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The Velvet Rope
1:15 a.m. S.G.T.
Melissa Gold was tied to a chair in a dingy room, a single bare light bulb swinging on a cable above her, somewhere in the basement of a vice den in a lawless city that was absolutely 100% controlled by some kind of organized crime syndicate.
Believe it or not, this was actually the best-case scenario at the moment.
The visceral, meaty thwack of a fist against her jaw snapped the world back into focus in a flash of white. She shook her head to clear it, then glanced up at the man in front of her - a brick wall in a steel-gray suit, clean-shaven and wearing an eyepatch. His features were barely distinguishable in the glare of the overhead light, but there was no mistaking the tattoos on the knuckles that had just collided with her; this guy was definitely part of the Missing Sixes Triad. Well, at least the intel had been accurate.
"American." His voice was deep, rough-edged, and while there was definitely an accent, Melissa had no trouble understanding the words, or the menacing tone behind them. "You thought you would waltz in here and cozy up to the Red Pole, eh? You think we don't know who you are?"
Steeling herself, Melissa gave him an exaggerated look of shock, eyes wide, mouth open in a red-stained grin. "Oh shit, are you saying I'm famous?"
He hit her again, of course. It would've been absurd if he hadn't; her words had been calculated to provoke it. So she was ready for it this time, and although the force of the blow snapped her head back and sent her blue locks bouncing wildly, it wasn't nearly as rough as the first punch that she hadn't seen coming.
"Your Sokovia Accords have no hold in Madripoor. How typically arrogant, that you would show your face where the Missing Sixes are strongest. What was your plan? To infiltrate our operation? Is that why you were in the VIP room?"
Melissa pushed at a molar with her tongue - thankfully, it wasn't loose like she'd thought it would be - and then spat out a mouthful of blood, staring up at her interrogator.
"I was in the VIP room," she said patiently, "because that was where my deal was going down. Do you seriously think I'd just walk in, right where there's like a billion of you shitheads - as you yourself pointed out - and try to start something?"
The man's brow furrowed. "What deal?"
Her jaw worked up and down for a moment, trying to ease away some of the ache, and then the bluenette spoke up with a half-shrug (the best she could do with her hands tied). "Like you said, the law back home? It's not welcome in Madripoor. So if I need something done under the table, this is where I go. You didn't seriously think you people were the only ones who got up to squirrely shit behind closed doors, did you?"
There was a long, dry pause, as if the gears were spinning in the Hidden Sixes interrogator's head, and then, after working his way through that claim, he nodded slowly. "Go on. Tell us about this deal."
Melissa smirked. Satisfied that she'd caught his interest? Maybe. Satisfied that she was actively holding his interest, all while the nanite tracker in her bloodstream continued to send its signal to the rest of her team? You better believe it.
Unnamed Noodle Cart
11:15 pm S.G.T.
The wealth disparity in this city was baffling.
Melissa had grown up without much to her name, but looking at these neon-drenched slums gave her a new appreciation for the developed world. The SATF were currently seated at an open-air noodle cart, across the street from something that advertised itself as a "coffin hotel" (she did not, under any circumstances, want to find out what that entailed), and enjoying dirt-cheap over-processed udon that was probably made of concentrated sodium and some kind of protein paste, no matter how delicious it tasted.
Ten stories up, in Hightown, she could make out the dazzling opulance of a nightclub shaped like a golden pyramid - to which, if she wasn't mistaken, people were commuting via fucking helicopters. It was literally in constant eyeshot of the people who lived down here with nothing. Melissa didn't begrudge anybody their success, but the juxtaposition felt obscene, in a way - monstrous, even.
"Okay, rule one." She popped a mouthful of noodles with her chopsticks, eyes casting from Paul on her left to Karla on her right, and spoke mid-chew. "We don't talk about the client. As far as anybody knows, this is just a drug bust, nothing else. Management likes the idea of showing off the kinda firepower they have even in countries that don't actively enforce the Accords, so they're okay with us kicking the door in and beating ass." The last hint of a noodle disappeared between her lips with a pop. "So that's the party line, if we end up having to interact. The Yashida Zaibatsu have a back channel set up to send the money afterwards, on the condition nobody finds out they're paying us for this. No mentioning them, no mentioning the client - guy's got a samurai suit and a vengeful streak, so let's try to avoid welshing him on the deal."
A pause went by, during which Melissa tilted her head back to drink the remaining broth from the noodle bowl. She popped back up with an 'ahhh' and brushed off her lips with a sleeve (they'd decided to go casual over their field attire, in the interest of not being even more conspicuous than usual, and a black overcoat was currently hiding most of her suit).
At last, she set the empty bowl down in front of her. "There is no rule two." A pause followed, to allow for celebration. "So these Hidden Sixes are making Redlight in a facility under the, uh, the Velvet Rope. Heh. Which is only like two blocks down from here - I figure we raid the place, arrest everybody, shut down the drug factory, get paid, and go home. Pretty straightforward."
A glance to the left followed.
"....Paul, did you have somewhere to set up? Uh, I don't think they gave us a space to operate out of or anything..."
Karla had been to Madripoor so many times in her life, it was almost boring now.
Back in the day, she'd regaled Melissa with tales of the place littered with only the good details, none of the bad - which, now that they were there, were very stark indeed. For every strobing light advertising pleasures above, piles of trash gathered on the streets below. Screams were occasionally muffled in the worst parts of town, most often, Karla had noticed as a younger woman, when the sound from nearby advertisements reached the loudest point in their cycles. There was some order in the chaos, it was just flitting and difficult to see.
