The heroes spent the rest of the day setting up their skatepark -- using their jack-of-all-trades for craft(carpentry) to build ramps and jumps and stuff to make it more interesting. That night, CONTROL suggested they watch the nightly news to see what NETWORK was saying about their lack of interview.
It wasn't good. Apparently, there was an initiative coming up for a vote soon -- Proposition 6, the Guild Purity Act. Originally sponsored by Chrrrkt exasperated at how humans bastardized their guild-based social structure into a flock of warring corporations -- in much the same way they bastardized the Illian's granted abilities into superpowers that only a few people had, and the Nef hive mind into the fragmented, specialized overseers -- it would seek to enforce guild monopolies by consolodating all activity in a guild's core competency inside that guild, reassigning people doing that work for other guilds as needed.
This mattered to CONTROL, because according to the bill, the natural guild to control all superpowered entities was HAZARD. CONTROL would still have police -- all the police, including in HAZARD territory -- but didn't trust HAZARD to keep the superheroes doing *heroic* stuff instead of the depraved and insane schemes that its unbalanced overseer seemed to love to have its current supervillains work at.
A lot of other guilds who didn't care much about superheroes or supervillains were in favor of the bill's other consequences -- ASSEMBLY's unions liked its protectionist streak, for example, and TREASURE saw opportunity to make money off the short-term chaos it would cause. Or maybe they'd just been bought off. So there was a real danger that it could pass.
HAZARD's narrative was that CONTROL's superheroes were jackbooted thugs overstepping their authority to harass people they had no right to, and they tried to frame the events of the last few days in that light. The segment did give some air time to a CONTROL talking head, but with no interview with the superheroes themselves (and none of Pocket Fluff's footage he'd carefully edited for their perusal) it came off very anti-CONTROL.
CONTROL admitted that the impetus behind the New Superhero Initiative was to defeat Proposition 6, but insisted that its intentions were pure -- it wasn't going to have them do anything they hadn't already been doing in their home towns, it just wanted them to do it in the capital where everyone who mattered would be forced to notice it.
HAZARD was *supposed* to be giving them missions -- HAZARD wasn't actually the guild of criminals, it was the guild of entertainment. And while it allowed many forms of petty or victimless crime within its territory (gang activity, extortion, prostitution, drug trafficking) if its agents, especially its superpowered agents, wanted to do anything that was *really* against the law -- and they often did -- it had an agreement with CONTROL monitored and managed by NETWORK to turn the operation into a game, by feeding CONTROL a riddle that in theory would let the superheroes arrive in time to save the day. This allowed victims to be compensated, HAZARD agents captured to be set free after a token stint in prison (unlike the indefinite imprisonment Tenebra was facing for acting against the superheroes off the books), and HAZARD itself to be *tolerated* without a full-out guild-war.
(The real criminals didn't wear red, they wore a special color of black that made them invisible to overseers. Just like the actual army wore white and jammed all overseers.)
And the next morning, HAZARD actually came through with a riddle of sorts. "The shield shines like silver, but when it gets inside your head, the sky's the limit." After some web searches (or in Fractal's case, a call to her mom) they figured out that it was talking about Cerulean Laboratories, company motto 'The Sky's the Limit', which was researching brain-interfacing nanotechnology at a facility not far from Spectrum City.
It only took a minute to teleport there to check it out. And while the building itself looked normal, Pocket Fluff's x-ray vision spotted a giant snake swimming through the rock a couple hundred feet underground. He was able to permeate solid objects, so he held his breath and tried to swim down to meet it, but when it saw him coming it pounced! He was fast enough to get back above ground before it got close, though, and it wasn't willing to come above ground and expose itself to attack.
So, they walked into the lobby and told the receptionist about the snake and about the riddle that seemed to indicate a HAZARD operation would be happening soon, and she called security to lock down the building. Instead, they ordered everyone to evacuate.
Pocket Fluff tried to bait the snake to the surface, and managed to lure it close enough to reach down and touch it for a teleport effect -- but OOWWW! It was made out of fire! Pocket Fluff's arm was badly burned, and as he screamed in pain the snake surfaced elsewhere in the building and started setting things on fire.
Liquid Fist and Morph (as Iceman) tried to fight the snake by hitting it with huge chunks of ice, but the ice mostly melted from its flaming aura before even touching it, and it didn't seem at all affected by the attacks. Morph did trick it into swallowing an ice sculpture instead of her, and they noticed that while the ice sculpture was inside it, it couldn't swim underground -- it had to stay on the surface where... well, where their attacks still had no effect, except for Fractal's dazzle, which did seem to blind it.
