Curveball Issue 15: Blurred Lines

Part Four: Jacob K. Javits Federal Building

The 32nd floor of the Jacob K. Javits Federal Building in New York City is devoted to the Department of Homeland Security’s Task Force for Metahuman Activity. That’s where Division M set up shop, and when Alishia Webb lands on the roof—the Federal Building is a designated Sky Commando refit and refuel center—she sees one of them waiting for her by the lift.

Alishia waits until the outer shell is secured to the roof, then opens it up and steps out in the tactical suit. She takes off her helmet as the agent—an Asian woman with an oddly reddish tint to her skin—approaches.

“Agent Hu,” the woman says, hand extended.

Alishia shakes her hand. “Sky Commando,” she says. She still gets a rush from saying that.

“We’re waiting for you in the conference room. Do you want to change first? Can you sit in the armor, or…?” Agent Hu’s voice trails off.

“I’ll be fine,” Alishia says. The tactical armor isn’t much bulkier than the body armor soldiers wear overseas, and with the power reinforced joints it’s actually a lot easier to move around in.

Hu nods and motions for Alishia to follow. They go to the lift—a cargo elevator that was refit for the Sky Commando project—and begin to travel down to the 32nd floor.

The first half of the journey is awkwardly silent. Then Hu says, “I’m glad you’re working with us. We weren’t all convinced you would.”

“Why?” Alishia asks.

Hu shrugs. “Because of the way we’ve been operating. You know, the whole ‘Feds moving in to take over the show’ thing.”

“Which is your cover, right? Play on all the natural resentment so they’ll assume you’re grandstanding instead of trying to figure out who’s working for the bad guys.”

Hu smiles. She has dimples. “Yeah, but you know. When you play a part well, people believe it.”

Alishia laughs. “Your boss is really good at rubbing people the wrong way.”

Hu laughs in return. “Agent Henry is a great boss. I’d take a bullet for him. But he’s not our diplomat…”

“So who’s the diplomat?” Alishia asks.

“Grant,” Hu says, then laughs again.

“So… Division M.” Alishia looks at Agent Hu curiously. “All metahuman?”

Hu nods. “All field agents are.”

“So… you?” Alishia asks.

“Yep,” Hu says.

“So what do you… do?” Alishia feels a little flustered. “I mean, is it rude to ask? I don’t know. I usually get dossiers on the metas I’m going to work with, but we don’t have anything on you guys.”

“It’s not rude,” Hu says, “but I’ve been instructed not to tell you anything yet.”

Alishia blinks. “You have? Why? Is it classified?”

The corner of Hu’s mouth quirks up. “No. Agent Henry’s just yanking your chain a little.”

Alishia bursts out laughing. “I’m starting to like you guys more. But if anyone calls me rookie I’ll shoot them.”

Division M has taken over roughly half of the 32nd floor. It has a surprisingly large staff of analysts, technicians, and support personnel. It reminds Alishia of the Sky Commando program.

“They’re all in the conference room,” Hu says. “This way.”

The conference room is a large, well-equipped meeting room with a long table and comfortable chairs. Agent Henry is there, hunched over a black metal box, frowning. Two men and a woman—a tall, thin man, with slicked-back dark hair and a raggedly unshaven face; a short, wide-shouldered man with a thick blonde mustache; and a light-skinned Hispanic—or maybe Indian—woman with thick, dark curly hair are all standing around him peering down at it as well.

The thin, dark-haired man looks up as they walk in. “Hu! He did it.” His voice is excited, like a kid who just managed to figure out what he’s getting for Christmas without having to unwrap the present. Then he focuses on Alishia, and nods once. “Uh… that’ll make sense in a second.”

Agent Henry looks up. “Sky Commando, good. Have a seat, we’ll start in a moment.”

Hu drifts over to the dark-haired man. “What is it?”

Agent Henry waves her off. “You’ll have to wait for the presentation.” He looks around and frowns. “Where’s Collins? She said she was getting everything.”

“Yeah.” The dark-haired man laughs. “The computer won’t connect to the projector. We’re trying to hook up mine.”

Alishia frowns as she tries to sort that out. The dark-haired man grins.

“Sorry for the delay, Sky Commando,” Agent Henry says. “I’m not trying to be dramatic. I just think context is very important in this situation, especially where your input is concerned.”

“My input?” Alishia tries not to be put off by Agent Henry’s sunglasses.

Agent Henry nods. “We’re wading hip-deep into NYPD politics, and I think it’s tied up in the investigation. You’ll see why in a minute. But we’re definitely going to need your guidance in this.”

“OK,” Alishia says. “But if you’re looking for advice on politics, I’m a really bad choice.”

The dark-haired man grins at that. The man with the mustache stifles something that might be more than a cough.

“I’ve read your file,” Agent Henry says, as if that explains everything. It might. Alishia doesn’t know. She’s never read her file.

The door opens, and a tall blonde woman comes in wheeling a laptop tethered to a projector. “Thanks to Agent Grant, we’re finally ready to go.”

