The Drop-Off Location: Sector 7, Spamopolis, United Republic of the New Fantasy Forum (NFF) Time: ~2:00AM 72 Hours Before Initial Contact "Yo, you got the good, son?" In the filthy and crime-stricken back alleys of Sector 7, known better as the Gang District, Spamopolis's devil-spawn, or simply "7", two medium sized and heavily armed groups face each other under a neon sign flickering the word "Booze". The two groups are part of Sector 7's deep rooted crime syndicates. This scene is a common one; a long-standing tradition of simple, yet tense, trade offs between groups. These groups are as diverse as they are ruthless, but all of them are under the control of one corrupt, well-to-do family or another. "Yo, I said do you got them goods?" A tall, scrawny man with a black ski-mask on and a bulletproof vest calls out to the other side. He stands straight, an assault rifle resting across his vest, his hand is obviously prosthetic. From the other side, a young man steps forward, his face covered with a dirty bandana, one of his eyes is clearly augmented, probably to increase accuracy when gunning down someone. A machine pistol is gripped in one hand and a suitcase in the other, "I got'chu. Now show me that money 'for I slide this 'cross." For a long moment, the group is tense. The air about them is cold and stinks of garbage, flakes of snow are floating down from the sky, flashing green as the neon sign flickers. The two sides have done this countless times before, with countless other groups just as heavily armed as the other, but, tonight, it is different. Something feels off... The ski-masked criminal waves a finger back at his group, and another stepped forward, a medium sized bag in his hand. It was all here... The money... The goods... The gangs... What was out of the ordinary here in Sector 7? Two vans rolled up, quietly, lights dimmed, on either side of the alley. The windows, blacked out. Neither side really noticed at first, too engrossed on the current drop-off and the gut feeling of dread they had. When they did notice, it was far too late. The van doors opened and the groups were caught in a hail of gunfire. "You set us up, you son of b-" The small, bandana wearing man's body jerked a few times as bullets passed through his head and chest and back before he fell limp to the ground. Both machine pistol and the mysterious case fell to the ground, in melting, grimy snow, snow that was now starting to mix with blood. Seemingly endless, the spray of bullets from the van caught nearly everyone, but a few thugs managed to scurry behind cover. The man with the ski-mask made it inside a large trash bin, he was bleeding from his shoulder and calf. Breathing heavily, and almost tearing up from the burning sensation and terror of imminent death, the man pulled a walkie-talkie from his pants. "Mam! W-we got jumped! We're g-getting t-tore up out here!" The man waited a moment for a response, but heard nothing but crying static, "Mrs. C-...Mrs. Blue? Blue? Are you there? Boss, you gotta do somthin' for I die out here!" As the man pleaded futilely with the small machine in his hand, it occurred to him that the gunfire outside his safe-haven had ceased. Ice formed on the spine as heavy footsteps approached in the otherwise silent night. The footsteps stopped... A rustling sound... More footsteps... Stop... More rustling. They were checking bodies the hiding man figured as he clenched his assault rifle close to his body, his hands shaking as the footsteps grew ever closer. However, the footsteps, after another bit of rustling, horridly left the scene... Van doors shut, engines roared to life, and vehicles sped away. He had just dodged the greatest bullet in his life. The man laughed to himself nervously and cleared his throat. He had not really been scared, just caught off guard. Yeah. That was it! Wait until he told the story about how he fended off a bunch of thugs from two gangs as they both jumped him... And while he was just minding his own business too! The ski-masked thug laughed a little more and flung open the trash bin lid. At that moment, his eyes caught those of the figure that was, all this time, standing in front of the bin. A thin being, very thin... Chrome colored all over except for the eyes... One red, the other just a dim light. An open trench coat was the only clothing on the being. "An android?" The thug muttered under his breath, his last breath. The machine lunged forward and quickly ended one more life with a quick twist of the neck. The thug's head had turned a full 180, now facing behind him. He dropped back into the bin as the android moved away into the darkness, suitcase in hand... Bloody, dirty slush and bodies filled the alleyway, about twenty in all. All were shot to death or had their neck snapped. And there, under the flashing neon "Booze" sign, is where our story begins. Welcome to the Family Location: Time: 8:10AM 16 Hours Before Contact "Welcome to the family!" Called the drill master to four rows of six. Both men and women were in this group, all buzzed heads and in muddy jumpsuits, "You are now Defenders of this great republic of ours! Congratulations on not dying!" He paused for a moment. For a year and a half, he had drilled these men and women, six hundred to begin with, now but twenty-four, a slightly larger-than-usual group, and now, after giving them hell... "I would like to say, ladies and gentlemen, I respect each and every one of you," The drill master saluted and the newest members of the Defenders saluted back. "Thank