[Please note: This chapter was posted last week. This week’s new chapter, “Not with a Bang,” takes place before “Malpractice” and is now Chapter 3. Sorry for any confusion. -AGP]
“I still don’t get it,” Spinner said. “We’re not more than a couple of miles from the station. Why hide her so close?”
“This is New York City,” Lady Liberty reminded him. “Two blocks would have been far enough. No power trail. No leads.” She spread her arms wide, a passable substitute gesture in a suit that wouldn’t shrug. “If you hadn’t gone against what I requested and brought in Delphic, we wouldn’t have found her today. Or this week, unless somebody caught one of the abductors and cracked him.” She was talking about successful interrogation, but the way she said it made it sound like physically breaking him open would do as well.
“It’s big of you to admit that about Delphic,” Spinner said.
“Ego doesn’t serve my interests.” She threw the line out like a maxim. “We’re lucky to have him.”
“So… who did this?” asked Refraxx, his hand and eyes still on Whisper’s slumbering form.
“That’s the million dollar question,” Liberty agreed. “Just to check – Delphic, you haven’t figured out who is ultimately responsible for this yet?” She raised her voice unnecessarily when addressing me, like people often do with speaker phones.
“Not yet,” I admitted. “I focused on finding Whisper and the immediate actors, and getting you to them.”
“Do you know if they’ve been caught yet?” The voice made me visibly jump, and I jerked around to face my sister. Paris hadn’t left, but she had sat so quietly for the past half hour that I had forgotten she was still here.
“No, the other teams are on a separate mission channel. Actually neither is dialed into HQ.” I brought up my NYST dashboard, which showed a segmented map with three dots clustered at the hospital (Liberty’s group), two dots on a residential area far to the north, and another two near the river to the west.
“That’s weird -” Paris started, but I signaled her with a hand to hold off so I could hear what Liberty was saying.
“… need to know what we’re dealing with,” was all I caught.
“I’d say get her out of custody either way,” Spinner put in. “We know she ain’t gonna get charged and she’d recover a lot more quickly at home.”
“Not necessarily,” Liberty’s voice was lower and slower now as she gave opinions rather than orders. “HC doesn’t always take time for herself. In the tank she can’t be out on extra patrols, plus they’re making her see a counselor. Good for her.”
Refraxx shook his head and rolled his eyes. “Typical of you to want to lock someone up for her own good. You have serious control issues, LL.”
“Oh, very true. But you know the best way to deal with control issues?” She was definitely smiling through the solid mask. “Always be the one in control.”
“Hunting B to Trail Team,” a woman’s voice said, labeled on the dashboard as Orange Nimbus. “Target four is in custody. Returning to HQ.”
“Any trouble?” Liberty asked.
“None.” Her laugh was light and melodic. “The other bar patrons didn’t hardly react when we extracted the guy. He’s terrified but he’s keeping his cool so far.”
“Okay, well, keep an eye on one, three and four at HQ until we’re done here.”
“Yeah, Delphic was a hundred percent. Whisper’s been pumped full of drugs and kept in a private room. Don’t know how long until they would have moved her.”
“Well, hopefully these guys will have something to tell you. This much fear, it shouldn’t take much.”
“Any other strong emotions?”
Orange Nimbus laughed louder. “Yeah, this one is horny. Like, capital H. Couple of whiffs I caught nearby says he might have gotten some too if we hadn’t filled up his dance card.”
“Don’t count on it,” a more distant female voice said. Presuming it was Orange Nimbus’s partner, the dashboard gave the name as Enki. “He’s a creep, and they didn’t look that desperate.”
“You only saw them. I felt them,” said Orange Nimbus. “I’ll tell you, the…” Another button press by Liberty and Hunter B was no longer on the channel.
“So the one girl can, like, read minds?” Paris’s question was less of a surprise this time; I don’t think my start was visible.
I clicked on Orange Nimbus on the active roster. “She can detect strong emotions from people nearby. She’s not a heavy; it looks like they mostly rely on her enhanced senses and use her as a sharp shooter.”
“She senses emotions and she’s a sniper?” Paris sounded personally offended. “She should be doing my job. Think of how incredible it would be to know how each question makes a perp feel.”
I shrugged. “Until somebody decides you’re too good at it and outs you as a super. I can’t really criticize her for choosing a career where her powers are legal.”
Paris shut up, and I immediately regretted what I had said. Considering her own ongoing struggles with her decision to join the police force and conceal her powers, I had crossed a line to bring the issue up the way I did.
I really had no stones to throw at my big sister, considering my own choices. Keeping my identity under wraps was a serious operation of misdirection and security that was already more than half sunk. Hector Donnel was now known by at least a dozen people to be a close associate of Delphic.
The Doc’s knowledge of this connection was my biggest ongoing concern, and would be a large factor in my decision of whether or not to give him the hospital codes. Delphic might be perceived as effectively untouchable at this point, but Hector was a known entity in a known location.
