Time: 6:32 PM
Place: On the way to the CN Tower
Ride of the Valkyries blasted out of the speakers as the oversized RV took a corner on two wheels. Swearing could be heard from inside the vehicle, accompanies by various thumps.
"Why didn't we get the 'Bago suspension fixed since last time?"
"Why don't I get to drive?"
"Why does Lane get to wear the mustache?"
"Why can't you all SHUT UP?!?" Abby yanked on the wheel, and half of Strikeforce Maureen went slamming across the RV into the other half. "The 'Bago didn't get fixed 'cause it wasn't a priority, no one else gets to drive because I'm in charge of this part of the Strike, and Lane gets the mustache because he's the fastest, and he grabbed it first. Happy?"
"No." "Ow." "Are we there yet?" "Yes." Abby brought the 'Bago to a halt in the parking lot in front of the CN tower, put it in park, then turned to survey the team. "Okay, are we all clear on who's on which part? Do you all have your Merc pins on you?"
"I still want to be one of the cops," Lisa Reeves complained, glaring at Dawn and Darkangel. "Why don't I get a uniform?"
"Because Darkangel has more experience on strikeforces, and Dawn made a case to Chris and Dianne for putting cuffs on Maureen. And if anyone else asks me any more questions beginning with 'why,' they can wait in here. Is that understood?" At the chorus of "yeah"'s, Abby let out a breath, pushed up her glasses and surveyed the team. All of them were costumed, most were unrecognizable, and all had earpieces and mini-microphones on. "Okay, sound check outside. Then I want Phases One, Two and Three to get in place." Abby hit the button which unlocked the ramp for Liz the Lucky's chair, and checked her watch. Less than an hour until the Strike, give or take a few minutes.
After all, it would be rude to kidnap Maureen and Jamie and Sue and Chris before dessert.
Place: CN Tower Restaurant
Christina hid her smile in her napkin, and innocently asked, "How's the angel-hair pasta, Maureen?" just for the fun of watching the former Grand High Poohbah force herself to be polite to her. Jamie shot Chris a warning glance, and the Mercenary General repentantly passed Maureen the breadbasket after the Natpacker stiffly requested it.
Well, she and Jamie had sort of invited themselves to dinner. So Maureen had cause to be a little irritated with her. And the Scully look-alike was obviously trying to set a good example, and live up to Natpacker standards, in front of her new protege, Sue Roth. Sue wasn't catching the undercurrents present at the table, but Jamie was kicking Chris in the shin every five minutes, because Chris kept asking Maureen how she was enjoying life at the Natpack, and had she seen Natalie lately, and gee, didn't she miss the Guild at all?
"Cut it out," Jamie whispered to Christina. "I mean it. I'll fix it so you're no-list for a month, not just a week!"
"I swear, I had no idea they'd be here."
"Yeah, right. You're still no-list for a week, Chris."
Jamie had hired Christina, her personal Merc Mommy and the Mercenary General of the Guild, to protect her from possible kidnapping attempts at the beginning of the War. "It's unbelievable. I've heard from two different factions who want to take me away from the Natpack. I think they're assuming that because I'm the Web Goddess, having me with their faction will give them an edge. You've got to make sure it doesn't happen."
Which put Chris in a weird position, since she was supposed to be planning Jamie's kidnap as Merc General. Having talked it over with Dianne, she was pretty sure she could both fulfill her contract and her duties as General. But it would take some effort, and some fancy footwork. And there was a strong possibility that she'd have to cheat at some point.
Right now, she was settling for not letting Jamie out of her sight along with some other precautions, and arranging Maureen's Guild-approved kidnap from the CN Tower. As well as the grabbing of Sue Roth, innocent new Natpacker, for another party altogether. Keeping all her plans straight was starting to give her a headache, so as a requirement for the grab, she'd decided to treat herself and Jamie to a really good meal at the CN Tower. Especially since she was pretty sure Jamie was going to miss her KISS concert... well, Jamie had said she wasn't going!
The trip up the Tower was why she (theoretically) was no-list for a week. Jamie didn't believe their 'accidental' meeting of Sue and Maureen wasn't a set-up, because Jamie wasn't stupid. And the WebGoddess was more than a little bit mad that Chris had gotten her onto a glass elevator that went up as high as the restaurant on top of the CN Tower did, without warning her. The Illustrated former Cousin had this thing about heights....
