Nico had woken up feeling refreshed after the sleep he had gotten last night, the dark elemental had often had a poor relationship with sleep in the year following Kate's death often having nightmares about her death. Nico had pushed himself to go as long without sleep as possible, driving himself into the ground as he lived his miserable hate filled life. All that had changed since he had reconnected with Janessa and especially since he had revealed the true depths of his feelings for his feral friend. Nico had thought about the discussion that he and Janessa talked about last night, and he was certain that helping the Sanctuary, helping Cody's old friends was the right course of action. Nico wanted to give Cody the good news as soon as he saw him, he was sure that it would cheer Cody up, as Janessa said he hadn't had the easiest of times lately.
Nico had spent much of the day with his piano, playing some music, keeping his mind and fingers busy whittling away the time until he and Janessa could go on their date. The music was also serving as another kind of distraction, Cody still hadn't come home yet...Nico knew that he could take care of himself but it wasn't like the density shifter not to check in. He had his communicator after all. Nico trusted Cody and he understood needing some space but if he didn't check in soon Nico would really start to get worried. Nico had other things on his mind though, soon enough it would be time for his date and he wanted it to go right, he knew that what he had planned was good but he just hoped Janessa liked it as much as he thought she would.
Michael couldn't have been happier when Bennet agreed to let him talk to Pascal, his abilities meant that he would inevitably walk out of the meeting with exactly what he wanted; access to Lucas Lee. That was exactly how the exchange had transpired, Michael winning over Pascal quickly, using his abilities as liberally as needed to not only give him access to the seer but also to implant the notion that Oliver Taylor was a reliable, trustworthy and competent employee. With Pascal and Bennett at odds hopefully the seed of trust that Michael had planted in Pascal's mind via his charmspeak would give him even greater access to Pascal, his resources and possibly even higher up. Through Pascal he might just be able to get a meeting with, and possibly influence, the Director himself...
[#cc8000 "Stop what you're doing. I have permission to question this subject, it comes from Agent Pascal himself."] Michael had made sure to get the order in writing so that it was irrefutable. The three torturers that were assigned to Lucas examined the document closely but eventually relented and stepped back, their hands still dripping with Lucas' blood. Michael took a few moments taking notes about the super's condition, what had already been learned from the torture, a few minor predictions that had already come true before bending down to look the seer in the eye. He received a blank stare in return. There was a man who had learned to survive despite what was being done to him, whether he even knew what was happening was beyond Michael. It would have driven the Charmer insane, it likely had driven Lucas mad long ago. The seer's voice was weak, cracked and hoarse from the screams of despair and pain but with Michael next to him it was loud enough for the leader of the Sanctuary to hear. A wicked smile crossed Michael's face.
It was finally time for their date and Nico was nervous. He looked himself over in the mirror and it was a different man looking back at him. He was no longer clad in black, ready to melt into the darkness but instead a reasonably well dressed young man looking presentable. His long black hair had been cut and was no longer the unkept mess it used to be, a pale blue shirt was worn in place of the black cloak he often favoured. The unsettling swirling black eyes would have to be hidden in public so not to draw attention to himself and to cover them he wore blue coloured contact lenses. In the back of his mind he realised that this was probably the first time that Janessa hadn't seen him in black. Nico waited downstairs idly playing the piano for Janessa to finish getting ready and to join him. The night ahead was sure to be a memorable one.
<<I thought we cold do a time skip to the next day after this post. That way we can have the date between Nico and Janessa, and Cody will have been missing for a greater length of time.>>
[b “Michael may have good intentions, but I still don’t trust him. We had no bad blood with Michael the first time we met him, and he still forced us to nearly kill each other. Now, after years of seeing him as the enemy, how do we know he won’t use his abilities against us again?”] Janessa pointed out, though her concerns were more personal than she let on. She felt ashamed of her actions the last time they had dealt with Michael. Janessa had always been strong-willed and independent, and yet Michael had her swooning over him after a few charming looks and a couple enticing words. Janessa had been so head-over-heels for the man that she hadn’t even realized he was manipulating her. Once she discovered the truth, she felt used and betrayed. She couldn’t believe she had been so foolish as to fall for Michael’s lies. That type of personal shame wasn’t easily forgotten.
[b “So you think we should help them? I’m sure Cody would be happy to hear that. If you think it’s the right course of action, Nico, then I am with you. I just don’t want to get anywhere close to Michael. After our last encounter… I don’t want anything to do with that manipulative bastard.”] Janessa agreed. She didn’t want to put herself in that vulnerable position again, but Nico was right to say the decision wasn’t just about Michael. The rest of the Supers didn’t deserve to be casualties in Bennett and Boyd’s twisted war. Those Supers needed help, and who knows, maybe they’d be willing to return the favour one day in the future?
[b “In that case, we’ll talk things over with Cody tomorrow [i after] our dinner. If he wants our help saving the Sanctuary, maybe it is worth discussing a truce with Michael… or at least one of Michael’s more trustworthy followers. For now, I think I’m going to turn in. get some rest Nico.”] Janessa said with a warm smile. She gave him a quick kiss goodnight before retiring for the rest of the evening, both excited and anxious for what the morning would bring.
Emma was just as fatigued after their long day, so she too decided to end the night. She was just heading towards one of the spare rooms, when she caught the look of disgruntled concentration on her little brother’s face as he sat staring at his computer screen.
[#1122aa “Dylan? Out with it, Kid. What’s going on?”]
[#ff6622 “I hacked into the communications feed outgoing from the Organization. Bennett’s ordered a series of agents to find you, me, and Sarah.”]
[#1122aa “So? They’ve been looking for us for months and they haven’t found us. We’re safe here. Why do you look so concerned?”] Emma asked, not liking the worry that creased her little brother’s forehead.
[#ff6622 “I’m worried because they’re looking for you, me, and Sarah… they said nothing about Cody.”] The Technopath answered, giving Emma the chance to connect the information.
[#1122aa “Which means they either already have Cody, or they want to use one of us to get to him. I’ll call Sarah and see if she can track him down. Maybe you should ask Shadow and Tigress for help?”] She suggested, knowing if her brother needed a rescue team, it would be useful to have an Elemental and a Feral on their side. Dylan, however, had other ideas.
[#ff6622 “No, we can handle this ourselves. Nico and Janessa are so looking forward to their date tomorrow, and honestly, they need a break. I don’t want to ruin this for them.”]
Emma watched her brother’s expression carefully, not seeing any waiver in his resolve. Either he truly didn’t want to interrupt their one, peaceful night together, or he didn’t want them involved for some other reason. Either way, it was not her place to argue.
[#ff77ff “If you think you can convince Pascal on your own, it might be best if you speak to him yourself. I may have escaped any immediate sanctions, but it’s no secret Pascal isn’t pleased with how I was running things in his absence. You have my permission to speak with him Oliver. And I do hope you find your new assistant to be of use. You certainly deserve a reward for all of your hard work.”] Bennett replied, more than happy to give Oliver the praise for a job well done. The young man was charming and dedicated to his work. He certainly had a way with words, perhaps he could convince Pascal to give him access to Lee on his own.
[#ff77ff “I do have one last request, Oliver. As I mentioned, those files contain the Supers we hold in captivity that are willing to join us and fight for the Organization. I think it’s about time we put some of them to the test. Especially since I’ve recently lost the allegiance of both VooDoo and Nightmare. In addition to choosing your own assistant I would like you to select one or two that you think are capable enough to bring me the Tanner siblings.”] Bennett instructed, knowing she’d need more than the Organizations’ trained operatives to find the fugitives that have been successfully evading them for months now. Even if Oliver was right in thinking that Boyd’s crew could find and execute the Density Shifter, it would only make him a martyr to the Super’s cause, and provoke his friends and family to attack out of revenge. Better to have a hostage or two to dissuade any vengeful acts from the other side.
[b "The sad thing is from what Jason told me Michael hadn't always been this way. Sure he had always been a passionate and vocal advocate of Super rights but he hadn't been this extreme. Jason had liked him and so had Kate, their instincts had always been good and they were right. I only met him a few times but he was nice enough kind even but i never liked him...perhaps because I was a little jealous."] Nico didn't want to say too much, it wasn't a great topic of conversation for anyone. This psychopath had toyed with Janessa and Nico, he had taken Keelyn for himself and watched them blame each other for his own amusement. Michael was so casually cruel that he honestly found the idea of two friends tearing themselves apart appealing. Nico had been jealous of the charmer when they had first met, how could anyone not be? The man was probably the best looking person in the world, he was charismatic and intelligent...it didn't help that Kate had a little bit of a crush on him for a while.
