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Wanted Man! - Deal Against The Devil (IC)

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Dec. 18, 2010

AEGIS HQ, Federal Plaza, City Centre

6:00 PM

The cell wasn’t that uncomfortable, all things considered. The cot was padded, which was nice. He’d waived his phone call, nobody to call anyhow, and he’d chuck himself off of the cathedral with those limiter cuffs still on before he’d tell any of these agents about Michael.

Push sighed, leaning back and staring at the ceiling, running it all over in his mind. His luck had finally run out…they’d taken the cuffs off when they’d shoved him in this cell, but his powers still didn’t work. Obviously some kind of nullifying field or something…he shook his head, been here long enough to lose track of time…felt like a couple of days, or maybe a week. Slamming a fist against the wall, he cursed fluidly again. He’d gotten way too reckless and now…now Scratch was out there, and the only chance he’d had of clearing his name was gone.

Not like he had much chance at a defense in court, anyway. Knowing Scratch, he’d probably set things up to make sure the ersatz hero would end up behind bars within a few days or so…

Yeah, all things considered, he was pretty much screwed.

They’d searched him, of course. Took his messenger bag, the sleep bombs, the smoke bombs, his hammer (he’d woken up at that point, gotten a few good punches in before they’d knocked him out again and he woke up in the cell). At least they let him keep the outfit. And one bright side to it was there was no way they’d recognize former mechanic Gabriel Quinn…he didn’t even have a driver’s license nowadays. For all intents and purposes, except for a certificate and a student loan account way back when during his stint in college, Gabriel Quinn had ceased to exist.

Which, in a way, depressed him. He’d already made a mess in that life, and now he was doomed to failure again, except this time as the hero Michael had kept pushing him to be. He rolled over on the cot, staring at the wall. The smell of the scarf just made it harder…his mother had knit it for him right before he’d moved away.

He didn’t even look up when the cell door clanked open and shut, just murmuring from his supine pose;

“No, I didn’t do it, no, you aren’t going to believe me, so just skip the interrogation and tell me when the trial is.â€

Whoever was in the cell with him didn’t reply right off the bat, but Push clearly heard the snapping of a match, then smelled the acrid scent of tobacco. A stony voice replied, gravelly and harsh.

“So this is the elusive Push, huh? Figured you’d be taller.â€

Quinn rolled his eyes and sat up, turning to face his visitor.

“Figured you’d be taller? That’s the best line you could come up with? Honestly, you guys have no imagination.â€

Facing his visitor, Push was struck by an odd sense of recollection. The agent was in a black suit, sharp grey tie, and a pair of glasses. He stood ramrod straight, puffing on a pipe…but what was most obvious was the eyepatch over his right eye.

“Depends on what you’d qualify as imagination. Leastways I got you to face me. Gotta say, I’m not impressed.â€

“Oh, I’m heartbroken. Absolutely devastated.â€

“Good, shame on you.â€

Push felt a bit more at ease, despite himself. The banter was familiar ground for him, if nothing else.

“You going to give me a name?â€

“Depends, you going to give me yours?â€

“Hell no.â€

“Then hell no right back.â€

The two stared each other down, Push versus...eyepatch. Eyepatch won. Push could’ve sworn he saw a little quirk on that mouth, smug jerk.

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“Heh. I knew you’d be troublesome. The file’s got nothing on the real thing, though…what if I told you I did believe you, kid? What’d you think then, huh?â€

Push snorted, swinging his legs off the side of the cot and leaning on the wall.

“I’d call you a damn liar, and a bad one at that.â€

“Well, that’s a real shame. Seeing as how you’ve cost AEGIS several grand on this bloody wild-goose-chase, you’d think you’d be more amenable to even the slightest chance of getting your butt out of a sling.â€

Again, despite himself, Push felt a little quirk of hope…but he squashed it down fast.

“And I’m supposed to buy this from a guy who won’t even give me his name?â€

“And I’m supposed to offer this deal to a guy who won’t even give me his name. Looks like we’re both in bad situations, huh?â€

Push shrugged at that one, motioning for the black suit to continue. The man took a long puff on his pipe, savouring it, before speaking again.

