Part Four: Crossfire Safehouse
The safehouse is a small white building set right up against a public storage facility next to a run-down industrial park. It’s so nondescript and boring that it’s easy to overlook—the eye drifts naturally from the shiny storage units to the large concrete warehouses in the industrial park, skipping it over entirely.
Special Agent Lijuan Hu files that away for later as she stands in front of the heavy wood door with “MAIN OFFICE” stenciled on the front in cracked, fading letters. It’s not the location of this building that matters—Crossfire will abandon it immediately after this op—but the psychology that went into choosing the location. They’re allies at present, solid ones as far as Hu can tell… but she’s pretty sure they’ll wind up on opposite sides of something eventually.
That assumes, of course, that she still has a job when this over. It’s not guaranteed: what they’ve been doing strays pretty far outside the rules, and what they’re about to do will probably get them thrown in jail if things go even a little bit south.
Maybe Crossfire will be hiring. She smiles in spite of herself.
The door buzzes and the lock releases, causing it to open just a crack. Hu slips inside, making sure to pull the door firmly behind her until she hears it click firmly in place.
The door opens into the garage. The portal to the Nautilus is gone, but in its place is Jenny Forrest—Zero—waiting for her.
The young woman isn’t wearing the black tactical armor she had when they all portaled over. What she’s wearing now looks much fancier, steel polymer with extra tech embedded in the chestplate. It looks quite a bit heavier than her old armor, but the difference doesn’t appear to affect her any.
“New gear?” Hu asks.
Zero nods, grinning unabashedly. “A gift from Robert. Red Shift told me to tell you there’s something for you as well.”
“Oh?” Hu frowns. “That probably violates at least seven DOJ policies and guidelines, not to mention a few laws, but since we’re about to attack the lair of an evil wizard I think I can deal with the fallout later. What’s he got?”
Jenny shrugs. “Red Shift wouldn’t say. You’re supposed to meet him in the armory.”
“Where is that?” Hu asks.
“Comm room, trapdoor leading down.”
“OK,” Hu says. “Thanks. Hey, Zero—what are you doing after we win?”
Zero looks at her blankly.
“You know,” Hu says. “We fight the bad guys, we kick their asses, the virus is deep-sixed and the world goes on. What do you do next?”
“Uh…” Zero shrugs, her cheeks coloring slightly. “I guess I’ve just been super focused on this thing.”
“Sure,” Hu says. “Understandable. Well, look, you’re Liberty’s great-granddaughter and all that, so I’m pretty sure you’ll have your pick of opportunities… but you should consider Division M.”
Zero blinks. “Uh… you mean, like you and Agent Grant?”
“Like me, yes. Like Grant, hopefully not so much.”
Zero laughs nervously, not sure how to reply.
“Just think it over,” Hu says. “You’d make a hell of an agent.”
Without waiting for an answer, Hu steps up to the raised platform and ducks through the door into the living area. When she reaches the comm room she runs into her second surprise.
Pete Travers ducks his head by way of greeting, smiling that eternally polite smile. “Agent Hu.”
“What are you doing here?”
Travers shrugs. “Helping. I’m not much good on the Nautilus, unfortunately. I can’t help them find a cure. But I think it might be useful to have someone back here while you all tilt your windmill. Especially someone who is familiar with government response protocols.”
Hu nods in agreement.
“Besides,” Travers says, “David thinks someone should be on hand to keep an eye on Senator Morgan while you’re out. We could hardly spare any of you.”
“Grant could do it,” Hu says.
“That’s one less of him in the field,” Travers points out.
“True.” Hu spies the trap door at the far end of the room. “Well, I gotta go and see what Doctor Thorpe whipped up for me.”
“You’ll probably like it,” Travers says.
“You know what it is?” Hu asks.
Travers shakes his head. “Not a clue. But I know him.”
“Guess I’ll find out,” Hu says.
She climbs down the ladder to find Red Shift and Scrapper Jack standing over a large black duffel bag dangling from Jack’s right hand. Jack looks like he’s been through the wringer: his shirt is torn, the right leg of his jeans has been ripped off below the knee, and one of his boots is split down the back, while the other is missing a heel.
“Jesus, Jack,” Hu says, “what happened? Get hit by a car?”
Jack looks up from his bag and flashes her a lopsided grin. “Funny you should ask…”
She files that away as something to follow up on later.
“Red Shift, Zero says you wanted to see me?”
“Sure did,” Red Shift says amiably. “Just finishing up. Doctor Thorpe would like Jack to add a few things to his ensemble.”
“It’s to keep me from winding up naked every time something violent happens,” Jack says.
Hu smirks. “I disapprove.”
Jack laughs at that, then stares back down into the duffel bag. “Thing is, I’m not too keen on wearing spandex.”
“It’s not spandex,” Red Shift says.
“You know what I mean. The closest I ever got to a costume was when I was still running with Artie, and most of that was just practical.”
“This is practical too,” Red Shift says. “You wear it under your clothes. If your clothes are destroyed, you’re not flashing the world. And he thought you’d like the boots.”
Jack rummages through the bag. “Yeah, OK, I do like the boots. What the hell, I’ll give it a shot.”
Jack hoists the duffel bag over his shoulder, then brushes past Hu to get to the ladder.
“Is that… engine oil?” Hu asks.
“I literally got hit by a car,” Jack says. “Then I used it to hit another car.”
Definitely following up on that later. Hu watches Jack climb up the ladder, then turns back to Red Shift.
The speedster points to a black duffel bag sitting in front of one of the armory lockers. “Doctor Thorpe would like to offer you an alternative to your ‘bathing suit.’”
Hu stares at the bag for a second, then grins fiercely. “Hell yes!”
“That’s refreshing,” Red Shift says. “Usually people have questions first.”
Hu scoops up the duffel and peers inside. “Oh, I have questions, but I’m pretty sure the smartest man in the world made me a fireproof outfit.”
“Well,” Red Shift says, “technically nothing is really fireproof—”
“Fire,” Hu says absently. “Fire is fireproof.” She pulls out a bundle from the bag and unwraps it.
“I kind of want to argue the point,” Red Shift says, “but I’ll defer to the expert.”
Hu lets the duffel bag fall to the floor as she holds up the outfit. “Looks like a wetsuit.”
Red Shift nods. “It’s kind of the opposite, though. Doctor Thorpe says the suit isn’t so much fireproof as it is ‘fire-compatible.’ It has a much higher heat tolerance than the asbestos atrocity you use now.”
“How much tolerance?” Hu asks.
“Doctor Thorpe claims it will survive what you did when you blew up the tip of his island.”
“Nice,” Hu says. “Division M probably won’t let me keep it, but I’ll enjoy it while it lasts.”
“They might, actually.” Red Shift points down to the duffel bag. “In one of the side pockets he included the specs on the suit, so your people could study it and duplicate it themselves.”
Hu looks back down at the duffel bag and picks it up. “Thanks. Good luck today.”
“You too,” Red Shift says. He turns back to a workbench sitting on the far wall, leaning over a small black box half-attached to a combat harness.
“What’s that?” Hu asks.
“My present,” Red Shift says. “It needs a little prep before I can use it.”
He doesn’t explain further, and Hu doesn’t press him for more. She puts her new suit in the bag, slings the bag over he shoulder, and climbs up the ladder to look for a place to change.