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Sszinid

The Legend Lives (Solo)

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Saturday, March 1, 2014

9:00 PM

 

How does one begin to be a superhero?

 

Gideon Kinlan had spent three years trying, braving any danger in an effort to become more than ordinary, and succeeded only in throwing his life far off course. Now, another three years on, that old dream had suddenly come true, heedless of the consequences for the life he’d finally begun to rebuild. To let this new gift go to waste was out of the question, and yet he found that he had no idea where to start using it.

 

He was a little old to be asking himself “what would Captain Thunder do?†But when he couldn’t think of anything else, he did anyway. And he decided that Captain Thunder would find a problem and work at it until he fixed it, simple as that. In spite of Freedom City’s preponderance of heroes, it hadn’t been hard to find a problem, a place to start making a difference. All that was left was to leap in with both feet.

 

So Gideon held tight to his aging motorbike, affectionately named “the Donorcycle†after the hospital slang for the notoriously dangerous vehicles, as it raced down the freeway toward the Boardwalk. The winter wind whistled against his helmet and ruffled his jacket. He offered up a silent prayer that now, on his first night as someone more than ordinary, he was doing the right thing. He prayed that he wasn’t tossing aside his life again.

 

It was time to see if he could make this hero thing work.

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Ten minutes later, Gideon stared up at the grandeur of Atlantis.

 

The casino, mind, not the city beneath the waves. It soared up into the sky, white and silver and gold, covered in wave motifs and triton statues. Rotating spotlights cut through the early night around it, casting weird shadows on the slender towers as they passed over decorative clamshells. A dubstep remix of Bach’s Cello Suite #1 blared out every time someone passed through the automatic doors.

 

On the street outside, the Boardwalk was entering its second stage of daily life. The living statues and street magicians, family-friendly entertainment that catered to the large crowds during the day, gave way to torch jugglers, hardcore gamblers, and drunken college students. The wind, a little warmer now than it had been when it carried the snow a few days ago, bore along the mingled smells of sweat, booze, and two-dollar churros.

 

But Atlantis stood above all that, immaculate, as though daintily lifting its skirts to wade through the grime. Swinging off of the Donorcycle and giving its battered frame a quick pat, Gideon set out toward that beacon of light, a grim smile on his face. His first night on the job, if it could be called a job, would take him over a dozen floors up into those gleaming towers; he had a feeling that he shouldn't get used to working in such posh places.

 

But a murder can happen anywhere, and the baffling circumstances of this one seemed to warrant special attention...

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Ten Hours Earlier...

 

Heartbeat racing, palms sweating, Gideon fidgeted with his necktie as he examined his reflection in the glass of the front door. He pulled out a plastic comb, ran it through his hair a few times to part it to the side, then shook his head and parted it the other way. He took of his glasses and rubbed at them with his shirtsleeve, not that they were particularly dirty. Finally, he took a deep breath and rang the doorbell.

 

It wasn't long before an older man, perhaps a few years over Gideon's dad's 60, opened the door. The two stared at each other for a moment. "Good morning, Dr. Steele," Gideon finally began, trying to keep his voice slow and calm. "I'm not sure you remember me, but..." "I remember you," the professor interjected, his voice and gaze as hard as his name. Gideon swallowed hard, then took another deep breath.

 

"Yes, I imagine so." The last time they'd seen each other, Steele had been watching Gideon's sentencing; the time before that, he'd been standing behind the police that arrested the teenager as he stepped from the neutrino chamber. "I haven't yet personally apologized to you for breaking into your lab, and I'd like to show you that I'm not the same person I was three years ago. May I take you to lunch?"

 

There was a long silence. Gideon held the professor's gaze, not proud but not flinching. "I'll get my coat," Steele said.

Edited by Sszinid

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Now...

 

On the inside, Atlantis had a lot in common with other big casino-hotels: droning music, disorienting carpet patterns, and a great maze of slot machines hemmed in at the back by a broad semicircle of gaming tables. The elevators were past all of that, as far back as guests were allowed to go, so that you had to walk through the buzzing labyrinth of one-armed bandits to reach them. Dozens of people sat and stared at the machines, dead to the world, pulling that lever over and over again.

