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Interlude Thirtytwo point Four, The Lady from the Lake

"Alex, I guess I shouldn't be surpised to see you here." The voice broke Crosby out of his reverie and he turned to see Lt.-Colonel Jack Richards walking across the hotel lobby. "NFL owners meeting, right?" He offered a hand.

Alex took the hand, more than a little surprised...but also glad to see him. He had meant to get in touch with him regarding the whole Ripper affair aftermath but between the fallout from the Queen case and getting ready for the owners meeting, he had no time. "Yep, gotta get some issues voted on. Yeah, right, it's one day of business in a week's vacation. So what brings you to town? I think you've probably seen the Alamo by now." Alex said.

"True enough. It's a working trip for me, too. I can't go into too much detail, you understand," said Richards, and Crosby nodded. "But I'm 'handling' a new field agent."

	*		*		*		*
Flashback, New York:
"Alright, Gwen, or rather 'Merlynne,'" said Richards. "Here's what we've got. San Antonio," the first slide appeared. "Local police raid turned up a laboratory run by foreign nationals, that made it Interpol." Slides of the lab and the criminals began to appear. "A connection was made to The Net, an international syndicate run by and operating a large number of Para-Normals. That means Interpol had to hand it off to someone. They chose IPAC, of course. But IPAC found a computer system in there that they couldn't crack. They knew who could, Dr. Giorgio Delatessa." The slide appeared and Jack turned to his young protege with a smile. "But Delatessa's ours. So now, it's our baby."

He turned back to the screen, "The Net knows we've got it, of course. And we've got to assume they will think we can crack it. So, if there's something worthwhile in there, they'll have to send someone in to deal with it. Which means," he looked right at Merlynne, "someone's got to protect it."

"So you'll be needin' someone to play guard doggie with it." Gwen said, flashing a smile. "And that's where I come in."

"Right. With a little luck, they'll be too late and Delatessa will get what we need before they react. If not, well, you're a bit of a wild-card. The Net has pretty good intel assets, but there isn't any intel to speak of for them to gather about you. Here's your briefing pack, tickets and so on. See you in San Antonio."

Flash forward to now ...
"You looked over the maps," said Richards as he drove the rental car along the San Antone streets. "So you know the layout - office block, remodelled and armoured from the inside into a fortress. Only two access points," he grinned, "violating all sorts of fire codes. One is the front through the lobby, the other a loading dock in the back. The windows all lead into a dummy shell that channels you back to the lobby. During the night, the whole place will be locked down. You'll be sleeping just a couple of buildings away in case they try brute force, but the doors are all on time lock. During the day, you and Delatessa will be in the lab, with guards at the doors. Questions?" about

Merlynne shook her head. She was partially preoccupied with the spandex-based costume she was wearing at the moment. She appreciated her ability to move with it, as well as the special properties that adapted around her powers, but she was unpleased with how large she perceived her hips to be wearing it. Although more in shape than she had been in years, the absorption of the sword changed her body, giving her 'peasant stock' as her mum so eloquently put it. She wasn't a vain person by any means, but she knew that the average spandex wearers usually had the bodies to back it up, and it gave her slight discomfort. "D'yu have any ideas as to who they might be sendin'?" she said distractedly, trying to put it out of her mind.

"Negative," was the reply. "It would depend on the importance of the site and the approach method. If they send in an assault team, just call for backup, get the doctor and get the hell out. Otherwise, use your judgement. We don't have word on any operative in the area, but that doesn't mean much, I'm afraid. When you can teleport or fly under your own power, borders are pretty easy to cross undetected."

"Right." Merlynne said. She didn't like not knowing her enemy...part of her entire attack plan involves knowing what she can expect and making sure her chosen abilities mirror that. But given that her mission objective was to grab the doctor and bolt, she had a pretty good idea as to what to do. "Let's get on with it, then."

"Here's your hotel. Remember, your objectives are to protect the doctor and the site, if possible. If you can't do that - you're overmatched or outnumbered - get the doctor and yourself to safety," said Richards. "Good luck."

	*		*		*		*
The next few days were quiet. Delatessa worked hard on the computers while Gwen stayed nearby and coordinated with the two guards at the front and the two guards at the rear. At night, she initialized the security systems and made sure everyone was clear as the building locked up tight.

The third day looked to be like the rest, until 1326 hours. A motion sensor on the security board in the lab flashed, indicating something in the hall coming toward the lab.

