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July 15, 2015

The Caribbean 

SS Mictlan 

The Captain's Table 

Day Two of the cruise was formal night, which meant the Captain's Table and a chance to get to know the other superheroes either volunteering or working as security for the Mictlan's maiden voyage. Edge and Monsoon had spent the first day of the cruise mingling, Mark and Nina doing their best to put aside Freedom City and Socotra and enjoy a rare vacation. Having gotten to know his girl pretty well over the years, Mark had been worried that Nina would resent being thrust into the role of "girlfriend of the famous UN hero" - but as it happened Nina hadn't spent much time worrying about that at all. "So you see, Captain Festus," the water controller was just saying, pausing as she cut open her rare steak, the glittering yellow at the head of her costume a warm color in the light of the crowded dinner deck, "Socotran refugees will be among the most motivated people your line can hire. They'll work hard, be comfortable even with low pay, and the older ones will know how to fight if there's trouble." 

"Well, I don't really know anything about that," said Festus with a cheerful chuckle as he dabbed at the steak sauce dotting the edges of his regulation graying beard. "And you know, normally we don't need quite this much security on a cruise ship! But the line wants to make sure the new engines are protected - they were made from experimental technology the US government developed back in the 40s, you know, and you never know what some super-hooligan will try to steal! Hoh-hoh-hoh!" 

Having been busy with an autograph, Edge turned back to the captain and the other guests around the table. The dining area was indeed crowded; it looked like almost everybody who could had gotten on their best clothes for an old-fashioned cruise ship dinner. It reminded Mark of pictures he'd seen from his parents' honeymoon, and his father's world travels. "People from Socotra get profiled a lot," he said quietly, "but you won't find better people." He reached under the table and squeezed Nina's hand. Eating in costume in a formal setting might have been strange for some people, but this was the kind of thing Mark had quite literally grown up doing. As for Nina, he thought she could look regal sitting in the dirt, much less in costume. 

"Ah, there's the rest of our guests now!" Festus waved cheerfully as another group of costumed individuals arrived - after all, who could turn down a place at the Captain's Table? No one - not if they were being paid to appear in public in costume as part of their time on the all-expenses-paid, six-decked luxury cruise liner as it steamed from Miami to Venezuela and back again over the space of two gorgeous sun-kissed weeks. 

 

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Leaning his cane against the table, and straightening his honestly way to purple (and blue) suit, Mirror took his place at the table. Mary, who as far as he knew he was still the only person that could see her, sat on the floor and put her head in her hands pouting. She was mad because they weren't outside in the sun where she wanted to be, though she couldn't tan, she enjoyed a change of scenery from the urban jungle that was, and still is, Freedom City. Mirror had spent most of the first day of the cruise just outside, enjoying the sun, and the ocean. Though he didn't tan much, or burn much for that matter. He left his top hat on, it was apart of the costume, and kept his hair hidden, making it slightly harder to identify him, and his mask sported a feature it didn't usually. A mouth shaped feature that actually moved as his mouth did. Most of the concentration he could spare was going into animating it, so that he could eat without looking (more) strange, or risk revealing his identity. Maybe one day he would go public, but this day was not that day. 

 

"I hated stupid formal requirements when I was alive, and I hate them even more now. I want to be outside, I want to be watching the clouds, and the sky, and feeling the heat on my...can I even call it skin? I can't really call it skin can I? My ecto-shell, or whatever your Ghost Hunters call my body, though they never find anything. Hurry up, I don't want to be stuck here all night, I'm already stuck with you for the rest of your life, I might as well get some benefit from it."

 

He couldn't, and wouldn't respond to her. Not right now anyway, one of her little rules, and she hadn't granted him permission, so he ignored her. Harder to do then normal considering his need for concentration on the mask.

 

"Good evening everyone."

 

Mirror said, glass-mask-mouth following his real mouth underneath, slightly uncomfortable. He had never been very good with people, he could tell you the stresses a jet moving at mach three would experience, the kind of forces that accumulated in Earth's orbit being the way it is, or especially the best way to get a steel skyscraper to hold itself up stably, but people? People were a whole nother story. It wasn't as if talking to them crippled him, nor was it a total inability to connect with them, it was simply him being introverted, and most people not being interested in the various physical sciences, of which architectural engineering was his specialty. 

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Starlight fidgeted slightly with the edge of her new mask as she approached the captain's cabin, still unused to the feel of it against her skin. It was made of a hard, inflexible material, but molded to fit the lower half of her face so it could be as comfortable as possible. When she'd been offered the opportunity to act as security aboard the Mictlan, the first thing she had decided was that if she was going to be on board a cruise ship full of civilians with cameras, her disguise was going to have to be a little thicker.

