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CripDyke

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It is not til near noon that John Gun is finally free to leave the scene. With Yooso's business card and a promise of "an expression of gratitued" from Mr. Yamata - passed through Yooso, of course - a clean bill of health from the paramedics, and a few clues from the police, the limo's protector strikes off for SHOP headquarters, just blocks away.

 

At the door, a lighted panel audibly invites any approaching to place a registered body part on or near the crypto-plaque for access... or to press the plaque with any mechanism or ability to initiate communication. An oddly ambiguous phrasing, but understandable enough. John Gun puts his gloved right hand out and depresses the lighted area.

 

"Welcome to SHOP. I am your interface to the central computer of this building. If I can help you, I certainly will. You may call me PHRANC, for your convenience or if it pleases you. I am able to communicate in many human languages. Please in the one in which you are most conversant. If you need emergency help, please say so now...."

 

"No emergency," begins Mr. Gun. "I was... in the neighborhood and hoped to offer, no I hoped to speak with Orca."

 

"Orca is not in at the moment. I am pleased there is no emergency. Can be of any assistance?"

 

Not sure of exactly how to proceed in conversation with a computer, the normally decisive hero pauses in indecision... But a decision is not necessary. From over his shoulder, he hears another voice, baritone and full of all the certainty of command.

 

"Why don't you simply let the two of us into the foyer," the voice suggests with a weighty expectation the suggestion will be obeyed.

 

"As you wish, Commander Estin. May I enquire who your guest is?" the computer asks as the guest turns to see the tall, muscular, but greying man who must be Mr. Estin. The newcomer stands alone, wearing the dark blue uniform of the Portland Police Department.

 

"John Gun," replies the officer, as he extends his hand. Two men still not properly introduced shake hands before heading in to the foyer of SHOP Headquarters. "How bout some hospitality?" Estin asks the air, prompting PHRANC to open a sliding door to another room that appears to be a break room - refrigerator, microwave, a table, and a few less-than-perfectly-comfortable chairs.

 

"PHRANC hasn't asked any more because he already knows as much as I do about you." Estin begins by way of answering the unasked question.

 

"Rather more, I should think, Commander," responds the computer in a voice that sounds almost slighted.

 

"No one doubts your search routines or your speed PHRANC, but perhaps you could set personal feelings aside for a moment?" After pausing a moment and getting only silence from the walls and ceiling, Estin continues, "Sometimes I think PHRANC only says those things to annoy me. Apparently Paragon had a dry sense of humor, and Paragon is responsible - for better or worse - for PHRANC's personality.

 

"I missed you at the crime scene because I was running some checks. Your passport comes up clean. We have no reason to doubt who you are, but we also have reason to be ... careful with you. Despite your heroism at the ambush this morning, those who pack multiple firearms and look for trouble can sometimes be unpredictable.

 

"Now I have some important reasons to believe that you're on the up & up. But I'd like to establish the parameters of our working relationship before we proceed. I'm the commander of SP Tac - the special tactical unit thats responsible for responding to Aquarian threats. Threats that, in technology, scale, or... supernatural nature, surpass what normal officers might be expected to handle. Think of us as a super-SWAT team. If ever someone went rogue, for example, who could hit a moving target behind heavy cover over 60 yards away with one out of every 3 shots; and if that person was known to shrug off multiple shots from high-power sniper rifles, for example; it might be SP Tac's job to hunt that person down.

 

"On the other hand, when Orca came to town, it was SP Tac that provided his liason to the police department, helping him get the information he needed to track down the source of the virus that infected him after that first bombing. And if some super-marksman came to town to help out when Orca wasn't available, it might be SP Tac's job to make sure he had all the resources he needed to do his job right.

 

"So, here I am. Not quite sure what my role is, but wanting to believe it is something of the latter. Project Aquarius is interested in you, if your marksmanship is more than luck and you survived through something more exotic than Kevlar. So my first order of business is to ask: Who are you really? Why are you here? And what are you willing to offer up - finger prints, retina scan, DNA or something else - that we can use to make sure that when dealing with someone who looks like you, we're dealing with the real you.

 

"What you tell me will be recorded by PHRANC, of course, and passed on to Project Aquarius, which is officially a part of CHESS. People will need a high security clearance to get at it, but remember when you talk that you're speaking to a couple of dozen people, not just me. So be cautious if you have to, but the more open you can be with me, the more I can tell you about things we found at the scene that Sargeant Sheffield wasn't able to tell you."

 

Having made his pitch, Commander Estin leans back in his chair, and waits for his guest's response...

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John Gun is almost gob-smacked. He'd originally hoped to offer his meagre talents to Orca in his fight(s) for justice and now here he was being offered what he assumed amounted to a 'consultancy' with the local PD. After a few moments, he makes up his mind and smiles.

 

"That's a fairly impressive speach Commander. How many times have you rehersed it?" He asks to try and lighten the mood (afterall, a moron could have picked up the threat in Estin's monlogue). "It came across well."

 

After a few seconds to guage Estin's reaction to his attempt at humour, John Gun continues. "Firstly Commander, I think you need to know something about me and who I am. Simply stated, I'm a soldier - I fought for the government and our nation once but now I'm willing to fight for justice itself. I have no qualms with anyone, but I believe strongly that the guilty should be punished and the innocent set free."

 

"As for what I am, let's just say I've been blessed by God and leave it at that. But I can assure you it was more than luck, although one in three is pretty poor, and I've never needed kevlar before." Says John Gun as he smiles at the police officer. after another pause he continues. "I'll offer what information I can, and also any samples you need, to ensure your peace of mind but I can assure you here and now, I only want to help those who need help."

