Acquisition
by Brad Patten and Stephen Tsai

October 30, 1996
Powerdyne Research facility

Dr. Johanessen watched the gauge on the panel carefully as the generators warmed up. Too little power and they wouldn't be able to generate the necessary power to sustain the magnetic bottle. Too much power and they risked an overload, which would scrub yet one more failed experiment.

"Status Dr. Johanessen?" Dr. Roston asked.

"Generators are at 80% output now, Doctor," Johanessen replied. She managed to conceal her distaste for her colleague's tone; somehow everything from him came out as an order, even the little things.

Dr. Roston nodded and placed his hand on the thick leaden glass that protected the operators. Inside, the reactor generated a superheated gas on the verge of plasma state. There was an auxiliary control booth inside, but it wasn't safe to use it unless the entire power system was recycled. The purpose of the experiment was to create a self-sustaining plasma reaction, which would theoretically create near-unlimited power. Unfortunately plasma was too hot to simply contain in a vat; it had to be held in a magnetic bottle, which was the sticking point. Their presence at the lab so late at night was the best indicator of their desperation as time and money was running low.

"It will work this time," Roston proclaimed with confidence.

Johanessen looked on in silence. In the time she had worked with Roston, she knew he wasn't one to invite debate, even on the most trivial matters. He was a competent, though ordinary theoretician. But he wasn't nearly as brilliant has he wanted to portray himself, and she had her doubts about his theories about such an esoteric field. But he had seniority, and that ended any discussion.

"Temperature's dropping," Johanessen reported. "We're losing containment."

Roston snarled under his breath and walked over to the panel to double-check the reading. He had hoped that Johanessen had misread the gauge but no luck. "The gas is still contained! If we demodulate the bottle, we can still salvage this!"

"We have to recycle the power sequence," Johanessen said.

"No!" Roston retorted. "We don't have the energy budget to do that! We have to push on! More power!"

Johanessen hesitated, then complied, twisting the large dial next to the main gauge up. "85%...90%...95%..." Inside the reactor chamber, the superheated gas began to glow visibly.

"Yes...!" Roston proclaimed. "Plasma state is starting! More...!"

"It won't go any higher!"

Roston looked back to the panel and read the gauge. Then he looked back to the chamber. "Open the auxiliary control booth."

"You can't! Safety protocols...!"

"Damn the protocols! Discovery isn't made by the meek! We have to push the boundaries! Now do it!"

Johanessen trembled, then pushed the release for the airlock. Roston entered and closed the door behind him. Even with the inner door still closed, he started to sweat already. He wouldn't have a lot of time, but enough to prove his point. "Activating auxiliary power!" Roston reported through the intercom.

Johanessen watched with concern as the gauge continued to climb. "103%...105%...Doctor, we're still losing containment! Get out of there!"

Roston ignored the warning as he continued to adjust the controls, modifying the bottle's configuration. He would show her. He would show all of them - all the others who doubted his theories and mocked his ideas. When he was walking up to accept his award in Stockholm, they would eat crow.

Outside in the main control room, klaxons began to blare and alarm lights activated. Johanessen reached for the emergency shut-off, damn Roston's temper. But nothing happened. "Doctor, get out of there!" she repeated. "Scram controls are jammed!"

Inside, steam was already shooting out of the coolant tubes and the plasma was now visibly glowing white. The glass separating them started to distort and hairline cracks began to form. Johanessen shook her head and headed for the exit to call emergency services. She didn't want to leave a colleague behind, even one as obnoxious as Roston, but she did everything she could. It wasn't her fault. She would be telling herself that for weeks to come.

Behind her, a muffled explosion erupted along with the sound of the emergency sirens. Emergency lead walls began to drop, sealing off the area automatically. Outside, the security guards awoke from their normal bored night routine and began to call for the fire department and ambulances. Inside, the smashed equipment and furniture erupted in flames as the plasma leaked into the main room. Metal, stone and other materials all melted together into lumps of radioactive debris.

