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WARNING: This poem contains material that some readers may find disturbing. It begins the raid on Carl Bernhardt's mad science compound. WARN ALL THE THINGS! Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. It features a BASH raid, Turq coming along to provide crucial assistance, extreme emotional distress, arguing over what armor and other equipment to carry, anxiety, graphic violence, Nazi-inspired weaponry, graphic injuries and messy medical details, identifying Carl Bernhardt and other offenders among the captives, and other mayhem. If these are touchy topics for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward. However, this is a major turning point in the plot, so skipping it would leave a big gap.
Tension filled the BASH van on
the way to the Umsetzung Complex.
"Are you sure you want to do this?"
Ansel asked Turq one last time.
"It's not too late to back out."
"I have to do this," Turq said.
"One of us needs to be here.
Nebuly is too slow and Saffron
is too scared. It has to be me."
"Okay," Ansel said. "I'll stay with you
as much as possible. That's why I'm
not on the breach team, and I'm only
wearing my armor in case something
goes wrong. I'm here to support you."
"Thanks," Turq said. "We'll get by."
"I know we will," Ansel said.
"You may not like this, but
I want you in armor."
"It'll slow me down,"
Turq said. "Besides,
I'll heal. I always do."
"I don't mean heavy armor,
but you need something
this time," Ansel said. "It's
too dangerous for walking bare."
One of the tactical medics
raised his hand and said,
"Is there a problem, guys?"
Chad Saint-Aime belonged to
the BASH team from Springfield,
now clad in black armor and field kit
on top of his blue paramedic uniform.
He was one of the few people in
the BASH van that Ansel knew from
working previous missions together.
"I want Turq in armor, and he worries
that it'll slow him down," Ansel said,
trying to hold onto his patience.
"That and block my senses," Turq said.
"Why don't you try some of our gear
for tac medics?" Chad offered. "It's tough,
but lighter than regular BASH stuff. Here,
look at my helmet. See how it covers
my head but not my ears or my face?
The goggles are separate on mine."
"That ... might work?" Turq said.
When Chad handed him a spare vest
and a helmet, he examined them carefully.
"If I have to shapeshift, though, or teleport ...
most of the time, things come with me, but
if I panic then sometimes I lose things.
You may not get your gear back."
"We have equipment loss forms,"
Chad assured him. "Just pick
what you think you can handle."
"Think about weapons, too --
not guns, but other things in case
of an emergency," Ansel said.
"I'm not really into weapons,"
Turq said. "I'm more of a runner."
"Good plan," said Chad. "What about
tools, though? We have rescue knives."
He pulled out an equipment drawer,
and Turq caught his breath.
"Maybe the blue one that's tied
to the tiny flashlight?" he said.
"That won't weigh me down."
"Excellent choice," Chad said.
"That one has a seatbelt ripper
and a glass breaker along with
a half-serrated blade."
So Turq put on the vest,
fitting the straps in place.
"What do you think?"
Ansel asked. "Will it work?"
"It's not as bad as I expected,"
Turq said. "I like the shoulder pieces;
they cover places I've been hit before.
The helmet leaves enough of my head
free that I can still hear and see. I
should be okay during the raid."
"Do you have any actual training
in handling a hot zone?" Chad asked.
"Yes," Turq said in a clipped tone.
"My parents were refugees. They
taught us some survival skills that
not a lot of people know. I didn't
get the whole set, but I got enough.
I can deal with this one way or another."
"Not too freaked out?" Chad asked.
"You seemed edgy around BASH,
but not quite as much with me."
"My dad's a paramedic too, so
it's more familiar," Turq said.
He clipped the knife to his belt.
"Okay, is this everything?"
Chad glanced at Ansel,
who nodded. "Since you've
got some training, do you want
to check out our first aid supplies?"
"Show me what you have," Turq said.
Chad opened another drawer filled
with first aid kits and loose supplies.
Without hesitation, Turq grabbed
the mini kit for heavy bleeding, then
a slightly larger one for minor complaints.
Opening the latter, he swapped out
several items. "I can't use the kind of
antiseptic that has anaesthetic in it,
or I lose track of my body, but that's
best for most people," he explained.
