Arcs of electricity left Vincent Anderson’s body as he walked through the Three Portlands rain, the wayward bolts striking nearby buildings and light fixtures as he slowly marched down the center of an empty street. Occasionally, he could be heard mumbling to himself, “It’s okay… I can fix this…”
Anderson eventually reached the foot of a hill near the edge of the anomalous city. At the hill’s peak stood the remains of a school. He stood motionless for several minutes, the rain making a light tapping sound on his mask as he eyed the decrepit building. A small silver droid crawled out of his pocket and up his arm before perching on his shoulder. The tiny spider-like drone’s single red eye looked up at the school, then back toward its master, shaking off the rain with a tiny wiggle.
Anderson reached beneath his mask and removed a small drive and placed it within the droid.
“Take care of yourself, Benny,” Anderson said, “I’ll see you soon. Be good.”
The small drone gave a salute and crawled away. Anderson watched it go, and then turned his attention back to the distant school.
“I can fix this…” he said to himself again and continued his ascent.
The Tristan Academy of the Arts had been a prestigious school in Three Portlands between 1972 and 1998, when the death of its founder Abraham Tristan and subsequent financial problems resulted in the school closing its doors. Since then it had remained abandoned, its windows boarded over and its halls filled with all flavors of trash, graffiti, and stagnant puddles of rainwater leaking in from the numerous holes in the roof. On this day in November, however, the building came to life once more. As an academy teaching both mundane and anomalous practices, the entire building was fortified against magic. It was for this reason, Agent Sasha Merlo assumed, that Phineas selected the abandoned school to serve as the location of his intricate trap.
Merlo stood on the stage of the school’s auditorium and checked her phone. Her brunette hair was tied back, and the MTF field uniform she wore gave the normally laid back agent an appearance of authority. On the screen appeared the same message that had been there for the last two hours:
Merlo and the rest of MTF Gamma-13 were now rushing to put together the final pieces of Phineas' plan, a good fourteen hours ahead of schedule, and without a Phineas.
Merlo turned to the center of the stage. There stood two vacant folding chairs, each over a glyph drawn in red chalk. The area surrounding these glyphs was covered in an even larger glyph, the final touches of this one currently being drawn in white chalk by Agent Daniel Navarro, his focus intense as he quickly worked on the many intricate lines and curves needed.
“How much longer?” Merlo asked.
Her colleague didn’t look up but simply continued his work as he spoke.
“Binding glyphs are not something you can rush,” Navarro said. “If I draw this wrong it could turn into a killing curse, or interact with teleportation circles under the chairs and explode, which is the exact opposite of what we want. I will give Phineas credit though, this is high end magic. The kind people go to schools to learn. It’s going to get the job done… assuming I’ve done it right.”
Merlo nodded, opening her mouth to reply, but stopping when a series of voices blasted over her radio.
“Austringers, this is Sentry 1. We have visual on the target, ETA ten minutes!”
“Austringers, this is Sentry 2. We have visual on target… he’s performing a type blue event… Visual lost!”
There was the sound of a distant explosion. The lights in the school all died at once.
“Fuck…” Navarro said, as he lit up the room with his flashlight, the glyph he was working on still incomplete.
“He’s here…” Merlo replied. “I guess we’re doing this live.”
Agent Clarissa Shaw was in the main hall of the school with four other agents when power went out. Dressed in the MTF field uniform, with her blond hair tied back and her glasses replaced with goggles, she and her colleagues readied their arms. The main doors blew off their hinges. A wave of Peregrine Androids flooded in through the breach. The team scattered to avoid the incoming shrapnel, taking cover in the nearby classroom doors. The opposing forces began to exchange fire. Within seconds the hall was littered with bullet casings, hole-riddled droids, and the bodies of two dead agents.
The remaining Gamma-13 agents lost no time in tossing several canisters into the hall, quickly filling the area with a fine white powder, the oncoming wave of droids crumbling into slick black puddles. The ones that the powder failed to destroy were subdued with bullets. The hall became quiet, save for the heavy breathing of those left alive.
