Sentinel Society: Genesis

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  1. RayCaptain

    RayCaptain Anti-Hero

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    Sentinel Society: Genesis - Chapter 1: Axiom Enterprises

    Bay City was at it always was in the early morning light, blanketed in its signature thick fog off its namesake bay. Even this early in the morning Highway 2, the main road in and out of Bay City and across the Bay City Bridge that connected Bay City to Alameda where many came from to work every day, was congested with work traffic and already a few accidents. The fog would lift in a few hours, but for now it would be as it was, frustrating, but nothing out of the ordinary.

    Todd sat in his car, the radio was on but he wasn't listening, he was too anxious. He had already been late twice this month, the boss was breathing down his neck, and if it happened again... I can't afford to be fired. Between paying rent he paid in Alameda, which he only lived in because he couldn't afford Bay City apartment prices, and the car he had had to buy to transit to his job in Bay City, the young man was already having to stretch a budget just to break even. He had moved out here to work for the West Coast branch of Axiom Enterprises.

    -

    Once the country's largest conglomerate and megacorporation. About a decade ago, Axiom, at the time just another East Coast middle-weight robotics company, had been purchased by, John Donovon, a self-made multi-millionaire venture capitalist, and been renamed Axiom Enterprises. It saw its stock value more than quadruple overnight and onward and upwards from there. Axiom Enterprises quickly went on from its robotics base into medicine, military r&d, household appliances, and even food sciences and bio-engineering. They were credited with creating a completely healthy alternative to sugar and other sweeteners, branded Axiose, and suddenly they were everywhere. Everything you bought had the AE trademark on it. Not only had Axiom Enterprises become the biggest corporation on the market, they had become the market.

    But something happened about five years ago. People started exhibiting strange symptoms and signs of a sickness. It started normally enough. A headache, a fever. And it wasn't everybody, but everyone knew someone who got sick. From there it just got worse. A lot worse. Terrifying. And then, just plain weird... People got sicker and sicker with a variety of symptoms, vomiting, feinting, seizures, and even comas and catatonic states. A lot of people died, usually from organ failure caused by, they said, the sheer stress caused by the virus. It was a pandemic. It affected everybody, young and old, rich and poor, healthy or infirm. Lastly, after a few months, at the height of the national anxiety, the sick began to exhibit... Abilities. Unnatural strength, the ability to move things with their mind, and people even had their bodies morph into inhuman forms, everything in the comics and more.

    Fear brings out the worst in us. And this was no different. Protests occurred, demanding that those affected be locked up or even systematically eliminated due to the potential threat they posed. Anxiety and fear turned to violence, The Violence. The worst of it was in the big cities back east where lynch mobs formed and committed violent acts, even killing, those suspected of being sick. One was fearful to go to drug store with a cough in those weeks and months. The Violence eventually subsided, or so it was thought, but not before there was a migration, swaths of affected people moved westward, Bay City being a premier destination for them due to its open-minded population. To this day there is a refugee camp in northern Alameda. That's where they got the term 'A's, after the local baseball team, the Alameda A's. The As formed their own groups, and of course, with new abilities and strengths, those inclined to do bad found new opportunities. A gangs and groups formed throughout the area and crime spiked. The police and even military were impotent in the face of people who were quite literally bulletproof.

    The worst group was the Alphas, who existed more as a secret society and terrorist group than simple gang. The Alphas believed that those with abilities were the next step in human evolution and that it was the ordinary humans, called 'Betas' or 'B's that needed to be dealt with through enslavement and eradication. Coast-to-Coast, Alpha ideology was taken up by As, especially those that had been done wrong in The Violence and the second wave began, this time the shoe being on the other foot. The Alphas were eventually broken by none other than a group of A heroes and a, for lack of a better term, ceasefire between As and Bs has existed since. There are still radical, even violent, anti-A groups and A-gangs still very much exist, but The Violence is over.

    Eventually the CDC came out with a theory that a build-up of Axiose, which was in almost all food even fresh fruits and meats, in everyone's systems interacted with their DNA and caused a sort of mutation. But they could not explain why not everyone got sick. They hypothesized that it could be the quantity of Axiose people ate or their individual biology or even the individual structure of their DNA. But they just didn't know. Everyone reacted differently, and most didn't experience the worst symptoms, but the impact on the culture, and on the world, was forever.

    Axiom Enterprises' stock tanked and it was eventually saddled with heavy fines and a criminal case was even brought against John Donovon that he and his inner circles and research team knew about and covered up the possible health risks of Axiose. But Donovon vanished, presumably fleeing the country, and a new board took over. Axiom Enterprises had a period of "self-reflection" where it got out of the food and bio-engineering business, its most profitable, and committed to heavy philanthropy where it donated close to half of its net worth in charity and r&d to help those affected by Axiose. It took five years, but Axiom Enterprises mended its wounded reputation and its profit margins through research on the As its product caused. AE eventually developed technology and inventions to help the regular police forces with A-gang crimes and help lobby for legislation regulating use of abilities and A-groups that assisted civilian police forces with enforcement of these types of things.

    Sentinel Society: Genesis - Chapter 2: Bay City Brawl

    Todd had zoned out for a moment. The sound of a motor accelerating caught his attention. Brakes screeched and there was a loud crash. The last thing I need. A wreck just ahead had occurred. He was definitely going to be late now. The punctually-challenge young man squinted and then his eyes widened. A motorbike had come the wrong way down Highway 2! Certainly the rider was dead. Todd felt sick to his stomach. Then, the rider, who had been flung through the windshield of a car just several ahead of Todd, pulled himself to his feet, glass falling from his leather riding suit, glass shards sticking out of it. The rider wore no helmet and looked to be one of Bay City's more colorful denizens. His mohawk was a head-and-a-half high and a bright red. Metal rings and studs adorned the man's snarling face. The rider placed his hands on the jacket and it began to sag and slip, smoke rose from the leather, and then he tore roughly the top half of it off his body. A large tattoo, a red "A" with a circle around it, was prominent on the man's chest.

