SOLANUM
“DARK FRUITAGE”


Flora stared out the window of the apartment she and her husband rented. He had left to go see the enigmatic Madam Lotus about The Serum, a mysterious substance that triggered mutations in those who were injected with it. She thought he would have been home by now, since dusk was approaching, and he would never go out to fight crime without her.

She saw someone running down the street, and sighed when she saw it wasn’t him. Being someone’s partner in crimefighting was one thing. Being their spouse was another thing entirely. She hoped that his desire to help Sara wouldn’t lead to anything else. To be honest, she liked the model well enough, but still had her reservations about letting her stay with them. Sometimes, she thought Jon’s altruism would be his undoing. While Sara had taken some of his training to heart, she seemed more interested in exacting vengeance than in exacting justice, and Flora wished her husband could see that.

Flora looked at the plant growing in the windowsill. Sara had found it growing up on the rooftop one afternoon during a training session. Enchanted by it’s purple flower, she brought it inside, where it promptly took over the window, growing into a thick-stemmed vine covered with deep purple blossoms and juicy, red berries. Despite the temptingly delicious look of the berries, Flora knew that eating them would be disastrous. She thought of when Sara read about her little “houseplant.”

“Solanum dulcimara, Bittersweet nightshade. So-called by those foolish enough to taste its delicious-looking berries, it is also called Deadly Nightshade.”

“It’s not going to take over my house, is it, Sara?” Flora asked.

“Um…no. It can get big, but I’ll keep it pruned. Besides, once I find Evan, I’m going back to my place, so I’ll be taking it with me.”

“Had you considered what you will do once you find your brother? You’ve been given a gift of sorts, Sara. Paragon City could always use
another hero.”

Sara rolled her eyes and returned to reading her book on poisonous plants.

It was shortly afterward that the model gave herself the codename “Solanum,” after her beloved plant. She had originally chosen the name, “Lady Nightshade,” but to her dismay, that name was already in use, according to the Hero Registrar. Sara had gotten registered, but it was merely a formality, just a way to give her assaults on the Skulls some legitimacy. She seemed to have no interested in helping fight crime once she had gotten her brother back. Flora sighed again. Jon really should be home by now-

The door swung open, and Jon stood in the doorway, an urgent look in his eyes.

“Where’s Sara? Is she here?”

“No. She’s been gone all day. Where have you been? I’ve been worried sick!”

“Trying to find Sara. She’s in danger.” he ran into their bedroom and ripped his shirt off. The tattoos on his arms seemed even more intense in coloring, like they always did when he was about to use their power. He reached into the closet and pulled out his costume, a long black robe with a hood. The sleeves widened at the cuff, and it was cut so his legs could move freely. He stripped off his jeans and grabbed the black leather pants and boots that completed his costume.

“What sort of danger?” Flora said, changing into her costume just as quickly. She wore just a simple black cut-off muscle shirt and black and grey fatigues. She grabbed her combat boots and slipped them on.
“The Serum has a chemical tracer that the scientists at Crey Labs can track. They’ve grabbed anyone who’s been injected with it. I don’t know what happens to them, but I’m willing to bet it’s not good.”

“Well then.” Flora said, her eyes beginning to glow ember red. “We had best be on our way.”


JD stood outside the ominous looking structure that was one of Crey Industries many labs. He had no idea where he was; but the place gave him the creeps. As if to add to the eerie scene, a green mist seem to hover over everything. He could hear all kinds of noises, and realized this was no place for a beginning hero.

“Why am I doing this, anyway?” he asked himself. The security around the science facility looked almost as forbidding as it’s neighborhood. JD was beginning to have second thoughts about this little venture.

In the distance, he heard an insistent beat, like techno music. The sound gave him sudden chills.

“Freakshow.” he whispered. He had read up on the various elements plaguing Paragon City, and what little was written about that particular gang was not good. JD realized his odds of staying alive were better in the lab, so he looked for an opportunity to get inside.

Fortunately, the exterior security was all automated. JD carefully went up to one of the sentries and touched it. The electricity he generated was enough to short it out. Very quickly, he ran to the door and pulled the handle. The door didn’t budge. He gave the door a shock. He heard the lock give, and the young man went inside.

If the outside of Crey Labs was forbidding, then the inside was a veritable maze. Colored lines ran down the hall and branched out various directions, each leading to different areas. Unfortunately, he had no idea as to where they led to, or where he needed to go.

Seeing a door marked “Janitor,” he quickly went in and found the little office empty. He saw a grey jumpsuit about his size. He grabbed it and put it on over his costume, hopefully this would keep any personnel from stopping him. No one ever noticed the janitor.

He stepped out into the hallway again, this time with a little bit more confidence. Hiding in plain view, he mused as he decided to follow the yellow line. He had no better idea as to where it was taking him, but at least he could wander around with less worry.