 

There was enough traffic here that Gideon might well have gone unnoticed even in costume, but he made sure that no one would offer him so much as a second glance by wearing his leather jacket with "Abra Kadabra Locksmith Service" embroidered above his heart and carrying his tools on his belt. A keycard wasn't required for the elevators, so he rode straight up to the fourteenth floor. No one asked who he was or where he was going. Why should they?

 

He stepped out of the elevator and made his way down the teal-carpeted hall, passing gaudy statues of dancing nereids, until he reached room 1414. That elicited a grim smile; the killers had some kind of sense of humor. This trail was a month cold, so the room wasn't covered in police tape any more, but it wasn't in service, either. That suited Gideon just fine. Bending down, he readied his tools, removed the keycard panel, and got to work.

 

He took his time. No one would notice, let alone ask. But it felt strange to be breaking in again...

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Then...

 

It took some doing to get the professor to open up; Gideon did most of the talking from arrival through the appetizers, telling Steele about his efforts to turn his life around and become a locksmith, asking questions about the older man's family and work and accepting brief, terse answers. The little Italian place was quiet, the waiters polite, the food delicious. It was the kind of thing Gideon couldn’t really afford; he’d have to go without real food for a while.

 

But this was important.

 

By the time the entrees arrived, Steele was talking on his own. He had a storyteller's air about him, the sort of granddad who fascinated instead of rambling. "I was angry," he said, patting his mouth with his napkin, "that's for sure. Having someone in the chamber invalidated two months of data. And it was so pointless; it wasn't like the neutrinos were even going to hit you anyway. They're so tiny they pass clean through pretty most everything. Powers, from that? Not likely.â€

 

Gideon winced; more evidence of his stupidity. "But it wasn't all bad," Steele went on, smiling now. "Do you remember officer who arrested you? Well, she's my wife now. That's how we met." "Congratulations," Gideon said around a mouthful of ravioli, raising his glass. "I'm glad something good came of it." After all, it must be tough to meet people at Steele's age. "Thank you," the professor replied, beaming. "You'd be amazed by the stories she tells. Terribly strange."

 

He leaned forward conspiratorially. "Why, just a month ago..."

Edited by Sszinid

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Now...

 

The door slid smoothly open, its well-oiled hinges silent. Gideon replaced the panel, gathered his tools, and stepped inside, closing the door behind him. He flicked on the lights and stared around. The two twin beds were made, and fresh towels and cups waited in the bathroom. He moved over to the tub, staring down at the smooth white surface. There was no sign now of the blood that had stained the plastic, no clue that it had ever been there.

 

But Gideon knew other ways of looking.

 

He took a deep breath; he'd done this only a few times before, and it was always both terrifying and exhausting. But he had no access to police records, and this was considered a cold case anyway. His method was the only way to move forward. Reaching down, he took hold of the tub in both hands and closed his eyes. He centered himself, breathing in through his nose, out through his mouth, three seconds each. His heartbeat slowed.

 

Slowly, carefully, he reached out with his mind. It began as a prickling between his eyebrows, as if the skin there was an arm that had fallen asleep. The sensation rapidly spread, threatening the tranquility of his breathing. And then the past came pouring in. It was like being immersed in a tank of corn syrup, the thick stuff painfully, sluggishly pushing its way into his ears, nose, and mouth. And then, with sudden finality, he felt far, far away from himself...

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One Month Earlier...

 

The two of them stood over the gambler in the bathtub, their stark white scrubs and gloves gleaming under harsh lights. The man worked quickly, scalpel in hand, crimson on his fingertips; the incision was above the hip but below the ribs, straight and clean. The woman stood back, a cocktail dress of the same bright crimson peeking out from beneath the scrubs. She dropped the gambler's two-piece suit and a pair of martini glasses into a hazardous waste bag.

 

"He's fidgeting," the man said, his voice cold and gravelly. "Put him back under." The woman took hold of a breathing mask attached to a metal cylinder and slid it over the gambler's face, holding it there until he took several long breaths. His eyelids drooped; his limbs stopped twitching. "Good," the man said. "It's coming out; let's bag it and go." Dropping the mask, the woman moved across the room, a blond ponytail slipping from beneath her cap to swish behind her.