    "You Betas!" He started in a thick British accent, Todd couldn't place the region, "Toilin' away, 'appy li'le wage slaves, grovelin' boot lickers!" He himself wore boots, also adorned with encircled "A"s, "Doesn't it make you angry? Doesn't it make you crazy!?" He lifted a fist above his head and Todd quickly felt his pulse quicken. Todd's adrenal gland dumped itself; the young man felt... Hostile. He felt violent.

    Stupid traffic. Dead-end job! Useless people!! Todd punched his radio dash, which was reporting on an "event" currently unfolding on Highway 2, and smashed it. He screamed and the wrath welling up in him only became worse.

    " 'At's right you ugly little worms," The motorbike rider muttered and pumped his fist once. The urge to lash out, to kick, to scream, to bite, to tear apart... Anything. Everything. Was too much for Todd to bear. He looked around wildly until he made eye-contact with the driver next to him, a young lady practically frothing at the mouth, her chest heaved and she gnashed her teeth at Todd.

    "What are you looking at, you witch!?" Todd roared and flung his door open, smacking it into hers and shattering the windows on both. The woman screamed a shrill battlecry and tore her way out of her seatbelt before beginning to climb through the broken window, blood dripped where the broken glass punctured and lacerated her hands. She had only managed to get about a third of the way out when Todd hit her as hard as he could and she went limp in the window. The hot pain in his fist felt good. He grabbed a fistful of hair and hit her again and again and again. After about the sixth or seventh time, his hand was swollen and throbbing and numb, his knuckles just as purple as the bruised flesh around her left eye and cheek. Blood seeped from her busted lip and broken nose. Todd could only see red, his head spun with a dizzying rage. He couldn't stop. He was going to kill her and then... Find someone else.

    "Riotmaker!" A voice called from the bridge cables above and it caught Todd's attention. He looked up to see a figure in a karategi and flowing white headband, "Stop this at once and turn yourself in or you know what will happen!" It was Rising Sun, leader of the most prominent A-enforcement guild on the West Coast, popularly called the Sentinel Society. Rising Sun was a master of every form of empty handed martial arts and possessed an ability to produce energies from his fists and feet and even head that looked like fire, a power collectively described as the Emperor Dragon. Four other figures descended in a flash and landed all around the villain, the othe four members of the Sentinel Society, "We have you outnumbered, and we won't go easy on you,"

    Riotmaker, who had a terrible and twisted smile, "Oh, I don't think so, bootlicker. You and your bloody fascists don't stand a chance 'is time," Riotmaker pumped his fist once and there was a wave of shouts and animalistic roars throughout the area of Highway 2. The citizens, those that were still conscious and could walk, turned towards the four figures that had landed, "Outnumbered? 'Ink again, lad. You're surrounded!" The anarchy-styled villain pumped his fist again and the horde fell upon the four. Todd felt an inescapable rage, the urge to murder those who had sworn to protect him. He pushed his way into the fray, grasping, scraping, gnashing.

    "Be careful with the citizens!" Called Rising Sun who took a stance, his muscled body tensing and his hands beginning to glow red, "I'll handle the thug!"

    "They're certainly not being careful with us, the jerks!" A young voice called from a portion of the crowd, a loud, metallic bonk! sounded and several of the rage-mad attackers went tumbling into the air, "Sorry, not sorry, jerks!" A second, robotic voice joined in, "Pow! Right in the kisser!" It called enthusiastically from the same area.

    A stern, deep voice resonated from a different location, "Young Warlord, mind your force, they can't help themselves. Riotmaker is making them do this, they are not of their own sound mind," A figure head and shoulders taller than everyone else in the crowd stood. His skin was a slate-gray and his muscle definition was more akin to a rock formation than biological anatomy. More striking was the helmet and mask he wore, something like the headgear of a welder but instead of a lens across his face, a black iron grate was there and there was seemingly a fire burning inside it.

    "Easy for-" Another metallic bonk and a jeering from the robotic voice, "-you to say, Forge! Agh! That's my eye you jerk!" Another three went sailing into the air, Serves you right! Shouted the robot voice in a sing-song voice, "You're like a golem!"

    "Simply because I am large and Jewish does not make me a golem, Young Warlord," Forge effortlessly moved whole swaths of individuals away from him in slow sweeps of his arm as he rebuked his ally with a calm, gravely voice that echoed from within the burning helmet, "Sibyl, how are you doing?"

    A short distance away, a large group of raging attackers floated into the air engulfed in an azure aura, "How do you think?" A young woman snapped, "If there were fewer people I could just cancel the hold Riotmaker has on them, but there are too many!" She floated above the group spilling into her location, they grabbed at her bare feet, and flowing robes that matched the aura's color, "If any of you look up my robes, you will have hell to pay," The magical woman said flatly. Sibyl made a quick series of hand signs and shouted a foreign phrase and a burst of azure light parted the crowds.

    A puff of black smoke and several flashes of light came from yet another area. In a quickened, feminine voice, "It's kind of fun, isn't it? Is that wrong? I'm sorry. Sorry! It is though. Kind of. Right?" A slender hooded figure in black stood upright on the shoulders of one of her attackers, "I mean it's like recess- I mean practice, right? Kind of? Sorry!" She leapt high in the air and displayed an incredible acrobatic ability, twisting in the air, nearly defying gravity, and threw several capsules, both white and black. Where the white ones fell, bright flashes of light stunned and where the black ones fell, thick smoke seemed to drug and drop the attackers, "I'm sorry! I'm so sorry! Please don't come any closer," She winced as she came down on top of her more enthusiastic assailants, kicking off his face like a spring board and launching back into the air.

    "Focus, Blackbird," Rising Sun called, still focusing on the man in the middle of the square of action, the cause of this unrest, "Just because they're non-metahumans doesn't mean that they aren't dangerous," The hand-to-hand master, his weapons of choice now fully engulfed in what did indeed look like flame from a mythical dragon, pushed off the twisted metal support cables with both feet, a burst of air behind him, the fighter was gone quicker than could be perceived by most, "Let's end this quickly!" He called to his team.

    Sibyl groaned and stated flatly under her own breath, "Gladly," She made a hand sign and floated forward.

    Forge grunted in affirmation as he waded through the crowd as if it were just water.

