I played Centurion for about seven years accumulating around 400 XPs. This particular story came about when my neighbor across the hall challenged me to write a story before she could.
Gideon Stevens leaned back in his chair and rubbed his temples, willing the ache there to disappear. For the last ten hours he had been sitting before his computer terminal plowing through the mountain of work that had accumulated while he had been dealing with the Lemurian problem. Maybe a nice cup of French Roast would help. Touching the intercom he was connected with his confidential secretary in the outer office.
"Claudia, would you get me a cup of coffee, please?" he asked.
"Yes, Tai-Pan," she answered before cutting off the connection.
Gideon smiled, five years ago he had never even heard the words Tai-Pan. It was Cantonese for supreme leader, the title dated back to the China Trade of a couple of centuries ago. The chiefs of the old trading houses were so rich and powerful that the Chinese took to calling them Tai-Pans. But even among Tai-Pans there was always one who was the most powerful, who was The Tai-Pan. Back in the 1840s that had been Dirk Struan the founder of Struan and Company. Nowadays the title was given to the most powerful business leader in a given area. When he had hired Claudia Chen away from Linbar Struan in Hong Kong she had started calling him Tai-Pan, now everyone did. Well why not, as President of Stevens Industries he was head of one of the biggest industrial combines in the world.
The door opened and Claudia walked in. Gideon thanked her as he gratefully accepted the coffee. As he took a first appreciative sip he glanced at the computer screen. He'd still be another hour and a half on this.
"Claudia why don't you take off. There's no need for you to stay here just to get me coffee."
"It's no trouble, Tai-Pan."
"No," said Gideon. "I've kept you here far too late as it is. I'll see you tomorrow morning."
"As you wish. Oh don't forget you're meeting with the Governor tomorrow at 9:30. I've downloaded a briefing to your home terminal. Good night, Tai-Pan."
"Thanks, good night." Turning back to the computer terminal Gideon failed to notice the helicopter hovering next to the 55-story Stevens Tower.
* * * * * *
Inohara Takuji stared out of the helicopter's open cargo bay and across at the lighted penthouse office where sat his unsuspecting quarry. His faceless employer was paying him an astronomical sum to kidnap the American billionaire. Of course Takuji knew he was worth every penny of it, but the assignment hardly seemed worth the trouble of the Iron Dragon. Takuji wore the powerful battle armor with pride; constructed to resemble an oriental dragon the armor was iron-gray in color with highlights of crimson and claws of blackest ebon. The flat armature motors augmented Takuji's strength by a factor of 800%; while its ferro-ceramic composites could withstand pressures of up to 13,000 pounds per square inch with no risk of breach. In addition Takuji was a black belt in karate, and the armor had been designed with a martial artist in mind.
Behind his faceplate Takuji's eyes narrowed, the American’s secretary had left and infrared scans showed the tower to be practically empty. The time to strike had come.
"Remain here," Iron Dragon ordered the pilot. "This will not take long." And with that he launched himself at the penthouse across 20 meters of open space. His boot rockets flared to life at the last instant and he crashed through the high resistance glass.
* * * * * *
Gideon's head snapped around as the iron-gray figure crashed through his window. The figure rolled to a standing position in the center of the office, the track lighting glinting off the red highlights of his armor.
"You are my captive, Round Eyes. Obey me and you will not be harmed. Resist and I shall break you in the most painful and humiliating manner possible."
With an icy calm Gideon coolly appraised this very unorthodox intruder. The world's foremost expert in powered armors, he noted the thick ferro-ceramic and gauged its effectiveness at between 10 and 15 thousand pounds psi and resistance to energy discharges at approximately 20 kilowatts. He noticed two tiny nozzles and a slight scorching near the jaw line of the faceplate indicating the presence of a miniaturized flame thrower apparatus, probably with a very limited fuel supply, 3 to 6 seconds worth, more would be too risky. Scorching near the heels showed the presence of boot rockets, the dents on the boots told a tale of many hard landings, conclusion: the rockets were short duration boosters intended to enhance leaping with bursts of up to one second at most, and a range of perhaps 40 meters. Gideon could hear the whine of the armature motors, estimating the strength enhancement was hard, assuming a normal sized man wearing the armor; a factor of 1000% wasn't out of line. The twitching prehensile tail was probably cybernetically controlled, and because of the increased room was sure to be at least 3 times stronger than the other limbs, possibly 5 times. The armor was obviously sealed against gases and bio-agents, and Gideon had immediately noted the infrared lenses. Finally the razor sharp ebony claws looked to be coated with a thin layer of diamond dust indicating that they were at least partly armor-piercing.
