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Searching for Vanguard

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GM

 

September 1st

 

The Ministry of Powers, London

 

There were, of course, a number of government agents. Armed ones, too. And a number of bustling, virtually faceless civil servants. But the only two men with any gravity in the plush office, decorated in oak, with lined leather volumes gilding every wall were the Minister for Powers, the Rt Hon. Cecil Booth, and Sir Cruxberry, who actually ran the agency. 

 

Cecil Booth was middle aged, slightly rounding, and moderately intelligent. A career politician, he had never been particularly successful and had never really failed. He had slowly risen the ranks, never destined to be a star, but never destined to take a fall. "Good old dependable Booth" was the genial comment that accompanied his name, when it was mentioned. He was even respected by the opposition parties, which of course only served to further dampen his career prospects. He had never wanted the portfolio for the Ministry of Powers, but once he had it, he had applied himself to it. 

 

Sir Cruxberry was older, ex army, and a veteran of war and spying. He wore a patch over one eye and walked with a noticible limp, but his solitary blue eye shone bright. His form was lean and his hair was white and clipped like his moustache. Somehow, one was left with the feeling that ones boots were not quite polished enough when one talked to him. Or that he could kill you in some ingenious but terribly effective way without breaking a sweat. 

 

"Thank's for popping over" said Booth, offering Young Brittania a cup of tea, of which he had already drunk several cups and was quietly trying to hold on to his bursting bladder. He was quite excited to have the heroine in the room. 

 

"For Queen and country and all that" he continued, with encouragement. 

 

"Look, I expect you know what this is all about. The Vanguard, they vanished without a trace a few months ago. Quite the mystery. Left us defenceless, and beside that, we would rather like to know what the devil happened..." he said with a helpless shrug, backed up by the precise gaze of Cruxberry who spoke no words but communicated his iron agreement. 

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One of the unwritten rules of entertainment was that you never gave people what you wanted, instead you gave them what they needed. So when she need the help of the Ministry she came to the building not in her costume but in a sharp business suit. Her hair was carefully tied away,  and she had considered glasses but thought that might be a bit too much.


She had paused at the entrance to the Georgian, or maybe Victorian, building that housed the Ministry of Powers . She had always been brought up with a major mistrust of government but that wasn’t why she was a little nervous at being at this building. This was the building were the UK kept track of all of it Super’s, native or visiting, and had almost always be associated with Britannia and not always a happy relationship. She always seen herself as the spare, so kept away for getting involved with the place that worked so closely with her superhero sister.


It didn’t take long for her to be recognized, both identities, and she was quickly escorted to a meeting with the highest echelons of the Ministry. She couldn’t help but smile as if they acted like she was the one who had been invited along for a quiet chat and some tea. Excellent tea though.


“I know I’ve spent the last week looking for Lucy. She’s never disappeared since I’ve known her, but I wouldn't put it past her. Then I went looking for Y Dderwen. Even the secret places he’s never told you about, never really told anyone about. He definitely gone and you couldn’t describe him as flaky.â€


She sipped her tea before continuing.

 

“So what do you want need me to do about it?â€

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And Jasmine thought the airport was stringant in security.

 

After several checkpoints, special check bags for any chemical supplies she needed and a box and locker key for her paintball guns after they cavity searched her, had given her a new lab jacket, pair of slippers to wear in case her shoes had any fuses, and a thorough examination of her glasses she wasn't all that sure they'd clear her. Given, they were right about the paintball guns but she'd never had them confiscated before and honestly forgot she had them on her, old habits after all. Only thing they'd let her keep were her goggles, cause they were prescription and had no clear possible offensive capabilities. Well she supposed she could throw them at someone, and it might leave a bruise, but most everything had that possibility unless they chained everything to the floor.

Honestly, she wouldn't of been very surprised if they did just that.