    "Coming!" Blackbird giggled and began running along the heads of her wouldbe attackers.

    Young Warlord shouted his approval loudest of all but seemed rather occupied, still dealing with his crowd.

    "Master Warlord, would you like a hand?" Asked the robotic voice with a tongue-in-cheek tone.

    "Your name is Semi-Autonomous Sidekick System, Sassy, what do you think!?" The boy berated his helper for joking at a time like this.

    "If you're going to be rude about it-" "

    "Just do it!"

    "Fine, but I want an apology later," The sound of thrusters send a boy flying into the air. The suit he wore was a bright yellow with large red fist-gauntlets and similarly red scarf around his neck and large boots, where there was now flames propelling him into the sky.

    The five Sentinels were upon Riotmaker in a moment who, though he still wore his twisted and toothy grin, was looking about with increasing anxiety, "Useless bloody citizens!" He lowered his fist and pivoted to face the leader of the group, "I'm gonna kill you, you bloody fasc-" Riotmaker's eyes grew wide as Rising Sun, who had been more than a stone's throw away just a moment ago was directly in front of him, the look in his eye... Always the same raw, determined look. A flaming fist crushed the villain's face, sending a piercing, blood, and teeth into the air along with their owner and directly into the power-armored fist from Young Warlord who twisted his body and, with a full windup, hammered the villain's face a for a second time with such force that it redirected the British troublemaker into the hands of the largest member, Forge. Without missing a beat, the giant bounced the skinny anarchist off the pavement with a hammerfist and then kicked him high, straight up into the air where Blackbird was waiting with a handful of white capsules. Riotmaker's face was struck with a magnificent, bright white blast that sent him screaming towards the pavement. Just before striking what would be a skeleton splintering blow, an azure light surrounded him.

    "Good catch, Sibyl," Rising Sun gave a thumbs up and a smile to the blue-robed witch who only sucked her teeth in response. The hero then turned to the crowd, "Citizens! Listen to me! You are safe now, the authorities are on the way. Please check on who is around you for anyone seriously injured and who will need medical attention first. I'm sorry this happened to you, but it's over now. The police will want reports from everyone, so please stay where you are. None of you are responsible for what has happened here or what you think you might have done. You were not yourselves, you were controlled by a sick villain with a warped sense of society. He will face justice and not bother you anymore!"

    With that, they were gone. All flying away or off in a jump. Todd stood, holding his hand which was in crippling pain. He had broken it... On a woman's face. Todd bent at the waist and was sick there on the pavement. Shaking as the sirens drew closer, he began to sob. He felt like a monster.

    -

    "What a loser. Wish I could've hit him more than once," Young Warlord jumped into the air and by the time he landed on the large couch in the common area of their base, his suit had removed itself and floated down with gentle thrust and then off down the hallway, "Hey, Sassy, make sure to buff out those scratches. One of those jerks dinged you real good!" There was a robotic 'hmph!' as it turned the corner, "What a diva," The boy groaned and looked around him on the couch, "Yo, anyone know where the remote is?" He sunk his hand in between the cushions. Blackbird had joined her ally in looking for the remote shortly thereafter.

    "You all did a good job today. I know it isn't easy when you have to hold back, but those civilians couldn't help it. Riotmaker has done this before, but not like this," Rising Sun stood with his large arms folded, a pondering frown on his face, "He's getting stronger,"

    Sibyl and Forge stood in a loose group with their leader. She spoke in a low voice, "It wouldn't be an issue except he keeps getting out," The witch floated just above the ground, her blue robes about. They seemed to hover around her figure instead of on her, like a planet orbiting the sun, "The prisons still aren't capable of holding people like him,"

    The mighty giant, Forge, spoke softly and encouragingly to his co-heroes, "There is still a learning curve. The facilities used to house metahumans must be secure, but also humane,"

    Sibyl flamed and gritted her teeth, "Don't talk to me about humane, those people are anything but," Her robes gusted outward and several mugs and plates were flung off the table behind her and shattered, quieting the room including Blackbird and Young Warlord over by the couch who had just been rejoicing over half a bag of chips they had found under the couch, "I'm going to meditate," Sibyl said flatly after a moment and floated down the hall the same way that Young Warlord's suit had gone.

    Rising Sun spoke after her, "If we need you we'll-"

    "Don't need me," She snapped back, a dent formed in the metal wall beside her, and she rounded the corner.

    "Do not be disheartened. She needs some time, young dragon master," Forge spoke to his leader who still gazed down the hall.

    "She's always so angry," The young man said.

    "I remember when you were angry," The voice behind the metal grate was naturally rough and deep, but it had a softness and consoling to it.

    The leader scoffed, "You didn't grow up being a pariah from both your White and your Asian sides of the family," There was a pause and then he closed his eyes, "I'm sorry, Forge, I didn't... I wasn't thinking. Forgive me,"

    "There is nothing to forgive," The large, rocky being spoke, unshaken. Forge was a second-generation Ethiopian Jew living with his parents in New York City at the time of The Violence. They had both been strung up from light poles coming home from the drug store for medicine for him, "We have all had our struggles,"

    "But you..." Rising Sun unfolded his arms and shifted uncomfortably. He reflected on his team.

    Dealing with Sibyl was, perhaps not easy, but straightforward. She blew up. She cooled off. Most of the time you got one-word answers, maybe a barbed response. She was well-read, capable, and hyper-independent to the point of being mistrusting of the group in the beginning. The witch had come around but was still remarkably aloof. Her earlier life, too, had been one of constant hurt and ostracism.

    Young Warlord was... On the one hand, he was a genius with an immeasurable IQ. On the other hand, he was indeed young, fifteen to be exact. And the technical intelligence that was his ability did not translate over to common sense or self-discipline. He was, like many boys his age, messy, rude, and lethargic unless he was in his robotics lab or gaming or, his favorite pastime, fighting. Cutting access to any one of those was enough to get through to him.

