Silver Linings 2 (Part 1)
A Whateley Academy Adventure
by Bek D Corbin
November 1st, 2006
“Oh, this is SO EMBARRASSING!” Tawny groaned. “I checked around, and EVERYBODY knows about this Whateley place. Everybody but US!”
“How could this happen?” Cal asked. “I went on HeroNet, and Whateley’s an open secret! EVERYBODY knows about it, even the supervillains! So, howcome we never heard about it?”
“Are you sure about this?” Violet asked. “I mean, a training school for mutants? I mean, does Marvel Comics know about this place?”
“Oh, it’s real,” Karen droned with distaste. “Worse, it’s been around since the Sixties, so we don’t even have the excuse that it’s new. Get this, according to Dr. Merlin, not only do they know all about it, but Champion’s a GRADUATE!”
“We are never gonna live this down…” Azure slumped over, putting her head on the table, and covering it with her hands.
“It gets worse,” Karen said, dreading the words. “Apparently, we’ve got a reputation for being ‘Non-Mutant Friendly’, because we didn’t have a mutant on the team.”
“I’ll lay you odds that the Charley Denver thing had something to do with it.” Captain Patriot snarled.
“Nah,” Karen said, “I’d say that this goes back to the bad feelings back in the Sixties, when Eugenix came here and kicked up all that fuss. Still, here’s the real kicker- you know that Arkham Research Center?”
“ARC? The one we sent all that test data that we hadda worm out of Stacy?”
“Just the one. Get this- they’re practically just down the road from Whateley, and they share information and like all that all the time! They even store dangerous artifacts and things along those lines!”
“Nice of them to share that info with US,” Tawny grumped.
“How’d the squirt take the news about this mutant school?” Azure asked.
“I haven’t told her yet. She hasn’t woken up yet.”
“What? It’s five in the afternoon!”
“Yeah,” Karen agreed, “but she went straight to bed after coming back from that boy’s party, and she’s still asleep. I’m guessing that all that power she was showing on Halloween was fueled by pure panic, and she exhausted herself without realizing it.”
“So, how do we explain Stacy going away to a boarding school, just as the Silver Ghost drops out of sight?” Tawny asked.
“IF she decides to go,” Karen said staunchly.
“Why wouldn’t she want to go?”
“Kid’s got abandonment issues, BAD” Azure pointed out. “First, her family kicked her out, and from the vibes I got from what little she’s said about them, I get the impression that thing’s weren’t that good even when they thought she was a baseline. Then she hooked up with this boy who used her like a stolen credit card. Then all those yahoos from that Easterbury booby-hatch showed up, and then those creeps pretending to be her parents. Hey, if I were her, I’d be jonesing for a little stability and security and affection.”
“But we don’t know anything about mutant powers, and the last report that we got from ARC was ‘need more tests’!” Cal objected. “And from what I picked up on HeroNet, Whateley has THE authorities on meta-human mutation on staff. Apparently, they double-up regular physicals with tests regarding their powers. Stacy needs to know what is happening to her. I found a forum on some of the things that can happen to mutants, and it’s like something out of a H1! tract!”
“And Kaltenborn’s not happy with Stacy getting involved in all that last night,” Tawny pointed out. “And I can’t say that I blame him. He made it crystal clear when he signed off on Stacy that there was to be NO superheroing. And for someone who keeps saying that she doesn’t want to be a superhero, she somehow gets involved pretty easily.”
“And H1! is kicking up a fuss again, saying that we ‘recklessly endangered’ all those kids last night,” Violet said sourly.
“They HAVE to,” Red Thunder said drolly. “Otherwise we get all the good news coverage, with all that footage of adorable First Graders gushing about how cool it all was.”
“Yeah,” Cap agreed, “BUT, the good footage will be stale after a few days, and H1! will keep pushing that ‘they endangered the kids’ button until it starts getting a reaction. H1! definitely understands the ‘Lead Butt’ tactic. The NRA was against gun control fifty years ago, it’s against gun control now, and it’ll still be against gun control fifty years from now. The ‘Pro-Lifers’ were against abortion fifty years ago, same deal. By and large, the Right GETS that if they stick to their guns and just don’t go away, eventually politicians have to take them seriously.” Cap paused. “Hell, they even trot Segregation out in a new wrapper every so often. H1! is going to try and make this into a ‘Win-or-Lose’ situation, and they’re just going to keep AT us until we give in. People, if we let these yahoos dictate terms to us, we might as well pack it in, ‘cause H1! will keep at us until we’re practically ‘Death to Mutants!’ And I ain’t goin’ there.”
“That’s very compelling, Cap,” Karen said carefully. “But the fact of the matter is that it’s not up to Humanity First!, or Kaltenborn, or even any of us here. It’s up to Stacy. She has to make the decision whether to go to Whateley or not.”
“We have in loco parentis,” Tawny pointed out.
“In other words, we have the power,” Karen replied. “But, the entire point of all of us being here is that we realize that there’s a huge difference between having the power, and having the right to do whatever’s best for US, and not others.
“I agree; it’s best all around if Stacy goes to Whateley and gets proper training with her powers, whether she comes back as a superhero or not. But if we just tell her to go, whether she wants to or not, that just might break her. I’ll talk to her about it, but I say that the final say is up to HER, not any of us. Shall we show of hands?” The discussion went on a bit further, but it did wind up coming down to a vote, with the majority agreeing with the Green Witch, and the dissenting votes abiding by the decision.
Stacy woke up groggily, her stomach and bladder complaining, and wondered why it was so bright out. Then she looked at her clock, and it was five o’clock-IN THE AFTERNOON! She must have slept through most of the day! She was out of bed and halfway into her clothes, when she realized that not only was she home-schooled, so missing classes weren’t a big issue, but it was Five o’clock- way too late to really do anything. The adrenaline surge had woke her up all the way, so there was no sense in crawling back into bed. She got all the way into her clothes, took care of business, and went down to the kitchen. Ever since her stupid mutant powers had kicked in, she was eating a lot more, even when you considered that she was a teenager.
The kitchen staff welcomed her with eager questions about the Halloween and a roast beef sandwich. And the roast beef sandwich was all she got to tide her over until dinner. Then Lauren came in. “Hey! You’re up!”
“And where have YOU been?” Lauren’s mother asked.
“Strategy session,” Lauren said, peeking over her mother’s shoulder at what was cooking. “That whole hostage thing last night threw a real brick through the school’s social structure, and me and some of my buds are trying to figure out how to play it. The other Bramlin girls all have their noses out of joint ‘cause Hayley’s getting all the kudos for being one of the hostages- like that was a big honor or something- and they didn’t. There’s this whole big thing with the boys going around with a sling or a bandage, to show how big and brave they were, going up against Dark Claw and getting their butts whooped.”
“Whether they did or not?” her mother asked wryly.
“Wow! Did YOU go to high school TOO, mom?”
“What about Spenser?” Stacy asked. “Is he getting hassled because of the Cinderella thing?”
Lauren snorted a chuckle. “Well, a couple of bozos tried, but after going head to head with a real live supervillain, I guess that high school thugs aren’t that impressive to Spense anymore. Boy’s got a definite bounce in his step.”
“Oh! Good!” Stacy said, brightening. “It’s about time the Nice Guy comes in first!
“For as long as that lasts,” Lauren sighed with a worldliness beyond her tender years. “Odds are, some of the bigger sh-, er, thug-types are putting their heads together to try and ‘teach him humility’ or something like that. They get all so bent out of shape when their victims start showing some spine. Already they’re making nasty ‘oh, he’s a mutant’ remarks. Like having guts is a mutant power. Oh, speaking of that…” Lauren’s smile went minxish. “Spense was asking me about you… of course, so were a bunch of other boys, including Corey Griswold.”
Stacy racked her memory as to who Corey Griswold was, and wasn’t particularly happy with what she got. “So, Spenser asked about me?” she turned to more pleasant prospects.
Well, Stacy was, though not in the way that Lauren was thinking. But if it turned out that Spenser was a ‘sister under the skin’, well then, that just too good an opportunity to pass up! Being able to talk to someone who was like she was, was a golden opportunity. “Well, SURE! I mean, my last boyfriend was a stone-cold creep! I’d like to see what going out with a boy who’s both a gentleman and has real guts is like!”
“What makes you think that this Spenser boy is a gentleman?” Lauren’s mom asked.
“He kept his word when he lost a bet, no matter how much it embarrassed him,” Stacy said with stiff dignity. “AND he put himself in real danger to take care of those three little boys they put him in charge of. He does what he thinks is right, no matter how difficult it is. Do you know a better definition of a gentleman?”
“AND he throws together a mean last-second party,” Lauren said. “Oh, did I mention that Spense was wheeling and dealing to put together a delegation to visit Mr. Cahill in the hospital? Cahill’s the guy who told Dark Claw to get out, and got his guts mashed in for it?”
Lauren was giving Stacy the low-down on the dog-eat-dog world of high school politics at Mansfield when Karen came back home. “Ah! Stacy! You’re awake! I have good news!”
“The government finally admits that Humanity First! is a hate group?”
“No, but we’re working on that.” At Karen’s insistence, Stacy followed her into her office. “Stacy, we’ve heard from the Arkham Research Consortium, the people that we sent all those tests to.”
“Yes?” Stacy perked up. Good news! It was all a mistake, and they could prove that she wasn’t a mutant? “What did they say?”
“They said that the odds were that you were a mutant, and they need more tests to figure out exactly how your powers work.” As Stacy gasped and started to complain, Karen interjected, “That’s NOT the good news. The good news is that we’ve found a place that specializes in training adolescent mutants in how to use their powers safely, while giving them an absolutely top-drawer high school education!”
“Hanh?” Stacy honked.
“We found a school for mutants!” Karen summed it up.
“A school? For mutants? Does Marvel Comics know about this?”
“I’ll lay you odds they have a notarized statement from Marvel Comics, stating that, yes, they DO know about Whateley.”
“That’s the name of the school, dear. I’ve spoken with Champion, up in Chicago-”
“Champion? Why were you talking with Champion about me?”
“Because, he graduated from that school! As a matter of fact, according to Dr. Merlin-”
“Dr. Merlin? Why were you talking with Dr. Merlin about me?”
“I wasn’t, I was talking with him about all those tempting dark magic not-goodies I have down in my vault, and Whateley and the rest turned up in the conversation. As I was saying, Dr. Merlin said that all the Champions, since Champion number three, have graduated from Whateley, sort of a tradition, ‘there must always be a Champion’, that sort of thing.”
“So, it’s a school for superheroes?”
“Not necessarily…” Karen hedged. “Mind you, they DO turn out a suspiciously major portion of the superhero population, but they emphasize mutants learning how to use their powers safely, than how to combat evil and all that sort of thing. Oh, and a decent all-around education, as well.”
Karen went on, but all that Stacy really heard was that they were sending her away. She was too much trouble, too much of a danger. And she thought that she’d done such a GOOD JOB last night!
When you have a pretty bottom-rung job, it really helps to have a sense that you’re actually doing something, and not just putting in the hours. And there was a definite sense of ‘any chimp in a jumpsuit can do this job’ about being a security guard. Jim Burwell may not have found his life’s calling in working for Daniels-McGregor Pharmaceuticals as a guard for their R&D lab, but he had found a minor sense of mission in keeping the labs secure.
The irony of disease research is that virological and bacteriological research takes years, if not decades, and viruses and bacteria can kill people in weeks, if not days, so in order to be effective, so medical researchers have to anticipate new strains and mutations of known diseases. And in order to do that, they have to actively breed new strains and mutations, using artificial simulation of the various conditions known to breed such variants. So, in order to head off a new wild variant, they must breed new variants in the lab, hence the irony. Daniels-McGregor Pharmaceutical laboratories (a majority- owned subsidiary of Barnes-Wentworth Petroleum,Inc.) vigorously pursued such research, and kept a wide and varied array of very nasty bugs on ice in the secure sample vaults. They were the very core of D-McG’s research. But if any of those samples were stolen, the result would be at the very least a deadly threat that the thief could hold over people, and it went downhill at a vile rate after that.
So, Jim wasn’t just keeping winos from pissing in the corners or protecting ungrateful rich folk’s property- he was helping to keep hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people safe. It wasn’t much, but given the unavoidable tedium that was so much a part of the job, it helped to keep him from getting sloppy.
He also amused himself by trying to imagine what a clever sneak thief might do to break into the lab and steal something. His rounds and procedure became a game of chess that he played with himself, as both the thief and he guard, trying to figure out where the ‘choke points’ in the complex’ layout where, where a thief would hide, what the predictable patterns in his patrol routine were, and varying his routine to surprise a possible burglar. He’d actually surprised one guy trying to break in that way, and gotten a hefty bonus for it. There’s nothing like both praise and money to put a spring in a watchman’s step.
Jim was in the middle of one of his rounds, and he was about to begin one of his double-back deviations to re- cover one of the choke points when an alarm was sounded. Looking at the smart phone that he’d been issued, he was the text message, ‘Intruder at exterior door D, Ground Floor. Single intruder, moving southwards at high, but not super-human speed. Ground Floor units are to proceed to Elevator Block C.’
