It felt good to be back in the suit. This wasn’t some emergency situation thing while the latest shitstorm was passing through town. Daisy was legit back in the show now, even though her Hero certification hadn’t been technically restored yet. There were more tests for her to take at the D.C. office when she got the free time, but the Protectorate was able to get around that right now by having her temporary status extended indefinitely until her certification reactivated. She was in team’s rotation part-time for the time being, and right now that meant she was the Hero on call.
She’d had customized fatigues ordered and delivered within twenty-four hours. They were a hell of a lot better than the crap they’d issued her for Mr. Morningstar’s detail. The fabric was lightweight and breathable while still being made of a ballistic material that would stop most small caliber ammunition. It was nothing like her old uniform that could hold together under artillery fire, but things were different here in Florida. She’d die of dehydration in that material down here, and it didn’t matter much for a kinetic absorber what caliber round it could handle. What did matter was them being top-grade fire-retardant material. She’d nearly been burned alive once in the last year and she wasn’t planning on going for two.
She’d dug her old domino mask out of her things, strapped it on, and immediately discarded it. It didn’t fit the circumstances. Shit was sliding sideways fast, and she didn’t need something to convey that. Her full-face shield came in with the rest of the uniform. The designer, a go-to for any serious Hero, had styled some red accents onto the metallic-black material that gave it a little devilish flair. On top of it went her black patrol cap. She’d had to slap it against her leg half a dozen times to get all the dust off of it, but it fit just right, and she wasn’t willing to get a new one. Her short hair went into a ponytail and through the open space at the back, and she was Reaper again.
Despite that, it had been a long time since she’d been on a call like this. <At least ten years.> She thought as she lifted the thin, yellow caution tape that made a horizontal barrier across the door of the apartment complex.
Even when she’d still been an active Hero, Daisy had usually been brought in for scorched-earth missions or things deemed serious by Iron Giant or the DVA. John was well aware of her short temper back then, so he didn’t waste her time with minor league shit. She was a different person now, and KaBoom was a different leader, so she got the same assignments as everyone else.
The neighbors were out in the hallway and their eyes went wide as she strode confidently down the hall to the gaggle of whispering detectives. She didn’t know if they remembered her from a decade ago, or if they just thought she looked bad ass. She didn’t pay them any attention other than a quick scan to classify them as non-threatening. What she was trying to figure out was the lead detective’s name. She’d seen him around the precinct before, and Topher had even introduced them once.
“Detective Martinez,” she gave herself a mental high-five when the man turned to regard her.
The next few interactions were crucial. Even though she wasn’t a new Hero in Orlando’s scene, she was new to the routine calls, and that meant she needed to carefully cultivate a relationship with the rank and file of the OPD. How she acted here with Detective Martinez was going to be spread around through the force. She was pretty sure the SWAT guys and a few uniforms that worked on the raids might have some stories, but Martinez was going to be the first to interact with her like this.
“Reaper.” He acknowledged her with a head nod and a look that said ‘I don’t really need you here, but I’ll take the help I can get’. It was a hell of a lot better than ‘Who the fuck do you think you are, and why do you think you can walk right into my crime scene and run the show?’.
“What have we got?” She decided to play it business-like for now.
She did a double take and got confirmation when Martinez shrugged.
“I’m not even sure why we’re here.”
“You’re here because I asked,” Daisy turned to see Debora striding down the hallway. She had her pant-suit jacket pulled to the side to show her DVA badge to the officer who looked like he was going to move to block her.
“Agent Phillips.” Reaper gave her the same tone and nod she did Martinez. Local vs. Federal beef was something she did not want to get in the middle of.
“Reaper.” The DVA agent returned the nod and strode past her and the detectives to the room where a man with CSI in big letters on his back was taking pictures of a perfectly clean apartment.
<Badge and gun on the table…no sign of forced entry…nothing looks like it’s been taken…> Daisy might not have done this in a while, but she remembered the basics.
