I woke up the next morning a bit confused. I remembered recovering the names of the three young men the previous night, and the plate number of the vehicle they used, but I didn’t remember whether I relayed that info to Paris before heading to bed. A quick trip down to my system confirmed that I had.
As I cycled a load to the dryer that I didn’t remember putting in the washer the night before, I thought yet again that one of these days my pre-sleep memory gap was going to cause me a problem. I had considered keeping a notepad by my bed to write down my last few minutes before I fell asleep, but so far there were no issues that a quick Viewing couldn’t fill in if I really needed it to.
I had just stepped out of the shower when I heard my front door open and close. I quickly dressed and then greeted my uniformed sister in the kitchen. She had taken a seat and was reading something on her tablet.
Paris rose for her obligatory hug, then moved over to my one-cup coffee brewer while I got out the ingredients for omlettes. I was slicing the last half onion and grating almost the last of my hard cheese, so I knew a grocery run was called for over the weekend.
“White or wheat?” I asked my sister as I plugged in my pop-up toaster.
“Raisin?” she asked hopefully, but I shook my head. The raisin bread is a favorite of mine, too, and I never seem to stock quite enough to get me through to grocery day. “Bagel?” she tried next. I checked the appropriate cabinet and nodded. She gave me a sunny grin while she sat down with her coffee.
When Paris started in on her murder case, I interjected. “Before I forget. There’s a new neighbor family in town almost two weeks now, and I’m trying to decide how worried I should be. Please don’t freak out,” I added quickly as she started to freak out.
I cracked four eggs over the mushrooms, onions, and spinach I had sauteed in the skillet, and started whisking them with one hand while throwing in diced tomatoes and shredded cheese with the other. I was out of red peppers.
“I met them at a dinner party Monday night, and recognized one of them as a super I have worked with before. Polarity – she was on the California team until recently.” I split the mixture in half with a spatula and let it sizzle and brown on the bottom. “I can’t work out why they would be here. The move checks out, but ending up in my neighborhood by chance would be a big coincidence.”
I glanced up as Paris finished a sip from her mug, her eyes fixed in an expression I knew was deliberative. “Well,” she began, “maybe not as big of a coincidence as you’d think.” She took another sip before she said, “What were some of the reasons you choose this neighborhood?”
I folded the two masses over onto themselves and flipped them as I gave my well-worn answer. “Close to but north of the freeway, low crime, low turnover of homeowners, not within a city jurisdiction, several young families, stable home prices if I want to sell and move out.”
“And at least a few of those are important because you want to be able to move around the city without being under scrutiny, right?” The toast and bagels popped as I scooped our breakfast out of the skillet and onto two plates. “Centrally located but out-of-the-way; rare to have new neighbors but easy to sell. The sort of things any super would be looking for, right?”
I poured my orange juice and sat down across from Paris. We both dug into our omlettes while I though about what she was saying. “The point being,” I restated as much for myself as for her, “that the odds of a super relocating to Detroit and ending up in my neighborhood at random are better than I thought, because they’d be looking for some of the same things I was.”
She nodded, then held a dry bagel half in one hand and looked at me forlornly. I caught the hint and got up to retrieve butter and jam from the fridge. “Have you investigated at all?”
“Not as much as I could, I’ll admit. This week has been particularly busy, first with that short fuse kidnapping case, and then getting thrown into the investigation yesterday. Oh! I should probably tell you about that too.”
I could tell my homicide detective sister was quite engrossed as I filled her in on the Lamarck shooting and my work so far. I mentioned the FBI meeting and Peregrine, but I left out Glimmer and Doc. Paris had never liked my association with the “creepy” scientist and his hangers-on, and while I didn’t actively conceal my dealings, I tended to gloss over them with her.
We had finished the eggs and I had popped in a second round of toast and bagels by the time I’d reviewed what I had found in Viewing the shooting and the startings of a suspect list with Diane. Paris’s questions were mostly directed towards the RCMP process and personnel – how many officers, what labor division, what time table on reports and information releases? I knew none of the above.
“No offense, lil’bro, but you’re still coming at this like an amateur,” she sighed. “If you don’t have a good idea of who’s covering what, and what sort of delay is involved in getting info spread around, you’re gonna miss something important. Guaranteed.” The toaster popped a second time, and she moved to the fridge and got herself cream cheese for it. “Yesterday afternoon, right, you told… whatever her name is, the sergeant… to look for an invisible super. Who knows that info now? The whole team? Just the detective at the top of the case? The inspector, whatever?”