‘Elevator Block C goes down to the High Security levels,’ Jim reasoned. ‘If he uses the elevators instead of the security stairs, then he’s either got super powers or special equipment. Either way, waiting for him at the elevator door would be a waste of time. Besides, he might still use the stairs. Either way, he’d be heading for the secured samples freezer vault, not the cultivating trays; the secure samples were in nice safe secure phials, not delicate and awkward Petrie dishes. But Jim knew a choke point between both the elevator block and the stairs.
As he made his way to the choke point, Jim kept tabs on the updates that kept texting to his cell phone- the intruder had opened the doors to Elevator 16 with an explosive pack. A squad of guards was intercepting the intruder. The intruder had dealt with the squad and was proceeding down the elevator shaft. The intruder had opened the doors on elevator shaft 16 without explosives. It was on sublevel 5.
Sublevel Five was Jim’s turf.
Jim realized that just standing there at the choke point was stupid. If he was gonna keep the intruder from getting out with any of the samples, which was crucial for the safety of the general population (not to mention his JOB), he had to jump the intruder and maybe pull the plug on his super-suit or whatever. Jim shifted to a position that he knew was a blind spot for coming down the corridor. He drew his tonfa with his right hand and had his shocker ready in the other.
Jim heard running footsteps coming down the hallway, fast but sure. Jim inched to the very edge of the blind spot, and gauged the rate that the intruder was travelling by the sound of the footsteps. A shadow appeared in the cross of the halls, and Jim made his final calculations and leapt. Jim nailed the intruder on the fly and took him from behind by the shoulders. Jim hooked his tonfa under the intruder’s chin and used his momentum to throw the guy to the side and into the wall. He got a brief glimpse of something that looked like soft ‘flex’ armor, with several strategic bits of hard armor, in a dark blue and gray motif. As the intruder reeled from being thrown into the wall, Jim jabbed the shocker into the guy’s ribs and gave him a 160,000v jolt.
It did nothing except give the intruder an opening to ram back with his elbow into Jim’s face, getting the guard off his back. Jim immediately charged back, swinging his tonfa at the back of the intruder’s neck, a dangerous place to hit, but a damned good way of taking a man down. But the intruder jumped up over both the blow and Jim’s head, and got Jim from behind, ramming Jim’s face into the wall. Jim dropped down and tried an ‘iron broom’ kick to knock the intruder off his pins. It didn’t work, and the intruder got a hold on Jim and started to grapple him with incredible strength. Jim struggled free for a second, and got a glimpse of a logo on the man’s right biceps: a stylized domino mask over a crossed pair of six-shooter pistols, after the classic ‘skull and crossbones’. They traded blows for a moment, but the intruder got Jim’s tonfa away from him, and from there, it was a short painful trip into near oblivion. As he lay on the floor, Jim held onto consciousness with one grim, fierce thought- he knew who the bastard was. He’d tell them, so they’d keep the intruder from using the samples. He wouldn’t fail completely, if he told them who it was.
November 2nd, 2006
“We have a major problem,” DA Kaltenborn told the assembled members of SPECTRUM. “Last night, someone broke into the Daniels-McGregor research lab and stole some bacteria samples that the D-McG lab rats had been working on.”
“I wasn’t aware that Daniels-McGregor did biowar research,” Violet said.
“They don’t. This was strictly the kind of development that they do in order to second-guess the natural mutations that various bugs undergo, and to try and develop counter-measures for new strains before they show up and start making people sick.”
“Do we know which strains were stolen?” Captain Patriot asked.
“No. The burglar destroyed the entire freezer with a thermite charge that slagged the whole cabinet and spoiled the samples in the freezers on either side. There was literally nothing left to check except slag. But we did catch a break. While the intruder took precautions to keep from being seen, one guard managed to get a good look at him, and got his ass handed to him in the process. It was Brigand.”
“BRIGAND?” was the general reaction.
“Stealing Bio-weapons isn’t Brigand’s normal MO,” Red Thunder said suspiciously. “How sure are you of that this guard’s telling you the truth?”
“He’s in the hospital with three broken ribs, two broken teeth, a bruised kidney and a concussion, but he held on long enough to tell his backup that he recognized Brigand’s brassard on his shoulder when they mixed it up. And they say that was all that was keeping him conscious, the need to pass along that information.”
“There’s something hinky about this,” Cal said through his Golden Knight drone.
“Of course there’s something hinky about this!” Cap snarled, “If Brigand’s involved, there’s GOT to be some bizarre wrinkle in it somewhere. That’s how he works. The problem isn’t knowing that there’s a mind-game involved, it’s not buying into the pretext that he’s foisting off on you. What did he steal?”
Kaltenborn’s assistant pulled out a folder and read from it. “Well, it was tricky. Brigand covered his tracks by leaving a thermite charge that incinerated almost everything in the refrigerated cabinet and really did a job on the contents of the two cabinets on either side of it. But, Brigand didn’t do his homework as well as the thought he had. Each of the sample phials had a high-temperature compound band with the contents stamped into it, so they could be certain of identification after a sample had been thermally destroyed. They recovered ID bands for all the samples that were contained in the cabinet, except for eight phials of a strain called K Spirivia-c/ix.”
“Okay, so far, so ominous,” Blue Streak said. “And what IS ‘K Spirivia-c/ix’?”
“It’s a bacteria that can enter through the openings in the skin, through the eyes, the nose, and the mouth, but its optimum environment is the lungs. Apparently, it started out as a nuisance for pigs that somehow drifted over to affecting humans in Paraguay, sometime in the 1930s, and has been poking around North and South America for the past sixty or so years, throwing up a new variant strain every ten to fifteen years or so. It’s not immediately fatal, but it can lead to an overall degeneration of health, due to pulmonary constriction. There was an outbreak here in the States twenty-something years ago, due to a new strain that managed to sneak past Customs, it’s estimated that there are about somewhere between one and one-and-a-half hundred thousand sufferers here and in Canada and Mexico. Epidemiologically speaking, it’s pretty small taters, but it CAN be lethal, especially in small children and in elderly patients whose systems aren’t used to it. Gregors-McDaniel came up with a treatment 14 years ago that weakens the Spiviria to the point where the patient’s system can handle it.”
“Treat it? Why not just kill the damned thing?” Tawny asked. “Get rid of it, before it learns how to cope with the treatment?”
“Well, they tried that, but tests show that the treatment, Trethamine, has as the active ingredient a compound called Tritropium Ethidium Bromosuccinimine, which can be dangerous, going on fatal, at the high concentrations needed to kill the Spiviria. But, at the concentrations that can just weaken the Spiviria to the point that the immune system can handle it, the body can adjust and cope just fine. Got to watch the other medications, but that’s par for the course.”
“Okay, it’s not THAT dangerous, and there’s a treatment,” Violet said. “So, WHY did Brigand steal it?”
“Well, that’s the strain that they’re marketing Trethamine for. According to the R&D guys at Daniels-McGregor, they were trying to anticipate the next major variant, and strain c-ix showed signs of being VERY nasty.”
The assistant paused, mulled that over, flipped through the report and said, “Not by the current criteria for Bio-War, as I understand it. Maybe by the standards of the ‘Cool War’ theory that was making the rounds in the 1960s and 70s, but in the current Global Marketplace? No.”
“So, again, WHY did Brigand steal this Spiviria sample?” the Golden Knight asked. “This is SO not Brigand’s SOP.”
“How did Brigand get in?” Cap asked.
“No mystery there. It was a flat-out blitz. He went in fast and hard, blew open the security doors, flattened the Security Response teams, went straight where his target was, got what he wanted, and got out.”
“He WANTED to be seen,” Azure said with authority. “He WANTS us to know that it was him, and that he’s got something from that cabinet.
“But he took every precaution to avoid being identified,” Tawny pointed out.
“It’s BRIGAND. If he hadn’t wanted to be identified, he would have gone in like a ghost and nobody would even know that anything had been taken, let alone that he did it. He LET that guard see him, and made the guy look like a hero for doing it.” Azure thought it over for a bit. “He tried to make sure that we couldn’t know which sample was taken. Maybe he’s trying to sucker us into thinking that he took something really nasty, like a Smallpox variant, something with real ‘Omigawd, we can’t let that loose’ ass-pucker value. Were there any Bioweapons-grade samples in that cabinet, along with the Spiviria?”
The assistant pulled out a cell phone, made a call and asked someone pretty much that question. Then he raised his eyebrows, and then his face went pale. He put away his cell phone and reported, “Dr. Moore just said that the Spiviria was easily the most benign thing in that cabinet, which held the deadliest strains on that floor. And the floor just below THAT was their ‘Most Deadly’ section, which couldn’t be reached by the elevator. He said that there were at least FOUR not-quite BioWar level strains in that cabinet. But, they’ve been accounted for, and Brigand was in and out of there so quickly that he couldn’t have tampered with those ID bands; they were a part of the sample containment.”
“Okay, there’s your mindgame factor,” Azure said. “He’s targeting someone with very high clearances, lots of contacts. How many people know about those high-temperature ID bands?”
Kaltenborn shrugged. “Very few people, outside the Daniels-McGregor R&D labs. Even the ID bands are top secret; the fact that they’re very high temperature resistant is strictly Need-To-Know.”
“Okay, so Brigand doesn’t know about them, so he figures that if he slags the entire cabinet, nobody will know what he took, except by the inventory list on the cabinet. SO, he’s targeting someone who knows what was in that cabinet, getting them to think that he’s got fucking Ebola or something. Nobody would think that he’d go through all of that, just for weenie little Spiviria. That uncertainty is the key to this- what’s he got? Only Brigand knows.”
“Yes, that works,” Karen said with a nod. “But that’s just his hole card- we don’t know what hand he’s playing yet. We don’t even know what GAME he’s playing yet. Fortunately, we have an Ace up our sleeve that Brigand doesn’t know about!”
Stacy trudged through her ‘homework’ with dogged determination. Well, as dogged as you could be, when you were freaking out. Maybe, maybe if she really tried really hard, maybe she’d get such fantastic test results that Karen would want to keep her around. Not that she could see WHY Karen would want to keep her around. After all, Karen was this big-shot wizard superhero millionaire playboy (can a woman be a playboy? And what did Hugh Hefner have to do with superheroes?) and what was Stacy? Just some loser, two-bit crook who wasn’t even a real GIRL! Spurred on by that spate of self-loathing, Stacy threw herself at the calculus, hoping against desperate hope that she might calculate some way of being good enough. She wasn’t good enough for a backwoods jerk like George, she wasn’t good enough for a penny-ante punk like Danny, how could she be good enough for someone like Karen? Why couldn’t she ever be good enough for anyone?
Stacy was in the middle of one particularly ensnarling math problem (and an even more ensnarling thumb-suck) when Lauren stuck her head in the library door. “Hey Stace! Are you in the middle of anything?”
“COOL! C’mon in, Spense!” Lauren led Spenser in. Spenser was wearing his Mansfield school uniform, with the tie off and tucked into a pocket, probably taking this as the best compromise between being cool and looking right for the old folks. While his real hair was only a few shades darker than the blonde wig that he’d been wearing, the only reason that Stacy recognized him was because of his glasses. On Halloween, Spense had been the very image of a lovely young girl; now, he looked just like any of a thousand other moderately attractive boys.
Spense took her in appreciatively, and Stacy flushed. They traded a few shy comments, about how each other looked out of costume, the aftermath of the Halloween hostage situation, and a few other things. “So! Anyway,” Spense started, taking control of the situation, “I was thinking, since you don’t come to Mansfield, maybe you’d like to come and hang out with us, y’know some of the Mansfield kids, we hang out together, don’t ask me why, God knows we see enough of each other at school…”
Stacy perked up immediately. “Sure! Where is it? How will we get there?”
“Well, there’s sort of an upscale mall a few miles from here, and I just happen to have my own ride.”
“You have your own car?” Stacy’s eyes went wide. She felt like such the Poor Girl with this rich kid.
“Ah… no. I have one of those Vespa scooter things. All the danger of riding a motorcycle, but none of the chick appeal. Still, it gets me from point A to point B. And it has a seat on the back.”
“What about you, Lauren?”
“Oh, I can bum a ride, no problem.” What Stacy really wanted to do, was to drag Spenser up to her room, and dress him up and do girl-talk. But there was no way she could do that without embarrassing the hell out of him, or letting him know that she could (well, sort of) read his mind.
They were just about to go out the front door, when Karen arrived home. “Oh! Stacy! I’m glad I caught you!”
“What is it? Oh, this is Spenser Chase, I met him at the Halloween party?” Stacy tactfully left out that Spense had been wearing a Cinderella dress at the time.
“Oh really? I’m so glad that something good came from that train wreck!” Karen beamed. “So, Spenser, do you kids have any plans for today?”
“Well then! I just have something to discuss with Stacy, and I’ll get you get to it! Stacy, in the library?”
Stacy followed Karen, her mind buzzing, paranoia playing ping-pong with hope inside her head. Karen had decided not to send Stacy to Whateley. Karen was going to order her to go to Whateley. Karen was going to give her some kind of test. The DA had given in to Humanity First’s pressure, and was going to press felony charges for what she’d done for Danny, deal or no deal. They’d caught up with Danny in Chicago, and he’d broken down and confessed to everything. No, there was no way that Danny would confess to anything; if they’d caught him up in Chicago, he’d probably convinced himself that it was all an evil plot by Stacy to take over the world that he heroically stopped somehow.
