Scene 12 – December 19th
Interior MLED Compound, Late Morning
“Why do we have to visit the compound?” Tristan complained as we went through the security line. “It’s boring. I’ve seen it before!”
He was playing the part of the moody teenager perfectly – one of the guards was clearly suppressing a smirk as he performed a perfunctory search of Mom’s bag. I, meanwhile, simply stepped through a metal detector, which beeped at me.
“Belt,” the guard said.
I pulled it off and tossed it in a bin, then went through again, this time without issue. Tristan took his belt off before going through the detector, which allowed him through without issue.
Our strategy for infiltrating the building had been devised by Viv and Morgan the previous week, and basically boiled down to look like random civilians with different identifying marks for as long as possible’. To that end, I was wearing a beard to make me look a little older, and my naturally-white hair had been died mostly – but not entirely – brown, to make me appear to be closer to Mom’s age. With Tristan beside us, we looked like a couple and their teenage son arriving a little early for the afternoon’s tour – enough to start with lunch while we waited. Viv and Percy had entered a few minutes earlier, similarly disguised as a couple, to prevent us from being identifiable as a group of the right size and composition – Viv’s own distinctive hair had been temporarily dyed auburn, while Percy was wearing contacts instead of his usual glasses.
For much the same reason, we were making just a little trouble in the security lines. Viv had insisted that the guards would remember a group going through perfectly more than a group that forgot a handful of random things – Mom’s purse held a pocketknife for the same reason, although it looked like the guard had either missed it or not cared as he passed it to her.
Having passed through security without incident, we began making our way to the cafeteria, keeping an eye out for Viv and Percy – they were supposed to be finding a quiet place for us to change into our costumes for the next leg of the infiltration. Shortly before reaching the cafeteria, I spotted Viv leaning out of what looked like a conference room door, gesturing for us to come closer.
“Finally,” Tristan muttered as we joined her.
“Cameras down?” I asked, my eyes flicking up to a security camera in the ceiling.
“Should be,” she confirmed. “The spell Mother gave me went without a hitch, and there haven’t been any alarms, so…”
The door closed behind us and I saw that Percy was already changed, wearing a stylized set of plate armor and a red cloak, the hood down to reveal his helmet. His arms were crossed across his chest as he leaned against one wall, blood-red mist drifting around his gauntlets. “What took you so long?” he asked, and though his helmet covered his mouth I could tell that he was smiling. “Feels like I’ve been waiting for ages.”
“You’re just eager to tweak the nose of the MLED,” Mom said. “It’s been ten minutes at most.”
“That’s still a long time to wait,” he complained. “It’s not like I can use a phone in here.” He waggled his metal-covered fingers.
“Hey, you were the one who wanted the gauntlets,” I pointed out. “The rest of us have leather gloves. Speaking of which…”
“Gotcha covered,” Viv assured us, then spoke a long sentence that made my teeth vibrate. When she was finished, all our clothes – actually our costumes, physically transmuted into regular clothes by Viv and Morgan’s combined efforts the previous night – had been replaced by armor. All of us wore roughly the same thing as Percy, with the only differences being the color of the cloak – picked the match the color of the mist that dad’s armor made for each of us – and which piece of armor was a genuine artifact.
Forest-green mist swirled around the greaves of Tristan’s armor – it would, thankfully, muffle the clinking of metal on tile whenever he took a step. The thick white mist that poured off of Viv’s helmet almost looked like hair, even matching her hair color, except that while she had a spiky pixie cut, the mist curled down to her shoulders before beginning to fade. Mom had a deep blue mist swirling around her breastplate, almost looking like a skirt as it fell to the ground around her legs and faded.
For myself, I wore the cloak of the armor set. It was a purple so dark that it was nearly black, and the mist that poured from it made it appear far longer that it was, pooling around my feet and surrounding me. It was, with all modesty, a pretty impressive sight. But…
“I just wish we could turn the mist off,” Viv said, and I nodded in agreement. “It’s more conspicuous that I’d like.”
“We’re supposed to be conspicuous,” Percy pointed out. “To draw attention away from you. And you’ve got the stealth cloak, so the mist shouldn’t matter.”
“I mean, yeah, but you guys should still stay out of sight as long as possible.” She pulled her hood up experimentally.