 

Gun pauses again, and then shrugs slightly. "My former friends gave me the name Gunfighter because of my gifts, and I'd like to continue to use that moniker if that's okay." He then sweeps Estin up and down before continuing. "As for our working relationship, I'd like to be kept advised of the sniper case. My talents seemed to prove effective against them once, and hopefully they'll prove useful. Other than that, I assume you can think of situations when the Portland Police Department or this CHESS you spoke of would find my skills and abilities of use."

 

Gun will offer a DNA sample and fingerprints and retinal scans. Again, he'll not make any attempt at subterfuge or to lie in any way.

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Estin needs little time for thought when the newly named Gunfighter is done with his own speech. "Well and good. Let it be said that no one doubted we were on the same side - or few, anyway - but I'm glad you're willing to offer to ID yourself. Without a consistent ID, we simply aren't able to work together in the same ways we would like. Personally, I care little for the passport you offered at the scene. John Gun may be your birth name, may not be. May be your legal name, may not be. Trust me, I know what it's like to have your loved ones become the personal targets of Aquarian violence." Here he pauses, tho' only for a moment.

 

"There are many good & fine reasons to hide your identity. The people who need secret identities for protection, well, they wouldn't tell you they're using a pseudonym. And the people who don't need them, well, they won't tell you they're using a pseudonym...because they're not. I say this only to let you know that I understand the game. I worked both special forces and counter-intel and neither of them were any more complex than the crazy world we live in today."

 

"So, now you're John Gun, and Gunfighter, to S.H.O.P.'s computers, of which PHRANC is only one. That will be cross-referenced with the DNA sample you gave us, the finger prints, & retina scan, but none of those will ever be cross-referenced with any public identity database, and none of your data will pass beyond the systems of SHOP and CHESS. I'm sure PHRANC has already set up some basic access for you here."

 

Another voice interrupts from the ceiling, "Indeed I have."

 

"So lets take this to another room where I can show you some data you didn't get at the crime scene."

 

A few moments later, and the two are in another room with a 5' ball of glass supported by a surprisingly narrow pedastal in the center. "You may have seen something like this before, or not. Believe me, when Lon put it together - based on a Motivator design - it was the essence of bleeding-edge technology." All of a sudden, the globe fills with light and becomes a perfect 3D representation of the scene of this morning's ambush, as it existed shortly after the first police responders arrived on the scene. "But now for some tricks even Paragon didn't have when he was here. PHRANC? Can you give me the initial shots of the northeast scene?"

 

Quickly the scene shifts and a fast-motion movie is played as if a person is climbing the stairs of the building in which the dead sniper was found. After a jerky, quick-time search behind a few doors, one is opened that reveals the room from which the slain sniper attacked Mr. Yamata's limousine. The room is almost as John Gun remembers it, but not quite.

 

"You have to remember that we had little information about you at the time. Take a look, walk around the monitor. what do you see?"

 

And Gunfighter does walk around the globe, seeing the room from every angle, even gaining enough confidence to ask PHRANC to tip the vision of the room first one way, then the other in order to get better looks at the ceiling and floors. But Gunfighter already knows what was changed before he was allowed up the stairs: "So what did that mechanical window frame do?" The curious hero asks.

 

"It's a sonic nullifier. Deadens sound in the immediate area, plus all along the wall to which it's attached. Seems an odd device to use here, doesn't it? But there are reasons to spend that kind of money - probably a couple hundred thousand dollars a piece for those things.

 

"Let me change the subject a minute. Orca, well... think of him as an actual Killer Whale. You know they stun their prey with sound waves, sometimes? Our hero-boy is a bit more adept at it than the whales are. He can knock out a good size chunk of wall even. And if he's not looking to stun, well, just the sound he projects can shatter bones and rupture arteries. It can be devastating. But other than that, well, he swims well, holds his breath well, and hits the bad guys with his fists a lot. I'm sure you know a lot of people consider him unkillable after that bomb blast he survived. What you and most people don't know is how narrowly he survived it. And of course everyone is aware of the Genetically Modified Ebola virus he was infected with. He barely survived that, too."

 

At this point, the globe/monitor begins displaying close up lab-shots of several deformed bullets.

 

"Trying to anticipate me again PHRANC? Well, good enough. That does bring us to these bullets. You'll recognize the hollow points, i'm sure, and even how they must have been designed to carry a payload, not just air. They carried disease. We're not sure just which one - or ones. But we find it more than a bit suspicious that two well equipped snipers set up this kind of trap for a business executive, with such obvious careful planning, and announced their presence with a loudspeaker, not 12 blocks from the HQ of the man with the most sensitive hearing on the planet."

 

"So what does that tell you?"

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"This all tells me that they laid a trap for Orca, but I wandered into it in his stead and thanks to my gifts I survived it where one of them didn't." Gunfighter pauses for a moment to consider the situation more carefully. "The sonic nullifier was put in place to both prevent him from getting a bead on them and also to prevent him from hurting them. They didn't count on my rounds flying or my eyes seeing them."

 

Gunfighter continues to look around the scene and at the bullets more closely. "Could those slugs' payload have gotten inside my system? I ask because I'm not as universally nigh on unkillable as Orca. Also, do you have any data on the sniper himself and how he died? I didn't hit him well enough to kill, yet he's dead with only my bullets to show for it."

 

Gunfighter then steps back from the globe slightly. "And for the record, I've a similar background to you and I understand the need for secrecy, hence my colleagues giving me a 'handle'. I trust I can be assured of your asistance in keeping my identity a secret?"

 

Gunfighter then goes back to studying the bullets, his keen eyes and master gunfighter's instincts and experience working at break-neck speeds.