[b "I think you're right Janessa, a truce with the Sanctuary would be best for everyone but Michael is the issue. Most of the people there are innocent, everyday folks just trying to live their lives. They don't deserve what the Organisation will do to them. As you say Michael is the issue but that might not necessarily matter. We should help because it's the right thing to do, if things had worked out slightly differently it would be us in those cages waiting to be experimented on. Michael's actions might be extreme but his motivations are just, he just goes about it the wrong way."] Michael was an interesting character, there was no question that he was a villain after everything that he had done but he had been pushed into being this monster by the Organisation. He had started out with noble intentions, he still had those same intentions, but perhaps the tough nature of his fight for equality and Super rights had twisted those intentions. He had become the villain that he had wanted to fight against and Nico pitied him for it.
[b "The world is far more complicated for its own good. We've tried fighting them both and we've been bloodied every time. I can't believe that i'm about to say this but Michael might just be the lesser of two evils when it comes to the Sanctuary. He at least has good intentions, his endgame is noble whereas the Organisation just want to cut us open and see how we tick. We are nothing but lab rats to fill their curiosity, they fear and despise us simply because of what we are. I feel like this and I hate Michael and most of the people in his Sanctuary, Cody must be a mess of confusion. When he comes back we can talk about helping him whatever way we can... as long as it doesn't mess up our dinner plans. I wouldn't let Michael, Pascal, Bennett or anyone else interfere with that."]
Michael listened to Tara Bennett talk, apparently Cody Tanner had been rathe busy since he had last seen the treacherous little snake. Dealing with the density shifter was a simple matter, Michael had kept the density shifter in line for years before Dylan Tanner had ruined it all. If he had to Michael could control Cody again and given time bring him back on his side.
[#cc8000 "Tanner is an issue but not one i'm concerned about. Boyd might be a fool but his casino can be a fortress when he wants it to be. His hired goons should be enough to subdue almost any warrant super, including one who walks through walls. Good plan, his weakness has always been family, those so called heroes are all the same. They're weak, fragile and putting pressure on just the right place will break them all. Once we have any of the other Tanners Cody will do anything we want. Boyd will work with us on this."] The cogs in Michael's mind were turning, formulating a plan, he had always thought himself smarter than most, certainly smarter than Cody Tanner and Bennett as well. His time at the Organisation had shown him a lot and now everything was falling into place, Bennett had just given him anything he could ever need in this one conversation. A super of his own to use as he wished and possible access to Lucas Lee and his unique ability.
[#cc8000 Thank you Ms Bennett, I know that my research on Lucas Lee could be of great use to the Organisation.If Pascal says no, I'd like a chance to talk to him myself, maybe if he heard about my proposed research directly from me it might help him understand what it is I want. And the offer of my own assistant to further my work is incredible. There is so much that I can do with this."] Given that Michael was a powerful super in his own right he knew what to look for plus with the Sanctuary supers at his disposal he could pick one that was already fiercely loyal to him, and he knew just the win. Unbeknownst to Bennett or Pascal in the raid they had by chance captured one of Michael's most loyal and dangerous of followers, one of his assassins. They had handed a weapon to him and he would make them regret it. Michael might just be ready to strike at the Organisation and take it for himself sooner than even he expected and they would never even see it coming.
[#cc8000 "Don't worry Ms Bennett I know exactly who I want for an assistant..."]
[b “I don’t think Cody wanted us to know how hard it was for him. We talk about the Sanctuary as if it’s as bad as the Organization. Cody probably assumed we wouldn’t understand him still having friends there.”] Janessa said, feeling a twinge of guilt that she hadn’t even considered Cody’s other friends. He had walked away from his entire life when he met them; given up every relationship he had and made it impossible to return to them. The thought made Janessa feel even more remorseful for how hostile she and Cody had been to each other lately.
[b “If Michael wasn’t… well Michael, I’s consider making a temporary truce, for Cody’s sake. I doubt they can fight Boyd and the Organization at once, and I can’t see any other way for them to reclaim the Sanctuary. It might also repair things between Cody and his old friends.”] Janessa suggested. Cody had sacrificed a lot for each of them, and this would be something they could do for the Density Shifter in return. Janessa would seriously consider making the offer if it weren’t for the serious threat posed byt eh Sanctuary’s leader.
[b “Of course, it’s impossible to trust Michael. If we even get close, he could use his powers to manipulate us again. After he almost made us kill each other last time, I don’t want to let that happen again.”]
Tara Bennett was in her lab, flipping through the files she had just received from her assistant. She was pleased with Oliver’s work so far. He certainly did have a keen eye for these Supers, catching strengths and weaknesses that the esteemed researcher had missed on her first glance at the files. It was almost as if he knew these Supers personally… of course, that was impossible, since Oliver’s interaction with the subjects was limited to what Bennett herself had assigned him.
Bennett didn’t look up as Oliver stepped into her office. Her eyes kept scanning over the information in front of her, seeing no point in delaying since she knew who he was and presumably why he was here. It was only as he mentioned Boyd’s casino that she was prompted to turn her full attention to her Assistant. She stared at Oliver for a moment, seeming to piece together how he learned of this sensitive information. Before addressing him directly, Bennett hit a button on her intercom to contact on of the Organization’s administrative assistants.
[#ff00ff “Ms. Lawson, please remind Mr. Greene the definition of the word: Confidentiality. Then tell him if he wants to keep his job, he’d better find another supervisor in this building to take pity on him, because he’d NEVER setting foot in my lab again!”] Bennett snapped before ending the call and turning back to Oliver with a look that showed how little patience she had left. Obviously, the chaos at Boyd’s casino had poisoned the woman’s moon, and Bennett was far from friendly at the best of times.
[#ff00ff “I am well aware of what’s happening at Vincent Boyd’s casino; what I don’t need is for Pascal to get wind of it. He already thinks I’m incompetent and I don’t want him to think our arrangement with Boyd is out of control. At least not until I can find a way to handle this.”] Bennett explained, already stressed. She motioned for Oliver to come in and sit down so they could talk.
[#ff00ff “It appears that Boyd’s casino was infiltrated by a hostile Super – one we are rather familiar with – Cody Tanner, aka Phaze. Tanner was able to break into Boyd’s office and violently attack the man. Boyd’s private guard was able to intervene before any fatal damage could be done, but Tanner managed to escape.”] Bennett reported, all of which she assumed that gossip-mongered had shared with Oliver already. But there were certain details she was sure no one had overheard.
[#ff00ff “We know Tanner’s still in the building, since several of Boyd’s captive Supers have been released from their cells. The guards have been dispatched to handle the problem. They’ve been instructed to execute any Super who tries to escape. In the meantime, I’ve been asked to dispatch my own team of agents to find leverage over Tanner, in case he tries to slip away. My agents are tracking down Sarah, Emma, and Dylan Tanner as we speak.”] Bennett shared. One way or another, Cody Tanner would be dead by the end of the day. The only variable was how many Supers would die along with him in the process.
[#ff00ff “I’ve also sent a team to find the elusive leader of the Sanctuary, Michael. He must have been orchestrating this from the beginning. He’s probably working with Tanner. I won’t have a force like that standing against the Organization. I’d rather every Super we’ve captured be killed off, then have them returned to that rebellious little rodent.”] Bennett seethed, not realizing that she was speaking to the very man she just swore to take down.
Ranting to her assistant did seem to take the edge off of Benentt’s frustration and she was much calmer when Oliver brought up his request. It didn’t hurt that he opened with the incredible work he had done with the assessments. The files he had given her would indeed prove very useful for her experiments, especially the tests on the Catalyst. Unfortunately, Bennett was not the one who could grant fully approval for what Oliver asked.
[#ff00ff “You’re work on evaluating our new assets is commendable, and were it up to me, I’d let you do whatever experiments you wanted to. Unfortunately, Pascal is now back in control and Lucas Lee is one of his assets, not mine. I’ll speak with Pascal and see what I can do. Maybe he’d in a generous mood. In the meantime, I have a reward of my own to give you.”] Bennett stated, opening the drawer of her desk and pulling out a small collection of files containing information on several of the Supers , and handed the files to Oliver.
[#ff00ff “You know my position on cooperating with Supers. Personally, I find them revolting, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have their uses. These are the Supers in my charge that have willingly offered their services to the Organization. Each understands that they are to do what we say, when we say it, without question, and any failure or disobedience will result in severe consequences. In appreciation for your good work these past few months, I’ll let you choose one to be your… personal assistant. Your very own, obedient, little pet.”]
