Trouble

From the Story Arc: The Essence of Life

Previous Story in the Arc: Playback by Krasnaya Zvezda (Sunday, March 21, 2010)

Next Story in the Arc: Trouble, Pt 2 by Krasnaya Zvezda (Sunday, March 21, 2010)

(posted Sunday, March 21, 2010)

“You did WHAT!” Red Star was incensed and energy flowed angrily around her.

Sister Joanna reached out an arm towards Red Star while Zakat spoke up.

“Star, maybe--“

“I do not care, comrade Zakat; if he was stupid enough to do that…” Red Star left the sentence unfinished and continued to glare at the quivering scientist before them.

Joanna sighed; it had not been a good day. First there was the trauma - and yes, trauma was the correct way of describing it - of finding that Jokers Ace looked like being a Nictus and now... well, this was another unwelcome surprise.

Red Star and Joanna had finished talking with Shadowstar a few hours ago, discussing what their next steps were. It was agreed that finding Jokers Ace was of the utmost importance, as was ensuring that he could not damage relations with either the Human authorities or the Peacebringers. While Shadowstar was, discretely, contacting other Warshades she could trust and asking them to keep an eye out for Jokers Ace; Star and Joanna began to look into what he’d been doing in the hope this would also lead them to him. It was this investigation that led them to the Horizons laboratory and the, now somewhat distressed, lab assistant.

Jokers Ace had come here a week ago, responding to an emergency call saying the Laboratory was under attack by the Council and a scientist had been kidnapped. Although Ace had pursued them, it seemed the Council had too much of a head start and they were able to make a clean getaway. A day later the scientist turned up, dead and looking like he’d been fed upon by a Nictus. Score one for the bad guys. There had been a fair few Council led kidnappings of scientists of late and this had looked to be the latest of them – now, however, it could well be a different story.

Doctor William Pendlebury, as the poor unfortunate was known, was thought to be working on some form of Portal technology. Why this was of interest to the Council and, potentially, Jokers Ace was unclear and in order to be able to understand what was so special about it Red Star insisted Krasniy Zakat accompanied them. Red Star also made a point of reminding her that Zakat was accomplished if prone to distraction as well as warning that, for some reason, he shouldn’t be left alone with any household electrical goods.

The last remark remarks were not a surprise to Nepthis; the little he knew about Red Star indicated that she was, well, quite prejudiced against scientists, one reason that he had not spoken more to her given his background. What did come as a surprise was the fact the she seemed to rate Zakat. Joanna had worked with Zakat before but for him to have received, even grudgingly, a compliment from Red Star showed how high it was that she rated him.

It had been thought that they’d need Zakat along in order to help discover what Pendlebury was working on and Red Star was confident that he could be trusted - not that he was told more than his expertise was needed, of course. However, from the moment they set foot inside the laboratory, Nepthis knew what had drawn the Council here. All it took was a slight glance at Red Star to see that she'd detected it as well; Nictus energy and lots of it. He could only think of one reason why you'd find so much concentrated energy in one place and that would be when you were forming a Nictus Crystal.

The actual process involved in creating a Crystal could be compared to packing fish. You take some sardines and press them into a tin. One at a time and laying them atop each other, you would attempt to get as many into the tin as would possibly fit. It was most likely as comfortable for the Nictus to be forced into a Crystal as it was for the sardines being packed into a tin except, of course, sardines had one advantage - they were dead. Upon entering a Crystal many Nictus wish for some kind of oblivion. Pressed down; the Nictus were unable to move, unable to feed, but acutely aware of their surroundings. This had been described as torture; yes, they were maintained and kept alive but at what cost? The pain of feeling your life force ebbing away; of being surrounded by a means to halt that pain, of being so close to an answer to stop the endless torment but being unable to do anything except feel the desire to reach out and grab it. It was no wonder that Heroes swiftly learnt to stay clear of Nictus crystals; being near one when hordes of half mad, starved Nictus come pouring forth is not something anyone sane would want to do.

So why these idiots ever got the idea to try and break one open was beyond Nepthis’s understanding. Star's anger could be understood - it was the height of stupidity. Quite whether it was worth the price Dr. Pendlebury had ending up paying was another matter.

“Maybe we should let the Professor talk to his colleague while we examine the area?” Joanna said to Star, and then added mentally, {As well as seeing if they have any other surprises here.}

Star nodded in agreement and strode towards the laboratory. The scientist opened his mouth as if to protest but, after another glare from Red Star, evidently thought better of it and she swept past him and forward into the laboratory proper.

{You know, I would have been interested in what those idiots were trying to do.} Nepthis added, almost wistfully as Joanna followed Star into the laboratory.

{I know and I'm sorry,} Joanna replied, {but this way we may be able to find out the things he didn't want to tell us.}

{There is that.} Nepthis agreed and they began to look around, leaving Zakat deep in a conversation about quantum physics and energy structures.