I shrugged, and she sighed again. “I’ll write up a little email with a list of what you need to know, and how you might ask your officer about them. You said there’s one more super working the case, Spinner?”
“So I was told. The guy runs with NEST out of Boston; I’ve never worked with him.” New England Super Team had very good press but had only a couple of real heavies on their roster at present. Thanks to Spinner and 4cast, the firepower they had was usually enough. They often managed to take out threats early or were able to identify a need for collaboration by New York or DC in time for the other teams to make the trip.
“I don’t get his name. What does he do, exactly?”
I shrugged. “It’s not clear to me either, even after researching him a bit online. I’ve seen a video of him taking out a group of guys with guns, and he uses a very athletic fighting style with a lot of spinning and dodging. Maybe that’s all the name means.”
“He hasn’t ever explained it?”
“Not as far as I can tell. There’s a lot of speculation among fans and experts, obviously. He’s got super strength and reflexes, and some sort of super senses. Some people say he’s a super-brain.”
Paris snorted. “That’s always their go-to for unknown powers. Didn’t your Doc prove that it wasn’t possible for powers to do that?”
“To increase intelligence? I don’t think he proved that, no. I agree with him, though, that if powers could do that, we probably would have seen the evidence of it before now. The world chess champion is still a non-super; supers aren’t even represented amongst Nobel Prize winners yet. Other than Peace.” I drank down the last of my orange juice.
Paris looked idley into the bottom of her empty mug, then looked up at me grimly. “You’re not gonna like this next thing.” She tried on a smile, but it looked wan.
“Yeah?” I kept my own expression light and smirked. I had a feeling I knew what she was going to say.
“I think you need to change up your priorities and get a definitive answer on this Polarity thing.” She kept on, seeing me ready to interject. “It’s an immediate danger to you, personally, Hector. If something’s gone wrong and you can’t lie low, you need to know that. Like, yesterday.”
Her serious expression was infectious, but I resisted valiantly. “Just a few minutes ago, you said I was overreacting. That it’s probably just a coincidence.”
She shook her head. “Not probably, no – just possibly. But that’s not the point. Even if it’s just an outside chance this is a move by someone in the government, the consequences are dire. Fatal.” Another head shake, this one with an inward-looking expression. “You can’t afford to play this off. You’re too vulnerable here. If they know who you are, you’re in real danger.”
She was right, of course – she usually was. I worked hard to be safe and practical, but it was my sister who could get a quick grasp of the big picture and how best to act. I nodded. “Okay, I’ll make Polarity my top priority today. Dig as deep as I can, spend most of the day on it.” I pulled out my mobile and checked my dashboard. “Diane wants another call this afternoon, but other than that I’m free.” I had found and scheduled jobs at midtown the following day to collect my sensor data, but none for today.
Paris smiled in satisfaction, checking her watch. “I need to go soon, but let’s discuss these punks from midtown.” She slid me the tablet; it showed three mugshots side-by-side. “Those are the boys?” It wasn’t really a question; I nodded. “Gangbangers. The oldest is sixteen; they occasionally get booked and dragged through a round with Child Protective Services but there aren’t the resources to follow up.” She took the tablet back. “The address given for each of them is the same – a house in the part of midtown claimed by the Megs, or Megas. They picked up some of the pieces when Deedrick was arrested and his boys pushed out a few months back.”
On the tablet was an address and street map. I studied them closely for a minute, and then closed my eyes. It was the work of moments to View in midtown again as I had last night, this time in the present. I navigated to the address quickly – a residential block with small houses in disrepair, so common in modern Detroit. Five young men and two women lay unmoving in various states of undress in the small common room of the house, needles and a pipe both visible on a long crate propped up in front of an old, ripped couch.
“They’re there now. They partied last night,” I said after I had confirmed two of the five faces in the common room. The third was in a bedroom, legs tangled with a girl on a dirty mattress.
Paris got to her feat. “Okay! That really simplifies things.” She pulled out her mobile and started sending text messages. “I’ll get Vice to work up a no-knock on the house and we’ll do a drug raid this morning. The vehicle there?”
I pulled back out to the street and confirmed. “Right out front.”
“Perfect. I should get on this right away.” She opened her arms and received my full-strength hug. “Figure this thing out, lil’bro. And let me know if you need help, okay?” Her worried gaze reminded me so much of Mom, it was a little guilt-inducing.
