Chapter 21 – Iron Rusts

With a few hours before my next direct role in the operation, I knew it made sense to take it easy, but I was too amped up. I had another sandwich and thought about where else I could productively direct my energy. Finally I decided I had put off investigating the augments long enough. I wanted to have something ready when Diane or Spinner called me about it, if nothing more than a list of augment subjects that should not be pursued as suspects.

Of the four clinics that Defense Research and Development Canada had originally operated, the Vancouver and Winnipeg sites were discontinued and dismantled. It took me about twenty minutes to locate the Winnipeg clinic site and rewind to View them shutting it down.

The two clinics that were still open were in Calgary and Montreal, and I started by Viewing the Calgary clinic. Calgary had a more rural feel than most of the cities I had visited recently, buildings set farther apart with less crowding and more green spaces.

I doubt I ever would have found the facility without inside information. From the outside it was identical in appearance to hundreds of specialty medical operations you’d find in any city its size. Nothing stood out: not its unassuming sign for Advanced Medical Professionals out front nor its perfectly ordinary waiting room with a locked door back to examination rooms and doctor’s offices. Only the rearmost personnel-only areas were noticeably different, as multiple storerooms had been opened up into one room where the semi-trailer-sized upsilon emitter sat.

The emitter plate was a disk a foot thick and more than six feet across mounted onto one side of the otherwise rectangular housing, which on examination bore the hallmarks of actually being a semi-trailer. The size and configuration of the beam emitter itself marked the standard Boeing Marietta device used on American gunships, except for the second identical black plate that faced the first and trailed thick cables leading back to the unit. The ‘receiver plate,’ developed more than twenty years after the original beam weapon, prompted a dramatic improvement in beam testing and basic research. It allowed a coherent upsilon beam to form between the two plates, provided they were connected to the same source and within a small enough area.

The true genius of the emitters, according to the Doc, was the tiny expenditure of energy associated with running one. They required charging a capacitor of very high voltage across a series of plates having a variety of different densities and magnetic moment, with both the thin iridium and thick gold plates greatly inflating the device costs due to material alone. But activating the emitter did not notably discharge the system; as long as a modest current was run with no interruption, the devastating beam would continue at full strength. This made the beam a perfect solution for the military needs of large industrial nations: a massive initial investment and only moderate upkeep costs.

The downside was that the technology had resisted attempts to turn it to constructive ends. The emitted beam was not particularly energetic, and the difficulty of containing it over more than a small distance made it too dangerous to use even for demolition under most circumstances. It killed and destroyed, and after seventy years from its ruinous use during the land invasion of Japan, that was still its primary purpose.

If anything useful came of these augment experiments, that could potentially change. I doubted, though, that if the best the program could do was 40% activation with 6% lethality, that it would be good enough to reverse the sentiment and stigma that established the international ban.

The building was impressively large. I counted ten rooms that were equipped with hospital beds and a full suite of medical monitoring equipment, four of which were occupied by patients. Six offices were in use, presumably by medical professionals, two women in scrubs occupied which were mostly likely nurses’ stations, and two burly men in scrubs could have been mistaken for orderlies if I didn’t already know from the documents that the buildings had 24-hour security.

That morning, the four subjects had arrived at the building. They weighed in, had their vitals taken, and then were sat in chairs along an examination room wall. The beam emitter chamber was on the other side.

The emitter was activated for a little over an hour, after which the four patients were taken to different examination stations for testing by the medical researchers. They were directed to sprint on treadmills; to pull on hydraulic resistance equipment; to touch and interact with a variety of substances. Each subject spent time in a chair in the middle of a mostly empty room, save for the ubiquitous sensing equipment that always included at least an infrared camera and an omicron detector.

I didn’t have time to watch the tests in detail, but my abbreviated Viewing caught powers on two of the four. One of the women – short, scrawny, in her late 30s – reached superhuman metrics on the speed and strength tests. However, the effects were short-lived; repeating the tests three hours later showed a marked decline in her performance although it still looked to be well above her baseline.

