Special Agent Philip Henry has a reputation for coolness under fire. This reputation has sometimes been described in semi-flattering terms, like when one of his superiors compared him to Joe Friday from the old Dragnet radio programs. Sometimes the description is less flattering, like when one of his colleagues accused him of being a soulless, cold-hearted son of a bitch.
At the moment his reputation is being tested. As Sergeant Alishia Webb glowers at him from across the table of the sole booth in Elliot’s Diner, he fights back the urge to flinch away from her gaze.
“We wanted to tell you for some time,” Agent Henry says. “We just haven’t had the opportunity.”
Elliot’s Diner is almost entirely empty. Sergeant Webb sits on one side of the table, Agent Henry on the other. Across the room, sitting on the cash register counter, is Curtis Dupree, also known as Brother Judgment, leader of the Bastions.
Curtis’ brother owns the diner. He’s closed it up for the day.
“Opportunity.” Despite the anger on her face, Webb’s voice is even and controlled. This is a quality Agent Henry admires: she doesn’t bother to pretend she isn’t angry, but she’s obviously keeping it in check. “It’s been a month. I believed the man was dead for a month. And you’re telling me that in all that time you never once had the opportunity—”
“That’s exactly what I’m telling you.” Agent Henry sighs, taking off his sunglasses as he rubs his eyes. He puts them back on before meeting her gaze. “We didn’t have the opportunity because it’s a complicated explanation, and we needed a safe place to tell you. We didn’t have a safe place. Not until very recently.”
He turns to look at the thin young man in the long black trenchcoat. “Thank you for that.”
Dupree shrugs noncommittally. “Don’t consider it an open invitation.”
“I won’t.” He turns back to Webb. “The problem was simple: the people and resources who were used to try to kill us came from within the Department of Homeland Security. And while I trust my team implicitly, it seems likely that some of the coordination of the attack came from within Division M.”
Some of the anger fades from Webb’s face. “So we couldn’t use your offices.”
“We couldn’t be sure we wouldn’t be monitored if we did. And even my supervisor is in the dark about Agent Grant’s true status, and what he and Agent Hu are doing. We’d planned to tell you the whole situation immediately after the task force meeting...”
Agent Henry spreads his hands, shrugging.
“And then Clive Darius happened, and he rattled me. So… opportunity lost.”
Webb leans back in her chair, crossing her arms as her eyes unfocus. Her frown is more thoughtful than angry. “So you weren’t deliberately trying to keep me out of this?”
“Absolutely not,” he says. “We just didn’t know how to tell you what was going on.”
Webb sighs, some of the tension draining as she does. “OK. How the hell did you fake his autopsy?”
Agent Henry suppresses the urge to flinch again. “We didn’t. Which segues nicely to this…” He reaches into his jacket pocket and pulls out a folded up piece of paper, which he slides across the table.
Webb looks down at the paper, then looks back up at him.
“Please destroy that after reading it. This is a concise description of what every person on our team can do. Including the things that have not been formally communicated to the Department of Homeland Security.”
Webb’s eyebrows go up. She grabs the paper, unfolding it carefully.
“Mr. Dupree,” Agent Henry says, “you are also welcome to review the information.”
Dupree stirs from his perch on the counter. “Why?”
“Because you’re involved.” He raises a hand to still the young man’s protest. “Are you telling me you’re not planning to look into why Clive Darius appears to have no mind?”
Dupree frowns, opens his mouth, then promptly shuts it again. His frown deepens.
“If you’re going to get involved, then you should work with us.”
Dupree’s frown turns into a scowl.
“With us, Mr. Dupree. Not for us.”
“I’m not sure that distinction means a damn thing, in the long run,” Dupree says. He doesn’t bother to disguise the anger and contempt in his voice.
“Of course it means something.” Agent Henry’s voice hardens just a bit. “We are currently enmeshed in… we don’t know what, exactly. It involves criminals who have compromised my department, who tried to murder people on my team. It involves a highly-decorated member of Sergeant Webb’s department who is dirty through and through. The only people I know I can trust, aside from the immediate members of my team, are a former DHS agent currently charged with terrorism, and Sergeant Webb. I am now extending that trust to you, and potentially to people you can recommend.”