Further dialog in Whisper’s room had been set aside by the presence of her doctor. Liberty stepped aside to let him in the room, swiftly taking the file from his hands as he passed by. He turned briefly but decided the fight wasn’t worth it.
“What can I help you with?” the man asked as he shuffled Spinner aside to get at the monitoring equipment. He pressed a couple of buttons and thumbed through different displays. “I was told I had to come speak with you. Here I am.”
The man, short and of Indian descent, wore the standard bulky medical jacket with a surprising number of pockets. He pulled out a pen light and moved to the head of the bed, manually opening and examining one of the unconscious girl’s eyes, then the other.
“Doctor Soin, this says you’re the admitting physician,” Liberty said over the open file. “What exactly is wrong with Miss… ah… ‘Samantha Mayer’ and how did you come to admit her?”
“I received a call that she was going to be brought in. I work with a medical services company on a referral basis.” He pressed an instrument against her forehead and read the temperature.
“What is the -” Liberty began but abruptly stopped as Spinner’s arms shot out.
At the same instant that Dr. Soin pulled his next tool from his jacket, Spinner’s left hand closed around it and pulled up as his right hand closed around the doctor’s wrist and pulled it down. The man was disarmed within a half second of pulling what we could all now see was a compact pistol. He stood pressed against Spinner with his hand twisted painfully behind him.
“He was about to shoot her,” Spinner yelled as the two other supers surged forward then checked themselves. Whatever danger there had been was resolved now.
But after the initial hesitation, Refraxx stepped around the bed and stood nose to nose with the man – or more accurately nose to forehead since the super was taller. “Who are you, and what do you want with her?” he hissed through bared teeth.
“Ow!” The man yelled, struggling against Spinner. “Get off me! I have a permit for that gun!”
“You don’t have a permit to shoot a patient with it,” quipped Liberty.
“I wasn’t going to shoot anyone, I- OWW!”
Spinner had yanked up, hard, on his captive arm. “Don’t give me that! I saw you shoot that girl in the face!”
I was still reeling from the speed of this whole interaction, Spinner’s exclamation dialed the confusion up further. What could he possibly have meant by that?
“What did he mean by that?” Paris asked, echoing my own thoughts. We didn’t have time to discuss it.
“I d-don’t know…” The man was panting, his face screwed up in pain. Spinner yanked up again, his own mouth a grimace of unvarnished anger.
The tension in the room wasn’t going down; rather the opposite. Refraxx’s face matched Spinner’s, his eyes wide and fiery. He took a step back and met the doctor’s eyes. “Tell me,” he rasped.
The doctor shook his head. “I don’t -”
Refraxx raised his left hand to chest height, his gloved fingers splayed open. The doctor’s denial caught with his breath as the super’s fingers curved just slightly. The restrained man started a low keening. “Tell me,” Refraxx growled.
“Refraxx,” Liberty warned, “you can’t.”
“Stop! I don’t- AAAAAAAAGH!” The man’s denial turned to a full-throated scream as Refraxx’s hand twitched to tighten his loose grip on the empty air just another inch.
“Mike! Stop!” Liberty said, and her own arm was up now, pointing at her ally. Her hand glowed slightly the telltale pale blue.
Just as Soin stopped screaming to suck in air, Refraxx let his hand drop. The doctor’s whole body dropped at the same time, its strings cut, hanging against Spinner’s arm hold.
“Trail Team to Hunting A. Status?” Liberty began after opening the channel. Refraxx turned away and moved back to his position at Whisper’s side.
“Hunting A here.” I recognized GigaGiant’s voice. “We located target one at her apartment and she agreed to come peacefully. We gave her a few minutes to use the facilities and pack an overnight bag.”
“All right. Be advised we are apprehending the doctor that admitted Whisper to this private hospital.”
“Delphic was right about that?” The super sounded surprised.
“Correct. The doctor tried to pull a gun on her not five minutes ago. These targets are upgraded to confirmed dangerous and should be treated as violent.”
There was a slight pause, then GigaGiant responded, “I understand. What is your plan?”
“We have a fifth target to interrogate. See you at HQ.” Liberty returned her attention to Spinner. “Can you take him there while Refraxx and I relocate Whisper?”
Everyone agreed this was the best plan.
“I’m going to shut down the active feeds for this team for now. Whisper is going to an undisclosed location.” She had already pushed a button on her wrist to start another call. “Delphic, thanks again for your help. We… I… would be grateful for any further insights. I’ll make sure you have access to everything we have. Goodnight.”
I sat staring at the NYST dashboard and thinking about the most efficient approaches for cracking this case. The obvious thing to do would be to track Dr. Soin back to some contact or instruction that would lead to more info…
“That was intense,” Paris said, and I started yet again after having forgotten she was there. “Dude pulled a gun in a room with supers. Wow.”
“It seemed more like an act of desperation than anything else,” I pointed out. “Your very best case in that situation would be taking out Whisper before they capture you. You really have no chance against even one of those supers with normal reflexes and a handgun. Much less all three.” I shrugged.