Her new outfit hadn't cost as much as she'd feared - the lightly reinforced black bodysuit, mask, and pale grey jacket had been pricey, but affordable, especially since food was technically a luxury item for her. Getting rid of the ponytail had been a bit of a shame, but her hair had been getting too long to be practical, and her new short haircut worked better with the mask anyway. She did feel a new-found sense of security and confidence now that she knew her face was concealed - if she was going to start moving more into the public eye, relying on anonymity and obscurity to protect her identity wasn't going to work.

She entered the cabin, nodded silently but politely to the room, and took her seat. Ever since getting her new outfit, she had been feeling considerably less verbal for some reason. She hesitated briefly when her eye landed on the food laid out before her. A meal like that wasn't easy to pass up, but it removing her mask in front of people she didn't know, even other heroes, didn't seem like a good habit to get into.

After a moment's thought, she shrugged inwardly and reached around the back of her head, undid the sturdy clasp that held it in place, and, pulling it off, set it aside. It wasn't as if anyone here would recognize her, and they all seemed trustworthy enough. Of course, most people did at first, but being invited to dine at the captain's table only to show up and not eat anything would probably be seen as an insult, and she didn't feel like getting keelhauled.

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Maybelle McQueen was having a ball. The ring slinging chef had never been on a cruise before, and honestly? It was fantastic. Not to mention these days she was fast enough of a flier to get to Freedom and back in a heck of a jiffy. That said, some of her followers and appreciators from Tumblr, Reddit, and the like where on board. She didn’t wear a mask, and thus was easily recognized by her eager fans. They wanted her to cook on the ship for them. She demurred. It wasn’t her kitchen. There was a perfectly competent professional chef on board. Her fans insisted. No, she had to show him some respect as a fellow professional. They had her taste a few entrees. Approximately fifteen loud and argumentative minutes later, the head chef was now sous chef and Maybelle McQueen was running the show. She was here to protect the ship, after all.

 

Professional my Southern fried butt.  Maybelle thought. Where’d that jerk get his degree, mail order? That was the worst filet of sole I’ve ever tasted. Flat, uninspired, and boring. She strode up to the Captain’s Table, lost in thought. And the marinara! Might as well have been tap water with tomato chunks. And no one in that kitchen knew how to fry chicken. Not a one. Well, they surely know now. She was wearing a lovely long sundress in a soft gray. Her only jewelry was the Ring of Aura on her right ring finger. Her shoes were ballet flats a few shades brighter than her dress. She emerged from her reverie. “Evening, Captain. Don’t you worry, I just came from the kitchen. Everything on schedule. Smooth sailing, if you’ll allow the expression.” She found a seat and plopped down into it. “Man…I knew I’d probably have to protect this place from some bad guys, but I never though I’d have to protect it from the food.”

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The Captain made introductions as the various other heroes arrive, introducing the heroes to each other and to the other guests around the table as they also began to trickle in. The costumed, and non-costumed, heroes weren't the only celebrities on this voyage, after all, just the ones with superpowers. They'd all already met Patrick Reidiker, the chief engineer of the Mictlan and the man who'd brought the old US government technology on board to work the propulsion. Just as before, he wasn't terribly social - spending more time paying attention to his chilled avocado salad than the heroes. He looked younger than the captain, or indeed most of the other officers, his eyes half-hidden by partially reflective, round glasses. He took the space between Queenie and Mirror, with the mustachioed race-car driver Savio LaJolla on Mirror's other side. LaJolla had been there from the beginning with Edge and Monsoon and had grown voluble with wine, reminisicing about the Formula 1 circuit and his plans for the forthcoming race in Barbados that would be the first of its size in the Caribbean. 

Edge was on the other side of the racecar driver, and on his other side was the recently-arrived Denny DeMonaco, a fresh-faced teenager from Miami who kept wandering around to try and take selfies of himself with the superheroes around the table. He'd won the online giveaway that Tangerine Cruise Lines (Mictlan's owner) had given to the millionth customer to buy through their website. As the group talked and made introductions, Reidiker's phone buzzed. Looking down, he muttered a small curse before saying, "Excuse me, duty calls," and slipping away first from the table, and then out of the dining room entirely. 