 

She returned with a red and white transplant case, chilled and ready. The man reached down, in, past the squelch, and tugged gently. And it came out, slowly, carefully, a soft red-purple-pink. The case snapped shut around it. "Well done," the woman said, removing scrubs and dress to slide into a hospital uniform. She was tall, leggy, maybe German descent; her voice cut like ice. She picked up the case and the hazard bag and moved toward the door. "Be thorough."

 

And then it wasn't like the legend. The man gripped his scalpel and leaned in, toward the gambler's throat...

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Now...

 

Gideon released the tub with a gasp, tumbling onto his backside as his mind broke the surface and gulped down air. He shook his head, trying to clear the murderous afterimage burned into his retinas, but it was futile; the scene replayed over and over again in his mind. He'd never watched someone die before. Forcing his thoughts away, he considered the facts. Steele's story had been true; the old kidney-harvesting legend had hit Freedom City, except even nastier. But why?

 

Gideon had done some research on the subject before he'd come, and this wasn't what was generally meant by the organ market. Desperate people sold their own organs illegally with sad frequency, but harvesting like this was supposed to be a campfire story. It caused a lot of heat with the police, and the going price for a black-market kidney wasn't usually enough to justify all that.

 

But this was Freedom City; there was always some madman who needed a special component. Why not kidneys?

 

Then again, if just one kidney was needed it'd be easier to buy it; besides, this was a really public way to get one, and criminals tended not to like that. Gideon suspected that there was more to the story. He picked himself up slowly, his muscles aching like he'd run a five-minute mile; the doors of the past were hesitant to open for his perusal, and forcing them was both unpleasant and tiring. He staggered over to the room's window and stared out.

 

The homeless were a more logical target, and if they were being harvested someone at Our Lady of Mercy would know.

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It always came on suddenly, the legacy of his lies.

 

One moment Gideon was headed for the door, trying to drive the image of the murder from his mind by pouring over what little he knew so far. The next his muscles convulsed, agony shooting up his legs into his chest and continuing to spread. His eyes watered as his lips went numb. An instant later he toppled to the ground in a rubbery heap, hitting his head hard against the edge of the complimentary desk. The taste of burnt almonds filled his mouth.

 

He wasn’t quite sure how long he lay there. Strange colors passed over his skin, bright orange and forest green. Bile rose in his throat, but refused to be expelled. Similar things had happened before, but all the same he was afraid, helpless in his own body until the fit passed. Unless he died this time. The vision of his friend Jack, twitching helplessly in his hospital bed, rose unbidden in his mind. They’d both ended up punished for their misdeeds.

 

He wondered what had brought this particular fit on. Latent effects from toxic waste or radiation exposure? The curse of the cylinder seal he’d handled in the museum basement? There was no way to know. He could only hope that, when something like this inevitably happened while he was on patrol, no one would be able to connect Mindsteel’s strange seizure or whatever to the lingering problems of former power-chaser Gideon Kinlan.

 

With problems like that, could he really make this hero thing work?

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The fit passed relatively quickly; Gideon picked himself up and dusted himself off, tending his bruised dignity. Things had been going so well. Usually his fits weren’t quite so severe, but he had to wonder what would happen if something similar overtook him in the middle of a fight. But there was no use worrying about it now; what would be would be. Calmly, as though he belonged exactly where he was, Gideon opened the door and left room 1414.

 

So far, things weren’t shaping up quite as he’d imagined; between the horror of the murder and the blow to his confidence in the form of his paralysis, he found himself in subdued spirits. But when, halfway out to the Donorcycle, his phone rang, he answered in a voice so chipper he almost fooled himself. Abra Kadabra was not doing well, and it was his one shot at supporting his own life and thus showing his parents that he understood responsibility.

 

So at this point he probably would’ve stopped a fight with Omega himself to take a call.

 

He looked wistfully in the direction of Our Lady of Mercy as he stepped outside, but it was just as well that he had other business; he wasn’t about to wake anyone there up to ask them to help an unknown hero with a cold case. No, any further effort at being Mindsteel would have to wait for tomorrow; for now, he had a long night of less exciting but slightly more lucrative work ahead of him. Maybe he’d make enough for a decent dinner…

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Sunday, March 2, 2014

9:30 AM

 

Gideon rubbed his eyes as he waited at the door, yawning widely. It'd been a rough night. No two calls to Abra Kadabra ever seemed to come from anywhere near each other, and had a way of timing themselves to the very moment he drifted off. He'd gotten good at navigating the city by night, and at taking sleep wherever he could find it. Chunks of three hours were the best he dared hope for; five was genuine heaven. He'd never liked coffee much, but he drank it anyway.

