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Operation Catscratch (IC)


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Federal Plaza, City Center. Wednesday, August 10, 2016. 10:00 am.


As hokey as he knew it was, Deputy Director Jack Spaulding had a soft spot for naval metaphors, a perhaps inevitable side effect of a life spent on the sea. His immaculate office on the 23rd floor of the Federal Building had an impressive view of City Center, and he liked to think of this office as the 'crow's nest' of the USS AEGIS, where he might spy a threat long before the rest of the ship was in danger.


Of course, the nautical decor didn't help any, such as the model of a Los Angeles-class submarine on top of his bookcase, the turned brass desk lamp next to his computer monitor, or the print of the Battle of Mobile Bay on the wall. In truth, he still had the look of a captain about him, the pale blue eyes and distinguished steel-gray hair granting him an air of command. But Naval Intelligence was long behind him; now he scanned the horizon for an entirely different sort of threat...


His phone chimed, and he swiveled away from the window to press the intercom button. "Yes, Sarah?"


"Agent Black to see you, sir."


"Excellent, send him in."

Edited by Heritage
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"Reporting for duty, SIR!"


When confronted with an AEGIS officer, nay, commander, Sebastian Blacks eyes glazed over just a hint, his back straightened, and his voice became just that little bit more crisp. He couldn't remember much of his conditioning and training, but he felt it. 


Better than the Slammer! whispered a distant inner voice. 


Despite all his conditioning, he had never liked the sea, and felt uneasy in the office. You could drown in the sea. Desperate lungs gulping in brine, choking, choking....but he stiffened his resolve. 


He saluted the director. Perhaps it wasn't AEGIS protocol to do so, but he felt compelled in the matter. 




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Spaulding frowned slightly as he reflexively returned the salute; he'd read Black's file, so he knew about the conditioning, but he had no idea how extensive it had been. He hoped the shrinks left some parts of the man intact; a good  agent required flexibility and the ability to improvise in the field.


"At ease, agent; please, take a seat." Once they were both seated, the deputy director picked up a file folder on his desk and began idly flipping through it. "Tell me, Agent Black, what do you know about an exceptional known as 'Grimalkin'?"

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Black considered for a moment, consulting his memory. Everything before 2016 was recalled through the training. 


*Flashback Shock* A burst of focus and obedience washed through him, like a Pavlovian Dog hearing a bell. 


"I think so, Sir. Sneaky vigilante in the Fens. Uses Claws. Or something like Claws. Nasty. I remember thinking it was bad form before I..."




"before I joined up Sir!" he stiffened. 


He half wished he was standing again. His fingers started itching. 


"Sorry Sir, don't recall much else. Word on the street is all about claws in the night. Got a reputation, you might say. Beware the Grimalkin..."

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The deputy director studied Agent Black for a few seconds, his eyes slightly narrowed, before he continued perusing the file. "Yes, well, she did put a lot of pimps and muggers into the hospital back then, which would have been...starting in early 2008. Of course, she was nevered tried for assault, due both to the unsavory nature of her victims and this city's love affair with its so-called heroes, but she never killed or crippled them, which I suppose counts for something." 


Spaulding stepped over to a sideboard and poured himself a glass of ice water from a heavy crystal decanter, mutely offering a glass to the agent. Once he returned to his seat, he took a sip before going on. "She eventually sought out another vigilante who was active at the time known as 'Nightrival'; they formed a short-lived partnership which ended with his disappearance sometime in May 2009. After that, it seems she became a team player, joining the Knights of Freedom briefly right before they fell apart, and then she was a founding member of the Interceptors."


He paused again and levelled his pale gaze at Black. "You understand that AEGIS isn't terribly concerned when two exceptionals duke it out, provided that no civilians are hurt and there's no significant property damage. We can't prevent every battle involving superpowers from happening; there's just too many of them in this city,  and we don't have the manpower to put an agent on every corner. We do our best to locate and isolate the greatest threats as quickly and efficiently as we can." 


"So to be honest, up until 2011 we were content to merely keep tabs on her and the rest of her team, as we do with most capes." He frowned. "That is, at least until what is commonly referred to as the 'Archevil event'..."