 

"PHRANC, does Vanguard or Kobe Automated Heavy Industry have any known or suspected Aquarian allies, on either side of the law."

 

The enigma the mornings' 'entertainment' has turned into begins to take a different shape within Gunfighter's mind. The information Estin had given him as well as his own experience, training and instincts all meshed together, colliding with the unknown and morphing. Gunfighter still needed more information, but his instincts tingled, telling him that Orca had been the target and that his skills would be needed again soon.

 

"If those shells were loaded with a virus, which seems probable given the previous attack on Orca's life, then I'm in trouble...." Gunfighter thinks to himself as he allows his mind to ponder the mysteries of the day. "...and so are they. Weapons of mass destruction have no place in this world, and neither to those who use them." Gunfighter then smiles slightly. "Although I suppose some might call me a weapon of mass destruction, ain't that a kicker."

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"I'm glad you see the ambush the same way SP Tac does, and I'm glad for Orca that he wasn't in town today. Clearly they were prepared for him, while no one was prepared for you.

 

No one includes the police, of course. We have some procedures for working with allies that need some care taken with their identity. Sheffield and her partner know you use the name John Gun, as do one other and myself. Others heard you called Mr. Gun by the men you saved, but were encouraging people to believe that's a nickname. It's convenient enough that in the precinct locker room people are considering it more of a joke than anything else, but still, someone might use it to look you up. I'd make sure your number is unlisted. If you need to redo a lease agreement so it no longer bears your name, I can be your liason to Project Aquarius and they can help you with a few details like that. I hope that's enough for now. And don't worry about Sheffield herself. She's a good cop and knows the procedures. I'll spread around the moniker "Gunfighter" and that should be that.

 

"As far as your vulnerability to disease, well, I'm not sure. You don't have any bullets lodged in you, I hear, and the paramedics seemed to think that nothing penetrated your skin. That would make any germ less able to take hold, i'd think, tho' until we know exactly what it is, we won't know how it's transmitted. And even then we can be wrong if anyone's been doing any genetic tinkering."

 

"PHRANC will have the best intel on all that. I can only give you what I knew when I left central precinct, but any official report or case note entered into the computers over there, PHRANC has access to.

 

"Say, PHRANC? Why don't we start out with a general clearance of 20, with an access of 15 on this case, okay? But unless he tells you otherwise, i'd like you to give me updates on Gunfighter's line of investigation so I can coordinate with the detectives on this one.

 

"Well, that's going to do me for time right now. I'm going to have to go fill out some reports on you for Project Aquarius. Just to clarify, we feel we have enough evidence right now that we're confident you're on the home team. No charges for this morning, but I still have to file my reports.

 

"Take care. And don't get shot up too much," concludes Estin before shaking hands with Gunfighter and leaving SHOP's HQ.

 

The silence doesn't last long, however, as PHRANC begins to respond to Gunfighter's questions...

 

the new reports include some ominous tones.

 

The virus? a cocktail of hemoragic fevers... but all natural strains so far. There still might be evidence of genetic engineering found, but preliminary results favor stolen natural stocks from one research lab or another.

 

The new detail? included with the viral fevers was a strong dose of immunosupressant drugs timed for release not on impact before the immune system would be able to respond anyway, but for later in the incubation period. The timing isn't certain yet, but the lethality of this mix is. "

 

"Vanguard's history of involvement w/ Aquarian allies & enemies is a bit new, sketchy, and complex. It seems likely that the Shadow Wolf is an ally or hireling of Leslie Richter Sr., the man heading Vanguard. Shadow Wolf appears to function as both bodyguard and trouble shooter. But Leslie Richter Jr., daughter of Vanguard's CEO, was herself recently poisoned to spectacular effect by a drug developed in New Zealand in an attempt to artificially activate Aquarian abilities in otherwise normal people. The death rate was horrendous and the program was dropped, but some of it was stolen and sold to a crime syndicate for "research". Some of that was siphoned off during the smuggling and ended up being used by someone unfamiliar with the effects to try to kill of witnesses to a crime. A number did die, manifesting abilities briefly but uncontrollably, using all the fats of their bodies, and then muscles themselves to provide energy for their powers. They died emaciated, as if they hadn't eaten in months and wasted away. But a few survived. Leslie Jr. was one. It is unclear if she still has the ability to generate powerful physical shockwaves or not or if using that ability would cause another run away loss of body mass, so an Aquarian in the family is Possible at Vanguard. And, of course, Orca has been involved - he was responsible for breaking open the syndicate responsible for the drug smuggling. That was done while Leslie Jr was still in a coma, so there is no direct link there, but it is publically known that he had cooperation from Shadow Wolf in bringing the smuggling to an end. So, undoubtedly, the Richter's know some significant things about Orca & his past, but would be more likely to view him as ally than enemy.

 

Kobe has a more enigmatic past regarding Aquarian assaults and allies, in part because the press operates differently in Japan and large corporations may be more able to secure their privacy in that country. It is known that military research facilities run by Kobe have been damaged in spectacular and not-well-explained ways twice in the past. It is suspected that both the incursion and defense relied on people with resources, technology, or personal abilities that might be called Aquarian... but on the other hand, similar damage could be caused by a tank - if you could get a tank to the site undetected and remove the wreck before pictures were taken of the aftermath. It's a bit hard to know what all that means.

 

After relaying all the information, PHRANC passes on some final, welcome news:

 

"Since you asked about infection, I didn't think you'd mind if I ran an AI-PCR test looking for viral DNA & RNA in the same blood sample you gave me to profile your own DNA. I don't detect Dengue, Lhassa, Ebola, or Marburg in your blood and they should be present if you had been infected. When I get the full list of microbes from the state police labe, I can run even more tests, but from everything I can tell, you should be clean. The types of pathogens in the bullets were blood-borne, and it appears from the deformation of the bullets found at the scene that the ammunition actually bounced off of a high tensile strength surface. May I add that I am impressed Mr. Gunfighter?

