Title: Vantage
Author: serena kitt
LJ: no_absolutes
Recipient: hossgal
Requested Character: Icon
Author's note: i inconveniently loaned out my Iconses to a friend so i didn't have "worthless things" on hand. this here may fit with continuity and it takes place on the latter end of the run of Shadow Cabinet.

:::vshnnnzzz:::

I am on my feet, and something clatters to the floor beside me. I can't see it.

I haven't exactly felt at home for the past 200 years. But the insecurity of waking up in a strange place is only as uncomfortable as going to bed in a strange place. It is completely dark, to the point where even I can't see across the room. Perhaps I am back in space. At any rate, something tells me I am not in Dakota anymore. A dim lamp clicks on and a man looking down at a desk greets me.

"Evening, Icon," the man says.

"How do you know who I am? Who are you?"

"I just work here. Mechanic."

"Tell me where I am," I say, "and why you've brought me here. Now."

He hardly looks shaken. If he knows who I am, even as I stand here in the pants I wore to bed instead of my costume, he must know my capabilities. That he isn't intimidated must signal he has the means to defend himself.

"Shadowspire," he starts, then laughs, still looking down at the knobs and switches on his desk. "Not that that helps."

In the few steps it takes me to reach him and lift him off his feet by the collar, I hear a door slide open. I would have seen the exit if I hadn't been so preoccupied with this uncooperative mechanic. Given the choice, I drop him and fly through the doorway, bumping into-

"Icon?" he growls. It's dark in the hall as well, but I can make out his figure and that of the mechanic on the other side of the door. Both are unharmed but kneeling and out of breath.

"Payback?" one of few people whose bulk would slow me down. Still, I knocked the green, reptilian man on his rear end. I help him to his feet, watching him collect himself. I've seen stranger creatures, not on this planet, but Kevin didn't choose this guise any more than I chose mine.

"What are you- no, don't tell me. Shadowslide right out of your bed, no explanation. Can you believe these people?"

"Which people?" I ask. "Do you know why we've been brought here?"

"Don't you? Didn't recruit me for what's up here," he says, pointing with a long claw toward his head. I shake my head, and he shrugs... I think. He bares his teeth. "I was just with Stella... I haven't been sent on a mission or anything before, but maybe this is how they get our attention?"

"The- Shadow Cabinet?" I've stayed clear of this organization since first coming across them. Despite having some of the most advanced technology on this planet, which might be helpful, they are disconcertingly secretive. I accepted their communicator and took on the status of a "reserve member," but since then my efforts have been, thankfully, confined to Dakota. I knew Kevin had reformed since we fought over a year ago, but I never imagined they would take him on as a superhero. "You think we've been summoned for some mission?"

"Sure," he says. "But if this is how they welcome you to the ranks, I hate to see what they have in store for me."

"Let's proceed through this corridor. I was unable to wrest any answers from the mechanic."

"You say Mechanic's in there?"

"Yes, but I doubt he's in any state to provide information. I'll get him to return us to our homes once we learn why we've been brought here."

Payback and I take the hallway to its end, with the limited visibility I can provide from the energy I can generate. We find an ornate double door, it's locked. He gestures to me, and I pull the brass handle until it snaps loose from the wood. I drop it to the floor and we enter, surprised to find another completely dark room. Except for two hulking, blue robotic frames slumped against the opposite wall, lights flickering in various places.

"SYSTEMatics," I say. I recognize them from my friend at Alva Technologies. He's warned me about them, and informed me that they're the agent of a higher power. Whatever their objective here, they've failed. "They're heavily damaged. The pilots are- "

"Gone," Payback says. "And a little bloody. I don't smell them anywhere around here."

"They should still be on the premises. Whoever assaulted them must still be here as well," I surmise. "They've likely taken the pilots hostage to find out who ordered the attack."

"That means they're on our side."

I agree. Throwing the sizeable robots aside, I see they're blocking the exit to the room. The doors there have been torn from their hinges, the work of something less delicate than I but stronger than Kevin. The lights throughout the entire complex must be offline, and it's quiet as we travel down another hallway, this one lined with unlocked doors into empty rooms. A bathroom, a linen closet, a bedroom. There are no windows, anywhere. At first, this mansion reminds me of my home. So much space to accommodate so few. I recall that the Shadow Cabinet must have dozens- hundreds? of operatives. There must be more beneath the surface. SYSTEM would not have invaded for wealth.

"Payback, can you tell if there is anyone else here?"

"No... maybe we should go back for Mechanic? Why would he be here if there's an attack going on? Power's out and everything, you think everybody's away on a mission?"

