As Thunderbolt and MidKnight took off to pursue Black Dragon, Merlynne watched a moment, then went to her comm system. "Defender, we've got everyone pretty much out. How goes things on your end?" She was met with nothing but static.
Flex looked around the assembled heros. As he replayed back the battle in his m ind he was angry with himself for trying too hard to please Sting and the rest of the team. But more than anything he hated to admit that, deep inside what drove him was the chance to catch Saruva.
Slowly, despite how his body still ached from the beating he'd received he went over to Merlynne. "Hey. Did you see any sign of Cheetah 'nd Jackal's boss. Scientist called Saruva ?"
"Nae." Merlynne replied. "Not even sure he was here at any point of the battle ."
"That's what I feared. As usual he is at work but only from the shadows." Flex sat down feeling somewhat dejected. As he took in the scene around him he was aware how few of the heroes remained a t the scene. Turning back to Merlynne he asked, "Where is everybody?"
His question received no answer as Frostbite spotted the unconscious body of Thermo and ran to it. He began to shake the villian, trying to wake him up, shouting, "Where is Saruva? Where?"
"Flex, trouble," Merlynne said as she walked over, Flex following behind. She gra bbed Frostbite by the shoulder. "Enough of that." she said. "What d'y think yu ir doin'?"
Flex suddenly aware that Saruva was important to more than just him waited for Forstbite's reply.
Frostbite was so intent on getting information from Thermo that at first he didn't even notice someone had grabbed his shoulder, but Merlynne's grip was hard to ignore.
He shook off her hand, and threw Thermo back onto the hard hangar floor as he stepped back to stand opposite of Flex and Merlynne. "Don't get in my way! This...this glorified blowtorch is the only link I have to where he's keeping my kidnapped my sister. He will give me answers!"
Max came over and looked at the downed man. "If you wake him, we will just have to beat him up again. He might even get away and then where would you be?"
"Right." Merlynne said. "We keep him unconscious and get answers once he's in custody. Trust me, you're nae the only one who wants a piece of this Saruva cat in this outfit. Fl ex here has his own bone t'pick, and Sting has some history with the man as well. Besides, when we walked in, you we're more or less on their side before the big switch, so p'haps we have some t o ask of you as to what's goin' on."
Frostbite looked around at the gathered team and asked, "Who are you guys anyway?" He knew he needed answers from Thermo, but if they were planning to take his unconscious form into custody, he had to find away to tag along and get the information he needed upon Thermo's awakening; hopefully a mind-poundingly painful awakening.
Max let out a belly laugh that was majestic and frightening at the same time. Once he caught his breath, "You don't read the paper much, do you? Or watch the telly-news? Or even get out much? These two are full fledged members of the one and only Port Alexander Protectors. And I am Duke Maximillian Immergrun, Rex Via, Weilder of Girngrun, Noble Ghost of Old Town, Marquis of the Spear and Majestic Patron of the Twelve Paladins of the Rampart... I am he who is called the Beggar King!"
He drew his arms back in from the regal pose he had struck and winked at the new kid. "But you can call me Max."
Frostbite's eyes widenened a bit after hearing Max's proclamation, but there was something charismatic about the Beggar King even if he might be a little off the deep end. Of course, the world seemed to have become crazy all on its own volition, so maybe that was the right attitude.
Raising his hands to try and pacify Frostbite, Flex gently countered. "You're not the only one who has been hurt by Saruva and his henchmen. That's partly why we are here, to take him down. Why don't you tell us more about what you know of Saruva."
Siberian Star stood alone surveying the hanger. So many things didn't make sense, what was the purpose of tonight's exercise? The Krai, it seemed, wanted to destroy Port Alexander with some device. Check. A device he was asked to help disable, then Defender sent him away. Most curious. What about these thugs? how were they to make their escape? Sure, some could fly but the others? They couldn't outrun a blast. Perhaps they didn't know what was planned, lead to their death just following orders; he shook his head and sighed. History does repeat itself he thought and subconsciously flexed his armored arm.
Seeing that others were making introductions to Frostbite, the aloof hero walked up. "I'm Siberian Star, but you knew that I'm sure. Are you going to peacefully surrender, or do we have to detain you for the authorities?"
