“This is really pushing it you know.” The petite, purple and gold clad woman found herself unsurprised that her rebuke elicited nothing more than a shrug from her taller associate.
“Pushing, yes. We’re bending some codes of conduct a bit, but we’re NOT breaking any laws today.” The brown and scarlet clad woman smirked slightly as she finished speaking, well aware that her companion would hear the unspoken words that followed. Tomorrow, on the other hand…
“I didn’t even know there were still any of these old recovery stations intact in the area.” Dean Katherine Jilles, the Hero Trance while in uniform, opted to change the subject. “And even more surprised that you would know about it. Trade secrets of the Subtlety Hero I assume?”
“Hardly a trade secret. I just asked Vanishing Act politely if there were any good places to secure an uncooperative Super off the grid for a few days and she sent me here.” Mayhem grinned widely at the momentary shocked expression that ran across her telepathic friend’s face.
“I’ll have to remember to have more conversations with her.” Trance sighed as the pair reached the end of the underground hallway, and the only closed door they’d encountered since the entrance; the point at which she had to return her attention to the matter at hand. “You’re positive that the emergency acts are warranted?”
“Seven out of seven Subtlety Heroes agree; someone is trying to BUY a purge. Not very effectively or successfully mind you, but for something like this…”
“I know, I know. The intent changes a lot of the rules. Well, I’m sure our guest has heard us by now, it would be rude to keep her waiting any longer.” A thought from the shorter woman rendered the heavy metal door unlocked and swinging open.
“You bitches might as well just lock it back up and leave me to starve unless you’ve got the guts to kill me yourselves.” The disheveled woman chained to the wall of what had once been a small bedroom leveled a hate filled glare at the two Heroes in the doorway. “Because you aren’t getting SHIT from me and if you ever let me out of here you two are FINISHED. Try to convince me about bullshit ‘emergency acts’ all you want, but I know my God damned rights.”
“Do you have a name, or shall we call you ‘Ms God damned rights?’” The question from the purple garbed woman elicited no response, until she continued. “Ah, Laura Simmons. Nice to meet you, Ms Simmons, I’m Trance. I believe you’ve already met Mayhem?”
The retrained blonde’s expression shifted from rage to panic in an instant. “That’s impossible, you can’t be in my head, I’m a fucking NULL!”
“You’re a limited Null, Ms Simmons, born in… 1986 in… Baltimore, Maryland.” The panic deepened to abject terror as the telepath continued. “Your ability IS an impressive one, but it’s limited to turning off the powers of Supers you are physically in contact with. It does absolutely nothing to prevent those same Supers from using their abilities on you from, for example, ten feet away.”
“Get out of my head! This isn’t right! You can’t-…”
“You accepted a large sum of money in exchange for MURDERING HEROES.” Mayhem stepped into the room as she interrupted the terrified criminal. “Your team has already been extensively interrogated, and they were more than happy to give us what few details you doled out to them. The notable one, the reason you’re here? You told them that your employer had the biggest possible job lined up for you next. And we all know what the BIGGEST job is for people in your line of work, don’t we Laura?”
“We weren’t gonna take it!” Laura’s tone turned pleading. “I’m not stupid! No one can pull off a purge anymore, it’s impossible! We were gonna take the upfront payment and ghost before things went down, I swear!”
“All true.” Trance rejoined the conversation. “And right now I’m sure you’re wishing you’d been smart enough to do that with the FIRST upfront payment.”
“It’s not like it would’ve been the first time we killed one of you fucks.” The defiant glare the blonde woman accompanied her statement with shifted to confusion as both Heroes laughed in response.
“There’s a difference, Ms Simmons,” Laura yelped in surprise as she suddenly found herself off the floor and pinned to the wall with enough force to make breathing difficult. “Between murdering a celebrity Super in their sleep, and taking on a certified Hero in a fair fight. But I guess your ‘team’ already learned that lesson the hard way.” The blonde woman gasped for air as she was dropped gently back to the floor.