Given the precariousness of his situation Gideon did the only thing he could under the circumstances: he stalled for time.
"Assuming I were to accept your ... kind ... invitation. What assurances as to my safety would I have?”
Behind his faceplate Inohara Takuji smiled. The American was obviously a coward. 'Had he any concept of face he would defy me, even knowing the price he would pay for it.'
"The only assurance you need is that if you defy me you will suffer untold agony."
"Then perhaps you would be good enough to tell me where we might be going? After all if I'm your captive you must be taking me somewhere." As he spoke Gideon slowly reached for a stud along the side of his chair and depressed it; a panel on the chair silently slid aside opening a hidden compartment. Within that compartment lay the latest sidearm to come out of the Stevens Armaments plant in Worcester, a fully charged 100 kilowatt Phaser pistol.
"You will be taken," Takuji replied, "to a yet to be designated rendezvous with the individual who has employed me."
Using just two fingers Gideon slowly carefully adjusted the Phaser's force setting dial to its maximum level. Even this, he knew, would probably be insufficient to breach the intruder's armor, but the force of impact would knock him off his feet.
"And who might this individual be?”
"Even if I knew, I would not tell you."
Gideon carefully inched his way along the weapon, bringing his hand to rest over the grip, and gently lifting it from its compartment.
"Just exactly what is ... "
"Enough with your questions!" interrupted Takuji suddenly remembering how this would look to his pilot. "You will come now!”
Gideon's fist closed around the Phaser's handle. "Fraid not," he replied.
Kicking off from the desk Gideon somersaulted backwards out of his chair just in time to avoid Iron Dragon's lashing tail. The chair splintered under the blow as Gideon rolled twice to end up on one knee, phaser extended and ready. The phaser whined out a high pitched tone as the electric blue beam stabbed out of the emitter and lanced into Iron Dragon catching him full in the chest. The erstwhile villain was slammed back by the beam, falling unceremoniously on his rump, and temporarily stunned by the turn of events. A second well-placed shot sent a large crystal chandelier crashing down on Iron Dragon pinning him by its weight.
Knowing that he had at most 30 seconds before the criminal would free himself and exact his revenge, Gideon leapt into action. Vaulting the wreckage that littered his office he ran to the north wall.
"Stevens, Gamma Red!!!" he shouted, and a panel opened revealing a high-speed express elevator. Gideon jumped aboard and the elevator doors snapped shut as the car plummeted toward the sub-basement. Seven seconds and sixty-two stories later the lift braked to a smooth stop and the doors opened onto a short hallway. At the end of the hall was huge door of triple re-inforced Adaman alloy. As he approached, the computer spoke.
"Condition gamma red confirmed. Please supply current code phrase for access."
The massive steel door slid into the wall.
"Access granted. Armory welcomes Gideon Stevens. All I have, is yours to command."
This then was Gideon Stevens' most closely guarded secret. The armory was a sphere 16 meters in diameter; a meter wide walkway led to a central pedestal. Arrayed along the walls in tiered rows were powered armors, each in its own niche, standing upright like human sized toy soldiers. The bottom of the armory sphere was flattened; the walls lined with computers, diagnostics, and automated maintenance and repair equipment, a test stand stood prominently in the maintenance level. In an alcove next to the main door lay a row of external ordinance packs, an assortment of varied utility sub-system modules, and a supply of spare ammunition packs. The armory held the various armors of Centurion, leader of the team of meta-human adventurers collectively known as Strike Force-Boston, the first of the eight Strike Force teams. Everyone knew that Strike Force had been the brainchild of Gideon Stevens and that he had donated his Beacon Hill mansion to the Boston team as a base of operations. Anyone who made an effort to stay informed also knew that Gideon together with the powerful and respected U.N. anti-terrorist organization U.N.T.I.L. had formed Strike Force teams in Detroit, Miami, New York, Los Angeles, Tokyo, Paris, and St. Petersburg to combat the multi-national cartel of crime, subversion, and terror known as VIPER. And that Centurion had been designated overall Strike Force commander. Most people assumed that Centurion was simply an employee at Stevens Industries, less than a dozen people knew the truth. That the man in the gleaming blue and gold armor was Gideon Stevens himself.
