* * *
The wipers squeaked against the windshield wiping away the mosaic of raindrops turning the world outside to a kaleidoscopic – a prism of sudden purity and calmness. Frank Massey ran a finger over parched lips, one hand on the wheel, listening to the pitter-patter of the light rain. Sullen thoughts racked his brain as the van anonymously rolled worn off tires across a city at closing dusk. Unintentionally he slowed down at intersections, weary eyes inspecting the hovering figures on glistening sidewalks purchasing something to get them by to a better tomorrow. No one in a city of six hundred thousand batted an eye at the beat white van with the green swirly letters – “Brady’s Bakery.” No one cared where they went and what they did.
Each life was caught in its own dazzling momentum; some were carried to the megaphone screeches occupying main streets, others to a retreat embracing either Globe or the night at the anticipation of the Nightprowlers. Massey saw this eruption as a pulsating thing, like a wave, heated at the center then retreating to the periphery and again like a storm, fuming, returning, bringing fire to its middle and pulling back. Like breathing, air halted in flimsy lungs while the hands steady the gun and the eye aims setting the crosshair on a bull’s eye. Then comes the slow, meticulous exhale, a pure focus on the target. And it ends with a bang.
The van steered clear of neighborhoods that went lights out at night. That’s where most people hid, that is the ones who didn’t go begging Globe to cure them. White collars got a knock on the door and a polite escort. Other people weren’t so lucky. Shit, Massey thought, no one was lucky. There were no lawyers for this kind of crime, the crime of being born different. Sure, some took to trials, some took to the Movement of Tomorrow but most ended the wrong way.
“The war we spoke of before, I didn’t imagine being physically out of it. I’m not one for getting my hands dirty but girls love to play too. I don’t mind a little blood on me. Instead, we got peace parades drawing even more attention to this and vigilante groups playing neighborhood watch.” Anne’s whispered voice startled him.
He cleared his throat and allowed a glance at her long figure, lazy on the seat, legs crossed, arms tucked into the folds of her jacket. “They are decentralizing Globe’s empire. The more noise they create, the less he furthers his agenda.” Besides you know who’s leading those vigilantes, Massey added silently. She had wanted Joaquin active in this war and he was in his own way. His followed silence allowed her to push the conversation further.
“Maybe you’re right. Maybe I’m used to a different kind of… exchange between warring parties. Lately I keep finding myself thinking, trying to figure out why Globe wants this rearrangement of things. Looking at this world I don’t think it’s ready to become something more, so I can’t see where he finds the silver lining that justifies all he’s doing. You know, for centuries I hated, Temujin and his offspring and their drive to eradicate us and implement their own faulty DNA. I hated the fact that he won. I thought of your kind as simple and pitiful, not worth walking this Earth. Now though… I think this world might be better off with people like me in the shadows and people like you, no offence, going berserk on Black Friday and enjoying crappy reality TV. And now, I find myself in that reality and I can’t stand idly by. This has become like a bad déjà vu only this time a psychopath is trying to supersoldier what little is left of my kind potentially destroying the entire world order in the process.”
Massey took eyes off the road to catch the glint in Anne’s eyes and her distant smirk. It was fleeting, her smirk subsumed into a scowl. In the pause she gave him, Massey pushed out his question, the one that had been on the tip of his tongue for days. The SuperHub, as poorly as it was working after Andy was compromised, showed a growing number of activity. Nearly ten thousand people carried the DNA out of which three thousand were active, displaying abilities. That was the number Globe had gone after first. “I’m not going to pretend I understand much about any of this genome talk but I keep wondering, why are there so many supers now if your DNA has been lethargic for centuries? It just seems all of a sudden.”
Massey could see Anne wrinkle her nose considering her next words. They stopped abruptly letting two officers round up a group of hoodlums wearing “Super Freaks Out” t-shirts. They rebelled against the constraints, head butting and hooting, joined by others in an anti-supers anthem. A second patrol car leaned on the sidewalk pushing them back against the wall. One kid stuck a middle finger at the boys in blue and got his head smacked against the hood of the patrol car. Anne shifted, easing her body further against the grey seat when they were allowed to resume their drive.
It was plain she had thought about this too probing at theories plausible and absurd. Massey waited for the true one knowing Anne had it locked within her.