******

"Mr. Powers, there has been an accident in research lab P7. One casualty, the other lead on the project swears she tried to stop him, and visual records confirm her testimony," an underling reported.

"Very well then clean it up, and move Mrs. Johanessen to a less stressful research center, and remind her about the disclosure clause." Power said, dismissing his subordinate.

The cleanup crew did as they were told to put the body with the other irradiated materials. However, there was nothing that could be done for Dr. Roston, since they couldn't bury him in his current radioactive state. They decided that his body along with the rest of the irradiated materials would be shipped out to the containment facility as soon as the radiation died down. Unseen by the men at the containment facility, a purple glowing hand erupted from the container.

******

Present Day
Prometheus Research facility

Dr. Johanessen watched the power gauges carefully as she closed down her workstation for the day. Around her, other scientists were doing the same as the end of the working day arrived. There were a few passing farewells but little else. Johanessen had only been in the office for a few months and her odd hours made it difficult for her co-workers to figure out.

Johanessen had been brought into Prometheus when her consulting company was bought out and assimilated during a buyout. At the time, she was lacking direction in her life; her position with Powerdyne was six years ago and the incident that stained her career and brought about its premature termination haunted her like a shadow. Things had changed a few months ago when Prometheus offered her a position as an associate researcher. The pay was good and the benefits were substantially better than any other offer she had. Her daughter especially liked the day care facilities, which was the deciding factor.

Downstairs in the underground garage, Johanessen navigated her small Honda to street level for the short drive back to the residential tower. A mere ten blocks, it was a short drive, two bus stops, or a long walk for the more physically-inclined. There was talk from senior management about building a private underground monorail to link the two buildings, which would help alleviate the increasingly crowded parking lot. The company was growing by leaps and bounds; money was apparently no object. It was clear that she with a company that was willing to spend whatever it took to accomplish its goals; not much different from her previous position, now that she thought about it. But somehow any doubts she might have had seemed to melt away whenever she was at work. She felt unusually committed to make it work. It was time to put her past behind her.

******

Plasm sat across the street in a small café. It was fun to watch the mortals scurrying around. No one would recognize him in his copied form of John Peters, a security guard for Prometheus. He had spent days stalking Peters in a variety of forms, so he could copy his mannerisms accurately. With his goal so close, he didn't want anything to screw this up. Based on her regular patterns, Dr. Johanessen would be getting back from the main office in a short time. It was time to settle old scores. It was time for Johanessen to get what she deserved.

Plasm finished his coffee and walked across the street and into the Prometheus residential building. It was newer than most of the other buildings in the area. Plasm paused a moment to scan the crowd; puny ants, he thought. How easily he could obliterate the cattle in front of him. But he wasn't here for indiscriminate slaughter; not this time. He had a specific agenda to accomplish today. Perhaps after he secured his goal, he might teach these shopping fools the cruel lessons of fate.

******

Martin Phelps sat in the guard station, watching the flow of people as they entered and exited the tower. Like most of his fellow guards, he was a former cop who signed up when offered a more lucrative and safer alternative to walking the streets. His basic duties were to make sure no one bothered the tenants and that the riff-raff stayed on the streets. On his side was a Colt .45, though he had never had a need to use it on the job. It still amazed him how fast the company had pushed through the gun permits, given New York City's draconian anti-gun laws.

"G'evening, Dr. Johanessen, how was your day?" Phelps asked as Dr. Johansen came through the security doors.

"Same as usual Martin."

Phelps tipped his hat. "Have a good evening. Call if you need anything."

Phelps made it a point to greet all the tenants by name to make them feel that they were protected here in the Prometheus residential tower. He had aspirations to get Level 4 clearance like his good friend and supervisor Joseph Sloan. Then he would be able to see all the new weapons that were being developed under military contracts. Sloan was always being invited up to Amanda Lovehear's apartment when she came home with groceries. Rumors floated around that there was "stuff" going on, but of course Sloan denied it. That Lovehear was engaged to another Prometheus lawyer made the rumors all the juicier.

