202 - A Cold Trail

Continued from here

It’s remarkable how much intel there is on public websites. For example, when Alycia had split up from the group to “look for more enemy soldiers”, she was already pulling up the marine vessel tracking website. Barring accidents, ship routes are perfectly predictable.

That’s how she was able to parachute from the OZMA-9 AEGIS flight nearly onto the deck of this almost-automated cargo hauler. This is a bulk carrier, cruising at 14.8 knots per hour, at a heading of 309 degrees between Vila do Conde, Brazil and Veracruz, Panama. This craft’s photos online even helpfully include the Zodiac, replacing one of the closed lifeboat designs.

She has other intel, too.

SNOWMAN can jump out of airplanes. They’ll probably send him after me. Maybe immediately. My best strategy is to use him, until I can ditch him. I’ll have to do that before he reports my position and they deploy a pick-up team. They’ll know I’m heading back to Mexico anyway, but Mexico’s a big country.

She’s got seconds or minutes. She already formulated a strategy, now it’s just time to review and solidify it. He’s no friend of AEGIS, if I read Leo Snow’s personality correctly. He’s probably operating under duress, with Alex there to monitor and handle him in the field. I can play on his sympathy, as a fellow AEGIS detainee.

Sure enough, she spots the flare of jets descending from the sky. She watches him scan the deck, spot the Zodiac, make the logical connection. She watches him approach, stands up, readies her speech.

“I can’t let them take me in. I know you know what that feels like–”

He shoots her, almost as fast as her eye can process.


When she wakes up, she’s in the Zodiac. SNOWMAN is operating the outboard motor. The craft is skimming the waves, bump-bump-bump-bump. There’s an art to operating these things in ocean. Too slow and the waves take control of you. Too fast and you go flying. He’s not an expert with this, but he’s figuring it out fast.

She’s not physically wounded. He used some kind of non-lethal impact round. Very, very effective. Problematically effective. She was pretty sure he had a limited supply of them, but didn’t immediately feel like testing that limit.

“You shot me.”

“Yeah.”

“Not a very Leo move.”

SNOWMAN tilts his head. “I’m not Leo Snow. Not any more.”

That’s a very important bit of intel I need to factor in.

She thinks about Summer, about Aria. They were both the same person within the lifetime of the team, until - something - happened. They diverged rapidly. She has a cool working relationship with Aria Newman. Summer, on the other hand, has gotten uncomfortably far past her defenses, into what might riskily be called “friendship” territory. Leo seemed to understand that such rapid divergence was not only possible, but inevitable. Now he’s experiencing it for himself?

“So who are you now?”

SNOWMAN doesn’t answer.

She’s been orienting herself via the stars. The silence affords her time to put her conclusions together. They’re going back to Mexico. “What’s your plan?”

“Take you back to Mexico. Let you play out your hunch until you run dry. Take you back to AEGIS after that.”

She smirks. “That doesn’t sound like a very AEGIS move either. If you were one of their loyal foot soldiers, you’d just take me back.”

He finally looks at her, instead of the water. “Two reasons. First, if there’s someone running the old Chin operation, that’s not cool with me no matter what. Free supervillains are bad news. Like Rossum. 'Nuff said.”

'Nuff said indeed. “And the other?”

He narrows his eyes, looks away again. “'Cause maybe you do have a clone of yourself or something. That’s just as much of a problem.”

She leans forward, hearing a hidden emotion in his voice and finding opportunity there. That’s what he thinks happened. Maybe what he hopes. He wants to see it, learn from it. The divergence from a real Alycia to a copy. He wants to learn about how to live with himself.

“Make you a deal. Don’t shoot me again, and I’ll cooperate.”

SNOWMAN snorts. “You got a shitty foundation of trust going. How about cooperate, and I won’t have to shoot you again.”

She feels for the leverage she thinks she has. “You don’t have a chance of getting to the master of the new Chin empire without my willing cooperation.”

“Fine. Partners. We’ll play it your way, but no killing.”

It worked. “Deal.”

He changes topics. “What’s your lead anyway? Or do you just feel like parachuting into random situations?”

Honestly, I kind of do… She shakes her head free of that thought. “The lab that was attacked. The Chin operation was using it. But they bought space and equipment from a drug cartel. They had a deal with a cartel. I’ll find out which one, then infiltrate them or get access to their records.”

“Just like that, huh?”

She smirks with renewed confidence. “I’m only on the side of the angels. I’m not one myself.”

SNOWMAN goes silent. Alycia does too. For all her bravado, it wasn’t going to be quite that easy. But it was a plan, and for once she feels pretty good about things. Doing bad, in the name of good. Is that who I am? Then so be it.

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Emma watches Nono regain consciousness at the jolt of OZMA-9’s thick wheels against Halcyon International Airport’s tarmac. “We’re here, kiddo. We’re home. Did you enjoy your adventure?”

Nono blinks owlishly, and rational thought comes fitfully. “It was… it wasn’t the kind of thing I expected. It was scary, and I didn’t know what was going on half the time.”

“Adventures are like that,” Emma says softly. “Come on, it’s a school day, we’re gonna get you home so you can have a normal life for a little bit.”


Emma takes stock. Two people jumped out of the airplane. One person’s been sent home in a taxi. That leaves her and… Alex?

