Welcome aboard Helios-Re and Phantom Archer! Always glad to have more readers!
Panic in the Park
"Everyone stay low and get out of the park as fast as you can!" Wraith yells as he sprints to Electron's side. The new super-powers are motionless as they attempt to process what has just happened. Quickly the three police officers take charge, moving people out of the grassy area and towards cover.
Reaching Electron, Wraith sees his partner is losing blood fast. His practiced eye notes that while the gunshot wound looks serious there's a good chance Electron might pull through if he gets help in time. His surroundings shift and Wraith is now kneeling over Electron in a hospital lobby. He stands and approaches the nurse behind the admission desk.
"I need an identity room prepared right now!"
Identity rooms are provided in nearly every hospital in the country. Mandated by SIPA (the Secret Identity Protection Act) these rooms ensure that any super-hero can be admitted without fear of having their secret identity discovered by the public.
Several Minutes Later...
Wraith returns to Kenson Park alone. Materializing next to the guard with the sign-up sheet he takes the contact data and stows the information safely in his utility belt. Looking around, he notices that the mood in the park has grown somber. Despite no other sign that an attack is imminent, the crowd has thinned out somewhat. Already the crime scene is being cordoned off and the large police presence in the park helps keep the remaining onlookers at bay.
With the forensics investigators on the way the crime scene needs to be kept as pristine as possible. Although he is phased Wraith knows that even the appearance of an unlicensed person inside the crime scene would provide a shrewd defense lawyer with enough ammunition to get the case thrown out of court. Settling for interviewing witnesses and examining raw footage from the media while the investigators do their work, Wraith is able to gather a little information on the shooting, but nothing that provides any definitive answers.
As evidence is bagged and tagged and photo after photo is taken Wraith's patience begins to wear thin. Sunlight fades from Kenson Park as the investigation continues. Soon the department's halogen lamps will be lit to provide better illumination.
Finally the bullet is recovered, or at least fragments of the projectile are located. As methodical as the forensics team is, Wraith is equal to the task. Picturing a still frame of the stricken Electron in his mind he visualizes a line from the point where the bullet buried itself in the ground through the mental image of his friend and into the distance. Far off are a pair of high rise apartments, but to narrow down the exact location will require more data.
Wraith takes 20 on his Investigate skill. At first he is unable to determine where the shot came from other than a very vague direction. The discovery of the bullet provides another factor: elevation. Taking his time Wraith now knows roughly where the shot came from.
Based on the distance the apartments are from the point of impact, Wraith has a hunch that the shooter was high up, possibly on the roof or some of the topmost apartments. After scheduling a clandestine meeting with one of the police detectives later on to discuss evidence analysis, Wraith teleports to the top of the first apartment building and begins his search.
Wraith spends a hero point for some inspiration and gets a more accurate idea where the bullet came from.
Starting with the edge nearest the park Wraith begins a careful sweep of the area. Remaining phased so as not disturb a single thing he continues his search. The minutes tick by and nothing is found except tar, gravel and ventilation hoods. Patiently Wraith continues his surveillance while twilight falls. Suddenly something on the rooftop of the adjacent building catches his eye.
A figure crouches near the roof's edge, intently watching the scene in the park. At its side Wraith can see the dark glint of metal.
Wraith begins an extended Search that will take around an hour to complete. Fortunately he also successfully succeeds on a Notice check vs the subject's Stealth skill. Looks like the search won't take an hour to complete after all!
Silently Wraith materializes behind the darkly-clad figure, his fist cocked and already in motion. To his surprise the stranger surges upward, batting aside the blow as she spins about to face him. Two clicks echo in Wraith's ears as the metal object in her hand expands into a small compound bow. With a fluidity that can only come with years of practice the masked woman brings the weapon to bear, an arrow already nocked and drawn. Grimly she releases the string and the arrow passes harmlessly through Wraith's chest.
"Coming back to admire your handiwork?" she growls before stepping backwards off the ledge and tumbling into the night below.
