Jason Kline sighs, pushes his laptop away, and rests his forehead against the edge of the table. He stares down at the taupe-colored rug and wonders what color it was when they first moved in. He’s certain the rug has been replaced at least twice since they set up here, but he doesn’t remember it happening and he can’t remember the previous colors.
The Haruspex Analytics Situation Room stopped being “the situation room” and started being “their office” about a month ago. It has all the access they need: access to the computers on the Haruspex network and access to the outside world (different computers, different lines) made it the ideal location, and they never bothered moving out. At first glance, it doesn’t really look how you’d expect a situation room to look—even now, after all his years on the job, Jason still expects to see a 40-foot-tall viewscreen with red flashing lights and a large sign flashing DEFCON ONE any time someone uses the term “situation room.” Instead, it looks like a board room, with the central meeting table surrounded by paneled display screens set into the walls.
Jason continues to stare at the rug, feeling the cool wood surface of the table pressing against his forehead. “I’m running out of ideas.”
Every inch of wall, save for a few inches around the doors leading into the room, is part of the situation room display system. It wasn’t always this way—when they first moved in, it was a more traditional “squeeze as many flat screen monitors onto each wall as you can manage” arrangement. One morning they walked in, found the monitors gone, and saw the walls had become the monitors. Each seat around the table has a computer that can patch into any of the displays embedded in the walls. When all the panels are going at once, each tapped into a separate real-time feed in HA’s world-wide communications network, the 40-foot-tall view screen seems unnecessary.
“Boo fucking hoo.”
Jason quickly suppresses a smile and looks over at the small woman dressed in gray sweat pants and a blue hoodie. The hood is up, with the drawstring pulled so far that only her eyes and the tip of her nose is visible. She’s staring at her laptop—a machine so large it barely qualifies as portable, hooked into one of the table’s computers—and squints slightly as she focuses on something specific.
“Anyone ever tell you you’re a sweetheart, Michelle?”
The right arm goes up. She’s pulled the sleeves of her sweatshirt over her hands, but a single finger emerges from the cloth, stays visible long enough to make its point, then disappears beneath the sweatshirt again.
Michelle is a brilliant analyst. She is also a very good communicator, for certain types of communication, but she is not a very diplomatic one.
Laughter from his right—Billy and Phyllis, neither bothering to hide their amusement. Billy, a blonde-haired, blue-eyed surfer from the West Coast, grins openly at Michelle as she returns to her work. Phyllis, a middle-aged, heavyset black woman from Michigan, directs her mirth at Jason instead.
“Yeah. I’m done.” To Michelle’s right, a slightly overweight Asian man sighs and leans back in his chair, head tilted back as he stares up at the ceiling. Simon runs a hand through his spiky black hair and shakes his head. “I don’t know where they are. You don’t know where they are. Nobody in this room knows where they are! Can we go home already?”
Since the disaster in Farraday City—the loss of a secret installation, a prototype golem, an entire set of test subjects, and who knows how much potentially revealing information on Project Recall, not to mention nearly decimating the coast of Georgia in a metahuman-related mishap they still don’t completely understand—his team has focused on identifying the participants and figuring out where they went.
Figuring out “who” wasn’t as difficult as it could have been. The base personnel who survived the last-minute evac included security personnel who monitored the initial assault, who identified most of the players—Curveball, Crossfire, Scrapper Jack, and three more. One of them was a woman that Johann Richter swore was Jenny Forrest. Jason has difficulty believing that—he’s met Jenny before, and he’s pretty sure she wasn’t a metahuman then—but it’s possible. Of the other two, the woman could burst into flame, and the man was a teleporter. There was a database match for them, but Jason wasn’t ready to believe it. The match indicated the two were a team, and that the man had recently died and had been autopsied. The only metahuman who could possibly recover from something like that—at least, the only one he knew of—was Vigilante.
Then Plague mentioned Regiment, of all people. They didn’t have any footage of him, but he’d been involved at least once before, when he helped Curveball repel the assault on the Forrest brownstone.
That was a large concentration of very powerful metahumans in a city that was notoriously hostile to them. So where did they go? After nearly tearing the underground complex out of the ground, they disappeared. Completely.
“They have to still be in the city.” Michelle’s voice is clipped—she’s frustrated too, she just doesn’t want to admit it. “They’re lying low. Farraday City is a good place for that.”
Simon, still looking at the ceiling, shakes his head. “The political situation there is too… unusual. If we can believe our briefing.”
“Assume we can,” Jason says. “But they probably don’t know how unusual it is. And Curveball has apparently been living there for a while. He may have resources he can leverage to keep them hidden.”
“Too many.” Simon sits up, rubs his eyes, and focuses on his computer screen. “Curveball, Jenny Forrest, Scrapper Jack, Vigilante, Red Shift, Street Ronin… maybe these two Feds… and now Regiment? That’s too many, Jason. You can’t keep them all hidden.”
