Checkmate: Operation Outsiders #4 Nov 21, 2010 9:19:47 GMT -5
Post by Rik (capricorn116) on Nov 21, 2010 9:19:47 GMT -5
Earth 2 Presents
Checkmate: Operation Outsiders #4
Dangerous Cargo - Part One: Stormfront"
Written by: Scott Morgan Cook
Edited by: Jay Zirron
* * * * * *
Arsenal - Lian Harper, master marksman, Black Queen's Knight and team leader.
Elasti-Girl - Rachel Dibny, the new Stretchable Sleuth.
Tempest - Sarin of Atlantis, super strong son of Aquaman and master of water.
Cyclone - Maxine Hunkel, happy-go-lucky wind witch.
Animal Man - Warren McCabe-Shaw, inheritor of the Tantu-totem and master of the animal kingdom.
Cassandra Cain - The former Batgirl and the world's deadliest martial artist.
Gene Nigma - White Queen's Bishop and manager of the Outsiders.
Natasha Irons - Pilot of Checkmate Jet 206.
* * * * * *
“No. No way. That isn’t going to happen.”
And the meeting had been going so well up to that point.
The Outsiders (sans Cassandra Cain, who was on special assignment), as well as Gene Nigma, had a briefing in Belle Reve. They had discussed their next course of action regarding the captured Lazarus Pit, as well as what to do about the League of Assassins.
They had decided to split the team. Most of them would go monitor the transportation of the pit to an S.T.A.R. Labs facility in a remote location in Texas. One of the Outsiders would investigate venom and its relationship to the League. That Outsider, unfortunately, was Tempest.
“The team is going to watch the pit moved through the desert.” Gene said, exasperation showing in his voice and in his body, his face buried in both hands. “You will be at a disadvantage in the hot climate.”
“I’ll live.” Sarin told him, seriousness in his dark eyes.
“Not if we come under attack.” Arsenal added. “You’ll have no water to manipulate. You’ll be too dehydrated to be at full strength.”
“You will literally be a fish out of water.” Gene said. “We can’t have that.”
“I’m not as weak as you think I am.” Tempest was starting to raise his voice.
“This isn’t about strength!” Lian yelled. “This isn’t about weakness or pride or anything like that! This is about good judgment! You aren’t going into the desert and that’s it!”
Sarin cracked. He turned on his heel and delivered a sharp punch to the concrete wall behind him. A chunk of the grey stone flew out and landed on the floor as dust was kicked up in the meeting room.
There was a tense silence. It would have lasted a long time and may have lead to more violence, had it not been for the timely intervention of Gene Nigma.
“Look,” He said. “How about we have someone go with you? Would that help?”
Tempest didn’t respond, though Gene continued as if he had answered yes. “So, is anyone willing to go on a special assignment?” He said trying to sell it.
There was silence all around the room; not just amongst the team but all the other Checkmate employees in the room. Nervously, one person raised her hand.
“I’ll do it if no one else will.” Cyclone said, more than a little nervousness in her voice.
“Perfect!” Gene exclaimed, snapping his fingers. “You two are going together. Well, that settles that. Let’s go…”
“No!” Tempest interrupted him. “I don’t care who else goes on this assignment, I will not be left out!”
“You’re not being left out.” Gene said. “Your mission is exactly as important as everyone else’s, if not more so.”
It was as if those were the magic words.
“Really?” Sarin asked.
The bishop was genuinely surprised by this, but rolled with it. “Yes. Guarding the pit is just grunt work, no offense.” He said to the rest of the team, who shrugged it off. “Investigating venom is a whole different animal and it needs to be handled a different way. We think you would be perfect for it.”
Tempest mumbled something that sounded enough like ‘alright’ for Gene to say “Excellent. Cyclone, Tempest, you’re with me. The rest of you…”
“What?” Maxine and Sarin asked at the same time.
“Yeah, you two are still going together.”
Before they could protest any more, Arsenal said “You heard the man! Move out!”
Everyone stood up and left the room, except Gene and Lian. “I can’t believe that actually worked.” Arsenal said to the bishop.
“He’s not an idiot.” He answered. “He’s just proud. Remember that.”
