A Kettle of Vultures

From the Story Arc: The Fading Flame

Previous Story in the Arc: The Slough of Despond by Seraphym (Saturday, April 14, 2007)

Next Story in the Arc: OverShadowed Earth by Seraphym (Saturday, April 14, 2007)

(posted Saturday, April 14, 2007)

Lupus est homo homini. --"Man is man's wolf."--Chapter 9

Neon bright words and a flashy CGI opening displayed the words "Terror at Portal Corp" across the television screen. A bleached and teased blond anchorman, face set in a carefully calculated expression of somber concern held a sheaf of papers he did not need, since he was reading his words off the teleprompter.

"We're continuing coverage tonight of our main story, of an "incident" at Portal Corp just a few days ago. Now joining us is our reporter in the field, Nina Allenberg. Nina, what's the situation on Peregrine Island?" The image changed to one of an equally bleached and teased blond reporter, in a conservative pants suit standing in front of the famous rotating sculpture. Behind her, Building A was still cordoned off with miles of police tape, while workmen repaired the damaged doors.

"Thanks, Jim. The situation here at Portal Corp is still looking grim. In what the FBI and local authorities have determined to be a case of domestic terrorism, one of the primary Portals was destroyed with explosive charges by an unidentified assailant. The man, shortly after triggering the blasts, attempted to escape the Portal Corp building behind me, but was discovered on his way out. After taking a hostage, he was gunned down by a combination Longbow and PCPD response team, right here at this very spot." The camera, which had been following Nina as she had been walking backwards, now panned down to the right. It showed the back of the pedestal of the Portal Corp sculpture, where there was still a chalk outline and blood soaked into the concrete. "Police are still pouring over evidence collected at the scene, in order to find out who this madman was."

"We also have reports of multiple injuries, even deaths as a result of this act of terrorism, correct Nina?" The anchorman held his expression well, the same look of concern and simulated disgust at the event playing well over his features.

"That's correct, Jim. Five Portal Corp personnel were killed, along with twenty-two that were injured in the blasts. There were additional injuries in the running gun-battle between the perpetrator and those attempting to stop him, but no more fatalities, thanks to the quick reaction time of Longbow and the PCPD. Additionally, several prominent heroes are now considered missing in action. They were last seen entering the Portal that was attacked, moments after they crossed what the Portal techs tell me is called the "interface." Earlier I interviewed Ms. Tina MacIntyre for more information regarding the now missing heroes." The screen's image switched back to the anchorman for a few moments, then to a video clip. Tina MacIntyre looked disheveled, as if she hadn't slept for days. Deep shadows under her eyes were imperfectly concealed with a hasty application of makeup. The audio was blanked out for a few moments before it caught up with the video.

"At this time, we know of five metahuman individuals that were on assignment for Portal Corp and the city when the attack took place. Due to the nature of the attack, their point of exit is unknown, as is their current status. Portal Corps confidentiality makes it impossible for me to reveal the names of the party or their intended destination." The image switched back to the reporter, her hand to the ear bud speaker that was relaying her commands from her producer.

"Despite repeated inquiries to Portal Corp and the PCPD, both have refused to release the names of the missing metahumans. Our investigative team, however, was able to contact a confidential source, who released the following. The missing heroes are Seraphic Flame Murdock of the Coalition of Communist Crusaders for the Proletariat, her three children John James, Astra, and Aedan Murdock, and her adopted son Ratt Murdock of the Alliance of Champions. The family was conducting a routine Portal Corp mission to explore a Nemesis world, sources say. When we attempted to contact the CCCP and the immediate family of the missing heroes, Commissar Belladonna Aura had this to say."

The recording went to a tape of Belladonna standing firmly in front of the doors of the CCCP HQ, arms crossed, the memorial plaque to Zach with its ever-renewed half bunch of violets figuring prominently in the shot. "Our Comrades wish to deal with this emergency situation in an undisturbed manner. Time is of the essence, and absolute concentration is required for our scientists to work. I am afraid Commissar Murdock is unavailable at this time." Only a very, very skilled reader of body-language would have detected the faint trembling of Bella's lower lip. The fact that she had really not stopped looking haunted since Zach's death covered any changes in her expression. "Commissar Petrograd is conducting research personally, and Commissar Murdock is overseeing all aspects of our investigation. We have the cooperation of, and are cooperating with, the FBI and NSA at this time."

The clip ended and the reporter's face appeared again. "We attempted to intercept Commissar John Murdock at the FBI evidence labs, but unfortunately we had an equipment malfunction. Over to you, Jim." What wasn't mentioned in the report was that the "equipment malfunction" included at least two broken cameras and one destroyed microphone. The image flickered off, the screen going silent as John mashed the power button on the remote. He leaned forward in his chair, glad that he was in the CCCP's rec room as opposed to his home. He'd been trying to keep busy since the moment he felt that--loss. He hadn't dared go home. It was too empty, and too full. Too empty of people, too full of the half-done things they had left lying about, as people did.

Besides, he really, really hated reporters. Staying in the CCCP base afforded him the opportunity to avoid them altogether. He could coordinate with whomever he needed to in order to work on a solution for bringing his family home, and he could use the teleporters to go where he needed in the city proper, without trying to wade through the reporters just outside the main doors. And Bella was a comfort. She said nothing, she offered no condolences and uttered no platitudes of hope. She was just there, steady and steadying. Now and again a hand on his shoulder, a nod, or just a cup of coffee at the exact moment he needed it.

The worst part about all of this was how absolutely powerless John was right now. He'd already talked to everyone he could, called in what experts he had been able to find, and got everyone working on something, anything that might help. But he couldn't do anything directly. He didn't know a thing outside of the basics of Portal technology, he didn't have access to the evidence from the terrorist---yet at least; his talk with Vickie fairly much ensured that she would use her contacts in the FBI to get ahold of what he needed---so that he could examine it and have his people examine it. It was wearing him down. He still had hope, though. He hated being unable to help, but he knew his people; the CCCP, and some in the RPC. He knew that they had the know-how and determination. It'd happen. He just had to be strong in the meanwhile, and do what little he could.

His comm beeped. It was the private freq he had given people he actually wanted to talk to. He checked the screen; text message, rather than voice. "It's a go. Hosteen will be your liaison. Take who you need to the evidence lab in GC and meet him there. VV." Right. John queued up Petrograd and Agn on his PDA; they would be the two he would take with him. Standing up and striding towards the door to the teleporter rooms, John was ready to fight the world, one person or problem at a time.