<So in summary, they appear to be a vigilante gang of limited financial resources, but an array of powers or political influence. In my estimation, there are at least three strong Imbued involved, or between five and seven average Imbued responsible for the phenomena I’ve encountered. Much of that depends on whether their Infiltrator uses misdirection or true mind control.> The latter being the worst case scenario in both short and long term consequences.
I stopped my jog near an intersection, taking a few deep breaths. If the group was still monitoring me, I wanted them to imagine I had limits to my stamina when not using the lightshow. I still didn’t know why they sent my Shadow Tube to the heart of the city, nor did I know why they swapped Stormbreaker for Alice, but I had to assume part of the goal was to learn my abilities.
<You have confirmation?> General Lindsey asked. Due to the multiple simultaneous operations, the Patriot Act had to be invoked to determine who was in charge of the overall mission. As it turned out, Lindsey was the lowest ranking officer with clearance high enough to be informed of all the myriad details.
No, I didn’t buy that excuse, either. Part of me wondered if it was some sort of political maneuver by the man, but I dismissed that in favor of a simpler theory: he was a chronic micromanager.
<We have Stormbreaker dead to rights, and we can extrapolate more once my cover’s been returned to active duty. It’s enough to break the case and give the FBI and Internal Affairs what they need to close the case.> We would have confirmation, but my recording software was off.
<We’ve accomplished our assignment of identifying the leak in the NYPD, as well as the tertiary goal of extracting two state witnesses against the Night Flyers organization,> Doctor Patil said. <Our part of the mission was a complete success. We can extract our resources at any time.>
I kept my face pensive, as if lost in thought, but right now I wanted to smile. Doctor Patil set up the situation like a master, and it was now my turn to seal the deal. <With all due respect, I don’t feel like we’re done here. I’d like to expand the mission.> I still didn’t think much of Patil as a field commander, but I couldn’t ask for a better ‘big picture’ boss. While waiting for Lindsey to respond, I weaved my way through the foot traffic.
<What are you thinking, soldier?> General Lindsey put weight on the final word, as if to remind me of where my loyalties should lie. He needn’t have worried, my loyalties were where they had always been, but loyalty didn’t preclude setting the situation up for my benefit.
<I think I’m in the perfect position to crack the whole organization,> I said. My official role was to get in close enough to prove corruption in a single department, in addition to the witnesses, and I’d done that. They got what they paid for, and now we were selling them the deluxe package. <If we get the clear to fake a few more deaths, I’m willing to bet I can earn their full trust. Seems like a worthwhile investment.>
<We are equipped with anti-Esper and anti-Infiltrator resources,> Doctor Patil added. <There can be no guarantees where Imbued are concerned, but I can’t imagine another agency being better equipped for the mission than we are.>
<Frankly, when I’m extracted, it could alert the others.> I still didn’t understand why they were as trusting as they had been. My only reasonable guesses were that they were either dumber than I’d realized, or they had an Esper who gave them faulty intelligence and were much dumber than I’d realized. It was easy to get lazy and trust the fast, effortless answers of an Oracle, but that trap led to ruin time and again throughout history. Alexander, Babylon, Rome, the first World War, 9/11, all these events and more stood testament to the idiocy of putting too much trust in Oracles. <If they go underground, you may never track them down.>
As a personal testament to the unreliability of Oracle abilities, I had my scanning tech on a full spectrum search. I made certain to pay extra close attention, not for the details it could give me, but for the details it did not. I caught a signal of a poison threat from a nearby cab with a broken catalytic converter, as well as the signals of a meth lab being run out of someone’s apartment. Looks like I’ll be calling in an anonymous tip to the narcs later. My software pulled up a map of the building so I could identify exactly which room it was in.
<You planned this.> Lindsey neither asked nor accused; he stated a fact.
<That would be impossible,> Doctor Patil said. <We had no way of knowing we were investigating part of a much larger organization with the evidence available. We noted it as a possibility, and put ourselves in a position to act if it turned out our suspicions were correct. We took a chance and it worked out in our favor.>
<Sorry for interrupting,> Professor Abernathy said. <The new algorithms I put in place to track suspicious deaths have come back with their initial results. If our initial readings are correct, Stormbreaker may be responsible for at least twelve, and perhaps as many as seventy, deaths over the last three years.>
<Holy hell. You’re sure about that?> It was Lindsey who expressed the surprise we all felt. So much for my theory that he didn’t have the instincts to be a killer. If Abernathy was correct, Stormbreaker would be in the running as one of the most prolific serial killers of the new millennium.
<I’m certain about some of it,> Abernathy said. <I modified the protocols we used to locate potential Imbued for Blue Steel to identify every criminal to suicide in the greater metropolitan area. The average suicide rate amongst criminals has been higher in New York than the rest of the nation by a small but significant amount for most of Stormbreaker’s career. Twenty nine months ago, it began to climb to the point that I’m shocked it wasn’t flagged by some sort of monitoring algorithm. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg.>
I could almost imagine I heard Abernathy typing while she talked. <I ran a cross reference to other violent or mysterious deaths of individuals associated with those suicides, and located sixty two additional conspicuous deaths. Some of it must be unrelated, like the drug overdoses. Others appear incidental, the usual story of gangs eating their own in power struggles to fill the vacuum left by the suicide. But there are twelve separate fatal accidents within two months of twelve different suicides, all twenty four individuals were career criminals. That can’t be coincidence.>
<Seems the rabbit hole goes deeper than anyone realized,> I said. Is that Alice’s power? Probability manipulation was by definition one of the most insidious powers on record. Much like Oracles, the biggest weakness seemed to be ‘it worked great, except that one time I needed it the most.’ If they had such a power on their side, it could explain their lax security.