"I had no idea it would be glass."
"Your lips are moving, but I ain't buying."
Maureen had decided to take Sue out to dinner at the CN Tower because the newest Natpacker was feeling a little left out of things at Natalie's. Well, it wasn't her fault, and she'd get adjusted soon, but right now, the core members of the 'Pack had known each other for so long that the newbies were having a hard time keeping up.
So Maureen and Sue had put on their dressiest outfits and planned an evening of decadent fun: the CN Tower restraunt, the Stratford festival, and possibly drinks at the Raven afterward. It would give Sue an idea of what Toronto was like, and give her a chance to get her feet wet.
The Mercenary spy at the Natpack had been happy to inform the MMG of Maureen's whereabouts; and that was when the whole, beautiful plan made itself clear.
"Are you going to have dessert?" Sue asked, looking wistfully at the dessert tray laden with chocolate torte and cheesecake, then glancing back at Maureen. The former Merc's face screwed up in consideration as she debated the possible effects of the chocolate on her red silk dress if it got spilled; and the fact that she'd already spent more time with Christina than she wanted to. Nothing against Chris personally, but Maureen knew that the Merc was up to something. She knew that look; it was the same one Chris had worn right before she explained about the necessity of the CERK hijacking last time. Devious innocence. Unbelievable mischief. Merc insanity.
"Oh, come on, Mo, they've got Hot Fudge Brownie Sundaes," Jamie cajoled. "With chocolate chip cookies for dipping in them."
"Oh, yum." Sue licked her lips.
"I guess you're right," Maureen capitulated.
They were just finishing up dessert, and the waiter was bringing them the bill, when Maureen got her first clue that something was wrong. The waiter presenting the bill, and discussing the wine charges with Christina, was not the same waiter they'd had all evening. He was younger, and thinner, and taller; and he looked oddly familiar.
"Is there something wrong, madam?" He asked. Which was when Maureen got it.
She recognized his voice; he'd been on the CERK striketeam last October. Berg, that was it. He'd dyed his hair, and those had to be colored contact lenses, and there were probably lifts in his shoes, but it was definitely him. "No, no. Nothing. Um. I have to... go powder my nose. Sue, wanna come with me?" Maureen made a desperate expression at Sue, her back to Christina and Berg, and grabbed her purse as she pushed back her chair. The other Natpacker caught on quick, rising to her feet as Maureen stood up. "Jamie, why don't you come with us? You... need to brush your hair. It's sliding out of the braids."
"It is?" Jamie asked in confusion, one hand going up to check the four or five braids of her blonde-and-brown mane. Christina was frowning by now, but Maureen didn't care; grabbing Jamie's wrist and pulling her along, she shot a quick smile at Chris as the Natpackers left the table.
"We'll be back in a second to help with the bill."
Chris grinned as Maureen and the others retreated. "Good. She's been spooked. You can go change into your other costume now."
"Uhh, actually," Berg shifted is weight from one foot to the other, then blurted out, "Dianne wants me to keep you here."
"Don't be silly. I have to see Maureen get caught," Chris said impatiently.
"Dianne's a little worried about your...loyalties." Berg shrugged helplessly at the MMG's glare. "She thinks you've been hanging out with Jamie and her Natpacker friends too much. So you have to stay here."
"Oh, really?" No sense in arguing with a Merc under orders. Chris grabbed the champagne bottle and sprayed Berg in the face with it, then dropped it and ran to the Ladies Room.
Chris slammed open the Ladies Room door, glared at both Maureen and Sue, then snapped, "C'mon, Jamie. We're outta here."
"Was that Berg out there, dressed up as a waiter?" Jamie asked, arms folded across her chest. Maureen just glowered at the Mercenary Mommy General while Sue blithely reapplied blusher. Strangely, the MMG seemed to be glaring at hardest at the young Natpacker.
"Yes, it was. And yes, Maureen, you're about to be grabbed." Chris shrugged, her mouth still set in a grim line. "Unfortunately, so are Jamie and I. Dianne double-crossed me. Or maybe she didn't trust me. I don't know which. But it's time to go, the Strikeforce is already in place."
