The Shadow Knows! (Final Update 6/3/04)

Which of the Shadow's epithets do you like the best?

  • The Cloaked Crusader

    Votes: 1 6.3%
  • The Dark Avenger

    Votes: 7 43.8%
  • The Man of Mystery

    Votes: 2 12.5%
  • The Sable Sleuth

    Votes: 6 37.5%
  • I've got the perfect one! (post it!)

    Votes: 0 0.0%

Lela said:
Actually, it stands for Rat Bastard DM. Generally, it's saying that the DM/GM is evil in that good, realistic, DM way.

Heh. You ain't seen NOTHIN' yet. :) SP and I know each other from way back, and we've gamed together for nearly that long. In a word, I trust him to screw me over hardcore and make it fun. :) (That's why I gave him such an incredible plethora of hooks on the Shadow.)

I'm not up on my M&M but I'm getting the gist of most of it from the power names. So, if I have my Intro to Bio stuff down, the Mindblind power surpreses the Telepathy. Which, in turn, doesn't allow the Telepathy to suppress the super-strength. But, as I understand it, Alex has to be careful around his son so as to not project too much, right?

Heh. I see it's time for me to post my "Genetics of Psionics" treatise. Coming right up...

As for projecting around David... David has a rudimentary mindshield that he instinctively learned to erect just from being around his dad. The main reason why Alex was so keen on not getting too emotional in that scene with David was that he was on the verge of losing control of his shields.

That would be a Bad Thing, even by Egon's standards. :) Put it this way... I've figured out the numbers for a (hopefully temporary) radiation accident should Alex ever completely "blow his top". Turns out he can blanket the entire American Southwest, and a large chunk of Mexico, with a Mental Blast or Telepathy...

So, does the combination of abnormal protiens in his system result in something completely different? Or do I have the sequince wrong? Then again, perhaps all the chromosoms in question weren't passed on to him.

See the next post, it should explain much.

This would also affect Amazing Grace somewhat. She seems to have a brother with similar abilities as David (though not as advanced). Following the same logic above, wouldn't he have to be a half/step brother? Assuming the genes were passed on that is.

Actually, I think Grace's brother is a normal, or mostly so - just a very highly trained normal. At any rate physically - he may or may not have telepathic powers, I simply don't know. There's a 50% chance, assuming they had the same parents.

Keep in mind that I'm running off a 100 level course (I dumped the 200 level course due to cemestry problems) that I took a year ago.

Heh. As it happens I tutor chemistry in RL, among other things. What's your major?

You're defintally right there. Those drill right into you.

Don't they just! When I saw that poster on the web, I said immediately, "THAT is the Shadow."
 

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Here's the writeup I did on psi-genes. SuentisPo and I had batted ideas around casually, but I went and got inspired, and he liked it. :) So.

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Genetics of Psionics

OK, let's start with the Telepathy gene. Yes, in real life there would probably be around 50 of them, but that's too hard to analyze. :) In any case, assume that this is the most important gene, the key factor.

The Telepathy gene (which affects brain development in the womb, though most of the "hit" from it comes in the major brain-restructuring that occurs in puberty) comes in three alleles: T (Telepathic), N (Normal), and B (Mind-Blind). N is, of course, by far the most common allele. T, however, is dominant over N. It hasn't spread very far through the population because frankly, there's selective pressure against it. B has remained rare because it's mostly recessive and there is very little selective pressure FOR it, since T is so rare.

The basic combinations are:

NN: Perfectly normal in every respect. The vast majority of the population has this genotype. "Normals" do have a certain baseline level of telepathy, but it's very minimal. It surfaces in "hunches" and the like.

TN: Telepathic powers of some sort. Alex's father had this genotype. So, probably, does Grace. The exact form the powers take depends on other details of neurotransmitter pathways, womb environment, and psychological development as a child. It turns out that the Brighton line has an unusually favorable constellation of genes supporting the T allele, hence they tend to be "strong" telepaths. By and large, this is an adaptive genotype, producing considerable reproductive fitness. Alex's dad is the perfect example. (By the way, better prenatal care in the modern world may be helping assure that "useful" telepaths are becoming more common.)

TT: Too much telepathic power for one's own good, usually - telepathy that rages out of control, bombarding the subject with the thoughts of others without mercy. (Alex himself has this genotype, of course.) Again, depending on other details, this can have varying effects. In Alex's case, the "telepathic" phenotype has been activated all through his limbic system, as well as in his forebrain, making him a telempath. This is a terribly maladaptive genotype, with the subjects often committing suicide at early ages, going hopelessly insane, or at least being so socially awkward that they aren't likely to reproduce. Given the strength of Alex's telepathic heritage, it's very unusual that he's avoided all three fates. Partly it's been luck (meeting Jennifer) and partly it's been sheer strength of character.

Yes, this does imply that Alex's mom was a telepath (TN genotype). She needn't have been very strong, though. Perhaps initially, it was the commonality of their powers (instinctively recognized) that drew Alex's dad to her - though it's also what made him lose interest in her later. (Too resistant to his Mind Control.) In his subsequent women, he preferred "suckers". Thus Alex is probably the only child in the family victimized with the TT genotype.

NB: Phenotypically normal, for the most part. Such people might receive fewer "hunches" about others, but I doubt it's a strong enough effect to show up statistically. They can sometimes have erratic, unreliable shields.

BB: Mind-blind, with the brain closed off to telepathy. (Jennifer's genotype.) These people may tend to be slightly socially "clueless", but of course many other variables are involved. Jennifer, for example, was clueless about precious little save for direct telepathy.

TB: This combination (David's genotype) tends to cancel out and produce phenotypic "normality". The B allele, no longer suppressed by an N allele, can counter the changes of the T allele to some degree. Minor telepathic powers are possible, given the way other genes fall, but uncommon.

BB's are naturally shielded against telepathy at all times - in fact, they generally can't turn it off. TT's and TN's have to learn how to shield through skill. (And TT's have extreme motivation to do so, but also greater difficulty.) NN's can also learn to do this, but it's not nearly as effective as they have no direct experience with the other end of things. TB's are in pretty much the same boat, though some of them may be a little better than NN's.

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Now for the Esper gene. Two alleles: E (Esper) and N (Normal).

NN: Normal. Again, there's a certain baseline level of "hunches" normally active in the human nervous system.

EN: Esper. Just as with telepathy, the details depend on other factors. Alex has this genotype - the E and T alleles play off of each other to a degree, this is one factor in the "strength" of his powers, and also something of their "slant". It accounts for his unusually powerful "Detect Minds" power and his Darkvision. I suspect he got it from his mom rather than from his dad. Carlos also has it, though his own heritage and psychological development have thrown it into a very different channel.

I was tempted to make E a fourth Telepathic allele, a variant on T that activates in the sensory centers of the brain. In that case, Alex would have been the TE genotype. (And his mom would have been an esper rather than a telepath.) But I'm not sure the complexity involved is worth it. I suspect the two genes are closely related, evolutionarily speaking, though. Espers are more common than telepaths.

EE: This one is somewhat maladaptive, though it's not as bad as TT. Such people are often TOO "plugged in" to the universe for their own good, to the point they start to ignore the universe as perceived by normal people. They tend to be dreamers, mystics, cult leaders. I am starting to wonder if Hal Garrity is an ultra-esper - he has incredible insight into *how the universe works*. He can make "guesses" about how to do things that are uncannily good. It's not that he's necessarily of very high intelligence as we normally understand it - he may even have tested poorly in school. What he's really got is a radically different KIND of intelligence.

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Then there's the Biofeedback gene. Call the alleles F (Feedback) and N (Normal). This gene and Telepathy are somewhat antagonistic to each other - they are trying to produce competing, incompatible effects in the brain. T generally wins out in the forebrain, which removes one's biokinetic powers from conscious control. It also tends to suppress F elsewhere - telepaths rarely have strong biokinesis. This is the case with Alex, though in his case his hindbrain still does a somewhat better job of maintaining his body, which accounts for the "edge" he retains in combat as he ages. Also, it may be that his T and F alleles settled down to an uneasy peace in his limbic system, which would account for his truly unnatural degree of control over his emotions. Then again, that may well just be highly motivated self-training.

NN: Normal, of course. As usual, there's a baseline of what normal humans can accomplish. It can be improved quite a bit with training.

FN: An unusual degree of control over normally inaccessible processes. In David's case, this produces conscious control of hysterical strength and rapid self-healing. Apparently he's even used it to subconsciously control his growth.

FF: Really powerful biokinesis. There's something of a bottleneck for these people in adolescence - if they survive the raging of their hormones, they develop control in adulthood and are quite fearsome. Society's reaction to their extreme emotional swings as teenagers often produces rage, violence, and social deviance. They often end up as criminals, unfortunately.

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Finally, there's the Telekinesis gene. (There are others, no doubt, but I'm not going to write them up.) The alleles are C (Controlled), K (Kinetic) and N (Normal). The K allele is recessive, but is actually fairly common in the populace, as it's been highly adaptive all through human history; it's just not usually turned on in the forebrain (usually, in fact, only in the cerebellum), so there is no conscious control - the power manifests as an uncanny degree of "luck" or a boost to physical "skill". The C allele probably got started as a defect in K (and even now, K may be spontaneously mangled into C as a genetic defect in transmission) - it activates the gene throughout the brain. (Though there may be bizarre interactions with the other psi genes, just as with Biofeedback.) C is NOT adaptive, at any rate in most human cultures. Such people tend to "poltergeist" as kids and get persecuted as witches. Also, since it's a rather recently damaged gene, there may be side effects in some individuals - I suspect psychological instabilities of various kinds and degrees.

NN: Normal, as usual.

KN: Also phenotypically normal. They might have a slight "edge", but nothing too striking.

KK: Unconscious telekinetic. Great athletes, dancers, and so on not uncommonly have this genotype. (They get more out of less training than others.)

CN: The potent C allele is suppressed in most parts of the brain by N. Surprisingly, the dust settles into more or less the same phenotype as KK - C remains turned on in the cerebellum. As mentioned, though, some people may have side effects.

CK: Full-blown telekinetic.

CC: Same phenotype as CK, though they may be somewhat more powerful. They're also more likely to be unstable.

