Tyler was ruefully grateful that she woke up in an infirmary bed, and not a Red Silo cell. But the fact that she was strapped to the bed with ultra-strong restraints spoiled that gratitude. After a few minutes, a nurse came in and checked her out. Several minutes after that, a doctor came in to double-check the nurse’s findings, and okayed releasing Tyler from the restraints. “We weren’t sure what state of mind you’d be in when you woke up,” she explained. She gave Tyler some extra-strength aspirins, and some topical anesthetic cream for the bruising.
Then the doctor asked how Tyler had pulled the super-speed and flight and protection factor out of her ass. Tyler realized that her THX fugue was probably a big factor there, but she wasn’t very keen on having those fugues becoming common knowledge, so she deferred to the ‘I just DID it’ excuse.
"Okay,” the doctor said, taking it all down. “Now this IS a big breakthrough in your control of your super-strength, but we’ll want you to wear restraints, just in case. And we’ll need tests on your baseline un-charged strength and the running and the flight and the protection factor. AND, you’ll have to begin super-speed and flight retraining, so it looks like you’ll be here for your full six weeks.”
'A lab rat wants more tests,’ Tyler thought ruefully to herself. ‘Shock! Shock! Alert the Media!’
"All right, you look ready to go. They want you in the Colonel’s office for your side of what happened, but you can kick back and recover her for a couple of hours, if you feel like it.”
"Thanks, but I’d better get there and put in my side, before they concoct some huge elaborate scheme that I’m supposed to have come up with.” Tyler paused as she felt the aches of her bruises, even through the cream. “Though… do you guys have a Jacuzzi here?”
"We’re in Alaska, above the Arctic Circle,” the doctor retorted. “Of course we have a Jacuzzi! We have five Jacuzzis! We have a waiting list for the Jacuzzis!” she paused and gave Tyler a fond smile. “But you earned a cut in the line, kid. When you want a soak, we’ll bump you to the head of the line.”
And Tyler noticed a change in the general attitude toward her on her way to the Colonel’s office. She was guided, rather than marched there under armed escort. But the second she entered the room, Jubal was there, pointing an accusing finger at her and demanded loudly, “WHY isn’t that in SHACKLES?”
"I’m in restraints,” Tyler pointed out in a ‘what’s your problem?’ tone.
"You should be in CHAINS!” Jubal yelled, “You should be in SOLITARY CONFINEMENT!”
"What?” Tyler blurted in abject disbelief.
"You aren’t fooling ANYONE with that big splashy Hero Show!” Jubal barked, rage in his eyes. “You set up the Redcoats so you could pull of this big showy rescue, like on that goddamn SHOW of yours, so you could be this BIG HERO, so that people would forget the fact that you’re a cold-blooded murderer!”
"You think that Collier set off the Redcoats’ breakout attempt, just so that she could make a big production out of stopping it?” the Colonel asked, sitting calmly at his desk.
"Yes, it’s just the sort of thing that it would do!” Jubal said, clearly channeling too many Lawyer TV shows. “That’s just what it’s been doing for years on that show it’s on!”
Tyler noticed Mr. Dunmore watching from a TV screen. If Mr. Dunmore was watching this, but not saying anything, then he was probably giving Jubal enough rope to hang himself. But why was Jubal involved at all? Turning to the Colonel, Tyler asked, “What do you need me for?”
Acting far more professionally than Tyler had seen him before, the Colonel said, “We need you to give a statement as to what happened on the landing pad.”
Tyler gave a statement to a stenographer, with neither the Colonel nor Mr. Dunmore trying to influence her statement. Jubal tried to interject several times, but he was shut down by the Colonel and ignored by the stenographer. When Tyler finished, the Colonel asked, “And do you have any statement to make regarding the sudden adjustment of your augmentations?”
Tyler shook her head. “WAY out of my area of competence. I remember Ms. Frost saying something about the Malice Upgrade being ‘idiosyncratic and quirky’ with unpredictable effects. The only thing that makes any sense to me is that it was the first time that I really wanted to use it, so I simply shifted out of the super-strength application to the super-speed, force-field and flight applications.”
"Oh, that is such a total load of CRAP!” Jubal said. “If you’re so innocent, why did you try to ESCAPE?”
"Escape? When did I try to escape?” Tyler asked.
"When you went FLYING OFF!” Jubal snarled. “The only reason that you’re still here, is that _I_ brought you DOWN!” He glared triumphantly into Tyler’s face.
"I was hovering,” Tyler said in a flat voice.
"Because I COULD.” Then something clicked for Tyler. “You ‘brought me down’? You had a control for the punishment shocker in the prisoner collars?”
"YEAH,” Jubal gloated.
"If you did… then WHY didn’t you use it on the Redcoats?”
Jubal completely locked on that one, and his look of triumph wilted.
"Because he didn’t have it on him,” the Colonel said coldly. “He was seen taking the remote control from Razor’s pocket as he was being handcuffed.”
"Okay, and now that I think about it- what was that business with the power frames firing on Jake and me?” Tyler asked.
"ah, That’s a Safety measure, designed for re-establishing control in confused situations,” the Colonel explained with a touch of embarrassment. “The Watchdogs can’t always be on the scene, in case the punishment collars don’t work for some reason, like the prisoner somehow removes them. In that case, knowing which prisoner is the one they have to deal with is crucial. So the control for the punishment collars also has a designator function, which identifies a certain person as the immediate threat. The Watchdog’s internal computer uses that to locate and identify threats to the pilots. When Razor got the remote control away from Jubal, he identified you and two of the boys as threats with the designator. The EMP cut the Watchdogs off from the rest of our network, and the pilots responded to what they thought was a threat to the VTOL. They did the right thing… just targeted at the wrong people.”
Then the Colonel turned that familiar glare of focused outrage at Jubal. “And, while we’re at it, let’s discuss the none-too-trivial matter of you attacking a bonded courier and trying to steal evidence in a Federal case?”
"What?” Tyler said, utterly baffled.
"Apparently, Mr. Getty here conspired with the Redcoats that they were to cause a distraction just before takeoff, and set off that smoke bomb,” the Colonel said standing ramrod straight as he glowered at Jubal, whose last name was apparently Getty. “According to *ahem!* ‘Jojo’, who was in on it, Mr. Getty wanted to acquire the laptop that you had notarized and sealed.”
"I wasn’t trying to steal it,” Jubal said with a hurt tone. “I was just trying to get it disallowed in court.”
"WHY?” the Colonel asked with exasperation.
"Because it’s a TRICK!” Jubal snapped.“It’s a goddamn trick to wriggle out from under the fact that it killed some poor man testing the goddamn process that turned it into a shabby COPY of a woman! It dummied up some bullshit story that it’s trying fob off on the FBI, and you’re helping it get away with MURDER!”
"HOW?” the Colonel asked in tones that had icicles on them.
Jubal locked again, visibly thought furiously, and finally admitted, “I… don’t know… But it’s a GENIUS! It could have come up with anything! You know what geniuses are like! They think that they can get away with anything, ‘cause they’re smarter than us! So they come up with crazy things, things that nobody else would even want to think of! Like THAT!” he gestured at Tyler. “It didn’t just want to be a girl, it wanted to be a supergirl, so it could be better than the rest of us in every way. And you’re letting it get away with it!”
The Colonel looked at Jubal intently, paused, mulled what he’d said over and then said, “Mr. Getty that is… the biggest crock of shit I’ve ever heard. I was told as well by the FBI that Collier here was dangerous. And I freely admit that I assumed the worst when the daughter of Doctor Diabolik showed up to talk to her. But at no time did I presume to dictate what will and will not be submitted to a Federal Circuit Court! Let alone do so in a way that encourages an escape and endangers two young children!”
Jubal started to debate it, so Tyler felt it was time to get something straight with both of them. “JUBAL!” she cut in. When their attention was on her, Tyler reached up, put a finger under the tracking collar, and snapped it off.
"You put that back on, RIGHT NOW!” Jubal said in the Voice of Uncontested Authority.
"NO,” she replied in the calm voice of ‘I’m sick and tired of your shit, and I ain’t taking it anymore’. “These things are for tracking and disciplining Prisoners. People who have been Arrested. As has been said over and over, I’m not under arrest. I may be under suspicion, but NOT arrest.” Completely dismissing Jubal, she turned to the Colonel and asked, “Do you need me for anything else?”
"Just wait until we have your statement typed up, and sign it,” the Colonel said with, maybe not respect, but at least not the naked hostility he’d shown before.
Tyler nodded and turned to the monitor. “Do we have anything to discuss, Mr. Dunmore?”
[Yes, but we can talk about it in private as your statement is being prepared]
Jubal complained, but Tyler just walked out of the Colonel’s office and was led to the private interview room where she had- well, not met, but at least conferenced with Mr. Dunmore. As soon as she sat down, Mr. Dunmore appeared on the monitor. [Nice touch with the collar,] he congratulated her. [Not perfect, you have a long way to go. But still, a definite step in the right direction]
"Thanks. I don’t think that I’ll ever be one of those people who love using power for its own sake, but I’m getting that you can’t just wait for people to come around, sometimes you have to make things happen.”
[Which is music to my ears,] Dunmore said. [The last thing the world needs is yet another power-tripper]
"Is there any chance that Jubal’s brain-fart will invalidate the laptop, like he was trying?”
Dunmore nodded approvingly. [No. In the first place, Mr. Getty never got it away from the courier. I’m informed that the VTOL lifted off a half-hour ago after an inspection, with the courier and the laptop aboard. Secondly, the laptop has nothing to do with your case. All it does is verify that you performed the computer research on that laptop, and that you didn’t alter any of the data you found on the Quest Foundation database]
'Oh right, not everything revolves around my case,’ Tyler reminded herself. “So, has Jadis found out anything about my case that I should know about?”
[Yes, we have managed to arm-wrestle the FBI into handing over some materials regarding Mr. Rivera’s autopsy and the technical specifications of the two forced adaptation chambers. She also has a question for you regarding the Stem Cell Solution that was used in both procedures. According to the Quest Foundation’s inventory of the Diogenes, while there was significant pilferage, there was no loss that could account for the stem cell solution]
"Oh-kay, that’s weird,” Tyler admitted, “Nothing springs to mind right off the bat, but I’ll remember it. You said something about Leo’s autopsy?”
[Just that it’s available to you, along with the designs of the chambers on your computer. Don’t ask me what any of it means. I can read the densest legal gobbledygooklike a ‘Dick and Jane’ book, but a wiring diagram might as well be hieroglyphics to me]
"Just remember that it’s ‘Eye before Teeth, except after dancing duck-headed woman’,” Tyler offered. “And while I appreciate everything you’re doing for me, and I’d love to talk to someone who I’m not going to be seeing 24/7 for weeks, I do have to get back to poking at those files.”