There is no surprise round. Wraith's opponent has also succeeded in making a Notice check vs. Wraith's Stealth skill. Initiative is rolled...Wraith's result is a 22, his opponent gets a 31! Wraith's opponent delays until after Wraith acts, lowering her initiative count to 21. Wraith teleports and attacks. He rolls an 11 and misses. His opponent attacks and rolls a 1. She uses a free action to switch array powers and uses a swingline to put a little distance between herself and Wraith.
Wraith leans over the edge of the roof in time to see a black cable zip around the side of the building. Glancing over his shoulder he sees his opponent perched on an adjacent corner, having swung up and around to try a surprise attack. Again Wraith materializes next to her, throwing a bewildering array of kicks and jabs designed to wear down her defenses.
Fending off his strikes with equally skilled precision the woman takes advantage of a momentary opening to fit an arrow and let it fly straight at Wraith's head. Wraith acts on pure instinct, raising his hand to cover his eyes as the strobe arrow explodes against his gloved palm. Again the woman is on the move, lightly clearing an exposed outcropping of ductwork as she races across the rooftop.
Wraith teleports to his opponent's location and attacks. He rolls an 11 and misses. His opponent switches array powers and attacks with a Dazzle arrow. She rolls a 12 and hits. Wraith rolls a 6 on his Reflex save and avoids being blinded. His opponent takes 10 (thanks to her Skill Mastery feat) on her Acrobatics check to move at full speed over the uneven roof.
Racing across the graveled roof, the woman swerves to avoid a kinetically amplified punch from Wraith as he appears in her path. Anticipating her dodge, Wraith reverses his momentum and follows up with an expert kick that connects solidly with her solar plexus. His opponent drops to the ground.
"Go ahead..." Bowshot gasps as she glares up at him. "Kill me like you did your partner. You'll never get away with it!"
Wraith teleports again and rolls a 16 on his attack, successfully striking his opponent. Bowshot, as I'm sure you've figured out who it is by now, rolls a 3 vs DC 21 and fails by more than 10. She is Staggered, Stunned and Bruised. Wraith also starts a grapple thanks to his Improved Grab feat. His grapple check result is a 27 versus Bowshot's result of 28. Failure.
A Friendly Chat
"Great. Another insane woman. Just what the world needs. Why should I believe you didn't shoot my partner?" Wraith retorts.
Bowshot pushes herself back to her feet and stares at Wraith for a moment.
"Do you even know what time it is?" she asks loudly and then continues without letting Wraith respond. "It's almost eight-thirty. Electron was shot nearly two hours ago. With a bullet. From a gun. From this rooftop nearly a mile away. Guess what? Occam called. He said if you're not using his razor he'd like it back."
In a flash Wraith is staring at an arrow aimed directly between his eyes. Beyond is the face of a very angry woman.
"And if memory serves, you were the one who attacked me during my investigation."
"And you're a crazy wench with a ranged combat expertise and strange projectiles. That hardly makes you a candidate to be shaved off by Occam's Razor. Now put the bow away and talk. You can't escape me and you can't hurt me." Wraith retorts as his body turns translucent.
"No, what that makes me is a specialist who was called in by Baltimore PD to investigate the shooting of a local super-hero," snaps Bowshot as she turns away and collapses her weapon. "Don't be so sure I can't hit you like that. You've already made one false assumption today. It's easy to make another," she says as she returns to the ledge where Wraith first saw her.
Bowshot takes out a penlight and shines it on a series of scratches on the ledge's stonework.
"This is where the sniper had set up. These scratches here, here and here were made by a clamp mount. This particular pattern is made by only one model of clamp. The Extant Mark III series. It was designed to fit one, and only one, brand of sniper rifle."
"The Manticore 5000," says Wraith.
"Extremely rare, extremely expensive. Those suckers are modular and highly customizable. There's also banned in the United States so it had to be smuggled in. The sniper picked this location for the best view of the park. With the sun behind him in the west the roof access would have kept him in shadow and nearly invisible to anyone looking directly at him.