I’d never encountered a hydrokinetic before, but a college-age young man – muscular with bad skin – exhibited exactly that. He put his hand in a shallow tub of water and watched as the water climbed up his hand to surround his bare arm. In two hours of testing, he showed he could move patches of the water around the surface of his body and propel small amounts of it away from him; with intense concentration he was even able to attract water to himself from a few inches away. The autonomic component of the power was particularly interesting: once the water was positioned on his body it stayed with him even when he was directed to fully focus on other tasks. A quick cross reference with the incomplete augment records I had showed that this was their fourth session with this young man; the only powers description was “fluid manipulation.”

I rewound my way back through recent weeks and was soon able to determine a routine for the augment testing. A different group of three to six subjects was brought in each Monday and Thursday and kept for three days and two nights of testing. Nothing in the records I had indicated how the schedule was configured, but the same people were not grouped with each other from session to session. It did seem that individuals with observed powers were scheduled more frequently than those whose records only included ‘omicron emission’ as their power description.

Pushing back some months and looking for additional patterns, I did note that those subjects who showed the most promise often stopped appearing in the schedule at all. I predicted these were the individuals I would find at the DRDC lab in Toronto.

Realizing I would soon need to direct my attention back to Alexandria, I finished the night’s augment investigation by Viewing the tests that occurred the previous Monday. With the upsilon beams only on twice a week, and most augment powers fading within a couple of days, the six subjects that were activated the day before the Lamarck assassination were the most feasible culprits. Unfortunately, none of the six exhibited an invisibility power, although one of them could fly. I took down the six names, anyway.

I returned my View to the Iron Lantern facility, where Bonnie was still working away while Susan and Bill indulged in a ‘break’. As I waited, I confirmed once again with the Doc that Glimmer and Glitch were in place for their part of the night’s activities. I needn’t have worried. I uploaded and sync’d the new text log to Susan’s and Bill’s phones while I waited, and did one more passthrough of the draft email.

I had been concerned that Bonnie might watch her accounts closer than other users and so had not been willing to access her email before tonight, which meant the email coming from her was written with only the sparse correspondence I had read over her shoulder. Hopefully actions would speak louder than words, and the evidence corroborating its claims would overcome any suspicion about its authorship.

In a small Virginia suburb a few miles from Alexandria, I watched Tabitha Brody collect her daughter’s discarded soccer clothes before sitting with her at the dining room table, staring at an open math workbook. Bill’s phone was on a charger in the downstairs hallway; I had switched it from silent to full volume minutes previously. A jump to the project leader and his paramour showed them rapidly recovering from their exploits, so the timing was good.

I had set the text message tone to something abrasive and long, so it would be difficult to ignore. As it was, I sent four of them stretched out over several minutes before Tabitha went looking for the device. Although I had prepared to escalate if necessary, up to and including ‘accidentally’ having Susan send a message to Tabitha’s phone, the four messages were enough. Mrs. Brody picked up Bill Brody’s phone and unlocked it. Starting with the most recent message, “Let’s see if we can sneak one in before lunch tomorrow,” the increasingly devastated woman scrolled up into a forest of flirting, innuendo, and outright celebration of the ongoing tryst. As many messages came from Bill as to him:, each one a proclamation of his infidelity.

I had several contingencies in place depending on how Tabitha chose to respond, but they were again not necessary. Agent Bill Brody arrived home 25 minutes later to find the deadbolt thrown and a single sheet of paper folded and taped to the front door. The note was short and to the point: “I know about Susan. Stay with her if you want. You’re not coming in this house again.”

Agent Brody knocked and pounded for several minutes, but his determination broke long before his wife’s. He got back in his car and headed to Analyst Shives’ apartment.

Seeing this turn of events, I made some last moment modifications to the email draft, then sat back to wait. Bonnie wrapped up and set the building alarms in plenty of time to make her class. I watched her step out of her car into the parking lot across the street from the gym, and vanish.

I hadn’t pressed the Doc on the specifics of the plan for the NSA analyst; she had dedicated her effort to finding a way to capture and neutralize me. But I had at least received assurances that she would not be summarily killed, and I was willing to chalk up any lesser fate as the consequences of her own actions.

I hit the send button on the email a moment later. It was addressed to Agent Dewalt, who was Brody’s immediate supervisor, with copies to Human Resources and several Senior Agents. The email outlined the reasons that the analyst was resigning from the Agency effective immediately.