Striding into the armory Gideon tossed his phaser onto a shelf in the utility alcove and continued out to the central pedestal. As he went he glanced over at the niche that held his standard Model III - A armor, but the niche was empty. Looking down at the maintenance level he saw the standard armor was standing in the test and repair frame. The armor still clearly showed the signs of that last fight against VIPER operatives at Lemuria, the boron steel mesh was torn and blackened, plates were crumpled and a few were missing entirely, exposed micro - circuitry showed clearly at some spots. No standard armor for this mission, he would have to use one of the specialty suits. As he reached the central pedestal Gideon stopped and spread his arms wide.
"Centurion Model Three Variant E."
In its niche the designated armor faded out amid a shower of shimmering energy and reformed around Gideon as the armory's internal transfer system did its usual magic. As soon as the transformation was complete Centurion accessed the Tower's security system via comlink. His assailant had managed to free himself and was now trying to pry open the doors to the express elevator shaft. Scanning his data banks of known metas he quickly identified the man. Iron Dragon, a martial artist in a type 2 exo-armor power suit. Centurion had lucked out; if the idiot hadn't been so full of himself a single nerve strike could have taken Gideon down.
Centurion ran a quick class one diagnostic as he left the armory. Molecular level muscle amplification circuits at 6,400 %, neuro-net cyber linkage boosting speed and agility 168 %. Boron steel armor re-inforced by magnetic beams rated at 200 tons psi and energy resistant to 500 kilowatts. Boot mounted jet turbines rated for a top speed of 288 km. per hour. UV lenses, radar scanners, and multi-band radio transceiver on line. Weapons and defense systems: palm mounted proton projectors with a discharge strength of 80 kW per second, on the right shoulder a magnetic rail gun loaded with depleted uranium slugs capable of punching through even re-inforced adaman alloy, on the left shoulder a pod of high explosive rocket grenades - their gellanite warheads packing a concussive force of 25 tons psi, and integrated into the outer refractory coating of the armor a re-inforcing force field net that would increase armor resistance by almost 7000 % for brief periods.
"Seal armory." Centurion ordered once he was in the hall. "Drop express car one level, and open armory level doors." The elevator doors parted to reveal the yawning empty shaft. With a mental command Centurion's boot jets thrust him up the shaft still issuing orders as he rose.
"On my command open penthouse level doors. Seal armory level at this time."
Beneath him Centurion saw the huge blast doors close, sealing off the armory. He noted the glowing blue grid and knew that the force field was active. It would require a nuclear bomb to blast into the armory now. He shot up the shaft on jets of ionized steam coming to a stop alongside the penthouse doors.
The doors snapped open to reveal Iron Dragon slightly off balance, he had obviously been forcing the doors and their sudden opening had taken him by surprise. A blue gauntleted fist connected with his jaw, knocking him back and into Gideon's desk, but he recovered quickly and managed to keep his footing.
"Mr. Stevens had pressing business elsewhere. I'm here to fill in for him."
Without a word Iron Dragon was on him, a snap kick aimed at his chest clanged home slamming Centurion back against the once again closed elevator doors, but leaving him otherwise unharmed.
"Then I shall take your head in his place, lackey!”
Iron Dragon's claws raked across Centurion's faceplate, trailing a shower of sparks and scoring the metal. Centurion's head rang from the blow, and before he could clear it the Dragon had grabbed him and flung him across the office. He slammed into the far wall, the impact knocking the breath out of him. As Centurion slumped on one knee Takuji looked down on him.
"Did you think that the dragons of old were fearsome, round eyes? Now an Iron Dragon stands before you, to teach you the true meaning of fear!"
Centurion extended his left palm and loosed a stream of energized protons at his foe. The glittering yellow beam sliced into the Dragon's side, severing mechanical muscle and blowing off one of his protective armor plates. Takuji gasped and clutched the injury as the intense heat of the proton beam seared into his flesh.
"As my teammate, Rock, would say. It's time for a little pre-meditated tail-kicking. And I see that you do, in fact, have a tail."