I feel pretty sure that Carlos is either KK or CN. Teke interacts very nicely with his Esper abilities and may have helped channel their development. (It manifests unconsciously in his uncannily good dodging - his precog gives him warning, but he still has to be able to act on it. I was already thinking of giving him Hero's Luck, and this idea might just push me over the edge.)

Since poltergeisting fits in very well with his grandmother's spooky reputation, let's say she was either CC or CK. You could work it either that Carlos' dad got a C and so did he, or that his dad got a K and that Carlos picked up another from his mom. I think it's much more fun to say that Carlos is CN than KK - it gives you a lot more "play" with his family in terms of powers. (If so, he's got an excuse even in addition to his rotten childhood for the sheer potency of his nightmares.)

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Taking the genes in order of presentation, Alex's genotype is TT, EN, FN, NN. Jennifer was BB, NN, NN, NN. Their son David inherited TB, NN, FN, NN. (David is thus likely to have a very unusual mix of kids - some telepaths and some biokinetics and some normals. A lot will depend on the mother(s) too, of course. If he ends up raising a TT kid, he will probably understand his father a LOT better.)

Alex's father was TN, NN, FN, NN. His mom was TN, EN, NN, NN. (Actually, any of the people above might also be KN, as it's the same phenotype as telekinetic NN. You might even be able to make a case for David - or even Alex - as KK. So it's possible that telekinesis will crop up somewhere among Alex's relatives. Let's face it, though, the Brighton line is already pretty loaded, so I lean against the idea. On the other hand, who knows what Alex's stepmoms had...)

Carlos is NN, EN, NN, CN. His grandmother was, let's say, NN, EN, NN, CK. (Maybe even EE. Possibly even TN, though that hasn't come down to Carlos.) Therefore his father has to be at least EN in Esper and CN in Telekinetic. Conceivably, Carlos could have gotten one of his "special" genes from his mother's line, but both of them fit well with the Gypsy mystique.

Hal Garrity may be NN, EE, NN, (K/N)N.

Amazing Grace is probably TN, NN, NN, (K/N)N, and she's both quite powerful and quite skilled. You might be able to make a case for EN too.

Hexmaster is TT, NN, NN, (K/N)N. I don't think he's an esper. He also has some serious psychological issues. :) [Hexmaster was a mentalist opponent to an early version of the Shadow. Mutater and Leech, below, were two of his henchmen. One cool part of giving Hexmaster this genotype, btw, is that it gives him and the Shadow something tragically in common - a connection they never had back in the old game.]

Mutater is probably NN, NN, FF, (K/N)N.

Leech may possibly be NN, NN, FN, (K/N)N, and he probably has some other genes in play too.

[Some other characters from the Phantom's world that I included as benchmarks have been snipped. (The Phantom is my longest-running superhero character, hands down, though the Shadow is my very first superhero character. He's gone through five different versions over the years, though this fifth M&M version is, IMHO, by far the best.)]
 
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As long as I'm posting campaign material anyway, what's a little more? :) Here's the writeup I gave SP on the Shadow's base, though it rambled on to a few more subjects as well. As you will see, some of this stuff will be very worth knowing in just a couple episodes.

The bit at the end refers to some endnotes on "A Night Off" that I clipped when I posted here for heightened dramatic effect. Here they are again, for the sake of posterity:

[ Gaming note: Carlos has gained a good deal more confidence over the succeeding months. He won't be nearly this nervous over changes in routine or in the Shadow's moods. This was the first time they had really done something together other than fight crime. Nowadays they might take a night off for a movie or dinner every couple months, and play cards for an hour or two on slow nights. The hat on the banister knob is a firm ritual, btw. If it's not there, it is an infallible sign that "The Shadow is IN."]

[ The refurbished base has a vastly improved security system, of course, but it's pretty inobtrusive. It scrutinizes your irises, retinas, fingerprints, DNA, mental signature, and three or four other things that Garrity will tell you to "never mind" about, all as you approach the stairwell. If you pass, you just walk down the stairs and open the door. If you don't, you'll never even see the stairwell, just a blank wall. A perfectly solid blank wall. A more than perfectly solid blank wall - a howitzer might scuff the paint, but then again, it might not. Doc Griswold visited the place before Hal worked his magic, btw, so his knowledge, while compromising, isn't quite as much so as one might think.]

[ By the way, I discovered while writing this that Alex likes to cook. He says a chemist needs to keep a hand in with cooking to avoid hardening of the mental arteries, even if at the expense of the physical ones. :) He is a methodical, disciplined, but mildly inspired culinary artist - the sort of guy with an organized spice rack and neatly stacked cup measures he always knows where to find. But when he gets going, it's almost a meditative thing for him. I suspect that David as a bachelor will look at the varied contents of his cupboard and ask himself, "What would Dad do with this?" much the same way I ask myself what my mom would do. :) ]

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The Shadow's base has the following twelve features: Communications, Concealment, Defense System, Gym, Hangar, Laboratory, Living Space, Power System, Reinforced Structure, Security System, Super-Power (Mental Invisibility), and Vehicle. Since the Living Space feature is quite limited (enough facilities for, oh, four people tops rather than ten if a few more cots are unfolded), I feel justified in having the Laboratory double as a chemistry Workshop. The Mental Invisibility is derived from the Shadow himself - Garrity has arranged that he can spread his "Vanish" effect over the base at will through the medium of his commlink, provided he's within a range of 35 miles.

The place doesn't have a mainframe, so the Computer feature is not needed. There's a couple desktop computers networked together, though - one in the main room and one in the lab. Alex uses these for research notes and a database of his contacts and enemies. Carlos uses them to play games. :)

There are four basic rooms (not counting a good bit of storage space). The largest is the main living area. The first thing you see as you come down the stairwell is the computer desk, where Carlos usually sits when he's on duty. Off to the side there's two desks (one for Alex, one for Carlos) and Carlos' cot and living space. (Alex offered to set him up in the gym room so he wouldn't be quite as "exposed" to Alex's movements, but Carlos likes to be in the thick of things. More space here, too.) There's a screen set up that Carlos can dress behind. He's rather whimsically put several Shadow posters on the wall - from the recent movie, and older sources as well. There are several photographs of his family members there too - the one of his mom is especially treasured, but the one taken of him and the Shadow against one of the base's walls (by a timered camera) is second only to that. There might also be a picture or poster of his latest heartthrob. :) The fridge and stove are against the far wall, as is a sink.

The more distinctive bits of the Shadow's costume, like the cloak, are hung on hooks next to the stairwell, save for his hat, which inevitably is on the banister knob. There's a shelf stocked full of chemistry references by his desk, though these often migrate into the lab. There's also a small collection of favorite books for slow times, which Carlos is also encouraged to read.

A door leads to the gym, where there is a well-equipped set of weight machines, a free weight bench, and a mat for martial arts practice, tumbling, and meditation. The bathroom and shower are in here, as are a washer and dryer.

How the Shadow got the water working before the place got "Garritied" is a good question. [Snip. The GM and I worked this out. The place is the basement of a condemned hotel that the syndicate that kidnapped David used as a safehouse. Since the syndicate was utterly destroyed by the Shadow and the Forbidden, they're not using it any more... and nobody else knew about it, so. They had arranged for the hotel to be zoned for "minimal occupancy" - which is why the water and lights still worked before Hal worked his magic. The Shadow has Lance Reston quietly making sure that the place doesn't get slated for destruction.]

A door from the gym (on the wall to the right of the other door) leads to the lab. This room is off limits to Carlos except for routine maintenance like emptying wastebaskets - there's just too many things that can go wrong if you bump into something or whatever. As a reminder of that fact, the door is kept locked, although Carlos has a key. There's a crisp white lab coat and a pair of goggles hanging from a hook on the door. (When in use, the Shadow's cloak and hat hang there instead. You don't want to wear such things when working with chemicals.)

Another door off the gym (across the room from the main door) leads to the hangar. This is nothing more than an open space (with tools and such) surrounding a Garrity-modified elevator shaft that now goes up to the roof, and stops nowhere else. Please note that while the elevator is in operation, the door to the gym will not open - and that when it is not in use, it is no easier to break into than the rest of the base. The comm panel user can keep this door locked remotely, and can also check the atmosphere inside for contaminants. (The seal on the door is airtight.)

The hangar holds what Carlos jokingly calls the Shadowmobile, though the "Shadow cycle" might be more appropriate. It looks and acts like an ordinary (if high-quality) motorcycle, painted jet black, with only a few exceptions. First, it doesn't use gasoline, but draws off the base's power supply to recharge its astonishing batteries (which allow up to 24 hours of continuous use). Second, it has no ignition, and will activate and respond only for an approved user - preferably one with a commlink, though this is not strictly necessary. Third and most importantly, it flies...

The Shadow-cycle is bought like an ordinary motorcycle, except Garrity went for lighter-weight materials, lowering its Hardness slightly - Movement 7, Hardness 7, Armor Bonus 0. (Thus it has a cruising speed of 35 feet/round tactical, 128 mph travel.) It has a secondary mode of "air" movement, and the following features: Invisibility +2 vs. radar and sound (the engine is incredibly quiet), and a commlink. Total cost: 12 points, as required - 7 for movement, 1 for the secondary mode, 2 for Invisibility, 1 to extend Invisibility to sound, and 1 for the commlink.

The commlink allows the Shadow or Carlos to give the cycle simple remote commands - such as "Hover at 50 feet," "Go home," or "Come to my commlink beacon, avoiding obstacles." Note that since the cycle is technically part of the base, the Shadow can extend his Mental Invisibility over it at will through his commlink if he is within range. In fact, a common tactic is for him to tell it to hover inaccessibly high, cloaked in invisibility. Who's gonna go looking for a motorcycle suspended high in the air, after all?

The Shadow has a black helmet to wear, but he rarely does if he's going flying, which he generally is. He generally keeps it in the boot. His hat goes in there as well. :) There is also a bottle of herbal pills there, as well as extra ammo and knives.