[b "I suppose a careful visit wouldn't be too much to ask. It would be nice to seem him again, he is an old, old friend, possibly the oldest I have. You're right, we can go in a few days."] Nico hadn't really thought about Lucas in the years since they had last seen him, he had been preoccupied with far more pressing thoughts. Lucas had helped them when he didn't have to, Nico valued loyalty and Lucas had shown that he would help those who needed it, even if he hadn't seen them in years. I Emma was right Cody was probably fine and just wanted his space but Nico didn't like anyone to go off on their own, that was when they were most vulnerable and their vast array of enemies would be looking to capitalise.
[b "I understand needing space more than most and I guess I never appreciated how hard it was for him to leave the Sanctuary behind."] Nico had always been a solitary figure, even when his parents had been alive and he was normal. He didn't have a lot of friends and after he became the Shadow it only made things worse. Nico had Jason and Kate but soon enough he was alone again until Janessa came around. He could never understand being around so many friends for so long, Cody had been surrounded by friends for the longest time and now they were in danger. Nico would probably react the same way as the density shifter.
Michael had confidence that the supers he sent would get as many of the Sanctuary residents out of the Organisation's clutches as possible but until then he was their best chance at freedom. Working from the inside was still the best longterm plan that he had. Unfortunately he could no longer put off Bennett any longer, he had received a message that the Catalyst had arrived. It didn't take long for him to make his way from his workspace to Bennett in her lab.
[#cc8000 "Excuse me Miss Bennett, I have just been informed that the Catalyst has been brought into the facility. It seems that the asset was already in transit before all the commotion at Boyd's casino. Do we know for certain what has happened yet?"] Michael was wary of the Catalyst after all, he had no idea how this new weapon of Bennett's would affect his own abilities but it was a bigger risk leaving her and the Catalyst alone, and any information that he could get about Boyd would be useful. He had his people to free after all.
[#cc8000 "What did you think of my assessment of the supers in our possession. I thought that those in particular would be useful for research purposes. I do however have one request, I would like permission to perform one slight experiment on Lucas Lee. I know the prophet has been useful but I may just have had an idea on how to vastly improve what he can give us. It's just a hunch so I don't want to get too excited just yet, but if this works...I'm sure I don't have to tell you how big it would be if we could fully harness the prophet's powers. I would be grateful if you could do what you could to pull those strings with me."] Michael was deeply fascinated with Lucas Lee being tortured for his visions in the depths of the Organisation, he had been able to resist Michael's orders and the Charmer wanted to know more. While he hated to see supers experimented on and suffering, even he had to admit that Lucas' ability was too important to leave to chance, if Michael could see what would happen before his enemies then he would surely win his war and take control of the Organisation for himself. He needed Bennett's help to start the next stage of his plan but hopefully she would be far too preoccupied with the Catalyst to care about what a lowly research assistant like him was doing. The torture of Lucas was regrettable but necessary and if it helped Michael's plans work out then it would all be useful.
[b “You’re right. The last thing I want is to put Lucas in danger after he was so kind to us when we needed his help. I guess I’m just getting a little desperate. I swore to Jason that I’d do anything I could to free him from the Organization’s hold and I haven’t been any help at all. If Lucas had some information…”] Janessa trailed off, not even sure what she was hoping to hear from the prophet. Even if they did find Lucas, it wasn’t likely that he’d have a premonition that would tell her how to bring down the Director. Janessa shook her head and returned the smile Nico gave her. Maybe what she needed was a genuine break from all of this to clear her mind. Her dinner with Nico the following evening would certainly give her that.
[b “Still, a visit shouldn’t hurt as long as we make sure we’re not followed. At least then we could make sure he’s alright and I’ll have the chance to properly thank him for helping us two years ago. Maybe in a few days you and I could make the trip?”] Janessa suggested. Even if they didn’t recruit Lucas, it would be nice to see the man again. Two years is a long time and Janessa didn’t want the Prophet to think they had taken his kindness for granted.
When Nico asked about Cody, Janessa didn’t have an answer. She hadn’t seen him since they returned home, and the Feral had just assumed the Density Shifter wanted to be alone. She noticed Cody’s odd behaviour since they left the Pierce Estate, but her attempts to get Cody to talk were in vain. But upon their return to the safe house, Cody went straight to talk to his little brother, so she assumed this was a family matter she had no business intruding in. While Janessa could only shrug, Emma was quick to answer.
[#1122aa “He’s probably checking on his friends. The Tanner family has a nasty habit of abandoning the people we care about, but that doesn’t mean we ever stop caring. Didn’t you see Cody this afternoon? He could hardly tear his eyes away from Dylan’s computer – watching the security feeds from the Sanctuary. He lived with them for years; some of those Supers are more of a family to him than we are.”] Emma pointed out. She wasn’t too worried. She knew Cody would never try to fight his way into the Sanctuary. Cody would never risk a run-in with Michael. But since most of the Sanctuary Supers were either captured or in hiding, Emma could only assume Cody went to check on the few he could find.
[#1122aa “Give him some time Nico. Cody’s loyal; he’d never leave us for Michael. But sitting here and watching his friends get attacked by that psycho… he’s probably just making sure they’re ok. Don’t worry. He’ll be back.”]
Cody slipped through the walls of the Casino, cursing himself as he went. He almost killed Boyd, once and for all, but his anger left him unfocused and open for an attack. The density Shifter had hardened his fists into stone and beat the man unconscious, not unlike Nico’s violent attack on Pascal, but in his rage he failed to notice Boyd’s bodyguards rushing to the man’s rescue. Cody was lucky that a few deep gashes and some rapidly darkening bruises were the worst of his injuries. He was able to seep through the floorboards and escape before he could take any more serious damage, but the encounter left him fuming. Boyd deserved to die and Cody refused to leave until the man was dead! None of his friends would be safe so long as Vincent Boyd drew breath. Unfortunately, the entire building was now on lockdown, preventing Cody from calling in any reinforcements and with every guard searching the building for the Density Shifter, it made escaping this nightmare a real challenge. Fortunately, Cody wasn’t entirely alone.
Finding the captive Supers from the Sanctuary was easy. Most of them were locked in the same cells Boyd used to contain Tigress, Shadow, and Tech on the occasions that they had been held here. Each cell seemed specially equipped for the Super it contained though it was the empty cell on the end that made Cody’s blood boil. Black mirrored cell, void of any and all light, intended to limit the powers of Boyd’s current target: Starform.
Were it not for his rage against Boyd and the distracting pain from his current injuries, Cody might have realized his lapse in judgement. If Starfire, one of his close friends, was unwilling to forgive him, the Density Shifter should have known better than to trust any of his other former allies. Instead, Cody wrongfully assumed that freeing the captives would earn back their trust and together they could go back and finish what Phase started with Vincent Boyd. Unfortunately, his former friends were about as forgiving as Starform was.
[#336699 “Ice, Delta, help me free the others.”] Cody ordered as he broke an Elemental and a Feral out of their cells. The Feral nodded reluctantly as he turned to unlock the rest of the cells, but the Elemental had other plans.
[#99e6ff “I don’t take orders from traitors!”] The young woman hissed, conjuring a spike of hardened ice and lunging at her old friend as soon as his back was turned.
Cody felt the sharp piercing pain between his shoulder blades and realized on of his former friends had just literally stabbed him in the back. It was poetic justice, really. His former friends betraying him, just as he once turned his back on them. He should have known to keep his guard up. At least the wound wasn’t too deep – nothing fatal so long as he took care of it – and the Feral stepped in to control the situation before things got out of hand.
[#006600 “Ice! Until Michael sends us reinforcements, that Traitor is our best chance at getting out of here. Try not to kill him until we’re free.”] The Feral growled as he shoved the Elemental away from her victim. He wouldn’t waste their precious time on needless bloodshed, but it was clear that Delta held little concern for Cody either.
The Density Shifter used his abilities, hardening his skin to protect from further harm and to slow the bleeding for the time being. He tried not to take the violent attack personally, but Cody couldn’t help but wonder if all of his former friends would be so willing to treat him as the enemy. Would Star? Maybe it was for the best that he never met her in person.
[#336699 “If Michael is sending reinforcements, then you guys will be fine on your own. I’m going after Boyd. It won’t take much to finish him off now, and he won’t stop hunting you until he’d dead.”] Cody spoke through gritted teeth as he bared the pain in his back. All he had to do was get close enough to Boyd for one last strike and the threat to his friends and family would end with Boyd’s last breath.
Michael expected this assistant to simply do as instructed and leave him alone but instead he was subjected to some mindless happy words, clearly this idealistic young fool thought he was worth far more than he actually was. Michael had to exhibit great restraint to not not instruct the man to walk into traffic and end this annoying little brat but fortunately for the assistant the information was actually mildly useful to the leader of the Sanctuary. A density shifter could only be Cody Tanner, the boy had always been troublesome, the whole Tanner family were trouble in Michael's experience but in this instance Cody had just given Michael an opening. With Boyd's operation temporarily shut down he might be able to gain some of his people back from that animal. Not every one of his loyal inner circle were at the Sanctuary, he needed those he trusted out in the world doing other jobs for their cause, he was going to have to call them in right now.