I blinked. “Where’d Viv go?”
“What do you mean?” Mom asked. “Isn’t she still…. at home?” She frowned in confusion.
“No, she stepped out to use the… bathroom?” Percy said uncertainly. “…right?”
Viv pulled her hood down. “Well, that seems to work,” she said with a definite smirk in her voice. “I’ll keep it down until we have to split up, though.”
“Right. Now then… we’re going down?”
“Yeah, the servers we’re looking for are in the third subbasement,” Mom agreed.
I planted my feet firmly – in my practice, that had always helped – and my cloak billowed out as I tapped into its magic. The MLED building had an odd construction, as far as buildings went – it was modular, made such that every piece could be taken apart and replaced as necessary. Despite the faux-hardwood, the floor we were standing on was built from metal framing – and metal, as with everything that came from the ground, was within the domain of my armor.
The floor buckled slightly and lifted as I manipulated it, unclipping one of the floor plates and moving it aside. Below it was a plate for the ceiling of the first basement – that, too, I unclipped and gently floated to the ground.
“Good job, bro,” Viv said, leaning over the edge of the neat hole to the first subbasement. “We should be able to hop all the way down to the right level!”
“Anyone down there?” Mom asked.
My sister shook her head. “No, I’m not hearing anyone within a hundred feet in that level. If I remember the floor plan right – and I do – this level is mostly barracks and year-to-year storage. Not a ton of call for these rooms in the middle of the day.”
“Then down we go!” Mom casually slipped through the hole and landed easily, her knees flexing slightly as she hit the ground. The invulnerability her armor granted her absorbed nearly all the force of her landing, and she didn’t even make much sound. “Drop down to me, I’ll help catch you,” she said up to us.
Viv nodded, then hopped down herself. Percy and Tristan followed, and I brought up the rear. Mom caught each of us gently, the magic of her armor absorbing the force and sound of each landing and producing more blue smoke instead.
“Alright, Viv,” Percy said as I replaced the tiles I had pulled out, filling in the hole behind us. “Where to next?”
“One more floor down,” she told me.
I focused again, and a tile from the floor below us rose and moved to the side. But rather than revealing the ceiling tile below, it revealed a dense lattice of crystalline material that didn’t register to the magic of my cape.
I knelt to knock on it, a gentle chime ringing out as the crystal vibrated. “What is this stuff?” I asked.
Viv frowned at the protective lattice. “It must be some kind of extra layer of protection for the lowest levels – tougher than the usual stuff, but too expensive to use everywhere. Can you deal with it?”
“No,” I said, shaking my head. “Whatever it is, it’s not considered ‘of the earth’.” I made air quotes as I quoted the category that the cape was supposed to have dominion over.
“It must be some magical bullshit,” Tristan complained, and Mom nodded. “Can you do anything about it, sis?”
“Maybe…” Viv said uncertainly. “Mother hasn’t taught me much destructive magic yet, and if this is high-end magic, well…”
“You can do it,” I encouraged her.
She took a deep breath, then began muttering under her breath, a faint static beginning to build up in my ears as she did. After a minute or so, the crystal began to vibrate and produce an extended hum, and only a few seconds later Viv stopped and coughed up smoke, clutching at her throat.
“Are you alright?” Mom asked, her voice full of concern.
Viv nodded, waving her off, and hoarsely said, “this stuff shrugs off most magics, and reflects the rest. Nearly burnt out my voicebox.”
“I’m fine,” she raspily promised. “Or I will be, rather. I just need a few minutes.”
“Okay, so we’re not going to be able to go through this,” I summed up.
“Hey, let me take a turn,” Percy insisted, cracking his fingers. “Maybe brute force will work where magic failed.”
“‘Brute’ is right,” Viv commented, then coughed again, a little more smoke coming out.
“Kids,” Mom warned as Percy crouched and took hold of the crystal bars. He flexed and heaved and struggled, but it was obvious that he wasn’t making any progress.
“…okay, so we’re not going to be able to go through this,” I said again, replacing the floor tile. “What next? We still have to go one more level down, right?”
“Two,” Viv said, frowning. “And there are checkpoints at each of the stairwells down, and no elevators into the secure levels.”
