From being knocked out by Radio of all people, even unconscious I stirred myself easily awake due to a heavy dose of anxious anger; for the first time in a long while, the heat I felt the strongest was my own. My fists were clenched before my eyes opened, and I found myself strapped to some kind of restricting hand-truck, inside a moving van big enough to fit it. There were at least four armed guards nearby, and Toxic staring me down with a smile as I woke fully.
"And here we thought deprivation chambers would be enough to keep you calm and behaved. Compared to where you're going, you're gonna wish you stayed in yours back at base. You'd better enjoy this little bit of room to breath while you've got it."
Instead of answering him, I simply looked around to assess my surroundings more.
"Worried about your friends? Don't worry; they're part of the convoy. You're all taking a nice little trip. Our processing centers love working with your types, especially the occasional kind that haven't fully harnessed their Hierarch abilities yet. I hear they can be... extremely helpful in getting results out of you."
I didn't struggle as much against the metal bindings, made of something stronger than what I was secured with back at Hierguild. When I met his gaze again, I smiled back, totally unfazed by his words.
"You'll know soon enough."
"Much as I'd love to watch, gotta get back home asap. With Epsilon suddenly lacking a team, now's a great time to finish your little organization off."
"Don't assume you're going to be part of that; they have you booked for accommodations elsewhere. Or didn't they tell you?"
The way his handsome smile faltered enough to need to recover it nearly made me grin devilishly.
"What do you think I found in that science office, results of your annual physical? More like their next plans for you. You already did your job when you brought us to Hierguild. And now you're on escort duty when you could be on your way to taking out Epsilon out once and for all right now? Why? Unless we're not the only Hierarchs they have scheduled for...extreme help."
He really didn't want to believe me, but my theory hit on the right side of believable, with subdued anger upping the confidence needed to sell it. Cautious reasoning replaced all the reasons he had to grin.
"I'm even afraid to say exactly what process lies ahead for both of us; it's pretty fucking graphic, and pretty fucking funny to watch you smile all the way there, thinking you're just the deliver boy. You wanna know what they've got in-store for a poison pretty boy like you?" I crooked my finger his way, and nervousness got him to edge close enough to arms length. At that range, an arm grasped his throat as easily as my Hier-half broke through the stronger-yet-not-strong-enough restraints. He tried hard to spit something venomous at me, but my vice grip on his throat kept anything from coming out. The ease to which I could've crushed his larynx felt so tempting, but rather than upholding the earlier truce I'd made with Maelstrom, I was angry enough to keep him alive, just to make him suffer a bit longer. I tossed him at one of the guards, headbutting another through their helmet as I broke out of confinement altogether, knocking down the other two guards easy.
Before I could easily finish them off too, a flash of a silver silhouette came out of nowhere, followed by a grip nearly as strong as mine, catching me by the neck. Maelstrom used her illusion powers to conceal her presence, ready to restrain me in-case I caused more trouble. Holding me against the wall of the van, looking as angry as I felt inside, red around her fingertips meant she was using her power to keep me from hurting the rest of her team. But I wasn't giving up easy, forcibly pushing against her powers. The tress on her hair went from red to purple, much to the dismay of Toxic who noticed.
"No. He's mine, witch. Back off."
If I wasn't feeling angry enough, I'd almost feel sorry for him with the threatening look Maelstrom gave. Whipping her head in his direction, power radiating as maliciously as her expression. I was impressed yet unsurprised how easily she cut him down to size.
"Fine, he's yours," he tried his damnedest not to cower in-front of us. "Just hit that son of a bitch with the plague. Make him choke on it," he ironically choked out from a compressed throat, knowing the purple effect was supposed to be pestilence of some sort.
I wasn't in any position to put in any theatricality, convincingly playing at being enemies; too pissed for pretending, I grabbed at her throat with nearly the same firmness as she had mine. My grip loosened the second I held it, still not wanting to hurt her, noticing her tress turning purple, but the color radiating elsewhere was still red, visible only to us. Confusion over which power was really activated got answered quickly, blasting me through a hole out of the van, in the middle of speeding highway traffic. Feeling a semi truck zoom past my head in the opposite direction, I bounced off the ground, managing to focus through panic and pain to find my bearings mid-air, boots sliding along the side of the road from the remaining velocity. I took a few seconds to breath, to notice I'd been blasted to the opposite side of the highway, near the traffic going in the wrong direction.
