Part Twenty Two: Manhattan, Alpha Checkpoint MCV
Alishia Webb sits alone in the back of a Mobile Command Vehicle, watching all the feeds coming in from the relay points set up around the target. She wishes yet again that she were in the Sky Commando armor, airborne, directing the action from there… but it’s not quite time for that. The big suit is currently tethered to the MCV, acting as a power source to most of the equipment until the generators show up. Which, according to latest reports, should be soon.
All the streets around the Haruspex Analytics building are closed now, and they’ve set up five checkpoints with the oh-so-creative names of Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, and Echo. It’s still very early morning, so it hasn’t disrupted morning traffic—yet—but it will. And even now, outside of business hours, it’s generating a steady stream of angry complaints from City Hall. Webb looks at the blinking message light on the screen in front of her and scowls. She’s only taking calls from certain people at the moment, and the Junior Attache to the City Department of Transportation isn’t one of them.
Not again, at least. The first time was more than enough.
A second notice on her visor is more welcome—the surveillance drones are finally in place, and they have full coverage around the building. She opens the feed, flipping from view to view, trying to get a feel for what’s going on.
The alloy shell encasing the building is clearly visible in the pre-dawn light, as is the man-shaped hole punched through a section near the lobby. The two handcuffed security guards stowed in the little park in front of the building have been carted away, and the arresting officers have retreated back behind the dubious safety of the barricade. There are signs of a fight on the roof of the building—the remains of at least one helicopter along with what she’s sure is point defense artillery.
A third notice appears in her visor, from one of the priority channels beeps: the one dedicated to the Metahuman Division. She activates it immediately.
“Sky Commando.” Captain Paul Banks has been head of the MTHD for at least long as there’s been a Sky Commando program. In the beginning, from what she understood, he saw Sky Commando as a competitor for funding and political clout. That changed over time, as the two groups learned what each could and couldn’t do, and now they were pretty reliable allies. “I received the official briefing on my way to the scene. Is there… anything else I should know?”
“Yes.” Webb tries to put as much emphasis as she can into that single word. “Face to face?”
“Oh.” Captain Banks sounds startled, then lapses into a soft, thoughtful hmmmm. He’s not a stupid man—he knows that if she’s requesting a face-to-face meeting that there’s something irregular going on. “Where are you?”
“Alpha Checkpoint MCV,” Webb says. “I can come to you.”
“Not necessary,” Captain Banks says. “I’m not far. I’ll be there in five minutes.” The line goes dead, and so she waits.
It’s an odd situation to be in. She’s only a sergeant, and hasn’t even been one for very long, but in this specific situation Banks reports to her, and will until the 10-A5 is resolved and the stand down order is sent.
Which, under most circumstances, only she can send.
Someone raps sharply on the MCV door, three times, then it swings open and Captain Banks steps into the vehicle. He’s an older man, in his early-to-mid-fifties, and has managed to remain fairly trim despite spending much of his time behind a desk. The head of the MTHD doesn’t usually go into the field. At least, not in one of the suits.
Webb half-rises as he steps up into the space, ducking his head to avoid hitting the low ceiling. He smiles sardonically at her show of deference as he waves her back into her seat—he’s just as aware of the awkward clash of rank and authority as she is, probably even more so—then turns to close the door behind him. He glances over the perimeter monitors and drone feeds, just as she had, then slides unceremoniously into the swivel chair beside hers. He looks at her expectantly.
She gestures to the monitors, each showing the Haruspex Analytics building from a different angle. “We have a potential repeat of the TriHealth fiasco, only exponentially worse.”
Captain Banks raises his eyebrows. TriHealth had turned out to be pretty bad. They’d learned that one of their best and brightest officers had been dirty, and that someone had stolen and copied the MTHD’s Metahuman Response Suits.
“I’m working with Division M on this,” Webb says. “And they are working with civilian groups that are probably going to make this entire thing a nightmare when it really hits the press. But I felt you needed to be brought in on this, and the Division M lead agrees.
“Agent Henry, right?” Captain Banks wasn’t the kind of guy to ignore the other players in the city. Webb nods.
“Right…” Banks stares at the building thoughtfully. “What do I need to know?”
“First,” Webb says, “I’m going to play you a statement that was apparently made by Senator Tobias Morgan.”