Safely seated ten stories up in the air, however, Madripoor didn't seem too dangerous. Karla picked at a half-dozen pot stickers and a bowl of rice, her legs folded pretzel-style beneath her on her stool while Melissa, their official-unofficial-maybe-it's-official-no-it's-just-Tuesday leader went over the plan. Sometimes she wondered if it was for their sake, or just Mel's; they'd already talked over things a hundred times each.
At the same time, maybe it would be that hundredth and first talk that really sunk things in. Karla shrugged mentally and went along with it.
"That's shady as hell. Y'know, it occurred to me on the way over, I don't even know why we were having, like, an identity crisis over doing this in the first place; SATF does the same shit, just behind closed doors," she quipped. Reaching over Paul, she snagged a sesame dumpling from an open container, then plopped back in her seat. A helicopter started flashing rapidly overhead in alternating red and white lights behind a set of holographic advertisements. It was annoying. "Finding someplace shouldn't be too hard if we're hard up. I mean, just lookin' around, like..."
The blonde paused and squinted over their surroundings, then pointed to several spots, in order: a fire escape behind an advertisement for tooth-whitening procedures, what could only be described as a pedophile van parked in the streets far below, and finally, an open door on a rooftop.
"Like, we could put you behind one of those ads if you need to be someplace unobstructed, 'cause who's gonna look there when there's holograms with tits all over the place? Nobody. Then we got that van down there, that thing's probably been there two weeks, based on the tickets. Whoever owns it isn't looking for it. It'd be perfect, but the only problem is this is Madripoor, so there might be a body dumped in there. Last thing I see just in a quick scope-out is like a roof access point up there; maybe you could get in and find a closet."
In one impressive bite, she gulped down the dumpling.
"OR.... you could just come with us for once. Just sayin'. You could use the exercise, probably. Can't you die from sitting too long? Like, that would be the most tragic thing I've ever seen. I can't imagine the obituary."
Karla laughed. Poor Paul. At least it was just teasing, hopefully; it was difficult to tell whether Karla was being mean, or just ribbing people as part of some sort of weird bonding ritual.
This was all so new, Paul hated new. This was different, not like the states. It wasn't the same, it was weird. Paul felt even more out of place, more than usual. Why were there so many flashing lights? Why was it so bright? It was like Times Square on steroids, and he hated Times Square. He wanted to go home, work in his lab and keep his head down. Instead he was out here, eating cheap noodles. He could barely even pick them up. This may be one of the worst days he's experienced.
Paul swirled the noodles around in the bowl. He wasn't eating any, why did he pay for this. He looked out over at where they were seated. It was weird, people moved all around, so noisy. It was very noisy. He had to really focus on Melissa as she went over the plan. They weren't supposed to talk about what they were doing. Wasn't she doing that right now? When did he know to talk? Was it now? Or now? Should he ask her, or would that just be talking about it? This was all very confusing.
"Okay so how do we know who to arrest? I thought we were aressting them all? Wait is Redlight the name of the drug? I though you kept referring to the district we were in." This is why Paul has asked what he should research. He didn't know what or who he was walking in to. What were they doing again? At least there was no rule two. He didn't have to worry about restrictions, or controlling anyone who didn't follow them. There wouldn't be backlash unless the mentioned they were getting paid by some samurai guy. Were samurais still a thing? He heard mention of Ronin, that was a masterless Samurai. The crappy movies told him that much. Guess they had to just get this overwith.
"I get enough exercise. I walk around the city. I'm pretty sure my lungs are healthier than both of yours anyway. I don't gourge on fastfood or addictive. Sitting doesn't hurt, I typically bring a cushion." Paul reached for his back, tightening his straps. "Will they allow me to bring this in? If not I'll set up to some place closer to the location. Safer and keeps the signal stronger. Less interference. Though I can come in, if they won't stop me for bringing a backpack filled with gadgets and technology." Paul stood. "We should get going. I don't even know what building we are going in to. So no recon."
He felt naked, though he wasn't in his typical black hoodie and jeans. He didn't know he layout of the building. He didn't know what his drones could do. He didn't know how to prepare. He really needed to make a portable device to control them. His laptop was too big and in the way. The tablet screen wasn't much better. He didn't know how to help, what way was better. Was this how everyone else felt? No access to cameras, blind to it all. Alone and empty to all the info flooding in. His brain was doing searches of Velvet Rope as he stood there. No searches, no layout. It must be a local name, slang. Great.
"So what's your plan Melissa? How are we entering? How are we approaching the meeting. If it's just kick down the door and start shooting I probably won't be to much use going with you. If it's undercover, recon I may be able to help. But in a firefight I'll be next to useless." He looked from Karla to Melissa. Maybe it was better he just set up and watch from afar. Keep it as it normally was. He could scan out and drop info as he went.
"I think maybe it's better I set up and give you guys information as you go in. I'll pick one of the ads and climb up to get a vantage point and a place to hide my head. Just keep my head down and help as I normally do. I wasn't equipped for a head on encounter, I didn't know the plan. We really should start doing more prep before departing. I could fit your suits and gadgets to help with the situations. Be smarter."
Melissa felt a tiny bit guilty about dragging Paul out here. He was a good egg, and she generally considered him one of her closer friends (which was admittedly a pretty short list), but he was...neurotic, just a touch. Anxious, even. She'd thought he would enjoy the techno-futurist vibe that Madripoor gave off, but in her obliviousness, Melissa realized, she hadn't considered the bustle and noise and crowds.
Sometimes she wondered if she really should've been put in charge, and then considered the two alternatives, and decided that yes, for all her failings, things could be way worse.