“It was a season of drought. There had been no gifted children born and those that were old enough to have shown signs of growing abilities weren’t. For the longest time I considered that to be the cornerstone of our downfall and Temujin’s rise to power, the beginning of the defective genome. But then one day in a village in Mesopotamia, near Babylon ten children started to change. Just like that, without any hint, their abilities bloomed overnight. You can imagine the event shocked everyone, especially their parents, all wealthy merchants, all carriers of our DNA. These ten boys and girls all citizens of the same tiny patch of land on the shores of Euphrates just up and went almost like they had decided it was time, the right time. None of them were surprised. It was like they were expecting it.”
“You think something similar is happening now? Like uh… a shared connection or something?”
Anne raised an eyebrow, manicured nails drumming on her knee. “I’ll be honest with you, Frank, I don’t know. It could be some shared psychological chain reaction that unlocked it but that seems like a stretch. Globe’s been monitoring supers from even before Kristof emerged. But that’s the thing – he was betting on winning horses, he knew Kristof was a carrier. And his experiments were always controlled, minimal. He was solely focused on Kristof and Peter and me. He studied the general population as much as he studied us. Now he’s tampering with supers on a whole new level, drawing them out in large numbers. Even Andy said it was an odd spike in growth. If I were to make a gamble out of it I’d say it might be forced. If I were to believe, and I’m not saying I completely do, that traces, albeit small of our genome, exist within today’s defects they still won’t be nearly strong enough to awaken a full-fledged ability. With centuries lasting lethargy in the space of months thousands of people developing abilities is too on the nose. This mega boost in power could be Bree’s doing.”
“The little girl? How could she possibly be doing this?”
Anne turned go him, eyes piercing. “She’s not just any little girl. She’s everything you fear, in a pink-dressed bundle.”
Her face visibly relaxed sensing the sharpness and rush of her voice boiled through her cool demeanor. “Besides it would coincide with Globe’s plan, the emergence of this many supers is just in tune with him capturing Kristoff and Peter, his freaky lab experiments and his sudden ambition to become mayor. That last part is obnoxious on a whole new level. He keeps dragging me to these cocktail parties as a source for gawking and his personal entertainment. And when he’s not up for that, he has me aid that SWAT team of his in hunting down supers. I can’t wait to shove my gun in his mouth and have him beg for mercy, gagging on the muzzle.”
Massey flinched at the imagery, fingers drumming on the wheel. He didn’t know if it came naturally to Anne to be deceiving, to play the double agent or if it was a pretense she held up like a shield. There were many times she recoiled back in silence over something he’d tried to pry from her past, her “relationship” with Globe. Her willingness to talk came about when and only for their task at hand and the setup for the plan in future. Massey rolled the wheel letting the leather scrape his calloused palm as his brain put aside doubts and questions about Anne. Her intentions were true, maybe not entirely pure, but true to their cause. She was a friend.
The mention of that mysterious laboratory had made him uneasy. After months they still didn’t have a plan on how to access it and whenever word was raised Anne retreated, shut him off. Massey could now guess Bree was one solid reason for that. The real dangers in Globe’s world lurked in shadows and they were not ready to shine a light and gaze at them just yet. Frank tried to think about the 167 people they’d whisked away in the past two and a half months. Those were 167 supers Globe would never get his hands on.
“We’ll get to him. But getting people to safety is more important now. It weakens him.”
“Does it? Does Joaquin’s “superhero” dream-come-true lifestyle help? We should have gone straight for Globe’s core and then none of this would have happened.”
Massey’s neck tensed. He shook his head, disapproval painting his face. “Don’t say that. Don’t diminish what we’ve done, what-” He swallowed the mention of Joaquin’s name. He couldn’t bring himself to minimalize Joaquin’s world, his contribution. The vigilante force was an even match for the Nightprowlers. In his eyes they were the only opposition against the brutal force Globe was setting up on this city. “We’re slowing him down, Anne. Be patient.”
Anne’s slow nod was the conformation he needed before stepping on the breaks. “We’re here.”
The van screeched to a stop inside an alley across the street from the dingy underpass. Massey jiggled the keys in his hand, his body tense as he moved to the side of the van. He found the handle of the door and slid it open letting seven figures with black hoods to jump out. They stood arranged by the side of the van, a scene too damn close to what an execution would look like. Massey was surprised at how much he’d complied with Anne’s barbaric demands. But the word execution had more than one meaning. In this case they were executing an ambitious plan, one that would give the seven new lives.