The two stare at each other from the comfort of the airport lounge. Its complimentary coffee service is really helping right now. But what’s keeping Emma wired is the big question. May as well just ask it.

“What now?”

She watches the AEGIS agent, cool behind their sunglasses and grinning like an annoying brat. She’s already getting irritated.

“You’re a supervillain,” Alex says. Well no shit. “You’re some kinda protégé of Mr. Big, the size-shifting villain. We know you’ve got resources, and that you’re working with some kinda Ukrainian independence terrorist-slash-freedom-fighter-slash-yadda-yadda group.”

I hate that “we”. Fucking goodie goodie heroes. Always trying to gang up on me. Emma sours.

Alex, if they notice, doesn’t respond. “Sooo, we use those.”

Emma blinks. “What?”

“You heard. Well, maybe you didn’t. Busy cuddling your girlfriend, huh?” Alex grins again, and Emma makes a mental note to punch this jerk right in their face at some opportune moment. Maybe those sunglasses are expensive. Yeah, she can break them.

But the agent is still talking. “We’re on our own. The big AEGIS apparatus doesn’t match how Alycia Chin operates. So you and me, we’re going to phone your friends, gear up, and go back to Mexico. We’re gonna find her, and help her.”

Emma rolls her eyes. “Why should I help you?” she demands.

“I dunno, why were you helping me before?”

Definitely breaking this jerk’s sunglasses. Emma takes a breath. “Fine. I’m just working with Chin to make Nono happy. She likes spy stuff. She wants me to have something to do other than be a villain. ‘Secret super-spy’ is a good match for my skill set. Guess the idea is I’ll do enough good stuff that when you AEGIS assholes finally drag me in, I’ll get a reduced sentence or some shit. Like you lot could ever stop me.”

Alex takes this all in, still grinning and unreadable behind the shades. Finally: “Then how about this. You and me, we’re gonna engage in a rampage together. Instead of being the nice AEGIS recruit, you get to drag a frankly spectacular hacker and intelligence analyst into your sordid life of crime and go wild. How does that sound?”

Phrased like that, pretty good. But Emma doesn’t want to give them the pleasure. Instead, she sticks out her hand. “Hot Mess, aka Emma Agney.”

“Agent 1337, aka Alex Gemini Shelby.”

Emma frowns. “Alex Gem… did you pick that name just so it sounds like ‘AEGIS’?”

Alex whips off their shades, their saucy grin replaced by a look of pure joy. “You are the first person to get that! Oh my god, you’re amazing!”

What the hell have I signed up for?

Don’t always be so quick to shoot, they keep telling me. Use charisma and reason, they keep telling me. You’ll always have time to escalate if that fails, they keep telling me …

I don’t recall if I ever considered a clone in here, though it’s a natural trope. When I toyed with the idea, I’d simply assumed Chin had the “heir and a spare” approach, other kid(s) of the correct age cohort. The real challenge would be in training them, enough under Chin’s influence to force loyalty, enough outside the spotlight to not be found out by Alycia or AEGIS or anyone. Set up a parallel crime/terror organization? Place them in a (relatively) independent cell of his empire? Hmmm.

Would they know of their status until some failsafe revelation? If yes, it might be a test of ruthlessness to see if they got rid of Alycia prematurely, but that would also likely disrupt Chin’s plans, create factionalism within the movement, etc.

This all assumes there really is a Chin blood heir, and not just a well-placed opportunist taking things over “in my Glorious Father’s name.” They might even believe it (“He placed this consciousness into the body of one of his loyal followers, knowing that I would …”).

Anyway, eager to see what you have in mind, whatever the path.

Okay, if we knew that full name, count me abashed.

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Good story so far. Also noticed the Story Queue from the About thread got updated to include some of its contents.

These all sound promising.

Did you not know Alex’s name (cover?) from the Phoenix Academy game?

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You know, it sounds vaguely familiar (beyond the Alex), but if I did know the full name, I don’t think I made that connection.

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The pair have swapped their Zodiac for a beat-up Jeep, commandeered from a group of smugglers who accosted them as they came ashore. Alycia, predictably, is driving.

“I can take over when you get tired,” SNOWMAN points out.

Alycia glances over. “Aren’t you fifteen years old?”

She knows my timeline pretty well. And she picks fights she thinks she can win.

He shrugs it off. Back to the mission. “I didn’t find any identifying papers on the guys waiting at the lab. They were carrying weapons used by the Mexican police, but that could mean anything.”

“Were they deployed like cops?” she asks.

“Most cops don’t carry grenade launchers. I’d say no.” He remembers getting hit with that RPG, full in the face. Immortality is a new thing to him, and he’s still processing it.

“Fine. Did you at least hear them talking?”

“Only radio chatter and screams.”

“Don’t suppose you recorded it.”

“Yeah. Here, let me broadcast…” He tunes the Jeep’s beat-up radio to a certain frequency, and activates his onboard computer. Alycia listens intently for several seconds, then asks him to turn up the volume and replay it.

“‘Bravo’. There it is. These guys aren’t Guatemalans, but were trained by them. That means they’re a faction of the Los Zetas Cartel.”

Privately, SNOWMAN is impressed, but he’s not going to admit to that. This is the sort of work Alex does with a computer. She’s doing it all in her head. “I don’t think they were expecting us,” he adds. I gotta be a little smart here.