As Fixer and Moonstone jabbed at each other, she grasped the rim of her noodle bowl and cautiously lifted it off the molding it'd been mounted on. Underneath, just below a protective layer of insulation, was a nondescript USB gray flash drive. Melissa pulled it from its casing, double-checked the label on the side ("V.R. - 4 S.B."), and then broke right back into the conversation, setting the flash drive down and sliding it over in her hooded teammate's direction.
"Yeah, so....sorry about the lack of briefing. Half the shit over here is impossible to figure out, with the way they keep building on top of Lowtown. Uh, the noodle stand happens to be owned by a certain somebody that I may or may not know from work back in the day, so I asked for a favor and he managed to pull me the floor plans for the Velvet Rope. Hopefully those turn out to be useful."
It was odd how quickly she fell back into criminal habits. Used for a good cause, theoretically, but still, Melissa wondered, what did that say about her? She still used a fixer (or a Fixer, such as it were) just as adeptly, still had the same eye for casing a joint...was she really a hero, or just top dog on a pro-reg hit squad full of supervillains? Sometimes, considering the state of things, it made her wonder.
"Anyway, no, definitely not kicking in the door. Three of us against like forty of them, just in a straight-up fair fight, is not my kinda odds." A hand flipped back through her hair, causing her blue locks to flail wildly. "I was actually thinking we'd just go in and scope the place, get an angle to attack from. I mean, it's a strip club, it's not like it isn't open to the public--"
An idea struck her. (Coincidentally, a neon sign of an exclamation point, which was part of some advertisement, went off directly over her head.) Melissa started upright, rising from her seat with a clatter of bowls, and pushed away from the counter.
"Fuck me dry, I didn't even think...all this time we've been talking about where to set Paul up and it's a strip club! We can just flash the black AmEx and rent out a VIP room. He can do this from literally under their noses, nobody would ever suspect it."
She seemed very pleased with this idea, and although there were several very alarming points in it where many things could go wrong, nobody had time to point that out before Melissa was beckoning them after her, tromping off in the direction of the Velvet Rope.
"God, it's so good having money again. I forgot what it was like to have options."
Paul was missing out.
Really, he was: If you took away everything you knew about it, there was something depressingly beautiful about Madripoor. It was depressing, of course, because you couldn't have any of that beauty without the crushing of the masses; this was the kind of place that thrived on oppression. The bigger fish didn't make money off other big fish, they survived on the backs of the people down here -- and that included the trio seated at the noodle cafe.
Karla swallowed a mouthful of dumpling just as a holographic girl cast in magenta pixels and very few clothes swiveled behind her, advertising an udon special.
Moonstone was ready to just tune out the rest of the conversation for the next five minutes, but then Melissa surprised her by instead improvising based upon the team she had available. The bluenette slid a USB drive across the table, and in one fell sweep, she got the briefing over. Boom. Done. Time to mosey.
"Ohhh, good job, Girl Scout, you found a way to shorten the Microsoft Powerpoint part of the job. Fab," Karla remarked, then gulped down the rest of what she was chewing and shoved her chair back with a squeak of metal on cement (you read right; this place had a cement balcony). "Okay, supper's over. C'mon. I wanna shop on Bad Street before the hologangs come out."
A cursory questioning of the locals would reveal that both the hologangs and Bad Street were, in fact, real, although at least Bad Street was only famous for designer brand stores. The hologangs... ehh, best not to look into local auto accident history too deeply.
"Wait the Velvet Rope is a strip club? This is why we need do mission briefings. So I can do research. I need to know how I'm supposed to act, what I'm supposed to do. What if I don't want to see anything. This is why we need briefings. So I can prepare and get ready. I'm not ready, not ready for this." Paul took a deep breath to calm himself, pulling his bag tighter on him. "I don't like this, it's unnatural. We should have prepared. We always prepare."
As the walked towards the club Paul held on to both his straps, keeping his head down. "So we just go in and get a VIP room. Won't the card be charged? Won't they see what we are spending it on. I don't think they will cover the spending on a strip club. They barely let me buy parts I need. I've pitched them detailed pricing plans for various reactor cores. All have been shot down and told its to risky and expensive. How do we know this isn't he same?"
He stopped, pulling up his hood. As both the girls disappeared Paul stood in the middle of the busy street, people moving all around him. Karla came back in a different outfit and Melissa as well. They were fit to blend in. Paul just stared straight ahead. "I'm not changing. I don't want to change my hoodie. Can't I just wear this? As long as we pay what do they care? I'm not changing." Paul held his bag closer. He needed this too, it had all his gear. He needed his gear.
When Karla peeled off Paul looked to Melissa. "Where is she going? We don't have to go in alone do we? Don't leave me." He looked to the ground, scuffing his shoes along the ground. "We should have come up with a plan. Or at least a way to contact each other. A back up plan or a way out. If things go south we should have a way to get out of there."
Paul followed Melissa, watching Karla talk to the bouncers. "Wait does she actually, know them? What is she doing?" He was confused on how this was supposed to get them in. The music was loud, and the lights were bright. This was not going to be a good time. But this was the best way to get inside. Though there didn't look like there would be much drone clearance in here. Maybe he could hack cameras. Did these clubs have cameras?
"We should have taken something locally, I don't like this. None of it."
"Paul, sweet pumpkin, sysadmin of my heart, you really have to trust me slightly more. Just a tiny bit. Really, 'at all' would be an improvement."
