Loose Cannons (Chapter 3)
A Whateley Universe story
by Bek D Corbin
San Francisco is a magnet for runaways. A bunch of kids all hanging out together during the day isn’t exactly a mind-boggling rarity, but they DO catch the eye of the SFPD, which we really didn’t want. Do not ask me how, but Chris managed some scam where she convinced the concierge at some corporate housing suite place that we were a bunch of models in town for a shoot. Apparently it was some scam that she picked up from one of the guys who used to go to Marty Samm. We were given a ‘den mother suite’, and they pretty much forgot about us. Good move. Cops routinely check hotels and like that, but these ‘Corporate Housing Hotel Alternative’ places aren’t part of procedure. They don’t ask what their guests are up to. Hell, they even stock the refrigerators for you.
Not wanting to be suspicious, we spent the first day doing what you’d think a bunch of teenage models without a chaperone would do - we went shopping for clothes. Actually, I think that it would have been far more realistic if we went out and scored some major drugs and got totally wasted, but we couldn’t risk the concierge calling the cops on us. But once we’d perpetuated a few stereotypes, we got down to business.
Mack and Rae went out to check out some of the San Fran addies from the street level. Billy went out to see if he could find the local sleazewads (hey, that’s what he does best). And Chris, Rox and I hit the laptops, with Suzy handling the keyboard for Rox. We put Eddie on doing what he does best: watching TV. Of course, he was surfing the news channels, but it IS what he does best.
When Mack, Rae and Billie came back, we called a meeting. “Well, you have a report to give the class?” Roxie said in a nasal ‘Third Grade Teacher’ voice.
“Okay, we hit six of the addresses you gave us,” Mack said. “Four in Frisco, two over in Berkeley. Berkeley’s on the BART, but we’d have to make special trips to get to Santa Rosa or Silicon Valley. Of the places that we visited in town, one was a scientific equipment warehouse, one was some kind of research charity, and the other two were in research parks that had, like, KILLER security.”
“If we tried getting in either of those places for a look-see, we’d be up to our asses in hardass security guards and five minutes after that, the cops, and then whatever superhero was in the neighborhood,” Rae added.
“And in Berkeley?”
“One was connected to UC Berkeley, and the other was some la-de-dah New Age flake farm out in the hills.”
“Well, these guys wouldn’t still be in business if they didn’t know how to cover their shit,” Chris said with a sigh. “Okay, Billy, what did you find out?”
“That the Scene in Frisco is a LOT nastier than Sacto,” he answered with no small disgust. “Not ‘New York with a thousand pimps waiting at the bus station for runaways from Wisconsin’ nasty, but street kids are definitely product, if you get my drift.”
“Product, like in ‘the cows walk in one end and hamburger gets carted out the other’ product.”
“Did you find anyone willing to deal with you?”
“Nah. The only people who’d even talk to me were all flogging some spin on the basic ‘trust me, I’ll take good care of you Meat’ scam. Hey, San Fran is like honey to runaways. The turnover alone means that the assholes will bag something regular enough to keep it going. Hell, they still got people comin’ in, like from Europe and South America, thinking that there are still hippies on the Haight.”
“Well, it’s not like we were expecting something to just drop in our laps,” Mack said. “We’re gonna have to get to know the scene before we really DO anything. Yo! Eddie! What’s the word on the tube? They gonna be lookin’ for us down here any time soon?”
“Ennh,” Eddie said noncommittally. “Don’t think so. Channel 11 up in Sacto is still all over it, but the stations here are more worried about the National Guard roadblocks on the highways than us. They mention what happened back home, but it’s just the rear end of the story. From what I’m gettin’, they’re guessin’ that we’re still up in Sacto, holed up some place and layin’ low.”
“OH- Kaaayyy… ‘bout TIME we caught a break.”
“Not so much there,” Suzy said. “HeroWatch is onto it. They have a team up in Sacto trying to scare something up. They lucked out at the mall and got some killer footage of us mixing it up with the KoP. I got some podcasts from their website of the fight and some interviews with some KoP idiot called Swive. Wanna see?”
“Ahhh… NAH. So - Ev, Chris, Rox, Suze. You guys find anything? What’s the dirt on Dynamik? You think that we can talk to him and get him to listen?”
Roxie gave a sigh and said, “Okay, here’s the info-dump on Dynamik. His real name is Dr. Frank Temple, Ph.D., and a bunch of other alphabet soup. He did the ‘anonymous hero’ bit for a while, but he got outed by a hacker, oh, ten or so years back, and he’s been getting by quite nicely without a secret identity. He uses power armor and a moto-slave-”
“A moto-slave. I think they got the term from anime. Anyway, it’s like this power frame that fits over his power armor to give it more strength and a bigger power supply. It has three modes- a power frame, a kind of robot thing, and a motorcycle.”
“It’s a Transformer?”
“Yeah, let’s not get off onto that, okay?” Roxie said. “Anyway, while he uses power armor, like Iron Man, his real thing is that he’s a super-genius. He’s got an IQ that gives Steven Hawking an inferiority complex. How he became such a flipping super-genius is a matter of a lot of debate. And, like a lot of super-geniuses, such as Dr. Amazing, he makes his money as an inventor.”
“That’s NICE,” Rae cut in, “but what does it have to do with him listening to us?”
“I’m GETTING there! I’m laying a foundation here, okay? Otherwise, you’ll be interrupting, asking questions that I would have already answered, and getting it all confused!” Roxie calmed herself with a deep breath. “Anyway, like Dr. Amazing, Dynamik does have a lot of patents, most of which are really technical and obscure and you don’t wanna hear about. But, again like Dr. Amazing, he really makes his money on a sort of industry-level shakedown racket.”
“Yeah. Basically, you have to understand is that while some industries – personal electronics, for example - absolutely thrive on innovation and progress, a lot of others - agriculture, construction, energy, or timber, for example - DON’T. They can keep changing cell phones every year, because the individual unit is cheap - about a hundred bucks per or less - so people can afford to upgrade all the time. And the factories are built to accommodate small changes. But when you’re talking about cars or houses, or - God help us all - farms or entire energy producing systems, any real technological change that has to be adopted by the entire industry means millions, if not BILLIONS, in retrofitting costs, just to keep up. And, new innovations often come with lots of bugs and glitches, which the old systems have found and dealt with. Hey, there’s a reason why the Army has been using the M2 .50 heavy machine gun for about a hundred years! No surprises in combat! So, when someone like Dr. Amazing or Dynamik comes along with something that might make a material change in, say, how electricity is produced, the energy companies aren’t all that hot to adopt it. First, they’d have to spend, like I said, millions if not billions changing their entire generation and distributing system. Second, there might be unexpected bugs in the invention. Third, they got contracts that run for decades that they’ll have to honor, no matter what. And fourth, he’s a super-genius! He might come up with something even BETTER a few years down the line, which will make all their expenses in implementing THIS one a total waste!
“BUT, at the same time, they can’t take the risk that someone else will buy the patent and leave them in the dust. So, they either buy the patent and let it gather dust on the shelf, or they and a bunch of other companies all buy options and see what happens. Either way, the inventor gets a lot of money for an invention that won’t see the light of day for years - if ever.”
“Fascinating,” Mack said. “AND?”
Roxie let out a martyred sigh. I took over for her. “Look, the point here is that there are a lot of people who don’t like Dynamik, on both sides of the political fence. He’s got this fancy power source for his power armor that he calls a ‘Star Heart’ that he won’t explain to anyone, and he won’t market for some reason. There are a lot of people who think that he leaked that information about his ‘secret identity’, so that it wouldn’t look like he was going out and fighting bad guys as a PR stunt. And there are a lot of people in the scientific and research communities who don’t like him because he’s such a showboat; at least, by their standards. So, us going to him and saying, ‘hey, we’re not kidnappers, murderers and terrorists, we’re just clean-cut wholesome kids who got experimented on, trust us’ iiisss… NOT good salesmanship, if you get me.”
Mack nodded, getting my point. “Yeah, I getcha. We’d be askin’ way too much of him. At least, we would if we just went to him cold with just our word and that dingus to back us up. Any other super-geniuses in the area?”
“Yeah,” Chris answered. “Dr. Teknik, a.k.a. Dr. Suzanne Dowling, Ph.D., D.Sc., yada, yada, yada. Different particulars, but same basic problem. Her rep’s too iffy and too important to her.”
Rae dropped onto the sofa with an annoyed grunt. “Okay, what about any other local superheroes? Anyone who might be able to help us?”
“Actually yes,” Chris said. “Okay, here’s the sitch: the local superhero group, the Golden Gate Guardians, is like the Justice League of America or AEGIS in the Lady Lightning comics; they’re more like the local chapter of the Superheroes Union than an actual team, like the X-Men or the Fantastic Four. They’re spread out all over the Bay Area, from Santa Rosa and Vallejo in the North Bay down to San Jose in the South Bay. The G3 is basically so they can keep tabs on each other, have a unified legal defense fund for the pile of lawsuits that every superhero has to deal with, and like that. They only really act as a team when something really BIG comes down the pike, and even then, it’s more a matter of who’s available at the time. BUT, both Dynamik and Dr. Teknik are members in the G3. Which means that if we can get any ONE G3 superhero to listen to us, then THEY can talk to either Dynamik or Dr. T and maybe get them to look at our dingus with an open mind.”
“Cool!” Mack said. “Okay, are there any mutants in the G3? I mean, if anybody would be willing to take our word over the MCO or the KoP, it would be a mutant, right?”
“It’s a theory, and it’s the best we got,” Roxie allowed. “Yeah there are six known mutants in the G3.”
“Whoo-HOO!” Eddie exulted, “We hit the JACKPOT!”
“Six?” Rae asked, “How many superheroes they GOT in the G3?”
“Yeah, like I said, it’s more like a Superhero Union than a team. I get the impression that they don’t all get together that often,” Roxie said. “The – known- mutants on the team are Maxima - think Wonder Woman without the red, white and blue, Orca, Iron Ox, Preterman, Polestar - your basic ‘Magneto’ type - and the Iron Butterfly.”
“The Iron Butterfly?” Billy said in a pained voice.
“Don’t look at me, I didn’t come up with it.”
“So, which one of them would be the most likely to listen to us?” Mack asked.
“The Iron Butterfly.”
“Figures,” Eddie moaned.