“That tracks. The forensic evidence suggests that this ‘New Chin Empire’ needed a specialized lab for some reason, acquired one under false pretenses from LZ, used it, then cleared out and left enough evidence to incriminate another cartel. That other cartel may complicate things if they show up for real.”


The Jeep ride is long. Talking about the mission can only go so far. Mutual silence gets annoying. The boleros and música jarana on the radio get awkward. Eventually conversation becomes an act of self-defense.

SNOWMAN isn’t sure if he should ask about this. He’s been wrestling with it for a long time - as long as he’s existed, really, when it comes down to it. He knows what he’s read in the dossiers. He knows a lot, just by being Alex’s partner at AEGIS. But that’s not the same as just asking another human being.

In keeping with his nature, he plunges ahead. “You’re friends with Pneuma, huh?”

He watches Alycia process this. “If you mean Summer, yes,” she finally admits. Admits, like she’s unsure about the truth of it, or unsure if she wants to respond.

“What’s… What’s she like? I mean, how’s she doing these days?”

Alycia side-eyes him from the driver’s seat. “Why don’t you just ask her?”

It’s complicated.

He tries to answer by asking another question. “Do you know who I am?”

Alycia starts, and he’s not sure why. But she snorts, and throws it back at him sarcastically. “You said you didn’t even know who you were. How should I?”

SNOWMAN shakes his head. God, she is annoying. “No. Listen. I mean, do you know why I exist? What I was for?”

“Just get to the point,” she growls.

Fine. “I made… uh, Leo made… me. This android shell. For AEGIS. It was part of the parole deal. Share tech, so AEGIS knew how to deal with it. Only, I woke up and Rossum was there. So… well, basically they turned me into a living bomb to capture their man - my dad - and then shut me off again. I shouldn’t exist.”

Alycia looks surprisingly sympathetic. But her natural gruffness covers it over again. “So?”

“So… listen, that wasn’t supposed to happen! Okay? That wasn’t the deal. So. Leo, and Pneuma, would be horrified if they learned I exist.”

Alycia doesn’t seem impressed. “The Newman clan seems pretty resilient to shocks, in my experience.”

SNOWMAN recoils. “Jesus, never mind. I thought you might have even a god damn speck of sympathy for my situation. I’m in love with a girl I can never be with, I’m shut out of a life I can never live! I don’t make weapons - but I was used as one! God dammit, does none of this get through to you?”

Alycia coolly rolls her eyes, in a way that really aggravates him. “You definitely are fifteen years old.”

The Hollywood stereotype about hackers is that they’re either hyperactive goblins or fat disgusting neckbeards. Me, I try to balance things out by being a disgusting goblin.

I got nothing on the owner-operator of this plane, though. It’s the ubiquitous C-130, as much of a staple of international military operations in the air as the Toyota Hilux is on the ground. Both vehicles get used and abused, and this one’s seen a lot of abuse. I can see spots in the hull that have taken fire and been filled in with what I assume is Bondo. The paint job has so thoroughly damaged that it’s become its own unique form of camouflage. There’s crates stuffed full of empty bottles for use as Molotov cocktails, big rolls of duct tape zip-tied to the cargo carabiners, and other signs of desperate and creative improvisation. In a way, I respect it. These guys are military hackers, the way I’m a computer hacker. We do the same thing - explore new uses for existing tools and resources.

Right now, I’m doing some strategy hacking. I’ve got limited resources and intel - whatever I can get to from my laptop on this plane, thanks to the Iridium satellite phone owned by this guy, “Samir”. We got a bunch of data about the chem lab in the form of photos, a 3D visualization, spectroscopic analysis, oh god there’s so much data.

There’s something else, though. We have the Chin cover-up strategy, which was “blow up the lab, but impersonate another cartel in doing so”. Cartels don’t erase evidence. They send a message. So there’s a considerable amount of lab equipment that we can account for. None of it’s usable, which is fine, but I can reconstruct what was originally there. Well, about 65% of it.

What good is that? Well, it’s like having the Colonel’s 11 Herbs and Spices. Or the formula for Coke. Chemistry is chemistry. If you put the same chemicals together in the same way, the same reactions happen, and it doesn’t matter who the hell you are or whether you own the “intellectual property”. The only way to protect your scientific objective is to obfuscate it. Like hiding a lab underground at a random farm.

This is all so very exciting work, so I get irritated when Emma lightly punches me in the back of the head.

“What?”

“Just practicing.”

“Practicing what? I’m busy here!”

“Practicing punching you.”

She is like a baby, I fucking swear. Just does whatever she wants without a care in the world. She’s worth about 4 million dollars and has a paramilitary strike team working with her. Kind of a troubling combination.

“I’m trying to figure out what these bad guys are doing here, can you just not interfere with that for like 10 minutes?”

She sniffs dismissively. “If you want to know what a supervillain would do, why aren’t you asking one?”

That’s a really excellent point, god dammit.

“Fine. What would you do, if this was your caper?”

She taps a lip with one finger. “K. I’m the cartel. You’re the Double Chin.”

Double Chin? God dammit, I didn’t think of that. Why? WHY?

I’ll play along anyway, despite my new frustration. “Okay. Uh, hey, cartel. Give me drug equipment so I can do a thing, and I’ll pay you.”

