Toy Soldiers
by Stephen Tsai


Mindshadow took a moment to look over the statues that decorated the Washington DC Mall. Monuments dedicated to great men who made a difference in the world. She smiled as she thought idly what it would be like to place a likeness of herself on this place -- to let the world know who truly ran things. But that would have been getting ahead of herself. First, she had to assume the power that was rightfully hers.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons was located a few blocks north of the Mall, not far from the Capitol and the White House. It was too bad Congress wasn't in session and the President was off on another one of his stumping sessions in another state. But for now, the FBOP would serve as her target. While certainly less famous than its larger neighbors, it was this institution that provided administrative oversight and support to prisons across the country. Including Purgatory Prime.

Inside, it was surprisingly mundane. No unusual security or armed guards; it could have been any ordinary office. The activity buzzed around Mindshadow as the government drones proceeded with their daily meaningless grind. As she entered the foyer, Mindshadow reached out effortlessly and willed the drones to be unable to see her. Their minds were so weak, she thought; reaching into their minds and twist a few memories and emotions for the fun of it was tempting. Perhaps later, she told herself. Right now, she had important business here.

After scanning the first few minds, she headed downstairs and phased through the floor. It made sense, after all. The most important information was being kept in the basement vault.

Downstairs, there was a security booth surrounded by armed men. A quartet of armed guards and three men on surveillance guarded the entry to the vault room. The cameras were seeing her just fine Mindshadow noted, but the men watching them had been lulled into submission with a simple thought. She could easily just phase through the barricades and take what she wanted. But that just didn't feel satisfying, so an inspiration struck her. Why not have some fun with these pathetic weaklings? A shift of her thoughts and she suddenly became visible. The guards abruptly turned to face her. For a moment, their minds shouted "Danger!" But only for a moment.

"Who the...?" the first guard demanded before a look of complete calm came over all the guards in the room.

"It doesn't matter, does it?"

"No, it does not," the second guard replied submissively as the remaining guards nodded in agreement.

"The plans and procedures for Purgatory Prime," Mindshadow commanded. She smiled with satisfaction as the guards activated the proper procedures, disengaging and unlocking the vault. Yes, much better, she thought. It felt proper to have people fetch and carry for her like royalty. Next, two of the guards entered the vault and began to pull information out of the mainframe computer. Above her, she could feel the thoughts of the remaining people within the building, with a handful coming towards her. A simple matter, she thought, and touched their minds effortlessly. By the time they entered, they would only see and remember whatever she wished. Within twenty minutes, the data transfers were complete and two guards brought a set of optical disks before her. With a gesture, Mindshadow reduced them to subatomic particles, storing their molecular and electromagnetic patterns within the energy that pulsed around her fingertips so she could recreate them as she needed to.

"Thank you gentlemen, you've been most useful," Mindshadow smiled. "Now if you would please erase your security logs." She paused to allow the men at the surveillance booth obey her command before continuing. "Now you will all forget ever seeing me or what you've done. If I ever call upon you again, you will all obey my thoughts. As for the rest of you," she continued, turning her attention to the other workers, "your lives are so meaningless and pathetic, why you all kill your spouses and children you return home tonight?"

Mindshadow watched with satisfaction as the guards returned to their duties and the workers walked back to the elevator. The latter group would be committing some heinous crimes tonight and be left with no idea why they did it. Their lives were certainly ruined since double premeditated murder practically guaranteed they'd never see freedom for the rest of their lives, assuming they even survived the police arrest. No doubt they'd plead, beg, and cry their innocence and ignorance, even as their own minds told them otherwise. It was so much fun to watch inferior minds groveling before her power. A pity she wouldn't have time to watch. Maybe she'd hypnotically suggest one of their neighbors to videotape it for her, she thought with amusement as she left the Bureau building.

******

At her Manhattan penthouse, Mindshadow spent the next few hours sifting through the information she had gleaned from the FBOP. The disks weren't compatible with Peter's PC, so she had to create an entire mainframe computer and hard drive array from scratch, copying it molecule by molecule from a computer center similar to the FBOP five blocks east down 83rd street. Of course, the penthouse was now in shambles with cables, terminals, and drive clusters scattered all over the living room and Mindshadow had to use her molecular powers to cool the room so the machinery wouldn't overheat. Fortunately, moving molecules around with her mind was about as much work as breathing, so cleaning up wouldn't be a problem. She blessed all those years she spent training and focusing her mental powers, rather than wasting time studying history or science like all the rest of her peers. No, that wasn't right, she corrected herself. She never had peers in school, only servants, tools and toys. And as far as she was concerned, that's how it should have been and how it was today.

The monitor flashed the first screen, interrupting her reverie. Turning her attention to the data, she started to read. As she expected, Purgatory Prime had countless break attempts but only four actual jailbreaks. The prison was established in 1975. Around the time it was first built, a metalloid alien escaped its confines by phasing through the concrete and steel. The second time occurred when Livewire escaped by overloading the power systems in 1987. The last entry gave the after-action review for Harbinger's break out of Abattoir. So, he wasn't boasting, she thought. According to the review, Harbinger mentally downloaded schematic knowledge from the Warders and engineers then took advantage of contingencies designed around Livewire's attack. Unfortunately, after every break attempt, Purgatory security personnel have upgraded the security procedures accordingly.

Mindshadow then read through the next set of schematics. They gave a basic floor layout, but somehow they didn't seem complete. There were blueprints of automated defenses, but their locations weren't shown on the blueprint. Nor was the locations specified for the list of sensors that were required for entry. Most of the sensor gear seemed to make sense: motion sensors, infrared scanners, Doppler sensors, pressure and ultrasonic sensors. Unfortunately, the schematic didn't provide a list of pass codes or overrides. There was also a description of the cells themselves. Each one was a maximum-security cell with steel-reinforced concrete, backed up by force fields and force walls. Each cell contained its own redundant generator, a modification after Harbinger's attempt, no doubt. Each cell could accept up to ten additional plug-in modules, which would modify the force walls according to the needs of the occupant. There was also a list of exterior defenses, which ranged from mundane firearms to the exotic such as psychotropic webs, gas, and other devices and weapons Mindshadow had never heard of.

She stretched as the hours dragged on. She took a break and commanded one of the enslaved servants she kept at the penthouse to prepare her a drink. Belatedly, she realized she was out of her depth. Her knowledge about computers was limited to web browsing, spreadsheets, and video games and she didn't know the first thing about sensors, security systems, or exotic weapons. She originally was going to read the blueprints, then simply walk through and take what she wanted. She had thought that her powers made her immune to anything Purgatory Prime could muster, but now she wasn't so sure. And what if things went wrong? One wrong slip and she might end up behind one of those cells, or even worse, the suspended animation coffins that held the most powerful metahuman villains of all. Even she couldn't use her powers if she were forced into suspended animation - something to think about, she realized.

But right now, she needed some expertise to plan her entry, and some cannon fodder to use as pawns. Well, she could take care of that easily enough. She thought it over, going through the lists of people in her mind. She needed people who were powerful enough to pose a threat to Purgatory Prime, but not so powerful they could resist her will. She wanted villains; people who wouldn't be acting out of character for assaulting a prison and whom society wouldn't miss if she had to dispose of them. Hmm, she thought, then smiled. Closing her eyes briefly, her telepathy reached out as she willed "Come..." to a small handful of minds across the country. Yes, they'd do nicely enough.

******

Chain had no idea what he was doing when he approached the warehouse. About an hour ago, he was involved with a minor personal affair, ripping some ATM machines off their mountings, and looting the money inside, when suddenly he felt his mind go blank. He couldn't explain it; without knowing why, he felt compelled to make his way to the New York City Harbor, much to the delight of the looters he left behind. Feeling angry and helpless, he opened the door to the warehouse and walked in.

"Another one?" a thin man noted, as Chain closed the door behind him. Chain immediately recognized him as Hardware, a mid-level gadget and computer hacker who was known for hiring himself out for mercenary jobs.

"Wh-what the hell's going on?" Chain snarled.

"You're asking me?" Fist demanded. "We're as much in the dark as you!"

Something about the man struck Chain as sincere. A ninja-styled outfit hugged his athletic frame, his face a mask of weathered stoicism. Either he was a martial artist or a wannabe.

"Okay, then what do you know?"

A strong-looking woman stepped forward. Chain recognized her as Recoil, a super-strong metahuman who could absorb kinetic energy. He had heard that she had recently been doing some extortion work for some organized crime families. "Each of us were doing...personal things, when we were all compelled to come here. We've been talking and are pretty sure that whoever did it probably wants us to do something for them."

"Well, to hell with that!" Without another word, Chain turned around and headed towards the door, only to come to stop in his tracks.

"Don't bother, we've all tried," Recoil waved with disgust. "Whoever brought us here made sure we wouldn't be able to leave.

"What the hell is it?" Chain demanded. He couldn't feel a thing stopping him. No force wall, no barrier of any kind. But somehow, he didn't...couldn't...feel like leaving.

"It's some kind of hypnotic suggestion," Hardware offered, "but far more powerful than any form of conventional brainwashing."

"So what do we do now? Just cool our heels?" Chain demanded.

"Hardly," a telepathic voice intoned into their minds. The four villains turned around and looked up as Mindshadow appeared from thin air as she hovered twenty feet above the ground. "For those of you who do not know me, my name is Mindshadow. Now that you're all here, I have brought you here to serve me."

"Fuck that!" Chain clenched his fists and began to charge them with telekinetic power, only to go limp as all four of the villains freeze in their tracks. With a slight shift of her eyes, Mindshadow willed them all to their hands and knees.

"As you can see, I didn't say I was giving you a choice. You are all here to serve my will, one way or another." Inwardly, Mindshadow could feel a rapid mixture of anger, fear and curiosity shooting through their collective minds. With a subtle mental nudge, she suppressed their anger and stimulated their curiosity and fear. "But I would prefer that you serve my purposes willingly," she continued verbally. "Your skills and collective experience will serve me better as willing agents rather than drones. And I'm sure you'll find the experience far more rewarding if you comply."

There was a moment of tension between the five metahumans in the warehouse as the four villains on the ground looked at each other and at their mysterious captor. A couple of them entertained thoughts of assault or rebellion, but even among the most volatile ones, the extreme level of power before them made the situation crystal clear. Finally, Hardware stepped forward. "What kind of reward?"

Mindshadow gestured and four briefcases materialized out of thin air and levitated in front of each of the villains. The snap catches opened, revealing stacks of bills. "You will each be offered $100,000 for services rendered, provided you obey my commands. Upon successful completion of my instructions, you will be rewarded a collective $500,000."

Chain and Fist tentatively reached for their cases then froze as Mindshadow gently shook her head and smiled. "Ah, ah...not yet."

