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Bishop

I Don't ~Feel~ Tardy [IC]

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The monorail pulled around the North side of the city, turning South as it approached FCU. Brian was standing in the crowded train compartment, holding a strap, looking out the window to the left of the train as the university came into sight.

He was dressed in fairly nondescript student wear: kaki chinos, a light blue polo shirt, and a very smart smart-phone on his belt. A backpack with the FCU logo was slung over his shoulder and a bluetooth headset in his ear -- an accessory to let him talk to the empty air without looking crazy.

"I'm not gonna be late, Hud."

A voice in his subdermal comlink responded in an alien language: "You should have taken the earlier train, as I suggested. At your usual walking pace and given the time I estimate the train will arrive at the stop, you will be two minutes late to class." Brian looked at his watch. It was 9:05 am, ten minutes before his first class of the morning was scheduled to start.

"I guess I'll just walk a bit faster than my 'usual walking pace.' What do you say to that?" As the train pulled into the stop, Brian noticed police cars with flashing lights just around the corner, arranged into a perimeter around a coffee shop across the street from the university. "Huh. I wonder what that's all about. Hudson?"

"I was monitoring the police band and aware of this call, but there is no indication of metahuman activity. The police have cornered a suspect who apparently stole a replica Viking helmet from the Hunter Museum. There are no hostages and apprehension of the suspect is immanent. It did not seem worth mentioning. And you will be late for class."

The train came to a stop and the doors opened. Brian stepped out of the train and started down the stairs to the street level. He stopped at the street -- the university in one direction, the police scene in the other. "He stole a replica helmet? A fake? Why was it a fake?"

"That is unknown. However, online articles indicate that it is the Museum's policy to screen artifacts for mystic power and keep them safe from the populace. Replicas of such artifacts are placed on display."

"Huh." Brian stood and pondered.

"Brian. Class? Running late? You don't want another tardy reported, do you?"

"Hudson... what's the deal with the real helmet?"

After a short pause, he replied, "That is unknown. There is no information concerning any mystical powers it may have possessed. Its historical significance is that it is believed to have belonged to one of the most legendary berserker warriors who became a king of the Vikings in the 9th century. Brian... Brian! You are walking the wrong way!"

"Somethin' don't smell right, Hud. This thief had to get that helmet and get past museum security to get out. Sounds like he has some skill. So, why steal a replica? Somethin' that ain't worth a wooden nickel? A replica meant to stand in for an item I'm willin' to bet had some kind o' mojo on it. No... somethin' really ain't right."

Brian crossed the street, walking toward the police barricade and as he past the corner of the first building, came to a stop and said to Hudson, "Okay... gimme the go-ahead..."

A few seconds later, at the moment no eyes or cameras were on him, Hudson said, "Now!" Brian activated the morph circuitry of his suit, which transformed him into his costume identity. His school backpack morphed into a canvas haversack slung over his shoulder.

The Marshal strode to a police sergeant, stopped, and waited for the officer to acknowledge him. When the officer turned and looked the superhero up and down, he rolled his eyes. "Great. A Cape. We don't need you here, Cape. This is regular police business. Believe it or not, there are some things we can handle just fine without you."

The Marshal raised his hands in a placating gesture. "Not tryin' to step on your toes none. I'll just stay out of your way. Just let me know if I can be of assistance to ya'." The sergeant rolled his eyes and shook his head dismissively, then turned back to the scene just as an inhuman roar erupted from the shop.

Officers inside screamed and shots were fired. The pane glass window in front smashed outwards with an officer flying out of it, flailing his limbs helplessly until he slammed into a parked police car 30' away and slumped to the ground. Quickly following him, a man leaped through the broken window, landing in the middle of the semicircle of parked police cars.

Veins bulged from his neck and face, and huge muscles had ripped through the fabric of his shirt. His face was framed by an enormous horned viking helmet. He looked at the police cordon surrounding him and let out another inhumanly rage-filled roar. Officers were frozen in terror. The man leaped over the parked police cars in a single bound and sprinted across the street and towards the university.

Once the sergeant regained his wits, he turned to the Marshal. "Okay. Sure. He's all yours." He picked his radio back up and spoke into the microphone. "Dispatch, Unit 302. Code Blue. Code Blue. Subject running North through FCU campus. Subject... is a Viking. Over."

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The Viking-helmet-wearing suspect sprinted for the corner of the building across the street. Once around it, he'd be out of sight, and running through the middle of FCU campus. There was no way to get a clear shot at him from ground level. There were too many cars and people in the way.

Brian activated the gravatonic thrusters of his suit and rose steadily to about 100' in the air. Now at a good vantage point, he drew his weapon, set it for stun, and went for a take-down shot.

With a loud crack, a blue-white beam flared out from his ion pistol, striking the fleeing suspect squarely in the back. He didn't slow down or even flinch, and continued at top speed around the corner and out of sight.

"Well, don't that beat all." Brian muttered in exasperation. He adjusted the controls of his flight-system and flew in pursuit, Hudson following close behind.