“It’s a shame, really.” said one of the technicians.

“Why?” asked his companion.

“These two women. They’ve got superpowers, they’re completely hot, and it’s going to be our job to end their lives.”

“You’ll get used to it. That’s the only way we can harvest The Serum. Besides, from what I’ve heard, these two are particularly dangerous, and the Countess doesn’t want anyone like that running around. Or at least, not under her control. Anyway, we’ll do the processing in the morning.”

Unknown to the technicians, their conversation was being overheard by one of the two women. Though they kept her in a suspension chamber, her telepathy was powerful enough to read the minds of those around her. She realized the gravity of the situation, yet could do nothing about it. She realized the mess she had gotten into, and wished she could re-do the past six months. She had been approached after a show in Milan by Thomas, who, for all appearances, was educated, rich and very much a gentleman. However, he injected her with something that made her a veritable slave, taking away her freewill. Then he injected her with another substance that altered her; she now had powerful psychic abilities. Unfortunately, due to the first drug, she was unable to use her new-found powers for good. She had told Thomas about Sara Shaughnessy’s younger brother, Evan, and that the supermodel would do just about anything if Evan was in any danger. Now as she was in the chamber, trapped within her mind, she had all the time to regret her actions. If they got out of this, she would make amends to Sara as best as she could.


The yellow line led to a room marked “STORAGE”. JD had no problem getting into this area; the door wasn’t locked. Inside the dark room were piles of computers and other office equipment, all gathering dust. He saw stacks of boxes, each labeled as to their contents.

One computer was on, JD presumed it was to catalog all the contents of the area. He took a quick look at the screen. It appeared to be an electronic memo.

TO: STORAGE DEPT.
SUB: RE: NAGA PROJECT

Sending down the prototype to be taken to the Talos Island facility. The project has been declared unsuccessful as the prototype seems to be free willed and unable to respond to programming. The prototype will be arriving this morning and needs to be dismantled for shipping tomorrow.

Thanks
Stan.

“Hmm. That sounds interesting.” JD commented. He quickly looked around. Being too nosy would definitely get someone’s attention. He also saw a post-it note on the desk, which read “Dark Ion Project Missing, try to get some order down here!”

“Even more interesting.” he said aloud. He looked through the storage area, and concluded the ladies weren’t in that location. He turned to leave, and he saw a distinct female shape, the sight of which made him jump, at first.

He walked up to it. It looked like a mannequin, but the skin seemed silver, like metal. It had dark lines running along it’s body, and he wondered what they were for. The face seemed to be sculpted, and despite the non-human, non-organic nature of it, was still very beautiful. JD reached out and caressed the robot’s cheek.

“You know,” he said to the machine, “You’re kinda hot, for a robot.” He began to walk away, when a sudden voice from behind made him freeze in his tracks.

“NAGA-01MG is not a robot.”

JD turned back around. The thing had come to life; the dark lines now glowed green, along with her eyes.

“Scuse me?” he asked.

“NAGA-01MG is designed for crowd control. That is my programming.”

“Oh, you’re the one they talked about.” he thought for a second, an idea beginning to form in his head. “How well do you know this facility?”

“I have some knowledge.”

“I need some help finding my friends. Help me find them and I’ll make sure you don’t get turned into a tin can.”

The green eyes pulsed as if NAGA did not understand.

“They want to take you apart and store you somewhere.” JD said, slowly and loudly, like one would talk to a foreigner.

“I understand English. You do not need to increase the volume and decrease your pace when you speak to me.” she replied in what sounded like annoyance.

“Sorry. I’m not used to talking to robots, er, prototypes.” he went out into the hallway, holding the door open for her. She may be metal, but still a lady, he thought.

“I believe the term you are looking for is android. Robots are not capable of acting outside of their programming. Androids are.” her voice was pleasant, with a hint of a British accent.

“Well, what should I call you?”

“NAGA-01MG is my designation.”

“How about just NAGA?”

“That will be fine. Do you know the location of your associates?”

“Not really. Where would they study humans at?”

“This way.” she ran down the corridor as easily as if she were a real person, making none of the clanging noises one would expect of someone made of metal.

JD stripped off the janitor’s outfit. No point in disguising himself if he was running around the lab with some metallic woman. No janitor in the world did that.


“There’s one.” Flora said, using her chin to point out the black van parked at the 24 hour donut shop.


The two had gone in search of a van owned by Crey Industries, who could be seen frequently enough, but Jon found it frustrating that when they needed to find one, they were hard pressed to find any. But now it looked like their luck had changed.

“How do you want to do this? Sneak on board?” Flora asked. “We have to work quickly, Jon. The driver is getting in the van.”

Jon concentrated, calling on the power of one of the strange tattoos. He felt its power burning on his arm as he activated it. A deep shroud seemed to envelope the pair, while not making them invisible, it made them difficult to detect.

