The media mayhem built throughout the morning, but I was blissfully unaware of it until noon.
I had gone to my parents’ again for a quick breakfast and broke the “seed asset” news to Paris, and she had freaked out and admonished me about as expected. The morning repair calls and recovery of the sensors had gone without incident. As lunchtime loomed, I had a cart full of groceries and was finishing up making my produce selections when my sister’s tone sounded.
Her message to me was just a link. I followed it to a politcal blog site – one of the ridiculous polemic sites that pay writers by the kiloclick – and was confronted with the headline: “‘You Weren’t F***ing There’ – Peregrine Attacks Crusoe Live on Air.”
I thought Peregrine had done the media rounds on the Washington Monument incident on Tuesday, but the blogs got traffic by endlessly rehashing old news, so it might have just been a late piece.
But, in fact, it wasn’t. The article quickly informed the reader that, earlier that morning, the USST hero had lost his cool when asked about the reports that two visiting American supers had interfered in an altercation between First Nations protesters and the Canadian government. An accompanying picture showed a poor grey-haired woman, her arms visibly restrained, weeping while Spinner grinned in the background.
It was a very suggestive picture for the narrative they were selling. Spinner looked young, white, powerful, and smug. Molina, as the article informed me her name was, looked old, frail, oppressed, and broken. The angle was obvious.
The headline was an exaggeration, thankfully. Peregrine had interrupted the host, Amir Crusoe, as he was asking why Spinner hadn’t tried to talk Molina down rather than “assaulting” her. His rant had not made him look either measured or compassionate.
The footage being played and replayed was filmed from the second floor of a nearby building and showed only the tail end of the encounter, as Spinner leapt into the woman, took a blast from her with little visible effect, and then hit her from behind. Out of context, it looked very much like a powerful man beating down and physically dominating somebody’s aging mother.
With these optics, I could understand why there was a mounting buzz to lash out at someone, and Spinner certainly seemed to be taking the brunt of it. He had been quite insistent on mentioning my involvement, too. I had seen the publicity downsides vaguely last night; they were in sharp focus today.
I spent a lot less time than usual selecting produce – grabbing and bagging the first item I reached rather than a choosy perusal – and was through checkout and back to my house within 25 minutes of receiving Paris’s first message. I threw unopened grocery bags into my fridge and freezer and headed downstairs. I had quite a few messages waiting.
Agent Lewis apparently thought an immediate teleconference was necessary. He said so in several different instant messages and in repeated invitations to join calls that I had already missed.
Delphic’s email address that I handed out only to contacts in the super community had been written to by five different heroes, all of whom left similar missives to express their support, as well as advice for talking to the media that circled around the theme of “stick to the message and don’t say too much.”
Most interesting was that apparently somebody at the FBI or RCMP had leaked my direct number for teleconference calls, because I had three missed calls from a number that turned out to be a producer for a popular pundit with an evening show.
I briefly checked my other accounts. Doc had sent me a list of names and page numbers which corresponded to entries from the resume list with PR expertise. While I was mulling that over, another call came in from Agent Lewis, and against my better judgment I answered.
“Delphic. Lewis here.” The young professional’s dark suit was flawless as always but his hair was mussed. His tone was more frazzled than usual. “Hold on a minute; I’m going to get Nibuo on the line.”
I drew a blank on the name. A quick internet search filled in that Shannah Nibuo was a DoJ media liaison, and with that connection I vaguely recalled supers mentioning her before in the context of PR.
A second image joined the first. From the camera’s view of her head and torso, the woman appeared to be carrying a lot of extra weight; no obvious makeup obscured the lines on her face. Her smile was broad and practiced, white teeth against very dark skin. “Delphic, I don’t believe we have met. I’m Shannah Nibuo; I help our super teams with their public image. Thanks for getting back with me so quickly.”
“Good afternoon. Can I ask what this is about?”
I had directed the question more at Lewis but it was Nibuo who answered. “The super teams administration here at the DoJ would like you to accept an invitation to go on Krystal West’s show tonight on cable news.”
I had to collect myself for a moment, as this was the opposite of what I was expecting. I genuinely thought they were calling to talk me out of media interviews. Although in retrospect, the emails from my super contacts hinted that they were expecting Delphic to end up saying something to the news.
When I didn’t immediately respond, the media liaison spoke again. “We have tentatively confirmed with West’s team that you can appear, but obviously the choice is yours. Is this something you are willing to do?”
“Can I ask why you want me to do this?” I knew that certain hi-profile supers did their share of media circuits, but I presumed it was something the government tried to tightly control.