"Guess you know your stuff," Chad said.
"Yeah, but it's been a while," Turq said.
"You want to go over the basics with me?
I could use a distraction until it starts."
"Good idea," Ansel said. "We can
focus on stuff we might need today."
So they did that on the way.
"We've reached the staging area,"
the driver said as the van stopped.
"Check your gear and get out."
The doors opened, and everyone
scrambled out in the spring air.
"Is this a park?" Turq squeaked,
looking around at green grass
and trees with pale flowers.
"Well, it is now," Chad said.
"This whole area used to be part of
the Technical College of New Jutland,
who used it to host large public gatherings,
but it's not part of the Umsetzung Complex.
Douglas County bought the lot separately and
turned it into the Samuel Clemens County Park."
"Please tell me nobody will be playing here
while we raid a mad science lab," Turq said.
"We have teams assigned to clear the area
with warnings about a possible chemical spill,"
Chad said. "Nearby farmhouses will be empty too."
It was even true, given that they were about
to breach a lab full of devil-knew-what.
Mobile command units turned the parking lot
into their base of operations. The medics
laid claim to the performance pavilion
and set up to receive casualties.
They took precautions, of course, but
nobody believed they could get through
this raid without somebody getting hurt.
Ansel spied the handful of superheroes
that SPOON had contributed to the effort.
One massive fellow seemed to be made of
sandstone, primarily chocolate with swirls
of caramel and red ochre. With only a thumb
and two fingers on each hand, he struggled
to strike a match on his skin, but eventually
he got the cigarette lit and took a puff.
"Yeah, I know, I'm a shitty role model,"
he said to the staring cops. "Deal with it."
Then came a superhera with long black hair
wearing a blue-and-green dexflan uniform.
"There's a pond here?" she exclaimed.
"We haven't established a plan to prevent
water contamination! Somebody get on that."
"Wow, that girl is really freaking out,"
Turq said, his eyes wide. "Is she okay?"
"Don't worry, it's her job to do that,"
Ansel said. "That's Anxiety Girl.
She imagines all kinds of things
that might go wrong, so folks
can plan to avoid them."
"Okay, that's useful," Turq said.
Ansel spotted the Primaries,
a trio he'd worked with before,
and then waved to them.
He introduced Turq,
who was skittish around
Blue Law (who had been a cop)
but slightly more open to Red Hot
(who had been a firefighter) and
Yellow Jack (who had been a lifeguard).
"We're going in after the breachers
have broken into the STEMZ Building.
Stonewall is actually on the breach team
for the Biology Building," said Blue Law.
"According to reports, those two have
the most activity. The Science Complex
is next on the list, then the other buildings."
"Turq and I are serving as backup in case
there are live victims or our people need
his memory of the layout," Ansel said.
"We won't go inside unless we have to."
"Lucky you," Yellow Jack muttered.
"This is so not my kind of assignment."
"Thank you for coming," Ansel said.
"Remember, there's a pond in the park
and another in front of the complex.
The chance of someone needing
a lifeguard is higher than zero."
"I'm not sure whether to be
pleased or appalled by that,"
Yellow Jack said with a sigh.
Ansel's own supervisor
Bert Armbruster was there, too,
now conferring with the head of
the BASH team from Springfield,
a woman named Callen La Salle, who
was directing the BASH branch today.
Most of the available superheroes
fell into that category, although
Anxiety Girl was a single resource
directly under the planning chief.
"Everything's almost ready," Bert said,
ticking off items on a checklist.
"Good job," Callen said with a nod.
The support director was a tough woman
with a horsey face and graying hair.
Kelsa Caldwell had grown up in
a motorcycle gang before joining
the marines and later serving
as a field nurse in an ambulance.
Today she was in charge of
the medical, transport, protection,
and other teams providing backup
for the tactical branch.
Kelsa banged on the metal side
and said, "Backup van, load up!"
Ansel and Turq climbed back in,
along with Chad and other members
of the support crew in various roles.
The BASH convoy roared down
the road, now relying on speed
instead of stealth for their attack.
It wasn't far to the complex, and
soon the backup van peeled off
to park on the grass across from
the small parking lot that lay between
the Biology Building on the left and
the Science Complex on the right.
