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Freedom's Finest #8: Vital Signs

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Trinity Hospital

June 28, 2017

 

"Another one?" Ellie Espadas asked, watching as a weakly groaning man in multiple layers of worn clothing was wheeled past on a stretcher. Behind the check-in desk Joanne simply hummed an affirmation, focusing on the data she was entering. Ellie couldn't blame her for her laissez-faire attitude. This had to make at least a dozen similar cases over the past few days: people left weak and drifting in and out of consciousness. If this case matched the others after a night's sleep with an IV he'd be up and about with full-body aches and hangover-like symptoms for his troubles that would gradually subside over the course of the day. The prevailing assumption among the staff was that a new recreational drug was to blame, though so far none of the blood work had shown any evidence to support the theory. It didn't help that several of the sufferers had turned out to have warrants out ranging from petty theft to assault; one of them had reportedly collapsed in the middle of an attempted mugging.

 

With the look of a man getting off of a double shift, Hernandez wandered over to join the so-far one-sided conversation, fingers laced behind his bald head. "Picked that one up outside a convenience store. Owner found him in a heap while he was taking out the trash, said something about it being dark or seeing a big shadow? I dunno, guy's English wasn't great in the first place and he was shook over the whole thing, yeah?" The big man rubbed his face and leaned heavily against the wall. "Had a baseball bat next to him so I'm guessing armed robbery. Braugher's all 'don't assume' but what, he's a Comets fan? C'mon."

 

It was Ellie's turn to make a vague murmur in reply, eyes narrowing slightly as she watched the supposed robber disappear behind a pair of double doors. A junkie collapsing in the middle of trying to get money for another hit was a tidy enough story but the patients she'd seen didn't seem like they were going through withdrawal, they seemed... drained. There were stranger things than designer drugs in Freedom City. "Where was that convenience store, again...?"

 

"Hm? Oh, y'know, the one a block down from St. Sebastians, on the corner with the yellow sign. I hear they found a few more like that over in Greenbank, too. Who knows how many that makes now." Hernandez realized a little belatedly that he was talking largely to himself and a still disinterested Joanne as Ellie had already begun to stride purposefully toward the door.

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"...And with that, we're at fifteen."

 

Vita Nexus shivered slightly at the unnatural cold. The couple who were about to end up as easy pickings for this set of street toughs had long since vanished - Vita hoped the young woman would forgive her beau for breaking and running so quickly when the lights dimmed and things took a turn for the unusual. He was fairly sure he would have done the same, given the circumstances. Taking a brief moment to check each of the wannabe muggers' vital signs for pulse and wellbeing - two men and three women, all wiry and with the look of people who got food regularly, but not often enough - he stepped out of the street proper and into a shop alcove before returning the street ambiance to normal. The street lights penetrated the chilling gloom within seconds, the moon shining down on a lone figure standing amidst five unconscious forms, unusually cold in the deep of night.

 

Vita reached into his pocket to pull out his cell phone to attract the police to handle the crooks, but something stopped him. During the fight, something had caught his attention. It was a minor thing, something almost everybody else might have missed - but Vita could feel it sitting on the one who hung back from the fight. An unusual attachment, a fondness for something. Something on their person.

 

"...Perhaps there is more here than I first fathomed." Vita muttered to himself as he knelt to investigate the person of interest. He would call the police once he had sated his curiosity. Who knows if they'd be able to follow up this lead? 

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The drained victims who had been brought to Trinity had all been found in the neighbourhoods of Freedom with traditionally higher crime rates, all places with which the masked medic Jill O'Cure was familiar from the Interceptors' patrols. Of course, they were all the same places one might go looking for victims that were less likely to be missed right away. Not for the first time she wished that her awakened powers had included some sort of extrasensory awareness like those her brother possessed but she'd still been on both sides of enough vital essence manipulation to recognize when someone had had the energy torn right out of them. 

 

Which would make whatever's doing this all kinds of dangerous, she mused while somersaulting through the air between two rooftops, landing into a sprint as she continued canvassing the street below. Could call for backup but I'm the only one with powers that might hold up against that sort of attack. The fight with Mastermind and his deadly generals sprang to mind, the one with the vampiric touch using her friends as shields. Until she had a better idea what she was dealing with she'd go it alone.