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"Okay, Hud, you're up." Hudson flew off ahead of the Marshal to keep tabs on the fleeing Viking-Helmet-Guy. While Brian couldn't fly nearly as fast as Hudson, he could manage a little more speed than his quarry. The chase took them right through the middle of FCU campus. The Viking-Helmet-Man was keeping to a relatively straight path, dodging and leaping small obstacles.

The Marshal gradually caught up to him, passed him 100' over his head, and looked for a place to cut the suspect off.

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Jay Xavier—Jubatus—was fast, but no matter how quick you were, it just didn't matter unless you knew where you were going.

That's why Xavier had, as a continuing work-in-progress, spent a chunk of his copious free time working on 'Jeeves', a voice-activated software entity that sucked in police transmissions and news reports; extracted information therefrom; evaluated everything in terms of its threat potential; and presented its results to Xavier, sorted by the criterion of "how much good can a supersonic cheetah do here?". And, of course, doing all the above in realtime.

Well… that was the theory, anyway. In practice, 'evaluate everything in terms of its threat potential' and sorting by how-much-good-can-Jubatus-do were both very hard problems indeed. Which is why Jeeves was a still a work in progress, and probably always would be. The latest addition to Jeeves' code: Giving the evaluation subroutines access to publicly-available data sources, so Jeeves could make use of relevant data that wasn't explicitly mentioned in the reports it was working off of.

Now it was time to test the new code.

Xavier was in the converted SUV he called 'home'; the Jeeves code resided on a server he owned outright, a server located some distance away from Freedom City, a server which had impenetrable encryption on all of its remote access channels. "Jeeves: Wake up," Xavier said. "Jeeves: Use web. Jeeves: Who needs me?"

"Working on it," said Jeeves' blatantly synthetic voice. It didn't have to be that way, but every time Xavier thought about improving Jeeves' voice, there were always higher-priority goals to focus on. Always… "Hunter Museum of Natural History. Perp grabbed a Viking helmet with non-trivial odds of mystical hoo-hah." Xavier knew that there were any number of people with genuinely real magical abilities who might take offense at such terminology, but since Jeeves was never going to interact with anybody but him, he wasn't overly concerned about what other people might think. "Security fired shots with no discernable effect. Perp destroyed large window with thrown security. Perp—"

"Jeeves: That's enough." Yep, this does seem like a job for Jubatus. Xavier started his 'pre-heroing checklist' and said, "Jeeves: Details on perp?"

"Perp is lone male with high enhanced resilience and strength, and low odds of flight. No ID on perp. No data on perp's objective. No data on other exotic abilities."

Okay, I'm ready. And as Jubatus blurred into action, he said: "Jeeves: Other supers involved?"

"One other super. No match with known supers." Oh, great. Another newbie. "Super has flight. No further data."

"Jeeves: Thank you. Jeeves: Get some rest." And then Jubatus arrived at the Hunter Museum. Shattered plate-glass window, check. Paramedics converging on prone cop, check. Scent-trail of perp… hoo-boy does he need a shower… check-and-a-half.

The perp's scent was a single-digit number of minutes old; trivially easy to track, if you happened to have a predator's nose. And there's our boy now. Prolly wearing the helmet he grabbed. And the Mysterious Flying Super… is up there, I see. Wonder why Horny Guy felt like stomping through FCU? Okay, let's try diplomacy, and keep the whupass in reserve for when Horny Guy doesn't ruddy listen.

Jubatus downshifted to match Horny Guy's tempo of 1, and walked alongside him, out of reach of a hand-to-hand attack. "Hello there! I'm Jubatus," he called out to the Viking-helmeted perp. "Any chance you can tell me who you are, and what you're doing here?"

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The center of FCU is a typical, grassy courtyard with paved walkways between the buildings, a few shade trees, and a handful of concrete benches. There were a dozen or so students on their way to their next class, but being citizens of Freedom City, they knew to get out of the way quickly when the strange super-powered trio came barreling through.

Viking-Helmet veered towards one of the concrete benches, stopped, and ripped a flat slab from it, then turned to Jubatus.

"STAY AWAY FROM ME!" he growled as he prepared to swing the broken slab.

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Viking-Helmet veered towards one of the concrete benches, stopped, and ripped a flat slab from it, then turned to Jubatus.

"STAY AWAY FROM ME!" he growled as he prepared to swing the broken slab.

Diplomacy fail. I hate being right all the time… whatever. Let's see how Horny Guy handles getting ensnared in duct-tape.

The Fastest Cat Alive upshifted, put several loops of tape around the I-can't-believe-he's-not-a-Viking's legs, and then downshifted to see the results of his action. The bad news was, the not-a-Viking snapped the tape with no evident difficulty. Hmm. Gonna have to see if any brands of tape use tricks like kevlar-reinforcement, if I want to keep using the stuff on anything stronger than normal humans. The worse news was, the guy with the horny hat swung his impromptu concrete club…

…which Jubatus dodged. Hm. That swing got a little closer than I like. Seems that whatever the hat did to him, it probably includes "inject some combat skill into the wearer's brain"?