Agent Henry slides out of the booth, brushes off his suit coat, and walks over to stand in front of Dupree. The younger man doesn’t move, but he tenses slightly.
“I wasn’t thrilled when Webb brought you in,” he says. “I know about the Bastions by reputation. I don’t approve of the kind of vigilante activity you engage in. What’s more, under most circumstances I’m legally obliged to stop you from doing some of it. But I also do my homework: I can’t deny what you’ve done for this area, and if you pressed me on it I’d probably admit that no one else would have bothered to do anything at all. Also, you’ve been honest with us the entire time you’ve been involved in this, and that counts for a lot with me.”
Dupree jerks his head to indicate Webb. “She told me what you do. I figured there wasn’t a point, trying to lie.”
“You’d be surprised how many people try anyway.”
Dupree scowls and looks away.
Agent Henry steps back and to the side, breaking the standoff. “Just keep an open mind. We’ll talk about it again after.” He pushes back his coat sleeve to look at his watch, and tsks in irritation. “He should be here any minute now.”
As if on cue, the front bell jingles, and Special Agent Alan Grant steps through the door.
“Jesus, boss.” Grant smirks as he looks around the room. “Morrisania? I guess Hell’s Kitchen is just too trendy.”
Curtis Dupree is no longer sitting on the counter: he’s floating a foot off the ground, body rigid, face a mask of concentration. Agent Grant stops in his tracks, words momentarily lost, and blinks in surprise.
“No shit.” Grant cocks his head to one side. “Brother Judgment.” He swivels his head to stare back at Agent Henry. “Seriously? The Bastions?”
“How did you get here?” Dupree demands.
Grant shrugs and twiddles his fingers. “Metahuman. Are you reading my mind right now? How hard is it to do that?”
“This is Special Agent Alan Grant,” Agent Henry says, suppressing the urge to both smile and to grit his teeth.
Grant grins at Dupree, then his grin fades as he sees Webb, still holding the sheet of paper in her hands, staring at him in shock. For a moment, his cocky demeanor falters.
“Heya, Webb. Uh… surprise?”
“I saw pictures of your corpse,” she says. Her tone of voice is hard to place. “So I guess it was just a copy, then?”
“No.” Any apprehension Grant may have felt is quickly replaced with aggrieved annoyance. “That’s not how it works. It’s a… quantum bullshit thingy. I’ll fail to explain more properly in a bit.” He turns back to Agent Henry, gesturing to Dupree. “He in?”
“Yes,” Agent Henry says.
Grant turns to look at Dupree. “My condolences. Have a seat. Everybody have a seat. You’re gonna want to be sitting down for this.”
Dupree looks from Agent Grant, to Agent Henry, to Sergeant Webb. Agent Henry looks hard at Grant, shrugs, then returns to the booth, sliding back into his former spot. Webb stares at Grant, saying nothing, waiting patiently. Slowly, Dupree relaxes. He floats back over to the counter and sits.
Agent Grant stares at the three of them, surprised. “I thought it’d take longer than that. Right, well, OK.”
“So what’s the situation?” Agent Henry asks.
“The short version is that we’re fucked.”
“Is that your tactical assessment?” Webb asks.
“Well yes it is, Sergeant,” Grant says. “That is my summation of our position in relation to enemy numbers and provisions. I just saw those sons of bitches sink an entire goddamn island. Well, it was a robot island, and I’m not sure if that makes it easier or harder, but still an island. And now Overmind—”
“Overmind?” Agent Henry, Webb, and Dupree say the name at exactly the same time, with roughly the same degree of alarm.
“How is Overmind involved in this?” Agent Henry asks.
Grant waves a hand dismissively. “Oh, he’s one of the good guys on this one. That should give you an idea of exactly how royally fucked we are.”
Agent Henry digs deep, pulling out every reserve of self-control he has. “Agent Grant. Perhaps you might consider giving us the long version.”
“Right,” Grant says. “OK. The long version starts with me, Hu, and Travers taking a road trip down to Farraday City.”