AN: So before I return to this long delayed installment I just want to cover a few things. Given that this is a fic that takes the Empire 88 and doesn't instantly vilify them but actually gets them some positive spin and viewpoint, I'm probably going to get some flames for this. These last months have shown the situation of racism in America and beyond in the world. So I would like to cover a few things. I do not support racism. This is only fictional, no one in this story is real, or if they are real historical figures mentioned, they are completely fictional. Just because the world is blowing up between Covid and everything else does not mean I am going to change this story. Max and Annette are both still racist, they are also still parents that love their children. Being racist is bad, but just because you are a bad or evil person does not mean that the good things that have been done, such as donating to charities is instantly an evil act. They are human, just like the rest of us (albeit with a little mental prodding from the conflict drive their shards are giving them). And they will continue to go on being human in every way, good, bad, and otherwise. This is not a story that I will be smashing the E88 at the onset in. The E88 is and will remain a factor in this world. If all of this is something you are not comfortable, I suggest you un-watch this thread and stop reading.
Anyways back to your long scheduled update.
My eyes were fixed on the video displays showing the Boardwalk and the positions of both the Empire capes and Lung and Oni Lee. For now neither group was moving... with the notable exception that at some point Oni Lee had fetched a bag of street popcorn for Lung who was just sitting there and eating it while watching everything unfold.
"Force field integrity at forty-three percent and holding Sir!"
God bless Armsmaster's ability to adapt to a situation on the fly. I didn't know what he'd been doing for the last twenty minutes but whatever it was seemed to be working, even if I was sure I wouldn't want to deal with the complications of whatever Tinkertech device he had integrated into the Rig's power systems. I continued to watch until I noticed the streaks of falling projectiles came to an end.
"Sir! Joan Arc has stopped!"
I nodded almost subconsciously as I leaned forward, resting my hands on the observation railing at the back of the control room where I was still standing.
"Yes she has. Get me a close up on Joan Arc, audio too. What will you do now..."
The final words were a murmur and whisper rolled into one that I spoke to myself aloud. One of the camera screens switched to show Joan Arc had turned away and was now walking over to Marquis. The body posture said she was speaking but I wasn't hearing anything as she walked towards Madcap.
"I'm not hearing anything. Spectrum where's my audio?!"
Off to the side the Cape was furiously typing away at one of her computers even as I shouted at her.
"Coming Sir! Pick brought something that is giving my equipment interference. I'm countering it as we speak."
The silence continued and my knuckles tightened as I gripped the railing harder. I was staring right at my Intel but I couldn't hear a damn thing. In both timelines I felt annoyance and irritation as I watched the medieval armored villain walk over towards Faultline's group. While I knew all pieces Marquis and Joan Arc had brought to the board to help them, I was unused to this dynamic. I was operating in the blind and without Intel my blindness was not going away. I need to know! I had to or all of this would just be a waste.
"Got it Sir!"
And with that the sounds flooded into the control room as Joan Arc stopped in front of not Faultline but instead Labyrinth. I frowned not expecting or understanding this. Labyrinth was powerful true, but for all the unpredictability and dangerous of her Shaker field it was by all reports, not something that could be controlled.
The villain's words were soft, not what I will admit I expected from the elder and more violent of Allfather's children. This didn't sound like the woman I still had a dossier on despite the fact that she had not been seen or sighted in the Bay for twenty years. Labyrinth didn't respond and I felt even more doubt about whatever Iron Rain was planning. One thing that the medical and power testing for Labyrinth had agreed on was that Labyrinth had so called good days and bad days. While her power was more potent on the bad days like this apparently judging by the lack of social contact or response. The villain's posture wasn't even shifting, I doubted she even realized Joan Arc was there. So while Labyrinth might be more effective for whatever was planned, the ability for her to do anything seemed less likely.
"I don't know if you can remember me right now but I'm Hirsent's mommy."
I stared and I could hear the quiet murmuring go quiet apart from a feverishly hiss whispered by one of the techs manning a console.
"Oh dear god... We've got Allfather's grandkid locked up in here... She's a fucking Third Gen cape."
I could feel the fear that had to be filling the room, in both worlds no less because it was my own fear as well. There weren't many Third-Generation capes yet, but those that were were all showing signs of immense power no matter what level of power their parent and grandparents had possessed. But horror stories of kids triggering at very young ages had been privately circulated in the PRT's upper echelons. It was a goddamn nightmare. Hirsent was old enough that she could be reasoned with, but kids that young? There was no control, no restraint, just children armed with nukes a threat to everyone and everything around them. I hissed a shushing noise at my staff as Iron Rain continued to speak.
"You remember Hirsent right? Well I happen to know that Hirsent would be very happy to see you as well as play with you again, but there are some bad men keeping her locked up. But you can help us get her back so you two can play."
The words were ones I almost missed coming through the speakers, and it took me a moment to realize I must be hearing Labyrinth. Joan Arc had raised a hand to gently take Labyrinth's hand in her own as she talked to her. The whole scene was strange. I didn't feel like I was watching two of the most powerful Shakers on the eastern seaboard. I felt like I was watching a mother, or maybe a teacher, trying to coax a reaction out of a shy and withdrawn child.
"Bad men have Hirsent?"
Each word was slowly spoken, almost as if the girl saying them had forgotten how to speak. There was a pause between each word but they were clearly spoken if oh so very quiet. I didn't know why but I began to feel a cold terror I didn't understand building in my gut.
"Yes they do. But you can help us rescue her. Just like how she rescued you from the Bad Place. She's right there. That's Hirsent's Bad Place."