 

Still, he thought as he replaced his glasses on his nose, I wouldn't miss this for two days' sleep.

 

The door swung open and an older woman looked out at him, smiling. She'd dyed the bob cut framing her heart-shaped face and twinkling blue-grey eyes back to the red-brown it'd been before the grey set in. As always, she was impeccably dressed. "Good morning, dear. You have a key, you know." Gideon smiled down at his mom. "I know. I just don't want to swoop in unannounced." "We're always happy when you swoop by here, announced or not," she said, giving him a hug.

 

He might be a head and a half taller than her, but it was like being a kid again, and he loved it. They stood there a long while. "Do I smell pancakes?" Gideon finally asked, kissing her on the forehead and stepping back. She laughed. "You can cook your own now! What do you need mine for?" He swallowed hard, trying once again to rid his tongue of the taste of the kibble he'd eaten the night before. "Mine just never come out right," he said, the first of many new lies.

Edited by Sszinid

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They walked to the kitchen together, through the house that Gideon considered part of the family. If he could draw for crap, he could've drawn it all from memory and told a story about every place he laid the pencil. He ran his hand along a wall, drifting in the past without the aid of any power. "Please don't do that," came a voice from the kitchen. Gideon smiled. His was pretty sure his dad had some kind of empathic dirt-sense around his home.

 

Gideon came around the corner and there he was. He was looking over the New York Times, mouthing the words as he read. His salt and pepper hair, as prone to sticking up in odd directions as his son's, was more like salt and charcoal now. Thick-rimmed glasses sat in front of bright blue eyes. He looked up and smiled. "Hey, buddy." Gideon smiled back. "Hey, Dad." They took their seats at the table, held hands, bowed their heads and murmured old words.

 

Lord, Gideon prayed, I'm lying to them again. Please don't let it hurt them. They deserve so much better.

 

"Amen," they said together. "Did we hear from Ruth lately?" Dad shook his head. "Your sister is being taking advantage of her independence." "She's found a youth group and a good circle of friends," Mom chimed in. "That's good. Her first semester was a little lonely for her. By the way, darling, do you want to come to church with us?" Gideon smiled sadly and shook his head. "You know I'd love to, but I promised I'd be at a different service today."

 

"Everything's going ok with business?" Dad asked. Gideon's guts twisted. "Fine," he lied. "A little tough, but fine."

Edited by Sszinid

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1.5 Hours Later…

 

It would be an incredible understatement to say that Our Lady of Mercy was a different sort of building than Atlantis.

 

It was more shelter than church, but the influence was there, the cruciform floorplan and the statues of praying angels flanking the main doors. The walls and windows were simple but clean, two stories of white concrete and reinforced glass that led up to a well-kept tile roof. There were no cracks or bullet holes; a small army of volunteers kept the place in good repair, and the rumor was that mob protection kept the gangs away. It was a monument to open simplicity.

 

This time it was Mindsteel who walked through the doors. Gideon wanted to start building a rapport with the homeless, showing that his costumed identity was going to look out for them. He nodded to the receptionist, who just smiled and waved him through; she was used to this kind of thing. He took a seat near the back of the sanctuary. The service was crowded, but no one sat too close to him. He was an unknown to the people here, a problem until proven otherwise.

 

He didn't sing the hymns; his mask made it nearly impossible. But he stood with the others, shook hands with those who'd let him, dropped a little of his precious cash into the collection plate. The sermon was on the parable of the talents, and he listened carefully; he'd heard the story often, but a new take was always good. When his phone buzzed with a job, he winced at lost funds but silenced it. He had to be where he was now, one hundred percent, to make any progress.

 

Afterward, he volunteered to help cook and pass out lunch. A few of the other volunteers asked his name, and he told them. None of them had heard of him yet, of course; Mindsteel hadn't done anything worth hearing about. One even told him that "you don't need a costume to do this kind of work, son." He took it in stride. And when most everyone had come through with his or her tray, Gideon walked and talked among them. And so the day's real work began.

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Well, if even half the stories could be trusted, his theory was as good as proven.