Merlynne punched up the video in the corridor in question and saw nothing there that would trigger the alarm.

"Ach, so it be that then." Merlynne said, and immediately began to channel the energies of the Lakestone imbedded in her. She felt a rush of power channel into her eyes, and immediately she was able to see the thermal signatures of everything surrounding her.

The door from the hall began to vibrate and then suddenly collapsed into a pile of dust and rubble. The doctor looked up from his position by the computer in surprise. Merlynne saw, with her enhanced vision, a figure standing in the doorway. He (or she) was carrying something cool in his (or her) left hand - probably metallic.

The figure looked around the room, and then moved toward the north wall.

Looking nonchalant, Merlynne channeled her powers again, and her powers again took her body someplace she herself had never been...this time channeling fighting styles and secrets of ancient lands she barely knew of. At the right moment, she moved forward and launched a spin kick right to the face of her silent opponent before blurting towards the doctor, "Alarm!"

The blow was on target, but her foe must have heard her coming, for he tried to roll with the blow.

"More to you than meets the eye, Missy," came a voice from the heated shape. The doctor jerked around trying to spot the source of the voice that appeared in midair. Then he shuffled toward the back door.

The villian backed away from Merlynne, up against the computer on the wall, and slapped the object he was holding against the machine with a metallic clang.

A hum came from the device attached to the computer, which became visible as the figure moved off to one side, putting himself between Merlynne and the doctor.

Merlynne stepped in toward the invisible man and launched a spinning kick at his head. The kick went high, and she used the momentum to turn and launch herself back to the security panel where she punched the panic button. Alarms hooted and a signal was sent to Richards and her backup. She turned to face the invisible figure and saw the back door slam as the doctor passed through. Then she had other things on her mind as the figure raised its hands and the control panel behind her vibrated apart. "Sit still, missy," said the man.

He fired again and Merlynne felt her bones shaking in her body.

Merlynne moved in close and attacked the villian again, forcing him to step clear of a punch. He returned the favor, attacking with a boxer's set of quick jabs.

The lights went out on Merlynne. The last she heard was, "Nighty night, Missy."

	*		*		*		*
"Wake up, Gwen!" Merlynne opened her eyes and saw Jack Richards' woried face over hers. As she watched, relief surged across his features.

Merlynne took a second to shake out the cobwebs. Her first response was "Doctor? Cargo?", and it was a very weak response at that.

"The Doctor's safe," said Richards. "He's here now looking at the computer system. He thinks it's a dead loss, though. That device looks like some kind of EMP generator. How are you feeling? Good enough to debrief me?"

"I feel like I've already been de-briefed with the arsekicking I got." Merlynne said, smiling weakly. "But yeah, I'll tell you all about the train that hit me."

Merlynne filled Jack in and he took notes. "I'll see if we can get a match on that." He looked away, then back at the girl. "I'm glad your safe." Left unspoken was the dissappointment about the mission.

		*		*		*		*
Jack Richards was waiting for Alexander Crosby in the lobby of the convention center where the NFL owners were meeting. Crosby was a little surprised to see him again so soon. The expression on Richards' face was one he hadn't seen before, a mixture of concern and ... sheepishness?

Richards approached, "Alex, good to see you again. I thought since we were both in town, you might let me buy you dinner?"

"Sure thing," Alex said, "but let me make the reservations. I think that might work better with what some of our conversation might be about." Alex was personally hoping for new information about what happened with Legionnaire.

		*		*		*		*
The restaurant was top notch, the kind of place where they made all the necessary concessions for those who had either the right notoriety, the right price, or both. The upper atrium of the restaurant was divided into small areas, with one table apiece, and almost completely surrounded by glass, affording an incredible view of the city by night. The dinner conversation was a rousing conversation about old times, along with some catching up on more mundane "how have you been" kinds of matters.

When the waitress brought some post-meal coffee for both men, Alex stirred his 3 creams and 3 sugars in and finally dove in. "So, Jack, what did you really want to talk to me about?"

Jack shook his head, "The crimes you commit on good coffee ..." He sighed. "Alex, I've got a favour to ask you. Rather, it's a favour to ask a ... close friend ... of yours." He raised an eyebrow to make sure that Crosby was following him.

"Don't worry." Alex responded. "It's why I chose here. Once they bring you the dessert and the bill, they leave you alone until you're ready to pay. We can talk freely."

