My first and ongoing description for Sergeant Diane Waterford was “fresh-faced.” Having attained her rank certainly reflected admirable experience and competence, and yet she maintained the smiling eagerness of a neophyte. It was, I grudgingly admitted, far more pleasant than the funereal air the FBI meeting had held.
Diane, as she insisted I call her, was clearly a fan of Delphic’s. I use the word “fan” advisedly, as she had a comprehensive knowledge of my work with various super teams that I typically only saw on certain online groups for which I was the focus (or that Silicon Valley cult that had decided I was the harbinger for the AI Singularity, but I usually didn’t count them). Usefully, Diane was a RCMP specialist on super heroes. She was a go-to analyst when crimes involving Super Team members, as victims or suspects, were the subject of national investigations.
I watched the somewhat jumpy streaming image of the mountie in her dark suit. She had been led to expect that we would be heading downtown to the crime scene, but I canceled that excursion, explaining that I already had a detailed map of the area.
“You have access to all the relevant files. Is there anything else I can do to help your analysis?” The smile was occasionally overlaid with another emotion but never fully vanished, like a composite image of different expressions.
“Possibly,” my synthetic voice replied. “I have some conclusions based on preliminary metrics. Why don’t I share them, and we can decide where to move from there?”
Her smile got wider and she grabbed a pad and pencil. “Sure, that’s great!”
“First, the shots came from the 2765 building, on the roof above Tip’s Vintage Clothing. They were fired by a super with invisibility.”
Her eyes widened in surprise above her smile. “Actual invisibility? Not super speed or camouflage?” Her question was reasonable just based on the numbers: some level of enhanced speed was very common among supers, while a power rendering a person or object visually undetectable was much rarer. I had done a quick search before calling her, and the total number of named supers that could do what I had Viewed was nine, worldwide.
“Actual invisibility. Selectively eliminating emitted visible light from the super, while allowing light that contacts the super to pass unimpeded,” I clarified. “My analysis concludes that the shooter, along with any equipment or accomplices, was invisible, while the bullets regained visibility while in flight.
Waterford’s head tilted slightly as she tried to process this. “We don’t have video of that; how can you be sure?”
“I acquired additional data from methods not open to Canadian law enforcement,” came my stock reply. Her quick nod accepted this. “Invisibility power gives us a very limited pool of suspects.”
The sergeant thought for a minute before responding, “Narrowly construed, thirteen possibilities. Specialized replication, under forty. And then the standard seventy or so tertiary candidates.” She opened up her laptop and had already started what looked like a spreadsheet list.
This was a much broader list than I was expecting. “I had identified nine named supers who meet the power profile. Can you explain how you ended up with over one hundred?”
She nodded, and pressed a screen-share button so I could see her spreadsheet directly. “Nine active and four retired supers with P.S.I., proximity selective invisibility.” She highlighted the appropriate names; this list roughly matched my own. “These thirty-seven have abilities that manipulate or project visible light, and are believed to be able to replicate an effect similar to P.S.I.” I recognized almost none of the names on her second list.
Diane then opened and shared a second spreadsheet, entitled ‘Meta-adaptive.’ She continued, “And then we have the list of known active and at-large supers, excluding augments, with powers that are either known to be highly variable, like Wildcard, or changeable over time, like The Ritualist. Any attempt to identify a suspect based on power usage has to take the tertiary list into account.”
“What are augments?” I asked. I had heard the term used in a few different ways, but the context wasn’t clear to me here.
Diane Waterford frowned. It was the first time I had seen the smile leave her face since we started the call. “Excuse me,” she mumbled quickly, and then ended the call.
I certainly hadn’t expected such an abrupt ending to what had otherwise been a very informative conversation. My hunch was that Waterford had thought of something particularly important that needed her full attention, so it seemed reasonable to wait a bit before trying to call again. So, I took the opportunity to follow up on one of the first avenues that had opened up from learning of the invisibility power.
Doc Stevens’ lab was located in Eutopia, a South American kraterocracy that was known as Bolivia before its takeover by Ak’b’al and his followers. The aging autocrat had agreed to allow Stevens to conduct his research unimpeded, and with significant resources, after the doctor had been compelled to flee the US. His facilities, set high in the mountains, were fresh in my memory. Doc himself was in his main chemistry lab, which was not unusual for the fastidious researcher.