[#cc8000 "Indeed, the security here is top notch, I doubt that any super could successfully infiltrate this place, like you say we have the best security in the world."] Michael could barely keep the sarcasm from his voice, part of him wished the naive fool told Bennett the same thing, she would tear him to shreds. Now that would be amusing. As soon as Michael was alone with his files again he immediately sprung into action, he would need to act fast while Boyd's operation was down in order to rescue those that had been taken from the Sanctuary.
[#cc8000 "Phantom, Gladiator, Beast, converge on Boyd's casino immediately, his operation his down, move fast and we might be able to rescue our people. If you can kill the man while you are there do it, but the prisoners are the priority."] With three of his most loyal and powerful followers heading to Boyd, along with Cody Tanner still there he might just be able to turn this situation to his advantage.
The dark elemental was attempting to play chess with Emma but the speedster simply didn't have the temperament or patience for the game, perhaps he would have more luck playing with Dylan, the kid did have a more technical mind. As he saw Janessa and her smile, he offered one of his own, the pair had come along way and for once things were actually going their way.
[b "Believe me I have some idea. I'm quite looking forward to it myself. That night seems like a lifetime ago, so much has changed since that night."] Nico thought back to the first time that he had met Janessa, it had been pure chance that the two had crossed paths and luck that Nico decided to help. He didn't know why he decided to help the bleeding woman on the roof those years ago but he was eternally grateful that he did, there had been terrible moments in their life since but there had also been wondrous moments as well. The truth was that Nico couldn't imagine what his life would be like now without Janessa.
[b "You're right Lucas was a prophet but he didn't seem to even know that he had abilities, let alone how to use them. I'm reluctant to seek him out if I don't have to, this is a dangerous life and if he doesn't want to be in it we can't force him into it. It might be worth a visit but I'm not going to force him into anything."] This group knew how dangerous making enemies of the Organisation and Vincent Boyd could be, Nico would not allow someone to be drawn into a fight and make those enemies simply because he asked them for help. If Lucas wanted to join them of his own accord then Nico would welcome him with open arms but that was a choice that Lucas needed to make for himself.
[b "Where is Cody? I've not seen him in a while?"] The lack of the density shifter wasn't a huge concern, Nico knew that Cody could take care of himself but from past experience no good came from the group being fractured and friends going off alone. In all honesty Nico didn't want to think about Lucas at all right now, that would mean thinking about the Organisation. He just wanted to enjoy the moment for now and focus on being normal for a change, his dinner with Janessa the following evening being the most important upcoming event right now.
Hearing Starform’s gentler tone brought Cody back to those confiding conversations the two once shared. Cody had been a young, reckless, troublesome teenager after he ran away from his parents’ abusive home. While Sarah worked hard and did her best to earn her new life, and Emma had simple created as much distance as possible between her and her old home, Cody’s attempt at being independent were a bit more deviant. He was always in trouble with the law – petty theft, mischief, break and enters… he was running from the cops the first time he was discovered by one of Michael’s scouts and welcomed into his new, peaceful life at the Sanctuary. Even so, Cody was slow to open up to people. Laura had been one of the few that had broken through Cody’s shield and actually gained his trust. He remembered telling her everything about his past… even the harsh truth about abandoning his baby brother. That’s why he hoped she would understand why he had to stay with Dylan now, even if it meant leaving his life at the Sanctuary behind. Sadly, Cody and Laura were on two very different sides of that decision.
Phaze understood why she couldn’t leave Michael and the Sanctuary and he would never ask her to. But he still held some hope that they could continue being friends outside of their current loyalties. Starform’s request proved he was wrong. She wanted him to ask forgiveness of the man that had manipulated, imprisoned, and fought against his friends and family. He forced Janessa and Nico to fight, he had forced Keelyn to be his personal guard, he stole an innocent child and kept him away from his mother, and even now, Cody was sure Michael would be happier to see him dead than begging for a second chance. No, he didn’t want Michael’s forgiveness, because Michael hadn’t earn his. He couldn’t do what Starform wanted.
As much as Cody wanted to answer back and explain his side of things – as desperate as he was to make her understand his good intentions – Starform’s last few words silenced him. [i “You are an enemy… That’s just the way it is.”] It was an ultimatum: join us again, or be an enemy like the rest. Starform didn’t realize what she was asking… or at least, Cody hoped that was the case. He desperately hoped she didn’t realize that by asking him to rejoin Michael, she was asking him to abandon his friends and family – to leave the people that counted on him for his own selfish needs. Just like he did when he left Dylan alone with his abusive parents. Just like he did when he left a blind, deaf Tigress alone to fight the Organization. Just like he did when he left Star at the Sanctuary in the first place. She should have known that a decision like that would cut him to the core.
Instead of cutting back with some defensive retort, Cody simple ended the call. It was less than an hour later when Cody found himself staring up at the vibrant lights of Vincent Boyd’s casino, preparing himself for what was to come. From what Dylan had shown him on the security footage from the Sanctuary, Boyd’s Electrokinetic Super, Sparks, was still detained by Michael’s orders. Without his electricity to mess with Cody’s phasing abilities, he shouldn’t have any difficulty breaking in and getting to Boyd. Cody had no doubt that the Crime Lord had other Supers in his ranks that could and would take him down, but he was arrogant enough to believe he could reach Boyd before they did. If he could take out the Boss, the rest of Boyd’s minions would fall and the threat to Starform and the others would end.
The assistant took the files from Oliver and quickly flipped through the names and numbers on the folders, curious to see who Bennett’s right hand assistant had chosen.
[#777766 “Of course Mr. Taylor, I’ll see to it that Ms. Bennett gets these immediately. I’m sure she’ll be looking forward to some good news.”] The assistant replied – pale man with a clumsy demeanor who seemed a little too eager to talk… he wouldn’t last long under Bennett’s strict authority, that was for sure.
[#777766 “Did you hear? It was a good thing Bennett had the Catalyst delivered to us when she did. Mr. Boyd’s entire operation is temporarily shut down. I overheard Ms. Bennett on the phone just a few minutes ago.”] The man stated, as if this gossip was the most entertaining bit of office shatter he’d heard all week. The man took a little too much pride in being the one to spill the details with Oliver, clearly thinking it a personal victory to know about something that Bennett’s top assistant hadn’t heard yet.
[#777766 “Apparently some stupid Super broke into the Casino and attacked Mr. Boyd! Almost killed the man! The entire building is locked down – no one in or out until they catch the guy, but they’re having a hard time finding him because, get this: the Super can walk through walls!”] The man reported, clearly finding the whole situation humourous.
[#777766 “Ms. Bennett seemed pretty pissed off. I think she’s worried about the same thing happening here, but really? How’s some dumb Super supposed to break into the Organization? We’ve got the best security in the world! Anyway, these files might cheer her up a bit. Thanks Mr. Taylor. Good luck with the rest of the files!”] The assistant stated as he tucked the folders under his arm and skipped out of the office to find Bennett.
Janessa stepped out of her room after putting away the clothing and items she had retrieved from her home in preparation for her date with Nico the following day. She had noticed some odd behaviour from Cody, but simple assumed he was worried about the Sanctuary. After all, he did have friends there before he decided to join their team two years ago. Deciding it was best to give the Density Shifter some space, she went to find Nico, unable to stop that warm smile from spreading across her face once she saw him.
[b “You would not believe how much I’m looking forward to our dinner tomorrow night. A beak from all this chaos; a quiet night to ourselves, just the two of us… I think the last time the two of us spent any real time together, you were helping me bandage my arm in that old, abandoned church.”] Janessa reminded him of the first time they met, back when Pascal was the only one they had to worry about.
[b “That reminds me… The man we stayed with, Lucas… he was a profit, wasn’t he? Lucas could see glimpses of the future? Do you think he could help us now? I mean, any information on the Organization or Boyd, or the Director might help us find a way to protect ourselves.”] Janessa suggested, since no one from their group had heard about Lucas’ capture two years prior. Janessa had been thinking lately, it might be worth a visit to their old friend.
[#19701e "Well we were somewhere safe, i'm not sure that's true anymore. I'm sorry Cody, I shouldn't have said those things about your family that wasn't fair. I remember you telling me about what it was like growing up with your parents. I know it can't have been easy."] Starform's voice was far kinder than her earlier words had been, the truth was she felt guilty about what she had said. She had known Cody for a long time, they had been friends and she said those things to hurt hi. Laura had never been a cruel person but right now her whole world was being torn apart, she was lying in a hospital bed, her home had been destroyed, her friends had been captured and the man who she trusted more than anyone else in the world was dealing with it all alone. It was frustrating.
