Word count: 1,440
Warnings: Mild language
Fandom: City of Heroes/Sunday 9s
Characters: Ray "Heat Lightning" Jeffries, Teff, Ace, Terecito, Lapis. And the shard.
Timeline: Takes place immediately after "More Precious Than Rubies."
If you've read the previous fics, you know who these people are and what's going on. If you haven't, you might want to go read them first, 'cause this will make lots more sense after you read the other ones. Check the Memories section, under "CoH Fiction" in my LJ info.
Copyrights 'n stuff: The City of Heroes universe is copyright Cryptic Studios/NCSoft. The individual characters of the Sunday 9s were created by their players. I created Heat Lightning, Boneshatter, most of the NPCs, the shard and all of the Aligned and their concepts.
The song quote is from Harry Chapin's "30,000 Pounds of Bananas".
Ace in the Hole
He said "Christ – CHRIST – "
It was funny how he had named the only man
Who could save him now -
"Hola, Ace," Terecito said, even as the blaster held the taser inches from the mutant's eyes. "You've come back! I didn't think I'd ever see you again."
Ace didn't bother to answer. Instead he used his free hand to pat Terecito down, and remove the transponder and communicator.
"You, ah," Terecito started.
"Who were you talking to, Vincente?" Ace asked.
"Heat," Terecito said, "Heat Lightning. He – "
Ace lowered the taser to Terecito's waist and discharged it.
"Don't lie, pelegatito," Ace said as Terecito flailed in the resulting seizure. He took the iPod from Terecito's belt, coincidentally yanking the earbuds loose as well, and tossed it casually aside. "How many are in your head right now?"
The former Outcast coughed and struggled to speak. "I don't need the shard any more," Terecito slurred. "Why are you here?"
How's it going? Ace asked his own shard.
Working him over. He's got quite a nice set of complexes I could work with, if he lets me in.
Understood. Ace focused on Terecito again. He'd looked recently for Aligned shard minions, or more specifically, the ones who'd been at that battle in Moth Cemetery and had their shards broken. Most had assumed the shard was gone forever, and tried to carry on with their lives. And they all appeared to still have powers, which was a bit disconcerting to the shard itself. Not that it said as much to Ace, but he was very much in tune with the shard, and could sense what he thought of as its mental processes.
Right now, it seemed fairly confident it could seduce the J-Star with promises of fulfilling his ultimate want. Ace didn't know what that want might be, nor did he care. He preferred not to know what bargains others struck with the shard, because it bored him when people went on and on about it.
Well, that meant he was probably free to do what he wanted with the teenage mutant, if the shard was busy, and the new guy was in there to make sure nothing untoward happened.
"Terecito," Ace said, ignoring the mutant's question, "I have your transponder and equipment." As he spoke, he turned the communicator to receive. At least he'd know if someone in the Sunday 9s said anything over the broadcast channel. "I can kill you right now and you won't be teleported to the hospital. This is your last warning. Now. Who were you talking to?"
"Epsilon," Terecito said. He stood, slowly. "He didn't want to go into the sewers, but he said he'd help me with the windows. The skylights."
Ace resisted looking up, just in case it was a trap. Epsilon... that was Epsilon Omega, the albino with the fruity fashion sense, if he remembered right. The problem was, he was accessing the shard's old memories from Boneshatter, and the full range of Epsilon's powers hadn't been too clear to Boneshatter in the first place. Except ice. Ice blaster.
That wouldn't be any trouble at all. One good firelance and the albino would melt, and the stink would blend in easily. Damn, at least the Aligned had had a cave with a moderately tolerable smell. This place stank like portable toilets at a summer music festival.
Well, he didn't need the Outcast now. And the kid hadn't exactly tried to find the shard and rejoin its minions; he'd joined up with the enemy instead. So, time to die. But quickly, because Ace wasn't sadistic. Besides, quick deaths are harder to escape from.
Ace sidestepped as Terecito gestured and brought forth a gale of wind that set small debris in the warehouse flying, and coincidentally cleared the air for a few seconds. When it came down to it, the kid was still just a lowly Outcast; a simple wind wasn't enough to threaten Ace.
