Forces Gather: Part Two

Submitted by C B Wright on
Crossfire Safehouse

Street Ronin sighs, rubs his eyes, and leans back in his chair. His computer has been analyzing the files from a USB thumb drive for the last hour, and it’s boring.

He and Red Shift have been in the safehouse Tactical Room for most of the night, trying to piece together all the information they received from their new partners. He’s tired; Red Shift is bored. As far as Street Ronin knows, Red Shift doesn’t sleep.

“You know how TV shows always have computers showing you a search in progress? Like, they have a graphic of a file being put next to a graphic of another file, and then big blocky letters say ‘no match,’ and then it does it again?” Street Ronin reaches for his coffee, sees the mug is empty, and frowns.

“Yep.” Red Shift takes the empty mug and sets down a fresh, full one. “Almost as dumb as the bomb always being disarmed three seconds before it goes off.”

“You’re a saint,” Street Ronin says, grabbing the mug gratefully.

Red Shift snorts. “No saints in this neck of the woods. Except maybe the cop.”

The cop is the latest addition to the ragtag group working with Crossfire to figure out who murdered Liberty and why. He’d been a pretty well known hero—an armored hero that went by the name Sky Commando—until an injury forced him to retire before he turned 30. It’s his USB thumb drive they’re examining.

“He’s not a saint,” Street Ronin says. “He came here.”

Red Shift shrugs. “Saints eat with sinners all the time. Wash their feet, even.”

Street Ronin’s computer dings as a pop-up window alerts him to a match. Relieved to have something to do, he tabs over to view the report.

“What’s that?” Red Shift asks more out of boredom than interest. When Street Ronin doesn’t answer, he looks over, then raises an eyebrow at the expression on the man’s face. “Found something?”

Street Ronin stares at the screen for a moment, then takes a breath. “Yeah. Hell yeah, I got something all right. Look at this.”

He moves out of the way to give Red Shift a clear view. In half a second, Red Shift has memorized everything on the screen and parses through it mentally. He stops on a name. His eyes widen in shock. “Holy shit.”

“Yeah.” Street Ronin opens up a new terminal window on the screen and starts typing in commands. “I need a little time to see where this goes. Then we need to tell the others. Meeting in an hour?”

Red Shift nods and heads to the door. “I’ll tell Vigilante.”

* * *

David Bernard shifts awkwardly in the chair, trying to find a comfortable position and not quite managing to settle in. His IV—an almost-constant fixture since his arrival at the safe house—bumps against his shin, and he has to grip the IV stand to keep it from toppling over and ripping out of his arm. That’s already happened twice today.

“We’re not used to this kind of crowd,” Red Shift says, almost apologetically.

The Crossfire Safehouse is a blend of cutting edge technology and second hand furniture. Crossfire doesn’t skimp on tools—their computers are far beyond what the NYPD has at its disposal, and the “bare bones” medical station set up in the spare room has things in it that would make any hospital envious. The furnishings, on the other hand, look like they were scrounged. Folding chairs, card tables, futon couches and milk crate shelving makes everything look more like a college dormitory than a base for one of the most dangerous vigilante groups in the country.

David sits on an old wood folding chair in the upstairs apartment’s living room, waiting for everyone to gather for the urgent meeting Red Shift and Street Ronin are organizing. He grips his IV stand in one hand while he eyes the cup of coffee Red Shift just set down on a small card table in front of him. Coffee is one of the things he isn’t allowed to drink—caffeine is apparently bad for a concussion.

“It’s OK to drink it,” Red Shift says.

David looks at him dubiously. “That’s not what my doctor told me.”

“Your doctor didn’t have access to that.” Red Shift points at the IV drip. “How are you feeling?”

He’s the least dangerous-looking of the trio: he has an easygoing demeanor and always seems to sport a relaxed, friendly smile. Relaxed, affable, almost lazy. For a man who has been clocked at speeds exceeding Mach 12, he seems perpetually at rest.

“Lousy,” David says. “But better than when I first got here. I’m still pretty clumsy, but the headaches are gone. I can focus now. I don’t feel like I’m going to throw up all the time. Still a solid bruise from top to bottom, though.”

“A few more days of meds and you’ll be out of the woods,” Red Shift says. “Drive, drink beer, run, lift weights, the whole nine yards. You won’t be at a hundred percent, maybe seventy-five, eighty tops, but that’s pretty good considering where you were.”

David looks at the IV drip thoughtfully. “What the hell is in that thing?”

“Trade secret,” Red Shift says. “Something Street Ronin and I cooked up to help him bounce back faster. It’s designed specifically for him, and I had to dilute it to get it to work for you, so it’s not a perfect fix. Also if you take a drug test in the next few months you’re going to test positive for opiates. So… don’t take a drug test.”

A tsking noise draws David’s attention to a small, ramshackle futon on the other end of the room. David glances at the elegantly-dressed white-haired man and tries not to frown. Artemis LaFleur—Overmind—seems completely at ease among the shabby furnishings, even though his suit looks like it’s more expensive than anything else in the building, including the electronics.

LaFleur meets David’s gaze and bows his head slightly in acknowledgment. Other than the initial round of very awkward introductions, they haven’t spoken. David is still trying to come to grips with the fact that he’s working with one of the most dangerous criminal masterminds in the world. And, if Vigilante is to be believed, that LaFleur is doing so for at least partially altruistic reasons.

Red Shift glances at LaFleur, pulls up a second folding chair, and sits down next to David. “Strange days.”