“Breach at the main entrance,” Shaw said over her radio, as her teammates reloaded and readied for what was likely another wave of the assault. “Hostiles subdued, Frost and Donner are down.”
“Copy, any sign of target?” Merlo’s voice responded.
The response was cut short by the loud crackle and heat of electricity, her two fellow agents flying away from her into the classrooms in which they had taken cover. Shaw turned on the spot, and was greeted by the gleaming smile of a silver comedy mask.
As Shaw attempted to fire off a round from her rifle, she felt her legs get swept from beneath her, the burst harmlessly flying into the ceiling as she smacked onto the linoleum floor. Anderson proceeded to kick the gun away, pressing down on her vest with a heavy foot as a long, animate wire retracted into his hand.
“Nice seeing you again, Clarissa,” Anderson spoke. “Would you be so kind as to tell me what you have done with my friends?”
She kept her mouth shut for several moments, looking up at her foe with silent contempt.
Anderson gave a relieved sigh in response.
“Your cooperation is appreciated.”
The wire shot out of Anderson’s hand again, piercing through Shaws’ body armor with a sick pop. It then punched through her torso and wormed its way through her, between her organs, and wrapping around her spine. She let out a scream of pain and terror. The wire began letting out a small continuous shock which caused her to involuntarily stand up. Anderson gave a satisfied nod as he forced Shaw to move down the hall in front of him.
“Why don’t you join me?” Anderson whispered in her ear.
Shaw did her best to remain silent as she made her forced march, occasional tears running down her face. Her body was no longer her own. The short walk to the auditorium felt like an eternity as she waited in the prison of her own flesh. Anderson had her push the door open to the auditorium, and the pair stepped inside.
On the stage were two empty chairs. No one else was in the room.
Shaw shrieked again as the coil around her spine tightened, the electricity sending waves of anguish through her.
“In the auditorium?” Anderson hissed, the coil continuing to tighten until Shaw felt a snap, and then nothing from below the waist.
“They were supposed to be here!” she screamed. “They were! Please!”
“Bullshit!” Anderson shouted. The wire whipped back, and then flung forward. Shaw flew through the air, over the theater seats, and crashed onto the stage. She rolled for several moments, then became still.
Electricity arced from Anderson as he gave a frustrated yell. The hall filled with the smell of ozone.
And then with the sound of a shotgun being pumped.
Anderson turned his head. Navarro and Merlo stood at the opposite end of the hall, the former brandishing a shotgun, the latter a pistol.
“Where are they?” Anderson asked, regaining his composure. “This has gone on long enough.”
Navarro replied by pulling the trigger, a large blue bolt of energy flying from the barrel. The cyborg fell backwards, the blast flying past him and slamming into the far wall. Anderson swiftly leapt to his feet, firing off a shot of lightning which hissed harmlessly through the air.
Navarro and Merlo were gone.
With a shriek of rage, the cyborg sprinted down the hall, his head rapidly swiveling to track his targets. Another blue blast shot past him. Anderson let out another yell and began to chase.
Agent Shaw slowly rolled herself over as she coughed. Her body was on fire from the bruises and lacerations she sustained during the landing from her brief flight. She looked over her crumpled self. She couldn’t feel anything from the waist down, her legs unresponsive to her commands, leaving her to crawl upon the stage. While there was a small pool of blood from where the wire had pierced her, the bleeding from that wound seemed to have stopped.
She propped herself up as she heard fast footsteps; Agent Merlo was sprinting down one of the aisles toward her. Two other agents followed behind, each carrying a bound and gagged prisoner. The first carried a thin young man with a mop of curly blond hair and thick glasses that clung to his face as he looked around in terror. The second was a short, middle aged woman with shoulder length brunette hair and faint blue eyes, who simply looked straight ahead, tears in her eyes. Respectively, they were Jason Contos and Dr. Medea Contos, two members of Anderson Robotic's inner circle, and two of Vincent Anderson’s closest friends. The agents placed them down in the two folding chair’s gingerly.