An important thing to be clear about: Melissa loved her teammates, as sincerely as it was possible to use the word. They'd been through quite a bit together over the years, and she considered them closer to her heart than her biological family (which admittedly wasn't saying much) and would have readily taken a bullet for either of them. With that said, they were very hard to love. Codependency and the pathological need to be 'the responsible one' of the team actually went a long way towards keeping her relationship with them functional.
"You don't pay strippers with a credit card," she explained patiently, waving an IR wallet leashed to her wrist as they stood up. It was stuffed to the brim with good ol' U.S. legal tender, not that she was going to show that off in the streets of Lowtown - that would've led to them being immediately accosted on all sides. "I've got enough for both of you get about three grand in cash, so hopefully that'll be enough to blend in and act like patrons while we scope the place out. And it's my money--" Probably not a wise thing to admit to with Karla around. "--so that's why the Council's not gonna know. And also why there's only six thousand."
Well, let it never be said she wasn't dedicated to her work.
By the time she returned to the group, the bluenette was thoroughly clubbed out in five-inch heels and a crop top that read 'Certified Jerkoff Material' in glittery cursive. Classy. "No, you don't have to change. You'll get in fine, we'll just--" And there went Karla, doing her thing. Didn't even have to ask, Melissa thought, and a grin crossed her face for a moment before it was back to all-business mode. "--walk right through the front door, apparently, because Special K just worked the magic. Beautiful. Look, Paul, I know it's scary and loud and stuff, but just stick close to either Karla or me - preferably me - and try to relax. You're gonna be in absolutely zero danger throughout this whole thing, we'll be doing all the physical stuff. You get to hang out in the VIP room, pop some bubbly, and maybe pick out a girl you like. Or a guy, or whatever you want, just don't let it distract you too much from the camera feed. Which you'll have access to within like thirty seconds, because let me tell you, these places are wired for audiovisual fucking everywhere, and the security is garbage."
Although she would've gladly continued, the bellow of the Ying Yang Twins on the speakers ('Salt Shaker', to be exact) drowned out basically anything she could've said as they stepped through the front doors. Inside, the Velvet Rope was a neon-drenched haven of sin, a three-stage circus of nubile young things grinding and swinging on poles. Melissa smirked a little (well, the classics were the classics for a reason, she supposed) and nudged the pair over by one of the halogen-topped bars, where she quickly bought a jagerbomb and, in the midst of paying for it, handed out the cash in question between Karla and Paul. Following the money was, interestingly enough, a set of in-ear subvocal communicator headsets. Real secretive stuff.
"I didn't want to bring these out until we were through security, just to be safe. Okay, so here's what I'm thinking," she announced, dropping the shot of Jagermeister into the beer and letting it fizz. "K, you go interrobang the manager or whatever and get Paul a VIP room. Paul, once you're in, you've got access to the whole grid. Free reign, and all that." With her free hand, Melissa slipped the earpiece into her ear and lowered a lock of hair to cover it up, just to be on the safe side. "As for me, ehhhh...I'm thinking I do the 'let's get captured' bit. Go start a fight, let them take me down to the below-decks part of the club where they're probably keeping the drug lab, and give you guys a signal to hone in on."
There was a momentary pause as she guzzled the jagerbomb in one long, long go. It was almost fifteen seconds of chugging. Finally:
"Sound good? I think it sounds good. Let's do this."
Say what she would about her associates, but the one that wasn't having an anxiety attack the entire way over could clean up pretty well, at least as far as club chic was concerned.
As they slipped in through the doors and headed toward the bar (which, to be fair, looked cool as hell), Karla tilted her head to the side, a skeptical eye wandering over Melissa from toe to tip. Sure, the bluenette looked great, but she wasn't exactly dainty.
"... You wanna do the damsel thing? I mean, you got biceps that literally kill people, but... Oh, fine, I can interrobang," Moonstone sighed, just a tough melodramatic, then pushed her tits up and popped up on her heels so she could peer around the club. She knew the place - she'd been here before - at least she knew where to look. After a moment or so, while Melissa plotted with Paul, she caught sight of a middle-aged Japanese man lounging alone in his own booth, in the middle of what had turned out to be a very busy club. "Found him. Give me, mmmmmmm, 20 minutes. Paul, you got this, baby, don't freak out so much. Ciao--"
In the middle of her goodbye, Karla's jaw dropped, eyes wide with wonderment and horror alike. She glanced between Mel and Paul, nudged them with an elbow, then gestured to a woman doing something deeply questionable at the top of a pole center-stage. Men and women gathered around in awe beneath her, dollars fluttering through the air all the while.
"Holy shit, that whore just did the 24th Kayakker on Main Street in 1992," Karla hissed. "Did either of you see that? That's illegal in at least 100 countries, people have died doing it. Ugh, I'm going to have to bring my A-game on this guy. Okay, toodles for real this time."
With that disturbing last line, she slipped into the crowd and weaved off toward the booth. Although it was in the background, if either Melissa or Paul chose to look over the course of the next 23 minutes (these things were more of an art than a science, Karla would argue, you couldn't always time them perfectly), they might have seen her smoothly slide into the booth, all smiles, and like magic, the manager's brusque demeanor was broken down within eight minutes.
By 10, they were gone.
At 23 minutes past her departure from the bar exactly, Karla re-emerged from a side-door labeled "EMPLOYEES ONLY," hair less perfect than it had been before, and looked toward the bar to see if her partners in actual crime were still there.
Paul followed behind Melissa. He didn't no like this, not well at all. The music didn't make sense, and the lights were to bright. He closed his eyes, holding them shut to try and get adjusted. He made sure he was following closely to Melissa though, so he didn't loose her. He kept his hands in his sweater pockets, and tightened his backpack straps. He clearly stood out, but it didn't really matter right now.