[If I were in your position, Tyler, I’d be poking at those files until 4 in the morning,] Dunmore said. [But before I go, I want you to know that I’m proud of what you did today. And that while what you did may not cut any ice with the FBI or the Attorney General’s Office, you’ve earned some serious credibility at Camp LeMay. And that does mean something.]
With that, Mr. Dunmore logged off, and Tyler was returned to the Colonel’s office to sign her statement. Looking at the Colonel, Tyler asked, “What’s going to happen with Jubal?”
"Mr. Getty went way over the line, but the Military has a fine old tradition of meting out Justice off the books,” the Colonel said firmly. “Not only did he attempt to tamper with evidence, abet an escape attempt, and endanger two minors, but he put at risk an Air Force craft that is worth over $15 million- and far more to the point, is this base’s primary lifeline to the rest of the world!”
"You’re going to fire him?” Tyler asked, seeing all sorts of ways that that could backfire on her. With Jubal gone, the other counselors and therapists would have to work that much harder to fill the gap until a replacement could be found. And given the low profile of Project Step One that could take a while.
"I should be so lenient,” the Colonel said with a steely glint in his eye. “I’m going to make the punishment fit the crime. He almost cost us our lifeline, so I’m canceling his vacation days in February!”
Tyler winced at the thought of Jubal losing those precious ‘get me OUT OF HERE!’ days. And, instead of resenting losing Jubal, the other counselors would be lobbying to get his vacation days. The Colonel may not have been in Mr. Dunmore’s league, but he did play hardball.
When Tyler got back to the Yellow Silo, the kids, who’d only just gotten calmed down, were all abuzz about their big adventure. “Oh, is this what it’s like on the Diogenes?” Barb asked, simply brimming over.
"Y’mean, first you’re wetting yourself with fear, then you realize that someone’s gotta do something and you’re the only one around, then you’re screaming at yourself for being an idiot and getting yourself into danger, and then you see this very narrow tunnel-vision version of what’s going on, and then after doing the right thing over and over, you finally do the stupid thing and that works, and when it’s over, there’s this big adrenaline rush? YEAH, it’s just like that!” Tyler finished with a snarky grin. Barb just wrinkled her nose at Tyler and gave her a swat on the shoulder.
"So, where did that super-speed and flying come from?” Ray asked.
Tyler explained about the ‘breakthrough’, and spelled out the new parameters of her training. “So, I still have to learn how to be super-strong, but now I have to take super-speed lessons and flying lessons as well.”
"And did you see what Mittens did to that dork Razor?” Luke gushed. “THAT WAS SO COOL!”
"Yeah, Becky says that Razor’s probably gonna go through the rest of his life with Holly’s hand on his cheek,” Mike grinned. “And Jake kicked some serious ass on that Jojo creep who was getting fresh with Barb.”
"Oh right, and you were so helpful,” Barb huffed. “You just stood there!”
"I just stood there,” Mike agreed. “With my helmet off. The reason that Razor was just standing there going ‘wuddo I do, wuddo I do?’ was that I broadcasting ‘Up Town Funk!’ straight into his brain.”
"You should have broadcast a little Taylor Swift,” Ray smirked.
"Hey, he was just a vicious steel-jacketed psychopath,” Mike shot back. “No need to be inhumane!”
"And check this out!” Holly bubbled over. She picked up a book.
"And I’m not wearing my mittens!”
"You got control of it?” Barb gave Holly a big hug.
"Sort of.” Holly put the book down, which had a couple of smudge marks on the cover. “I’m still getting the hang of it- BUT I CAN CONTROL IT! I can TOUCH things again!” She hopped up and down, bubbling over with joy.
Then Leslie came to Tyler’s rescue and reminded them that they had schoolwork to keep up with, and Tyler still had to figure out her own mystery. Which was rather a pity. Tyler wasn’t really looking forward to going over the same material again and again. Okay, that’s 90% of Geology, but at least she understood rocks and minerals. What happened with Leo? That was all squishy and it shifted around in your hand and changed when you looked at it from another perspective. And worst of all was that nagging thought that if she just willed herself into a ‘Vulcan’ fugue, the answer would just pop out. ‘Back in your bottle, genie,’ she thought to that nasty nagging voice. ‘Just because I let you out once doesn’t mean that I trust you’.
With a growl of frustration, Tyler fired up her laptop and examined the download files from the FBI. She studied the files for a while, and then Barb came up behind her. “Wha-cha deeewin’?” she asked in a teasing sing-song.
"Looking at Leo’s autopsy and chemical analysis notes, and the schematics of the two forced adaptation chambers.”
"The FBI lets suspects look at their findings like that?” Barb asked with a touch of incredulity.
"Not as a matter of regular policy,” Tyler said. “But when you have a really good lawyer, things can be arranged.”
"I wish that I had a really good lawyer,” Barb sighed.
"Good lawyers are like good doctors: they’re rare, expensive, hard to get to, and you have to interest them somehow,” Tyler said. “But, as I’m finding out, they’re worth the money and butt-ache. Lucky for me, Miss Frost says that there’s stuff going on behind the scenes that he’s interested in.”
"Cool! So, anything interesting?”
Tyler brought up two graphics. “These are schematics for Dr. Chase’s nanite complex, and the nanite complex that they found in Leo. They’re identical, except for these two chains.” Tyler magnified four areas on the two graphics. “According to the FBI, the nanite complex they found in my body is completely identical to the one used on Dr. Chase. By these notes, this section here is what caused my male XY chromosome to ‘branch out’ into a female XX chromosome.”
"Why’d they do that?” Barb asked, looking at the cryptic latticework of letters accusingly.
"They didn’t,” Tyler explained. “Or, more to the point, it’s an unintended side effect of THIS alteration… which is so complicated that I’m not even gonna try to explain it. I don’t get it myself. Biology is NOT my gig. Anyway, the same section in Leo’s suite has a bunch of stuff kludged on to avoid that.”
"And that’s what killed Leo?”
"No, that worked. It’s clunky, but it does the job,” Tyler said. “Leo didn’t change sex, and it would have remained stable in his system.” Ty faltered. “At least… I think he would have remained stable…”
"Then what killed him?”
"The second chain of changes,” Tyler magnified the second pair of images. “This is they call a ‘Somatic Regulation Template’.” To Barb’s pained ‘Hah?’ Tyler explained, “This is the part of the nanite that tells the body how to grow. Before she was injected with the nanite suite, Dr. Chase was a reasonably attractive woman in her 40s, but-”
"But she didn’t look like Wonder Woman,” Barb filled in for her. “Yeah, I’ve seen her ‘Before’ pictures. So, how did this kill Leo? Were his genes telling his body one thing and the nanites telling it another?”
"That might have happened, eventually, but no. From what Logan’s notes-”
"Logan?” Barb interrupted, “Logan Hogan? He knows nanotech?”
"Yeah, but so do Tom Chase (for obvious reasons), Linda (she’d rather slit her wrists than let Tom be one up on her), Suzy (it factors into her work on silt), and Izzy.”
"Why would Izzy know about nanotech?”
"Well, on a very real level, nanotech is all about the instructions, and Izzy’s all over that,” Tyler pointed out. “Anyway, Logan’s on the bottom of the suspect list. His edits would be a lot more elegant and refined. But his notes indicate that this chain shut off the Somatic Regulation Template, but didn’t factor in that the SRT also regulates the re-growth of the tissue in the proper proportions.”
"So… Leo’s body grew any way it wanted to at the moment?” Barb winced with dismay. “eeewww….”
"Big Time. According to the autopsy, before Leo’s lungs collapsed, he was well on his way to four other major organ failures.”
"He… looked that bad?”
"Trust me, you do NOT want to see his ‘After’ pictures.”
"What about you?” Barb asked. “You’re only 16! Okay, you’ve done most of your growing, but people still keep growing into their 20s, right? What’s that nanite gonna do to you growing?”
"Yeah, that bugged the hell out of me for the two weeks they had me in Solitary,” Tyler said. “As a matter of fact, that was the first thing I asked the doctor, when I finally saw her. She told me, that the important part is the thing that reinforces the bones, and it uses the ends of the bones, which are somehow involved in how bones grow- don’t ask me, I’m a Geologist- to dictate how far my bones will grow, even as it makes them 50% denser and a lot stronger. She says that I’ll grow to about Dr. Chase’s size. Which is a lot taller than I think I’d be normally.”
"So, when you’re finished growing, you’re gonna be like a twin or something to Dr. Chase?”
"mmmeeehhh… more like ‘Mother- Daughter, Big Sister- Little Sister,” Tyler guessed. “I mean, it’s not that exact. It is working with the original body and all like that.” Then a chat request chimed. “And it’s Suzy!” Tyler opened the window. “Hey Suze!”
[Hey, Tyler! Aaannnddd… Barbara, right?] Barb nodded, not sure how to take being remembered by such an ‘A-list’ girl.
"What’s the matter, Suzy?” Tyler asked, noting the signs of tension on her normally cheery face.
[Oh, Korman and Arcero are turning the screws again. They say that what with losing Hughie and Leo, and… whatever’s gonna happen with you, that they’ve cut this year’s mission short, and they’re making noises like we’ve reneged on our contracts, and we might ‘not be invited to return’, and they’re leaning on us to sign all sorts of contracts without our parents or lawyers, and like that. Tyler, I’ve heard that you managed to get a real legal shark to represent you- could you talk to him about doing something about this? We’re getting screwed here!]
"What?” Barb bleated, “What do you mean ‘you’re getting screwed? Why would you be getting screwed?”
"Barb, do you remember Carlos Hinojo last year?”
"Yeah, the guy who was such an electronics hotshot? He had that big rivalry with Hugh Fienberg?”
"Yeah,but that wasn’t the problem,” Tyler said.“Carlos was working with me on a system of using multiple integrated radio signals for ground-penetrating radar that would have resulted in a vastly more complete picture of mineral formations, underground structures, soil conditions and on and on. But Carlos was very picky about what contracts he signed with the Foundation. So he wasn’t ‘invited to return’, and Lydia Baines, one of the bigwigs overseeing the program, has been making noises about a ‘clean sweep’ with a group of kids who’ll be ‘more reasonable’.”
[And now, Arcero, another one of the big wheels, has been ‘inviting’ the Wiz Kids to act as ‘Intern Instructors’ at some Podunk colleges,] Suzy said.
“’Intern’ being a common phrase for ‘unpaid chump’,” Tyler added.
"But how could they DO that to you?” Barb demanded. “The Quest Foundation is supposed to about helping young geniuses, not screwing them for whatever they can get!”
"Well, Jadis Frost says that for the past three years, the Foundation’s been on a ‘running the place like a business’ kick. Lyle Korman, the guy who’s been pushing that whole angle keeps saying that the Foundation’s going broke, that ‘everyone needs to sacrifice for the greater good’ and like that.”
[As he has 2-hour lunches at 5-star restaurants on the Foundation’s tab,] Suzy said sourly.