Nibuo’s smile, which has struck me as pretense to begin with, had already faded to a businesslike expression. “We’re dealing with a somewhat sticky situation because of your and Spinner’s involvement in the incident. The ongoing investigation into Lamarck is giving this story more legs than it might normally have. It would help for you to be seen reaffirming that you recognize you’re guests in Canada and working at the invitation of their government.”
“I can do that,” I agreed. The synthesized voice didn’t let me express the reluctance I was feeling. “Has the OST not already put out a statement confirming we were working at their request?”
Nibuo’s expression betrayed frustration, and Lewis’s mirrored it. After a short pause, it was Lewis who responded. “They haven’t, and we don’t think they will.”
That certainly explained the ongoing issues. “Why not? Did Spinner or I break protocol?”
Lewis shook his head. “We think they’ve been asked to keep quiet until they can hammer out a recruitment deal.”
“With the two supers?”
Nibuo said, “Northern Canada is always understaffed; few of the locals are registered supers and nobody else wants to work up there. Molina and Brick would add two serious heavies to the roster.”
It seemed like a very cynical approach to offer police powers to people who had been in a firefight with authorities just the day before, but I could understand why the government wouldn’t want its hands tied with what could end up being a delicate PR position. But the silence from Canada would make our protestations seem far less sincere; I could understand why my own handlers would risk putting me in front of a camera (figuratively speaking).
I typed out my next question and sent it. “Is there anything I need to do to prepare?”
“I’ll email you a rundown of talking points and suggestions. Just remember not to reveal anything about the Lamarck investigation that isn’t already public.”
“Or the Michaels case,” Lewis interjected. “The recovery of Vivi is public, but the details you gave us about the kidnappers are still sensitive.”
I wondered how Michaels and Effitech were dividing their attention between pursuing the kidnappers and supporting the shooting investigation. Considering how confident the RCMP seemed to be in their own teams, I suspected the contractor company was mostly free to work on the former.
“Acknowledged,” sounded the Delphic response. “I promise not to reveal state secrets or unveil my plans for the overthrow of the United States on national television.”
After a short pause, Lewis explained to Nibuo, “He intended that as a joke.” She ended the call with sincere thanks from the DoJ.
The Whole Story with Krystal West was a pundit vehicle, typical of the after-dinner program lineup at any of the cable news stations. I easily arranged a time to call in before the show would start, giving significant leeway to make sure nothing was wrong with the feed in either direction. The producer was disappointed to find out that Delphic didn’t have a “live” avatar of any kind – just a still image and a synthesized voice – but he said they’d make it work.
With about three hours to spare, I started water boiling for a quick and simple pasta dish and did some more homework. I tracked the other major interviews on this point that had been made in the day, read some articles on Molina and her crew, and made a couple of more discreet inquiries. I wanted to be prepared for any of the verbal traps these sorts of interviews were known for.
I took one call during this preparatory period. Spinner gave me a grin that was, somehow, just as world-weary today as it had looked the last time I had seen him the night before. “Hey man. How’re ya holding up?” His smoothness and accent were both fully switched on.
“Hi, Spinner. I’m sorry to report that I haven’t made any progress on our suspect list since last night,” I lamented. “The altercation from yesterday has eaten into my time.”
Spinner chuckled. “Yeah, no kidding. It’s been damage control all day.” He gave a shrug. “I wanted to make sure we were okay.”
It was hard to tell with his upper face under the broad viser, but he sounded uncertain of himself, like he was genuinely worried he had done something to upset me. In the moment, I couldn’t think of anything he had done that would cause that reaction. “Certainly, Spinner. I enjoyed working with you last night. I wasn’t aware there was a reason why we might not be okay.” I wanted to phrase it more as a question, but I wasn’t sure how to do so in a way that would convey the subtlety within a synthesized voice.
His second shrug was a rerun of the first. “If we’re good, we’re good,” he started, “but I feel like I didn’t do you a solid by having OST dial you in yesterday, and then shout out to you with that news crew. I heard Shannah has you facing down West later.”
Apparently news traveled fast. “Quite the opposite. I appreciate you including me, and then trusting my assessment. It was my pleasure to help.” The pause stretched, so I added, “You have nothing to be sorry for, Spinner. You treated me like a fellow hero. Not all heroes do that. Thank you.”
Spinner’s grin brightened in some hard-to-define manner. “No problem, man, you deserve it. You’ve always done good by my team, y’know?” He cocked his head. “Hey, uh, I know you probably need to like defrag or something for the interview tonight, but when all this dies down, you and me should have a chat with 4cast. NEST has been leading the country in anticipating and responding to crime in a proactive way, and your skills could really help us out. Analytics and stuff.” He nodded. “Good luck, man – I got your back, okay?”