Carlos' job is to 1) keep the place up, 2) run whatever errands the Shadow needs done, and 3) man the communications panel while the Shadow is on the job. He cleans, keeps the furniture in repair, buys food, and so on. He not uncommonly runs messages to people like Maria, and also keeps up his own friendships and contacts on the street. Originally he was little more than a janitor and was paid $8/hour or so (more than he was making flipping burgers), as well as room and board, but as he earned the Shadow's trust (fairly quickly, actually) he has been given more responsibility and now commands a higher salary - flat, not hourly - than he could expect to get anywhere else at his level of education.

In any case, Carlos has been in it more for the intangible benefits than anything else. The Shadow has grown uncomfortable thinking of him simply as an employee, too. He's come to rely on Carlos to relay data to him through the (Garrity-provided) commlink and throat-mike he wears when in the field - and, as mentioned, the lad has pulled him through some rough situations. You can't set a dollar value on that. (Plus, of course, he's grown extremely fond of the kid.) Still, the ritual of payday - in cash, of course - gives structure to their relationship and the formalities of employment provide a sort of high ground to retreat to when the Shadow gets nervous or Carlos gets overwhelmed with emotion.

It's a pity that Carlos can't list the Shadow as a reference, as he's learned a number of marketable job skills in the base. Custodial work and carpentry, yes, but he's also become a skilled receptionist. Yes! The Shadow's base has not just one, not two, but three phone "lines". Loosely so-called, as they are not physically connected to the phone system, and thus are completely untraceable and unbuggable. (This was too much for Alex even after getting to know Hal. "Garrity, how is that POSSIBLE?! The phone system is a switched, station-to-station network!!" "Well, y'see, the trunk lines are... Oh, never mind!" :)

The Shadow got the idea for setting up dummy corporations for his own purposes after Lance set up the "Clara Gutierrez Memorial Foundation" as a channel for Carlos to anonymously help the families of the guys he shot. (It only helps those two families, but nobody's going to find that out without a subpoena, and it's all quite legal. By the way, the name would be hard to tie to Carlos, as his mother and father were never married and she never took Jorge's name. The only reason HE uses the Gutierrez name was due to the pettiness and spite of his aunt and uncle, who insisted on it to constantly remind him that he was not "really" part of the family. Plus, Lance checked - there was an actual girl killed in a gang shooting some years ago named "Clara Gutierrez", it's a pretty common name.)

Anyway, there are two perfectly legal corporations created to serve the Shadow's ends. Their phone numbers lead to the phones in the base (more of Hal's wizardry) but their mail goes to P.O. boxes which Carlos collects from daily. Lance has done his job well; nobody is going to tie the names of the (purely honorary) CEOs, CFOs, boards of directors, and so on to him, Alex, or Carlos. One is "Nightshade Enterprises", which basically acts as the Shadow's front in the legal realm and also gives his contacts like Maria a means of contacting him. The other is the (wholly unrelated) "Penumbra Foundation", which he uses to funnel ill-gotten gains he's seized from scum to charitable causes and individuals he thinks deserving of a break. (He never keeps such funds for himself, another point Lance will make much of if he should ever come to trial.) One such cause is the Clara Gutierrez Memorial Foundation, though it's a tossup whether Carlos knows that or not.

People who know that Nightshade Enterprises is related to the Shadow are supposed to ask for "Mr. Castaneda" when they call. If they don't, something has gone wrong somewhere. There really is no way for anyone to ever know that the Penumbra Foundation is related to the Shadow short of getting the knowledge from the Shadow himself, from Carlos, or from Lance. Calls there will usually be related to the details of disbursement, and Lance usually handles that himself. (He's a lawyer the Foundation has hired, all above board, to handle such things for them. :)

Here's a sample phone conversation, Carlos speaking in crisp professional tones: "Nightshade Enterprises, this is Charles. How may I help you? ... The 'Shadow'? I'm not sure who - oh, do you mean 'Mr. Shadwell'? He's just stepped out, can you hold for a moment?" Then, switching back to the Shadow's commlink, "We've got trouble, sir..." "Shadwell" has become their private codeword for trouble from an unexpected direction. (Now that I think of it, I suppose Carlos could list Shadwell as a reference. ;) It's not like companies do background checks on previous employers, and it's a genuine corporation in any case. Maybe Carlos isn't paid in cash after all - he might just get a check from the company!)

The third phone line is used for the Shadow to make utterly untraceable calls with, and for him and Carlos to call in with and leave messages when they're out. David has also been given the number (to memorize) to get ahold of his dad in DIRE EMERGENCY. Nobody else should ever know it. Carlos never picks up that line, but lets the answering machine take it first. (Carlos can patch any call through to the Shadow's commlink, btw. Oh, and the security system has Alex's pager number recorded in a way only Alex can get to. Carlos can give the system a command to dial that number in case of dire emergencies and send a given text message. They have a code worked out for such situations - for example, "Call Castaneda about overruns," if the base is being attacked.)

In addition to the three phone lines, there's also a broadband Internet connection that works by similar black magic. The computer with the connection is not connected to the base network in any way, but this is really just paranoia on the Shadow's part - I don't see how it could be hacked past Hal's highly-unconventional "firewall". :) (Yes, true, even if it's untraceable, perhaps a hacker could send bits once the Shadow made first contact, and his computer could potentially execute them. But first off, the thing runs on Garrity's home-brewed operating system - the base network uses Linux, because Alex cut his teeth on UNIX, but he wanted something "special" for the connected computer - and second off... but, well, that's enough, isn't it? :) Carlos frequents a number of games and chatrooms, but is too conscientious to let anything untoward slip.

There are a number of websites all claiming to be the "official" site of the Shadow, btw. All false, of course! Alex and Carlos get some riotous laughs out of these. One of Carlos' more wearisome duties is to periodically check up on what people are saying on the message boards of those sites and others that track vigilantes. He gets the occasional belly-laugh out of it, but mostly it's a lot of poorly-spelled trash.

By the way, the Shadow's commlink does not operate by radio waves - it's been "Garritied". "What is it, then, Hal? Neutrinos?" "Of course not, nobody'd use neutrinos, they're too fidgety, everybody knows that. Obvious, too. I don't like being obvious. Got to take the time to do things right..." "What IS it, then?" "Well, it's sort of like reversing the phase of... Oh, never mind!"

As already mentioned in "A Night Off", the concealment, security system, and structural integrity of the base are pretty amazing - and if that weren't enough, the Shadow can extend his invisibility over it and everything in it, and even over the entire hotel, if desired. He doesn't have to actually be present - he can do it through the commlink simply by willing it. The defense system is non-lethal, but has a variety of potential effects, limited only by Hal's fertile imagination. Restraints and stun beams, mostly, though he took into account the possibility that some people might be immune to those. If a command word is given, or a "panic button" pushed (there's one in each room, covered with a panel so it isn't accidentally bumped), the place will go all-out against everyone but the Shadow or Carlos (or David, who has been keyed to the system without his knowledge), which could conceivably be lethal. Fortunately, the defenses have never yet needed to be used. Another command word directs the defense system to revoke "guest" status on a particular person and act accordingly. (Both the Shadow and Carlos know how to "introduce" someone as a "guest". Only the Shadow knows how to permanently key someone to the system and how to give or revoke the ability to give orders to it. The system verifies the identity of a speaker before following his orders, and is smart enough to recognize the use of coercion and fail to cooperate. It even checks the mental signature for traces of mind control.)
 
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Horacio

LostInBrittany
Supporter
Wow :eek:

Too much data to absorb: a wonderful cast of characters, setting info, a metahuman genetic explanation...

A wonderful story hour!
 

Lela

First Post
The Shadow said:
Heh. You ain't seen NOTHIN' yet.
smile.gif
SP and I know each other from way back, and we've gamed together for nearly that long. In a word, I trust him to screw me over hardcore and make it fun.
smile.gif
(That's why I gave him such an incredible plethora of hooks on the Shadow.)
You've kinda inspired me to put some stuff together for a PC I've been looking to play. When you're a redeamed Incubi, you definitally have a past. It's a given. ;)


The Shadow said:
Heh. I see it's time for me to post my "Genetics of Psionics" treatise. Coming right up...
Whoa.

My Biology teacher would be thrilled to know how well I understood that whole thing. Still, now's a good time to sleep and absorbe.

The Shadow said:
As for projecting around David... David has a rudimentary mindshield that he instinctively learned to erect just from being around his dad. The main reason why Alex was so keen on not getting too emotional in that scene with David was that he was on the verge of losing control of his shields.
And Amazing Grace can defend herself. Got it.

The Shadow said:
That would be a Bad Thing, even by Egon's standards.
smile.gif
Put it this way... I've figured out the numbers for a (hopefully temporary) radiation accident should Alex ever completely "blow his top". Turns out he can blanket the entire American Southwest, and a large chunk of Mexico, with a Mental Blast or Telepathy...
Hmmmm, desert island is right. It would be an interesting way to jumpstart T and B evolution though. When they're the only ones left alive to propogate you tend to push things along.

Then again, there's the amazing loss of humanity involved. That might be a bad thing.



The Shadow said:
Actually, I think Grace's brother is a normal, or mostly so - just a very highly trained normal. At any rate physically - he may or may not have telepathic powers, I simply don't know. There's a 50% chance, assuming they had the same parents.
Which also assumes that both parents were TN/TB. If only one was there's only a 25% chance. I think.

The Shadow said:
Heh. As it happens I tutor chemistry in RL, among other things. What's your major?
Multimedia.

At the beginning of that class, the teacher mentioned that we were going to be getting into some Chemistry stuff. He asked who had had a Chem class before (maybe three other guys didn't raise their hands). He said we'd have to focus but we should be fine. Considering that I'm brilliant, I didn't think there'd be a problem. I just didn't consider that I'd never had a Biology class before either.
eek.gif


Not my best move.

It didn't help that the teachers weren't exacly great at passing information along. One was pure science guy (everything, including writing your name, has at least 3 steps to memorize) and the other decided not to go into the clown business. He was good with props but you never exactly remembered what the giant rubberband was meant to help explain.

But, honestly, it came down to me not knowing anything about either Chem or Bio. I dumped the class and took the Intro course. Apperently I'd picked up more than I thought in the other one because I flew through the 100 level. And it had a great teacher too.

[/Hijack] (maybe)
 

Lela said:
You've kinda inspired me to put some stuff together for a PC I've been looking to play. When you're a redeamed Incubi, you definitally have a past. It's a given. ;)

Yeah, I'd be willing to grant that as a premise. :)

A happy inspiration to you!