"Better not," said Mark winningly as Denny for a moment looked like he wanted to take a picture of Starlight with her mask off. "We're all friends here, right?" He didn't know how much publicity the heroine was looking to court, but he did know a little something about phone etiquette at a fancy dinner. The teenager apologetically put away his phone, wilting a little in the bright light of Mark's smile. "I love your costume," Nina complimented to the maskless light controller, a smile on her own face, "where did you get that? I had to practically drag Edge to a woman's clothier to show him how to make mine." 

"So as I was saying," said LaJolla to Mirror, resuming a conversation that he had been having in Mirror's general direction for a while, "Montoya drives like a lunatic! It is a shame and a pity the authorities let him drive without a spotter. What do you think, should they let a man that crazy drive unassisted?" He waved his wine glass at Mirror. "I know! They are lunatics too." 

At Queenie's arrival, Captain Festus coughed. "You know, I am very grateful for your help in the kitchen, but you should..." He was interrupted by a low rumble that briefly rattled everyone's glasses, briefly pausing conversation in the dining room, before he tried again. "Pierre has been with the line for three years and we're glad to have him. We don't want to-" 

Suddenly, Festus turned an alarming shade of green and black and bolted to his feet, before suddenly placing his hands flat on the table, his eyes wide and bulging, and vomiting an eruption of bright red blood all over the clean white linens of the Captain's Table! 

 

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Starlight exploded out of her seat and slammed her mask back on all in one motion. There was a flash of light that momentarily turned the room a brilliant white, and then she was beside the captain without bothering to cross the space that separated them. "Captain!" She swept her gaze across the assembled guests, then jabbed a finger at DeMonaco. "You! Get the doctor! Now!" She looked back at the others. "Does anyone here know any medicine?" She cursed herself for not knowing first aid. She wasn't sure how much good first aid would do for a man who was vomiting blood, it was better than doing nothing. This was one problem she couldn't solve with lasers.

Already her mind was racing to find possible causes of the Captain's sudden sickness. He had been fine just moments before. Something in the food? If it was poison, everyone at the table except her was in serious trouble. They were going to need to talk to the cooks...or was she being paranoid? Maybe he was just sick to begin with...no. People didn't go from talking cheerfully to throwing up half their internal organs within the space of a second. Not normally.

So poison? Could be. But what if it wasn't? What had happened right before he...

She rounded on the rest of the room. "Shut down the engines!" she barked to one in particular. "Shut them down!" Overcautious, probably, but when it came to experimental tech combined with sudden blood-vomiting, there was no such thing as overcautious.

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"I'll find a doctor, I'm faster. No one else touch any of the food, we don't know if this a poisoning or sickness. DeMonaco, instead see about trying to get into contact with the Ships chief of security, they'll want to be involved as well, and the faster we get them in here, the faster we can find out what's going on." 

Mirror said as he grabbed his cane and unsteadily, he had only recently learned to fly, began to float, then turned and shot off, stopping only to open the doors, and flew about midway between the floor and ceiling. Light pulsed around his hands and feet, leaving a afterimage behind him that faded slowly, showing his path. He flew as fast as he could, and still reliably make turns, and dodge people, definitely faster then running normally, and rushed as fast as he could to the Doctor, coming to a halt and setting down once he found them.

"Wheeew, that was the first time I've actually had to do that....Not important right now! Doctor, the captain just threw up a large amount of blood, I came to get you as fast as I could, I suspect poisoning, but no matter what, he needs a Doctor ASAP."

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When Mirror returned with the doctor, Edge got some quick directions from the doctor and vanished with both doctor and patient down below to the cruise ship's small clinic. With the service of two teleporters on board, medical evacuations were easy - the question was how far would they have to go? Monsoon joined Starlight in taking command of the situation, calling out "No need to fear, citizens! We're on the case." She raised her hands, catching the crowd's attention with a look. "But for your safety, you should all return to your rooms for the night. We've all been eating the same food, drinking the same water, but only the Captain has fallen ill in this room. You need not fear getting sick in the night - and we'll have a full briefing for you in the morning." As the crowd began filtering out, with a few questions yet about exactly what was going on, the heroes close to Monsoon could see the worry at the edges of her face. She wasn't quite as confident as she sounded. 

"Bloody hell, that's a lot of it," she said shortly, looking over the blood-stained table. She concentrated on the liquid on the table and raised her hand, drops of blood slowly beginning to rise from the various surfaces where they had begun to congeal. "I've seen men vomit like that before, but only after a poisoning...but we all ate the same things. Bizarre!" The ship's stewards had begun to arrive now, clearing things out with the help of Lieutenant Patrick Forrest, the ship's head of security, an ex-Freedom City police officer who they'd all met upon their arrival on the ship. 