 

She walked the floor of the Ministry of Powers looking, but not gawking. It wasn't that surprising that London had a place like this, there were at least a couple places like this in Freedom City. Though the security wasn't as tight. Given, when you show up to one or two of them in a yellow hazmat suit they actually ask less questions. But that wasn't something to dwell on. Maybe she'd return, for family things, but her old job had made it rather clear they didn't want her to come back. There was also the thing about other companies, without a proper recommendation (which she doubted she'd get from her old job) it would be harder then usual, even if she managed to get passed to a doctorate with her thesis. Dr. Jasmine Benoitt, it was weird to say, both her parents were Doctorate levels, though they were linguists.

She pulled herself out of her thoughts as she was brought to a door by Blackpool, honestly she wished she was paying more attention to what he had been saying. He had gone through a lot of trouble to get her here, he apparently had some contracts with the ministry and wanted a second opinion on some of his work. She could do that for certain, though it amazed her that he had asked her since they had different specialties. Mind you, it was all chemistry, which had the same basic roots, but there was a big difference in industrial or inorganic as opposed to organic or pharmicutical chemistry.

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GM

 

"Ah there you are" said Professor Blackpool as Jasmine entered his office. 

 

He was a tall man, and thin, old, bald, but not infirm. The lined face had decades of high level research pounding away behind it. He was perhaps the national expert in biochemistry. Perhaps even the international expert. At his level, he had nothing left to prove. He was a damned genius at what he did. 

 

He was sitting down, wearing a grey suit and a bow tie, as was his nature. Reading spectacles sat atop his nose. His face was neither kindly nor harsh. His smile neither entirely false nor entirely convincing. His wards dripped confidence and authority, but he was no autocrat. His face may have been handsome once, but was perhaps described as keen - small, refined, but sharp features. 

 

"I have seen a lot of your work. And your thesis. Very impressive, Ms. Benoitt. Or may I call you Jasmine? You can call me Thomas..." he said kindly, offering his hand. 

 

Of course, a government agent was at hand by the door, relaxed but alert. This was a place of official secrets. 

 

"Never mind the suits, never mind the suits..." said Blackpool, waving dismissively at the man. "Government business, top secret, yada yada, you know the drill..." he said as if the whole thing was somewhat tedious to him. 

 

"I hope you are familiar with my work any way. I am rather in need of a lab assistant, you see. Someone with your fine mind, your experience. All a bit hush hush, but potentially vital work. Potentially revolutionary!" he said, excitedly. 

 

"Cellular regeneration!" he explained. "I have spent years, decades working on it. Metabolic augmentation, Telomere deletion, DNA cloning, Sequence mapping...you name it..." he went on. 

 

"And I think I am very close to perfecting my work. The only trouble is, I can't actually synthesize the organic compounds I need. If they can be created at all. That's where you come in..."

 

He coughed. 

 

"You could change the map of human medicine with me. I read your work, and I think you can crack the problem. Just think of it! And you will have all the funds and resources you need here at the Ministry. Just the small matter of..ah...the official secrets act..."

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Jasmine looked at the agent and gave him a nod as she moved around the office. It had standard office fair, books, framed degrees, small models. She turned towards the shelf and pulled one down,

"Jasmine is fine, we've known each other long enough."
It was a leather bound first edition, written by the owner of the office. Pretty typical, she opened it and started to thumb though,

"Or Doctor, the paperwork hasn't been processed yet but they confirmed the title."

She stopped on a page about his work,

"I can see the need for secrecy, but this is a bit more extreme then usual works. Given, you know where I'm from this sort of thing is much more liberal,"
She started to read over the work,

"I almost had to double take when I arrived, I wasn't aware this was what you meant when you said this was a government institution."
She closed the book and slid it back into place,

"But this, given your field, specialization and overall expertise and previous place of occupancy, I don't think it would surprise you for me to think that you wish to have assistance in creating,"
She turned towards him,

"Artificial metahumans."

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GM

 

Blackpool's pause was barely perceptible but it was there. 

 

"That's one term for it, yes. Super-soldiers is another. Eugenics is another. You could choose all sorts of terms, and none would be devoid of a primal gut reaction. Theological, philosophical, political. Not without basis, but often without thought. I trust you have the brains to think past the initial hysteria" he said. 