[#19701e "Of course Michael isn't innocent. I might not agree with everything he does, I might not understand why he does everything but in the end he does it for the greater good. Think about all that Michael has done, he built the Sanctuary up from nothing, he took in supers who needed shelter, who had no one else to turn to and nowhere else to go, including you! No one else has done as much for Supers as Michael has. He goes too far because he has to, he makes the tough choices that others can't."] Starform had been a broken, pitiful soul before Michael had found her out on the streets of the city barely an inch from death and brought her to the Sanctuary. He had nursed her back to health, shown her what it was like to be around her own kind, to be trusted, respected and loved. Starform had developed into one of the few people Michael trusted and was his visible right hand in the Sanctuary. In return he had earned her unquestioning loyalty, for better or worse.
[#19701e "I'm not going to let you protect me, I can't as long as you stand against Michael. I'm sorry but that's just the way it is. I owe him too much. Cody if...if you apologised to Michael, asked to come back i'm sure he would take you back. Think about it but until you are one of us again I can't give you my blessing. Do whatever you want, protect me in your own way but don't expect me to be happy about it. Until you come back to Michael, come back to us, you are an enemy. I'm sorry Cody but that's just the way it is."] The light elemental had chosen her side long ago and she knew that deep down she would follow Michael to the ends of the earth if that was what it took. As much as she liked Cody if he stood in their way then he would need to be dealt with, one way or another. She truly hoped that he would rejoin them and they could retake the Sanctuary together but she didn't hold her breath for such an eventuality.
Michael flicked through he various files on the supers taken from the Sanctuary, categorising them into who could do what and those who would be of most use to the Organisation. It took a lot less time for him as he already knew what most of those who were brought into the Sanctuary were capable of. Right now emotions were running high with the prisoners so he made sure to keep himself hidden, he didn't want a rash word form one of the Sanctuary supers to reveal who he really was and ruin not only his undercover work but also their best chance of getting out of the Organisation alive and unscathed.
[#cc8000 "I could definitely use him and her...maybe him as well. This is going to be hard."] Michael muttered under his breath, whatever way that he looked at it he knew that there was no way that he could save everyone quickly. The reality was that some people that trusted him were going to suffer and die in the Organisation, he couldn't do this as it stood. Even if Starform was fully fit it wouldn't make a difference. Bennett and Boyd would be watching theses supers carefully so subtle had to be the key to whatever plan he concocted. Michael was furious that he couldn't see a way out of this situation right now. Michael needed to free supers who had the best chance of surviving, of who would be most useful to him, he needed these people to be tools rather than people. The leader of the Sanctuary readily used people to further his ends but this was different what he decided now might possibly bring everything he had been working on for so long tumbling down if he picked wrong. He needed to move up the timeline of his plan. He needed a face to face meeting with the Director. On top of all of these worries Bennett wanted him to prepare the Catalyst for Pascal, whoever that was. Hyperion might be willing to help an old friend but if he was linked with Janessa Pierce the empath likely would detest him as much as the feral bitch did. Perhaps toying with her had been a mistake, a fun mistake, but a mistake nonetheless.
[#cc8000 "You there, give these files to Miss Bennett, it's the first batch of supers that Boyd brought in for research. Do it quickly, she doesn't like to be kept waiting."] The files that Michael gave were those that he had already established would be of no use to him. As much as it hurt him to send his own kind to the slaughter, to be experimented on it was necessary for the greater good. Their deaths might mean life for the rest of them.
Cody wasn’t surprised at the hostility that echoed across his communicator, but that did little to soften the blow. No amount of mental preparation could shield him from the harshness of Starform’s accusations. Cody had abandoned her, as well as all the others at the Sanctuary, with not a word of goodbye or a hint of explanation. In the two and a half years since he left them, Cody had made absolutely NO attempt to contact anyone from his past, nor had he showed any sign of remorse or lingering interest in those he’d left behind. On several occasions he had actively stood against the Sanctuary’s leader, sided with their enemies, and even used his knowledge of the Sanctuary to break in and take one of their newest assets – baby Jackson, while his current allies fought and injured his former friends. Of course Starform would see him as the villain in this, and Cody had no way to defend his actions aside from the fact that he had done all of this for the good of his family… albeit, a family that had abandoned him as a child and ultimately led him to see the support and kindness of the Sanctuary in the first place.
[#336699 “Starform, please…”] Cody started to plead his case, only to be cut off by the remainder of her rant.
Cody was relieved that Starform couldn’t actually see his reaction to her words, because he visibly winced when she called out his motives for contacting her. [i “You’re calling because you feel bad, not because you actually want to help.”] That statement was a little too close to what Janessa had accused him of before they left the safe house and what Dylan had said to him years ago when they reconnected in the Sanctuary. Cody felt a physical ache in his chest at the thought of that becoming his legacy. It was his greatest flaw – acting selfishly, impulsively, getting his friends and family hurt, and never being able to make amends without them assuming it was for the wrong reasons.
The only thing that could break Cody out of his own self-pity was Starform’s mention of [i playing happy families.] Once again, the selfish, impulsive side of Cody’s mind won out over his composure and reason. He spat out his retort before he even had the chance to consider his words!
[#336699 “You think my life has been a dream since I left? I was separated from my family for two years after what Boyd and Bennett did! My sisters and brother were tortured! My friends have been hunted like animals! I have burned bridges with almost EVERYONE that I care about, and they’re about as quick to forgive me as you are! My life has been a nightmare since I left the Sanctuary! At least you and the people you cared about were somewhere safe!”] Cody was finally able to put a stop to his outburst after that. He gave a frustrated sigh and pinched the bridge of his nose, knowing Star would be even less likely to accept his help after he yelled at her like that. He just wished she could understand. He didn’t leave because he wanted to, he left because he HAD to, for the sake of his family. He could never admit it to Dylan, or Nico, or even Janessa, but Cody missed his life at the Sanctuary and sometimes even wished he had never left!
[#336699 “Michael isn’t entirely innocent in this Star. Even you have to admit that. He crossed the line – used his abilities to force Janessa and Nico to fight. He forced Keelyn to work for him, against her will. And that kid that we took? He belongs with his mother Star, not with a group of strangers that are only interested in him for his powers. Michael may have good intentions, but he goes too far.”] Cody reasoned, trying desperately to salvage this conversation. He saw it as a small miracle that Starfire hadn’t ended the call yet, but he knew that was only a matter of time. How had things gone so wrong? All Cody wanted was to protect his friend!
[#336699 “Look, Star… Laura… this isn’t about Michael. I didn’t call you because of him, and I’m not trying to use you against him either. I just want you to be safe. Shadow’s still recovering from his fight with you, so I know you can’t be at full strength yet either. I just want to help. If you won’t let me protect you there then… I’ll find another way. Boyd is not going to get his hands on you, I swear.”] Cody told her. His voice had softened now, betrayed the grief and guilt he had felt when she first questioned his motives. Cody knew if he wanted to, he could ask Sarah to find Starform, but what was the point if she didn’t want him there? If he couldn’t keep her away from Boyd, he’d just have to keep Boyd away from her.
[#336699 “Stay safe, Star.”]
After Janessa gathered what she needed, she and Cody returned to the safe house in relative silence. The Feral knew something was bothering her friend, but when asked, Cody was too quick to shut her down. He made sure Janessa got home safely, before telling his brother and sister he was heading out to check on an old friend, and not to be concerned if they don’t hear from him for a couple days. Starform was right about one thing: sometimes extreme actions were needed.
Starform was recovering in the hospital room that Michael had secured for her, the best doctors in the place all giving her everything that she could ever need. In truth most of her injuries were minor but the combined effort of her fight with Nico and the influence of Nightmare on her system had spread her quite thin. She was tired and needed some rest. Her only injury of particular note was the apparent frostbite on her arm when Shadow had hit her with a lance of darkness. It hurt more than it should have and it was taking longer to heal than an injury like that had any reason to. Darkness was her natural opposite, just as light was Shadow's weakness. Any damage that she took from Nico would be amplified in a similar way to how her attacks hurt him. As much as she was fascinated by the dark elemental the more pressing issue was Boyd and the attack on the Sanctuary. She had no doubt in her mind that Michael was doing everything that he could in order to fix the situation he couldn't do it alone, no matter how strong he was. Starform had been by his side for years now, far longer than most, she was one of the very few people that Michael actually trusted. The Sanctuary was her home, the people that lived there were her friends, she couldn't, wouldn't, abandon them to the fate that Boyd and the Organisation had in store for them. As the communicator that she had to keep in contact with Michael went off she was scared half to death. Starform's hand lit up with a brilliant white light, ready to defend herself before she heard one of the last voices she expected; Cody Tanner.