She grins. “Okay fine, but why should I trust you with my chemistry gear? That’s my bread and butter.”

“Uh, because I have money?”

“I have a lot of money already. Why are you coming to me, and asking me to risk trusting you, when you can just buy your own gear and set up a lab somewhere yourself?”

Good point. “Uh, hey cartel, I want something from you…” It hits me. “That isn’t about money. I want something you have, like a distribution network. Or smuggling tunnels. Or expertise on how to move merch.”

She grins. “And in return you pay me. And we’ll set up a lab so you can concoct something, and you cut us in on whatever you’re making.”

I sit back in my chair. “So this isn’t about just making a chemical weapon or a toxin or something. And it can’t be something that’d compete with the existing cartel business. This is something that would sell. Or be given away?”

Emma nods, in that sort of condescending-scolding manner a teacher would use. She plucks my sunglasses off of my face, looks about ready to squeeze a fist around them for a second, then puts them on herself. “Now, Alex Gemini Shelby, you’re thinking like a supervillain.”

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I was in Mexico, looking at a secret supervillain drug lab. That’s what I was doing last night.

Now that it’s over, and Nono’s back in her classroom, sitting at her desk, listening to her teacher, doing her assignments, it feels so unreal. But she was there.

“Hey, save the senioritis for later,” hisses the girl behind her. “I need you to tutor me on this stuff later.”

“Uh-huh.” Nono can only dimly nod.

Until awhile ago, Summer Newman was the most exciting friend she knew. A girl who was also a robot, which Nono didn’t realize at first. She thought that was as close as she’d get to the storm of super-weirdness that perpetually hung over Halcyon City. And then she met Emma, aka Hot Mess. And then and then and then–

The bell rings, and Nono has no idea what to do with herself. Go to next class, dummy. Yeah, but… she doesn’t want to. She wants more adventure.


Lunchtime comes. Nono gnaws absently on a carrot stick. It’s weird, because normally she’d be daydreaming about all kinds of spy fiction to write, but now–

Her phone rings. The number is unlisted.

“Uh… Hello?”

“Nono.” It’s Agent 1337 - Alex! Nono can hear Emma shouting something in the background. It’s really noisy, too. Oh, they’re on an airplane still.

They’re going somewhere without me.

She feels a swell of a horrible feeling, but Alex’s voice pushes back against the wave. “We need you. Got about 15 minutes?”

“Sure?” She gets out of her seat, slinging her backpack over one shoulder and abandoning her tray, and heads for the door.

“I’ve finally been able to ID some of the gear in the lab. I’m sending you pictures now. I need you to put together what they were making, as much of it as you can, okay?”

They need me! They need ME!

“Um, sure…”

Nono watches the stream of pictures coming through her messaging app. She starts scribbling an outline into her notebook, not caring about the fanfiction notes she’s overwriting in the process.

"The bad news is, most equipment is universal, that’s the point, and they’re going to sterilize it after use, so there probably won’t be anything that indicates… Oh hey, that’s a tablet press. So they’re making uh… what it does is, compress powder into uniform sized tablets. You do this if you want to control dosage… "

Alex’s voice comes over the phone. “A drug lab. We figured. How about what goes into it?”

“I don’t know…” Nono bites her lip. Suddenly she feels useless again. “The point of standard equipment is, y’know, to let a lab make whatever they need…”

“Got it. We’ll be in touch when we have more to feed the ol’ chemistry brain.” Alex hangs up.

Nono takes on the burden of her backpack and shuffles toward her next class.


She runs into Summer after school.

“Hey Nono!”

“Hey Summer…”

The two girls smile at each other, Nono awkward and wanting to speak, Summer waiting uncertainly.

Nono breaks the silence. “Uh, can I talk about something?”

“Sure, always!”

“You’re a robot, right?”

Summer smiles, with a relief Nono can recognize at a secret long kept being allowed out. “Yep, you know that.”

“Is Leo a robot?”

“No, he was the one who made us, though. Why?”

Nono isn’t sure why this bothers her. Maybe the idea of duplicating people, when the robot girl she knows is very much unique? “Well uh, I ran into a robot Leo Snow…”

Summer freezes in place.

Nono isn’t sure how to read this. Lacking guidance, she keeps talking. “He uh, he called himself SNOWMAN?”

“Oh god.” The words are faint, falling from Summer’s lips. The girl spins and sprints away.

Nono watches her retreat in frustrated confusion. I’m no good to anyone, am I.

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Alycia realizes she’s woken up a second time in SNOWMAN’s presence. The thought of that kind of vulnerability, especially around what amounts to Leo’s bratty kid brother, irritates the hell out of her.

He’s fast, and well-armed. He’s got the upper hand in any kind of physical confrontation. She’s grateful, at least, that all the conflicts she has with Leo Snow are intellectual and ethical in nature. When it’s a battle of wits, I’m at least as well armed as him.

She glances around, checks the odometer and the sky instinctively, trying to gauge her position.

“So who are these guys?” SNOWMAN asks, from the Jeep’s driver’s seat.

“LZ?” She thinks back to what she knows. “Remnants of the Mexican Army. They started as bodyguards for another cartel, then went into business for themselves. Used to be the biggest in the country. Then they fragmented. They’ve got rivalries with other cartels.”

“No matter where you go, it’s all dirty, isn’t it.” The android’s tone is bitter and hopeless.