“Then yer gonna love this, Edwardo,” I said. “According to her web shrine, the Iron Butterfly is either a male to female transsexual or a she-male, or some strange mutant blend of the genders.”
“WHAT?” Eddie bleated, “ANOTHER gener-bending whacko? Wasn’t that pervert Dr. Pigmentation-”
“What EVER! Wasn’t he bad enough?”
“Hey,” Chris said with a shrug, “It’s San Francisco. Anyway, she’s not really what you’d call a superhero. She’s more like an ‘open paranormal’. She owns a club on the Castro called the ‘Iron Butterfly’.”
“What else?” Eddie groaned.
“And she’s more of a wheeler dealer in the super powered community than anything else,” Chris continued. “While she does do the ‘super fight’ thing every so often, what she really does in the G3 is that she makes deals for them, buys exotic gear for them, and acts as an intermediary between the heroes and third parties, like that.”
“Perfect!” Mack said, slapping the arm of the sofa, almost breaking it. “She’s JUST what we’re looking for! AND, since she’s a mutant AND a gender-bender, she’s gotta know what it’s like to be up against it.”
“Yeah,” I agreed, “but we still gotta take something material to her, so she’ll listen to us. She won’t be as hard a sell as Dynamik or the other straight superheroes, but we still gotta come up with some reason for her to believe us instead of just calling the cops.”
“Point,” Mack said. “So, what else you got for us?”
We spent about an hour sifting through the details of what we were able to glean from the e-mails. Most of it was simply too technical to be of any use to us. Real scientific researchers probably would have had a field day with it, but even Roxie, who was definitely on the Brain Train, was having problems with it. Then we hit something. We’d found a possible slip in their on-line security, a mention that suggested that they were using an innocuous term as a euphemism for ‘live human experiment subject’, in relation to something to do with Autism.
“Whoa! What was that?” Rae jumped in.
“Autism. It’s when different parts of the brain don’t work together right and-”
“Autism.” She looked at Mack. “One of the places that we looked at today was the Pacific Foundation for Autism Research.”
“‘Pacific Foundation for Autism Research’?” Suzy echoed back. “Which would be ‘Pee-Eff-Ay-Arr’?”
“Right!” Roxie knew just what Suze was at. “We got tons of references to PFAR.”
“Okay, now we’re on the right track,” Mack said, leaning forward. “Anything else that keeps coming up in connection with that?”
“Something called ‘SRS’. I think there’s another codeword involved, ‘snowfish’, that pops up every now and again.”
“Snowfish?” Billy piped up.
“You got something, Squid?”
“Yeah, there’s a runaway place I checked out called Snowfish.” He concentrated hard. “Right! Snowfish Runaway Shelter.”
“SRS.” Chris rattled away at her laptop. “Check this out: Snowfish is, like, two blocks away from the Pacific Foundation for Autism Research.”
We looked at each other, knowing exactly what it meant. Everyone knew that junkies and winos and bums were favorite subjects of illegal experiments. You could do damn near anything you wanted to them and who’d know? Who’d care? And teenage runaways were even better, ‘cause they were younger and could take more damage. And in a place like San Francisco, there were always more runaways.
Y’know, I could just see the ‘Sir Galahad’ rising up in Big Mack. He tapped his fist into his off hand. “Y’know… even if we can’t take anything from this to the Iron Butterfly… I still think that this Snowfish needs to be filleted.”
* * * * *
Sources close to the investigation into the kidnapping of the Sammish 12 note
the curious fact that while nine of the students taken were normal, everyday
students, three of them had interesting connections. Evan Ramsey is the son of
USAF Lt. Col. Mitchell Ramsey. Lt. Col. Ramsey, while currently ostensibly on
liaison with the California State Government regarding logistics for Air Force
bases in the state, had previously been stationed at Peterson AFB, the site of
NORAD and Thunder Mountain, the paranormal ‘detention’ facility, and rumored to
be the home of certain ‘secret projects’. Roxanne Lockhart is the daughter of
Dr. Arthur Lockhart, a research chemist with connections at CalTech, MIT, Dow
Chemical, Union Carbide, Goodkind Pharmeuticals and other bleeding edge
research, and Dana Towers-Lockhart, a noted statistical analyst. Christopher
Polk is the son of Dawn Polk (nee Warshawski), a lawyer with the lobbying firm
of Starnhalm, Doyle & Lucas, which fronts for various hi-tech R&D
firms. Given Principal Spader’s curious silence as to the students’ ‘removal’,
certain possibilities present themselves…
* * * * *
The ‘Snowfish Runaway Shelter’ was set up in a building that was on the very edge of a bunch of apartment buildings that had probably been very upscale, back when they were still making black and white movies. A bunch of them were the sort of apartment buildings that had lah-de-dah names on brass plaques, and maybe had doormen way back when, that sort of thing. Not so much anymore, but they were still respectable enough that they didn’t much like having a runaway shelter on one end of the block. Billy mingled with the white kids hanging around outside, Mack and Rae worked the clusters of black kids, Chris and I went inside to check out the scene, and the rest hung back, in case anything went hinky.
The inside was the usual non-profit maze of desk, dividers and like that, along with the soup kitchen and ‘safe area’ where runaway kids could hang out during the day. No sign as to what they offered for the night. Chris and I pulled the ‘young runaway lovers’ act at the intake desk, and did the ‘we gotta be together’ bit. There was the usual concerned social worker, the usual hurry-up-and-wait, the usual blah-blah-blee about limited resources and not enough beds, and then something unusual. A psych test. I never really thought about it before, but it struck me as odd that they’d expect a runaway to do a psych profile before they got fed. And while most of it was the usual shit, there were a couple of image-association and logical-progression tests that were pretty dang weird. After that, we were pretty much given a polite bum’s rush - waiting list, other kids with real problems, limited beds, have a good life, now go bug someone else - that kind of thing.
Billy, Mack and Rae were still working the kids hanging outside, and Chris and I didn’t want to make ourselves too conspicuous, so we started to head over to where the rest were waiting for us. Then I had a hunch, and looked back. Mack and Rae had been talking with this one chick, and now these four pieces of street meat were hassling them. Two of them didn’t look like that much - a prettyboy and a weasel - but the other two had hardass written all over them. The guy that looked like the leader had East Coast wiseguy written all over him, with the ‘jazzy thug’ look going down in a black leather blazer with matching slacks, gold bling, styled hair, mustache, and mirrored shades. And the other guy was a leather cowboy who looked like he could wrestle a grizzly barehanded. BIG guy with a long mean face, who towered over Mack by at least a head, and looked hard as nails. They were all up in Mack’s face. Mack turned to leave and it looked like he was telling the black chick to come with him. But Mr. Black shoved at Mack and told him to piss off. Which was, of course, the wrong thing to say. I could just see Mack getting up on his Sir Galahad horse, and Chris said, “We gotta stop this before he blows our cover.”
I agreed, and just as we started that way, someone said, “Hold it RIGHT THERE, Blackheart!” Looking to where the voice came from, I had a brief moment of ‘did someone leave the TV on?’ Standing in flanking formation in crouched fighting positions were five kids in red dogis. Dogis are those long-sleeved, high collared tunics that martial arts students wear in Chinese kung-fu movies. These were red with embroidered dragons of different colors on them. It was a pretty ethnically diverse group, even for San Francisco - the leader was an athletic (and dead serious) Asian guy of maybe 17 or 18. He had a black chick, a white boy, an Indian kid (like from India, not ‘Native American’) and a Latina chick backing him up. Normally, my money would be on the four hardasses, numbers not withstanding. But there was something about the way that they were holding their ground suggested that they had every expectation of handing ‘Blackheart’ and his boys their asses.
“Heeeyyy… Ken-shee!” the leader, ‘Blackheart’ I guess was his moniker, said with breezy cheer, “Chill out! This ain’t what it looks like!”
“It better not be!” There was a bit more back and forth between the two groups, with Blackheart insisting that they were just coming to the assistance of the young lady, and ‘Ken-shee’ wasn’t having any of it. Eventually, Blackheart’s crew backed down and moved on. The black chick among the martial arts weirdos talked to Mack, Rae and the chick, to make sure that they were all right. That settled, the Bruce Lee Bunch moved on. I managed to catch Mack’s eye, and he let on that we should all meet at the agreed on regroup point.
At the regroup point (a local Burger Clown), Chris asked, “Okay, who were those clowns, and what was all that about?”
“They’re called the ‘Young Dragons’,” Billy explained. We all looked at him. “Hey, I asked around! Oh. Yeah. Dumb name, hunh? Anyway, get this: from what I got about them, they’re like martial arts superheroes! There’s this guy, he’s like their sensei or something, and he teaches normal kids, but he has special classes for local kids who got super powers, so they’ll learn discipline!”
“And the cops let them run around in those goofy red jammies?” Eddie asked.
Billy shrugged. Suzy asked the girl, “And why were those goons hassling you?”
“I dunno,” Mack responded. “We was talking to Marly here,” he indicated the girl, “and she was telling us that she was looking for her friend Yvonne, and then Tony and the Sopranos showed up.”
“When did your friend Yvonne go missing?” Roxie asked.
“About four days ago.”
“Any chance that she just upped and left on her own? Maybe she met a guy or something?”
Marly shook her head. “No way. Yvonne was…” she struggled with how to put in words and decided that there was no delicate way. “Look, Yvonne’s not… well, she’s not strong. She needs me. I mean, she’s not retarded or anything, but… well, she’s one of those people who needs someone to help make up their minds for them, y’know? Her ‘rents were, well, y’know, THOSE kind of folks? Got problems and like that? Her mom lost her figure having Yvonne, and she sort of resented it. And her dad…” Marly fished a photograph out of her purse. It showed her and another black girl of about the same age. And while Marly was definitely cute, Yvonne really was the cute one in the couple. “Well, when Yvonne filled out, her dad sort of, y’know, got a little too interested, y’know? That’s why we lit out from Marin City. ‘Cause, well, y’know… it’s not like my folks are the Cosby family, either.”
“Stepping away from the table,” Eddie said, doing so with hands held out.
“Yeah, just like that,” Marly agreed. “We decided to take a shot, rather than be a sure thing on the Jerry Springer show.”
“What was Yvonne doing, last time you saw her?”