 

Gideon's heart sank with each new conversation, though he was careful not to let it show on his face or in his manner. The homeless who came for lunch at Our Lady were a mixed bunch, addicts and the mentally ill, petty criminals and the merely unlucky, families and loners. He was careful not to judge, to be patient and open with each person he spoke to. And it paid off in information, though none of it was good news. The organ-takers had been busy.

 

Eyewitness accounts and secondhand gossip melded together into a rough picture: half a dozen homicides among the homeless over the past month in which surgical tools had definitely been involved. It was a little terrifying to realize just how many unsolved, unpublicized crimes took place even in a city brimming with superheroes. Still, it was starting to look like a dead end; Gideon knew one of the killer's faces (and a good deal else, he remembered, blushing), but that didn't get him anywhere at this point.

 

And he still didn’t know why the killers had switched target types to go after the gambler.

 

He needed another tip, some hint at where the kidneys were going or what they were being used for, and there was no reason for any of these people to have any idea. So he shook hands and bid farewells, doing his best to commit faces and names to memory so he could check up on individuals when he came back, then headed out to the Donorcycle. He'd taken the license plates off and changed the color of the seat; hopefully that was enough to disguise it.

 

As he pondered how on earth he was going to find his next lead, it dropped into his lap.

Edited by Sszinid

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Two men and two women were standing around the Donorcycle when he approached, clad in black leather jackets and toting holstered sidearms. They all wore sharply slanted sunglasses and serious expressions. One woman's blond hair was as short as the men's; the other's auburn locks were tied back in a high ponytail. "Mindsteel," the latter said, her voice flat and direct. "We need to talk to you." Gideon blinked, confused and worried; was he going to need his sword?

 

The first time he'd mentioned his heroic name to anyone was an hour ago, in the shelter. So how did they know it?

 

The woman walked forward slowly, her hands held out from her sides to show that she meant no harm, so Gideon kept an eye on the others. "The Neutralizer says you'll need this," she told him, pressing a manila envelope into his hand. "It's a token of goodwill from the Justiciars. We're hoping you'll come to understand why we do things the way we do them. Good luck with your case." With that she turned and walked away, the others following closely.

 

Gideon stared down at the envelope, then up at the retreating backs of the Justiciars, utterly baffled. He'd never heard of any group by that name, but they knew of him sixty-five minutes into his career? How? Leaning against the Donorcycle, he opened the folder and immediately took in a sharp breath. The neatly organized sheets of paper inside were copies of police documentation, the kind of thing a civilian was definitely not supposed to have. And they were on his case, all right.

 

Fascinated, he began to read.

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Gideon tucked the folder away and sat down heavily on the Donorcycle. This was far more than a string of cold cases.

 

About the same time the organ theft murders began, something new had showed up on the streets. The local gangs called it Boost, and that was a fitting name; users became stronger, faster, more perceptive, jumping into a sort of heightened survival mode. Police analysis had shown that the stuff was derived from adrenal glands, alchemically altered and brewed with any number of other strange ingredients. Where do the adrenal glands sit? On top of the kidneys.

 

There was an answer about the gambler, too. He wasn't the first non-homeless person to be targeted; police analysts theorized that healthier people provided healthier organs and thus a better quality of Boost. In any case, the gangs couldn't get enough of it, but somehow the supply was actually dwindling. It seemed likely that there was only one producer in the entire city, maybe the entire world. If Gideon could find him and shut him down, it'd all be over.

 

It wouldn't be easy, though; he had no idea where this drug alchemist might be hiding.

 

He did, however, have a plan to find out. If he could find and lay hands on a vial of Boost, he could read the psychic impressions off of it and find out where it was made. All he had to do was track down a dealer, and in the Boardwalk at night he was pretty sure that wouldn't be difficult to do. His phone rang, and he sighed. But he turned that sigh into a chipper answer, turning his bike around to head toward a man locked out of his house in the West End.

 

Once again, investigation would have to wait.

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9:00 PM

 

Mindsteel strode along the Boardwalk, the sea breeze causing his purple duster to billow majestically behind him as he moved. Behind his goggles his eyelids fluttered, and behind his mask he stifled a yawn, but fortunately no one could tell the difference. Seeing as next to no one knew his name yet (apart from the Justiciars, whoever they'd been) he got some strange looks, but no one gave him any trouble. People mostly just stayed out of his way, in case he was crazy. Or evil.