Hier-half still on, and still more motivated than ever, I raced across multiple lanes, catching up to trucks traveling fast enough towards the convoy I got kicked out of. There was some extra oomph in Hier-half this time, enough to easily avoid other cars, and leap along the side of the closest truck to effortlessly get on top. Momentum kept me going, leaping across a few other trucks, luckily making it back to the van I started, marked by the big hole on the side. Had Maelstrom not been still in the van, I would've looked for a way to force it off the road. Instead, I leapt toward the other van ahead with Copula and the B&B twins inside.
Moving towards the front, I could hear what sounded like Toxic trying to scream at the top of his lungs, something like "the twins;" I payed it little attention as I saw the passenger side was empty. Ripping the car door off its hinges, I let it fly right in-front of the van behind, making it brake very unceremoniously, nearly crashing along the ditch in the middle of the highway. Inserting myself inside, I was ready to knockout the driver and give him an ungraceful exit, but the helmet-less guard that caused all my anger was in the driver's seat, equally surprised to see me.
Still wearing Hierguild guard garb, he looked at me, and then the rear-view mirror, watching the rear van shrinking in the distance.
"Okay, that worked out much better than I had hoped."
He spoke like his old self, like he did when he was still operational, under Epsilon; relief joined anger and confusion as I stared at him, bewildered.
"You've got five seconds to explain what's going on before I beat the shit out of you and take your treacherous ass back to Epsilon."
"Gonna need more like thirty seconds man, and another thirty minutes on top of that," Javier looked back again, sighing heavily, very relieved to not see anyone else in pursuit of them. "We're not going back to Epsilon. We're going to Echelon."
"...what the hell is Echelon?"
Two decoy vehicles later, and with the still-unconscious trio, we made our way to what looked like an abandoned airport hangar, where this other organization, Echelon, was supposedly holding up. On the way, Radio had laid down a lot of details that helped things make sense. After his hospitalization, reports of his long-term recovery were grossly overestimated. He was actually back to 100% after two weeks, rather than still waiting for signs of improvement months later.
He was in on the ruse, as representatives of Echelon came to visit him days after admission; they were apparently a government-established group meant to oversee organizations like Epsilon, Hierguild, and others, making sure they weren't overstepping bounds that would threaten the country or world at-large. They showed him evidence of a mole being in Epsilon, working on behalf of Hierguild to help further their Megarch endeavors. Apparently the briefings I was giving him lined up right along with Echelon's findings, and so Radio played his part of recovering patient during scheduled visits, and a mole inserted into Hierguild's security forces, using his power to listen in on sensitive communications and report findings.
Everything was running smoothly until a few days prior; once four of the five remaining active Epsilon Hierarchs became prisoners of war, Radio was allowed to act on his own to save us. Taking me down in that office had to look real, in-case of surveillance he was unaware of, and it made so much sense that a former Navy Seal who trained me took me down instead of some random guard. His plan was much more elaborate to get us all out, but my reckless actions proved a faster means, and we'd made it out without a hitch.
His explanation complete, I couldn't help but laugh and comment how lucky he was that I didn't kill him. "I would say sorry for the last time about getting you injured, but considering the way you took me down earlier, now we're even." Javier accepted that without issue, laughing himself. Smooth a ride as it was to the hangar, I couldn't help but still feel the crazy roller coaster I was on wasn't done; it didn't stop as we drove into the empty hangar.
"So we're the first ones here?" I looked around the totally vacant space. "When do they show up?"
"They're already here," a portion of the concrete slid open, creating a downward ramp to a lower level, allowing our untraceable van to disappear underground. The subterranean space was sizable, covering underneath a good portion of the whole airfield, but the space looked sterile and sparsely used. There were a few parked vehicles present, ones I assumed belonging to the Echelon contacts already present. After making sure the others were still safe and sleeping, we exited the van. I admired how well-hidden Echelon kept their facility, but wondered why they lowered the temperature below ground.
From the doorway to another structure, a few figures walked our way, ready to greet us. The closer they got, the more some looked very familiar.
"Dr. Ways, I presume?" I told the blonde with tinted glasses, hiding the powerful green eyes. The former faux medical doctor wore a black pantsuit, looking more like a sexy psychologist to me.
"Not quite. I'm actually Dr. Sway, Julia Sway. Nice to meet you officially, Half." She extended her hand to be shaken, and I cautiously took it, noting her casually-dressed brunette assistant holding a crystal ball.
"And you would be?"