The email painted a vivid picture of a project leader unabashedly abusing his position over two female subordinates. As Susan agreed to sleep with him and Bonnie did not, Bill began moving more and more of the project responsibilities over to Bonnie while continuing to give Susan equal credit. Having finally had enough, Bonnie had confronted Bill on his behavior that very morning, only to be told that Susan would corroborate any accusations that Bill made to torpedo Bonnie’s career. Bill had insisted that his behavior was normal and accepted in the Agency, and that an unspoken agreement existed among the male agents that would believe and protect him over her.

Bonnie underlined all of this with two pieces of corroborating data. First, the log of text messages between the agents, copied by Bonnie and provided as an attachment, showed their ongoing relationship (itself sufficient reason to dismiss Brody for sleeping with a subordinate). Second, Bonnie pointed out that the affair could be immediately verified simply by confirming Brody’s sleeping arrangements for that very evening.

I was gratified when two agents knocked on Susan’s door later that evening and spoke with Bill wearing expressions that telegraphed their disapproval. The message from Doc soon after that Glitch and Glimmer had finished ‘cleaning up’ was just as satisfying. This meant the physical records had been removed from the agency offices.

I allowed myself to be extra careful accessing the NSA records, and so it took more than three hours before every CIA or NSA file describing Iron Lantern, Delphic, or Hector was stripped of relevant information. If either agency wanted to resume its efforts, it would be starting over from scratch.

Eventually someone would access the Iron Lantern building, still heavily shielded, only to find every hard drive in the facility so thoroughly stripped of data that no amount of forensic reconstruction would find a single trace of the project code. Their failure was guaranteed by the fact that Glitch had carefully replaced each of them with a new drive of the exact same model; the actual Iron Lantern drives and backups were on the aircraft back to Eutopia along with the only surviving handwritten notes.

I had no illusions that this was the end. My behavior was heavy-handed and might have left personal resentment in its wake. There was still much to do, and the very necessity of these steps was evidence that I needed to be proactive about my security. As paranoid as I had told myself I needed to be, I had fallen into the common trap of optimism bias and failed to be paranoid *enough*. I needed to do better.

Still, this was clearly a win, however short-term the victory. A man needs one every now and then to keep him going.

I poured myself some juice and thought a bit more about the fallout. I wanted to feel good about what had been accomplished tonight, but I couldn’t ignore the collateral damage. Tabitha Brody and her kids would certainly be devastated. Bonnie Lam, whatever options the Doc might provide for her, could almost certainly not come back to the agency. And Laila Morris would now have to deal with a lawsuit and probably difficult agency questions.

I texted my sister and asked her to come by after work. Paris was always better than me at coming to grips with the reality of law enforcement – a job that habitually harms people and destroys lives in pursuit of the greater good. She’d say something pithy and overly fatalistic and it would somehow make me feel better about everything.

When I came out of the bathroom, I had an invitation for a three-way encrypted chat with Diane and an unknown account I assumed was Spinner’s. My View showed Diane in her hotel room. I joined.

Spinner and Diane had been messaging for several minutes already, coordinating his return to Ottawa. We exchanged greetings; all three of us had stayed continually busy since the last time we spoke.

Diane sent,”Spinner said he had something he wanted to share with us right away.”

“Yes,” came Spinner’s text. “In Buffalo where they have an emitter set up, using it on prison inmates.”

“That seems counterproductive for making heroes,” I pointed out.

“It’s not uncommon for risky medical research though,” Diane replied. “You work out the bugs on disposable subjects, and move on to law abiding citizens when the technique is safe.”

“Is there any reason DRDC didn’t use this approach?” I was genuinely curious.

“Numbers. You have a lot more prisoners in the States than we do.” No argument there.

Spinner sent an raised-eyebrow frowny face and followed it up with, “I got some info from local heroes who stand by while they use the beam, just in case you know. Anyway I found out about a villain team they picked up over the weekend.”

Diane asked, “Augments on the team?”

“No,” was sent, and then, “three of them caught trying to rob a bank. Routine. Except there had been four of them.”

Neither Diane nor I typed anything before Spinner continued. “I couldn’t get the file, the name was Sujoko Intan. Killed on Oct 27 by an invisible attacker.”

“Killed how?”

“Poison. They were meeting at a bar when she suddenly gets stuck by a needle in her gut. Nobody sees it happen, the needle just appears.”

