Checkmate: Operation Outsiders #12 Nov 21, 2010 9:36:07 GMT -5
Post by Rik (capricorn116) on Nov 21, 2010 9:36:07 GMT -5
Checkmate: Operation Outsiders #12
Head Games, part 2: Guilty as Charged
Written by Scott Morgan Cook
Edited by Don Walsh
Cover by Rik (capricorn116)
The interrogation room of Belle Reve was once again filled. Sitting at the table across from each other were Gene Nigma, the White Queen’s Bishop of Checkmate, and the young assassin who had murdered Alexander Dorrence, who sat with his arms and legs bound and, despite the situation, wearing a smug expression on his face. Behind the two-way mirror were the Outsiders, who were only there to learn more about their new foe.
“Alright, I’m going to ask you some questions right now,” Gene said, a pen and paper on a clipboard to jot down the information. “Your name?”
“I don’t have one,” The young man answered. “Isn’t that weird? A lifetime goes by and no one bothers naming me. I’m a little offended, to be honest.”
“Refuses to give up real name…” Gene spoke aloud as he scribbled.
“I just said I don’t have a name,” the assassin said, annoyed.
“I heard you,” he answered, not even looking up as he continued to write. Fed up, the young man finally gave an answer.
“You want a name? Fine.” He paused for a moment, thinking it over. “My name is John. John Killer.”
“That’s stupid,” Gene muttered absent-mindedly.
“It fits, actually,” the young man said. “Killer applies to my profession, and John seems like an American name, and I’m mostly American.”
“Whatever floats your boat, kid,” the bishop responded before he continued the line of questions. “Age?”
At this point, Gene actually looked up and raised an eyebrow at the man sitting across from him who was clearly in his twenties. “No, really, how old are you?”
“No, really, I’m fifteen,” the assassin answered, matching his interrogator’s tone. “Rapid aging made sure I was at my physical peak before I was sent into the field.”
Gene paused for a moment, going over his words, before he returned to almost ignoring the young man, his focus placed squarely on the paper in front of him.
“You see, the League of Assassins–” the prisoner began.
“Yes, tell me more about the people who allegedly raised you,” the bishop cut in. “Specifically, their plans and their goals for the future.”
“To continue about their business uninterrupted by law enforcement, heroes or any rival organization,” he answered.
“Uh-huh…” Gene muttered as he kept writing. “You should probably give a better answer.”
“But I don’t want to.”
Setting down the clipboard, Gene finally gave the assassin his full attention, and addressed him in a straightforward, unforgiving tone. “We have three people who witnessed you killing Alexander Dorrence. You also resisted arrest and assaulted an agent of Checkmate. Now I don’t care how old you say you are and neither do the people in charge; you will be tried as an adult and you will go to jail for the rest of your life. The only way, the only possible thing that might cut down your sentence, is to tell us what the League of Assassins’ next move is. Now do you want to comply or no?”
The young man thought for a moment before saying, “Alright, I’ll tell you something.”
Gene picked up his clipboard and prepared to take down the information. When he was ready, the assassin spoke slowly and clearly. “After I get out of here, the League of Assassins are going to kill everyone in this building.”
There was a pause. The bishop broke it “You’re not getting out of here. Belle Reve is still a prison, and—”
“Oh, I’m getting out.” It was the assassin’s turn to cut off Gene. “And you’re the one who’s going to let me out.”
“Excuse me?” Gene asked, dreading whatever answer he would be given.
“I’ll make you let me out,” the young man said. “I can make you do anything I want. I’m telepathic.”
From behind the two-way mirror, Arsenal’s hand shot to her belt. She picked up her communicator and said, “I need a psi-blocker in room 17A right now.”
“Well that gives us less time to get to know each other.” The assassin turned his attention toward the mirror and looked directly at Lian. “I take that back. I already know you. But it really seems like you don’t know each other. Lying, keeping secrets…it just doesn’t seem very conducive. So I’m going to help you get over these little issues by putting them out in the open.”
“Oh this is not going to be good,” Elast-Girl said with a nervous tone.
