Doctor Reed was going over the bioscans again when I walked into the control room. I would have wondered how she talked Integral into installing a fully operation medbed, complete with real-time holographic modeling programs to show Agent Cross’s body and brain, but I knew the answer already.
Integral, meanwhile, was on the other side of the room, laying on his back with his top half hidden in one of the access panels. It reminded me of a scifi variant of a car mechanic, which wasn’t inaccurate. Why he was down there himself rather than trusting his suit’s tactile forcefield and scanners was yet another obvious question.
“Find anything new?” My power sat quiet through all three questions; it only tempted me when I wanted answers, not when I already had them.
“There’s nothing here at all!” A soft slap echoed through the room as Phoebe’s bare foot smacked into the steel floor. I need to ask her why she stopped wearing shoes. This time my power did rouse from its slumber, but I pushed it away; it was too costly to burn on such trivial concerns. “Warren’s body is perfect! It has to be the machine that’s broken!”
“It is not the machinery!” Integral’s voice was both muffled and echoing, thanks to the metal box he was yelling from. “My Tech is perfect! Not only that, but I’m the only being alive who knows how it works, and even I couldn’t hack it well enough to hide the trail. It has to be organic!”
“If it was organic, it would show up on your Gadgets! It doesn’t, so either they’re broken or they’re broken. No other possible answer!”
Light came from Integral’s suit as the tactile forcefield activated. “Yeah, well, you’re the one who spent years finding ways to beat my systems!” He levitated out of the hole as he spoke, then the suit brought him to standing position. “If you were screwing with his brain and didn’t want anyone to notice, what would you do?”
“I’ve checked for everything I could do!” Phoebe turned to face Integral, her hands balled up into fists. Not that the girl, or any other natural human, had the strength to get through Integral through his armor. “His biology has not been tampered with!”
This is getting stupid. I stepped between the pair, then faced Phoebe. “Well, think about it on your off hours. It’s time for the shift change.”
“Already?” Phoebe looked at me, then back at the medbed with all its details on Cross. “But I’m not done.”
“You know the effects of sleep deprivation better than anyone else on the planet,” I said. “And you’ve already said there’s nothing left you can do to help. Sleep on it, and maybe you’ll have new ideas in the morning.” Such as there is a ‘morning’ up here. “Or maybe I’ll find the missing pieces of this puzzle while you’re asleep.”
“Okay.” Phoebe hit the button that turned off the simulation, then walked out of the room without another word of protest. She would argue with Integral for hours, but she was quick to obey people she viewed as authority figures. I wasn’t a psychologist, but I took enough courses to understand ‘regression’ and how it manifested. I doubt she was so compliant when she was a child. David never was. With one last glance at Warren, she stepped out of the room. “Goodnight.”
She has it bad. There was no secret, or surprise, in Phoebe’s crush on Warren. He pressed all her deep seated abandonment issues hard, a ‘daddy’ figure; not the first woman I’d known with such issues. Warren’s self control and good looks only added to that effect, even though it was clear she never stood a chance with him. I wasn’t her psychologist, that’s what Doctor Crisp was for, but I felt for the girl. If she knew what I knew about the man’s background… well, she’d make some claim about how that made a more romantic story and brush off the advice to find someone else.
Not the first young woman I’d met who couldn’t take a hint, either. Then, living in a place like this, it was no surprise she didn’t understand people in general, or men in particular. Must be the motherly instinct in me, but I should sit down and have a talk with her.
“I’m going to go, too,” Integral said. “I’ll be back after a break for lunch.” He followed after Phoebe, though stayed far enough back that there was no easy way for them to talk to one another in the hall.
Speaking of people who have problems dealing with the opposite sex.
I sat down at my console, marveling at the sheer power of this machine in front of me yet again. With the benefits of the technology built into Warren’s brain, everything he saw through his scanners, we could see through the supercomputer connected to his implants via the ansible system. Warren couldn’t appreciate the equipment he carried inside him, the power it represented, but then no one save perhaps Integral and Doctor Reed truly comprehended the full power of this machine, which was displaying another computer as Agent Cross typed away at around a thousand words a minute.
If we had machines like this one twenty years ago, perhaps. I tore my thoughts away from a past that couldn’t change, to focus on futures that might yet be saved. Once again, my power refused to offer answers to the hypothetical questions in my mind. “Agent Cross. We just changed shifts. Status update?”
“The Night Flyers hit one of the Messina family’s more profitable brothels some hours back,” he said. Thought. While I spoke into a microphone, Agent Cross was using an implant connected into his nervous system. Meanwhile, his typing didn’t seem to slow at all. I knew it was his power at work, rather than natural talent, but I could see what Phoebe found so desirable. “Then they reported the business to the cops. We think they got away with around half a million in cash and other goods.”