"And just what are we supposed to do to earn it?" Recoil demanded. Her voice was still hostile, but it was laced fear. Mindshadow regarded her with belittlement, and nudged her fear up just a tad. Not too much, she told herself. Just enough to ensure absolute obedience.

"You are all to break in to Purgatory Prime and free the captured members of the Matrons of Mayhem. Their names are Vox, Harridan and Virago."

"Are you fucking serious?" Chain demanded. "That place is impreg-!" Chain's retort was interrupted as he began to gasp and choke. The other three villains watched with mixed emotions as Mindshadow's eyes bored in on Chain.

"Address me in that manner one more time, and I'll find another brawler to do my work." With a thought, she released Chain's mind, allowing him to breathe in gasps. "Make no mistake; I can crush you like a grape with my slightest whim. Or I can reduce your mind to permanent servitude and have you clean toilets with your tongue."

Chain rubbed his throat as his breathing returned to normal. His expression was knotted with fury, but his eyes betrayed his fear. Although he didn't want to admit it, a tiny voice inside his head warned him that Mindshadow wasn't bluffing. "If you're so buff, then why don't you do it yourself?"

"I have my reasons Chain. That's enough for you to know."

"Are you going to tell us why you want the Matrons out? Recoil asked. "You're not a member last time I heard."

Mindshadow gestured dismissively. "If it makes you feel better knowing, then let's just say I sympathize with their views, and wants them out to continue the good fight. Now, how do you people want to do it? As my agents, or my slaves?"

Chain and Fist looked at each other with restrained fury as Recoil looked down with disgust. Hardware looked at the others with a thoughtful expression. It took several minutes of self-examination, but in the end, forced, well-paid servitude was preferable to mental enslavement.

******

"Okay, this is the entry point from the ferryboat landing," Hardware noted on the main blueprint. "The first corridor is guarded by a mantrap. It's a Recourse Technology MT2090. It's equipped with password protection, voiceprint, palm print, and retinal scanners. It's controlled with an independent computer host with no outside connections, so it's hack-proof against outsiders."

"Can we capture a couple of the Warder personnel when they're off-duty and force them to let us in?" Fist asked.

"Well, this group could probably capture them. But a mantrap by design weighs its occupants when it's doing its testing. If the weight exceeds the Warder's listed weight by 40 pounds, it sounds an alert and locks the mantrap down until security gets there to examine it.

"So let's just rip it loose!" Chain declared.

"Right moron," Recoil snorted derisively. "That'll set off every alarm and bring the entire prison force on our heads!"

"Maybe one of you tough guys could dig a tunnel or something?" Fist asked.

"Even if they could, the walls are laced with seismic sensors," Hardware pointed out. "If they're tripped, the prison activates a lockdown. Every corridor and door is sealed off with an electromagnetic time lock and energy force wall. Nothing short of a nuclear bomb can get through that."

"Too bad we can't just nuke the place," Chain snorted. "That's sounds a lot easier than what you're saying."

"Well, if we had an EMP warhead, that'd help a lot," Hardware noted, ignoring Chain's sarcasm. "Obviously almost all of Purgatory Prime's system's run off power. Cut the power and a lot of their stuff should go down."

"Well, where do they get their power?" Recoil asked. "Are there power lines we can cut?"

"Undersea power cables, yes," Hardware nodded, pointing to a set of diagrams on one side of the blueprint. "But Prime's certain to have backup generators. Still, that's probably worth doing. In almost any system, backup power takes a few seconds to come online and isn't going to be sufficient to run everything. They'd have to power down nonessentials like lighting and environment controls. It'd buy us some darkness if nothing else."

"Then we'll just walk in when the power drops and we'll be home free," Fist declared. "Between the four of us, we can handle any bunch of soldier boys."

Hardware shook his head and smiled coldly. "Don't believe that for a second. Getting inside is just the beginning." Hardware flipped to the next set of documents and blueprints. "Inside, the corridors are lined with environmental sensors set to scan infrared, sonar, and radar and motion trackers. If any of these don't match up with the authorized personnel on surveillance cameras, a warning light is tripped. Once activated, the system begins a Stage One response -- the corridor is sealed and flooded with anesthetic gas. If this doesn't stop the intruder, the system goes to Stage Two, and armed Warders are sent. Each Warder's battle suit is equipped with a variable array of weaponry and sensor equipment, automatically adjusted for optimum battle tactics against any known metahuman identified on the surveillance video. The corridors are separated by magnetically sealed pressure doors, which can only be opened with the correct authorization card and pass code, which we don't have. Once inside the cellblock, the floor panels are lined with pressure plates and electroencephalograph sensors. Any unregistered EEG that doesn't match up with a corresponding pressure reading activates a timed lockdown for eight hours, which not even the warden can cancel. The atmosphere in the cellblock is pumped out except for in the cells, and they send in a squad of Powers MK2000 class assault droids to sterilize the floor. And believe me when I tell you this, that every one of these systems is state of the art."

"Then how exactly are we going to do this?" Fist demanded.

"Well, if our...benefactor..." Hardware managed to avoid choking on the word despite the looks he got, "can provide us some key equipment and supplies, there is one way."

Mindshadow regarded Hardware with a raised eyebrow. "The equipment you're thinking of won't be a problem. I'll see that it's waiting for you when you arrive."

"So now what?" Chain demanded.

"Well, you have a plan, so now you're going to implement it for me," Mindshadow smiled with satisfaction. "It will take me a few days to get things set up in Alaska, so to show that I'm not entirely a slave master, I give you all ten days to tie up any loose ends or errands you may be doing. I'll summon you all when we're ready to leave." Before anyone could say another word, she gestured casually, and their faces all went completely blank. With a thought, she willed them all to return to their previous locations. As they did so, she subtly fogged their memories. They would remember the conversation here, but none of them would be able to remember how they got here. She also implanted a hypnotic command that ensured that none of them would be able to reveal the plan to anyone else, nor were they permitted to risk their lives for the next few days. While she could care less about whatever petty crimes they might involve themselves in, if they actually got killed, she'd have to find more pawns.

Mindshadow then turned her attention to the blueprints on the table and smiled. Weak-minded fools, she thought. Of course she didn't really mean it when she said they would be free-willed agents. Even while they were talking, she had subtly modified their subconsciouses. They would now obey her every command, her slightest whim. They believed otherwise because she had issued a subliminal hypnotic suggestion, willing them to trust her implicitly and completely. Sure, they felt hostility, but even that was mostly staged for their benefit.

The truth was Mindshadow could care less if they succeeded, failed, or got captured or killed. Neither these fools nor the Matrons meant a thing to her; the latter were simply a name that came to mind when she was putting together her presentation. And although the plan they put together was actually quite elegant, given their limitations, this sort of detailed planning bored her and it was only Purgatory Prime's reputation that prompted her to go this far. Still, several of the ideas they presented were worth pursuing. She'd just add her own special touch. With that, she issued another mental command, "Come..."

Without warning, a crackle of electricity came flowing out of one of the warehouse's electrical outlets. The electricity rippled through the air, causing dust to stick to surfaces before coalescing into a human female. Once she had fully solidified, a lithe figure wearing a tight fitting red and cobalt blue silk skirt dropped to her hands and knees and kowtowed to the ground. "Hai, Mindshadow-sama," Electron whispered obsequiously. "I await your command."

Mindshadow smiled as she looked upon the young Japanese woman. She had read about this young woman during a recent robbery of computer parts that escalated into a plot to steal nuclear launch codes by Terra Pax, an anti-nuclear terrorist group based in Australia. That plot had been foiled by Omega and Permafrost, but fortunately Electron had escaped during a standoff with Porter. An anonymous job posting later, and Electron had fallen right into Mindshadow's fold, and unlike the four pawns she had just acquired, Electron was someone Mindshadow meant to keep around for the long term. Anyone who could bypass the NSA firewall was someone she wanted in her service. Particularly someone who could manipulate computers and machinery, something Mindshadow couldn't directly do. "I've decided to make a few changes to my plan," Mindshadow willed.

"Hai, Mindshadow-sama," Electron bowed submissively. "I will obey your commands."

******

High over the Appalachian Mountains, Mindshadow came to a hover over an abandoned part of the mountain range. She hoped that this would be the right place; it was the Dictator's third former base she had investigated. It was here that he planned and tried to execute an assassination of a right-wing conservative political candidate back in 1994, who had campaigned actively against providing foreign aid to the former communist states of Russia. The Secret Service had stopped him back then, with an assist from the Draughtsmen who handled Imperious Maximus Mk 2. Unfortunately for them, the Dictator had refused to surrender the location of his base, claiming that he would return to fulfill his "manifest destiny" or some nonsense like that. They never did find his base and after seven months of searching, they had given up.

But none of them had the senses Mindshadow possessed. She relaxed her mind and expanded her consciousness, feeling the individual molecules that made up the rocks, trees and soil. In the distance, she felt clusters of minds; coal miners from the town almost fifty miles away. She tuned them out; her telepathic senses were so much more sensitive and perceptive than her telekinetic senses, the stray thoughts were making it difficult to concentrate on the molecular composition of the soil, but she did her best. She flew slow passes over the mountains for nearly two hours before stopping...there! Titanium-steel alloy, hardly the norm in coal country. Focusing on it, she closed in as the mental shape grew into a large underground cavern of some kind. She came to a hover twenty feet above the valley floor and silently congratulated the Dictator. The forest was completely undisturbed, even aerial surveillance wouldn't have seen a thing.

As she lowered herself close to the ground, she took a moment to mentally scan the underground base one more time. No power, she noted, so any traps were probably run down. Well, that made sense; the Dictator spend the next four years in jail before successfully breaking out and plotting his recruiting rally in Los Angeles before being stopped by Blur last year. No signs that he had returned here. With that decided, she willed her body's molecules to shift frequencies, allowing her to phase right through the ground. A hundred feet or so lower, she emerged into open space. Pitch black, she noticed. She felt a little disoriented; her telekinetic senses didn't quite have the precision her telepathic senses did and with no living minds down here other than worms and bugs, she was nearly blind. The air was thick and musty, so she willed molecules of purified air to wrap around her in a cocoon, keeping the odors and dust out. Next, she took a moment to "feel" her way around the room. It was surprisingly big, but there was heavy equipment, consoles, and assembly line machinery all over the place. She narrowed her focus and started feeling the individual chemicals that probably composed batteries and explosives, but she was only guessing on that. Her formal knowledge of chemistry stopped when she was a sophomore in high school; anything else she knew about molecular compounds was entirely based on observing atoms interacting with her mind. As she completed her sweep, she stopped when her senses tagged an unusual cluster - phosphorous compounds along with heavy wraps of copper and fiberglass. She tried to remember what Hardware's mind told her; an EMP was basically a high explosive like PBX-9501 wrapped around a dielectric jacket and conductive coils. Of course, he had dismissed any chance of actually getting one, but Mindshadow had her suspicions that the Dictator might have actually had one handy. He was, by all accounts, a competent engineer who had experience designing weapons and he did threaten to detonate a few EMP-class weapons back in 1994. Of course, she couldn't be sure; for all she knew, this blob could be just a conventional explosive or jamming pod as her knowledge in science was nonexistent in this field.

