Chapter 23 – Apprehension

The Velo fan page was a wealth of information. He ranged widely in his nightly rides, which were clearly more public relations than law enforcement, but there were a few main thoroughfares that he managed to cover just about every time.

Personal time contraction is one of the most common super powers; its usefulness varies widely depending on what if any accompanying defenses the super has. A speedster without any sort of protection to accompany their abilities is very limited in how much they can accelerate, what their top speed can be, and how they can interact with anything outside themselves. With good shielding like Full Tilt, or a partial phasing effect like Millisec, you can reach velocities and time scales that defy belief. Otherwise… well, you can impress gawkers by biking at car speeds and become a poster boy for energy conservation, like Velo.

The super’s distinctive red helmet and colorful costume was easy to spot along Centre Street as the rider coasted leisurely, waving to pedestrians but not stopping to chat as Velo often did.

In addition to police cruisers positioned at strategic points nearby but never within line of sight of Velo, Full Tilt sat aboard his motorcycle ten blocks away at the mouth of a half-open fire station garage door. His passenger was a pleasant surprise: Silver Soul, a member of Canada’s National Super Team. I hadn’t known that Full Tilt’s bike could carry a second rider even when accelerated; I would have to watch him later to see how it worked.

Quite a bit was left to chance. Would Meer strike at Velo from a preset vantage; was he waiting to get him in a confined area? Would something – the weather, traffic, suspicion – cause him to abort? Would he switch to a secondary target?

If Jacob Meer returned to his car, he’d find that it wouldn’t start, and that Mallet and Fray could easily disable the occupants of a vehicle whether seen or unseen. If he simply stayed put or flew off, we wouldn’t have any way to know until Spinner arrived.

But those contingencies were secondary, at least for the moment. My View moved smoothly with the red-helmeted rider in the present, following ‘his’ (really her) muscle-powered venture through the night-lit streets of Ottawa.

With shoes just barely touching the blacktop on either side of the bicycle, the rider stopped behind a pickup truck at a four-way intersection. The helmeted head swung rapidly left as she jerked one, two, three times in rapid succession before I brought my View to a halt.

At my slowest rate of rewind speed, the slug tumbling end-over-end through the air seemed to creep backwards – a relieving testament to the effectiveness of Stillwater’s power damping the kinetic energy of objects in her vicinity. The power had almost no effect on objects slower than 120 kmh, but faster objects showed rapid slowdown when approaching her. It was an amazing power against speedsters and – as demonstrated – bullets. She was basically against an unusually large-caliber bb gun.

Speeding up the rewind slightly, I started to follow the trail of bullets backwards to their source. I had expected to finish my tracking job in seconds, but I soon encountered a problem I hadn’t had with the earlier attempt: light. It was fully dark at this point, and while the ample lights of downtown Ottawa made for a clear scene at street level, by the time the bullets’ height cleared those lamps they were very difficult to see.

Still, the trajectory was suggestive, and within a couple of minutes I was quite certain of the building location of the sniper, who seemed comfortable recreating the circumstances of his last misplaced murder.

The coordinates and address were conveyed to the system in a rapid break from my View before I returned to the present at the second-story vantage. No sign of the sniper himself, but his actions could be divined from the street-level reactions. ‘Velo’ dismounted the bike and looked around as another pattern of twitches showed that Meer had released yet another burst of fire. I was certain that he would give up and flee any second.

Even as the hunter-green blur of Full Tilt’s motorcycle slid into the intersection at impossible speeds, the silver body suit and armor of the woman clinging to him glowed an iridescent blue. Silver Soul’s construct, a detailed doppelganger of her features in that eerie blue, flew out from her and straight towards me – that is, towards the sniper’s perch.

She came in slightly low, her glowing foot clipping the roof’s corner and throwing her forward at a precipitous angle. She righted herself and held her arms out as though welcoming a hug, and it seemed like she may have touched something briefly. She swung her arms around, continuing to fly across the roof surface at speed, but felt no other contact.

The blue glowing body canvassed the air above and immediately around the roof to no effect. On the ground, motored speedster and pedaled counterpart met at a sidewalk corner. “He was there, I felt him for a second,” came Silver Soul’s shrill voice over the channel. “He flew off immediately. I don’t have any way to track him.”

“We, ah, we’re waiting for Spinner,” the response from HQ was tentative. Zed-M had no prior experience managing a team, but had relieved Stillwater because he was still at the building when she left. He sounded younger than I am.

Silver Soul’s construct flew quickly backwards as though yanked by an invisible cord, half-intersecting Full Tilt and passing through unhindered before being reabsorbed into the heroine’s body. “So what now?” she asked.

Stillwater, in Velo’s gear and helmet, was speaking with the police at the scene working to set up a perimeter and addressing questions from civilians. Many had fled when the shooting started, but just as many were now gravitating toward the scene.

