It took very little time to locate the Kowalczyks by rewinding my View to just before they left the warehouse and riding along. Mikey was hunched over with his head between his legs the entire car ride, and Old Joe periodically rubbed his back and murmured something. Buzz and Big Joe were having a much louder discussion in the front seat.
They hadn’t left the city, instead holing up in a small duplex–a condo in a residential ne ighborhood close to the shore. They used a coded keypad to get the car into the garage. The way the enforcers rifled through the kitchen cupboards and pantry indicated that they would be staying for some time.
I noted the address and the condo’s available exits, confirming that the four of them were still there in the present before turning my attention back to the scene unfolding at the warehouse. Yellow tape cordoned off the area where the fray had occurred; they were hauling the policeman’s charred body away from the scene. Sergeant Trellis watched from his seat at the back of an ambulance, emergency workers still checking his temporary bindings.
“You need to be seen to properly,” Flawless Form said to the injured cop. The super was standing just at the edge of the circle made by the working lights of the ambulance: close enough to be seen, but far enough to stay out of everyone’s way. I noticed that the tall man seemed entirely confident in his posture but awkwardly uncertain in his demeanor, and I wondered how he managed both. “Bone fragments may migrate and cause more damage of the injury isn’t addressed soon.”
The policeman nodded, but said, “Once I brief the Captain, I promise. I’m sure he’ll be here soon.” His gaze locked on the body of his partner as its gurney was lifted into the back of a second emergency vehicle. “Nobody deserves to die like that. It was…” he shuddered and trailed off.
“Did you know him long?” Flawless Form asked softly.
Trellis shook his head. “Six months. He was a rookie, joined the force after twenty years as a navy MP.” His eyes fixed to something unseen in the middle distance. “Everything he saw was by the book before tonight. I don’t even think he ever drew his gun on duty.”
“Hey guys,” Zephyr began. “Let’s get this settled as IDP while we have a minute. Bronze Scarab?”
Her video feed showed the recently scrubbed apartment where Refraxx had died. “Yeah, HQ?”
“For the record, do the ongoing actions of these suspects constitute an Imminent Danger to the Public, likely to result in further casualties if left unchecked?”
There was a loud sigh from her and a brief pause. Zephyr was setting things up to justify the hero team not having to try to take the Kowalczyks by minimal force. Otherwise, teams could be stuck in the loop of engaging with an enemy that would injure or kill and then immediately flee.
“Confirmed,” she finally said. “Suspects are IDP.” Her voice was strong and clear.
Zephyr continued. “Flawless Form, for the record, are the suspects an Imminent Danger to the Public?”
The hero had turned away from Trellis and left the island of light entirely. In the dark, I noticed that small dots interspersed at random on his skin seemed to glow faintly, like a sparse dusting of invisible sequins. “Negative,” he muttered softly.
Zephyr cursed. “FF, it’s a good thing I didn’t hear that,” he shot. “I need your confirmation, for the record, that the men that murdered a super and burned a normie alive… Are. Imminently. Dangerous.”
“They’re…” the hero coughed a bit, clearing his throat. His next words came out clearer. “They don’t fit the profile of an IPD. These aren’t supers on a rampage.”
Zephyr sputtered, and the tempo of his speech accelerated. “Look we all know you have this whole nonlethal thing that you’re always pushing and I get it I really do but this isn’t a situation where we have the luxury two men are dead already and these are clearly very -”
“Hey!” The shout was not only louder than Flawless Form’s normal voice but half an octave higher. He followed up on successfully cutting Zephyr off. “You know I play by the rules, HQ. If you tell us it’s an IPD situation then I’m obliged to treat it as one.” He inhaled sharply before continuing. “But I saw the ambush, and the intent wasn’t to hurt anyone. It was to get away.”
I watched him turn halfway around toward the spot where the cop had burned alive. “Private Nunez was killed, but Kowalczyk made no attempt to move on to any of the rest of us. The attack on Bronze Scarab was called off the moment Buzz thought they could escape. I just…”
Zephyr cut back in. “I appreciate your desire for accuracy, but we really need a unanimous assessment to -”
“I just.” The reassertion was even firmer this time. “I just don’t think they’ll kill anyone they don’t have to. They may be reckless about who gets hurt, but they’re not out to cause destruction. It’s not an IPD scenario.”
“Eh, screw it,” Zephyr said seemingly to himself. And then a much more professional, “Thank you for your assessment. Now, for the record, this is an IPD scenario. You are directed to neutralize the four suspects -”
“Four!?” exclaimed Bronze Scarab. I, too, was surprised they were counting Mikey.
