"Screw the rules! He could be hurt- in trouble! And SWORD has the resources to find him!"
She was yelling at the holographic image of "Optic", the woman in charge of assigning SWORD's agents and resources around the country- and the world. she had taken over the job just a few years ago- she was just 24, but held one of the most important positions
in the organization, The young african american had been born with a remarkable brain- but no eyes. She had developed, with the aid of top scientists (some working covertly for SWORD), artificial eyes- that could connect directly with computer systems- allowing
her not only direct cerebral access to the internet- but the ability to see through virtually every surveillance camera on Earth. This, along with the vastly expanded reasoning powers she gained from her connection, made her a natural for deciding just where,
what, and who SWORD should concentrate on. But , Amazing Woman had begun to think, it cost her her humanity.
"I understand your concerns, Amazing Woman- but Mr. Jenkins isn't even an actual trainee yet- you've never submitted his progress reports officially, you haven't scheduled him for classes, in fact, from his last communication with us, it appears you hadn't
even informed him that he needs to arrive here soon if he wishes to be part of the next trainee course."
"Look- maybe i'm not following every little rule, but- his test scores were sent- and I've shown him the holo-training course, and I know you follow his progress on that- dammit what does any of that matter? He wasn't here when I got back from patrol,
and he had strict orders to stay in. he wouldn't have disobeyed!"
"Maybe he's taking after his teacher."
Martha stopped herself from screaming some choice obscenities she had learned in Iraq. She took a deep breath. It was unnerving talking to Optic- her artificial eyes were contained in a visor, which surrounded her head- and she never seemed to smile, even
on that crack she made. 'Look, all I'm asking for is that you tap into systems around the city, and see if you can find him, and if I could get one or two operatives here to help out- this was going to be a big night without Brett disappearing- I should have
had help from the start- and with the new info I've gathered-"
"Yes, about that- you listed no source for this accusation in your report- how can we judge it's credibility?"
"I believe the source- and I believe I am not required to name sources if I feel it could be compromising."
"It's nice you know some rules." Befor Martha could answer, Optic raised her hand. "to tell the truth, your data has an 83% probability of being correct, That is far greater than all other theories under investigation." Martha smiled. That was the highest
praise Optic had ever given her! "I will tell you frankly- if it were possible, i would assign every operative in the organization to you for tonight's operation. However- and this is highly classified- there is an ongoing op which is at a critical juncture-
one which might mean a significant change in the very existence and purpose of SWORD. We can spare no ne from there current posts. I will, however, check what surveillance I can. And- you might what to check the U-Tube-It link I've sent you- it seems you aren't
the only costumed hero in the city."
"I will. Thank you, Optic."
"And get some rest- you look like hell."
The image blinked out. "Always the charmer" said Martha, to no one.
"You must have been talking to Optic" said Brett, stumbling in the door.
Martha ran to him- he was barely standing! 'Where have you been, Brett! As soon as I got back, I saw you were gone- I went out looking for you! Oh my god- what happened to you- you've been hurt! Let's get you to your bed! I'll get the first aid kit!"
As they walked (or, in Brett's case, limped) to his room, Bret said, "I'm so sorry, AW. I was stupid. I was talking to Dr. Scott, and- well, some things she said just got me upset- I thought I could prove myself to you- and to SWORD. I put together this
outfit, took som gadgets, and- I went out on patrol."
"My god, Brett- taht wa stupid! Do you know what could happen to you out there!"
"Yeah- or I do now. Things were quiet, and then- I saw a guy about to rape a woman, down by City Park. I jumped down, got him off her- when she clocked me from behind. There must've been a whole gang hiding there- they had baseball bats, and- honestly,
I don't remember much, except managing to set off a gas grenade. It must have driven them off, but, by then, was out. When I woke up, I just started stumbling around- guess I should have brought a communicator, but-"
By this time, Martha had gotten the medi-kit out- the hand-held scanner was calibrated to both of their body's normal states, so it could quickly determine injuries, detect anomalies. "No broken bones, no internal bleeding- no concussion. It seems the
design job you did on your costume shielded you from anything more than bump and bruises- and some abrasions on your back- let me see that." He turned on his side, shrugging off his uniform. "These look like fingernail scratches!"