"I dinnae think that'll be an issue, Star." Merlynne replied. "If he was gonna bolt, he'd be doin so by now. We've still got baddies unaccounted for, and he might be able to help track them down."
Looking down at the unconscious form of Thermo, Frostbited wondered exactly what Siberian Star meant by "detain". Everyone was still pretty amped from the fight most likely, and he didn't want to trigger further aggression, and he had to admit he had started in the badguy's camp. Letting his eyes wander over the gathered heroes, he felt he could trust them. With most of his story anyway.
Flex nodded as Merlynne spoke. "Now we've settled that, perhaps you can fill us in, including why and how you are involved in all this anyway..."
With a nod to Merylynne, Frostbite spoke. "No...I'm not going to run from you. And maybe I can help you catch some of the people here who got away, but I was really kept at arms length about almost everything these guys were doing. This wasn't my first choice of employment.
"You see, I'm not exactly from around here. My sister and I decided we needed to get some space from our parents, and we thought Port Alexander would provide a great place for us to start our lives. Unfortunately, it didn't go as smoothly as we had hoped. I was approached by a guy calling himself 'jet', and it seemed like he wanted me to do work that involved hurting people, so I declined. After I saw the news reports about city hall, I knew he was one of the guys involved and I was really thankful I had turned him down. But then things got bad. Jet and Thermo kidnapped my sister Brooke. I was told to guard this hangar, and I got to see that Brooke was OK once a day. A couple of days ago these two animal-men showed up and a lot of the chinese gang. They all liked to hurt people.
"I'm pretty sure Brooke is with this guy Saruva, which is why I'm so desperate to find him. But I don't know too much more about their operation, or where he is, except that it seems he's working in some sort of laboratory. When your group showed up, I figured it was might be the only chance I had to get out from under their grip."
With that last statement, Frostbite hung his head slightly as he wondered at what the fallout from this attack might do to Saruva's mood.
MidKnight Star and Thunderbolt caught the tail end of that statement as they returned with the captive Black Dragon.
"One Dragon busted, cuffed and stuffed." MidKnight said. "Now what?"
Merlynne and Flex, the only offical Protectors in the room, took it on themselves to act as hosts, with only a little prompting from PC. Black Dragon was added to pool of prisoners.
Defender's voice crackled through the comms, barking orders. A few moments later Siberian Star was executing a quick sweep of the basement with strict orders to stay out of the generator room. Max and the TatterKnight made as if to leave, but Defender told Merlynne to ask them to stay. Thunderbolt, on the other hand, slipped off after handing Merlynne a contact number - a shop in Chinatown that would take messages for him.
MidKnight Star got Frostbite's story again, with added information about Saruva from Flex. They were hitting it off with Frostbite and getting a good righteous indignation going.
Just as SS was sounding the all-clear down below, IPAC arrived. MidKnight Star took that as a cue to depart and slipped away with Frostbite. The Protectors stuck around to give a report and after a few moments a somber looking Defender came up the stairs from the basement to face Merlynne, Flex, Siberian Star, Max and the TatterKnight. "Briefing at Team Defender HQ, now. PC will meet us there."
Max started to say something, but Defender cut him off. "No questions now. We'll talk at the meeting."
The heroes left the hangar slowly and somewhat subdued.
Behind them, an IPAC emergency medical team brought a stretcher up from the basement. The figure beneath had a sheet over his face. Mr. Wilkins flipped it back and looked down, then flipped it forward again and nodded to the agents. He turned to look at the heroes' departing backs and shook his head.
In Resky Park, many of the Russian mafia enforcers vanished over the course of a few days. A few showed up a few days later, dead and deformed, with hypertrophied musculature and, as autopsies revealed, extensive brain damage.
Flex was finding that most of the bottom feeders were either leaving the city or being hired for one-off jobs planned by "someone smart who needs a lot of money fast." A rash of armoured car robberies swept the city and a few of those captured fingered Saruva as the Mastermind.
PC received reports from abroad that money was flowing out of PA and high tech equipment was flowing in, the authorities were stopping some of the traffic but not all by any means.
Trouble was brewing.
Siberian Star stood atop an apartment building overlooking Resky Park. Withdrawing his communicator, he dialed up Flex.
