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Electra

Gazing Into the Abyss (IC)

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January swept in cold and dreary, dumping patches of snow here and there, but not enough to be enjoyable or scenic, even three weeks into the new year. It had taken that long for Erin to get things set up for her interview with Phantom. Even after she'd worked up the nerve to set things in motion, the dimensional guardian had been indisposed for awhile, busy with other things, apparently. But eventually the stars had aligned, and Erin was hopefully going to lay to rest some of the questions Shadivan Steelegrave had raised, for all that it meant dealing with someone who made her distinctly uncomfortable.

James had offered, more than once, to come along with on this trip, but Erin had turned him down. Not because she didn't appreciate the offer, but this wasn't the sort of thing she wanted an audience for, any audience. It seemed like it would be easier to talk about the Terminus and what it might have done to her world with an unsympathetic stranger than with a friend. That's how it had been before, anyway, the debriefings were easier than talking to the friendly psychologist. James gave her a ride anyway, dropping her off in a beautiful private library that smelled like leather and old books. Erin clasped her hands together behind her back and looked around, automatically gauging the security of the room before she did anything else.

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At first glance, the library looked like any bibliophile-with-money's dream. A closer examination revealed the delicate looking inscriptions that ran along the library shelves and ringed the large geometric rug on the floor. The curio cabinet in the corner, however, seemed to hold a lot more jars that seemed better suited to a kitchen countertop than an expensive library and their contents didn't bear a close examination. Of course, James had sent word ahead as even if he was dropping her off for an arranged meeting, it was always good to check that there was no emergency spell casting in what he laughingly called the Sanctum Sanctorum.

The doors to the library opened and a small asian woman stepped in. Taylor didn't look much like her alter-ego in the loose cream tunic top and faded denim jeans. The Eye of Heshem still circled her throat but she'd pulled her hair back into a casual knot and she had a still shiny paired engagement ring and wedding band on her hand. She shut the door behind her quietly and nodded politely to Erin, gesturing for her to have a seat. Erin could see that she was barefoot except for a pair of thick socks as she crossed the floor towards her desk and leaned her hip against it while she waited for Erin to make herself comfortable. For such a small woman, her voice was surprisingly low and husky,"James said that you had questions that he couldn't answer. Can I get you something to drink?

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Erin sat down near the desk, though she didn't seem to be trying to make herself comfortable. She perched on the edge of the seat with her back straight, looking a little bit like a kid called into the principal's office. She knew that Phantom was very unlikely to try to give her the boot from this dimension, but the fact that it was even a possibility was a little disturbing. "No thank you," she said politely. "I need to ask you some questions. James said you might know things about the Terminus, and Omega, things we haven't learned in school. Is that true?"

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"Yes," Taylor said simply to the question as she moved behind the desk to sit down in the thick chair. "There are some who out strip my knowledge of matters arcane, but not many. And fewer still in this realm. Of those, there are even less who can safely enter and leave that realm."

She tucked her hands in her lap, legs loosely crossed under the desk and fixed Erin with a patient look.

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"A few weeks ago, I was in a fight with Shadivan Steelegrave," Erin began, lacing her fingers together. "While we were fighting, he was trying to distract me by talking to me about what happened to my world. I know most of it was probably garbage, but I don't know how much." She looked even more uncomfortable at that, but soldiered on anyway. "Do you know about anything or anyone there that's called Friendly? Not like, someone there who's nice, since it's the Terminus, but like someone or something's actual name?"

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Taylor's expression was remote, polite but cool, her lips set in a stern line but it wasn't directed at Erin, as her eyes weren't focused on the girl. Her focus was somewhat inward as if shifting through memories or chosing her words, both of which she was actually doing. She might not have been in costume, but she was in that mindset and in high mystic mode, her answers came after long and thoughtful pauses.

"I'd hesitate to call him a person, but he's one of Omega's most valued minions." Taylor said finally before the silence could grow opressively thick. She steepled her fingers together, chin tilted downward as she fixed her gaze on the desk, "He specializes in horrific experiments in his 'hospice' on Nihilor and, when he can, uses the foul knowledge he gleans from his mad experiments on worlds that have caught Omega's attention. Oh, yes, I know of Friendly."

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It was Erin's turn to pause and think then, her knuckles going white as she tightened her grip on her own fingers. "So he's a scientist?" she asked, looking for confirmation. "And he does experiments on people. Could he have come up with a disease that looked like a normal flu, but a lot worse, and that killed metahumans first? Could he have released it on a planet?" Erin never had a lot of color in her face, thanks to her impervious skin, but right now she was looking a little ill herself.

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"It's within both the scope of his abilities and within his personal predilictions, yes. It is possible. I can think of some places that such a thing has occured. I don't know if your world is among their number, but it wouldn't surprise me if the apocalypse was from Friendly's machinations." Taylor agreed quietly, her gaze on Erin's face as she explained. Her tone was even although she didn't provide anything but the truth. "It wouldn't the first time."

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Unable to meet that level gaze, Erin looked down and studied her hands as she tried to process that information. The possibility had always been there, indeed, even reasonably strong that the hero flu had been manufactured deliberately. Few natural diseases targeted metahumans with such zeal, and few were so quickly lethal and resistant to treatment. Having confirmation that someone had deliberately chosen her world for a laboratory of death was still a quick punch in the gut.