* * * * * *
Maxine Hunkel and Sarin followed Gene down the long hallway to Checkmate’s hangar. Cyclone was slightly confused by being left out of the stakeout while Tempest was still bitter about the whole thing. The White Queen’s Bishop had his normal disposition of smug control of the situation.
“You’ll be taking Checkmate 414. Nat will be transporting the rest of the team to their mission; you get Eric Hamilton.” Gene explained. “You’re headed to Gotham City to find the only person alive who knows how to make venom, besides the League.”
“Bane?” Maxine asked, more than a hint of fear in her voice.
“Actually, he goes by Alexander Dorrance now.” He answered. “But yes, the former ‘Breaker of Men’ is your target. He’s an old man now, but he’s still presumed very dangerous. That’s why I’m sending the two of you. Your job is to find out if he has any connection at all to the League and bring him in if he does.”
The trio made it to the hangar and the remaining Outsiders filed into the jet. A nebbish looking young man came in after they had buckled in and said “Hi. I’m Eric and I’ll be captain for this flight.”
Maxine smiled at him. Sarin stared out the window without any interest. His dark eyes turned to Eric, blinked and then looked back out the window.
“Great.” He said, the unease clear in both his face and his voice. He went into the cockpit and made preparations to take off.
* * * * * *
Checkmate 206 had landed safely in San Antonio, Texas with the Outsiders and the Lazarus Pit in tow. The pit was in a large crate that none of the team was allowed to look inside and was immediately put into a plain green truck which drove off down a single road into the desert, followed by two identical ones.
Elasti-Girl sat in one of the other green trucks, riding shotgun to an unassuming man who turned the air-conditioning on to maximum as soon as the car started. Animal Man had taken on the skills and eyes of a hawk, flying high above the convoy but still having good sight on it. Arsenal had elected to travel on her own and there was an ATV waiting for her at the landing strip.
“Why does she get the cool ride?” Animal Man asked.
“What have I said about asking so many questions?” Lian answered coolly as she started up her vehicle. “Now hit the skies.”
After the convoy had set out and Warren had taken off, Arsenal took out her communicator. She switched channels and spoke into.
“You there Gene?” She asked.
“Of course.” The White Queen’s Bishop answered. “What’s on your mind?”
“Why did you team Cyclone with Tempest?” Arsenal said.
“I have my reasons.” He responded.
“Do you have to be so mysterious?”
“Well, my name is E. Nigma.” Lian heard him chuckle slightly.
Quickly changing the subject, she said “We could have used Maxine. Each confrontation we’ve had, she’s been a godsend.”
“Some things are more important.” Gene answered. “Trust me on this. I know people.”
Lian chuckled to herself. “You know too much.”
“No, I just know a lot.” Gene said with what had to be a grin on his face. “Over and out.”
* * * * * *
Checkmate 414 had landed in Gotham City and the Outsiders had followed Checkmate’s information to the apartment of Alexander Dorrance. The place didn’t seem to fit a master criminal; it was dull and dirty. A car’s horn or alarm was constantly blaring from what seemed to be just outside. Cyclone and Tempest passed a reeking Chinese restaurant and had been struggling to keep their breakfast down since.
However, they could at the very least agree that the apartment was fitting for a Gothamite.
Maxine knocked on the door marked 193 and waited patiently for a response. Sarin was as bitter as he always was, his arms crossed and him staring at the floor as if he refused to make eye contact with the door.
The pair heard footsteps inside. The sound of floorboards creaking grew louder with each step. They stopped just before the door and a deep voice was heard cursing inside. The door opened as far as the chain lock would allow and half a face looked out at them.
“What do you want?” He asked.
“Mr. Dorrance?” Cyclone asked timidly. “We have some questions for you.”
“About what?” He said.
“Venom.” Tempest stated monotone.
Alexander Dorrance’s eyes narrowed at the Outsiders and the door shut abruptly. They heard the lock click and the occupant mutter “I’m getting too old for this shit.” The door opened and Alexander Dorrance reluctantly allowed Maxine and Sarin into his home.
* * * * * *
Cyclone and Tempest sat down uneasily on a dirty couch. The former Bane sat down on an old recliner and interlocked his fingers. He still looked like a physically powerful person, but it was clear he was past his prime. His face was wrinkled and most of his hair was gone, with only a few white patches left. He asked the pair “What do you want to know?”