“Jesus Christ…” Merlo said, as she knelt down beside Shaw. “How bad?”
“I can’t feel my legs,” Shaw replied. “Where’s Dan?”
“Buying us time,” Merlo answered “Clarissa, I’m so sorry… Phineas promised us more time to set the trap, and then you and your crew got stuck in the cross fire…”
“Wouldn’t be an Asimov’s Fuckups mission if things went right…” Shaw said, grinning through the pain.
Merlo gave a sad smile and signaled one of the agents over.
“Get her to Sherman, now! Have the rest of the team at the standby point. The trap's set. Carter knows the contingency plan.”
“Yes ma’am,” the agent replied and scooped up Shaw gently.
“Take him down…” Shaw called to Merlo as she was carried away.
Merlo nodded in response. She turned a glance to Jason and Medea, giving them a small half wave as she drew her pistol.
“See you folks real soon.”
Anderson stood in a locker room, his eyes scanning for a very annoying man in plain clothes who had been taking potshots at him across half the interior of the school. The last one had hit his leg, leaving him slightly hobbled as he continued his search. There were no other exits apparent. Whoever this agent was, he had them trapped.
“There is nowhere else for you to run.” Anderson hissed. “Where are they?”
“Did you check the auditorium?” Navarro’s voice called back from somewhere in the maze of lockers.
“Do you think this is a fucking game?” Anderson shouted back, only to be met with a small nervous laugh.
Anderson reached into his pocket, and pulled out several globs of neon blue goo. He gave a frustrated sigh, and then proceeded to chuck them at each of the locker clusters. The metal quickly disintegrated into rust, leaving the once hidden Navarro exposed. The agent looked around, and then back to Anderson, holding up a bloodied hand.
“Okay, that’s just cheating.”
The agent immediately clenched his fist, sending a column of flames up from the floor. Anderson dived to the side to avoid being flash fried. Navarro fired off another blast from his shotgun, the slug nailing the cyborg in the chest and sending him flying backwards into the wall. Navarro sprinted for the door, only to crash to the ground as his feet became snagged. An animate wire was wrapped around his legs, dragging him toward the sparking cyborg.
Navarro slashed his hand again and rolled over as he released another fiery blast. The wire jerked him forward, sending the column of flame into the ceiling. Anderson let out a wild howl and he dived forward, the animate wire protruding from his palm sharpening itself into a fine point as he tried to lance his foe. Navarro had grabbed the wire. Anderson grunted as he placed his weight into the strike, the wire sliding down slowly, cutting into Navarro’s palms on the way down. Blood dripped from Navarro’s palms as he felt the blade slowly slip.
Suddenly Navarro let go with his right hand, grabbing Anderson by the lapel. The blade forcefully sunk into his left shoulder as he let out a cry of pain, followed by a cringing smile.
“Gotcha,” he said through gritted teeth. From his hand erupted a blast of flames which completely engulfing the cyborg. Anderson screamed in pain as Navarro kicked his foe off of him and hobbled out the door, grabbing his shotgun along the way.
The bloodied agent lost no time getting back to the auditorium, his body slamming through the doors as he began to limp down the aisle. Jason and Medea watched him with impassive eyes as he frantically looked around.
"Sasha?" he shouted. "Lets go!"
A bolt of lightning struck Navarro in the back and threw him forward. A glob of orange goo hit him mid-flight, and quickly encased him in a bright orange cocoon. As he lay incapacitated, slow, dragging footsteps filled the room, as did the smell of ozone, and seared flesh.
The agent looked up to see Anderson. Parts of his suit had burnt away, exposing charred flesh, and the strange hybrid of organic and mechanical components beneath. His mask was gone, leaving full view of his face. In place of eyes, he had what appeared to be two small camera lenses that glowed with a faint green light. Rather than a nose, he had a triangular grating that rapidly hissed with the passage of air.
"Gotcha," Anderson stated. He launched the animate wire at Navarro and let it squeeze. Navarro howled in pain as he watched his left arm, from the elbow down, roll away from the rest of his body. The cyborg watched his helpless prey scream in agony, then raised the wire for the kill.