Edited by Heritage
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Black could understand that. Things got pretty crazy around that time. Everything went to hell, as far as he could see. But then...well his brains had been pretty scrambled by the Quantum Field Gun. Difficult to trust anything...


"Can't stop every battle. Can't win every battle. But got to do what you can" he said, keenly. 


"I'm sorry Sir, my memory for history, well, I can't promise I remember everything like it should be remembered, you see. You know I got my brain fried. I don't always get the right...perspective...on things. Besides which, I was a different man then. Before you guys..."


Did what?...it was....well, it was better than being locked up for the rest of my life....before they...


"before you guys fixed me. Made me better" he said, firmly. 


"So I only trust you, Sir. Not my memory of things..."

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Spaulding continued to study Black, his lips resting on his steepled fingers. "There is still a great deal of uncertainty about that period; I'm almost certain ArcheTech has yet to reveal everything they know,  but that's beyond the scope of this investigation.  We do, however, have intel that suggests the Interceptors were in some way compromized by Dr Archeville at some point before June 2011."


He pulled a smaller, thinner folder out from inside Grimalkin's file and skimmed the contents. "All subsequent follow-up indicates the remaining Interceptors are now free of whatever influence Archeville had them under, but Grimalkin is a different case altogether. She and Colt disappeared three days after the event, and was missing for the next three years. She made no attempts to contact her teammates or any family members at all during that time."


"And then," he continued, returning to the main folder. "She returns, out of the blue. There is no sign of Colt, or William Reynolds as he's actually named, even though we know they were married less than a month before her disappearance. In her civilian identity as 'Lynn Epstein', she enrolls in classes at FCU, claiming that her husband died 'overseas', though no death certificate has been produced. She reopens her grandfather's bookstore, hiring two employees with criminal records, one of whom is a known super-criminal. She initiated a computer virus attack on ArcheTech which she insists was an 'accident', playing the role of innocent victim. And lastly, according to an evaluation by our psych boys, she is exhibiting different speech patterns and behaviors, including engaging in a same-sex relationship, whereas prior to her disappearance she exclusively dated men."


He tossed the folder on his desk and harruphed. "Who is this person? She claims to be Lynn Epstein, but we only have her word on that. In addition, her powers seem to be working differently. And if she really is Lynn Epstein, how do we know she's not still operating under Archeville's conditioning? What happened to Reynolds? Did she eliminate him because he knew too much?" He sighed and massaged the bridge of his nose. "These are the sort of questions that keep me awake at night." 


Focusing back on Black, the deputy director slid the file folder over towards him. "This is your assignment: study Lynn Epstein, aka Grimalkin. We need you to do a thorough risk assessment to help us figure who she is and what she's up to. It may be a matter of national security, because...she's a shapeshifter. And I don't think I need to tell you how much damage a rogue shapeshifter could do to this country."

Edited by Heritage
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Seb took it all in, digesting everything as well as he could through his fractured memory. 


"Sounds suspicious" he commented. Then again, after his rehabilitation, nearly everything sounded suspicious. "And dangerous" he added. 


He took the folder. Homework. And probably interesting homework too. For all his psychological conflicts, one thing his old life and his new one had in common was that it was pretty interesting. He was, at his heart, a thrill seeker. That was probably how he had survived, or possibly why he had needed to survive. Or, her reflected, both. 


"Ill look into it Sir. I guess we need to establish surveillance on the Shop. In..ah...the interests of national security" he added, in a questioning tone. He wasn't a lawyer but he knew the legal systems ins and out to a degree. This would be a touchy area, but ever since his rehabilitation, his loyalty had swung, as firm as iron, towards national interests rather than personal rights. His resolve was stiff as a board on this one. 


"What kind of...parameters...do we have for the mission and surveillance, Sir?" he asked, diplomatically. 

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"As far as I'm concerned, this is still a standard surveillance op; I'm assigning you two agents, Sullivan and Ramirez, along with a van. Use them as you see fit." Spaulding handed him two standard AEGIS folders; Agents David Sullivan and Sofia Ramirez both appeared to be capable agents, with distinguished if uneventful careers.


The deputy director paused to pour himself another glass of water. "I do want to make clear, agent, that it's possible, though unlikely, that Epstein is legit; capes live...different lives from the rest of us. I'm sure you've heard the stories." He took a long, slow sip. "That is to say, this is still the United States, and we are all, even...whatever Epstein is, innocent until proven guilty."


