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Aberrant: Nova Reality - Critical Conditions

Madison 'Vali' West

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It hadn’t been the knowledge that drew him, but the scent. Vali had only sampled the scent in Alchemist’s lab, were the Knights kept the vial that Stormwarden had acquired. He had been tracking down a few of the White Rat’s old contacts and been working his way up a criminal chain when he had felt the tingling in his tongue and his node. It was a tiny thing; one that he picked up by literally bumping into a well-dressed man exiting a novaphile club called Node Spark. Vali had quickly changed direction and took to tailing this newcomer. It quickly became apparent to Vali that this guy was seeding the marketplace, tapping into established drug brokers and testing the market base for this new brand of poison.

Mentally, Vali felt a deep racial rage grip his heart. This was cannibalism of the worst kind. People were feeding off his kind, the One Race and something inside cried out to meet out punishment of the worst kind. He kept thinking about these animals preying on his Clark, or worse yet, Grey or Adam. Cold, calculating training kept him from chocking the life out of this parasite as he stalked him, but he made a mental note to remove this man before the investigation wrapped up. Instead, he kept his distance and observed. Faces and locations were noted, but Vali stayed on target.

Finally, the man began heading away from the high-end clubs and headed out to the West Side. For a few minutes Vali he worried the man would be going to Aurora. It was a struggle to keep up with his sports car once he hit the freeway, but Vali hitched a ride on top of a tractor-trailer rig. Jumping off at the exit the car took was difficult and the roll left him sore. Vali shrugged it off and took off after the car once again. He caught sight of it as it pulled into a chemical plant and Vali took the security fence in one leap.

Once more, instincts cut in and he pressed himself into the shadows. He scanned about, hating himself for letting the car slip away, but being unable to escape the sensation he was being watched. He spotted the aerial drone a second before it turned toward him. Vali switched positions and waited to see its response. It kept on what appeared to be a pre-programmed flight path on near-soundless turbines.

Vali crept back into the shadows to think this out. The drone was too high-tech for any of the local criminal gangs. If this was a CZM operation then why would the man he is following have to seed the high-end drug scene?

That didn’t make sense.

Grinding his teeth in frustration, Vali uploaded his current data to Access and prayed he wouldn’t be called off the case. Had Sandcaster been on duty, he most likely would have been, but she wasn’t. Instead, Access gave him a cautious ‘go-ahead’ and Vali proceeded carefully into the complex. The sights and sounds of the plant in operation helped confuse his senses. Real employees of the plant moved about doing their jobs and the place reeked so the standard methods of surveillance weren’t going to help. Instead, Vali sat back and let his node get to work. He analyzed the flow of people around him, looking for the places were the normal people avoided. A handful of locations became obvious to him and his tactical sense reduced them down to one location near the canal side of the plant.

A quick reconnaissance revealed a much tighter security net around the location and it took Vali fifteen minutes to sneak inside. What Vali found puzzled him. The location had all the looks of a section of the plant that had seen constant use until recently, but was now quiet. The people inside had all the looks of mercenaries and their gear was definitely bleeding edge. Vali resisted the urge to node-pulse the area; his instincts cutting in again. He took up an overseeing location and watched the patrol patterns of the guards. Vali was just getting comfortable when he sensed her. She walked around a large storage tank inside the building, wreathed in luminescent green flame, and looked right up at him. Her hard, business-like look warmed into a curious smile. Vali could read her lips as she whispered something, probably to herself.

“Well, not one of the one’s I was expecting, but …” and she fired up at him. Green flames reached up at him. Vali dodged down and to cover and rolled. The green flame hung in the air above him and formed into a giant raptor claw. The claw reached down into Vali’s hiding place and he was forced to dodge again. This time, he impacted into one of the patrolling guards. The claw came down on him as he continued to roll. Vali’s body arched with quantum energy. The claw’s flames flickered and withered even as they struggled to hold him fast. Vali broke the hold and drove the edge of his hand into the guard’s Adam’s apple. The man choked and staggered back.

‘Good armor,’ Vali noted. The baseline managed to draw a pistol and shoot at Vali. Again, Vali was forced to dodge, barely avoiding the spray of flechettes.

‘Something else that’s new.’

The Flaming Girl rose up in the air. At the same time, Vali felt someone reaching out for his mind.

‘Great, make that two …’ and then the shadows around Vali darkened and took on a life of their own.

“Okay, three novas and I am out of here,’ Vali decided.

A figure materialized out of the shadows and a large, black fist came slamming down at him. Vali was dodging for all he was worth, but this guy was really fast. Vali scrambled back as the Flaming Girl used one of her ‘flaming claws’ to pick up several 50 gallon drums and hurl them in Vali’s direction. Two of them hit and Vali went rolling. The Shadow Man was almost on him when the guard fired again. To Vali’s surprise, the Shadow Man jerked back away from the blast even as Vali used one of the drums as cover.

“Watch it, you moron!” the Shadow Man growled out in Mandarin to the guard. Thinking quickly, Vali scrapped up a few of the flechettes as he got up and ran for it.

Even as he weaved through and around the pipes, Vali hit his panic button. He could hear and see some high-velocity rounds punching through the machinery around him. The glow of the Flaming Woman kept overhead and there was someone trying to bore into Vali’s mind.

‘Stay alive. I’m a Knight, dammit and the others are on their way.’

Only his few practice sessions with Clark saved Vali’s life right then. As the gravity around him suddenly and drastically altered, Vali was able to twist enough to keep his bearings. It was all that Vali could do to keep moving when the Black Fist came out of left field and clocked him hard. His shouldered shattered along with several ribs. Vali’s body went flying through the piping and the corrugated steel wall of the building. That resulted in both lungs being punctured and a concussion.

Vali was running on willpower alone when he hit the ground and rolled. Only his right side responded at all and he could only get to one knee. He saw the Flaming Woman coming out of the hole his body had made in the building and Vali realized his was about to die. Only the thoughts of Clark, Grey and Adam kept him going. Vali twisted around to face her, even though he had no hope of dodging anything she threw his way. The shadows behind him darkened and gravitic tremors began to course around him. Consciousness was doing its damnedest to abandon him, but Vali made the final effort to face his death as close to standing as he could then the world turned into a brilliant shade of blue. It was Amped.

“Problems Vali,” Amped asked, trying to keep the concern out of his voice.

“Ambush,” was all Vali managed to spit out as he fell face forward and the world went dark.

Vali looked up into the bright lights and smelt Clark close by. Someone squeezed his hand and it was her. He was with Clark and they were getting to work on him. Willpower drove him on. There was something he had to do.

“Amped?” Vali asked.

“He got you out of there. He said you were ambushed and there were at least two novas around, so he took you and left. The other Knights are closing in now.”

Vali’s hand feeble reached into one of his pouches and he passed the handful of flechettes to Clark.

“Check these out … I think they are an anti-nova weapon.”

As Vali’s eyes tried to focus, he could swear Clark was crying. For some reason that felt wrong. Before he could think anymore about it Vali’s world went dark again.

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