As he sat staring at the wall opposite him, TV light sprayed over the room. Its bright lidless eye unwatched and unattended. Jim had not really come to terms with what had happened to Sting. Just then, his back pocket vibrated as the phone went off.
Needing no prompting, he was out the already open window and on the roof ready. Action was what he needed right now to clear his mind and he hoped this call might bring it.
"Its Flex!" He answered...
"Siberian Star here, I've got a lead," he said coldly into the mouthpiece. So as to not give out too much information across the airwaves Siberian Star gave Flex the basics of what he had learned about the players in town who were doing away with the competition.
"Meet me at the usual place."
After Flex arrived on the rooftop of the Kearney Building, Siberian Star filled him in on what he had learned. "There is one gang that hasn't been targetted by whatever is turning up dead goons across the Park. My sources tell me that the mob run by the Dark Lord has only lost a few minor characters. The others are being decimated and some already cease to exist. And it isn't just localized here, the same is happening Chinatown."
Siberian Star walked to the edge and looked out over the city, "If the Dark Lord is getting a pass, it could mean he is behind it; or knows who is. The alternative is that whoever is causing trouble is afraid of him. Either way, we need to find out. Have you heard of anything?"
"Not much. I know there's a lot of money flowing out and a lot of equipment flowing in. That and someone is hiring and hiring big time. There is a lot of cash and a lot of resources being used. Saruva, and whatever backers he has, knows that he's pushed us all too far. My guess is, that he's going to enact some sort of master plan. Either he goes or we do and it doesn't take a genius to work out who he's betting on." Flex's voice sounded hollow. The grief and pain of Sting's death still left him reeling and empty, he felt as if he had a hole in the pit of his stomach.
"That much equipment just might show up on the electrical grid, that is if they are using city power. If not, then there probably aren't too many areas with those kinds of generators. It's worth a look, first feel like paying the Dark Lord a visit?"
Flex looked at the Russian, quite unintentionally he could tell that there was building a begrudging respect maybe even friendship between them. The Russian's attitude when they had first met was arrogant and patronising, it just went to show that first impression don't always count.
"Yeah why not. Don't want him to miss the fun. So where does the villain conscious crime lord hang out these days?"
Siberian Star turned to Flex and said with a smile (or was it a sneer?) "I'd expect you know some of his employees? Perhaps we can make an appointment."
Flex turned to Star, "I see my reputation proceeds me. Come on then lets go pay a visit to a nasty bit of muscle. His mother called him Mike, but most people know him as the Chopper." Flex seemed somewhat embarrassed, "I know! I know! Just don't ask how he got the name."
With that, Flex leapt up to the nearest building and was away over the rooftops, knowing that Star would have no trouble following him.
Quietly the bootjets lifted Siberian Star over Port Alexander as he kept a watchful eye below careful to not let Flex out of his sight.
They found Mike "the Chopper" Agliotti at Enrico's Clam House, a restaurant known as a mob hangout. Chopper was seated at one of the sidewalk booths enjoying the late May evening with a carafe of red wine and a bowl of pasta primavera.
They watched from a nearby rooftop and planned their approach.
"How do you think we should handle this?" Flex said as Siberian Star landed quietly beside him.
"Since we need his help, we ought to let him finish his dinner. I have a feeling that our proposal will cause him to lose his appetite; unless you prefer a more direct approach?" proposed Siberian Star.
Flex shrugged, so Siberian Star continued, "We wait. After dessert, we make a deal."
"I agree, why don't you distract the rest of them. Make a showy entrance or something, and whilst their focused on you, I'll grab 'Chopper' for a chat. I'll meet you a block back on that crane back there. The height and should make help loosen Choppers jaw."
Siberian Star bristled visibly, "Would you want someone to ruin your dinner? It is a sign of bad hospitality, and we need him to want to help us. If we disrespect the Dark Lord's employee, then he will not want to deal with us. After he finishes, then we will give him a chance to help us. If he refuses, then we will persuade him with more barbaric means."
"Ah I think we miss understand each other. I did mean after he's finished his meal. Besides 'barbaric' is all a meathead like Chopper knows." Flex tried to explain patiently.
"First, we try my way," the icy hero said dismissing Flex's explanation.