She took a couple of meditation breaths before speaking again, pushing past the feelings to get her questions answered. It was easier with a stranger who'd seen it all before, easier to pretend some kind of objectivity. "These experiments," she finally said, "what happens if they work? Or if they work even better than he could have predicted? Would he ever try it again on a new planet?"

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"If they could be successfully, yes, but even the nearest dimensions have so many tiny variabilities that it is very, very hard to duplicate a succesfull experiment." Taylor said with a trace of weariness in her voice, "Especially if there's any forwarning. Which is why your world was checked and you were checked when you came through. I would be very surprised if our super scientists don't have contingency plans for such an event. If that provides you any small comfort. It is true that Prime remains a very tempting target."

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"But there are other worlds, lots of them," Erin pressed. "Even if Prime is prepared, those other worlds aren't. And maybe things won't be as bad, if they aren't stupid enough to jump on a vaccine without realizing it's going to kill everyone, but even just the flu is bad enough." She unlaced her fingers, clamped them into fists. "Do you know any more about him? What he's like, or if he has any weaknesses?"

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"So that you can mount a suicidal attempt to take him out? This isn't an episode of Buffy, where we've all been waiting for a teenager to come and save us all. He has an army to do his bidding and he lives in a fortress in the protected city in the heart of the Terminus. If you had even a snow ball's chance in hell, I'd send you there myself." Taylor said flatly, still in her seat and her hands still laced together.

"But you haven't a prayer."

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Erin flushed, but did her best not to respond to the dismissive tone. She was starting to think that maybe Phantom had seen too many worlds to care very much about any particular one, or get too worked up about anything. That seemed kind of sad, but it also wasn't going to help Erin any. "Everyone has weaknesses," she replied. "Nobody is completely invulnerable. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but he needs to be stopped. Please tell me if you know anything more about him, where he lives, what he's like," she asked again.

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Taylor sighed, passing her hand over her eyes wearily before she pushed out of her chair and stood up. Her dark eyes looked old in a face that couldn't have been much older than Erin's.

"He's a sadist along the lines of the most terrible doctor you can imagine. He has an army of nurses in his mammoth hospital in Nihilor." Taylor spoke as she searched for a scrap of paper on her desk. Her tone was grim as she smoothed the paper out and began sketching from memory, "The city is the crown jewel of Omega's home and the hospital is immense. In addition to the nurses, he also can summon up his successful - to his mind - abominations. This doesn't include the poor wretches weeping for death in their hospital rooms. In addition to the hospital's own forces, the city is protected by any number of Omega's minions. Like most things in the dimension, the hospital's layout changes but here's what I remember."

She finished the rough sketch and pushed it over to Erin before returning to her seat and steepling her fingers, her expression shuttered.

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Erin was quiet for a long moment, studying the drawing. Even with Phantom's description, she couldn't see the place in her head, but she could hear it, the screaming of the dying and the wails of the damned. She tried to conceal the shiver it sent down her spine, for all she had a feeling that Phantom didn't miss much. "If he can't be touched in the city, someone would have to get him out," she murmured thoughtfully, still staring at the picture. "He must leave sometimes, to start new experiments, or to look at ones that are finished. It would mean finding a way to know where he was going... or to lay a trap, with some kind of bait. Either way, you'd have to know exactly what he wants."

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Taylor sat back in her chair, folding her leg up under her as she relaxed back into the chair. It dwarfed her frame somewhat as it was large and high backed but she looked entirely at home in her sanctum, despite her stature and youthful features.

"Not impossible but improbable at best. You're not his only enemy, certainly and not even the only one with a personal vendetta. His victims are legion but he doesn't give most of them a chance to strike at him. Certainly not if he can help it." Taylor said, pushing the map towards her and settling back in her chair. Her voice remained calm, "Its rare but not unheard of for him to check up on promising experiments but he'll still have guards and worse."

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"So if I could find the bait, I could set a trap," Erin mused, looking down at the map of horrors as she thought out loud. "At least get him out of his nest, maybe back to where I come from. It couldn't be any place where collateral damage would be a problem. For the guards, I could probably borrow some stuff, even if it would take awhile..." She trailed off, then looked up at Phantom. "I think that's what I wanted to know," she said with grave politeness. "Thank you for your help."

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"Don't thank me," Taylor said impassively, "I've given you just enough rope to harm yourself with it. I shouldn't have told you anything but better informed than blind."

She stood up as Erin did, resting her hands on her desk and held one slightly cool hand out for the girl to shake. "I've done what I can to talk you out of it so I'll simply wish you good luck.

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"Thanks." Erin smiled a little. "If and when, I'll try to remember to leave a note absolving you of responsibility. But everybody who knows me already knows I come up with plenty of dangerous ideas on my own, anyway." She hesitated for a second, looking around. "I'd show myself out," she admitted, "but I don't know my way home from here."

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Taylor held her hand out, smiling finally which made her look as young as she really should have. She actually had a dimple in each cheek. No wonder she wore the full face mask. Dimples were not scary. "I can drop you off where ever you'd like to go..."

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