"Suzy,” Tyler said clearly working things out,“Mr. Dunmore, my lawyer, said that someone was turning screws to get me railroaded into a concrete box in Argentina. The only thing people I know who have that kind of juice is the Foundation. Okay, there are a couple of oil companies and chemical outfits that would love to have me locked into a long-term contract, but they’d be trying to get me over a barrel, not have me locked away. The only thing that makes any sense is that something’s going on with the Diogenes, and Arcero and Korman don’t want people they can’t bribe or schmooze looking too hard at it.”
[Dunmore? That’s your lawyer?] Suzy perked up. [He’s looking into it?]
"Remember when I said that Jadis Frost already got what she wanted?” Tyler said. “Well, just this afternoon, we sent a sealed package by bonded courier to the Justice Department.”
[Really? What is it?]
"I’m not a 100%, Suze. But that high-powered lawyer you were looking for? He’s already on the case.”
[Yeah… Korman and Arcero are stone-cold sharks… but would having Jadis Diabolik on the Board of Directors of the Foundation be any better?]
"Okay, getting off that subject- let’s face it Suzy, that’s way out of our league- did you ever find out what Glynis wanted to talk to me about, the day I disappeared?”
[Ah, No. Since we’re down three men, the Diogenes is stuck in Los Angeles while the brass decides what they’re gonna do. But, at the same time, we can’t really go home. At least not with Baines jumping on every infraction of our contracts the way she does. But y’know, we spend a LOT of time together on board, and you know how it is with ship’s crews when they hit port]
"Yeah, we don’t spend that much time together off-ship,” Tyler admitted. “But you have seen her, right?”
[Now and again,] she admitted. [But the subject just never came up]
The three girls chatted it over for a while, with Barb providing the outsider’s angle. Tyler wasn’t exactly sure how to take being accepted as ‘one of the girls’ so easily. But then there was dinner, and after dinner, Suzy was busy elsewhere, and Barb didn’t feel like hanging over Tyler’s shoulder.
But while Tyler was expecting a few hours of solo research before Lights Out, it didn’t quite work out that way.
Tyler had settled into examining the schematics of the second pod, and Mike called it a night. As soon as the common room was empty, a blue cloudy mass materialized. I AM BLUE, the mass intoned.
"aaahhh… that’s NICE, dude…” Tyler tried not to gawp. “How are you doing that? That effect is WAY beyond what a commercial 3D screen should be able to do, let alone through a monitored military Net link.”
I HAVE MY WAYS, Blue said with a loud yet diffuse atonal voice that didn’t seem to come from the laptop’s speakers. The mass became a cloud, then a whirling spiral, then a swarm of dots.
"Okay, okay, I get it!” Tyler snapped, refusing to be intimidated. “You’re some big deal hacker showing off. Well, you’re not breaking my laptop, so you want something. So stop switching between icons. Pick one, stick with it, and tell me what you want.” Then something occurred to her. “Izzie, is that you?”
NO, I AM BLUE the mass settled on a round blue disk with white bars for minimalist eyes and mouth I AM WORKING WITH JADIS FROST ON YOUR DEFENSE
"Convince me,” Tyler said flatly, folding her arms across her chest.
"Tyler Collier?” came Jadis Frost’s voice.
"You were expecting someone… manlier?” came a high feminine voice that Tyler didn’t recognize. But the line itself. “Is… that what I sound like now?”
"How did you tap a conversation in a massively shielded room, at least 100 feet underground, in a military base above the Arctic Circle?”
IT WAS A CHALLENGE. I LOVE CHALLENGES
It immediately struck Tyler that this weirdo was exactly the sort that Jadis Frost would have working with her. “Okay, you do have a way of making your point. How can I help you?”
I SEE THE GREATER PICTURE; YOU KNOW THE FINE DETAILS. I SEE THE PATTERNS OF CORRUPTION; YOU KNOW THE INDIVIDUALS INVOLVED
"Corruption?” A fear formed in Tyler’s gut, a strange one for the fix she was in. “You mean… you think that the Quest Foundation is actually corrupt?”
THE PRESSURE THAT YOU AND THE OTHER WIZ KIDS HAVE BEEN UNDER IS ONLY THE TIP OF THE ICEBERG the blue ‘face’ exploded into an organizational table that shifted. Boxes grew dark and the darkness spread to other boxes. Some boxes where shifted, some rose, some fell, and some were forced out altogether BUT THAT’S BEING HANDLED. I’M HERE ABOUT YOUR DEFENSE
Then two tables appeared on Tyler’s screen, which read:
Status at time of recorded activation of the first forced adaptation chamber
Becker, Suzy Solid Alibi/ Bernard-Gagne, Claire
Bernard-Gagne, Claire Solid Alibi/ Becker, Suzy
Chase, Tom No Alibi
Collier, Tyler Contestable Alibi/ in cabin, online
Davies, Glynis No Alibi
Havoc, Linda No Alibi
Hogan, Logan Contestable Alibi/ in Chem lab
Zhang, Isobel ‘I.Z.’ Contestable Alibi/ in cabin, online
And a report on patterns of pilferage at the Quest Foundation’s Los Angeles supply depot.
'Oh wonderful’, Tyler thought sourly to herself, ‘we’re in Agatha Christie country.’
And the Blue mask was gone. Jadis Frost’s eccentric associate was gone as quickly and untraceable as he’d come. ‘They probably went to school together or something.’
Tyler had a suspicion that Jadis Frost hadn’t needed the laptop to get to Washington to start her counter-screw-turning campaign. It was probably one of those legal fine points that don’t mean anything if you do them right, but can bite your ass right off if you get it wrong. But Frost’s touch was clear. Right after breakfast, she got another update. The FBI had added footage of when Tyler’s adaptation chamber had been found. That didn’t strike Tyler as the sort of thing they’d share around without a court order.
<the scene opened with Glynis Davies opening a door marked ‘Geology Lab’, which Tyler recognized as the Diogenes onboard lab that he’d practically made a third home. Glynis stuck her head in the door, saying “TYYY-Leeerrr are y-OMIGAWD, not again!” she immediately slammed the door shut, then put a police whistle to her mouth and gave it a loud blast. First Clare Bernard–Gagny, then Suzy Becker, then Isobel Zheng, then Logan Hogan showed up.>
<Glyn!” Clare braced Davies, who was bent over hyperventilating, “What’s wrong?”>
<I found the short…” Glynis croaked. “In there…”>
<”AND?” Suzy demanded.>
<”The smell… it’s the same smell… as with Leo…”>
<”What are you talking about?” Suzy opened the door, sniffed and said, “Okay, it’s a little funky, but-” then her eyes popped open, a stricken look crossed her face and she leaned over, covering her mouth. “It is…” she finally said, “It’s the same smell… as when we found Leo!”>
<This time, they called in Mr. Newell, and he brought along one of the FBI guys. He called in more FBI, and this time a proper CSI team opened up the pod after dusting the entire place for prints and examining it for clues. They had an idea as to who to expect inside, as they found a pile of rumpled clothing, which the Wiz Kids identified as Tyler’s. Newell opened the Gunnerson hatch with the key, with gust of released pressure. There was a crowd of reactions from the Wiz Kids and FBI team as the rancid funk filled the room. They pulled the gurney out, and the wash bag, which was inflated to filling the chamber, just squeezed out head-first.>
Tyler scowled as she watched the bag being opened. There was something WRONG there. It wasn’t just that she was being set up, it was like a poppy seed in her gums that she couldn’t get at. They were all taking something for granted that wasn’t so. There was a false basic assumption, and whoever set her up was playing it for everything they could. Figure out that false assumption, and it might not all fall into place, but she’d have a thread to unravel the rest. But WHAT was the false assumption?
"What’s this? Holly asked, peeping unexpectedly over Tyler’s shoulder again.
"Footage of them opening the pod they found me in. That’s me in the hefty bag.”
Holly peered curiously at the screen. “So, is there anything different about this one?”
"Three things,” Tyler said, not taking her eyes from the screen. “First, I was placed feet-first into that, while Leo was placed head-first. Second, the hatch was reinforced on this one for some reason. And third, and most damning, the hatch on this one had an escape latch- that could be pulled from the inside. The point being, that I could have used that to get out of the pod without needing anyone on the outside to get me out.”
"Tyler? If you had put yourself in there, why would you mess with that hatch by building an escape thing? Why not just get another hatch, what already had some way of you getting out? I mean, the whole thing was just thrown together anyway, why not just put a different kind of hatch on it? I mean, it’s high pressure, right? So why mess with that by welding on a latch? Why not something electronic, just push a button and you’re out? And really, WHY BOTHER? I mean, you’re super-strong, right? Why not just PUNCH your way out?”
Tyler’s face went flat and her eyes popped open. “MITTENS! You’re a GENIUS!”
It wasn’t until late afternoon that Suzy was able to answer Tyler’s frantic messages for a talk. [Tyler! What happened? Your Tweet was all twitter pated!]
"SUZY!” Tyler grinned into the laptop’s camera with a huge relieved smile. “I figured it out! I was making a classic mistake!”
[You let your mother set you up on a blind date with a son of one of her friends?]
"Very funny. No. I was trying too hard to be Sherlock Holmes, when I should have been trying to be Miss Marple!”
[You think that tweed, sensible shoes and support stockings is gonna be the hot new look?]
Tyler glowered at Suzy’s image. “Look, I was going over the footage of me being decanted from that second pod- and Holly, the young girl who’s been kibitzing over my shoulder?- she said the right thing: ‘Why weld an escape latch into the pressurized Gunnerson hatch? If you know you’re going to be super-strong, why not just bust out?’”
That completely stopped Suzy. She reared back, and her eyes darted about as she clearly gave it heavy thought. [Why didn’t _I_ think of that?]
"Yeah, that was my reaction as well,” Tyler allowed. “But while that’s not enough to exculpate me, it drives home a vital point: the escape latch is STAGE DRESSING. The Perp was setting the stage for me to take the fall for Leo’s death.”
[AND? You’re going to check to see if anyone on the boat was in a production of ‘And Then There Were None’?]
"From ‘Stage Dressing’, it’s not that big a leap to ‘Stage Magic’,” Tyler pointed out. “While Tom and Linda make all the noise about being ‘All Purpose Scientists’, Glynis is all over the place, AND you don’t think of her as knowing about Engineering or Biology, but she does! And Glynis isn’t just a Ghost Hunter, she’s a Hoaxbuster! She knows ALL the tricks! Everyone’s trying to figure out how anyone could kludge together a high-tech adaptation chamber on board a ship at sea without anyone noticing anything- Simple! She didn’t! She built it on shore, probably in Los Angeles with bits and pieces scavenged from the Foundation’s supply depot, and brought it aboard, probably using some razzle-dazzle she read about in Houdini’s biography. The inventory that the chambers explained away were just… chucked over the side, so there wouldn’t be any embarrassing duplicates showing up.