“We, ah, I think you should, that is…” A short pause before Zed-M said, overly loudly. “Full Tilt and Silver Soul, please join Fray in staking out the parking garage. Have Stillwater resume her bike ride but move toward headquarters. I would like Meer’s attention on the hard target if possible.”

“We have a designation for him yet?” asked a voice I didn’t recognize. I watched the green and silver supers exchange brief words with Stillwater before the motorcycle blurred away.

“Ambush fits,” this one I recognized as Fray. Apparently her own ambush position didn’t require radio silence.

“Eh, database says it’s the English name for a guy working out of Ecuador.”

“You can reuse the one-word names for villains,” Zed-M pointed out.

“Okay, I’ll override it. Ambush, yeah.” His voice then said much more formally, “Request to connect from unknown US channel.”

“Not Spinner?” asked Zed-M.

“Different channel, I think it’s USST.”

“That… ah. Answer… it.” His gulp was audible. My vantage moved to follow Stillwater as she rode Velo’s bike back onto the road and into the evening traffic. “This is Ottawa HQ.”

“Peregrine here. I’m incoming with Spinner, wanted to confirm the landing location.” The audio was harsh and tinny with a constant background ‘whoosh’ of heavy wind – quite understandable for a super flying at high velocity. The background noise cut out at the same time his words did.

I typed out a response as quickly as I could. “Spinner should be sent to the address of the attack on Stillwater. He can track Ambush from there.”

“Ambush? Is Emboscador behind this attack?” Peregrine said. His tone was dismissive of the possibility.

“I don’t… who…” Zed-M stumbled.

“The guy in Ecuador.” The second man in HQ raised his voice to be heard over the channel. “Sorry, Peregrine, no. This is a new Canadian villain. We just designated him.”

“Understood. Stillwater’s condition?”

“She is unharmed,” Zed-M responded while mustering more confidence. “Forward Peregrine the new coordinates. What’s your ETA?”

“Sev… nine minutes. Can you explain the situation? Spinner didn’t have time to brief me.” However he was carrying Spinner, it must not allow for in-flight conversation.

“Ambush has invisibility and flight, no other powers known,” Zed-M said. “He was targeting Velo of the Ottawa Super Team and hit… Lamarck by mistake.” He cleared his throat. “Delphic identified his vehicle at your old destination point. He’s got an automatic weapon and… ah, was tracking Velo. We put Stillwater in Velo’s costume. The, ah… the shooter took the bait but disappeared before we could capture him.”

“You want Spinner to track him down?”

“Ah… yeah.”

“Did I hear Delphic’s voice on the channel?” his volume increased considerably.

There was a short pause, which I took as an invitation to speak. “Yes it was. I have been monitoring Stillwater’s position to make sure she is not attacked again. Based on his past conduct, I suspect that Ambush is in retreat.”

Peregrine’s smug was palpable. “I heard from Spinner that you figured out some trick for that fight last week. Got anything for us tonight?”

I considered for just a moment before answering, “He is armed with an assault rifle. Objects he touches become invisible within a few seconds. We don’t know his flight speed or whether he has any additional abilities.”

“No clever workaround for any of this?”

“Not yet.”

Stillwater was halfway back to HQ when another channel opened. “Spinner here.” His voice carried the same exhausted tone as it had after the street fight the previous Thursday. “Peregrine is setting me down on a rooftop. Did one of our guys encounter the sniper up here?”

“This is Ottawa HQ. Welcome, Spinner. The sniper has been designated Ambush-”

“Emboscador? He doesn’t-”

Not Emboscador.” Zed-M’s voice was notably steadier, though this time with frustration. “Jason Meer, an Alberta native. He fired shots twenty-five minutes ago from that rooftop. He… uh… disengaged when Silver Soul attempted to respond.”

“Full Tilt here. Silver Soul and I are with Fray, but I’m keeping a pin in Spinner’s position. Ready to move at a word.”

“Let’s move,” exclaimed Spinner. I shifted my View back to the sniper’s vantage. The white in Peregrine’s cowl and Spinner’s silver piping were all that were visible on the roof. Spinner quickly leapt down to the street below and ran south, following a trail only he could see. Peregrine floated along at above the level of the street lamps, trailing well behind Spinner but always within sight. His carriage suggested this was a leisurely pace for him, while his companion ran full out. Panting was occasionally picked up by Spinner’s mic.

Spinner took a breath to speak as he approached a corner five blocks away, a street in Centre Town flanked by four- and five-story office buildings. “The trail ends here. Fly me up above the building level again, let me see if it starts again.”

Rather than watching Peregrine pick up Spinner, I rewound my View. The supers moved backwards away from the corner, but I stayed focused on the pedestrians walking backwards towards the intersection. It was hard to properly gauge the time passing in reverse, but about two minutes passed in real time before I saw a group backwards-walking towards the intersection with a man in a tan coat and jeans at the rear – the clothing Meer was wearing.