As they found their way at the bar Paul just smiled at the bartender, he didn't drink. He didn't need anything dampening his senses right now. He looked to Melissa as she went over the plan, nodding along. "Okay, so what do I do when I'm inside. What should I do while I set up the plan? You want me to check entrances and exits? Find leads, tips? I can see we what I can do. Just get me some place I can setup." He swallowed the lump in his throat.
Taking the ear piece he stuck it in. It wasn't ideal, but he could work it with it. Would have to connect it when he got set up. As Karla went to do whatever interrobang was he focused on Melissa again. "Wait, they use cash. I thought you said you could flash the card. Cash works better, I can work cash." Paul looked to his phone and moved over to the ATM. He put his phone next to it, connecting it and typing a few buttons. The machine began to spit out bills in to the tray, filling it again and again. He stuffed all he could into his pockets.
"Okay, I have money, how much for VIP? 2 should cover it? 5? I can get more." He meant million, it wasn't hard to get accounts, not here. Money was easy, all he needed was codes. He had thousands stored and active formuse, he got three just by walking in the door. Cash couldn't be traced, sadly nothing was cash anymore. It was all online orders and credit cards. It didn't sustain, and it would be traced. But this worked for now. He could tie up ends on his own time.
"I'll tell you when I have a room. And am set up." Paul moved over to the first woman working he could find. If they took note it probably wouldn't be impressive. A nervous guy in a hoodie, leaning in to talk to a woman, no expression on his face. Maybe he looked like he wasn't nervous about the encounter, but that wasn't it. He was nervous about human contact, of any kind. He had no intention of what's they had to offer.
Before he knew he was pulled off to a VIP room, two women following with him. There was a guard outside the door, he opened it motioned for them to enter. As they stepped in the dancers, and guard entered the room behind Paul. He took a second to look around the room. Pole in the middle, velvet couches, gross. The mirrored walls all around, and as he looked up it confirmed what's he was thinking, roof to match.
Paul moved forward, tossing his bag on the couch. Paul sank in to a seat, the women following him. He held up his hand, "Wait, don't move, just uh sit there. Don't talk, just sit there. And uh, here." He tossed a handful one hundred dollar bills on the floor. Paul reached for his bag, the bouncer starting to move. Grabbing the first object he could reach he tossed it into the room. The tiny ball rolled forward and began to shine and play music. In the closed off room it was hard to see from outside but it shone inside the room. Lights shining and flashings off the mirrors.
It was enough to distract both dancers and the guard. Paul then grabbed the next object, it was a drone. It flew up and shot a taser to the bouncer whiche fell instantly. The man twitched, dropping to the ground in a puddle of his own piss and drool. Paul looked to the two dancers, both cowering on the other side of the room. "Uh don't move or scream or you're next." Paul said calmly as he moved to the door.
There was a panel beside it, most likely to control the lights and electronics in the room. But more importantly than that it was access. Access to the network, to the entire building. It Paul's hands this was the access to the whole joint. With a simp,e plug in he wasn't in. Stepping over the bouncer he kept the drone pointed at both dancers. He went over what he had, cameras, light control, sound control, alarms, and there it was, electronic door lock. With a click the door locked and they were locked inside.
Paul then I've done back over to the couch as sat down. "I apologize, I don't normally like violence, but I couldn't have him be active. He's alive, hopefully, may have done to much volts. Hopefully your insurance is good." Paul pulled out his laptop, connecting his centre. He reached up to press his ear so the others could hear.
"Okay, got access, and a room. Third down on the left of the VIP section. Door is locked, say the signal so I know it's you. Do you think they'd mind if I changed the song? Probably not a good idea is it. I don't like this." He started cycling through cams. Maybe he would have to release RICK. It probably wouldn't even go noticed.
"Trust me, I spotted the 24th Kayakker. Looking away so I don't go blind, trust me."
Melissa waved a snappy farewell as Moonstone disappeared into the staff area, then rejoined their unhappy third wheel at the bar. "All of the above," she said with an approving nod. "Get an idea of the layout, access the cameras, see if there's anything interesting you can mess with. I'm gonna go kick things off, Karla should be back in just a minute, she's gonna get the keycard or whatever to drug storage and anything else that's important--"
She broke off, staring incredulously as Paul retrieved an armful of Benjamins from the ATM. Good god. Okay, knowing he could do that was going to be a source of entirely unhealthy temptations in the future.
"...right, yeah, I think two million should do the trick." The bluenette had barely turned around before her teammate was being borne off by a horde of money-crazed strippers. She waved again, rather cheerfully considering that both of the peanut gallery were currently occupied and (at least for the moment) she was about to get some time to herself. "Have fun, Paul. Stay on target until we've got the job done. Let's see, who's the most obvious mark in the place..."
It took a minute for her to spot the mark in question: a velour-suited Thai businessman who was throwing around more than enough money at his booth to qualify as what people in the business called a 'whale'. He had not one, not two, but three girls at his table (god, what a maniac,, Mel thought, that's just more people to clean up after) and was very clearly a man of considerable influence at the Velvet Rope. Even had two bodyguards flanking him. Perfect. She started strolling past the main stage, taking the long and winding route over to the oligarch's booth, and was passing by just in time to spot Karla exiting the office. There wasn't even a word into the headset about key cards or passwords or anything else the manager might've had on him; it was just implicit, as far as Melissa was concerned, that the blonde had cleaned him out of everything useful.