The former navy officer turned to silently stare out the window for some time; was Black dismissed? But then he spoke again. "I also want to make clear this is not a 'cowboy' operation; the safety of the citizens of Freedom must always be considered. If Epstein makes you, we will not deny your existence; you can be honest and proudly admit to being a government agent, with the full force of this agency behind you."


Then he turned to gaze at Black with those pale blue eyes. "You're never alone, agent; never forget that."

Edited by Heritage
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"Yes SIR!"


The meaning of the last phrase could be interpreted in a lot of ways. And the Handyman was trained to be suspicious. 


But for the Handyman, there was only one interpretation. AEGIS was right, and that was the end of it. They were supporting him. They made him, and rebuilt him. They were the good guys. They were the light, and he was the Black. 


"You can count on me sir. Here to serve" he said, crystal clear. 


He took up the two other AEGIS files on the agents, having all three in his hand. His own training had been brutal and quick, and he was a capable as most other agents; and most AEGIS agents were pretty competent. It would be good to have the extra back up. 


"I'll get right on it, Sir!"



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The corner of Pratt and Frederick in the West End. Thursday, August 11th, 2016. 12:15pm.


Despite the many advances in surveillance technology in the 21st Century, sometimes you still needed to park a van across the street from your target. Luckily, AEGIS had a few unique tricks up its sleeves; this particular surveillance unit could shift between any of twenty different mimetic camouflage configurations, including plumber's, gas, cable, florist's and other innocuous cover skins. Inside of course was entirely different story; the van was thoroughly equipped with a wide variety of sensors and recording equipment, including low-light, UV and IR imaging in both a roof-mounted periscope and a small, deployable drone, a full set of bugging gear, and secure, scrambled satellite uplink. There was even a small fridge, microwave and chemical head, though the last was very unpleasant to use. So far, the day had been uneventful; since she lived in one of the apartments over the store, Epstein had yet to go outside, and all the bugs had picked up was the usual retail chitchat.


Agent Sullivan was a fairly standard-issue console jockey Fed in his mid-twenties, tall and slender with prematurely thinning blonde hair. Despite his bean pole build, he was seemingly always eating, and most of the fridge was crammed with his food. Right now, he was chomping on a massive egg salad sandwich on rye as he checked and rechecked the surveillance gear. 


Ramirez was older, probably early thirties, with a bit more field experience under her belt; she was just over five feet tall, but all of it was tight muscle, and she seemed almost incapable of relaxing. It became very clear through her occasional comments that she had some serious issues with capes, and interactions with Black were clipped though civil. She spent most of her time in the driver's seat, sipping black coffee from a Thermos. 


Both agents wore nondescript gray coveralls which concealed holstered sidearms, and small, discrete earpieces.


"You hungry, chief," asked Sullivan as he took a sip of Pepsi. "My girlfriend made me two sandwiches."

Edited by Heritage
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For himself, Black didn't carry handguns. He could shoot them if needed to, but his hands did a better job than most bullets. Still, no problem with the agents being armed. 


Having studied the files, he had decided he really didn't want to get into a fight with Grimalkin. He doubted he would even draw even. Not in a fair fight, anyway. He had no problems fighting unfair, as long as it was unfair to his opponent, rather than himself. And this being her home turf, it was hardly likely to swing his way. 


"I lost my appetite" he replied, with a smile, tossing the files to one side. Sullivan seemed ok to him, but Ramirez made him nervous. That kind of spring loaded body caused more problems than it solved, in his opinion. 


"You should take up yoga" he risked, trying to be friendly to her. "Great for core" he added. 


The stakeout could be long, he decided. But so be it. He could be patient. Very patient, if need be. 


He flicked through the various recordings, sorting out the files on the van computer, checking to see if there were any interesting or recognisable faces. 


"A coffee would be good, whilst we wait. Ill go nab some..." he volunteered. 


Just to stretch his legs. Should be a good coffee shop nearby, and, without his mask, he was just a guy in a suit and fedora. And, he could light up outside, take a draw to relieve the boredom and his withdrawal symptoms. 


And it would be good to get to see the place with his own eyes rather than through cameras...

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