Hmmmm, desert island is right. It would be an interesting way to jumpstart T and B evolution though. When they're the only ones left alive to propogate you tend to push things along.

I suppose. Maybe SP can use that as a plot... a villain wanting to plug Alex into a psionic amplifier and kill off all the normals. (Shades of X2!)

Dang! That sounds very much like something OmniMetal, or their superiors (as you'll see later) might try, actually...

Which also assumes that both parents were TN/TB. If only one was there's only a 25% chance. I think.

Nope. in a TN/NN mating, there's a 50% chance of TN and a 50% chance of NN.

In a TN/TN mating, it's 25% TT, 50% TN, and 25% NN.

But, honestly, it came down to me not knowing anything about either Chem or Bio. I dumped the class and took the Intro course. Apperently I'd picked up more than I thought in the other one because I flew through the 100 level. And it had a great teacher too.

Congrats on facing reality. It don't come easy to most people.
 

[Hold onto your hats, Gentle Readers! This one of the most "happening" game sessions I've ever had in over twenty years of gaming. :eek: Emotionally, anyway, if not in body count.]

The Shadow sped his hovercycle toward the crackhouse on 18th as he outlined his embryonic plan to Carlos - that Juan Martinez, the young gang member, might just have encountered some of OmniMetal's shenanigans. Carlos responded, "Makes sense, sir. Worth a try, anyway." "My thought exactly."

Coming up on the crackhouse, the sable sleuth circled slowly, checking on the guards... only to be puzzled by their absence. Something is wrong here, he thought, as he let his mental senses flow outward and down. Little did he know how wrong!

There was only a single mind in the building. A turbulent, insane mind... multiple personalities flowing in and through each other. Telepathic vibes were much in evidence, but apparently directionless and purposeless, with no clear target. As the Shadow, shocked, expanded his awareness, he realized that this single mind formlessly occupied perhaps fifteen or twenty square feet near the center of the apartment complex that the Red Shivs had turned into their crackhouse. He tried 'pinging' it to get a better look, and the psychic environment heaved and roiled like a boiling pot; he did not repeat the experiment.

The Shadow landed and dismounted, silently commanding the cycle to hover seventy-five feet off the ground. Making his way to the front door, he found it unlocked. Yes, something is very wrong here. He drew his gun.

The door opened (the Shadow knew from his previous visit) on a hall that formed a T, with a door opposite the entryway leading into the common area of the complex. The strange mind was in that common area, and the Shadow sensed as he approached that one of its personae was gaining the upper hand, becoming stronger, persuading the others to follow its lead.

With grave misgivings in his heart, the Shadow took one of Garrity's toys out of his cloak - the Portable Window, a small pane of glass perhaps an inch on a side. Placing this against the door, he peered through it to the other side. [Gadget giving the Penetrating Vision (blocked by air, you have to get right up to the wall) and Blindsight feats.] To his shock, the evidence of his eyes did not match that of his mind:

There were perhaps fifteen people in the room, not one. About two-thirds of them were male, the rest female. About five were Red Shivs, the rest looked like random street people - junkies, streetwalkers, thugs, street rats. They were getting dressed as he watched, putting on their shirts in unison. In more than unison - even those in T-shirts or the like went through the motions of buttoning their buttonless shirts!

There, the man in the center, he was the dominant persona the Shadow had sensed. Tall, well-built, better dressed than the rest, though with wildly unkempt hair and a halfhearted mustache. He was buttoning his dress shirt while the rest copied his motions, even to the extent of bumping their elbows solidly against the wall. The Shadow, stunned, realized that these people were somehow a single mind, and that the dominant element was learning to control its extra "limbs" right before his eyes! Clumsily, yes, but growing more practiced as he watched. Then he noticed the suitcase.

Sitting next to the tall central figure, it was large, boxy, aluminum... just like the one Hands had seen. But rather than the curious "blank" effect of the black cars, it was now to the Shadow's senses simply an ordinary suitcase. And it was open. The combination filled the cloaked crusader with dread.

Quietly he relayed what he was seeing to Carlos for future reference. "Sir, I don't understand, that's simply bizarre!" "Hush, Carlos. I am about to do something stupid." "Sir! Remember when we talked about hubris?" "Yes, I do. But I must do this." He reached out telepathically to the group mind.

Swirling confusing thoughts, impossible to make head or tail of. The Shadow decided to try to probe the central figure, the keystone persona. Two things then happened at once.

The Shadow realized to his dismay that the central mind was psychotic - and that this was not simply attributable to the definitely abnormal psychological environment. The man had been far around the bend long before coming to this place, this night; he was the human equivalent of a rogue elephant, a man-eater, a rabid dog. But the second thing was at least as shocking.

The eyes of all the people in the room abruptly swivelled to focus directly on him, as if they could see him through the door. How did they sense me?! That's never happened before! Furthermore, they were all filled with a burning need... a need to kill. The Shadow backpedaled rapidly, stowing the Window and readying his gun as the bodies began to move toward the door - a bit clumsily as they got in each others' way.

They huddled purposefully but apparently unseeingly toward him. The Shadow gave ground toward the front door, grimly awaiting his moment; he had already chosen his next move. Yes, there was the director, the central figure - taller than the rest. The dark avenger braced himself, exhaled, and squeezed off a single round.

The shot was beautiful, straight by the book. The man's brain splattered messily and he went down like a marionette with cut strings. Scratch one rabid dog, the Shadow thought grimly as he observed closely what happened to the rest. Confusion, unrest, turmoil... then consolidation. To his dismay, he realized the group mind had imprinted on the original pattern, that the psychosis had taken root. But it was not that realization that made his flesh creep and the hairs of his neck stand on end. No, that came as the fourteen people said in eerie unison,

"We are Legion."

Then they rushed him. The Shadow retreated hastily, realizing that if he stood his ground he might take down a few but then the rest would be on him. He sent a silent command to the cycle and mounted it before they reached him, rising to twenty feet. (They didn't seem able to see him any more, thankfully.) The bodies spread out in the yard and into the street, looking around. A passerby stopped to stare at their concerted actions.

The Shadow was about to start shooting again, then had another idea. He dropped his shields and poured forth the rage, hatred, and anguish that he normally never displayed at the group mind before him - a barrage of emotional torment capable of bringing strong men to their knees. He hoped it would affect all the bodies at once... but was nonplussed when they showed no sign of noticing it, much less being fazed. Seized by another thought, the cloaked crusader circled around to the back of the house, ran in the back door, and made his way to the central room, snatching up the suitcase. (Putting his arms around it rather than touching the handle.) Outside once more, he secured it with a line firmly to the cycle to keep both hands free, then got off the ground again, climbing to get a view of the tactical situation.

The Shadow's blood ran cold when he saw that five of the bodies had seized the passerby and were carrying him, struggling, toward the house. "Right. Carlos, make a note." "Sir?" "We are now at war. Every single man and woman ever involved with producing this abomination is going to die." The boy gulped but responded gamely, "Yessir." Then, big, "Sir, what's HAPPENING?!"

"Put it this way, Carlos. I suspect that life in Los Angeles may never be the same again. ... For that matter, life in the United States of America may never be the same again, unless action is taken, and swiftly." "ARE YOU SERIOUS?!" "Yes. Now be quiet, I am about to do something stupid again."

The Shadow reached out to the group mind below. What are you doing with that man? An echoing multitude of mental voices responded matter-of-factly, He is not Legion. He will be Legion. Most of the bodies were in the house by then, but the last few stopped in surprise. Missing something? the Man of Mystery inquired maliciously.

We will take it from you. We are Legion. Then you are not willing to negotiate for it? We will take it from you. By force or by trickery. We are Legion. You will be Legion. Do you need the suitcase to make that man Legion? No response at first, either out of confusion or indifference, then, It is not necessary to us. It is useful. Why not bargain for it, then? You are not Legion. When you are Legion you will understand. "Don't count on it," the Shadow muttered under his breath as he descended. He tersely filled Carlos in on the situation, then added, "I'm going in. If you get any funny feelings, let me know right away." "I've got a funny feeling NOW, sir! Sort of. Might be nerves." "Thank you SO much, Carlos." "Sorry, sir."

His mental senses reported that three or four bodies were guarding each of the main doors while the rest congregated in the central room, doing something telepathically to the terrified civilian. The Shadow tried to contact the man, but the psychic environment was so roiling and disturbed that he couldn't get through. He dismounted the cycle and pulled out the Shaolin device again. Moving swiftly, he phased through the wall of one of the apartments in the complex - fully prepared to sell his own life and that of the man inside to put an end to Legion.

But when he set his hand on the door leading to main hall, Carlos shouted, "DON'T! It's a trap!" He recoiled, then tried to phase through the wall again... cursing when the little device fizzled halfheartedly and went dead. Hearing a sound by the door, the dark avenger spun and brought his gun to bear just as four of Legion's bodies poured through. They were carrying guns, and they obviously knew how to use them. The Shadow took in the odds in a split second, then leapt for the window as the first shots were fired. He crashed through the glass, tucked, and rolled, coming up unhurt. He immediately dove for the wall, bringing his gun to bear on the window from one side. Nothing showed itself. Damn! It's as if... they can see me again! And why didn't I sense them on the other side of the door?!

He frantically racked his brains for a way to burn the building - the man inside would be a sad casualty of war, assuming they hadn't managed to "convert" him yet, but it would be worth it. As if they'd read his mind, he heard gurgling sounds from within and caught a whiff of gasoline fumes from the broken window. What on earth?!

Well, disrupt their plans as best as may be. He ran past the window, firing into it, hoping to ignite something. He succeeded. He called the cycle as the place caught and got airborne once more. The man they'd captured was running frantically away from the place - still human. Reasoning that he'd be running the opposite direction from Legion, the Shadow checked the other side of the house. Sure enough, there were two of the bodies... and the Shadow realized with shock that they did not register on his mental senses at all! They were not just blank, like the black cars... it was if they were not there at all. He fired a few shots, he tried to track them, but they swiftly managed to lose him in the absence of the edge his special senses gave him. Damn! he thought, shaking.

"Carlos. Call Grace. Tell her I'm coming over immediately. ... When she asks why, tell her it's the end of the world."