No sense sugar-coating it. “My father’s mission - the mission, the Great Mission - was to solve that, his own way.” She stretches and yawns, pulls her pistol out, starts checking it out habitually as she talks. “He talked about people who could be educated to rise above a desire for power, and graduate into having a desire for order. In his world, Mexico wouldn’t have the cartels because the United States wouldn’t have addicts. Above them all would be the perfect ruler. Someone who wasn’t corruptible because he didn’t listen to anyone except his own conscience.”

SNOWMAN snorts. “That’s fuckin’ bullshit.”

Alycia privately winces at the wholesale dismissal of her former life’s work, even if he’s right in one sense. “The Great Mission was corruptible on its way up, alas. There’s a fundamental problem with bootstrapping Utopian social movements. Get people to expect perfection tomorrow, and they’ll demand it from you today.”

He hasn’t slept yet. When he does, it’ll be my chance to take the Jeep.


“Turn off here,” Alycia says, pointing. SNOWMAN steers the Jeep along the road.

“Alright. Armor up, or whatever. Pull over here, the estancia should be half a klick north.”

The Jeep behind them, the pair of commandos creep through the trees. They’ve left Yucatán behind and have entered the Free and Sovereign State of Tabasco. The landscape has visibly changed, but it’s still lush and green and there’s plenty of opportunity for cover.

“Plan?” asks the carbon-black armored android.

“House is the last known location of a cartel member codenamed Z-55. He handles the finances for this region. The lab should be under his purview. If the files for it are anywhere, they’ll be here.”

“Roger.” SNOWMAN pauses. “You know a lot about this particular thing.”

Alycia shrugs a bit. “The Chin successor would be working with these people, because my father did. He appreciated the cartel’s military discipline. My cooperation with AEGIS included identifying some of their assets. I received a very thorough briefing in return.”

“Okay. So infil, lay hands on intel related to the Yucatán lab, exfiltrate.”

"Yeah. Say, you got a built-in camera in that fancy android head of yours?”

“Yeah.”

Alycia snorts. “Sure a lot of gadgetry. Leo and Summer prided themselves on the simplicity of their robotic designs, for the sake of reliability. Gave up on that?”

SNOWMAN gets downright touchy at this. “It wasn’t my idea, okay? It was Alex’s. They rebuilt me, but insisted on giving me all this spy shit.”

“Okay, okay.” Alycia wants to laugh, but opsec demands discretion. “Get your game face on. Let’s go.”

The pair emerge from the tree line at the border of an estancia - the equivalent of a truck farm. They can see the three-story farmhouse across a field of pinto beans, silage corn, pumpkins and alfalfa. They spot the sicarios assigned to guard the place, but Alycia is fast to divine their patrol assignments, and the pair dart through the blind spots in their route.

Nobody’s inside the house, at least from a quick inspection. A sanity check showed tire tracks out front, indicating a family lives here but might be out. Alycia scowls behind her mask, then gives SNOWMAN the thumbs up.

There’s a secret panel, not too hard to find thanks to SNOWMAN’s extended senses, and Alycia’s instinct for when the interior geometry of a room doesn’t add up. It doesn’t have an obvious access method, but it’s probably electronic, and Charade’s shock gloves take care of that.

The basement is what you’d expect of a busy executive in a complex organization. Papers, filing cabinets, an expensive computer, a workout machine, a wet bar. Work and play, all in the same space. A row of security monitors line one wall, showing the perimeter of the property.

“Spread out. Check everything. Keep an eye on those monitors, if the family returns. This feels too lucky.” Alycia is already picking the locks on the filing cabinets, and quickly has an armful of files. She drops them on the desk for SNOWMAN’s electronic inspection, then goes for more.

It takes a few minutes. There’s too much to immediately process, but they found the right folders from the look of it. Shipping manifests, personnel records, everything you’d expect the cartel to have. Other paperwork probably held the contracts that dealt with the arrangement between the cartel and Chin.

SNOWMAN’s sudden call out is tense. “Guards leaving their posts en masse.”

Alycia’s head snapped up. “Approaching?”

“No - leaving.”

“It’s a trap.”

She was already turning to leave, when the computer lit up and two faces appeared.

One was a boy, looking for all the world like her. The other was her father.

Emma got word from Samir that the C-130 was going to land on a mountaintop runway, operated by gun-runner comrades of his, to fuel up. “I need some money, boss,” he’d said apologetically. Emma had rummaged for cash in her pockets and handed some over. “Oh! See if they got a good deal on claymores again!” she’d called after him.

Now she sits next to Alex as the hacker pounded out more stuff on their laptop. “How do you know where to go, anyway?” she demands.

Alex winks. They’d left their sunglasses off since they were taken, even after they’d been returned. “I’m following SNOWMAN’s tracking signal.”

Emma rolls her eyes. “How very secure of you to plant a fucking radio bug in your best friend.”

Alex pffs. “He’s not my best friend. Buddy! Compadre! Amigo! Amiga, but that’s a Commodore computer! Best friend is so pedestrian.”

“Whatever, nerd. Done anything interesting on that laptop besides downloading porn?”