 

"And on a final note, I realize your investigations will necessarily remove you from this building soon. If you have no transportation, we do have a non-descript car, as well as two remarkably sleek but unmarked motorcycles. If you need access to these, please let me know. There is a sub-level walkway to a nearby garage so you won't be seen leaving from here.

 

"I hope I've been helpful. Please let me know if there's anything else you need."

 

And then, the warm voice of the building's computer fades and Gunfighter begins to feel truly alone in SHOP's headquarters for the first time. An illusion of course. PHRANC is somewhere behind one - or all! - of these panels. But then, PHRANC is an illusion as well... A talking computer is different from true artificial intelligence. Or is PHRANC a person? Suddenly gunfighter realizes he has no idea...

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"Ah, the sweet sound of silence." Gunfighter thought to himself as he looked aorund the room. "Well, first things first.... I'm hungry."

 

"PHRANC, is there any food in this place?" Gunfighter asks the empty room. "I haven't eaten since last night, and this morning was a little 'busy'." Gunfighter smiles as he continues to look at the crime scene. "####, I'm in investigator now. Who'd have thought...."

 

Gunfighter then, out of reflex, touches the holster under his arms, and realises he's still unarmed. "PHRANC, I'll need a firearm of some kind if possible. And a comm of some kind, mobile phone, radio, whatever you've got. And have the autopsy and toxicology reports from the dead sniper been completed and filed yet?"

 

Gunfighter thinks for a moment more, trying to decide upon a plan of attack - this investigation lark being new to him. Normally he'd be given an objective or at least an enemy to kill/maim/apprehend.

 

"And PHRANC, could I have some more information on both Orca and this Shadow Wolf you mentioned. Specifically anything on their histories, and also Shadow Wolf's powers or abilities would be useful." Gunfighter leans back in a chair and comtemplates the situation.

 

"Okay, I need more intel. Requested info on my erstwhile allies, and the corpse I left behind. What else do I need? Oh I know."

 

"PHRANC, I don't suppose you've any identity information on the dead sniper and also on the weaponsmith who made his rifle?"

 

Gunfighter leans back and puts his booted feet on the desk in front of him and waits for PHRANC to respond with the information, preferably the food first. He takes his first chance since last night to relax and let his guard down for a few moments.

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"While many tasks are automated, we have no mobile robots here, so for food I can only direct you to the kitchen - or the first room you entered, though only refreshments, not meals are stored there."

 

"If you'd like to visit the kitchen now, you may follow the blue lighted floor-panels. We can, of course, continue to converse while you are there, though there are no monitors in the kitchen for me to display complex visual images there."

 

Despite this limitation, Gunfighter is happy to visit the kitchens and scrounge up some food. The food storage seems extensive, with preservation excellent of even the fresh vegetables. Some of the meats are unfamiliar cuts, but PHRANC quickly identifies them as various fish and seal meats - there are even buckets of seal fat ready to heat for dipping other foods into. Orca, it seems, eats like... an Orca. But not entirely. One cupboard is filled with box upon box of energy bars. It's clear eating is taken seriously at SHOP headquarters.

 

As soon as Gunfighter gathers some more familiar foods, the conversation with PHRANC resumes.

 

"Autopsy and toxicology reports are not expected for 24 hours, despite the rush in this case, Mr. Gun. I'll make sure that after you have eaten you'll be guided to a place where communications equipment and small armaments can be found. Curiously enough, there is one weapon locker you may find useful that I don't believe has been opened in over 15 years.

 

"Once equipped, of course, I can share autopsy and other investigative data with you at your discretion, fully encrypted, of course.

 

"As for Orca, well, in his first public appearance - here in Portland, actually - he confronted several Aquarians involved in an extortion scheme centered around nuclear bio-terror. He was unsuccessful in halting their plans as they used a pair of explosive devices as diversions, then made a getaway with quite a bit of money in diamonds. One device was detonated and overturned a floating restaurant, keeping Orca occupied with rescuing drowning victims. Finishing that task, he found the second explosive device with no time to disarm it, and instead wrapped his body around it to muffle the explosion. This was fortunate, as the vitreous bomb case was impregnated with the same modified ebola virus the extortionists threatened to release in Atlanta. The explosion was contained by Orca's body, though his costume was quite indecently shredded and his body thoroughly perforated with wounds. The disease took hold a day later. He passed it to two people, who died, while Orca himself was in intensive care for about a week. It was, I believe, the medical bills from that experience that convinced him to ally himself with Project Aquarius and re-open the SHOP headquarters. Truthfully, he quite prefers to be independent.

 

As far as his Aquarian status, it appears to be innate, not a function of some specialized equipment. He can hold his breath for at least tens of minutes, survive massive impacts, lift on the order of two metric tons, and he has mastered both echo-location and the projection of sonic force. While such projection cannot actually propel him through the air, it does drastically increase his swimming speed - up to sustained speeds that are probably faster than Maurice Green can sprint the hundred meter dash. I hope that's an adequate summary of the relevant facts.

 

As for Shadow Wolf, he appears to be adept at hand to hand combat and is able to fly or glide for short distances. Certainly he appears to be an athlete worthy of a place in the Olympics and an acrobat worthy of a place in the Cirque de Soleil. From orca's reports, he has a normal human skin, but wears a suit with a layer of ruffled and soft microfibers that absorb sound, rendering his movements quite stealthy. They do not appear to be efficient enough to actually immunize him to Orca's most powerful bursts of sonic energy, though they would likely provide some limited protection. I have no infomation on Shadow Wolf's common identity, though from Orca's reports it appears his body is male.