“Now’s the part where you give us everything you have on your employer.” Mayhem exited the room for a second after she spoke, returning quickly with a chair which her companion quickly occupied.
“What do I get for cooperating?”
“You get to spend the rest of your natural life in a cell somewhere.” Trance responded absently as she scribbled down a routing number on a small notepad she produced from a hidden pocket in her suit.
“That’s bullshit, why shou-…”
“You’re a murderer, Ms Simmons. An unrepentant one at that. Even if I had the authority to make the kind of deal you’re asking for, I wouldn’t. I have all week to pull the details out of your head. Cooperation on your part will just make things go faster.”
“How about I get something for not screaming to the world about your secret bunker where you stash abducted criminals? I’m sure there are people out there who would LOVE to here about this.” There was a glimmer of hope in the blonde woman’s voice, followed by a similar spark in her eyes when her words drew rapt attention from both Heroes. “We can ma-…”
“Ms Simmons,” The smile adorning the shorter Hero’s face was possibly the coldest expression Laura Simmons had ever seen on a human being before. “You have NOTHING to bargain with. When we’re finished extracting every detail we can from you, you aren’t going to be allowed to remember ANY of this.”
The criminal’s face shifted from an expression of burgeoning hope to one of absolute shock. Her gaze lifted to the taller Hero’s face, and she saw nothing but more of the same coldness there. The shock quickly gave way to despair, and Laura slumped against the wall and wept openly. The pair of Heroes ignored the woman’s crying, peppering her with questions to provoke the thoughts they needed to come to the surface just long enough for Trance to scribble down the details.
The extremely tall woman opened her door and beamed a surprised, but cheerful expression at her petite visitor. “Ms Nguyen! I wasn’t expecting to see you so soon.” Darcy Harmon’s expression shifted slightly as she realized her friend wasn’t alone on her doorstep, though she would have sworn that the man next to her hadn’t been there when she’d looked out the peephole. “Would you like to come inside?”
“Thank you, Darcy, we’d be delighted. I don’t believe you’ve met my acquaintance here; Mr Contact, this is Darcy Harmon. Darcy, this is Mr Contact.” The petite Korean woman leaned in close to the tall hostess. “I don’t think he HAS a first name.”
Darcy blinked at the unexpected whisper, then giggled when she saw the long-suffering look on the neatly dressed man’s face and recognized what must have been some kind of running joke. “Both of you please, come in!” The tall woman waved both visitors through the door and into the living room of the new house. “Hank isn’t here right now, should I call him?”
“Actually Mrs Harmon, this visit is primarily concerning yourself.” The brown-haired man responded with a polite, yet distant tone of voice that made Darcy feel he was deeply distracted by something.
“Call Hank, Darcy. He’ll never let me hear the end of it if he’s not here for the final decision.” The tall hostess was surprised by the glare that passed between her two guests, but opted to ignore it when Mr Contact looked away first with an apologetic shrug.
“I sent him a text, he’s on his way.” Both visitors looked confused for a second, then understanding seemed to hit both simultaneously. “He’ll be about half an hour, so unless you want to make boring small talk until then, you might as well hit me with the details of this ‘final decision’ you expect me to be making.”
“It’s regarding the technopath you had a run-in with while helping to track down our bomber for us.” Hai’s expression had gone unreadable, and Mr Contact looked like his attention was a thousand miles away as Darcy looked back and forth between the two.
“He… he didn’t find us, did he? I swear I’ve barely been online at all, and NOTHING with my abilities outside of the completely secure systems…”
“No, Darcy, he didn’t find you. We actually think we may have found him.” The petite woman nudged her companion to bring his attention back to his immediate surroundings.
“Ah, Ms Nguyen is quite right. We’ve narrowed down his location to a few square blocks in Paris, France. We’re working to set up a cooperative effort with local authorities to apprehend him once his exact whereabouts are known, and we’ve even moved in an… operative with abilities that should be sufficient to overmatch even our foe’s impressive skillset.”