Flex laughed, "If you know men like Chopper, you know there is no civil way with them. But I wouldn't want to be accused of being unfair. By all means lets try it your way. But bear in mind Chopper and his goons will be 'carrying', if you know what I mean. So don't be fooled. These men don't believe in playing fair!"
Turning to watch the men below, Flex settled himself down in a shadowy area of the rooftop. If he knew Chopper, he knew dinner wouldn't be a quick affair.
Siberian Star harrumphed dismissively and waited. Strong-arm tactics was what he was trying to avoid as he brushed his armoured suit in remembrance of past sins.
Chopper finished his pasta primavera, then ordered coffee and sambuca as well as little pastry. Finally he rose; the heroes could see him apparently complimenting the staff, but didn't see him pay. Then he started walking toward the parking area behind the restaurant.
The absence of guards and comp meal caused a smile to creep across Siberian Star's face. This was just the man he needed. Not bothering to see if Flex was paying attention, he quietly rose into the air and flew over to the parking lot hoping to get there before Chopper reached his car.
Likewise Flex leapt along easily but keeping some distance as he followed Chopper from behind. Not taking any chances he watched just in case he had some muscle at a distance.
Siberian Star seemed intent on doing things his way, which suited Flex, he'd just back up and see what happened first.
Siberian Star easily reached the parking lot and was able to see Chopper walking toward his car.
Taking care not to startle him needlessly, Siberian Star landed well in front of Chopper and tried to appear nonthreatening. "Chopper, relax I'm not here for anything you've done. Call it a truce, for now."
Chopper's hand darted toward his armpit as Siberian Star landed, but he dropped it to his side as Star spoke. "Chopper?" he said. "Who's this Chopper guy? My name's Mike Agliotti."
"Izvinite, I was able to offer a deal for Chopper. Since he is not here, I suppose we can go downtown and discuss things with the police. Your choice."
"Discuss what? My dinner menu? I'm a legitimate business man enjoying a nice night and nice meal. What call do you have threatening me?" Agliotti reached into a pocket and pulled out a toothpick.
"Legitimate business is what I'm here to discuss with you and your boss. I want to talk to the Dark Lord."
"The who?" Agliotti shrugged elaborately. "What would a legitimate businessman like myself know about something like that?"
"Don't forget, I gave you a chance to be treated with respect." Siberian Star snapped his fingers, thereby resigning himself to Flex's methods.
"Shame!" Flex thought before growing larger and leaping to where Chopper was.
"Jeee ..." Chopper's shout was cut off as Flex leapt in and grabbed him. The two heroes quickly took off toward a convenient office building of about eight stories. Flex climbed up to meet Siberian Star who had flown and was awaiting him.
The Russian hero sighed and hovered nearby, rotating slowly to turn his back on Chopper and Flex. "Pity," he said with disgust under his breath, "let me know when you are done."
Whilst dangling Chopper some way off the top of the building, Flex called down to Chopper. "How's the view Chopper. Makes a change a big man like you looking up to someone. Now I don't expect you to talk. You've not got where you are today, because you give in easy to people like me. Oh no. So I want you to know that once we've asked you our questions, questions I know you won't want to answer so we'll have to just go have a chat with your wife and kids next. Or maybe Geno, your brother. You've always had a fond spot for him, isn't that right. Is he still at that private school you got him into?"
Flex could feel his anger rising. Shaking Chopper the big man began to slap against the side of the building. His body, causing the glass window against which he kept bashing, to vibrate ominously. "SO SAVE YOURSELF SOME PAIN BIG MAN!" Flex felt his temper rising, since coming to the Parts, men like Chopper had made sure that people like Jim, knew where they stood in the food chain. Men like Chopper cow towed to men like Saruva and the Dark Lord, men who'd kill without a second thought if they thought you looked at them funny. Men who'd kill again given half a chance.
Pulling himself together he spoke again this time quietly not so much for emphasis but simply to keep his anger under control.
"But if you want to spare them and yourself a lot of trouble, why don't you start to sing about the Dark Lord!"
In a voice that was surprisingly firm, Chopper said, "I still don't know what you're talking about, I'm a legitimate businessman. But if I did know something, you'd be buying yourself a word of trouble, and you haven't even asked any questions! Now pull me up!" His voice wavered a little at the last.
From over his shoulder Siberian Star spoke, "I asked to speak to the Dark Lord. There is someone eliminating 'legitimate businessmen' like you on the streets and we wish to find out who it, maybe even save your job."