She shrugged and phased herself and this pod through the ground and flew south. Surprisingly, her ignorance no longer bothered her. True, over the last few months since she left school, she had found that her inattentiveness in class had left gaps in knowledge and at first, she did feel a little embarrassed that her ignorance, but more and more, she was becoming comfortable relying on her powers instead. After all, she told herself, she couldn't learn everything and mastery of her powers was the most important thing to know. Having such mastery, she could easily compel any knowledge she wanted from anyone she chose. And right now, the knowledge she would need could be found only a few hundred miles from here.

******

The Oak Ridge National Laboratory was one of the most important research centers of energy science in the country. Born from the famous Manhattan Project of World War II, Oak Ridge grew from being the first uranium and plutonium refinery into a multiprogram science and technology laboratory managed by the U.S. Department of Energy. Scientists and engineers here conducted basic and applied research and development to create scientific knowledge and technological solutions, primarily in the field of alternative energy sources, including nuclear. Most of the research here was intended for peace, weapons research was done here as well, and while Mindshadow didn't know much about plutonium, she knew it was the primary component for nuclear bombs and that EMPs were one of the key results of a nuke.

As she approached the High Flux Isotope Reactor Facility located in the Energy Sciences Division, Mindshadow could feel several streams of highly charged particles being accelerated to incredibly high states of energy and being shot around a circular track at unbelievable speed. Mindshadow stopped and admired the display flashing in her mind. Out of curiosity, she glanced at the department sign. She had no idea what an electron linear accelerator was; it sounded more like technobabble often used by lazy Star Trek writers, but it sure was doing a good job of pushing subatomic particles along a straight path.

Shaking her head, she turned her attention back to the mission at hand. The people that were walking back and forth had substantially more complex thought patterns than the norm. Not a surprise, she thought; this place was one of the birthplaces of modern nuclear physics. As they went about their academic duties, Mindshadow started sifting through their minds, looking for any references on weapon design. After ten minutes and nearly fifty minds ranging from interns to department heads, she shook her head and sighed. Trying to sort out the subtle distinctions between neutron scattering particle research, astrophysics particles, nuclear fission, nuclear fusion, and all manner of irradiation materials testing was impossible; the details of the Colombian Cartel's finances was trivially easy by comparison. Well fine, she decided. She'd just force the answers out of someone.

******

"Yes, Mindshadow," a scientist nodded. "This weapon should generate approximately 50 megajoules of electrical energy within tens to hundreds of microseconds of time."

"Okay, so it will short out any electrical devices or electronics for...?" Mindshadow prompted.

"The detonation radius is adjustable," another scientist explained. "The weapon's yield should range from five to fifty miles, depending on deployment and detonation setting."

Mindshadow watched as another pair of scientists pointed out a control panel located near the nose cone. She was hovering in a relaxed seated position five feet above the floor of the administrator's office. After enslaving the administrator, she had simply commanded him to identify several scientists who were versed in nuclear weapon design. Then she used her telepathic powers to summon and enslave the lot of them. Having a superior intellect had proven no defense against mental suggestion, she was gratified to see; these eggheads were every bit under her control as the street people she had enslaved to serve her personal needs back in New York City. Between the dozen that were crowded in the office, they possessed the sum knowledge of every form of weapon of mass destruction known to man, but Mindshadow wasn't really interested in that. Sure, if she commanded this batch to guide her, she could probably use her telekinetic control over atoms to build an entire batch of nuclear bombs, but what was the point in that? The only thing she'd gain doing that would be Queen of the cinder, and trying to rule a world with no other living minds to toy with would probably drive her nuts.

Turning her mind back to the present, Mindshadow mentally dismissed the eggheads to return to their little lives. For the most part, she left their personalities intact; she might need their expertise again one day and didn't want to crush their psyches any more than she had to. Once alone, she focused her telekinetic powers on the EMP, reducing the four-foot long warhead into a narrow six-inch steel rod. The scientists had a long-winded explanation how she did it. Something about how her telekinetic powers were manipulating weak nuclear forces, overcoming the forces of repulsion that made matter in the universe almost entirely empty space. Mindshadow barely understood a word of it, but then she didn't have to. What the eggheads defined in long complex equations was instinctive to her. Pretty amazing, she thought as she flew out of the city and headed north.

******

Anchorage hadn't changed in the month since she was here last. Even in the middle of the day, the chill of the winter was still heavy in the air. The occupants of the city were still huddled in their heavy coats and scarves. Indoors, the heavy clothing made them sweat and stink like animals. Mindshadow felt particularly fortunate not to need such crude biological maintenance; molecular telekinesis freed her from such indignity.

She came to a hover thirty feet over the ferryboat dock cafe. It was busy this time of day with the lunchtime crowd. Phasing through the roof, Mindshadow emerged into a back-office, which was used to do the small cafe's finances. It was a little crowded, but it would do. A quick mental suggestion ensured that the cafe's owner would remain downstairs for the next few hours. She then levitated to a relaxed seated position in the middle of the room and concentrated. It was time to get to work.

Downstairs, one of the Prime night shift personnel quietly put his drink down on the countertop and walked upstairs. In front of him, the door unlocked and opened itself to let him in, then closed behind him. Mindshadow looked his mind over; he was one of the Purgatory Prime janitors; not exactly starting at the top, but a start nonetheless. As he sat down, Mindshadow sifted through his mind and frowned. The man's memories of the Purgatory Prime were almost nonexistent -- the only thing he could remember was the hallways he swept, the trash bins he emptied and the garbage chute. But that didn't make sense; this man was responsible for mopping the entire administrative floor. He couldn't be that dimwitted, could he? She probed deeper and deeper, searching his memories into the past. He had begun working for Prime almost four years ago. When he was hired, he was required to submit to a Top Secret security clearance check and identity scan. Well, that made sense. Then, about six months ago, he and the rest of the staff had been called into a meeting from some serious-looking officers, who explained to them that privacy and personal rights were superceded by national security, and that they all had to either resign immediately or submit to... to...what? The next few minutes were foggy. He had been taken into a room...he didn't remember what it looked like...only the smell of antiseptic and the sensation of starched white sheets. Wait...a pinprick in his arm...a hypodermic needle of some kind. The sensation of getting drowsy and the sounds of a droning, recorded voice. Ah, so that was it, Mindshadow realized. Someone had injected him with a psychotropic drug that induced a state of hypnosis, and then commanded him not to remember the details of his work. No wonder he didn't know anything. No doubt this was a response to the Harbinger incident; it was a measure to foil telepathic probing. And against a lesser telepath, it probably would have worked. It was fortunate that permanent, long-lasting hypnotic conditioning was something Mindshadow excelled at; in fact, she had built her entire telepathic empire enslaving minds such as this. Fortunate for Mindshadow, that is - unfortunate for Purgatory Prime.

Over the next few days and nights, Mindshadow became increasingly annoyed even as she delved into each and every mind coming from Purgatory Prime. Over the last seventy-two hours, she had mentally scanned and mesmerized almost a hundred personnel ranging from janitors and cooks, up to security personnel, guards, a few Warders, and technicians. Every one of them, even the Warden, had gone through the same mental conditioning, which made her efforts quite a bit more tedious than normal. Even worse, one of the senior Warder's minds revealed to her early on, after nearly twenty minutes of coaxing, that even their brainwaves were being scanned at random intervals while they were on-site, which forced her to hypnotically summon the previous ten people she had enslaved before and redo their mental condition to better conceal her work. And although she might be able to conceal her psychic surgery from the scanners with her practiced skill at telepathic concealment, the moment she actually called upon their minds, the sudden shift in brain patterns was sure to set off the alarms. So, she could establish her programming, but she couldn't use it without giving herself away. Which meant that, although she would be able to sense their thoughts and intentions, she wouldn't be able to prevent them from acting against her. Not without costing them their jobs, which would defeat the other reason she wanted to reprogram them. So, she'd have to defeat them telekinetically rather than hypnotically, which would have been so much easier.

The extensive use of her telepathic powers didn't take any actual effort on her part, but it did try her patience. Why did Harbinger have to screw things up like that? And why did Purgatory Prime have to be so extreme with its response, she pouted. It struck her as incredibly intrusive, although the irony that she of all people was protesting for personal privacy escaped her. Some of the Warders and most of the non-security personnel had their initial objections, but when it came down to it, most people were willing to sacrifice their privacy for well-paid job security.

As the days and nights dragged on, the flow of personnel coming on and off the island eventually trickled to a halt. There would be no more new people coming that she hadn't already tagged, so she decided that that was enough. Since she couldn't actually use the Warders as she had originally intended to, she decided to accomplish her secondary goal. In each of their minds, she quietly implanted a hidden command, which would only activate if the day ever came that she were incarcerated inside Purgatory Prime. If that unfortunate event were to ever occur, a handful of them would be compelled to release her as quietly as they could. Other than that, Mindshadow made it a special point to leave their personalities, memories, and thoughts as intact as she could. The good news was that that should enable them to continue with their duties without tripping the EEG scanners. The bad news was that they would probably be doing their best to shoot her to bits a few days from now and there wasn't a thing she could do to stop them.

She signed and concentrated. "Electron..."

With a crack of energy, Electron came flowing out of the office's computer screen and kowtowed before Mindshadow. "Hai, Mindshadow-sama. Atashi wa..."

"Speak English," Mindshadow commanded with annoyance. Her telepathy could translate thoughts, but spoken foreign languages were still gibberish and her patience with having to transpose thoughts and speech was worn out.

Electron bowed submissively again. "Yes, Mindshadow. I have completed your orders and have infiltrated the systems throughout Purgatory Prime. Their security scanners will obey my commands." Her voice was stilted and accented, both from the foreign language and the powerful hypnotic trance. Mindshadow thought about granting her some pseudo-independence, but decided against it. She wanted Electron's activities strictly coordinated with her own.

"My commands, you mean," Mindshadow reminded. "Now, open your mind to me..."

As Electron relaxed her thoughts, Mindshadow gestured and a large blueprint of Purgatory Prime materialized out of thin air. The blueprint was still incomplete; there were apparently areas of Purgatory Prime that not even the Warders knew about. As Mindshadow sifted through Electron's recent memories, she telekinetically sketched the information onto the blueprint. When finished, the composite plans were nearly filled in.