"I'm not leaving Maureen," Jamie protested, digging in her heels, "and we can't just leave Sue to the Guild's mercies, either."
"We can and we are. Maureen, you could've hired me to prevent this, you know," Christina tossed over her shoulder as she dragged Jamie back out into the restraunt, leaving a furious Maureen and confused Sue to follow her.
"You're not ditching me that easily, Christina," Maureen called as she and Sue ran through the restraunt after the fleeing Merc and her client, figuring that if Chris set this up, Chris knew a way out of the trap. Their flight was abruptly curtailed when their quarry got onto the elevator, Jamie protesting all the way and trying to unpeel her Merc Mommy's fingers from her wrist as the doors closed between them.
"Damnit," Mo snarled. This was a nightmare. Time to call for backup. Sue didn't deserve to get caught in the crossfire of what was undoubtedly going to be a very messy chase. Maybe she'd become a Natpacker, but not all of Maureen's flight instincts had been surgically removed. She'd been a Merc first, and that meant a healthy sense of self-preservation. The former GHP headed for the public telephone near the bank of elevators, only to have her way abruptly blocked by a tall cowboy in an Australian duster.
"Excuse me, this is an emergency," she said, tapping the tall man on the shoulder, hoping that he'd be kind enough to get out of the way. Turning around, the tourist leaned against the wall, telephone in his ear, and said, "Well, that is a shame. I've been told to make this phone call now, ladies. Can't do anything about it." He grinned. It was a familiar grin, even though the man was total stranger.
Maureen's eye fell on a small, distinctive gold pin on the lapel of his jacket: a dollar sign with crossed swords. Her eyes flew back to his face as she took a step backward, and his grin widened. The grin of a hunter sensing prey. Or a rat after some cheese.
Mo grabbed Sue's hand and ran for the EXIT sign over the stairwell.
John Ewan hung up the phone on his spurious phone call, and spoke into his mini-mike hidden in the Merc affiliation pin. "They're headed for the stairwell. Lane, you're on." Jauntily, he went back to the elevator bay whistling, looking forward to the upcoming chase.
Maybe these Mercs knew how to have fun after all. John hadn't been too sure... Lizbet was the only one he perceived as having a compatible mindset so far; but Christina's planning of this grab had convinced him that this faction had been the right one to throw in his fortunes with. Well, that, and Dianne and Christina telling him that they'd revived Screed.
The Lone Ratpacker headed for the showdown.
As Maureen and Sue went clattering down the one and only stairwell to the bottom of the CN tower, Mo was aware that perhaps this was a mistake. There were as trapped in this enclosed stairway as they would be in an elevator. Why had she wanted to have dinner here, anyway?
Two floors down they almost knocked over a janitor sweeping up the landing, head bent over the broom as he cleared the top steps of the next flight. "'Scuse me ladies, but you can't go down there—"
"But we have to!" Sue yelled. Then she stopped. "Uh, Maureen, who are these guys who are after us, anyway?"
Maureen the Mad didn't answer. Once, yes, she could see that, twice, even; but this third time, no Merc was going to fool her. "Lane, damn you, where did you get that mustache?"
The Newbie Wrangler leaned on his broom and grinned. "Central Casting Stores, of course. Dianne thought it was a nice touch. Why don't you just give up now? You know what will happen if you try to get by me."
Oh, did she ever. Lane was a brown belt in karate or judo or something; and Maureen remembered the damage he'd done during the CERK raid in War #5. No, no sense in getting her arms broken.
But Natpackers do not give up. Letting her shoulders slump, Maureen took one step forward, then pivoted and pushed Sue toward the landing doorway, kicking backward and sending a shoe into Lane's face as she ran. He dodged it easily, but it gave the two women the time they needed to get out of the stairwell and lock the door.
The second the door closed, Lane grinned and said aloud, "Liz — Mo and Sue are headed your way."
Meanwhile, on that glass elevator...
"Make it stop, make it stop, noooooooooooooooo...." Jamie was having the expected hysterics as the elevator descended; they were halfway down now, but she'd already managed to rip Chris's barette out of her hair, step on her feet several times, and inflicted several scratches on her arms before Christina managed to get her hands over the WebGoddess's eyes.
"No." A hiccup. "We have to go back!"