"Jesus, K, that was fast. Not sure if I should be disappointed in you or him." A pause. "No, wait, it's him. It's definitely him. Okay, I'm about to kick things off; once they take me off, just lock onto my signal and come find me - the drugs'll be nearby. Paul's working on getting into the security system, so stay in touch with him. Aaaaaand here I go."
It was not clear, given the considerable distance (even through the cameras), what exactly Melissa said to the rich man as she bellied up to his table. It clearly started at least slightly innocuous, since nothing happened for the first few seconds - but then, like a striking snake, one arm jabbed out and caught him right on the jaw, knocking him all the way over the top of his booth. Chaos broke out, and security rushed the pair - the chrome-domed, Ray-Ban-wearing bodyguards were the first to spring into action - swarming Melissa in a sudden flurry of motion. She was quickly restrained, and a pair of thugs hustled her through a side door into the depths of the Velvet Rope.
Bingo. They were in.
"What the fuck does that mean--"
The disturbing trend of Karla being interrupted by people who really had no right to interrupt her continued as Melissa bowled past her and onward, straight toward the bouncers. Sure, it was as planned, and it was the correct and professional thing to do, but her lower eyelids inched up a little in response none the less. She simmered as quickly as she sizzled, however, and slipped off in the direction Paul had gone -- straight into the VIP rooms. Looks like she wasn't the only one that had done well.
When she reached the door and opened her mouth to introduce herself to the bouncer out front (and work her way through, one way or another), she was startled, once more, to find herself cut off -- this time, by the bouncer abruptly whipping his head in Melissa's direction and barking something into his earpiece. He grunted something unintelligible to Karla before he charged off, leaving her speechless for all of a few seconds.
"Christ, I'm losing it," the blonde muttered to herself, palm pressed to her forehead, then ducked behind the door and into the VIP lounge, where....
It could have been worse, she supposed. Paul could have actually chopped the girls into tiny little pieces, but there was something so incredibly unsettling about three silent women cowering in a room walled with mirrors and dancing lights while their security lay unconscious nearby that a homicidal rage might've been more welcome. Karla hesitated for a moment after she shut the door behind her, clearly uncomfortable, then cleared her throat.
"... Paul, baby, we really need to talk. I think you're turning into a serial killer," she confessed. Her gaze switched to the girls. In as soft a tone as she could muster without risking bile in her throat, she cooed, "Hiiii, ladies. No one's gonna get hurt, we're just doing some business and we'll be right out, promise. Sorry about my partner, he's got Aspergers type III." She sighed delicately, then reassured the trio, "Just relax, take it easy, and there's more where that came from."
A wink and a nod drew their attention to a pile of cash one of the girls had dropped at her feet; the girl in question bent down immediately and scraped it back up in her arms, then curled back against the seat again, eyes wide. To Karla, they both looked like startled guppies staring out through their bowl.
With a roll of her eyes, she turned to Paul and grabbed a seat next to him in front of his display.
"Alright, so, popcorn time for me 'n you, hooray. For real though, Melissa's in, saw it with my own eyes," she whistled low, for emphasis. "I don't think they'll care unless you turn it to something like 'Goodbye Horses.' Although I dunno, it's 2018, maybe the kids these days haven't seen that one and won't find it ironic. So... anyway, I got keycard access, full security clearance through all doors except some board room in the back. Gonna have to work that one out still, unless it doesn't matter. Not sure what they got back there. But! I guess now we just, like, put on the video feed and wait for the signal, right?"
Moonstone leaned forward in her seat and peered into a monitor feed of an empty room right on time to watch the door bust open, presumably from the force of Melissa slamming into it. Karla winced as security filed in after her and surrounded her, followed by a familiar Asian man. "Oh hey, there's her friend. Is there a volume setting on this thing? We should turn it up a notch."
WHAM. The first punch had been thrown, right into Melissa's jaw.
"Ohh! Haha, right in the kisser."
Paul looked up as Karla slid in the room. Paul looked up at her. "I'm not a serial killer. He's not dead, I think. Maybe check for a pulse." He went back to the screen, turning all his attention to it as Karla talked to the girls. He did look up though, "I don't have Aspergers. They need to keep quite and stay in the corner or they will end up like him. We can't have the, making noise and running out." Paul shook his head, going back to the cameras.
He followed along, watching as they led Meliss through the halls, following her each step of the way. "If you want to make an entrance let me know and I'll just keep looping the empty halls and them interrogating her. That way no extra security. If they are smart, and we all know they aren't they would be able to see the loops start time. Though honestly anyone looking at a camera probably isn't looking for a fragment being off so we should be fine."
"I will keep the music as it is. Safer option that way. Less of a problem for others involved, plus it won't tip them off." He looked tomthe girls in the corner, though as they met his gaze they quickly turned away. Good. "We can watch, the camera doesn't have the best angle but it works." He watched as the first hit went out. Right, volume control. Karla could hear.
Paul typed a few keys and soon the volume of the camera started playing through out the club. The music turned off and was quickly replaced with the smack of fist on jaw action. Followed by what was probably agressive sweating and breathing. Paul had only been punched threee times but he recognized the sound as soon as it went through out the club.
"Crap crap crap." Paul hit the keys again and the sound faltered back to the generic strip club dance track as he handed a pair of earbuds over, "sorry about that. Uh hopefully they didn't notice." They no doubt had as signals went up of people doing rounds and the cameras being cycled through by their minimal security. Crap indeed. "Uh listen through that. Just uh, what's the signal? Is it audio? Or is it visual."