"What about these defensive systems?"

"Forgive me, Mindshadow, but I will only be able to control one set of weapons at a time. Each weapon system has its own independent computer system and redundant link to the sensor grid. Controlling one does not allow me to control the others."

"Then how do the Warders coordinate their assaults with their troops?"

"The sensor grid maintains a lock on the Warders life signs. The automated assault weapons deploy lethal force only if the system fails to detect any Warders life signs or if the system is manually authorized to go to Stage 3."

Stage 3, Mindshadow thought, didn't Hardware say something about that? She shrugged; it must have slipped her mind. Oh well, she'd just ask him in a couple days. "Very well. Proceed into Anchorage's power grid and await my word. When I call upon you, you will enter the Purgatory Prime network and do my will."

"Hai, Mindshadow-sama," Electron whispered submissively.

******

Chain and Fist both tapped each other beer mugs coarsely before emptying the contents. Despite Mindshadow's reassurance of enjoying these ten days, they had shared their disgust and frustrations. When they had "awoke" from the warehouse, they had made contact with each other through the underworld grapevine. Having similar viewpoints and feelings about the situation, they had both tried to think of a way to stop Mindshadow and get their revenge. Unfortunately, every attempt they tried had utterly failed. Fist had even considered going to the police to reveal the whole plan, something he would have never done under any other circumstance, but an irresistible compulsion prevented him from even making the attempt. Chain had tried to leave the city, only to be stopped at the city limits by his own disobeying body. Later, they even tried to get arrested committing petty crimes, figuring that a few nights in jail weren't as bad as being someone's puppet. However, the plan -- allowing the city police to apprehend them without a fight -- fell apart as they were compelled to fight, leaving a squad of New York's finest battered and bleeding in the streets.

Now, as the deadline approached, they both looked ahead like a man facing execution. It wasn't the crime itself, they both agreed. Yeah, the risk was substantial, but even that didn't bother them so much -- Hardware's plan was actually quite elegant, they had both admitted and if they actually pulled it off, the sheer audacity of the crime would be a feather in any crook's hat. The money offered wasn't bad either; under the circumstances, it was quite fair.

No, they both agreed. It was being someone's pawn that really sucked. It was the feeling of helplessness of having their lives, their very freedom of thought at the mercy of some teenybopper, who looked more like a Brittany Spears fan than a supervillainess. But there was no denying it; Mindshadow was definitely holding all the cards, controlling every door, holding all the keys. Fist had asked Chain, just to be sure and Chain had swallowed his pride just long enough to assure him that he wasn't sandbagging when she "disciplined" him. Somehow he could feel it; it had felt like trying to stop a flame-thrower with a sheet of tissue paper.

Fist put his beer down and looked at the clock on the wall of the cheap bar. "It's almost time, you know."

Chain spat on the floor with disgust. "Don't remind me. I don't even know what we're supposed to do anymore."

"That's funny," Fist nodded. "I thought she was going to summon us, but she didn't say where. And you know? I tried to go back to the warehouse the other day to find some clues, but I couldn't. No matter where I looked, it was like nothing clicked."

Chain looked up with hostility. "She probably mind-raped us or something. Made us forget stuff so we couldn't go back and catch her by surprise."

"So what do we do about it?" Fist asked. "Screw up on purpose? Try and kill her if we get the chance?"

"Well, I sure as hell am!" Chain declared. "She may be king-shit right now, but I wasn't kidding about Prime. I hear that that place is like a fucking fortress! Good plan or no plan, we're probably going to get our asses kicked. But maybe, they'll be some kind of mind screening or something that will block her powers. And if there is, we come to a stop, blame the whole thing on her, and just turn ourselves in! We'll spill our guts, and get Prime to go after her for us! And they can't even arrest us because we'll plead mental domination to the courts!"

Fist nodded with satisfaction. "That sounds like a plan to...!"

Abruptly, Fist trailed off as both men's expressions went blank. As one, they both stood up, and left the bar. Behind them, the bartender shouted obscenities at their shorted tabs and the bouncers stepped forward. But by the time Chain and Fist reached the door, everything was settled. The bartender and the bouncer understood how things were going to be. Somebody had explained it to them.

******

Mindshadow giggled a little as she wrapped the bar personnel's minds around her little finger. Even though she was just leaving Alaska, she had heard the bartender's shouts through Fist's and Chain's ears. Although she could care less about Fist's or Chain's reputations, she wanted a chance to test her skill at indirect long-ranged mental targeting and had come through with flying colors. She smiled with smug satisfaction. Sure, she may not know zilch about science or tactics, but her ability to enslave others to do her will was without peer. Not to mention a whole lot more fun.

Fist, Chain, Recoil and Hardware all gathered at the top of the reservoir building near the middle of Central Park as the night began to fall. Each one of them regarded each other with a feeling of distaste, but a grudge resignation of their situation. With little to do but intimidate a few drunken passerby's, their patience wore thin as time passed. Finally, a half-hour after they had arrived, Mindshadow faded into view.

"Finally," Chain muttered. "You're late!"

"Hardly. You all serve at my discretion, remember?" Mindshadow smiled with amusement as they all nodded with submission as she compelled their minds submit to her mental suggestion. Yes, they all realized that they served at her pleasure and that their inconveniences were meaningless. Fools, she thought once again before proceeding. "Now that you're all here, let us be off." With a thought, Mindshadow wrapped the foursome with a powerful telekinetic bubble of force, and lifted them off the ground. Once clear of the city limits, she increased her speed past hypersonic, leaving the villains stunned and feeling quite awkward with nothing to hold onto. Within an hour, they were entering Anchorage airspace and she slowed them down to subsonic. Finally reaching a designated position, she lowered them into a prepared room at a travelling motel. Standing by the exterior walkway, an elderly gentleman stepped forward and handed Mindshadow a pair of plastic cards.

"Your rooms are ready. 161 and 163, connecting rooms as you requested."

Not bothering to address him, Mindshadow dismissed the man with a thought after telekinetically levitating a key to Recoil and Hardware. "The equipment you'll need is waiting for you in the rooms." She gestured and a set of car keys popped and dropped into Fist's hands. "The blue van outside, Alaskan plates, MS-PAWN."

Chain bristled once again, but put it aside. "What about you? How do we get back?"

"Oh, I'm aware of everything you think and do," Mindshadow assured him, with a raised eyebrow that sent a shiver down Chain's spine as his conversation with Fist came back to mind. He desperately tried to shove the plan out of his mind, but still worried. "Now then, I have some other errands to attend to, but rest assured, once you've succeeded, I'll be making arrangements ensuring your escape. Until then, chao," she smiled and faded from view.

With little else to do, they headed towards the rooms, Hardware taking one with Recoil taking the other, as Fist and Chain examined the van. Inside the first room, Hardware took an inventory: uniforms, IDs, portable computer equipment, some explosives and munitions, disguise kits, radios and all the rest of the equipment he had asked for. No, wait, he didn't ask for it, he remembered. Mindshadow must have pulled this stuff from his mind and created it telekinetically or just outright stole it from someone. Either way, it was distantly troubling. At least as much as the rest of this adventure had proven. Although he wasn't as hot-tempered about things as Chain or Fist was, he valued his freedom as much as the next guy, and like them, didn't care for being anyone's pawn. But plotting against a telepath, especially one as powerful as Mindshadow, was pointless, he knew. All he could rationally do was to wait for an opportunity to come and hoped he survived long enough to take advantage of it.

In the next room, Recoil looked around and sat down on the bed in an effort to relax. The whole ordeal had left her feeling used and dirty. It had brought back feelings of helplessness she had thought were long gone in her past. Just because it wasn't the physical abuse she had endured before didn't make it easier. In fact, in that particular case, she had always taken refuge in her own mind until that marvelous day her metahuman powers had surfaced and she made that bastard pay. But once again, she was at someone's mercy. She was about to pass out with fatigue when she noticed something lying on the bed next to her. As her eyes settled on the steel rod, something in her mind clicked. Her mind became hazy and her thoughts began to cloud over. By the time her fingers draped over its cold steel surface, she was completely mindless except for a single phrase that echoed into her subconscious. Once the command was set, she awoke and shook her head. What was she thinking? She...she couldn't remember. Ordinarily this would bother her, but somehow an overwhelming sensation of comfort washed away her suspicions like a massage. As a result, she didn't even notice the steel rod now tucked quietly in a concealed holster on her hip.

******

Major Robert McNamara pulled his 4x4 into its usual accustomed parking slot as the morning began. The sun was just beginning to show itself; spring had finally arrived. Inside the cafe, the owner nodded at the first wave of regular customers.

"Morning, gentlemen. The usual?"

"Give me a double, Joe," McNamara ordered.

"Whoa, rough morning?" the cafe owner inquired as he reached for the larger-sized mug.

"Had trouble sleeping last night, that's all," McNamara replied, stifling a yawn.

"Anything you want to talk about?"

"Nah, the usual. Just bad dreams. You know, the usual suspects. Ghosts, demonic possessions, stuff like that."

"Boy, if that's your usual, I'm glad I'm not in your head."

"Well, we work with crap like that every day," another Warder piped in. "Hell, the brain scanning they put us through each week probably doesn't help."

"Well, it's not all bad," McNamara said. "At least last night's version was a sexy babe in black leather. The time before, it was some old crone doing the possessing."

"Whoa...I guess that's some improvement," the second man shook his head.

Outside, the blare of the horn announced the approach of the Purgatory Prime ferryboat. The Warders quickly finished their coffee, paid their tabs and rushed out the door to wait by the entry gate. McNamara checked his watch, pulled out a cigarette and took his first puff of the day. He'd have to finish it before the ferry reached the island prison. Even here of all places, the health Nazis had made their mark and Purgatory Prime was now a nonsmoking workplace. One more way to bleed off the stress of having to guard the most dangerous inmates of all, gone. It just wasn't fair.

Mindshadow frowned as the sensation of acrid smoke trickled down her throat. After the first few puffs, the heady sensation of nicotine hit, making her feel light-headed. As if that cheap awful black coffee wasn't bad enough. Residing inside someone's body was forcing her to endure unpleasant sensations she'd normally be able to tune out, but the intimacy of actually wearing another man's body as opposed to simply mind-linking with him made screening things out impossible. Ordinarily, she would have forced this host body to avoid such uncomfortable habits, but this time, she didn't dare. She needed to make sure that his brainwave patterns remained consistent with the ones on record since Electron was going to have her hands full just fooling the EEG's enough to let her in.

