In July of 2009, the Reciprocators and League of Misfits launched an RP storyline in which Countess Crey's manipulations put the Reciprocators in a precarious legal position, cut off from their resources and all but disbanded, needing to turn to the Misfits for support. I realized pretty quickly what ramifications the situation would have for my 'Cip and decided to run with it all out, and spent several months playing out the Androgyne's relapse into villainy and ultimate surrender to eir better nature. This post covers Ani's exit from Paragon City, in which e declared eir return to villainy, initially intended as a way of publicly disassociating emself from the Reciprocators and ensuring that any pursuit e was subject to by law enforcement would not impede the group's efforts to restore their standing.
Friday, July 31st 2009
Michelle Thompson paced, heels cracking sharply against the marble lobby floor in Paragon City's City Hall in a precise pattern: six identical steps, pivot. Six steps, pivot. As the time crept past, she found she needed to loosen up, exorcise the concern knotting her muscles, but wished to do so in as controlled a manner as possible. Depending on what happened in the next ten minutes, she would be dealing with representatives of multiple law enforcement and city agencies for hours; best to burn off the unexpected nervousness now. Thus, the measured pacing. She caught herself looking at the doors to the plaza repeatedly, though past experience suggested her client would likely bypass them entirely to simply materialize beside her.
From the moment of their inception, the Vanguard has been willing to accept anyone with the power to make a difference in the fight to their ranks. However, while the world had accepted the Vanguard out of necessity, the Herald, as Vanguard's administrative and public relations arm, was constantly embroiled in a war of public opinion. As the world's only sanctioned meta-human military force, the Vanguard is under constant scrutiny, its motivations and machinations questioned at every turn. One way it seeks to defuse this suspicion is through various rehabilitation and reform programs overseen by the Herald, offering "villains" the opportunity to renounce their crimes and, with Vanguard's backing, turn their abilities to the defense of Earth's citizens from threats other than the Rikti.
As a Vanguard Herald Advocate, Thompson's caseload consists primarily of arranging pardons and clemency agreements for super-powered individuals who came to the Vanguard as fugitives. Her specialty is arranging defections for meta-humans who have previously displayed loyalty to a corrupt or hostile regime. Few of the U.N.'s members are willing to accept such defectors without stringent scrutiny; it was Thompson's job to ensure her clients passed this scrutiny and to negotiate the conditions of defection to the satisfaction of both her clients and the governments they sought asylum with.
The Sword's Lt. Ani Hess was one of Michelle's defectors, a former allegiant of the Arachnos power structure behind the puppet government of the Etoile Isles. Known to the press as The Androgyne, Hess' case had been one of the more complicated arrangements Thompson had had the privilege of orchestrating. When Hess was 18 years old, "he" -- as she found it easiest to think of them -- had apparently lost all control over his mutant radioactivity during a hostage situation at his high school's homecoming dance. Sixty-seven died. Hess was incarcerated and kept in a power-suppressing pharmaceutical stupor by court order, regarded as an immediate threat to public safety. He had not had the opportunity to stand trial for the massacre before Arachnos abducted him from the Ziggursky super-penitentiary and pressed him into their service. That circumstance had introduced several further complexities to his defection.
One of these was a proviso added to the Androgyne's clemency agreement, little more than an observation made by the presiding judge but nevertheless legally binding. It stated simply that, having been judged fit to serve as a member of the crimefighting organization that agreed to sponsor and monitor him, Hess was therefore demonstrably psychologically fit to stand trial for all past alleged crimes should any condition of his clemency agreement be violated.
Lt. Hess had been one of her most high-profile cases and, with the exception of a month-long suspension from the Sword for his unauthorized and briefly publicized interference in a U.S. military operation overseas, his record had been spotless. Three days ago he had called her to ask what it would mean for his clemency if his sponsor, the Reciprocators, were to have their recognition under the Citizen Crime Fighting Act revoked. Michelle had been surprised by the question, but a few brief phone calls to her contacts in City Hall had led to an understanding of the situation the group faced. It only took a little more legwork, consulting with the FBSA and the Paragon City Council to draw up an understanding of the ramifications for Hess and the government's expectations of him should that situation escalate as far as Hess seemed quietly certain it would.
If the Reciprocators' status was revoked, Hess would be without a sponsor and his clemency immediately rendered null and void. Another group could assume the responsibility, but earning their trust and being approved for membership could take weeks, during which time Hess would be regarded as once again a fugitive: a villain. Both for his own safety and to honor the terms of his clemency agreement, Hess was expected to turn himself over to federal custody. Michelle had managed to coax a brief grace period out of the Federal Bureau for Super-powered Affairs; they were willing to give the Androgyne until 5 p.m. today to surrender.
She checked her watch. It was now 4:52.