Then Karen walked over to the bust of Shakespeare and twisted the knob. Karen indicated for Stacy to follow her down the ‘bat-pole’ into the Witch’s Lair. When they were safely out of earshot, Karen said, “Stacy, I know that we’ve asked you to keep out of superhero affairs, but we have a situation, and you may be a valuable asset in handling it.” She lead Stacy over to a computer workstation with an oversized monitor, and fired it up. A ‘HeroNet’ icon came up and Karen entered a few keywords. What looked like a personnel dossier came up, with a face-shot of a rather handsome, strong-featured man in his prime with a slightly broken nose, an intense demeanor and kind of weird-looking eyes. There was another picture of an athletic man in a blue-and-black suit with segments of hardshell armor, and lots of pouches and equipment belts. There was a logo of a stylized ‘bandit’ mask and two crossed six-shooter pistols. The file heading was ‘Brigand’. “Brigand?” Stacy asked. “Brigand’s in town?”
“You’ve heard of Brigand?”
“Sure! He’s a Working-Class LEGEND! Heck, Ge-er, my Dad had clippings of when Brigand suckered those Chicago bankers into giving the Steamfitters back over fifty million of the money they stole from the pension funds, and when he got those chemical company guys to admit that they’d been dumping toxic chemicals near the ground-water supply in Buffalo, and-”
“YES, those are the examples that Brigand and his admirers like to bring up,” Karen said, quirking a look at Stacy. “He does like to paint himself as a modern-day Robin Hood lashing out at Corporate and Governmental corruption. Of course, he glosses over the times that he got it wrong and targeted the wrong people, or the ‘corruption’ involved was either incompetence or simple bad luck, or the ‘corrupt’ parties involved simply invested in something that they didn’t KNOW was dirty. Stacy, there are reasons why the authorities are careful about prosecuting these things.”
“Yeah,” Stacy drawled, “The Man is always real careful about protecting the Civil Rights- of Rich People.”
Karen gave Stacy an amused look for this rare show of spirit. “At any rate, Brigand was born Brian Andrew Gentry, the son of a prominent second-generation FBI agent, and looked good to be the third generation of remarkable FBI agents in the Gentry family. Top grades at a top school, varsity baseball, basketball, football, Track & Field, gymnastics, and swimming teams, First Class Boy Scout with a sash full of merit badges, second dan brown belt in Karate and Aikido, and like all that. THEN, it suddenly goes very dark. Just after his sixteenth birthday-”
“SIXTEEN?” Stacy gawped, “he did all that by the time he was SIXTEEN?”
“Yes, but on the other hand, I’ll bet that his score at Donkey Kong was terrible… Then, just after his sixteenth birthday, young Brian went berserk at some sort of church function, and beat his father to death, caving in his skull with a piece of church paraphernalia. He injured three other men, and when they checked him out at a hospital, there were signs of prolonged drug use, which was probably the reason for the berserk.”
“Hold it!” Stacy objected, “HOW could he have done all that A-student, super-jock, Boy Scout stuff, if he was a doper?”
“He wouldn’t have been the first Type-A overachiever to keep himself going with cocaine. Anyway, Brian made all sorts of wild claims, including that Mr. Gentry had sexually abused him, and was trying to get him to abuse his little sister, Melissa. But that was in 1976, and that kind of excuse didn’t fly very well back then, and absolutely nobody backed him up on it. He was one of the first minors tried as an adult for a Capital offense, and he was sentenced to Life in Leavenworth. He stayed in Leavenworth for six years, and apparently ‘apprenticed’ to some of the most skilled cons inside. Then he escaped, beating a prison guard to death with his own nightstick in the process.
“After that, he took the name ‘Brigand’, and seems to be on some sort of personal crusade against the American Federal Government and the Business Sector. It’s not enough that he steal from the Government and Businesses, he has to humiliate them as well.”
“Yeah, but when he robs them, he always kicks open this whole can of worms that whoever he was robbing was up to, like those Housing Authority folks who were usin’ government money for housing for the poor to build fancy houses for rich folks, and keepin’ the money.”
“That’s as may be,” Karen said carefully, “but this time he’s done something indefensible. Last night, he broke into a local laboratory and stole something very dangerous.”
“He did? Why?”
“We’re not sure. He didn’t leave a video explaining the details of his plot. Very inconsiderate of him.”
“Oh-KAY, and why are you telling ME all about this?”
“Because all that we can be sure of, is that Brigand will have at least one dirty trick up his sleeve for every member of SPECTRUM, especially those that would be the most effective against what he stole- except YOU.”
“What did he steal?”
“I can’t tell you, at least not until you actually have to face it. I don’t want you getting all stressed out about it, waiting for Brigand to strike. Just remember- whatever happens, when it happens, keep that silvery force field of yours up.”
“When do you think he’s gonna make his move?”
“I have no idea. I just want you to know what’s going on, so we don’t have to waste time briefing you, when it’s time for you to go into action. And Stacy? Don’t try to beat Brigand. He’s sort of an ‘Anti-Batman’- tons of training and discipline, very good equipment, and he plans for EVERYTHING. Just go in invisibly, try to either remove or save or neutralize whatever he’s targeted, and then GET OUT. Assume that if he can see you, he’ll figure out something to handle you. And he’s handled a lot of people who are a lot tougher than you are.”
“So… what do I do now?” Stacy asked, unsure.
“Now? Now, I suggest that you go and hang out with Lauren and Spenser. Just tell Lauren that you might have to make a quick excuse, and remember to take your ‘Silver Ghost’ cape with you. And keep your cell phone with you at all times. Stacy, Brigand might act today. Or tomorrow. Or the day after that. OR, he might not even act in Cincinnati at all. This is what we have to deal with all the time. The Bad Guys have the advantage of deciding when, where and how they’re going to strike. So, the Good Guys have to be on guard all the time.” Karen softened. “Just… relax and have fun with Spenser. We might not even have to involve you at all. Just be on your toes, dear.”
“Right!” Stacy felt a flush of confidence surge through her. Karen was giving her a chance to show what she was made of! She wasn’t going to mess it up this time!
November 3rd, 2006
Cincinnati is home to several chemical and pharmaceutical companies, and it hosts several trade shows for those sectors every year. This year, Daniels-McGregor’s parent company, Barnes-Wentworth Petroleum Inc., was doubling up their annual Stockholder’s Meeting with the Greater Heartland Drug & Preservative Symposium at the Hesseman Convention Center. And, as a member of the House Subcommittee on OTC Drug Standards, the Honorable Jacob ‘Jake’ Barrows (R-Ind.) went to a lot of these things. And they were all the same. The same slick blend of hype and chemo-babble, the same mix of car show and science fair. And there was always the same awkwardness of a lot of people who were very good at very different things trying to communicate with each other. The drug companies tried to have as many flat-out salespeople at these things as possible, but you had to have honest-to-God chemists and biologists, because there were questions that you just couldn’t expect an MBA to answer. Jake made the rounds, hitting the various panels in the Drug Business version of working the room. At least, until he hit the ‘Developments in Cognitive Enhancement Therapy’ panel, where he ran into Dr. Helena Smart like a cruise liner hitting an iceberg. “Look,” she said, “completely aside from its use in making ordinary people more intelligent, Solon-3 has proven effects in helping Down’s Syndrome kids and autistics progress beyond their limitations.”
“And your buddy Dr. Diabolik would get how much in royalties?” Dr. Frank Merrivale sneered. Dr. Smart replied that Dr. Diabolik was an outlaw, and legalizing Solon-3 would, if anything, cut into his income, as it was currently a very expensive and popular- if illegal- drug on various campuses. Smart and Merrivale went at it for a bit, and Jake watched Dr. Smart with appreciation. From what he’d heard, she was in her fifties, but damn if she didn’t look like she was in her thirties; an early, very hot, very fit thirties. She was wearing a short jacket, trousers and boots, but she was easier on the eyes than most of the booth bunnies. Dr. Smart called herself a ‘Renaissance Scientist’, but everyone knew that she was one of those ‘Adventuring Scientists’, sort of like Doc Savage or Dr. Quest. “Don’t you have a lost city that you have to find?” Merrivale sneered. Jake got the impression that they’d known each other for a while; they probably dated in college, or something.
Jake was a married man, and a good, upstanding member of his local church, but he was thinking thoughts that no public servant (at least since Jimmy Carter) cops to in public about Dr. Smart. She was good-looking, but so were thousands of women. She was… there… alive, dynamic and vibrant in ways that most glamour-pusses, who just stood there and were pretty, couldn’t match. Her intelligence, obvious health and force of personality all blended together in ways that reminded him of Diana Rigg, back in her ‘Avengers’ days. Not that he had a chance; the big strapping kid, Dennis, who was supposed to be her assistant, always seemed to be right at her elbow. Maybe she should call herself ‘Dr. Cougar’; if those two weren’t knocking boots it was only because he was 100% gay.
Then Ray Murchison, an Ohio State Legislator that Jake did business with from time to time, sidled up and whispered in his ear, “I’ve got something that you need to be involved in.” Good ol’ Ray, he really knew how to cut to the chase. Jake made his excuses, and left Smart and Merrivale sniping at each other. Yeah, they probably dated in college.
Ray led Jake through the kind of shuffle that you put yourself through when you want to be sure that nobody who doesn’t need to, follows you to where you’re going. They wound up in yet another anonymous conference room, though this one had some serious security and anti-surveillance gear, and the four hard-faced men in suits would only have been more obviously security men if they’d been wearing body armor.
Jake recognized Bob Arkavis, who sat on the Subcommittee on Health Matters, and a few of the executives and Merchandizing drones from Daniels-McGregor, and there was a rather tense looking nerd who was obviously one of their lab rats. Jerry Hamilton, one of the more senior veeps at Daniels-McGregor stood up and greeted Jake with the expected handshake and bonhomie. After they exchanged the required greetings and made the obligatory social comments, Jake asked, “So, Jer, what’re you doing up here? Shouldn’t you be down at the Stockholders’ meeting, looking important for the Rank & File?”
Hamilton smiled broadly and said with a chuckle, “I am. Just ask my secretary. And you’re not here, you’re standing at the back of the panel on the latest breakthroughs in cheese preservatives; you’re not sure what was said because you didn’t understand a word, not anybody other than the chemists really did. And Bob and Jake aren’t here, either. Nor is Dr. Moore here. Moore, you wanna tell Jake here what didn’t happen two nights ago?”
In terse, clipped tones, Dr. Moore spelled out to the assembled officials the details of Brigand’s raid on Daniels-McGregor’s lab. “Brigand?” Jake said, kicking back in one of the cheap prefab chairs. “You think he’s gonna release this Spirivia bug? Why?”
“I think that he’s gonna do SOMETHING,” Hamilton said. “Exactly what, I have no idea. But, we DO know something that Brigand doesn’t know that we know- we know that he took Spirivia, not one of the deadlier bugs. Now, you know how Brigand works, all ‘Mission Impossible’ bullshit, with that cutsie little twist at the very end, where some guy just getting his piece of the pie winds up face down in the shit. He WANTS people to think that he’s got some gawd-awful wipe-out-a-city killer strain, while he’s only got this dinky little lung infection.”
“Spirivia, especially this new strain, can be VERY dangerous!” Dr. Moore complained.
“Yeah, to old people and little kids,” Hamilton grumbled. “So, Brigand probably figures that he can release it without killing too many people, but he’ll have his target shitting cinder blocks. That or he wanted a bug that he wouldn’t have to worry about too much. And that’s the problem. Since it looks so safe by comparison to the other deadly crap we had in that cabinet, Brigand’s a lot more likely to release it, if only ‘cause he doesn’t take it seriously enough. And you know what a weasel Brigand is; once he gets one of his scams going, there’s no way of telling how it will turn out. We have to assume that, one way or another, that Commie asshole Brigand will wind up releasing Spiviria into the general population.”
“Okay,” Jake nodded, “I can see that, and it’s good to know, but why are you telling ME this, and not the CDC?”
“We already have,” Hamilton assured him, “and we’ve jacked up production of Trethamine, our treatment for Spiviria, by a factor of 100. But, there’s a complication.”
“A complication?” Suddenly, Jake smelled a deal brewing. “What sort of complication.”
“Well, with CDC handling so many inoculations, there’s a chance that they might find out something that we’ve been trying to keep out of the public light.”
“You’re saying that this Trethamine stuff has nasty side effects?”
“Almost exactly the opposite,” Dr. Moore said with a miffed tone. “Our reports to the FDA approval board showed that there were side effects and cellular deterioration in concentrations high enough to remove the Spiviria strain. What the reports didn’t say, was that these concentration levels were almost 300% higher than the optimum concentration to deal with Spiviria. In the proper doses, Trethamine only has side effects more dangerous than itchiness and irritability in less than one percent of the test subjects, and those had other major issues, and there were easily avoided combination issues in other major medications. Trethamine is SAFE.”
“Tee-Em-Eye, Moore, TMI…”
“I’m not getting something here,” Jake said, and Ray and Bob silently agreed.