 

In Freedom City, it paid to be cautious about these things. You just never knew for sure.

 

It hadn't taken much to find out where the Boardwalk's drug dealers tended to ply their trade; Gideon was pretty good at finding things out, but he had to admit that he'd been particularly lucky this time. Yet he'd also heard that Boost was pretty hard to get from dealers; apparently a pair of gangs were feuding over the stuff and owned the vast majority of the dwindling supply. But maybe he could get lucky again, or at least get a tip as to where the stuff was being stored.

 

He wasn't entirely sure how he was going to get the dealer to tell him anything, though; he'd done a lot of things he wasn't proud of in high school, and he'd been on community service detail with some pretty rough and rowdy kids, but he'd never shaken anyone down in his life. The scariest he got was when he hummed the Jaws theme song and ran after his sister; Ruth hated sharks. So he was going to have to improvise a bit. Maybe a lot. He swallowed hard.

 

Taking a deep breath, he rounded one last corner and walked into a darkened alleyway.

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"Ok," Gideon murmured to himself. "Channel the inner Arnold. Here we go..."

 

Stevie Trump was a ratty little guy, maybe 5'4" and so thin that his skin was stretched tight across the bones of his hands and face. He had bad teeth and worse breath, his fuzzy, unkempt hair sticking out from beneath the bandana and sideways baseball cap he wore. His leather jacket looked like it'd been through four different thrift stores, and his jeans were actually distressed rather than pre-holepunched at some trendy teen store. Gideon felt a little sorry for the guy.

 

Mindsteel, however, could not show any sympathy, and he did not. "Good evening, Mr. Trump," he said, his voice as low and icy as he could make it. The low-level dealer flinched, falling back from the dark figure at the alley's mouth. Stevie had chosen his spot poorly; his retreat was cut off by a chain-link fence he was in no condition to climb. "It seems you've fallen back into... unfortunate habits. After your last conviction, I'd rather hope you'd turn your life around."

 

Stevie took a step back, hands shaking, and started to fumble with something in his coat. "Whatever you're looking for there had better be a sandwich, because I will make you eat it." Oh, that was good. Stevie froze, moving his hands slowly into the air, a look of utter panic on his face. "That's better. Let's talk about this like civilized people. Whatever you're planning on selling tonight, take it out - slowly - and put it on the ground." Gideon was sweating; it was hard work to say ice-cold.

 

"Y... you got it, man," Stevie squeaked, slowly opening his jacket pockets. "J... jus' don't hurt me."

Edited by Sszinid

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It was a modest collection of illicit substances that Stevie slowly produced, along with a loaded pistol.

 

Gideon didn't really know what they were or how much they were worth, but he clucked his tongue for effect. "This is enough to send you away again for quite a while, Mr. Trump, isn't it? Fortunately for you, I'm after for bigger fish tonight. So I'm going to ask you one question: where is the Boost?" Stevie shook his head vehemently, hard enough to rattle his rotten teeth. "I can't get any, man! The Chokers and the Mumbos have that stuff locked down now!"

 

Chokers and Mumbos; the two gangs had been mentioned in the case file as newcomers to Freedom City, minor players in the criminal scene of the Boardwalk and Southside. A monopoly on Boost, though, could change that "minor" status pretty quickly. This was progress, but Gideon still didn't have anything like a location. "Then tell me where you used to get it." Stevie shook his head again. "Always secondhand, man. I never saw the place where they make it, I swear!"

 

Gideon suppressed a growl of frustration; this was turning out to be a lot harder than he'd thought it'd be. "That's not so good for you, Mr. Trump, because if I don't have a tip on the bigger fish I'll have plenty of time to bring you in tonight." Stevie's twitchy little eyes got even wider, if that was possible. "Wait!" he said, his voice cracking. "I know where the Chokers keep one of their stashes! Someone there will know where they get it!" Behind his mask, Gideon smiled. Jackpot.

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Stevie held out a crumpled slip of paper with one filthy hand, the fingernails gnawed to angry red nubs. Gideon swiped it away with one quick motion, not wanting to touch the dealer any longer than necessary even wearing his gloves. "Good enough," he said, reading the address and then tucking it away in his coat. It wasn't far from the alleyway in which he stood. "You can go." Stevie bent over the discarded drugs, and Gideon clucked again. "Leave those. Rethink your life."