“Hm… let’s start moving towards the nearest stairwell,” Mom decided. “Once we’re there, we can think about how to get past it.”
We traveled in silence, for the most part. Other than the faint clinking of our armor – fortunately muffled somewhat by the multicolored fog that surrounded us – there was little noise and no conversation until my sister called for us to halt.
“The guards are right around this corner,” she whispered. “Any ideas? Remember, we need to be very careful here, because they have-”
There was a sudden expansion of the green mist as Tristan rushed forward at high speed, swinging around the corner and attacking the guards. We heard two swift thumps and then he was back, leaning against the wall and obviously grinning. “All done!” My little brother chirped happily.
Viv gaped at him, open-mouthed, then growled, smoke curling out of her nostrils. “Tristan, you… you! They have heartbeat monitors, you dingus!”
“Ah.” He glanced over his shoulder towards where the guards were no doubt slumped, unconscious. “Whoops?”
Scene 13 – December 19th
Interior MLED Compound, Continuous
Viv took a deep breath, and a fresh wave of white smoke rolled off of her helmet as she, presumably, took advantage of the superintelligence it gave. “Okay, you guys start fighting your way out,” she said after an instant. “Take at least ten minutes – that should be long enough for me to get a sizable data dump from the secure servers. We already knew that it was unlikely we’d be able to do this completely undetected – our best strategy now is to do it without the purpose being known. Just remember the cover reason you’re here.”
“Remind me what that was?” Tristan asked.
Percy sighed. “You’re too hyper, bro. We’re pretending that we came to steal items from secure storage, rather than data, so they’ll look in the wrong place. We accidentally set off an alarm, so we’re running.”
“…there’s no alarm though,” he said.
“It’s silent,” Viv told him, pulling her hood up.
“…wait, what’s silent?”
“Time to go,” Mom declared. “There will be more guards coming…”
“Soon?” I asked, pointing down the hallway to where MLED agents were already appearing.
“Unidentified intruders, you are surrounded!” one of them shouted to us. “Sit down and place your hands on the ground! Do not use any metahuman -”
I cut her off by stomping on the ground, causing the tiles of the floor and walls to curve into a wall that blocked us from the guards.
“What about from the other directions?” Percy asked. “If we’re surrounded…”
I leaned around the corner and saw that yes, guards were appearing from the lower level – the two that Tristan had knocked out were being pulled to safety. I had to jerk back as an agent fire a high-tech pistol that shot some kind of electrical charge through the air, close enough that I could smell ozone.
“Yup, definitely surrounded,” I said generating more purple mist as I closed off that path.
“Wait, where’s Vivian?” Mom asked, sounding a little panicked. “She’s hurt!”
“No, she’s…” my mind skittered away from whatever I had been about to say, and I frowned. “Uh, she’s not here, so how could she have been hurt?”
“…right.” Mom sighed. “I forgot.”
“It’s that stealth cloak,” Percy chuckled. “Works a little too well, it seems like. How could you forget that Viv is… at home with Morgan?”
“No names, Sir Ardent,” I reminded him. “Now, we can’t just bunker down under these walls -” there was a loud thud and the sound of tearing metal from down the corridor, and I almost absentmindedly reinforced that barrier. “They’ll tear them down at some point, after all. They’ll call in heroes, if nothing else.”
“Who could get past them, though?” Tristan asked. “I mean, if you keep rebuilding the walls…”
“Journey could teleport through. Vulcan could melt through. Anima turning them into a golem might trump my control – she never went up against dad, so who knows how that would turn out. Canaveral could probably tear through them faster than I could rebuild. Loki might be able to-”
“Okay, you’ve made your point,” Mom said. “No need to go overboard. What’s your plan?”
I nodded to Tristan. “I’ll open up a hole for Sir Alacrity. He zooms out for a few moments and then back to start knocking some of them out so we can make a path. You and Sir Ardent guard the hole to make sure the guards don’t get through to me.”
Percy nodded. “It’s a good plan, Sir Amethyst,” he said, probably trying to remind himself to use the codenames we had chosen – I knew that I was. “Dame Adamant’s invulnerability can block and shots they make, and I can throw back anyone who gets close.”
“Exactly. Let’s get to it.”
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