He aimed the taser. One powerful jolt to reduce the mutant to a quivering mess, then torch him.
He heard the warehouse front door open.
~ ~ ~
[At the same time as the above]
Nothing is free, Ray thought.
That's right, the shard in his hand admitted.
But the price - The images flashed through his head, more vivid than life: himself, strong and powerful, respected, able to shrug off massive damage with hardly a scratch. His entire extended family, so proud of him, so supportive. He half expected to see beautiful women throwing themselves at him, but they didn't appear.
Because you love Jamie, and you don't need other women offering themselves to you.
Jamie wouldn't want this. Wouldn't want me like that. Ray felt he was drowning, grasping at anything to keep him from going under. The sharp edge of the shard cut painfully into his palm.
Jamie loves you no matter what. But she's worried about you. She wants to see you safe. New images, homey, returning after a hard day's crimefighting, and a relieved Jamie welcoming him with open arms – he could practically feel her embrace. She worries about you, about whether one night she'll get the call she dreads –
How do you know this? Ray mentally screamed. You don't have her too! He realized he'd said too...
No. But she is a woman in love, and women in love don't like to see the one they love in mortal danger. As a tank, you'd be less in danger. Don't you see how that would make her happier?
SHUT UP! STOP IT! But his fist closed over the shard, and blood dripped out onto the desk blotter. Nothing is free! I'd have to serve you!
Well, yes, there is that, the shard agreed, in a pleasant 'voice'. And there'd be quite a lot to gain, too. I wouldn't ask you to do much; after all, you're in a high position, and you're a hero. You fight crime. It wouldn't make sense for me to have you 'go evil' – much too obvious. If anything, I'd be asking you to help fight other criminals, ones that threaten my own interests as well as the city and its innocents. I have no interest at all in having you turn to the side of villainy; there's no point.
Nothing is free, Ray thought weakly.
I know. But perhaps you should be thinking more about the actual return on investment?
I'm drowning, aren't I? Ray looked up from the red puddle on his desk and noticed, as if for the first time, Teflin – Teff – still seated opposite him. Ray's tongue felt thick and dry in his mouth, and it seemed hard to think – had to keep the walls up in his mind –
"What did it offer you?" he said, or tried to say, and Teff looked at him oddly.
"What did it offer you, Teff?" Ray said hoarsely. "Boneshatter?"
Now, now, the shard chided, but gently. Teff looked at Ray, his expression cold and hard, but said nothing. This has nothing to do with him. It's a negotiation between you and I. Was it speaking in his own voice now? What did that mean? Was it a trick? And because we're talking openly, as equals, the answer is no, not Boneshatter. Now, let's get back to our discussion.
There is no negotiation. I can't -
But you want it very badly, so it's just a matter of finding the right price, isn't it?
Teff stood and left the room.
~ ~ ~
Lapis entered the warehouse, wondering what Terecito had done to the security system. That needed fixing, pronto. Down here in the Argosy Industrial district, vagrants, gang members or ordinary people might wander in at any time.
The smell was strong, maybe a bit stronger, but it wasn't gag-inducing. Lapis tried holding his breath for a moment. Yeah, the little Outcast was right, opening the windows had to help. He rounded a corner from the corridor to the highbay and saw the Outcast in question. Ex-Outcast. Gotta remember that –
Terecito looked messed up, hair like he'd gone through a wind tunnel, and unsteady on his pins, as though maybe he'd spent enough time in the gas that it was knocking him out. His iPod lay on the floor several feet away.
Lapis frowned. That was odd. Normally the kid never took the thing off, even during meetings or on duty or –
Terecito stared hard at Lapis, a thin trickle of sweat coming down the right side of his face.
Someone's here, Lapis realized. He looked around quickly, then up, just in time for the firelance.
* * *
Yes! It's a cliffhanger! Will Lapis beat the tar out of Ace? Will someone die? Will Ray succumb to temptation? I'm not telling you! You'll just have to wait and see! ;D