Paris nodded. “So, are you going to see who was calling?” I gave her a bewildered look, so she said, “You know, your phone? Like half an hour ago, when it rang and you just ignored it?”
I shook my head. “I didn’t hear it. I get very focused sometimes, even when I’m just working in the present.”
She shrugged. “Well, you might want to see who it was.”
Nodding, I checked the call ID, but it wasn’t a stored number. It was listed as an international call, from… hm. South America.
This was confusing for a simple reason: my phone belonged to Hector Donnell. I used it as a correspondence number for my doctor and my jobs; it was how my friends called to talk to me. The number didn’t belong to Delphic; I never used it as a contact number for Delphic.
My super alter ego had several contacts south of Mexico, including police and government groups I had worked with as well as a handful of formerly US supers who had emigrated. And the Doc, of course. But these contacts were not Hector’s.
The caller had left a voicemail, so I played it on speaker: “Mister Donnell, this is Doctor Anne Varilla at the Stevens Research Complex in Eutopia.” Her voice was smooth and expressive. “I am sorry for calling you out of the blue, and on a holiday, but I need to speak with you about a very important matter. Please return my call as soon as you can.” She ended with a number and restatement of her name.
I had never spoken with Varilla, but the Doc spoke very highly of her. She was both a dedicated medical researcher and a talented surgeon, and she oversaw the medical research teams at Doc’s lab. Doc mentioned ‘Anne’ only rarely but always in glowing terms.
I looked at Paris, who gave me a clearly interested look back. There was no time difference between Eutopia and US Eastern, and the hour was late but not unreasonably so. I dialed her, the phone still on speaker.
She picked up on the second ring. “Hi, is this Hector Donnell?”
“Hello, yes. This is Doctor Varilla?”
“It is. Thank you for returning my call. Has our… ah, mutual friend discussed our work with you at all?”
I wondered what she would do if I said no. “I am aware that Doctor Stevens works with Delphic, yeah, and he asked for your help when the CIA got on me. He said he’d take care of that, though.” I tried to sound defensive, which wasn’t hard because it’s how I felt.
“Okay, I understand. Hector, if it’s all right, I’d like to get Doctor Stevens in here to help with the explanation.”
There was a pause on the line. Paris shrugged. “Yes, that would be fine. Thank you,” I answered.
The wait was about three minutes before the familiar raspy voice came on the line. “Mister Donnell. This is Doctor Lawrence Stevens.”
“Hello, sir.” It felt different talking to him using my own voice, rather than Delphic’s.
“Anne wanted me to explain the situation, so I’ll get right to the point.” His voice was percussive and kept a steady rhythm. “We acquired a sample of your DNA and ran an analysis.”
My and Paris’s eyes both widened at the same moment. I was certainly not expecting to hear this.
When I didn’t immediately respond, he continued: “Based on your association with Delphic, we wanted to determine if you were omicron sensitive. We went ahead and did a full work-up, all the known genes.”
Anne took over from the Doc’s explanation. “Give us your email and we’ll send you the analysis. The point is, there are fifteen known genes that can contribute to omicron sensitivity.”
“I thought there were eleven?” I asked, happy for the momentary destraction.
“Eleven published,” she explained. “We have discovered three others, and a team in Korea found a fifteenth exclusive to Tibet and Nepal; their article is still undergoing peer review.”
The Doc cleared his throat. “The point is, most omicron sensitives have two genes. It’s rare to have more because they tend to occur in very different ethnic groups.” He cleared his throat again. “You have four.”
I exchanged looks with Paris again; she seemed as worried as I felt. “Meaning what?” I finally asked.
Anne answered, “Meaning, first, that you are most definitely omicron sensitive. And, second, that you need to be screened.”
That didn’t sound good. “Screened? Like, for cancer?”
“Among other things,” she said. “There are twelve chronic conditions that can accompany one or more of the genes you have. One of them is high susceptibility to certain gliomas and lymphomas. Four are neurological conditions which are almost always misdiagnosed as psychological.”
“The point is,” Doc Stevens concluded, “we are the only facility set up to test for and, if needed, treat all twelve.” His tone brooked no alternative. “Come here.”
Paris was staring at me with concern, and fear was starting to rise within me. I didn’t know much about my biological parents. They had never been an important influence in my life after I was adopted, and I had no interest in Viewing back into my childhood to find out more. Supposedly I had come to the Donnell household with a family medical history, all of which essentially read “generic African-American family.” And although I knew that powers had a strong genetic component, I also knew that most supers in my generation did not have super parents.
Now my willful ignorance might very well come back to haunt me, and there was little I could do about it. I was being offered a trip to Eutopia, and I had little doubt that if I took it I’d find myself forced to make further difficult decisions.
But the alternative was sitting on a genetic time bomb that may or may not be armed.
“Thank you for calling me. I’ll be in touch,” was all I said before hanging up.