After her last pivot, Michelle stalked with the same measured steps across the lobby and down the steps to the lower level, where the FBSA maintained offices for its various agencies. She strode into the offices of GIFT, keeping her face free of the concern and doubt she felt squirming around the edges of her confidence as she quickly surveyed the representatives of various agencies who had gathered to observe the surrender.
Kiros Nandelu stood regally at the center of those gathered; though the City Hall office was headed by Antonio Nash, the African prince and GIFT liaison was here as the FBSA's chief representative in the matter. The Vanguard generally preferred to work with Nandelu. He had more diplomatic experience than Nash, who was more civic-minded as a Paragon native. Hess had operated through the prince's office, with Freedom Corps monitoring, after his entry to Paragon City had been approved, while the Reciprocators reviewed his suitability to join their ranks. Nandelu was speaking in low but jovial tones with a red-and-white-clad officer of Longbow and a man with shining white eyes in the blue, black and gold costuming of the PPD's Awakened Division. The lieutenant's custody would be the joint responsibility of Longbow and the PPD, and it appeared neither organization intended to treat this as a mere formality.
A fourth man was here awaiting the Androgyne, and Michelle did not recognize him until he spoke and she recognized the snide tone she'd heard in recent sound bites on the local news in Paragon, though she couldn't recall his name at first. “Advocate, care to remind me again when your client intends to join us?” The city official looked pointedly to the clock on the wall. 4:54.
Michelle clasped her hands behind her back and answered without hesitation, “Lieutenant Hess is well aware that the grace period he's been extended expires in six minutes. He will be here, Mr. ...?”
“It had better be, and that's Councilman Brenning.”
“Pardon me, Ms. Thompson.” Prince Kiros had turned his attention to her once Brenning had provoked her to speak. “While the FBSA will absolutely respect the full grace period agreed upon, it is highly unusual to be kept waiting right down to the wire in this manner. Do you know what it is, precisely, which is delaying them?”
Michelle gave her head a single shake, side to side then centered again, regarding Nandelu as if Brenning had never had her attention. “Personal affairs, I assume. The Lieutenant has established several strong relationships in his short time here, I assume he's with friends, or offering some last minute assistance to his allies.” She then looked with a strangely direct nonchalance at Brenning before returning her full attention to the prince. “They have been faced with an unusual number of difficulties of late.”
Nandelu raised an eyebrow at her wordless insinuation, but apparently chose not to dignify it with further comment. “Fair enough. I just hope they are in fact being as mindful of the time as you are.” Michelle was indeed paying close attention to the seconds slipping past. She could still see the clock in her peripheral vision. It was now 4:56.
Brenning scoffed in disgust. "This is a waste of all our time. If it hasn't shown by now, it isn't going to." He turned to the Longbow and PPD representatives in irritation, "Your people should mobilize at once! The city has been far too lenient with this dangerous, murderous abomination and now its true cowardice and self-interest are becoming glaringly apparent."
Michelle pivoted to face Brenning. Despite the worries gnawing at her core as the clock ticked past another minute, Hess was still her client. "'Cowardice and self-interest', Mr. Brenning? Lt. Hess contributed more to the Vanguard's defense of this planet from the Rikti threat as a villain than many of your city's heroes have. If anything his return to Paragon, expending his potential dealing with your common criminals, has been an act of charity towards your city."
"Somehow I think the city will manage without it." Brenning's eyes flicked to look past her before narrowing at the entirely intentional failure to address him by his title. His voice raised as he continued to speak; Michelle glanced suspiciously in the direction his eyes had an instant before and saw a reporter for the Paragon Times taking notes across the hall from the G.I.F.T. office. "As I have maintained since the subject of the Androgyne's reform was first brought before the City Council," (actually, Michelle recalled, Brenning had not been in attendance the day she delivered the Vanguard's proposal), "Not making it answer for its crimes was and remains an egregious mistake! One I intend to see--"
The doors to the G.I.F.T. office slammed shut. "Mistake?" She allowed herself a faint smile as the smug self-righteousness suddenly dropped from the councilman's face, but her own pleased expression dropped as she registered the raw anger harshening the usually soft and airy voice behind her. The Longbow and P.P.D. representatives snapped to attention, and Prince Kiros took on a definite air of unease; all of them looked past her towards the door. Over Brenning's shoulder, she saw the clock's minute hand tick over to 4:58.
"Lieutenant," she began as she turned, "Mr. Brenning's assessment of your contributions is ill-informed and ir..." She trailed off as she saw Hess. The last time they'd met in person had been at the final hearing on his clemency, nearly seven months ago.
The individual standing before the doors with a hand resting on one handle, sparkling tendrils of transdimensional detritus still dissipating as smoke around him, was not the Ani Hess she had known then. It took only an instant for her to understand that he had come here not as a Lieutenant of the Sword, neither as a Reciprocator; instead, he was here as that which he had always been besides these things; that which the Councilman and others had long hoped to see incarcerated and put on trial for the sins Vanguard had chosen to overlook for the sake of the war effort: The Androgyne.
