“Well it doesn’t look like a cesspit.” Special Agent Alan Grant stares out the passenger side window, staring at his surroundings with a mixture of curiosity, skepticism, and mild disappointment. “It does look evil, I guess. But suburbs always look evil to me.”
Special Agent Lijan Hu rolls her eyes, slowing the car down as they drive past children playing basketball in the driveway of one of many ranch-style houses lined up along the street. “Everything looks evil to you. You’re a misanthrope.”
“Am not. This isn’t hate, it’s tough love.”
Former Special Agent (now wanted terrorist) Peter Travers chuckles in amusement from the back seat.
“Sure it is,” Hu says. “Gimme a break. Do you know how many assholes I’ve met who use ‘tough love’ as their excuse to just be an asshole?”
Grant flashes her a wolfish grin. “At least one.”
“Don’t sell yourself short,” Hu says. “It would take ten of those guys to come close to what you do.”
“I only want you to notice me,” Grant says.
Hu punches Grant in the arm. “There, I noticed. Stupid boy.”
Grant rubs his arm. “Ow.”
“But you have a point,” Hu says. “Any time I read about this city it’s always about drug problems, prostitution, corruption, human trafficking, the slums—I mean it sounds like a real shit-hole. This isn’t anything like that. This looks like where my parents live.”
“Farraday City is… unique,” Travers says. “It’s so unique that it’s considered an outlier by sociologists and routinely excluded from studies and reports. Even the Census Bureau excludes Farraday City from the rest of Georgia.”
“Seriously?” Grant turns away from the window, glancing over his shoulder to regard the older man. “I didn’t know that.”
“It has incredibly high crime rates in specific areas of the city. But as soon as you move out of those areas, crime drops off sharply, to the point where it’s no higher than any other thriving city in the US—actually, somewhat lower than average. As far as anyone who’s studied the matter can tell, there’s almost no crossover between the areas that are safe and the ones that aren’t.”
“That doesn’t sound strange at all,” Hu says. “You’re always safer where the rich people live.”
Travers shakes his head. “It’s not like that. The ‘safe’ areas aren’t exclusively rich. There are middle-class and poor neighborhoods that are similarly crime free. And there are upper-class neighborhoods that appear to be rife with criminal activity. This assumes the research is accurate, of course, but I think it is.”
“So you’re saying there are good and bad parts of the city, but there’s nothing to pin on why one part’s good and another is bad?”
“That’s about right,” Travers says.
“That’s fucked up,” Grant says. “And a little disappointing. I was expecting the entire city to be a post-apocalyptic war zone, full of burning trashcans and people dressed in animal skins. Or human skins, maybe. I don’t know. So how do they get away with no Federal footprint in the city?”
“Good question,” Travers says. “There were a few attempts to open DHS field offices over the years. All of them were rejected. I ran across a few of the rejected proposals. Apparently someone was able to convince someone else that the offices weren’t necessary because neighboring cities already had them.”
Grant raises an eyebrow. “Someone? Someone else?”
“There were no names,” Travers says. “Just a brief statement, explaining the rejection…”
“Wow,” Grant says. “So the only police are local.”
“Yes,” Travers says. “And, I assume, quite corrupt.”
“We wouldn’t be able to work with them anyway. I’m on leave, grieving over the death of my beloved partner.” Hu hits Grant in the arm again.
“Hey.” Grant rubs his arm again. “What’d I do this time?”
“It’s for later. Anyway, Travers is a wanted man, and you’re dead. So I don’t see any way flashing a badge and asking for assistance is going to work, even if they were legit. But that leads to a fun question: now that we’re here, what exactly are we going to do?”
“Ah,” Travers says. “Yes. That. Well it’s hard to explain.”
“Hold on a second.” Hu pulls the car into a convenience store parking lot, kills the ignition, and turns in her seat to face Travers. “I hope you have a little more detail than that. Grant and I are used to working need-to-know, but usually we know a little more than this.”
Grant nods in agreement.
Travers nods slightly, smiling politely. “I’m not keeping anything from you. I’m just not exactly sure.”
Hu and Grant exchange glances.
“Not exactly sure what?” Hu tries to say it without growling.
“What happens next,” Travers says. “This is one of the… challenges of working with someone like Curveball.”
“Curveball?” Grant laughs in disbelief. “Didn’t he break your jaw once?”
Travers sighs. “That is one of the other challenges of working with someone like Curveball.”
“Shut up, Grant,” Hu says. “Go on, Travers.”
“There’s not much else. Curveball is investigating Liberty’s murder. Shortly after I was forced to leave my office in such a theatrical fashion, I was contacted by a mutual friend because he was in trouble. I did what I could, and I’ve come to the conclusion I can probably do considerably more if I work with him directly. So we’re going to meet him, join his group, and help uncover a conspiracy that is very likely poisoning our country from within.”
Hu and Grant exchange glances again. They’re not telepaths, but they’ve been partners for a long time—long enough to read the tics and micro-expressions that most people would overlook. Travers had a partner, once, and he knows what’s going on, he’s just not privy to the conversation. He waits patiently, hands folded in his lap.
Hu faces forward and starts the car. “Where are we going?”
“Into the city,” Travers says.
Hu nods, easing the car out of the parking lot and back into the street. “What then?”
“I’m not sure,” Travers says. “Just… drive around. Head for the ocean—apparently the city gets progressively seedier the closer you get to the beach. As I said, this is one of the challenges of working with someone like Curveball.”
“So, what?” Grant turns his attention back to the passenger-side window. “Is he just gonna randomly crash through our windshield, or something?”
“I hope not,” Hu says. “If I have to file for metahuman coverage again, my insurance will go through the roof.”
Travers coughs apologetically. “It, ah, wouldn’t be the first time.”