“Good.” Agent Henry turns back to Alishia. “Sky Commando, let me introduce you to the team. Agent Collins is my number two.” He indicates the blonde woman wheeling in the projector. “She isn’t usually relegated to A/V duty, but she recently lost a bet to Agent Grant.” The dark-haired man grins. The rest of the group laughs.

“I believe you’ve already met Agent Hu,” Henry continues, and both Alishia and Agent Hu nod. “That leaves Agents Frank, to my left, and Mallory, to my right.”

Agent Frank is the wide-shouldered man with the thick mustache. Mallory is the Hispanic-or-Indian woman with dark, curly hair.

“With that out of the way, let’s get started. Collins, take us through last night, right up to finding the package.”

Agent Collins nods. The projector dims a moment, then displays the picture of an older man with a vaguely pleasant smile.

“That’s Pete Travers,” Alishia says.

“Yes,” Collins says. “Currently a wanted fugitive. Last night Agent Henry received a call on an emergency DHS Line. Agent Henry identified the caller as Peter Raphael Travers. He authorized a trace on the line, and kept Travers on the line long enough to trace the call to a motel in one of the more dangerous parts of the city.”

The image on the wall changes to a picture of a motel.

“Oh,” Alishia says. “That one.”

“You know it?” Grant asks.

“I worked with Vice for a while before I joined the program,” Alishia says. “Everyone over there knows it. Lots of drugs and prostitution.”

“And Vice, coincidentally.” Agent Henry’s voice is dry.

“Yes,” Collins says. “When Division M arrived at the scene, an NYPD Vice Task Force was already on the scene. Apparently they had scheduled a sweep that night. There was a… significant misunderstanding that prevented us from making significant progress on the site.”

“Ah.” Alishia smiles. “You ran into one of Darius’ operations? I bet he was pissed.”

“Not exactly,” Agent Henry says. “He acted like he was, but he was lying the whole time.”

Alishia looks sidelong at Agent Henry. He can tell when people lie to him. It’s part of what he does.

“Our agents located the room Travers rented,” Collins continues. “In that room we found the evidence sitting in front of Agent Henry.”

Alishia looks at the small metal box. “What is it?”

“Before I tell you what it is,” Agent Henry says, “I want to make clear that from this point on, none of the information we view or discuss is to go beyond this group. Absolutely none of it. Understood?”

The other Agents nod in agreement. Alishia nods as well.

“All right,” Agent Henry says. “Collins, thanks for that. I’ll take it from here.”

Collins nods and sits down.

“There was a television in the room,” Agent Henry says. “Not a flat screen, the old kind… essentially a large box chained to the table. Travers had opened it up, hollowed it out, and put this inside it.” He gestures to the metal box. “It’s a recording device. Sensors attach to the box on a side port, and those sensors were threaded all over the television screen. Essentially it was co-opting the TV screen and using it as a lens.”

Agent Henry runs a cable from a port in the metal box to the projector. “I’d like to see what’s on it.” He flips a switch on the box, and suddenly the projector goes white. A moment later, Alishia sees a grainy black and white image of a seedy hotel room. A large bag sits on one of two twin beds. Peter Travers stands at the foot of the bed, talking on the phone, staring straight into the recording device.

“He’s on the phone,” Collins points out. “He’s establishing the time.”

“I agree,” Agent Henry says. “This is Travers talking to me. I want you to start timing as soon as it’s clear he’s off the phone.”

The image shows Travers talk for a while, then he hangs up. He shoves the phone in his pocket, then steps outside.

“Oh,” Agent Henry says. “I see. I see what he did.”

A few minutes later the front door bursts open. Men wearing gray commando uniforms enter the room, armed with automatic rifles.

“I recognize them,” Alishia says. “They’re the soldiers who attacked that newspaper and tried to blow up the entire city block.”

“They also attacked the Forrest residence,” Henry adds.

“It didn’t take long for them to show up,” Grant observes. “I don’t like what that implies.”

“Hold on,” Henry says. “Something else is happening…”

A commotion just off-camera causes one of the soldiers in gray to stop what he’s doing and turn to face the door. A second later Lieutenant Clive Darius, head of the NYPD Vice Task Force, steps into the room.

Everyone in the conference room watches in stunned silence as Darius starts giving orders. They can’t hear what he’s saying, but it’s obvious that he’s giving the orders, and the soldiers are obeying.

“Well,” Agent Henry says, “that puts last night in context.”

“Darius is dirty,” Alishia says. It’s hard to believe.

“Yes he is,” Agent Henry says. “And the question of the day becomes: now that we know he’s not on our side, whose side is he on?”

“Nevermind that,” Agent Grant says. “We traced the call. Someone from Division M leaked Travers’ location to Darius and his people. It’s pretty clear that someone up the chain hasn’t been playing straight with us through this investigation. Whose side are we on?”

Agent Henry has no answer to that.

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