“Do you mind telling us what the hell is going on?” Martinez asked as he followed Debora into the living room. Daisy brought up the rear.
“This is the apartment of DVA Agent Simmons. She didn’t report to work this morning, she didn’t call in sick, and no one has been able to get a hold of her since she left the office last night. This is atypical behavior from an agent with stellar reviews and perfect attendance.”
“So…she went on a bender and hasn’t crawled back out of the bottle yet.” Martinez suggested as he accepted a pair of gloves that Debora was handing to everyone. Daisy’s outfit came with gloves, so she walked into the kitchen to take a look around while everyone pulled on the latex.
All Daisy could think of was butt inspections when she heard the snap of the plastic and the weird squeaking sound of them being adjusted. She quickly pushed the thoughts aside and looked around the kitchen. She opened the fridge and found a dedicated agent’s contents: half a carton of eggs, milk that was about to go bad, and take-out that was either fresh or had been in there way too long judging by the noxious fumes wafting into the air. It didn’t tell her much about the agent other than she was a workaholic.
“Agent Simmons is a young, talented agent. She did not go on a bender. She is missing.”
“Unless things have changed, someone usually has to be gone at least forty-eight hours to officially be classified as missing,” Daisy said her piece and didn’t bother looking at Debora. She could feel the heat of the DVA agent’s glare on her back.
“Normally, yes, but there are exigent circumstances in this case.”
“Which are…?” Martinez asked as the group made its way into the bedroom.
Daisy scanned the living room before following. The bed room looked just as clean, but the bed’s comforter was missing. <Weird,> she wondered if anyone had checked the washer.
“Agent Simmons was part of a two-person team that captured an individual assisting the supervillain known as Wraith yesterday.” No one needed any further explanation.
They all split up and started to do their detective thing, and Daisy went over to the CSI guy. He was a little star struck and stumbled over his answers. It was what she’d already surmised. They’d dusted for prints and everything, but so far they’d come up with diddly. The evidence was pointing more and more in the direction of the bender theory.
“Do you mind?” she asked as she grabbed the UV light from the CSI guy’s kit of tools.
He didn’t, but he said he already took a look at everything and didn’t find anything. It didn’t matter. She had a hunch. It wasn’t a lot to go on, but she couldn’t buy that the breakout from the supermax prison and anything Wraith did from now on was coincidental. There had to be a reason, and so far every prisoner except one was accounted for. She’d read the file and knew what to look for.
While everyone else poked around the bedroom, she shut herself in the bathroom and closed the door. She flipped on the UV lamp and watched as the blueish glow washed over everything. The tile was clean, too clean, and the CSI guy probably noted that in his report. She also bet that aside from the food in her fridge, Agent Simmons was a classic neat freak. The orderly apartment suggested it, so that cleanliness would be written off.
Daisy wasn’t willing to assume that. She waved the light and looked into all the nooks and crannies. There was nothing behind the toilet, anywhere in the back of the closet, or under the lip of the sink where someone’s foot might accidentally leave residue. She waved it over the tub and it was just as immaculate. She was about to move on when a momentary shine caught her eye.
“Someone get me a screw driver!” she called out. Less than ten seconds later Debora had one, and had squeezed into the dark space with Martinez.
Daisy unscrewed counterclockwise and the drain cover popped off. The top of it didn’t show any residue, but the underside was shining like a beacon. The drain itself wasn’t too bad, but there were still some flecks of brightness. Normally, they would be swabbed and sent to the lab with the lowest priority since there still wasn’t any real indication that Agent Simmons was missing, but the bottom of the drain cover was the smoking gun.
“I’d bet you a month’s pay that if you swab and test this blood you’ll get a positive DNA test for Agent Simmons.” Daisy wasn’t happy she’d made the discovery.
“Shit,” Debora cursed and seemed to deflate in front of her.
“How the hell did you know to look there, and how do you know it’s blood?” Martinez was squinting at the bright underside of the cover.
“Bloodhound.” Daisy replied.