“Alright, I’ll talk plain then, see if it rubs off. I’ve been chasin’ you for two years, Push, head of the investigation into the massacre in Gear City where you made like a cuisinart in that museum. Ten bodies in various states of dead, all from blunt-force trauma, something you seem very good at. Now, you say you didn’t do it. And cameras from your little runaround with Codename Victory didn’t indicate many homicidal tendencies, specially since we know you’ve got the abilities to fight back, but you didn’t. You ran, me bucko, you didn’t fight. Now that’s unusual, and compound that with the fact that I’ve seen your work before across the USA, and that we haven’t found any other bodies connected to you, you’ll understand the fact that we’re a mite…suspicious. There’s a lot of open ground to cover, Push, and a couple of new pieces of evidence that we’re examining might end up changing our outlook on this. Now you can sit here and act obtrusive, but I’m offering you a chance to get your ass out of a sling. So you tell me what really happened at that museum, and then we’ll see what happens from there.â€

Push sat quietly, listening as this guy made his spiel and finished. The two sat in silence for nearly five minutes, the black-suit smoking, Push musing. The man sighed and made to get up when the scarfed wonder raised a hand, and spoke.

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“Ok, look. Two years ago I was a small-time vigilante in Gear City. Worked mostly the lower districts, and I didn’t even have a name yet. Just blew in, took out the bad guys, and left ‘em for the cops. Tried to be quiet about it, so the papers didn’t have much other than “mysterious vigilanteâ€. The day the museum burned, I was out hopping rooftops in the warehouse district, then…that commlink you found in my ear, there’s a police scanner in it. I heard there was somethin’ goin’ down at the museum, officers down, bodies seen…the whole nine yards. Normally I don’t go for big crowds, but…well, I decided to go check it out. Barely knew how to control my flight back then, but I managed to get onto the museum roof and look around. Building was surrounded by department cars, think there was even a helicopter up there but they didn’t see me. Went in through an upstairs skylight before I got cold feet…place was pitch-black. Like, real black, couldn’t see an inch in front of my eyes. Took out my PDA, screen barely lit up the murk. Saw a light in another room, and I tried to sneak over to check it out…when I walked through the door, I saw…â€

Push fell silent there, taking a breath, then looked up right into the Agent’s eyes.

“Yeah. Here’s where you believing me stops cold. This guy’s standing there over a glass cabinet, reading a book. There’s bodies all over the room, lyin’, like you said, around, all kinds of dead. Second I walk in, though, the guy looks up…he’s dressed pretty slick, grey suit, walking stick under one arm, top hat, and one of those funny cloth things around his neckline. His face…’s almost like…like there’s nothing between the bones and the skin, y’know? Taut, gaunt, and bone white. So he looks at me…and the guy smiles. Closes the book and gives me this bow, see, real polite. Then he…â€

Two thoughts warred in Push’s mind at this point, the urge to spill it all versus the need to keep some of it quiet. He didn’t like the thought of telling anyone that Scratch had said his real name, or even said he’d wanted him to see what the warlock was about to do…he decided to cut a few things out.

“He talked to me briefly. I’m pretty good at pissing bad guys off, so I gave this guy a few smart remarks, but he just shrugged ‘em off. Said his name was Scratch, didn’t give anything else, so I just called him Mr. Scratch, emphasis on the mister. Said he’d wanted something from the museum, and the bodies around him were some rather rude folks who wouldn’t let him have it. I implied taking their lives was also rather rude, but I wasn’t that nice about it. He stopped smiling then, stating I was rather rude as well, but what could you expect from someone like me. Got no idea what he said next, but it was some kind of old language…and the bodies started movin’. They got up, started walkin’ towards me, no sound at all. I started backin’ up, the blank faces just kept comin’ closer…Scratch said he had somewhere else to be, and apologized for not bein’ more hospitable…and just vanished into the dark…those…things…he left kept attackin’ me, so I fought back. By the time I’d gotten ‘em all to stay down, no small feat I’ll tell you, they just kept gettin’ back up, the SWAT team had come through the door and were pointing a whole damn armory at my head.â€

He took a breath, then stood, pointing at the agent.