“Look, Daniels-McGregor isn’t in the business of curing people. That’s hospitals’ business,” Hamilton spelled it out. “Our business is selling drugs. Selling a lot of drugs at one go is good. Selling not so many drugs, but a good number over a long period of time is better. If we sold Trethamine in doses that cured Spirivia, we’d sell maybe a few tens of thousands of units a year, depending on how well the damned bug gets around. But if we sell Trethamine at the concentration that only treats the bug, that weakens it but doesn’t get RID of it, and the patients have to keep taking it once a day for the rest of their lives, then we can sell millions of units a year, regular as clockwork. Hey, if someone came up with a CURE for Athlete’s Foot or Dandruff, the economy would tank!”
“So, you want Bob and me, using our positions on the CDC Oversight Panel, to, ah, ‘derail’ any reports about that that might come our way?” And from there, it slowly unfolded into a plan to allow Spiviria to go untreated and unchecked, infecting as many people as possible, creating a huge pool of new customers for Trethamine (and Daniels-McGregor), with a yearly stipend being paid into a ‘discretionary fund’, which Ray, Jake and Bob would be able to access for funds for purposes that they didn’t want to be traced back to them.
Then the power went out.
The Willow Crest mall catered to the upper crust of the Tri-State area, and Stacy knew it from the minute she stepped into the place. It looked like the set for one of those prime-time soap operas. Stacy was hanging out with Spenser and Lauren and Mindy and Terri, two of Lauren’s friends. And it was just like Stacy had always fantasized that ‘hanging out with the girls’ would be like. And while he didn’t say anything that ‘outed’ him, Stacy could tell that Spense was digging on it too. Spenser, Lauren and Mindy were making out like they were too cool to be impressed, but Stacy wasn’t bothering to make that effort. It was just too COOL!
They were even seated at a bistro table drinking hot cider. Now, how could you NOT be jazzed about sitting at an elegant bistro table, looking out over a beautiful setting, drinking delicious hot apple cider? Okay, paying five bucks a cup for cider was a bit much, but STILL!
Terri and Mindy were thrashing over the latest developments in the ‘Bramlin Girls’ schism, with Spense providing vital intel from the Boys’ room, when Stacy got a beep from her cell phone (she had a cell phone!) and checked the text message. [SILVER GHOST NEEDED] ‘Crap!” Stacy thought, ‘How Action Comics can you get?’ she quickly texted Lauren, [HERO TIME. I NEED AN EXIT] Lauren quickly came up with a classic ‘Aw nertz, gotta get home’ excuse, and they made their excuses. Lauren handed Stacy her ‘Silver Ghost’ cape, and in less than five minutes after receiving Cal’s text Stacy was invisible and flying.
Of course, Stacy had no idea where she was supposed to be flying TO, so she speed-dialed SPECTRUM HQ. “Cal! What’s going on?”
[Sta- er, Silver, we got a major call ten minutes ago-]
[Not your problem. We sent Violet and the Green Witch to handle it. The thing is, it sounds custom-made for Vi and Gee-Dubbya, who we figure are our members that Brigand would be most likely to want to distract-]
“Which means that it’s a diversion?”
[That’s our operating theory. And, two minutes after we called, you, we got wind that a local plain-clothes police officer spotted a reporter who’s know to be hot on Brigand’s trail, at the Hesseman Convention Center.]
“And what’s going on at the Hessemen Convention Center?”
[A Drug and Preservative Convention]
“You make that sound so ominous.”
[What did the Witch tell you about Brigand?]
“Just that he was in town, and that she didn’t want to tell me too much about what he’d done, so I wouldn’t worry.” Cal sighed and spelled out the basics of the Daniels-McGregor raid. “A DISEASE? He stole a DISEASE?”
[It’s not a dangerous disease, Silver. At least, it’s not as dangerous as the stuff he could have taken. Now, this is Brigand, so we know that he’s pulling something. We’re not so much worried that he pulls it off, as we are that somehow that bug gets released. Silver, Brigand does his homework. It’s a certainty that he’s gotten analyses of everyone at SPECTRUM- except you.]
“You want ME to take down Brigand?”
[NO! Silver, this is very important! We’ve gotten an okay from Kaltenborn to send you in, but only as an advance scout! We need to know what’s going on, inside that convention center, without Brigand knowing about it. Go in, observe, report, send pictures whenever you can, but don’t interfere, if you can avoid it. Anything you could do could possibly derail Brigand’s scheme in a way which might result in the pathogen being released. Now, Tawny will make a few token attempts to get in. Brigand would get suspicious if we didn’t try anything. I’m sending you a layout of the convention center. Get to one of the points marked by the green triangles and tell me which one. When I give you the go-ahead, go in invisibly, and try to find out as much as you can!]
Stacy took a deep breath and took control of herself. ‘Okay, this is it! Brigand’s Big Time! It’s time to show Karen and Cal that I’ve got what it takes!’
Detective Sergeant Kirk Lawson adjusted the set of his coat and walked up to the reporter. “So, as I live and breathe! Amy Merrick! What brings you to Cincy?”
Amy gave Lawson her best professional smile and said, “What? I’m here covering this symposium. What else would I be doing here?”
“So, whoever in Brigand’s machine who’s been feeding you information told you that he’s going to be making a move here? C’mon, Merrick… Aren’t you tired of being that crook’s unpaid PR flack? Who inside his operation is feeding you information?”
Amy patted Lawson on the cheek and said, “Well, if I was his PAID PR flack, then I’d be Aiding and Abetting a wanted felon, now wouldn’t I? Instead of being an investigative journalist, following a reliable lead that’s turned up several very newsworthy developments. Sorry Lawson, confidentiality and all that.” They just stood there for a very awkward moment. “You’re not going to go away, are you?”
“Y’know, I AM trying to work here.”
“So am I.”
Amy glowered at Lawson for a bit and then said, “Okay, BE that way. You give me no choice, I have to pull out the big guns! Okay Andy, let’s head for the Daniels-McGregor Stockholders’ meeting.”
The camera dog gave her a pitiful look. “Do we HAVE to?”
“Hey, if anything will get rid of Barney Fife here, it would be an hour or so of suits trying to sleaze their multi-billion dollar bonuses past the stockholders by hiding it in a mountain of figures delivered in a Ben Stein drone. At least you have your iPod.”
Amy sashayed into the Daniels-McGregor meeting with Andy on her heels, flashing her Press ID at the very serious Security goons at the door. Lawson followed her in, flashing his badge. The Daniels-McGregor stockholders’ meeting was being held in the Caravella room of the Hesseman Center, a large cavernous auditorium that was designed specifically for high security, with the barest minimum number of doors required by Health & Safety regulations, no windows, and security guards at all the doors. The shareholders were strictly segregated, with the small fry who only held a few blocks of stock way in the back, separated from the larger shareholders by a row of carpeting, and the major stockholders, the ones with real clout, up on the stage next to the Executive Officers, with their personal bodyguards. The sides of the auditorium had large standing displays for the various new drugs that Daniels-McGregor was promoting, and the roof was crowded with metal foil balloons in the shape of a long silver-and-blue tablet, promoting something calledPrarabda©.
However, the expected barrage of mind-stultifying minutiae wasn’t coming from the podium. Rather, the squat, heavy-set executive was trying to quash a barrage of indelicate questions from a large, fleshy woman who was bringing up certain aspects of Daniels-McGregor’s marketing policy that the people at Barnes-Wentworth Petroleum, who really owned and ran D-McG (they just used the shareholders’ money), would really have rather not discussed in an open forum. However, Daniels-McGregor’s corporate charter stated that shareholders could ask pertinent questions from the floor at the stockholders’ meeting, and this woman obviously had memorized the Rules of Order. She was hammering away at the guy on the podium, taking him (and the Executive Officers) to task for their questionable tactics in dealing with the unions. The Exec at the podium finally lost his patience. He ordered Security to ‘remove the disruptive influence’. But as the neatly dressed security thugs advanced on the outraged woman, who was loudly citing the company charter with the vigor of a revival tent preacher, a deep bemused voice said with amplification over the loudspeaker, “Now, now, is that any way to treat a lady?”
Then the lights went out.
“Andy! Get this!” Amy snapped. Lawson drew his gun and looked around in the meager illumination provided by the emergency lights, and all that he could make out was vague dark shapes running around thrashing, and occasionally one of them would make vaulting leaps. The spotlight from Andy’s camera played out among the crowd, showing frightened faces of the (mostly) still seated stockholders. Andy’s camera finally managed to settle on two men in flex armor with hard plates on the head, torso, forearms and shins, mixing it up with Convention and D-McG security guards. Spotting them, Lawson advanced with his gun held before him with both hands, ready to act. He was blindsided, knocked down and bound with his hands behind him in less time than it takes to tell it. There were more sounds of struggles, and then the sound of metal slamming against metal, and more sounds of struggles, and then the lights came back on.
The stage was empty of Executive Officers, major stockholders and bodyguards alike. There were eight men in black flex armor with blue hardplates standing at strategic positions holding exotic looking weapons that resembled assault rifles enough that everyone took them deadly serious on the stockholders. On the carpeted aisles were the bound and secured- and still- bodies of the security guards. One man in similar, but significantly different body armor from the others, was finishing off dispatching one particularly tough bodyguard with a compartmental staff. He took down the bodyguard with a fluid multistage move, and then bound him with plastic binders. That done, he executed a dramatic vaulting leap from where he was to the stage, landing behind the podium with a flourish. “Is this thing on?” he asked with bland facetiousness.
“BRIGAND!” the fleshy woman who’d been haranguing the executive officer shouted from where she was standing. “What do you think you’re DOING?”
“Ah, Lilly,” Brigand grinned, “good to see you! Still fighting the good fight, I see.”
“Don’t give me that!” Lilly roared without the slightest fear of the notorious supervillain. “What do you think you’re doing? I was trying to get some straight answers out of that corporate weasel, on ground where he couldn’t just shut me out, and you had to come and scare him off! You’re completely discrediting what I’m trying to do here!”
“I’m sorry, Lilly, but my invitation must have gotten lost in the mail,” Brigand replied with a bemused expression. “You know how it is; two busy people like us can’t always get our schedules straight.”
“Dammit, Brigand, I’m trying to do something legitimate here, and get these Barnes-Wentworth hooligans to commit to something, anything, and you’re just muddying the waters!”
“I’m sorry, Lil,” Brigand said mournfully. “I have nothing but the greatest respect for you and your efforts- though you are an incorrigible coquette for spurning my proposals- but I’m afraid that we’re going to have to agree to disagree on this one.” Then there was a sound, and a good twenty men and women in similar body armor to Brigand’s- his body armor was largely different in the shade of blue of his hard plate, the fact that his lower face was exposed, and the domino-mask-and-crossed-sixguns logo on his right shoulder plate- herded in the Daniels-McGregor Executive Officers and major stockholders. Their personal bodyguards were nowhere to be seen. “Now, wasn’t it NICE of these ladies and gentlemen to open the special hidden secure exit doors for my people?” he asked wryly. “Now, as the redoubtable Ms Frakes has said, I am Brigand. I am a supervillain. I am not here to kill any of you, but if it comes down to that, I have killed in the past, and I probably may kill in the future. It’s a hazard of the profession. BUT, as I said, I’m not here to specifically kill you. As a matter of fact…” he read off a list of nine names from the crowd that was sitting in the forward section of the seating, and asked those persons to stand up. “You all have heart problems or other health issues that would probably be aggravated by the strain of this situation. Would you all please go stand over by that door?” There was some confusion, especially those who came with a spouse or family member, but they did comply. “Very well. Now, all of you in the cheap seats; you’re all basically middle-income people who are here to keep track of your investments, and what your investment money is doing. Good for you! Most people just look at the numbers in the Financial Section of the paper or the Web sites, and buy what has the best numbers. As a reward for your diligence, you get to leave.”
“Yeah, that and the fact that terrorists like to keep the number of hostages as small as possible!” Snapped one of the D-McG Execs. Brigand merely stood there, barely moving as his combat staff twirled for the briefest second and then smacked down on top of the head of the loudmouth.
“That too,” Brigand admitted. “Lil, you can leave too.”
“And what about me, Brig?” Amy asked brightly from where she and Andy were standing, as the camera dog was avidly filming everything.
“AMY!” Brigand said with a bright grin. “What IS this, Old Home Week? Is anybody else I know lurking about in the woodwork?”
“Not that I’ve spotted,” Amy said without much worry.
“Pity, I always like mixing it up with Special Agents Morse and Byatt. Oh, Lilly? Would you do me a favor?” Lilly Frakes looked at Brigand in confusion. “Would you link up your laptop to Andy’s camera signal? I have a few things that I’d like to say to Lieutenant Koch of Cincinnati SWAT.”
“How will they speak back to you?”
“Leave that to me, Lil.”
Being a professional, Tarrant, one of Bob Arvakis’ bodyguards, had power going in the conference room again, and had already tapped into the Convention Center’s security system. He’d done a brief scan of the Convention Center, and was watching- and listening to- Brigand’s opening speech. Bob, Jake, Ray and the Daniels-McGregor weasels were clustered around the laptop, watching what was going down. They watched as the small fry were allowed to leave the auditorium. Then the large new product displays that had been set along the walls of the auditorium started moving in ways that suggested that they were very heavy, and relocated themselves in front of the doors with very sturdy thuds.