“Apologies once more for the hoods but your appreciative of the safety. What lies ahead of you is the chance for a new life. On the sworn word of my associate none of you are the violent type so I’d expect you’d live quiet lives, maybe get a dog. You’ll forget the person who had the powers… for the time being. Or forever. The other side is your temporary safe heaven or your permanent future. But that’s for you to decide when all this is over. Now, the next stage will take up to 40 minutes through a semi-rough terrain. Your hoods will come off in a few minutes. I don’t need to remind you what will happen to you if you reveal this route to someone. Value your lives and those of your loved ones. Don’t be stupid. And if you hear a rat scurrying, please don’t scream and keep your talking to a minimum.”
Anne’s pep talk was without a hint of sorry. To her it was a job that had to be done efficiently and on some nights Massey felt the same drift of apathy washing over him like hot water. He was a trafficker, a shameless smuggler. His eyes wide and cautious looked around but like other nights to stay concealed they used the tall façade of the former post office, an ugly brown building deteriorating with time, yellowed papers dated from the 90’s taped over the windows marking some abandoned reconstruction. Crossing the street was the tricky part. It was exposure. Every day they risked being caught. But then again every location they set for pickup was a possible trap. And yet they kept doing it. The shift in character was frightening and he had to remind himself that his duty always lay within helping others, protecting their rights and the law. His justice couldn’t fail him, not now.
On Anne’s signal the column followed. One figure stepped aside and remained motionless in the alley while they stood exposed on the sidewalk. Cold sweat ran over Massey’s body and as the hand darted for the hood he was equally quick to draw his gun from its holster and point it at the figure. Anne mimicked him with her red Smith & Wesson causing a stir in the still hooded group. Had they been discovered? But then the hood dropped and…
“Are you going to shoot me, Detective?”
Massey’s hand trembled, warmth drowning his cop instinct, He lowered his aim, a smile tugging at the corner of his lips. Betty Patterson was grinning, bright eyed.
“Who’s this then?” Anne hissed.
Massey’s reflexes kicked it, palms outstretched toward Anne. “A friend. It’s fine.”
Anne flicked a glance at her watch. “We have no time. Make this quick.”
She ushered the group of people toward the damp entrance.
“Joaquin needs help.”
It was the simple mention of his name that made a muscle on Massey’s face twitch. He had thought about Joaquin every day trusting that he was doing the right thing. Knowing that he was out there creating a vigilante image was an unsettling notion but not once did Massey dare reach out and interfere. The fear of losing Joaquin’s trust was far too great. He almost hated to admit he’d taken a special liking for the boy.
“How is he?”
“I hear he’s made quite a name for himself out on the streets.”
“We’ve been busy.”
The mention of that made Massey smile widely. He wanted to ask how she was, how’d she found Joaquin but another question pressed its urgency.
“How did you find us?”
Betty shrugged. “There were whispers on the streets that someone was running an operation to rescue supers. Our contact with the Movement of Tomorrow gave the next address. It took a while to decrypt but we got there in the end. I knew it had to be you. Joaquin, well he didn’t want to say anything, but he confirmed it would be you. Sir…”
“I’m not your superior anymore, Betty. You don’t need to call me that.”
Betty’s eyes were sullen for a moment dwindling to the ground but then she caught his gaze and held. “I don’t have much time to speak. We need your help, Sir.” She inclined her head going straight to the point. “Her help. There are rumors that Globe’s using the supers he captures as test subjects and the ones he releases work with the Nightprowlers supplying them with sensitive information within our organization. We’ve been relocating on a nearly daily basis but we’re too few to contain this. It needs to bleed from within. Globe needs to go down. There’s no other way to dismantle his operation.”
“We’re fighting on this front, Betty. We can’t spare time, not right now. There are people that need our help.”
Betty reached out and took Massey’s hand, placing a burner phone there and closed his fingers around it. “I think it’s time we stop running in circles on two fronts. You’ve helped many people but how long can you keep at this until there are no more supers to save or Globe finds you? I’ll call you on this phone to set up a meeting. Stay safe, Detective Massey.”
Frank stared at her figure disappearing back into the alley, beyond the concrete walls of this shithole they’d labeled as a salvation route. With little hesitation he slipped the burner in his pocket.
Next: Tunnel Vision