 

"Yes, artificial metahumans if you will. Transhumanism will hit our species, irrespective of any dying superstition. And I for one, think that is a good thing. Ever have we struggled against pain, against death, disability, disease. Against, one might say, ourselves. And we stand at an age where our very DNA has started to become less granite and more mercury" he explained. 

 

"This presents dangers of course. Social ones. And ever since World War II, the prospect of altered humans who could dominate the battlefield. Ignoring the world is no solution. One can only steer it. CHange is both painful and inevitable" he said, old in voice for a moment. 

 

"I have developed a formula for such a process. However, it is neither stable nor easily produced. I have termed it the Osprey Formula. It has, unfortunately, created a monster. A monster that has escaped and set loose on the world. Spare the lecture on ethics and mad science. It was tested on volunteers who were fully informed of the risks, all precautions were taken, and the result was unforseeable and regrettable. And I do regret it" he sighed, clearly having heard the words of many such lecturers who had neither his wit or wisdom. 

 

"I don't intent to repeat it. And that is why I would like your help on the matter. And I do need help. But it would require you taking up a job with the Ministrty, and that requires you to sign the official secrets act..."

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Jasmine looked at him,

"I know,"
She stepped forward,

"I also know mercury is much more dangerous then granite ever is, and the dementia that follows is all to common."
She let out a sigh, and sat down. Her shoulders rose as she took a breath,

"It's dangerous, insane, and potientially suicidal for all who even try it,"
Her eyes lifted to him,

"And people are doing it anyway. All over the world, every nation, every shadowy organization, every back ally doctor. All with the same promise, to be like them. The people with powers like gods, the people who get noticed, who get opportunities others don't have by some slip of chance. Because those people are unique, the nations that host them gain power, and if there's anything a nation craves it's power."

She gripped her chair,

"I've seen this on a small scale, and it was awful. You know, you can't not. A city poisoned with mutations forced on people without the constitution to survive such a drastic change. Freedom City nearly died from that epidemic. If it weren't for the simple fact that the local census of intellectuals in that city wasn't leaps and bounds above most others on earth, it would have!"
She was shouting now, she wasn't sure when she had started, likely around the city poisoned bit. She loosened her grip.

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Professor Blackpool looked sad but not intimidated. 

 

"I see I asked the wrong person to help me avoid just those stupid tragedies" he answered. His voice was grim but slow and measured. If anything it was lower in volume than before. 

 

"No. No. I'm not going to stand here listening to your childish philosophies. I'm not going to debate it with you. Do you really think I haven't circled these arguments a hundred times more than you?. And you think you can tie it all up in simple, emotive, reactive anecdotes?. In a few trite comments?. You think you can put everyone in the same neat ethical box? What will you say to your father when he is dribbling with incurable Alzheimer's disease?"

 

He gave her a firm stare. 

 

"I am very disappointed in you. Ten thousand years ago your foolish kind would have flayed a man alive for inventing fire. "

 

"Out"

 

He said with an evil voice. The man was hurt, and he we bode no further discussion on the matter. 

 

But before his order could be completed, the lights went out. In a windowless room. 

 

They were thrust into pitch blackness. 

 

"What the devil?" shouted Blackpool, his simmering rage, controlled as he spat at Carrie, now unleashed on the environment. 

 

Jasmine heard the sound of a gunshot, and a man slumping to the floor outside...

 

The lights in the entire Ministry had gone out in a blink. Thrusting Young Brittania, Synapse, and their "escorts" and conversations into pitch blackness...

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Jasmine was going to stand, to say something. React, argue back, make her point, but the rage, the fight, it disappeared in an instant as the world went black. Darkness creates a sort of primal reflex in creatures, the unknown invokes this. The situation changed, and instinct told Jasmine what to do, move, jump, hide.