 

"I hope that's sufficient information on the Wolf?

 

"As for the weaponsmith producing the rifle in question, it appears that the gun comes from a shop in Satsuma, Japan. Its machining is quite expert. The laser sight is a Japanese military issue reserved for special troops. It is manufactured by a subsidiary of Kobe Heavy Industry, actually. It's quite a unique sight. Using an infrared laser, the sniper can avoid alerting the target with the red warning a visible-light laser would typically give. It requires vision outside the human spectrum or an infrarad imaging device to make the laser-pointer visible. The laser is built into an eight-power telescopic sight with infrared imaging integrated. Quite efficient for a human sniper with no Aquarian abilities, and rarely detectable by authorities. During typical baggage checks it would appear to be a scope that is not properly functioning."

 

"Identification of the sniper himself is continuing, but I now have a toxicological update. Would you like it?"

 

After gunfighter's somewhat exasperated yes, PHRANC continues. "An investigator at the scene smelled almonds near the face of  the sniper. This may indicate the ingestion of oral cyanide and is indicative of a possible cause of death. This is not a toxicological result however, merely an observation at the scene."

 

I believe that's all the questions that you had for now. Since you appear to have finished your lunch, perhaps you might place your dishes in the washer before following the dark blue floor panels to the communications storage?

 

A few moments later, after Gunfighter has done just this, he finds several types of communicators, from hand-held units the size of a small fist, to bone-conducting units that adhere to the skull behind the ear and even white jump suits with blue trim, the CHESS logo, and identity obscuring masks - with communications equipment somehow built in. Selecting what he needs, the hero moves on to the weapons locker containing 4 ballistic stunners, roughly the size and shape of a large handgun, 2 guns which PHRANC identifies as loaded with explosive ammunition, and a half-dozen standard police issue 9mm weapons with standard, armor piercing, and hollow-point ammunition pre-loaded in many spare clips. Another locker contains electro-kinetic pulse weapons, 4 pistols and 2 rifles, tho' they require the user to wear an armored breast-plate to hold the large battery pack. Finally, there is a closet which contains large-bore ballistic weapons, from high-powered sniper-quality rifles with various different sights to a pod-stabilized M60 machine gun that appears to have been very well used. Again, Gunfighter takes his pick of these.

 

Now outfitted, and knowing there are unmarked vehicles close at hand, an uncertain Gunfighter faces his first real dilemma: where to go next?

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Gunfighter looks over the array of communications gear and, after a few moments to identify and locate the comm he wanted, selects a small unit about the size of a packet of cigarettes. This comm unit is the latest the Special Forces have available and includes a cellular telephone compatible with any network in the world, a satelite phone, secure satelite communications, GPS locator with IFF signaling capability and short to medium range tactical radio. "I thought they'd have the latest bleeding edge SpecFor comms. This one seems to have been modified though... probably extra encryption or something." Gunfighter then secrets it about his person and selects a bone conduction/throat mike rig. He's about to turn away when he selects a small palmtop computer which is capable of displaying and manipulating the data sent to the radio via the encrpyted data subchannel.

 

Gunfighter then moves to the weapons locker. He sees the standard police issue Baretta, and not seeing anything else he fancies, he picks it up and loads it, after going through his well praticed and instinctive routine of clearing and inspecting the weapon. He choses an empty clip and fills it with regular bullets after loading the first two rounds as tracer. He then takes a clip of hollow point, just in case.

 

Having armed himself again, Gunfighter feels better than he has since the police arrived and he handed over his pistols.

 

Gunfighter's eyes drift across the larger weapons available, and they linger upon the M60 for a few seconds, but he decides that it's just too large a weapon to conceal and it's best not to alarm the police at this point. "Perhaps later, but right now I need something more easily concealed. Best pop home quickly I think."

 

"PHRANC, first thing, please call me Gun or Gunfighter." Gunfighter then pauses, for the first time the weight of his task hitting him full in the chest. "And could you tell me where and who is in charge of this investigation."

 

Gunfighter, usually a decisive man whose instincts enable him to know what to do in almost any situation, pauses through indecision. His brain mulls over the information he has but his experience seems lacking. "I've never done this before. I think I'll contact the detectives in charge and see if they mind me tagging along... or something."

 

Gunfighter then comes to a decision. "PHRANC, I'm going to my apartment. I need to change into something more appropriate and collect some more firearms. I've got comm gear now, so lemme know when those autopsy reports come in or if SP Tac needs my assistance. Now, where's that car?"

 

PHRANC shows him to the garage using the lit floor panels again, and Gunfighter sets off towards his apartment. Once there, he goes into his bedroom and, after moving the bed aside, pulls up the lose floor boards and pulls out his secure gun case.

 

Inside is a wide selection of small arms and pre-loaded clips of ammo. He selects a pair of Mk23 SOCOM heavy pistols and a MP5K which had been specially modified to use same .45 bullets as the pistols. He picks out several clips, six 12 round clips for his pistols (4 lethal, 2 non-lethal) and four 20 round clips for the SMG (only one being non-lethal). He then picks out silencers for all three.

 

With his guns selected, Gunfighter opens his wardrobe and pulls out a suit carrier. Inside is what appears to be a traditional set of black BDU trousers. However, there is a mask in the bag and a set of gloves, as well as a belt and a jacket.