On the way there, he added, "Call emergency number 4 and patch me through." When an answer came, the Shadow said tersely, "Jerry, it's a go," and hung up. At least David would be out the state soon - one less thing to worry about.

Pounding on Grace's door, he was not too surprised to find her aiming a pistol at him from the bushes to one side. She sighed in relief as she recognized him. "All right, Shadow, what's happening?!" Her Southern drawl was pronounced; it must come out with stress. For answer he opened his mind to her and gave her the rapid telepathic version of events at the crackhouse, which caused her to say something very unladylike.

Then, "You had best get that suitcase analyzed at once... you have a friend good at that kind of thing, don't you?" The Shadow nodded. "Yes, and I will. For now we must hope Legion isn't capable of exponential growth without it, while assuming that they are. Mobilize everyone that you can. Oh! And before I forget," he went on to give her the telepathic nutshell version of what he'd found out about OmniMetal.

Her eyes flew wide. "Overmind!" "I had the exact same thought." "But it doesn't make sense! This isn't their style at all... Something's gone wrong." The Shadow responded, "I agree. They've lost control over their project. Grace, we may have to work with them - they're the only ones who really know what is going on."

"You have no idea how little that thrills me, darlin'... On second thought, maybe you do." The dark avenger was never more dark than in his reply: "Grace, let me make my own position perfectly clear. I intend to kill every single man and woman ever involved with this project. But they don't have to know that yet." Grace, while not usually the bloodthirsty kind, nodded her emphatic assent. "I'll sound them out. Now get going!"

The Shadow did not waste further words, but set the cycle on course for Hal Garrity's hometown, a distant suburb. On the way, he said, "Carlos, call ahead to Hal Garrity's place. Tell him I'm coming." "On it, sir." "Oh, and Carlos, call emergency number 1." David's cell. It rang and rang and rang. He cursed and said, "Try 2." The Brighton home. It also rang repeatedly. The Shadow groaned - David had probably left the cell at home again. Given that it was the weekend, Jerry would be heading to the house as per instructions...

He set the cycle on autopilot and closed his eyes, reaching out with a great mental push. DAVID!

In his mind, he sensed frustration and anger as he heard, "Twyla, I - What the?!" It's your father. Go home at once. Jerry will meet you there. Go with him and do what he says. NOW! David, unused to mental contact, replied out loud, "You can't just - No, Twyla, not you!" It's the End Of The World, son. Do as I tell you! His mental tone brooked no argument or delay. "All right, I - Twyla, I just remembered something. I have to go!"

The Shadow maintained the contact as David ran off. What did you learn from Twyla? He got back the surly reply, "What does it matter, I thought it was the end of the world!" With the universal Parental Warning Tone, David... along with the unspoken subtext of 'Don't push it.' The boy answered grouchily, "She's put a bunch of stuff together, and she's mad at me for not telling her I'm some sort of superman."

Has she been starting rumors? "No, she's kept her mouth shut." The Shadow sighed - no way to tell, as yet, if that was just teenage wishful thinking or not. Good, because I've been tempted to go and wipe her memory of the whole thing. His son blazed at him, "That's disgusting, Dad! You can't just go around doing things like that!" I can if it would help ensure your survival and mine. "Don't change the subject! It's wrong to mess around in people's heads that way!"

We can argue about this another time, son. I am having a REALLY BAD DAY. "Not so bad that you don't have time to consider mindwiping my girlfriend!" Angry now, All right, David. You tell me if we need any more headaches when there's a contagious group mind of homicidal maniacs running around! Stunned silence, then, "If you are putting one over on me to shut me up, I swear I'll never speak to you again as long as I live." The retort, Have you ever known me to 'put one over on you' before? brought David up short - whatever else his father's failings might be, dishonesty was not one of them.

After some thought came the grudging reply, "OK. I'll go with Uncle Jerry and cooperate. When will it be safe again?" [SuentisPo interjected at this point, "Isn't a child's faith in his parent's abilities touching?" :)] Alex kept his sigh to himself. Soon, I hope. I will contact you when I can. ... I love you, son. "Love you too, Dad... Oh sh*t!"

WHAT?! The Shadow started getting frantic as he sensed David's emotional state getting more primal, more angry, more poised. David, WHAT IS GOING ON?! The boy all but snarled at him, "Not NOW!" The Shadow belatedly became aware that David was involved in a fight. Feeling utterly helpless, he did the only thing he was able to do to help, symbolic though it probably was - he extended his mental shields over his son.

Finally, amidst great pain, "Dad, you have the WORST timing!" Are you hurt? "Yeah. One of them shot me." WHERE?! "Lower abdomen." Alex went cold - a gut wound. Where are you? A half-amused snort. "You know that alley you told me to avoid? It was the fastest way home - you said to hurry." Alex frantically struggled within his own mind for control as his shields cracked and threatened to crumble. He was just about to break off the contact to spare both of them the consequences of that when to his relief David's pain began to subside. "Ahhh. That's better." Are you going to be all right, son? Can you make it home? Let Jerry take care of you... "I think I'm going to be OK, Dad. Scratch one shirt, though." You are getting better at this sort of thing, I see... "Just as well, right? Oh, for crying out loud!"

Alex held his mental tongue while David confronted his new attacker. "Listen, a**hole. I just got done beating up six guys with guns, OK? So it's not like that stupid little penknife is gonna scare me. And I'm having a really bad day. In the last fifteen minutes, I've had a nasty argument with my girlfriend, I've been shot - though the guy who did it is in a lot worse condition, believe me - and my dad has yelled at me. Right now the last thing you want to do is PISS ME OFF!! Got it?" Then, "Huh, it worked."

Will you be all right, son? "Yeah, I'll be fine, Dad - it's not much further." All right, I should go. Be careful! "You too!"

The Shadow shook himself out of the light trance he'd drifted into, noticing that he wasn't far from his destination. "Carlos, did you get ahold of Hal?" "Yeah - he asked if it could wait until morning, I said it couldn't, and he said you owe him one." "Thank you. Do what you can while I talk with him - put the network on alert and find out whatever you can." "Yessir. And I'll do whatever checking I can on Legion too - like if anybody's used that name before, or..." "It's Biblical, Carlos." There was a moment's pause as the full weight of the situation dawned on the young man, then he said in a small voice, "Oh. Right."

The Shadow put Carlos out of his mind as he landed in Garrity's back yard. Hal was there, his chipmunk features pursed in disapproval. "You really shouldn't drive the cycle that hard, you know. It's not good for the engine." "Hal..." "Well, it isn't, Shadow! You need to be more careful, treat it right. I built it to last, but there are limits, you know. You should..." "Hal!" "I'm just trying to tell you how to treat the cycle. This stuff is important, you can't just..." "HAL! I have something interesting for you." The Shadow freed the suitcase from the cycle and held it up invitingly. Garrity trailed off and his face lit up as if Christmas had come early. "What is it?" "I do not know. I was hoping you could tell me. ... We'll have to check to see if it's trapped first, though." "Right! Come in, come in, what are you waiting for?" The shorter man spun on his heel and stumped into the garage, the hovercycle forgotten.

Once inside, Garrity excitedly measured the suitcase, then pulled out something that looked like it originally came from the guts of a television set. (And, knowing Hal's methods, the Shadow speculated that in fact it had.) Placing it on top of the case and squinting at a monitor, he announced, "There's an explosive charge... but it's not armed. It's safe to open." Then, as the Shadow reached for it, "Oh, wait, there's some sort of gunk on the handle. You should wear gloves."

The sable sleuth looked down at his always-gloved hands and inquired with mild sarcasm, "Should I burn them afterward?" Garrity shrugged [I think he has Immunity: Sarcasm :)] and said, "It depends. How paranoid are you?" Then, taking in the Shadow's look, he added "Never mind, I forgot," and fired up his infamous garbage disposal unit (a disintegration device that could be a terrible weapon in the wrong hands) to receive the gloves.

Inside, the case held several carefully-cushioned reagent bottles. Alex, the professional biochemist, pricked up his ears. "They aren't labelled... We'll have to figure out what's in them. Do you have a mass spectrometer?" Hal gaped at him open-mouthed. "Why?!" Alex blinked, then grinned despite himself. "I might have known you'd have something better. Well, let's get to it!"

It didn't take long for the souped-up television tube to provide detailed chemical diagrams of the three compounds - complicated long-chained carbon compounds. Alex pointed to one, "See that pattern of rings, there? That's the basic structure of cocaine, though it's been heavily modified... I don't recognize either of the other two off the top of my head. What can you tell me?"

Hal typed rapidly on a keyboard. "The stuff in the second bottle should act as a powerful stimulant. My program says the third one is caffeine." "Hal," Alex said patiently, "I can assure you that it isn't caffeine." Hal replied apologetically, "I know, there must be a bug in the program." (SP rolled a 1 and had fun with it. :)

Hal would happily have spent the rest of the night tracking down the bug, but Alex recalled him back to the problem at hand. "We need to know what effect these compounds have on the human brain, and some idea of whether it's permanent or temporary. Ideally we need to figure out how to reverse it, too." He took pencil and paper and quickly classified the major structural elements of each molecule, then sat down at Hal's computer and started doing directed searches in chemistry databases.

Between Alex's considerable expertise in the field and Hal's formidable genius and instrumentation, the two made progress in unravelling the mystery at an astounding rate... though still too slowly for Alex's taste. He lost himself in the problem, barely noticing when the exhausted Carlos went to bed... when he paused to stretch a while later, pleased at their preliminary results, he was shocked to see the clock reading six P.M. He sighed. "In theory I have to go to work in the morning. I suppose I'll have to call in sick - Legion is more important."

Returning to the task at hand, he summarized their results, more for his own benefit than Hal's, ticking off points on his fingers.

1) The chemicals seemed to be a powerful stimulant and hallucinogen unlike anything else Alex had ever encountered; an alkaloid strikingly similar to that of the active ingredient in his own mind-opening drug (and a variant of it, Formula T36, that he and Hal had created a while back to sap a subject's will with no lasting effects); and a cocaine derivative with extensive changes of unknown function.

2) The alterations in the cocaine molecule were very low in yield to produce - it would take a great deal of cocaine to produce a small amount of the new compound. This was the most probable explanation why OmniMetal had been infiltrating the gang scene.