“Scenery porn, maybe. Check this out.” Alex pulls up a series of images on the laptop. “Look at this. You don’t just dig out a big chemistry lab and haul stuff to it without alerting somebody. Either that facility was set up awhile back, and it was either being used or it just sat there idly, or they made it new. I figure they made it new. Look at this.”

Slides of satellite photos glide by. “That place would generate a lot of heat–”

Emma exhales noisily. “I know how heat works, dipshit. Go to your point, go directly to your point, do not pass Go, do not collect $200.”

“Okay. Here. Years - months - days - weeks ago. See the plant life here? The heat’s being vented, and it’s affecting the landscape. But not until awhile ago.”

Emma makes an impatient rolling motion with her hands, and Alex goes on. “Okay. So, recent construction. Someone would notice. Someone got paid not to notice. So who’s driving a nice car around here?”

A face comes up on screen, and Alex throws a theatrical hand flourish its way. “Here we are. Local police chief. I am on his phone and I am doing numbers!” The proud hacker hops up from their plane seat and starts to do what Emma fears will be a supremely corny dance, then falls on their ass just as promptly, when the engines roar to life and the C-130 takes to the skies again.

Perfect timing.


“They ditched their transportation and are moving on foot,” reports Alex. The C-130 is overflying Tabasco, making a lazy arc in the sky while its pilot awaits more specific instructions.

“Cool.” Emma is double-checking the fit on her Second Chance tactical vest. “So I guess we just loiter around like idiots until something goes down?”

Alex gives a thumbs up. “Oh. By the way. Your girlfriend is calling your cell phone.”

Emma blinks, glances over at the storage bins where her phone is stashed, realizes what is going on, and scowls. “Gonna stop spying on me?”

“Spying’s what I do, hot stuff.”

“Fine. Put it through, if you can, secretary.”

Nono’s voice comes over the laptop’s speaker, tinny but audible. “Um, Emma? Is everything okay? Listen, I thought of something else about that lab…”

“Everything’s fine, hon. What’s up?”

“Well, there’s all that equipment. But equipment needs people. There’d be about a dozen people down there, operating it day in and day out. Right?”

“Right?”

Nono becomes positively craven, and Emma hates this about her sometimes. You’re smart, stop sniveling so much, just spit out what you want to say. “Um, so um, where did they sleep? What did they eat? All that stuff?”

Emma glances quickly at Alex, who pulls up the lab schematics on the laptop again. The AEGIS agent reports back in a few seconds. “There’s side rooms. There’s no plumbing hookups there, just in the main room, where the rinse stations and stuff would be. We found chemistry stuff, but nothing domestic.”

“Maybe they took the furniture?” Emma asks.

“Unlikely. And I wouldn’t put food in lab fridges.”

“I would!” comes Nono’s voice over the phone.

Oh dear lord. Emma strains to smile. “Okay. Analysis.”

Alex starts to speak, but it’s Nono that comes through. “So um, I thought, you know, like you guys sent me home after the adventure, I thought, where do these people go? Home, right? So, um, where would that be? Maybe there’s some other hole in the ground around the site? Or maybe they stayed in one of the nearby villages and bused there.”

Alex nods. “A good data point. I’ll look into it.”

Emma nods as well, then smiles in genuine pride. “You did good, Nono. You did really good.”

She can’t see the smile at the other end of the phone, but she can feel it.

“Daughter.”

“Sister.”

The labels grip Alycia’s heart in an iron vice. It’s him. Well. Them? But she can’t make it past the fear to do a proper analysis.

“The trap was designed for you,” says Doctor Chin. “The leaf falls to the roots of the tree, does it not?”

“How can you be alive?” she whispers.

“Now child, I will not share such vital intelligence with you. You should know better. I assign you the task of solving this riddle yourself, if you can. I shall only perform my duty as parent, and introduce you to your younger brother. Pyrrhus Chin. Son of Achilles. Another Pyrrhus gave us the term ‘Pyrrhic victory’, a victory that is devastating to the victor. As you say, how can I be alive? My continued survival, and this boy, and my empire in some form, are my victory.”

The boy on the screen smirks and bows, and she wants to scream at the familiarity of the body language. It’s like watching a mirror.

Instead she rallies, tries to salvage her pride, her dignity, and her poise. “You didn’t just call to gloat. Do you hope that I’ll return to the fold?”

“Oh no, child, no. That probability, a mere 2.3%, is behind us now. No. I called to see, with my own eyes, that my wayward scion is thoroughly and properly disposed of.”

The security monitors show car after car rolling up. Men in military kit are emerging. More sicarios and commandos.

“They won’t be enough,” Alycia announces defiantly.

“They are merely there to follow up. The fuel-air explosives are much more reliable.”

She smells gas. She knows the ignition is less than a second away–

“Sorry,” she hears SNOWMAN say, then all is darkness.


“Alright, big badda boom,” announces Alex. They shout a direction and distance over the headset to the pilot. “We’re a few minutes away. Seismic monitoring stations picked up a localized earthquake. Pretty sure it’s our buddies. Hope they got to a safe distance.”

Emma stands at one window, a pair of binoculars in hand. Only after a minute does she report back. “There’s a big cloud of smoke. Someone torched a house. Looks like lots of goons with gunz are there to party.”

Alex’s face grows somber. “My guy’s tracking device is offline,” they report.