“She was staying at Snowfish. But she got a cold or something, and they hadda take her to the infirmary.”
“And then they said that she hadda go to the general hospital. But when I went to check on her, they said that she was in intensive care at the medical center at UCSF.”
“And when you went there, she’d never been checked in?”
“No, she’d been there, but she got transferred, and-”
“And after a couple of days of being bounced around, they just lost track of her?” Chris asked, her eyes looking like she was trying to put something together.
“And you haven’t heard from her since she went to the infirmary?”
“No! That’s the weird thing! She keeps leaving me messages and like that at Snowfish.”
“Really?” Chris responded with a surprised tone.
“Marly, did you and Yvonne take a psych quiz when you went into Snowfish?” I asked. She nodded. “Did anything unusual happen when either of you took the test.”
Marly shrugged. “Nah. No, wait a minute… I remember, they made us take it again for some reason, after we got sick.”
“A couple of weeks ago, a bug came through here, and a bunch of kids got sick, including me and Yvonne. Nuthin’ big, just like a cold or sumthin’ like that.”
“And they made you take a psych test again, after a FLU?”
“Well, they said that it was because I had a weird reaction to the cold medicine that they were passing around.”
“Was there anything unusual about the second test?”
“Only that it took, like fuckin’ HOURS.”
“HOURS?” Chris and I exchanged looks.
“You got something, Evan?” Mack asked.
“Only that it only took Chris and me ten, fifteen minutes to fill out the whole thing.”
“They kept making us take it over and over,” Marly explained.
“And Marly always took longer than you did?” Roxie asked.
“No, they kept making ME take it over, and asking all sorts of questions about what I saw in pictures, and like that.”
Mack caught that and worked with it. “Okay, it sounds like they’re interested in YOU, and they’re using Yvonne to keep you on a string. But WHY are they so interested in you? What about that flu that bit you was so interesting?”
Marly didn’t have any clues in that department.
Rae asked, “And what about those four bozos who came down on us? You know anything about them?”
Marly just said that she’d seen them around, chatting up the kids, and being ‘friendly’ in the way that suggested to her that they were sizing the kids up somehow. They were always making noises about ‘cutting the kid a break’ and crap like that.
“So…” Roxie asked, “What do you think their racket is? Pimps? Pushers? Guys looking for kids dumb enough to do the shit work on some racket, and most likely get busted or dead?”
Marly screwed up her face and waggled her hand. “If I hadda pick from that, I’d say the last. They’re too interested in the kids personally, they wanna know things about them. Pimps are only interested in kids they can handle with their usual line of Bee-Ess, and pushers just plain don’t give a shit. They’re up to something, and the those kung fu guys, Young Dragons, know what it is, or they wouldn’t be all up in Blackheart’s face like that.”
Suzy asked, “So was this ‘Blackheart’ guy interested in you before?”
“No, not really,” Marly answered. “Though, there was a guy a couple of days ago who was hitting on me, and I saw him talking with Blackheart, and he sort of moved on.”
“Sounds like this Blackheart and his crew are making sure that you don’t make any new friends,” Suzy said, all worldly and street-wise. “Sounds like they’re muscle for someone, don’t it?”
“Yeah,” Rae agreed. “Just sleazy enough that nobody is all surprised-like when they get nasty, but they still fit into the scene, more’r less.”
“Someone’s giving them orders,” Billy said.
“Which means that they know who’s giving them orders,” Mack said, following the train of logic. “So, how do we get them to give up who’s giving them orders?”
“Well, it’s not like we have a lot of money, to bribe them into talking…” I drawled, implying that we’d have to beat the info out of them.
“Why are you all so interested?” Marly asked suspiciously.
Mack started telling her about what happened up in Sacto, and Chris, Roxie, Rachel and I had to step in before he got TMI on us. Big Mack was definitely on his ‘Sir Galahad’ game; two cute black chicks who needed protecting? Oh, hell yeah, he was all suited up in his shining armor and ready to go. We told her a trimmed-down story that we’d been experimented on, and we thought that Snowfish was part of a similar operation.
“You think that they’ve taken Yvonne?” Marly asked us, not afraid, but really PO’d.
“Yeah,” Roxie said. “Dunno what they’re doing to her, but it’s the only reason that they’d give you that whole runaround with the hospitals.”
“Then how do we FIND her? What are they doing to her?”
“Dunno exactly what they’re doing to her,” I said. “They may be experimenting on her. But, from what I’m getting from the fact that they kept asking YOU to keep taking that test, and the fact that Blackheart and his crew are keeping you as isolated as they can, I think that they’re using her to keep YOU on a leash for some reason. Why they’re letting you run around loose, I dunno. But we do have a way of finding out…”
* * * * *
Mack and Marly made a very cute couple walking down the street. Then Marly stopped, looked around, and tried to get Mack to go another way. But Mack kept going, and walked right into it when Blackheart and his crew stepped out of an alley. The man himself stepped up into Mack’s face and said, “Hey, PUNK! I thought I TOLD you t’leave the young lady ALONE…” While Blackheart was bein’ all big an’ bad, this big buddy with the leather cowboy fetish sidled around back of Mack and grabbed him by the arms, pulling them back, and hauled Mack back into the alley. “Looks like you need t’be shown how things WORK around here,” Blackheart grated as he pulled back his arm, aiming a fist at Mack’s face.
Prettyboy had grabbed Marly and was holding her, but the Weasel said, “Hey, Blackheart, watch out! It’s a trap!”
Don’t ask me how he knew that, but that was our cue to get into it. Eddie ran to the mouth of the alley, grew to about 20 feet high, and blocked them into the alley. Rae dropped behind Blackheart and clocked him a good one on the head. I dropped behind Leatherguy, and I was gonna give him a shot in the head with my sword, when Prettyboy let go of Marly and grabbed my hand. Then something went blooey inside my head, and from here, my recollection of the fight is for shit, ‘cause I was so far off my game it’s fucking embarrassing! Y’know how, so far, I’ve been on the mark, and just knew what to do and how to do it? This was the fucking antithesis of that. Before, I could step out of the way of someone attacking me, and get into just right the position to strike. Now, I was walking right into their punches. I knew that it was the wrong move, but I couldn’t stop myself. Y’know, I think I actually took a punch for Mac once or twice? After several very embarrassing bloopers in a fucking row, I was thrown into the alley wall, and gratefully passed out.
* * * * *
I woke up on a bed, covered in bandages and splints. MAN, was I in a world of hurt! My jaw hurt, my ribs hurt - fuck, I think that it would be simpler to figure out what didn’t hurt! I lay there and managed to work my way up to a low moan after a bit. There was a blur of something, and suddenly Suzy was up in my face. “Are you okay, Ev?”
“No…” I moaned.
“Hold on!” she zipped out again, and an agonizing eternity of a minute or two later, two blonde heads appeared over me.
“Evan, how are you?” Chris asked.
“Shoot me,” I whined. “Get it over with. HELL couldn’t hurt this much!”
“Listen to me, Ev,” Roxie said intently, “I think that you can heal yourself.”
“What?” I bleated.
“Bullshit,” I gasped. “If I’d regenerated, I wouldn’t hurt this much.”
“I’m not talking that bullshit magical instant healing that Wolverine does in the comics, I’m talking about using your dynamorph power to heal yourself,” Roxie insisted. “You’ve already healed yourself while you were unconscious, probably on automatic. But it’s too generalized, it’ll take you weeks to heal up. I think - okay, I’m guessing here, gimme a break! - but I think that if you apply your dynamorph power to what hurts, you’ll focus the healing power on the damage and get a better effect. Just concentrate and focus all your power where it hurts the most.”
Well, it was better than lying there in abject agony. Roxie guided me, probing one area that she thought was damaged with her fingers (pain!), occasionally moving something that shouldn’t have been moved (PAIN!) and having to re-set it (PAIN!). I’ll be damned if it didn’t work. Each time it went from ‘Disaster Area’ to ‘don’t do that again, shithead’ levels of discomfort. It took hours, and I was bathed in sweat by the end of it, but by the end, I was only as sore as I was the time that Peyton Harrison and his goons ‘put me in my place’. Chris gave me five extra-strength Tylenols and pointed me at the showers. A few minutes later, I staggered out of the showers, took a LONG whiz, slipped on the requisite fluffy white terrycloth bathrobe, and staggered into the living room, to find out what was going on.
“EV!” Eddie greeted me from his usual position on the couch, watching TV. I noticed that he was wearing one of those six-band rainbow ‘Gay Pride’ T-shirts that are all over the place in Frisco. “You’re ALIVE!”
“Let me get back to you on that one,” I groaned as I collapsed into one of the chairs
“Bein’ able to regenerate ROCKS, don’t it?” He gloated.
I feebly wondered if I had the strength to split his skull with my sword - and if that would slow him down any. Deciding that it wasn’t worth it, I asked, “How long was I out?”
“You were out for a little more than a day,” Roxie said, bringing something that looked like a chocolate shake out from the kitchen. Eddie reached for it, but Rox kept it away from him. “Here,” she said giving it to me. “Protein shake, lots of calcium. You’re going to need that.”
I took an experimental sip. It was chocolate, but it was that token chocolate that fitness nerds put up with to cover the really disgusting taste of what it really was. It was chalky, chemical-tasting and vaguely medicinal. “How can anything CHOCOLATE taste that nasty?” I grimaced. Still, on the theory that the worse it tastes, the better it is for you, I choked it down. Then I looked around at Eddie, Suzy, Chris and Roxie. “So, what happened?”
“You BLEW it, pal!” Eddie chuckled with a true meathead’s schadenfreud. “You just walked into everything they had, face first!” I briefly reconsidered my position on splitting his skull.
“It turned out that Blackheart and his crew had super-powers too,” Chris said, as she sat on the sofa near Eddie. And then moved further away, when he tried to pull her closer. “Blackheart had some kind of black energy that came from his chest, and covered his hands. The big guy in leather-”
“Rawhide,” Roxie said, sitting on the arm of my chair, well out of Eddie’s reach. “Well, that’s what his buddies called him.”
“Figgers,” I grumbled. “Lemme guess: your basic brick?”
“Bingo,” Roxie said. “REAL tough. He went toe-to-toe with Mack, and he walked away from it. The cute one with the long blonde hair and the dimple in his chin is some kind of drainer. He started off not very tough, but he got a LOT tougher after slurping up energy blasts from Chris and Me. And Marly says that the runty one was some kind of telepath.”