Oh well, enough fantasizing, Phelps thought. The day was winding down. He'd go off shift soon and close out yet another uneventful day.

******

Dr. Johanessen walked into her apartment and smiled as the sound of her daughter talking to her nanny could be heard from the kitchen. Tracy was a source of comfort for Johanessen and the Prometheus corporation had been generous enough to help her find a nice nanny.

"Any problems today?"

"No, senora," the heavy-set nanny replied with a thick Hispanic accent and a smile. "Tracy is a good little girl."

"She's going to be starting school next year," Johanessen said softly.

"Si, senora, they do grow up very fast," the nanny replied as she gathered her personal items.

******

Plasm used his stolen badge as he walked through the security turnstile. Phelps looked up and blinked. "John, aren't you supposed to be on vacation?"

"Where is Dr. Johanessen?"

Phelps looked at the security board's vast array of cameras and other sensors. "Surveillance systems says she's in her apartment. What's the problem?"

"Ah, I see...so she thinks this place will protect her..." Plasm said and laughed. Purple light then began to leak around his eyes.

"What the hell?" Phelps said with shock as he watched the formerly familiar face melt away into a pulsing purple mass of plasma. The skin and features of John Peters melted away leaving a glowing purple figure with a skull like visage.

Phelps drew his gun. "You're not going anywhere!"

Plasm ignored the squealing insignificant figure as he moved towards the elevator banks. Around him, people began to scream and run for cover.

"I said stop!" Phelps said and fired a warning shot. The crack of gunfire sent an unmistakable warning throughout the mall as the security personnel from other stations reported in.

Plasm walked up to the elevator doors and ripped them apart as if they were tissue paper. Phelps shot Plasm twice and was hit by a plasma streamer from Plasm's protective aura. The improved ballistic cloth started smoking and burning his skin underneath. The gun clattered to the floor behind the security desk. Around him, other guards began to arrive. Two of them pulled Phelps behind cover as the rest returned fire, only to watch helplessly as Plasm disappeared into the elevator shaft.

******

Plasm ascended the elevator shaft. He knew that the good doctor had gotten off on the fifty-seventh floor. He reached the fifty-seventh level and fired three streamers into the roof of the car, shredding the cables holding the elevator. Plasm phased through the ceiling as the car plummeted into the darkness below. He then phased through the elevator door and positioned himself on the elevator landing.

"Freeze! On the floor now!"

Plasm turned and sneered as a team of four more security guards armed with heavy rifles stood from concealed positions at the end of the hallway. "Will you fools never learn?" he shouted as he blasted plasma bolts that ripped through the reinforced walls, searing stone and mortar.

"Fall back!" the team leader ordered as scattered rifle fire echoed in the hallway.

Behind closed doors, tenants huddled and trembled in fear, wondering what was to come. Plasm scanned the rooms, his plasma-sensitive vision easily penetrating the walls and doors. At the seventh room down the hall, he saw his quarry and smiled.

Plasm blasted his way into the room, not bothering to phase. All the more to paralyze them with fear, he thought and smiled with satisfaction, as the mortals inside Dr. Johanessen apartment didn't disappoint. Two women, one child; a bonus he thought.

The nanny's scream of horror was cut short as he casually blasted her with a bolt of plasma energy, penetrating her chest and reducing her to a bloody pulp. The carnage prompted more screaming by both of the survivors as Johanessen futilely attempted to shield her daughter from the stranger's wrath.

"Honey I'm home! I let the help go," Plasm chimed mockingly. He then reached out and touched a closet door, causing it to deform and wrap around Johanessen's daughter, forcibly separating the two of them. "It's time to dance with me, doctor."

"You monster! What do you want?" Johanessen screamed.

"You mainly, but she's a nice bonus. If you're a good doctor I might let her live." He began to whistle as material from around the room flowed over Johanessen. Her screams of fear and protest were cut short, as her world became a sealed coffin.

Plasm took his two burdens to the window of the apartment. He hit the glass with a purple blast of plasma energy. However, the window didn't shatter as expected, but seemed to distribute the energy.