“Why don’t we start with you, Rachel?” he asked as he picked up on her words. “You don’t really trust these people. Well, more specifically, you don’t trust one person on the team. But who could blame you? I wouldn’t want to work with a murderer either. Well, not exactly; you know what I mean.” He smirked at her.
“And Cain…” The assassin turned his attention to Soultaker. “That’s what they called you in Japan, isn’t it? Cain? Tell me, Cain…how long do you think you can keep this up? How long can you just run away from your life? And I don’t mean this cape and cowl garbage; I mean your real life. The life you were born into. The life of deceit, violence and murder you know so well. Please, tell me, I’m interested to know. Or are you going to stick with your trademark silence?”
Cassandra’s fist clenched and unclenched rapidly, trying her best not to burst into the interrogation room and kill the assassin herself.
“That’s what I thought,” he said with confidence. “But you shouldn’t feel too alone; you’re not the only one who lies to herself.” The assassin turned his attention to Maxine. She shuddered, terrified by what was to come.
“Rachel lied to her team. Cain lied to herself. But you? You did both.” The prisoner began. “This optimistic, happy-go-lucky nonsense, this naïve visage…it’s all bull. You don’t believe your own hype for even a second, do you? You’ve seen the worst of humanity and it seems to be the only thing rattling around in your empty little head.”
There was another period of silence as Maxine looked down at her feet, unsure of how to respond to the accusation.
“I can take away your powers, you know.”
She looked up at him, her fear now increased tenfold.
“Oh yes. It’s as easy as reaching into your head and flipping a switch. And where will you be then? Empty. Meaningless. No longer a gifted survivor, but another godforsaken torture victim.”
Outraged, Tempest yelled at the assassin, “If you even think about it, I’ll…”
“You’ll what? Be pretentious at me?” He laughed. “I don’t have to read your mind to know how much of a stuck-up ass you are. That must get in the way of…well, everything that isn’t being a stuck-up ass. God forbid you learn how to interact with people before you lead an entire nation…or before you even attempt a relationship with basket case over there.”
The Outsiders all looked between Maxine, her breath heavy and her face stained with tears, and Sarin, trying his best to hide his face from the rest of them.
“And you,” the assassin pointed it Animal Man through the glass. “Warren McCabe-Shaw. You, my good friend, are without sin. Congratulate yourself.”
Warren let out a breath of surprise and relief.
“Yeah, besides a few minor things here and there, you actually haven’t done anything. But that’s the problem, isn’t it? You haven’t done anything of real significance in your life. You have no experience being a superhero and, honestly, no place on this whole team. How long is it before you get replaced by someone better? By someone who can actually do something for the team? Why they invited you in anyway is beyond me.”
“Where the hell is my god damn psi-blocker?” Lian shouted into her communicator.
“And that brings us to you,” the assassin said. “The soldier. Little miss military. The tight-lipped, effective leader. And that’s all there is. You’re not the daughter of a hero and a mercenary. You’re not Kid Arrow of Star City. You’re just a soldier; a cog in the military machine. And that’s all. That’s all you’ll ever be until you die. God, Grandpa Ollie must be so proud of you.”
Gene reached across the table and struck the assassin across the face. The young man smiled; he even chuckled a bit. “Damn, you do get crazy, don’t you?”
At that moment, two agents of Checkmate burst into the room. They quickly attached a mechanical collar around the assassin’s neck.
“Gentlemen,” Gene said, exasperated by the entire ordeal. “Could you take Mr. Killer to his cell?”
As the agents escorted John Killer away, he shouted back at Gene, “Yours is a problem that can’t be fixed! A legacy you can’t escape! No matter how many pills you take, you will NEVER change!”
As the door closed behind him, silence filled both rooms. Silence that lasted what seemed like an eternity. Gene chanced a look upwards to see the lit up adjacent room through the two-way mirror. The entire team had left, and the only one remaining was Lian. She gave him a look, as if expecting him to do something. Gene looked back down at the table. Lian gave an annoyed snort and left, leaving the White Queen’s Bishop alone with his thoughts in Room 17A.