    Blackbird was much more selfless and amicable, but, being that she had only moved from Danubia (in Central Europe) a few years ago - there was a very bad and violent anti-A movement there and so her hand her parents had left - she was not used to the cultural norms, and did not understand many things about her fellow team: Sibyl's pantheonic religion, what a "Beta Israel" was, Young Warlord's long-winded tech talks, or even Rising Sun's practices. Even though she was always turned down, she invited every one of them to Mass every Friday, Easter, and Christmas. Rising Sun had gone once and felt immensely out of place, Blackbird's father, who refused to call her by her hero name and only by Bianka, had been insistent on sitting between his daughter and Rising Sun, who he would only refer to as Sarkany, which Blackbird later explained was something to the effect of "Dragon" though she refused to elaborate further.

    But Forge. Forge was an enigma. Though his appearance was the most intimidating of them all. Rising Sun recalled a time when Forge asked if he was trying to see his face beyond the iron grates and flames. He had not, but...

    About the same time as everyone else, I got the fever from Axiose. It hit me hard. Everything hurt, everything. My skin, my bones, my organs. It felt like I was burning up from the inside out. My skin got harder and dryer until it cracked and bled and Mama would burn her fingers rubbing balm onto my skin and scorch her lips kissing my forehead. Then, I cannot explain how, but one day the skin around my eyes and lips begin to simply burn off. As bad as it hurt, it must have looked so much worse, because Mama, who had looked at me with only sorrow and kindness until then looked at me with horror. She tried to hide it, bless her, until the day she died, but I could see it in her eyes. My skin, then my meat, then my bone went. I should have died I guess but who knows what that poison we all ate did to us. My body is a furnace now, burning up my soul a little all the time, and I guess every furnace needs a stovepipe, huh? So, no, you cannot see my face because there isn't one there. As far as I can tell, I don't have any organs either. I eat, but not like you. I put in a burger and it just burns up. I opt to eat normal food out there, in front of the people, as if it will make me look any more normal, but when I'm here, among friends, it is funny, I just prefer wood or coal because it will last longer.


    Forge had had the worst of it, of the condition brought on by Axiose. For the same reason that a chemical compound apparently gave Sibyl the ability to touch and manipulate without touching or even make people go to sleep by saying a few words in Ancient Greek, Forge's body had burned itself up until it was just a stone husk and a flame inside, he said it was his soul burning. The helmet, which was permanently fashioned to his neck and shoulders was one of his own design. It "gave people somewhere to look at" he would say. After all this though, with all these reasons to hate the world, he still held an even-keel, he was kind, gentle, and had a depth of what could only be considered sage wisdom. He was good.

    "Let's help them find that remote," Forge said, Rising Sun could hear the man's comforting 'smile' in his voice. The giant turned and faced Sibyl who had returned, from her room. Her presence was all the apology there would be for her outburst. There was a look on her face though...

    The three of them went to the couch where Blackbird and Young Warlord had since ravaged the bag of chips they had found from underneath. Their leader chuckled at the two youngest Sentinels, still digging in the couch, and went over to the TV, picking up the remote that sat next to it. The two young fighters looked at each other in horror. Rising Sun plopped down between them and laughed again, "That's awkward," He jabbed looking at one, then the other and switched on the television.

    As they watched, Sibyl spoke, "I felt one earlier. Out there today," She shifted, "I could tell there was an Alpha out there,"

    "Well duh," Young Warlord gestured, smacking his head, "We were fighting him. Y'know. Big red mohawk, made everyone go coo-coo?"

    "Not him, you petulant rat," She gnashed, but bit her lip, gathered her composure and carried on, "Not Riotmaker. I sensed another one. There were too many to tell exactly, but there was definitely one there,"

    Blackbird didn't break her gaze from the television, which she seemed enthralled in, "That part Highway 2 is a no A-type area,"

    "But unless they looked like me," Forge interjected, "The average person might not be able to tell,"

    They all sat quietly for a while until Rising Sun said, "We'll look into it later, but one problem at a time,"

    Sentinel Society: Genesis - Chapter 3: Late Bloomer, Part 1

    "Take your time, sir. I know this is a shock, but the more details you remember, the better," A police officer sat across from Todd, a recorder running on the table between them, the officer held a notebook and pen, "Just tell me what you remember,"

    "It... It just..." Todd couldn't look up, it was like a chain had connected the top of his head and his waist. He could only move his gaze from his lap to his belly. His hand, that he had beaten another victim with, was bandaged thoroughly, though blood showed through at the first two knuckles, "That guy did like a thing. He raised his hand- his fist- and it made me so angry. I don't mean like road rage angry or even find out your girlfriend is cheating on you angry, I mean... I wanted to kill her. I wanted to kill them,"

    "Who is 'her', sir? Who are 'they'?" After a few moments of Todd shaking a sniffling the cop continued, "Sir, you aren't in any trouble, the A's ability is to cause individuals to act violently, against their will. You aren't liable for anything you did, but I need you to be specific,"

    "I don't know who it was, okay?" He looked up, snotty and sniveling, frustrated. Todd had never felt so... Victimized, so violated. To have someone control your emotions. He had heard of people controlling minds but this was different. He had wanted to do what he did. Todd suppressed a gag at the thought of the lady's swollen, beaten face, "Just the woman next to me in traffic. We looked at each other and I hated her worse than I've ever hated anybody. I've never even been in a fight before, but I... She crawled on broken glass to get to me, and I don't know, I hit her and hit her and she wasn't awake anymore but I kept hitting her until her... Oh no," Todd retched and covered his slacks.

    "Great... Can we get a mop in here?" The cop called. She sighed and closed her notebook, "Thank you for your time, sir. If you have any further details, please call the precinct,"

    -

    Todd stood out on the street in front of the police station. A file of people out the door were still waiting to give their statements. Many of them were bloody, shaken, crying. Some were talking about what a hellhole Bay City had become, but others were just thankful for the Sentinel Society.

    The Sentinel Society...

    Todd had known about them, the West Coast's main A-law enforcement agency, y'know, the local hero team. They were the most famous west of the Rockies, though not outright celebrities like the East Coast crews in New York City or DC. He also knew that, with a greater A-population in Bay City and Alameda, it was more likely he would run into them, but it was still only a few thousand, if that, here that had... Powers. Most of those 'powers' were more mundane. But a small percentage, like that villain today and like the Sentinels, had really impressive abilities. Flight or lasers or whatever, those were the ones that drew all the attention. And they were the reason that As were all documented and segregated into communities like the one in northern Alameda. But... He hadn't been prepared for a clash of the titans.