"You see? The real question wasn’t ‘who had a motive’, or ‘how did they pull it off’, the question really was: ‘who could pull it off?’ And while the rest of us are scientists, with straightforward thinking minds, Glynis is really a detective, with the devious and cunning kind of mind that requires. And detectives make the most dangerous criminals, because they know all the gags, and when and why they go wrong, and how to avoid that.”
Suzy nodded absently. [Yeah, and now that I think about it, Glynis was the one to find both Leo and you. She led us right to you! But… WHY would she do that to you and Leo? She always got along with Leo, and to be honest, I always thought that she was a little sweet on you]
"Really?” Tyler bleated, still utterly oblivious to her (former) charms. Tyler looked about, confused, and then shook her head. “My theory was that Leo used his manly charms on her to get her to do something, and promptly forgot about it. He did that, y’know.”
[I know] Suzy grumped in an aggrieved girlfriend way.
"Right. Leo promptly forgot about it, but Glynis didn’t. She’s the type to hold a grudge. But I don’t think that Glynis meant to kill Leo; it really was just the kind of experimental cluster fuck that underscores why the Standards of Ethical and Responsible Experimentation were developed. She just needed to check whether or not her reverse engineering of the Malice Upgrade worked. She made adjustments to keep him male, but that could be almost anything. Hey, Motives aren’t my strong suit!
"BUT! I think I know why she used the second adaptation chamber, which she was probably going to use on herself-”
[Why would Glynis want to use that upgrade on herself?]
"Suze, think about it! Why would you kludge together a super-soldier process- a slightly obsolete, surpassed super-soldier process- if not to use on yourself? That was the second point in my realization: the only people on the Diogenes who would be desperate enough to use the Malice Upgrade to improve their looks are Glynis and Logan- and with Logan, it doesn’t really register. For the rest of you? Let’s face it, Suze; the standup comedians kinda had a point with all those jokes about ‘IQ 90210’. While the Quest Foundation will deny it, they really do vet the candidates for looks. I have no idea how I squeezed through.
"Dammit, where was I? Oh, right- there were two reasons why Glynis used her second adaptation chamber on me. First, I vaguely remember Glynis trying to talk to me about… something… for the month after Hughie died. I think that she was worried that she might have said something she shouldn’t have to me, and once I snapped out of it, I might have connected her with Leo’s death.”
[That’s kinda cold-blooded, Ty] Suzy said with a worried look.
"Suzy, we know that the Renegade has access to THX-1157,” Tyler pointed out. “It follows that she’s using THX herself. And it follows from that, that she’s a high-functioning sociopath. Suze, ‘cold-blooded’ is what sociopaths DO. They will do anything to anyone to get what they want, as long as they think they can get away with it.
"And that’s my next point. Glynis had to get rid of me to A> explain the presence of the second adaptation chamber (why, I’m not sure), B>in case I remembered her verbal slip-up, C>to stall the blood test that was chugging down the road in her direction. By the way- I was kind’a out of it then: why did it take that long for them to order those tests?”
[Oh, they took the blood samples,] Suzy said. [But for some strange reason, things kept happening to the samples]
Tyler nodded, seeing the point. “And Glynis knew that she couldn’t keep pulling that crap indefinitely, so she needed a scapegoat. And who better to be your goat than someone who might be a danger to you?”
[Okay, but why are you so amped? It worked? Even if you can get out from under this, there’s no way that you can prove that it was Glynis. The crucial evidence is the traces of THX in her blood, and it’s been over a month since Leo. If she stopped doing THX the second that she knew she was in danger, it must have passed out of her system by now.]
Tyler gave Suzy a sinister grin. “THIS is where having Jadis Diabolik on my side really comes in. Her father created THX-1157. And besides the whole sociopath thing, he dumped it because there were side effects to using it for long periods of time. This is really getting me out from under, because while I had a massive dose in my bloodstream, I don’t show any of the signs in my liver and pancreas or lower digestive tract. And NO, the Malice Upgrade wouldn’t have erased that. Though possibly Glynis didn’t know that.”
[And the FBI’s whole case is that you experimented on Leo while in a THX induced sociopathy!] Suzy bleated happily. [You’re off the hook!]
"Better,” Tyler said with that sinister smile. “Glynis is ON that hook. My lawyer’s arranging for all the Wiz Kids to have ‘end of season’ physicals, which will involve all the usual uncomfortable, awkward, embarrassing tests- plus a few more.”
[Cool!] Suzy said brightly, eyes glittering.
"But this is why I really called you, Suzy,” Tyler leaned in. “Glynis may not be a THX-fueled sociopath super-genius at the moment, but she’s still damn smart, AND like I said, she knows all the tricks. The FBI and Mr. Dunmore both will have people watching those tests. But I want you to attach yourself to Glynis while the tests are being made. Don’t try to catch her at it, just… crowd her arm, cramp her moves, get her off balance, so when she does try something, the FBI or Private Investigators will spot her trying it.”
[Will I get to pull the rubber mask off her?]
"What you two do in the privacy of your cabin is none of my business, Suzy.”
Three days later, a young woman, a little on the dumpy side,with shaggy mousy brown hair, sturdy glasses with various Q-gadgets clipped to them, a Keisha t-shirt and a draping denim shirt that hung down to her knees over ill-fitting jeans rented a public storage locker in Van Nuys, a suburb of Los Angeles. She moved five carts of boxes from a van into her locker. Then she spent four hours ‘getting everything put away just right’. After the locker attendant lost interest in her, the young woman clipped a video feed override clamp onto the cables of the security feed. She waited five minutes for a reaction. When the tedium of a public storage locker remained wooden, she slipped over to another locker two doors down, and used a very illegal key gun to open the deadbolt on that locker. She pushed the door in slightly, to be sure that there weren’t any alarms on the door. Leaving the door slightly ajar, she went back to her rented locker. Quickly, but without enough haste to draw attention to her, she wheeled a large vaguely cylindrical amalgamation of devices, cobbled together from the various items she’d brought in from her van.
She pushed the gadget into the locker, and suddenly the light went on. Sitting at a table, playing cards, were three young women, two of them brunettes, and the third had snow-white hair that tufted in ‘horns’ at the front. “Well it’s ABOUT TIME you showed up,” the white-haired one said sternly. “I was losing an arm and a leg to these card sharks!”
The young woman turned and ran, but the white-haired woman shouted, “Stop! You’re under Citizen’s Arrest!” A blue humanoid figure that turned to a vaporous trail from below the waist chased after her and forced her to the ground. The three women gathered around her. “No one takes Citizen’s Arrest seriously anymore,” the white-haired one groused.
"Or Distinctive Likeness,” said that one that had materialized the ‘genie’ out of thin air. She leaned down and tugged at the captive’s cheek. A thin layer of latex pulled off, along with a nose prosthesis. The false teeth in her mouth, giving the impression of a different shape of face, slipped. And Suzy Becker, the sweetheart of the Diogenes, broke down sobbing.
Isobel didn’t know which pissed her off more: being left twisting in the wind about what was going to happen with the Wiz Kids show, being stuck here in the waiting room with the other Wiz Kids while the old folks decided everything, being stonewalled about that cluster fuck with Tyler, being in this completely over her head, or being stuck in this waiting room with the other Wiz Kids without having Suzy or Hughie around to defuse things. Linda and Tom were at it- again. Logan and Glynis were bickering over their takes on the situation. And Suzy was nowhere to be seen. Normally she could at least talk with Clare, but Clare had retreated into her tablet.
Isobel was reviewing her options from her contract to get her out of being the star pony in some dog-and-pony show at a Computer Sciences symposium at some third-string college for the summer, when the door opened. Mrs. Rice, Dr. Chase and Dr. Dajani walked in with the elderly Arnold Jenkins, the CFO of the Foundation. While the Quest Foundation’s Head Director Lyle Korman, and his pack of jackals, Charlie McMahon, Phil Arcero, and Lydia Baines were doing everything they possibly could to squeeze every possible penny of profit out of the Wiz Kids, while making noises that any complaints were a quick ticket to getting kicked out. Mrs. Rice and Dr. Dajani were different. They, like Dr. Chase, were from the ‘old regime’ of the Foundation, the one that earned the Quest Foundation its great reputation. Mr. Korman said that the ‘old regime’ had almost driven the Foundation into bankruptcy, and that all his bogus ‘thrift’ measures were needed to keep it afloat. But Dr. Chase said that Larry Jenkins had been quietly on the side of the ‘Old Guard’, and was keeping that bitch Lydia ‘Baines of my Existence’ Baines on a leash. Considering what she was pulling with the Wiz Kids, Isobel shuddered to think what she trying to get away with but couldn’t. That woman had a nasty case of ‘permanently pissed off’.
Isobel joined the other Wiz Kids to hear what Dr. Chase and Mr. Jenkins had to say. Even Tom and Linda stopped their constant squabbling. Drs. Chase and Dajani both looked at Jenkins, who braced himself. “Kids, I really wish that this was just another round of Korman or Baines looking for another screw to turn, but it’s a lot worse than that. Things have gotten very dark. That idiot Korman slipped up, and he might just take the entire Quest Foundation with him. JeriCorp offered to make a $180 Million donation, but there was a very nasty string attached: Jadis Diabolik.”
"JADIS DIABOLIK?” Linda snapped with barely restrained rage, “What the HELL is SHE doing, getting involved with the Quest Foundation?” For once, Tom Chase didn’t try to top Linda, and just gave her a worried side glance.
"Somehow, she got her hands on documents proving Arcero’s involvement in some… questionable things,” Jenkins explained. “And for the last hour and a half, she’s been at them like surgical instruments to graft herself into the policy making process. If you ask Baines, what Diabolik’s got is sleazy; actionable, but not illegal; but according to Diabolik, if she takes them to the SEC or the FBI, most of the Board of Directors will go to jail, and all the Foundation’s holdings will be confiscated under the RICO statutes.”
"Oh, this is CLASSIC Jadis bullshit!” Linda snarled.
"You know Jadis Diabolik?” Glynis asked Linda.
"She and my sister Melody have been going at it hammer and tongs for years,” Linda muted her snarl. “Mel’s tried to put her in jail more times than I can count, but she’s always got at least three aces tucked away somewhere- and that’s when she’s caught by surprise.”
"What would Jadis Diabolik want with the Quest Foundation?” Logan asked, “The Foundation’s been bleeding money for years!”
"Loogie,” Linda growled, “THINK about some of the patents that the Foundation’s been sitting on. Just getting the patents you came up with on the Diogenes would give her big knives to hold at the throats of Howe Chemicals and Criterion Oil.”
"Maybe,” Isobel said, “but really- could even Jadis Diabolik be that much worse than Arcero jerking us around for years, and then kicking us out if we don’t sign away our souls, so he doesn’t have to come across with the scholarship money?”
"YES,” Linda said with granite-solid resolve. But then, she had her family, all of whom had rock-solid reputations and connections, covering her ass.
