“Are you absolutely sure?” Vigilante is sitting back in an old metal folding chair, arms crossed. He’s in civilian clothes today—a dirty gray t-shirt, jeans, tennis shoes—which David thinks means he’s starting to get used to the “new team.” But he still insists on referring to everyone by their code name… except for David, since he doesn’t have one any more. He calls him “Lieutenant” instead.
Red Shift nods through the monitor, his face pixellating slightly from the movement. “The victims were all given Dyson-Ferris Assessments, and were scored accordingly.”
“That’s the part I don’t understand,” Vigilante says. “You tell me the victims were not metahumans. How do they get scores?”
“I don’t understand that part either,” Red Shift says. “They’re not based on the standard scoring system, and we don’t have any documents that explain what they mean. We’ll pass it along and you can see for yourself.”
“OK,” Vigilante says. “What are you working on now?”
It’s hard to read Red Shift’s expression. “We’re still trying to assess the tactical environment.”
Vigilante hesitates a moment. “OK,” he says.
“Red is being polite.” A spiky-haired guy who looks roughly David’s age, maybe a little younger, leans in-frame and smirks. “What actually happened is that I got my ass kicked and we’re trying to figure out who they are and how to deal with them.”
Curveball. He really doesn’t age. I mean, he looked young at Liberty’s funeral but I assumed that was all the TV makeup.
“We may have something on that front,” Vigilante says. “It’s not a lot—just a name. Curveball, does ‘Haruspex Analytics’ mean anything to you?”
Curveball shakes his head. “No, it—” His gaze shifts to something past the camera.
David can hear someone else talking, too indistinct for the laptop microphone to pick up. A woman’s voice. That would be Miss Forrest.
“Oh,” Curveball says. “Hold on, Jenny knows these guys.” Curveball ducks back out of frame, and Red Shift stands up as Miss Forrest takes his seat and stares into the screen.
David has met her before—when he was Sky Commando, Martin Forrest often took his family to police fundraisers that David was required to attend. She was always polite, well-mannered, and completely uninterested in being there, and after one awkward attempt at making conversation he made a point of smiling, saying hello, then leaving her alone. He’s struck by how much she looks like her great-grandfather, even in the poor video quality. She even has a similar jaw—not nearly as square as his, but it has the same determined set.
He looks at the others in the room to see if they see it. If Vigilante and Street Ronin do, they don’t show it—they’re all business, waiting to hear what she has to say. Scrapper Jack is frowning slightly—he doesn’t quite see it, but something is tugging at him. LaFleur, on the other hand… Overmind is sitting forward in his chair, eyes raised, gazing at her with unabashed interest. He glances at David for a moment, nodding slightly—as if to say yes, Lieutenant, I see it as well—then returns to studying Miss Forrest.
“I wouldn’t say I know them,” Jenny says. “I’ve never worked with them. But I’ve heard of them. They work in my field, at least peripherally.”
“What’s your field, Miss Forrest?” Vigilante asks.
“Security,” she says. “Network security, mostly. Haruspex Analytics provides some very sophisticated tools to the American Intelligence Community. They might do other things, too, but I don’t know anything about that. I just know their security tools are… really very good. And ridiculously expensive.”
“That’s a good place to start,” Vigilante says. He looks over to LaFleur. “You have any contacts who can look into these guys? We don’t really focus on spooks, we’re out of luck there.”
“Wait.” Curveball sticks his head back in-frame. “Vigilante are you talking to LaFleur? Is he there?”
Vigilante looks at LaFleur again. He smiles, amused, and nods slightly.
“Yeah,” Vigilante says. “Everyone’s here who isn’t there.”
“OK. LaFleur, there’s something else I need you to look into.” Curveball frowns. “Uh… more accurately, there’s something else that I don’t think any of the rest of us have a snowball’s chance in hell of looking into.”
“Of course,” LaFleur says. He raises his voice loud enough to be heard clearly, but he doesn’t bother getting in-frame. “How can I help you?”
“Magic,” Curveball says. “A guy I used to know named Plague is sporting runes of some sort. He’s graduated from scary to terrifying as a result. The only thing we have going for us at the moment is that he still has a weakness for blondes…”
Jenny apparently kicks him under the table. Curveball yelps in pain.
“Thing is,” Curveball says, “there aren’t a lot of people who really have access to information about—”
“Indeed,” LaFleur says. “Do you happen to have any specific information about the runes themselves?”
Curveball makes a face. “I tried drawing a few. I’ll email them over. The problem is… well, you know the problem.”
“I do,” LaFleur says. “I agree I should probably make that my priority, but this group still needs to be investigated. Jack?”
“Yeah,” Scrapper Jack says. “Give me a list and I’ll run ‘em down.”
“I’ll give you two,” LaFleur says. “Green and Red.”
Scrapper Jack nods.
“Jack too,” Curveball says. “Weirdest reunion ever. OK, so on our end I’ll nose around Farraday City to try and figure out where our very special friends are holed up. And Red Shift has offered to train Jenny, which is probably a good idea.”