"They call me Sibyl; also nice to meet you officially," the girl held out the hand that wasn't holding the crystal, shaking mine.
"'Experts of long-term recovery?'" I quoted Sway back, sarcastically.
"In a manner of speaking," she responded.
"At the behest of the government, right?"
"One could see it that way." Not only her words, but something about the way Sway said that caught Radio off-guard, as if it betrayed all he'd been told, and told me. Preempting his reaction, Dr. Sway spoke again.
The words brought Javier to a stand-still, upright but with his head nodding forward, as if waiting for whatever the blonde had to say next.
That obviously put me on the defensive, but neither Sway nor Sibyl made any attempt to provoke me.
"I know all this might come as a shock to you, but before you act prematurely, if you allow, I can explain what's been going on around you, things even our dear Radio isn't aware of."
She looked completely serious, and for the sake of holding on to something sane, I let myself start to believe her. Or at least wanted to.
"And why would you tell me when you're hiding things from your own agent?"
"Because Radio is truly the type to believe in whatever organization he fights for, maybe enough to see it purely for what it could or should be, instead of what it really is. He thinks it's fixable, that it's just one mole compromising Epsilon; you can't fix what's designed to work against you."
Looking over at Radio's vulnerable form, it was saddening to know that the same heartfelt, trusting quality that made Epsilon seem not so bad, could be so thoroughly turned against him.
"While you, on the other hand, are much more an outsider, a pragmatist, and can readily accept hard truths about who you work for. Not to mention, you seem to be at the center of something bigger than you know. Some of this you'll want to sit down for, and I think we should attend to your friends first. Radio, help Half with unloading your friends."
Radio wordlessly moved to obey the command he was given.
"No," I told Sway, even as Radio began moving as told regardless. "Make him stop."
"Why? Your friends will be a lot more comfortable out of those chambers."
"Then take them out of those chambers, but leave them in the vehicle, in case a quick exit is needed."
I had to ask myself why I was giving away a hasty, reactive plan; the look on Sway's spoke to how amused she was by it.
"Look, I can tell you're going to propose something to me. If I don't like what you have to say, you could use those eyes on me, and then Radio and I will both be doing what you say anyway. But unless you object, we should be ready to go, for whatever reason."
That didn't sound any smarter, and appealing to her control over the situation made her smile even more before amending her command.
"Radio, help Half get them out of those chambers, but leave your friends in the van." I nodded her way thankfully, but still eying Sway carefully before moving to help. Physical exertion took off some of the cold I was feeling, but a chill was still present, be it from set cold temps, or just the unsurety of these new players. Deeper into their facility, we were greeted by a Hierarch that looked like a walking teddy bear, dressed as casually as Sibyl, appropriately called Dr. Bear. He joined us in the conference room as we all sat.
"What if they wake up early?" I asked about Copula and B&B.
"They won't," Dr. Bear began explaining. "They're still reeling from the effects of the deprivation chambers. It takes some time to recover from those effects."
"And I'm using my psychic power to help ease them off of it, and remain in a comfortable state of sleep," Sibyl chimed in, gesturing to her crystal.
"Hopefully you can believe us when we say we're not here to harm or keep anyone captive," Sway added.
"If not that, then why are you here? What are you all trying to do? And after everything that's gone on for the past few days, you'll forgive me if I refuse to believe you before the next surprise kicks me in the teeth."
"Fair enough. If you want to take some time to just rest and decompress, we understand."
"No, there might not be time for that; just say what you need to, and try hard not to omit anything," I looked over at the still-out-of-it Radio for an example of where I didn't want to stand with pertinent information.
"Alright. First of all, we are Echelon. But Echelon is not government-run; it's independently run by Hierarchs, primarily Sibyl, Bear, and myself. Well before the likes of Epsilon, Hierguild, and other groups surfaced, things were much simpler. My associates were once part of what was first called Echelon, a well-organized group made up of Hierarchs meant to do good deeds for others of our kind, and defend against those who'd harm us. You're currently sitting in one of the original Echelon's old secret facilities."
I'd wondered if I'd ever heard of Echelon around the growing Hierarch concern or craze in the news; and remembering what that craze was like, I was happy they remained anonymous to the world for their own sake.
"And at the time of the original Echelon's existence, I operated on the other end of things, working for big companies owned by men that deeply hated/were afraid of our kind. You've probably seen or heard of our exploits in the media, while lacking this context."
"You're a Hierarch, and worked for the companies going after Hierarchs and Echelon?"