A gunshot rang out. Anderson backed up slightly in shock, the projectile hitting him in the torso. He turned to the source. Merlo stood in the auditorium doorway, pistol raised.
“Kill him, and you kill Jason or Medea. We’ve linked a kill agent between his vital signs, mine, and theirs. Either of us dies, so do they.”
“Want to take that chance?” Merlo raised her pistol. “Try me. Otherwise your friends are right there. Go get them”
“So just like that, you’re done? You think I was born yesterday?”
“You’ve sliced up our team wizard, and crushed the spine of my second in command. I’ve only got this 9mm. The time for tricks has long passed,” Merlo stated coolly. “You’ve won. Collect your god damn prize.”
Anderson and Merlo’s gazes locked for a minute, and then the cyborg began to move toward the stage.
“If you have harmed them… I’ll destroy everything you care about, Sasha.”
Anderson kept one eye on the agents as he approached the stage. Merlo quickly cut Navarro free from his orange prison and watched him cauterize his stump hand with a small blast of flame.
“Mechanical asshole…” Navarro mumbled, violently shaking as he was helped to his feet a wink, the two agents watching as the worn down husk that was Vincent Anderson stumbled onto the stage.
“Friends,” Anderson called out. “Friends, I am so sorry. I swore that I would protect you and I have failed.”
Jason and Medea looked at their employer in silence. Their eyes were bloodshot, and their faces plastered with the exhaustion known by those living in a state of terror.
“It will not happen again,” Anderson continued. “I promise you that. With every fiber of my being, I promise. I can only hope you’ll find the kindness to forgive me for this… for all my faults. After all, to err is human…”
Anderson took a final step, then turned to Merlo.
"Bring them to me," he barked. "Now."
Merlo nodded, placing Navarro down in a seat in the first row, then began to climb on the stage. Anderson gestured towards the two bound prisoners expectedly, his eyes locked on Merlo as she knelt down and began to undo Medea's restraints.
Meanwhile, Navarro noticed his shotgun lying on the ground near the stage. A small smirk came to his face.
"Heads up!" Navarro shouted, diving to the shotgun and letting loose one final blast as Anderson turned on the spot and let loose another orange glob.
Both Navarro and Anderson were hit square in the chest. The former crashed into a row of seats. The latter stood motionless, his frame stunned. Merlo sprinted forward, tackling the cyborg. The two landed in a heap between Jason and Medea.
The room became silent. Anderson stood quietly, his hand around Merlo's throat. She clawed at her assailant; but it was no use, his grip was absolute. The agent made short gasps for air as the grip tightened.
"And we were getting along so well," he said with a sigh, and threw the agent across the stage like a piece of trash. Merlo landed with a sickening thud, skidding face down across the smooth surface of the stage before coming to a final stop.
Two red glyphs began to glow beneath Jason and Medea’s chairs, as a larger one appeared beneath all three of them, glowing with an intense white light. Anderson felt his entire body go rigid as he was locked into place, a great force pressing against him from all directions. Jason and Medea phased out of sight, vanishing with soft pops, the glyphs beneath them growing cold, leaving their images burnt onto the stage.
The cyborg recognized this kind of magic. He had seen it before, from an old friend.
“Well played, Phineas,” Anderson said weakly. “Well played.”
Agent Shaw watched the monitor in front of her intently. Upon it were the remains of Vincent Anderson, lying motionless upon a secure exam table within a cell in Site-64. At some point between his capture at the Tristan Academy in Three Portlands and his arrival on site he shut down, and entered a form of stasis. Life signs were present, and the physical body was repairing its damaged components automatically, but none of their equipment could detect brain activity.
Shaw gave a heavy sigh, and rolled her wheelchair over to a coffee pot in the back of the observation room. She poured herself a mug and then returned her attention to the screen. They had finally captured the white whale itself.
The door to the chamber opened. Agent Merlo stepped inside. Shaw gave her superior a friendly nod.