Fractal was mostly hacking the building security all this time, though, and discovered that the containment on an experiment (too highly encrypted for her to get the details of) had been disabled for a while, possibly exposing the researchers to, well, something. And when the fight with the snake moved outside, they noticed that while most of the Cerulean employees were standing at the designated fire drill spots, a dozen of them had run for their cars and were starting to drive off. Maybe the snake -- which a couple of them recognized fit the description of Serpent Star, one of the villains mentioned in Tenebra's e-mail to the Danger whose computer they'd hacked -- was just a distraction?
At that point, though, Morph finally gave up on ice and turned into Psylocke to throw mental effects at the enemy. It shrugged off the first attempt at mind control, but the party finally figuring out how to hurt it sent it running at top speed... and the cars that were driving off were still pretty close.
Close enough for Morph (as Magneto) and Fractal to use telekinesis to drag them back one by one and break their engines. Pocket Fluff interrogated the other employees about the escaped research project, and a terrified manager told them 'not to let them touch you'.
So, they locked the doors to trap the people in their cars, except for one near Liquid Fist who'd already gotten out of his car and tried (but failed, thanks to Pocket Fluff's warning) to hug him. Then tried to rush the crowd and hug everybody. Liquidfist picked up the car and used it as an improvised cage to trap the infected man, while Magneto flew off to try to stop the other cars. He got five of them before they could get totally lost in traffic, and Pocket Fluff flew after a sixth and hung onto its roof as a marker until Magneto could break it, too -- he'd originally planned to teleport inside and whammy the driver, but realized in time that that would risk him being infected.
That left three cars unaccounted for, but Pocket Fluff had eidetic memory and gave their license numbers to the police via CONTROL. While waiting for the police to find them, they interrogated the lead researcher.
Pocket Fluff: "What does this project do?"
Researcher: "I can't tell you! It's protected by trade secret, copyright and patent law!"
Liquid: "On a scale of 1 to 10, how bad is this if we don't stop the infection?"
Researcher: "Well, can you explain the scale?"
Liquid: "1 is a common cold, 10 is the end of life as we know it."
Researcher: "Hmm, what's a five?"
Pocket Fluff: "Everyone's infested by the Nef."
Researcher: "Maybe a six then, assuming whoever let it loose stole the control program. We haven't worked out all the bugs."
Other researcher: "Rob, shut up! We aren't allowed to talk about this stuff!"
Luckily, the nanites being in pre-production mode were easy to shut down with an EMP burst -- they hadn't been shielded. Of course, most civilian tech also hadn't been shielded, so you didn't want to EMP the whole city. But Fractal and Morph-as-Magneto could both EMP, so the party cured all the infected people at the lab, then headed out to get the ones that the police were finally catching up with.
One of the cars was intercepted in a parking lot at the mall, and Fractal was able to zap him before he touched anyone. The second car stopped at a train station, and the driver ran into a dense crowd on the platform -- Magneto's EMP burst wiped out all the nanites in one shot, along with everyone's cell phones and PDAs.
But the third car had headed right for CONTROL HQ, and hadn't been spotted until the driver had already had the chance to infect a bunch of other people. CONTROL did have the whole area under total surveillance, of course, and (with Fractal's help) showed a diagram tracking the infestation -- the driver was highlighted, along with the people he touched, and then the view pulled back to show the infestation spreading through the densely populated downtown...
CONTROL had a quarantine immediately put in place, and since it was happening right near its own HQ was able to cordon off a few blocks quickly. There were still thousands of people inside, but the city as a whole wasn't in immediate danger, and the cops could set up EMP stations and sloooowly cure each person, just in case, as the evacuated the quarantine area. This was not a good or fast solution, though, so the party was urged to find a better one soon.
Oh, and the original infected driver had tried to work his way down to CONTROL's detention level (presumably, to free Tenebra), but hadn't made it.
Fractal tried to hack the nanites, but couldn't override their behavior. She did find the frequency the control program was transmitting on, though, and had CONTROL jam it.
Morph turned into a robot to brave the possibility of airborne nanites inside the Cerulean lab to fetch the backup control override codes, but all the control devices (except, presumably, the one the villains had taken with them) were fried, and the computers were wiped.
So Fractal pushed herself to let her track with her radio sense, and they tracked the signal back to... their own base. Where the control device had been left in the middle of their courtyard, with a note, 'You win this time.' Using the control device, they were able to get all the infected to NOT TOUCH ANYONE, reveal themselves, and stand in formation to be EMPed. The infection was over.
CONTROL was satisfied with their performance -- they'd avoided any major disaster, and most of the damages as the result of the operation were within expected limits, which meant HAZARD would be responsible for paying them.
Pocket Fluff tried to get NETWORK to show his video of the giant flaming snake attack, but they just suggested he put it up on Bluetube.
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