“Look, I don’t know what you’d do, but I bloody panicked, alright? When you’ve got a pile of assault rifles pointing at you and bodies surrounding you after fighting off what damn well shouldn't exist, it’s kinda hard to think straight. So I cut and run. Been runnin’ ever since, trying to find Scratch and clear my name. And that’s the whole story…so much for your ‘belief’, yeah?â€

Push said “belief†in finger-quotes, lying back down on the cot and watching the agent out of the corner of his eye. The guy’s face was practically unreadable, and he just stood there, puffing on his pipe. Then he took it out of his mouth, and spoke quietly.

“Thank you. Stay here, I’ll be back shortly.â€

And with that, he walked out. Push just lay back down and shook his head.

“Yeah. Like I’m going anywhere…â€

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If he had to guess, it was about half a day to a day later before the black-suit returned…but this time he was accompanied by a couple of tech-types holding his hammer, and the black-suit was carrying his messenger bag. Push sat bolt upright, barely believing his eyes, and shortly thereafter his ears.

“Alright, now I’m going to talk, and you’re going to listen. You’ve led the U.S government on a merry chase, Push, and I’m not going to bother arguing over the whys and wherefores. You’ve been charged with ten counts of murder, fifteen counts of assault, and innumerable counts of evading arrest and obstruction of justice, but AEGIS is willing to offer you a deal. By means of which I will not detail to you now, AEGIS has come to conclude you are not to be blamed for the ten murders in the Gear City museum, and will be acting under that assumption for the foreseeable future. However, you, unlike us, are the only person who has seen this man Scratch’s face. And I am assuming you came to Freedom City, home of the largest concentration of superhuman heroes in the world, not out of complete idiocy, but because your pursuit of him has led you here. Gear City needs a criminal to try for the crime, Push. Now, AEGIS is willing to drop the assault, evading arrest, and obstruction of justice charges, or at least most of them, if you are willing to work with us to catch Scratch. You’ve been on the chase, or so I’m assuming, for the past two years, so that makes you the best candidate to bring him in. You stay here in Freedom City, keeping regular contact with AEGIS, and we’ll let you off the chain to hunt for Scratch, capische?â€

Push blinked, looking at the bag and hammer, then back at the agent.

“You’re joking, right? Just like that? You’re letting me loose?â€

"Only if you agree under our terms. Quite frankly, Push, AEGIS doesn’t care whether or not you are sent to Blackstone for the crimes that you did commit. We are perfectly capable of capturing Scratch ourselves, but considering I’ve been on the case chasing you for the past two years…let’s just say I’m willing to give you the benefit of the doubt.â€

He tossed the bag over, and Push caught it, slinging it over his shoulder.

“Doesn’t look like I have much choice, then. I suppose I should thank you?â€

“That would be appreciated, yes.â€

“Right. Frak that, then.â€

Push threw a cheery grin, pushing past him and hefting the hammer, feeling a familiar frisson of energy pass from him into the haft. The two workers visibly breathed out as the weight was taken out of their hands, and he easily rested it on his shoulder.

“So, how am I keeping in contact with AEGIS?â€

The agent kept a poker face, holding out the earbud commlink in his palm.

“Your communications through this will be monitored, and you’ll be expected to report to a liaison regularly once a week. These gentlemen will escort you to the building’s exit.â€

The agent flipped it into Push’s hand, and he took the commlink, blinking as the agent walked smoothly right past him and into the corridor.

“Wait, that’s it? No threats, no warnings of consequences, nothing? Who’s my liaison?â€

At this, the tall man stopped, turning to smile at him.

“No need for threats, Push. You know what we can do now, and I find leaving things to a man’s imagination to be far more effective than threats. As for your liaison, that will be a Mr. Arthur Kent.â€

“Kent, huh? And how am I supposed to know him?â€

“You’ve already met him. And he is decidedly unimpressed.â€

And with that, Kent placed a pair of black sunglasses on his face, nodding.

“I’d say I’m looking forward to working with you, but I dislike lying. Good day, Push.â€

He turned on his heel and walked out, leaving Push there scratching his head.

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