    Todd's phone rang and it made his jump. Looking at the number didn't give him any relief at all. It was his work. His heart sank.

    "Hello? ... Yes ... Yes ... I was- Did you see on the news about ... No, I mean, yes, I mean, I was on the Bridge when ... Yes, sir. ... Yes, sir. ... No ... No, please, I don't- ... No ... No, sir ... No, that won't be necessary ... But, please, you don't understand, I moved all this way here to... Hello? Hello, sir?" The other line had been dropped. Todd held the phone for a moment and slowly his arm fell to the side. A-type stuff was just something that had to be accounted for out here. He was fired from Axiom Enterprises. Being jobless in one of the most expensive cities in the country wasn't an option... But what option did he have?
     
  2. RayCaptain

    RayCaptain Anti-Hero

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    Sentinel Society: Genesis - Chapter 3: Late Bloomer, Part 2 All Bad in Alameda

    The whole ride back to his apartment aboard the Alameda-Bay City Direct, known as the Alphabet, a Bay Area public transit, Todd, who had just been fired from his job for being late on account of a metahuman, known as 'A's or Alphas, known as Riotmaker, a radical anarchist type who caused people nearby to become filled with rage which the villain could then direct for his own insane purposes, on the Bay City Bridge that connects Bay City and Alameda, kept silent, staring at the stain on his slacks. His car had been pretty much destroyed during the incident, and things would have been a lot worse if the Sentinel Society - the West Coast and especially Bay City's premier hero team tasked with evening the field between non-metahuman police forces and metahuman criminal syndicates - had not intervened when they did. The wrecked car had been taken in as part of a massive data collect on the incident. This sort of thing wasn't rare in Bay City, the largest Alpha population, a refugee camp of sorts that had turned into a permanent settlement, existed in northern Alameda just across the Bay City Bridge. It tested the patience and acceptance of a populace renowned for being open-minded and eclectic, so the Sentinels served as much as a PR tool of the local politicians as anything else.

    Todd stepped off the Alphabet. It was just a few blocks away from his apartment. On the street corner stood a group of Alphas, it was clear by the shirts they wore which repped the defunct terrorist organization that was their namesake, and one wore a shirt with John Donovan, former CEO and wanted fugitive of Axiom Enterprises which had produced the food additive Axiose, a sugar substitute, that caused the initial outbreak of gene mutation that lead to a period of turmoil and geneticist conflict known as The Violence. That was five years ago.

    As he passed them, one jabbed, "Hey, Beta. Hear about the Bay City Bridge? Shame those gene traitors stepped in. We could've had ourselves a lot of fun today!" Todd felt sick but he knew better than to respond. He carried on without looking up as they berated and cussed him.

    Todd had no prospects. He had been an entry level research engineer at Axiom Enterprises, a glorified intern really, for only a few months. No one even knew his name, nor had they cared to. He wasn't even made privy to what they had been working on at the Bay City location. Before that, he had been a student at a prestigious college back east. He had gotten plenty of scholarships, but into plenty of student debt as well. Living on campus, he had not needed a car, which he had had to purchase when coming to Bay City, again with money he did not have. The only apartments that were even almost within his price range had been close to the northern part of Alameda. A street sign had been spray painted over "Welcome to A-Town". It was a bad neighborhood fraught with poverty, drugs, and, of course, Alpha gangs. The Alphas had chased off the regular gangs almost overnight, and had taken up right where they left off. There were fewer gunshots, because so many had mutations that made them more dangerous than a gun. There were plenty of outright explosions and lots of fresh blood every morning though. It was like war zone.

    With the feeble chain door lock secured - if you could call it that - behind him, Todd plopped down on his couch in his studio apartment. Everything in there was roached out from the sofa that was at least as old as he was to the bed that he swore was fabric stretched over car shocks instead of springs and the shower which... Honestly, he felt dirtier every time he showered in the murky, cold water that seeped out of the showerhead. It sent a chill up his spine to think about. With a sigh, Todd lifted himself from the wallowed out spot on the couch and shuffled his way to the refrigerator. Peering inside, it reminded him of an abstract painting. There was stuff there... Ketchup, sriracha, a jar with pickle juice in it, a few beer cans... But none of it really made any sense. There wasn't anything meaningful and no matter how many times he would look, it would always just leave him feeling let down and a bit queasy.

    He shut the door.

    Outside there was an explosion and some voices shouting. A little early to be starting isn't it? No. This was something different. It was closer than the usual turf war territories a few blocks north of here. Another explosion. Todd went to the door and just as he reached for the lock, an airburst from an explosion sent the cheap pressboard off its hinges. Todd and his door splinters fell back onto the couch.

    Right outside, on the street in front of his apartment, the three Alpha goons that had been giving him trouble were shouting. The one with the spiked head, who Todd could now see apparently could grow spikes at will, was flailing about. Another short, bald thug was spitting and where he spat exploded. A third, whose height was between the other two was just screaming and smacking at his own body. Todd squinted, his vision blurry from the blast still. There were small, black and gray lumps about the three of them, moving all over them. He blinked a few time and then his eyes grew wide in horror.

    Rats.

    Skeletal, red-eyed rats. They were skittering and biting and clawing, drawing blood and tearing meat all over the gangbangers. They were literally being eaten alive, and it sounded like it. Their screams were blood curdling, Todd's hair stood on end as he watched the medieval horror show he had unwittingly been made a front-row viewer of. No matter how many they smashed or spiked or exploded, there were more. It was like a spring but instead of water, rats came gushing forth in endless amounts. It was not long, but certainly long enough for Todd's mental and emotional well-being, that the three conceded to their wounds and fell into their respective piles of rats, sinking like a ship given into the waves of a turbulent sea. The rat piles writhed for a minute more and then streamed away from their victims towards one another in the middle. The group of rats began to scurry and skitter and clamber at the middle and grew up into a pillar, a form, a figure, a person. Before Todd's eyes, a being was standing, a man whose hair was long and black and beginning to mat. His eyes were sunken in and his face gaunt. There were some scratches and gouges here and there on the man, but he seemed no worse for wear except that he looked every bit the type of man that could turn into an endless horde of rats and then eat someone. He seemed to float beneath a ragged trenchcoat over the three cadavers.