you, sir!" They all shouted in unison. The last 548 days had been a slow, miserable flurry of blood, sweat, and tears. Nothing was quite like the training it took to enter into the Defenders, still, it was open to everyone. The drill master yelled out one last command, "Now! Get out of my sight and go serve your Republic!" He waved vigorously, with the energy he had had every single day for a year and a half, "Go! Go! Go!" The recruits began to file out, and, as they left, the drill master called again, "Private Michaels!" One of the recruits broke formation and jogged back over, "Sir, yes sir!?" The young man, Michaels, Kyte "Tomahawk" Michaels, was not quite six foot and had just recently broke 160 pounds with all the muscle he had put on, not a terribly intimidating being, but... "At ease Private," The young man rested, "You have... Caught some attention, Private Michaels," A look of concern crossed the Defender's face, "Sir, did I do something wrong?" The drill master smirked as he saw a pair of figures, whom had just entered the door, stand by the wall. Kyte, noticing the drill master's eyes shift, took a glance behind him and, after seeing the two figures, was beginning to seriously sweat it, "Sir! I swear I did not cheat on the final exam! I know we weren't supposed to talk at all, but Romo's pen ran out of ink so I let him have one of mine and-" "You're in no trouble son, calm down. You're in no trouble, much the opposite, Michaels," The drill master was showing a half-smile now, something never experienced before this point in time by any of the recruits, much less Michaels who had quite a history of trouble-making. "We'll take it from here Fredrick," Said the larger of the figures, in fact, much larger... "You see, Kyte, your test scores, your physical ability, and your... other abilities make you a prime candidate for the Defenders," The large figure approached. He was nearly seven feet tall with all sorts of prosthetics. Both arms, from what Michaels could tell, had military-grade augments to them; as were both of his eyes. Kyte looked on, god smacked, at the situation, "But... Sir, I am already in the Defenders. That's what I was doing for the past year," The giant laughed, his grizzled face was not clean shaven, his hair salt-and-pepper, "No no, I don't mean foot soldier. Not out there cycling in street-level thugs... We're here from to make you a her-" "Sergeant! That is quite enough!" The large man flinched at the female voice, the other figure now approached, "You run off at the mouth worse and worse every time," The woman was fierce looking, and still... So delicate looking, "No more questions Michaels, you come with us now," She was of average size for a woman, slim, and pretty. Indigo eyes and hair, not particularly strange for Spamopolis where hair, eyes, skin could come in any hue. Michaels found himself more intimidated by the lady than either the drill master or the giant, who both were now dead silent. But... As usual, the Private faced his fear with absolute defiance, "And what if I don't go with you?" He took it a step further, "Just because you're a 'hero' doesn't mean you can come in here and scare me into coming with you," The silence that followed choked everyone in the room, the strangling sensation seemed to come from the bright indigo eyes of the lady. She did not speak a word, made no effort to retaliate or retort, yet it was oh so obvious she had already won this little spit. The giant "Sergeant" stepped to the side slightly and diverted his gaze, as did the drill master. It was at this point that the direness of the situation set in Michaels. He had just challenged one of the most powerful departments of the Republic. Not to mention that it was at the same moment he noted the MP5 at the lady's side. The young man feared he would die... or worse. The lady finally broke the silence, maintaining her furious aura, "That is why we want you. You're not under the system's thumb..." A moment to digest what was just said, "Please, come with us." Michaels agreed, thankful he was still lead-free. The giant, Michaels and the lady with the indigo hair all slid into the back of a dark humvee, in that order, that was waiting outside. The driver, an android, sped away towards the Spamopolis Defenders Department HQ. Location: Spamopolis Defenders Department HQ, Outer Capital District, Spamopolis, NFF Time: 12:33AM 12 Hours Before Contact The Spamopolis Defenders Department HQ was set up in floors one hundred and fifty through the top on the NFF Defense Building, a nearly three-hundred story skyscraper, once the tallest in all of NFF, and was by far one of the most funded projects in all of the Republic. However, do not let the history books give you the wrong, the Defenders were no longer just an elite, tight-knit crew of heroes. The Defenders now included everything from street cops to the romanticized "heroes" of this day and age to the countless lobbyists and big business men who had turned the group into more of a political tool than actual heroes... But that is a touchy subject. Anyway, while it was no longer the fantasy league of heroes it once was, and no longer was as difficult to join, the Spamopolis Defenders still had their elite group of heroes that kept to a certain... code of sorts... And was just as difficult to become one of as ever. This particular team was very controversial. On paper, they did not exist. The government denied their very existence; however, anyone not completely brainwashed by the Republic News Broadcast was fully