Miss Forrest grows very still. “He has?”
“Yeah,” Curveball says. “You need to start learning to cope with your new limits, and I don’t project an impenetrable force field every time I move.”
Miss Forrest stares fixedly at the monitor and doesn’t reply.
“Right,” Curveball says. “I guess we’re signing off so we can fight a little.”
“I’m not trying to—!”
The screen goes dark.
Everyone is silent for a moment, then Street Ronin starts laughing. Scrapper Jack joins in a few seconds later, then David, and finally Vigilante. Even LaFleur looks amused.
“He is still a jerk,” Vigilante says, still chuckling.
“I never worked with him,” David says. “Lots of stories around the precinct, though.”
“I was still on the force when he was pardoned,” Vigilante says. “And the next thing you know, Liberty shows up with Curveball as his sidekick. Nobody expected that to go well.”
“And it didn’t,” Street Ronin says. He and Vigilante laugh again.
“Ok,” Vigilante says, “a moment of silence for the rookie and then we need to get to work. We have three separate leads to chase down: TriHealth, Haruspex Analytics, and this business with magic. Jack, you doing your part solo?”
Scrapper Jack nods.
“Right. Well, Street Ronin and I can try to run down this TriHealth thing. Lieutenant, we’ll need you here to monitor communications and coordinate between—”
“Actually,” LaFleur says, “I could use Mr. Bernard’s help.”
David stares at LaFleur in astonishment. “You could?”
Scrapper Jack frowns. “I don’t think that’s a good—”
“No,” LaFleur says. “I agree. But I’m afraid it’s necessary. Curveball is absolutely right, of course—the presence of magical involvement in this matter makes our situation that much more precarious, and the more we know about it the better. But this course of investigation is dangerous. I’ll need another pair of eyes.”
Scrapper Jack nods reluctantly. Vigilante and Street Ronin look at David thoughtfully.
“You look a lot better, Lieutenant,” Vigilante says. “How do you feel?”
“Pretty good, actually,” David says. “But I’m obviously not at 100%.”
“It’ll take a while before you are,” Street Ronin says.
“I figured. I don’t know what kind of help you want, Overmind, but if you’re looking for someone to fight—”
“I can’t promise there won’t be fighting,” LaFleur says, “but that’s not the trouble I anticipate.”
“Maybe you could tell us what you do anticipate,” David says.
“Magic.” LaFleur looks around the room. “How much do you know about it?”
“Absolutely nothing,” David says. Street Ronin nods in agreement.
“It’s not very common,” Vigilante says.
“Indeed not.” Overmind sighs, then stands, facing the rest of them, as if he were delivering a lecture. “Actual magic is one of the rarest forms of power on the planet. Naturally, given my aims, I’ve been tempted to explore every avenue of power, to determine its suitability to my… goals.”
David tries not to think too hard about that.
“And so there was a time when I tried to learn as much of it as I could. And I quickly learned to stay far away from it. Working with magic is not… healthy.”
“What is it?” Street Ronin asks.
“I’m tempted to say ‘it’s magic, of course,’ but that is too glib,” LaFleur says. “It’s power. It’s power that has existed for a very long time. It predates any civilization that we are aware of. It is not found in history books—the people who claimed to be magicians were, by and large, charlatans. The knowledge is not shared freely: the practice of magic is as much a religion as it is a discipline, and the power seems to represent a very specific point of view that is absolutely opposed to any other point of view. The belief system it represents is largely alien to our understanding.”
“We’re talking Lovecraftian cults?” Street Ronin asks. “Books written in blood, on pages made of human flesh, that kind of thing?”
LaFleur raises an eyebrow.
Street Ronin smiles slightly. “We do read, you know.”
“It’s an apt comparison,” LaFleur says. “There is no city sleeping beneath the ocean, of course—at least, not to my knowledge—but it’s quite possible his stories were influenced by something he encountered once and could not reconcile with his rational mind. It is unpleasant knowledge to have, and is very good at encouraging people to forget it exists. It is also very difficult to use in any capacity. When used in any capacity, it causes harm to those around it, even those wielding it.”
“What kind of harm?” David asks.
“It harms the soul,” LaFleur says. "The essence of your ‘life force,’ if the term ‘soul’ offends you. Most of us, metahuman or not, are equally vulnerable to it. Jack is almost as invulnerable as Regiment, but he can still be harmed by it.”
Jack nods curtly.
“What does provide some protection,” LaFleur continues, “is strength of will. One who has the will to resist can do so—not completely, but perhaps long enough to survive. I believe I will be safer in this investigation if I am accompanied, and your strength of will, Mr. Bernard, is equal to any in this room.”
David thinks it over. “Why do you want someone with you?”
“Because when I was younger, I tried to study it alone,” LaFleur says. “And I was nearly destroyed in the process.”
Everyone looks at David expectantly.
“It’s your call,” Vigilante says.
“Well.” David stretches in his chair, then gets to his feet. “I didn’t join this outfit just to watch the rest of you work.”
LaFleur nods approvingly. “I did not think you had.”