Arc 2: Red Sol Hero
Issue 34: Winner-Take-All
February 8, 2014 – 7:20 PM
The reverberations of a metal door slamming down woke up Nathan. He didn't know how long he had been out for, but he'd drifted in and out of consciousness for a few hours. His heightened senses failed him, but the strong scent of the ocean's high tide pierced the dilapidated warehouse that he was in. He was near the water. He felt that his mask had been removed, but he couldn't move to conceal his identity as a figure approached from the entrance.
"I was rather surprised when I found out you were working solo," said Dave, entering with his usual dressy appearance.
He knelt down to his friend and placed a box of pizza on the ground. Nathan wasn't tied up–Dave knew that there wasn't a rope or chain that could keep him bound, but his telepathy kept him in check. He felt his hands loosen, and like blood refilling the muscles after a sensation of pins and needles, Nathan could move them again. But he refused to eat the pizza.
Dave picked up on the thought, shrugged, and took the pie for himself. "Back in the day, it used to be us against the world."
Nathan found he could speak, and he growled, "What happened to you, Dave?"
"Of what? That you have to extort people to gain power?"
Dave appeared amused. "I don't know why you think I'm one of the bad guys."
'Because you are,' thought Nathan.
Dave heard it in his mind and shook his head. "Understand that what I'm trying to achieve is beyond either of us. I want to fight evil as much as you, Nathan. The ring is the key."
Nathan was dissatisfied with the response. His arms had fallen limp again. He felt paralyzed, unable to control his body. He glared at Dave with newfound hatred. "It's like I've entered the Twilight Zone. We weren't the ones to pick a fight. We were the ones who protected everyone who couldn't fight for themselves. We did what was right."
"And you lost all of that courage somewhere along the decline into a normal life," retorted Dave. "What's right isn't what keeps evil men in check."
Nathan attempted to speak, but he couldn't move his mouth. Dave wanted to continue his monologue. "You may not bear to dirty your hands, but that doesn't mean I won't. Sabrina has gone rogue with an enormously powerful artifact. I don't know if she intends to use it herself or sell it to another client, but either way, it's going to be in the hands of the ruthless power mongers."
Dave's control let up enough for Nathan to speak. "You lay down with dogs, and you'll get up with fleas."
"Touché," said Dave. "But now, you want the ring, don't you? Find Sabrina and you find the ring."
"You tried to steal it from me once, what's to stop you from trying again?"
"Nathan, I'm not asking you to do this, I'm telling you," said Dave.
An unspoken bond seemed to have formed between the two former friends, and Nathan became greatly aware of Dave's intentions. His mind was about to be wholly consumed.
"You won't remember a thing, not even that I was here, but that'll be for the best." Dave picked up Nathan by the chin and said, "Now, here's what you're going to do…"
February 8, 2014 – 9:01 PM
Izumi, Vann and Agent Reggie arrived on scene at the derelict motel. Reports about HiJaque had spread like wildfire, leading them to the shadier end of the city. When the police started pooling in, HiJaque entered another occupant's room and raised a firearm at the couple inside. It was a hostage situation.
"None of our equipment is functioning," Officer McKenly notified his superiors.
"She's tampering all the EM signals with her powers," remarked Reggie in his usual knowing attitude.
"We have a S.W.A.T. sniper on the mezzanine in the southeast corner," said McKenly. He quickly added, "The chief ordered it as a last resort."
"Has she made any demands?" asked Izumi.
"She wants a safe passage out," said McKenly. "She didn't ask for anything else, clean slate, or money…"
"That's because she can acquire the rest on her own," said Reggie.
Vann, who had been deep in thought, said, "She wasn't hiding from us. The incident this morning at Bower Fields was an altercation between her and somebody else."
"Most of the witnesses don't recall the incident," said Izumi.
"Doesn't make her any less of a criminal," said Reggie coldly. "She broke into the house and then stole one of the neighbor's cars. And that's atop the Garfield virus."
The trio had investigated the house and recognized that the security system had been hacked using the Garfield virus. Combined with the security footage, they'd discerned that Sabrina Gaines was HiJaque.