Very interesting. “This would fit the escalation pattern. Valour was alone, Lamarck was on a public street in front of lots of people. If this victim was between the two, it makes sense that she would be in a small group in a semi-public space.”

Diane went in a different direction. “Why assume an invisible attacker? Couldn’t it have been someone shooting the needle from a distance?”

“Or throwing with enhanced strength,” I supplied.

“All three witnesses agree. She stood up in pain, and then the needle appeared. It started out invisible.”

I had a sneaking suspicion… “Was it a metabolic poison?”

“Cyanide.”

“She was a speedster?”

“Yes. Did you find her record?”

“Not yet.” Cyanide is a metabolic inhibitor; it blocks your body’s cells from using oxygen, so you asphyxiate even though you are breathing. It usually takes a few minutes. But if a person with super speed started accelerating their body, and necessarily their metabolism, then a metabolic poison could proliferate and kill in seconds instead.

“Another attack tailored to its victim,” I pointed out. “A ceramic knife against a metal controller, destroying the head against rapid regeneration of the body, poison that speeds up with a speedster. Deliberate and planned.”

Spinner continued, “Delphic can find out more? Maybe we can find a pattern.”

Diane wrote, “Any progress on the augments as suspects?”

“The DRDC activates a different batch of test subjects at each of their clinics twice a week,” I explained. “None of the same patients were scheduled on both the day that Valour was killed and the day before Lamarck. Powers last less than a day on average and very few persist more than three days. So if there is an augment involved, it would have had to be those Monday activations.”

“And Thursday for Intan,” Diane supplied. “27 October was a Friday.”

“I will see what I can find out about Intan, and if I can confirm the connection,” I sent. “I should inform you both of one other matter that is occupying my attention right now.”

I briefly outlined the Iron Lantern project and the seed asset assigned to my ‘friend’ without revealing his name or Polarity’s. The two let me finish without interjecting any messages, and it wasn’t until I explained there was a sealed legal case being filed that they both messaged back at once.

“Good, nail em to the floor,” Spinner posted. “That’s terrible. If I can help tell me,” Diane sent at the same time. I felt fortunate for them both.

We agreed to convene another encrypted chat tomorrow at noon over Diane’s lunch hour. As we disconnected, I immediately turned my attention to learning more about Sujoko Intan.

Despite the relative lack of gore, I found Viewing the murder of the Indonesian-Canadian just as horrifying as the first two. The concern and determination of her friends as they yanked out the needle and desperately worked to get her moving towards help was painful to watch knowing its futility. I’ve never enjoyed tragedy.

The bar’s back entrance was unmonitored, and the unexplained and unseen movements of the door within two minutes before and after the event made invisibility the inescapable conclusion. Another flawless murder, leaving no trace of the killer. Another human life ended in cold blood, no reason given or divined.

I knew I was missing something, but the almost routine work with Paris or with various supers had provided me little need for developing genuine detective skills. Why bother understanding factors like motive when you can just see who did it? I usually thumbed to the last few pages of the mystery.

Not so this time. I started accessing everything available on Sujoko Inran (Snowshoe), putting together a detailed victim profile I could cross reference with my assembled files on Bertrand Saxena (Valour) and Donald Thompson (Lamarck).

I shed a fleeting smile when the message came in from Paris. She was off shift and would join me within the hour. I went upstairs to put on coffee and slide a tray of frozen cinnamon rolls in the oven.

If I was going to be stuck playing detective, I might as well get some help from the real thing.

2 thoughts on “Chapter 21 – Iron Rusts

  1. Great story! I love it.
    In this chapter, he was a bit cavalier about the consequence of his actions(mostly about the super typing cape). Also he is basically dealing with a criminal(maybe the government was right to try and police his actions?) and he is offering to be complicit in distributing the”vaccine”(some kind of mutagen to create augments maybe?)
    About superpowers how did they come about here? are they a recent development? what is the cause? exposure to the radiation?
    Another question is why does Paris not try to join empowered law enforcement if working in the regular force is illegal?
    I mean delphic power is something that would scare a lot of people(no privacy for anyone) so hiding it makes sense, but why does she do it?
    about delphic how far can he go in the past? has he ever tried to see historical events?
    How fast can he “travel”? Does his ability have a maximum range? Has he ever tried to see other planets?
    Anyway good chapter, I can’t wait ti see the reaction to this.

    Liked by 2 people

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