Meanwhile the BASH teams
filled the parking lot, then
poured out of their trucks
to charge the buildings.
"Ampère, Alcock, go!"
came the command, and
the first two teams deployed.
BOOM! WHAM! came
the sound of the breachers
taking out the front doors.
Ansel watched closely as
Bert's team Ampère broke
into the STEMZ Building.
"Do -- do you wish that
you were going in there
with them?" Turq said,
his voice shaking.
"Yes and no," Ansel said.
"Yes, I would love to get
a piece of the people who
hurt you. No, that is not
the most important thing
I could be doing today. I'm
choosing to be here with you."
Carefully, he wrapped an arm
around Turq's narrow shoulders.
The Alcock team cracked the door
of the Biology Building, making a way
for the Brenner team to follow.
And then the defensive system activated.
An electrical web razzled to life in
the space between the two buildings.
Anklebiters popped up on the front lawn,
some armed with plasma bolts and
others spitting acid or shrapnel.
The shrill, evil veeeen of
a pain beam sliced through the air.
One of the police went down, shrieking.
"If the bad guys have beam rifles, what if they
have a hex cannon?" Anxiety Girl screamed
over the comms. "Oh god, we're all gonna die!"
"Apollo, go!" shouted the support director.
Chad and his partner dashed across the road,
flopped down, then expertly belly-crawled
underneath the low-lying hazards to reach
the first casualty and drag him to safety.
Just as they made it onto the grass,
a hex cannon opened fire -- fortunately
for the backup crew, aimed parallel
to the road, raking the front yards.
"Officers down!" someone yelled.
"Brigid, go!" Kelsa ordered.
"Apollo, tactical field care."
"Do you need me right now?"
Ansel said, turning to Turq.
"No, go help them," Turq said.
"I have first aid training," Ansel said
as he headed to the Apollo team.
"Apollo, Surge Yellow, take him,"
the director said, waving to them.
Then came the sharp crack of gunfire.
The wave of hex cannon victims was
already overwhelming the number
of tactical medics available.
Next came the gunshot victims,
some of them dragging others
who couldn't move on their own.
"Surge Red, all hands on deck!"
shouted the support commander.
Ansel glanced up to assess
the situation and saw Turq
leap into the action.
Turq grabbed an officer
spurting blood from her leg,
slapped a tourniquet in place,
put her in the triage line, and
moved to the next victim.
"Turq, resupply!" Kelsa said
when he ran low, tossing him
a red case of materials meant
to control heavy bleeding.
She pulled Ansel away from
assisting paramedics and
handed him a belt kit of
triage flagging tape.
"You're on primary,"
she said, pushing him
toward the head of the line.
"Let the paramedics worry
about the tags after you
do the rough sort."
So Ansel tuned out
everything but the triage,
situational awareness in case
the warm zone heated up, and
a sliver of attention for Turq.
Most of the injuries he found
were moderate ones, since
the combat-capable wounded
didn't bother to come in yet and
the breachers wore heavy armor.
Turq caught people coming across
the line and patched major bleeding,
sometimes using his rescue knife
to cut cloth away from the wounds,
then put casualties in the triage line.
Ansel worked as fast as he could
to sort and pass them along.
It was over as quickly as it started.
BASH mopped up the last of
the effective resistance, and
the defensive system ran out
of ammunition and energy.
The waves of wounded
slowed to a trickle and
then stopped altogether.
Transport teams moved
the sorted casualties, until
only the last few remained.
As soon as Ansel reached
the end of the triage line,
he looked for Turq.
The young man was
casually cleaning his hands
with blood remover wipes and
a disposable scrub brush.
"How are you holding up?"
Ansel asked, walking over to him.
"Fine, as long as I stay focused
on helping other people," Turq said.
"It's like I have ... different tracks in
my head, whole separate mindsets."
"That can happen," Ansel agreed.
"Sometimes things remind me of --
of all the bad times, and I freak out,"
Turq said, looking at the buildings across
the road, "but other times, they remind me
of what I learned from my parents, and
I can hold onto that for a while."