"What can I say? I wasn't very wholesome when Hierarchs became a worldwide phenomenon, and the pay was excellent, but not worth all the hassle in the end."
"Try working for them with no pay."
Sibyl snickered at that comment for some reason, making Sway smirk indirectly at her, indicating strong relations between them. "Needless to say, after a while, most Hierarchs involved felt all the fighting wasn't worth it, and either quit, or helped the reasons for fighting to go away."
Sibyl smiled at the blonde, seemingly proud of her contribution to their cause.
"All of us here had all but retired, until forming Hierarch groups became fashionable to the point of commercialized as they are today."
"And you're worried about the ones bringing them back?"
"The ones bringing them back are the same ones who wanted Hierarchs as a species gone. Instead of hiring independent contractors like myself, they've tried a different method: recruiting Hierarchs, using them like pawns. Or in their words, private military forces, making Hierarchs aim all their malicious efforts at one another, and only one another."
Sway was right; I was glad I was sitting while hearing that.
"Wait, so...not only are Epsilon and Hierguild run by the same people, those people want us to fight and kill each other?"
"Bad as that is, there is more," Bear chimed in. "Instead of just having you all fight one another, they've been doing more. Research, experimentation..."
"Exactly. Unfortunately, the heads of these organizations that really had it in for us, some of them were willing to adapt beyond blunt goals. Plans for eradication evolved to utilization and control, and then seeing what improvements could be made on their own empowered soldiers. The worst one working against us wasn't any executive, but a scientist named Deakins, who is as dangerous to us as he is motivated and versatile. No one else's singular efforts brought us closer to ruin than him. He reportedly died in a fire some time ago, but his research and methods live on, and have moved to Megarchs."
"Making us stronger is his, or someone's play?"
"You've seen Maelstrom, what she can do. Imagine Maelstrom, or someone like her, coming to finish us all off one by one, or whole groups at a time. How she's been engineered, she could legitimately take us all out, let alone a whole Megarch army if they find a way to replicate the success they've achieved with her. This is mainly why we've had to involve your teammate as much as we have; his injury and powerset was our lucky opportunity, able to access so much invaluable information though his connection to transmissions of all kinds while simply standing and acting like an unwitting guard."
I kept it to myself how ingenious their use of Radio was. "A move that could've gotten him killed."
"Believe me, we understand why he's never done that under Epsilon, but we wouldn't have sent someone unqualified in to a mission like this. And he's helping to save all of us in a tremendous way, a way we hope you will further."
I looked at the trio staring back at me, observing how I was taking in everything; I wonder how they all took my calm expression, one of fully willing to believe that everything I'd been drafted into was bullshit. Maybe they knew my cynicism would want me to think the worst, and gave me a convincing story to use me like Epsilon had, which brought thoughts of what I really feared from them.
"Okay...say I believe everything you've just told me, wholesale. Why are you telling me, and how do you hope I will further anything?"
"We're telling you everything because you're one...excuse the pun, one half of the anomaly in this scenario, the one thing we haven't figured out yet."
"The other half being?"
"Maelstrom, as you probably knew."
I didn't need to acknowledge as everyone present knew, but I didn't know if I was hoping the anomaly would be something else. Just hearing her name aloud made the awareness of the chill more present.
"She has her own agenda, one not in-line with anyone else's goals. And you have a connection with her that defies everyone else's expectations."
"People were expecting...that to happen?"
"No, we didn't know what to expect. Frankly, we were highly concerned that she would just be a reckless, or aimed killing machine. Thankfully she's not after that, but she is after something, and is using you to help."
"What makes you think she's using me?"
"The strong, psychic connection we felt at the hospital. The one so deeply ingrained in you," Sibyl spoke, staring at me as if probing my head. "I don't think I've ever felt a connection that strong in someone; I have to wonder how much autonomy you think you really have."
Whatever happened to me where more than one presence occupied my head was still fresh on my memory. I'd be surprised about that autonomy myself if I gave it more thought.
"You being down here proves you still have some though."
Bear interceded, taking over the proposal, pointing to ceiling. "This place was built in-mind with protective safeguards, including layered material meant to shield from external psychic intrusion. If you're feeling different in the head than you were above, that's probably why."
Having my arms crossed weakly masked me rubbing my shoulders to take the chill that was really the absence of Meredith's mental heat; I dropped them to my sides as I gave away proving their theory right.
"As powerful as she is, why would you think she need my help?"