 

Street lights flickering as though through dissipating fog caught her attention as they revealed a figure in a trench coat hunched over a veritable pile of limp forms. Her mysterious attacker was either getting more confident or just flat out stronger if it was downing whole groups at a time now. Makes the 'no backup' plan sound sort of stupid when you put it that way. Well, no time now. Gathering blue light about her right hand she fired her grappling line to one of the street lights and swung down directly toward the assailant, calling, "Keep your hands, fangs and demonic suction cups to yourself, buddy!"

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"...Curses, when I'm getting so close..." Vita muttered to himself as the voice rang out across the street. His attention shifted to the young woman as she landed a short ways in front of him, frowning as she called out to him. "Most at least settle for "creepy" or "unnerving". To go so far as monstrosity..."

Vita had unconsciously shifted to a defensive posture when he heard the cry from the dark and a shadow had formed around his body, making his exact form slightly indistinct in the gloom. He stood, ready for the first move from the new figure, eyes shifting from her mask to the glow around her hand, though it was difficult to track Vita's eye movements without pupils. "So to whom do I owe this pleasure, then? If I am to be accused, it's only fair I know the accuser, correct?" He inquired in a voice just over a whisper as he inched his way slowly out from the bodies that lay strewn around the street, each footfall landing much softer than one would suspect. He wanted to be clear of the bodies should things take a turn for the worse. Collateral damage is the last thing I need this night...

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"Dude, could you be any more obviously stalling for time?" The heroine pointed to herself while matching the whispering figure step for step, circling about gradually to close the distance between them. "Jill O'Cure. Kind of a big deal." Her tone was all cocky bravado but internally she was focused on finding any clue to what she might be dealing with. Normally she'd have started the confrontation by trying to catch her target in a force field but hers were ultimately formed from bioelectricity. Given this predator's feeding habits that could very well be like trapping someone in a gingerbread house. Instead she let virulent green light wrap itself around her opposite hand, uneven shadows floating through the glowing miasma like flotsam. "One chance to get down on the ground with your hands behind your head, Sippy Cup."

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"...Sippy cup?" Vita almost stopped moving at that. His hands dropped slightly and Vita's head pulled back in sheer confusion. "Firstly, I must profess innocence and will not yield. I am no threat, and these people are not permanently harmed. Second, I hope to not pose a threat to you, but should you attack me I will defend myself. Thirdly... Sippy Cup? Truly?" Vita raised his hands in a gesture that seemed purposed to draw attention to his peculiar look. "Of all the things you could dub me, you choose that? It is new, I give you that, but..." Vita trailed off, running a hand through his hair in frustration before refocusing, the darkness wavering slightly around him as he got more distracted. "Either way, you are mistaken. I am no villain, and should you strike out I will defend myself. That choice, as always, is yours to make." Vita gestured to Jill with one hand as if to say "After you", the thought beginning to dawn on him that he might be in more trouble here than he could really handle...

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"Uh, Sippy Cup is a fantastic off-the-cuff nickname, dude. I'm pretty much an expert. Check it: 'Firstly' it references the way you've been sucking folks dry and landing them in the hospital," Jill began clarifying, imitating the shadowy figure's speech patterns with a distinct edge as she levelled the accusation beneath the veneer of levity. "It's got implied infantilization, establishing dominance and suggesting I don't regard you as a significant threat, yeah? It's got good cadence. Sip. Py. Cup. Sippy Cup. Three syllables is just about the sweet spot, sticks in the mind." She'd edged close enough that she knew she could reach what she assumed from the voice was a man in a single lunge while staying far enough away that she knew most untrained combatants would underestimate her reach. The shadows around them definitely weren't behaving normally but she wasn't sure what that actually told her about what she was dealing with. "And it bugged you which tells me this is amateur hour over here. You want to explain your deal and what's going on? Great. But you're doing it another few steps away from these people and with your hands behind your head, man."

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