I moved my View to the facility quarters and soon found the man I was looking for: Fernando Campos, AKA Glimmer. He wore simple, dark clothing and reclined barefoot in an overstuffed chair, reading a paperback. His stylishly long hair and rounded features made him look like an office professional on vacation.
The night before, Glimmer had returned from an excursion that, I was able to determine, had lasted the three previous days. This meant he was unaccounted-for during the shooting.
I rewound the full four days to track Glimmer’s departure from the base. As I understood to often be the case, he travelled with Kyle Tran, AKA Glitch, a lean man with a hard, dangerous look. The two of them strapped into light aircraft and I watched in fascination as they launched the craft directly out of the lab-based hangar.
They were in the air in seconds, and bare seconds after that, I found myself Viewing the warm haze of a late spring sky. Glimmer had extended his invisibility over the entire plane and, unfortunately, my power apparently wouldn’t automatically compensate to stay with passengers I couldn’t see.
My Viewing attempts had been unable to clear Glimmer, which left me with little choice but to contact Doc directly and ask. As I pulled up his contact data, I received an incoming call from Diane.
The sergeant’s smile was back in place, if looking more strained than before. “Sorry about that,” she ran quickly into and through the apology, “I made a rather severe error and had to address it immediately.”
“I didn’t notice any error,” I replied.
“The augments,” Diane explained. “They’re common knowledge for Agency analysts, but you didn’t have clearance.” She blew out a puff of air. “You do now. Inspector Heathcote was impressed with your need for the data.” A few clicks later, she continued, “I’ve copied the hub file over if you want to take a look.” She waited for my response.
I hadn’t spent any time looking at the RCMP’s investigation files yet, but I took this opportunity to log in and find the file marked ‘Human Augmentation Projects – General.’ It discussed, in general terms, the status of attempts to produce or replicate powers in normal humans.
Although research in this area was formally banned by international treaty after the Stevens scandal, it was widely assumed that most nations with any sort of budget for secret military research had ventured there. Three approaches were mentioned in the document: machine enhancement, genetic engineering, and beam exposure. More than half the document was devoted to the third method, as this was the one that had apparently yielded fruit thus far. Certain individuals would temporarily emit Omicron radiation, and in a few cases exhibit unusual abilities, after extended proximity to high-energy Upsilon beams. Common side effects were, quite predictably, severe radiation poisoning.
I could still see Diane waiting patiently; she had shared the suspect spreadsheet again and seemed to be re-ordering the rows. I noticed that the names being sorted toward the top were superheroes and North American civilians.
“Diane,” I opened, “did you share the data on augments because you are concerned that one of them might be a suspect? Or just to make sure our analysis wasn’t excluding key data.”
Looking up from the tabulated columns and at my motionless avatar, she licked her lips in consideration. “Mostly the second one, I think. There have been a couple of Canadian experiments and one out of Germany that might be relevant, but this is looking like a planned attack. The augment process isn’t reliable enough and the powers don’t last long enough for something like this.”
“But there are augment projects that have replicated invisibility powers, at least for a short time?” My question was met with a nod, so I continued, “meaning it’s plausible, if anyone had managed a dependable augmentation?”
“Right, but…” she took a breath as she tried to put her instincts into words. “If that’s what we’re dealing with, then it’s not a small lab or lone actor. We’re talking about a government project at that point. Actual plans, policies, training…” she shrugged. “It’s not impossible, but it’s a much bigger stretch and harder to investigate than just one or a small group of rogue supers. So…” and she brought up her spreadsheet again “… let’s focus on the primary and secondary suspect lists, and plan out how to investigate these names.”
Diane and I started working our way through the list, discussing plausibility, motive, and how we might get hold of different suspects for questioning. But my mind kept being drawn back to the Doc’s employee, Glimmer.
I bid Diane goodnight with an assurance that I had everything I needed to begin some first-order investigations on the suspect list. We agreed to touch base the following afternoon, but I let her know that I’d be dedicating “cycles” to the names on the list for a couple of days at least. Hopefully I was managing expectations for the pace of the work I’d be able to actually deliver.
I shot a congruent message to the address I’d been given for Inspector Heathcote, letting her know there was no reason to meet again so soon and that I was well taken care of (adding a few words about Diane’s – “Sergeant Waterford’s” – clear competence and enthusiasm, for good measure). Hopefully this would give me a little bit of room to play; I was so far happy that the RCMP seemed content to let me gather data using my own methods rather than trying to micromanage my actions or assign me to specific analysis tasks. I would not be surprised if a call from Agent Lewis had filled them in on my preferred mode of operation.