“Why would Marly know who’s a telepath or not?”
“’Cause she can read minds!” Eddie said with relish. “Gee, a woman who really knows what you’re thinkin’…”
“Eddie, ANY woman can tell what you’re thinking, just by looking at you!” Roxie snapped.
“She can read minds?” I said, the possibilities rising to mind. “And Snowfish was really interested in her, and kept asking her to take that test, over and over. And Blackheart and his assholes have super powers… Okay, they’re basically jumped-up street thugs, but still, they have super powers! They gotta be higher rent than doing scut work like keeping pimps and wannabe boyfriends away from Marly. That is…”
“That is, unless whoever’s paying them is afraid that someone with super powers will get mixed up with her, and doesn’t want that to happen,” Roxie finished for me. “Yeah, we thought of that. Hey, we didn’t sit around, twiddling our thumbs, waiting for you to mend, y’know.”
“Well, excuse me for trying to stay sharp!” I shot back. “Okay, I’m the one who has to catch up this time, so catch me up!”
“Okay, we figure that the ‘flu’ was Snowfish’s - or PRF’s, or whoever these people really are - their way of screening the runaways for something, probably telepathy, maybe something else, insufficient data. Marly said that Yvonne also had a reaction to the ‘flu medicine’, but it wasn’t as strong as hers.”
“So, there’s a chance that Yvonne is telepathic, too?” I mused. “I wonder how that factors into Marly and Yvonne’s relationship?”
Roxie paused and considered it. “Good point,” she said as she jotted it down on a notepad. “DAMN, I hate not being able to use a PDA.”
“Okay, if they’re targeting Marly, why is she still out on the street? Why not just take her first, and use their connection to lure Yvonne into their insidious clutches?”
“Maybe Marly misread the significance of the reaction,” Chris said. “Or, maybe they’re trying to addict Marly before they recruit her.”
“Addict her?” I asked, “To what?”
“Zone. It’s the latest designer drug on the street,” Roxie said. “It’s supposed to be a ‘smart drug’ that’s supposed to put you ‘into the zone’, y’know, that wonderful headspace where you are just ON, and you’re on top of everything?”
“Looking to score some, Rox?” I asked puckishly.
“Before, I would have,” she admitted, “but between the mutant thing and the dynamorph, I have NO idea what it would do to me.” She paused and considered. “Y’know, I’m amazed that the weed still affects us.” She made a note of that.
“And she’s got a steady source of cheap Zone?” I asked.
“Better than that: FREE.”
“Well, THAT’s not suspicious, not in the least!”
“Oh yeah,” Chris agreed, joining in, “Pushers are notoriously open-handed with their product!”
“I take it that Mack and the others are out, trying to scare up Marly’s source, and maybe pump him for information as to what’s going on there? And maybe pin it to PFAR?”
“Bingo! And you are now officially caught up, sir!”
I turned to Eddie. “And what’s new on your watch, Ed? Any fast-breaking developments with Spongebob?”
Eddie gave me the ‘very not-funny’ laugh and said, “Y’know, you’re pretty lippy, for a guy who just got his ASS handed to him.” I just flipped my eyebrows, acknowledging the point. “And, as a matter of fact, YEAH, there is something. I Tivo’d it for you.” With the easy grace that comes from much practice, Eddie switched the TV from his surfing sequence to the Tivo. The intro to ‘HeroWatch’ started, with all the brass that you could ask for, and a little more.
“HeroWatch?” I asked in a pained voice.
“What’s the matter with HeroWatch?” Eddie asked.
“I agree, Ev,” Chris said wearily, “but even trash news is better than no news.”
“Debatable, but it beats going back to bed,” I groaned. “I’m hungry again.” I picked up the shake glass and shook it. “Can I get another of these?”
Chris took the glass and asked, “So, you want another nasty-ass chocolate, or just as nasty strawberry, or an even nastier vanilla, or do you wanna live in the fast lane and try blueberry?”
“Enh. Carpe Diem. I’ll go for the blueberry.”
“Hey, while you’re in there-” Eddie called as Chris left the room.
“NO!” Chris called back.
I grinned at Eddie and whispered mockingly, “She like me bettah.”
With a grumble, Eddie fast-forwarded past the intro and the other stuff, which showed off a lot of people running around and jumping at ridiculous speeds, mixed with explosions and jabbering talking heads. Then they got to an establishing shot of Marty Sam High, and we had a good laugh at listening to people who never liked us in the least talk about what tight buds we’d been, and how much our disappearance affected them, in exchange for being on TV for a few seconds. Chris had to keep me from chucking the shake glass at the TV when Peyton Harrison got his fifteen seconds of blatant hypocrisy. But we all snarled like pit bulls on leashes when Principal Spader came on and tried to armor-plate his ass by glossing over the fact that he signed over twelve kids in his care to a bunch of guys with tin badges and a rap. There were some security shots of the big bust-up at the Country Club mall, artfully edited for as much spectacularosity as you can get from security cam footage shot mostly in the dark. “Okay, so far, it’s pretty good for mass media pablum, but there isn’t a lot of input here,” I complained.
“Wait up,” Eddie said, “here comes a bit of pretty hard news, if that’s what you want.
Sure enough, Brett Cummings, the male newsface did this bit in front of a map of the greater Sacramento area about how the vile terrorists must have gotten around the cordon around Sacto, and tried to second guess whether we’d go south to San Francisco or Los Angeles, or north up into Oregon, or east towards Reno.
“That’s interesting…” I muttered. “They get that we’re a group, and not part of your basic shadowy super-crime network.”
“Yeah? How can you tell that?” Suzy asked.
“A network would have its own transportation, and not have to move, like, fugitives,” Roxie explained. “If we were just soldiers of theirs, they’d have, y’know, a private jet or a chartered bus or something to move us out from where the heat was on. Or, they’d have a safehouse or something where we’d stay until the heat died down in a couple of weeks or so. But they’re assuming that we don’t have those resources, and we’ll move like fugitives.”
“Well, DUH!” Eddie bleated, “We ARE fugitives!”
“Yeah, but why would a bunch of guys without a base or transportation or anything like that, grab twelve high school kids?” I asked “That operation just screamed ‘organization’. They were prepared, they did their research, they had official looking documents, I’ll bet they pulled some kind of scam where they rerouted any calls that Spader made to the local MCO office when he checked on those guys, they had the van, and they had the carts. It was a smooth operation. So, why is the Man treating us like a bunch of jail-breakers?”
“We think that they don’t have any real idea as what’s going on,” Chris said. “They probably figure that we - that is the people they fought at the Mall - must be connected to the kidnappings somehow. HOW we’re connected, they don’t know. But they figure their best way of finding out what happened to us - that is, the disappeared kids - is to track down and bag us - that is, the people that they fought at the mall.”
“Great,” I grumbled, “The Clint Eastwood approach to law enforcement. So much for hoping for the CSI approach, and actually examining evidence.”
Then there was another interview. “Freeze that.” I ordered. Eddie froze it. “Rox, can you tell Suzy how to leech that image onto the laptops?”
“Sure. Why? Is he important?”
“I’ll say that he’s important. That’s the sunuvabitch who shot Shawn in the back.”
“Are you sure about that?”
“HELL YEAH! I ripped open the top of his tin can and found that piece of shit inside. Okay, he doesn’t look like he wants his mommy in this shot, but that’s the same guy.”
Eddie snarled at the image and fiddled with the Tivo until he got a really good shot of him, which Suzy imported to the laptops. The guy’s name was Swive, he was a ‘Knight Commander’ (gimme a break!) in the Knights of Purity, and he was apparently the KoP’s man on the scene. After we got the shot, Eddie went back to the beginning, and we watched the whole interview. Swive covered his ass magnificently. He managed to sound like the grave, concerned modern-day knight errant, diligently pursuing every chance to bring the lost children home. He even managed to take a few potshots at the local superheroes for not showing up for the mess, despite the fact that the KoP, M-SOC and MCO had each no doubt bent over backwards to keep them out of the loop.
“He knows.” Chris said, looking carefully at Swive as he talked.
“Huh?” was the general consensus.
“He knows that we’re the Marty Sam kids, and he doesn’t care,” Chris said intently, still studying Swive closely.
“Is this some new power coming in, Chris?” Roxie asked.
“No. I’m just good at this. My dad’s a lobbyist working the state government, and reading people’s a big part of his job. Check out Swive’s action. He’s giving the Highway Patrol and local Police units all sorts of strokes, and he’s playing up the MCO and M-SOC’s role and all that. But the KoP is a private security firm; they push the line that their highly-trained, heavily-armed guys are the only people who are up to taking out dangerous super-powered threats. ‘Cause, if they’re not the only people who are up to it, then why hire them? But he’s bringing in everyone he can into this, up to and including the media. The KoP doesn’t DO that; they don’t like people watching over their shoulder while they work. He’s trying to bring everyone he can into his tent, and getting them to work together.”
“Why?” Eddie asked.
“Because he knows that he SHOT one of the kids he was supposed to SAVE in the back,” Roxie said grimly.
“Probably,” Chris said clinically. “He keeps glossing over what happened to the ‘suspect’ that he brought down. The newsheads keep saying that she was ‘taken to the hospital in critical condition’, but he won’t say anything about it. And he keeps moving the conversation away from tricky questions about WHY we’d try to kidnap Evan’s dad, or take twelve kids in the first place.”
“Hey, maybe Shawn’s still alive!” Suzy said hopefully.
“Not a chance,” Chris said. “The slug I took bruised my back all to hell and almost broke a rib, and I had my force field up. Shawn took three of those without any protection, and they opened him up like a can of spaghetti.”
“Still, I’ll lay you odds that there are teams of Shepherds, M-SOC and KoP staying real close to that hospital, nice and quiet,” I opined.
“Probably,” Chris said, watching Swive’s action during the interview. “He’s making himself the Man. He’s selling that HE’S the guy, he’s the expert, he’s the one that’s gonna make bringing us in happen.”
“Why?” Suzy asked.
“Because he wants - no, he NEEDS to be there, when any of us are cornered,” I said, seeing where Chris was going. “’Cause if he’s there, he can arrange for it to go down hard.”