So saying Centurion swiveled around his rail gun and fired a single round into the Dragon's mechanical tail. The depleted uranium slug barely slowed down as it punched through the ferro-ceramic armor, it sliced through pseudo-muscle fibers, snapped off the carbon steel tailbone, and buried itself in the suit's emergency batteries. Before Iron Dragon could recover Centurion delivered a stunning punch to the head. More than three tons per square inch slammed into the Dragon's helmet, propelling him back through the breach that he had originally created in the penthouse window. Desperately Iron Dragon clutched at the ledge of the penthouse digging his right claw into the concrete. He maintained his hold but only at the cost of slamming his right side up against the tower, and now hung down by one hand.
Looking up the Dragon saw Centurion standing over him. Rage overcame his better judgment and in sheer defiance he activated his flamethrower. A jet of flame shot from the nozzles to engulf Centurion. The armor's exterior temperature soared past 500 degrees, but protected by the life support system Gideon remained cool and comfortable. Triggering his thrusters Centurion jetted away from the penthouse. Then grabbing the Dragon by his now useless tail Centurion began whipping him around in a great circle. Faster and faster until, seconds before the crumbling ferro-ceramic armor finally let go, he heaved the dazed villain with all his incredible strength in the direction of Boston Harbor. As he watched, Iron Dragon prescribed a perfect arc into the garbage barge tied up to Fan Pier. Then the air suddenly became thick with exploding 2.75-inch rockets. Demonstrating more guts than intelligence, the copter pilot had entered the fray.
Kicking in his boot jets Centurion flew out of the rocket barrage and banked sharply off to the left, then in a perfect split-S came back at the gunship from the opposite quarter. Twin proton beams set at five kilowatts severed the helo's gunpods and they fell away to shatter on the pavement below. In what was clearly a suicide run, the helicopter whipped around and shot forward to ram. Centurion keyed in his thrusters and jetted toward the harbor, the helo slowly gaining on him. Of course he could have outrun the copter any time he wanted, but Centurion needed to get it out of the city and this was the best way. Now past the aquarium, Centurion spun around and while flying backward fired a 20 kilowatt proton beam at the rotor assembly. The unit exploded, rotors flying off in all directions, and the copter plummeted like a stone, to splash into the brackish waters of Boston Harbor. The pilot scrambled out of the fast sinking machine and was picked up by a Harbor Patrol boat.
Flying low over Fan Pier Centurion found Iron Dragon lying where he had fallen, one leg clearly broken and jutting out at an unnatural angle. Plugging in an interface cable Centurion accessed and overrode the armor's control circuitry. Shutting it down and carefully removing it from the unmoving form of Inohara Takuji. Just as he was finishing this the police showed up closely followed by an ambulance. Centurion gave the police his statement while the unconscious Takuji was loaded onto the ambulance, which sped off to Mass. General. Then, of course, there had been the reporters to deal with. It was past one by the time Centurion got back to the Tower. Maintenance was already at work setting his office to rights, the broken glass had been cleared away and the crews were already installing a new chandelier. The foreman assured him everything would be fixed by the time the Tai-Pan got in that morning.
Returning to the Armory, Centurion saw that repairs to his standard armor were proceeding. It, too, would be ready come morning. Just two things nagged him about the affair. Just who was this attack aimed at? Gideon Stevens - multi-billionaire, inventor, industrialist, and backer of super-teams; or Gideon Stevens also known as Centurion? Had someone pierced the secret of his dual life? And second, who was Iron Dragon's mysterious employer? VIPER perhaps, or even Demon, or ... No, not him, it couldn't possibly be...
"Don't lie to yourself, Gid. You know it could very well be him."
A cold chill ran through Gideon. It looked like the Model Three L super-charged armor would get its acid test sooner than he'd anticipated if his suspicions were correct.
* * * * * *
The Doctor clicked off the computer terminal. Gideon Stevens had proven to be more resourceful than he had expected. None the less Dr. Albert Zerstoiten was not unduly concerned. After all to the man that the world at large knew as Dr. Destroyer knowledge was power, and he was now more powerful than ever. Besides minor setbacks were only to be expected, and had already been factored into the grand scheme of things. The destiny of Dr. Destroyer was such that the night's operation had yet brought his plans another step closer to fruition. Eventually Gideon Stevens would join him, or be obliterated.
"This nation was founded on one principle above all else: the requirement that we stand up for what we believe, no matter the odds or the consequences. When the mob and the press and the whole world tell you to move, your job is to plant yourself like a tree beside the river of truth, and tell the whole world - No, you move." ~ Captain America