As for boat finally docked on the island, Mindshadow noted the entrance - heavy steel doors with cameras covering the walkway. It was a three-story building, with quite a bit of it underground according to the blueprints. Inside, the only non-secure area was the visitor's lobby and reception area. McNamara and his partner walked past the receptionist, who gave them both a look that was only casual to the unschooled. Behind the first door was the only entrance to the rest of the compound. At the first checkpoint, she saw what appeared to be a glass door into a phone booth. What did Hardware call it? A mantrap? Behind the second door, she could see four armed Warders wearing battle armor. McNamara hadn't thought any of this as unusual and walked into the booth, which sealed itself behind him. He placed his palm on a surface, leaned forward to put his eyes into a binocular scanner, and spoke into a microphone.

"McNamara, Warder First Class, ID number 276-15-8356."

"Now," Mindshadow willed as McNamara spoke.

"Hai, Mindshadow-sama," a mental voice acknowledged.

"Authorizing..." an artificially polite female voice spoke. Inside the computer systems, a list of data taken from McNamara's biometrics and scanned results were being routed to the computer database for comparison and verification. Included with this record was a massive blip from the EEG scanners, which Electron had been told to expect. The energy from Mindshadow's mind was simply too powerful to conceal completely, even when she was at rest. But numbers were just numbers, easily changed, especially when she was given forewarning. The EEG scanner could squawk all it wanted, but as long as its readings didn't reach the central computer, it didn't matter. The data record dropped into Electron's waiting presence. EEG rating 2873 - the typical adult reading was between 3 and 12. Well, that was simple enough; Electron shifted the reading a single byte to the right, reducing the figure to 11.

"Identify confirmed. Have a nice day," the artificial voice chimed as the opposite door unlocked and permitted McNamara's entry. Inside, the awaiting Warders greeted their fellow officer as he headed to the locker room. Of course, no one had expected otherwise. Major McNamara was a four-year veteran here and solid man to have at your back when the crap hit the fan. But here at Prime, they always checked anyway. One never knew what each day would bring.

After changing into his uniform, McNamara headed to the control room to report in. The nerve center of Purgatory Prime, it was more like the setting of some science fiction movie. A dozen personnel sat at various consoles, watching sensor logs, surveillance cameras, and prisoner schedules. Morning meals were about to begin, so the first scheduled activity in the cellblock had to be coordinated.

Unlike most prisons, which served their meals in a common area, meals at Prime were prepared and brought to the cellblock. There was a cafeteria, but that was for the working personnel and Warders. The prisoners here were too powerful, too dangerously unpredictable to take that risk. Even the cells were not perfect; typically, there was at least one break or escape attempt every other week. Most of them were shut down and contained before the perp even reached the block door, but once in a while, a crafty or lucky one actually made it to the connecting hallways, where they usually succumbed to either the gas or the awaiting squad of roving armored Warders, sometimes referred to the "PAGS" or "Powered Armored Goon Squad" by the people in the booth, or "PIGS" by the cell occupants when they were out of earshot. With that in mind, the security guard responsible for verifying containment confirmed that all prisoners were accounted and nodded. On the surveillance camera, a cook entered the block door that separated Prime's administrative section from the cellblock itself.

"Rodriguez, Food Service Personnel, ID number 276-35-4362."

"Authorizing..." the female voice spoke. "Identify confirmed. Have a nice day."

"Up yours," Rodriguez muttered under his breath as the opposite door unlocked. There was only so much artificial etiquette a man could take before rebelling.

"Code 35 to population," the head of security called into his mike. Outside the cellblock, the Warder patrol took passing interest at the announcement that food was being served. Although vigilance was always important, there was only so many times one could watch prisoner eating eggs and sausages before one tuned it out. However, their attentions were suddenly perked up as the sound of clattering tray.

"What the hell is this?" an angry female voice demanded. "I'm supposed to get blood!"

Rodriguez looked at the pale-skinned woman with detached interest. She was a real babe; must have been a new one since he didn't remember seeing her before and he was sure he wouldn't forget someone with that figure. Still, he had a job to do. He keyed his communicator and called central. "Um...prisoner #41321-DE-784 requests a...special meal."

"Wait one," a disembodied voice ordered. At the control booth, one of the technicians entered a command on the computer. A few seconds later, the prisoner record flashed on the screen.
Purgatory Prime
Prisoner Records
Inmate Number: 41321-DE-784
Name: Unknown
Known Aliases: Orchid, Slash
Known Allies: Hack, Black Priest
Medical Records: Supernatural
Classification: Metahuman
Methodology: Augmented Physical State, Augmented Physical Attack, Life Force Drain, Mind Control, Force Projection, Phase State, Non-Continuous Movement, 
Physical Threat Level: Class 2 - high
Special Confinement Classification: Class 2 - Force Modules D2, T5, R13, E10, P12
Special Notes: Diet requirements: Blood
Date of Birth: Unknown
Place of Birth: Unknown 
Incarceration Date: March 12, 2001

"Confirmed, Rodriguez, special diet required." Behind the technician, McNamara looked over the man's shoulder, gave a look of disgust, motioned his finger into his throat, and getting a nod from the technician. Some of these freaks were just plain weird and gross. Somehow, the fact that she was such a looker made it worse, both men agreed. What a waste.

McNamara straightened up and headed to the door. After signing out, he headed to the cellblock. It was his turn to do a walk down - a basic visual confirmation to double-check the sensor logs. Although the sensors were world-class, there was always the possibility that someone had set up a method to fool them either with computer tricks or optical illusions. Besides, it'd be another chance to needle an old friend.

Inside his body, Mindshadow mentally nudged Electron to make sure she was maintaining the false readings from the EEG sensors then checked the time. The others should be in position; the screaming should be starting any moment.

******

"Look out!"

"Run!"

Chain lashed out, destroying the bank wall on his way in. Terrified civilians fled the scene or concealed themselves as best they could. Behind him, the bank guard was shouting into his walkie-talkie. "This is First Anchorage Bank calling, we need backup now! We've got a meta situation!"

Outside, the police had set up a cordon to protect civilians and contain the situation as best they could. Guns were out and tensions ran high. Overhead, helicopters buzzed the area. Within minutes, an airship bearing Purgatory Prime's rapid response team's insignia came into view and landed on the streets.

"About time," the senior policeman muttered as he walked up to the ship. "Glad you could make it, I'm Lieutenant Halloway."

"What's the situation?" the team leader asked tersely as a four-man squad of heavily armed troops wearing powered armor disembarked.

"One meta's in the bank, about three or four hostages. The word is he was trying to tear the bank vault down, but couldn't, so he grabbed the bank manager along with some civilian customers for leverage."

The team leader nodded and gathered his team and headed in. After his teammates covered the exits, he pulled out a scanner and read off the readings. "One metahuman, identification as 'Chain,' four civilians."

"Chain?" one of men demanded. "What the hell is he doing so far from home?"

"Probably got tired of getting his ass kicked in LA," the other man said. "Let's take him down!"

The team leader stepped forward and peeked inside. Yeah, that was Chain alright. Every member of the team was briefed on the major metahumans that plagued the world. Chain was a tough SOB by most accounts, but was mostly a solo operator these days and wasn't known to be a planner even back when he ran with the Badass Five. So this was probably a spur of the moment crime. Powering up his pulse rifle, he took position and called him out. "Alright, Chain, you're surrounded! Let the people go and no one else gets hurt!"

"Fuck you pigs!" Chain shouted. He picked up a desk and threw it against the entrance, blocking off most of the entrance, smashing the rotating door to pieces.

"Fire!" the commander ordered and the team unleashed a fusillade of energy beams.

Chain winced as the beams lanced up and down his chest. Shit, they were packing some serious firepower! He dove behind the teller counter and took cover as the blasts ripped through the glass partition. To one side, the hostages huddled in terrified clusters. Two of the assault team broke off and headed to secure them while the team leader and his partner closed in on Chain. As they approached, Chain smiled evilly and charged up his chains. Just as they anticipated.

Without warning, Chain lunged forward, catching the first man square in the gut and knocking him down. The squad leader freezes as his teammate and Chain roll on the ground.

"Get clear, Mitch!" the squad leader ordered as he tried to position for a clear shot.

"You're going down, pig!" Chain declared as he grappled with the guard. The guard had spirit, but Chain was just too strong and beat his opponent into oblivion. Angry, the squad leader fired, blasting Chain in the back and knocking him into the wall. Before Chain could get oriented, the man blasted him again, deforming the wall behind him. As Chain awkwardly rolled to his knees, the squad leader readied his weapon for another blast.

"Stay down, mister! It's over!"

"Yeah..." Chain smiled as he spat up blood. "You might say that."

Without warning, the squad leader suddenly found himself flying backwards and landing in a heap on the floor. He tried to grab his rifle, only to have it ripped out of his hand. What the hell?

"Took you guys long enough," Chain growled. "I thought he was gonna kill me!"

The squad leader looked up with surprise. The three hostages! His teammates!

"The poor man looks confused," Recoil sneered.

"His teammates were too dependent on their weapons," Fist boasted as he cracked his knuckles. "All too easy, really."

"Impossible. We scanned...!"

"...for metahumans," Hardware complete. "For starters, neither I nor Fist are actually metahumans in the biological sense. As for Recoil, a meta-biological scanner can be fooled by a base-human image inducer."

"You'll never get away with this!" the squad leader snarled.

"Probably not," Hardware noted. "But we're not making the calls here."

"What?" the squad leader said incredulously.

******

"Coming out! Coming out!"

"Hold fire!" the police lieutenant called.

Outside, trigger fingers relaxed slightly as the first Prime response team member came out, waving the all clear. "We need some medics here!" As he called the paramedics in, two other members dragged Chain out under restraints. The medics took note of the situation; the four hostages were hurt and unconscious but alive, along with the team's squad leader. Well, they sure put it on the line today.

"Get these people to the hospital," the paramedic said.

"How's our man?" asked one of the Prime team members.

"Looks like he's got a concussion, but he should be okay."

"We'd like to take him with us if that's possible. We've got medical facilities back on Prime and we're going to need him for the debrief."

The paramedic looked the squad leader over and nodded. "He should be okay to move if you're careful."

The Prime team members nodded and loaded aboard the airship. After getting the clear signal, they took off and headed towards Anchorage Bay. Inside, Hardware takes the unconscious squad leader's hand and places it onto a wax-like sheet then pours on a latex spray, creating a positive mold. Next, he carefully opens his eyes and takes a pair of snapshots, creating a photograph of the man's retinal pattern. Finally, he pulls out a pair of smelling salts from the ship's medical kit, and waves it under the squad leader's nose.

"Wha...." The squad leader woke up and scowled at his restraints. "I don't know what you people think you're up to, but it'll never work!"

"Oh? Tell us more."

"Security will nail you the moment you touch down. You give up now, and maybe they'll go easy on you."

"Well, we'd like to pal, we really would," Hardware said as he makes adjustments to another small gadget in his hands. "But like I said, that's not our choice to make."

