as the arms of his OGRE suit began a flurry of beatdowns on his foe.

A single thought shifted the configuration of the Teknight suit’s shields, then both were consumed in the sphere of blue fire scorching out like a supernova.

 

The sound of gunfire made Sophie flinch in her hiding place. Something had been shot, she wasn’t sure what, but peeking out let her see the soldiers in their sleek uniforms fiddling with some device. The amber lights above the arms started to flash as the system reactivated.

“Hurry up.” One of the soldiers said, his accent a little thick. “The suits give us some protection, but we shouldn’t risk overexposure.”

All in a row, the remaining rods started their descent into their protective shielding units. The apparent leader of the team tapped something on the device he was carrying. “Two of you per rod, and I want four of you on guard.”

The building shook suddenly as an explosion detonated outside. Sophie grabbed on tight to avoid falling out of cover. Even a few of the soldiers stumbled.

“Make that six of you on guard.” The order came.

 

“Simon, do you require air support?” The pilot of the Black Spectrum ship’s soft voice sounded in his mind.

Picking himself up from where he had been flung back, Simon Glay dusted himself down. “No. Land behind the plant and change the route out for the men, Ciel.”

“Moving in now. Take care.” The message ended with a feeling of warmth and encouragement sweeping over him. Grinning under his helmet, he whipped one of the glue grenades from his belt and loaded it into his rifle’s launcher. A blast of power from where Teknight had landed slammed against one of his cybernetic arms, sending warning messages scrolling along his visor. But tracking the trajectory back was easy. With a pull of the trigger, the grenade sailed over to burst over the hero.

Simon’s free hand worked quickly, loading and firing another, then his third and final one for luck. He spared Teknight a quick glance, the suited superhero straining against the viscous goo, before bolting for the power plant.

“Glay to strike team, get as many rods as you can now. We’re leaving before our enemy’s reinforcements arrive.” He sent the order over his command network.

“Lieutenant, we were asked to clear out the-“

Simon quickly cut his subordinate off. “Some is better than none. Double time.” The power readings his suit was picking up from behind told him without needing to look that it wouldn’t take Teknight long to burn through the special ordinance.

 

“You heard the Lieutenant! Double time, let’s clear out!” Sophie heard the order issued.

“Sergeant? What about the motorized cart there?” A young man called out. “We could use it to get more.”

“Check it out.”

Pushing herself back into cover as far as she could as she heard the footsteps approaching, every nerve in her body felt chilled with fear.

“It’s got a key in it, Sergeant!” The younger soldier stated, heading to the seat. From what Sophie could see of it, it reminded her of those ride-on mowers her dad was always talking about getting.

As the soldier looked around to back the cart up, it was almost like their eyes met through their helmets. The man tilted his head quizzically at the shadow he saw. His entire body tensed up. Yelling in shock, his finger squeezed the trigger to send a hail of bullets her way. The sound was awful, loud as it clattered against the cover she was cringing against. Something warm flooded through her after a brief, sharp sting. A gloved hand patted her abdomen, coming up glistening with red.

“Contact, contact!” The soldier called, trying to free his legs from the cart he sat on. The next thing he saw was a burst of blue, his mouth filling with the taste of metal and his body arching back like he’d been hit by lightning as radiation burned its way through him.

Every warning light and siren in the room went off as Sophie staggered out from her hiding place, her stomach leaking ionizing rays and blood in equal measure. The last words she recognized was the Sergeant screaming for his troops to evacuate as her knees gave way and her legs collapsed.

 

OGRE Lieutenant Simon Glay, 2nd Order, bolted towards his subordinate. The tactical overlay on his command network display showed one two dead soldiers, one rapidly approaching that state, and another soon likely to go that way. Eight were on the ship, leaving just him and the Sergeant in there.

“What happened?” He asked as he hauled the junior officer clear.

“Sanders… shot someone who was hiding, Lieutenant.” The Sergeant gasped, struggling to find their footing as they made their escape. “Next thing every warning is going off and the others are dropping like lead sacks.”

Procuring a syringe from his belt, Simon drove it into the drug administration port on the man’s thigh. “Get to the ship and finish the mission. I have something important to attend to.” He ordered, tapping into the command network to force the Sergeant into following the order. Some Black Spectrum officers relied heavily on that function. Simon knew when and where to use it.

Sending his thoughts out, his mind touched against Ciel’s. A flurry of information was quickly exchanged, thoughts coloured by feelings and feelings clarified by thoughts. With everything that needed to be conferred done, Simon pushed the Sergeant onwards and ran back towards where he last left Teknight.

 

With a full burn of the suit’s thrusters, Teknight was free and rocketing towards the power plant. There had been a brief warning message about Sophie’s condition before the signal had been interrupted, and a sick feeling had settled into the hero’s stomach.