"The prevailing theory? Because whatever they're doing to maintain her Megarch genetic make-up, it's an ongoing process. She hasn't openly rebelled or done away with her creators because she knows she's dependent on them. But like Sway has used Radio, Maelstrom is using you."
"...but you don't know what she's after."
"Do you have any idea what that might be?"
"Wouldn't know; if she's got her own agenda, I'm not aware."
"Probably how she wants it."
Even while doing my best not to give much away about her to them, it was unfortunate right they probably were. It didn't make me think less of her, but it made me concerned for what she wanted; just being her sex-toy was too good to be true after all.
"You never told me exactly what you wanted from me."
"We want you to take your comrades back to Epsilon, to outwardly pretend like this conversation never happened."
"What? You want me to take everyone back there, knowing it's all a front for something bad? Why not just wake them up and tell them what you told me?"
"Because we can only prove our theory to a certain extent, but we don't know who is truly aware of what's going on. We don't trust the ones in-charge, but we don't know whom to trust below them; we don't want to have to persuade more of Epsilon like we did Radio, which may not fully last against a psychic like Copula. And we don't know if they'd believe us if we told them the truth, so they can just assume you escaped and found a vehicle to drive back home. We'd like you to stay in Epsilon, to observe and help us gather solid-enough proof that we can expose them, for the sake of your comrades."
"So you just want to stop them? The Megarchs and everything?"
"We want to end their manipulation of Hierarchs altogether, especially stopping the production of Megarchs."
"...we don't have quarrel with her, as long as she doesn't have any quarrel with us."
I couldn't have asked for a more diplomatic, honest-sounding answer than that.
"...is saying 'no' even an option?"
Bear let Sway answer. "It is an option. You can not believe a word you've heard here, and take us for another group just trying to upend one of the better ones in Epsilon; early in your career at Epsilon, it would be hard to blame you. But at this point, I think you've seen too much to not give it weight."
As if to punctuate their point, flashes of walking down identically-built hallways, finding Kasdien at both came to my thinking. Instead of showing emotion, I took a deep breath, and tried sticking to reasonable thoughts.
"Back to Epsilon?"
"Yes, and like you implied, sooner would be better than later," Bear agreed. Getting up to head back to the van, I was happy that everyone was walking back with me, meaning we could walk and still discuss things.
"Stupid question, but any compensation I can realistically expect?"
"Officially, we can't offer you anything; we can't undo the legal custody Epsilon still has over you. Unofficially, we'll see what we can do for you."
"And what assurances do I have that I won't end up like Radio? Half-aware and manipulated like everyone else seems to be doing?"
"We wouldn't tell you this much if we didn't want you to know."
I would've argued longer for guarantees of full disclosure, but I did worry about what would happen to Epsilon if we didn't make it to them before Hierguild could, even despite the recent revelation. Radio and me got into the passenger and driver sides; Sway made sure his seat belt was on before waking him up with new suggestions.
"Radio, you will soon wake, ready to take Half and the others back to Epsilon. You know he's been informed in-full, and are still dedicated to rooting out the mole in Epsilon, now with Half's help." He nodded gently, accepting everything directed at him.
"How would I get in-touch with you about my findings?"
"Through your hospital visits to Radio."
"And if something goes wrong?"
"If they catch me doing what you want?"
"If you sense something is up," Sway took an old flip phone from Bear to hand to me. "Dial in the number programmed in, escape as quickly as you can, and we'll try to get you to safety. In the meantime, Radio will accompany you part of the way, but then back to his other duties. Radio on."
Javier came back to life as if nothing was awry, starting the engine. "Ready to go?" he looked over at me. "Yeah," I kept my freaked-out feelings to myself as the ceiling doors opened for us to leave. Just before the it fully opened, the heat I'd been used to in my head for I don't know how long filled my head again, but instead of a comfortable return, it shot into me like a missile that'd finally locked on to its target. Finally no longer searching aimlessly, desperately, Maelstrom's power got to me, and feeling it all at once set my brain on fire. I know I screamed in pain from my seat, needing something, anything to make it stop. I felt hands holding my face, and my eyes opened to green eyes that somehow began smothering the fire, dousing it in gentle waves of color, until the flames fought back.