“Yes ma’am. Go get ’em.” She saw herself out as I got to working on the dishes. I heard the click of the deadbolt as she relocked my front door from the outside with her key. A protective older sibling indeed.
The clutter of activity this week had certainly provided me reasons to place the Polarity issue on the back burner, but I had to admit to myself they were mainly just excuses. The real reason I hadn’t tackled the issue was because anything further I could think of would either be incredibly risky (like hacking into SoCAST’s systems to look for records of her current assignment) or exhaustingly time consuming (like following Polarity back over days, or even weeks, until she is given something revealing about her assignment).
I put the idea of asking either Doc or Lewis about Polarity into the “risky” category: the former because it concerns me to provide Doc more information related too closely to my actual location, and the latter because it could potentially leak to whomever in the government is involved with whatever Polarity is doing. I had the same concern with asking any of my closer contacts among the super community; there was no way to guarantee that my inquiry would remain confidential.
However, now that I had been assigned to the Lamarck investigation, I had additional options – I could make queries or requests under the cover of the assignment. As I thought through how I might go about this, I considered multiple approaches:
- Ask Agent Lewis for clearance sufficient to access the sensitive rosters and mission assignments of US supers. Such a request presumably would have to be reviewed by a properly senior DoJ official, which still had the risk of putting me on someone’s radar or, worse, causing the information to be sanitized before I could see it. But since Diane and I were already building and investigating a list of supers with a variety of powers, it was certainly a request plausibly cogent to the investigation.
- Make the same request as above, only through Diane and the RCMP. This had the advantage of “laundering” my involvement by one additional step, but it also provided the Feds with one additional justification to deny the request. It was clear from the tone of Keeley during the FBI meeting that the US was trying to play its cards as close as it could get away with; a broad infodump like I was requesting would raise both Bureau and Department Hackles.
- Fish for information about Polarity while speaking with US supers as part of the investigation. This option seemed safest, but also the least likely to yield reliable intel, as I was counting not only that I would find supers that would share the data with me, but that they would have the accurate data in the first place. At best I would probably get gossip, not solid facts.
- Add and target Polarity as a subject of the investigation, thus providing an excuse for Delphic to speak with her directly. My justification for this would be a stretch because her power didn’t match what we were looking for, and so unless I camouflaged it well adding a lot of unrelated supers, it would be clear I had an interest in Polarity specifically.
While Paris had been adamant that she wanted to me to resolve this, and quickly, none of my list of options seemed particularly safe. Knowing her, she would want me to exercise caution. So, for the time being, I kept my options simmering in the back of my mind and accessed the audio files picked up at the Morris’s house. I could hope that something was said that would provide me a less ambiguous path.
I perused my curated audio files by keyword, and was slightly surprised at the large number of hits. Picking out a random few to listen to, the reason was evident – my speech recognition was very lenient, and the file list riddled with false positives. “Helping,” “Delta,” and “belt,” were all tagged as matches for “Delphic.” A dozen different words with an “ooh” vowel followed by an unstressed syllable came back as “super.”
I grabbed a much more unforgiving speech processor to try to filter out most of these and, since the total recorded speech only came to about six and a half hours, I set the whole file list on auto-play in the background at 1.5x speed. I had told myself earlier that I would only eavesdrop on conversations otherwise identified as relevant, but Paris had imported to me that I couldn’t really afford to take this matter lightly. Privacy is ever the casualty of security.
While listening to Kurt and Laila decide on dinner in artificially-accelerated voices, I brought up my own local copy of Diane’s suspect list. The first name on it was a retired Canadian super with a known civilian identity. It took me the better part of an hour to find her home in Vancouver and verify that she was, in fact, at home on the day in question and not thousands of miles away on a roof in Ottawa. She was actually out to lunch with a friend at the time of the shooting itself, so my Viewing in this case was likely only verifying something Diane would have already heard from a solid alibi.
The next two cases were similarly clear-cut; I was able to add location details to each name on the list specifying where they were and what they were doing at the time of the shooting. Subsequent Views should be marginally faster as I could start from recent Views already in Canada; if nothing else, this investigation was certainly expanding my familiarity with our northern neighbor.
