A Friend in Need

From the Story Arc: My Brother's Keeper

Previous Story in the Arc: Respite by Komrad Vex (Friday, January 05, 2007)

Next Story in the Arc: Caution to the Wind by Komrad Vex (Friday, January 05, 2007)

(posted Friday, January 05, 2007)

Black Orchid sat at the reception desk of the JTF headquarters, glancing at the monitor screens occasionally. It wasn't very busy, so she was stuck just sitting here, trying to finish up a homework assignment. It was too bad she had to pull desk duty sometimes; she'd wanted to switch with someone, but Booster hadn't let her.

She glanced at the clock for what must have been the tenth time in as many minutes, silently willing it to /go faster, already!/ God, she was bored.

It wasn't really that she thought desk duty was a waste of time; after all, someone had to keep track of all the comings and goings. The problem was that not many people actually visited the JTF. Sighing, she closed her textbook and went back to tossing a ball of magical energy up and catching it.

Lately, things had been pretty quiet around headquarters. Aside from the occasional Outcast mugging or Hellion arson, Steel Canyon was a pretty calm place. At the moment, there were a handful of JTF heroes out on patrol. Anomie and Obsidian Wail were out in Perez Park looking into the abduction of some hapless fortune teller who seemed to be a perpetual target of the Circle of Thorns. Knockabout was culling Council numbers in 'Boomtown' and Superstar was on special assignment with a group of AoC heroes. As far as Orchid was concerned, this was shaping up to be another do-nothing day.

Dispersing the ball of energy, she took a quick glance at the status monitoring screens just as an alarm notification popped up, accompanied by a shrill beeping, startling her out of her reverie. This particular alert was one she wasn't familiar with. Quickly straightening up, she gazed at the flashing message on the display.

F.O.F Identification System Alert:
Incoming Entry Request

"F.O.F? What's that?" She muttered to herself.

She stared at the blinking message for a couple seconds, wondering what she should do. This was only the second time she had manned the desk and the first time was really just a brief systems overview.

With a twinge of hesitation, she turned the comm. unit dial to the intercom setting and leaned in close to the microphone stand on the desk.

"Hey, Booster? There's an alert thing going off on the monitor. What do I do?"

After a few seconds, she could hear the crashing noise of metal hitting concrete followed by some muffled cursing. Seconds later the intercom crackled to life.

"What is it saying, Orchid?" Booster asked, barely hiding the irritation in his voice.

"It's flashing a F.O.F System Alert. What does that mean?" She replied, feeling a little indignant at Booster's curt question.

"Oh, that's the Friend or Foe identification system. It checks the identity of anyone requesting permission to enter the base. Just double click the message and read off what it says." Max's tinny voice came through the speaker, sounding more relaxed.

Exhaling loudly, Orchid slid the mouse cursor over the message and double clicked it.

"It says there's a CCCP hero I.D number…228 requesting permission to enter." She said into the mic.

After a brief pause, Booster answered. “Click on the Grant Access button at the bottom of the window, I think we can trust 'em."

Doing as she was instructed, Orchid clicked the indicated button. "Ok, it says entry is in progress." She muttered absently to nobody in particular. Her attention was focused toward the entry portal on the elevated platform, waiting to see who their guest was.

The portal began to glow with a distinctive blue light. Suddenly, the bulky form of a squat, heavily-muscled man materialized in the midst of the colourful sparkle.

Komrad Vex stepped off the platform into the reception area with confidence. He stopped at the reception desk and looked her directly in the eye, raising his hand in salute.

"Greetings, comrade Black Orchid. It is agreeable to see you today. Is Booster Max available?"

Orchid looked up at Vex's deadpan face; there was no hint of emotion visible in his features. Although she had not had much contact with him in the past, she had heard some of the stories about Vex from Booster. The two of them were close, they never talked about what had brought them together, but anyone that saw them together knew they shared a close bond.

"Yeah, he's just trying to get the new teleporter working. Should I call him?"

"Not necessary. With your permission, I will go directly to him." Vex responded.

"All right." Orchid said, trying to wipe the puzzled look from her face. Why would he need to ask my permission to go into the base? She thought to herself.

Vex gave her a polite nod as he passed the end of the desk and made his way into the facility.

"Maybe it's not gonna be such a boring day after all." Orchid muttered.


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Booster Max lay on his back, neck deep in the wiring of the teleporter control unit. He had been trying to get this blasted thing working for the past two days. There were more than a couple new recruits that would benefit from having a quick way to and from the Hollows.

As he lay there, staring at the main circuitry panel, he heard the sound of footsteps coming into the room. It had taken him some serious effort to worm his way into a comfortable spot to work, he was damned if he was gonna move for anything less than the coming of the anti-christ.

The sound of heavy steps stopped just a few feet away from him.

With a heavy sigh of frustration, he lifted his head into a position where he could see who was standing over him.

From under the cover of the control panel he could only make out a pair of squat, well muscled legs that looked like a pair of tree trunks. The turned down tops of the gold boots told him exactly who was there.

"What's up, Wex? He asked, struggling to talk past the penlight in his teeth.

"I am sorry to bother you Max, but I have a favour to ask of you." Vex answered.

"Pete, I'm kinda busy here. Can it wait?" Max said, trying to sound intelligible.

Vex paused a moment before replying. "It is a matter of the utmost importance, I assure you."

Max let out another frustrated breath, "Alwight, alwight. Gimme a sec."

Not thinking about his location before moving, Max began to sit up and his head made abrupt contact with the bottom of the control unit.

"God damn it!" He hollered falling back to his original position.

The teleporter gave a brief sputter and spark, and then whirred to life.

"How do ya like that?" Max whispered, rubbing the goose egg forming on his forehead.

"I beg your pardon?" Vex asked.

Booster slid out form beneath the panel and sat up dusting off his hands.

"Nothin, never mind. So, what's cookin' Vex? Where’s the fire?"

Vex reached his hand out to help Max off the floor, dismissing the taunting nature of his question.

"I need you to track someone who is about to escape from Zigursky prison." Vex calmly stated.

Booster studied Vex's face for some hint he was joking. "About to escape? What the hell are you talking about, Pete?"

Vex reached for the PDA on his belt. He quickly powered it up and hit a few keys, bringing up the desired file. Handing it to Max, he explained.

"That it Spencer Beaumont. He is a member of a gang I arrested earlier this week." Vex's voice trailed off as the memory of those events came back to him.

Booster looked up from the mug shot, offering Vex a sympathetic look. "I heard about it. It got a bit...messy."

Vex lifted his head again. "Yes it did. I realized afterward that these particular thugs did not have the means, let alone the mental capacity to carry out such an elaborate plan. These 'Mad Cowz' previous criminal activities consisted of purse snatching and burglary. It seems highly suspicious that these goons would abduct the child of a penniless immigrant and then make no demands. It is my belief that this is part of something far more complex."

Max still looked confused. "Okay, that still doesn't explain how you know he is going to escape from the Zig."

"I know he is going to escape because I made arrangements for him to do so." Vex said proudly.

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At the reception desk, Orchid sat absolutely riveted to the speaker of the intercom system. She opened her mouth to speak, and reached out to push the talk button on the microphone, then thought better of it. What was going on? She wondered. Vex certainly sounds pleased with himself. A number of possibilities ran through her head: mind control, blackmail. Or maybe there was more to it than she knew. Orchid continued staring at the microphone, hoping to hear more.

"Definitely not boring”, she whispered.