-

No one in the dining room was able to reach the engine room - and it was easy to see why. Arriving down below, people found the heavy steel doors locked and bolted, with only the frazzled security guard outside to tell the tale. "I just don't know what happened," he was saying, running his hands over the doors as if trying to find an entrance, "Reidiker came in, signed himself in as usual to work on the Eldridge tech, then he hit the blast doors once he was inside! The whole place locks itself down to prevent super-crime." 

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Having come down to the engine room to investigate her hunch further, Starlight gritted her teeth in frustration at the setback. Whether or not her idea about the engines causing the captain's sickness was correct, Reidiker at least certainly seemed to want to keep them from shutting them down, which was to her a very good reason to shut them down as soon as possible. What the hell is he playing at? What does he stand to gain from this?

She would try to figure that out later. She had no idea how to help the captain, so she needed to focus on killing those engines. And getting a hold of Reidiker and asking the bespectacled little bastard a few pointed questions. And to do that, they needed to get through those blast doors.

With another flash of light, she was back at the Captain's Table. "Got a problem down below," she said shortly. "Remember when Reidiker got that message on his phone, and he suddenly had someplace to be? He's in the engine room, and he's sealed himself in down there. Don't know why, but after what just happened to Festus, it can't be good. And if that blast door is really designed to withstand a superhuman attack, even we'll have a hell of a time blasting through it. And I can't teleport inside without knowing exactly where I'm going. Anyone have any ideas?"

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The first day, Marcus really didn't have much to say.

He hadn't even been in the vicinity of Freedom City for the better part of 18 months. When he finally did surface again, he looked... different. Somehow meaner. Of course, Marcus just laughed at the person who had pointed this out, leaving most to wonder whether he'd really changed at all. The shapeshifting hero was hardly out of contact with the rest of the world, though; it was, after all, how he'd ended up hearing about the voyage. He wasn't what one would call a 'famous' superhero, but he was reliable when it counted, and that was really what mattered most to him. Slight nods and vague recognition were all he could muster on the first day, however. He had seen and done enough that he was looking forward to something straightforward and uneventful. 

Marcus still didn't feel quite himself in costume. After the first day, the captain insisted that the normally wallflowerish and introverted Marcus join him for dinner. He arrived with his green and gold-trimmed costume, and immediately was immersed into the crowd--no backing out now. Time to be social.

Festus's sudden ailment, however, shifted the mood entirely, and Marcus couldn't help but look horrified. Sure, he'd seen blood before, but this was a first for him. He looked like he was having a very, very serious reaction to something--Gods only knew what--and his mind went blank for a split second as he tried to figure out what to do. Thankfully, cooler and more competent heads than his own were already on it, leaving Marcus to the unenviable task of helping to corral the remaining guests and try to get them NOT to focus on the ghastly scene before them. 

Killing the engines? Hm... He kept that thought to himself--a wise decision after hearing that someone had barricaded themselves inside. He was no doctor, and couldn't really help the captain in his current state, which left his other skill set wide open--breaking stuff.

"I can take a crack at that engine door," he offered, approaching Starlight near the captain's table. He'd been paying attention, and remembered her name, at least; if nothing else, he was good with faces and names. His eyes kept inadvertently straying to the blood. The Beast Rune was reacting in a disturbingly typical way, and being able to smell it wasn't helping. 

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"I can go places I've never seen," said Edge, having returned from down below with nary a trace of blood or vomit staining his pretty blue and gold uniform. "But I don't know anything about machines," he added, looking around at the others. "Especially big super-science machines. All I could do down there is blast holes in the machines, or turn them into things that won't work anymore, like potatoes or a block of cheese." 

"Take Starlight down there with you." suggested Monsoon. "Arcturus and I can go for the door if you are unable to enter. The others," she went on with a nod to the other heroes around the table, "can keep order here." For his part, Arcturus was struck by a distinct sensation that things had just become very different - it wasn't that the magic that surrounded him had changed, really, it just seemed to have grown more amplified, as if a door had opened somewhere. 

Of course, keeping order turned out to be not that easy - not when they made it down to the engine room and found it a scene of bloody chaos. The engineers were down, scattered all over the room, twitching in the throes of some dread disease, bloody vomit covering their uniforms. Mark cursed, pushed to the edge by the grimness of the moment, and ran for the nearest semi-conscious body. "I'll get them to the doctor," Edge said, "see what you can do about the engines!" 