 

After a quick shower and several other ablutions, Gunfighter quickly changes into his super-hero costume. This consists of BDU trousers and well looked after and freshly polished combat boots, a snug fitting leather jacket over a black t-shirt. As he zips up the jacket his trademark symbol can be seen, a sytlised letter 'G'. Gunfighter then puts on his gunbelt, a well made webbing style belt with two thigh holsters. The belt has pouches for spare clips around the back, and he fills them with the clips he selected moments before. The belt buckle also has the same 'G' symbol on it, and he smiles as he puts the pistols in the holsters and straps them around his legs to hold them secure.

 

Lastly, Gunfighter puts on a shoulder rig and attaches the MP5K to it, and he slips the Barretta PHRANC had lent him from SHOP headquarters into the waist band of his trousers at the small of his back. He then pulls on his 'hood', which allow people to see his eyes and his freshly shaven jaw but hides the majority of his face.

 

As finsihing touches, he dons a long flowing coat, and his special forces style fingerless gloves. He then curses as he removes his hood and puts on the throat mike and bone conduction earpiece.

 

Once he's finished, Gunfighter admires himself in the full length mirror in his room. He smiles to himself, noting the effect the entirely black costume has on his appearance. "Well, guess I'm dressed for the role now. Time to go to work."

 

Gunfighter exits his apartment, via the window which leads to the fire escape, and drops into the shadows of the alley beside his apartment block. He then moves away from his aprtment before reactivating the GPS locator of his radio and checking in with headquarters.

 

"Okay PHRANC, I've changed into more suitable attire and I've got some more suitable firearms. Anything urgent for me or should I head over to SP Tac headquarters?"

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Bonus Posting for OOC info only. Do Not Respond to this post!

 

==============================================

 

"The British would call this tea time, I believe," announces the large man.

 

"Do you mean that you would not wish your tea now?" asks the subordinate, hiding his fear within his grey clothing.

 

The large man tenses with anger, but self-satisfaction wins out over the impulse to break his good mood by delivering a floggingfor mere impertinence. "Why would you think that? No, I will do as I please. It has been a long time since the British could even pretend to rule our people or this land. No, the British are no concern, nor is any government now. I thought Orca would be our largest concern, but he... did not appear this morning. It is both strange and frustrating. Another did appear, and we were unready for him. It is difficult to assess what threat he might mount to our plans. He strikes more often with his pistol shots than our trained snipers. What does that tell us? And he survived the bullet-capsules easily. If we are lucky, he did not escape the cocktail we prepared for Orca, but I think it likely he wore body armor and escaped unscathed."

 

"But he will not challenge our plans. Surely surviving and conquering are different mountains to climb?" asks the servant.

 

At this the bulky man is truly annoyed and sends the grey-suited underling spinning with a slap. "Be quiet fool! Of course the newcomer is no threat! The threat is still Orca. Ballistic armor protects little against a blade. If this Gunfighter interferes again, we will not use bullets against him. But Orca... gone this morning, perhaps, but who knows when he might return. Particularly if he has developed a friendship with the younger Richter. Plans will proceed. Yamata will be stopped. We shall continue to arm ourselves with the cocktail bullets. But should this gun-toting hooligan interpose himself again, we will not fire them. Instead, we will see how well a kevlar vest protects his neck!"

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"Okay PHRANC, I've changed into more suitable attire and I've got some more suitable firearms. Anything urgent for me or should I head over to SP Tac headquarters?"

 

"Nothing Urgent, Gunfighter," begins PHRANC. "The investigation is formally headed by Dectives Lewis & Nguyen, but because of the target, technology, and methodology, there is an official liaison in SP Tac on the case. Since you'll be working quite a bit with them in the future, I would recommend that you begin working directly with them.

 

Lietenant Washington is Estin's second in command at SP Tac & he'll be the liaison for this case. Simply take your vehicle to the central precinct garage, identify yourself as gunfighter, and they'll direct you to an elevator to use that takes you directly to SP Tac's headquarters area. Your weapons will be permitted in the elevator and in the headquarters area, but you'll have to disarm to enter the main areas of the building. Use any finger to press the call button, but make sure that it is not covered by your costume or any gloves. Your fingerprint is your access to SP Tac spaces right now. Eventually you will likely be deputized within Multnomah county and can move with your weapons throughout most areas of any police or sheriff's building, but now you have a special access status as an SP Tac Adjunct."

 

PHRANC's instructions are so overwhelmingly thorough that Gunfighter is already in his borrowed car turning into the sun before the computer's voice fades out.

 

Pulling into Hawthorne traffic, it's impossible for Gunfighter not to notice the stalled traffic trying to move in the other direction. Gridlock, it's not just for Californians anymore.

 

At least I'm headed into downtown.

 

With central precinct just across the bridge, it takes only a few minutes more for Gunfighter to pull into the garage and park next to a huge 6-wheeled vehicle used when SP Tac has to roll out their whole team.

 

The elevator call button looks normal, but Gunfighter can't resist pressing it with a gloved knuckle. Like any other elevator panel that isn't respoding to a call, the light only stays on as long as the button is depressed. Then, when he presses a fingertip to the pad, the light stays bright til a tone rings and the doors open. Quickly, the elevator takes Gunfighter near the top of the building, to a floor totally dominated by SP Tac's training, shop, and office spaces.

 

A lithe, taut african-american man is waiting just outside the elevator and immediately extends both a hand and a wide grin. "Gunfighter? Glad you're here. I like the black look, but that's gotta be a bit conspicuous in the daylight."

 

After the two men exchange pleasantries, Washington gives the latest update on the investigation, that cyanide was found in the blood of the dead sniper.

 

 

"Other than that, there's not much to report yet. I could give you a tour of our little base here, show you the EKP's that have made SP Tac's rep, let you play around with some things. But you don't have to stay if you don't want to. I know Mr. Yamata wants to see you, when you have a chance. But I also wanted to see what you were up to.