"If you're being blackmailed, we can help you."

"If it were that simple, I'd probably go with you Officer..." Hardware paused as he pulled the squad leader's ID from his wallet, "...Davis. Of course I can't talk for my teammates, but that'd be my choice."

"What the hell are you talking about...?"

"I'm sure it'll come to you." He then turned to Recoil. "That should do it."

Recoil nodded. "Right." With that, she then slugged the squad leader back to unconsciousness.

Hardware then read off the contents of the ID. "Let's see...Davis...ID #354-03-8325...." He then picks up the small device, plugs it into his laptop, types a few settings, then speaks into the microphone. "Officer...Davis..." he said. The voice box produced a voice that sounded almost like the squad leader's voice.

"How are you doing that?" Recoil asked.

"I recorded our brief little conversation just now on digital tape," Hardware explained as he made some adjustments to a waterfall waveform display. "The computer program separates the words into the phonemes that make up human dialog. Let's see..." as he pressed the play button again. "Officer...Davis...ID #354...03...8325."

"It doesn't sound natural."

"It doesn't have to sound natural. It just has to match his phonemes."

"Get dressed guys," Fist called. "We're on final approach."

"Back in the chains for you then," Recoil snapped to Chain.

"Yeah, yeah..." Chain muttered with annoyance but smiled. Truth to tell, smashing that bank and beating these pigs up had been the only enjoyable part of this whole business.

After getting landing clearance, the ship comes to a vertical landing with crew personnel coming forward to secure the ship. On the landing gantry, a security team waits with additional restraints, armed backup and processing personnel. The door opens and the first through is one of the assault team, followed by Chain, then the other two assault members.

"Get medical in there. Our team leader took a hit. He's got a concussion."

One of the officers in the landing personnel nodded and three medical personnel go inside once the response team clears the ramp. One of the legal processing personnel comes forward with paperwork, as the backup security stands ready.

"Well, well, happy days are here again," the clerk chimes. "First Orchid and Hack, and now Chain. We're out to set a record this year."

"Yeah, just yuck it up, wise guy," Chain snarled as the security personnel tense up. "I'll be sure to kill you first."

"Sorry old boy if I'm not trembling with fear," the clerk smirked, "but we've made quite a few improvements since you were here last year. You won't find it so easy to bend these bars this time." Ignoring Chain's scowl, the clerk signed the form and placed a bar-coded tag around Chain's wrist. One of the security personnel then scans the tag into an OCR reader.

"Scanning..." a computer voice reports. "Prisoner record entered. Chain, metahuman threat classification level 3. Cell block Charlie, #324."

"Hey you three," the security chief called to the response team as they made their way down the gangplank. "Where do you think you're going?"

"We were going to check on our team leader if that's okay," Hardware answered. "He took a pretty bad hit and we just want to make sure he's alright."

"Well, that's understandable," the chief answered. "But you still have to scan in before entering the secure area, no exceptions."

"Sure, no problem," Hardware replied. He reached into his pocket and pulled out an ID card. The chief looked it over. Everything looked alright, but... "O'Reilly...how long have you been here?"

"Not too long. Just rotated here from my time with the Draughtsmen."

The chief thought about that. It wasn't that uncommon for the federal metahuman enforcement personnel to rotate between services to provide cross training and versatility. But getting assigned to rapid response team usually took at least a year of solid service and....

It was the hesitation that did it. Crap, Fist thought to himself. This isn't working. He quickly stole a look to Recoil, whose face said the same thing. Behind them, the security chief's XO began to tense up -- something just didn't feel right.

Suddenly, Fist spun around and punched the security chief, knocking him to the ground. As he did so, the XO pulled his sidearm and shouted, "Everybody down!" and fired. The shells struck Recoil, who stepped forward to protect Fist.

"You idiot!" Hardware exclaimed. "We had it under control!"

"Aw, screw it!" Chain swore with relish and pulled himself free from the unlocked manacles. Wrapping the remaining chains around his fists, he charged them telekinetically, then slammed into the platform. "Eat this, pigs!"

The platform shuddered as some of the personnel tumbled off and fell to the hard concrete floor below. The few that hung on pulled out rifles and side arms, and fell back to a defensive position.

"Situation Bravo, take him down!" the operations officer shouted as the Warders and the four metahumans both took defensive positions on opposite sides of the landing deck.

"Couldn't you have waited?" Hardware shouts.

"He was going for his gun, I know it!"

"I can block those bullets," Recoil declared. "I'm not going to do so well once they start pulling out ray guns and stuff. What now?"

"Let's just kick some ass and get it done!" Chain snarled.

"Seal off the secured area! Get the rovers down here fast!" the operations officer ordered, then activated his communicator. "Code Red! Code Red! Breakout in the hanger!"

******

"Acknowledge Code Red!" the security technician responded tersely as the rest of the central command came to life. "Rove team, CINC, we have a Code Red in progress, breakout in the hanger!"

"Roger CINC, Alpha and Bravo teams are converging; Charlie and Delta teams are standing to!"

"Initiate Stage 1 alert," the senior security chief ordered.

"All teams, we are initiating Stage 1 alert!" the technician forwarded into the mike. "All personnel proceed to alert stations, all assault members, prepare for chemical suppression!"

******

Fools, Mindshadow fumed to herself as her puppet headed to the locker room to don his battle gear. Why couldn't they have just stuck to the plan? Yes, she figured they would have been found out sooner or later, but not right off the landing pad! At this rate, they'd be captured too quickly; and now her puppet wasn't even heading for the cellblocks, let alone anywhere near her target. It was time for her to take an active role.

"Electron, I have to use my powers. Prepare to block off the EEG sensors in my area."

"Hai, Mindshadow-sama," came the obedient reply. Electron watched the EEG sensor monitoring the locker rooms began to soar as Mindshadow powered up -- 2900...2950.... As the reading increased, she began to shift the data stream by nine bits, then ten bits, keeping the totals within the single digits.

With that taken care of, Mindshadow reached out with her will and seized control of the four supervillain's minds. "Idiotic fools," she declared as they stood stock still under a deep hypnotic trance. "Now I'm going to have to do this my self." Using her pawns' eyes as a focus point, she then concentrated on the scaffolding where most of the Prime guards were standing, willing the oxygen in the air to combine with the iron atoms in the support struts. The struts rusted almost instantly, and the platform groaned and began to creak and collapse to the floor below. She then commanded her pawns to move to the cellblock elevator entrance; they had wasted enough time as far as she was concerned.

As Electron maintained the false readings on the EEG sensors, she noticed other anomalous readings began to show up. Mindshadow's powers were triggering EEG sensors in the hanger deck when she mentally assumed command of her pawns. "Mindshadow-sama, I must request permission..."

"Not now, little fool, I'm busy!" Mindshadow responded with annoyance. She still had to keep her telepathic senses alert for any sign of detection, maintain control over the four pawns, and keep her body's molecular structure properly integrated with her puppet. As soon as he got dressed into his battle gear, she'd have to assume command over this sack of flesh she was wearing so she could steer him into the detention center.

Electron stared blankly at the climbing numbers coming from the EEG sensors; was she supposed to do something? No, she realized; Mindshadow had ordered her to block the sensors around her, not her pawns. Mindshadow's overwhelming hypnotic trance didn't allow her any independent thinking or initiative, and she had just been ordered to wait. So, she sat passively; she would notify Mindshadow later when she wasn't so busy.

******

"Sir, we're getting reports that the scaffolding is rusting out from under our people! They've fallen through the grating and are trapped below the deck."

"That's impossible, that scaffolding's stainless steel! And even if it wasn't we inspect that landing area every month for defects!"

"Surveillance shows they've penetrated the elevator and are headed down. They should hit cellblock Alpha in less than ten seconds."

"Sir," a second technician called, "we're getting multiple EEG spikes!"

"Location?"

"Five foci, one in the hanger, the other four in the main elevator!"

"Get me confirmation," the security chief called. He then turned to the senior Warder present. "Go to Stage 2, prepare lockdown."

"Aye, aye, sir," the Warder replied, then activated the overhead intercom. "All units, all units, proceed to Stage 2 alert! Man battle stations!"

"Sir, I have positive ID on the EEG alerts," the technician called. "Four in the elevator coincide with Chain and the three people from the retrieval team. The fifth's fading, but its last location matches up with the collapsed scaffolding."

"What are the readings on the first four?"

"According to the alerts...EEG rating on all four is 1257 each!" That announcement made heads turn.

"1257 each?" the chief asked. "There isn't more than a handful in the world that can generate that much psionic power. Double-check that reading."

The technician ran a quick double-check, then nodded. "EEG confirmed and climbing! 1262...1266...!"

"They must be under someone else's mental control," the security chief noted. "No way someone as dumb as Chain's a mentalist of that caliber. Start sweeping the area; we've got an unknown meta in the vicinity!"

******

This should do, Mindshadow told herself as the four pawns got off the elevator leading to the first cellblock. Fairly easily defensible position with only two approaches; they should be able to make a stand here. "Now just stay there. Beat up any Prime guards and destroy all the robots you encounter." As she turned her attentions to other matters, Mindshadow could feel their disagreements to her mental commands. Well, tough -- the ruckus they would draw should keep the rest of Prime out of her hair until she was done. Now it was time to get moving. "McNamara..."

"I..." McNamara managed to say before his face went blank.

"You will proceed at once to cellblock where the Dictator is located. Your duty is there."

"Must do my duty..." McNamara said as he headed back to the cellblocks.

******

"We've got them pinned down," the surveillance technician said. "They're all in the entrance corridor leading to cellblock Alpha."

"Flood the chamber, then send in Alpha team."

"Sir, EEG alert!" a second technician announced. "Single contact, heading to cellblock Bravo!"

"Who's in there?"

The technician toggled between the camera monitors until the correct location came up. "One of our guys, Major McNamara."

The senior security chief hit the communicator, "McNamara, come in!"

"No response, Captain."

"He's probably being controlled too. Seal that corridor and flood it."

The technician pressed a button, activating localized isolation. He hoped McNamara would be okay. None of them liked losing their friends anymore than any other tight-knit group.

******

Mindshadow looked with startled surprise, as the steel doors slammed shut in front and behind her. Next came the unmistakable sound of hissing gas. Damn, they must have detected her somehow. "Electron, what happened?"

"The EEG sensors detected telepathic activity coming from Major McNamara when you established active control over his thoughts."

"Why didn't you block them?" Mindshadow angrily demanded.

"You ordered me not to disturb you."

"You...!" Mindshadow fumed. Stupid cow, how could she be so narrow-minded! Well, this body wasn't doing her any more good now, gagging and collapsing from the gas. She stepped out of his body, phasing her body's molecules back to normal alignment and establishing a cocoon of clean air around her, protecting her from the gas. Subterfuge had failed; it was time to show these weak-minded what a true telepath could do.

