Joaquin jogged through the stalled traffic, the overcast evening getting cold. He appreciated the comfortable numbness. Light shone brilliantly from behind the clouds. The phantom moon pulled at his inner tide. He allowed the celestial influence guide him toward Andy’s apartment in Chinatown. No one called it that anymore – now it was the International District. Joaquin had expected Andy to be living in a house with a white picket fence, but instead he and Massey found the hacker in a small apartment above an Asian Travel agency, and Moe’s Exotic Herbs.
As Joaquin walked by, an Asian man lackadaisical sweeping the floor inside Moe’s Exotic Herbs eyed him. His motions became more deliberate, the grip on the broom tightening. He feigned concentration at his task, but Joaquin caught the pull of the lip, saw the wrinkles piling on the ancient cheeks, saw the barely showing but present snarl. A thought slowly crept into his mind that the man wasn’t judging him by appearance, but by the fact that he was one of them, one of the super powered people they were showing on the TV all day. The media painted them as killers, so why would some ordinary man see it otherwise? Joaquin felt like he was suddenly transparent to the man, his freak DNA imprinted on his skin. He rushed past the glint of the window. Behind him, the man flipped the “Closed” sign and turned off the lights.
Joaquin found the stairs to the side of the building. He climbed them two at a time, and when he snuck inside the narrow corridor, he quickly found Andy’s black painted door. His banged his fist on it. When Andy didn’t answer, he hammered at it again feeling it shift slightly under the pressure of his impatience and frustration. “Yo man open up. It’s Joaquin.”
He heard the muffled sounds of feet rushing on wood, the throwing off something heavier, the drop of coins and the light swear. Then the door cranked open obstructed by the rusted chain.
“Slide that shit open homie and let me in.”
Andy slicked back his hair and craned his neck to look past Joaquin.
“Where’s Detective Massey?”
“Busy,” Joaquin squeezed through teeth. “I got the stuff instead. So. Move. Over.”
Andy yanked the chain free and stepped aside allowing Joaquin’s large frame access.
“The hell were you doin’ makin’ me wait and shit? I thought you was trippin’ or somethin’.” Joaquin looked around the apartment. It wasn’t difficult to figure out Andy had rushed to make it look more hospitable, cleaning papers and clothes, which were in a heap on the bed. Despite his effort, the small living room was like a disposal area, food, clothing, cables, cameras, CDs all in a mess that Andy probably called order.
Andy shook his head. “I don’t partake in drug usage. So, Golden Boy, let me see what you brought.”
Joaquin handed him the backpack. “Don’t call me that.”
* * *
Andy gave Joaquin one of his famous idiotic smirks. His slim fingers pinched the manila folder first. “Let’s see if Mister Miles Jensen was anywhere near capable of pulling that harebrained stunt off earlier today.”
He pulled his chair close to the gleaming screen of his computer and threw the folder on the desk next to coffee cup gone cold.
Andy booted a program that Joaquin read was the ‘SuperHub.’ It was a simple design that offered a search option, a gallery of images, videos, live CCTV and a chat. Joaquin gawked at the number of videos uploaded. They all had nicknames appropriate to the power of the person filmed, and there were hundreds.
“Are these all supers?”
“Oh yes. I used to blog about them before, but it wasn’t enough. It evolved into this: the largest catalog in existence.”
“How will you know whether it was Jensen or somebody else?” Joaquin asked as he pulled up a chair and sat next to Andy.
“I enter the name and description of the super we’re looking for in the SuperHub. If any of our watchers have uploaded any sightings that correlate with this person’s description or any keywords that I enter… like this “freeze,” “Jensen,” “Miles,” “IT,” “Madison Park,” it’ll pop up. We have eyes pretty much all over the city so it shouldn’t be that hard unless of course Mister Jensen is completely innocent and has never participated in any annihilative activities or if he has never used his power publicly. But, as per detective Massey’s request, we’ll have to “predict” whether he was capable of doing any harm.”
“How the hell are we supposed to do that?” Joaquin asked.
“By using a low-budget, self-modified version of F.A.S.T.”
“Fast? Dude, now you’re just sayin’ stuff.”
Andy sighed and turned to Joaquin. “The Department of Homeland Security has a little program called Future Attribute Screening Technology or FAST. The cool thing about this virtual brain is that it’s mainly designed to predict whether average everyday Joes and Janes who are not suspected of any particular crime, might commit one in the future. Homeland Security bases it on a mix of physiological and behavioral signals; I base it on super powered spikes. Small things, details that evade the naked eye but ultimately point towards the unsupervised usage of superpowers in the daily lives of our ordinary neighbors and passersby.”
“But if there’s evidence of Jensen doing shit with his power, like videos and photos wouldn’t that be enough proof?”
Andy sat back in his chair pulling hungry fingers away from the faded keyboard. “Detective Massey suspects something. He apparently believes this guy is innocent or framed. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have given these to me. Even if Miles Jensen is on those videos showing off his freeze powers that doesn’t mean he was capable of killing anyone. It doesn’t make him guilty. Wouldn’t you agree, Joaquin?”
Andy watched him out of the corner of his eye. Forgetting to wear the mask Joaquin looked down at his hands, measuring guilt and innocence in his palms.
You’re scaring him. Fear turns to anger, and anger to hatred. Stop creating villains, Andy.
Andy swiveled back in his chair and put his fingers and mind to work. The raucous laughter of the voice in his head died away as work engulfed him. “Now, let’s see if Miles Jensen can freeze people to death.”
Next: Forced Awake