aware that there was some sort of black operation police force. Many called them heroes, or, as close to hero as possible these days. Others deemed them as a kill team, sent out to silence anyone who tried to act against the government. The truth... If there is such a thing anymore, was somewhere in between these two, blurred by personal agendas and regulations and rules and codes... The black humvee stopped outside and two heavily armed guards in full body-armor opened the door and escorted Michaels into the building, the two others in the vehicle followed closely. The building was grand, the floor was so shiny and waxed, you could see yourself like a mirror, the ceiling of the main lobby was very high with a mural of the NFF's history painted. From the Liberation of Spamopolis from the Empire of the Crescent to the installation of the HQ itself was painted in great quality. Armed guards, probably androids, stood like statues in certain areas, boasting the newest and most advanced weaponry to date. Truly, this was a fortress of technological success. A robot greeter, made to look like a secretary greeted the five, "Go on ahead, the General is expecting you," The greeter, who had about twenty others that looked exactly like her, stepped back and motioned towards an elevator that pinged open at that moment. General? Kyte thought as he moved towards the open elevator door at a swift pace, trying to keep ahead of the armed guards, Would that be- "One and the same," The indigo haired woman, apparently a Major, spoke, "Oh... By the way, all cerebral activity is monitored here, remember that chip they put the back of your head? Yeah. We hear you think," The Private shivered as he entered the elevator and another bot, who was made to resemble an elevator operator, with a dorky suit and everything, spoke in a slightly cybernetic voice, "Which floor, miss?" "Boss's room, Evi," The woman spoke. Three hundred floors never passed so slowly for Michaels... Ding! The sound shook Michaels from his trance, "We're here!" Said the elevator operator, 'Evi'. The doors slid open to reveal a circular room with dark wood walls and a red carpet floor. The back of the circle room was all window and, right in the back was a large chair, the back turned to the elevator. "General, we have the target," Called the woman, saluting. The giant and two guards saluted as well after stepping out. The recruit's heart, which had been racing on and off all day, felt like it was going to explode. His arms went numb and his legs, like jelly. "Good, good... Been waiting a long time to meet you, Mister Kyte Michaels. I've heard a lot about you," The chair swiveled around at once to reveal a bald, weathered man. It was really amazing just how bald he was... Shiny from the light shining in through the window at this time of day. His face sported a goatee, dark brown, almost as dark as his skin. A deep red overcoat with many gold buttons rested regally on his large form, medals and the sort dangled from the decorative chest piece. He had white gloves on his folded hands and a large smile on his face, "General Bastion, good to meet you, son," Michaels stood, mouth agape for a few moments before collecting his senses and saluting and, as loudly as he could shouted, "Private Michaels of the United Republic of the New Fantasy Forum reporting for duty, sir!" The general blinked a few times, his face melted into a large smile, "Yup, he's fresh from the drill master's ass-kicking... How is he doing by the way Zeke?" The giant spoke calmly, "Drill master is just as mean as when you first put him there, sir. Though I must say, all that yelling has his face all wrinkled," "You're one to talk about wrinkles, Sergeant. Every time I see you, I swear you get another," The two had a good laugh and the General returned his attention to Michaels, "Alright, official rundown. Kyte 'Tomahawk' Michaels, five foot nine-" "Ten..." Michaels said under his breath... Height, a touchy subject. "One hundred and sixty-two pounds and three ounces, brown eyes, brown hair, basic military augments: heart, lungs, and cranium. Two private augments in right forearm and bicep... Got those from a fight back in your home sector right? Sector 7? Oh no wait, you reported it was a motorcycle wreck, right right. Son, I'm not going to lie, you scored the highest in anti-cyber terrorism of any recruit since Amanda there-oh, excuse me, Major Tao, she doesn't like to be called by her first name," This caused Michaels to shoot Amanda a look and, in return, he received daggers, "You're being assigned to the Heroes squad, ever heard of them? Course you have, everyone has except the government it seems... But anyway, welcome, your first mission is in thirty minutes, get him suited up," The young Private was left spinning, "But... Sir?" "Oh, and don't forget to adjust his cerebral chip to allow him to communicate with the team. Did you know, after you're adjusted, not only can we keep our eye on you, but you can communicate whenever you want. All you have to do is mentally activate your chip... Interesting huh?" Kyte frowned, "So... You can't hear my thoughts?" General Bastion laughed again, "You don't really buy into that propaganda, do you? Imagine, if we heard everyone who had a brain chip. Ha! The thought of it... No son, we can't hear you," "But then how..." Kyte looked over to the Major, who had, what appeared to be... The faintest of smirks. "There is no time to waste, get him suited up. You all are headed to Sector 7. This will be a routine