[#19701e "Phase? Is that you? What the hell are you doing? How are you even talking to me, this is meant to be...it was your brother wasn't it. He's a smart kid. No, i'm not ok, i'm a little banged up but you would know that if you hadn't abandoned us."] Starform had taken Cody leaving the Sanctuary harder than she thought. Phase was a friend, someone she had seen almost daily, she trusted him and then he left her to fight against her and those that followed Michael.
[#19701e "We used to be friends. Used to. How can I let you know, I can't trust you. Earlier you and your friends stole a child that we were protecting and fought against me. You're calling because you feel bad, not because you actually want to help. You can't burn bridges and expect everything to be ok and act ling nothing is wrong. Michel and I are fine, we can take care of ourselves. We're fighting a war against the Organisation and Boyd, we have been for a while, just because you are off playing happy families with your brother doesn't mean the rest of us haven't been busy. You say that you won't go back to Michael after what he's done, all he's done is protect and help us. We fight against people who despise and fear us because of how we were born. They torture, kill and experiment on us without trial and there is nothing that we can do about it. Michael does what needs to be done. It's as simple as that, if he goes to extremes it is because sometimes extreme actions are needed.
If we need your help I'll tell you but don't hold your breath."] Starform was livid that Cody could even ask to help her after all that she had done. She wasn't naive enough to believe that she and Michael didn't need any help but he was one of the last people that she wanted it from. Cody had turned his back on the Sanctuary and everyone in it, he wanted to hurt Michael. He was working against what they believed in. Starform would wait until Michael came back, he promised that he wouldn't be long, then they could decide what to do next.
Jason made his way to the medical wing, after he had returned to the Organisation he had immediately been sent on a quick mission to bring in a super, it had taken less than an hour. In the process he had taken a long cut across one eye so he needed to get checked out anyway but he had also been informed that Pascal was awake and wanted to see him. Jason actually used to respect the man, he had always treated Jason fairly if not kindly, it was more than most at the Organisation but that had stopped the moment that Kate had died. he knew Pascal's part in it and while Kate herself might have pulled the trigger it had been Pascal that killed her in Jason's view. He had nothing but animosity towards the man now.
[#06b9ea "I see you're finally awake. Pity, I had hoped that Nico would have killed you. What do you want, I'm rather busy."] The fact that Pascal still seemed to be in some amount of pain and that he hadn't fully recovered was a small piece of compensation to the Empath. As Pascal indicated his, or rather Bennett's, plan by ordering Hyperion to bring in White Tigress Jason's brows furled. He didn't like where this was going.
[#06b9ea "No. I don't take orders from you anymore Adrian. Unless the order comes from the Director you can go shove it up your ass. I'm not yours to control anymore."] Jason knew it was dangerous to provoke Pascal, even if he was weak right now he would get better. if the Director did give the order to bring in Tigress then he would be in a difficult situation but he didn't think it would come to that, not yet anyway. The Director had met with Tigress, that he knew for a fact. If he had wanted her Jason would have been ordered to take her in immediately but that hadn't been the case. Unless the Director gave the order the Organisation wasn't getting anywhere Janessa, he would make sure of that. Jason studied Pascal, he had hated this man for two long years and here he was weak, frail and in front of him, he could kill this man so easily. He was about to take a step forward, to snap this man's neck like he had once snapped Nico's but as the intention flooded his mind he couldn't move. The Director's orders not to hurt the Organisation directly was stopping him. Maybe one day he would be able to take his revenge on Pascal, Boyd and Bennett, he would make sure that anyone who had anything to do with Kate's death was punished.
[#06b9ea "I've got better things to do than hang around with you, more important matters require my attention".] As Jason left Pascal sighed, Jason had refused his instruction, perhaps Bennett was right about his loyalty, the only way to be sure was to get the Director to issue the order personally. While Bennett brought him the Catalyst and he could work with that particular Super he would put his own schemes into motion. Suffice to say that Bennett wasn't the only one to have a few secret pet supers of her own.
Nico wasn’t the only one feeling the need to prepare for the upcoming date. Being that Nico had only ever seen her in either her ratty civilian clothes or her White Tigress garb, Janessa was excited for the opportunity to dress up a little. Of course, all her nice clothing, make up, and jewelry were back at her former home, still vacant and untouched since her parent’s murder two years prior. Janessa would be lying if she said she wasn’t afraid to return to those familiar walls, especially after recent events had stripped her of her sister as well. Still, she had to face her fears eventually. With her recovered senses, she wouldn’t be in any danger and Janessa felt confident she could make it there and back without running into any trouble. Her friends, however, were a little less confident.
[#336699 “You’re going alone? Seriously? Because past events haven’t been proof enough that it’s a bad idea?”] Cody intervened as he saw Tigress slip out the back door. Following her into the yard, he noted that she wasn’t entirely alone – the faithful white tiger, Kyrah, was loyally waiting at Janessa’s side.
[b “I’ve had plenty of solo missions that haven’t ended in horror, you know. Even before I got my senses back.”] Janessa cut back bitterly.
[#336699 “Going to find Hyperion doesn’t count. I don’t trust the guy, but even I can see he’d kill anyone who tried to hurt you. I doubt you have that kind of back-up wherever you’re planning on going this time.”]
[b “I’m going to my house to pick up a few things. I don’t need an escort. Especially not one who’s only worrying out of guilt.”] Janessa retorted without much thought to her words. It was the silence that followed that provoked her to turn and see the impact they held. Cody was far more affected than she thought he would be, evidenced by the visible grimace on his face. To be honest, the Density Shifter had been suppressing this kind of guilt for months, even years since he abandoned Janessa to be attacked by the Organization. It was Nico’s talk that reminded him how much he was at fault for their current aggression and how desperate he was to get back to that time when he and Janessa were actually friends. Whether Janessa wanted the same or not, she was at least not willing to leave Cody feeling like this.
[b “Fine. Come with me. It will… give us a chance to talk.”] Janessa offered, not sure whether she was disappointed or relieved that Cody agreed. Regardless, the old team was back together once again as they made their way across the city an into the old Pierce residence. It bothered the Feral far more than she thought to see the hauntingly vacant building she once called home, and thought she’d never admit it, Cody’s hand on her shoulder provided the reassurance she needed to confront her past.
The Feral worked quickly to gather what she needed while the Density Shifter explored the empty house. The upturned furniture and broken décor reminded Cody of the brutality of Boyd’s attack on the unsuspecting Pierce family. Boyd was a cruel man to begin with, but to see what violent lengths he would go to in order to get leverage over his enemies. Cody could taste the bile as images from Dylan’s computer screen flashed through his mind. Boyd was doing the same thing right now to the Sanctuary in order to get leverage over Michael. It had been years since Cody allowed him to think about the friends and acquaintances he had left behind when he chose to escape with Janessa and Nico. His loyalty was to his new friends and family, but that didn’t mean he was apathetic towards the Supers he had left behind. He knew they would never forgive him for leaving, and so Cody had made no attempt to contact any of them since he fled the Sanctuary. But now that Boyd was attacking his former friends and allies, he felt sick at the thought of what was being done to them. He couldn’t just continue to ignore them, he’d risk making the same mistake he made with Janessa all those years ago!
[#336699 “Dylan? Do me a favour. You know that secure line I asked you to set up for me before the coma? Patch me through. And for once, don’t be a bratty little brother and keep the line closed? I don’t need you eavesdropping!”] Cody requested, relieved that his brother agreed to his terms and allowed him to call his old friend in private. Cody wasn’t even sure she’d be willing to hear him out, but he couldn’t live with himself if he didn’t at least try.
[#336699 “Starform? It’s Phaze. I know we haven’t spoken since I left the Sanctuary… I know about Boyd’s attack and I… I wanted to make sure you were ok. I won’t go back to Michael, not after what he’s done, but I still have friends at the Sanctuary. You and I… we used to be friends Star. Look, I know what Boyd is capable of and I know he’s after you. If you let me know where you are, I can stay with you until you recover. I can help you escape if Boyd finds you. Please Star, let me help.”]
[#ff00ff “Arrangements have already been made, Sir. I should have the Catalyst in my lab within the next few hours. Once he is secured, I shall begin testing the Catalyst’s capabilities.”] Bennett assured Pascal, keeping that calm, yet stern expression on her face. She knew winning Pascal’s favour would be easy, but it was a shame she had to play the Catalyst so soon. Bennett would have liked more time investigating the boy’s abilities on her own terms before presenting him to her superiors. Working under the disapproving gaze of Pascal and the Director was an annoying hindrance, as they seemed far less likely to approve of using the other, less useful, captive Supers as a disposable means to test her new weapon. Pascal’s obvious interest, however, may work in her favour. If he was this keen on weaponizing the Catalyst, surely he would opt to turn a blind eye if one or two of the Sanctuary’s captives suddenly disappeared. Bennett hoped that Oliver worked quickly, sorting the value of the captives. She wanted to begin testing as soon as possible.