I watched as Joan Arc raised a gauntlet adorned hand to point directly towards the Bay. She had to be pointing directly at the Rig. Beside her the hood of Labyrinth's outfit turned showing that the girl hidden within was responding, looking at where the Villainess was pointing.
"Sir! Something's happening to the Boardwalk! Screen Seventeen!"
My head whipped around finding the camera in question. The whole of the boardwalk was changing, the concrete beneath the feet of the villains was turning from poured concrete to paved stones, and the effect was spreading quickly. I could see in back that the crowds of gawking civilians and even police were clearly backing away from whatever was happening on their side.
"Director! Labyrinth is moving!"
I glanced to the side and saw she'd turned and was walking in the direction of the Rig one step at a time. I turned my head back to the main screen I was watching showing the boardwalk as a whole and sweat built on my brow as the effects weren't stopping or reverting. Faultline and one of her followers were trailing the girl in her wake while Joan Arc turned away and looked to Madcap.
The jailbreak expert just raised his hands out to each side and held them out in a T like position. His hands still gripped the straps of the discus he carried but his hands were raised, palms pointed to the sky, as if he were practicing an exercise to build arm strength. I glanced away from the strangeness to study the feed of the Boardwalk. And I saw it happen along with most of my staff. At the water's edge the boardwalk shifted to the paved stones that looked old and ancient, polished smooth but riddled with cracks and age nonetheless. Labyrinth was just now reaching the edge and she extended a foot to step over the edge. It happened in an instant, the space of a blink of an eye. Stone erupted out from the shape of the boardwalk extending forward beneath each footstep as it touched down. And behind her as she passed the platform widened and thickened. I could see supports extending downward into the waters below as Labyrinth advanced on us building a bridge closer and closer with every step she took.
Given the sight we were being confronted with we could almost not be blamed for what was going on with Madcap. One of my techs luckily caught it and called it out.
"Something just hit Madcap! It must have been a projectile from Joan Arc."
I could see what had to be cannon balls on the ground beside Madcap on either side and the villain was now walking forward as was every Cape that the villain duo of Marquis and Iron Rain had gathered together. I glanced to the side and breathed a momentary sigh of relief to see that the Empire wasn't moving, yet. But I doubted that would hold if I had Kaiser's niece locked up down in the prison cells. But still I had to turn my focus back to the video feed showing all fourteen capes that were following behind Labyrinth as she breached our defensive moat one step at a time. I couldn't deny that it was a formidable array of force. Marquis was an absolute master of close fighting and Madcap was a goddamn battering ram. Given the fact that he was now just off to the side of Labyrinth I knew that they would probably be relying on him to breach our defenses, though for now at least the force field was holding. I also didn't like the fact that he seemed almost hyper, he was bouncing on his toes with each step as if he was a hyper kid who'd had too much sugar.
As for the rest, Faultline meant that any physical obstacles like security doors would be only irritants at best. And none of the internal force field barriers to block hallways wouldn't stand up compared to the force field protecting the rig as a whole. Cricket, Gridline, Chaingang, Newter, and Gregor the Snail would of course all be dangerous in close quarters as well. With this mix, even without the forces of the Empire that were holding back the tide would shift once they were inside. Making a tactical decision on how to fight them once they got in I activated a communication line.
"Armsmaster. Forget about the force field. Whatever they have will probably get through. I need you to get to Division in the med bay and then hold on my signal."
The tinker's reply got cut off before he could start, I didn't have the time for his pursuit of perfectionism. My castle was under siege even if it was a siege I wanted and had invited. I would be damned if I didn't defend it.
"Just get there. That's an order!"
I cut the frequency and turned my head to look at Ms. Militia standing off to the side near me at the back of the room. Like me she'd been watching everything unfold and she knew the situation, both present and long term.
"Get down to the garage. Take Ent, Magnus, Ferros, and Challenger. They're going to get in but make them fight for every inch inside of the doors."
Off to the side one of my technicians, the one who was monitoring the invasion's progress across the bay as Labyrinth defied all known stats for her power and built a fucking bridge by just walking, called out.
"Thirty seconds to contact with the force field's edge. Here we go."
The seconds ticked down and everyone in the room was silent as we held our breaths collectively and waited. Finally it happened. Labyrinth couldn't move any closer. Madcap, skipping with each step like a little girl moved right up to the force field. I could hear over the speakers as the villain whistled an all too cheery tune, but there was nothing we could do as he stopped right in front of the force field and held his fist up to it. And then, he tapped it with his fingertip. It all happened at once as down below them in the depths of the Rig I could feel more than hear an explosion that had to be the power plant exploding. Within the space of two heartbeats the control room was bathed in red emergency lighting as the backups kicked in. Computers were already rebooting but they would take seconds we might not be able to spare to see what was happening so I moved over to stand behind Spectrum and look at her computer which was still on and working as she furiously typed away.
The force field was gone and the bridge Labyrinth was creating was extending forward as she advanced again. My eyes traced out the distance behind her where the rest of the bridge she had brought into existance was still standing. Somehow Labyrinth, or Joan Arc, or someone, only Scion knew who really, had figured out how to focus Labyrinth's power and hone it to a point of focus, and she had used that focus to build a bridge to get to us. I didn't sigh, that would have been beneath me as I pulled the pistol from the holster on my belt and checked to make sure I had a round in the chamber as a new siren announcing that the Rig was about to be invaded sounded through the corridors and hallways.
In another world separate but for a single link connecting my mind, one side to another I took the page I had filled to the brim with hand written notes and set it atop a slowly building pile and took a clean sheet from the stack of paper beside me and resumed writting.