“What’s your connection to the League of Assassins?” Tempest asked.
“I thought this was about venom?” Dorrance responded.
“It’s both!” Sarin said with exasperation, as if it were obvious. The old man just looked quizzically at Tempest, as if expecting some explanation. Receiving none, he turned his gaze to Cyclone, who explained.
“The League of Assassins has been pumping their soldiers full of venom. The formula isn’t well known so we thought…”
“Yes it is.” Dorrance said. “I sold the formula.”
Silence hung in the air for a moment, before a tense Sarin asked “What?”
“I sold the formula.” He repeated. “A few years ago I quit professional villainy and gave up venom for twenty-five million.”
“So what you’re saying is,” Tempest said. “That our entire reason for coming to this waste-trap is completely false?”
“Well I wouldn’t say that…” The old man started but was cut off by Sarin grabbing his collar and yelling “Quiet!”
Alexander maintained a stoic form. “Kid, I’ve faced the Joker and Batman in the same night. You don’t scare me.”
Tempest ignored him. “You are a waste of my time! Do you have any idea what it’s like to have a group of inferiors giving you orders and making you miserable?”
“Oh please.” The old man said. “As if your life is so hellish.”
“You don’t know what my life is!” Sarin yelled.
“Tempest!” There was a sudden burst of wind and both the men turned to Cyclone standing in front of the couch.
“I think it’s time we left.” She said, the normal brightness in her voice now gone. “Thank you for the information.” She told Alexander.
“No problem.” He said as Tempest backed away, bitterness still clearly visible in him.
The two left and the old man heard the door clicked shut. He quickly leapt from his seat and rushed into the kitchen area. He swung open the refrigerator door and pulled out a small vial with a dark red liquid inside.
* * * * * *
The Outsiders boarded Checkmate 414 and sat down. Tempest didn’t bother buckling himself in; he simply stared out the window and waited to return to Belle Reve.
Eric Hamilton stuck his head out of the cockpit and said. “So how was it?”
They were both silent. Eric just nodded his head, went inside and prepared for takeoff.
Only ten months until I return home. Sarin thought. Then my time here will be over. Then I can go back to where I belong. No more surface world, no more obnoxious humans and no more “wasting my time.”
Tempest didn’t even realize he had said those last three words aloud until they had escaped his lips. He didn’t bother retracting them. He didn’t even care.
“He was right, you know.”
Sarin’s head turned slowly towards Cyclone and asked. “What did you say?”
“He was right.” Maxine repeated. “Mr. Dorrance. When he said that your life isn’t that bad, he was right.”
“What do you mean?” Tempest asked.
“Since I met you,” She answered. “You haven’t done anything but complain. Your problems aren’t actually bad. There are people who are worse off than you.”
Sarin didn’t care enough to retort. He just regarded the comment as meaningless and resumed staring out the window, trying his best to make sure she didn’t bother him with conversation for the remainder of the trip.
Maxine just said “There are people who have had worse experiences than you.”
* * * * * *
The day for the rest of the team had been far less eventful. The convoy had traveled through the empty Texas desert, through orange dirt and lonely cactuses. Animal Man had passed the time by whining about his boredom. Elasti-Girl had agreed with him on occasion but Arsenal had successfully kept them silent enough.
After a solid five hours of watching the cars move, Warren finally had something positive to say.
“I can see it!” He said over the communicator. “I can see the facility!”
Lian stopped her ATV and picked up a pair of binoculars. She lifted the visor on her helmet and looked out to see it; the large, gleaming building amid the dull desert.
“Excellent.” She said into the communicator in her helmet. “We’re about half an hour away.”
Suddenly, the first truck began bob and move around on its wheels. The voice of the driver came in fearful on the communicator as he said “We’ve got a problem! The package is live! Repeat: the package is live!”
“Lian,” Rachel said on her comm. “What the hell is in that box?”
Her answer came without Arsenal’s response.
Something leapt out of the back of the first truck. It looked human, but its skin and hair were completely pale. It wore an open black jack and pants. Both were extremely filthy and tattered. Its eyes were a milky white, but its face showed a boundless rage. Its voice only helped to paint a picture of monstrosity as it yelled out six words at the top of its lifeless lungs:
“SOLOMON GRUNDY, BORN ON A MONDAY!”
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