"Once Electron was shot, the sniper broke down the equipment, probably taking thirty seconds tops, and proceeded to the west side of the building. I found some fibers around the base of a large pipe and similar fibers stuck to the western ledge. The police will need to analyze those to precisely identify them, but my guess is the sniper rapelled down the west side of the apartment building and either had a vehicle waiting or escaped on foot."
The investigation grinds on...
After apologizing to Bowshot for the case of mistaken identity Wraith gives her his number if she finds anything else and then returns to the hospital. After wading through the bureaucratic process so prevalent in today's modern hospitals, one of the nurses on duty finally tells him Electron is still in surgery. Beyond that the hospital cannot release any other information. Not even to another super-hero.
Wraith continues his investigation. Teleporting back to the apartment building he notices Bowshot is no longer there but a couple forensics investigators have arrived and are cordoning off the roof access. Faced with being forced to wait once again while others do their work, Wraith is distracted by a beeping from his utility belt. It's time to meet with Detective Graves.
Inside Steven Graves' sedan
Wraith appears silently in the center of the car's back seat and waits for Detective Graves to glance in the rearview mirror. This time officer doesn't swear up a storm although Wraith notices with some amusement that he continues to jump every time.
"Man, I wish you'd make a little more noise when you do that," Graves complains. "I'm gonna develop a condition. You want to kill me? Cause you're killing me here."
"What have you got?" Wraith asks.
"Not much." Graves passes a PDA back to Wraith. "Photos of the crime scene, closeups of the bullet fragments. Really weird too."
Wraith thumbs through the files until he reaches the fragment photos while Graves continues to talk.
"It's got all this circuitry running through it, not just on the surface but in layers and stuff criss-crossing everywhere. And there's more metal that you'd expect to find. Like the casing went along for the ride."
Wraith looks up from his study of the photos. Immediately his thoughts go to his evidence cabinet. Drawer 6-J. Only one item resides in that drawer. A small robotic spider, now broken and useless.
"I'm going to need the full analysis when it's ready. And I want a sample of those fragments."
"No problem. They're saying it'll be ready tomorrow. I can get you a piece in a few days. I figured you'd want to run your own tests on it. I've never seen anything like it before."
Wraith hands the PDA back up to Graves.
"I have." says Wraith. And then he is gone.
Later that night...
Electron opens his eyes. His entire body hurts, like it has been shredded and stitched back together with razor wire. Every breath he takes feels raw and hollow. He starts to raise his hand to his chest but then thinks better of it when his nerves scream in protest.
As his vision clears, Electron sees he is lying in the bed of a comfortably lit but windowless hospital room. There is a lounge chair flanking an oversized steel door to his right. A small white plastic table stands next to the chair. Across from the foot of the bed is a mural of a bandaged and angry Hulk smashing through a brick wall. Beneath reads the message: 'When exiting this room please use the door. Walls are hard to replace.'
The other wall on his left is lined with an array of diagnostic equipment, cabinets, sinks and more. There is a second bed between him and the wall of equipment. No, not a bed. An operating table.
The sound of the door opening draws Electron's attention away from the table. Glancing over, he sees an old man with brilliant white hair dressed in a lab coat enter. He's carrying a clipboard which he looks at for a few more seconds before speaking.
"Good evening, Electron," he says. "My name is Doctor Jonas Harding. I will be your physician during your stay at Mercy."
"What happened?" Electron manages to croak out.
"You were shot. There were some additional complications but suffice it to say you are once again back in the land of the living."
"Technically yes. But not from the gunshot. I should tell you that trying to defibrillate a person with your unique abilities was an exercise in frustration. We finally cracked your chest open and massaged your heart by hand to bring you back. So try not to laugh, cough or sneeze over the next several days because it's likely to hurt. A lot."
"What did I die from?"
"Well, that's where I say I have some good news and I have some bad news. And seeing as how you're in no shape to play games I'll give you the good news first. The bullet that struck you was a clean entry and exit. No major organs were damaged. Whoever fired on you did a lousy job of trying to kill you.
"The bad news is, we discovered your body has been subject to extreme damage quite recently."