I checked again and saw that the Doc was online… but at the same time, I noticed a new email from Paris with attachments. An armed robbery turned homicide was about to be closed unsolved.
I scanned the info that had been collected on the dead liquor store owner who was shot from behind the counter after handing the register’s cash to his assailants in an otherwise empty store. The surveillance camera showed two teenagers in ski masks, and witnesses reported a third kid that stayed in the car during the excursion. A half-hearted trawling of the usual midtown ne’er-do-wells hadn’t raised anything to the surface.
I dialed Doc, and he answered promptly as usual. “Good evening, Delphic,” he began. “To what do I owe the pleasure? Something to report since yesterday?”
“Good evening,” I replied. “Nothing further on the Michaels matter. But there was something else I wanted to ask you about.”
“Oh?” his raspy voice conveyed distance and unconcern. “Please do.”
“It’s about the death of Lamarck.”
I could almost hear his nod. “Shot yesterday by sniper fire, if I recall.” He rustled something. “The Mounties call you in on this one? Or the Feds?”
“Both. They are very interested in identifying the culprit.” Apparently Doc did not share their urgency – his tone stayed light, as though this were an academic detour of no real weight. I found it off-putting.
“I haven’t heard anything about it,” he volunteered. “If it’s part of a larger plot then the group involved is taking pains to stay underground.”
“I wanted to talk to you specifically because Glimmer is on the suspect list.”
The rustling stopped. Doc’s tone dropped from mercurial to saturnine. “Fred? Why would you think he was involved?”
“The sniper was under an invisibility power.” I considered typing more, but decided to wait on Doc’s response.
It took a couple of minutes before he responded. “Fred will be up in a minute.” His tone shifted, more pointed. “How did you come to the conclusion it was an invisibility power, specifically? More precisely – what evidence has led you to that conclusion?”
His question hung in the air for just scant seconds before the Doc followed up with more: “The reason I ask is because there are a variety of omicron aberrations – powers – that can replicate invisibility under certain observations. In-person witnesses can be subject to neural hijacking… illusions….” I heard him swallow before continuing. “Some powers can finely manipulate electronic media, and a few can specifically block or misinform perceptive powers. So, depending on your source, there are other options than actual electromagnetic redirection.”
This was a very good point. I would have to bring it up with Diane, as I wasn’t sure which of these kinds of powers, if any, were included in her suspect list. In her position, I likely would have assumed a digital source for the invisibility claim and tweaked my list accordingly.
I was trying to process this idea of supers that could block perceptive powers. I had never heard of this – possibly because perceptive powers were themselves rare, and the ability to block them would probably be something held back as a trump card. The possibility had unpleasant implications for me. Could I trust what I was seeing with my View?
In fact, without knowing more about how such blocking powers work, I had no easy way to distinguish between them and actual invisibility when Viewing. Could the Ottawa sniper be a power blocker? I needed to know more.
But at this point I heard a new voice came over the line. “I’m here, Doctor. How can I help?”
“Ah, Fred, thanks for coming over. I have Delphic on the line here.” He paused.
“Hello mister Campos. Delphic here,” I typed and sent.
“Mister Delphic, yes. I don’t think we’ve spoken before. A pleasure to meet you.” Glimmer’s voice was smooth and expressive, a contrast from Doc’s gravelly and colorless tone.
“Likewise,” I responded politely. “Could I impose on you to answer a couple of questions?”
Another pause. As I waited for a response, I closed my eyes and set my View on the lab space. It was clear there was some visual by-play between the two that I didn’t want to miss.
They were in a lab space the size of a residential parlor or small conference room. Benches abutted three walls, lab stools tucked under them. The bench surfaces were clear and clean; lamps hung on the wall over each bench with a set of four nozzles nearby. It was a setup similar to the science labs I remembered from my gen ed courses at U of M.
The Doc was in an office chair in front of a desk on the fourth wall, well below the bench surfaces. The desk was covered in papers and lab journals, and it looked as though Doc had been marking up one of the journals before he had turned to give his full attention to Campos.