“Any changes?” Merlo asked, looking over the screen.
“Nope,” Shaw replied, taking a sip of her coffee. “Did they settle on a plan?”
“They are shipping him to 19 tomorrow for long term storage,” Merlo sighed. “High priority PoI, maximum security containment needed, O5 orders, and all that jazz.”
“At least we got him,” Shaw chimed in cheerfully. “For once, we won.”
“It's true,” Merlo said with a small smile. “We finally got him.”
The two looked at the monitor for several moments, watching the motionless body on the screen.
“Dan and I were planning on hitting up Secret Crest tonight,” Merlo broke the silence. “I’m buying. Care to join us?”
Shaw smiled but shook her head.
“I think I’ll pass for now. Thanks though.”
“Clarissa, I insist.”
“Don’t do this to yourself,” Shaw replied sharply. “You don’t owe me a damn thing. This wasn’t your fault.”
Shaw wheeled herself back and forth slightly for emphasis.
“If you need atonement, seek it from Holman, or Navarro. As far as I’m concerned, the only one responsible for this situation is the monster on that screen.”
Tears were visible in Shaw’s eyes.
“Just… promise me I’m still a Lawbringer.”
Merlo closed her eyes. She wasn’t sure what they were going to do with Shaw at this point. There was talk about making her the HQ coordinator for the agent’s in the field, but mobile task forces needed to be mobile above all things. It was just as likely that Clarissa Shaw would be forced to retire.
Merlo gave a sharp nod, and hugged her friend.
“They’ll have to pry you from my cold, dead, hands.”
Navarro and Merlo sat at the bar of the Secret Crest Pub, a small brewpub located in Portland’s Pearl District. The owner, having been a former Site Director of Site-64, made the location a welcome haven for those Foundation personnel who had gotten off their shifts. Both agents sat in plain clothes, the former’s left sleeve pinned upward to make up for his new lack of a hand.
“Shaw might let you off easily,” Navarro commented as he sipped his drink, “but you’re buying me my drinks forever.”
“Fair enough,” Merlo replied, holding up her fingers to signal another round. She paused for several moments before she finally added. “I’m sorry though Dan. I really am.”
“You should be,” Navarro said with sly smile. “That was the hand I used to flip people off. Now I can’t properly express myself. You have emotionally crippled me.”
Merlo gave small snort and shook her head, taking a long sip from her beer.
“What kind of ammo were you using in that shotgun, anyway?” Merlo asked. “Haven’t seen it before.”
“Something I picked up on an assignment in Japan. Completely nonlethal.”
“The great Daniel Navarro, even in the face of a killer cyborg, you can’t bring yourself to kill someone.” Merlo chuckled. Navarro joined in. After a few more moments they returned to their drinks in silence.
“So what happens now?” Navarro asked after finishing his second drink. “You guys got your prize. What’s next for Gamma-13?”
“We caught Anderson, yes,” Merlo replied with a sigh. “But the company still exists. Phineas has probably taken over by now. Lop off one head and have another two grow back in its place.”
“Indeed,” said a warm voice from behind the two agents. They swiveled on their stools and came face to face with an old woman carrying a box. She wore a dark blue business suit and her grey hair was tied back in a bun, and gave a soft, sympathetic smile.
Navarro and Merlo locked eyes for a moment, and prepared to speak. They were interrupted as the old woman introduced herself.
“My name is Mrs. Saker,” she said. “I was a friend of Phineas.”
“Subtle,” Merlo replied. “Phineas send you to strike out another deal?”
“Phineas is dead,” Mrs. Saker said softly. “Anderson slaughtered him in his apartment shortly before you captured him, as he did to all of those who threw their lot in with the old fool. I’m all that’s left of Phineas’s band of merry men.”
“So who has taken charge of the company?”
“It remains to be seen,” Mrs. Saker replied. She then placed the box on the bar next to Navarro.
“Phineas would have wanted you to have this for your troubles. I’ll be working on something for your friend Ms. Shaw in the meantime. We’ll be in touch.”
