I Put A Spell On You, Part Eight: Showdown

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As the van pulled up to the gates of the SEA's facilities, the guard looked over. “Captain Becker!” he said with surprise. “I wasn't expecting you… to…”

The slow dirge caught him, and his eyes rolled back. His hands twitched out, and then he was slumping backwards, falling as the gates rumbled open. Piper, one hand on the wheel and the other on her flute, drove slowly into the open parking lot.

She stepped from her car, music surrounding her like a shroud. Two guards were stepping from the building, looking confused. They froze, then slid into formation behind Piper, feet rapping against the ground in perfect counterpoint to the notes floating through the air. Another guard, coming around the corner inside the building, covered his ears as he broke into a run. He slammed into the doors, as Piper's enthralled guardsmen moved to push it open. For several moments, the force of the door was enough to hold it shut, and the guard slapped the button that should have initiated a lockdown of the entire building. His eyes widened as nothing happened. A moment later, the door was open and the two captive guards were wrestling him to the ground, pulling his hands away from his ears. A moment after that, there were three men in Catherine's entourage.

She strode inside, wind whipping around her to carry her notes through the facility. Inside, Agent Dennis Mallory was in the process of giving orders. “Helmets sealed!” he barked, as he followed his own instructions. “No one listens to so much as a whisper outside of our internal comms. We have no idea how dangerous Piper is going to be, but I am not taking chances.” Grabbing a tranq gun, he waved his hands. “Move.”

Mallory's squad advanced down the halls, moving for the pathway from the front entrance to the detention block. As they rounded a corner, there was a burst of gunfire, and the eight soldiers collapsed backwards. “Status!” Mallory barked.

“Looks like she's got five guards with her,” reported Paulson steadily, as she snuck another glance. “That was clearly covering fire, so she's not trying to hurt anyone. Yet.”

“Alright. I'm broadcasting to her, close the channels for the next twenty seconds. Just in case.” Mallory tapped his intercom. “Piper! This is Agent Mallory. You are violating your authority – throw down your flute immediately, or we will come over there and take it!”

He counted to ten, then risked a glance around the corner. Piper was standing in the middle of the corner, her honour guard flanking her with their guns out. She frowned at him as she saw him, raising her flute to her lips. Mallory dove back behind cover, triggering his comm. “No good, she's not listening,” he muttered. “We're going to have to go for takedown tactics. When I give the word…”

He was interrupted by a shocked yell from Harmond. “The hell?!” Harmond flailed out as a pair of hands grabbed his gun arm, pulling him to the ground. Mallory twisted, in time to see the facility's administrative staff charging the team from behind, their footsteps and voices silent because of the team's own precautiouns, and intent on pulling the assault squad down. Biting back a curse, he fired two tranqs into the chest of Willows from HR, twisting to drop one of the interns as he grabbed at Mallory's helmet. Harmond was down, his helmet off, and was raising his gun towards his team.

“How'd she get up there?!” Jennings yelled, knocking a janitor to the ground and tranquing him before twisting to drop two darts in Harmond's chest.

“The intercom!” Mallory groaned, as Jennings' helmet was knocked from his head by a flailing office worker. Jennings had the presence of mind to twist his tranq gun to face himself as he fell, slumping into unconsciousness. A moment later, Lee and Surana followed him. Mallory, with a twinge of worry, turned back towards the corridor in time to see Piper's guards raising their own guns and firing indiscriminately into the melee. Mallory's soldiers returned fire, pulling out of the frenzy and diving to opposite corners. As they did, Paulson took a dart in the leg, stumbling to the ground. She rolled, firing two shots in quick succession, then slumped against the wall.

Mallory took stock. His team was down, but Piper was just about out of trained soldiers. Only one guard and a few office workers remained. If he could shoot past them, he might be able to manage her.

And then his helmet intercom crackled, and the notes drifted through them. He struggled, stepping out into the corridor. He fired three times in a row. One of the workers stepped into the shots, crumpling to the ground, and then Mallory collapsed.

Piper let her guards collapse, wiping her brow. Difficult. So difficult. But the path was clear now.

“Can't let you do this, Catherine.”

She turned, jaw clenching. She flipped her pipe to rest along her arm. “Don't try to stop me, Roland. “I don't want to use them to stop you – it could hurt them. I just want the truth.”

“No, you just want to get this over with as quickly as possible.” Roland raised an eyebrow, looking around the corridor. “Geez, Pipes, I didn't realize you had this in you.”

Her jaw clenched. “I hate it when you call me that,” she growled. A few notes flickered from the pipe, and bodies began to stir.

“Well, you sure as hell aren't the Piper, because you're not playing this tune. You're being played, Catherine,” Roland shot back.

“Cute,” Catherine said. “I'm going to go deal with Chronovore now.”

“Catherine, literally six hours ago we had this exact same conversation, except with fewer people snoozing around us. Then you went home, and flipped the hell out. Does that sound like you?” Invictus watched Piper levelly. “Think, Pipes. Think really hard. Why are you so pissed off?”

“Because you keep calling me that stupid name.”

“Why else?”

“There is no why else!” Piper yelled.

“Then why are you attacking your own people in order to get a confession we couldn't use?” Roland said. “Look at you. You're furious. Why?”

“Because…” Catherine broke off, shaking her head. “Because this case…” she started.

“Is routine!” Roland shook his head. “You never lose your cool. I'll tell you why you're mad. Because someone messed with your brain. It happened to Jack, distracting him with Prita. It happened to Blossom, distracting her with experiences. And it happened to you, distracting you with this crazy need to get home. But he had no idea what he was setting off with you. I called Oliver on the way over, and he confirmed it. Catherine, you need to focus. The flute's using the edge to crawl free. You're playing its song now.”

“No, you're wrong,” Catherine shook her head, stepping back.

“Just ignore the distraction. Ignore the need to go home, and lock that goddamn flute back in its case.” Roland smiled. “I'm your teammate, Catherine. You trust me?”

“I…” Catherine hesitated, looking down at the flute. “Yeah.” Slowly, she unclipped her flute case, putting the flute away. “I trust you, Roland. If you say I'm out of control… I believe you.”

Roland sighed. “Good, because I did not want to have to wrestle coma patients.”

Catherine laughed, then rubbed her forehead. “I think I overdid it with the music,” she said faintly. “My head is killing me.”

“It's not the music,” Roland said, stepping over to her. “I was thinking about that, too. That thing you do with your flute. Do it with the headache.”

Catherine frowned. “Roland…”

“Trust me,” he repeated. Catherine sighed.

“Fine,” she muttered, closing her eyes. “But I really don't see how this is going to… help.” Her eyes shot open. “You're right. I can feel it. There's something… I don't know how to describe it. Something squirming in my mind.”

“I knew it,” Roland said. “Think you can control your flute?”

“Yeah, I think so.” Piper smiled wanly. “Wouldn't want to try and control another army, though. Why?”

“We don't have a lot of time. Solomon's going to be here any second,” Invictus said.

“Solomon?” Piper's eyebrows shot up. “What does he have to do with anything?”

“Yes, Invictus, what do I have to do with anything?” Piper and Invictus looked to the end of the hallway. Solomon, Vedana, Amplifier, Nimble and Blossom were arrayed across the hall. Solomon smiled gently. “It seems you have everything well in hand here.”

“Not quite everything.” Invictus stood, cracking his knuckles. “There's one last thing to do. Sam Friedman, I am placing you under arrest on charges of artifact trafficking, illegal mind control, and tampering with an SEA investigation.”

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