“That’s GREAT news. You mean we’ll get to go back to our real home soon? But…” Darcy trailed off as she tried to reconcile the information she had and couldn’t get the two ends to connect. “What decision exactly are you needing ME to make?”
“Our operative has determined that this is NOT the first time our foe has nearly been caught. He’s quite adept at making escapes through even the narrowest of windows, and we don’t want to see that happen this time. He’s connected to FAR more than just the single terrorist attack against Overton, and he could turn out to be a literal treasure trove of intel if we can bring him in alive.” Mr Contact took a deep breath as if about to launch into an even longer speech, but the petite woman next to him cut in first.
“We need someone to be bait, Darcy.” Hai paused for a second to allow the shock to sink in before she continued. “This guy is too good to go at directly. He’s tapped in to too many systems, a lot of which are SUPPOSED to be closed circuit and secured. We need to get him well and truly distracted, but if we just jump him with a superior technopath…”
“He’ll cut and run, like I did when he tried to come after me.” Darcy nodded her understanding, even as she paled a bit with the full realization of what was being asked of her. “You want me to go after something that will draw him out, and then try to get him stuck long enough for the boots on the ground to get there.”
“An apt summary, Mrs Harmon.” The brown-haired man tugged a little self-consciously at his suit as he responded. “We even have an appropriate target for you that is CERTAIN to draw his attention; we’ve got his primary bank accounts in the Caymans identified.”
“As soon as possible, ideally. We have as much cooperation established with the French Département de la Sûreté Territoriale as is possible without allowing any type of electronic communication.” Darcy was momentarily distracted and impressed by the perfect accent which the neatly tailored man shifted to, though she had no idea what anything meant past ‘Département.’
“Call it the DST for short, basically the French FBI.” Hai apparently read the confused expression on her tall friend’s face and guessed at its source. “Once you get our guy online and coming after you, you can bail out as soon as you see Ms Code jump in. She promised us it would be unmistakeable.”
Darcy remained silent for several seconds as she took slow, deep breaths to force herself to calm down. “All right, let’s do it.”
“You don’t wish to wait for Mr Harmon?” Mr Contact’s voice carried only the barest trace of surprise as his attention seemed suddenly elsewhere again.
“Darcy, we have enough time fo-…”
“We should do it now.” The tall woman cut of Hai with an apologetic smile. “If I wait for Hank to get home, he’ll never agree to let me do something this dangerous, and then we’ll be arguing for hours. Hell, if I sit here thinking about it for another twenty five minutes, I probably won’t have the nerve to do it. So now or never.”
“You’re aware of the element of danger, Mrs Harmon?” Hai shot an angry look at the slightly eager note that crept into the brown-haired man’s voice with the question.
“I’ve tangled with this guy before, and I’m going to working a lot less local this time. I won’t have the advantage I had last time.” The tall woman’s face hardened with a look of resolve. “You’re ‘Ms Code’ better be as good as you think she is, or I’m going to wind up a vegetable for the rest of my life.”
“Do you want to send Hank a message first?” The petite woman seemed torn between letting her friend offer to help and wanting to protect her.
“If it doesn’t work out, tell him it was my call in the end. Now you have some account numbers for me?”
“To our vehicle please, Mrs Harmon. We have some equipment for you to use that will give you every edge we can provide.” Darcy nodded in response, and rose to follow her two guests to a van parked out front.
Hank, I’m doing something that’s maybe a little stupid/crazy. Don’t blame Hai if it doesn’t work out, not her fault! The tall technopath forced herself to ignore the three rapid replies to her message beeping into her phone, and continued to walk behind the Hero and the man in the suit as she heard it begin to ring from where she’d left it in the kitchen. Wish me luck!