He cycled through the cameras again. "Can't see the board room, but I got a camera set up watching the door." He pointed to the empty hallway on the picture above the one showing Melissa getting smacked around and talked to. "There's a door off the hall of where Melissa was, could be the drugs are in there. Did the key card guy you banged say anything about the drugs at the club." He motioned to the girls in the corner, throwing some bills at them. "If not ask them if they know anything. Or know anyone who does."
There was banging on the VIP door as Paul jumped in his seat. "Hey open up. Ronnie you in there. Some shit hacked into out speakers again. Shit Ronnie open the dam door his dance is done." Paul didn't answer, just flew the drone around the women so they didn't scream or say anything. There was banging on the door again before whoever was there pulled back. "I need back up to VIP room three. Think something is going down."
Paul looked to Karla and in a hushed voice spoke. "What do we do? What do we do?"
The expectation: After a couple minutes of holding out under interrogation, Melissa is rescued when Karla follows her signal to the hidden room and helps her break loose. Using the keycard taken off the Velvet Rope's manager, they open the secured door to the drug lab and destroy its contents. Mission complete.
What actually happened: HOLY FUCK IT'D BEEN TEN MINUTES.
The bluenette's jaw was aching from being smacked around, her lip was steadily weeping a trickle of blood down her chin, and one eye was swelling and would almost definitely be a full-blown shiner by the time the day was over. Her wrists flexed against the duct tape tying her to the chair, testing its limits. Probably wouldn't hold up to super-strength, and if this went on much longer, that theory was going to get tested.
No. That wasn't necessary. Any second, Karla would be down here. They were going to stick to the plan, and - the next shot bounced the side of her head off her shoulders, leaving a ringing in her ears, god damn that one hurt - the plan was going to go off perfectly, and they were going to do this, and there was no way Karla and Paul were just going to fuck off and leave her down here, and...
"Right. I see how it is. Tough bitch, huh?" The masked interrogator turned, sweeping a cloth off a nearby counter, and revealed a propane blowtorch. He hoisted it into the air and fired off a couple test bursts, ionizing the air with a bright blue flame that could've welded steel. "Alright then. Let's see how long you talk shit now."
"Okay, actually, fuck this," Melissa said.
Out on the floor proper, a massive three-tiered birthday cake, the exact kind one would expect a stripper to jump out of, was being wheeled over towards a group of mobsters.
"Oh man," one of them (a mustachioed capo in a Reebok tracksuit with a lopsided cardboard crown on his head) exclaimed as the cake drew nearer. "Yevgeny! You did this, man? You came up with this?"
"Happy birthday, boss!"
The Uzbekistani cackled, roughly shoving aside the pair of strippers that were hanging onto him. They were now officially yesterday's news.
"Let's see what you got waiting for me!" he crowed. "Come on out, baby!"
The interrogator stopped trying to swing at her after the second time Melissa slammed his head against the floor. She did it three more times anyway, and when she finally rose, tearing the remainder of the duct tape (and the splintered chair leg with it) away from her left wrist, the cracks in the tile beneath him had begun to fill with a steadily leaking pool of blood. The bluenette cast the stray chair leg aside, snatched up her comm, and turned on the tracker, eyes blazing. A vein pulsed in her forehead, just above her now-swollen eye, enough to stand out considerably.
"You are not. You are not still up in the VIP lounge, you are not up there having a blast and forgetting all about the plan and leaving me to die down here. You are not--" Her eyes practically bulged out of her head as she checked the location signatures. "You are. YOU MOTHERFUCKERS. I'm getting the shit beaten out of me down here and all you had to do was come down here and cause a distraction and hand over the goddamn keycard so we could get rid of the drugs and get paid, and then we'd be done with this bullshit and we could go home, but nooooooooooooooooo. CLEARLY it's not enough that I have to arrange a bunch of quasi-legal fuckery because Captain Autism and the Incredible Cunt can't be satisfied just going legit and helping people! Oh no, we've gotta be like 'oh we're so evil, look at how villainous we are, what's in it for me'. Fuck it, great! Why not! Just tear down the whole SATF! Change our name to something retarded like....like, I don't know, the Masters of Evil or some shit! Maybe that's more your speed--"
The door burst open, and a pistol-wielding man in a suit practically exploded into the room, having presumably heard the deranged ranting from all the way down the hallway. He saw Melissa shouting into the comm, blinked in horror, and began to raise the gun.
"SIT THE FUCK DOWN."
A moment later, with the thug cratered halfway through the wall on the opposite side of the hallway, the tirade continued. "No no no no, don't say anything, do not say a goddamn word. Literally all you had to do was--Jesus tapdancing Roosevelt Christ, Karla, you can walk through walls, it would've taken thirty seconds! Why, WHY, WHY IN THE HELL can you people not be bothered to lift a finger about anything that matters to me? And it wasn't just the plan, it wasn't how to get into the fucking strip club or fight some aliens or whatever, it was my life on the line here and you motherfuckers left me swinging in the goddamn breeze! So you know what, I've had it, I'm done being the task force doormat and I'm not gonna take any more of this horseshit from either of you! No more Ms. Friendly Get-Along Good Times Vegan! Okay? That time is gone, you had it and you two shit all over it like you do with everything I've ever given you, and it's not coming back ever again because the next person to step to me is gonna see some serious fucking consequences--"
Melissa was run ragged. It had been a long year with the SATF, and after dealing with an entire day of complaints, shenanigans, and getting beaten up in the interest of her teammates' amusement, she was all out of charity and goodwill towards mankind.