<And you gathered all that data during this debriefing? It’s only been five minutes.> It had, in fact, taken eight minutes and nineteen seconds since I started my story for Abernathy informed us of her results. Not to say her work wasn’t impressive, or that I planned to correct General Lindsey’s estimate. <That is quite the feat.>
<Thank you, sir,> Abernathy said. <I still need to refine the data, if you don’t mind. I do know there was yet another suicide which occured while Stormbreaker’s body double was active. A Gary Ware confessed to several crimes, implicated his father as abusing him and his step sister, then shot himself. On an internet stream with almost twelve thousand witnesses.>
So, they do have that kind of power. <They mentioned him during their recruitment pitch as an example of the system’s corruption. They most likely timed this to impress me with how far their conspiracy reaches.>
General Lindsey took a slow breath. <Well, if they’re looking to impress, then they’re doing fine. If what you’ve told me today is true, then you might be the only ones who stand a real chance of stopping them without invoking half of Homeland Security’s resources.>
Doctor Patil chuckled. <We’ll strive for a more subtle and cost effective approach.>
<You will, of course, provide the data you’ve compiled,> Lindsey’s tone was now all business. <Trust, but verify. On that note, are you sure you want to take on the risks involved in a case such as this one? You don’t get to cry breach of contract >
That’s a question directed to everyone, but mine to answer. <Just give me the order.> A chill ran down my spine, as I considered what I was volunteering for. It was an old feeling, introduced to me in high school and made part of my life over the years in Iraq. A feeling I hated, and loved, and hated to love: the thrill of a battle about to be engaged. <On a personal note? I’d be disappointed if we stop now.>
Meanwhile, I’d gotten out of the heavy parts of downtown without further difficulty. Other than the creeping paranoia, I felt wonderful. It had been over a decade since I last felt so alive, with a clear mission that I was taking steps toward accomplishing. So much of the events in Vancouver were obfuscated by the other issues, such as Shannon and the constant stream of mistakes born of inexperience that nearly scuttled the mission, that I never had a chance to embrace the situation. Now, I had time to think and anticipate what was coming.
I wonder what it says about me that I’m looking forward to what may end in a bloodbath. I couldn’t imagine my objective, my targets, would go without a fight. Imbued were noteworthy for fighting to the bitter end rather than having the good sense to surrender.
<We will have to draw up a whole new contract,> General Lindsey said. <It may take days before the negotiation’s finalized.>
<That should not be a problem,> Doctor Patil said. <Regardless of your decision, we have to make our exit as believable and seamless as possible, which will take time. In addition, I’ll volunteer the data Abernathy’s compiled as a sign of good faith. It is in everyone’s best interests to get these monsters off the streets, regardless of who does the job.>
On a professional level, I agreed with Doctor Patil, but I still wanted to be the one who got the job done. Come on, Warren, you have a superhuman brain and have been studying psychology, what is it about this scenario that’s gotten to you?
I thought about it, and decided it was Stormbreaker’s deception that made it personal. In Iraq, or for that matter in Vancouver, the enemies had been clear about who they were, the opposite side of a war. I didn’t have to like it, but I could respect the honor of soldiers going to war against soldiers. Stormbreaker, on the other hand, was part of a conspiracy of mass murderers who had the gall to claim they were good guys.
I wanted to destroy them, and wanted them to know I was the one who- I stopped in my tracks. Shannon. When I’d thought of her before, my internal displays brought up a picture of her that I hadn’t realized I had. But it didn’t look like her; the face had been anglicized. It was specific, removing only the parts of her features that were Asian- her skin color remained the same, but the shape of her eyes, nose and jaw were altered. More to the point, to my knowledge I didn’t have any pictures of her stored in my hardware- my perfect memory rendered such things moot.
I glanced around until I found a sign promising genuine Chinese cuisine. Questionable advertisement aside, I could trust it to have at least some Chinese patrons. All of whom showed up Caucasian on my scanners rather than Asian as my organic senses revealed them to be.
First the language, and now the people. The fatal error of relying too much on powers rather than people. <Professor Abernathy? Can you run that search again? This time I want you to focus on Chinese criminals in the city. I’m not sure what I’m looking for, but I think I’ll know it when I see it.>
<There are dozens,> Abernathy said after a moment. <We can do a more in depth investigation, but unless you can narrow it down further, it may take days to comb through all the details.>
When in doubt, start at the beginning. <Date back to when Stormbreaker started escalating. Start with the dead, and I’ll bet it’s Cantonese.>
<We have three names,> Abernathy said. <Andrew River, a drug dealer killed in prison by an Aryan gang. Charged with child pornography, hung himself before trial. And Upright Talk. Prostitute, drug overdose consisting primarily of Ecstasy and prescription narcotics.>
Wait. Two names, three crimes and deaths. <Repeat that second guy back to me?>
<Child porn charges, hung himself before trial. He was a juvenile, and since the charges were never resolved…> Abernathy trailed off. <He shouldn’t even be in this database.>
This is starting to sound familiar. <I think we’ve found our winner.>