3) It seemed likely that the changes in the brain produced by the chemical cocktail would be distressingly permanent and irreversible. But Garrity felt sure (having made an extensive study of psionics and brain chemistry) that telepathy alone could not produce the same changes. Any "conversions" made without the reagents' help would likely be easily reversible - if such conversions were possible at all.

4) There were sufficient chemicals in the case to "convert" perhaps another twenty people. The nightmare exponential growth scenario seemed much less probable than at first.

5) The chemical expertise needed to produce the reagents was extremely sophisticated. Based on his extensive knowledge of the industry, Alex guessed there were perhaps three or four outfits in the Los Angeles area capable of making them - of which one was his own company, and one of the others was OmniMetal.

6) With considerable effort, Alex and Hal could design specialized enzymes to break down the Legion-chemicals in the human body. Ideally one would want a ten year project with extensive animal testing, but under the circumstances they wouldn't feel the need to notify the FDA...

The commlink broke into his reverie. A sleepy Carlos said, "Sir, Amazing Grace wants to talk to you." "Patch her through, Carlos."

Her voice was smooth and controlled, but still accented. "I've contacted OmniMetal. They tried to stonewall at first, denying everything - it was very difficult to even talk to anyone but secretaries... but when I passed on your description of the man leading Legion, they got very agitated and willing to deal. I don't think they're faking, either - I read them from a few blocks away while I called from a pay phone. Now they want to talk to you."

"You did remember that I used the name 'Mastermind', not 'the Shadow', right?" "I haven't named any names at all. I said only that I had gotten my information from another telepath." "All right. We'll call them shortly." Then, quietly to Hal, "Garrity, do you have one of your magic phones here?"

"Now, Shadow, there's no such thing as magic, you know, just natural laws operating..." "Hal! Do you have one of the secure phones here?" "What? Oh. Sure." He rummaged around amid some junk in the garage and triumphantly produced an oversized phone. "Can you switch somebody onto that line from the commlink?" "Not a problem," the inventer assured him as he pushed several of the thing's many buttons.

Grace asked, "What just happened?" "What do you mean?" "My phone just clicked a number of times and now you sound a little different." "We won't be traced now. ... It's magic, Grace, just accept it." (Said more to irritate Hal than anything else.)

"Are you ready, Shadow?" She passed on the number.

The Shadow paused to seat his hat more firmly on his head. "Ready."

He reached out to the phone.

[Like I said, a heck of a lot went on. I don't know that my writing can get across just how CREEPY Legion was. SP did a fantastic job of presenting them/it.]

[BTW, I would like some outside opinions - SP says he thinks Alex "jumped the gun" in sending David away, especially since the Shadow's cover was quite un-blown. I think he's just plain insufficiently paranoid. :) The vision haunting both Alex's mind and mine was that of the runaway growth scenario - like "Night of the Living Dead", only the zombies aren't slow or stupid, they all think together, and they have unknown psychic powers. By the time you realize something like that is happening, it's too late. Alex realized at the time his fears might not be entirely justified, but he decided to act BEFORE Southern California was deluged by Legion just in case he was right. What do you think?]

[I also have to say that, although the early part of this session was first-rate horror, the comic relief was also great all the way through. :) David's little speech to the mugger is already becoming a classic in my mind, and there are number of little touches all the way through. I got in some licks of my own, too:]

[When the suitcase was first opened, SP said, "OK, this looks more like an 'Alex' device rather than a 'Hal' device..." meaning that it dealt with chemicals rather than electronics. But I interjected before he finished, "You mean it makes sense?" and he just about fell over laughing. :)]
 
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By the way, SP told me later that I set his plans all a-kilter. I was supposed to devote my energies to taking down OmniMetal, then run into (a much-expanded) Legion later on as a long-term enemy. He was going to introduce a flashback to Legion's creation at that time to display the crushing irony that it was "born" on the very night the Shadow went after its creators, and in a place familiar to him, even. When I decided to go back there at the appropriate time, he decided to run with it, though.

I think things are much more interesting this way, don't you? ;)

EDIT: I should mention that SP claims he described some corpses in the room Alex phased into. I don't remember this - SP thinks it was confusion with the term "bodies" when referring to Legion - but it comes up later.
 
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[This session consisted almost entirely of the phone call with OmniMetal. A lengthy call, but a very informative one...]

As he dialed the number, the Shadow asked Grace, "Do you want to talk to them first? They already know you." "Very well."

When a secretary answered, Grace calmly informed her that her boss was expecting the call. This promptly got her connected onward, and a friendly male voice came on the line. "Hello?" "I spoke to you earlier today. You wished to speak to my associate." "Ah yes, of course! Please put him on." With that, the Shadow interjected, "I'm listening."

"Pleased to meet you, sir. What should I call you?" "You may call me Van Helsing. Dr. Frankenstein, I presume? ... Or should I say Dr. Mengele?"

There came an easy chuckle. "I'm not a doctor at all, actually, just a manager. Call me Mr. Johnson. And that second comparison of yours is rather harsh. I hope we can discuss it. I must admit, though, the first doctor you mentioned is a rather uncomfortable fit! We do indeed seem to have, well, created a monster." "Indeed."

"One of our employees seems to have, ah, decided to take some unauthorized steps on his own. Quite without our knowledge. We're very concerned." Silence. "His name is Thomas Christophilous." "Was." "I beg your pardon?" "Mr. Christophilous, or rather his body, is quite dead." "I see. That is unfortunate, we were hoping we would be able to cure him of his... condition." "Which one? The group mind, or the psychosis?"

A slightly embarrassed silence followed. "Yes, it does appear that our psychological evaluation of Mr. Christophilous was, ah, flawed. We're looking into just how he managed to slip through the cracks the way he did." "He was, of course, a telepath." "Yes." "It would not seem difficult for him to suborn those who performed the tests." More embarrassment. "As I said, we're looking into it."

The Shadow changed the subject incisively: "What is the Overmind Project?" A long pause, then, "My, you are quite well-informed I see." At the lack of a response, he continued, "You must realize, I don't remotely know everything there is to know about it. You see, OmniMetal is part of the Overmind Project, not the other way around. A small part, but an important one, I trust. But I have been authorized to share certain parts of our research program with you." "I am listening."

"In a nutshell, Project Overmind is intended to improve the human condition by inculcating new forms of mental awareness and sharing. Ultimately, ideally, even a group consciousness embracing the entire human race." His voice glowed with seemingly sincere idealism... but the Shadow could not hold back a shout of mirthless laughter. "My word, you are a pack of innocents! You wouldn't sound so eager if you'd met Legion!"

In hurt tones, Johnson responded, "I assure you, sir, this 'Legion' is not at all what we had in mind. Our work with telepathic group minds has been conducted in entirely different directions." The Shadow inquired in razor-sharp tones, "And were all the experimental subjects willing ones?" "Of course!"

The Shadow's voice rose as he spat, "You DARE to say 'Of course' on such a matter to me?! I've seen the tame, computerized telepathic brains you make use of!" "You're misinterpreting the situation, Van Helsing... or should I say, 'Mastermind'?" The Shadow's response to that coy barb was a stony, "Mastermind is known to me." "I see. Well, as I was saying, you're operating under a false assumption. The brains we make use of aren't 'tame'. Nor are they human. Not at all! They're domesticated, vat-grown animal brains."

"Telepathic animals? Now I've heard everything." "Their talent is tiny but measurable if you know what to look for. At OmniMetal, we've found ways to artificially boost that talent in specially-grown brains. If you know enough biology, you'd probably even be able to tell what sort of animal we use if we cracked open one of the boxes for you... but I'm afraid that's a company secret." "And what, pray, is the purpose of these talented animal brains?"

Johnson heaved a sigh. "I'm afraid they turned out to be a dead end. We make what use of them we can, since it'd be cruel to just dispose of them." The Shadow boggled. "Cruel?!" A snort came from the other end of the phone line. "Well, I realize that as your enemies, we have to be heinous monsters with no trace of human feelings, but yes, cruel." "They don't feel anything at all. They don't THINK anything at all." "Oh dear, we seem to have overestimated you. While not a telepath myself, I've been assured by our personnel that the animal minds live in a state of contentment. They know nothing but their current condition, and they're quite happy with it."

The Shadow forebore from mentioning that those "contented" minds had tried to burn his own out. He just said, "And I suppose your group mind projects also use these animal minds." "Oh, no, that project involves humans. We'd never get useful data out of animals. As I said before, they're quite willing, though." The Shadow made a skeptical sound, which prompted the impatient rebuttal, "No matter what you may think of us, Van Helsing, use a little logic! Would it be wise of us to create a group mind with vastly enhanced psionic powers out of minds with a reason to hold a grudge against us?" The Shadow kept his own counsel on this, uttering only a stony, "Go on."

Johnson resumed, "Our group mind project has been a bit disappointing, actually. We were afraid it was turning out to be yet another dead end. You see, we've managed to create these group entities of telepaths with chemical aids... but once they come apart again, the subjects invariably have a strong antipathy to each other that makes further work impossible." "Did Mr. Christophilous ever participate in one of these experiments?" "No, actually, he didn't. He was the researcher in charge of them. Tell me, do you have any indication how much of his knowledge the Legion-mind possesses?" "All of it." "Oh dear. That will make things more difficult."

"Tell me about these chemical aids." "I'm not sure how much technical background you have..." "Give it to me in detail. I have resources." "Very well..."

It developed that the three chemicals were meant to be administered in a specific sequence. First the will-sapping alkaloid, to open the mind wide; then the stimulant, to ramp up the brain to a new level of activity; and then a third chemical (the cocaine derivative, though Johnson did not say this) to awaken latent psionic abilities. Guided by a specially-trained telepath, people in such a state could be brought into a telepathic communion... though, as already stated, the results were generally disappointing. The three drugs all had quite short half-lives in the human body (minutes to an hour), though in some cases side-effects lasted longer.

"The good news is that our research does point to ways to defeat this 'Legion'." "Oh?" "Yes. First, if you break sufficient numbers of members out of the group mind, the whole thing should simply collapse. Our data suggests that a third to half of the members will do the trick. Furthermore, the individual members have all the weaknesses of ordinary humans - they can be rendered unconscious normally, with deprives the group of their input for as long as they're out." "And how do you propose to break them out of the group?"