"Linda has a good grasp of the situation,” Jenkins said. “And somehow Diabolik’s managed to get some of the Board of Trustees under her thumb. BUT, she’s trying to be too clever.”
"That IS her besetting flaw,” Linda purred.
"She’s focusing on giving Korman and Arcero grief, and not really paying attention to the more credible members of the Board of Directors. She’s played a card that she doesn’t realize can be used against her.” He pulled out a thick, heavily notarized sheaf of papers. “This is called a… no, it would take too long… essentially, to get Korman better over a barrel, Diabolik has tied up the property and holdings of the Foundation, supposedly to protect those assets in case of a RICO action, but really to separate Korman and his gang from proper possession of those assets. She’s identified a list of people who could be designated as Executors of the Escrow, outside the current organization of the Foundation. While there are a lot of names on that list, for form’s sake, most of them are nowhere near here, there are enough people on that list to form a quorum- that is, enough people to fulfill the necessary number to suit the purpose.”
"But odds are, those people are Diabolik’s stooges, just there to sign everything over to her?” Linda guessed.
"That is… the notion that occurred to me.”
"And how is Diabolik being too clever?”
"There’s a loophole, in that this document has been pre-notarized, but is yet unsigned. I don’t really think that she expected to play this card; she was just using it as a club to hit Baines over the head with. But if enough people from the set list sign this, they legally become the Executors of that Trust, with the right to say what happens to the property. So, Korman, Arcero, McMahon, Baines and Ellsworth will be effectively cut off from any control of the Quest Foundation, but still be on the spot for every Felony, Misdemeanor or Tort charge that Diabolik has in her bag of tricks.”
"And who are these people?” Glynis asked.
"There are over sixty people, all involved with the Quest Foundation and therefore have a vested interest in the Foundation’s welfare, but outside the current Leadership structure-”
"That means they’re not on one side or another in this fight, which is very important,” Dr. Chase explained.
"Right,” Jenkins said with a nod. “But most of them are either, as you said, probably Diabolik’s stooges or nowhere near here, and this document’s period of validity is very brief. It HAS to be signed in the next two hours, or it’s invalid.”
"That’s Jadis all over,” Linda sneered. “She wouldn’t want that grenade lying around for too long.”
"But, looking at the list,” Jenkins flipped open the document and pointed to one page. “YOUR names are on this list; again, for form’s sake. But if you sign with Drs. Chase and Dajani and Mrs. Rice validating your signatures, you will become the Executors of the Trust, and you’ll have control over all the properties, and Korman, Arcero and Baines are screwed.”
"And what about Diabolik?” Glynis asked.
"She’ll be stymied. But she’ll have Korman and McMahon to take her frustrations out on.”
'How many do we need for a quorum?” Tom asked, like he’d let Linda control the conversation.
"But there are only six of us!” Clare pointed out.
"Suzy Becker is on her way, and I already have her Power of Attorney from another matter concerning Mr. Rivera’s death,” Jenkins said.
“But there is a potential problem,” Dr. Dajani said, looking at the document. “The material fact that you’re all minors. If you fill the full quorum, it’s solid enough that Korman could contest it, but with everything that Diabolik is throwing at them, there’s no way that any sitting judge would overturn it. But the way this is set up, if you sign it and you don’t have a full quorum, then Korman can cite your inability to form a quorum as proof of incompetence, and assign himself as the Sole Executor, using the Foundation’s In Loco Parentis as a basis.”
"Does that really work?” Glynis asked, craning her neck to look at the document.
"If I’m reading it properly, that wasn’t the idea,” Dr. Chase said. “From the way that Frost was using this, she was more interested in crowbarring the In Loco Parentis away from Korman, just to use it as a concession for another point. But Kids, the real point here is that we HAVE to have a Full Quorum for this to work. If even one of doesn’t sign, Korman takes everything. And if even one of you sign, then we’re committed.”
There was an uncomfortable moment, until Linda snatched the paper and signed her name to the top of the empty spaces. “It’s worth it, just to GET Jadis Diabolik, when Mel couldn’t,” she said at the finish, smirking at Tom.
Tom took the paper, and passed it along to Clare, then to Glynis, then Isobel. Logan looked at the document, read it through and paused.There was a tense moment; legally they couldn’t force Logan to sign it, and there was the dreadful possibility that he might use this as an opening for some kind of power play of his own, say leveraging Dr. Chase into vouching for him in his application to MIT. Finally he muttered, “MAN, I wish I understood Legal thinking…” He signed.
"Very well,” Jenkins said, signing the document, and then having Drs. Chase and Dajani and Mrs. Rice witness and verify the document.
Jenkins started to look it over, but Linda snatched it from his hand. “Well? What are we waiting for? I can’t wait to see the look on Diabolik’s face when she realizes that I’ve completely spoiled her big play!” With that, she sailed out the door and on her way to the conference room
"What d’you mean ‘YOU spoiled her big play’?” Tom demanded as he followed after her.
The rest followed them to the door of the conference room. With a sense of entitlement that seemed to Isobel to be a bit much, even for a gringo, Linda just pushed through the door into the conference room. “Excuse me, but we’re in the middle of something here!” said an annoyed sounding woman with strange white hair. She was young, maybe just out of college, but she was easily dominating the room. She wore an icy blue suit with outsized white lapels and cuffs, with a matching wide-brimmed hat. She had a matching purse open on the long conference table in front of her, with piles of documents, hard text files, and a laptop beside it. Beside her was another woman, who could best be summed up as ‘dark’, despite her porcelain complexion. She regarded Linda with a heavy-lidded feline smirk of cool dismissal. She had long black hair tied up in a single braid that came down over her shoulder. Her outfit was black, of a sort where it seemed almost a puddle of shadow where she sat. On the other side of Diabolik was another young lady with short dark hair and kittenish features. She wore a pantsuit in a way that it seemed more a catsuit, along with heavy brass jewelry.
"It doesn’t matter, Diabolik!” Linda jeered at her, tapping the Trust documents in her hand.
"Frost,” she correct Linda.
"Screwed,” Linda corrected Miss Frost, waving the papers at her.
"Oh, Linda Havoc,” Frost purred. “There’s no mistaking that Havoc family trademark grace and decorum.”
Tom snatched the Trust papers from Linda’s hand and said, “Whatever game you’re playing, we’ve got the trump to your ace.”
"Excuse me, but we don’t have TIME for this,” Lyle Korman snapped. He was seated at the other end of the long conference table, with two of his yes-men at his side, and Arcero, McMahon, Baines, and Ellsworth across the table from him. There was a raft of Foundation bigwigs that Isobel didn’t recognize and a cluster of three men in dark suits that screamed ‘government goons’ between Korman’s group and Frost’s. And Lennox was just sitting there, poking away at a laptop without any real sign of concern. “We’re in the middle of something that could decide the entire fate of the Quest Foundation!”
Jenkins took the Trust papers from Tom and showed them to Frost. “And it HAS been decided. These are those blank Comprehensive Escrow papers you were beating us over the head with. They’ve been signed, by people on your stupid list. A Board of Executors has been formed.”
"WHAT?” Arcero yelped as he, McMahon, and Baines all stood with the air of people who have suddenly been put on the spot. “HOW?” Isobel had the distinct sense of walking into the middle of a very involved play.
"Them,” Jenkins said smugly, pointing at the Wiz Kids. “Frost put them on the list, probably figuring that no one would risk giving them that kind of authority. Signed and verified.” He laid the papers down in front of a drab woman sitting near Frost’s group. “Notarize these.”
As Arcero and Baines screamed at Jenkins for stabbing them in the back, the woman, apparently some kind of notary, examined the papers. “The quorum for this function is Seven; there are only Six signatures.”
"Mr. Jenkins holds the Power of Attorney for Suzy Becker, who’s also on the list of Executor Candidates,” Linda said smugly giving Jadis a ‘Nyeh!’ smirk.
"And you’re going to sign for her?” the notary asked, ignoring the objections from both Korman and Arcero’s sides of the table.
"NO,” Jenkins said with a triumphant leer. “And, given the lack of Majority of the signatories, the role of Sole Executor therefore defaults to the primary Ensurer of the Trust. That would be ME.” His smirk became a full-fledged grin. Isobel wondered how that could work, how a single document could have that much power in this situation. But then it occurred to her that there was a LOT more going on than she knew, and she was only seeing the climax of a very complex legal conflict.
The table exploded in arguments and recriminations, most of which were aimed at Jenkins.
"YOU!” Mrs. Rice shouted at Jenkins, “You were playing us all along! You were telling Korman everything we were trying! We TRUSTED you!”
"It’s not my fault that you’re stupid,” Jenkins gloated.
Frost turned to her darkling companion. “Kate?”
Kate stood and calmly and matter-of-factly said, “HUSH.” The boardroom went deathly still, even Baines, who would scream at the Pope.
Frost stood and said, “That would work, Jenkins. But there’s an eighth listed Executor candidate available.”
Jenkins’ smirk collapsed. “Who?”
Frost aimed her smartphone at one of the widescreen monitors on the boardroom wall, and a picture appeared of a dark wood paneled room with three women standing in front of the camera. One was a hefty Hispanic woman wearing a USAF officer’s undress formal uniform, the second was a thirtyish African American woman wearing a lab coat with an ID badge over a red turtleneck sweater, and the third was a lean, lovely teenage girl with dark short floppy hair, wearing a yellow smock. The woman in the lab coat introduced herself. [My name is Dr. Leslie Campbell. I’m a doctor and physical therapist at Project Step One at Camp LeMay in Alaska. This is Captain Rosalyn Ibarra, United States Air Force, the base Legal Officer for Camp LeMay. And this is Tyler Abrams Collier.]
There was another outburst of objections and accusations. Kate stilled them with a raised eyebrow. Frost held up a paper from one of the stacks, saying, “This is a signed and notarized form from Captain Ibarra’s office at Camp LeMay, attesting to Tyler Collier’s identity and sound state of mind. But still, for the record would you?” In turn, Dr. Campbell and Capt. Ibarra stated for the record that the girl beside them was indeed Tyler Abrams Collier.
"It doesn’t matter!” Jenkins yelled, “It’s a Federal Prisoner; it has NO STANDING to be made an Executor! You’re trying to get a convicted murderer made an Executor of hundreds of MILLIONS of dollars’ worth of property!”
Jenkins started to ramble on, but Frost cut him off with a sharp whistle and pointed at the monitor. Capt. Ibarra stepped forward. [I can say with certainty that both the FBI and the Attorney General’s Office have written Tyler Collier off as a Person of Interest in the Death of Leonardo Bautista Rivera y Pereya. Tyler was never arrested and never charged, so her standing to act as an Executor is exactly the same as the other signees.]