There was a lot you could say physically about Jasmine, but she, was, fast. She was around the desk before the first blink. She put an arm around somewhere on Blackpool and pulled the colleague she was arguing with down to the ground with her behind the desk. She whispered the next part,

"Stay down, keep quiet."
She groped at her pocket and found the familiar plastic of the lenses. Blindly she slipped them over her eyes and flicked the switch. She let herself adjust as the infared flared up, and she got a look of the outlines of heat, including the one sitting next to her, then towards the door to see if the agent was still there. This wasn't an overreaction, she was sure of this. A government building like this would have back up generators, so a simple power outage wasn't likely. Something was happening, though what she wasn't sure. She turned to colleague, her tone low, but even,

"Theories Professor?"

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The darkened office was slowly lit up as Agnus aura coming slowly into life, despite the situation Agnus couldn’t help but give a little smile and a joke.


“You didn’t had to go quite that far if you didn’t want to answer the questions.†her face took on a more serious tone


“I assume that even with cuts you should have some kind of backup, so this is some kind assault?â€


She held up her hand and a small ball of light began to form glowing quite brightly in the lowlight of the room.

 

“Here take this and go to whatever panic room the government has kindly provided. Do you know where the power room is situated in this building I’ll go check this out.â€

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Dee had been following alongside Smith as they made their way through the underground parking garage when suddenly the lights went out and everything was plunged into total darkness.  The young woman came to a halt, as she was unable to see a thing and took a moment to reorient herself as best she could to how far she recalled them being from any walls or other vehicles.

 

"This is not a very auspicious start if you lot are having trouble with your power bills."  She commented with heavy sarcasm.  "You wouldn't happen to have a torch, or any idea what might be going on?"

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GM

 

"Mr. Smith" could not be seen, but his steely voice could be heard. 

 

"No, I am afraid a flashlight is not part of regular agent equipment. At least, not when in the city" he said. It was hard to tell if he was being sarcastic or just concrete and to the point. 

 

"The emergency lighting is down too. This is not a power cut. The only explanation is someone, and someone skilled, has dismantled the whole power systems of the Ministry building" he said. 

 

Synapse heard, in the silent garage, full of echoes, Mr. Smith drawing his gun and pulling the safety. Of course, it would not do much good if he couldn't see a thing...

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GM

 

Meanwhile...in the conference room...

 

Young Brittania saw the startled responses of the security agents who pulled their guns out of reflex. Cecil Booth gripped his seat. 

 

"I say, what the jolly roger is going on?" he said, nerves slicing his voice. 

 

Cruxberry stood up and was firm. years of army training had not diminished. 

 

"Power cut. Including the emergency lighting. Which isn't possible. Checking the power systems is a very good idea. Until then, full lockdown..." he commanded, as radio's crackled. At least they had not been disabled. All over the building, the story was the same - no power. Doors jammed open. Security camera's off. The place was wide open. 

 

"Come with me, I know the way..." motioned Cruxberry, pulling a handgun of an agent and waving Young Brittania to follow him. "Blast this. This place is more secure than anything in the country. How in blazes did this happen!" he shouted angrily as he lead Young Brittania out of the conference room and into the corridors of power. 

 

Fortunately Young Brittania's Light shone a path for them. It was not long before they reached the emergency power generator...

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GM

 

Meanwhile...In Blackpool's Office

 

With her goggles on, Jasmine could make out Professor Blackpool stumbling around in the dark. He may have known his office like the back of his hand, but with the sudden blackout and the gunshot, panic had hit and the old man had lost his nerve. 

 

"Stay down?" he mumbled. "I can't see I damn thing, how I am meant to...ouch!" he moaned as he bumped into his desk painfully. 

 

The door opened, smoothly and quickly. Even with her infrared vision on, Jasmine could see nobody...

 

But a voice could be heard. Soft and full of resentment. 

 

"Nice to see you again Professor. I see you have a visitor. Another lab rat perhaps....?" spoke the voice, out of thin air. 

 

"What? Who is that? I recognise that voice...you must be..." blabbered Blackpool. 

 

pffft

 

Jasmine could see Blackpool clutch his arm and slowly slump to the floor. 

 

"....Duke...." he slurred before falling unconscious. 

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"Really?"  Asked Dee in a rather surprised tone.  "Even though you might have to chase suspects into a dark basement or sewer?"  But she said nothing further as Smith indicated that this was likely no mere accident.  The sound of him readying his firearm had the young woman on edge, as she brought up a forcefield of telekinetic energy around herself.