Probably went up in the blast. Probably Chin too. Emma feels a tightening in her stomach, a feeling that certain rebellious elements of her mind have dubbed ‘empathy’. She bites her tongue in defiance. “Fine. We are kicking legendary amounts of ass today. You coming with?”

Alex just stands, drawing their sidearm with determination.

“Alright.” Emma grins. “Samir! We need a really smelly fart down there.”

“Smelly fart, on the way,” comes the pilot’s response.


The C-130 banks sharply around the smoke rising from the former farmhouse. Like many planes, the Hercules is designed to dump its fuel if it’s coming into a landing too heavy. It does so now, spilling hundreds of gallons of Jet A-1 commercial fuel from its external pods. Gravity takes over next, pulling the flammable liquid to earth in a wide ring around the edge of the property, and conveniently where the gunmen are still hanging out.

It’s Hot Mess that leaps off of the plane’s open cargo ramp, parachute already open. She can see the line of fuel taper off from the tank, knows the dump is finished and that her plane is safe. She focuses her power and ignites the tail end of the dump, the liquid that’s still falling to earth.

The stream lights up, and spreads, like a crimson dragon coiling around the property. Men screaming, men running, desperate gunfire hastily and badly aimed at the retreating airplane.

Alex is holding onto the parachute harness, grasping for dear life. “Get ready to shoot, you idiot!” she shouts.

The parachute won’t work at such low altitudes - practically the treetops. Hot Mess doesn’t need it to. A gust of superheated air blows up thanks to her powers, and the chute billows open in response. She focuses a nexus of heat between herself and the chute, making a high-speed hot air balloon of the nylon, and starts buzzing the farm.

Alex has regained their composure and starts shooting. Their accuracy isn’t amazing from a wildly twisting position like this, but the return gunfire gives the sicarios something else to worry about and keeps them from organizing.

“Get off!” Hot Mess shouts down at Alex. The hacker grins again. “Spicy! This is only our first date!” they shout back, but to their credit they drop and roll onto the soil of the farmland.

I am definitely breaking your fucking shades.

Hot Mess lands, moves a tremendous amount of heat around in the air in a very short time, and in so doing creates a pressure differential. When she releases it, the rushing air knocks a dozen men off their feet.

“I won’t kill them,” she growls, to herself and to Nono and God and anyone else who might be listening. “I’ll just make them regret living!


Alex ducks and sprints behind rows and rows of ruined crops. They duck, slide under, or leap over bits of the house that have landed in the field. Every so often, a human face will present itself out of the confusion, and they open fire. They don’t have to hit - just disorient. And so far, it’s working.

Not much for a hacker to do here. Guess I gotta be an AEGIS agent for awhile.

They crouch, get a good grip, and sight. Another sicario comes running out of the field, weapon raised. He’s almost as fast. Almost. Thank god. He goes down with three rounds to the shoulder and left arm, and Alex sprints forward and hunkers down over him for just long enough. Will he live? Probably, if he doesn’t bleed out. Assault rifle? Nice. Extra mags? Double nice.

Strategy. Need a strategy.

There’s a fire, a big one. Hot Mess is having the time of her life over there. But she could still be ambushed. Radios? Radios! This guy has one. Alex snatches it, punches him in the face just to be sure, and runs for where they remember the cars were parked.

Inside the car, they crack open the radio case in record time, then wire it into the cigarette lighter. That’ll give it more than enough juice to broadcast–

Every sicario’s radio suddenly screams out, and keeps screaming, a narcocorrido song from the blue Chevy’s in-dash MP3 player. Everyone with a radio is now a target, for anyone who can listen.

Alex hears more screams. Yep. Time of her fucking life.

Hot Mess has been persuaded to let the less injured soldiers escape with their incapacitated companions. “I could just ignite the magazines in their rifles,” she sniffs.

Alex is more concerned about the remnants of the farmhouse, and the location of their missing comrades.

They’d have contacted us by now. We made enough of a mess to let them know we’re here. Snowman might have just turned off his locator. Maybe they’re under deep cover. Oh god, this is my fault. The thoughts come thick and fast.

The pair watch as some of the surviving rubble falls off the remnant structure of the burnt building.

“What now?” Emma asks.

“There’s an Opel Corsa back there with leather interior,” Alex answers in a flat tone of voice. “I can probably hotwire it. Or you can. Whatever.”

“Idiot. I mean what now about-- About Charade and SNOWMAN?”

Alex weakly raises a hand, unable to fully point at the wreckage.

“Please. That bitch is too annoying to die,” Emma retorts. But her fire isn’t in it.

There’s the sound of more rubble falling. The pair sit down on what’s left of the porch.

“We gotta get back on the Herc,” Alex says finally. “We can chase down that lead Nono offered us. And our corrupt cops.”

“Samir’ll be back in a couple hours. He needs to refuel again,” Emma says.

“Neat trick.”

“Expensive trick. Filling those birds up is 6700 gallons. It’s fuckin’ 2 dollars a gallon down here. I probably burned through four grand as an opening move.”

Alex sighs. “This is not gonna endear me to – Charade’s handler.”

“Fuck 'er. You gotta live your own life.” Emma can’t quite muster the enthusiasm she usually has for this part of the villain spiel.

More rubble comes down, a lot more, and the pair scramble off the porch just in case.

“Jesus fucking Christ,” comes a voice from behind them.