Now safely out of arm-plus-slab's reach of the not-a-Viking, Jubatus said, "I don't know what got your knickers in a twist, but if that's how you react to a simple request for information, you're obviously not in a mood for a meeting of minds. So you got two choices: One, you just stand there and wait for the nice policemen to show up. Or two, I beat on you until you lose consciousness—and I'm enough faster than you that I can do that." Here Jubatus paused for a moment. "Pick one."

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"Well, now. That changes things. Reckon I wont have to chase that fella half way 'cross town, now. So, Hudson, who's the furry guy?"

"Searching. Possible online references located. An estimated 98% certainty that he is Jubatus, a metahuman capable of-"

"Good Guy, or Bad Guy?"

"...Good Guy."

"Okay, then. That makes thing a lot less complicated." The Marshal dropped to the ground, 50 feet away from the ongoing melee. He trained his ion pistol on Crazy-Hat and shouted, "Okay, Mister. You ain't goin' nowhere, so give it up. You're only makin' it worse for yourself."

The raging helmet thief seems to completely ignore the warnings of both the heroes, and rears back for another swing at Jube. "Leave. Me. ALONE!"

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Of course, Jubatus took note of the other fellow's descent from above. And today's special guest star is… a leftover from the Old West, whose antigrav boots and energy pistol had to've been ordered from Sears & Roebuck and delivered via Wells Fargo? Well, if it works for him…

"Okay, Mister. You ain't goin' nowhere, so give it up. You're only makin' it worse for yourself."

The feline didn't bother adding 'What he said' to the newcomer's remarks; instead, he concentrated on observing Horny Guy's reactions…

"STAY AWAY FROM ME!" he growled as he prepared to swing the broken slab.

…which were pretty much what Jube expected, given the information he already had. Okay, let's see if the obvious tactic works.

Jubatus upshifted—blurred over to, and up the back of, Horny Guy—and perched on the not-a-Viking, one hindpaw on each shoulder. Hey, guy, I'd love to leave you alone, but you've done a little too much property damage for that, and that's before we get to the cop you tossed through a plate glass window. Now, let's see what happens when you lose the hat, shall we? Still upshifted, Jubatus grabbed the helmet by its horns, tried to pull it off its caddy's head…

…and failed utterly. The feline's whipcord musculature writhed under his fur, but to no avail; the helmet was simply not going to leave Horny Guy's head. Aargh! What the hell did he do, superglue the damn hat to his scalp? Okay, that suggests the helmet's the real problem—if we can separate hat from head, hopefully it'll all be over…

Jubatus downshifted (a calculated gamble, given that he was standing on the Not-a-Viking's shoulders) just barely long enough to call out to the Mysterious Flying Super: "Try shooting the hat off his head!"

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The Marshal gave a quick nod of agreement to the feline hero and took aim at the suspect's head. He yelled out to the marauding viking-wanna-be. "Hey! Give it up now, or it's gonna get real messy!"

Well, it sounded pretty impressive, but his warning fell on deaf ears. The raging slab-swinger didn't even seem to notice the Space Cowboy. The Marshal muttered something under his breath and opened fire, but the sizzling bright-blue energy bolt was wide of its mark.

With a growl of anger, the Helmeted Berserker let go of the slab and grabbed for Jubatus' ankles, but our speedy kitty was a bit too speedy for him, and Jubatus slipped through his fingers.

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Apparently, the not-a-Viking's reflexes were quicker than Jubatus thought: In the short time it took Jube to offer advice to the Mysterious Flying Super, the horny guy dropped his chunk of concrete and grabbed for the feline's ankles! Fortunately, Jube managed to upshift and avoid the not-a-Viking's lumbering limbs. Closer than I like, Jube thought, but not close enough. That's what I get for downshifting within reach of the enemy's hands. Okay… Jeeves said there's a good chance of this hat being magic, which would explain why the damn thing didn't want to come off when I pulled on it. Wonder-friggin'-ful. But if it is magic… hmmm…

Jubatus didn't much care for magic. The only rules magic followed were its own; it was a big, gaping, festering sore of an asterisk in modern science's consensus model of Reality. While the feline had very little hands-on experience, he suspected that dealing with magic was strongly analogous to debugging a program that was written in an unknown language, to run under an unknown OS. Of course, a buggy chunk of computer code wouldn't turn you into a newt if you poked at it the wrong way. And from what Jube had read, the same was not true of magic… Fine, whatever. Treat it as buggy software. It works by sheer logical extensions from its underlying premises, whatever those may be. But it's a damn good bet that those premises don't include scientific physical laws. We know the hat doesn't want to move off his head, but that doesn't mean it won't move on his head… Just then an idea occurred to Jube. He wasn't at all sure he could do it; even if he could do it, the consequences he desired might not occur. But even so, he judged it was worth a shot.

Still upshifted to a tempo of 40, Jubatus resumed his position standing on the not-a-Viking's shoulders… he got a firm grip on the helmet's horns, one in each forepaw… and he twisted the helmet around, so that its wearer's vision was fully obstructed by the helmet's opaque backside!

Crottled greeps! That worked!? Jube thought to himself—then he blurred off the not-a-Viking's back, and downshifted just long enough to say, "Hit him while he's blinded!"

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