    "So unnecessary," The rat-man's voice was raspy and put Todd's heart in his throat. The man flicked his red watery eyes to the door frame, "Ah, there you are," The horrible figure turned and Todd could better see his form. The man was long and lanky with bony fingers that ended in horrible, broken, and dirty nails. His teeth were jagged, as if they had been broken or crudely filed. He wore a series of belts overlapped and intertwined instead of a shirt or pants underneath his trench coat, "Tell me, what's your name?" Todd could only lay there covered in his door-turned-dust-and-splinters and gape at the man, "It's not polite to stare. Nor is it polite to ignore someone when they have asked you a question. What is your name? I won't ask again," Instead of walking, the man's feet became a infestation of rats that crawled and clambered over one another like waves crashing on a beach. It propelled him forward and up the stares.

    Todd could feel himself begin to hyperventilate. He grasped his chest. His heart was going to explode, he just knew it. There was a crash on the street, but beyond the field of view that Todd had through his door frame.

    "They got here a lot sooner than I expected. The fight with those Neanderthals didn't help I suppose," The man turned or rather, the group of rats beneath him rotated his body like a turntable.

    "Surrender now, Mischief, or we'll send you to the hospital before prison!" The sound of Rising Sun's voice was unmistakable.

    Mischief's face didn't change much, he simply knitted his brow, "It was self-defense. They jumped me, 3-on-1," His voice was monotone, "Glad to see you're doing well, Cassandra," The rat-villain added.

    "Keep my name out of your disgusting mouth, Mischief," Sibyl seethed. She chanted something in a foreign dialect and ground beneath Mischief began to glow, "Cannibalism is not self-defense!" The ground shifted but quicker than it could break away, Mischief had become his namesake, a mischief of rats, and poured off the stoop and into the street.

    "Don't let him escape, Y.W.!" Rising Sun commanded and the boy-genius and power armor suited, Young Warlord, responded with a barrage of miniature missiles. Rats splashed into the air and Todd was again reminded of a water scene, only more flea-infested and chittering.

    But most of the rats remained untouched, there were just too many, and they poured into a nearby sewer grate and it was over. Mischief, a villain who could turn into a horde of flesh-eating rats, had vanished.

    Todd, still on the couch, held his breath as he saw the large, young man in a karategi and headband walk up what was left of his steps, "Citizen, are you okay? Are you injured? I am Rising Sun, leader of the Sentinel Society, and-"

    "Sun," Sibyl interrupted, she was floating behind her teammate, her dark blue robes orbited her body, "It's him. It's the Alpha from the Bridge," The others were gazing at him soon thereafter from the entryway, neither side making a move.

    Sentinel Society: Genesis - Chapter 3: Late Bloomer, Part 3 Hell and High Water

    Todd went quietly, distressed, but quietly with the Sentinels back to the interrogation room at the Sentinel's base, a bunker underneath a conspicuous shield-stylized building on an island in the Bay. Sentinel HQ was popular with tourist boat trips, but one could not get close without Young Warlord's defense system sending up warning flares and alerting the crew wherever they were. It was also a legal offense per city city ordinance and so very few tried to get close but the occasional daredevil who was always sent hightailing by beanbag auto-turrets and water cannons.

    In the room, Todd couldn't process the day. It had started by being late to work, then an Alpha villain attack, throwing up on his trousers, another Alpha villain attack, watching some Alphas get gnawed on by rats, and then being abducted by heroes.

    "We ran your bioscan and it came back negative for Metahuman Registration," The leader of the Sentinels was plenty intimidating. His gaze had a sharpness, an intensity. It wasn't violent or overly aggressive, but it bore a hole right through Todd. He wanted to give this hero a reason for why but...

    "I'm... I'm not," Todd swallowed hard as Rising Sun's eyes narrowed, "An A,"

    "There's no reason to lie. Unless you're hiding something," The young man wearing the karategi approached, "We know you were at the Bridge incident with Riotmaker and we found Mischief being an invited guest into your house,"

    "I didn't invite him!" Todd exclaimed, he felt like he was ready to break down again.

    Rising Sun's hands glowed and he brought them palms down onto the table, it gave and fell in two, "Then tell me why he was there!", The recently unemployed fell out of his chair and crabwalked awkwardly away, looking up, he could see the powerful red aura swelling around the man they called Rising Sun,

    "Mr. Sun, please I'm... Oh my God," Todd felt his back literally against the wall, he flung his hands out in front of him and... Rising Sun, who had every bit of a hundred pounds on Todd, flinched, lifting his fists in a guard. There was a long moment of tense silence and confusion between the two.

    "What is it you do, Todd?" The martial artist asked.

    "I uh... I am a research engineer- was a research engineer at Axiom- well, I was an intern anyway,"

    "Your ability, you're an Alpha, what do you do?!" Sun's flames grew more opaque and more intense, his veins bulged and his muscles twitched, "Sibyl can sense Alphas. What. Do. You. Do!?:

    The door opened. Sibyl herself floated in, the tips of her toes just above the floor, and Forge behind her, his figure took up the entire doorway it seemed. Todd could see Young Warlord and Blackbird haunting the entryway too just beyond the portal.

    "He's big," Todd muttered slackjawed, gazing up at the mountain of a man, a monster. Forge's skin was an unearthly slate gray and his structure was more like crudely chiseled stone than real skin. And atop his neck was not a head, but a helmet that looked like a furnace with an iron grate that one could view the flames just beyond. Staring into it was extraordinary, it was downright otherworldly.

    Young Justice snickered and called from beyond the entryway, "And you wouldn't like him when he's angry either, so just fess up, jerk!" This elicited quite the guffaw from Blackbird and the two bumped fists.

    This was all too much for the young wouldbe scientist. His life had been ruined this day. He should've gone back to his father's pharmacy back east...