"I fear..." I begin to imagine a stratagem. "I fear he may have been one of the intended victims. Mechanic may be trying to protect something."

The entire facility is dark. That would make the Cabinet's teleportation device work anywhere. He could have transported anyone- except for the SYSTEMatics- off the premises so long as they had one of his communicators. I kept mine under my bed. It must have arrived with me.

"Kevin, do you have a Shadow Cabinet communicator?"

"Stella and I keep them on the nightstand," he said. "It's how they brought me here." He holds up the disk for me to see.

"Mechanic must have transported everyone out of here before bringing us in. The two of us, deliberately. I suppose that the SYSTEMatics posed too great a threat to everyone else- except for whoever remains here, and they must be somewhere else in the facility. Underground, perhaps, out of the range of your senses."

"Underground?" Kevin smiles. I nod, unsure of why he seems so intrigued. Then he stomps on the floor in several places, finally turning back towards the bathroom.

"You can fly, right?"

"Yes," I say, floating several inches off the ground to demonstrate. "Why?" He lifts his foot and then jumps, slamming both feet back into the tile with enough force that it crumbles underneath him. He falls through as the floor gives way, and I rush after him, seeing that the area below is cavernous, rather well-lit, and much further to the ground than he probably imagined. I catch him ten feet from the cave floor, and carry the bewildered giant to the ground. There is a stairway along the rock face, and there are marble walkways on the floor. This place is inhabited, and the floodlights on the ceiling and atop the stalagmites- some artificial- could mean that its occupants haven't been transported away.

"Down there!" Payback points to the bottom of the stairway, where a yellow SYSTEMatic is in fine working order and clutching a young woman in one of its grips. Its head turns toward us and it uses the other arm to fire a laser at me.

"Damn." The laser flies over my shoulder, but burns off a little of my hair. I pick Payback up and fly us toward it, dodging another beam completely.

"Hey! Hey!" says the woman being carried off. She's a little older than Raquel, but has gray hair, oddly. She looks quite helpless, with her entire waist in the machine's grip.

"That's Plus!" Payback says as I drop him on the machine's head. He obscures its cameras, but it fires the laser wildly, and I can tell it would cause some pain if it hit me. I take it on from behind.

"Are you injured?" I say to the woman, then, "Put her down and I'll try not to harm you while I disassemble your machine."

The pilot must have heard me, because he drops her. Payback jumps down and takes her in his arms. He holds the mechanical claw that released her in his own, but I shake my head and beckon him up the stairs.

"Take her to the Mechanic. See if he can get her out of here and leave if you wish," I say, then turn back to the pilot. "Now you'll tell me why you're here." I manage to handle the arm with the laser and pull the coils connecting it to the weapon out of their sockets. A tingling burst of electricity escapes from the broken device, and the pilot uses the distraction to pivot the SYSTEMatic's torso and face me. He brings the other arm down and I catch it, then he attempts to take flight. I blast the rocket at one of his feet as we go airborne, and our path starts to spiral upward. I'm stronger than his jet, however, and I summon enough resistance to pull us back toward the staircase. He hits first. A few stairs crumble, and the impact freezes his electronics. I pull the armored plate off the torso, throw it behind me, and snap the pilot's chest harness. He tumbles out at my feet.

"Don't hurt me!" he says. His voice is scrambled by his helmet. "I'll tell you anything!"

"What are you doing here and where are your cohorts?" I ask. Without the mask, I am taking some risk engaging with SYSTEM. I'm sure this operative will be too frightened to identify me, however.

"Icon!" Payback shouts down at me from near the top of the stairs. He's put the woman down and she's walking, which is a good sign. My captive is cowering, so I suppose we have the advantage for the moment. "Plus says they're after someone else."

I pick up the pilot and fly him to the top of the stairs. He's now in shock, which frustrates me because it will take longer for him to respond to my inquiries.

"Do you know who's been taken hostage? Where are they?" I demand. The pilot shudders, and then mumbles something.

"...energy weapon."

"What?" I ask.

"Narnie. They came to steal Narnie," Plus says.

"Were you upstairs when the attack began? Someone destroyed two of their machines," I say to her. "Is anyone else here?"

"No... Mechanic got them out... Dharma was using Narnie to break the other ones... They came after me and Mechanic got everyone else out. They thought she was still here," she explains, pointing to her head. It hardly makes sense, but I begin to see that I was right.

"Is Narnie the name of the weapon?"

"She's my sister."

Payback puts his arm around her and looks at me quizzically. I turn back to the pilot. "You came here trying to steal this weapon, and you failed. You thought this woman had it, and you failed to capture her. Everyone of value to you has escaped, and you've failed to evade me in your own escape. Your superiors will not be happy with you."