“I don’t remember anything about any ad displays to be set in the auditorium,” one of the Marketing chimps said stupidly. “All our ads and displays are in the main area, for maximum exposure!”
“Gee, y’think maybe they’re FAKES that Brigand brought in?” One of the bodyguards sneered.
“Shut it,” Tarrant snarled, “He’s getting to the point.”
“Okay, now that Lt. Koch has Lilly’s laptop, let’s get to the point. Doctor Porchnik, would you please come up to the podium?” A thin, gawkish woman in her early 50s with stringy brown hair, a prominent nose, and large glasses hesitantly approached the stage. Brigand gallantly helped her to the stage and handed her a large phial.
“Who’s that?” Jake asked, peering at the laptop.
“That’s Valerie Porchnik,” Dr. Moore said. “She’s one of the Biochemists working at the lab.”
“How well into the loop is she? How much does she know?”
“She knows about Brigand’s raid, and that’s about it.”
“She doesn’t know that he only took the Spirivia?”
“That was decided to be ‘Need to Know’ information, and she didn’t need to know.”
“Dr. Porchnik, would you take a look at this phial- please, show it to the camera, so everyone can see it first- and describe what it is?”
“It’s… it’s one of our BSL-4 Secure Containers from SSV-5!”
“In… English, please, Doctor?”
“It’s a Bio Safety Level- 4 secure container from the Secure Samples vault on Level 5 of our Cincinnati R&D laboratory. I can’t tell which sample it is; you’ve markered over the sample name and number.” She looked at him aghast. “It’s empty. You’ve opened it.”
“Very good. Now, would you tell what happened at that lab, a few nights ago?” With a stammering voice, Dr. Porchnik related those details that she knew of Brigand’s raid. “Thank you,” Brigand said warmly, “I’d have told them all that myself, but I didn’t want to sound like I was bragging. Now, since you seem to be conversant with that vault, would you tell these nice people some of the strains that were kept in that cabinet, and what the general effects of those bugs are?” Dr. Porchnik described seven diseases that she knew had been in the cabinet, and their uniformly ghastly effects and symptoms. By the sixth disease, the stockholders were all more or less uniformly pale with nausea and fear. “THANK you, Dr. Porchnik, that’s quite enough. But don’t sit down just yet. Ladies and Gentlemen, you may have noticed these kicky little foil balloon promotions for Prarabda©, Daniels-McGregor’s latest product. They’re all over the place in the Convention Center, and there’s a layer of them all over the roof of this place. But there’s a problem.” Brigand gestured, and one of his henchmen brought him one of the balloons. “Namely, that Daniels-McGregor doesn’t HAVE a new product called Prarabda©. Dr. Porchnik, would you kindly examine this and describe what you find?”
Porchnik examined it and said, “There’s a gondola of some sort built into the balloon. It looks like some sort of sprayer, and I think that there’s an internal reservoir of some sort.”
“Precisely,” Brigand nodded. “You can sit down now, Dr. Porchnik. Inside these eye-catching little balloons is a small reservoir, containing a brew of an agar-based distributing agent, a DMSO-analog that will bypass the skins defenses… and the descendent of ONE of those nasty little bugs from that cabinet that I raided. The agar distributing agent will shield the bug from the cold, and when the spray lands on someone’s skin, their body temperature will activate the DMSO-analog, allowing the disease to enter that poor soul’s bloodstream.
“Now, not ALL of those little balloons are loaded with the disease. But they ARE up there. Are you keeping up with this, Lt. Koch?”
Koch’s picture appeared on the monitor screen over and behind the stage. [You can hear me? How?]
“Don’t let it bother you, Koch. The question stands. Are you keeping up with this, or shall I bring Dr. Porchnik back up here to explain it for you in smaller words? Please, don’t make her do it; going through all of that for me was hard enough on her.”
[Yeah, I get it. I’m disappointed in you, Brigand. You’ve sunk to Bio-Terrorism.]
“Well, what can I say? Running a crusade against the corruption in the American system is expensive; I’ve got to pay my men somehow.” Then he spotted several colorful figures leaning over Koch’s shoulder, watching the laptop screen closely. “Ah, I see that the local Long Underwear Marching Society is here. Okay, this is for the Rainbow Coalition- you heard about the disease sprayers in all those little balloons? WELL, I’ve used the Center’s own security system to seal all the exits, and I’ve adjusted the Air Conditioning- or ‘Interior Climate Control’, if you have to be anal about it- so that if you try a classic Superman ‘crash through the walls’ maneuver in either this auditorium or the rest of the Center, and the air pressure differential will shoot all those balloons out of here like Third Graders on the last day of school. When the balloons reach the proper altitude, an altimeter will set off the sprayer. And if you’ve been listening, you should know that I’ve taken steps that the cold and low pressure won’t kill my bugs. Can you say ‘epidemic’? I knew you could!
“So, let’s see: Golden Knight, Red Thunder, Blue Streak, Azure, Tawny, Captain Patriot… But there are a few crayons missing from the box. I know where Violet and the Green Witch are, but where’s that delightful little ingénue who’s been getting so much publicity lately, the Silver Ghost?”
[The Silver Ghost is NOT a regular member of our team,] Captain Patriot said sturdily. [We don’t endanger minors, if we can help it]
“I notice that you didn’t say that she wasn’t HERE, Mon Capitan,” Brigand riposted. “And the value of a flying stealth agent with super strength in a Hostage Rescue mission is too obvious to ignore, from either of our positions. I’ve taken the Silver Ghost’s presence here into consideration and taken appropriate measures. You say that you don’t endanger minors. If that’s at all so, then you will recall her NOW. You have five minutes to comply, and then I open up a can of whoopass on her that I’d really rather keep sealed. It’s your call- do you HONESTLY think that I can’t find her? Or that I can’t send her back to you in a body cast? I’d rather not go there; so, let’s not go there. Recall her. I’m not letting any of these people go until I see the Silver Ghost standing by your side, Patriot. And she STAYS there.”
Stacy was hanging around one of the ‘triangle’ positions, waiting for Cal to give her the go-ahead, when her cell phone vibrated. Pulling it quickly to her ear, she asked, “I go in now?”
[NO!] Cal blared. [Sorry, to yell, Silver, but this is important! Do NOT go in! Brigand’s expecting you, and he’s as much said that he’s laid in special measures to handle you. He’s standing stock still until he sees YOU right here with us, beside Lt. Koch. We need to see the Silver Ghost here! Now!]
Stacy fumed as she folded up her cell phone; then Cal’s exact wording hit her ‘we need to see the Silver Ghost here’. Not HER, but the Silver Ghost. Or someone who looked like the Silver Ghost. And Brigand would insist that ‘she’ stay visible at all times…
Stacy zipped around invisibly until she finally spotted someone who would fit the bill perfectly. While you wouldn’t think that there were too many teenage girls hanging around a Pharmaceuticals convention, there were a bunch of girls who had apparently taken jobs passing around various samples in not exactly skimpy clothing, but outfits that definitely made the most of the fact that they were female. Stacy found one girl who looked like she was about Stacy’s height and build, and could pass for her with someone who’d never actually MET her. Stacy dropped behind the girl and picked her up by the arms. “Don’t freak we need you for something and don’t scream you won’t get hurt and you might even get a bonus for it…” Stacy whispered in the girls ear as she scuttled the girl around behind a column. Once they were out of sight of anyone, Stacy whipped off her cloak and told the girl, “I’m the Silver Ghost and I need you to stand in for me for a while.” Before the girl could respond, Stacy wrapped her cloak around the girl, turned both of them invisible and lifted off with her in her arms. “All you have to is stand there with your head down and not say anything. Keep the cloak around you as much as you can.” The girl stifled a scream and struggled, but froze solid when they were over twenty feet off the ground.
A few moments, later, literally seconds before Brigand’s time limit was up, Stacy made the sample-girl visible with the ‘Silver Ghost’ cloak wrapped around her, and dropped her from one or two feet off the ground.
Then Stacy hung there, just in case Brigand saw this trick coming. But the smug face on the laptop just smiled and said, [Well, it’s nice to see that all the reports of kids not listening these days are just sour grapes. Now, here’s what’s going to happen…]
“Now, here’s what’s going to happen,” Brigand informed the sea of concerned faces. “Daniels-McGregor is one of the most profitable and rapacious of the divisions of Barnes-Wentworth Petroleum, as vile and ruthless an example of American Capitalism that you’ll find outside a Communist tract. While the people who just left can be forgiven their involvement with Daniels-McGregor’s maneuvers by the fact that they’re simply honest people trying to make the best of their lot, and they’re mostly unaware of Daniels-McGregor’s tactics, you people are NOT. You have the time and access to privileged information to know exactly how Daniels-McGregor and Barnes-Wentworth stay so profitable. While the high-living low-lives behind me on this stage make the decisions, your complicity with their maneuvers makes the Barnes-Wentworth corporate culture possible. You give them the money and say ‘keep up the profits at all costs, as long as it doesn’t cost US anything’. Well, it’s going to cost you.” At Brigand’s signal, some of the displays plowed through the seating, scattering the seats, some of them joining to form larger units. Finally, three large units were formed, and some of Brigands’ henchmen attached some sort of control panels to them. There was some adjustment and calibration, and then there was a floor-rattling THUMP! “In exactly One Hour,” Brigand resumed, “the sprayers in those little balloons floating over our heads will go off. OR, they will be activated if I trigger a switch, should it come to that. It’ll take a lot of CDC cleanup to make this room habitable again. BUT, you don’t have to be here when that happens.” At Brigand’s direction, one of his female accomplices indicated combined displays. “These are exits. That thump you heard was directional explosive charges breaching the foundation that separates this room from an extension of the old Subway. Yes, I know, there never was a subway in Cincinnati, was there? But in the 1920s, there was a nasty scandal where corrupt politicians threw money into digging tunnels that never got used. And wouldn’t you just know it? One of those side tunnels just happens to run under this auditorium. You have no idea the trouble I went to, making sure that this meeting was held in this center, in this room. Collapsible stairs have dropped down into the tunnel, and some of my people have secured the stairs and made sure that your exit will be safe. Just follow the lit arrows, and you’ll be safe after a half-mile walk. Of course, this isn’t cheap, let alone FREE…” the female accomplice indicated the posts that they’d placed near the ‘exits’. “These are Ransom Escrow Boxes, connected to iPayoff©, HostagePal© and PayRansom©; you just run your bank card through, just like at the store. You can contact them by cell phone now and confirm the accounts that you’d like to pay from. Their numbers are being displayed on the monitor behind me. The Exit Fee is $50,000 per family for those of you sitting in the seats before me. For the Executive Officers and Major Stockholders on the stage here with me, the Exit Fee is Ten Million dollars a head. They may have abetted you, but you slimeballs are the ones who called the shots. You made the big money, you pay the big rates. And NO, I don’t want to argue about it!”
“This is OUTRAGEOUS!” one of the Executives thundered. “This is extortion!”
“Well, of course it is! What do you expect? I’m a supervillain! You can either pay, or you can stay here and see whether or not I’m bluffing. Oh, and I wouldn’t try rushing the exits, people. We’ve rigged them so that anyone trying to force their way through will… how shall I put this… regret it.
“Oh, and you bodyguard and security types? I don’t have anything against guys just making a living, so you, Lawson, Amy and Andy all get free passes. Okay, everybody line up. The small fry first, then the body guards, and finally, you moneybags.”
Jake leaned back and stroked his chin. “This is too simple. A simple shakedown? This is Brigand we’re talking about, he doesn’t do shit like this, just for the money. Okay, he’s dissing Daniels-McGregor on TV, but so what?”
“Yeah,” Ray agreed. “He’s using a Bio-Weapon; that’s way too risky, both in the short run, and it’ll play hob with his grass roots support. The reason that Brigand’s managed to last this long, is that he’s managed to push that ‘Modern Day Robin Hood’ crap. But even with the Spiviria dodge, if that gets loose, his popular support is SCREWED.”
“He’s making a play for something,” Jerry mused. “Something BIG… He’s never that obvious when he sets it up… His real ploy is always something that looks like it’s a side issue… Maybe he’s not setting Daniels-McGregor up… Maybe he’s really targeting one of the major stockholders. I mean, there are some really heavy hitters here this year.”
“Yeah,” Jake agreed, “Some of those guys have their fingers in some… very… heavy… pies… THAT’S IT! The Escrow Boxes!”
“What about them? The link is secure. The escrow services couldn’t stay in business, if they sold the account information.”
“Yeah! The Escrow Services wouldn’t, but Brigand would! He’s got the boxes rigged so they’re recording all the account information that passes through them, before it gets to iPayoff or HostagePal! Think about it! You’re a big time player, you’re on the spot, and you need to draw TEN MILLION in one go- what account are you gonna use?”
Bob immediately got Jake’s point. “He’d use the numbered slush fund accounts that he uses to make his payoffs. There are hundreds of billions floating around in various international banking funds that don’t technically belong to anyone, but make the deals that make world affairs run possible. It’s just the kind of thing that Brigand would go after! There are fourteen guys on that stage, with access to fourteen major accounts; if Brigand got his hands on those access numbers, he could cripple K Street, even if he couldn’t withdraw the money, just by freezing the accounts.”