“Right,” Chris said, looking me in the eye. “He needs for us ALL to die, and for our remains to get lost in the shuffle.”
“I need another one of these,” I held up the shake glass, but I went into the kitchen with Chris. Sotto voce, I whispered, “So… when did Eddie come out of the closet?”
“The rainbow T-shirt?” she grinned back at me. She snuck a look back out at the living room. “I don’t think he’s made the connection between those rainbows and Gay Pride. I think he just likes rainbows.”
“So, when are we gonna clue him in?”
Chris gave me a wicked grin. “Don’t spoil it. I’ve got a pool going for when he figures it out.”
“Put me down for five on him not figuring it out for a week.”
While we were doing this, Eddie was surfing the channels. “Whoa! Check THIS out!” Over our objections, he switched over to a local TV channel. A local field newshead was yammering into the camera about some super-fight that was going down on a city street.
“Yeah, and how is this sup- Hey, isn’t that that store Snowfi- SHIT, that was Mack!” Yep, it was hard to keep track of, but we caught sight of Mack and Rachel mixing it up with SFPD blues, and every so often, you caught sight of some civilian trying to pull Marly out of the mess.
“Oh, fuuuhhhkkk,” I moaned as I slumped back in the chair, “JUST what we don’t need! If they get caught, we gotta break ‘em out, and even if they don’t get caught, then everybody and his halfwit cousin Elmer’s gonna know that we’re down here!”
Then, after a bit of Mack and Rachel trying to hold off more and more blues, some guy in a weird gray suit with white stripes and matching gloves, books, and tiger mask showed up and started making some serious moves with Mack and Rachel, using their own strength against them. He snagged Marly and was leaping up into the air, but from out of nowhere, Billy’s tentacles came down and snatched them both. A second later, the gray-guy was thrown down to the ground, but there was no sign of Marly. Mack lifted off, and carried Rae with him, from there, it was chase-scene city.
“Who’s the guy in the weird tiger suit?”
Suzy was working her laptop as quickly as it would let her. “Well… according to this, it’s either Ghost Tiger or Shinobi, both local superheroes… Yeah, it’s Ghost Tiger,” she added as a newshead rushed up to the staggered hero and started asking stupid questions, as his hero name appeared in subscript.
“Let me guess…” Chris groaned, “He’s a member of the Golden Gate Guardians…”
“YeeaahhhpPP!” Suzy agreed, popping the P at the end of it. “And a former member of the Young Dragons, according to the GGG’s website.”
“FUCK!” Roxie snapped, “Pack EVERYTHING! We gotta get moving NOW!”
“NO!” Eddie said. “We don’t move, we stay PUT!”
“Swive and the KoP and the rest of those assholes will be here on the next shuttle jet!” Roxie snarled. “We HAVE to be packed and-”
“NO!” Eddie insisted. “We… Gimme a second…”
“Oh please,” Roxie moaned.
“I gotta get it straight and put it in words…” Eddie grated, a look of incredible effort on his face.
“He’s like Winnie the Pooh,” Roxie sneered, “He has very little brains, so he has to think very carefully when he does think.”
Eddie shot her a look of hot rage, but kept his temper and finally got it out. “LOOK- if we run now, WHERE are we gonna go? We’ll be out there on the street, where they can FIND us. We gotta stay here, and let Mack and the others get back here. Then, we go out, and we FIND a place to go FIRST. Besides, if we run right after that airs, they’ll know that we were here, right? AND, Snowfish is our big lead, we gotta find out something there, or we’re just running around like chickens with our heads cut off, right?”
I gave Roxie a glance, who was looking at Eddie with her mouth wide open. “Hey, when he’s right, he’s right,” I said. “Way to step up to the plate, Edwardo!” I gave him a thumbs-up.
“Look,” Eddie said intently, “YEAH, we gotta move. BUT, we gotta have a plan. We have to have somewhere to GO, we have to have some way of getting there, and we have to have money and stuff to get us there. Right now, Snowfish and PFAR is all we GOT. And, if nothin’ else, if we kick over their anthill, then people will be so busy checking out their shit to pay too much attention to us. Hell, they might even think that PFAR is behind kidnapping us, and concentrate on them, instead of US.”
I looked at Chris and asked in a flat voice, “Why did we think that he was the dumb one?”
Eddie let out a breath of exertion and said, “Woof! Getting it all straight is HARD!”
Then Chris’ phone rang, and we all knew who it was. Chris told Mack that Suzy would bring them a change of clothes, and to stagger coming back. We arranged to cover each one as he came in, just in case they were being followed. Billy was the last one in, and not happy about it. “Why’d you bring me in last?” he demanded.
“’Cause you’re the sneakiest, and you’re the one who’d spot any tails, if there were any,” I explained. “By the way, damn good catch with that Ghost Tiger doink.”
“The superhero you got Marly away from?”
“He’s a local superhero?”
“Okay, now that we’re all here,” Roxie started, “What happened?”
“I dunno,” Mack said as Suzy passed around beers. “I mean, one minute, we’re just y’know, hangin’ around, keepin’ an eye peeled for Marly’s connection, then BOOM! Po-po all over the place, wavin’ iron right AT me! We tried to be cool, but it was like they thought we was packin’, or something!”
“They thought we was a threat,” Marly said. “They weren’t sure WHY we was a threat, but they knew, really knew that we was dangerous.”
“There were people there, they were…” Marly gestured with both hands clutching at her head. “…they were telling the cops with their minds that they were in serious shit, that we were just about to open up some serious crap. I could feel them, in my head, yelling in the cops’ heads.”
“Aw Crap,” Roxie and I groaned together. “Telepathy,” she added as I nodded.
“They were using telepathy to influence the cops.” I spelled it out. “They probably spotted you, and since we busted up Blackheart and his crew, they decided that the best way to deal with us was to sic the cops on us.” I thought about something. “Marly, there were some civilians who really took some chances, trying to get you out of that. Were they…?”
“Yeah,” Marly said. “They were after me. They didn’t care about you guys.” She wrapped her arms around herself and seemed to collapse in her herself. “Maybe… maybe I should just go to Snowfish, and…”
“NO.” Mack said with all the authority that he had. “That wouldn’t stop them. You give people like that what they want, and they just want everything. As long as they don’t have you, they got to watch what they do. They get you, and they can fuckin’ NUKE us.”
“Besides,” I said, “it’s war between us and them anyway. They’re all we have. Everything else we have is all guesswork and maybe this, maybe that. PFAR? Snowfish? We KNOW they’re bent. We gotta crack their crib, if we’re gonna have anything to take to the Iron Butterfly. Ed, spell it out for them.”
Ed gave them the whole spiel about having some place to go, and having things set up so that we weren’t out on the street, our asses hanging out in the open for anyone to take a shot at us. Mack shot me a surprised look at this from Eddie; I just gave him a ‘who knew?’ shrug. We talked it through, and we decided that, whether we got anything out of PFAR, we had to get out of San Francisco. We had to assume that we’d have to move quick and quiet, and that odds were that something would happen that would make the suite too hot to keep. We decided to keep our clothes packed, and to form ‘Go Packs’ that we could grab in an emergency, if suitcases were too risky. Eddie and Mack would arrange for transportation. Chris said that she thought that her scam with the suite would hold up for a couple more days, but she would look for someplace new to stay. Billy would troll the streets for information about pimps and pushers, and other low-level dealers that we could roll for money, while Rachel kept an eye on him. Roxie, Marly, Suzy and I would go to City Hall, and do some research on the Pacific Foundation for Autism Research and Snowfish Runaway Services. Yeah, there’s lots of stuff online, but you’d be amazed at the amount of information that people decide is best kept offline.
Getting Roxie past the Security at City Hall was a bear, but worth it. Together, we found out that PFAR had been in the city for years at another site, but about three years ago, there was some sort of quiet takeover, and big chunks of people left, while a whole new power structure took over. Then they moved bag and baggage to the new building. And, right at the same time, Snowfish also had a change of management, and they moved to the old laundry, despite the fact that it really wasn’t a neighborhood that would be happy with runaways hanging around. “Hey, check this out,” Suzy said, bringing us a copy of the yearly organizational statement that Snowfish made. “All their managers and overseers and like that all live in the same zip code.”
“Yeah,” Roxie said. “And that’s a pretty pricey zip code. The same one as PFAR. Come to think of it… wait a minute… Jesus, check this out! All of PFAR’s and Snowfish’s major players not only live in the same zip code, but they live on the same three-block stretch of these two streets!” She pulled out at street map of San Francisco, and indicated the addresses.
“Yeah,” I agreed. “The alley beside Snowfish runs straight down the middle, right to PFAR’s building. But why would they have everything all together like that?”
“Well, if you’re sneaking kids from Snowfish to maybe some secret lab in the PFAR building, you don’t wanna be lugging them all over town,” Suzy pointed out.
“Tempting, I’ll admit,” I did indeed admit. “But taking kids through the streets, even down an alley is a little risky for an outfit that can own an entire building in San Francisco.”
Roxie let out a muted snarl. “Eeenh! I’m getting an impression, but I can’t get a clear idea of what it is, from these records and maps! We’re just gonna have to go and check the place out for reals.”
We tried to get some backup for it, but the only one who could tear herself away from what she was doing was Chris. “I don’t like being this close to Snowfish,” Marly said as we crossed the street from one block of the alley to the next. “I got this feelin’ like someone’s watching me.”
“Yeah, I know,” I said, looking around. “Is it just me, or does this look like a movie set?”
Roxie looked around at what I was looking at. “No… yer right, Ev. All the buildings look like they were built at the same time.”
Chris took it in as well, and said, “Yeah, it looks like scenes from those old gangster movies, where they had all those bars in basements and shit.”
“Yeah…” Roxie, said in a way that made me think that some things were clicking together in her head. “And so does Snowfish… Evan, you said that Snowfish used to be a laundry?”
“Yeah, that’s what was in the records. Way back, that building used to be a laundry, back when neighborhoods still had neighborhood laundries, instead of everyone going to the Laundromat.”
“We gotta go back to City Hall…”
“Hold it RIGHT THERE!” came from behind us. We turned, and I had an immediate ‘Mighty Morphing Power Rangers’ moment. There were those ‘Young Dragon’ idiots that had gotten Blackheart and his goons off of Mack and Marly’s backs. They were standing in that classic ‘we’re kung fu badasses’ pose all spread out in katas, looking like they were posing for a martial arts movie poster. The lead guy, the tall strapping Asian guy, had a glowing sword in his hand, and the latina chick was doing stuff with her hands, playing with some kind of weird energy.