“What the HELL do you think you are doing in my country?” The angry, accented shout that followed the office door slamming open startled the shorter, well dressed man waiting in the office visibly, but the taller uniformed man simply turned to greet the newcomer with a smile.
“Directer Merle I apologize for dropping in unannou-…”
“And why the HELL are your people pretending they can COMMAND my agents?” The Frenchman slammed his door shut behind him as he shouted the interruption. “And who let you into my office?”
“Would you like me to ANSWER your questions or do you need to shout at us a bit more first?” There was nothing overtly hostile in the tone, but the suited man took a quick step away from his companion and Director Merle paled for a moment before flushing angrily again and motioning the two men towards the chairs that faced the room’s large desk.
“So answer my questions, and two more; why is Colonel Casse of the American Force Ops the one waiting in my office while the FBI seems to think they have jurisdiction on the streets of Paris, and who is this man?”
“In reverse order then,” Dominic Casse smiled as he took the proffered seat and waited a moment for his companion to seat himself. “My associate today is Mr Contact, he’s here to facilitate communications for this operation. Before you ask, because any form of electronic communication could jeopardize the operation.”
“You’re hunting one of those computer Supers.” The statement was in no way phrased as a question, but Dominic nodded his agreement anyways.
“Correct. Force Ops is peripherally involved because our Federal Agents needed to be transported quickly, and again without any kind of electronic trail indicating that they were coming to your country. Since that makes this about as officially off-the-books as you can get; my division was, of course, called on to make it happen. All the agents we brought into your country are counter-terrorism, they’ve worked with your people before which is probably why your people agreed to our plan.”
“Even if I grant that the target of your operation could not likely have been apprehended without these measures, does your government truly think there will be NO repercussions for simply invading another nation like this? America does NOT always get everything she wants.”
“We can conclusively link our target to eight other bombings and seventeen assassinations, attempted or successful.” The brown-haired man in the suit finally joined the conversation. “Including, of great interest to your government I would imagine, the assassination of the Ministère de la Défense and his entire staff four years ago, and the attempted assassination of the Ministre de l’Intérieur.”
The latest revelation seemed to hit the DST Director with enough force to stagger him visibly. “Mon Dieu…” Merle shook his head for a moment as if to collect himself. “Your accent is impeccable, Mr… Contact was it?”
“Thank you, Director.” The neatly dressed man smiled at the compliment, then seemed suddenly distracted by something.
The Frenchman turned his attention back to the Colonel, scowling slightly when he saw the smug expression on the muscular man’s face. “You realize we cannot POSSIBLY turn him over to you if he is guilty of these crimes.”
“Frankly Director? We don’t want him. We just want our people to get a chance to interrogate him. This isn’t the man who pulls triggers or plants bombs, he’s the one who makes it possible for DOZENS of those men to operate. We’ll share what we find, you do the same, and we can put a lot of very bad men away, for good.”
“Then I will make arrangements,” the Director glanced at the large monitor on his desk for a moment before reaching into a drawer and producing a memo pad. “The old-fashioned way, I suppose. And this operation will be retroactively official; a cooperation between our two countries. When are our people planning to move in on this man?”
Mr Contact’s attention suddenly snapped back to his surroundings. “The operation has started, approximately two minutes ago, Director.”
Colonel Casse tried VERY hard to keep a straight face as Merle spouted an endless string of profanity in two languages, scribbling at the pad furiously as he did so. He was not particularly successful.
Everything was impossible bright colors, deafening sound, and flashes of darkness so deep one could drown eternity in those depths. Mel Gruber bolted forward in his oversized office chair with a triumphant scream, not even noticing that he’d cracked the monitor in front of him until a trickle of red obscured his already hazy vision. Crazy bitch, it was a trap, gotta get out.
The overweight, bald man pulled himself from his chair and paused for a moment as he saw the stack of computer servers in the next room still running blissfully unaffected by his recent trials. How did… she… no, the first one came back She stopped the kill code, all the data is just sitting there. Mel weighed his options for a moment, then turned and ran towards the strangely oversized trash chute in the kitchen. Can’t go back in, the second one’ll be waiting.