'Must have been the woman- I think she grabbed me, I remember her hands under nmy shirt- maybe she was trying to take it off- I don't.."
"It's okay, Brett- don't worry. Weird things happen in the field. It could have been a lot worse." A darkness came over her face. "It has before."
'What? What are you talking about?"
"You weren't the first person I chose to train. It was a bit more than two months ago. her name was Annelise. She was strong, tough, funny- a tiny thing who fought like a wildcat. She came along so fast, I thought I'd take her out on patrols with me. She
would stay in the car, observing- until one night- I made a mistake. I was attacked by a gang- like you, tonight- she though I was in trouble- and I suppose I was. She came out to help- she was amazing. And then- a shot. A stupid punk with a gun got a lucky
shot off- and she was dead."
Tears were falling freely now from her eyes. 'Maybe that's why I've been bringing you along so slowly- maybe I don't even want you to choose this life- because you're young, Brett. I don't want to be responsible for the death of another young person."
He led her, forgetting the pain. Finally, she broke away. "I'm sorry- loo, let me get some of that massaging, healing ointment. let me take care of you."
"No, " said Brett, holding onto her arm. "I'll be fine. I'll apply it myself. You need to take care of yourself- get some sleep. You've got a party to go to, remember?"
"Yeah- a party given by the Crime Lord."
"Countess Dante is the Crime Lord- or so it seems. She uses hypnosis and mind control to keep the city in her thrall. God knows what she plans tonight."
"But- wait- how do you know? And- what if she uses some sort of mind control on you? What would-"
'Calm down, okay? I'll be fine. I've taken special precautions, thanks to an old friend. Now. here's the ointment. I'm going to lie down for a while- unless- you sure you don't want a massage Not many guys get that offer from me."
Brett smiled- "Can I take a raincheck? I''d rather be in shape to enjoy it."
"Okay, rookie. You get some rest, too- and that's an order!"
Martha left, swinging her hips flirtatiously. Brett watched, appreciatively. But the moment the door closed, a change came over him. His pain was forgotten Programming deep in his subconscious activated. he was no longer Brett jenkins- he was Soldier
Boy, thrall to Countess Dante.
He reached into his boot- a compartment there, which once held a gas grenade, no held a small communications device- encoded beyond even SWORD's ability to trace. He flipped open the keypad, and sent a message detailing the contents of his conversation with
Amazing Woman- and her knowledge of Rei's secrets. As soon as he hit send, he hid the communicator, and forgot that he had it.
Rei had left her daughter in the care of her maid, Suzette- she loved Susan (as much as she hated the nickname Susu), but- she honestly wasn't very maternal. Protective, yes- she would kill anyone who would hurt her (and if Timothy wasn't the son of her
old friend- and one of the few people who seemed to genuinely like HER without being hypnotized- he would be dead - or at least in the playroom- already), but actually talking to her- especially in this state? No.
Her phone rang- a ring which identified the message as being from her newest asset. and what an asset! Not only a spy in Amazing Woman's camp- but, with luck, soon, in SWORD itself- one of the few organizations she had no influence over. She smiled pleased
that this investment had paid off so quickly. It had been fun programming him- although, honestly, he needed to be taught a lot before she would consider actually bedding him again- she'd leave him to Suzette- it was always fun to see the little lesbian in
her other persona- a man-eater of the first order. (It had never occurred incidentally, to the Countess that her daughter and Suzette had anything more than a friendship- one of her few miscalculations. Of course, Suzette would tell her- had it ever occurred to
her to ask.)
Her smile fade as she read the text. How could this happen? Who could have discovered her secret- and who was this "old friend" who supposedly had protected her?
No matter- the truth would out- once she had Amazing Woman in her power (and she had no doubt she would- "protection" or no)- she'd make that black bitch her toy- and she would telll her everything!
That brought a smile to her face- a smile that chilled the bones of her butler, Vincent, who had just come to tell her that Luigi and the caterer's staff were having a significant disagreement over the amount of garlic in the crostini. Perhaps this is
something he should see to himself. He walked away, silently, unseen.