Jenny pushes back in her chair, staring at her laptop screen in satisfaction.
CB’s head appears past the edge of the doorframe. “Yeah?”
Jenny nods. “Yeah.”
Moments later CB is standing over her shoulder, peering at the screen. “Where is that? Can you zoom it out?”
Jenny does. “It’s past the north end of the boardwalk. You see that cluster of buildings there? Looks like old warehouses and office buildings.”
“Oh,” CB says. “I know where that is. It’s a Superfund site. Nobody goes there because of all the poison.”
“Somebody does. That’s where the trace stops.” She points at a spot on the monitor. “I’m guessing from there it switches to some other kind of network. I can probably find it and give you a more specific location, but there’s a pretty good chance someone will notice.”
“Can you do it in the field?” CB asks.
Jenny shrugs. “I guess. If there’s a place for me to hook up.”
“Street Ronin can take care of that.” Red Shift is in the room now, peering over her other shoulder. “Can you automate it? And can you make it look like someone is actively trying to hack the network?”
“I like that,” CB says. “If we can find out where the network begins it’ll give us a starting point when we storm the castle. And if we can get them to think it’s a remote threat at the same time, they’ll be focusing on trying to track that down instead of paying attention to us. Might be a nice distraction.”
“I probably could,” Jenny says, “but I don’t know what I have to work with. I kinda don’t want to use my laptop. I already had to give up my car because of these assholes, I don’t want to lose my baby.”
Red Shift chuckles softly. “Street Ronin can help you with that, too. I’m not familiar with all his toys but… well, you two should talk when we get started.”
“OK,” Jenny says.
“Also, I’m breaking curfew,” Red Shift adds. “I’ll be careful, but I need to talk to your friend Elliot about getting some of those things we talked about.”
“Oh…” CB nods. “Right. That. Well, be careful. They obviously don’t know where we are, and I want to keep it that way.”
“What things? What that?” Jenny looks from Red Shift, to CB, then back. “What are you talking about?”
“You’re going to need a…” CB reaches for the right word and stumbles over it.
“The traditional term is costume,” Red Shift says, “though I had something a little more practical in mind.”
Jenny blinks. “Costume.”
“’Uniform’ is probably more accurate, these days.” Red Shift shrugs. “You’re definitely going to need something that can handle more wear and tear than street clothes.”
Jenny narrows her eyes. “No heels. Also, if my costume winds up doing anything cute like flashing cleavage I will find a way through that force field of yours…”
CB laughs. “No spandex, no boob window. We promise!”
“Back in a bit,” Red Shift says. A moment later Jenny sees him on the security monitors as he emerges from the safehouse and heads off into the city.
When she looks up she sees CB staring at her thoughtfully.
He shrugs. “Just… sorry you’ve been stuck in here all this time. It’s a little unfair.”
“It sucks. I get it, though. It wasn’t the most convenient time for me to go all metahuman on everyone. It would have been better if I’d done it in New York. At least I know where everything is up there.”
“I was thinking more about what would happen if Richter or Plague had found you wandering around topside,” CB says. “But yeah, Farraday City is its own brand of special. Not the place I’d have chosen for your cotillion.”
Jenny snorts. “A cotillion?”
“This is the South,” CB says. “That’s apparently what you do.”
Jenny smiles mischievously. “So should we send out invitations? It sounds like the kind of thing you RSVP.”
“I like that,” CB says. “Something along the lines of ‘Zero requests the honor of your presence on the occasion of her Inaugural Farraday City Metahuman Cotillion for the benefit of shooting, punching, and otherwise royally kicking your sorry asses into next week.’ We’ll print it up on fancy paper, with calligraphy done in gold ink.”
“Excellent,” Jenny says. “And on top of it all you’re getting me something pretty to wear. What girl could ask for more?”
“Red is handling the pretty,” CB says. “Crossfire has a lot more experience with body armor than I do. He’s going to frankenstein my old suit and add a few extras. Uh, that reminds me.”
He reaches into his trench coat pocket and pulls out a carpenter’s tape measure. “Stand up, let’s get this over with.”
Jenny eyes the tape measure doubtfully. “I’m pretty sure that’s not what you’re supposed to use.”
“So am I,” CB says, “but it’s what I’ve got. Stand up, hold out your arms in a ‘T’.”
Jenny stands. CB awkwardly starts taking her measurements.
“So what are they like?” Jenny asks. “Crossfire, I mean. They’re not really who I thought I…” Her cheeks color slightly, and she laughs, embarrassed. “I mean, when I was a kid, and pretending I was… what I am, now, when I pictured the kind of people I’d be working with, they were never…”
“Yeah, your cotillion is going to be really fucked up.”
“First, let’s not call it that any more,” Jenny says. “Second, I’m serious. I’m the newbie, remember? All I know is what I get from the news and the Internet.”
CB shrugs. “You’ve met Red Shift.”
“Yeah, so, friendly, laid-back killing machine. They’re all like him?”
“Look, Jenny, I’ve been out of this life for a while. The last time I had anything to do with Crossfire at all was before 9/11, and we were fighting at the time. The Guardians won, for the record.”
“How does that work, anyway? One day you’re fighting them, and a decade plus later you’re best friends? And working with Overmind? Isn’t he one of the most dangerous men on the whole damn planet?”
“It’s complicated,” CB says.
“Come on, CB, do better than that.” Jenny looks at him pleadingly. “I don’t know how to do this. I know you trust these guys, for whatever reason, but trusting them because you do isn’t enough. I want to know why I should. I need to know.”
CB doesn’t say anything at first. He’s staring at her, but it seems to Jenny that he doesn’t actually see her. He’s somewhere else, lost in a memory—a bittersweet one from the smile she sees play across his face. The memory passes, the smile fades, and he focuses again.
“Yeah,” he says. “That’s fair. Sorry. You’re getting the crash course on the hero biz, and you’re getting it from the grays. It’s a hell of a thing.”
“Yeah. Unofficial term. Groups like Crossfire—groups that operate outside the law and make everything complicated. A lot of ‘em showed up in the 90s, and someone called ‘em ‘grays’ because trying to place them on a side was a real problem. We like our lines clear and unbroken, and they make drawing those lines a real bitch.”
“No black or white, only gray,” Jenny says. “That kind of thing?”
“Yeah,” CB says. “The thing is, though? It’s bullshit. The dirty little secret about Crossfire: they’re not shades of gray. They’re true believers. They have a vision of how the world should be, and they bring war to anyone who gets in its way. They’re a lot like me, back in the beginning.”
“When you were a villain?” Jenny shakes her head. “How is that a good thing?”
“Before I was a villain. Before I crossed the line.”
“Oh,” Jenny says.
“Look, they’re not saints,” CB says. “They’re criminals for a reason. They kill people. If they think the law is protecting one of the bad guys, they ignore the law. If they think the ‘good guys’ are protecting the ‘bad guys,’ they’ll fight the good guys. I wouldn’t want them on my side if I was trying to negotiate a cease fire, but for something like this? Yeah, I’ll take ‘em in a heartbeat.”
“OK,” Jenny says. “What about Overmind?”
CB grimaces. “That’s more complicated. He is legitimately trying to take over the world, and all that. But the thing about LaFleur is… as bad as he wants to take over the world? He’s not willing to break it first.”