A very cautious push on his extra senses confirmed the bald man’s other fear; even if no one was saying anything about an arrest pending, there were FAR too many police radios converging on his building. Mel took a deep breath and held it, then dove headfirst into the garbage. The chute wasn’t QUITE wide enough, and the heavy man grunted as he was alternately slowed by the painful, chafing friction or accelerated by unknown slimy residues along the walls. He kept his right hand forward and pressed against the wall, desperately feeling for something as he began to accelerate from the chute widening as it approached the bottom level. Questing fingers finally snagged something, and the entire section occupied by the fat man suddenly swiveled to deposit him in a narrow crawlspace between the walls of the basement’s trash and laundry rooms.
Thank god for foresight, paranoia, and a bank account that can pay for top tier installations. Mel quickly tucked his face into his now filthy shirt, accepting the horrible stench as the exchange for not revealing his hidden passage with a fit of dust fueled coughing. Just follow it to the end and… The train of thought was cut off as an errant screw dragged painfully across the man’s bulging gut. First thing when I get out of here, I’m splurging on one of those body-mod healers and getting in shape.
The bald man crept carefully through the narrow tunnel, smiling as he sensed several radios frantically milling through the basement level of the building. They figured out I went down the trash chute, but unless one of THEM tries it and gets lucky they’ll never find me down here. A few more cramped steps and Mel finally reached the wall he’d been searching for. Another moment of questing with his right hand and it swung noiselessly open to reveal a much wider, much cleaner, passage that led beneath the street and into the building across from his. And no radios waiting for me over there, because all the plans will say the only possible building access is across the alleys, not under the main road. Idiots.
Mel moved quickly to the middle point of the secret tunnel, pacing off the distance as he went, until he reached what he’d been seeking. A few seconds of blind fumbling and he managed to open the waiting package, bathing the area around him in a faint chemical-light glow. God damn, I am FILTHY. Score another one for planning!
The bald man pulled a pair of odd looking washcloths from the top of the package, and immediately began stripping out of his stained, ruined clothing. A few seconds wiping down with the small towels, and Mel looked freshly showered, deodorized, and with a markedly different complexion. Expensive, but handy! A couple minutes of further struggling with the package’s contents in the not quite big enough space left Mel with a new outfit, and even a very convincing hairpiece. He smiled to himself as he checked his appearance in the tiny mirror that was the last item in the package, before shoving it and his old clothing inside and continuing on.
Get to the far side… two steps up… release is high and left this time and… The disguised man’s smile widened further as another seemingly blank wall swung open soundlessly. A clean getaway, once aga-…
Mel’s train of thought was abruptly derailed when several too-bright flashlight suddenly illuminated his face, and the sound of shotguns being racked all around him elicited an involuntary whimper.
“Hand on your head, no sudden movements.” The cornered man remained frozen as he attempted to process the situation he’d found himself in, including the complete lack of an accent from the man apparently arresting him.
The two words, accompanied with enough adjustment to the bright lights that Mel could make out close to a dozen silhouettes pointing weapons at him, decided the overweight man. “Se il vous plaît, ne tirez pas!” He accompanied his plaintive cry by slowly raising his hands.
“Your accent is atrocious, Mr Gruber.” The same American walked forward far enough to be visible in the light; a somewhat grizzled, middle aged man wearing an FBI jacket. “As much thought as you put into your escape tunnel, I’d have thought you’d learn the local language a LITTLE better than that.” Mel started to spout a new objection but was cut off when the man held up a gleaming injection gun. “So, do you want to go gently goodnight until we can stick your ass in a faraday cage, or do you want to get pummeled with beanbags first?”