The carbon-black suit that is SNOWMAN’s armored form emerges from the depths of the wreckage. He’s cursing. “Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuckity fuck.”

Alex brightens up immediately. “You made it, good buddy!” The cheer is short-lived, as another question has to be asked. “Uh. What about… Charade?”

The armored form cracks open, and an unconscious Alycia Chin falls out.


Alycia wakes up - again. Honestly. This is not good.

To her immense satisfaction, SNOWMAN - back in human form - is lolling his head back inside the car they’re in. He’s clearly asleep, and showing signs of regular breathing. Autonomic reflex? He doesn’t need to breathe. It must be a vestige of his peripheral nervous system. Fascinating technologically speaking.

She’s in the back of a car. In the driver’s seat is Alex, sunglasses on. Emma’s riding shotgun.

“Report,” she says, automatically.

“SNOWMAN encased you before whatever explosive went off down there,” Alex says. “He can turn into a Link Suit for human beings, as well as being a combat unit himself. It’s come in pretty handy on prior occasions, let me tell you.”

Alycia is very unsure of how to feel about her survival, given this update. “Alright, what else?”

“Well, a bunch of simp-carios showed up to cause trouble but we were bad enough dudes to rescue the President.”

Alycia gets the gist. “And our rendezvous?”

“Coming up in about 30 miles,” announces Emma.

“Alright. Debrief once we touch down state side.” Alycia lays her head back and closes her eyes.

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There’s a burger joint downtown that Jason has talked about forever. Alycia gets the team back together, once she’s done the vitally necessary part of recording her own memories and impressions about the mission. Memories revisited will always change, but a written record captured in the moment is immutable.

Over burgers, she looks from face to face. The group is collectively uninterested in small talk, a small blessing for which she is grateful. So she gets down to it. “Turns out I was right. My father, or maybe a clone or simulacrum of him, is alive. And - and - I have a brother.”

She glances at SNOWMAN, but has trouble reading the mix of emotions on his face. She continues.

“He - they - set a trap for me. It would have worked. If it was just me. The trap didn’t work on us. On this team.”

The others smile, at her, at themselves and each other, in their own ways. She goes on.

“So. Um. I don’t think I’m a very good field commander, or team leader. Despite Summer trying to push me into command of the Menagerie, I feel I failed at that. But this… this group, I think I can work with.”

She glances around again, hoping against hope that they’re not just silently mocking her. It takes courage to keep going. “Look - listen. We all have our differences. But those differences don’t preclude us cooperating, even synergizing, and-- dammit, sorry. I’m getting distracted.”

Alycia takes a breath, closes her eyes, and opens them again to look at her team. “I need all of you, and I hope I’ll find ways for you to need me, in the future. I have to stop my father’s empire from returning to power. I don’t know how to do that the AEGIS way, or the villain’s way, or the hero’s way.”

“But I believe, I firmly and genuinely believe, that I can do it my way.”

Emma is the first to speak. “Well obviously you’ll fail without my help.”

Nono nods enthusiastically. “This was a real adventure, and… I want more! I want to help more, I mean.”

SNOWMAN shrugs, but Alycia can see through him in spite of it. “You owe me your life once already. I’ll be keeping track.”

Alex, for once, takes their shades off themselves. “I had a little chat with Parker,” they explain. “I think you’ll find that she agrees in principle with your approach here.”

Parker… trusted me?

The work isn’t done. But for now, just for a little bit, it’s okay to trust in her team too.

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And that’s the end of the first “Agents of AEGIS” story! Hopefully people had fun, hopefully the story was true to the characters and made sense, and we got some interesting twists and turns and action scenes.
If folks have any comments or questions, feel free to leave them here.

Originally posted here

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Very enjoyable story. Kind of wanted resolution to the whole “hey Chin and his other child are here” part, but that seems like the setup for this team’s adventures so I get it.

Going to guess we’re going to see more SNOWMAN in the eventual confrontation with the Newmen. Interested to see how that goes since the Newmen clan has grown since he’s known it.

Is Alex still a cyborg in this version of the setting or was that just for the Phoenix Academy game?

Overall, looking forward to more stories with any or all of these characters.

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Yeah, I can’t just introduce a season villain and wrap them up in the introductory two parter.

That was just the PA game. That incarnation of Alex incorporated what SNOWMAN could do, but he’s a separate character here.

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Ah, a bit of a Decomposite Character. Gotcha.

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So on a reread of this in order to get some information, I thought “Huh, I bet Parker had to know the situation with SNOWMAN and the Newmen would have to happen and it would cause loads of drama” which led me noodling through Parker’s reasoning (if any other AEGIS agent were to question her judgment) which I think would look something like this:

“I was well aware of four facts when I made the decision to put Charade and SNOWMAN on the same field team: first, one of my most capable agents was about to go into her most dangerous mission yet and she needed the best team I could assemble for her; secondly, I know Leonard Snow is completely capable of growing up into a fine young man, so I will make the most of the rough-around-the-edges version; third, Alycia is fully willing to call out anyone for their bullshit, which means she just as capable of dealing with a bratty teenage operative as I was when she started; and finally, the truth about SNOWMAN was going to come out eventually, I’d rather these children deal with that in their own time rather than waiting for the fate of the world hanging in the balance and this long-lost-sibling-being-alive revelation being the final straw in an already dangerous situation.”

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