I stopped the View and angled around to confirm. Ambush had found a group waiting at the corner for a light change and joined it. The long tan coat concealed his rifle, which he held carefully along the side of his body to reduce his profile.

What had prompted him to move from invisibility to anonymity on this occasion, when he never had before? This question pulled at me as I accelerated the scene forward again while following Meer. The simplest answer was that he had done so, but I had never been able to follow him far enough to see it.

The man stayed with the largest group of pedestrians over another few blocks, changing direction multiple times. I ran the View as fast as I could to try to catch up to the present. While passing between two buildings, he abruptly turned aside into the alleyway and vanished again as he passed from the lighted sidewalk into the structures’ penumbra. I dropped my View to add the new coordinate to the team system.

I focused again on the audio coming from HQ and picked up Spinner’s voice saying, “… line of sight, so if there is another trail, I can’t always see it.”

“The trail resumes in an alley on Morris Avenue. The coordinates are provided.”

Spinner immediately set off for the new destination. Peregrine, still floating along behind, asked, “How did you figure that out?”

I started to put together a detailed ‘explanation,’ but I decided to keep it to myself. In the heat of the moment it was likely I would not be pressed, and I could come up with a better story given more time.

The area map showed that Ambush was still a mile and a half from his car, and he seemed in no hurry to get to it. But his path also wasn’t taking him any closer to Velo’s route or HQ. Up to this point, his conduct had always been careful and focused – attack the target, then quickly leave. Maybe he had another target in mind?

“Is Velo available?” I sent to HQ.

“He’s… ah, yeah, I think he’s back here?”

“Have him call me on a separate channel.” I needed to get the names of the rest of that university support group and see if any of them were active locally.

“He entered the cinema.” The words from Spinner were said at moderate volume, but they still rang out like a shot in my ears. At this time in the evening, a full theater was the perfect target for someone with an automatic weapon and nothing to lose.

On the display I could see through Spinner’s visor as he entered the front doors of the small building, worn carpet under warm lights contrasting the bright front area with the dim hallways leading to the films. I sank back into my View and followed as quickly as I could in an attempt to get my own eyes on the scene.

Zed-M’s voice began, “Spinner… you, ah, you have to engage with nonlethal-”

“We know,” snapped Peregrine. “We can’t kill him. Give us something useful or shut up.”

My View caught up to Peregrine, mere steps behind Spinner, as the tracking super pushed open the doors to Theatre 5 showing The Vor Game. A mismatched duo in futuristic mechanics’ overalls trod a space station catwalk on the screen above, but it was the tableau in the central walkway that had brought Spinner and Peregrine to a halt.

Jordan Meer stood, fully visible, behind a kneeling girl turned towards the heroes, an expression of terror on her face. The barrel of his rifle was inches from the back of her head. Only about a dozen other people were dispersed among the seats, having clearly been cowed by the criminal and hostage.

“Peregrine!” Jordan exclaimed, a manic grin spread across his face. “I didn’t realize I rated so highly.” The mic in either Spinner or Peregrine’s costume must have been excellent, because the criminal’s voice carried clearly over the channel.

The cowled super stepped in front of Spinner. “You don’t, Jordan Meer. Drop your weapon.”

“Now why would I do that?” The man started turning his gun to point down the aisle as he vanished from sight.

There was hardly a blur as the scene changed. Peregrine floated inches from the ground, just past where the girl kneeled. The M16 rifle clattered at his feet.

Peregrine shot forward, this time slow enough to see while still faster than any unaided human could move. Moving forward to where the aisle ended in a low wall below the screen, he groped awkwardly at unseen limbs before straightening up. One hand clutched in the air, held at an upward angle. “Appear,” he commanded.

The man dangled from Peregrine’s grasp, both hands futilely pulling at the super’s arm. “Cuffs,” said the super. Spinner tossed him a pair, and he lowered to the ground as he maneuvered the man to bind his arms behind his back. Spinner had picked up the rifle and was speaking quietly with the girl on the floor. The lights had been brought up and the film stopped, but the shocked theater-goers seemed stuck to their seats.

The crowd gathering outside of Theatre 5 were not so restrained. Several phones could be seen recording the supers as they walked the criminal out of the building and into a police van.

I disconnected from HQ to inform Diane. On balance, I hoped that whatever authorities would review her flouting of regulations would take this positive result into account.

4 thoughts on “Chapter 23 – Apprehension

  1. Yeah!

    I really like superhero stories and it’s a nice perspective change to have the support be a main character. I like it, keep up the good work!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. That’s ‘flouting of regulations’ not ‘flaunting of regulations’, I’m pretty sure.

    While I’d love to see Bujold’s books on screen done well the possibility of a hack job haunts me…

    Liked by 2 people

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