“I’d proceed with caution, Teknight.” Simon stated as he came into view in the main hall. “Your comrade is injured, and has taken out three… ah, four of my men.”

“Then get out of my way!” Teknight’s modulated voice roared.

The Lieutenant simply lifted his arms. “I will, and shall even offer you my assistance in treating them. This suit is capable of some medical functionality that could stabilize the patient. You also get to stop this place from becoming even more of an environmental hazard.”

Landing to avoid overheating the thrusters, the hero looked at the soldier. “And what do you get in return?”

“Four lead-lined coffins and a ship to fly my fallen comrades back home with.”

The Hot Zone

“Teknight, we have a situation developing.” The computer-generated voice of VIGIL’s command AI, B-VOS, sounded in the helmet of the hero. “I am detecting spatial disturbances occurring within the vicinity of the exclusion zone put in place.”

Teknight stopped the work on trying to restore the computer control functions of the facility and looked over to where Becquerel was. The teenage metahuman was up amidst the array of arms exposing the spent fuel rods to the atmosphere, carefully working as instructed to manually release the arms and lower the rods back into their containment system.

“Withdraw our Vigilwing to a safe distance and dispatch some backup.” Teknight ordered over comms, mindful of the creeping count up on the suit’s radiation shielding tolerance levels. Unclipping a module from the waist of the armour, it was soon attached to the computer console to try and continue the restoration work in their absence. “Becquerel?”

Sophie looked over, ineffectually wiping at the visor on her head. Temperature readings in her vicinity were decidedly uncomfortable. “What’s wrong?”

“There are enemies approaching this facility. I will do my best to hold them off until reinforcements arrive. I need to you to stay here and continue your work.” When Sophie raised a hand in protest, Teknight cut her off. “If the lights around you start flashing amber, get out of there.”

“Okay…” Nodding, the young woman got back to work. There was a slight pause before she called out “Good luck!”

With a wave, Teknight primed the flight system in the armour and took off down the hallways, switching the suit’s profile from support to combat mode. Power surged to the gauntlet-mounted energy emitters, and once clear from the hastily opened and shutting doors the shielding systems switched over from environmental hazards to defensive mode.

An angry flash of red rippled out above one of the watchtowers on site, shattering a hole through reality. As space warped, a curved black ship in a scarab beetle-inspired design emerged to land. The weapons systems were already locking onto Teknight. Ports opened on the bottom to dispatch helmeted soldiers in sleek, dark armour, each clutching an assault rifle.

There was a moment of indecision as they leveled their weapons at the hero before something spurred them on towards the power plant. Any attempt to halt their passage would have to wait as the ship they arrived on opened fire at Teknight. Barrelling left and right to avoid the volleys of crimson plasma streaking forth, the hero’s answering blasts of blue tore through one of the cannons firing in their direction.

Another blast skittered across Teknight’s shields. Looking down, the source was a lone soldier. The dark armour he wore was much bulkier, suggesting an exoframe component for additional strength and defense. Instead of the smooth helmets the lower ranks wore, his bore an ornate, if ugly, monstrous design of a fanged face. A pair of additional cybernetic arms bearing heavy blaster units jutted out from the unit on his back. With a wave of his hand, the enemy ship shot skywards out of the hot zone.

“Teknight, correct?” The soldier spoke, an urbane tone to his voice. “A pleasure to meet one of VIGIL’s greats.”

“And you are?” The hero called out, a raised gauntlet firing towards the soldiers heading towards the plant.

There was a flash from the soldier’s back, a burst of energy cancelling out the shot heading for his comrades. “OGRE Lieutenant Glay, of Black Spectrum’s 2nd Order.” He spread his arms in greeting, the ones on his back mimicking the pose. “But please. Call me Simon.”

“Becquerel, you have armed soldiers heading your way. Hide somewhere safe.” Teknight quickly sent the message into the plant. “Pull your troops back, Lieutenant. I will not let Black Spectrum take those fuel rods.”

“I’m a sporting man, Teknight, and an officer looking to make a name for myself. If you defeat me, you will have ample time to stop my fellows.” Simon called back.

“Back-up will arrive in ten minutes.” The voice of B-VOS chimed up, along with a visual indicator for the arrival of a reserve team.

“And if you beat me?” Teknight replied, leveling a hand towards the OGRE.

“Infamy and fortune will come my way.” Simon replied. “Though… not if.” With a scream of power his cybernetic arms let loose a barrage of shots while plucking an assault rifle from behind his back. “When!” With a solid thunk sound, the grenade launcher underneath the barrel launched its payload.

Dodging and deflecting the beams of red light surging past, a plume of fire erupted around Teknight as the grenade struck true.