“The Escrow Services would be pissed at him…” one of the Merchandizing drones said.
“He’d have BILLIONS!” Ray snapped, “SCREW the Escrow Services!”
“And that’s assuming that it just ends with Brigand stealing or freezing the money,” Jerry said. “With control over that kind of money, he could have something up his sleeve that would kick over the apple cart world-wide. Or he could have hackers ready to do something cyber-punk anarchist, like completely STOP the flow of money globally, causing a complete collapse of markets, world-wide. Or-”
“OR, we could wake up tomorrow and discover that there’s a new mega-conglomerate that controls as much as the Rockefellers or the Goodkinds, that’s controlled behind the scenes by Brigand and his merry band of pinko thieves.”
Dr. Moore said, “Don’t some of those men use accounts that could be traced back to US?”
Jake, Bob, Jerry, and Ray all looked at each other and said as one, “We gotta destroy those boxes!”
“He won’t risk transmitting the information while he’s inside the auditorium,” Tarrant said authoritatively. “He’d have to have a special device for that, it would take too much time, and the big fish are going last. So, it’s simpler, safer, quicker and sneakier to simply take the account information inside the escrow boxes when they leave.”
“It’s Brigand, which means that he has a sneaky way of getting out,” one of the other Security ciphers pointed out. “He probably had all the rest of this planned out and laid in before he hit the R&D lab, so he can do it right. Everyone’s looking at the subway tunnels, so if I were him, I’d use some sort of decoy escape method to distract them while I made my real getaway. It would be something big and splashy, something that grabs everyone’s attention and demand immediate action.”
“Yeah, but something like that would be pretty fucking obvious, wouldn’t it?” Another bodyguard asked. “I mean, why would Brigand just rocket out of there?”
“Yeah, it would be obvious,” Tarrant said, “LATER. Everyone’s looking down, so it will be up where no one’s looking. Not one of the loading docks; that would be way too obvious for Brigand. Just a second, I’ll call up a schematic of the roofs, with exit points and so on.”
“You have a map of the roofs and the stuff on it?” Dr. Moore asked.
“Of course I do,” Tarrant said bluntly. He tapped at the laptop for a bit and then said, “THERE! There’s a major air conditioning blower right there, in a blind zone between security cameras. Brigand could have landed a couple of small aircraft of some sort, either stealthed to near-invisibility or disguised as Cincinnati PD Astro division copters or something, and he uses those to take off.”
“Still pretty damned risky,” the first Security cipher said. “It would be a lot safer if he had something credible to cover his takeoff.”
“Balloons,” said the second bodyguard. “He releases the balloons in the outer Convention Center to distract the superheroes from his decoy escape method, forcing the heroes to choose between rounding up thousands of potentially deadly disease sprayers and catching his big splashy getaway rocket. But he’s really forcing them to choose between two distractions, and using one of the distractions as cover for his real getaway.”
Tarrant nodded. “It works. And it’s what Brigand would do.”
“Okay, now that you know what to do,” Jerry said, “now go DO it!”
“What?” Tarrant snorted, “We’re supposed to just go and take Brigand’s lunch money away from him? I don’t think so. Brigand’s damned tough for someone without fancy super-powers, and my latest update on him says that he had cybernetic implants installed a few years back, and he was doing some super-soldier serum thing for a while, so I don’t think he’s slowed down any. We’re good, but we’re not THAT good.”
“So, who’s asking you to take Brigand down?” Jake asked. “That’s what superheroes are for. You just surprise him at his shuttle, or whatever, make a lot of noise, and make sure that the long-john jockeys get wind of it. They’ll handle Brigand and his boys, once they don’t have any hostages to hide behind. All you have to do is make sure that Brigand doesn’t keep those escrow boxes. But it would be better if the Cops didn’t get their hands on it either. Destroyed is best, get my drift?” Tarrant just glowered at Jake and the Execs through his stock ‘tough-guy’ mirrored glasses. Jake let out an exasperated breath. “OKAY! We’ll give you a ten thousand a man bonus, up front, and we’ll hire your agency at Black Ops rates, for shit any rent-a-cop shop could handle.”
Tarrant just stood there for a moment. Then he shared stony looks with the other bodyguards, and somehow they came to an understanding. Then, silently, they got up and left the conference room. Jake watched them leave silently. ‘Dammit, that’s what’s wrong with the world these days,’ Jake mused to himself, ‘nobody just does anything anymore, they always have their mitt out.’
Stacy pulled her scarf over her face in a ‘bandit mask’, despite the fact that she was invisible and nobody could see her. She couldn’t contact Cal; if she did, he’d order her out, and she’d never show Karen that she had what it took. She figured that if Brigand was going to get out, he’d come sneaking out. And the green triangle positions that Cal had given here were the best clues that she had for getting IN, and getting IN and getting OUT probably worked a lot the same way. Or, anyway, it was as good as she had. She was moving quickly between green triangle positions as quickly as she could, figuring that maybe missing Brigand by minutes was better than just picking one place and missing him completely. Or, anyway, it was as good as she had. She was getting to the fourth triangle position, when she spotted someone doing something weird. These guys in maintenance workers coveralls were using power wrenches to remove stuff from something that looked like a big air conditioning unit, and unbolting it from the roof.
WHY would anyone be doing AC repairs at a time like this?
She pulled out her cell phone, which was vibrating like an angry bee and answered it. “Cal? I have something!” she said before Cal could say anything, and then she sent him a digital picture from her phone. As she was waiting on tenterhooks for Cal to answer, a door opened, and four very hard looking guys who dressed like Secret Service agents came out in a very sneaky way. The lead guy spotted the ‘maintenance men’ and waved his men to hidden positions behind various rooftop appliances. “Cal?” Stacy whispered, “I got more.” She sent another digital picture of the guys who probably weren’t Secret Service.
Then she got a buzz back, and she answered, hoping against hope that Cal wouldn’t order her back to ‘safety’. [Stacy, what are those men doing?]
“Watching those guys at the AC thing. They look like they’re settin’ an ambush,” Stacy whispered back.
[Stay there, let me know if anything happens. I’m sending Tawny and Azure to back you up. I’m contacting Law Enforcement agencies, to see if anyone’s got men up on that roof. Stacy, don’t do anything until Tawny or Azure get there, unless one of those men does something obviously illegal.]
Stacy let out a gusty breath of relief. She was still in the game; now she just had to do something to settle this without falling flat on her face.
Several very tense minutes passed as the ‘maintenance men’ continued to unbolt bits and pieces of the AC units, and then men and women still in Brigands’ ‘livery’ came boiling out of two different doors and dashed towards the AC units, and started ripping many of the bits off. One part came off and revealed a door. Another came off, revealing a window. Other bits extended or vented or pivoted to suggest new purposes. The ‘air conditioning units’ were airships in disguise!
Stacy was about to make her move, when her cell phone buzzed on her hip again. Looking at it, she read the message [Twny: DON’T DO NYTHNG, AZ N I R IN POZ] Stacy gave a muted grunt of frustration and hunkered down. It struck her that she could sneak into one of the airships invisibly and prevent them from taking off. But there were three ships, and Stacy wasn’t sure if it was that good an idea. She was about to text Cal and ask, when more of Brigand’s men came bustling through, with Brigand himself bringing up the rear.
Brigand was carrying an oversized armored carrying case that he didn’t seem to be inclined to hand over to anyone. “Barney, Rap me!” he said. One of his men tossed him something that looked suspiciously like a roll of plastic food wrap. Clumsily holding the armored case in his teeth, Brigand held the wrap at the top of the doorsill so that it covered most of the open door, and did something that sealed it at the top. Then he cut a sheet off so that it draped down over the door. Then he cut off several other sheets, and then tossed the roll down the stairs holding onto one end. Then he sealed the sheet over the door and sprayed it with something, and then sprayed the sheets on the ‘floor’ of the roof with a different spray. Brigand stepped back, and armored case back in his left hand, he drew his combat staff one-handed. “Six, five, four,” he started a countdown, “three, two, ONE.” He looked at the door, where nothing happened. He paused, his combat staff ready. Then he looked at one of his men and started to say, “Well, I guess-”
Suddenly a blue humanoid bulge appeared in the plastic, which bulged out of the doorframe by a good three feet. The wrap held Blue Streak in its clinging grip for just long enough for Stacy to recognize him. And then it snapped back, throwing Blue Streak back. Brigand looked at his wrist. “I think my watch is six seconds fast.”
Tucking the case under his arm, Brigand clapped his hands and said briskly, “Okay, everyone who’s not prepping the ships, inside, and don’t leave until the ship’s landed somewhere else! We don’t want to waste time getting everyone into the harnesses again!” He lifted a communicator to his mouth and said, “Summer, start the bug-out protocols. Assume that Blue Streak recovers in time to let SPECTRUM know where we are, and proceed from there.”
“Too late, scumbag!” Tawny roared as she leapt at Brigand. Brigand caught her in mid-leap with the tip of his combat staff and leveraged her over his head and past him.
“Summer, HIT IT!” Brigand yelled into his communicator. “Screw the bells and whistles, GET IN THERE AND LIFT OFF!” he yelled to the rest of his men, who hustled to comply. One of the airships started to lift off, but Azure appeared out of nowhere and kept it from taking off. Brigand set the case on the roof and jumped up to take Azure on hand to hand. He tapped the gauntlet on his right wrist and a gout of flame spat out at Azure, who leapt over the flame.
This allowed the ship that she’d been standing on to take off, but she landed on another one. Tawny managed to blindside Brigand as he landed on the roof. But Brigand dropped something that let out an ear-splitting ululating shriek that hurt Stacy’s ears even from where she was. Tawny bent over in pain, hands over her ears, which gave Brigand the opening he needed to really put it to her. Azure called out to Tawny and lashed out with her steel cable lariat, snaring Brigand. Brigand pulled something from his belt and attached it to Azure’s lariat. This did something that pulled Az right off the liftship, allowing it to take off.
Stacy got the impression that Brigand had done his reading, and he’d come up with something to handle every member of SPECTRUM, maybe a bunch of things. And when the balloons starting popping out of windows everywhere, it struck her that he was forcing SPECTRUM to deal with him one at a time, while his guys got away. He might just get away with this. Not that Stacy had anything against Brigand, but he was pulling something in SPECTRUM’s backyard, on her shift, which meant that she had to do something about it. Okay, Stacy wasn’t clear on exactly what was going on, but Brigand kept going back for that case he’d put on the roof. Azure and Tawny kept him busy, so he couldn’t get to it, but he kept trying. So that case was important here. Maybe it was what he was really after. So, if she got that case away from him, Stacy might not be able to catch Brigand, but she’d keep him from getting what he really wanted. And that ought to show Karen that she had the right stuff.
Moving carefully, and wishing that she still had her cape, Stacy skittered over to the case. Brigand had dropped one of his shriekers next to it, so keeping her concentration was a bear (and real hard on her ears), but she managed to get over to the case and snag it. Brigand spotted her and made to intercept her, but Tawny and Azure double-teamed him. He dropped another shrieker and sent this ribbon thing at Azure that wrapped her in a cocoon. But by that time, Silver was well out of sight with the case. And then three sharp objects came tearing through the plastic seal over the roof door, and Blue Streak came zipping through- only to slip on the frictionless sheets that Brigand had set down. Looking up into the skies, Brigand barely made out Captain Patriot, Red Thunder and the Golden Knight, who were busy dealing with the thousands of decoy balloons. “Oh well,” he sighed philosophically, “I guess that I’ll just have to be happy with the 100 Mil. HIT IT, BOYS!” With that, he ducked into the last skyship, which lifted off a second later, cloaked into invisibility and made its way through the balloons.
Getting the case away from that shrieker had been a harder thing than Stacy had thought it would be. Her head was still ringing, and her concentration was shot. Which was why she was both visible and didn’t have her silver up, when those not- Secret Service guys that she’d spotted earlier (and forgot in all the excitement) tackled her. Two of them grabbed her by the arms, and a third one clocked her on the side of the head with the barrel of his gun. Stacy went down, and they took the case from her. But Stacy was still tough enough that she cleared her head in time to see two of the four men heading off the roof through another door.
Watching from a gallery window, Ray Murchison smirked, “So much for fancy super powers. In the end, Professionalism always has the upper hand.” Jake and Bob nodded in smug agreement. But Dr. Moore seemed puzzled. “That’s odd…” he muttered.
“What’s odd?” Jerry Hamilton asked. “Just another bunch of clowns in silly costumes, making fools of themselves.”
“But Brigand practically handed that girl the case,” Moore objected.
“Okay, so he fumbled the ball,” Jake admitted, “but we picked up the fumble, so there’s no problem.”
“WHY would Brigand keep that case with him?” Moore wondered, half to himself. “I mean, if that case had the Escrow Boxes in it, then it’s what he really went to all this fuss about. And if that’s so, then he’d put it on the first shuttle to leave, so that it would get out, no matter what, wouldn’t he? Why keep it on him?”
“Well, he’d want to keep tabs on it,” Bob said uncertainly.