Racked from a higher threshold of pain than I ever thought possible, my mind was happy to be mindless and robbed of the ability to feel. Green and orange going from fighting to melding, it went from numb to weird in my head as dueling presences paved a path of communication again, where I was the conduit for two mesmerizers to talk. I heard both Sway's and Meredith's voices, first in angry tones, then measured ones. Lacking the brainpower to appreciate any of the words, I just served as the road, resting beneath them until I was freed sometime later. Opening my eyes, we were back on the road with the sunset off in the distance, meaning I'd been out longer than I thought.
"You alright," Radio asked in earnest.
"Yeah, guess my mind was just...overcharged earlier."
"That much of a surprise will do that to you."
"No shit." We both laughed, finally taking in some levity. It sucked that I couldn't talk to him about everything, since Sway probably wouldn't let him accept things I knew that he wasn't supposed to, but knowing he was physically fine was a huge weight of me, and that kept me in higher spirits.
"Good to have you back in the field, man. You've been sorely missed."
"Good to be back, though I'm glad you're in the more need-to-know now."
I kept a larger smile to myself for his wording. "And I guess thanks for an induction into another secret organization where we can do some good."
"Heh, yeah, sorry. Epsilon is currently under construction; we'll get it fixed though."
"Yeah..." didn't dwell on that one, thinking I might have to be ready to help him accept some hard truths soon.
Took an hour or two, but I finally recognized familiar signs and landmarks that meant we were only an hour away from Epsilon. Driving down a back-country road, near an abandoned farmhouse serving as an old Epsilon fallback point, Radio parked the van, and had us both get out. The plan from there was to get back on the road with the van, while he would get back to his mission with another nearby car stashed away. While he was checking on his own getaway car, before I could even look back to check on my teammates, a voice in my head stopped me cold.
I froze in-place, not expecting to hear Copula's voice.
"Copula? Y-you're awake."
"Been awake for a little while, but playing possum. How long have we been driving?"
"B-been a while," I looked towards her chamber, and tried to keep from or sounding like I was panicking. She was waking up much sooner than we'd hoped.
"I-we escaped and we're on our way back to Epsilon."
"Thank god. I sensed someone else nearby, but can't get to them. Some kind of psych shielding. Are they Hierguild?"
"...kind of a long story," I answered without answering.
"Well don't worry. Epsilon is on their way to us now."
"There's a transponder on my outfit I activated. Don't know where we were that's been blocking it, but it's finally picking up a signal now. Hopefully they'll meet up with us soon enough t-"
From out of nowhere, a bright headlight shone in the distance, and the van we were in started tipping over, as if someone was gently pushing on it. The van landed hard on its side, and I was knocked over a little bit from the passenger seat. Off in the distance, near where the bright light was shining, I saw figures walking towards us, followed by one walking around the van, big enough to block the view.
"Good evening Half, hope this hasn't turned your night sideways."
I cursed at him in Russian and I looked back to check on Copula and the twins. They were all awake, looking confused and bruised at worst, thankfully. But when I looked back, more figures appeared, emerging from the barn, looking like Hierguild brought more than just their Hierarchs. Walking towards the back, Mountain easily ripped the back doors out, and kindly ushered everyone to step out.
We all exited with our hands up, seeing we were surrounded. It looked like most of Hierguild was there to greet us, even Maelstrom, looking pointedly at us. Driver walked towards us with a big smile, walking a bruised Radio in handcuffs, still dressed in Hierguild garb, in-tow. The look of shock on my teammates faces topped mine, as he was the last person they expected to see, let alone see him walking.
"Quite a night, isn't it folks?" Driver spoke, annoyingly proud of himself. "I thought all that employee tire tracking stuff the guild had me doing in my spare time was nonsense, plotting activity routes of the mundane, so frigging boring. But I have to give them credit; all those tracks your 'incapacitated' leader made over time working for us, led to quite the revelation."
Seeing Radio's teammates approaching seething levels, Driver dug the knife in a little further, draping is arm over his shoulder as if they were old war buddies.
"But vet to vet, Radio, I'm a bit shocked; turning solider of fortune on everyone, all the positions you could've had with us, and you chose the lowest-paying one. Strange, but I guess it's the less tedious work they make you do. And it's hard to believe that your teammates didn't know about your second job, but judging by their faces and broken spirits, I believe it now. And so happy to be here to witness it."
Radio shook off Driver with medium effort, knowing he'd be shot if he put up any real fight. His head was up rather than down in-shame despite how bad everything looked, facing down angry gazes.
"I'm sorry, guys. I'll explain this l-"
"YOU'LL EXPLAIN NOTHING, YOU SON OF A-" Gerry tried to jump Radio from where he stood, but Mountain kept him firmly in place.