The auto-keyword algorithm I created pulled up the crime reports, cycled through, and found the case in question. Through the power of this supercomputer, our Department of Defense contracts, and the hideous violations of privacy known collectively as the Patriot Act, I now had a full record of the events in question. I wonder how the clients would feel to learn this brothel has security cameras on a private feed to an island in the Philippines.
As I watched the windows of all four computer screens fill with links to bank account information, prior criminal records, and employment history. The facial recognition identified one of the recent customers as an aide to the Mayor. I’ll have to send that to Varun later. The feds love it when we stumble across information without them paying us for it.
Meanwhile, Warren kept updating me on the information. “Needless to say, the Flyers vanished into nowhere in the confusion, while any evidence the Messinas or cops may have found to track them was lost during the police raid. It could mean our vigilantes were associated with the Flyers, or perhaps all they did was tip one gang on the opportunity to get a clean, easy hit against a rival.”
“Which doesn’t explain how our vigilantes knew so much about the Messinas, or where to contact the Flyers.” I was already setting the computer to seek other sources of intelligence, but sources were finite and clouded by costumed identities and pseudonyms. While most people assumed the supers culture was born of early 1900s showmanship and cheese which hadn’t gone out of style for over a century, the truth was more pragmatic: it hid them from people like me. False names and identities were a nightmare for Espers, blurring already murky waters even further.
My power promised an answer to the question on my mind, a chance to get an answer rather than spend hours chasing ghosts that might still slip through my fingers. Knowing the consequences, I caved to temptation. Is there a double agent in the Messina organization who provided information to the Night Flyers? I didn’t instruct my power to answer, yet. The question was too vague, still, and might not account for a captured goon who was tortured or Infiltrated for the knowledge.
I had to consider other possibilities as well, such as someone not part of the Flyers relaying information. Most crippling to my questions was that the vigilante group we were dealing with didn’t give their group a name.
It was an old trick in the Imbued community, born of even older superstitions, to avoid naming sensitive projects. Too many Espers, like myself, relied on names to build association between groups and events. I couldn’t ask if a person belonged to a group if that group had no name. The same trick which allowed us to deploy Agent Cross without fear of Espers discovering the whole organization also worked against us in dealing with gangs, villain groups, and terrorist cells.
Worse still, if I asked a question about an association between the Flyers, Messinas, and Stormbreaker, my power might consider normal, non-vigilante police officers on the case to count, while asking it to ignore police officers might rule out a conspirator who was also an officer, like Stormbreaker. Was the recent attack on the Messina brothel arranged by someone intending to assist Stormbreaker or our agent pretending to be Saul Ellison?
That still wouldn’t rule out it being part of the conspiracy, if the conspirator had no intentions of helping Stormbreaker or ‘Ellison’, and could yield a false positive if the responsible party went in with the intention of helping ‘everyone’ by destroying a criminal enterprise.
Was it someone hostile to the Night Flyers who discovered the Messina brothel and revealed it to enemies? As a question, it ruled out Flyer members unless those members were double agents. The event itself ruled out anyone who wanted to go through legal methods to end the crime organization, as a normal citizen or officer would contact legal authorities.
It’s as good a question as any. I sent my discovery of political corruption to Doctor Patil, trusting him to use it well. I then grit my teeth against what was to come and opened the metaphorical gate holding back my power. Numbness spread across my body, taking away my concerns, my fears, my hopes. Phoebe’s issues and the advice I could have offered from my years of experience were annihilated like sand castles in a storm. The waves washed back in the sea, leaving behind an empty beach and an answer.
It was my first question of the day, so I was still whole enough to retain my emotions; dulled, muted, covered in metaphorical sand, but still together. I began the work of piecing myself back together, rebuilding my sand castles. “My power thinks whomever did this wants to hurt the Flyers as well. It’s probably the work of our conspirators.” The recognition software of my console took my words as gospel, and began running search after search to locate clues. I’d sort through the false posititives after I recovered.
“They do seem dead set on showing off how far their reach extends,” Cross said after a moment. “With luck, they’ll overextend themselves in the process.”
He’s smart enough to distrust the answers I gave. He knows I’m useless, he’ll never see me as reliable. I bit down on that thought; it was the side effects of my power talking, not reality. Reality was that he understood the trap that was reliance on Espers over investigation. If I wasn’t so stupid, I’d be the same.
I watched the computer, hoping it could give me the answers I wasn’t good enough to find on my own. By the time Integral got back from lunch, I had accomplished nothing except lose a few solitaire games, but the computer had eliminated thousands of suspects and located a few good investigative points.
Doctor Montoya looked over his notes he’d taken yet again. The bioscans indicated frustration and a sense of helplessness that I was all too familiar with, myself. I had read Montoya’s notes more often than he had over the last week. Whatever else he might be, he was a professional psychiatrist who dedicated himself to the job. His notes on Warren’s persona as Saul Ellison were comprehensive, to the point, and insightful.