"There is no 'back' back there. They're not going to hurt her, or maim her, or anything, Jamie. You know that." The MMG sighed heavily as her charge relaxed. "Look, we'll get down to the lobby, and we'll be fine. We'll grab a cab, and you can go to the KISS concert. Okay?"
Jamie groaned. "No, it's not okay. But I don't have a choice now, do I?"
Maureen kicked off her odd shoe, and explained the circumstances to Sue as they ran. The tall blonde newcomer was gasping for air as they went skidding and sliding around a corner of the hallway.
"They want to take me back for trial. Sort of like having the KGB after you for war crimes, or something. I told you some of this before."
"But why?" Sue shook her head as they came within sight of the elevator bay. "You have the right to change affiliations if you want to!"
"Once a Merc, always a Merc," Maureen said darkly, hitting the elevator button. "They're like the Mafia...just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!"
On that note, the elevator doors opened to reveal a pale redhead in a wheelchair, wearing a helmet enblazoned with the Mercenary Coat of Arms. "Surprise, Maureen," Liz the Lucky chirped, letting go with her garlic perfume watergun, sending the erstwhile GHP skidding to the floor. The lack of shoes and expensive silk hose had her fighting to regain her feet, a hopeless task on her own; but Sue stepped in, yanked the Natpacker to her feet, then steadied her as they fled.
Liz maneuvered her way out of the elevator, then had to adjust her speed (the wheelchair goes slow, or it goes very very very fast, and it needs some work) to continue her pursuit. She spoke into her mini-mike: "Got 'em where we want them!"
The situation was beginning to look hopeless (not to mention slightly ridiculous), as Maureen and Sue ducked down one more side corridor — slowly gaining ground from Liz the Lucky, whose erratic stops and starts didn't make her the best person to track them through twisting office corridors.
Then Maureen spotted the door. It was right in front of them. It was big. It was glass. And there was an external staircase, rickety, slender, but real. The view through the glass showed a beautiful vista of freedom, right on the other side of the door.
And it was locked.
Slamming her shoulder into it, Maureen cursed loudly and fluently. Sue, managing to keep her cool rather well for a newbie, paused, pushed sweat-streaked blonde hair out of her face, and looked around them desperately. The corridor was a dead end, the Mercs could be heard not far behind, and they were trapped against a glass door showing them the dark Toronto night.
Maureen was about to grab the fire ax off the wall and break the down the door when Abby came down the staircase and stood outside of it, grinning. The Spymaster was in her combat outfit, and she was just waiting for them to try it.
"We're being herded," Maureen realized. "They want us to go in certain direction... Dianne is probably waiting at the end, just to taunt me with this."
Sue slumped against the wall. "We're sunk."
Maureen's mouth thinned, and her eyes got that maniacal Scully glow. "Not yet we're not." Instead of grabbing the axe, she pulled down on the T-bar fire alarm. Sirens whooped; sprinklers began to spray; and the door automatically unlocked. Abby's look of surprise was priceless. The former GHP barreled into her, knocking her backward into the upper staircase as she and Sue went galloping down the rickety stairs.
The damn glass elevator kept stopping. And starting. And now the fire alarm was going off. Christina was still mentally fuming about Dianne's treachery, well-intentioned though it may have been. If the GHP took this to its unnatural conclusion, not only might Chris and Jamie be on trial as well as Maureen, but this might seriously interfere with her upcoming job.
Jamie was humming KISS songs under her breath to calm herself down from the vertigo caused by the stop-start-stop start of the elevator. It started again, and she hummed more loudly. Chris was feeling pretty badly about this, and sincerely hoped Jennie and Sharon never found out about this evening and what a rotten time Jamie had.
Of course, Jamie was probably going to extend the No-List penalty into the next century by this point; unless, unless...a brilliant plan, a stroke of genius, about how to get back in Jamie's good graces occured to Christina.
"Jamie, if you stop humming, I'll take you on my job tonight," Chris wheedled persuasively. Jamie turned her head blindly toward Chris, since her Merc Mommy still had her hands over her eyes. "And you'll enjoy it a lot...there'll be a boat, and some chocolate—"
"Chocolate?" Jamie wasn't such a Natpacker that mention of chocolate didn't distract her. Merc instincts die hard.