[#ff00ff “I assure you, Sir, my work has and will always be in the best interest of this Organization. I will prepare the Catalyst to be used as you see fit. But Sir, may I be so bold as to make a recommendation? What I mentioned earlier – my concerns about Hyperion’s loyalties – I do believe they need to be addressed. As I said, my research shows an infallible authority between an Alpha and their pack. If I am correct about the Feral Bond between White Tigress and Hyperion, I believe he has the authority to make her do whatever he orders. Why not test Hyperion? Prove his loyalties to the Organization by having him order White Tigress’ surrender? Not only would we confirm Hyperion’s standing and take a dangerous Super off the streets, but we would have a test subject for the Catalyst’s abilities.”] Bennett suggested, unable to hide the excitement that glistened in her eyes.
As always, Tara had thought through her endeavours and constructed what she believed to be a flawless plan. If Hyperion refused, his loyalty to the Organization would be questioned and she would have cause to get rid of that annoyance once and for all. If he complied with their request and White Tigress refused, it would sever the pack bond between them and redefine the Feral as an enemy in Hyperion’s eyes. If they both followed their respective orders, then Bennett would have the Feral as a test subject and Pascal would have the ultimate leverage over Shadow… they all saw what lengths the Elemental would go to in order to protect the people he cared for. Why not use his loved ones against him? Or better yet, have the Catalyst intervene and if they were lucky, Shadow and White Tigress would end up killing one another!
[#ff00ff “As you said, Sir, Hyperion has quite an aversion to my orders. I’ll leave this decision in your capable hands, while I see to acquiring the Catalyst. If I can help you with anything else, Sir, don’t hesitate to call me.”] Bennett concluded as she left Pascal to his recovery and promptly returned to her office to arrange for the Catalyst’s delivery. Stepping into her lab, Bennett caught a glimpse of her scathed reflection in the mirror. The scars that marred her face from her first encounter with the Feral were still prominent, even after all these years. Tara’s hand absent-mindedly brushed the healed puncture wound in her abdomen, thinking of the matching marks on both her legs from where Shadow had stabbed her months ago. Despite the healer’s best efforts, Bennett was forever poisoned by the scars her adversaries left her with. She wanted nothing more than to pay them back in blood for all the pain they put her through. What better way than to force them to kill each other and watch the horror flood the features of the soul survivor.
His talk with Cody hadn't reassured Nico, in fact it had done the opposite, he couldn't stop picturing Janessa angry and alone fighting against everyone and being subjected to the torture and experiments of the Organisation. He would never let that happen again, no matter what. What was more he wan't sure that the Density Shifter was right; Nico wasn't sure that he did deserve happines but he was at least trying for now. It was Dylan that set his mind at ease, his cheesy, yet accurate, words made Nico feel safe. The little Technopath was right, Janessa cared for him and he cared about her, after all they had gone through they had built up a close connection and that was not to be underestimated.
[b "I have somewhere in mind, it's a nice place."] The restaurant that Nico had in mind was an old favourite of his parents when they had been alive. That was where they had had their first date, and subsequently where they went on every one of their anniversaries before their untimely deaths. They had taken Nico there for his sixteenth birthday as well, the last one they had shared as a family. It was a special place for him and it held a lot of fond memories for Nico, he hoped that in time Janessa could shared those memories as well. It was a nice place but not so fancy that the people that Janessa's parents would have socialised with would frequent. Barring some horrible luck they should be fine.
Dylan's words had reassured him that where he was planning to go was the right call. Nico hadn't gone on a first date in a long time, he was a little out of practice and he wanted to impress Janessa. After all they had gone through recently with Keelyn and Jackson he wanted to give her the gift of a night off, forget the problems of the world for once and just be a normal couple. There were still a few things that he needed to do in preparation, the dark elemental quietly slipped out the safe house to run the most mundane errands that he had done in a while, getting a haircut and buying some nice clothes. He couldn't go out on a date dressed in his usual attire. Nico idly wondered if Janessa was thinking as much about the upcoming dinner as he was, he was more nervous now than he had been breaking into the Organisation of fighting Michael. He wasn't used to being so nervous but as nervous as he was he was also excited at the prospect.
Shadow Travelling back to the safe house so the others wouldn't notice he was gone was a simple affair and for once he just wanted to relax with the friends that Nico had built such a bond with, even Emma who he still didn't really know. Despite everything that had happened recently, the day seemed to be looking up for the ragtag bunch of Supers.
[+blue "Tread carefully Bennett."] Pascal couldn't believe that she was throwing his own failings in his face when it came to Shadow infiltrating the Organisation. Her arrogance was astounding, he doubted that Bennett could even feel contrition if she tried. Pascal may have failed to capture Shadow for good he had managed to force him into working for the Organisation for a short period of time and he had never underestimated the Elemental. Pascal knew how dangerous a foe Nico could be.
Pascal listened with interest regarding Bennett's research success, the woman was talented at what she did there was no doubt of that and in this particular case she had made some remarkable successes. Her theory regarding adrenaline interfering with abilities was fascinating and the file she handed him about this so called "Catalyst" was indeed interesting. This super sounded promising indeed, if Bennett could acquire this child on behalf of the Organisation then the possibilities were endless.
[+blue "This is...good work Bennett. Make sure we get this subject into our custody as soon as possible. I want to work on weaponising his abilities as soon as possible. The Catalyst might be the missing weapon we need to finally defeat the supers in this war. Contact Boyd, you have my permission to do whatever it takes to get the Catalyst. Project Lineage does seem to be dealt with and I'm not unreasonable. I'm willing to believe your story for now, an internal inquiry will of course be held but if all goes well you will have nothing to worry about."] Pascal dismissed Bennet with a wave of his hand and returned to looking over the Catalyst's file, he was interesting indeed and the Organisation Agent couldn't help but think of ways that this super could be used against Shadow. Pascal wanted revenge and he would get it sooner or later. He would make sure of that.
[#336699 “Don’t be too hard on Janessa. She thought she lost everything, and I certainly didn’t make things easier for her.”] Cody admitted remorsefully, rubbing the back of his neck in shame.
[#336699 “Thank you Nico. You have no idea how relieved I feel to know you’re there for her. And more than that – I’m glad you’re letting yourself be happy. You both deserve that.”] Cody said with a reassuring smile as they ended their discussion. Cody returned to the other room and easily slipped into some brotherly banter with his sister, while Janessa was amused just watching he two. Dylan excused himself to speak with Nico, leaving the three to laugh and poke fun at each other in the living room.
[#ff6622 “Sure thing Nico, what is it?”] The young teen asked as he followed the Elemental away from the group. He was a little surprised to be asked for dating advice, but Nico did have a point – Dylan had known Janessa for years before the others entered the picture.
[#ff6622 “First of all, you need to stop stressing! She loves YOU, Nico; it doesn’t matter where you take her as long as she’s with YOU! Damn it, I sound like some cheesy Romance Novel.”] Dylan complained, running his hand through his shaggy, unkempt hair. It had gotten annoyingly long over the last few months while he was in a coma and Dylan had to make a mental note to get it cut as soon as possible.
[#ff6622 “I think you’ve got the right idea. Take her away from the crime fighting for a night and let her be normal for once.”] He said, unknowingly echoing Janessa’s words from earlier that night. [#ff6622 “You should take her to one of your favourite places. Someplace where you feel comfortable, somewhere she can relax. And I’d stay away from the upscale restaurants in her part of town… keep in mind, Janessa’s the only known living heiress to the Pierce fortune, and she hasn’t been seen in two years. The last thing she’ll want is for your dinner to be interrupted by the rich, gossip-hungry friends of her late parents.”] Dylan reminded him, remembering the several occasions where Janessa would storm into his old apartment, complaining at some nagging gossipers that had swarmed her at one of her parent’s charity functions. It would only get worse if her former peers discovered she had been alive and hiding all this time, having disappeared immediately after her parents’ murders.
[#ff6622 “Like I said, just don’t stress about it too much, Nico. Just be yourself and don’t try too hard to impress her. If she didn’t like you as you are, she wouldn’t have agreed to go out with you in the first place!”]