Captain Banks’ eyebrows raised even higher. “He’s been found?”
“Not… exactly,” Webb says. “Watch the statement first.”
She presses a button on the console in front of her. One of the monitors switches from the feed of the drone to the one queued up in the Sky Commando suit. A picture of Senator Tobias Morgan, sitting on a ratty couch in some hellhole apartment somewhere, comes into focus. The timestamp on the image claims it was recorded only a few hours ago.
“The government is full of cabals,” the image of the Senator says. “It’s unavoidable, in the long term.”
Webb doesn’t bother watching the tape. She’s already seen it. She watches the Captain, trying to get a read on how he’s taking it. She notes the flicker of uncertainty in his eyes when the senator says magic. That’s the part that’s going to trip everyone up, she thinks, but that uncertainty is quickly replaced with horror.
“That’s right,” the Senator’s image says. “Remember when I said the first virus—the one that didn’t kill people—was discarded because it didn’t last long enough? The virus stays in your blood. Given enough time, it does more than that—it alters your DNA. It becomes a virus that is transmitted through your DNA. You are given tiny little building blocks that embed a kill switch into any human with the metahuman gene. And then—”
“My God,” Banks whispers.
“And then,” the image continues, “after all the male metahumans are dead, the rest of the world will go back to their lives. And that involves having children.”
“It’s not about killing the metahumans we have now,” someone off-camera says. “That’s just collateral damage. They’re making sure there are never any metahumans again. Ever.”
The feed ends. The drone footage returns.
Captain Banks turns to Webb, no longer trying to mask the emotions on his face. Alarm, shock, fear… horror. All there. Not as much doubt as Webb had feared.
“Is this true,” the Captain asks. “Is that really the Senator? Are we sure he hasn’t been coerced?”
“Division M has people working with the group who made the footage,” Webb says. “I know the people, and trust them. The group as a whole is… politically complicated. It involves the use of… extralegal assets.”
Banks’ mouth thins. “Do I want to know?”
“You need to know, if you’re in,” Webb says. “I can’t have your people shooting at the ones on our side. The stakes are too high.”
The Captain, face sour, nods reluctantly. “I see your point. What’s the worst of the group?”
“Agent Grant,” Webb says promptly. “But in the way you mean it, it’s a tossup between Crossfire and Overmind.”
She watches sympathetically as the all-too-familiar look of panic blooms, noting the tension rising in Captain Banks’ posture, and raises her hand just as he opens his mouth, cutting him off just before he’s committed to shouting.
“It’s bad, Captain. Bad in a way that, historically, cuts across old boundaries. You’ve worked city-wide threats before, and you’ve worked with criminals to put those threats down. This is the same situation. The people in that building are much worse than anyone in that group could hope to be, on their worst day. We’re talking genetic plague, Captain.”
The Captain shuts his mouth. His tension has receded, or at least is masked so that it only displays as an unhappy frown. He stares at the images of the Haruspex Analytics building thoughtfully.
“I understand. I don’t… like it, much, but…” He glances at Webb. “You haven’t been Sky Commando very long. I knew Bernard much better. I wish we’d had more time to work together before we got forced into a spot like this.”
“So do I,” Webb says.
“And then there’s the question of why you even bothered to bring me in,” Banks says. “You’re Sky Commando. You’re in charge here, no matter what I personally think about it. You don’t need to brief me on this. Why do it?”
“I disagree,” Webb says. “These guys are connected to TriHealth, which means they have access to MTHD tech. I’m going to need to put your people between them and the rest of the city. I won’t do that with you in the dark.”
“How do you know I’m not working with them?” Banks counters. “That statement the Senator just made makes it hard to trust anyone, assuming he’s right.” He shakes his head. “Which I am, I think. Damn it all.”
“I’m pretty sure you’re on the level,” Webb says. “If I weren’t, we wouldn’t be doing this. But we’re going to be completely sure of it in a few seconds.”
As if on cue, someone knocks on the MCV door. It opens before either of them have a chance to react, and a tall, slim black man dressed in a three-piece black suit and wearing sunglasses steps up and in, letting the door shut behind him.
“Hello Captain Banks,” the man says. “My name is Special Agent Phillip Henry. Before this goes any further I’m going to need to ask you two questions.”