"Impossible!" Plasm snarled. He blasted it again, only to fume as his blasts continue to dissipate against the barrier. Between blasts, Plasm narrowed his eyes and scowled as his plasma-sensitive vision detected a force field blocking the windows and primary structures of the building.

A roaring of flames erupted from the apartment as Plasm shouted in rage and flew back along his path to the elevator. Carrying a human sized bundle in one hand and a smaller on in the other, he dropped down the shaft of the elevator with his burdens. Since the mortals wanted to make it difficult, he would make them pay with their lives for their interference.

******

"He's coming down!" the security team leader shouted. Around him, four full teams of heavily armed and armored guards stood ready. The rest of the normally busy mall was evacuated and eerily quiet.

"Force field is holding him," a security technician reported as he watched a set of sensors that tracked Plasm's radioactive body. "The only way out of here is either through the roof or us. We've got gunships waiting for him up top; they don't report any sighting yet."

Officer John Fortune grimly surveyed the preparations as he listened to status checks from the squad leaders around the mall's food court. A long-time veteran of the NYPD, he had been in numerous tight fixes in his career and had always come up with barely a scratch. Some of his fellow officers at the time had called him "Lucky Fortune", but after a particularly nasty battle involving some metas at NY Harbor, he decided to take the offer he had received from Prometheus to be one of the heads of security. He just hoped that this wasn't going to be the day his luck finally ran out.

Arranged in formation around the elevator at twenty meters were several dozen armed men, all armed with highly advanced array of weapons ranging from high-powered slug throwers to exotic energy weapons. The weapons were part of a hush-hush defense contract. None of the men knew what to expect, but each one hoped that technology would make the difference.

Outside several other units were moving people back and blocking traffic around the building. In addition they were helping people out of the emergency doors to the park across the street. Several police cruisers could be seen assisting as well as blocking adjacent streets.

Just then, the explosion announced an end to the seemingly endless preparations. The blast erupted from the elevator shaft, showering the men with a thick dust. A purple glowing figure emerged. "Stand aside or die worms!" Plasm intoned.

"Fire!" Officer Fortune ordered unleashing his own volley at the glowing purple target.

Plasm roared with pain and surprise; the firepower was much stronger than before and he hadn't actually planned on a serious fight. For a moment it appeared as if Plasm was about to go down. But sheer determination and pride refused to let him go down.

"Die!" Plasm shouted angrily as he released the smaller of the two bundles. With his free hand, he gestured and the arc of energy engulfed several men who were still firing when they collapsed writhing in their melted armor and burning weapons. The rest of the men continued to fire, pushing the purple menace back into the elevator shaft.

"Pour it on, take this bastard out!" Officer Fortune ordered. A second streamer lanced out and took out two supports. The resulting material turned into serrated metal and three more guards fell.

The purple figure seemed to be stunned as the shots kept pounding him. "You will all die now!" he screamed, unleashing a massive wave of energy on his assailants. The resulting explosion blew out the windows for two blocks and knocked out most of the opposing guard force. Several of the guards were thrown back and stores throughout the mall crumbled by the force of the blast.

Plasm nursed several wounds as he struggled to regain his breath. He really wanted to finish them off once and for all. To teach them what it meant to interfere with a god. But outside, the sounds of sirens could already be heard and the last thing he needed was more distractions. With that, he flew out of the mall's main entrance and took to the skies. He had what he was really wanted. It was time to take his revenge.

******

"...and we're here live from the Prometheus company where the rogue metahuman known as Plasm just attacked the mall in broad daylight. Witnesses all reported that although the private security forces and police did their best, they were unable to prevent Plasm from causing millions of dollars of property damage. Several people are still missing and rescue efforts are underway."

******

"...cannot begin to describe just how tragic this whole business is," Richard Michaels said to the reporter. "We at Prometheus Industries consider all our employees our family and Prometheus will do whatever it takes to heal the damage and make things right."