But Jake wasn’t anywhere near as uncertain. “Tarrant!” he snapped into his cell phone. “Get that case to the conference room, STAT!”
Back at the conference room, Tarrant opened up the case, revealing three what appeared to be credit card stations with wireless antennas. “I checked the case before opening it, and found a small block of C-4. I was gonna use it to destroy these things, which was what I thought you wanted us to do.”
Jake glowered at Tarrant. “WHY would Brigand rig an explosive charge on something that he wanted to KEEP?”
“So, you think they might be phonies,” one of the other Security goons said. “Does anyone know how to check whether they’re legit or not?”
“There should be a serial number plaque inside them,” another bodyguard said. “Open ‘em up and look.” The goon pulled out a Leatherman® tool and opened up one of the blockish devices as Tarrant, Jake, Bob, Jerry, Ray and the others hovered as closely over his shoulder as they could. When the lid popped open, the lids on all three of the units popped open, and a thick mist geysered up and covered everyone and everything in the immediate area in a brownish film.
After the men recovered from their disgust at being slimed, Dr. Moore sniffed at it, and then took a tentative taste. The other men grimaced at the thought, but the look on Moore’s face wasn’t distaste- it was horror. “Agar. It’s agar,” he said in a wide-eyed whisper.
“Agar?” Bob asked, not getting it.
But Tarrant got exactly what Moore was getting at. “Agar is what they use as a nutrient for germ cultures. Brigand said that his bio-war dispersing agent used agar to shield the bug against cold and pollution.” He tore into the block of the ‘escrow box’ and pulled out a cylinder- and a note in a glassine plastic pouch. He handed the cylinder to Moore and tore open the note.
Moore cleaned his glasses off and peered at the cylinder. “Oh God,” he croaked. “This is K Spiviria-c/ix.”
“So?” Jerry asked, “Spiviria isn’t that bad…”
“This is the K- c/ix strain!” Moore snapped. “THIS is what happens when you expose a strain of bacteria to anti-agents that don’t completely destroy it for twelve years! It isn’t just resistant to antibiotics, it’s potentially DEADLY! Why do youthink we had it on Level Five Biocontainment? Dammit, Hamilton, I TOLD you twelve years ago that screwing around with minimal level doses was a BAD IDEA!”
“Shut Up, Moore!” Jerry snarled “What does the note say, Tarrant?”
Tarrant numbly read, “‘See where being greedy gets you? But don’t worry, I’ll sell you the cure- for twenty million a pop.’ He provides a contact number.”
“So? Just load up a needle with Trethamine-” Jake started.
“That would be even more dangerous than letting the Spirivia runs its course,” Moore snarled. “The retail units of Trethamine are packaged with non-functional additives that make taking it at levels that would completely eradicate the strain dangerous to the user.” Moore shot a dirty glare at Hamilton. “BUT! But, if we got a histamine reaction inducing counter-agent within three hours…” He pulled out a PDA and went online. “There! According to CNN Online, the CDC [Center for Disease Control] has entered the building with a Bio-Containment Team geared for BioWar. They should have Hydroscopine, or Alphaticose or Imidazoline, or some other similar agent, they’re often used in First Phase treatment.”
“Wouldn’t the CDC have the Trethamine that we sell to the Army?” Hamilton asked. “Those don’t have the, ah, ‘additives’.”
“YES,” Tarrant said nastily. “But the units carrying those will be heavily armed, and we don’t want to raise any questions, now DO WE?” Tarrant and the Security contingent sat at laptops and furiously worked the Convention Center’s security network for clues. Within a couple of minutes, spurred on by mortal dread, they’d located the CDC units, figured out where the Histamines would be stored, and spotted a vulnerable unit. “Okay!” Tarrant said, standing erect, taking de facto control of the situation. “We’re going to get the histamine. Hydroscopine, or Alphaticose or Imidazoline, right?” Moore nodded grimly. “GOOD!” He pointed at Moore. “Don’t go anywhere!”
Stacy held back and furiously texted as she watched the not-Secret Service guys come out of the room. They looked… messier… than they had before, and now they looked downright pissed about something. [SiGhst: SOMETHING’S GOING DOWN* THE GUYS ARE GOING SOMEWHERE * LOOKS IMPORTANT]
[AuKn: FOLLOW AND REPORT* TAKE PICTURES & SEND * DO NOT INTERFERE* JUST LET US KNOW WHAT’S GOING ON]
That was a lot more easily said than done. The non-Secret Service guys went to a coat room, stole some parkas and scarves and ski caps, and then went to where the CDC was unloading boxes of equipment. Then they rushed in and took out the CDC guys very quickly and very quietly, but thankfully, they didn’t shoot or kill anybody. Then they pawed through the boxes, muttering things into a cell phone about ‘hydroscope’ or ‘alphabetize’ or ‘I’m an idiot’. Then they found the box that they were looking for, and they were out of there like a shot. Stacy held back and took as many flashless pictures of this as she could, but she kept right after them invisibly.
After they shed the stolen accessories, they headed right back to the conference room where they’d been first. They gave the box to a chipmunky looking guy with glasses. “Here. Alphaticose. That’s what you wanted, right?”
“It will do,” the guy with the glasses said as he opened the box and prepped a needle.
“It was all they HAD.”
“Hydroscopimine would have been better. Depending on the strain that it’s interacting with, Alphaticose has been known to cause severe, even deadly allergic overreactions.” He looked at the needle. “Unfortunately, I’ve never had any reason to test the interactions between Spiviria and Alphaticose. Until now.” He gestured at one of the not-Secret Service guys. “Roll up your sleeve.”
The not-Secret Service guy took a wan look at the needle, and suddenly pulled out a large automatic. “No. You first, Doc.”
‘Doc’ quibbled for a bit, but the other guys, including the fat cat types, all insisted. At gunpoint. So ‘Doc’ rolled up his sleeve and injected himself. “See?” he asked, like he was scared to death, but he’d rather die than admit it. “There’s nothiiii—eeeggghhh…” ‘Doc’ gasped and started raling.
“Is it supposed to do that?” one of the fat cats asked timidly, watching ‘Doc’ fall to the floor and rasp, but not doing anything to help.
“It’s a BioWar counter-agent,” the non-Secret Service guy said harshly. “It’s supposed to act quickly. But it’s NOT supposed to do that. It looks like Spiviria has that interaction that he was worried about.”
“SHIT!” one of the other fat cats shouted, “What are we going to do NOW?”
Another one of the fat cats just calmly stood up and adjusted his tie. “Simple. We’re going to go down to where the CDC inoculation stand has been set up, and have ourselves injected with their Trethamine.”
“And WHAT are we supposed to TELL them about how we got exposed?”
“Simple. We tell them the truth. We were exposed by Brigand in a special measure that he set up especially for us, and Dr. Moore injected himself with Alphaticose and had a bad reaction to it. Tarrant, dispose of the CDC box and Brigand’s little prank, but keep the letter. Gentlemen? With all due haste, I think. And, remember- keep it simple, until we have a chance to compare notes.” With that, they all left, walking briskly, but without any real panic.
Dr. Moore pleaded with them as best his lungs would let him, but none of them even bothered to pick Dr. Moore up off the floor.
Stacy wasn’t supposed to interfere, but Dr. Moore sounded so pathetic that she couldn’t resist. Silvering herself up, she entered the room. “Are you okay?” She asked, feeling helpless. Mutant powers or not, she couldn’t do SHIT against a disease!
“See…” he rasped, his face the color of a radish, hives raising around the end of his nose and the corners of his mouth “See… deee… see…” “CAL!” Stacy called, “Whipping out her phone, “I got a man here, he’s really SICK, he wants See Dee See, what IS that, a drug or som’thin’?”
[No, Silver, that’s the Center for Disease Control. They’ve got units down in the main lobby of the center. Get him there, FAST!] Finally, something that she could DO. She picked him up in her arms. He was scrambling furiously for his jacket, so she picked that up and flew out of the conference room.
As she flew, he fumbled in his jacket and pulled out a small digital recorder. “I…aaaahhh… recorded <snuuuuk!> every *choke!* thing, just in case… don’t <hah-ah-hah> don’t let them talk their way out *huuuuhhhh!* their way out of this! *choke!* they’ll just, they’ll just…”
“Don’t talk!” Stacy said flying straight down the stairwell, and bursting through the doors. “Look! There’s a paramedic unit!” Stacy flew up to the paramedics and bustled him into the gurney. After the oxygen mask was slipped over his mouth, he turned and said to Stacy, “Inoculation… inoculation center… they’re going to go get inoculated…”
Jake bulled his way to the inoculation stand and demanded that he be injected with Trethamine. “We don’t know what Brigand used.”
“We do. This man is Jerry Hamilton at Daniels-McGregor, and he’s familiar with the strain. The expert, Dr. Charles Buchanan Moore, works for him.”
“The strain is K Spiviria- c/ix,” Jerry said his lines. “The proper dosage is 35,000 mgs.”
“Procedure is to use a histamine trigger first, and we’ve got Alph-”
“Alphaticose, which triggers a histamine overreaction when applied to K Spiviria,” Jerry insisted.
“Just give us the damn shot,” Jake snarled, rolling up his sleeve.
After all of the anxious men had received their shots, the medic asked Jerry, “Wait a minute, are you sure about that dosage? You guys could be in big trouble. The literature here says that the proper dosage is only 2000 mgs. According to this file, at those levels, Trethamine could be fatal!”
“Not to worry,” Jake said, relief dulling his natural caution. “That’s just the dosage for the suckers. This Spivira is the strain that was created by the commercial dose, which is just enough to keep the bug in check. The dose that we just got should flat out KILL it.”
Jake’s self-assured chuckle died when a microphone was shoved into his face. “WHAT?” Amy Merrick asked with the predator’s smile of a reporter who’s just caught someone with his hand in the cookie jar. “The levels that you just took are SAFE? But according to the tests that Daniels-McGregor submitted to the FDA, that drug at those levels should be fatal! And tell me, Congressman, HOW did you know that that level was safe? And how LONG have you known it?”
Jake was starting to waffle for the camera, when suddenly a teenage girl who looked like she was made out of liquid silver appeared out of nowhere. “I think that you need to hear this.” She held up a digital recorder and hit ‘Play’. ‘This is the K- c/ix strain! THIS is what happens when you expose a strain of bacteria to anti-agents that don’t completely destroy it for twelve years! It isn’t just resistant to antibiotics, it’s potentially DEADLY! Why do you think we had it on Level Five Biocontainment? Dammit, Hamilton, I TOLD you twelve years ago that screwing around with minimal level doses was a BAD IDEA!’ Dr. Moore’s voice screeched, as though leveling an accusation from beyond the grave.
As Jake sputtered panicked denials, Jerry grabbed for the recorder. “Give that here, you fucking little freak!” But getting the recorder out of her hand was like trying to pull a ten-ton anchor out of the mud with your bare hands. “That is Daniels-McGregor property, with confidential, proprietary information on it!”
“Then you admit that you recognize the voice and the statement?” Amy prompted.
“It’s Dr. Moore. I found him up in one of the conference rooms, after these men left him there to die.” She turned to the CDC medics. “By the way, he’s been exposed, too; you’d better give him a shot. The paramedics have him.”
Tarrant stepped forward and said in his best, ‘don’t give me any shit, I kick tougher ass than yours for practice’ manner, “You heard Mr. Hamilton; that’s Daniels-McGregor property. You have no right to it. Hand it over, or-”
The silver girl reached over and grabbed Tarrant by his tie, and pulled him up off his feet. “I recognize you! You’re the scumbag who tried to cave in my skull, after I got that case away from Brigand, and stole it!”
Shame never being an asset in a political career, Bob Arvakis yelped, “Somebody call a cop! There’s a mutant running amok here!”
Dr. Helen Smart stepped forward, took charge of the situation by sheer weight of presence and said, “Running amok? I see one teenage girl being jumped by ten grown men and holding her own. Dear? I overheard what went on? I’m Dr. Helen Smart; I have a MD along with a bunch of other degrees. Could I see that recorder?” Warily, the silver girl handed Dr. Smart the recorder. Dr. Smart examined it and said, “I don’t see any markers stating that this is corporate property. But I DO see a label identifying it as the personal property of Dr. C. B. Moore. Given what I just heard, I think that this should be handed over to the US Attorney General’s office- and the Congressional Ethics Committee.”
[Could you send a copy to Lilly Frakes?] The advertizing monitors around the convention hall all switched over to the smirking image of Brigand, delivering his lines in an odd chorus around the hall. [I’d like to make it up to Lilly for crashing her party.]
“Brigand!” Dr. Smart snarled, “What? You’ve come to gloat? First Bio-War, now gloating? You’re really coming down in the world!”
[Gloat? What gloat? I just thought that I’d let you all know that cleaning up this place won’t be the big, budget-breaking chore that you all think it is. None of the balloons that I released into the open air were loaded with Spiviria. I’m sorry, but it was a necessary deception. I AM a supervillain, after all. And the balloons in the Stockholders’ Meeting room where loaded with Spivira- but they were dead cultures. You know, it’s surprisingly difficult to breed that MUCH of a specific bacteria in such a short time? I cooked up a batch, but it all died, and well, waste not, want not] he grinned. [After all, I never said that there was LIVE Spiviria up there, did I? Just think of it as my contribution to Spiviria Awareness Week- whenever that is.]