"So what're you expecting? Someone to say, oh yeah, let me run you right over to his secret hideout? Geez! Even I, a simple legitimate businessman, know better than that. You meet with the Dark Lord on his terms and timetable. At least, I'd think you did, capice?"
"You CAN arrange such a meeting then?" Siberian Star asked, glancing over his shoulder at the dangling Chopper.
"Aren't you listening, *no one* arranges such a meeting. Especially not a legitimate businessman like me. You want to talk to the Dark Lord, you let people know and if he wants to talk to you, he arranges a meeting. Or so I've heard."
"Consider the request made," said the Russian hero cooly. "Flex, have you any other business with our friend?"
Flex elongated his neck so that his face was at the same height as Chopper then said over his shoulder, "No, I think we're finished with our legit businessman. You can let him up. But just to remind you Chopper we are watching. You may have friends but they aren't going to be much good if there in side Joliet - ok. SO keep your nose clean."
* * * *Siberian Star had begun to develop his own network of contacts, as well as letting it be known to elements of the underworld and the Russiann community that he could be reached through a few people. One of those people was Grigori Nazdrevny, who owned and operated The Volga Bathhouse. After SS had prevented a robbery, Grigori was happy to help. When Siberian Star stopped by and rapped on the alley window, old Grigori promptly let him in. The old man poured himself a vodka and offered one to Siberian Star.
"Some men have come," he said after a sip. "They told me to tell you that you treated someone called 'Chopper' badly and that if you wished to discuss it, you should return to the scene of the crime at midnight tomorrow. Does this mean anything to you, my young friend?"
"Da," answered the costumed hero. Downing the shot of vodka out of respect for his friend's hospitality, "It is not to concern you, you have done well to pass along their message." Siberian Star stood and gave Grigori a hearty handshake, "It is all a misunderstanding, one that we can straighten out. Poka, my friend."
"Be careful these are dangerous men, I think," said Grigori rising and following him the door.
Siberian Star hated to cut his visit short, but there was planning to do. He took to the air and hailed Flex with his built-in communicator, filling him in on their midnight meeting.
Flex was grateful that 'Star' had called when Sarge wasn't around., carrying his com unit all the time felt like the right thing to do but it meant it could so easily intrude on his real life, also giving the game away. Making a mental note of the time and details, he finished by adding, "I don't know about you, but I reckon that these guys will come with back up. I suggest we get there nice and early, what do you think?"
Star had already disconnect and Flex'es words went into dead air. Thinking it through, Flex texted Defender, since the funeral the team hadn't been together perhaps this was a chance to get them connected again. Flex wrote, " D, SS and myself, after DARK LORD midnight meeting - might need back up, interested?"
He then added a few short details about the place and sent the message.
Defender crawled out from under the security station in the Fortress to take the message. Since the funeral, he had kept himself busy away from the Protector's headquarters. Today he had finally made up his mind to see to one last securit y project. Ironic that he would be contacted as he worked away on it.
He read it and laughed aloud. "Business as usual," he muttered as he typed.
"Meet-up? When and where?"
He went back to his work, letting the comm vibrate itself to sleep with the deta ils. He had just one more thing to do before he went home.
* * * *Defender took up a position a few buildings away from the rooftop where the meeting was hopefully to take place. Flex arrived very early and found a place to hide and wait in his own inimitible style.
Shortly before midnight, Siberian Star did a fly over and saw nothing suspicious nor any sign of the Dark Lord. He took up a holding pattern to wait. At one minute before midnight by his watch, the door to the roof opened. Two men stepped out and quickly gave the roof a once over. One stepped back to the door and a third man stepped out. Like the others he was dressed in an elegant suit, but unlike them he wore a cloak or jacket over his shoulders. Another man followed him out and set up a director's chair. The man with the cloak sat gracefully and looked at his watch.
Siberian Star descended quietly on the rooftop, and extended his arms outward to show he meant no harm. Carefully he walked forward, "Dark Lord, I presume?"
"Indeed," said the man. "And you are Siberian Star. You behaved very rudely to an associate of mine here. I trust you have a good reason?"