 

Nobody told me what you were doing in the neighborhood when the snipers dropped the bomb on Yamata. You got any sixth sense I should know about? This one looks like we might need it. There ain't jack at the scene to indicate who might want to target Orca, or even whether he was the primary target or they just wanted to prepare for him.

 

Hey, anything you know that I can pass on to Lewis would be fat."

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Gunfighter is a tad overwhelmed by the reception of Lieutenant Washington, but after a moment to adjust he realises that he should have expected as much. "He's certainly a jovial guy."

 

"Good day Lt. Washington." Says Gunfighter as soon as his host gives him a moment to get a word in. "I'm glad you like the getup. My former brothers in arms were a llittle dubious, and to be honest I'm still getting used to the look myself." Gunfighter then does something totally unexpected.... his face breaks out in a smile.

 

"BEfore we get down to work, and to answer your question, no I don't have any extra senses, least not in the manner you implied. I do have heightened senses but no precognative ones, and by God that'd have been useful in my previous line of work." Gunfighter pauses and then opens his coat. "No, my gifts extend to firearms and other high tech ranged weapons." Gunfighter then looks at his host. "I suppose you're gonna come over all paranoid and ask me to remove my weapons?" "Again."

 

==========================================

GM Insert:

 

"No, not here. That's why we brought you up the Tac elevator. Right now, you ARE SP Tac, and we don't walk around unarmed in our own six! Besides, how do you disarm Orca? Or... Omicron? If it came in on you, it stays on you... just don't leave this floor. They've got different regs for firearms on the other floors."

 

==========================================

 

"Okay, let's get down to business." Says Gunfighter after handing over his weapons. "To be honest, the cyanide scares me even more than the ebola tipped rifle slugs and the apparent preparations for Orca's intervention. It has been my experience that those prepared to comit suicide are often the most fanatical and determined of fighters. If these people attack again, I would strongly advise against the use of non-lethal force."

 

After that proclaimation, Gunfighter then begins to pace a little. "The way I see it, this morning's entertainment was either of two things. First option, they used Mr Yamata as bait to draw Orca into a trap with the intention of killing or incapacitating him - either way he's out of the picture for the short to medium term at least. The second option is that they really did want to kill Mr Yamata and were simply prepared in case Orca showed up to help out." Gunfighter looks around for a coffee pot and gestures towards it as to ask if he may help himself. "To be honest, I think that both could be the truth as some of the evidence points to one and some to the other conclusion. And then there's my gut which is screaming that it was a trap."

 

Gunfighter then pauses and takes a look around. "So Lieutenant, please pass my opinions to the detectives and also inform them that if I'm needed they have just to call." He then smiles again. "Then the tour sounds nice, but what in the name of all that's holy is a EKP?"

 

Gunfighter will remain around the SP Tac squad room and take the tour Lt. Washington offered. Again, he'll be as co-operative as possible although should they find/detect the Baretta in his trousers he'll remind them that his powers revolve around firearms and without one he's just an ordinary ex-soldier. If the situation requires it, he will remove his hood.

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Lieutenant Washington's eye gets an evil glint when gunfighter asks after the EKP. "You don't know the EKP? Just ballistic weapons? Hmm, let's start the tour at the range then."

 

Less than a minute later Gunfighter finds himself at one end of a narrow firing range that runs the length of the building. Washington, insisting that Gunfighter call him "Argyle", helps the newbie hero out of his jacket and has him put on a Tactical General Resource & Armored Breastplate that looks like polished china.

 

"Once you've got your GRAB on, check your energy levels here. We keep 'em charged, you should have enough for twenty shots or so.

 

"This here," and now Argyle hands gunfighter a gleeming white weapon about the size and bore of a sawed off shot-gun, but with a metallic cable projecting from the butt, "is the EKP. Cable up there, then step on the shooters pad and CIISCO does the rest."

 

Hooking up his weapon, Gunfighter follows Argyle's instructions on where to stand. Apparently CIISCO doesn't do all the rest, since the Lieutenant slaps a lighted panel that shuts and locks the door to the range. Perhaps the same slap also activates the entire sequence or perhaps not... but either way, the lights dim, and a target appears hovers for a moment, then disappears downrange while Gunfighter is still acquiring a feel for this new weapon and the armor it connects to. Other targets appear and disappear before he's ready to pull the trigger, but when he does!

 

FLASH!

 

a burst of light erupts from the end of the weapon, almost instantly reaching out and through the target before being absorbed by the far wall an instant before

 

BANG!

 

"Wheeee-hah! F***in Star Wars, ain't it? Electro-Kinetic Pulse - I mean why don't they just call them blasters? You could really trick out a holloween costume with this. Can't do Han Solo since the armor is your battery pack, but you can sure do Jango F*in Fett!"

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"Hmm, not a bad weapon." Remarks Gunfighter as he leaves the range. "However, the breastplate is a little cumbersome, and what about reloading in the field? Carrying extra 'batteries' could be a pain." Gunfighter smiles as he allows Argyle to assist him in removing the weapon. He then redons his jacket and the rig for his MP5K.

 

Gunfighter then pulls the Mk23 from under his left arm and attaches a silencer he produces from a concealed pocket about his person.

 

"CIISCO, hostage scenario, hardest possible shot." He says out loud "I'm glad everyone knows there's a computer around here, else I'd look really crazy talking to thin air." He then turns to Argyle. "Time for a demonstration of my own I think. Keep an eye on the scumbag." He pauses then looks up. "Random timing, whenever you're ready."

 

After a random amount of time, the 'suspect' appears holding a young girl as a hostage. He's holding her so close that only small parts of his head can be seen at any one time.... so small that only a perfect shot will miss the hostage.