Mrs. Saker gave a curt nod and turned away, leaving the pub as quietly as she entered, and disappearing into the foot traffic outside. Merlo and Navarro looked towards the box, the latter cautiously opening it. Inside was a black prosthetic arm, marked with the Anderson Robotics logo. A card was placed on top which read:
Thank you for your purchases of your new GYRFALCON™ Series prosthetic.
Jason and Medea Contos sat at the board room table inside Anderson Robotics HQ. Neither of them could remember the last 72 hours, and had woken in their respective homes beaten and bruised. In the time they had come into work, they had learned that both Vincent Anderson and Phineas had completely vanished, leaving no one to man the company helm. Joining them at the table was Dr. Jeffery Wilson, and Isaac Dillard. The former was a middle aged man with dark skin. His face seemed to be permanently pressed into an expression of worry. The latter was a muscular man in a business suit whose hair was neatly combed back, and carried a faint scent of aftershave with him. Isaac cleared his throat, and then began to address his colleagues.
“Well folks,” he began, “we all knew this day was likely to come. Now we need to make a decision, and fast. The stability of the company depends on it.”
Isaac let out a sad sigh.
“We need to replace Anderson.”
All the eyes in the room turned to one another, bouncing from locked gaze to locked gaze before all glances settled on the floor.
“My vote,” Isaac continued, “is for Medea to take the reins.”
“M.. me?” Medea stuttered. “For the love of God, why?”
“You’re the closest person we have to matching Vincent and Phineas’s raw talent,” Isaac replied. “You know their vision for our products and customers as well as they did. It will be a hard road, but we’re here to help every step. Unfortunately, someone needs to step up to the plate, and I’m afraid it’s your turn to bat.”
Medea looked down at the table nervously.
“I… I wouldn’t even know where to start… Isaac, I can’t be set adrift like this…” Medea mumbled. “I… I don’t know what to do…”
“You don’t need to,” said a voice from the entrance of the room.
The four heads at the table turned to the board room’s entrance. Standing there was a tan man in a blue dress shirt, with a silver vest and matching slacks. He had long black hair tied back in a ponytail and piercing green eyes. A silver comedy mask was gripped in his left hand as he made his way to the head of the table. While it was no longer mechanical sounding, the four board members recognized his voice.
“Vince?” Wilson asked. “What…. What happened to you?”
“Got a little tied up with the Foundation, I’m afraid,” Vincent replied with a cheerful smile. “I’ve made use of some of the tech created by Myra Rider. You remember her, right? Lovely up-and-coming member of the R&D team. Anyway, for the time being I’ll be operating remotely through Saker-101 here.”
Anderson gestured to himself.
“Not bad, don’t you think?”
“If your physical body is in the hands of the Foundation…” Jason asked slowly, “Isn’t that potentially a massive breach of security for us?”
“You bet,” Anderson said warmly, "They've got me by the balls. If they tamper with my body I could die, and I can't use magic like this. But for the time being it’s the best option I have. I'll just pop back to them every now and then. Throw them a bone.”
The room fell silent. The eyes of the board members fell on the table. Their frames felt small under weight of Anderson’s piercing gaze and monumental smile.
“I’ve also got a surprise for you…” Anderson chimed, and turned toward the board room doors. “Look who's back!”
Anderson threw open the doors, and a skinless Saker unit walked in, dressed entirely in black save for its red tie.
“Afternoon everyone,” the android said in Phineas's voice then produced a small smile. “I apologize for my absence. It’s good to be back.”
The board members looked at the Saker with wide eyes. Sideways glances met with one another and an air of terror crept over the table.
“Anyway,” Anderson beamed, placing his comedy mask on his face. “Phineas and I have a lot of work to catch up on from this past month. Let’s hit the ground running. We still need to get the Taita series prototype rebuilt. You all take care.”
Anderson and "Phineas" left the room, the doors closing behind them.
For several minutes there was silence. Isaac organized several papers in front of him, and met the horrified gaze of every other member of the room in turn.
“Well folks,” he said softly, “we all knew this day was likely to come…”