"Your associate was not forthcoming after I had shown him all respect due a legitimate businessman of his professed stature. I admit though, my sidekick was quite rude to him and for that I apologize. But you are a hard man to get an audience with, so I am honored," Siberian Star tilted his head in a bow.
"Port Alexander is undergoing a reorganization of sorts which I am sure you are aware of, having lost some business to outsourcing as it were. I prefer the current homegrown workforce and was hoping we could work together to eliminate this interloper."
Whilst Siberian Star descended to the rooftop, Flex moved to within ear shot, creeping up the side of the building to be at hand. The way the conversation seemed to be going, Flex thought it best to stay where he was for the moment.
For a moment there was silence, then the seated man laughed. It was a deep rich laugh that suggested genuine amusement. "Indeed? 'Eliminate outsourcing.' And you seek me out, to work with you." He turned to one of his bodyguards, "Gianni, he wants my help." He shook his head. "Gianni, the sprayer." The bodyguard reached into his pocket and removed a device about the size of paperback novel. The seated man took it and looked at a readout of some kind on its face, then pressed a few buttons. When he spoke again, his voice sounded oddly flat and distorted. "There, now we can speak freely." He set the device down on the floor near his chair. "Now, care to elaborate?"
Siberian Star looked left then right and took a step forward to assure that he was within range of this unusual device. His mind raced at just how it worked, flying through the formulae and everything he learned about sound and its properties. But there was a task at hand.
"The streets have become dangerous for men in your line of work, and this causes danger for men in my line of work; plus the innocents. I know there is a mutual competition between our chosen vocations, but I know that a businessman like yourself depends on the innocents below to maintain a certain demand to your supply. Whoever is playing outside the rules of good sportsmanship needs to be removed from the playing field."
The Russian paused and chose his next words carefully. "I don't agree with your methods or overall goals, as I'm sure you feel similarly about mine. But if you help me, I can help you."
"Is that so?" The Dark Lord leaned forward, "How can you help me, my young friend?"
"Port Alexander is a big city, I spend much of my time in Resky Park as I am sure you know. Were something to happen elsewhere, I could easily be focused on something closer to home."
"I see. And how can I help you?" continued the Dark Lord.
"These latest steroid deaths on the street in around the Park. I think Saruva is behind it, I know you know the name. Give him up, and I might be able to fix your problem that is turning up dead gangsters. There's a new game in town, he hasn't hurt you bad yet, but once a man gains confidence..." he trails off. A frown crossed the Dark Lord's face. "Finding Saruva is proving ... troublesome. Have you heard of the Net? They are involved with him somehow. I do not yet know if they are funding him, using him to try to expand their operations, merely supplying him with equipment, or if they have some other motive. "If I do find Saruva, how would I find you to tell you?" "You may use the same method as this time. Only do not send such rude deliverymen, Grigori is a good friend that values his business," answered the Russian hero. "Your assistance is most appreciated, if there are some competitors I can remove from the streets please let me know. Eliminating them in Port Alexander brings much trouble, but once inside prison your long arm moves freely." Listening in from the side of the wall, Flex had to do a double take. Either Star was playing the dark Lord at his game, something he'd had to do more than once. Or he really was making a deal with the devil. Either way, he'd have to find out exactly where Siberian Star really stood.
"Will that be sufficiently expeditious?" asked the Dark Lord. "If - when - I find Saruva, time might be of the essence."
Siberian Star looked around, and called out a telephone number. "Call it, and you'll reach me."
"Very well," said the Dark Lord. "Was there anything else?"
"Is Chopper the best way to contact you, should I come across something that you might find interesting?"
"If you are discreet, not that that appears to be your strong suit," said the Dark Lord, "you may call this number." He held out his hand and one of the bodyguards placed a card in it. "It is an answering service." He scribbled on the card with a pen. "Ask for the name on the card and leave a message, using the name I've written down here." He offered it to Siberian Star.
Siberian Star took the card, glanced at it and tucked it away. Slowly he began to ascend as his bootjets came on, "I beg your pardon but the citizens of Port Alexander need me. Do svidaniya."
Seeing Star leave, Flex hung around a little longer in case the Dark Lord or his cronies had a parting shot that might be useful.
The Dark Lord watche Siberian Star go, then shook his head slowly. "We're done here," he said. One of the goons recovered the device and the group departed.