“So where?” Michelle almost growls the question.
“Here?” Simon doesn’t sound convinced, and he shrugs when he says it. “They’re all from New York. Even Curveball.”
“There’d be signs,” Michelle insists. “We’ve got eyes on the most likely routes. And a few unlikely ones, just in case.”
Simon waves his hand dismissively. “That wouldn’t stop them. Curveball evaded a government manhunt for months. No one can seem to get a line on Crossfire, no matter how many resources they put into it. They could manage the trip undetected.”
“They’re out of the country,” Phyllis says.
Simon and Michelle stop arguing and turn to stare at the older woman. Jason does too, eyebrow raised. Billy leans back in his chair, grinning.
“How do you figure?” Jason asks.
Phyllis takes her time answering, pausing to sip her coffee first, which makes Billy grin even wider.
“It’s Regiment,” Phyllis says.
Jason frowns. “You think he flew them out of the country?”
Phyllis shakes her head. “That’s not it. Roger Whitman didn’t travel to Farraday City with Curveball and Jenny Forrest. And he didn’t travel to Farraday City with Crossfire, or with Scrapper Jack. He wasn’t seen for most of the battle outside the compound. He arrived separately, and as far as Billy and I can tell, he arrived last.”
Billy nods in agreement. “We have video footage, taken from the heavy units, of everyone else in the fight. None of him. So he didn’t show until after the heavies were taken out—during the golem deploy is our guess. Unfortunately we don’t have any footage of that.”
“OK.” Jason leans forward, interested to see where this is going. “So he arrived last. What does that mean?”
“Nothing by itself,” Billy says, “but Phyllis checked up on his activity in New York, and apparently he left his home about a week and a half before the fight started. Locked it up, left some instructions with a neighbor, and disappeared. Nobody knows where.”
“Farraday City?” Michelle asks.
Phyllis shakes her head. “A week and a half before that fight, and he only shows up at the end of it? He would have joined the rest of the group by then. You’re forgetting the third surviving member of the Guardians.”
Jason feels the other eyebrow rise to join the first. “Thorpe?”
Phyllis nods. “Think about it. Both Curveball and Regiment use Thorpe’s network to communicate. All four of them were close, back in the day. Thorpe would be just as interested in investigating Liberty’s murder as Curveball and Regiment…”
“…but he can’t,” Billy adds, “because he’s not allowed to enter the country.”
“But he still has a lot of resources at his disposal,” Phyllis continues.
Michelle stares at Phyllis for a moment. Then she nods, closes the lid to her laptop, and pushes her chair away from the table.
“They’re right. They’re with Thorpe.”
“And Thorpe is not in the US,” Billy says. “He’s… well, we’re not sure, exactly. We think he’s on a private island somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.”
“How?” Simon is still unconvinced. “I see the connection you’re making, but if Thorpe isn’t in the US, and he can’t get into the US, how would he extract six—or maybe eight—metahumans?”
“Seven or nine,” Jason corrects. “If you count Regiment.”
“Regiment can fly,” Simon says. “I’m not counting him.”
“He can’t be in the US,” Billy says. “But Thorpe Industries is all over. He could probably smuggle himself into the US if he really wanted. Getting a group of people out of Farraday City while everyone is distracted by a killer hurricane? Kid stuff.”
Jason thinks it over. “So you’re saying that a week and a half before the attack on the base, Regiment flew off to meet with Dr. Thorpe at this island.”
“We don’t actually know it’s an island,” Phyllis says, frowning slightly at Billy.
Billy shrugs. “With billionaires it’s almost always an island.”
“The point is,” Phyllis says, “that Regiment went somewhere, and we’re pretty sure it was to meet with Thorpe… wherever he is.”
“But we might be able to find out where that is,” Billy adds. “If Regiment joined up with the others because he assumed they were associated with the hurricane in Farraday City—”
“–and if we assume the data we have on Regiment’s top flight speed is correct—” Phyllis adds.
“–then we can estimate the distance Regiment had to travel to get there,” Billy finishes.
Jason nods. “We can dedicate some CPU cycles to comparing that range with every known island in the Atlantic, see if Thorpe has any infrastructure in that range…”
Michelle pulls her chair back up to the table and opens the lid of her laptop. “Not tired any more.”
“I don’t know,” Simon says. “Don’t get me wrong, it narrows down our search from everywhere in the world quite a bit, but it’s still a lot of area to cover.”
“It is,” Jason says. “But it’s more than we had an hour ago. And I think I have a few ideas on how to narrow things down even further. Let’s take a break, get some food. Say two hours?”
Everyone nods in agreement.
“Great,” Jason says. “When we get back, we’ll start calculating the most likely points of origin and start from there. Billy, Phyllis… excellent work.”
Everyone is smiling as they make their way out.