"Looking forward to sticking you all in a room for a nice reunion back at base, but for now, y-"
"FREEZE!" Headlights from the opposite direction of the downed van shone and started blinding people, Expender and the Epsilon guards arriving in the nick of time for an old-fashioned stand-off. Anyone that had a gun pointed it at someone else armed. Most of the Hierarchs stood close to each other, ready to square off.
Everyone looked nervous as hell, as if waiting for someone else to fire the first shot. Standing in the middle of a potential cross-fire, I was a literal dear-in-headlights, just waiting for something bad to happen. Looking around, everyone looked the same.
Maelstrom only looked half-panicked, concerned enough to take a few deliberate steps closer towards the Hierarch cluster in the center; she stopped, and the tress in-front of her face cycled through several colors till it lit blue, and a wave of that blue light spread through the area, helping her to take stock of where everyone was and how many. That got everyone's attention, including Copula to turned her head just in-time to see Maelstrom's tress and eyes turn orange, and hypnotic fire burned into the psychic; she gasped for a moment, but then went immediately calm as they continued to stare at each other.
Everyone went from waiting for a shot to be fired to waiting to see what Maelstrom was doing to Copula, and the reaction. Reaching out to the heat, surprised that her most protected secret was now out in the open, I asked from my own head what she was doing. She responded with a smile, turning her gaze towards me to fill my head with the gentler-than-earlier, but still insistent fire as well, and uttering familiar words that put me at just as much ease as Copula - "Worry not little moth - I am in-control."
Her soothing words came just in-time, right before everyone started noticing Copula started breathing deeper, lost in her own world, unaware and uncaring of everything else around her. The muscles around her eyes laxed, lids fluttering, but her gaze never escaped Maelstrom's fire, reflectively shining, almost pulsing in-time her breathing. All eyes were riveted to Copula, how she hugged herself, cradled herself in pleasure. Those closest felt her flex her mental powers, reaching out to everyone close by. Every Hierarch could sense what that fire inside of her was doing, enraptured by how she shuddered, bit her lip, how her eyes eventually fluttered closed, only to open moments later, vacant eyes exuding torch fire everyone could see.
Surrounding minds caught quick glimpses, flashes of moments in time of when she'd been affected before. But the connection to her power sucked part of my subconscious into the space Copula's mental avatar occupied.
Time in reality ceased as hypnotic fire burned all around us, carrying Maelstrom's essence as Copula could only stand and watch highlights of herself succumbing in visions within the flames.
"How scary was that for you?" a voice from the fire asked, revealing the memory of the last mission Maelstrom embarrassed Epsilon single-handedly, the one I was teased with second-hand. Her figure gasped at the voice coming from nowhere and everywhere, bearing a seductive tone, so interested in having her relive defeat.
"To be the last one standing? To know your doom was coming? To try to reach out to penetrate my mind, only to feel my absolute confidence in the inevitable. That confidence must've burned in you before my eyes did. Remember how you felt then? Remember the emotion that washed over you? The relief?" The way she shivered and failed hiding it showed how exposed she felt; unable to hide emotion in the fire, I felt the thrill of being exposed buried deep inside her, growing stronger by the moment. I know my own reaction was heightened as the moments gave way to her acceptance of the described memory. Her arms grew less crossed, hands beginning to search for stimulation.
"Relief, Rita. To know that it was coming, to know what was coming. To know you no longer had a say in the matter. You saw your future, and couldn't wait for it to become your present, giving yourself a present, presenting yourself before my gaze."
Watching the past vision, focused, steadfast Copula was almost instantly gone the moment her gazed locked on, fire burning away everything but surrendered, surprisingly-ravenous Rita. Repression kept her power and sexuality running like a controlled tap, keeping the urge for raging waters in check; it was useful until challenged by the shock of the Megarch's intensity, and what had driven her to that point. Rita's avatar slipped down to her knees as easily as she did for Maelstrom during her defeat, rewarding obedience with hot, phantom touches of pleasure. Freedom became the dominant emotion, her own hands grasping and her breasts and between her legs as she continued staring.
Maelstrom seemed so delighted, being the easiest taken down, feeling her wanting it, feeling the potential this held. Despite all the hands promoting pleasure in the fire, the Megarch's own on her head, stroking her head and face made her moan. "Our little secret," she heard in her own mind, nodding in agreement. After being commanded to sleep in the vision, her mind and her own powers work to keep this memory hidden until Maelstrom resurrected it.