David nods, still eying LaFleur warily.

“And,” Red Shift says, “they’re about to get stranger.”

Twenty minutes later they’re all assembled, and Street Ronin is setting up a projection system for his presentation. Overmind and Scrapper Jack—an old-school villain David had honestly thought was dead—sit on the futon, David and Red Shift sit on the wood folding chairs, and Vigilante sits on an ottoman upholstered in cheap yellow vinyl.

The presentation system consists of an oversized flat screen monitor, a computer, and a tablet Street Ronin holds as he faces the group. He swipes across the surface of the tablet, and the monitor blinks once, displaying a list of names David doesn’t recognize.

“All right,” Street Ronin says, “let’s get started.”

Everyone waits expectantly.

“I’ve been working with three sets of data and a few fundamental assumptions,” Street Ronin says. “We know that last week a newspaper that was about to print an article about us was attacked by armed soldiers. We know, thanks to David Bernard, that they appear to be the same type of soldiers who attacked Martin Forrest’s house the morning after Liberty’s funeral. We’re currently operating under the assumption that both events are connected to Liberty’s murder.”

Three blue circles display on the monitor, one labeled Liberty, one labeled Forrest, one labeled Weekly 832. The three circles are grouped in a triangular pattern in the center of the screen, with blue bars connecting all three together.

“We know that the Weekly 832 was about to print an article about Crossfire—an article that specifically mentions PRODIGY. We know PRODIGY was an illegal government project that attempted to clone metahumans in order to turn them into... well, essentially into remote-controlled drones. It’s more complicated than that, but from what I understand it would have been a catastrophic failure, resulting in the creation of rampaging mindless things with the ability to level the entire West Coast in a matter of days. It was dismantled ten years ago, and at least officially, all the responsible parties are in jail. We also know that Pete Travers gave David a thumb drive full of files related to his investigation into PRODIGY, which he apparently intended for us to have.”

A green circle labeled PRODIGY displays on the right screen, with a green bar connecting it to the Weekly 832 circle.

“Finally, we know that when Overmind attempted to use his government assets to look into the Liberty assassination, the responses he got—or, in some cases, the lack of responses—caused him to suspect that all his assets were compromised. He gave us a list of those assets, where they were placed, and an extensive profile for each one.”

An orange circle labeled Overmind Assets displays on the left screen, with an orange bar connecting it to the Liberty circle.

“For the last few days I’ve been searching for common points of reference between the data we have, looking for connections and relationships that might not be immediately obvious. I’ve also searched through public records, looking to see if there’s anything hidden in plain sight. What I’ve found is… interesting.”

The monitor blinks again. Framed in the monitor is a picture of a handsome, clean shaven man in an expensive navy blue suit. His hair is perfectly cut and combed to one side, mostly dark with a touch of gray at the temples. His dark eyes are warm, intelligent, and kind. His smile is friendly but dignified, showing perfect teeth.

Tobias Alexander Morgan, Junior Senator of New York. Liberty’s grandson.

David stares at the picture in shock. He looks at the rest of the room—everyone looks just as surprised as he feels, even LaFleur.

“Are you sure about this?” Vigilante asks quietly.

Street Ronin takes a breath. “Ten years ago, when the PRODIGY incident broke, Representative Morgan was serving New York’s 20th district. He sat on the House Oversight Committee, and was one of the congressmen involved in the investigation after PRODIGY was brought down. He also sat on the House Intelligence Committee, developed very strong ties with key members of the NSA, and has maintained those ties ever since. Fast forward to his Senate campaign: he ran primarily on health care reform, of all things, and sits on an advisory board for a health insurance company called TriHealth Services.”

“What’s significant about TriHealth?” David asks. “Other than a conflict of interest, I guess.”

“It was one of the businesses PRODIGY used to launder its money,” Street Ronin says. “Other than that it seemed to be a legitimate business. It had so many real customers that the Federal government stepped in to run things for a while after all its corporate managers were hauled off to jail. Four years ago it finally won back its independence, so to speak, and returned to operation as a fully independent, for-profit operation.”

“I have a hard time believing this,” LaFleur says, shaking his head. “I dislike the Senator immensely, but you’re suggesting he’s involved in the murder of his own grandfather. Tobias Morgan is vain, narrow-minded, self-serving, manipulative, and occasionally cruel. He is also cautious, intelligent, principled, and utterly committed to his ideals. On top of that, his grandfather was one of the few people he seemed to have any genuine regard for. It doesn’t make any sense.”

“He currently sits on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which serves as oversight for the Department of Homeland Security. As of last week, the DHS took control of Liberty’s murder investigation, forcing every other involved party out.” Street Ronin shrugs. “All I have are connections, but it’s significant that he’s connected in some way to every aspect of this. His relationships with key personnel in various intelligence communities gives him access to your spies. He was involved in the initial investigation of PRODIGY, and sits on an advisory board for one of the businesses involved in the affair. And through his committee he has access, via the DHS, to the murder investigation.”

“Too many connections,” Vigilante agrees. “We need to look into it.”

“Where?” Red Shift asks. “Do we search his office? Do we head to DC?”

“I don’t believe that’s necessary,” LaFleur says. “If he is involved in this conspiracy—which I’m still not sure I believe—he will want to keep any information about it separate from his day-to-day work. Where does he live? His primary residence?”

Street Ronin checks his tablet. “Albany.”

LaFleur sighs. “It’s a bit farther than I’d like, but—”

“I can be there in fifteen minutes,” Red Shift says.