"Are you familiar with psionic 'screamers'? No? Well, we have mechanical devices that disrupt psionic activity in a certain radius. Set one of those off near some of Legion's bodies, and their communion should be completely disrupted. Once disrupted, as I've indicated, they shouldn't be able to rejoin - in fact, they'll probably have an overwhelming loathing for the Legion-mind." "You don't know the half of it. What sort of shape will they be in?" "Well, you must understand, we've never dealt with anything quite like this. But my guess would be that they'll be disoriented and very upset at the least, possibly suffering from some deeper psychological damage." "Will they continue to be homicidal maniacs?" "I can't say for certain, but if anything, I'd think they'd be more likely to be catatonic."

The Shadow changed the subject with a cold smile. "You do realize that Legion will know all this too - or at any rate, whatever Christophilous knew." "Yes. We think we can easily hold him - er, them, er, it? - off here, and so the best guess is that Legion won't even try - though we'll be prepared just in case. The real worry is that it will seek out other places in this area that can make the necessary chemicals. I'm not sure just how many there are nearby..." "My resources indicate four or five in Los Angeles County."

"Well, then. You see the problem. We have the screamers... and we also have a very good anaesthetic gas that can knock out the bodies... but we can't exactly approach other companies and ask to install such things in their premises. It would raise eyebrows." "It would indeed." "You seem to be talented in getting into places unawares and finding things out. Perhaps you..." The Shadow had to chuckle his usual throaty chuckle. "You want me to plant your paraphernalia in these companies and be on hand to take Legion down when and if it shows up." "Well... Yes. We realize you can't be everywhere at once, of course. But it may be that the screamers themselves will be enough."

"You seem very confident of that. Do you have an armed force in your company?" "Yes." "What are they armed with?" "Tasers. And batons." The Shadow felt very uneasy. "I do not believe you are taking Legion seriously enough. It has very unusual psychic powers. It is also highly adaptable... in particular, it is very skilled in evading notice by ordinary psionic means. And in seeing through mental screens." "Oh dear, that is a little worrisome. But don't worry, we have resources even Christophilous didn't know about. Why would it attack here when there are easier pickings elsewhere?"

"Because you have people with the clear expertise to make the stuff! Perhaps even stockpiles of it, still?" "Well, of course. Do you have any idea how expensive it is?" The Shadow ground his teeth. "Of course it's expensive... given that it's made out of COCAINE." Johnson paused as he digested that. "It's regrettable that we've had to use such materials, of course..." "Obtaining it illegally, I might add." "Unfortunate, yes, but it's definitely not easy to obtain large quantities of it, even for research purposes." "Do you know just HOW it was obtained?" "I have no idea. That's not my department."

The Shadow gave up in disgust. "Tell me about Christophilous." It developed that the man had been 34, single, with a degree in biochemistry and a minor in psychology. He was middle management at OmniMetal, as mentioned heading up the group-mind project. He had a hobby of making models of dinosaur skeletons, and was also a talented amateur sculptor, mostly of busts. He had pretty much been a model employee, though with a few crotchets. He tolerated no romantic liasions or flirting among his subordinates, even seeking disciplinary action for rather minor incidents. But he had a zeal and a drive for the project that was very much what upper management wanted to instill.

The Shadow snorted at that. "Some corporate culture you have there. ... Had he been disciplined of late?" "'Disciplined' is not the right term, but he did have rather an argument with his bosses not long ago. You see, the project had focussed on creating group minds between small numbers of skilled telepaths - usually just three. The results were poor, but Christophilous was convinced he could do better with a larger number of latent people - mostly "normal" people with scant telepathic ability. It was felt that this course was not at all likely to be productive."

The Man of Mystery concluded harshly, "He wanted a group mind he could control." Johnson replied uncomfortably, "It does seem that way now, yes." "When he died, why didn't the group mind simply die with him? Given that it was entirely focussed on and through him." "It seems that it somehow managed to change from a centralized structure to a more distributed, weblike network."

"Have your experiments ever produced such a web?" "...No. There has always been a central telepathic director." "So, you cannot be certain that your experimental results really apply to Legion after all." "Certain, no. But we have the best - indeed, probably the only - experts in the field working on this. We are confident of our conclusions." I wish I were, the Shadow thought glumly.

Struck by another idea, the sable sleuth asked, "Did Christophilous know where the cocaine was obtained from?" "He was not privy to that information." "He certainly seems to have become privy to it." "There do seem to have been some security leaks, yes." "Him being a telepath, after all." Glumly, Johnson had to concede, "Just so."

"How will I pick up these 'screamers' and gas of yours?" "Well, you could come in person..." The Shadow laughed coldly. "I think not." "Or you could send a courier. You can contact me at this number and authorize them. And, cliche' though it might be, a pass-phrase might be for the best." Grinning mirthlessly, the Shadow said, "Very well. How about, 'A mind is a terrible thing to waste'?" Johnson did not seem greatly amused, but acknowledged it. "By the way," he added, "I really ought to warn you that using that gas on people is technically chemical assault, which is illegal." Puzzled, the Shadow pointed out, "So is breaking and entering - which you have also asked me to do." "Well, yes, but I just felt I should point it out, since not everyone is familiar with the finer points of the law." The Shadow offered only a nonplussed silence and then a rather cynical, "Thank you so much." Johnson said, "Is there anything else to discuss?"

"Yes. You have asked me to help you, I believe." "It seems to me that you have also asked us. But yes, we certainly have." "Now there is the price." "The information we've given you isn't enough?" "No. I want access to your files. All of them." "Let me speak to my superiors." After a minute or so, he returned and said, "Let me make a counter-proposal. We will give you free access to the group-mind project files and to Christophilous' personnel record. And you may request access to other things, but it has to be cleared through me first." "Very well, I agree." "We will prepare a login name and password for you, to be given to your courier. Everything should be ready to go by 8 AM. You may contact me here at this number during the day; at night, Mr. Torrance will be here instead. You may speak freely to him, though he is not as well-informed as I." "Understood."

After a few more details were worked out, Johnson hung up. The Shadow waited for Garrity to confirm that the connection had also been broken at Grace's end, then exploded, "Grace, are these people FOR REAL?!" "I was about to ask you the same thing, darlin'!" "Do you buy that telepathic animal business?" "I've never heard of anything like it. And I definitely did not like how blase' he was about Legion. There doesn't seem to be a 'Plan C' in case these screamers and the knockout gas don't work." "You noticed that too, eh? I am certain of one thing, though." "Oh?"

"Yes. OmniMetal's computer system is about to be thoroughly hacked." He could almost see Grace's brow arching. "I didn't know you were good at that sort of thing." "I'm not, but I know someone who is." "Ah. Just be sure to request some files first, then have them hacked along with everything else. Makes you look innocent." "Devious woman," the Shadow chided.

"I should go now, Shadow. I've spent too much time on this line, and in this location." "Very well. Will you call back?" "I'll contact you again when I can." "Until then."

The Shadow bade Hal a quick farewell (and reminded him to keep working on the anti-Legion enzymes) then hopped on the cycle. As he sped back toward the LA metro area, he filled Carlos in, as always, on events.

The boy was loudly skeptical of Johnson's claim not to know where the cocaine came from. "Pssh! Yeah, right! Where else are you gonna get that much?! Either he's lying... or he's shutting his eyes." "Astute, Carlos. Yes, I agree. I am not sure just how much Mr. Johnson knows of his company's activities... and how honest he was about what he does know."

"And what do you make of that animal-brain stuff, sir? Do you suppose he might be shutting his eyes on that part too?" "In a way, I certainly hope not. I would rather believe he was telling the unvarnished truth... but it does seem rather far-fetched."

"Have you been having any strange dreams lately, Carlos?" After a hesitation, he got the response, "I had one last night." "Earlier today, you mean?" "Right. It was one of those weird symbolic ones instead of anything clear-cut... I feel sure that parts of it were 'special', but not the whole thing." "Very well. What was it?" "I was swinging through the trees... you know, like Tarzan. Then I dove into a pool of water and swam underwater for a while. When I came up, I saw the world through a pair of computer monitors rather than eyes." "Did you wake up from it?" "The buzzer woke me up." "I see."

"Carlos, I want you be extremely careful. I want you to take no risks at all, in fact." "Do you, uh, think that, maybe..." he swallowed and went on, "Well, the whole 'chop shop' thing might happen to me?" "I want to make sure that it does not." "I'd think that would make for a really scary dream, though, and this one was just mildly disturbing." "It occurs to me that a disembodied brain isn't likely to experience much in the way of emotions." In a small voice, "Oh." "Don't worry, Carlos. We'll be on our guard. That's why the dreams are useful. You hear me?" "Yessir." "As I said: Take no risks." "You don't have to warn me twice, sir. Well, three times, I guess."

The Shadow mercifully changed the subject, discussing other matters in the case. Then he abruptly pounded the handlebars. "I keep thinking that Juan Martinez will have a missing piece of the puzzle! Or at least something useful. My gut tells me he had a close brush with Legion - or possibly other OmniMetal activities. Or possibly even both. If only there were a way to find him! ... Of course!!" "What is it, sir?!"

"I should have thought of it before. I've been in his mind, quite deeply, twice..." He slipped into the same light trance he'd used earlier in the evening to reach David, and strained outward with a great telepathic push "tuned" to Juan's signature.

The connection was made, though slightly more tenuously than usual. The boy was eating a hamburger... in McDonald's. Perfect! He carefully dipped deeper into Juan's mind to find which restaurant it was... but the lad was as perceptive as the last time, and reacted with the same overwhelming panic. Damn! He maintained the contact, and succeeded in getting a location - a suburb south of the city, a long ride. He immediately turned in that direction.

Juan rushed outside, leaped on a motorcycle, and gunned the motor. The Shadow tried reasoning with him, but couldn't get past the wall of panic in the boy's mind. Driving like a demon, weaving past cars... Not weaving well enough. He was hit. [I got a sweet roll on the Telepathy Use, Juan got an even sweeter roll on the Sense Motive, but failed the Will save. Then the kid has to go and utterly flub a Drive check! Guess SP's magic doesn't always work, eh?]