    A shrill alarm sounded and the lights began to blink red.

    "Intruder. I somehow doubt it's some kids this time," Rising Sun clenched his fists hard and glared at Todd, "And I doubt you're innocent in this, huh," He didn't wait for the man to protest, not that the accused could've mustered the resolve to anyhow.

    Sibyl made a hand gesture and Todd's arms were twisted painfully behind his back by an azure aura, "If he moves, Blackbird, don't hold back. We don't know what he's capable of," The witch raised a thin eyebrow and looked the captive over. She seemed to want to say something else but a distant rumble, an explosion, drew them away.

    -

    Rising Sun, Sibyl, Forge, and Young Warlord emerged from a secret entrance to their bunker and looked upon their assailant. Walls of water rose high above the island like a bowl and among them was a man in a man in old looking garb, his beard was long and gray and his face craggy; he wore a faded and tattered admiral-esque uniform. The man glared at the four, one eye blue and the other milky but shining, a raised eyepatch above it, "Sentinels! So glad you could make it out to see this old man!" The sailor held a chain in one hand which slipped beneath the standstill waves. He gave it a tug and the chain was sent towards the four and, with a splash, and anchor on the end erupted from the water and hurdled with immense force towards them. They avoided easily enough as the anchor came crashing down and sent earth erupting into the air, "Don't make this more difficult than it need be. Just give me the boy and there be no quarrel between us!"

    "You're getting too old for this sort of thing, Armada," Rising Sun's fist glowed and he through a punch, sending a red blast towards the foe.

    "Admiral Armada to ye, ye dog," The Admiral unsheathed his sword with his free hand and easily deflected the blast, "And ye should beware old men in professions where men oft die young. So the saying goes,"

    "Dude, is that barnacles on your face or are you just that crusty?" Young Warlord mocked and sent a flurry of rockets from his pauldrons that sidewinded and twisted in hectic patterns, "Suck missiles, jerk!" Sassy, Young Warlord's advanced AI system that helped operate his suit called, "That's my line, jerk!" The boy fussed.

    Admiral Armada took the distraction to pull his chain with anchor connected, dislodging the great hunk of metal and sending it towards him and him towards it, past the missile barrage which all collided on the location he was but a moment ago and sent a spray of bay water into the air. The anchor struck Young Warlord in the back, catching him in one of its hooks and pulled the young fighter towards the point of the villain's jagged blade. Simultaneously, Forge and Sibyl arrived at the fray, the witch facing the Admiral and Forge facing the other direction. Sibyl presented her palms and Admiral Armada's cutlass struck a forcefield which Forge placed his feet against and with his great strength brought the anchor to immediate halt, "Please pay attention, Young Warlord. Admiral Armada is right. He didn't get old for lack of cunning,"

    The Admiral wrapped the anchor around his wrist, freeing his hand, and from his jacket brought about three bombs, their wicks already burning short. He pushed off the forcefield and threw them into the sky above the three. Forge twisted midair and from the grate where his face should be, a jet of flame roared out and consumed the bombs in a fiery and forceful explosion that was still forceful enough to send the three plummeting to the ground, though Sibyl gave a series of hand signs and shouted in her ancient dialect and the three stopped just short of the ground.

    "Clever witchcraft, wench, but try and stop this!" The group of four looked up together to find that one part of the water encirclement had dipped to reveal the Admiral's ship, the Black Heart, at the ready. A full broadside sent dozens of explosive shells screaming towards the group. Everyone gave it their all, blasts from Sun's fists went out at a rapidfire, Sibyl's hands appeared almost spastic, Young Warlord's missiles filled the air, and Forge's inferno blast was much wider than before. When the dust settled, the Sentinels had survived the full broadside, but Admiral Armada was aboard his ship laughing heartily. The four stared until they saw what the villainous pirate was laughing about and they all gasped. The suspected unregistered Alpha, Todd, was aboard the ship. Though he looked none too happy about it nor did he appear to be an honored guest as he was roped to the mast. The Sentinels prepared to go after him, it would not be a hard task to catch the large sailboat, though Black Heart was, when the Admiral was aboard it, faster than most any vessel in the sea because he could channel what he called the Four Corners Wind, the same ability that could let him practically fly and control water; it was not water that he controlled, but wind, and it was wind that controlled the sea, "And what of yer precious dove, Sentinels? I am curious if she has given her swan song," The four collectively gasped.

    Blackbird.

    Below in the interrogation room it was obvious there had been a knock-down, drag-out fight. The thick metal walls of hallway leading to the interrogation room and the room were sliced cleanly through all over. The walls, the floor, the ceiling. Something had cut through them like scissors with paper.

    A groan of pain came from underneath the broken table and the four friends found Blackbird, her body cut to cleanly with deep gashes and many other smaller cuts all over,"He... He was so fast..." She coughed and winced in pain, "Nothing... Smoke and flashes... Didn't have..." The young woman exhaled and went limp. Sibyl and Forge stooped to her as Rising Sun and Young Warlord could only look on in horror at the state of their broken friend. Whoever had done this was no amateur. Only Rising Sun was faster that Blackbird and her close-range combat ability was not a trifling thing, she was a difficult sparring partner even at her young age even for the likes of a martial-arts master like Sun or a behemoth like Forge. For her to speak of someone else's speed...

    "She's alive, but she won't be for long if we don't get her help. Damien, get the medroom prepared. We need to stabilize her now," Sibyl never used Young Warlord's real name. No one did. He always made a big fuss about it and would be ready to throw down with anyone who dared. But he didn't fuss or fight. Y.W. moved with a sense of urgency to the medroom which seemed painfully far away as Forge brought the wounded Blackbird in behind.

    "Hang on, Bianka, Y.W. is going to get you all patched up," Forge spoke soothingly and laid her with his signature surprising gentleness onto a table with upturned sides.

    Young Warlord poked away hurriedly at a touchpad connected to it until the machine whirred to life and beams of light shined between the upturned walls. They seemingly mapped out the body of its occupant and a flash of green light enveloped Blackbirds body. She began to float within it.