"I know," said Vann. "I'm not trying to mitigate her crimes. I just think there's more to her than a thief."
"Yeah, she's a metahuman, too," said Reggie. "She's dangerous."
He approached an officer with a megaphone and snatched it from his grip. Izumi held Vann back so that he couldn't stop the agent.
"She's a liability," whispered Izumi. "If she can create someone as crippling as the Garfield virus, we don't want to underestimate her."
Vann watched as Agent Reggie commenced a dialogue with the thief. There wasn't going to be any negotiations. That wasn't The Administration's style, and moreover, knowing that they could let innocents die for their own nefarious purposes, there was going to be more bloodshed that night.
Vann felt sick that he was allowing Agent Reggie to take over the case, knowing that it would ultimately end with The Administration subliminally and gradually implementing martial law. Was he being too paranoid?
HiJaque opened the door and revealed herself. No masks, no disguises, just Sabrina Gaines. She had her index finger on the trigger and the gun lined up to the man's head. He was an average civilian, never thinking that this sort of event would occur.
"Let them go, HiJaque!" shouted Agent Reggie. "If they come out safe, you might walk out of this alive."
"I'm not an idiot! The moment I send them out, I have no leverage and you're free to take me out!"
"You still have your stolen goods, HiJaque!"
She remained wary. They still weren't complying with her. "I want out first! I take this one with me and drop him off once I'm well away."
The agent had no intention of letting her escape, but he didn't want to take her out either.
Seeing that the authorities weren't responding, HiJaque retreated back inside the motel room. She could sense every active electronic system around herself. The fear of losing control overwhelmed her. She needed to be able to know exactly how everything was going to play out. In her mind, she saw the feed from the motel's security cameras. She could hear the dialogue from the police via their radios.
"She's not going to budge," said Izumi.
"We won't be able to bug her if we give her a car. She'll find it before she even enters the car," said Reggie.
"We could just let her go," suggested Vann.
Reggie looked at him as if he'd lost his mind. "You think she'll stop here? She was just unlucky this one time. But I guarantee you that when she leaves, she's going to hit another city and we're back to square one."
"There are two lives at stake," argued Vann.
"I don't think she'll do it," said Reggie. "She doesn't have the guts."
"You're going to risk the lives of two innocents on your presumptions about her?" snapped Vann. The agent was getting on his nerves, and their options were running low.
HiJaque leaned against the wall of the motel room, the gun hanging loosely in her hand. The man was holding his girlfriend in the corner, steering clear of the weapon. They were all tired, and they all wanted to leave. It didn't appear that the police were going to let any of them get their way.
The lights powered down and the entire motel went dark. HiJaque sensed for the system that controlled the lights, but there was physical obstruction that had shut down the electricity. In the room, she heard two thumps. Standing up straight, she looked around for the source of the noise.
"Where is the ring? It's all I want."
The deep voice was forced, but it suited the presence well. He loomed in the darkness like a goliath, or a powerful predator of the night. This wasn't the Arcman that HiJaque had read about, the one that had gone to her rescue earlier.
"You won't hurt me," stuttered HiJaque. She didn't believe what she was saying herself. The last time she'd seen him, he had been with Dave. Who knew if his mind had been controlled?
"No, but I won't stop that sniper outside from shooting you dead," threatened Arcman.
"You won't find the ring without me!" protested HiJaque.
Arcman didn't want to face that reality, but he was prepared to bargain. "And neither of us gets what we want. So I'll tell you what–I'll set you free, make sure that they don't find you. And in turn, you give me the ring. You can keep everything else you stole."
"Some hero you are," muttered HiJaque. She suddenly gasped. The metahuman's hand was up against her throat, ready to snap her head off her body.
"Don't toy with me, I won't be as patient as your other clients," said Arcman menacingly. "I can bring you out to the police and then you can kiss your old life goodbye…You see, HiJaque, it's really in your favor to cooperate with me."
The police outside were in a frenzy when the lights went out. They knew that it wasn't their doing, but they also eliminated HiJaque as the source when they saw that a good strip of wiring had been ripped out of the motel's main electrical switchboard.