Tyler stepped forward with a confident air and said, [And I state for the record that I am ready, willing, able and downright eager to act as an Executor for the Quest Foundation. I’ve signed a Power of Attorney, designating Dr. Helen Chase as my representative, as I can’t be there in person] Jadis Frost produced a piece of paper and waved it with a puckish smirk at Jenkins.
With a smirk to match Frost’s, Dr. Chase walked up, accepted a pen and prepared to sign. Desperate, Jenkins lunged at Dr. Chase and tried to tear the paper out of her hands. After all, if it was destroyed before it was notarized, it was just a pile of scrap paper- or, better, ashes. Dr. Chase just gave him a ‘oh, are you frickin’ serious?’ glower and shoved him back, sending him into the wall. However, a strange social surface tension had been broken. Arcero shouted, “Grab a hostage, and GET that stupid PAPER!”
As Korman shouted, ‘What? Are You? Idiots? Doing?” five of the lesser functionaries in the room- including one of his own Yes men- pulled out semi-automatic pistols. Two of them went for Clare and Isobel, while the other three each grabbed one of the Foundation bigwigs (whose names Isobel had never had any reason to learn), and pulled them into classic hostage ‘meat-shield’ holds. Looking around at this madness with utter croggled disbelief, Korman asked, “Has everyone gone totally insane?”
"SHUT UP!” Baines snarled as she pointed a 9mm semi-automatic into his face. “You’re not in control of this anymore, Korman! Not that you ever really were…” she looked at Lennox, who was still calmly poking away at his laptop, “Well? What are you waiting for? Get that paper and trash it!”
"Why?” Lennox asked with a bewildering abject lack of concern, punctuated by a slurp of his Starbux coffee. “Win, Lose or Draw, my only problem is that I’m out of a job.”
Jadis Frost gave a martyred ‘oh, what I have to put up with’ sigh and said, “Kate?”
Kate stood up and pointedly said, “AHEM.” The chaos in the boardroom shut down like a slammed hand, and everyone looked at Kate and Frost with slightly spooked eyes. “Jadis?”
"Thanks, Kate. No, Mr. Lennox, you have a LOT to worry about,” Frost said. “Besides your part in Aiding and Abetting Patent Fraud, Work-for-Hire Abuse, Misappropriation of Funds and Insider Trading, you had a direct and material part in Racketeering, specifically assisting supervillains and crime syndicates move cash, records and proscribed materials over international borders.”
"What are you talking about?” Tom Chase asked, aghast.
"Arcero had Ellsworth and Lennox use the Diogenes to ferry cash, documents and whatever from various drop points to Grenada, one of the more notorious *ahem!* ‘Banking Havens’ in the Caribbean,” Frost explained.
"This, from a woman who’s on a first-name basis with ‘Emperor’ Wilkins,” Baines sneered.
"I didn’t say THE most notorious,” Frost defended herself. “But honestly, didn’t it strike you kids that it was a little STRANGE that the Diogenes kept running into supervillains, criminal scientists, terrorists and all that? And they all seem to know that you’re coming, because they always have some fascinating little game they want to play, specially designed just for you. And they never stop Lennox’s drones from filming it. Why would they? They’re paying the delivery man, and getting thousands of dollars of free publicity at the same time.”
"What?” Korman yelped, eyes wide with horror, “You mean all that bullshit she’s been throwing at us is for REAL?”
"Yeah, you’re on the hook for some serious RICO charges, Lennox,” Frost remarked. “But the kicker’s gonna be the Accessory to Murder and Obstruction of Justice charges.”
"Please, PLEASE, tell me that you’re bluffing,” Korman sobbed. “There’s no way that we’re implicated in Leonardo Rivera’s death!”
Frost, blithely ignoring the armed hostage situation around her, pointed her smartphone at another monitor. <the scene of the Wiz Kids running onto the beach, finding only two Zodiac rafts, and improvising as best they could played> “This is the generally accepted cut of the Beach scene just before Hugh Fienberg died. THIS is the raw, uncut footage.” <the scene began a good four minutes before the prior version. In this one, eight unremarkable ‘banker boxes’ rose up out of the sand before three Zodiacs. Men wearing the polo shirts and khaki pants of the Quest Foundation’s security branch loaded the boxes into one of the Zodiacs and pulled the raft out into the surf just before the first of the Wiz Kids showed up. When the Zodiac was well into the water, Dr. Chase appeared on the beach. Then the action was very much the same, though the conversation prominently (and often profanely) mentioned the missing Zodiac. Then the action stopped, reversed, and there was much erasure and over-image placement to remove any trace of the third Zodiac, and the recorded conversation was edited to remove any mention of the missing raft>
"AND?” Lennox sneered, barely pausing with whatever he was doing on his laptop.
"And, this is Prima Facie proof of Obstruction of Justice and Tampering with Evidence in a Murder case,” Frost’s slinky associate said. “You moving that raft made Hugh Fienberg try to fly off the island on that Q-Wing. That cost him his life. Normally, you’d have some serious removal from the cause of his death, but what you did was part of aiding and abetting supervillains, which is a Felony. A death that results from a Felony is automatically kicked up to First Degree Murder. Which means that you’re a Material Accessory, Before, During and After the Fact in a First Degree Homicide. Even if they never catch either the Stone King or the Wraith Queen, YOU are looking at serious charges in Michigan, Hugh Fienberg’s home state. AND, you’re looking at Obstruction of Justice and Evidence Tampering charges tacked onto that. And the Courts, no matter what level or jurisdiction, get very crabby about Obstruction and Tampering.”
"It makes them work harder,” Kate snipped.
"How terrifying,” Lennox droned with abject unconcern. “WHY are you wasting our time with this?”
"Mostly THAT,” Frost pointed at Dr. Chase standing next to the notary. Dr. Chase was holding up the Escrow Trust papers, which had clearly been notarized while everyone was paying attention to Lennox’s drama.
"You mean… you can do all that, just with one document?” Logan asked, utterly baffled.
"You can, with a lot of preparation and research,” Frost said. Her smile went predatory, “Though it helps if the Chief Financial Officer of the organization in question signs off on it.” Jenkins blanched as he realized that he’d been set up from the get-go. “Why do you think I let you get your hands on that in the first place?”
"THAT DOESN’T MEAN ANYTHING!” Baines shrieked, shoving her gun into Korman’s face, putting Arcero’s faction back on their mark. “We can still just tear up the stupid paper! If you go to the SEC with any of this, it will DESTROY your precious stupid do-gooder Foundation, and everyone’s careers will be in the crapper! We might go to jail for a few months, but the Feds will RICO Everything!”
[Excuse me?] Capt. Ibarra mentioned from next to Tyler on the monitor, [You DO realize that you’re doing all of this in the plain view of a serving US Air Force officer, who is also a lawyer AND a CPA?]
"Ms. Baines, the entire point of this whole rigmarole with the Escrow Trust was to legally isolate you creeps from the Foundation,” Frost pointed out. “You squirmed artistically, but really all your trying to wriggle out from under your culpability was that you made it very easy to distinguish where your illegal actions stopped, and the Foundation’s real operations began. I know that. You know that. We all know that. So why don’t you stop pointing that gun at Mr. Korman, and just call your lawyers? You’re going to need them.”
Baines just smiled viciously. “WRONG! We can still wreck this ‘Venture Brothers’ dropout sideshow! Jenkins has been skimming off the top for years, and we’ve been quietly liquidating everything we possibly can for months! The only thing keeping this place running is a thin layer of credit, covering debts that could cripple Saudi Arabia! We don’t even have to make a phone call; if word of this gets out, the Quest Foundation is toast! But if you let us walk and take a cut of all that with us, we’ll let you know where the money is. Oh, and let Lyle here live.”
"You talking about the VesCorp Trust, Whitaker-Wright Commerce, Seabury-Oxley Fund, Minkow Restricted, Morrow-Smith Private, and Fidelity Fiduciary accounts?” Lennox asked, finally looking up from his laptop.
"What?” Jenkins, who’d been bucking up at Baine’s ploy, bleated and wilted.
"Not there anymore,” Lennox smirked. “I just moved it all. What did you think I was doing, all this time? Come ON! You assholes had me doing all your bagwork; didn’t it ever occur to you that I was taking notes? Didn’t it ever occur to you that I could use all that surveillance gear on YOU?”
"What are you doing?” Arcero asked in near panic.
"I’m rolling over on you yutzes,” Lennox said plainly. “Besides the money, I have enough photographic evidence to send every one of you to jail for Life- and it will be Life; none of you have the money for the kind of lawyers to get you out from under now. So, I’m turning State’s Evidence, handing all of my evidence over to whoever Frosty the Snowbeast over there calls, and claiming a 5% finder’s fee on the money.” Lennox finished by standing, putting his hands in his pockets, rocking on his heels and grinning snidely at Baines, who was fuming at him, but couldn’t turn her gun from Korman.
"You backstabbing sunuvabitch!” McMahon screamed at Lennox.
But Lennox’s sangfroid melted when an abstract blue form appeared in the air over Frost’s smartphone, twisted in place, resolved into a ‘thumbs up’ icon, and then disappeared. “What was that?” he asked in a worried tone.
"THAT was Blue,” Jadis smirked, her golden eyes glittering at Lennox’ dismay.
"You know Blue?” Lennox asked with the tone of a man who suddenly realizes that he is boxing out of his weight class.
"We went to school with Blue,” Frost’s sleek companion said.
"All your bases are belong to us,” Frost said.
"LOL,” Kate droned. “Or is that passé already?”
Lennox snatched up his laptop and frantically checked the files. Then he let out a yelp of almost girlish despair. “How? How could you move all that money that fast?”
"Why do you think we let you grind on that laptop through all of this?” Frost asked rhetorically. “Why do you think those nifty special offers in the Bahamas opened up? We knew that we could never get Jenkins or Baines or Arcero to fall for it, but a greedy, self-absorbed, dickhead-lifestyle narcissist like you? Not a problem.”
"Oh, and it’s not just the money,” Kate added. “All your blackmail files and property documentation are safely stored with a secure bank, in the name of the Quest Foundation Escrow Trust.”
[Hey Lennox!] Tyler jeered from the monitor, [Think of it this way: it will make GREAT TV!]
"ENOUGH OF THIS CRAP!” Baines screeched, almost shoving the barrel of her gun up Korman’s nose. “You’ve given us nothing to lose, Diabolik! So, let’s keep this simple! You let us out of here, and these losers get to live!”
"That depends,” Frost said. She turned to her as-yet unnamed associate and asked, “You ready, Gwen?”
"Not quite,” Gwen, who was concentrating furiously as she twiddled her fingers, mumbled. “Gimme a second.”
Frost turned to the three ‘men in black’ and asked, “Now, would you concede that innocent lives are at risk, and that extraordinary measures are necessary to prevent injury and deliver these criminals to justice?”
One of the ‘men in black’ grumped and said in a ‘oh why can’t I just chew glass?’ tone, “YES.”