The disgraced researcher projected the unambiguous image of advanced age. He had stereotypically wild silver hair framing a wrinkled face with large, cold eyes. A badly creased tie spilled unevenly over the front of a short sleeved dress shirt; the colors clashed.
Fernando Campos, in contrast, would not have looked out of place at an upscale Brazillian dance club. A dark green shirt framed a face that barely showed his scant twenty-five years under hair that looked professionally curled. Even his hands, moving expressively as he apparently made a point to his boss, looked carefully maintained.
The computer monitor sticking up from piles of paper on the desk showed the active call and the muted line. The two looked wary and stressed; I was surprised it didn’t seem to come through in their voices.
Clicking on a mouse hidden among the mess, Doc replied, “It depends on the questions. Sorry, but I’m not going to ask Fred to give up any more than he’s comfortable sharing.”
This earned an irked look from the younger man. Doc returned a shrug.
“I understand,” I typed blind. “This is about what you were doing yesterday, midday.” To give him an easy chance to lie, I added, “Were you there at the lab?”
He shook his head. “No, we were offsite managing a project.”
Campos raised an eyebrow to Doc, who conveyed permission with a nod. “Kyle and I.”
“Kyle train, also known as Glitch?” And here my autocorrect had messed me up. Flustered, I left my View and returned my attention to my computer.
“It’s Kyle Tran,” he responded with clear irritation, “also known as Kyle, or mister Tran to you.”
Doc jumped in, “Fred and Kyle’s identities aren’t secret, and they dislike using their call names outside of missions.”
Easier just to press on. “Where was the project?”
“Nowhere near Canada,” he quipped. Clearly Doc had said something as to what this was about. “Old World, not in the Americas. I don’t care to be more specific.”
That was not helpful. “I would very much like to verify your specific location at midday yesterday. Noon US Eastern time.”
The super’s voice was hot and hostile. “That won’t be possible. Is there anything else I can help you with?”
“Mister Campos,” I decided to try one more time, “I would very much like the data to remove you from the suspect list of a high profile murder investigation. Is there nothing else about your whereabouts or activities yesterday that you’re willing to tell me?”
The Doc said, “It looks like that’s all you’re going to get from him. Sorry.” He lowered his voice, “Fred walked away, I’m afraid. He has his secrets, and doesn’t much trust government operatives.”
“I’m hardly that.”
“Aren’t you, though? They’re paying you.” He had a dull amusement in his voice.
“Actually, it’s Peregrine paying me this time.” I gave Doc a brief run-down of the hero’s participation in the FBI meeting.
I heard some rustling, and a couple of mouse clicks. “Actually, Peregrine doesn’t have that sort of cash,” Doc said. “I can’t be sure until later in the week, but I suspect he got Harmony Norberg to provide the funds.”
I had considered this possibility as well. It was an open secret that Lady Liberty, a primary asset of the New York Super Team, was popular and photogenic heiress Norberg. She was openly political and a perennial defender of Peregrine’s antics. Tabloids speculated a more prurient relationship between the two.
It took me a second to work myself up to it, but Doc’s advice was usually worth asking for. I typed, “Should I be concerned about Peregrine? I had not seen him so openly hostile before.”
Doc’s answer was immediate. “Not at all. He’s rash, yes, and he thinks in black and white. But he’s loyal. His heart’s in the right place. He’s not vindictive or petty.”
Personally I felt his actions in the meeting were petty, but I let Doc continue. “Show your value as you have in the past and Peregrine won’t make himself a problem. And, Delphic?”
“Yes?” The single synthesized word was clipped.
“Fernando didn’t do this,” he said. “I have a good idea what they were likely doing the last couple of days, though it’s not my project and not my place to say.” He sighed. “But I understand why he wants it to stay a secret. He really was nowhere near Canada. You’re looking for someone else.”
We chatted for a couple more minutes about spring weather moving into summer there in the Southern Hemisphere, and then disconnected.
My instincts matched Doc’s claims – Campos wasn’t the sniper. But, as a rule, I never relied on instincts until I could back them up with solid facts. So Campos stayed firmly on the suspect list.
It was getting late, and I was hungry but not yet tired. In the kitchen I heated up the last of my leftovers and spent my dinner time planning a menu for tomorrow and the weekend.
Once the washing up was done, I opened the file from Paris again and matched the convenience store to its location midtown. I might as well have names to discuss with my sister over breakfast.