"So relieved, so happy, to be free to let go, to be a woman, unsaddled with control of others, losing control to someone that understands, that encourages letting go, and giving in. Knowing how it feels, knowing the rewards for surrender and obedience, you would happily give in the next chance you got."
The vision the avatar witnessed shifted to when Maelstrom poured fire into Copula's deprivation chamber before ever reaching mine at Hierguild. There was no struggle from the enclosed psychic, no time to as the fire rekindled the memory, and the freedom.
"That's right Rita, free again. Free to surrender, free to obey, free to release control to me." The dumb grin across her face proved she found a much better way to cope with cruel, debilitating incarceration.
"I can feel how much you've missed this, wanted it, yearned for it. Obeying the need to keep this a secret has kept you happy, I can tell. But I can also tell inside how much you don't want it to be a secret. You hide it because you obey, but oh how you'd love to be told to share, to show people the pleasure of the real you."
All of a sudden, the pleasure of secrecy turned into the yearning for unrestrained expression, a spontaneous itch she so wanted to scratch. More fire went into her eyes, into her mind to modify the undefined control set, an actual plan for Copula ready to be put into place.
"Hiding it because you're told to is hot, but showing them all the pleasure that burns inside you would be so much hotter. So hot, that just being around you shows them the pleasure, gives them the pleasure. Imagine the beauty of it; a misunderstood soul burning so bright, others get caught in the inferno. When I allow, when you next see my gaze, when you receive my command, you will hide no longer, and spread your pleasure, and my power to those around. Spread love, life, and fire, at my command." Imperious authority colored the tone of her words at the end, demanding obedience, but it made Maelstrom smile that it was received like a loving caress still.
The visions went away, and the surrounding fire washed over her, cocooning her body, the center of a bonfire of psychic, translucent heat.
"That time is now, Rita. Share your passion, extend it outwards, hold nothing back."
I came back to the real world, only mere seconds passed, while others were just caught up in how that fire made her, and them, feel. Being caught, being restrained, the loss of control from someone meant to maintain as much of it as possible, it excited her to let go. For the first time in her life, there was nothing holding her back; surrendering to Maelstrom's fire became surrendering to her own desires, and it burned through all years of internal safeguards like paper turned to kindling.
As she began feeling consumed by her arousing reactions to the fire, hands began stroking her own body, putting on a show for dozens of eyes. Her influential thoughts were as naked as she wanted to be; tipping her head back in ecstasy, the flames in her eyes flowed out to cocoon her in the psychic, translucent fire in reality. Only inhibitions were flammable, as she enjoyed blissfully bathing in the arousing, sweltering orange glow. Hands making it into her jumpsuit to express herself more, she mentally flexed a little harder. I could sense it wasn't just her flexing, but an extension of Maelstrom as well; the combining powers manifested visible psychic fire, unknowingly spreading it outwards. The flames traveled fast from where Copula stood, no one in the area had a chance to escape it, suddenly understanding why she couldn't help herself, reflexive resistance burned away from them too.
Maelstrom's trigger still rang through me, a sexy calm before the sensual firestorm that set everyone ablaze. From my hazy sight, everyone around us became like Copula, bathing in fire, moaning, groaning, dropping their guard, shedding their clothes to masturbate and fuck. Experience with the fire made me a little more aware, able to see Expender grinding against Radio; she looked so happy not to have to hide her attraction anymore, ripping off his clothes, pinning him to one of the vehicles. Copula leaned in to whisper and touch Expender from behind, showing off her own hidden affection for Epsilon's second-in-command. So many other soldiers were jerking themselves off, or finding partners to get off with.
I stumbled around, stroking my erection through itchy clothes, searching the spontaneous orgy for the owner of the voice still echoing in my head. She'd found me, grabbing me from behind, the most aware of us all but still affected by the fire. She blazed her eyes into mine, throwing me down to the ground while reaching into me for that sweet, banana split-flavored passion that made us ravage one another. We kissed and fucked hard, naked and shining like a roman candle next to Copula. The fire spread from us as well, and somehow, I could feel our loins setting the tempo for everyone else's, our moans surrounded by a sea of them. I could feel us coming together, and kissed her harder than ever as we set off the chain reaction that made that abandoned field the steamiest place on Earth.
They all kept going past Maelstrom's satisfaction, awake enough to pull us away while the rest of them still went on seeking pleasure until the fire burned out, or until they passed out from exhaustion like I did.