Pascal’s silence, albeit annoying and somewhat unnerving, did little to shake the Researcher. Tara Bennett was no stranger to high pressure situations and had learned long ago, how to keep her composure under circumstances such as these. Bennett didn’t get to where she was by playing it safe, nor was she afraid of the repercussions. Tara had done her best to cover her tracks, erase what couldn’t be hidden, and rationalize the rest. Ms. Bennett was many things, but Ill-prepared was not one of them.
As Pascal began her reprimand, Tara kept her features neutral and waited patiently for her chance to speak. The only thing that gave her cause for concern was his awareness of Project Lineage – not that she showed anything but confidence as he spoke. She would have to be careful to lead him away from that particular inquiry.
[#ff00ff “Of course Sir. I have nothing to hide.”] She lied with such natural fluidity one would think she was discussing the weather.
[#ff00ff “Your first concern about the Tanners is, indeed, regrettable. I did not anticipate Shadow being so difficult to control. I did, however, review the Elemental’s file and discovered that he had a history of successful infiltrations into the Organization… one of which he even miraculously survived a broken neck. It seems I am not the only one with a history of underestimating the Elemental.”] Tara stated pointedly, knowing that Pascal of all people, had no right to complain when he couldn’t handle Nico either.
[#ff00ff “Still, the operation was far from a loss, Sir. I did manage to critically wound the Technopath, removing him as threat to us. I also created the circumstances for Hyperion and White Tigress to form – what the Ferals call – a [i pack bond]. My research tells me that Hyperion, having established himself as White Tigress’ Alpha, has the authority to control her. Meaning, with Hyperion’s cooperation, we have now eliminated two threat.”] Bennett explained, knowing how to cover her mistakes and make them seem like a worthy cause.
[#ff00ff “I was also able to successfully test my research before their escape. I assure you, Sir, this was not a loss to us. As for my deal with Mr. Boyd, I assure you, it is worth our while. Firstly, I am not [i giving] Boyd anything. It was Boyd who initiated the raid on the Sanctuary; my negotiations with him are what allowed us to have access to ANY of the Supers he collected. In addition, the few I permitted him to keep are a small price to pay for what Boyd has given me…”] Bennett said, taking out the file she had tucked under her arm and handing it to Pascal. The file with the label [b The Catalyst]. Inside the file was a collection of documents and reports ; the first page including a bio and photo of a young boy, Elliot Mason, who couldn’t be much older than 10 or 11.
[b “Once I discovered that Boyd had this child, I knew it was imperative that we had him in our custody. The Catalyst has the ability to amplify the powers and attributes of other Supers, which – as my research regarding the Tanners, White Tigress, and Hyperion has proven – will lead to a total loss of their self-control. I’ve seen the self-destructive force that I could create with adrenaline, but this child can do so on a far grander scale while we are safe to watch from a distance. This boy can force the Supers to destroy themselves, and unlike Hyperion, he doesn’t have that annoying defiance. The Catalyst will do whatever we tell him to.”] Bennet elaborated, allowing Pascal to flip through the file and see for himself. She hoped the new information would distract him from Project Lineage, but she knew that ignoring it completely would only make her look suspicious. She had to at least address the matter and hope Pascal was too focused on the new information she had handed him to care about the rest.
[#ff00ff “Project Lineage, yes… unfortunately that is my fault. Some of my assistants took it upon themselves to put one of my theories into practice. I only found out about their rogue experiments a few days ago. I immediately sent my most trusted Assistant to deal with the matter – to find out what was going on and who was involved so that I may put a stop to it. Unfortunately, during my Assistant’s investigation, the entire facility was attacked by the fugitives, White Tigress, Shadow, and the Tanners, who killed everyone in sight and destroyed any data they had collected. Poor Oliver was lucky to escape with his life.”] Bennett explained, looking deeply troubled by the entire situation. She did well to act ignorant about the matter, she just hoped Pascal wouldn’t see through her lies.
[#ff00ff “Of course, Sir, I never intended to disappoint you. I’m a simple researcher, Mr. Pascal, not a leader. I did what I could in your absence, but you can hardly fault me for being unable to fill your shoes. My expertise lies within my Lab, and I can promise you Sir, you won’t regret keeping me there.”]
Sarah's admission that she didn't like violence didn't surprise Nico at all, Kate had been much the same, she had hated fighting if there was any other way of doing something but she recognised that sometimes there was a need for violence no matter how much she disdained it. Nico remembered being told about the Tanner's rough childhood and how Dylan's parents had treated him and Cody. Sarah just seemed so kind and well adjusted Nico supposed that he naively had put her childhood experiences behind her but clearly things just weren't that easy for her.
[b "If you really want me to teach you I will but you don't have to do this. If you don't want to fight I won't force you. Whenever you want to learn, just give me a call and thank you for staying with Keelyn. It means a lot to Janessa and a lot to me."]
After conversing with one Tanner he turned his attention to another Tanner;Cody. Cody had answers to questions that he had.
[b "In my experience if I pull my punches people end up dead. My capacity of hate is reserved for those who deserve it. You aren't one of those people"] Nico said the words without a hint of humour in those unsettling, ever changing black eyes of his. If he went out into the world unprepared or held back when they faced Michael or the Organisation people would get hurt. There was no way around that. Kate's death was proof of that and he himself had had his neck broken. The world that they lived in was too dangerous and being unprepared would cost lives. Nico listened in silence to Cody's tale and he didn't particularly like what he heard. He knew that Janessa had taken the events in the casino hard and that especially after she had lost the use of her feral senses that things had not been easy but he never realised just how reckless she had been with her life. Although he did feel a small pang of guilt mentally condemning Janessa for her recklessness when he himself had done far worse in the two years after Kate's death
[b "So you're saying that no healer you found could do anything about her senses? Interesting..."] Nico knew firsthand how different healers could do different things, most could heal physical injuries while others dealt with mental impairments and from what Cody had just claimed almost none could do anything with senses. That Janessa had suddenly found someone to heal her when Cody had looked for so long with no success certainly struck him as odd but given his budding relationship with the feral and his decision to trust her to make her own decisions. He was curious but no obvious alarm bells were ringing in his head. There was no substitute for a bit of good luck.
[b "I don't want her to ever be like that again Cody. Thank you for being with her when I couldn't be. I'll do everything in my power to keep her from losing herself Cody, you have my word."] Nico had spoken two two Tanners but there was still one more that he needed to speak to. Thankfully this topic of conversation was going to be much lighter than his words with Cody.
[b "Hey Dylan, can I have a word?"] Nico needed to get the young Technopath away from Janessa and her once again improved hearing.
[b "Dylan yo've known Janessa longer than any of us, I need your opinion on something. I want to take her out to dinner, somewhere nice and classy. The sort of place that she would have gone when she was just Janessa Pierce and not White Tigress. Do you think she would like that or should I think of something else? What do you think she would like? I just don't want to mess this up."]
Pascal heard her enter the room and address the healer that had been working on him but he gave her no response. He didn't even acknowledge her presence he wanted her to sweat. Pascal read through his papers and occasionally jotted down a note on one aspect or another. The silence stretched on, one minute, two minutes...five minutes could be a long time when you were standing there waiting for something and Pascal wanted Bennett to feel every second that passed. Eventually he looked up from his work to look at her.
[+blue "Yes I did. I was reading over these reports about your time in charge and I would like something explained. Would you care to tell me how you have lost custody of both Dylan and Sarah Tanner, promised half of our captured supers to Vincent Boyd, practically drive Hyperion to open rebellion to the point where the Director is having to personally intervene and explain where these rumours surrounding what was it...Project Lineage are about. You have a lot of explaining to do tara and it had better be satisfactory."] Of course Pascal was interested in what had happened but primarily he just wanted Bennett to know that her actions had consequences and her failures were piling up. Pascal was a reasonable man but if Bennett was becoming more problematic than she was useful then her position at the Organisation may have to be reconsidered.
[+blue "Fortunately for you your research is still satisfactory for the time being although according to these notes your research assistant, Oliver Taylor, is responsible for overseeing a large portion of this work. Perhaps he should have your job and you be the assistant, unless you can offer a suitable reason for this not to be the case. You are on thin ice right now Bennett. Just think how embarrassing it would be for someone of your position and reputation to be reduced to a lowly research position. Think of the shame...you don't want that do you?"] Pascal knew that for someone as ambitious as Bennett that being demoted to a mere research assistant would be just about the worst punishment that could be met out. Pascal wouldn't actually do it if he could help it, it was a threat to keep her in line more than anything else. Her overconfidence was a problem and she really was too valuable to be wasted as a research assistant. Unless she drastically failed again it wouldn't come to that but Pascal had been taught long ago never make a threat unless you were prepared to follow through on it. The possibility was there but it was up to Bennett if it happened or not. She would be under careful scrutiny for the time being and if she failed one more time then she would be a laughing stock at the Organisation.
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