The engines themselves were 'black boxes', large sealed cylinders that towered above Starlight's head, and the control systems looked to be antiques - there were no computer screens here or electronics, just old-fashioned brass construction and gauges that looked like something taken directly from a World War II museum. 

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"I don't really know much about machines either... except how to break 'em. I do that pretty well, I've been told." He nodded in agreement with Monsoon, but he stopped abruptly when a sudden, odd feeling struck him. His first reaction was to look squarely at Edge, the one person he knew for certain would probably understand what he meant. "Did you just feel that?"

Arcturus was always a little wary when magic was involved. Usually, he could sniff it out--literally--and he knew that trace amounts of it didn't really mean a whole lot on the whole. When he expected it, it wasn't an issue/ This, however, gave him pause. At first, he thought the ship might have drifted into something, but that wasn't it... It was like a door swung open and the air changed. It affected him almost as soon as he realized it was happening. The silvery glow of the Beast Rune intensified, shining through his costume. Only Arcturus could hear its unique magical hum, but outwardly he didn't react. He could definitely feel the difference, though. The implications were troubling.

He was never sure how to approach the subject of magic with other people. Explaining his was tough enough, but having to explain magical phenomena to other people was never easy. It always felt weird. Nevertheless, Arc was going to give it his level best. "There's a portal or something open somewhere..." he said in as matter-of-fact a way as he could. It was just about the only thing of which he could be certain. "I don't know how big, but it's big enough to boost magic in the area. That's... not good."

The scene at the engine room caught him off guard. Without realizing he'd jumped to that conclusion, he assumed that only the Captain had been affected by whatever strange ailment had taken hold of him. The inner predator that was the Beast Rune pushed against Arcturus's psyche at the sight of blood and the shapeshifter bit back an involuntary growl. The task was made more difficult by the heightened effects of his magical abilities. He was still in control, but damn if it wasn't frustrating. And Reidiker was nowhere in sight.

Edge's words snapped him back to reality. "...uh. Engines. Right." Smashing them meant leaving them floating in the middle of the ocean... not the most ideal solution. But the option was certainly on the table. "I've gotta find this portal though. It's driving me crazy." 

It was probably better for everyone involved that no one know how accurate that statement might have been.

 

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Engines. Right. Starlight nodded shortly and dashed over to what she sure hoped were the main controls, careful not to let her uncertainty show. She had trouble setting a DVR, much less shutting down experimental ship engines that seemed to be killing everyone on board. Running her eyes over the console, she reassured herself slightly with the fact that it didn't look particularly high-tech. How hard could it be to just flip the "off" switch? Of course, older tech probably meant fewer security protocols that would prevent some idiot from accidentally blowing up the boat by pushing the wrong button, but this was a time to focus on the positive side of things.

Buttons, switches, dials, levers...would to kill them to have a goddamned manual? She gritted her teeth. Unless her unusual physiology would protect her, there was a 50/50 chance she would start puking blood everywhere in the next thirty seconds. Screw it! Eenie, meenie, miney...she yanked a large, promising-looking red lever. Moe.

She jumped back from the console, one hand curled into a glowing fist, ready to blast it into slag if something went wrong. Instead, the noise and hum of the engines waned, then died. She let out a long breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding. Okay. So that takes care of that.

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A half-hour or so later, the heroes regrouped inside the cruise ship's staff conference room, located just across the cramped corridor from the small onboard clinic. The air stunk of blood and foulness, the air freshener inside their room doing all it could to keep them together. The foul smell fit the circumstances more than adequately. The situation was, by any standards, grim. Captain Festus, Chief Engineer Rediker, and the latter's three closest assistants were all unconscious with high fevers, dehydration, and who knew what else keeping them out for the count. With one onboard doctor and two nurses, the boat's onboard clinic could have handled anything up to a full-blown food poisoning epidemic - but so far it didn't seem to be that, either. 

"None of the radiation sensors down with the Eldridge engines were triggered," said Edge, looking fatigued as he sat around the plasterboard table and looked at the others. Mark was struck by the contrast between the fine meal they'd been enjoying just a little while earlier and the utilitarian surroundings they were in; right down to a whiteboard with the half-legible notes from a recent staff meeting against the wall. "At least, not as far as I can tell. I went ahead and sealed everything up down there anyway, just in case the ship is turning radioactive." 