******

"New contact, Captain! A metahuman female just...emerged from McNamara!"

"Lock sensors and identify! Deploy teams Charlie and Delta to cover both corridors!"

"Sensors locking on...she's an unknown. No known records."

"Start a type and match. For starters, see if she's being controlled by our mystery ESPer along with everyone else today."

"EEG reading...2971 and climbing!"

"Christ...!" the chief breathed in disbelief. "That's on par with Brainchild!"

"Sir, I've double-checked and it's confirmed. She's got to be the ESPer controlling the others!"

"Is the gas stopping her?"

"Negative," the technician confirmed as he watched Mindshadow slip through the steel doors. "Neither are the security bulkheads; she's passing through them like air."

******

They're coming, Mindshadow knew. Even with the psi-shielded walls, she could feel their minds moving like clusters of ants running in a row -- two groups, judging from the deployment pattern with a total of over thirty men. Above her, a hub of them sat and watched her with fear and anxiety from their electronic perches. Well, let them watch, she thought. Since they knew she was here, she may as well enjoy the terror they were about to feel.

The elevators pinged and opened. Thirty heavily armed and armored men came out as one and deployed expertly around the room. Mindshadow smirked as she watched them fumble about. With her attentions no longer distracted by having to direct her slaves and maintaining her molecular integrity within another person's body, it was child's play to cloud their perceptions enough to render herself invisible and undetectable.

******

"What the hell are they doing? She's right in front of them!" the surveillance technician exclaimed.

"Check the sensor logs!" the security chief said. "Maybe they have something."

"Warning..." the computer chimed. "New power detected..."

"Oh crap..." the technician muttered. Oh, how they loathed hearing that phrase from the computer. Usually it meant their teams were about to get the crap kicked out of them.

"Wide area mental suggestion field detected," the computer elaborated. "Recommend biofeedback psionic defensive system activation."

"Guys, she's right in the middle of the room!" the technician called into the microphone. "Activate biofeedback helmets!"

******

"Kya...!" Mindshadow winced as she felt the spike of pain ripple through her brain. Although her mental defenses blocked most of it, it was the first time in nearly four years she had felt pain and it wasn't something she was accustomed to. Her mind recoiled reflexively and the hypnotic spell faded as Mindshadow flickered into view.

"Target acquired!" one of the troopers called as he and his comrades spun around and got into position.

"Freeze!" the team leader ordered as thirty pulse rifles trained on Mindshadow's form.

For several seconds, neither side moved. Then Mindshadow smiled coldly and whispered, "Mindshadow..."

"Wha...?" one of the soldiers muttered.

"It's proper etiquette for victims to know the name of the one who kills them..." Mindshadow whispered as energies began to coruscate.

"Open fire!" The room exploded with energy bursts impacting against Mindshadow's telekinetic force wall.

Mindshadow furrowed her brow as she could mentally feel her force bubble quivering from the multiple impacts; her protection wouldn't be able to take much more of this. Fortunately, it wouldn't have to. She tuned out her normal human senses and focused on the molecular patterns around her instead. It took a little effort not to laugh at what was going to come next; those goofy helmets wouldn't do a thing to stop this...

******

"Warning..." the computer chimed. "New power detected..."

"Oh my God..." the technician gasped as the personnel in the CINC watched the members of the assault squad all drop to their knees, writhing in agony. Before their very eyes, several of them dropped to the floor with grotesque skin discolorations. Others began to partially turn to stone, with half their internal organs and bodily fluids spilling onto the floor.

"Get medical down there fast!" the senior chief ordered.

"Sub-molecular telekinesis detected..." the computer reported. "Squadron life signs negative."

"They're gone, sir," the second technician said with a subdued voice.

"Sir, EEG readings now 3298 and still climbing!"

The senior chief quickly shoved his personal feelings aside. "That's not possible...no one has that much power..."

"Warning...new power detected..." the computer reported. "Psionic energy transfer detected."

"Sir, I've got a sensor lock," a third technician reported. "EEG readings from the prisoners in that block are dropping fast. She's tapping into their minds and sucking the mental energies out of them. She's then pumping all that mental energy into her own mind, which is increasing her powers even more."

"Sir, I have a metahuman profile reclassification in progress," the first technician reported. "Metahuman identified as 'Mindshadow' now classified Class 1, recommend Alert 1!"

The chief nodded grimly and picked up the main intercom. "Alert 1, alert 1, all hands to Stage 3 lockdown stations!" He then looked at the technicians. "Confirm life signs."

"Life signs confirmed, my only contact on that floor is the meta."

"Activate automated weaponry on that floor -- Option Foxtrot."

******

The cellblock doors slammed shut with a loud clamp, startling Mindshadow from her gloating. Uh, oh, Mindshadow thought, now what? Next, the hissing sounds and her molecular powers could sense the air was getting thin. So, they were pumping the air out of this area. Well, that wasn't a problem for her; with a mental shrug, she adjusted her force field, increasing the pressure of air around her to normal levels.

But now what? She couldn't open the prison doors to free her intended target without killing him. She looked down on the dead bodies of her opponents, now reduced to a mixture of radioactive compounds and toxic gases. Cretins; they had to make it difficult. Her target was in the next cellblock down, so she headed to the door. But instead of phasing through, she hit a solid surface, then stiffened as an unexpected surge of power erupted through her body.

"Argh...!" she screamed and collapsed on the ground. Her fingers were tingling and her body quivered from the shock. That...wasn't supposed to be possible! But before she could catch her breath, a set of metal panels snapped open and deployed a set of phalanx guns, which locked on a fired a hail of heavy explosive shells. Mindshadow staggered as the shells ripped through her force wall, hitting her all over her body. Her force field saved her life, but the impact sent her reeling against the opposite wall. Using her telekinesis to push off, she managed to make it around a corner out of the line of fire before dropping to the floor. Although her force field had prevented the shells from penetrating her, the impacts had left her in severe pain. Before she could regain her bearings, a second set of panels opened, deploying a set of magnesium strobe guns, which began bombarding her with rapid-fire bursts of blinding white light.

Desperate, she closed her eyes and marshaled her will to focus past the pain. It was difficult; the pain kept nagging her concentration. But willpower was something she did have in abundance and slowly she managed to focus her concentration on the incoming bullets and floor paneling, telekinetically reshaping their molecules into a hard protective wall. That would buy her precious seconds, but now pain was quickly being replaced by fear. The damned machines just kept coming, and unlike the soldiers, her telepathic powers were useless on giving her ample warning. With the strobe lights going and no telltale thought patterns to guide her, she was virtually blind. She needed help.

******

Chain clenched his fists with anger; with the pain he felt from the various blasts only making things worse. His teammates had managed to secure a defensive position. Recoil was taking point, her kinetic absorption powers protecting her from the physical weapons, and increasing her strength with each blast. Fist successfully kept the human guards at bay and Hardware was doing a good job keeping everyone together. The only problem was that they weren't accomplishing anything. Thanks to Mindshadow's hypnotic command, none of them could actually leave the area. Which left them running this fight like rats in a maze.

"We've got this bunch down," Fist confirmed. "Now what?"

"The troops seemed to have thinned out," Recoil noted.

"Noticed that did you?" Hardware nodded. "They've clearly reallocated their resources elsewhere."

"Maybe they're going after her," Chain muttered coldly to Fist, who nodded with tacit agreement.

Just then, all four of them stiffened.

"All of you, come to cellblock Bravo at once!" the mental voice ordered.

Like marionettes, they four of them ran into the elevator and headed to the next cellblock.

******

"How are we doing soldier?" the security chief asked.

"I think we've got her on the ropes, sir," the technician answered. "If we can crack that shield she's built, her ass is ours!"

"Don't be so sure mister," the chief cautioned. "If she's a Class 1, then there's no telling how much power she's going to be able to push until we take her down."

"Sir, we've got movement on the other four metahumans. They've just entered the main elevator and are heading to Bravo block."

"Well, well, a lucky break at last," the chief grunted. "Lock'em down."

******

Mindshadow coughed as the acrid smell of gas irritated her sense of smell. In her mind, she could hear the sounds of gas flooding the small elevator as all four of her servants began to succumb to the gas. Well, that didn't work out so well. Only one thing left to do. "Recoil, ignore the pain, hear my thoughts, and obey."

"I...obey..." Recoil mumbled as her body relaxed, reducing her breathing to a whisper.

"Punch a hole in the floor and drop my surprise."

Recoil pulled the forgotten steel rod from her hip and punched a hole in the elevator floor with her other hand. Once through, she twisted the rod one-quarter turn, and dropped it through the hole in the floor. As it fell down the elevator shaft, its molecular configuration began to change. Simple carbon, iron and other inert metals resumed their previous, more complex configurations, followed by an electronic timer. The timer finished its count just as the rod hit the subbasement floor.

******

Light fixtures and computer consoles exploded in a shower of sparks as the rumbling explosion was felt throughout the complex. Computer monitors went black and electronic devices went dead.

"Holy shit, what was that?"

"Primary power, offline..." the computer responded in a static-filled voice. "Backup power functioning at 40% efficiency, secondary computer systems coming online, emergency lighting, not functional. Security systems functioning at 60% efficiency."

The security chief looked at his watch and tapped it - dead as a doornail. He pulled out his walkie-talkie and got the same result. "It must have been an EMP! Nothing else can short out power and wipe out electronic systems like that!"

"Secondary force fields coming online. Sensors are only operating at 40% efficiency, but no other contacts or breakouts reported. Looks like we got lucky."

"Lucky my ass! We still have that metahuman girl Mindshadow running around down there! And with primary systems down, tracking and targeting her is going to be even harder than ever."

"If we can't track her with sensors, then how about personnel? I've got Alpha and Bravo team online and they report that their battle armor is still hot. With Chain and the other three taken care of, they say they're ready to deploy."

"Not a chance!" the chief snarled. "Until we figure out a way to neutralize or counter that molecular TK power, I'm not sending another thirty men to their deaths! We keep hitting her with sensor-guided weapons until she drops!"

******

"Electron, where are you?" Mindshadow mentally demanded. Not a peep. Mindshadow tried to mentally reach out, but couldn't feel Electron's essence at all. Where the devil was she? Then a moment later, she remembered. She's pure electricity and probably got hit by that EMP! Crap...she's probably either writhing in agony or even dead. She mentally reached outside of Prime and found her all the way in Ontario. Wow...one of the advantages of traveling via electrical wiring. She was alive and would regenerate in time by tapping into Canada's power grid, but right now she was in no shape to help her or even able to penetrate Prime now that they were in full lockdown. And with her other pawns now unconscious from the gas, she was on her own.