“The only prisoner missing from the prison break in Colorado was a woman named Bloodhound. Her MO is to kill people, drain their bodies of blood, and bathe in it. My guess is that some of it leaked out while she was bathing, or she tried to drain some of it, or maybe she even forgot to put the stopper in when she cut her victim’s throats. I don’t know, but I do know that blood is thicker than water and doesn’t drain like it. She cleaned up after she was done, but she missed this bit.”
“It’s just a gut feeling, but judging by the level of cleaning that went into this, and the amount of blood the human body has in it, I’m guessing two or more people were drained into the tub. I suggest we canvas the neighbors and see if anyone else didn’t show up for work this morning unexpectedly.” Daisy felt the weight of guilt settle onto her shoulders.
This was the part of the job she didn’t miss: the feeling that she could have prevented this if she was here or had done something different in the past.
<You didn’t do this. Wraith and Bloodhound did. Concentrate on that.> She took a deep breath, composed herself, and got to her feet.
“Get CSI in here and get the evidence. Then you can make this an official homicide case and get the resources that you need.” She looked at Debora. The DVA agent couldn’t see behind the mask, but Daisy’s face was pained. “Sorry for your loss, Agent Phillips.”
Debora didn’t say anything. She threw open the door and started yelling orders to everyone.
The last few freshman of West Private’s HCP shuffled into the auditorium just before the scheduled start time. The rest of the classes watched them without judging. They knew everything those first semester freshman were going through, and the last thing anyone wanted after a workout session with Coach McMillian was to sit in the auditorium for an announcement from the Dean.
Mason, Kyoshi, Becca, Anika, and Angela were sitting together and all hoping this would be quick. The grumbling of stomachs in the room was nearly as loud as the side conversations.
“Thank you, everyone, for coming on such short notice.” Dean Ditmar stepped out onto the stage with a hurried look on his face. The stress was something his students were not used to seeing. “I just wanted to gather everyone together this evening to discuss what has occurred and will be occurring.”
Several people in the crowd – mostly freshman – shifted uncomfortably. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out where this conversation was going.
“Not long ago, the Hero community and this city lost an icon.” The Dean’s tone was somber. “I have personally known Mr. Morningstar for more than half a decade, and his reputation preceded him long before that. He was a good man, a great Hero, and an asset to this city. As all of you know, he lost his life fighting against people who have attacked our city and our nation. Due to the media coverage, it was a very public death. Most Heroes who die in the line of duty do not get the moment captured on national television, but how his death was broadcasted does not affect his relevance as a Hero and guardian of this city. If anything, it shows everyone: Hero, civilian, and HCP student just how important the daily battle for peace and justice really is.” The Dean stopped to take a sip of water from the bottle on the podium.
“Most of you also know that his murderer is still at large, and once masqueraded as a student at this college.”
All of the eyes in the room pivoted in Mason, Kyoshi, Becca, and Anika’s direction. A few then moved down toward Isla in the front row, but none of them found what they were looking for.
“The public funeral and private ceremony for Mr. Morningstar are being held tomorrow starting exactly at noon. The city is pulling out all the stops. A funeral procession of Heroes and local law enforcement will escort Mr. Morningstar’s body through the city to the church. Once there, only close friends and families, transported by teleporter, will be present for the actual service. Members of the public may be inclined to stay and follow the procession to the cemetery where Mr. Morningstar will be laid to rest.”
Becca’s hand shot up the moment the Dean finished and he pointed for her to ask the question everyone was thinking.
“Can we attend?”
“That’s why I called this assembly.” The Dean smiled back with a hint of sadness. “Members of the West Private HCP are more than welcome to attend as civilians. The secret identity clause of your contracts still applies. You may not reveal what you are or what you are doing at West Private, and that is important because the threat level for tomorrow is high.” The Dean’s face grew serious. “As I mentioned, Wraith and the others who attacked the prison are still at large. If their goal is to continue to hurt this city then attacking the funeral will be at the top of their agenda. The DVA and over a dozen Heroes are tasked specifically with security, but no defense is perfect. That is a good lesson to take away from this meeting today. Several very powerful people will be there tomorrow, and there is still a chance for things to go very wrong. I can’t stop you from attending, but you all need to keep that in mind if you do go.”