"Mood-dependent memory, perhaps,"
Ansel said. "Once you lock in a mood,
it's easier to recall memories that match it.
If you feel confident, that corresponds to
your first aid training -- and if you use
the training, it feeds the confidence."
"Yeah," Turq said. "I'm still not reliable,
since it might switch at any minute, but
so far today I've stayed functional."
"That's good to hear," Ansel said,
grateful for Dao's first aid training.
"Here," Turq said, passing him
a bottle of cleanser and a brush.
"We're running low on wipes."
"Be advised, the secondary assault
on the Ørsted Administrative Building
reports some continued education,
apparently for mad science,"
Ansel heard over the comms.
"Oh, that's just fucking great,"
Turq muttered. "More mengeles."
"We'll sweep them all up and
make sure that they can't hurt
anyone else," Ansel promised.
"Good," Turq said, then bent
to start picking up loose items
scattered around the station.
"You can keep talking, I just
need to keep busy here."
"You did a great job,"
Ansel said. "I'm sure
you saved some lives."
Turq glanced up the road.
"That's on the doctors."
Ansel didn't argue,
he just helped Turq
with the cleanup.
"Thanks for the assist,
you two, I know first aid
wasn't your primary task,"
Kelsa said as she went by.
"You're welcome," Ansel said
as Turq said, "We were available."
"Well, good job," Kelsa said.
Then Ansel spotted the movement
that he had been watching for.
"Turq, I need your eyes,"
he said. "They're starting
to bring captive suspects
out of the STEMZ Building."
The young man paled.
"What do you need me
to do?" he whispered.
"Watch them, and see if you
recognize any of them. Then
point out anyone who hurt you,"
Ansel said. "I'll pass the word if
you do. Look, they're each wearing
a different number for identification."
They were, in fact, acid-green numerals
on a black sticker, visible from a distance.
"Number two," said Turq. "He was
one of the nurses. Four, five, six --
they're lab techs, assistants."
Ansel relayed the information
to the BASH director so that it
could be used in prosecution.
Then another cluster of suspects
came out, flanked by the Primaries.
"Oh god, that's him," Turq choked.
"Carl Bernhardt?" Ansel asked,
just to make certain of it.
"Yeah," Turq said, nodding.
"Can you give me a number?"
Ansel said. "Or point to him?"
"Thirteen," Turq said, pointing.
"Turq has positively identified
suspect number thirteen as
prime target Carl Bernhardt,"
Ansel said over the comms.
"Yes! We got the bastard!"
Kelsa whooped, then added,
"Sorry, I was thinking like
a marine for a minute there."
Now clamped between Blue Law
and Red Hot, the suspect turned
to look at them as he passed.
The fair skin and receding gray hair
were unremarkable, but the eyes were
black and beady, merciless as a snake's.
Carl Bernhardt glared at Turq and Ansel
until Red Hot shoved him into the prison van.
Then the vehicle roared away down the road,
lights flashing and siren screaming in triumph.
Another pulled up for more captives.
"Always mystify, mislead, and
surprise the enemy, if possible; and
when you strike and overcome him, never
let up in the pursuit so long as your men
have strength to follow," Kelsa quoted,
"for an army routed, if hotly pursued,
becomes panic-stricken, and can then
be destroyed by half their number."
"Good advice," Ansel said grimly,
watching the buildings across the road.
Then incident commander Maddox Adams
came on the comms to say, "Thank you,
Turq and Ansel, for your assistance."
"You're welcome, sir, we're glad
we could help," Ansel said.
Clearly Turq was in no condition
to reply, silent and shaking now.
Turq buried his face in Ansel's shoulder,
breath hitching as he tried not to cry,
arms clinging with desperate strength.
"It's okay now," Ansel said.
"It's safe. We got him."
"Thanks," Turq rasped.
"I really couldn't have
done it without you."
"Oh, Turq," said Ansel. "You
were the most important
person here today."
"But I didn't do anything,"
Turq protested, shaking his head.
"You faced him down, and you
identified him for us," Ansel said.
"You won. You beat him."
"We won," Turq corrected.
"Yes," Ansel agreed, holding
him close. "We won."
* * *
See the character, location, and content notes in separate posts.