"I've put Mirror and Brigandine to work controlling the passengers," said Monsoon, looking equally tense. "They're unhappy with what they've seen, but enough of them are from Freedom City that they are willing to listen to their heroes." She smiled thinly, darkly. "No one else has fallen ill - or at least, not fallen ill with anything but a case of nerves." At the moment of the 'incident', they'd lost all contact with the outside world. Radio, satellite, and phones, even those belonging to passengers, had all gone silent - right now the ship's crew, per Chief Forrest, were doing everything they could to try and resume contact with the outside. 

 

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Starlight cleared her throat and sat forward in her chair, elbows on the table. "I think our first priority needs to be figuring out exactly what's wrong with Festus and the engineers - and, more importantly, where it came from. If it's contagious, we need to know. Even if it isn't, we need to know how they got it. Seems pretty obvious to me it has something to do with the engines, but does shutting them down mean we're safe? And why did Reidiker seal himself in there? Was he trying to prevent this, or was he involved?" An idea occurred to her. "Are there working security cameras in there? If we can get the feed from when everything happened, it might give us some clue of what we're dealing with."

She rose and paced from one end of the room to the other. "And we also need to make sure that the sick people get the care they need. I know we have medical personnel on board, but it couldn't hurt to get some help in that regard. But, again, if it's contagious, we don't want to risk exposing anyone else." She threw herself into her chair again. "I have no goddamned idea why we can't contact the outside world, but that would only be a problem if we didn't have superpowers. I can't get sick, from anything, which lessens the risk of me transmitting it to somebody else. And I can teleport pretty much anywhere I want. I can go wherever we need - a hospital, the CDC, whatever. Talk to the real experts. And if it turns out there isn't a risk of infection, then Edge and I can med-evac these people to a proper facility."

 

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Queenie had practically torn the kitchens of the cruise ship apart searching for something, anything, that would have caused this reaction in the affected crew. She wasn’t a scientist, but she was a professional chef. She knew what was food and what wasn’t. Her eyes and training found nothing wrong. This…did nothing to ease her state of mind. She knew the damage even a totally unfounded scandal could cause an eatery. To say nothing of the already affected. Still, there wasn’t a lot else she could do. She could’ve helped getting into the engine room, sure, but that would have meant tearing the doors off their hinges. Or near enough to mean no difference. She wasn’t a doctor or an engineer, you know? She was just a chef. Which was currently about as useful as lipstick on a pig.

 

At any rate, the heroes had regrouped and Queenie was with them. She’d changed out of her dress and fancy shoes into sneakers, jeans, a button down and a vest-her usual attire.“I checked the kitchens. This wasn’t something anyone ate or drank. At least, it wasn’t a poison. I…don’t know anything about tech or magic.” She nodded as Starlight finished speaking. “I can’t get sick either. I don’t know how fast you guys are, or how fast you can fly, but I can fly to Freedom and back in ten to fifteen minutes. There doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with my comms, either. Range is only about a mile, though.” She looked around the room. “Wait. Am I the only one who can fly? There’s three teleporters, but you all seem land bound to me.” Suddenly, she felt useful. “I always know where I am, which way I’m going, and what time it is, too. That’s…probably less useful, though…”

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"I fly too," Starlight said. "Pretty damn fast. But I don't have that...GPS sense or whatever you would call it. Could actually come in handy if we have trouble finding our way back to land for whatever reason, either on the ship or using our powers." Depending on how they worked, losing communications might mean losing the ship's navigational systems, which would, as far as she knew, leave them hopelessly lost. Fortunately, assuming Queenie's powers worked as advertised, that wouldn't be a problem. While it should be easy to evacuate the people on board, she preferred not to leave this ship here, dead in the water, easy pickings for whoever might take a fancy to it. And if the engines were so damned important that the company actually recruited a team's worth of capes to protect it, that could conceivably be very bad.

Of course, if they couldn't safely reactivate the engines, then the ship wasn't going anywhere anytime soon, navigation or no navigation. Depending on how dangerous these engines really were, scuttling her might actually be a viable option. Of course, the company probably wouldn't be too thrilled, but she was having a hard time caring about their profit margins at the moment.

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"The best thing for me to do will be to take all the sick people off the boat," said Edge decisively. "I can get all of them to Freedom City; right into the League's hospital. The only reason I haven't taken the whole boat is that might start an epidemic." Monsoon, who knew Edge the best, didn't so much as blink at the news that he could evidently teleport an entire passenger liner across a continent's worth of ocean. "Plus, we might hit a ship in the harbor," he admitted. "I can get it done and be right back."