Yeah, I know, it sounds goofy.
“Release the girl!” the sword-guy, ‘Kenshi’ as I remember it, shouted, like he was a cop telling a punk to drop a gun.
“Ah…” I said, as the only boy there, “Not that I’m arguing, but WHICH girl? There are FOUR of ‘em?”
“Release your HOSTAGE!”
“Hostage?” Suzy bleated, “What hostage?” she looked around, as though there might be a bound and gagged hostage lying about that maybe we somehow missed.
“I’m telling you for the last time! Release the girl!”
“Release WHO?” I asked, hands outstretched, “We’re NOT HOLDING ANYONE!”
“Evan…” Marly whined, “He’s not listening… Someone’s pushing him, like they pushed the cops…”
“Oh Crap, not again…”
With some weird martial arts cry that I freely admit that I didn’t catch, all five of the Young Dragons charged at us like we were the nasty of the week on Mighty Morphing Power Rangers.
I’m not sure exactly why, maybe ‘cause I was the only guy in the group, but Kenshi went straight for me with that glowing sword thing. I only managed to block it with my sword ‘cause he wasn’t expecting it, and he still gave me a snap-kick to the midsection that sent me to the alley floor. Well, I’ve had a few self-defense courses, so I was immediately back on my feet, but I could tell that this Kenshi guy had a lot more training than I did. Remembering what I’d done at the mall, I created that buckler thing on my off hand. That really took Kenshi by surprise, but I’ll give him this, he’s good. I never got anywhere near him.
Then there was a bright flash from one side, and I heard a guy yell out something in something that I think was Chinese or Japanese. Kenshi broke off and sort of set himself. Trying to figure out what was going on, I looked around. Everyone was sort of standing stock still. One by one, first Marly, then Suzy, then Chris and then Roxie sort of collapsed to the ground. Not getting it, I swatted Kenshi with my sword, but he didn’t go flying, he just sort of collapsed to the ground. One of the other Dragons, the sole white boy, was looking at me with hella surprise.
“Two-Ton!” The black chick said, sort of marching at me, one fist raised to deck me, while she held Suzy like a kitten in another. “Drop the stupid-” Roxie let off an electric blast that took the black chick by surprise. Two-ton? I heard a sound of metal groaning, so I looked up and saw that a fire escape was bending downwards, like it was under an immense weight. Two-ton? It clicked. The white guy somehow increased gravity or something, and this was one of their stock ‘we’re a team’ group moves or something.
But it wasn’t affecting me for some reason. Weird.
Still, there’s nothing like the advantage of complete surprise. So I power leaped over to ‘Two-Ton’ and did the classic anime ‘leap-strike’ on his head. I didn’t kill him, thank God, but I definitely put him down. Suzy was off like a shot, and came back a split second later with a plastic bag of garbage that she threw at the black chick. The Indian guy was a stretcher who did this thing with Rox where he kept her off balance with punches and kicks from, like, five feet away. But Chris flew up ten feet and gave him a light blast while he was punching. Rox took advantage of this to grab him and give him a mondo shock, and rubber-boy wasn’t quite so frisky after that.
I wish that I could say that same thing about Kenshi. He was right back on me. But I had a bit of an edge, as I hadn’t just had my chimes rung. But that went south when there was a glare of light from one side, and I reflexively turned to see what it was. Jesus Christ, HeroWatch had showed up! They had two camera guys with spotlights on top of the mobile cams filming it, and two newsheads (don’t ask me who, I don’t watch that crap!) were yammering into microphones.
Between them, Chris and Rox took out first the Indian guy and then the black chick. Marly used mace or pepper spray or whatever on the latina Dragon, but even without the fancy energy things on her hands, the latina was more than up to handling Marly. Not up to Suzy splatting her with another bag of garbage, but if it had just been the two of them, the chica would have kicked Marly’s ass. As it was, after they took down the black chick, Rox and Chris took her down too.
Then it was pretty much just Kenshi and Me. “Get out of here!” I yelled to the girls. “Go to the roofs!” If there’s one good thing about working with girls, it’s that they don’t have a lot of hang-ups with any macho insistence on holding the line with me. Or, at least, Roxie, Marly and Suzy didn’t, and Marly needed Chris to get her up to the roof. And then it was just Kenshi and me. We did the whole super-powered sword fight bit for a good four minutes, and yes, he was still better than me. Worse, he seems to be the kind of guy who not only doesn’t choke in front of cameras, but sort of blossoms under the spotlights. He battered me around, and he maneuvered me so that I was against the wall and under one of the fire escapes, so he had me pinned. He completely controlled the fight, and got me totally off balance, and set to finish me off with a killer strike.
Then a flower pot fell off the fire escape and hit him a glancing blow on the head.
Yeah. Seriously. A flower pot.
I had that ‘WTF’ reaction for a moment, and then realizing that if HeroWatch was there, then it was only a matter of time before the cops showed up. I kipped up to the fire escape and headed for the roof. There was nobody there, but someone yelled, and I spotted them several roofs over. We traveled a few blocks before we stopped on the roof. I gave a quick look around for Ghost Tiger or Shinobi or any other of the local long-john brigade, but apparently HeroWatch had lucked out and decided not to tell the local TV stations.
“What took you so long?” Chris demanded.
“Sword-boy was a lot tougher than I thought,” I explained. “I only got away because…” I tried to frame the buzillion-to-one shot that had saved me and gave it up. “Just wait until ‘HeroWatch’ tonight. You just know that they’re gonna show it.”
“I thought that I was gonna get crushed!” Suzy said, still scared. She looked at me. “Howcome you weren’t crushed?”
I gave the ‘I dunno’ shrug.
Then Chris pulled her ‘spotlight’ power gem out of her pocked and looked at it. “Evan! You got that marble thing we got from those power armor jocks?”
I fished around in my pocket and pulled it out. “Of course! I forgot all about it! It lets me fly, so it must have countered that ‘Two-ton’ guy’s gravity powers!”
“Whatever!” Rox snapped, “Okay, we gotta change our profile again. Swap clothing as best you can. Evan, gimme your clothes, Chris give him yours and you can have mine.” Oh. Right. I was a girl again, and Rox was a guy again. It was a little awkward, but we got it done. Marly and Suzy swapped bits of this and that as best we could, and then we were, if not a completely different group, at least we could break up and not be too conspicuous. “Okay,” Rox said, “as I was saying before we were so rudely interrupted, we gotta get back to City Hall.”
“City Hall?” Marly snapped, “Are you trippin? We gotta get back to the suite with the others and LAY LOW!”
“And can you think of a better place to lay low than City Hall? Besides, I think I finally know what they’re doing…”
* * * * *
Knight Commander Vernon Swive hated dealing with the media. It wasn’t that he didn’t understand the media; it was that his primary understanding of them, especially the news media, was that they were all about spectacle. If they had their way, the news would be hour-long compilations of explosions, grieving mothers, and supermodels running along the beach, broken up by clips of puppies and kittens. And it wasn’t just that they were fickle, though God knows, they were that. It was that he found them often willfully perverse. They’d jump their support back and forth between the cops, the White Capes, the MCO, the Knights, and the Black Capes at the drop of a hat, all depending on which one could be depended on to up the scale of conflagration. The smug example before him, one Shawna Montoya, the field producer for that idiot ‘Cops’ ripoff, ‘HeroWatch’, seemed to think that he was auditioning for a bit part. He was trying to get vital information that she had, and she was fielding cell phone calls! And if she shoved that ‘speak to the hand’ palm in his face one more time…
“Hey, Swive,” A rather rumpled looking stocky guy with a receding hairline, in a black suit with a red tie walked up to their conversation. Swive looked at him in non-recognition, so the man sighed and said, “Haines, MCO.”
Swive snapped his fingers, “Right, right, MCO, Sacramento… So, does the Office think that the Martin Sammish kidnappers and these berserks are the same people?”
Haines shrugged. “More like it’s too quiet in Sacramento, so we’re looking afield, same as you. This is the first thing in the general area to break loose. Any details?”
Swive jerked a thumb at Montoya. “Three reported super-fights in the past two days, and the second one involved someone with ‘tentacles’ like the pinhead who jacked that jewelry store. I have some descriptions of a couple of people who could have been the Sierras I took on in that parking lot cluster-fuck, an electric shocker and someone with an energy sword, but SOMEONE-” Swive glowered at Montoya, “-won’t let me get a look at the raw footage!”
“Buy the ‘Greatest Moments’ DVD like everyone else, cheapskate,” Montoya sneered, never taking the cell phone from her cheek.
Slowly, as though he had every right to, Haines reached over and took the cell phone from Montoya. “She’ll call you back,” he said into it and shut it off. “Miz Montoya,” he informed her matter-of-factly, “the Mutant Commission Office has been retained by the State of California to advise and help coordinate efforts by state and local agencies to apprehend certain parties with known paranormal abilities who abducted twelve juveniles directly from their school. These juveniles are in clear and present danger, and some of them may already be dead. The Mayor and Police Chief of San Francisco have already agreed to cooperate, and have duly deputized the Office as an investigative organ in this specific matter. Miss Montoya, that means we’re official on this one. You can be reasonable and give us access to your tapes, and answer a few reasonable questions, and be an accepted part of this effort. OR you can be pissy, and lawyers will get involved, it’ll take a week, and we’ll get what we need anyway, but you’ll be frozen out of any further developments. The ball’s in your court.” He finished and looked at her stolidly.
Montoya started to argue, shrugged and said, “Okay, as long as it’s official…” she held out her hand. Haines handed her back the cell phone and she immediately made a call. “Therese? It’s me. I’m at SFPD. The Men in Black have taken over. Send Elvis over with the raw footage. No, all the footage, we got nothing to hide on this one, anyway.” She shut the phone and said. “He’ll be here in ten, maybe fifteen minutes.”
“It’s about fucking time…” Swive groused.
“How did your camera teams just happen to be on the scene when that fight went down?” Haines asked, calling a few of the SFPD officers involved over
“What ‘just happen’?” Montoya said. “We cut a deal to follow the Young Dragons around, figuring that even if we didn’t run into the Marty Sam kidnappers, the Dragons would do something that would make some decent footage. And they did!”