The reporter nodded dutifully. "It's a terrible tragedy. I'm sure that everyone in the city shares what you and your people are going through. Do you have any information that might help the police bring Plasm to justice?"

"Of course we will be cooperating with the Police in every way possible. We've already made all our surveillance video available to the authorities and are helping to coordinate rescue efforts here. I want to also say that I'm proud of the courage our security forces have shown this day. Were it not for their efforts on the evacuations, the toll could have been far worse. They and the other first responders are the true heroes today. And as for Plasm, all I will say is, if you know what's best for you, turn yourself in. If you don't, something bad will happen to you." Michaels leaned forward and his eyes flickered menacingly. "Trust me."

******

Detective Paul Hill surveyed the damage as a small army of his fellow NYPD patrolmen went through the debris looking for survivors. It wasn't the first time he had been at the scene of a metahuman battle and certainly wouldn't be the last. Of greater interest to him was that the Prometheus security personnel were able to actually drive Plasm off, something they couldn't have possibly done using conventional arms. His trained eye noted the pockmarks in the concrete walls didn't resemble bullets at all. What was going on here, he wondered.

"Got another one!" a rescuer's voice shouted, distracting Hill from his line of thinking. Several workers gathered to dig through the rubble, lifting a large slab of concrete off the pile, revealing a small pocket of space where two people could be seen.

"Looks like Fortune and Johnson," the senior security officer identified. "Get the gurneys over here."

Hill waited until the ambulance personnel gathered the men before going up to the man in charge. "Excuse me, Mr...Bennett?"

The shorthaired officer turned around and nodded at Hill. "Is there something I can do for you Detective?"

"Yeah. I'd like to know just want went on here."

"Looks pretty cut and dried to me Detective," Bennett replied.

"Yeah, well...I was just wondering about how the damage wasn't as extensive as it could have been. How a private security force apparently has more firepower than most of the NYPD?"

Bennett paused in silence for a moment, then looked away. "You'll find everything you want to know with your superiors." He then turned and walked back to help the rescue workers resume their search.

What the hell was that supposed to mean, Hill wondered. Something about Bennett's voice also didn't seem right; for a moment, he sounded stiff and uncomfortable. He pulled out a phone and dialed his precinct.

"Hey, it's me. Can you get the Captain on the line?" Hill waited for a minute. "Captain? It's Paul. Yeah, I'm still down at the Prometheus building. About the weapons the security personnel used..."

Hill trailed off as he listened to the response as the surprise could be read on his face. "But..."

******

"...it's a non-issue, Paul," Captain O'Malley said on the phone. "We got word from the commissioner himself. He made it very clear that there weren't any unauthorized weapons used...crystal clear. No, I'm not sure about the specifics, but we just on the phone about this very topic."

After hearing a snort of disgust on the other end, O'Malley hung up with a blank expression on his face. A moment later, he blinked, looked around, and remembered he had some paperwork to fill out. Career terminations were never pleasant, but order had to be maintained. He had his instructions and he didn't need a loose cannon of a detective making waves.

******

Dr. Johanessen awoke with a painful burning sensation across her face. She tried to reach for her face, only to find her arms restrained. "What's going on?" she replied groggily. "Where am I?"

"You are in the circle Judecca, where those who were treacherous to their benefactors all go," the dark voice intoned from the darkness.

"Oh my God...it can't be," Johanessen gasped.

"And why not, Dr. Johanessen? Did you not believe in justice as a child?" replied a voice from the shadows. "I always knew my path would lead to greatness. In some ways, you were the instrument of my creation!"

Johanessen forced her eyes opened, despite the stinging pain across her face. The tearing in her eyes barely obscured the human shape in front of her. Fear burned through any trace of fog in her memories as Roston's face came under the single ceiling light.

"Of course, scientific advancement is never complete without verification. One must be able to reproduce the results. Once we get things set up, I'll be giving you the same support and aid you gave me six years ago." With that, Rosten turned the lights off, plunging the room into darkness, which was pierced by the sounds of screams.
 

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