As I popped two extra amphetamine capsules, I look a couple of minutes to submit an order for more with a seventh online pharmacy. When I push my Viewing times longer multiple days in a row, I need the bump late in the day. I didn’t want to run out of pills prematurely.
The CIA profile for Hector mentioned my amphetamine prescription but didn’t say anything about my over-filling, which probably meant they’d missed it. I was careful: all but one of the online fills used fake names and were sent to rented mailboxes in the business district. I had not been as lucky in tampering with the Lion Electric meters on Iliad Court: pictures of a doctored control unit had been taken for “leverage.”
Any time that level of detail appeared in the files was a surprise, because in other areas they were silent. The Hector file provided no inkling as to how he had been identified as connected with Delphic. Neither of the files explained why Delphic and Hector were placed under surveillance to begin with. Also missing were the instructions to Effitech that had resulted in the staged kidnapping.
The reason for the patchwork nature of the files was twofold. First and most obvious was the standing order not to rely on digital communication. Many reports and analyses were hand-written and given in person. Finding and reading those handwritten files was, I decided, a high priority.
The second reason was that the three CIA agents assigned to this project, while each reported to the same project manager, did not coordinate with each other. Each had a different sphere of responsibility for which the Delphic case was only one small part. Determining how those responsibilities overlapped and contributed to my own case was my mission for the rest of the afternoon and evening (and possibly well into the night).
I started with Marsden, an “asset manager.” I decided it was euphemism for someone who handles field agents – relaying reports and orders, keeping track of their situation and safety. Finding her desk at Langley wasn’t hard, and she worked a long day – twelve hours average over the two weeks I rapidly Viewed.
Agent Marsden wore slight variations on the same suit every day: jacket and long skirt in the same subdued color over a lighter blouse. Her orange-red hair formed a fuzzy halo around a bright, expressive face. Most of her day was spent making phone calls and responding to emails. A fair amount of her correspondence was with the DoJ, because the majority of her “assets” were supers.
Polarity’s situation was atypical, though, because most of the assets seemed to be informants in their home communities, often as part of their day jobs. While a few were super teams, most of what I saw were people with powers that were too weak or situational for them to be regular heroes. The DoJ referred some failed Super Team applicants to CIA asset management, where they could at least be of occasional use and earn a modest retainer.
Laila Morris met Kathryn Marsden in a Langley conference room forty-five days ago. The lowest level of the J. Edgar Hoover Intelligence Building included a several such “silent” rooms, each of which was separately shielded from EM signals and thoroughly soundproofed. A small lockbox outside the door received both women’s phones as they entered. While other rooms in the hallway had computer systems and a projector, this one did not.
I was impressed by how effectively this would have excluded me from any inkling of their discussion had I actually been Delphic. The CIA was well-equipped for electronic surveillance and bugs. They were not equipped for a super with a Viewing power.
As Laila made notes on a legal pad, Marsden thumbed through a thick paper file and spoke. Several times she slid a page over for Laila to look at. The pages included photographs, web print-outs (including, it looked like, the Ask About Me forum page I had done as Delphic last year), and exerpts of text from intelligence reports. The reports were unredacted and I started to recognize content that was not in the CIA files I had read.
Although I was limited to piecemeal review of whichever pages Marsden looked at or at least paged through, I soon got the gyst: the Hector/Delphic connection was a recent conclusion of CIA Agent Tucker Simms in collaboration with the NSA’s Iron Lantern project. Simms was the next of the four CIA agents on my list to follow, but I wasn’t done with Marsden yet.
Laila’s scribbled notes were informative. Marsden instructed her not to seek me out directly but to stay visible in the neighborhood and encourage any attempts I made to contact her. “Acquaintance good, friend better” she wrote at one point, then stopped for a minute and exchanged a few tense words with her handler before completing the thought, “lover best.”
My first thought upon reading this note was that I hadn’t gotten any sense that Laila wanted to seduce me, or was open to me seducing her. This would have been a complete non-starter for me regardless, because I don’t mess with married women as a rule. But it did make me wonder if Laila’s interjection was her questioning her affirmative obligations on this point and being reassured that she could just aim for “friend” instead.
My second thought was that May had probably gotten a similar briefing at some point. Which meant she had literally been directed to sleep with me and any of her other targets she could get into bed. I dropped my View long enough to get a soda out of the basement fridge, but it didn’t get the taste of ashes out of my mouth.
Late in their session, I received another useful insight. The two of them set up a secret message protocol that both carefully took notes on. Laila could call or receive a call from her ‘grandmother in Virginia’ and provide a coded update on her contact with me, couched in terms regarding her daughter Deborah’s progress. They came up with a dozen particular phrases with specific meanings, plus a word substitution list for broader messages.
Nowhere in the file or notes was any reference made to exactly what Delphic was alleged to have done, and the only incriminating thing mentioned to Polarity about Hector – at least as far as I could extrapolate from my silent movie – was that “Hector assists Delphic.” While it was useful to better understand Polarity’s rules of engagement, deeper insights would need to come from elsewhere.
Marsden commuted home to Alexandria every night in a five-year-old SUV. She shared a townhouse with her sister and brother-in-law and their twin toddlers. She often babysat evenings.
Agent Simms was balding and pale; he looked at least ten years older than his recorded 45 years. He wore shorts and a t-shirt on any day he didn’t have a scheduled meeting, relying on a suit he kept in a dry cleaning bag hung on the corner of his cubicle if a meeting outside his own department came up at the last minute.