Mel’s thoughts whirled through possibilities as fast as he could process them, looking for SOME overlooked way out. Can’t use my power, that bitch will be waiting for me. Not a fighter, not against a dozen armed men. Talking, but what do I have that could buy me some time? Unfortunately for the trapped man, his arms began inching their way down as his mind raced, and the men surrounding him were a little bit on edge.
The criminal technopath’s train of thought rapidly devolved into nothing but pain and screaming as his body was pummeled by dozens of riot-rounds, leaving no room for plans of escape.
Joyce Rothschild glared silently at the mysterious message that had cropped up on her monitor for long minutes. Her new security had been alerted as soon as the breach that delivered the message had been made. A pair of technopaths were attempting to track the person who planted it, and a dozen well trained and heavily armed guards had arrived at her office in seconds. She was already being assured that no further breach had been made, and the hacker who created this one would be located and taken care of within the hour. The dark-haired woman barely responded to any of her people, fixing the words on her screen with a look of deep-seated rage.
‘Joyce, we know you know. Lee was set up to take the fall, but he’s grown to unstable. He can connect to you and Patrick, we will make sure all links to you are severed if you do not try to reveal us. No more open conflict, you’ll still come out ahead. You can’t hope for better than a mutual loss if you try to move against us.’
It made perfect sense, but hadn’t occurred to Joyce before reading it on the screen. She’d known that she wasn’t the only one cut-out of the arrangement, a few days of surveillance had confirmed THAT. But she hadn’t thought they’d been smart enough to pick one of the discards to play the scapegoat, and she hadn’t thought about how that could trace back to her. And worst of all, she couldn’t honestly disagree with the last line of the message. She couldn’t hope for better than dragging Edward down with her if she turned this into open warfare, but still…
“I need a completely secure line, then clear the room.” Her new guards jumped immediately to carry out her orders, and a heavily built satellite phone was in her hand within thirty seconds, the room clear in less than a minute.
Joyce hesitated and stared at the device in her hand for a long moment before finally dialing a number she had re-committed to memory.
“Who is this?” The dark-haired woman immediately recognized Edward’s voice; she’d listened to enough recordings of him over the past few weeks to more than make up for any memory tampering.
“Who do you THINK would have this number?” She smiled wickedly as she heard the sharp, surprised intake of breath from the other end of the line. “I got your little message, hope it wasn’t anyone you were too attached to that sent it because I DOUBT you’ll hear from them again.”
“So you disagree? You really thin-…”
“I DON’T disagree, Edward.” Joyce could barely contain the rage in her voice as she interrupted the man. “As much as I hate what you did to me, it was logical. But this? Petty little messages popping up in some deranged attempt to seem superior? If you want to speak with me, Edward, you have my number. Even if you thought I no longer had yours.”
“What do you want then?” The older man snapped back, but it was easy to detect the note of relief underneath the irritation.
“I don’t trust you to do this right, Edward, so I’m taking care of myself on this one. Pull your people out from wherever you have them watching Lee, and I’ll make sure I’m disconnected MYSELF.”
“We have plans in place.”
“You can still end Lee however it is you were planning, Edward. I know you’re at least competent enough to do THAT right. But judging from my own situation? And Lee’s apparent descent into madness? No, I don’t think I’ll trust you with the rest. We get this done, and I’ll end up with controlling interest in almost 60% of the PEERS teams in the country. I’ll take the lead on THAT program, you can do what you want with the PMC contracting. I won’t even ask for a bite of your newly privatized Hero Certification Program.” Sarcasm practically dripped from the last sentence, eliciting a growl from the other end of the line.
“Acceptable.” From the tone of the older man’s voice, it really wasn’t, but Joyce knew Edward would recognize that his other options were all far less palatable.
“Good. Send me everything you did to Lee’s information network the FIRST time, and use a normal courier like everyone else.”
There was a grunt that might have been agreement, then the line went dead. Joyce smiled again to herself and deleted the message still floating on the screen in front of her. Looks like I’ll be coming out of this ahead after all.