“I’m not crazy,” he whispered. “Not anymore.”
* * * * * * *
Lian knocked on the door of Rachel’s room. She heard no answer and knocked harder. Still nothing. She opened the door to see her teammate in there, lying on her bed and staring into space.
“Gene said this place used to be a prison,” Rachel said absent-mindedly. “I think it still is. I mean, this room used to be a cell, didn’t it? I can tell. It’s all a big cube and there’s the one window…”
“Team meeting in the cafeteria, five minutes,” Lian interrupted.
Rachel sat up and looked at her teammate. “Really? You think that’s necessary?”
“You did just see what happened, right?” she asked. “You didn’t just black out while you were in there? Because in case you didn’t notice, we just got mentally violated. All our secrets, our fears, our insecurities; they were just dumped out for all to see. We have to talk about this.”
“No, confronting this is something we don’t do,” Rachel warned. “This is just a supervillain trying to mess with our heads. We should…”
“Mess with our heads? Newsflash: He didn’t mess with our heads. He reached in there and pulled out all the information nobody is supposed to know.”
“I’m not going to talk about this,” Rachel said, her tone now completely serious. “I’m not…I don’t want to do this and I don’t have to.”
“You’re on my team, you do what I say,” Lian answered. “I thought you figured this out by now; you’re the smart one.”
“Well, say I don’t want to be on your team,” she said. “Say I want to just up and quit, hmm? Well, guess what! I quit! I quit and…and I’m going to leave and I’m not going to deal with all of this mind-screw bullcrap…”
“You’re not quitting.” Lian maintained a stern calmness in the face of Rachel’s growing exasperation.
“Sure I am. First day on the job, orientation, we were given the option to back out. Well I’m backing out.”
“That ship sailed long ago, Rachel. You’re locked in. This team needs you and you don’t get to just walk out over something like this. In our business, in our line of work, these things happen…”
“What?!” she asked incredulously. “‘These things happen?’ These things don’t just happen, Lian! Ever! Some kind of messed up prank just got pulled on us! This is the worst thing that’s ever happened to any of us, and you say ‘these things happen?’”
There was a pause. Lian broke the silence by asking, “You sound pretty pissed off about this?”
Rachel didn’t give a respond. Lian gave an almost patronizing smile, patted her on the shoulder and said, “Come talk about it. Five minutes. The cafeteria.”
And with that, she left, closing the door behind her.
* * * * * *
Sarin sat alone in his room. Like everyone else involved, he didn’t know what to make of this. The concept of psychological warfare wasn’t unknown to him, but he had never experienced it firsthand. He had been called out on his flaws and humiliated in front of his teammates. He didn’t want to face them again. Any of them.
His door opened without so much as a knock, and he saw Maxine walk in and quickly shut the door behind her. “Hey, Joseph…” she said awkwardly. “Mind if I come in?”
Sarin’s first reaction was to shut down and avoid interacting with her at all. However, his desire to talk to her was enough to make him respond with a simple, “Please.”
Maxine hurriedly sat down on the chair across from him and said with great difficulty, “Okay, listen, I think you…I think you should know about what…what he was talking about…back there…y’know?”
“Yeah, I know,” he said solemnly.
“Okay…” she began. “Okay, so he was talking about me seeing the worst of humanity and about being a…being a victim of…victim of torture…” She struggled to spit out the last few words. “What happened was…was…oh God.”
“Just say it.”
Maxine gave him an annoyed look. “Don’t. Just…just don’t.”
“Sorry,” Sarin replied quietly. “Please, continue.”
She let out a breath. “When I was nineteen, I was kidnapped by this…this mad scientist guy. And he injected me with these things called nanobytes…and then he turned them on. It was…it was the worst pain I’ve ever felt. I think it’s worse than anyone’s ever felt. I-I don’t know, maybe not. But it was…it was terrifying. It was horrible. It was the worst thing that’s ever happened to me and probably will happen. But it’s also how I got my powers.”