“Thanks, Spinner,” I sent before ending the call. At least if I was going to be raked over the coals, there was one person out there who was unambiguously thankful for my help.
Over the last ninety minutes before the call, I asked for and received confirmation from Doc on one particular fact, prepared a graphic and a couple of video segments, and pre-typed a dozen longer responses to probable questions. I dialed in at the appropriate time.
The image that appeared on my screen was a desk-up view of a square-shouldered blonde. Krystal West was pretty in the conventional way acceptable to TV executives – a fit young white woman with prominent curves. She was reviewing a small stack of papers as a gentleman mostly out of the shot applied another layer of makeup. “Delphic?” her voice was high-pitched but resonant, not nasal or squeaky. She kept her mouth relaxed for the make-up but I could see the start of a smile in her eyes.
“This is Delphic,” I quickly wrote. “Good evening, Ms. West.”
“Ah good! Mary said she had trouble getting hold of your people. I was really hoping you could be on with me tonight. Thanks, Mark!” As the makeup man moved away, she gave a full smile into the camera. Every word was precisely enunciated and spoken slowly; it put weight behind what she was saying. “This format will be okay for the interview? The techs wanted to make sure we could hear and see each other clearly. It’s just that avatar for you?”
“I have a couple of graphics to display based on what we discuss.”
“Good. Is that okay, Bill? We’ve got what we need?” A short pause. “Good, thank you! Okay, we have an introduction and clip that should last eight minutes, then we’ll introduce you and talk. We should be on a little over fifteen minutes. Time, please?” I presumed she was getting answers from her earpiece; I wasn’t hearing them. “Good. Okay, Delphic, that means you’re on in twelve minutes! Thank you!”
She turned her head to the side and said something, but I heard no sound; they must have cut her mic. The view cycled between a wide-shot and two close-shot cameras. I watched Krystal sip from a water bottle and lightly swipe a tissue across her lips. She nodded to someone and pulled her posture upward, the smile replaced with a serious if open expression.
“Good evening.” Krystal had dropped into a smooth, rhythmic voice that promised hard facts and genuine concern. “At about this time yesterday, Ottawa citizens watched as its police force stared down First Nations protesters, ending in gunfire and the loss of one young man’s life. Police were surprised during the confrontation when two of the protesters used super powers to defend themselves, prompting the Ottawa Super Team to send its own supers in response.”
Her face and voice each became more animated as she came to the twist. “But before the Canadian supers could arrive, two American supers intervened, in a manner that some onlookers have described as ‘brutal.'” The sound cut out again, and Krystal took several sips of her water while looking away from the camera. I could surmise that they had cut together the footage of Spinner kicking Molina with an ‘eyewitness’ interview. I wondered how they would stretch that into eight minutes; in reality it was a little over five when Krystal nodded and resumed her television posture.
“A fair question – one which we are asking here, on The Whole Story.” She strung out the words like a title of honor. “Speaking with us tonight is an unregistered super who goes by the name ‘Delphic’ and was reportedly Spinner’s partner during last night’s events. Delphic, thank you for being with us.” I started to respond, but after only a very short pause for breath she continued on. “The articles on this have reported you as an American super, but my understanding is that you actually reside in the internet, is that correct? Do you consider yourself an American?”
These were not the questions I had prepared for, but after a moment of surprise I composed an answer. “It’s a pleasure to be here, Krystal. I was born and raised in the United States and I certainly consider myself an American. It’s true that an accident left me without a physical body, but I still work and pay taxes as a US citizen.”
“A corporation can pay taxes, too, and I’d hardly consider it a person. But thanks for clarifying your position. As an American, do you think it’s your job to involve yourself in our allies’ internal affairs? You do agree this was an internal matter, don’t you?”
There were so many erroneous assumptions underlying these questions that it was hard to unpack them. I took a straightforward approach. “It was a theft in progress. Spinner and I were contacted by the Ottawa Team to help.”
“That’s not what the Canadian government is saying. Can you explain why American supers would feel the need to get involved based on no more than your own opinion that your help was required?” Her words and tone blended together seamlessly to created a palpable push. She intended to keep me off-balance. She wanted this whole conversation framed within illegitimate American action.
So, I activated a prepared file. My avatar was overlaid with the transcript of the audio that played: Ottawa HQ’s call to Spinner. The clip stopped before the first hard cut and then seamlessly resumed just as Spinner first encountered Molina, ending with the voice from HQ saying, “Spinner, you may engage at your readiness.”
Krystal didn’t miss a beat, although I could tell I had surprised her. “Okay, thank you. We just heard the call from Ottawa HQ to Spinner authorizing him to engage. Are you going to be in any sort of trouble for sharing that?”