    "Stasis complete," Sassy's voice chimed, "Beginning bio-restorative process,"

    "It'll take a few days, but she'll be okay," Young Warlord stared at his friend whose deep gashes were being mended by nanobots in the green light but slowly enough that one would not see in real-time. There was none of the usual spunk or spark in his voice.

    Sibyl placed a hand on the boys shoulder, "Shell be okay... Because of you," It was a major rarity that the cold and aloof Sibyl would ever console someone, especially Y.W. who she was usually loathe to share the same oxygen in a room.

    "I don't think that anyone will be coming back. Whoever is responsible for this was after that Todd guy, not us. But I won't risk anything else happening to Blackbird," Rising Sun paused and stared at Blackbird whose frame looked so fragile now when he had only really ever seen a sweet and sometimes airheaded but tough and reliable partner. He clenched his fist and his teeth. Through his teeth he seethed, "We make them pay. But Young Warlord, stay behind and monitor," The power-armor boy made a sound to protest, wanting to go and take revenge for what had been done under their own roof, but Sun kept on, "None of us can make heads or tails of these machines and if someone does come back," He turned to meet Young Warlord's gaze, "There's no one better to put between her and a threat. I know you'll protect her,"

    The boy in the yellow power-armor clenched his jaw, turning it upright slightly, and nodded. He pounded one red gauntlet into another, "I'll pound those jerks to dust if they come back,"

    Rising Sun nodded as well and turned to his two remaining allies, "We won't be able to catch Admiral Armada. Not right away at least. But the Black Heart is not a small boat and the Sentinel Satellite is always watching Bay City. Let's go find out where that salty old man is headed with his human cargo,"

    -

    Admiral Armada towered over the young man he had captured and tied to the mast, "Diversion worked like a charm. Knew those landlubbers couldn't help but turn up when I started wrecking their little spit of land," A shadowy figure haunted the portal to the captain's quarters, "What I don't know is why they want a pipsqueak like you," The Admiral turned his head slightly and narrowed his eyes towards the shadowy figure, "Or why in all of Davy Jone's locker I'd be made to work with someone the likes of you,"

    "Land ho'!" A cry came from the crow's nest and the Admiral spat on the deck dismissively towards the unknown figure who had not moved or responded.

    The Admiral walked up the steps and to the wheel where he peered past the mast and at the cove which they approached. This landing was on the outskirts of the Bay Area, up the coast a ways away from Bay City, "But those pesky Sentinels meddle in a lot more than just that crap hole," The cove was all sheer rockface on three sides but Admiral Armada sailed his pride and joy the Black Heart right towards a particularly rocky region of the water. As they approached, the rocks shifted away and to the side and the cliff face itself spread apart. The ship's captain rolled his eyes at the display.

    Todd was blackbagged the whole way and so could no see, but not being tied up on a boat was nice. He had been sea-sick the whole way and now had several more stains on his trousers. The men walking him were forceful and smelled of fish guts and rum, "Keep yer legs about ye, boy, keep up now!" The Admiral shoved Todd and he stumbled forward, quickening his pace and keeping an acceptable pace as best he could. The last thing he wanted was to upset his captors... Who exactly were his captors? They talked and smelled like... Like pirates from a movie or something. Were they Alphas? They had to be to take on the Sentinels he guessed, at least the captain. But it had not been the captain or any of his crew that had come down for him below and it had not been the captain he had seen through his fingers batter Blackbird. Who had he seen? It had all happened so fast. He saw blurs of dull reds and flashes of metal before one of Blackbird's flash capsules had dazed and blinded Todd for the duration of the fight which had only lasted a few second.

    He remembered the sounds though... It was coming back to him. The sound of growls and animal shrieks. Nah, no animal shrieked like that. Not that he had heard. But it panted and plenty and smelled like a rotting carcass so maybe it was some animal-hybrid thing, some Alpha that had razor-sharp claws and a wolf head or nails like a velociraptor. His mind was running wild with wild and zany images of chimera-like creatures. Fangs too big for mouths, a bushy tail, great big eyes... During the fight, that started in the hallway and almost instantly moved into the room, over the shrieks and growls and panting had been the sound of metal-on-metal, claws or blades cutting the air and cutting the facility around Todd. It had all happened so fast...

    A door opened and the bag was removed from Todd's head. The light stung his eyes for a moment but they soon adjusted to what looked like a first class study. He had seen something similar when he went to a fraternity brother's father's house who had a walk-in humidor full of cigars and a fully functioning bar with some of the world's most expensive liqueurs in it, not to mention a library that rivaled the college's own and in many ways surpassed it. First editions, leather bound, out of prints... The room smelled similar too. It was heavy with stale cigar smoke and leather, but underneath all that was a sickening and a scent that was becoming all too familiar as well. Blood. Fortunately, it smelled old too. Between him and the furthest wall was an ornate desk with filigree designs and a plush leather chair turned away towards a window. Thick cigar smoke billowed from the other side.

    "Todd!" The voice was enthusiastic but... Somehow... There was an underlying sinister tone that made Todd's blood run cold, "So good to see you," The chair turned and in it sat giant of a man. A man that Todd recognized but only distantly, "I used a lot of resources to get you in here, boy," He spoke with his hand and ash fell onto his suit. He didn't seem to care, "But you know what they say, gotta spend it to make it, am I right, Todd?" He gave a fat chuckle and placed his palms on the table. That is when Todd noticed, among the many rings, one which was imprinted with the stylized AE, Axiom Enterprise's logo.

    "You're..."

    "John Donovan! CEO of Axiom Enterprises! Pleased to make your acquaintance Todd!" John stood and his size, which Todd did not recall being remarkable five years ago, was immense. And Todd certainly wasn't about to remark on Mr. Donovan being a former CEO, "You and me got something very important to discuss, boy. You got something that I wanna acquire and I do declare I'ma make you an offer you would be a damn fool to refuse!" He grinned and removed the cigar from his mouth, crushing the still smoldering head into his open palm, not even the slightest change in expression, "I want to know what you know about-" John dropped the cigar to the floor and Todd could see that the burning ember had not left even a singe, "-The metagene ability known as... Infinite Potential,"