Doctor Harding flips a switch on the left wall and places several X-Ray photos on the illuminated strip that lights up.
"Your skeletal structure has thousands of stress fractures. In addition your connective tissue has deteriorated severely. Tendons, ligaments, muscles all show micro-tearing in multiple locations. Some tears are newer than others and it appears as though whatever has done this did it over an extended period of time. Tissue analysis indicates that the damage goes right down to the molecular level. If I had to guess, I'd say your body is literally falling apart."
"How long do I have to live doc?" Electron asks once the news has sunk in.
Doctor Harding glances at his chart.
"Hard to say. For the time being the degeneration seems to be halted. And based on the similar scar tissue you've built up it looks like your body is capable of healing itself from this trauma. But each time you are exposed to whatever is causing this the likelihood of recovering is called more and more into question."
"I've been feeling fine. How come I had no symptoms of this condition?"
"Are you sure? No muscle aches, no joint pain? Considering your line of work it may have masqueraded as the regular bumps and bruises. But the most recent damage looks like it occurred fairly recently. I'd say no more than a few hours ago."
"Have you ever seen it before? Any idea what could have caused it?"
"Actually," says Doctor Harding, "I have seen this kind of damage done before. But this was back in the seventies. A villain calling himself Doctor Destructor had designed a weapon that would accelerate the molecules of anything he would point it at. He caused a lot of damage until Redshift Ray stopped him outside of Los Angeles. I treated some of his victims, the ones who weren't disintegrated outright, and they displayed almost identical symptoms.
"In your case, I would be stumped since Destructor is still behind bars. Except I did catch your press conference earlier this evening and I have a theory. You and Wraith were both translucent for the entire length of the interview. I think that extended exposure to his power may be what's causing this."
After a fitful night's sleep, the sound of the opening door wakes Electron from his slumber. It's Doctor Harding again, still carrying his clipboard. He pauses to consult his notes while Electron waits impatiently.
"Well?" Electron finally asks.
"Hmmm? Oh, sorry. Yes, you're stable enough for release. We ran a battery of tests every two hours last night to monitor any changes in your vitals but you slept through it all. There's been no more deterioration from what we've seen. In fact you're healing faster than normal so I'm comfortable in turning you loose.
"I do recommend you take the next week or two off to let your body recuperate. Doctor's orders. Normally I'd say take two months off, but with as many years in this business as I've got you learn that super-heroes never take that kind of advice to heart. Take it easy. If you have a regular job and you have to work, you should be fine as long as it's not too stressful.
"Your gunshot wound is healing nicely although it's still fresh enough to require you take extra care of it. If you have to fly try not to go too fast or maneuver too sharply. Don't overextend yourself reaching for things. If your stitches pop from being overactive you can come back in to get them redone."
Doctor Harding continues to advise Electron for a few minutes and then walks him through the checkout procedure. Once all the paperwork is signed and completed, Electron is discharged.
Setting down in the small thicket near his home Electron enters the secret tunnel leading to his house. Soon he emerges from the basement door after changing back into his civilian clothes. The house is quiet. Charles' stomach growls loudly.
"My thoughts exactly" he says to himself as he heads into the kitchen. Charles fixes himself an omelet and has nearly finished it when he sees Stacy's note on the kitchen counter.
The kids are at Ed and Goldie's. If you can pick them up when you get home I would appreciate it. Otherwise I'll get them after work. Take the checkbook.
Your electrician's organization called yesterday. They want to know if you can help out with restoring power to the city. I told them you would call either Michael or David.
Give me a call at the office before you do anything else. I know you can take care of yourself but I barely slept last night after watching the news. I love you.
PS The mortgage payment is due next week and there's not enough in the bank to cover it.
Thanks to Wraith's dialogue and actions Bowshot now views him as an egotistical misogynistic hothead. And since she also works with Baltimore PD, that will carry some ramifications. At least Wraith apologized for everything (not that it clears the slate mind you!). So far she's one of my favorite NPCs, smart, skilled and just as capable at getting the job done as her fellow heroes. We'll see more cameo appearances in the future.