“‘Young Dragons’?” Swive echoed in a pained tone.
“They’re sort of a ‘Guardian Angels’ thing we got here,” one of the SFPD detectives told them. “About, oh, ten, fifteen years ago, a local martial arts teacher named Lloyd Kung got hisself a student with gosharootie super-powers. He cut a deal with the Force, that he kept the kid on a leash and taught him kung fu and basic safety stuff, and the kid did very basic ‘Guardian Angel’ type patrols, and we didn’t bust their chops. One thing led to another, and before you knew it, he had a bunch of kids with super powers lookin’ to him to teach them discipline, yada yada yada. We sat down and thrashed out a deal where he kept them down to five kids at a time, they registered with the Pee-Dee, and they’re responsible for any damage and like that. They wear those stupid kung fu outfits when they’re on patrol, and Lloyd makes sure that they know what they’re supposed to do in an emergency. And, give ‘im his due, Lloyd’s aces at playing the ‘wise Chinese master’ bit. He’s got ‘em bending over backwards proving how worthy they are. About once a year or so, one of ‘em grows up and moves on, but Lloyd’s got a whole school of kids just panting for a chance to be… ooohhh… Young Dragons! Lloyd gets a kung fu school that actually meets its bills, the kids get a chance to play hero, and we get a bunch of super powered teenagers who aren’t raising hell on our watch. It ain’t perfect, but it keeps the chaos down to a dull roar.”
“What an interesting perspective you have,” Montoya said dryly.
“You guys let MUTANTS run around with official sanction?” Swive asked, exasperated.
“Hey, they mind their manners and obey the law? Sure. Heck, we got a few on our SWAT team.”
“You guys have mutants on your SWAT team?”
“Can you think of a better place for ‘em?”
“Whatever,” Haines said, dragging the topic back on the track. “Okay, Montoya. What were the Young Dragons doing, checking out that alley? Were the Unsubs doing something that caught their eye, trying to break into one particular place, what?”
“Actually, they were answering a call from a local,” Montoya said.
“That would be me,” a rather attractive woman in her mid-thirties with long dirty blonde hair stepped up, carrying an odd plastic case of some sort like a purse. “I’m Sandra McKinney. I work for Snowfish Runaway Services. I asked the Young Dragons to check out the area because there have been some disturbances involving super powers.”
“Yeah, a couple of days ago, there was a dust-up a couple of blocks away, just off Van Ness, involving some Unsubs that sound a lot like your Mall Raiders, and a bunch of super-powered lowlifes that we’ve heard were in the area,” one of the SFPD detectives explained. “A crew run by a known super-thug called Blackheart. They’re bottom level operators, goons with gimmicks, that kind of thing.”
“Yes, they’re obnoxious,” McKinney said, “and we’ve asked the Young Dragons to run them off now and again. But in the past few days, there have been some young-appearing people that have been harassing the kids around Snowfish. And, worse, we think that they grabbed a girl named Yvonne Shipton, and if that clip that Miss Montoya’s crew took is right, they’ve just kidnapped her friend, Marly Tate!”
Swive had just as much as he could handle at the moment. He was sure that those kids he was hunting had nothing to do with kidnapping any stupid runaways, and his ass was hanging out in the cold winter wind until he’d tracked those assholes down and ended them. He had better things to do. But, for some reason, Knight Commander Vernon Swive was touched as he’d never been touched before, and the spirit moved him to exert himself to rescuing Marly Tate.
And it never even occurred to him that the strange case that Sandra McKinney was wearing like a purse had anything to do with that motivation.
* * * * *
The ‘Iron Butterfly’ is one of the older and better known bars and entertainment venues on the Castro. Being run by a superhero helps. The fact that the Iron Butterfly, the bar’s namesake proprietor, has proven on multiple occasions to the more homophobic members of the SFPD Tac Squad that she would NOT put up with bullshit raids or harassment techniques helped more. The fact that beyond her super powers, the Butterfly had the contacts and chops and sheer bloody-mindedness to drive that position home helped most of all. The Butterfly drove up 19th Street across Hartford and pulled up the alley that led to the back of the bar named after her.
The Butterfly didn’t open the door of her red custom Spyder© sports car. She didn’t need to. She simply passed tracelessly through the car and stepped out. The door on the car had been welded shut to improve the car’s structural integrity, as she didn’t need it. The door on the passenger side was still there, but it only opened from the inside. She’d even had the ignition changed so there was no key; she simply reached in and completed the circuit that way. And while there were several sturdy fire doors leading from the club to the alley, she wasn’t going to use any of them. She’d simply walk tracelessly through the brick wall, as she habitually did to confuse people who tried to keep tabs on her movements. Aside from a jaw that was a touch strong for current fashions, the Iron Butterfly appeared to be a reasonably attractive woman in her early thirties with shortish-cut dark hair and a trim if athletic figure. Under her overcoat, she wore the sleeveless armored black bodysuit and long gloves combo that was her trademark. It wasn’t that she was expecting trouble, but then, trouble never really announced itself, now did it?
She had one hand passed through the fire door, when a spotlight from above hit her. She pulled her hand out completely, and inconspicuously increased her density to that of hardened steel. “You got a problem?” she said in a loud, carrying voice, pointedly not looking up into the light.
“As a matter of fact, I DO,” said a light young soprano voice. “But not with you.” The light died, and a pale glow dropped from the rooftop to a few feet away from the Iron Butterfly. The speaker was a lovely young girl, a blonde, blue-eyed high school heartbreaker, with a heart-shaped face, pouting lips, turned-up nose, and general-all-around ‘oh yes!’ package. She wore jeans and a dark blue hoodie in a way that made even that shlump-wear look good. “I hear that you make deals for the Golden Gate Guardians.”
The Butterfly squared herself, briefly checked the rooftops and ends of the alley for any backup and said, “I’ve been known to buy and sell. So, what d’you have to sell, Sweetie?”
The blonde shook her head. “I’m not selling anything, not right at the moment.” She started to say something, but checked herself. “Look, my friends and me, we’re in a real… awkward situation. One that could get real nasty, any time now. But it’s a real sticky situation, and we need someone to stop and listen to us, but we got no credibility. Like, NONE, whatsoever. If we tried to stop and talk to the Man, he’d put us away, right off. That is, if he didn’t just put us down.”
The Butterfly raised one artfully shaped eyebrow. “And what IS this ‘sticky situation’?”
Blondie shook her head again. “Not now. Later. When we’ve proven that we’ve got credibility.”
“Aaannnddd… exactly HOW do you intend to prove that you’re credible?”
“By clueing you in to a hideously nasty situation, that nobody in San Fran has any idea exists. There’s a group of renegade scientists operating here in San Francisco, that’s using street kids as live subjects for experiments to create psychic powers.”
The Butterfly sighed, “Look, I know that there are always rumors-”
“Not rumors. We know who it is. We know how they select the kids they experiment on. We know how they separate the kids they pick from their friends. We know how they disappear them. We know how they get the kids to their lab. We have a good idea where the lab is. We think we know what they’re trying to create in these experiments. We know that they’re using super-powered thugs to keep their collecting area clean, and running off anyone who tries to get too close to the suckers they’ve picked.” The girl stopped and gave the Butterfly a hard look. “You can’t do the kind of experiments on people that they do, and not kill at least some of them. They’re murdering kids, and driving them insane.”
The kid was giving her hints as to the right kinds of details. “So, do you have any real details to go along with this? Like, do you actually know of any kids who’ve gone missing?”
“Yeah, a girl named Yvonne, from Marin City. She disappeared four days ago, and her friend Marly has been going nuts looking for her.” They fenced back and forth, the girl giving the Iron Butterfly bits and pieces of information that slowly pieced together into a very, very nasty puzzle picture.
“Snowfish? Are you sure about that? Snowfish Runaway Services has a great reputation-”
“Yeah, and it deserved it - five years go. Then, there was a very quiet change in the leadership, they stopped getting funding from their usual sources, and they suddenly moved to a building in a very expensive neighborhood.” The girl gave the Butterfly the address.
“That IS an expensive neighborhood,” the Butterfly admitted. “But why would Snowfish move there, after building up all that community good will at their old site?”
The girl pulled some papers out from the pouch of her hoodie. “The building that Snowfish is in right now used to be a laundry that specialized in serving the full service apartment buildings along this stretch.” The girl pulled out a street plan of three city blocks. “All the apartment buildings along this stretch,” she indicated the three blocks linked by a single alley, “were built in the 1930s as ‘full service’ apartments, which meant that they provided stuff like maid service, daily dairy delivery, and laundry and like that. In order to do that more efficiently and safely, they built a service tunnel under this alley.” She ran a finger along the alley that ran between the buildings the length of the three blocks. “During World War II, the apartment buildings’ landlords stopped the ‘full service’ bit for the duration and just never bothered starting them up again. The service tunnel was locked up and bricked up and eventually forgotten.”
“So, you’re saying that Snowfish takes the kids to this Autism Foundation through this service tunnel?”
“AND, I’m saying that despite the fact that they’re all supposed to be non-profit organizations, the directors and managers of Snowfish, PFAR, the Standish Institute for Cancer Research, the Animal Rescue Alliance, and the Bleauchamp Society for Assistance of Stateless Persons, all have apartments in one of these buildings,” the girl pointed out the buildings that abutted the alley. “These very expensive buildings.”
“What do the Standish… those other organizations have to do with this?”
“They share this building,” the girl tapped the four-story office building that was where one of the apartment buildings that used the service corridor had stood, years ago. “AND, they all had very quiet changes in leadership about three years ago, stopped taking funding from their usual sources and moved from locations where they’d been for years, in neighborhoods that were a lot more affordable.”
“Why would they move all those different fronts to the same building?” the Butterfly asked, more to herself than the girl.
“Well, we’re assuming that they don’t like the idea of neighbors getting suspicious about some of the things that they do.”
“Well, nothing that we can spot for PFAR or the Standish Institute, but we’ve noticed that while that area isn’t zoned for medical lab research, they have regular deliveries of lab equipment and supplies, despite the fact that both PFAR and Standish have closed down their old lab facilities and haven’t opened new ones anywhere in the Bay Area. Similarly, ARA - Animal Rescue Alliance - used to do stuff like take in abused pets, mistreated circus animals and discarded exotic pets, and they had a compound out in Santa Clara county. They shut that down too, despite the fact that they still regularly take in abandoned and mistreated pets, but they’ve stopped with the circus animals and exotics. Oh, and that building gets regular deliveries of pet food and supplies, bought wholesale.”