run. Report says two gangs blew each other away. We're not sure over what, but we found a very large sum of money on one of the bodies. However, there was no evidence of what that money was supposed to buy. So, either the other crew skipped out on bringing what they were supposed to bring, or someone took off with it but left the cash. It's up to you all to figure out what happened... Oh, and, one last thing... I hope you have a strong stomach," Bastion laughed and turned back around to facing the window. "Yes sir!" Everyone saluted. Let the Revolution Begin Location: Sector 7, Spamopolis, NRR Time: 11:07PM 1 Hour Before Contact A convoy of three black humvees road speedily into hostile gang territory. In them was the NFF Defenders, three Heroes and the rest was backup, muscle really... Androids mainly. It was dark now, gang activity usually went full-throttle right at dusk but, with the Defenders near, it would be a safe night... Well, safe-ish. Everyone was on their best behavior whenever the blacked out humvees rolled into town... But... There was talk. That this was more than an investigation, but a cover-up. Many locals were at least somewhat suspicious that the Defenders, under the orders of the brass, had lived up to their kill team legacy. Inside the first humvee were the three heroes, Major Amanda Tao, Seargent Ezekial Gaunt, and Private Kyte Michaels. This was to be his test run, his rookie hazing almost... No one ever realized how deep this case would go. Major Tao briefed everyone as they road through town, "Right, this is standard procedure. Gang activity, bunch of dead gang bangers, no big loss in the end. The thing is, there are some names tied to these particular gangs... Big names. So, we're here to poke around for evidence to see what exactly happened and why. Got it? Cake walk," Everyone confirmed that they were on board just as they arrived. "Oh God... What is that smell?" Zeke was the first to vocalize what everyone had just caught wind of. "That's standard Sector 7 reaction time. These bodies are estimated to have sat for a few days in this crap," The Major said bluntly as she hopped out, armed with a small sub-machinegun and a detective tool, a helpful device that identified blood, gun powder, etc. Kyte covered his face with a rag to try and keep out the smell of decay and death, but it was no use. He had only managed to get a few feet away from the vehicle when he spewed across the already grimy slush. The area was lit up by spotlights on the humvees which did the trick just fine, making that alley look like it was noon. "That's a twelve-pack," Zeke chuckled, "If you puke, you buy the beer, got it? Failure to comply is treason against the Republic," The Tao snapped "Treason is no joke," "Neither is not having beer, Major," The giant said as he neared the scene... It was gruesome, a mass of bodies all about the alley, maggots, the works. It was one of those things some just never got used to, "Alright... Start looking," Major Tao said with a sigh, "Zeke, come here..." She added after everyone had began using their detective tool about the bodies, gagging and coughing and swearing as they did. The big man rubbed his beard and groaned, "Look, if this is about the treason thing or the beer, I really won't make the kid buy it, I mean-" "It isn't that, hush," She walked to the end of the alley where they were out of ear shot, "Activate your Cerebral chip, I want a private chat..." "What is it Amanda? You never pull me into this unless something is up..." Zeke turned and leaned against the wall. He really did tower over his ranking officer by more than a full foot. "This job. Something is wrong... We are an anti-terrorist, secret operations force of the highest caliber. Why are we playing CSI? This isn't just a 'test run' either, for the newbie I mean. Hell, I didn't get my first mission until six months after joining." Tao looked back at Michaels. She liked the kid ok, he was witty and smartellic, he had guts and heart for sure but... "Jeeze Major, if I didn't know better, I'd say you were jealous of the new talent. Don't worry, you won't be retired just yet." He laughed quietly. Tao frowned and glared at the Sergeant "I'm serious, Bastion isn't telling us everything, there is something wrong here. Didn't you notice the bag of money? Why didn't any survivors take it? And did you see how some of these boys died? Their head turned all the way around or... Even taken off... Ezekial, I think there were androids involved." She bit her lip and rubbed her arm, it was chilly out, even now. Spamopolis was always cold from October until mid-Spring... It seemed to get colder every year. "Androids? Major, are you serious? You know that only the government and military has access to anything but service bots and the 'pleasure' androids." He looked over amongst the androids doing what they had been ordered. They looked just like a human, save the fact they had a sort of stiff-movement about them and their eyes lacked the life of a human. "Tell me, when was the last time you could face a hail of bullets from two gangs and kill them up close an personal? These gang bangers didn't kill each other, there is a third party involved... I'm sure of it. Zeke, what if- "Major! We found something!," Michaels called as he peered into a dumpster bin, "This guy has a walkie-talkie, maybe if we could backtrack the signal, we could get something?" Two androids reached over and lifted the decaying man, whose face was covered by a ski-mask, from the dumpster. Michaels retrieved the