Or was she...? She was surrounded by metahumans, many who would make equally good pawns for her purposes. She hadn't been paying attention until now, but throughout the entire battle, they had been clamoring for her to break them free. She took a moment to think. She was on Bravo deck, which housed mostly Class 4s and an occasional Class 3. Below her was cellblock Charlie, where Class 3s and Class 2s were held. The bottom level, cellblock Delta, was where they housed Class 1s, usually in hot-sleep since there was usually no other way to hold most Class 1s. Where she was likely to end up if she didn't get it together.

Okay, she thought, those sentry guns were still guarding the main corridor on the floor. They had stopped firing for now; no doubt to save ammunition until the motion sensors told them they had a target. The moment she let any of the prisoners out, the guns would likely chop them into meat. Unless she made a few changes. A quick mental scan confirmed that no one here was an ESPer and therefore didn't rate any mental defenses on their cells. What's more, she had been siphoning off their willpower to increase her own mental powers for the last several minutes, so they were already her servants, even though they probably didn't have the brainpower left to realize it.

Okay, first thing was first. Her mental senses quickly located the openings for the air pumps; the air molecules quickly leaving the room made that a dead giveaway. With a effortless thought, she reached out and crushed them into scrap with her telekinesis, halting the vacuum being generated in the cellblocks. Next, she mentally touched the dead bodies from the Warders on the ground, changing their molecules from the various lethal substances she created into pure oxygen, quickly restoring the breathable atmosphere. Finally, she reached out to the first prisoner. "Rebound...", Mindshadow willed as she instinctively placed him into a deep hypnotic trance.

"Yes, Mindshadow," the rubber-based villain replied as his eyes went blank.

"When the door opens, you will destroy that sentry gun. You will feel no pain," she assured him as she hypnotically numbed his pain centers. A pity she couldn't do that to herself, she thought as she telekinetically ripped the force field and physical barriers around his cell to bits. Right on schedule, the phalanx gun locked onto Rebound, and unleashed a hail of bullets. However, the bullets simply deformed against his body as he stretched and wrapped his body around the gun's mechanisms until the pressure destroyed the motors. Excellent, she thought; he was the perfect one to stop a kinetic weapon. He wasn't much good against flame-throwers or lasers; the main reason he kept ending up back here, but against bullets, he was virtually invulnerable.

Next, she turned her attention the next few cells. Slagger and Impact, they called themselves. The former was a walking geothermal phenomenon who dubbed himself "Master of the Inner Earth," which was more amusing than threatening considering that Core would no doubt smash him to bits if he ever heard that. The latter was a speedster, who specialized in super-speed based fisticuffs. His humiliating defeat by Blur a year ago though proved that not all speedsters ran the same speed. Finally, the man at the end of the row was Dyson the Screamer, a former heavy rocker whose metahuman abilities manifested later than the normal puberty years because of his drug addictions. A powerful sonic screamer, but usually defeated by a quick dose of tear gas or smoke grenades as his powers required the full use of his vocal cords, his biggest limitation was his ridiculously small scale in thinking. Well, that was okay. Mindshadow would do the thinking for him.

She mentally focused on their minds. As she expected, weak -- easily molded and shaped to serve her will. "Now then, let us leave this place," she commanded as she destroyed the other three prison cells. In Dyson's case, she had to also pull off the heavy metal clamps that had been locked to his mouth without ripping off his jaw. "But first, a quick errand for you gentlemen."

"We live to serve!" they shouted in unison.

"I require an entrance to the next floor down,"" she commanded. "The security systems are to be neutralized to ensure my safety."

Dyson started first, screaming a powerful sonic blast directly into the floor. Mindshadow had directed him to do so; she wasn't going to fall for the elevator trick twice. The floor resisted quite well; the armor plating was quite tough. To make it quick, Mindshadow lent a telekinetic assist, forcing half the floor to vibrate against the vibration pattern of Dyson's blast, ripping it to bits. The floors were separated by a set of steel girder bulkheads and wall storage; this was where some of the weaponry was stored when not deployed. The sensors reacted quickly, moving a set of guns into position with moving chassis, but were stopped by Rebound as he wrapped his elastic form around the tubes where the chassis slid, until Impact could pound the weapons into junk at super speed. Once clear, Rebound stretched below, elongating his body like a ladder to allow the others to climb down. Mindshadow waited above as the sounds of automatic gunfire, flash strobes, and other weapons fired. Let the others take the punishment; she had had her fill of pain this day.

Once it quieted down, Mindshadow levitated down. Tsk, she thought; Rebound didn't look very well. The first one through, he had the dubious pleasure of taking the first wave of assaults, and while the bullets didn't do much, the lasers did until Dyson's scream shattered the focusing lenses. His elastic flesh smelled like burning rubber, were it not for Mindshadow's hypnosis, he would probably be screaming in pain.

Turning her attention to more important things, Mindshadow looked through the first row of cells and was finally rewarded. His beard was scruffier and he needed a haircut, but there he was - The Dictator. A quick mental suggestion and he would be hers to command.

"I...feel your...power..." The Dictator gasped as he clenched his teeth and shook with effort. "But...you will not succeed!"

What...? Mindshadow thought with a stunned expression. That wasn't possible! No one could resist her telepathic suggestions! Even most telepaths didn't have minds strong enough to overcome her powers!

"I...am...the leader of the...P-proletariats!" The Dictator proclaimed. "I...will bow...to no authority that does not...serve my cause!"

Enough of this! Mindshadow thought angrily. She didn't have time to figure this out here. She was physically tired, emotionally worn out and frustrated by all that went wrong this day! She narrowed her eyes ever so slightly as her telekinesis pounded The Dictator all over his body into oblivion before shredding his cell open. Next, she compressed and rearranged his molecules, taking care to store his original pattern within the sub-atomic matrix for restoration. Within a few seconds, he had been reduced into a tiny pewter figurine that levitated into her hand.

"Very impressive, girl," an old crone's voice said behind her.

Mindshadow turned around and shook her head. How ironic -- the Matrons of Mayhem. Or at least the three she had pretended to want freed. "I try my best, Harridan."

"And an impressive best it is," Harridan smiled craftily. To her left and right, Vox and Virago kept their silence with knowing glances. Harridan was their elder stateswoman and they would need to follow her lead. "Perhaps you would indulge an old woman and her friends to strike a blow for womanhood?"

"Hrumph...!" Mindshadow scoffed. "Your agenda doesn't impress me. I have far bigger goals in mind than correcting male chauvinisms."

"Well then," Harridan beckoned. "Perhaps we can be of assistance in those goals. After all, the world is big enough to delegate rule, is it not?"

To hell with it, Mindshadow thought. If it hurt this damned prison just a little bit more, it'd be worth it.

******

The rumbling shook the entire floor as the personnel in the CINC scrambled to make repairs. "What was that?" the chief asked.

"Sir, I've got one contact on radar!" the technician reported. "Single target accelerating away at high speed!"

"Lock on missiles!" the chief said.

"Too late, target's out of range."

******

Vox, Harridan, and Virago watched as Mindshadow dropped them off on a dock in New York City. Before doing so, she mentally reached into their bodies and incinerated a tiny piece of cartilage that was giving off a low-level radio frequency. A transponder, one of the Warder's minds told her several days ago. No further words were exchanged until a van pulled up near the entrance to the dock.

"How wonderful to see you free," Deadstar smiled, her eyes twinkling like distant quasars. "When we heard your mental voice calling us, we didn't know what to think."

"It was quite an experience," Virago admitted.

"Well, at least we don't have to execute our plan," Lady Hecate said. "Harridan, what do you make of the person who freed you?"

"Potentially, great trouble," Harridan warned. "Even though she broke us free, we had better beware."

"All five of us?" Hecate asked with some disbelief.

"Yes, even all five," Harridan said seriously. "Don't be deceived by her youth. I had the closest view of what she did to break us out. The power she wields so effortlessly is on the level as to shake the world, were she so inclined. And someone as young and as powerful as she must be taken into account by us and everyone in the coming days."

******

Mindshadow dropped the four supervillains off as she entered her warehouse's skylight. Dyson, Impact, Slagger and Rebound all looked around. It was a fairly typical warehouse, but had been set up with separated rooms, with various sundry items carefully laid out.

"Now what?" Rebound asked.

"For now, enjoy your freedom. Do whatever strikes your fancy. When my needs change, I will call upon you then." Mindshadow watched them leave with satisfaction, fogging their memories of her warehouse's location. Next, she turned her attention to the tiny figurine in her hand. A quick telekinetic nudge and the figurine began to grow, soften and restore to human form. Before The Dictator could get his bearings, the concrete floor below his feet flowed up and wrapped him in a cocoon up to his neck.

"Free me, hedonistic bitch! I am the destined ruler of mankind! Only my wisdom can solve the ills of this decadent society!

Mindshadow ignore the hysterics; it was expected. Instead, she looked at his mind and how it worked. So, that's how he did it; he had so sublimated his mind with his distorted worldview, a view so phantasmagoric, they effectively formed a psychic firewall. Fortunately, a distorted mind wasn't the same as a strong one. She watched as he ranted and raved; with each outburst, she slipped into his mind just a little bit more. Finally, after several hours, she broke through. A complex mind, she thought. So intelligent...so capable of inventing, creating and building; such a waste. She'd be doing him a favor, she thought, as she touched the center of his being ever so slightly, causing him to stop talking in mid-speech.

"Urk...!"

"Now Michael...who do you serve?"

"You Mindshadow," he whispered. "I serve you in your conquest of mankind."

At last, she smiled. It would take time for his creations to work in her favor. There were plans to make and missions to do. But with his technological skills at her disposal, she was sure that the world would soon serve her will. Next, she mentally reached out again. "Electron..."

"Yes, Mindshadow?"

"Come to New York. I require you to assist Michael Richards to develop the computer work for my master plan."

"Yes, Mindshadow."

Good, Mindshadow thought. It was important that they worked well together. Soon, her plan would come to fruition. But first, a minor matter.

"Peter?"

"Mindshadow. The money transfer is about to go out," came a familiar mental voice.

"Cancel it. The fools don't deserve it."

"That won't make them very happy."

"They're in jail. And even if they weren't, I'll take care of what they think and feel. For now, I'll be back in a few minutes."

"Very well."

Taking to the cool night skies, Mindshadow made a mental note that she needed to make arrangements for The Dictator's personal needs such as food and shelter. As for herself, she wanted a hot bath and a rich dessert. Ironic; for someone who didn't need to eat or sleep, she felt worn out. It had been a long, busy month. But with The Dictator's propaganda technologies, Electron's abilities with the computer network, combined with her control over Miles Fisher's media empire, and the world would soon be a very different place. Very different indeed.
 

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