Just then, the elevator doors opened and two young women in trendy Melrose Place outfits and jewelry got on, giggling about something they'd seen down the hall. "It was just hys-ter-i-cal!" one of them enunciated in a Brit accent. "Truly, darling!" "Rilly!" the other responded, sounding like Joanna Lumly.
"Hold the elevator!"
Chris's head snapped up. No. It wouldn't be."No, shut it—"
Too late. Maureen and Sue made it by a hair's breadth, letting out sighs of relief as the doors closed...only to scream when they turned around to find Chris escorting the blinkered Jamie. "Aaaah! Can't we get away from you people?" Maureen gasped in shock and anger.
"Having problems?" Chris smirked. It really had been a lovely plan. She and Abby had worked so hard on it; Dianne too. Too bad it was being used against her.
"Nothing we can't handle," Sue claimed valiantly.
"You're in just as much trouble as we are, Chaos. So stop giggling." "I'm not giggling, they are," Chris said, nodding to the two tourists. She frowned. Her eyes met Maureen's. Realization hit them both simultaneously, like a teenager's car hitting a telephone pole.
The giggling had stopped, and the two Melrose Place girls were smiling the sinister Merc Smile(tm). "Oh, maaaaan," Sue whimpered, leaning against the wall of the elevator.
"Nice try, Chaos. You too, your Madness. But there is a reason Christina chose this place to begin with; it's really hard to leave," Lizbet said confidingly, slowly peeling off the fake nose and popping out the teeth with the gap in the front.
"Just come quietly," Sonja said, taking off the blond wig and working her fingers through her own brunette hair, "and no one will have to get hurt."
"And if we don't?" Mo asked, her eyes narrowing behind her glasses.
"That's okay too." Lizbet shrugged, and smiled like a Pre-Raphaelite elf. "We don't mind hurting you. Although we won't enjoy it."
"But we're really okay with it. It's in the Charter; you have to be prepared to do anything before you sign up as a Merc." Sonja peeled off part of her mask, muttering "ick, latex" under her breath as she did so.
Blue eyes met brown; Mo stared at Chris. Nodding as one, they each brought a foot down on the nearest pursuing Merc's foot, then head-butted Sonja and Lizbet in the stomach. Chris let go of Jamie, who started screaming again about the heights, and as the two disguised Mercs doubled over, Chris hit every elevator button at once. The doors opened, and Sue thoughtfully dragged Jamie out into the lobby, Chris and Maureen right behind her.
Dawn was really, really looking forward to this.
Maureen had been responsible for her last nervous breakdown; she'd kidnapped her in the dead of night, hypnotized her, and wiped her memory of several key events. Just thinking about it...
...a dark figure, face obscured, held a feather against Dawn's stomach. "Tell us everything you know.""Dawn, will you get a grip?" Darkangel hauled the giggling former Die-Hard Leader to her feet, managing to get her supported by the wall as she adjusted Dawn's uniform. "The Metro PD would be ashamed of you."
"No, no, no... Please..."
"Okay, I'll tell..."
Then, a bit later, "Forget everything that has happened. Forget this conversation. Keep it a secret..."
"No, I won't!"
And then the feather again....
"Sorry." Dawn was breathing heavily, trying to control the giggles. "Flashback. You know. Trauma. Feathers. Bad juju." She gave a long sigh, then fondled her handcuffs, repeating, "I am above revenge. I am calm. I am cured. I am above petty, stinking, selfish, small-minded impulses... I am..."
"Just keep telling yourself that," Darkangel said, putting the cap at a rakish angle. Maybe the Dangerous Liasions boutique ought to carry uniforms. She could definitely get into this protect and serve bit.
"Oh, screw that pychiatric wellness crap. She's going to pay." Dawn smiled grimly, in control of herself again. Okay, so she got to meet a cute shrink because of her delusions last time. One that bore a startling resemblance to Duncan MacLeod. But thanks to Maureen, she'd had to meet him under professional circumstances.
If for nothing else, she was going to cuff Maureen just for that.
Maureen and Sue, and Chris and Jamie had split up when they hit the lobby; momentary alliances broke up in the face of mutual mistrust. Mo and Sue had headed straight for the entrance; Chris, knowing a bit more about what was planned, had gone for the side exit.