"Carlos, there's just been a motorcycle accident in this suburb. Pinpoint it for me!" "On it, sir... Yes, the reports are just coming in. Motorcycle and a car... the motorcyclist is down... he wasn't wearing a helmet... they're calling an ambulance." At this point, Juan passed out, and the Shadow lost the contact. "Where are they taking him?" "Hold on... Sisters of Mercy." The Shadow continued to fly grimly, awaiting more information. "They're taking him to trauma, sir. Fractured skull." "Right. Give it an hour or so, then call the hospital and ask for 'Juan Martinez' by name, find out his condition." "Will do."

By that time, the Shadow had arrived and invisibly snuck into the hospital. Carlos reported, "He's in the ICU in 'serious condition', sir. That's all they'll tell me." The Shadow had a look for himself, and decided that Juan wasn't going anywhere any time soon. "I suppose I'll have to come back. He isn't up to dealing with me yet."

"At least now I know where to find him."

[Johnson bugs me. He was very idealistic, very sincere, not smarmy at all. Passed several Sense Motive checks. Good ones, even. Of course, there was no visual feedback... and no mental verification. Still. I wonder how many people in the hierarchy REALLY know what's going on. Somehow I think things aren't nearly as innocuous as Johnson says.]

[Carlos' dream makes me, and Alex, much more nervous than the Shadow let on. I'm going to trust SP not to do anything egregiously unfair, however.]

[Pity about Juan, btw, but Alex doesn't really feel guilty about it. If he'd had his way, the kid never would have noticed the quick mental probe, and would have had an unexpected meeting with the Shadow on the street. :) However, I suspect the Penumbra Foundation is going to be picking up a large chunk of his medical bills.]
 

As long as he was in Juan's room, the Shadow decided he might as well go through the lad's effects. There wasn't much - clothing in gang colors (though no distinctive hat or bandannas) and a wallet with 50 or so dollars in cash, an expired credit card, and a driver's license. He passed the number on to Carlos before leaving.

"Carlos, in the morning I want you to... Sorry. I know I've been loading you down lately." "It's OK, sir," Carlos responded with cheery sarcasm, "What do you want me to do in my copious spare time?" "Get in touch with Lance and have him arrange to have the Penumbra Foundation pick up Juan's medical bills." "Will do." "Tell him to use a dummy name - 'Uninsured Accident Victims' Fund' or something." "Gotcha. Anything else?"

The Shadow pondered. "Have flowers sent. Perhaps with the Foundation motto - 'Out of the shadows, into the light.' He's a smart kid, he'll figure it out." Carlos predicted, "He'll panic, throw the flowers away, and try to escape." "You really think so?" "You would."

That was so true that the cloaked crusader let out an honest laugh for the first time in weeks. When he was able to breathe again, he said, "You know me too well, Carlos!" "Well, you would! You'd figure they were poisoned or bugged or something." "All right, all right. Send a plain card with the flowers, then. We don't want to give him a heart attack." "Check. What now, sir?"

The Shadow considered. "Has the crackhouse on 18th cooled down yet?" "I don't know, but it should have." "Then I think we will have to pay a visit there together. I am very interested in what you might pick up, given the bodies I saw... Dead ones, I mean." Carlos said, "Good idea, sir," but his voice betrayed a slight edge of nervousness. [Carlos is uncomfortable with his visions of death and murder, and who can blame him?]

Speeding back to the base, the Shadow picked up Carlos, cloaking him in invisibility as he jogged below the cycle. (They'd set the comm panel at the base to patch through their commlinks to each other, so they could still communicate.) The crackhouse turned out to be half-burned, and surrounded with police tape - evidently the corpses had set off an official investigation.

Together they entered the building, the Shadow pointing out the room where he'd seen the bodies. Carlos paced around it several times, apparently futilely... then he abruptly stood stock still as his face went white with shock. As the Shadow waited patiently for the vision to play itself out, the young man's head suddenly jerked to the left. "We've got to get out of here, sir! It's HERE!" The dark avenger drew his gun. "It?" "Legion! It's gotta be! We've got to go!"

"Right." They moved for the exit, only to find a Legion-body awaiting them outside - a young man, formerly a Red Shiv. Putting Carlos behind him, the Shadow snapped off a shot, missing. Legion casually informed him, "You will die now," as it cut loose with a titanic blast of mental force, which the Shadow managed to adroitly "sidestep", preventing it from attuning to his mental signature. My word! he thought. I've never seen such strength, even in Grace!

He subvocalized into the commlink, "Carlos, run. Call the cycle and get out of here. NOW!" "Yessir," the boy replied, suiting actions to words but adding, "And watch out, there's more on the other side of the house!" The Shadow backpedaled from the house, buying Carlos time to get away, and also getting the Legion-body between him and the house to avoid a potential crossfire.

It made no move to follow, save with its eyes. The Shadow snapped off a couple more shots, missing but managing to evade its mental thunderbolts as well. Then one of them got past his guard, staggering him for a moment with the sheer ravening HATE it projected into his soul. Worse, he could tell it now had his number, as it were, and could continue to pummel him without any need for further targeting.

Getting desperate, the dark avenger deliberately calmed himself and stood his ground. He drew a bead on the thing's torso, exhaling and choosing his moment with care. The next mental blow broke his concentration, but he still managed a solid hit. As it crumpled to the ground, the Shadow rushed it, applying his boot to its head with vicious force. [Incidentally drawing a "Tae Kwon Leep" joke from SP, if you've heard that skit. :)] The body's lights went out, quite thoroughly.

He hurriedly ordered Carlos to circle around, meanwhile reaching for a pair of handcuffs - a Legion-body, prisoner, could be invaluable. But when Carlos called urgently, "You have to get out of there, sir! There's too many!" he cursed. After only a half-moment's thought, he coldly put a bullet in the thing's brain and rushed to where Carlos was landing, rather clumsily. "Two down, thirteen to go."

Taking the driver's seat from Carlos, the Shadow lifted a bit cautiously, not used to flying with the weight of two. Then he went home by a very circuitous route, using buildings for maximum cover. When Carlos confirmed he sensed no sign of Legion nearby, he finally landed at the base.

Once safely inside, he turned to Carlos and gripped his shoulder hard. "Are you OK?" The young man looked a bit shaken, but his "I'm fine, sir," seemed sincere enough. "What did you sense in the house?" Carlos shivered. "He - the guy you described, Christophilous - had some way of forcing people to stand still. While they stood there helpless, watching, he shot them in the head." Determination leavened with utter loathing filled the young man's voice as he continued softly, "That THING has to die, sir." "I couldn't agree more. Legion seems to have that effect on people who've met it, I've noticed. ... Tell me, did you notice it there at first as a danger-warning, or in itself as an unusual psychic trace?" Carlos shrugged helplessly. "I'm not sure. Things were happening fast." "So they were."

The dark avenger thought out loud, trying to understand what had just happened. "Why was it waiting there at the crackhouse? Was it expecting me to return? Or is there some other reason?" The two of them bandied theories about to no avail - there simply wasn't enough data. "Well, in any case, I'd best inform OmniMetal of developments."

Carlos nodded brusquely and sat at the computer, putting on his headset. "Putting you through on the 'hotline' phone, sir." The Shadow picked up the phone, and told the secretary who answered, "Put me through to Mr. Torrance. Tell him it's Van Helsing."

A neutral male voice shortly came on the line: "Good evening, Mr. Van Helsing. Or do you prefer to be called 'Doctor'?" The Shadow said impatiently, "It doesn't matter. I have had another encounter with Legion." Torrance abruptly became all business. "Tell me everything you can."

"It was at the same place it was 'born'..." "Do you believe it regards that place as its lair?" "I do not know. It may simply have been anticipating my return for further investigation." "I see." The Shadow pictured the man taking notes efficiently on a pad - the pauses were about right. "Another of its bodies is dead." "How many does that leave?" "Thirteen, give or take one - I did not have time for an accurate count that first night. And I am assuming that it has not added anyone in the last few days."

"More importantly, I discovered it has a mental attack of a power unlike anything I have ever seen before. It nearly took me down... and," he added bluntly, "if it can take ME down, it can definitely take down anything of yours that I've seen." Torrance grunted in reply, then asked a series of probing questions about Legion's behavior and tactics. The Shadow found himself forced to appreciate the man's ability to get to the meat of the situation as he answered them to the best of his ability - though of course saying nothing of Carlos or his own abilities.

"So to sum up, would you conclude that it does not seem to be creative in its use of tactics?" The Shadow thought for a moment, then replied, "Yes, I would. At any rate, if I had fourteen people with psychic powers to deploy as I chose, I would definitely have done things differently. It also seems to be rather single-minded, trying the same thing over and over without adjusting much to events." A longer pause, then Torrance responded, "I will inform my superiors."

"There is something else. I do not believe you - OmniMetal - is taking Legion seriously enough. What it lacks in creativity, it makes up for in sheer power and numbers. If I were you, I would destroy my stock of group-mind chemicals and hide those with the knowledge to make them somewhere that Legion can't find them." "I will relay your suggestions to those with the authority to act on them."

"I will be sending a courier for your 'screamers' and gas at 8 sharp in the morning." "Very well. Do you have a description of the courier?" "Not yet. I will call to authorize him or her in the morning." "Understood. Is there anything else?" "No." "Good night, then." Click.

Carlos said thoughtfully, "That guy was different from Johnson - blunter, more matter-of-fact." "Indeed, very business-like. Perhaps he has military training... at any rate, I HOPE someone over there does!"

[Most interesting, no? I found myself liking Torrance more than Johnson, even though I suspect he knows more than Johnson does. Weird, eh? Probably because he shares the Shadow's proclivity for getting the important stuff out of the way without excessive formalities. Alex feels no need to get all buddy-buddy with OmniMetal. Plus, he seems to take Legion seriously, which Johnson did not.]

[Just thought I'd share a suspicion that has been developing in me over the last few weeks. Notice:

OmniMetal Inc. Which is a subsidiary of:

Organized Multinational Investment Group. Perhaps these initials are significant, referring to something like:

OverMind Institute? At any rate, it's interesting... All I can say is, "Oh, my." ;)]
 

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