"--so I'm gonna go ahead and step out the door and if one of you bitchmade pussnexus dickholes isn't standing out there in fifteen seconds with the key card and you're both still sitting around the VIP lounge edging each other about being broke-brained psychos, I am gonna personally come up there and strangle one of you with the other's guts--"
She broke off at last, heaving for breath, and the wild-eyed look of unbridled rage dissipated into momentary confusion as Melissa peered at the tracker interface. The red haze had cleared, and she could notice a couple more unusual details...
"Wait, why are there four SATF signatures in the building?"
The Satellite of Love
The Not Too Distant Future
Next Sunday A.D.
Wade had been settling into the Thunderbolt facility - the Cube - finally. He'd spent the last few weeks out on the road, getting up to all kinds of mess in the name of dear old Uncle Sam. It would be good to kick up his feet and not do anything for a while, maybe even get to know his new teammates. From what he read so far, it was a tech guy, a screamer, and Dr. Killgood.
"So what are we? Some kind of Suicide Squa-Whoa! Full stop. Definitely don't need Warner Brothers on my ass for copyright infringement. Again." Wade chided himself as he unpacked a box he'd had brought up from (one of) his safehouse(s). He hadn't told Ross about any others, since there was no real reason to. Plenty of things squirreled away that he never wanted Ross to have. What he could spare, however, was his sterling collection of the bobbleheads of the Golden Girls. With care, he removed them from their wrapping and set them on the shelf. "And God bless Dorothy, and Sophia, and Blanche, and Rose because we all know she needs all the help she can get. Amen." He muttered as he lightly dusted the spots around them and then unceremoniously chucked the box he had brought them in over his shoulder without another thought.
And it hit someone in the face.
"Don't you know it's rude to walk up on an unarmed crazy person?" Wade turned, seeing one of Ross' flunkies in a nice suit standing with the box having crumbled and fallen to the floor.
"Mr. Wilson, I have an assignment for you from Secreta-"
"So the paid vacation was a load of shit? Go figure." Wade shook his head. "I fought for this country, y'know! And the country above it, Canada!"
"Sorry, sir...but I have my orders..."
"Yeah, yeah. I got it. Gimme the skinny." Wade waved it off. The man produced a manila folder and started talking at length. Apparently, the other members of his team were already out and about heading to somewhere called Madripoor.
Karla's brow ascended into the heavens, lifted on the wings of skepticism, at Paul's explanation. Her gaze wandered to the quivering hostages, then back to him. Deceptively well-oiled cogs whirred in her skull as she ruminated on the scenario, the look she bestowed upon him nonplussed at best.
"So either kill them -- quick, one shot between the eyes each -- or get them out of the room so they're not witnesses to everything we say and do. Cops aren't the only ones who might want to question them after we split," she replied when he'd finished. "Speaking of, actually, they've already seen enough. Let's put a pin in that one and talk about it later. You sit back, and I'll just handle this real quick..."
Evidently, Karla's version of "handling" the hostages did not involve leaving her chair. The blonde swiveled around in her seat with a push of her heel off Paul's leg and looked over the girls with a disappointed sigh.
Then, she clapped her hands once and pointed to the door.
"Bitches, leave," she demanded, only to stop the girls a second later with a finger held up to silence them. "Say anything to anyone else and... oh, you know how it goes by now, don't you? Bye-eeeeee."
In a rush of glitter and tears, the girls scrambled out of the room, leaving nary a bill behind them (but the security guard, he was on his own). This occurred fortunately before Paul's failed connection with the audio, which, for the record, Karla did laugh about, and just as Melissa, far below them, realized she was once again abandoned by her teammates. Karla, her work done by her standards, swiveled back around in her chair right as the bluenette's voice, steady at first and then progressively growing louder, came over the comms.
"Haha, oh shit, she's mad," Moonstone whispered to Paul. She pulled her earpiece out and set her purse on it, then, at last, stood and wandered over to the door, gesturing as she went. "Turn it back down, she's already deafened two interns. Like, one of them couldn't hear anything for three weeks last time she got real pissed."
While security went on the alert outside, Karla kept an eye on the shadow under the door, watching the occasional passersby. She could still hear Melissa talking in the background, even with the volume turned down and her earpiece out, and while a part of her listened, it only got through to her that her teammate had reached her limit and needed time again before Karla could resume her usual antics. It was impossible to get through to a woman like the former Dr. Sofen when an audience was present.
Especially when part of that audience started... shooting a fucking automatic of some kind? Karla blinked and stepped back away from the door, then glanced over her shoulder at Paul.
"I need to go out there, shots fired," she said, quickly and coldly. "Run interference, fuck with the sound and lighting system, keep them confused and us in control. Be back in a tick, gonna get this keycard to Mel and probably kill a few guys."
Just like that, every atom of her being dispersed and reformed into a lavender-colored cloud of mist, which zipped through the door and headed as the crow flies to Melissa's location out on the floor. The mist made it about three feet out the side door to the main floor, then stopped, completely still, even as a bullet whizzed through it. Mist not having eyes, it was difficult to tell, but it was fair to say Karla was "staring" in some way at the sheer carnage that had erupted in the Velvet Rope proper. After a split second, however, the mist drew itself up and darted straight toward Melissa at the back -- and reformed just in time for Karla, in the flesh, to slap a keycard into her cohort's hand.
"BUBBLE TROUBLE?" Moonstone shouted over the screams and bullets, one arm outspread to keep Melissa behind her. Her skin hardened, her hair grew stiff and her eyes lost their sheen, all signs to the rest of her team that she'd just changed her composition again -- as Mel would realize after two bullets crumpled against the smaller woman's frame and pinged uselessly onto the floor below. "WHO'S THE NAKED OLD MAN IN THE CAKE?"
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