"And, in your allegedly expert opinion, has ANY kind of exotic influence, either mystical, telepathic, chemical or technological, been brought to bear on Mr. Arcero or McMahon or Jenkins or Ms. Baines?”
They gave out a group grudging ‘No’. The one on the left grunted, “At least we got a good lunch out of it.”
"What are you freaks yammering about?” Arcero, eager to regain his dominance in the face of Baines’ power play, demanded.
"THIS,” Gwen said. Suddenly six streaks of sparks raced along the carpeting, radiating out from Gwen in the direction of the gunmen (and Ms. Baines). The streaks wrapped themselves around the gunmen, simultaneously binding them, shocking them and knocking the guns from their hands. And the room exploded into action. The gunman who had been holding Isobel wasn’t knocked out. So she let out a rattling shout, assumed a posture and threw a flurry of punches at him. And she was reminded yet again, that being Chinese wasn’t enough; you actually have to train at the martial arts to be any good at them.
Jadis Frost threw a coffee mug at the thug holding Clare hard enough to break the mug- and probably crack the thug’s skull. Linda and Tom launched themselves at the thugs holding two of the Foundation leaders at gunpoint. The shock gave Tom and Linda a few good easy punches, but they quickly found themselves in a real fight with professional hardasses, and they were taking some serious punches.
Dr. Chase, who had secured Jenkins with the pipework from a ruined chair, walked over and asked her son politely, “Need any help, dear?”
"No thanks, Mom! I can handle this!” Tom assured her as the thug landed a punch to his midsection.
"And what about you, Linda?” she asked Miss Havoc, as the young lady was learning that martial arts training was one thing, but going at it with a hardened goon is another.
"Not a problem!” Linda said, ignoring the absence of effect of her fists on the goon’s jaw.
Dr. Chase shrugged, walked over to where the thug who’d been holding Dr. Crocker hostage was shaking the stars out of his head. Pulling the large man away from Crocker with one hand, she broke his jaw with the other.
"Kate…” Frost said in a weary tone.
"Why?” Gwen asked, “They’re having fun.”
Looking around, Kate said monotonously, “Everywhere you look, corruption, deceit, opportunism, violence, desperation and rage. Life is good.”
Then Federal Agents in body armor marking them as Federal Marshals, FBI and SEC burst into the room, weapons drawn. The fighting stopped dead, but Arcero, McMahon, Jenkins and Baines immediately starting throwing around denials, counter-accusations, and demands for Frost’s arrest and that the MCO be called. “SHUT IT,” the senior Federal Marshal snapped, “we have everything on record.” When the busted executives complained of entrapment, the Federal Marshal simply pointed at the monitor where Tyler, Leslie and Capt. Ibarra were still watching. “As for the MCO…” he gave the three men in black a questioning look.
The lead man sadly shook his head and said, “NADA. As per usual. She even had us confirm that innocent civilians were at risk, and that extraordinary measures were called for, before they did anything weird.”
"Hey, at least we got lunch,” his companion repeated.
"But… but what about that… THING she did?” Baines asked, giving Kate a spooked look. “She just shut us down like that!”
The senior MCO Field Operative just shrugged. “There’s nothing paranormal about it. We’ve tried to make something stick, but it won’t. She’s just…spooky.”
"Damn Skippy,” Kate smirked.
"Wait a minute…” Linda objected, looking at Frost. “You brought in the MCO? Why?”
"Well if I didn’t, people would just say that I used some sneaky underhanded dirty mutie trick to get my tragic victims to cut their own throat,” Frost said. “Okay kids, here comes the funnest, most exciting part:” her voice dropped and went flat. “The paperwork. As the Board of Executors for the Quest Foundation- and that part is very real, kids; don’t forget to put it on your resumes- your statements on what just happened in the boardroom are crucial. Please, return to the waiting room. Tyler, you can patch over to the monitor in that room; I’m sure they have things they want to talk to you about. Captain Ibarra, why don’t you stay with Tyler, to make sure that they don’t exchange notes on what just happened here?”
Dr. Chase nodded to the Wiz Kids and they started to file out of the boardroom. As they left, Frost called, “Oh, and Linda? DO give your big sister Melody my best, won’t you?” She finished with a snide smile.
As they left, Glynis said, “Jinkies! You mean it really was Old Man Jenkins all along?”
By the time that the Wiz Kids got back to the waiting room, Tyler had been joined on-screen by the Square One kids. Tyler introduced them to the Wiz Kids, and Barb was just buzzing at meeting her idols (well, except for Linda Havoc, who always rubbed her the wrong way). Then Tyler explained how the Malice Upgrade had affected her, and the need for Project: Square One. Then she regaled them with the story of her investigation. [And then this bright young thing,” she gestured at a beaming Holly, “pointed out that if I was planning on gaining super-strength, why would I compromise the pressure integrity of the Gunnerson hatch by welding on an escape hatch? Why not just bust out?
[Now it’s tempting to say that it all clicked into place with that, and all that hack writing. But it did tell me who was responsible for Leo’s death.]
"Okay, I’ll play Dr. Watson,” Glynis said. “Who killed Leo?”
With relish, Tyler stated, [The person primarily responsible for the death of Leonardo Bautista Rivera y Pereya was…] she dragged it out and then, [Leonardo Bautista Rivera y Pereya.]
"LEO?” the Wiz Kids echoed in abject confusion.
[And No, he didn’t commit suicide,] Tyler said. [Rather, he committed the colossal brainfart of trying to upgrade himself with the Malice Complex, while staying the apex of man-gorgeous.]
"How do you get from ‘why not bust out’ to ‘Leo killed himself’?” Izzy asked with skepticism.
[Because I was inserted into the main chamber of the adaptation pod feet-first, while Leo was inserted head-first.]
"I Get It!” Linda blurted out. “The chamber’s so tight that there’s no way to get any leverage. You could tear yourself out of the wash-bag and all that, but the chamber would keep your arms against your side. If you’re feet-first, with your head against the hatch, you’re trapped! But if you’re head-first, with your feet against the hatch, you can just KICK your way out! Your legs are stronger than your arms anyway, and there’s just enough grippage inside the chamber to haul yourself out.”
"But there’s no way that Leo would have relied on that,” Tom said, clearly figuring it out himself. “Besides, he’d need someone to seal the hatch after him. And there were TWO pods! Suzy! Suzy helped him assemble the pods and did all the outside work while he was being upgraded. Where’s Suzy?”
[Y’know,” Tyler groused, “this is supposed to be the part where the guy who figured it all out explains everything.]
"Not on THIS show,” Clare snickered.
"The Edits!” Logan cut in, as the nanotech aspect had been bugging him for weeks. “The two edits in the Nanite complex would have kept Leo’s DNA from going XY to XX, and changed the somatic readjustment… I THOUGHT that that ‘switch-off’ was too simple to be safe!”
"But wait,” Clare said, “Where IS Suzy?”
[The LA County Hall of Justice,] Tyler said, glad to know something they didn’t.
"Suzy’s been arrested for Leo’s murder?” Glynis peeped. “And I wasn’t there to see it?”
[No, she’s under arrest for Grand Larceny,] Tyler corrected her. [The materials she stole for each of the pods had a base market value of $45 thousand, so she’s on the hook for roughly 135 grand.] Tyler then told them of the game she’d played on Suzy.
"Why did you offer ME up to take the fall for all that?” Glynis asked with her lips pursed in a disapproving moue.
[Because that’s what Suzy had been setting up,] Tyler said. [Remember, the day that I disappeared, you asked Suzy to tell me to meet you in the mud room? Well she did. But I was still out of it, and got there an hour before I was supposed to and got jumped. YOU were supposed to be the one she shoved into the second adaptation chamber. You were supposed to be here, sweating out an extradition to Argentina.]
"Bitch,” Glynis hissed, clearly not aiming it at Tyler.
[Take it as a weird, back-handed compliment, Glyn,] Tyler offered. [I get the impression that she was afraid of you; of all the Wiz Kids, you were the one most likely to have figured it out. The rest of us are scientists, but you’re really a detective. And you were driving the FBI nuts, kibitzing over their shoulders.]
"That’s all nice,” Logan said peering with interest at Holly on the monitor, “but you say that that she can weaken chemical bonds with just her touch? The implications are fascinating! How do-”
Clare cut Logan off- yes, it was rude, but she knew that the only way to get him to stop once he was off on a tear was to hit him on the head with a 2x4, and he was monopolizing the link- “Wait a minute! WHY would Suzy mistake you for Glynis? You were a shrimp, but you weren’t that petite!”
[Well, Suzy was still in ‘Vulcan’ mode, and channeling way too many ‘Master Criminal’ fantasies, so she came up with a way of putting Glynis in the bag, while she had a perfect alibi. She used a GURD to do it.]
"No Way!” Isobel objected. “We checked GURD’s programming and activity logs for five days before you dropped out of sight, and his schedule was completely accounted for, and you know that Friar keeps GURD on a tight lockdown, so nobody gets the idea to try and ‘tweak’ him again!”
[I didn’t say ‘GURD’,” Tyler pointed out, “I said ‘A GURD’.]
"There are TWO of them!” Linda cut in. “The Foundation has a policy of having a backup for every piece of equipment, except for the diesel engine!”
"We got so used to thinking of GURD as like a person, that we forgot that it was just equipment,” Tom cut Linda out.
"She couldn’t afford to steer it directly using her phone, so Suzy probably programmed the second GURD with a menu of action options,” Isobel guessed. “One of them was ‘bag the first person who comes into the Mud Room’.”
"That’s Nice,” Logan cut in, “but the potentials of this girl’s ability to weaken chemical bonds are enormous! If we could synthesize the process, it could revolutionize recycling and waste treatment!”
Ignoring Logan, Linda continued, “That’s what Suzy was doing with her stupid CELL PHONE while we were on our way back to the ship! She was telling the GURD to set up that too-convenient-to-be-real ‘breach’ that shorted out the ship.”
"I always thought that there was something seriously wrong with one single overload blacking out the whole ship,” Tom said smugly.
"The SMELL!” Glynis blurted out. “When we found Tyler, the wash bag was inflated like a balloon! But Leo’s bag was flat. That’s because Tyler’s pod was still under pressure when we found it, but Leo’s wasn’t! The only smell with Tyler’s pod was the burning stem cell syrup. But Leo’s pod REEKED! But there’s no way that that smell would get out if Leo’s pod was still under pressure.”
"That’s why Suzy pulled that big dramatic number with the Gunnerson key!” Tom snapped his fingers. “She had to cover up the fact that the pod wasn’t under pressure! The Gunnerson key is designed to be simple and easy to use, but she made a big production of it, so we wouldn’t notice that there wasn’t a release of pressure.”
"It also explains why she could find the key, while I couldn’t,” Glynis grumbled. “It was in the dark, so I couldn’t see it, but she knew right where it was.”
[I have to put up with this all the time,] Tyler said to the Square One kids.