 

"Well, I could take a look at the building's power system if we had a way to see where we were going."  She stated.  "Unless you have any other ideas."

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GM

 

There was a pause before Smith answered, and he did so studiously. 

 

"You know about Power systems? Yes, you probably do..." he said his voice dull. 

 

"That would seem a reasonable course of action. Although the major problem in your plan is we can't actually see anything" he said, his foot steps slow and shuffling. 

 

"Did you see the door? we should make our way there...." he said, as Dee heard him pick up his huge briefcase and slowly shufflye towards where she remembered the door was...

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Jasmine strained her eyes to see what had entered, but couldn't, so that lead to a number of theories. Total cloaking, not only against sight, but heat signiture as well. She guessed it'd be required for the infiltrator to get this far as she didn't doubt that the building would have infared cameras. It however, didn't conceal his voice, not that it seemed he wanted too. He could also see in the darkness uninhibited, or at least detect beings to know she was there. Would that mean,

Her thought was interupted as Blackpool buckled to the floor. So he was the target, that sealed things. This wasn't going to happen, she wasn't going to let this happen. Blackpool was her colleague, her friend, he wasn't going to be taken by some shadowy lurker in the dark. Rolling out of cover she lunged through the darkness towards the likeliest path the person would take to get to Blackpool. Groping in the darkness she found it, an arm, and attached to it.

With a twist of a maneuver practiced on mats in a bright studio she released the grip of the handle of the dart gun, and replaced it in her own. She took a step back, putting herself between the invisible assailant and Blackpool and held a practiced gunmans stance was she held it level with her eyes.

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As the pair of them walked along Agnus changed into her Young Britannia costume. It was rare that anyone got to she her change and it was a sight to behold. It was if she just walked into the form fitting costume as it seemed to flow around her.


“Any idea who who were dealing with? Could all this have anything to do with the disappearances?â€

 

As she to closer to where she thought the power generator her aura flared up lighter and she drew up power, it wasn’t a case of if trouble would start it was more a case of when.

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GM

 

In Blackpool's office

 

As the gun was wrenched into Jasmine's hand - more by virtue of the invisible man's surprise than her strength - she could feel it's smooth shape. It was, at best guess, a dart gun - silent, and potentially deadly, with a broad snub barrel and a large container. If she could see the damn thing, she could probably make more sense of the dials and knobs. As it was, she could barely make out a fuzzy outline in infrared, mainly on the handle where the man's body heat had warmed it up. 

 

The Invisible man was pretty strong, tall and wiry, as far as her limited contact could tell. And resolutely invisible. 

 

"You lucky b..." he started. 

 

"Never mind" he interrupted himself. "I'll save you for another day little lady. You never know when I will be watching. I could strike at anytime...anywhere...hehehehe....hope you sleep well!" came the little cackle. 

 

"In the mean time, I'm here for the prize!" he finished. And in a blink, Professor Blackpool had also vanished from Jasmine's view. 

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Jasmine glared daggers through her goggles. She couldn't follow him with her eyes so she focused on his voice, moving her head to follow. Through the goggles however she saw something that made her spin on her heels as Blackpool's heat signature disappeared. Holding the gun in front of her she assessed her options.
The first was get help, but that was vetoed immediately. Who would she call, or more importantly who would be able to do anything to stop him. He and Blackpool were absolutely invisible as far as she could tell, unless there was some psychic or otherwise scanner she didn't know about, he'd just leave before anybody got here.

The second was give chase, also improbable, because of the above reasons.

The third, was the gun. She could only guess, but she didn't think the invisible assailant had left the room yet, at least not completely. He wasn't from she could tell from their earlier encounter, that much stronger then herself, and Blackpool while not a hulking mass, was a slightly above average human male which put him at at least 200 pounds. If she could hit him with the gun, it would if it would use the same setting as it did on Blackpool slow him down. If it was lethal, or at least immediately lethal, there would of been no need for the man to take Blackpool, so that made this her most likely option. She didn't like the limit in these choices, but the fact that she'd be stripped of her equipment, and just about any other useful thing like her cellphone, her keys (which had a flashlight) and access to her van she had to make due.