Moments later, the door of the motel room swung wide open, revealing the two hostages knocked out. There wasn't a trace of HiJaque inside. The three law enforcers looked at each other in utter confusion.
Arcman and HiJaque arrived at bank near the archaeological institute. Arcman felt that he maybe he was being played, but was assured that it was where the goods were being stored.
"Dave would've looked far and wide, never thinking I'd be so dumb as to move it down the street," said HiJaque. "We need to break in."
Arcman shook his head and then grabbed HiJaque around the waist. Like before, he moved swiftly and zoomed around to the top of the bank, where there was a roof door. "No need to be sloppy. Get this door open."
HiJaque focused, allowing the signals in the air bounce around her. She focused on the security system linked to the door, and forcibly deactivated it. "We're in the clear."
The two descended into the bank, Arcman in the lead. They descended into the vaults on the bottom floor. HiJaque monitored every stage of the break-in, and together, they arrived at her safe-deposit box. Arcman made sure to stay close to her so that she wouldn't trick him somehow.
"The ring," said Arcman.
"I can't open this without the key," said HiJaque. She was right. The box had a keyhole but no electronic lock.
Arcman took the slim box in his hand and crushed it with his strong grip. Tearing apart the metal, he saw the ring just the way it'd been when he had it in his possession. It had a silver coating with a streak of red running across the center of it. He pocketed it carefully and then jabbed the box back into its position as best he could.
"You have the ring," said HiJaque. "Now make good on your word."
Arcman wagged a finger in front of her. She suddenly felt very dizzy. Her surroundings moved like a rapid slideshow around her, and the wind blew on her skin. She blinked and saw the police in the distance. They were back at the motel!
"You lied to me!" snarled HiJaque. "I'll expose you! I will!"
"No, you won't. Because Dave knows that you don't know who I am. You don't know my name. And remember, he won't hesitate to have me kill you if you so much as utter a syllable about the ring."
Arcman smiled wickedly and then he was gone.
Officer McKenly felt an ominous breeze on his side and found the target tied to a tree at the opposite end of the street.
"Sergeant Ashizawa, I think I know where HiJaque went!"
February 9, 2014 – 12:39 PM
"The two banks closed the case full circle," announced Carter, walking into Nathan's office with the morning newspaper in his hands. He found himself in a mountain of paperwork. "My, my. You need to do some spring cleaning."
"What's the occasion?" asked Nathan, knowing perfectly well what Carter wanted to talk about.
Carter moved aside a stack of books on a chair and sat down across from the archaeologist. "Did the police return your mother's ring back?"
"Surprisingly, no," groaned Nathan. "They say it was missing from the safe-deposit box where HiJaque was keeping her stolen treasures."
"It's frightening to think that she was one of the university's students albeit ephemerally."
"Everybody has two sides," said Nathan simply.
"Like our mystery ring. Where do you think it is?" asked Carter.
Nathan shrugged. "I think with all this excitement, I'm going to take a break from uncovering this enigma."
"You're just going to give up on it?" Carter yelped incredulously. "Do you know what you're losing?"
"Not my life," replied Nathan. "There is a lot behind this lost civilization and I think there's a lot we can learn from the ring, but after what happened at the motel last night, do you want to be tied to the ring and risk your life?"
Carter eyed him suspiciously. "You don't seem like yourself. When you first came into my office, you wanted my help because you were driven-"
"And now I've exhausted myself on this little side project. I think you should get back to your work too," said Nathan. He gave Carter a weak smile. He didn't mean to offend him, but he didn't want to talk about the ring.
Carter could sense the uneasiness in the room and he stood up. "Let me know if you find anything interesting. I'm always up for a challenge."
Carter made his way to the door, but stopped before he exited. He turned around. "Nathan, we're friends right?"
Nathan faltered for a moment but nodded. "Yeah, we are."
"You trust your friends?"
"Yeah, I trust them."
Carter left, and Nathan was alone in his office. He pulled out his main drawer and picked up a polished, metallic ring. It had several dots of varying colors running in a band around the center. It was the same ring that had been forged eons ago. The blue and red rings had combined into one, forming something new. Nathan didn't know what it meant, but he intended to find out.
Why did he have such an urge to discover what the ring meant?