I had a prewritten answer for this question. “I would never put heroes in danger by sharing private or sensitive information. Everything I played reflects facts about the case that are already public. And from the legal side, these are recordings of mine permitted under both US and Canadian law.”
“I guess that’s for the courts to decide.” She pivoted topics with ease. “First Nations groups say this is symptomatic of how law enforcement treats them – as criminals instead of citizens. The decision to assault Molina rather than talking to her… was that yours or Spinner’s?”
“I would say the decision to fight was made by the two people who attacked. Gerard Mason shot at Spinner. Molina Sawyer threw a car at him. This was before any of them had a chance to say a word.”
“But Spinner had already been ordered to arrest them. Do you not think native peoples have the right to defend themselves?”
“I don’t think anyone has the right to shoot at law enforcement while running away with stolen property, no.”
“So you don’t believe them when they claim that they were reclaiming what rightfully belonged to them? The bones and tools of their ancestors?”
“Canadian universities don’t study the artifacts of modern indigenous groups without their express permission. These remains – many of which were damaged by the rough handling they received – were from over a thousand years ago, from groups that left no modern descendants.”
“So you support treating First Nations graves like science experiments, as long as they are old enough?”
“I support following Canadian law. These people broke into a lab and stole samples. Everything that happened is a logical consequence of that decision.”
“And now they should go to jail?”
“Now they should stand trial. This was a crime against a Canadian University. It will be up to the Canadian courts what happens to them.”
“So your interest is in seeing criminals brought to justice.” Her pace increased a bit in excitement. “Is that why you and Spinner agreed to help find the assassin who shot Lamarck?”
“I don’t know why Spinner is helping,” I responded, “but, yes, I’d like to see the killer face justice.”
“How do you respond to accusations that you’re in it for a paycheck? Isn’t it true that you charge a fee to the government for every criminal you catch?” Her tone made it clear she didn’t think much of people doing hero work for money.
“Yes, like other professional supers, I am paid for the work I do. I believe the work of law enforcement is extremely valuable.”
“You demand a much higher fee than most supers, though, don’t you? Isn’t it true that you’re charging five million dollars to find Lamarck’s killer? How is that not profiting off a tragedy?”
Although I was miffed she’s decided to play the ‘mercenary’ card, I was fortunately prepared for it. “Krystal, you just signed a three-year deal with your network for ninety million dollars. Are you also profiting off tragedy?”
She actually did miss a beat that time, but only one, and then she came back out swinging. “You’re saying that covering the news is just like law enforcement? That charging millions of dollars to help find a killer is the same as earning the market rate for delivering a news program? I hardly think the two are the same, and the difference is that I don’t claim to be a hero.”
I had a pre-written response that I entered, but it seemed my audio feed had already been cut off. Krystal continued, “Delphic, we’re out of time, but thank you for joining us tonight. After the break, how much do taxpayers pay our super teams, and what do they do with the money? You’re watching The Whole Story with Krystal West.”
The video feed stayed on Krystal as someone entered the frame to tease her hair. The next voice I heard wasn’t Krystal’s though. “Hi, Delphic? I’m Kevin, one of the assistant producers. That was a fantastic segment; thanks for coming on! Is there anything I can do for you?” I was sure that these were words he said multiple times a day.
“You’re welcome. When the rest of the show is over, please thank Krystal for having me on. ”
“Will do!” I heard, and then I cut the connection.
In the aftermath of the interview, I spent some time gauging the reaction on social media. The responses were more positive than I expected, and most of the negative comments were around the $5 million fee. A sizable chunk of Krystal’s audience seemed to agree with her that being paid to report on tragedies isn’t the same as being paid to help with them.
Still, the consensus seemed to be that I had held my own, and playing the audio transcript of HQ’s authorization (which I anonymously made available on a few video sharing sites) was much remarked-upon. A terse missive from Shannah thanked me for my help.
As I reviewed the updated suspect list from Diane and considered if I was up for Viewing any of them tonight, I found myself looking through Doc’s file of resumes instead. It was hard to miss that, if I had a publicist, I could have spent a much more productive (and enjoyable) afternoon while they dealt with the media. If my pace of high-exposure jobs continued to accelerate, I would have to seriously look at hiring help. I could certainly afford it.
I responded to a message from Vill confirming that I would, in fact, make the raid the next afternoon. After a busy week, not looking like it would let up in the immediate future, I wasn’t going to allow myself to cancel on my Saturday recreation.
Tonight, Delphic modestly thanked all his congratulating “friends” that wrote him after having seen the interview. Tomorrow, I, Hector, would be the one spending time with friends.