Simms worked for Foreign Asset Monitoring in “profiling.” He gathered records associated with whatever supers he was assigned and pieced them together into a coherent narrative for each super. FAM assigned him to the Delphic file shortly after I started the persona almost six years ago. Watching him work, I saw that mine was not his only assignment going back years. It looked like FAM religiously tracked every super in the world and noted each time they were spotted or reported on. Until a super joined an official team, was incarcerated, or was confirmed killed, that super would have an active CIA file.
There were many files on secret supers, as well – individuals who were suspected or confirmed to have super powers they had neither registered nor revealed publicly. It was settled law that the US government could not compel citizens to disclose super powers (Huddleston v. Florida, a 1973 Supreme Court decision), but in much of the Western world, it was a serious crime not to register. “Leverage,” indeed, for those living abroad who might be persuaded to help out Uncle Sam.
After seeing two files on secret supers, I diverted my attention briefly to assuage my concerns. Paris Donnell, it seemed, did not have a CIA file nor appear on any suspect list. It was the first genuinely good news I’d had in hours, but I was glad of it. As an afterthought. I searched on Lawrence Stevens. There were not just one but three separate active files on the Doc. A quick perusal showed more than a thousand pages of content. Copies of these files joined the others I had downloaded.
I rapidly scanned Simms’ past from the vantage of his office, looking for anything unusual. It was almost three months in the past when I saw him arrive for the day already wearing a suit. Later that day, he joined two other men in the same “silent room” that Marsden had taken Laila.
This was the meeting, I realized, where Simms and an NSA agent had reported to Simms’ boss, one of the supervisors of FAM, the connection between Delphic and Hector. The NSA man, Agent William Brody, looked like a younger and healthier version of Simms, while the FAM supervisor, Senior Agent Rajiv “Chip” Bhattacharyya, split their difference in apparent age. The meeting was smooth and easy; ‘Chip’ sat a friendly tone that quickly drained any tension from the other two men.
Apparently, Delphic’s internet presence was not untraceable once the NSA were involved. They had managed to hide pieces of tracking worms and beacon executables within the encrypted communications between Delphic and various super teams, and even in the FBI missing persons dashboard. With my proxies and remote servers, the signals they received back were widely spread, but enough hit in Detroit for them to try a focused search there. Once they looked close enough, the usage patterns were clearly correlated. It was virtually certain that Delphic was regularly communicating with Hector Donnell, and using hardware from Hector’s location to run at least some of his operations.
This led to my second good news of the evening: from the way the Agents talked about accessing systems to plant tracers, it was clear that neither the FBI nor the DoJ knew about the operation. My Fed and super contacts were almost certainly clean, which fit what Simms and Brody were asking the CIA to do.
The print-outs passed to Chip were straightforward. Iron Lantern was less than six months from deployment. Before that could happen, steps needed to be taken to make sure Delphic’s powers were well understood and his allies accounted for. While the NSA laid the groundwork for their operation, an active CIA operation was requested to find out more about the digital super.
I followed Chip from there, and it was he that met multiple times with Effitech’s Benjamin Michaels to discuss the need for better intelligence on Delphic. The funds were procured and the intelligence goals outlined in detail; it was up to Effitech to design and execute an operation to learn what FAM wanted to know.
The kidnapping plan was hatched shortly after Michaels had a prolonged fight with his wife. For the better part of year, Benjamin Michaels had been trying to persuade his estranged wife Elizabeth to move back in with him, and he had mercilessly used their daughter Vivi as leverage for this. Time with Vivi was a constant point of contention between them; Elizabeth let Ben see his daughter every weekend, but never accepted invitations to spend time with them. From the time I spent surveilling Benjamin, I realized that he had arranged for Vivi to be the victim in an attempt to get Elizabeth, who was living and seeking work in the DC area, to move back into their much more secure Texas ranch. I found the address in the present and his plan seemed to have worked: the three of them were cuddled up together asleep in the large house’s master suite. A vision of domestic contentment.
So far, the government actors in this drama weren’t seeming so much like scheming villains as simply men and women directed to do a difficult job. I was starting to form ideas as to how I might be able to disrupt each of the individuals involved, but I didn’t see an easy way to ensure that other agents wouldn’t be assigned to continue the project.
The logical thing to do next would be to start gathering more intelligence on the NSA side, but I had a strong fear that it would not be as easy as the CIA hacking had been. This was not just because the NSA was most directly involved with cyber warfare and signal intelligence, but also because the little I had seen about Iron Lantern led me to believe it was intended to be some sort of major digital offensive capable of dealing with Delphic.
The CIA had been most vulnerable to a digital attack, so I hoped that the NSA might prove a softer target if I took a human intelligence approach. I bundled up everything I had learned so far and created a new message: “My friend Hector is in trouble, and I may be as well. I would like to consult with you at your earliest convenience.” I attached the files and my own notes on what I had discovered, and sent it.
Ten minutes later, I heard a video call request come in as I was eating a cold sandwich in the kitchen. I rushed downstairs and accepted the call, my Delphic avatar appearing opposite a conference table with five people sitting around it.
From the head of the table, Doc Stevens spoke: “Good evening, Mister Delphic. What can we do for you?”
I finished the sandwich in two bites, and then started my deal with the Devil.