 

As the dealer started to scuttle past him, still shaking hard, Gideon felt his spirits soar. He'd done it! Maybe he could handle this hero thing after all. Now he just had to go get a vial of Boost, tip off the police about the stash, and crack the case wide open. "And if you don't," he began, smiling beneath his mask, "remember that Mindsteel is watch-" A thick, phlegmy cough stole the rest of his words. At first he was irritated. When the coughing wouldn't stop, he was afraid.

 

His throat was on fire, and his stomach felt like it'd been sandpapered. Every breath was labored. His eyes bulged behind his goggles as he sank to his knees, trying to hack up his lungs. The world spun around him, but he spied Stevie creeping back toward his dropped gear. If he grabbed the gun and had the courage to use it, it was all over. Gideon struggled to regain control, but his body continued to betray him. But Stevie wasn't gutsy. He grabbed his stuff and ran at full pelt.

 

Finally managing to drag in air, Gideon used it to swear. That was twice in two days his childhood stupidity had come back to haunt him. Now Stevie would warn the Chokers, and they'd have the stash moved before the police could capture it. Frustration warmed him against the chill air and drove the tiredness from his limbs and mind. He was going to have to do this the hard way: by storm. The first real fight of his life lay ahead, and it might well be his last.

 

But he couldn't let this chance slip away.

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The address he'd gotten from Stevie was at the Boardwalk's edge, conveniently located near Southside for easy access to the Chokers' other safehouses. It was an old brick building, rundown and crumbling but with a fresh steel door and thick bars over the windows. To no one's great surprise, the gang apparently valued privacy. Gideon had brought his sledgehammer from the Donorcycle, the heavy tool hanging loosely from straps across the back of his duster, but he didn't fancy his chances of smashing his way in; he wasn't exactly weak, but it'd take him a decade.

 

Fortunately, he happened to be a locksmith. And people tended to skimp on the quality of their locks.

 

With a furtive look up and down the street, he darted forward and set to work, his tools springing easily to hand. He could've done this in his sleep. There was no sign of trouble, he mused, clicking another tumbler into place; maybe Stevie had just run off by himself. As the next tumbler clicked, Gideon wondered about the legality of all this. He wasn't deputized. He had no license. And there was no search warrant for this place even if he had been. Technically he was breaking and entering, reasons be damned. Was this all just another excuse for him to seek the thrill of the stealthy trespass?

 

His worries were interrupted when the sentry came around the corner.

 

They stared at each other for a moment, the husky gangbanger in the green hoodie and the slim youth in the purple duster, each utterly baffled by the other's presence. Gideon cursed himself for a fool. Why hadn't he checked for guards? Then the moment was over, and the man went for his pistol. Dropping his tools as the door swung open, Gideon crossed the distance between them in an instant, a blade of a thousand colors extending from his wrist like a backhanded claw. The last time he'd been in a fight, it'd been on a playground. He could only hope his psiblade would make up for his combat naivety...

Edited by Sszinid

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Mindsteel's first battle was not an elegant one.

 

He was fast, that much was true, faster than most ordinary humans could ever hope to match. His forward dash took him back down the derelict building's stairs and straight over to the gangbanger long before the man had time to aim his gun. And then, for the first time, Gideon swung his psiblade at another person. He'd been part of a fencing club in high school, though admittedly not very good at it, but he could safely say that this was nothing like swinging an ordinary sword.

 

The blade was utterly weightless. It made no sound as it descended, and there was no resistance when it met the Choker guard's flesh. Gideon overbalanced, nearly pulling himself from his feet when his swift swing just kept going. But the thug fell back, unmarked save for a glaze that came over his eyes and the looseness of his gun in his hand. He didn't drop, though, and Gideon's frantic follow-up swing went wide. The whole scene was utterly surreal.

 

Regaining his balance, Mindsteel swung again as the thug shook off his daze, and once again his blade moved cleanly through the man and kept going. Gideon banged his hand painfully against the brick staircase beside him, scraping his knuckles and leaving what he was sure would be a very painful bruise shortly thereafter. But he was too pumped up on adrenaline to care. He swung again, missed, and then again, and this time the Choker collapsed, crumpling limply onto the pavement.