The fourth name on the list was an active super: Yellow Rose, a member of the regional Ontario Super Team. Her invisibility power, according to Diane’s records, became active automatically whenever she left the ground under her flight power (full hover, slow acceleration, max speed 70 kmh). Her yellow costume was an armored suit with a variety of non-lethal munitions: tear gas, flashbangs, bolt-action rifle with rubber bullets, long-range taser. I could immediately see how useful her powers could be in crowd control.
Unfortunately, Yellow Rose’s civilian identity was secret, and she was not on duty during the time of the shooting. She arrived at Ontario team HQ in Toronto the following afternoon, appearing in front of the second-story balcony used as a fliers’ entrance.
I was starting to learn that tracing invisible people with a vision-based power was not ideal. Yellow Rose, at least when wearing her armor, was quite happy to fly any time she ventured outdoors. And once she was in the air, she was quite thoroughly out of my View. I needed more information.
From my vantage, sneaking into the Ontario supers’ system was a lot less dangerous than doing the same in California, if only because the RCMP had less reason to expect it. It was no work at all to find a user at the HQ and watch when they typed in their username and password. It was very little additional work to establish a VPN with those credentials – and once I had access to the internal portals, it was minutes to find the people with admin access. Another round of Viewing brought me the ability to access the system remotely as an administrator.
I had already created my own separate admin credentials and was doctoring the logs when I heard, “…exactly like a superhero, I’d say. A little old fashioned, if anything. Wait around for a call for help…” it was Laila’s voice. I paused the recording and finished erasing my recent remote logins from the RCMP’s records before rewinding and listening to the audio file in earnest.
I couldn’t make out everything they were saying; this was the upstairs mic, and I suspected they were talking in their bedroom. They kept the doors open most of the time so they could hear Deb across the hall; if not, I might have missed a lot more.
They were having a sort of lovers’ half-argument over the situation in Detroit. Kyle was complaining that he’d lost a likely promotion by the move. “You know I’ve always been supportive of what you do,” he appealed to his wife. “That hasn’t changed. It’s just, I understood it when we lived in LA. You had a messed up schedule because you were patrolling, rescuing people.”
Laila’s voice carried a lot of pain. “I didn’t want to uproot us any more than you did, baby. I really didn’t.”
He sighed. “I know that. I just… you’re a ‘seed asset.’ Some sort of weird CIA secrecy stuff, right? Not really, like, a superhero.”
Laila raised her voice considerably in response. “What I’m doing now isn’t glamorous, sure, but it’s exactly like a superhero, I’d say. A little old fashioned, if anything. Wait around for a call for help, swoop in to save the day, maintain my secret identity otherwise. Remember in the fifties when those guys in tights would rush into the phone booth and jump out to stop a robbery or something? This is more like that.”
Kyle chuckled a little. “I guess so. It just… I’m worried that they’re not taking you seriously with this. It doesn’t seem -”
Laila interrupted, “They’re taking me as seriously as I can expect them to considering my breakdown.” He started up again, but she interrupted again: “We’ve talked about this. I know I’m ready, but they have to be cautious. Lives at stake, remember?”
“And in the meantime, you’re here in the house by yourself while I’m cutting up cadavers and running redundant tests.”
“What, you’re worried I can’t handle myself?” her tone was lighter, even more amused.
“No, but… I just…” he sighed deeply again. “I just…” he mumbled a few more words that I couldn’t make out.
Laila mumbled a response, and soon the recording ended. They had stopped speaking at a volume loud enough for the microphone to stay active.
According to their conversation, Laila was a “seed asset.” It was a known CIA tactic to embed supers, in their civilian identities, into populations of interest to provide information and be ready to help if a situation went hot. If spy memoirs and anonymous newspaper sources could be believed, the asset often spent months and sometimes years doing nothing but reporting back to the Agency, building bonds of friendship and trust with locals. Much like sleeper agents, their true loyalty would only become clear when they were activated – if they ever were. As often as not, the need for the asset would pass and the person would move away without ever having been revealed.
The short conversation had raised more questions. Was this neighborhood specifically selected because of me? It seemed likely. And yet, it was quite possible that Polarity hadn’t been told who the broader mission was targeting. What, if anything, did she know? And, if this was about me, what sort of operation was underway?
There was no reason to believe that the operation was supposed to come to any sort of head within a week, or even a month. I could conceivably be waiting years before a team of CIA agents knocked on my door – but, on the other hand, they could come tomorrow. Without more information, I was racing against an unseen clock.
I still needed to learn more. At least now I knew there was something for me to learn.