 

"Pfttt pfttt"

 

And the hologaphic suspect is lying on the ground and the hostage is unharmed and frozen into a shocked and stunned silence.

 

"That, Lieutenant, is how it's done." Says Gunfighter as he removes the silencer and puts it back in his pocket. He then hands Argyle the pistol. "As you can see, it's a plain old Mk23 SOCOM forty-five... same as used by anyone in a Sabre Squadron. While your high technology is nice, it is a bad idea to rely upon it in combat, especially when you have problems with feeding the thing in the middle of nowhere."

 

Gunfighter accepts the pistol back from the stunned SP Tac officer.

 

"That's not to say high tech doesn't have a place in this world. Your 'blaster' is a nice bit of kit, but the more complex something is the more things can go wrong." Gunfighter nods over his shoulder to the holographic scene behind him. "I can do that with any firearm, not just the ones I carry but anything I might come across in battle."

 

Pleased with his little demonstration, Gunfighter slaps Argyle lightly on the shoulder. "Does your tactical field unit use blasters or conventional arms? And shall we continue with the tour?"

 

Gunfighter smiles. He feels strangely at home here. "These are my kind of people, operators who get the job done with what they've got at hand."

 

Gunfighter will gladly continue with the tour, and attempt to mend any brigdes his little demo have damaged.

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Argyle is slightly amused at Gunfighter's attempts to command CIISCO by voice, but cheerfully walks over to a keyboard and sets up Gunfighter's scenario for him. "Don't get me wrong, I love PHRANC, but CIISCO's not PHRANC. You'll catch Allen giving the thing voice commands, but you gotta let it get used to your vocal patterns & even then its vocabulary ain't great. I've never had the patience for it, so I turn the mics off when the commander ain't here. " Here, he grins sheepishly. "Sorry about that..."

 

But after the display, he takes on a different tone: "With anything you find lying around eh? I'll have to test you on that some time, but your moves look pretty tight so far.

 

"Me, I like the EKP. Most of us use it in the field, though we also have one flechete canon with 3 small SAM's on it. It's gyro stabilized and mounted to a grab. Everyone else uses the EKP. It'll take the bad guys down quicker than a shot gun, at better range, but best of all, the damage isn't as permanent. SP Tac has to discharge their weapons more times in six months than the entire department discharages guns, tasers, whatever in a year. Knowing the docs can patch people is a big plus when you're sending out that many shots. Not to mention the EKP is better than small-bore ammo at damaging structures and vehicles - and solid armors. So there are reasons to keep it around.

 

"Reloads can be a pain for me, but the rest of the team stays close to the truck, they can recharge anytime from there. Reliability? We've never had one break down in the field, tho' they have been shot up. And if someone hits your GRAB from behind, you might lose power. Now that can suck at a thousand feet!"

 

Gunfighter & Lieutenant Washington trade stories back and forth as they wander the floor & Gunfighter meets the rest of the SP Tac team. After a time, they sit down in Washington's office where a charred and battered suit of GRAB, matching armor, and a large vented backpack are hung like a medical-school's skeleton on display.

 

"I can get the Detectives on the phone, but I suspect I know what they're going to say. Y'know, they're doing what they can, having a masked man around isn't likely to drum up witnesses, that sort of thing. Still, I can put you in touch with them & they can give you the lastest.

 

Washington starts to pick up the phone, then stops. "On second thought, maybe i don't want to bother them. I know Nguyen was grumpy earlier today because he wanted to talk to Yamata, but Yamata wasn't having it. Kept running into a wall named Yooso. Sh1t," Argyle adds, rubbing his chin, "I'm not sure if that's a real name, last name, street name or what. But I'm pretty sure it was Yooso.

 

"Anyway, they won't talk to the police. Probably wouldn't talk to anyone we asked to run the middle either. Yeah, if I were you, I'd wait till they figured out some run around. No use talking to them now if they're just going to spend their time b1tchin & moanin." Washington hangs up the phone.

 

So, instead of talking to them, is there anything else you want to do 'round here? Any way I can help you out? We got a good mechanic if any of your gear is down. Heard we can ping you through PHRANC. What else can I do?"

 

Estin's second in command looks calmly across the desk at Gunfighter, both waiting for and anticipating his answer...

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Gunfighter sits there for a few seconds thinking things through in his head. He then leant forwards and grabbed the cup of coffee in front of him. Slowly and purposefully the masked man takes a long sip, and equally slowly, puts the cup back on the desk.

 

"At some point I'd like to run a few drills with your tactical troops. To be honest, when I thought about offering my services to SHOP I thought I'd just be a soldier, only this time with a different boss." Gunfighter pauses and smiles sheepishly. "As you have probably guessed, I ain't much of an investigator. But I'm a mean and nasty soldier, it's what I've always done and it's second nature now."

 

"I don't have any 'gear', just guns and those I can handle myself. But I do appreciate the offer and I'll bear it in mind for the future."

 

Gunfighter then stands up and grabs the coffee cup again. He walks slowly around the office, sipping coffee occiaisonally, until he stops and smiles at Argyle. "Okay Argyle, can you whistle up the detectives and ask them if an audience with Mr Yamata would be of use to them? Cos I think I can wangle that.... aparently Mr Yamata wishes to extend his personal thanks to me at some point." He takes a sip, and Argyle notices the mischeivous glint in his eyes. "Perhaps this man in a hood isn't totally useless to the common arse in the grass detective."

 

Gunfighter's eyes then drift to the armour standing as if by it self. "And what's the backpack for, and how much does all of your kit weigh?" He then smiles again. "And I'm game for that 'test' whenever's good for you."

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