Uses passive aggressive behavior to avoid confronting emotional issues. Borderline narcissistic personality disorder. Authoritarian moral code, dehumanizes criminals as justification for inflicting harm on perpetrators of crime, perhaps as compensation of fear of inadequacy in his personal life. In part seems to stem from traumatic events during time of service, though likely originated before then. Highly intelligent, capable of articulating and rationalizing his opinions. Lacks charisma, prefers appeals to order rather than emotion.
It was remarkably close to home, given what I knew of Warren’s background. With his perfect memory, Cross could maintain a lie better than most, but even he faltered when faced with complex questions asked by an expert. The careful balance of sharing enough to be convincing yet hiding enough to come across as hostile helped blur the lines further, which made Doctor Montoya’s intuited guesses all the more impressive.
Part of me hoped Montoya was innocent, so we could recruit him to alleviate Doctor Crisp’s workload. In the back of my mind, my power tempted me with an answer. No. Perhaps some day in the future, but for now knowing Montoya’s involvement accomplishes nothing. Besides, I’d used my power on him as much as was feasible already.
Based on the spikes of discomfort and suspicion from Cross, he was studying Doctor Montoya just as I was. Montoya flipped to the next page, which went into analysis of Saul Ellison’s altered service record. The real soldier by that name had died in an IED explosion five years ago, at age twenty. His records indicated a man who was dedicated to doing the right thing, and serving a country he loved. I think, had he lived, he would have gotten along well with Warren or myself. If we’re dealing in impossible fantasies, perhaps he could have been friends with David.
An emotional spike hit Warren’s brain, kicking off the protocol meant to detect Stormbreaker’s power in action. Before I could alert Warren to a possible Infiltrator attack, he spoke. “Give it to me straight doc, will I ever be able to play the piano again?”
Ah, so that’s it. My hand drifted away from the call button. No powers, just the natural blend of frustration and disgust which defined his opinion of the role he was playing. He’d be even more upset if he knew Saul Ellison was a real man whose name we appropriated and he was making look bad. Warren had a strong enough sense of duty that he’d still go through with the mission, but it would make an already unpleasant task that much worse.
“I’ll be recommending to Chief Brown that you be restored to full duty.” Doctor Montoya spoke as if he just ordered an execution, perhaps because he felt like he had. Page three of his notes suggested that if ‘Ellison’ were put in the same sort of hostage situation, it would yield the same results. He pulled that sheet out of the stack and set it face down next to the paper shredder. “There’s no reason to believe you’re unfit, though I believe you should continue to see me.”
The lack of delay alone was enough to rouse suspicion; the last OIS in New York took over a month before the officer was back on the street. More to point, the last officer hadn’t been an Imbued, who tended to recieve even harsher scrutiny than mundane officers.
Why? Are you part of this conspiracy, Doctor Montoya? Is one of the conspirators exerting pressure on you? Is it because of the upsurge in gang violence caused by the Night Flyer raid on the Messinas? Any question could have been part or all of the answer, and my power promised answers to that question as well. I ignored it yet again, unwilling to dig deeper for now.
“Finally, I can do some good for a change,” Warren said. He knew as well as I did how unusual the situation was. “You want me to tell the chief? Save you the trip.”
Through the powerful sensors built into Warren, I could hear the papers crunch in Montoya’s hands. He hadn’t balled up the paper, but his grip had been tight enough to crimp them. “No, I have other business to discuss as well.”
I imagine so.
“Cool, I’ll see myself out. Guess I’ll know tomorrow how it’ll work out.” Tracking software showed that Warren had started moving out of the office. “I wish we could just use your power to find out who was involved in this mess.”
It took me a moment to realize he was transmitting to me rather than talking out loud. “You know we can’t,” I said. With my mind clear and focused, I could forgive him for the insensitivity of the request. He doesn’t know what my power does to me. “Opinion based information is difficult to parse. He doesn’t consider himself part of the organization we’re hunting, but I don’t know if that’s because he’s not involved, or because he sees himself as an outsider, an ally rather than a member. It was difficult enough to determine which precinct was most closely associated with them in the first place.” I had to dip into my power several times just to get us this far.
“And despite all the stupid stuff they’ve done, they’re too smart to give themselves a name,” Warren said. So he has been studying anti-Esper techniques in his down time.
“I’m as frustrated as you are.” More, as much as Warren hated what he was doing, at least he got to keep his health and energy. I looked down at the flab hanging off my body. Perhaps I should give up on exercise and bribe Phoebe and Varun into making me healthy the lazy way. “I want these people stopped as much as anyone.”
“I know,” Warren said. To my surprise, the Tech even confirmed he was telling the truth. “And I know we’ve only made this much progress because of you.”
I took a slow breath. As much as I pretended I was above it, I appreciated the… appreciation. “Just punch them a couple extra times for me, and we’ll call it even.”
“Kidneys or face?”
In spite of myself, I smiled. “Surprise me.”