 

Gideon stood there a moment, breathing hard, eyes wide. He'd done it. He'd won.

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Gideon wasn't entirely sure what to do with the unconscious thug. The man had been about to shoot him, but he wasn't sure how that was going to hold up in court, especially given that he'd been breaking and entering at the time. Maybe this was why heroes seemed to stick to fighting extradimensional invaders and foiling bank robberies; being proactive had its share of legal problems. At that point, though, he was pretty well committed. He had to find and deal with that stash.

 

The battle hadn't been particularly loud, thanks to the fact that the psiblade was silent and Gideon's opponent had barely known what'd hit him, but Gideon was still surprised that no one had come to investigate. He eased open the door he'd unlocked and found the entire house quiet as the grave; if not for the sentry sprawled on the ground behind him, for lack of a better place to put him, he might've doubted Stevie's information. Cautiously he moved further in, the aged floor creaking beneath his feet.

 

Nothing but broken furniture and the whistling of the sea breeze through cracked windows waited to greet him. It set him on edge, the sudden silence and stillness while the adrenaline of the fight still surged through him. He stalked through the building on tiptoe and still managed to make a racket, wincing with each groan of the floorboards. It was the same all throughout, the stairs up to the second level rotted and collapsed. Just as he began to wonder how to get up them, he heard it.

 

There was chanting coming from the basement, along with a panicked voice. It sounded a lot like Stevie.

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The stairs to the basement, thankfully, were concrete; if whoever was down there hadn't heard him yet, he had a good chance of coming up on them undetected. But as he descended, slowly stepping ball to heel, his sense of unease grew. He was here on the trail of a gang, wasn't he? So what was up with all the chanting? Some kind of initiation rite, or what? And what on earth did they want with Stevie? It was unmistakably the dealer's shrill little voice now.

 

"P... please," he wheezed, the sound carrying easily up to Gideon from the echoing cavern of the basement, "I warned you, didn't I? I warned you he was coming!" Another voice, low and husky and definitely female, answered him. "Better that you'd never told him where we were at all. You lie so often, Stevie, and yet you picked a terrible time to stop." The chanting continued, rising in volume, and Gideon heard a sound that could well be a knife being sharpened.

 

His heart began to race. What the hell?

 

"B... but he'll be coming here right now!" A laugh like the clatter of wind chimes responded. "And he'll join you on the altar." Gideon's breath came quickly as he neared the end of the stairs; he held his psiblade close before him, mentally preparing himself. The sentry had been little threat because they wanted him to come down there. They were ready for him, unworried. He glanced behind him, back toward the relative safety outside. Was he getting in over his head here?

 

Then Stevie let out a howl, and Gideon grimaced. Could he leave anyone, even a weaselly drug dealer, to be tortured?

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The answer was no, of course not. So he kept going, psiblade ready, heart racing.

 

With all of his focus on keeping calm, however, his concentration on stealth slipped. His boot came down on broken glass at the bottom of the stairs, clearly audible even over the chanting. He closed his eyes and swore quietly to himself; there was no way that'd gone unnoticed. Sure enough, the voice returned a moment later. "There he is now." Behind Gideon. at the top of the stairs, a reinforced steel door slid into place; a trap, and he'd jumped into the middle of it.

 

"Do come out," he heard from around the corner. Taking a deep breath, he complied. His eyes bulged as he took in the sight before him. The basement had been redone as some sort of imitation Pantheon, with marble columns (clearly fake) supporting a dome that rose and merged seamlessly with the ceiling. Perhaps twenty men and women in hooded green robes, none of them over thirty and most under twenty-five, gathered around a block of stone beneath the dome's center.

 

Stevie had been strapped to the block, his moth-eaten jacket and ratty shirt ripped away to reveal a chest so thin Gideon could count his ribs and even see the pulse of his heartbeat from twenty feet away. Someone had made a shallow cut along his collarbone that was bleeding profusely. Gideon could guess who; beside the drug dealer, a tall, thin woman wearing more body paint and tattoos than clothing was sharpening a curved knife on a foot-powered whetstone.

 

The woman turned around and smiled, revealing teeth sharpened to needle-like points. "What do we have here?"

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