The pilot nods and takes off his helmet. He speaks with a Russian accent. "I was following orders. She doesn't have the weapon?"

Plus shakes her head. "No, dummy."

"I'm sorry... don't send me back...They'll execute me."

I sigh. "That is not my problem. Your crimes are hard to trace. Any authorities you'd report to are no doubt under the thumb of SYSTEM. If I let you go, you must reveal none of this- for your own safety," I tell him. "Mechanic will have to explain this, the details are vexing me."

I break down the door at the top of the stairs, throwing aside a heavy deadbolt, and the four of us make it back to the room where Mechanic brought me. The lights are still off, but he's there, seated now. He's been waiting for hours, his patience is reassuring.

"Thought you'd never get back. You okay, Plus?" he says when we arrive. "I'm okay. Narnie wasn't here. You sent her with Dharma, didn't you?" she asks.

"Him and everyone else."

"Why didn't you say you needed my help?" I ask. "If I'd known you were under attack, I would have never- "

"Accosted me? You were too busy doing that for me to get a word in. Then you left with this one before I could figure out where I slid him in. Nice."

"My apologies," I say to Mechanic, but I look back at Kevin. "I need you to remove this SYSTEM operative and then tell me what happened here. Send him somewhere unexpected."

Mechanic looks the man over and points to the center of the room. He turns off his lamp and when he turns it back on, the pilot is gone. The three of us look at Mechanic.

"Okay," he says. "Dharma calls me, tells me to lock down the whole sector and asks who's here. I give him a run-down, eight of us here at Shadowspire. He asks for strong ones, I tell him Donner's off the grid and Betty's AWOL. So he orders me to slide everyone except him out of here. I tell him that'll take a minute, but he tells me we've been infiltrated. So I shut off all the lighting in the sector and I get it done."

"And then Dharma calls me," Plus says, "and he's pissed because I'm still here. I was in the hall so I couldn't slide. He tells me he's got Narnie, that SYSTEM is here and they're after her, and before I can get upstairs one of them is on me. Ta-da."

"Dharma called for Payback and me because we're the strongest operatives available," I conclude. "It was wise."

"I guess," Payback says, putting his claw behind his head. He looks embarrassed. "What happened to the other intruders?" I ask. Mechanic hesitates.

"Dharma took care of them. I slid them out with him," he answers. The crisis seems resolved, but now it seems to be too easy. Too convenient that I was summoned to rescue this woman from one SYSTEMatic when the leader of the Shadow Cabinet disabled two and had their pilots before he escaped. I keep my suspicions to myself, however.

"Send me home," I say to Mechanic. I should discuss this with someone outside the Shadow Cabinet.

Mechanic obliges, readily, and as I leave I wonder if I've been put to a test of some kind. If so, Kevin was either an accomplice or an unsuspecting dupe. I return to my darkened bedroom. The communicator arrived next to me on the bed. My housekeeper is gone for the weekend, and no one has noticed I was gone.

It's early Saturday morning, and I call Raquel to have breakfast at my house. I tell her about the night's incidents.

"It's a conspiracy," she says after hearing my story. I put down my orange juice.

"Possibly, but what kind? I'm interested to know your thoughts on the matter." "If they're earth's mightiest heroes, don't you think they could take care of themselves? There's what, twenty of them, just the ones that you know? They could have taken three of those things, easy, instead of conveniently running away. It was a test or something," she says, waving a fork very close to my face.

"Please don't do that," I draw back. Not that it would harm me. "You may be right. But their primary objective was to keep this weapon out of the wrong hands. Plus was out of range and needed to be rescued. It seems like the logical course of action was to summon outside assistance."

Raquel shakes her head. "The people you tool around with in your day job, your clients, even they aren't dealing with the kind of international crime this SYSTEM is. God, I can't believe it's actually called SYSTEM. No way would they come up against you by accident. If the heroes knew they wouldn't be able to take you, or that clown Payback, the bad guys must know it. They would have taken you out a long time ago, before you figured it out and came after them."

"Maybe they have more in their arsenal than the operatives I encountered," I suggest. She has a point. The Shadow Cabinet pitted me against SYSTEM on purpose, even if the assault was a genuine threat. "I may well be the strongest person on this planet. Now both the Shadow Cabinet and SYSTEM know that."

"The closer I get to people like you," Raquel says, "the more I realize you're not all that different."

"From you? You have been a good influence as Rocket, I'll admit."

"I mean from each other. You think you can't tell your friends from your enemies by color? Sometimes, the enemy of your enemy is still... you know."

end.