At the thoroughly armored, double locked doors leading into the Ring Research Room -
The doors distended down the middle like a bulging belly, glowing red hot before the built up heat and pressure was too much. The doors shattered with a resonating explosion, sending huge chunks of molten metal flying inwards.
Stella stood in the doorway, her arms thrust out. She breathed heavily, red steam - her blood vaporizing - pouring out of her mouth, eyes, and ears, sweat glands, every orifice - encasing her in an aura of crimson-orange that made her look positively demonic.
"Now that's what I'm talking about!" said Stella. "Being able to use my powers without any drawbacks. Train them beyond their limit. It's the best feeling ever!"
Diamondback sprinted in along with Ace. They, as the two most durable of the group, swept every room.
Several ceiling turrets fell down, firing salvos at the two of them. The two of them stood there, looking around like the bullets were just a casual after workout shower.
"Room is clear aside from these turrets," said Diamondback.
"Then it's not clear!" said Tox.
Diamondback sighed. "Let's clean up."
Diamondback and Ace methodically went around destroying each turret. Ace, in particular, fly about with a single-minded gusto, flying through the turrets like a living baseball.
After the turrets were cleared and everyone in the room, Tox pointed to control panel behind a blacked out widescreen monitor.
"Kris, why don't you jack in?" said Tox. "This looks important enough."
"No," said Kris.
"But isn't this your job?" said Falco as he shifted his weight from boot to boot, his hands gripped tight around his Aztech laser gun. It was obvious his nerves were on edge.
Kris gave a pointed stare to Flaco bordering on a glare. It was very evident that Kris's patience with Flaco was running quite thin.
"I-I mean you're the tech guy, right? And a Phantom to boot! Once you jack in, we can figure out everything about the vaults and the defenses they've set up, right?"
"Defenses they have time to set up solely because of your incompetence. But that's not the worst part," said Kris. "Files state they have a techno here. Guy who used to be called Machine Mind. A ranker back like twenty or thirty years ago.
He's the head of security and research. And he's in control of the network now and ready to intercept threats. I'm a solid infiltrator, but just like in realspace, an ambush only works when the enemy isn't expecting it.
Now that Machine Mind's ready for us, he'll have set up cyberspace defenses to catch me. And considering his A rank, I'm liable to fry my brain by jacking in now."
"I've heard of him," said Stella. "He piloted a whole legion of mechs with his power.
Didn't end well for him, though. He was forced to retire after deciding to abandon a sinking ship to save another with more passengers in it.
That started a whole debate in the hero community about what to do in cases like that."
"Seems to me he made the right choice," said Alexis.
"Yeah, but it still looks like an asshole move," said Tox.
"He doesn't care about human lives. Not in the way normal people do. He just sees numbers. It's typical of him," said Ace. He clenched his fist. "We need to find him. And I need to make him pay."
"I know I never pried into your past, but is he…?" Tox's question trailed off.
"Yeah. He's the one that raised me. Treated me like a lab rat and then when I wasn't considered good enough, I was sold off to a merc group," said Ace. "He's got a lot of scars to pay for. My body might have healed from everything he put me through, all the shock, burn, poison, and variant combat tests, but my mind - those scars are still fresh.
If I wasn't undead, I wouldn't be able to control myself right now."
Stella put a hand on Ace's shoulder. "It's alright."
"Is it?" said Ace, about to speak more on the abuse he had taken, but he stopped when he saw Stella smiling.
"What? You thought I'd tell you to live and let live? Shit, that's not my style. There's a reason I was never a good hero aside from my pretty face and heart attack inducing powers. It's because I never managed to put up a pretty personality to match my face for the cameras." Stella grinned. "We find the bastard, we make him pay, and then, considering his powers, we keep him around for our boss."
"It's good we have personal motivators here and all," said Kris. "But we have to act quickly." He tapped his goggles, projecting a layout of the circular research room. "Casimir's data had almost nothing about what was being studied here, but it does show us the general layout. The elevators leading down to the Vaults don't work, obviously." Kris shot another acidic look at Falco, and the young man hung his head down in shame. "But look."
Kris pointed at the center of the circle. There was another circle there.
"Room kinda looks like a boob when you see it like this," said Tox.
"Ignoring that," said Kris. "The research room is oriented around a central study point. The middle ring-,"
"The nipple," Tox nodded.
"The middle ring housed what they were studying. Obviously, that thing is gone," said Kris. "But the room's architecture suggests that there's only one way it could have gone: down.
And it couldn't have taken the elevator, that's for sure considering its size."
Kris motioned forward, ahead of the control panel. There, the ground gave way to a six meter depression that formed a ring shape. The bottom of the ring was covered in metal tiles that blended in with the rest of the room's austere decor.
"I see," said Diamondback. "That should open up and lead down."
"Correct," said Kris. "We just need firepower to blast it open."
Everyone looked at Stella again.
"Aw, y'all are making me blush." Stella grinned as she leaped down the depression, hands aglow. "Time to break in!"
After Stella blasted apart the floor of the center ring, it revealed a gaping, dark hole leading down.
"Magnetic rail strips on either end," said Alan as he peered down. "Though deactivated. Whatever it was that they were studying, they wanted it out of here fast. This whole mechanism is pretty complicated, the type you'd see with Panopticon fast rail."
"What could it be, I wonder?" said Stella. "If it wasn't in the files that Cas gave us, then it must be hella important.'
"In any case, that's not our priority," said Diamondback. "We need the Kryptic first and foremost. Kris, does this link to the weapons vault?"
"Not directly, but to power something like this, it has to be in close proximity to established infrastructure. Basically, if we blast open a hole at the right depth, we should be able to access the floor the weapons vault is on," said Kris.
"So we need another round of explosives," said Diamondback.
"Correct," responded Kris.
Everyone looked at Stella again.
"Okay, now I'm starting to feel a little used here, but alright." Stella shrugged and headed down the hole.