Shoeless Mo skidded into the main atrium, thinking, "finally, safety, public places, help" and almost knocked over a tour guide in a prissy suit. "Oops, sorry," she panted.
"You can't go out this way!" the guide gasped affrontedly. "The fire alarms went off! You have to leave by the fire exits!"
"What?!" Sue whimpered.
"It's an automatic system..." the woman started to explain pedantically, taking out an Apple notebook to show them the floorplans. "It runs on a lovely C++ algorithm—"
Maureen slugged her. Sue goggled in shock, but the 'tour guide,' while hurt, managed to get a grip on Maureen and yell, "I've got her! She's over here!" Berg, Abby, and John came running from the guards' stations, and Sue desperately thwapped the now-revealed Lisa Reeves with her own Apple. Mo and Sue took off, with the three Mercs and Lisa bringing up in the rear.
Chris had headed straight for the side exit; if they could get to parking lot first, and grab the Winnebago, they'd be safe. Jamie was on her last legs, Chris was in bad shape, but still, still, they could've made it.
If Liz the Lucky hadn't sprayed the floor with water; if Jamie hadn't slipped; if Chris, in heroically trying to get Jamie out of there, hadn't been harmlessly but very completely restrained by Lane. Liz and Lane were very careful about not hurting the MMG and the WebGoddess, but the two sopping wet and disheveled fugitives were soon confined in the Winnebago.
Maureen and Sue came running right around the corner into Darkangel and Dawn's arms. "Police! Thank God!" Sue said dramatically, gulping for air.
Darkangel asked completely straight-faced, "Is there a problem?"
Too bad "Is there a problem?" was the same phrase that Berg had used in the restraunt; too bad Dawn giggled. Maureen did an abrupt about-face and ducked down a side corridor, yanking a protesting Sue after her.
"They're not real cops! Damn Chris anyway, she thought of everything!" Maureen was starting to plan her own revenge on the current MMG. Why couldn't she use her powers for good, for the love of God?
And then Maureen saw the side exit. Unguarded. Completely open. And beyond it, the parking lot and freedom. Sue was starting to fail, saying she couldn't go any farther, but Maureen wouldn't let her give up.
"Here, give me a hand!"
Exhilarated by the chase, thrilled at the promise of freedom before them, Maureen grabbed at Sue's hand....
And felt cold steel wrap around her wrist.
With a loud click the handcuffs closed and Maureen was dragged to a halt by the unmoving weight of her protege at the other end.
"SUE?!?" Maureen snarled in bewilderment.
"Well, yes and no." As Maureen watched in an astonishment that was quickly sliding into fury, Sue tore off her blond wig and her glasses, drew herself up to her full height, and peeled off the elaborate Mission Impossible-style latex mask to reveal...
Dianne the Merc.
Just then the other Mercs — Dawn in the lead, with Darkangel, Abby, Lizbet and Sonja close behind her — tore around the corner and skidded to a halt in front of them. Abby addressed the Grand High Poohbah: "It's about time you grabbed her. What the heck have you been waiting for?"
"It's a matter of style, dear," Dianne answered, with an ever-so-smug look at Maureen. "The timing had to be right."
"You and your @#$% 'timing,'" Abby grumbled under her breath. "I'm exhausted!"
"I wanted to cuff her!" Dawn yelled, glaring at Dianne. "After what she did to me last time... last time... last time..." Her face screwed up in hilarity again as she had another flashback, and collapsed in giggles on the floor. It took her a few minutes, but eventually Dawn stood up shakily, and wiped the sweat off of her brow. She stared at the cuffed Maureen. "Sorry about that. It won't happen again."
"You sure?" Dianne's voice was muffled. Maureen had tried to make a break for it in the middle of Dawn's attack, and Dianne had been forced to tackle her. There was a flurry of arms, limbs, and unidentifiable objects as the rest of the Mercs used the opportunity as an excuse for a football-style pile up.
Dawn stepped over to the rapidly-coming-apart pile of bodies and hooked a foot underneath Maureen's trapped leg. It made a weird THUCK! noise as she tested that the Merc couldn't move. "Sure, I'm 'sure'! I made a promise not to go nuts this War, and I'm not going back on my word!" She hesitated. "Although... I wonder if Dr. Adrian Wetmore goes out with former patients?"
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