walkie-talkie and brought it to the Major. She took it and pulled a wire from her wrist and plugged it into the machine. Michaels hadn't realized the Major had any augments, much less hacker-styled cybernetic augs, "Doubt we'll get anything Private, whoever was on the other end probably ended the transmission a long time ago, but, maybe, we will be able to decode what was said..." "How can you do that?" The Private had never thought it possible to retrieve something that had been said and not properly recorded. "Complicated trick I learned over the years," She stood for a minute, data running over her eyes... Her eyes were false too. Kyte was surprised how realistic they looked, no scars, no oddities, no nothing. Someone spent a lot of money making her look as normal as possible, "I got something... Mrs. Blue. Run a scan over any files we have for that name," Just as one of the androids acknowledged the order, it stopped... In fact, all of the androids stopped right in their tracks. Eyes went black and the hulking, human-like pieces dropped to the ground with a thud. Even from this distance, the capital building, the absolute largest in the Republic, went black... Then the skyscrapers around it... Then the ones further out... And then further out... Before long, every building on the grid went black, and then the spotlights on the truck went. The only thing left was the dim, buzzing neon "Booze" sign. The Major attempted to contact Ezekial and Michaelson via her Cerebral chip but to no avail, "The hell? The entire city grid is down? That's bad, real bad. Everything that is up-to-date runs on that... I wonder how long it'll be down," Before she had even completely finished, lights began to switch back on. Another thirty seconds and the androids had rebooted and were calling out their model names and functions, "They'll have to be reset back at base. For now, let's finish up here. Bastion and I are going to have a talk when we get back," Location: Spamopolis Defenders Department HQ, Spamopolis, NFF Time: 1:42 1 Hour After Impact "Listen to the news!" Called one worker. "Turn it up!" Said another. There were nearly one hundred TVs in the lobby of the HQ and every single one was turned to the Republic Broadcast Network where Celina Luna, the face of RBN, was announcing the latest "Breaking News: Massive Grid Reboot". "Reports have confirmed that the entire grid had some sort of malfunction and rebooted within a minute. While we are working very hard to provide you, the viewer, with information, there is not a lot being said by local officials. Everyone is asked to remain calm and wait for further instructions. Stay tuned to RBN, your source for the truth, your source for light," The group of three Heroes wasted no time with the babbling that ensued afterwards. After stepping on the elevator, the Major addressed her company, "You two, go to the barracks, it's going to be busy around here real soon. I'm going up to see Bastion," No one questioned her... The Major exited into the red carpeted room to see General Bastion standing, staring out the window, "Amanda, it's a damned mess... The government, they've got no answers for what just happened. If they do, they're not talking..." Major Tao stood for a moment before speaking calmly, "General, what are they going to do? Everything and everyone with augments is hooked up to the grid, they can't just not say anything. Someone will catch the blame," At that moment, the screen, which Bastion had on his wall, lit up with the RBN symbol on it, "A development on our current situation, government officials stated moments ago that the reboot was caused by an attempted cyber-terror attack on the grid. The grid, as it is referred, is the single source of major power for Spamopolis. Everything from running water to electricity to our very augments require the grid to work properly. A crash of the grid would cause nothing short of widespread, complete chaos and, simply put, the city would cease to be active. The suspected culprit can be seen here," A clip pops up of a blurry figure in a fluffy, white coat, hat, and baggy pants... The figure pulls out a small device and mashes a single button before the recording goes out; the blackout, "Officials also stated that an attack of this measure could not be done without access to certain equipment used by special agencies, the Spamopolis Defenders Department, for example-" "What!?" Cried Bastion as the only official news network in all of the NFF, 'the truth and the light', had just put a big crosshairs on the back of the Defenders... Not like they hadn't had one before. "-an internal investigation is underway says government officials. As you will all recall, the Defenders have faced scrutiny for their black operation styled business and even faced allegations of sending out, quote, 'kill teams', to assassinate those who oppose the Defenders. Their leader, General Richard Bastion, is invited to meet with our reporters to give his side. As always, this is Celina Luna with RBN, the truth and the light. Out," There was tenseness in the air. Major could just feel the walls crumbling around them... "General, what are your orders?" "I am going to the Capital District, these fools won't degrade my organization and I just take it. I'll crush their skulls if need be... Ugh..." He rubbed his temples for a moment, "I just need to find out who is pointing fingers at us. Major, I need you to assemble the team, the whole team, for this one. Solve this problem, Tao... This organization depends on it.