“You think that they have some kind of unregistered lab in the building?”
The girl brought out larger papers, which turned out to be reduction copies of the building’s blueprints. “When the Standish Institute moved in, they made a request to modify some of the rooms in the basement and sub-basement. It was supposed to just be a climate controlled storage room, but the building inspector filed an objection, because the specifications suggested a laboratory, but a construction permit was issued anyway, and there’s no record of any inspection in the two-and-a-half years since then. Also, when the building was put up, they were supposed to destroy the part of the service corridor that ran under the street that abutted with the building, but there’s no record that that was ever done, either. Also, there’s a provision for a pipe that goes directly from the storage room into the sewers. WHY would a storage room need a major duct into the sewers?”
“You’ve been BUSY.”
“We are very, VERY motivated.”
“And the Bleauchamp Society?”
“Well, we haven’t found anything noticeably weird about them, but ‘Stateless Persons’ is a euphemism for refugees and political exiles. People who pretty much pop out of thin air from somewhere else. There’s just SO MUCH you could do with that kind of setup.”
The Iron Butterfly looked at the blueprints. “Where did you get these?”
“City Hall,” the girl said simply. “Finding them wasn’t easy. Somebody removed all computer records of these, and the circulating copies were also ‘borrowed’ and never returned. These were made from the archival copies, which we guess they missed.”
The Butterfly looked again at the blueprints. She was aware that she was being sold to. But that didn’t mean that it was a bill of goods. It didn’t mean that it wasn’t either. “And what do you want ME to do about this?”
“Hey, you’re the professional superhero. You know what should be done.”
“I’m a businessperson, who deals with the superhero community.”
“Yeah. And that’s why you want to jump on this with both hands.”
“Well, from what we hear, the cops in this town still don’t like Castro Street. Gay Pride or no Gay Pride, how many times have the bars and openly gay businesses on this street been harassed by the police, this year alone? But they don’t hassle your place. Part of that is that you got credit for being a big name superhero. As long as you’re a superhero, and you got lawyers and judges and politicians shaking your hand on the nightly news, you’re golden. But how long has it been since you’ve had a big score, something where you came and saved the day? It’s been years, hasn’t it? You’re becoming old news. And as soon as they think that they can get away with it, some homophobe cops who’ve just been waiting for it will pull something so they can bring SWAT in and close your place down. You need credibility as much as we do.” The girl finished with an arched eyebrow over a steady gaze locked with the Butterfly’s own eye.
The Butterfly picked up the papers. “Well, it wouldn’t hurt anything to have the Lady in White give the place a buzz, just to see what’s going on there.”
“And when she comes back screaming, you’d better have Dynamik or Dr. Technik on hand,” the girl said. “It’d be best to have some people who could do a real investigation with these, too. Oh, and tell Dynamik and Dr. Technik, that once that’s over, and we’ve established our credibility, there’s some things that we’d like them to look at. We think that they’d be VERY interested in them.”
“Oh? What are they?”
“Later. When you’re not humoring me. If you have any important messages for me, leave them on your website.” With that, the girl glowed and lifted off the ground. She flew over the rooftops and disappeared in the muddled light over the Castro.
The Iron Butterfly watched the girl as she flew off. Damn, she hated having things like this shoved at her. But the girl was right; it had been years since the Butterfly had shown that she was still made of iron. She’d been coasting, getting by on her contacts and reputation. But reputations fade, and contacts need a reason to keep talking to you. Besides, if the girl was right, and this was anywhere near as nasty as it was shaping up to be, then it could do her a world of hurt if it got out that she’d known about it and done nothing. Still, she’d have to be careful. Throwing accusations at charities was risky. Sure, Snowfish and the Bleauchamp Society had great reputations, but then, those were just the sort of fronts that outfits like this would pick as cover, now wouldn’t it?
Gritting at the sense of a can of particularly toxic worms being opened, the Butterfly pulled out her cell phone and started making phone calls as she passed through the brick wall into her bar.
* * * * *
I connected with Chris after she made her pitch to the Iron Butterfly, and made sure that we weren’t followed by anyone. It wasn’t like the Iron Butterfly was expecting us or anything, but with superheroes, you don’t take chances. “So, did she buy it?”
Chris shrugged and started to walk down Market Street. “Hard to say. She listened, but I’m not sure how much she’s taking seriously. It doesn’t really matter that she trusts us, we can prove that we’re trustworthy… the real risk is her completely writing me off as a flaky kid and just chucking it.” She turned and looked at me. “We can’t rely on her to do what we want. If we keep waiting for someone else to make this right, we might as well just march into a police station and let Swive shoot us. Evan, I can’t go to the police; I never had my fingerprints taken, and even my own mother wouldn’t recognize me.” She paused for a moment. “Not that I’d trust her to recognize me before… she hasn’t really looked at me since I was eight…”
“Chris,” I almost laid a comforting hand on her shoulder, but realized that that might not be taken in the spirit offered, “this isn’t our only option. We’ve got options. We haven’t figured them out yet, but we’ve got options. What’s important is that we don’t give up.”
“What’s getting me is that even if the Iron Butterfly does believe us, and we can get Dynamik or Dr. Technik to look at that dingus we took from the lab, so what? Yeah, they’re superheroes, but will that be enough? Thanks to your dad, we’re wanted for kidnapping ourselves! And after that fuckwad at the mall, they’ll probably just chuck us all in jail forever on general principles, even if we can prove who we really are.”
I gave Chris my best ‘hey, I know better’ smirk and said, “That’s why getting to Dynamik or Dr. Technik is so important. I mean, there’s got to be some kind of place that will grant us asylum, or something like that. Some kind of Metahuman Advocacy group, like that Bleauchamp Society is supposed to be, and if Dynamik or Dr. Technik don’t know about it, then the Iron Butterfly, or the Golden Mandrin or Maxima or some member of the G3 will know about it.”
Chris gave me a ‘gimme a break’ scowl. “Oh yeah, this time tomorrow, we’re gonna be on a plane for the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters.”
“Yeah, well, look at the bright side, you’ve been jonesing to get close to Kitty Pryde, haven’t you? Well, maybe I’m the one to finally get Rogue into a corner and…” We goofed about what we’d do once we were safely among the X-Men for a few blocks, and then we caught one of those ‘landmark streetcars’ they got running on the surface. We were just about to start up the hill towards the Corporate Housing place, when I got a call on my cell phone. “Yello?”
[Ev!] It was Rachel. [Is Marly with you?]
“aaahhh…NO, why would Marly be with us?”
[Mack and I was backing up the weasel with gettin’ those wheels together, like we planned, when Mack started trippin’ out. He made us come back to the hotel, lookin’ for Marly. Ev, she’s not here!]
“You think that Snowfish found our place and took her?”
[Naw, Eddie was on duty, surfin’ the TV for news updates, and nothin’ went down. She musta just walked out for some reason]
“Some reason, yeah,” I sneered. “Are Roxie and Suzy back yet? Okay, Chris and I are coming in; if Suzy gets there before we do, send her out to search the area at super-speed. It’s dark enough that she should be able to get away with it.”
[Right, right, that’s the ticket,] Rachel said, obviously stressed. She added, [Ev, GET here, Mack is wigging OUT!]
I spelled it out for Chris and we made tracks for the suite. The reason that Rachel couldn’t call Suzy directly and start the super-speed search immediately was that while Suzy wasn’t as bad as Roxie was for fucking with electronics, there was something about her that fucked with the cell signal. When we got to the suite, Mack wasn’t running around trashing the place, but he was definitely wigging out.
Roxie and Suzy came back just as Rachel and I were getting Mack thinking straight again. “How did he know that Marly was missing? And why did Marly leave?”
“Marly reads minds, remember?” Rachel said with a real edge to her voice. “It looks like Mack finally found a cute girl that he could bond with, really bond with.”
“Ah, excuse me?” Billy said, raising his hand like we were in class, “But shouldn’t we be MOVING? I mean, if someone’s got Marly, the first thing they’re gonna do is pump her for questions about US. I mean, it sucks for Marly, but hey, let’s face it, we barely know her!”
Roxie gave Billy a disgusted look. “Okay, let’s sweep aside the facts that if Mack’s bonded with Marly, then Snowfish or PFAR, or whatever those assholes call themselves, can use that to track us, AND that it’s just plain wrong to leave her in the lurch like that. Billy, we NEED Marly. She wasn’t involved up in Sacramento, but she can testify to everything else. That makes her a witness for us, which we happen to need like we need air to breathe! Plus, if we don’t, Mack will probably go completely nuts!” And that Rachel would flip out five seconds after Mack does, went unspoken, but was understood across the board.
After a few minutes, Suzy was back. “I couldn’t find Marly, but I spotted a guy who knew her from Snowfish, and he said that he saw Marly walking into Snowfish and talking with Miss McKinney, the head counselor!”
“The only reason that Marly would just walk into Snowfish without being dragged, is Yvonne,” Chris said.
“Marly and Yvonne were bonded, like Marly bonded with Mack,” Roxie picked up the ball. “They got to Yvonne somehow.”
“HOW?” Eddie asked.
“The word ‘brainwashing’ comes immediately to mind,” I said. “But it took them four days. And brainwashing isn’t one of those things that you can do in a couple of hours, like they do on TV. So, we still have a chance.”
“We are going IN and getting them OUT of there!” Mack thundered.
“MACK,” Roxie groaned, “we can’t just-”
“He’s right,” I cut her off. “Time is on their side.” I grabbed all the blueprints that we had and spread them out on the table. “The longer we wait, the more they can prepare for us. They can squeeze Marly for information, which they can feed the Cops and MCO. That is, if they haven’t hired the KoP to hunt for us. We go NOW, while they’re still getting Marly squared away.”
“Evan, they are EXPECTING us to do something!” Roxie yelled. “They’ll be waiting for us! Trying to sneak in right now would be suicide!”
“Of course. So, we go in on OUR terms.” I pointed at the map. “Billy, if you were gonna sneak in, how would you do it?”
to be continued