Monsoon was able to get ahold of Starlight's security tapes, revealing that the collapse down below had occurred almost simultaneously with Festus' collapse above. The silent footage showed a grim scene - Rediker, a look of urgent concern on his face, had come into the engine room and hit the security lock behind him before having a quick, sharp conversation with his second, pointing at the engines - and then both men had collapsed, bleeding and vomiting, almost simultaneous with the captain above ground. 

Coming back from seeing Edge off, Monsoon studied the security film alongside the others; the ship's interior architecture new enough that it played on a shipboard 'cloud' that was still functioning despite the transition shipboard transition. "I was talking to the ship's doctor in there," she said, wiping a cloth over her mouth as she spoke, "and he said the Captain has spent a great deal of time down among the engines." She made it sound accusatory, but she did that for many things. "I wonder if they were all exposed to some-" 

Suddenly there came the sound of sirens in their conference room - and Chief Forrest's voice on the intercom. "Attention superheroes...you'd better get up here!" 

-

Upstairs, the bridge was full of white-faced sailors and officers - this was not the working cruise they'd all signed on for. At the sight of the capes, the security chief, still in overall command with so many illnesses, took over. Forrest pointed the problem out to the heroes in a moment after taking them aside to a navigation station; what looked like a massive, slow-moving blip on their radar, coming towards them from the nearest landmass; the US Virgin Islands. 

"It's too slow even for a freak wave, but it's too damn big for another ship. Can...some of your people get out there?" he asked the heroes. "

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Queenie shot a look at Starlight. “Coming?” And then she was out the door and onto the open air deck. Shortly after that, she in midair, moving faster than most planes could dream of. Just below the speed of sound. Barely cruising speed, these days, when hypersonic was where she maxed out. The approaching object wasn’t that far away, so she zigged, zagged, and looped the loop. She barely skirted the waves below and soared a thousand feet in the air. This wasn’t purely for her own enjoyment, though that was an awesome bonus. She really did love flying, after all. An indirect approach could disguise that she was approaching at all. It was also for that reason she didn’t break the sound barrier. Sonic booms were a loud warning that something was coming, after all. She was hunting the thing on radar, and the less warned it was, the better.

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"Right-" Queenie was gone. Starlight blinked against the sudden rush of air caused by her flight. "...behind you," she finished belatedly. She's fast. Eager to find out what the object on the radar was, she supposed - a sentiment she shared. Too big to be a ship? Starlight was no mariner, but even she could tell you that ships were pretty damned big. So whatever was out there was even bigger, and headed their way. Joy. It never went smooth. How come it never went smooth?

She sighed and headed out onto the ship's deck, going at a much slower pace than Queenie. So, sea monster. Gotta be. The only question is how many tentacles. The prospect of duking it out with a giant maneating oyster did hold a certain appeal, she supposed. If nothing else, it would make for a hell of a story someday, assuming she lived to tell it.

There was nothing to be gained by putting it off, that was for sure. They needed to intercept it before it reached the Mictlan and the innocent people aboard. She squinted off in the direction the radar had indicated, rolling her shoulders, then crouched, readying herself. Then, with a flash that lit up half the ship, she took off, flying after Queenie at a speed that devoured the distance between them, leaving a glowing contrail of light behind her.

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What they found, just a few miles away, was something completely unexpected. They had to pass through a bank of clouds to get there, thick and heavy grey fog that clung to the sea like foam, which was the only reason they hadn't seen it from the deck of the ship. It being a gigantic chariot, looming as large as the vessel they had left behind, riding over the surface of the water and being pulled by a mighty steed that seemed to be made of the water of the Caribbean Sea itself. Riding in the back of the chariot stood a giant large enough to pick up the ship if he was so inclined; a multistory figure wielding a massive trident and with a long, curling black beard that cascaded down onto a muscular chest that made him look like a veritable Greek god! Though on closer inspection, the toga he wore belonged rather more to the Roman era. 

The figure, looking like Neptune or Poseidon brought to life in gigantic form, was obviously heading quickly for the stranded Mictlan - and would surely reach the boat shortly. He didn't seem to notice the two flying heroines; instead he snapped his whip and called to his steed, his baritone voice booming over the waves with great force. "Ho! Ho!" He went on; but neither of the two women spoke ancient Greek or Latin, so his words might well have been a mystery to them. 

