Part Five: The Nautilus
Robert Thorpe stares at the image of the bruised, spiky-haired man on his monitor, mind racing to process the new information he’s just received.
“How sure are you about this?”
CB shrugs, his gaze shifting to something outside of the monitor’s view. “Toby is absolutely certain of it.”
“And you believe him?” Robert doesn’t bother hiding his skepticism. “He hasn’t exactly been particularly high on our list of people we trust.”
“Yeah,” CB agrees, “but we trust him to be himself. Look, Robert, I’m not saying that after twenty years of despising the man he’s become my favorite person in the world overnight, but I am saying that when he tells me he and Alex had been playing a long game, and that Alex willingly sacrificed himself to preserve Toby’s cover… yeah, I believe it.”
“Right.” It sounds incredible in the abstract, but it’s more in line with what Robert knows about the senator than their original assumption. Tobias Morgan was never an ally of metahumans—he and Robert had been on opposites sides of every important metahuman issue over the last twenty years—but the senator had always possessed qualities that Robert admired. The idea that he murdered his grandfather in order to cover up a genocide plot seems to betray every one of those qualities. This new context, as incredible as it is, is more consistent with the man as Robert understands him.
“How is he doing?”
CB shakes his head. “He’s basically waiting to die at this point, and it hasn’t happened yet. He’s still giving a statement, Street Ronin is still recording it, but he’s starting to crack up. Robert, when this happens it’s going to be really ugly.”
“I hesitate to suggest it,” Robert says, “but there might be value in recording it, when it happens.”
CB snorts. “Toby suggested the same thing. To ‘let the world know exactly what we’re dealing with,’ he said. But let’s go with ‘no.’”
“I understand,” Robert says, “but—”
“Think of Jenny,” CB says. “And Julie. And Martin. And Andy. They haven’t really had an easy relationship with the guy. It’s going to be bad enough when they learn that part of it was because he was trying to protect them from the assholes he was infiltrating. We don’t need to twist the knife by putting out video of his painful, prolonged death on top of it. The people who would be inclined to believe him will be convinced by his words. The people who won’t—the ones who will accuse us of coercing his testimony—well, they’ll believe we faked the footage, too.”
“Yeah,” Robert says. “You’re right. I wasn’t thinking of Jenny, or Julie. Sorry.”
CB shakes his head. “Not your fault. What about this news about the virus? Does that make this whole business harder?”
“Good question.” Robert leans back in his chair, staring at the ceiling as the analytical part of his mind adds the new information to existing data, sorting and resorting it in an attempt to make everything fit. “It gives me a few new ideas about how to try to isolate it. But the fact that it integrates or embeds into human DNA does make combating it more difficult. I haven’t had a lot of luck with designer drugs that specifically rewrite human DNA. The closest I’ve come to it is with…”
His voice trails off. His eyes unfocus a moment, then he straightens and turns back to the screen. “Well, OK, I have a new idea now. I’ll get back to you if it bears fruit.”
“That’s fine,” CB says. “Meanwhile, what assets do I have on hand?”
Robert feels one eyebrow go up. “What do you mean?”
“I mean, how many of our team can make it to New York City in the next six to eight hours?”
Robert frowns. “Well, we all could, if it was absolutely necessary. But I need some of them here to work on the virus. What’s on your mind?”
CB scowls. “What’s on my mind is that pretty soon I’m going to watch Toby die, and it’s going to really piss me off. He says they have blood, hair, and skin samples of a lot of other ‘useful assets’ at their Corporate HQ. I plan to make sure no more are used after tonight.”
Robert nods slowly. “I’m not sure that’s tactically wise.”
“Oh, I’m absolutely sure it’s not,” CB says. “But damned if I’m not going to do it anyway. That’s why I want to pull out all the stops.”
“Right…” Robert checks the time. “Give me an hour to track everyone down and work through logistics, and I’ll tell you what your options are.”
“All right,” CB says. “Don’t send Jenny.”
“If Jenny decides to go,” Robert replies, “I am not going to stop her.”
CB slumps, mutters something under his breath, then smiles sardonically. “Yeah. Sorry. Don’t tell her I said that. Moment of weakness, won’t happen again.”
“I’ll contact you in an hour,” Robert says. “I’ll use the second line, just to make sure we’re in the clear.”
“Sounds good to me. Talk then.”
The screen distorts, then goes dark.
Robert curses softly, then turns back to the computer monitor at his desk, displaying the latest research on the virus. He adds a few notes, scans it over, then closes the window. He leans back in his chair and closes his eyes, thinking furiously.
The news that anyone can carry the virus, metahuman or not, makes it significantly more dangerous. And it makes Haruspex Analytics, or whatever group is working through them, significantly more dangerous as well. The death of metahumans all over the planet was only their secondary objective. Their primary objective is to erase them from the gene pool entirely.
Robert pushes a button on his desk. “Jenny, are you still in the gym?”
A few seconds later he hears Jenny’s voice over the desk intercom speaker. “Yeah, I’m here. What’s up?”
“David Bernard was working on something in the meeting room. Can you get him, and both of you meet me in my office? I don’t want to interrupt him, but we need his perspective on something.”
“Did something just happen?” Jenny asks.
“Yes,” Robert says. “Something definitely happened. I’ll tell you about it when you get here.”
“OK,” Jenny says. “I’ll see you in a few.”
Robert turns in his chair, staring out the window at the ocean on the other side. He reviews all of the information he has onhand.
His desk beeps. He looks down—it’s coming from the meeting room. He presses a button.
“Robert.” There’s an edge to Jenny’s voice that immediately puts him on alert.
“Well…” Jenny hesitates. “You said David would be here.”
“That’s what he told me,” Robert says. “He asked me to reserve it for him. He’s working on something.”
“He’s not working on it here,” Jenny says. “The room is empty. Except for that thing he does.”
Robert frowns. “What thing?”
“You know the black globe he creates that always floats on top of his hand? It’s currently floating in the exact middle of the meeting room. The room is completely empty, except for that thing.”
“OK, hold on a moment.” Robert mutes the intercom. “Daniel, please report the location of David Bernard.”
The computer responds immediately. “David Bernard is not currently on this vessel.”
“Unknown,” the computer replies. “I have no record of him leaving the vessel. All crafts save the one used by Curveball, Street Ronin, and Scrapper Jack are accounted for. There is, however, an unknown energy reading emanating from David Bernard’s last known location.”
“Right…” Robert stands, grabs a tablet computer off his desk, then hits the intercom button again. “Jenny, I’m on my way. Something’s going on. Stay there and don’t let anyone else in the room.”