An uneasy silence set in, as both the Outsiders reflected on Maxine’s words. After collecting her thoughts, she accepted. “I was tortured and walked away on top. More than on top; I-I was super, I had powers, I could be a hero. A-And if anyone took that away, if anyone made me just a regular person again, I just…I…I don’t know what I’d do. I…I don’t want to think about it…”
She took a moment to compose herself. “I just…I thought you should know.”
Uneasily, Maxine got to her feet and turned to leave. She was halted by a last note from Sarin.
“He was right.”
She stopped and faced him. “What?”
He struggled to find the right words, awkwardly stumbling to find the right way to phrase his thoughts. “When he said that I…that I wanted to…to be in a…relationship…with you…he was right.”
She stared at him blankly. Sarin looked down shamefully and added, “I just…thought you should know.”
A knock on the door snapped them both back into the present. Maxine impulsively opened it to find Lian on the other side. “What’s going on in there?”
“Nothing!” Maxine answered. “We were just talking!”
“Talking, yeah,” Sarin added.
“Right…” Lian said. “Team meeting in the cafeteria. Five minutes.”
“Yeah, we…I can do that,” Maxine answered.
Lian walked away, leaving Sarin and Maxine alone in an uncomfortable silence.
* * * * * *
Despite how big a room it was compared to the others in the same building, Belle Reve’s cafeteria was usually empty. Nobody quite knew why, it just was. This is why Lian chose it to hold her meeting.
Walking in after informing Warren of the meeting, she found Cassandra, sitting in the center.
“Who told you about the meeting?” Lian asked, sitting at the same table as her ally.
“Nobody,” Cassandra answered. “I just don’t like being in my room.”
“It did use to be a prison cell,” she sighed. “Anyway, we’re meeting here to discuss what just happened in…now.”
As if on cue, the rest of the team slowly filed in to the cafeteria and sat down around the table. The feeling among the group was one of unanimous embarrassment, with a powerful silence in the room. Only Lian had the courage to break it, as she stood up from her seat and addressed her team.
“Alright, I think we all know why we’re here. We’ve been…attacked. Attacked in a way we’ve never been attacked before. We were violated mentally and had our personal information turned against us. This is something that’s difficult to deal with. But it’s something we can deal with. We just need to be open about what was said and what it means to us. Now…does anyone want to go first? Anybody want to say anything?”
She was met with even more silence. She let out a sigh and said, “Fine, I’ll go.”
“Don’t tell me,” Rachel interrupted. “Years under the thumb of a government institution have left you confused about your black-and-white notions of right and wrong, based on the teachings of your liberal superhero family, and now you find yourself struggling to fit in with them and with Checkmate. Am I right or am I right? Listen ‘Kid Arrow’, there’s a lot of things you just don’t get…”
“You know what, Rachel?” she interrupted. “Why don’t we talk about your issues, hmm? Why don’t we talk about that fact that you think one of your teammates is a murderer?”
“Well in my defense, one of my teammates is, in fact, a murderer.” Rachel answered. “I know this firsthand. Hell, we all do. Seriously, why am I the only pissed off that you were killed a month ago?”
“Because we’re not dead,” Sarin answered for the group. “It was the only way to escape from Japan. We had to…
“The last thing I need is a lecture on heroism from you,” she said, exasperated.
“We got away from the Yakuza, all in one piece,” Maxine added. “What’s more, they didn’t get the magic sword. I’m pretty sure that was a win for us.”
“You’re missing the point,” Rachel said. “We could have gotten out of there without resorting to betrayal and murder.”
“Well, maybe it’s not how we got out of there, but just the fact that we did,” Warren said.
“That’s not the point!” she said, now angry. She pointed across the table to Cassandra. “And you! Why is everyone else defending what you did except you?!”
The team all turned to Cassandra, staying in her characteristic silence. After taking a breath, she spoke.
“There’s nothing I can say that will change your mind,” Cassandra spoke in a simple, straightforward manner. “Your mind is made up. I can’t change that. There’s a better chance they can, but it’s unlikely. The only thing I can do is abide your mistrust until you realize what kind of danger it puts the entire team in and pray nobody gets hurt because of it.”