“Let’s go.” he said. They ran up to the van and grabbed onto the back of it as it started to pull away. He hoped it would take them to the right place, after all, Crey Industries had all kinds of facilities throughout Paragon City; Sara could be in any of them.


Thomas and Spyke arrived at the mansion on Talos Island at one in the morning. Normally, he would not be called to this place, but recent events were likely the reason for his being summoned. So, he dressed the part, wearing a fine black suit, and collarless shirt. His walking cane was more accessory than functional, but the head of it was a silver skull. He quickly surveyed the scene. Outside, various cars with attendant drivers waited outside the marble stairs leading to the opulent home.

He sighed lightly, partly out of nervousness. It looked like a meeting of some of the heavyweights in the Skull organization. He recognized several of the drivers, and knew who it was they ferried around. The ones he didn’t recognize had him worried. He and Spyke walked up the stairs to the front door, where it was opened for them by the butler, an older man who greeted them with an almost bored tone.

“The Masters are waiting for you in the Grand Library.” he said. “This way, please.”

The butler led them through the exquisitely decorated home. Thomas felt a knot in his stomach form. “The Masters,” the butler had said. This was looking less and less good, but he had all his explanations lined up. He was not afraid of his bosses, much less his fellow lieutenants.

The butler took them to the Grand Library, which was exactly as the name implied. The room was simply large in size, but seemed different from what Thomas remembered. Instead of tables and chairs in the center of the room, there was one long table, and seated at it were two other Skull lieutenants, one of the Bosses, and several people he did not expect. The green skin gave them away as members of the Troll gang, a group who provided some secret muscle to the Skulls. Also seated at the table were three Asian men. Tsoo, Thomas thought to himself. This was not good.

“So, you have the guts to show up anyway.” said one of the lieutenants.

Thomas rolled his eyes in contempt. Who were the other Bone Daddies to judge him?

The boss spoke. “You need to explain why your district seems to be drying up. Protection money is down by a third, membership in your area is in a noticeable decline, and there are reports of some woman with claws attached to all of it.”

Thomas cleared his throat. “The woman for some reason has a vendetta against me.”

One of the Tsoo spoke in a quiet voice. “A spurned lover perhaps? A vengeful woman is a bad thing. A vengeful woman with power, that is another.” He chuckled at his statement.

Thomas was grateful for the man’s comment. He thought he could play that angle.

“What about this supposed substance you’ve been injecting your members with? We heard reports of another woman in your company who had powerful psychic abilities, yet was completely held in thrall by you. Care to explain?”

“The woman was an up and coming superhero. I have a friend who works at Crey Industries, and he provided me with an experimental drug. They recently took her for final analysis.”

“That’s not the drug I’m talking about. We have heard from a reliable source that you received a new drug that gives people superpowers by unleashing any latent abilities. You injected it into several people, and now they are gone.” he leaned back in his chair. “Again, would you care to explain?”

The Troll members seemed to shift uneasily. A new drug that rivaled Superadine would be devastating to their sales. What was worse, this drug actually gave superpowers, not just gave the feeling of it. Either they were mad because Thomas used it, or they were mad because he didn’t give them any. It didn’t matter to him anyway. In his opinion, the Trolls were just a bunch of doped-up losers, like Freakshow.

Thomas stared at the boss and unblinkingly lied. “I don’t know anything about that.”

“Who is that with you, Black Hand?” The boss asked, calling him by his “official” name.

“This is my payment for helping my friend in his little experiment.” He said calmly.

“We have reasons to believe you are following your own agenda, Black Hand. This is unacceptable to our organizations.” The Tsoo gentleman who had spoken earlier said.

The plural sense was not good. He was as good as dead, and he knew it. The two other Bone Daddies jumped over the desk with knives in their hands. This wasn’t a meeting; this was his execution.

The two assailants never made two steps across the floor to him. Spyke leapt into action, hitting one of the men with the huge spine to the abdomen, and the other received a blow to his chest. They looked at the scrawny kid, puzzled, but then started convulsing violently. Within seconds, both were dead.
Spyke walked back behind Thomas.

The boss glared at Thomas, his eyes narrowing to the barest of slits behind his mask. Thomas smirked at him, the defiance obvious in his expression.

“Get out.” the boss ordered.

Thomas turned around and left, Spyke following. As he walked out of the mansion to where his driver waited for him, his mind was in a blur. Circumstances were always changing, he was aware, but the speed with which they sometimes would do so could be a little difficult to adjust to. He knew he would be fine. Let the three gangs put a death mark on his head. By the time he had what had been promised him, any attempts on his life would surely come to nothing. He poured himself a drink as he slid into his seat.

“Where to, sir?” asked the driver.

“Astoria. I have another meeting there.” he told the driver.
CONTINUE >
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