Jake, Bob, Ray and Jerry all started cursing loudly. “GOD DAMN YOU, YOU SNEAKY SUNUVABITCH!” Jake yelled at the image. “You’ve still got the access codes to those slush funds, don’t you?”
“Slush funds?” Amy said eagerly shoving a microphone back into Jake’s face. “You said something about slush funds?”
[Amy, can’t you see that the Congressman is distraught? After all, he’s just lost hundreds of millions in campaign contributions and charitable donations! Leave the poor man be! After all, Dr. Moore is still alive, and I’m SURE that someone who’s looking as closely at the Pearly Gates as he is MUST want someone to confess to. And while no one would confuse you for a priest, I DO think that you’d be interested in hearing what he has to say?] Leaving even her faithful cameraman, Andy, in the dust, Amy galloped out of the hall, looking for the paramedic trucks.
Tarrant and his men started to chase after her, but they were stopped at the door by a tall, intimidating figure in gold power armor. “And what do YOU think you’re up to?” the Gold Knight asked, muscling his way into the room.
Amy Merrick ran straight to the Paramedic van where they were loading Dr. Moore into the back. “Hey! Let me on! I need to talk to him, while he’s still conscious!”
A policeman started to pull Amy away, but the medic said, “Hey, there’s room, and it would be more trouble to talk her out of it than to put up with the cramped space.” The cop muttered something about reporters and media circuses, but let her board and escorted the DPH van out past the quarantine ring and circle of news crews.
Amy looked at Dr. Moore, flushed and deathly still on the gurney, his breath mask slightly fogged. “How is he doing?”
“His blood pressure is 90 over 70, his breath is shallow and obstructed, his pulse is-”
“Oh, stop with the ER babble, Brigand, how IS he?”
The EMT, or rather, Brigand without his mask and armor, gave a bemused smile, and said, “Well give me chance, Amy! After all, I’d much rather play doctor with you.” He injected a syringe of Epinephrine into Moore’s arm, and then removed the breathing mask and stuck an antihistamine inhaler in Moore’s mouth. Almost immediately, Moore showed improvement. He was gaping like a fish, but his skin tone was improving. Once Moore’s breathing slowed down, Brigand checked his blood pressure. “One hundred over Eighty, and rising. There, Doc, I’d say that you’re out of danger. Even so, I gotta say- injecting yourself with something that you knew was going to send you into anaphylactic shock is pretty gutsy.”
Moore nodded, took a deep breath from the oxygen mask and replied, “Well, when you’re making up for twenty-five years of abject cowardice, you’ve got to take some real risks, and not let everyone else accept the dangers.”
Amy looked at Moore crossly, “And speaking of taking risks, I took the risk of setting you up with Brigand, putting my professional standing- not to mention my FREEDOM- on the line. Now, I want to know why you did this. I took a lot of chances with you, Bub, and now I want to know why you started all this. You were a respected Senior Researcher at Daniels-McGregor, with over twenty years of seniority, a hundred-thou- plus per year salary with great bennies, and a HUGE pension twelve years down the line- so WHY did you take the risk of a massive prison sentence to walk away from all that?”
“What? A cut of 150 million, plus whatever we can siphon from those accounts before they shut down like a virtual clam isn’t enough?” Brigand asked wryly.
“You’re not a gambler, Moore, yet you took a risk like injecting yourself with something that might have killed you,” Amy kept at him. “WHY did you take such a huge risk? That’s MY payoff here.”
Brigand started to argue that Moore had a right to his own reasons, but Moore waved him down. “No, she’s right. I do owe you that.” He paused for a moment. “I suppose it really started when my wife left me.”
“You’re telling me that all this is a mid-life crisis? You couldn’t just have bought a Ferrari?” Brigand quipped.
“You think that doing this will get your wife to come back to you?” Amy asked.
“No… no, we… we came to a parting of the ways, years ago,” Moore admitted. “But still, it got me thinking. Joanne and I never had kids, and now… now, all I really have is my work. It’s all that I really have to show for my life. But I cured a disease! That’s something special! Okay, it’s Spiviria, not Small Pox or Cancer or Polio or HIV or anything, but Spiviria still kills hundreds of people a year! I saved lives! That’s something for a lifetime! But Daniels-McGregor, or should I say, Barnes-Wentworth, owns all the patents that come from my research, it’s part of my Work-Hire contract. And they decided that it was more profitable to just treat Spiviria than kill it. And I put up with that for twelve years, because I’m a coward, and I didn’t want to rock the boat.
“Then, two years ago, we discovered the K-c/ix strain’s twelfth-generation ancestor in blood samples from Trethamine patients. K-c/ix isn’t out there… YET, but it could surface sometime in the next ten to fifteen years. I’ve come up with a refinement of Trethamine that should handle it. But when I told them about it, Barnes-Wentworth decided to let K-c/ix develop naturally, spread, cause a panic, and sell my refinement in another watered-down treatment. Nothing like a good epidemic to perk up a quarterly profit margin. K-c/ix only exists at all, because Daniels-McGregor insisted on that stupid watered-down treatment scam. If… WHEN it surfaces, it will kill thousands of people, and if I let that happen, those thousands of deaths will be on my soul. I’ve been to enough meetings like Hamilton had with Barrows and Murchison to know that blowing the whistle on it would be worse than useless.”
Moore turned and looked at Brigand. “So, I turned to the one man that I knew would do something, and not make any stupid noises about ‘due process’ or ‘proper channels’.”
“Why Doctor Moore!” Brigand beamed, “You’ll turn my head with such flattery!” Brigand reached into a pocket and pulled out a recording chip. “And, speaking of your payoff, Amy, here’s Dr. Moore’s confession to you, full of juicy details and names and dates, complete with sick sounds, medical equipment noises, sirens and other background traffic noises, provided by Summer, my resident computer jock. And here’s a breakdown of the basics of Daniels-McGregor’s sleazy tactics, as Dr. Moore knows them.” He handed her a thumb drive. “And here’s a listing of places, sites, sources and so on that you can visit, as to back up all that.”
“And now, Doctor, YOUR payoff.” Brigand handed Moore two thick envelopes. “45 Million in registered checks of $50,000 each to your new identity, enclosed in the second envelope, including passport, driver’s licenses, degrees, and parking violations.”
Moore took the envelopes. “Forty-five million?”
“Yes, being a member of the Syndicate has its perks. Their fencing operation usually gets 40 cents on the dollar, but it’s always touchy, and it takes time, so I’m advancing you the estimated return.”
“But this is most of the payoff…”
“I’ll make up the difference in what I get from those accounts. Which won’t be nearly as much as Barrows thought, but is still a great big whopping infusion of cash. Okay, you’ve rested long enough… Now, get out of those clothes! Amy’s going to need them to put on our synthetic duplicate that’s waiting for her in the paramedic van that will really go to the hospital. Remember, don’t take your wallet or ID; it would look suspicious.”
As Moore gingerly stripped, he removed ten sealed test tubes that he’d masking taped to the inside of his jacket. “What’s that?” Amy asked curiously.
“The only thing that I’m taking with me into my new life.”
“A mystery.” Moore saw that she didn’t get it, so he continued. “It’s a mystery, in that I don’t know what it is. Daniels-McGregor has been using it for filler in most of their pills. Okay, bear with me for a minute. For very valid reasons, the majority of what you take in any medicine has no medicinal value, other than making taking the proper dosage possible. Even in Hospital and Doctor’s units, which are meant for people who are trained to measure doses carefully, most of it is there to make giving the exact amount possible. In over-the-counter drugs, it’s in units that the average person understands: a pill, a tablet, half a tablet, a teaspoon, or one of those little measuring cups that’s provided. Most of that is either cornstarch or glycerin, stuff that is easily digested and doesn’t interfere with the proper digestion of the active ingredient. There’s other stuff in there as well, but the majority is filler.
“As I said, most filler is glycerin or cornstarch, stuff that’s cheap. But this? This is a complex, long-chain, non-soluble compound that my guess is would cost over a thousand times more than cornstarch to create. And it’s a 5% ingredient in almost every pill that Daniels-McGregor puts out.”
“How do they justify it?” Brigand asked intently.
“They don’t,” Moore responded. “They get it FREE somehow, and they deny that it’s part of their product. When I asked Art Denning, the head of Quality Control about it, he made very subtle threats and told me to never speak about it to anyone.”
“Well, THAT’S not suspicious in the slightest,” Brigand said snidely. “So, it’s inert but it’s non-soluble… that means that it just sticks around in the body, doing nothing, right?”
“Not quite,” Moore said. “Normally, this stuff,” he held up one test tube, which was filled with a dark saffron powder and held up a clenched fist with his other hand, “is a closed chain and only bonds at one end of the chain. That appears to anchor it to fats. BUT, recently I learned that under the proper conditions, the closed chain OPENS UP,” he opened his fist, “so that it presents opportunities for specific compounds to bond at specific points. But I think that the chain starts at one end and ‘unzips’-”
“Presenting one specific opportunity to bond to the chain to one specific compound at a time,” Amy continued for him. “So, it’s a… form… on which a very complex compound will be formed, one component at a time?”
“Yes,” Moore nodded. “And- I THINK- when the compound is completed, the ‘anchor’ will be broken off-”
“-freeing the compound to float into the bloodstream of the host,” Brigand continued.
“What does the completed compound look like?”
“I have NO idea. I only know one or two of the first components. THIS,” Moore hefted the test tube, “is how I intend to spend the rest of my life, figuring this out. I figure that I’ve saved thousands of lives today; with this, who knows? Maybe I’ll save millions of lives.”
“Doctor? Do you mind?” Brigand reached out for the test tube. Moore nodded and handed him the sample.
Then the van stopped, and Amy got out, taking Moore’s clothes with her. They waited for a moment, and there was the sound of a siren starting and then moving into the distance. As they waited, Moore turned to Brigand and asked, “Excuse me, but I’ve told you why I did what I did. But why do YOU do what you do? I mean… you’re not what you’d call your average supervillain.”
“No, I’m not,” Brigand admitted with a chuckle. Then, on some not often indulged maudlin urge, he said, his eyes going bleak, “I do it… because, once, long ago, there was a young boy, who loved, respected and admired his father, and he wanted to make his father proud of him. So he tried his very best every day, and the boy knew that his father was proud of him. Then men, respected, righteous men, came to the boy’s father, preaching words of wisdom and peace. But behind their facades of righteousness, those men were monsters, and they only taught vile evil. And they turned the boy’s father into a monster, and set him on his own son. And the son endured this, because he loved and respected his father, and wanted him to be proud. And the monsters tried to turn the boy into a monster. Finally, the boy had to kill the monster his father had become. And he swore to find the monsters who had corrupted his father, and destroy THEM. And that’s why I do what I do, Doctor. Because, somewhere, there is still a young boy who loves and respects and admires the man that his father had been, and wants his father to be proud of him.”
Brigand broke out of the moment and grinned at Moore. “Don’t you just love fairy tales?”
Moore shifted uncomfortably, and started slipping into the replacement clothes that they’d provided for him. As Dr. Moore changed, Brigand slowly turned the tube and studied the powdered grains as they shifted inside. Another piece in the puzzle. Not the key, but yet another piece. This was just like them. If this wasn’t their handiwork, then it was one of their allies, which would lead him to them. He held up a cell phone and contacted Summer Gold. “Summer? You’re keeping tabs on Daniels-McGregor’s activities? Good. I want you to pay special attention to their chemical suppliers, the outsourced ones. I want to know which ones are those that Daniels-McGregor cuts its contacts with FIRST.”
“What did *I* do wrong?” Stacy wailed to the SPECTRUM board.
“You accused a United States Congressman of corruption and conspiring to misappropriate funds and endanger the lives of thousands!” DA Kaltenborn thundered.
“But he DID! And he left that Dr. Moore guy there to DIE!”
“You SHOULD have taken that tape recording to a responsible adult, before playing it for that TV reporter! For all we know, that Amy Merrick is hand-in-glove with Brigand!”
“You better be careful with that,” Azure said, holding her ground. “Whether she is or not, you got nothing to back that up. Besides, the kid got zoomed by Brigand- who didn’t?”
Kaltenborn “And how DID Brigand get away? You said that he had three getaway airships, you must have caught at least ONE!”
“We caught all three of them,” Red Thunder said. “They were empty, and flying on autopilot. We found hatches in the bottom of each of them. We think that Brigand didn’t load his men into those ships, he just used them as cover for leading them down a major air conditioning duct, where we assume that they just shucked their costumes and left with all the people being evacuated from the Convention Center.”
“See?” Tawny said, “The man had a diversion for his diversion for his diversion for his escape, and even THAT was just a setup for his real scheme! If you ask me, the man spent too much time as a kid, watching reruns of ‘Mission Impossible’.”
“But that doesn’t excuse her accusing a UNITED STATES CONGRESSMAN-”
“So? He’s not a Congressman from OUR district!” Kaltenborn thundered that that wasn’t the point, and from there it devolved into pointless bickering. Stacy was excused, but as she left, she was on the verge of tears. Dammit, this was her chance, and she blew it! Oh, why couldn’t she do anything right?