“So now you’re accusing me of hurting people? After what you did to them? After what you almost did to me?!”
“Now I understand,” Cassandra said. “You don’t like me because I made you feel vulnerable. You’re so used to being unbreakable that the very the thought of being harmed is terrifying to you.”
Rachel didn’t respond. Cassandra continued. “You’d better get used to being vulnerable. You have powers but villains always find a way around them.”
“You wanna see vulnerable?” she said angrily. “Let’s go! Right now! I’ll show you vulnerable…”
“Now that’s enough!” Lian shouted, instantly getting everyone’s attention. “This is first-year bullshit and I won’t have any of it! We’re not kids playing superhero, we’re professionals, and you people will act like it or so help me god I will throw your asses into a Belle Reve cell in ten seconds and replace you in the next five. Are we clear?”
She was met by a unanimous silence. “Are we clear?” Lian repeated, stressing each word.
“F*(& this,” Rachel muttered. “I quit.”
“How many times do I have to say you don’t get to quit?” Lian responded, exasperated. “You’re stuck here.”
“You just said we’re all replaceable. So tell me, why do I have to stay?”
“Because we need you!”
Lian’s response left them all surprised, not knowing how to react to the statement.
“You see the world differently than the rest of us. You think differently. Every time we think we’re right about something, you come in and tell us we’re wrong. And we need that. You’ve got a special kind of wisdom we need; the kind that few others on this world have. And that’s why you aren’t allowed to quit.”
There was a pause as the words sunk in before Lian continued. “Alright, now can we deal with this like professionals? Or do we want to keep fighting and quitting?”
And with that, the Outsiders’ meeting finally got underway.
* * * * * *
Gene Nigma stood alone on a first-story balcony, looking out into the swampy waters surrounding Belle Reve. It amazed him that these murky waters always seemed so serene, so at peace, despite everything that always seemed to happen around them. It was perplexing. It was almost taunting.
He shrugged off these thoughts. The assassin was still getting in his head, powerless as he may have been. Was he really powerless? Could he have bypassed the psi-blockers? No...no that was a crazy idea.
Gene jumped when he heard the voice. He turned around to see Caroline Kelly had joined him on the balcony, staring out into the wilderness before them.
“I heard about what happened,” she said. “Some kind of mental invasion, right?”
“Yeah…yeah, that’s what happened.”
“Wow,” Caroline said. “I didn’t think those kinds of things happened.” She paused. “How’s the team dealing with it?”
“In a way that says leagues about their maturity,” Gene answered.
“What about you? I heard…I heard he said some stuff about you.”
“It was nothing specific,” he said. “No, that’s not true. He didn’t say it explicitly, but I knew what he was talking about.”
“The episode?” Caroline asked. “The one with the red pills?”
His silence gave the answer. “Gene, I’m sorry,” she continued. “You shouldn’t have to deal with this kind of stuff. Hell, nobody should, but you especially.”
“Thanks, but it’s alright.” He let out a sigh. “These are just things that have happened; we can’t change them. I’ve…accepted the things I’ve done.”
A silence passed between them as they both looked into the wilderness around Belle Reve. There was calmness to it all; it was as if nothing bad could ever happen in a place so tranquil. It was as if troubles didn’t exist here.
“Well, I’m really glad you’re doing okay,” Caroline said. “I’m going to go see how the team’s doing. You’re sure you’re alright?”
“I’m not, actually,” Gene said with concern. “Could I ask you a question?”
“Anything,” she said.
“Well it’s less of a question and more of…let’s say, a riddle. Why must a dishonest man stay indoors?”
And at that moment, Caroline Kelly was hit by fear, confusion, sadness, and a wave of other emotions. A sly smirk crept across Gene’s face. Caroline struggled to say anything in response, but found herself speechless at the situation at hand.
“So he can never be found out,” Gene said. With a sudden fury and vigor, he rushed toward Caroline, grabbed her and threw her over the balcony into the waters below. And as he turned to leave, he heard the satisfying sound of a splash as her body hit the swamp.
And suddenly, the waters didn’t seem calm anymore.
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