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Queenie frowned. This was a big fella, all right. With a thought, a big silver “WAIT” sign appeared in front of Starlight’s face.  Queenie drifted forward and up, until she was right in front of this giant man’s giant eyeball. She matched his speed. She smiled sweetly and waved. “Hi! Do you speak English? Please, please tell me you speak English.” Because if he didn’t speak English and wouldn’t stop, one Maybelle McQueen was officially out of ideas. Well. Ideas that didn’t involve suicide by giant. Or making a really big wall to stop a steed made out of seawater. In the middle of the ocean. Which was made entirely of seawater.

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Starlight's breath choked in her throat when she saw the colossal figure. Christ, that guy could crack the ship in half by prodding it with his foot! Her mind began racing, trying to think of a way to take out the giant if she had to. Big guy means big corneas, right? Hit him right in the eyes with a light flash, try to blind him...then keep out of his reach and piss him off enough to try to lead him away from the Mictlan...

Queenie's floating message appeared in front of her, and she blinked. Of course talking to him was Plan A. It was possible he was friendly. Maybe they got lucky and this enormous fellow was the answer to all their prayers. Maybe monkeys will fly out of my ass and upgrade my utility belt for me. She flew up beside the other woman, keeping pace with both of them, but saying nothing. She wasn't exactly the most personable of people even when it came to normal humans; sweet-talking a sea giant was a task best left to someone else. If it came to a fight, though, she wouldn't hesitate, even if it meant getting dropkicked over the horizon.

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Arcturus couldn't fly. At least, not in the technical sense. It harkened back to his absence from Freedom City, being severed forcibly from the Beast Rune... it changed him. His magic was the same, but different. He knew what he was potentially capable of doing--for better or worse--but now didn't seem like the kind of situation to risk attempting a form that was capable of flight. No, it seemed better to watch from a distance and have faith that Queenie and Starlight would be fine with... whatever that blip was. There really was no other advice he could give apart from the obligatory 'be careful'.

That lasted right up until the two were out of earshot, and he shook his head. The Beast Rune gnawed at him for his inaction. More than that, he wasn't the type to sit still. His right hand closed into a fist and the symbol of Lux, the Light Rune traced itself magically onto the back of his hand. Instantly he felt like the magic was trying to get away from him somehow, like a car hitting the gas unexpectedly. "You all might wanna stand back," he said, climbing onto the railing to get a better perch. His form brightened and shifted within a nimbus of light.

Too much noise.

Not for lack of trying, but Arcturus had already worked out what might happen. His magic required training and practice; he'd already accepted that skating by on natural talent wasn't going to work anymore, and he could feel some part of the connection between the Beast Rune and the Light Rune... but it wasn't clicking. He wasn't sure why. There were bits and pieces that he could feel out, but nothing about it felt whole. As far as he was concerned, he tried and failed. Everyone on the deck, however, saw Arcturus jump off the edge and sprout large, brown wings.

It took a few seconds for him to adjust. Animal instinct being what it was, he picked up on it before he would have hit the water--an added bonus. Inwardly, he could still hear the animal spirit coupled with Lux on occasion... Some sort of bird. He couldn't tell, and he had other things to think about. His flight path took him higher and higher, towards the radar blip they'd all seen. And when he saw what it actually was...

"...what the... Is that who I think it is?"

He was fairly sure he knew what he was seeing. His eyes weren't playing tricks on him. It was definitely unexpected, but that didn't stop him from flying closer and getting a closer look. As fascinated as he was, he definitely wanted to avoid anyone on the ship seeing him. If they were panicked before...

The figure was speaking in a tongue that he could actually understand. There was no reason for this to go sideways... at least, not yet.

"Hello!" Arcturus called out to the figure, getting as close to earshot as he could without risking him or the others being swatted as aerial nuisances.

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"Ho!" The giant's voice was like thunder across the surface of the ocean, distant from the bulk of his great body but no less powerful for that. "Well, there certainly are a lot of you!" he exclaimed, his attention seemingly distracted as he kept his eye on both the superheroes and his massive horse. With Arcturus' imminent arrival, he slowed down, tugging on the reigns and calling a command that slowed the horse to the equivalent of a seeming slow walk. "I don't recognize your blessings - you must be misplaced from another realm. Welcome to Terra." He waved a massive arm, big as a bus was thick, at the Caribbean all around them. "I am Neptune, Lord of the Ocean, the Sea, Freshwater, and Horses!" And that was when Arcturus realized what he was feeling - there was no Pact here! No Pact... 

"That little galley there, is that yours?" asked Neptune, pointing in the direction of the Mictlan. "We should get you back to your home realm. Who sent you here?" he asked them curiously, his gigantic eyes narrowing ominously. 

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