Jack nodded and continued. "Since the Peacekeepers ... disbanded, the UN has been out of the paranormal business. At least officially. That stuff was left to IPAC. Unofficially, my branch of the UN Peacekeeping Forces has been keeping our eyes open and doing what we do best."

"We've had to be more covert that before, and good operatives are few and far between, and more and more they want to run as vigilantes," he said. "No offense."

"The problem I've got now is this: with no established P.N.'s, how can I effectively train and mentor the young ones? Here's the favour. There's a girl. She's got a good heart, and some great potential but she's so green that when Sirocco came to us she was a seasoned pro by comparison. Teach her, Alex. Train her. You were good and my sources say you still are. She's in the fight, help her learn to win."

Alex listened intently and took it all in before responding. "Have anything I can look at?"

Jack handed Alex a small file folder with several pages in it, outlining a little of Gwen's history as well as a rundown of the powers and abilities evidenced to date. Alex let out a low whistle as he finished. "Good lord. Talk about incredible covert ops potential. Flight, hyperspeed, invisibility, can go air, can go deep sea, can look like God."

"You said the magic word, the double-edged sword - potential," said Richards. "She's got it, but it isn't realized. It's *only* potential at the moment. Someone's got to help her. You're my first choice." Richards suddenly chuckled, "Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi, you're my only hope." He became serious. "I think you're my best shot, Alex. You can do it if anyone can."

Alex shook his head. "Jack, I thank you for the kind words, but I was never the mentoring type, especially in the Peacekeepers. I mean, you recruited national heroes, but I was the 'best you could get' from the States and you know that."

Richards started to demur, but Crosby cut him off. Richards subsided and drank his coffee.

Alex thought some more. "You do realize that I don't work alone anymore. Any training that I could give her would have to be as part of the Protectors...and that's something I'd need to check with at least one other person up there."

"That's all I can ask," Richards relaxed a little. "Now, what's your after-dinner tipple?"

"Hold on." Alex said. "Can you arrange to bring your protege to Port Alexander in a couple of weeks. I'd like for the team to meet her and see her go through some paces. Admittedly, I would like that. Not trying to make you jump throughhoops, but I think that's the best way to do it as opposed to me walking into a team meeting and saying 'Look what I brought home!'. Think you can make that happen?"

"That's no problem, unless a brushfire crops up somewhere. Just let me know the date," said Richards.

"Excellent. And I'll take a Captain's and Coke. Just one."

The waitress eventually came with the drinks. Once she left, Alex broke the silence. "OK, my turn. How are things progressing with Legionnaire? What do weknow at this point?"

Richards looked down at his Rock Creek, "Not well and not much. Ripper really did a number on him. Years of torture feeding back across the pyschic link -- Legionnaire may never recover. They're both Rimaud. And so's the one we buried. One of his bodies was killed in the fight, and Ripper somehow captured another. His powers and the fact that Rimaud was already reeling from a losing a big part of himself must have let him get a hold on Legionnaire. From what we can reconstruct, he tortured and fed off of one, driving the other one completely mad, and using the threat to send him on killing sprees.

"It also looks like Ripper's powers are a two way street. Somehow he managed to goose Legionnaire with some of the life force that he'd stolen from others. That can't have helped his stability any, either."

Alex nodded grimly. "At least we finally brought the bastard to justice. You've got no idea how good that felt. In any case, keep me posted. I assume his wife has been notified?"

Richards looked Crosby in the eye, "No. And I don't intend to, unless Jean comes back to something resembling sanity, what good could it do? To her, he's dead. And he is, for all practical purposes. The Jean Rimaud we knew isn't there anymore. We may be able to get him back, but ... it could only cause her pain."

"In any event, that's actually not the only old business I've come across." Alexsaid, and then he went into detail about the incident over the seas and his impressions that he may have encountered Baba Yaga.

"I'd heard reports of something funny out that way, and Yaga's been effectively MIA for quite a few years," he shook his head. "These things come back like bad pennies."

"Tell me about it, but at least they came back. Unfinished business bugs the heck out of me." Alex said. They continued talking about old times until it came time for both to leave. "I'll give you a call in a day or so to let you know exactly when. And for the record, have Merlynne bring her things with her...I have a feeling we can work something out here. At least I'm going to try."

Richards nodded. "I will. And thanks."

Last Updated 20 August 2003