"And then after fumbling with that simple lock, Sweet Little Suzy just blows through the complicated wash-bag hookup system like it wasn’t there,” Linda smirked.
"I always wondered how Leo’s body could create such a stink, if he’d been dead for less than a day,” Tom said. “I’ll bet that he died a couple of days earlier, and Suzy just fudged the status watch log, so she could create a perfect alibi.”
[Yeah, she rigged it so that she and Linda could vouch for each other, while Glynis very pointedly couldn’t]
"But how did Suzy hide the second adaptation chamber?” Glynis asked. “And where did all that Stem Cell syrup come from?”
Tyler started to answer, but Linda cut her off. “Suzy’s Silt Monitoring Project. Those jerry cans were part of her collection rig! She just smuggled the stem cell stuff on board in those jerry cans, and used them for silt samples when they were empty.” Then a second thought occurred to her. “And that’s what she was doing when we went out in the water that afternoon! She was hiding the second adaptation chamber in her Silt Collection rig underwater! No wonder the FBI couldn’t find it aboard the ship- it wasn’t ON the ship!”
[Why do I even bother?] Tyler plaintively asked Holly.
"But WHY would Leo do it?” Clare asked. “Even with a comparatively safe and tested complex like the Malice Upgrade, that kind of complete rebuild is incredibly dangerous. Leo was young, gorgeous, fit, a genius, a minor national hero in Argentina, and thanks to the Wiz Kids show, he had a great career ahead of him. Why would he risk all of that to upgrade his body like that?”
Tyler let the Wiz Kids look around to each other, let them lock up, waited for a moment, and with obvious relish answered the question. [Okay, I’m not 100% sure on this; it’s not like he left a written declaration, and Suzy’s story is pretty suspect, but there are three contributing factors.
[First, Lennox had proof that both Leo and Suzy were doing THX, and he was squeezing them both.”
"Leo was doing TXH?” Isobel asked
"Sure!” Tom said, “When you think about it, Leo was almost a textbook case of a high-functioning sociopath: glib, predatory, superficial, insincere, slippery, ruthless… And he was macking on everything in skirts on the ship, even as he was stringing Suzy along. But was he a genius before he started using THX, or was that all just the drug?”
Tyler shrugged. [Does it matter? He had to have been smart enough and chemically savvy enough to synthesize THX on his own. But back to what I was saying, Lennox knew about it and was squeezing Leo and Suzy. They knew that he’d squeeze them dry and then expose them, ruining their careers; he’s just the kind of asshole who would. How using the Malice Upgrade was going to change that, I’m not sure. But given the fact that by that time, both Suzy and Leo were both high functioning sociopaths, I think that Lennox was scheduled for a quick, inexplicable departure.
[Second-IF I’ll be allowed to get in a word edgewise here- I think that Leo’d been working on this for a while. And he was in his ‘Senior Year’ on the Diogenes, so whether he got the Quartermass Prize or not, he wouldn’t have free access to all that expensive gear anymore. He and Suzy were finishing up their pods on the boat, using the second GURD to help] Tyler seemed to realize something and made a note.
[Third- and I think that this is the real kicker, the reason why Leo decided to do it on the boat, and not sneak their pods back ashore at the end of the run, which was probably their original plan- was Hughie’s death. As someone old once said, ‘Death is a distant rumor to the Young’. Yeah, we ran into a lot of danger on the show, but let’s be honest: nobody really got HURT, let alone died, until Hughie. That scared Leo. Really scared him. It scared him in ways that his chemically-induced sociopathy probably magnified. And the thought that Lennox might not just leave it at blackmail made the timing of it all more important. One of the things that Lennox was squeezing Leo and Suzy about was helping with his little chores for Ellsworth and Arcero, so the very real chance of a ‘horrible tragic accident’ with them was, when you think about it, a very reasonable worry.]
"Wait a minute, there’s one last thing that’s been bugging me about all this from the get-go,” Glynnis cut in. “WHY did Suzy just leave Leo there to rot? Why kick up that whole big Whodunit farce with the adaptation chamber and the Gunnerson key? Why not just shove his body over the side one night and be done with it? Suzy was too good a scientist to not know that the simplest solution is usually the best!”
Tyler nodded soberly. [That bugged the hell out of me, too, Glyn. But while she was covering her own ass to beat the band, one thing that Suzy said in her statement to the Police when she was booked sounds on the money. She didn’t just dump his body, because she loved him. Suzy may be a recovering THX sociopath, but she wasn’t one when she met Leo. She really loved him, and even THX couldn’t make her just dump his body like so much rotten meat. But she knew that we’d find his body eventually, if only from the smell, so she framed it in a way that deflected suspicion away from herself, and onto someone who was a credible threat to her. Everything Suzy did, she did it for Leo. Whether Leo was really worth it, we’ll never know]
"Did Suzy say how she acquired enough of the Malice Complex to reverse engineer it?” Logan asked.
[She didn’t need to,] Tyler said with an odd look on her face. [I figured it out, once I knew that Suzy was the culprit. She rigged a specialized capture material, stowed it inside some tampons, and swapped them out for Dr. Chase’s brand. Don’t Ask] Tom and Logan gave repulsed grimaces of squick as the girls smirked at them.
Isobel let out a sad sigh for missing friends- oh, and Suzy Becker as well. “So, Tyler, do you have any inside information on how bad it really is? That bitch Baines was making noises like they triple-mortgaged everything except our shadows. Will the Foundation keep running the show?”
Tyler gave Isobel a big lopsided grin. [Izzy, we’re the Board of Executors! If those fossils in the boardroom want to keep their cushy jobs, they’d better damn well KEEP running the show!
[Besides, that was just Baines making ‘booga-booga’ noises. She just lives to throw her weight around. Izzy, Arcero and his goons were dug in for the long haul, not the quick rip-off. The Foundation is actually very stable. Heck, among other scams, they were playing the market with Foundation funds, using confidential information from various projects, getting payoffs to keep patents off the market, and there’s the money they were keeping off the books from the Show from marketing and merchandizing. AND, to cap it all off, news of Korman’s ‘austerity’ measures has gotten out, and the Foundation’s fiscal rating has dropped severely. BUT Jadis Frost, using contacts in Karedonia’s Imperial Bank, managed to buy most of them for a fraction of their face value. When we get those funds back in their right accounts, the Foundation is going to be LOADED]
"And what about Korman?” Glynis demanded.
[I’m sorry, Glyn, but from what Frost tells me, Korman may be smug, superior, exacting, condescending, aggravating and a penny-pincher, but he didn’t actually do anything WRONG. He just believed Jenkins’ doctored reports, and give him his due, he jumped backwards through flaming hoops, trying to keep the Foundation afloat. While he scraped a lot of bone, he also cleared away a lot of deadwood. If anything, I think that as the Board of Executors, we might ask that he be kept on, as a show of good faith]
[As Chief Financial Officer. Let’s face it, he has a Beancounter mentality]
"Well, if that’s the case, then I suggest that we do what every Board of every prospering company does,” Logan said. Everyone gave him an ‘and that IS?’ look. “Vote ourselves huge bonuses. I think that a Million each is suitable compensation for saving the Foundation, don’t you?”
"NO, Loogie,” Glynis said severely. The other kids, both Wiz and Square One looked at her like she was crazy. “TEN Million each.”
"All in favor say ‘Aye’!’”
"So, Tyler, aren’t you afraid that your sleazebag stepfather, Julian will glom onto your new fortune?” Tom asked
[Nah. First of all, he disowned me at his first chance, to keep Leo’s family from using Leo to get at my money. Second, even if he tries to get Custody of me back, the lawyer I’ve got could roll right over him and not even notice. And third, if Julian isn’t scared to death of my new Guardian, he should be]
"You mean… your new guardian is Jadis Diabolik?” Tom asked with a tone that suggested a worry as to some sinister long-term scheme. If only to beat Linda to that punch.
[No. She’s your mother]
"WHAT?” Tom yelped, “MOM?”
[Yep!] Tyler grinned, [Your mother was the one who got Frost involved in this, in the first place. She knew that I was being shafted, but Arcero’s orders kept her from doing anything directly. So she got in touch with Jadis Frost, who she knew wouldn’t give a damn about Arcero’s contacts. When I get out of here, we’re gonna be spending the summer together, roomie!]
As it registered on Tom’s face that his status as a treasured only child was over, Jadis Frost, with her two associates and Dr. Chase in the background, appeared in an inset. [Okay, it’s time for you kids to come in. Get ready, it’s gonna be a bumpy ride. Tyler, you can shift over and attend by video]
[Trust me, Ms. Frost, it’s going to be even bumpier than you think,] Tyler assured her. [But before that, while I have you on a private link- it just occurred to me that Leo and Suzy cobbled those adaptation chambers together, probably helped by that second GURD. Did you have a Forensic Welding Expert look at that hatch?]
[First thing I did, as soon as Parky had your Power of Attorney. A welding style isn’t as signifying as a handwriting, but our experts confirmed that the chambers had been assembled by three distinct different hands. With that, the FBI, who don’t like being pressured more than anyone else, gave us the leeway to get you that access]
[And you didn’t TELL me?]
[Tyler, like I told you, it was just as important that you to save yourself. And you DID figure out that it was Suzy Becker who set you up. We suspected her, among others, but you nailed her]
[Are you always this sneaky?]
[Sneaky?] Gwen, who’d been listening in on this, laughed. [This? This was Jadis on her ‘C’ game. Just wait until you see Jadis’ ‘A’ game!]
Several very wearying hours later, Tyler stepped away from the console 10 million dollars richer, still on the Quest Foundation’s Board of Executors, assured that she’d be on the next season of Wiz Kids, and completely exonerated of any suspicion in Leo Rivera’s death. Feeling pounds lighter (despite being 20% denser in body mass), she joined the other kids in going outside to the playground.
The Redcoats were there as well. Even with having most of their privileges revoked, they still had their right to an exercise period. But there was a change. ‘Zap’, or rather Byron Wordsworth, was standing several yards away from the rest, wearing a heavy blue coat and jeans. And the rig he wore was significantly different.
The Yellowjackets gathered around Byron. “And?” Ray asked.
"Due to my responsible actions and quick thinking during the escape attempt, I’ve been made a Trustee,” Byron said with a big smile. “And a big part of my job will be keeping THOSE losers in line,” he jerked a thumb at the Redcoats. “AND, given my time knocked off and some good words to the Parole Board, I may be out of this icebox before the snow gets too heavy.”
There was a general consensus of ‘Cool!’
"I do hope you will forgive us if we try to get out before you,” said Ray, who was getting ‘short’ himself.
"Why would I do that?”
Tyler left Ray and Byron chatting, and strolled over by herself. She looked up into the air. Knowing that she wasn’t under guard anymore, Tyler lifted herself up as high as she could. She looked all around her. And for the first time in far too long, all she could see was blue skies.