He bore none of the markings of the Reciprocators, instead he'd come costumed in the vivid purple and black that had been his signature before his reform. Emblazoned upon his chest was a star in a pale, sickly bright green that mimicked the churning light that shone out of his eyes and seethed around his silver-gauntleted fists. His ashen platinum hair was gone -- previously, he had worn it short or long as suited him to look as boyish or feminine as he cared. Rid of it entirely, he seemed more ambiguous, distant and alien than ever.
Icy spider legs skittered down Michelle's spine, but she tried to maintain her calm. She spoke in a steady voice; as with her nervous pacing earlier, she channeled her worry into controlled, measured intonation. The anger contorting his face and his tense, aggressive stance were not reassuring. (...eir face, eir stance, Michelle thought, remembering the pronouns used in the paperwork. It was suddenly much more difficult to think of em as anything but what e was.) "He is irrelevant, Ani. You're just in time."
The Androgyne's blazing eyes never left Brenning. "Irrelevant? He's spearheaded a series of motions that have robbed me and the Reciprocators of our home, headquarters, reputation and legal standing, and now he's here...why? To see me caged like an animal while the people I love need me most?" A cruelly mocking smile twisted the Androgyne's lips to one side. "Which reminds me: how is the Mrs., Councilman?"
Brenning's eyes bugged with fury and he stabbed a finger at the Androgyne, shouting to the Longbow and Awakened, "Arrest that thing this instant!" Michelle heard Nandelu raising his voice in objection but the vibrant hum of the policeman summoning the energy of his Kheldian symbiont behind her, and the wet slice of the Officer extruding a series of jagged spikes along the length of his arms, told her they were far more inclined to comply with Brenning's instruction. She whipped around to fix them with a hard glare.
"My client still has sixty seconds to comply with the terms of surrender; if you take any action against Lt. Hess before that time has expired your claim to em will be rendered null and void!" She was reaching, but it stopped the enforcers in their tracks. Without a sponsor the Androgyne would still be in violation of eir clemency agreement and considered a fugitive from justice, but if they jumped the gun and attempted to take em into custody by force, the Vanguard would at least have a leg to stand on in renewing eir original war zone amnesty for Vanguard operations. Nobody called her bluff.
The Androgyne was still preparing a response to the aggression shown by the law enforcement agents, she realized; eir hands drifted in the air in front of eir chest, eir fingers spidering over a web of invisble threads. Michelle spoke urgently. "Lieutenant, I understand this is a difficult--" She gasped as e turned and pressed a fingertip over her lips to silence her -- her calm restored itself quickly as she realized eir hand was no longer seething with the shine of eir radiation.
"You've been a wonderful advocate, Michelle." E spoke with a queerly playful sincerity, meaning every word but at the same time seeming as if e cared about nothing less. "Thank you for that. I'm sorry to be a black mark on your record."
"Ani, you don't have to--" E turned away from her and seized upon the threads eir fingers had danced lightly upon an instant before, a hazy sparkle shimmering around eir hands as e used eir mastery over the connections e saw between emself and the Longbow officer and PPD Kheldian to stun them in their tracks as they realized eir intent and mobilized again. Shimmering shadow spilled out of thin air around them, the threads torn to release some manner of interdimensional mire that bound them in place and unveiled to them glimpses of the horrors Ani could visit upon them with eir radiation. Ani pushed Michelle behind emself as the Kheldian launched bolts of shining energy through the murk, but not one came close to finding the Androgyne.
Nandelu observed dispassionately, his expression disappointed, but did not attempt to interfere -- while he was a mutant, his powers had little combat application. Brenning had begun to run as soon as the Androgyne had made eir intent clear to Thompson, but he did not get far. While one hand continued to twirl through the air manipulating threads to keep the PPD & Longbow in a state of uselessness, the Androgyne snapped out the other towards Brenning as he hurried clumsily around desks trying to get to the door at the back of the front office. The Androgyne seized the air and made a sharp pulling motion, and Brenning vanished just as his hand touched the doorknob and rematerialized in the instant at Ani, who snapped his hand around Brenning's neck. Brenning's mouth gawped silently a few times, like a gasping fish.
"I didn't have to come here." Ani hissed to the Councilman. "But I thought you should bear witness to my rebirth, seeing as you've done such a good job as its midwife. I'll have to come back some day and thank you properly." E laughed and shoved the Councilman away, leaving him staggering towards the Longbow & PPD, and released the threads e had used to bind them into uselessness so that e could grab another -- and pulled emself away between dimensions off towards wherever that thread may have lead, most certainly away from Paragon City.
Michelle looked at the clock and allowed herself a small, disappointed sigh. Five o'clock.