Reactive

It had been many years since Sophie had traveled via air. The unit she was traveling in now was only a little more comfortable than economy class, a shielded cargo unit strapped to the underside of a sleek Vigilwing rapid-response VTOL. The trip from her protective suite to the unit was done quickly to minimize the risk from her powers, and once inside she had found a form-fitting jumpsuit with a helmet and backpack to put on.

“Not only will this provide you some protection from hazardous environments your body is not able to cope with,” Teknight had said over the commslink built into the helmet, “but it can also protect others from your own radiation emissions.”

The black jumpsuit and plastic-looking full helmet and pack didn’t look particularly fashionable, and the armour-clad hero seemed amused by the comment Sophie had made about it. “Perhaps in time you will get to design something a little more you. Get used to wearing it, we will be there in under twenty minutes.”

“A Vigilwing is that fast?”

“We would be there in fifteen without the cargo attachment.”

“Sorry.” Sophie said, sitting back on the slightly uncomfortable bench in the unit. “So, the plan?”

 

Her first time out of Raven Ridge in four years… was pretty much just like Raven Ridge. Barbed wire, security cameras, warning sirens and cooling towers. The main difference was the lack of the laboratories, educational facilities and the special containment unit she called home. She practiced her breathing exercises as she waited for Teknight to join her, trying to dampen the fear of being out in the real world once more.

“Teknight, Miss.” A police officer spoke, her cap tucked under one arm. “The ECPD extends our thanks to VIGIL responding to us at this dire time.”

“Officer.” Teknight quickly shook the woman’s hand. “Were you able to make the arrangements we asked for?”

“A mobile shelter has been positioned as close to the building as my officers were willing to risk getting. There are essential provisions in there for the trapped workers, and if it is safe to move them out, it may be a tight squeeze but they will fit in.” The officer replied. “Everyone has been evacuated and decontamination is in process.”

“Excellent.” Teknight nodded. “You have our thanks. See to your own safety, we’ll go on alone.”

The officer breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank you, Teknight. And…?” She looked quizzically to Sophie.

“Becquerel.” Sophie quickly spoke up before Teknight could put her name out there.

With another nod of thanks, the officer departed. As the two started towards the building, she could feel Teknight’s questioning gaze. It was the hero who spoke first.

“I figured you’d give your own name, considering that episode of Judge’s Judgement.” Teknight said, heading out a way in front towards the wheeled shelter sitting near the reinforced sliding doors into the main hall.

Sophie shrugged. “It’d be nice, but…”

“But what?”

“First I figure it’s best to see if I can help out like you think I can before putting my name out there.”

“And second?”

The teenager’s sigh was audible over the commslink. “I think letting them know the ‘Walking Chernobyl’ was in their area might not reassure them as much as they need.”

A massive gauntlet clasped her shoulder as she joined Teknight by the mobile shelter. “You have a good head on your shoulders. I’ll need that for this. I’ve been in contact with the trapped workers. They are going to open the security doors for us as we get this in.” Parts of her power armour slid open to reveal cooling vents and heatsinks for the servomotors. “Get to the front, I’ll use the camera on your helmet to guide it along.”

With a nod, Sophie took her position and grasped the handles. The doors into the facility groaned as they started to slide open, and at Teknight’s command she started walking forwards, the shelter following. In her visor, a map of where they were and where they needed to go appeared.

“Do I have to worry about frying this tech?” Sophie asked as they headed towards the first junction.

“It is rad-hardened. No need to worry on that front.” Teknight replied, their metal footsteps clanking along the ground as they walked. “First corner coming up.”

 

It took almost a quarter of an hour to get the mobile shelter through the narrowing corridors to its place outside of the nuclear shelter. Then they had to lower the unit on its suspension to ground level, and extend the airlock to cover the door, purging and then sealing it to prevent contamination getting into the room.

“Let’s move on ahead.” Teknight called. “I want to take a look at the problem while I have time in here.”

The deeper they moved into the complex, the quicker the external meter on Sophie’s suit climbed. Security doors that should have been shut were open, and controls that should have worked from the nuclear shelter and other areas were unresponsive. When they arrived in the fuel facility to one of the reactors, the hero came to a stop. “Becquerel?”

“What’s wrong?” Sophie asked, turning to look at the hero on the outskirts of the room.

“I’m going to need your vision as you get closer. Look ahead and to your left.”

Looking where she was directed, she saw a lot of automated arms descending from the ceiling via rail systems mounted above the machinery. Some of the arms had been used to bypass the shutter locking mechanism on the spent fuel containment units, while others had reached in to grasp the internal units and lift them up out of their protective shielding. The cherry red glow from the exposed rods was rather alluring.

“Sabotage?” Sophie gasped.

“Motive can wait for now.” Teknight spoke. “We need to get to work.”