 

So she made her choice, and fired the gun.

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GM

 

The gun hissed in Jasmine's hand, and she saw the slightly heated dart, a fuzzy blur of infrared, strike an invisible target, at which point it, too, disappeared. 

 

"Ouch! Damn you!" hissed the invisible man, grunting with the effort of what was, presumably, a firemans lift of Blackpool. 

 

"That's a damn sedative dart! last thing I need! I'm going to bust your ass...." he shouted. 

 

"...later...." he added, before the shuffling of feet hit the floor, and he was out of the door. he was clearly lumbering under the weight of Blackpool, but he was a strong man, and he knew what he was doing. The sound of footsteps echoed down the corridors of power...

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GM

 

Meanwhile, in the power room...

 

 


“Any idea who who were dealing with? Could all this have anything to do with the disappearances?â€

 

"Someone clever. And someone on the inside. Possibly somebody who wants to stop us finding Vanguard, given the timing. Above all someone dangerous" answered Cruxberry, keeping his gun up. 

 

"So yes, consider yourself employed, and this is your first day of employment. Welcome to the Vanguard, part 2..." he said in crisp military tones. 

 

The power room was small, but secure. The locks were mechanical, a number key code, rather than electronic, a foresight on Cruxberry's part, as he punched in the pass. 

 

The emergency power generator looked, at first glance, unremarkable. There was no evidence of damage or mischief. 

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Jasmine smiled at the curse, she'd hit an invisible target, given it was a large one, but still. Her stance was still she didn't talk back, she just listened (as watching wasn't an option). Once he started moving, she was moving too, listening down the coorridor for his footsteps and sprinting to catch him. She hadn't of needed that much effort.

 

She collided with the figure, not at her top speed, but at a reasonably brisk pace that apparently greatly outmatched his own. She managed to catch her footing and steady her stance as she drew the weapon with a sedative in it up again and pulled the trigger. She didn't know what a double dose of this would do, but since the first shot had not downed the man, she was willing to take her chances. Other options aside there was no way she was letting him get away with Blackpool.

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Despite the darkness the pair was able to make their way to the doorway out of the garage thanks to Dee's recollection of where she had seen it just before the lights had gone out.  However, once they were through the door things became more difficult, as she had no idea where they were going next.

 

They eventually managed to reach the level where Smith indicated the power systems for the building were located.  Things became a bit easier, when a glowing figure in a Union Jack stylized costume appeared down by the door to the power room along with another figure.  This allowed Dee and Smith to speed up a bit, and they reached the room shortly after the pair had entered.

 

Dee soon reached the door to the room and entered to find the two figures looking at the generator.  The young woman made her way into the room, coming up besides the costumed figure.  "Thanks for the light, now let me have a look at this."  She stated as she knelt down and began to examine the generator.

 

After a few moments, she glanced back at the others in the room.  "Well, whoever did this knew what they were doing, and more specifically, was familiar with this system.  They did a very good job of shutting this down.  To really deal with the damage, most of this is going to have to be completely replaced."

 

She paused briefly before adding, "but, I might be able to getting it working again at least for a short while."

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GM

 

Cruxberry recognised Dee instantly. He gave a quick look at Smith, seeking his affirmative. 

 

"The primary option was not feasible" said the stony even voice of the large agent who was still stiffly and expertly holding his enormous briefcase and equally enormously gun in his left and right hand respectively. He cut an imposing build, and his voice cut an efficient tone. 

 

"The secondary target has agreed to terms and signed the official secrets act" he said. 

 

Cruxberry - an efficient military man himself - still has the slight look of wonder at the almost machine like Smith, a micro-spasm in his forehead revealing his disturbance. Still, the man was good at his job, that was clear. 

 

"If you can fix it, that would increase our operation effectiveness. Right now, we are down and out" he explained. "Just make sure it isn't booby trapped...whoever did this knew damn well how to do it..."

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