“Are you on the security detail?” An overzealous freshman asked.
“No, but I will be attending the funeral and will do my duty if called upon. I’m an asset in reserve for the authorities to utilize.” The Dean looked around for any more eager question askers. “As the Dean of the HCP, your safety is my top priority and we will be ensuring accountability of all students throughout the day tomorrow. The whole city, including the school, has established tomorrow as a half-day in honor of Mr. Morningstar. It is as much a security concern as anything else, but I encourage all of you to take advantage of this time to train and learn.” The Dean looked around again for any raised hands. “If you are planning to attend tomorrow, please see Professor Livingston and she will give you the relevant information.”
The Dean stepped away from the podium and the classes took that as a sign of dismissal. Everyone gathered their things and started to either stream out of the auditorium or to the Focus professor. Surprisingly, despite the danger, more students headed to the teacher than to the door, but a few made a beeline straight to the Dean.
“Dean Ditmar,” naturally Becca got to him first, “have you seen Seth? He wasn’t in any of our classes today and we’re worried about him. He’s been a bit off lately, and with his probation we just wanted to check in.” Anyone who didn’t know the petite speedster would have thought she was giving the Dean puppy-dog-eyes, but it was just her natural expression.
“Mr. Abney has been temporarily removed from the program until the criminal charges against him get sorted out. How the issue is resolved will determine if he returns to this program or not.” The Dean didn’t elaborate before leaving the stunned sophomores.
“He’s gone?” was all Becca was able to say.
“Oh man,” Mason sighed as his face fell.
Anika kept her mouth shut and Angela just shrugged. Their eyes met briefly and they could both tell the other Super thought Seth was better off somewhere else. Neither thought he had the current mindset to be a Hero.
“Hey, have you guys seen Seth?” Isla walked up to the small group with the same concerned look on her face. The look only deepened when she heard the news. “I don’t understand?”
“It’s not difficult.” Angela started off, but softened her tone when Becca shot her a withering look. “Seth is obviously going through something, and with his legal problems the staff is probably correct in assuming he’s not ready to be a Hero now, so why would they waste resources training him?”
“It’s just…” Isla stopped and struggled over what to say. “Nevermind,” she sighed and walked away back toward the rest of the freshman who were gathered around Professor Livingston.
“What should we do?” Mason asked once they were alone again.
“Nothing,” Anika replied. “If he’s out then the HCP is going to wipe his memory so he can’t expose the rest of us. The Dean gave us the whole spiel last year. For all we know, Seth doesn’t even remember who we are right now.”
That sent Becca over the edge. She sniffled and headed for the door with Anika following after her apologizing. Angela agreed with the sentiment with a simple nod and followed the two other Supers out. That just left Mason and Kyoshi.
“I can’t sense him in the building, but we can drive by his place if you want?” She could tell Mason was taking it hard. It was always difficult to see someone you’d fought beside gone like that without even a goodbye.
Kyoshi intertwined her hand in Mason’s and the two large Supers carved a path toward the exit. They’d both get with Professor Livingston tomorrow morning to confirm they’d go to the funeral.
So, Thor: Ragnarok was freaking amazing! Probably one of the funniest Marvel movies I’ve seen. I want give away any spoilers, but definitely go see it if you haven’t already.
In the meantime, pick up The Harbinger Tales and Two Worlds: Rags & Riches. You can get them both for low low prices, and after you read them please take the time for a short review. Thank you Bobby Dunning for the latest 5 stars!
I’m hoping to have The Harbinger Tales 2 out before Thanksgiving but i’m having a bit of a hiccup with the editor. Will keep you updated, but I want it out as badly as you do so bear with me a little.
Vote for Two Worlds on topwebfiction here, and help us get back up in the rankings!