“- by the most expedient means and without regard for their safety. I repeat your primary objective is to neutralize the suspects, not to capture them. Is that clear?”
“Yes, HQ, that’s clear.” Bronze Scarab responded. Her partner did not.
Zephyr began again. “Flawless Form, do you copy the -”
“Yes HQ, I copy. Please stand by.” He moved back to stand next to Trellis as a black town car maneuvered between cruisers. Bronze Scarab also moved to flank the injured officer. Two men in dark suits exited the car; each had a gold badge pinning his tie to his shirt.
“Captain!” the officer called, waving the men over as they took in the nighttime scene. The older of the two men, clearly the one in charge, was broad-shouldered and round-bodied. His lined face aged him to at least fifty, but he still sported a full head of straw blond hair. His partner was a taller, younger Asian man with a deliberately neutral expression.
“Trellis, what happened?” the rotund older man spoke with a large voice that carried well. He leaned forward as he walked, not stopping until he was looming directly over the injured sergeant, unconcerned with personal space.
“Powered perps, sir. They got Nunez.”
“I heard.” He leaned in even closer, catching both of the policeman’s eyes in his own as he slapped a hand onto his shoulder. “I’m sorry, son. I really am.”
“Me too, Captain,” I heard Trellis say, and from the close vantage of my View, I saw the younger officer relax at the same time that the captain tensed. The burden of the night – the heavy emotional load of the whole situation, the death of the cop – was somehow transferred from that young man to his superior in the space of a few heartbeats.
In the next moment, the captain leaned back from his man and nodded, gesturing to the EMTs to prepare to leave. They closed up the ambulance, but one stayed near Trellis as he listened to his superior. The captain turned his attention to the costumed heroes on either side. “You two were involved in the fight?”
They both nodded, and Bronze Scarab spoke. “That’s right. Refraxx,” she gestured to the open trunk where the mangled body still lay, “was in a fight, and we were sent down to back him up.”
“These perps killed your friend? That’s what started all of this?” His voice was hard, the questions more interrogation than concern.
Both heroes nodded again, and she continued. “They killed him and hid the body there. They told Trellis the damage to the building was an equipment accident; there had been no fight. It’s clear they meant to keep the murder a secret and hide the body somewhere.”
“Oh, that’s clear is it?” The captain’s tone was caustic, dripping with disdain. “So these perps are talking, nice and peaceful, to my boys, and you two show up and start throwing punches?”
“No, that’s not what happened,” Flawless Form said. “We showed up to investigate and were attacked. We certainly didn’t start a fight unprovoked.”
“Uh huh,” the captain drawled. “Jeremy, is that so?” he asked Trellis.
“Yes sir,” the sergeant replied with no hesitation. “Mister Kowalczyk had just -”
“Say what now?” the older man interrupted. “Who did you say these perps were?”
“The Kowalczyks,” Jeremy repeated. “Buzz, two named Joe, and a younger one whose name they didn’t give.”
“Buzz Kowalczyk has been dead for more than a decade.” The captain traded a worried glance with his partner. “Whoever you saw here tonight, whatever he called himself -”
“Junior, sir,” Flawless Form interjected. “Buzz Kowalczyk, Junior.”
“Buzz had a son?”
“One with a tight leash on his father’s enforcers, from what I could see,” Sergeant Trellis pointed out.
“Obviously not tight enough, if he gets his cover blown and they kill two people within an hour,” the captain muttered.
“The important point,” Bronze Scarab insisted, “is that there’s a group of super villains on the loose in Newark, and we have no idea where they’re going or why.”
I couldn’t have asked for a better opening. “They are hiding in a suburban residence twelve miles from your current location,” I sent. “They are planning to stay there for at least the next few hours.”
“They won’t be loose in my city for long,” the captain insisted. His speech overlapped with mine; he had no reason to refrain from talking over me since he couldn’t hear over the NYST channels.
“Sorry, correction,” Bronze Scarab supplied. “They went to ground, and we know where.”
“How?!” this exclamation came not from the captain himself, but from his partner.
“Delphic is supporting the team,” Flawless Form answered.
“Oh,” the taller man responded. I was quite gratified that this seemed to be a sufficient explanation.
“Quick update, guys,” Zephyr announced. “The van’s tied up at least another ten minutes getting over the bridge, but Liberty says your other support should be there any time.”
I missed the first part of the captain’s next statement: “… get a SWAT team mobilized to flush them out. Have your headquarters call the dispatch with the address and details on the perps. This will be over in twenty minutes.”
“Thanks for your offer of assistance, captain, but I don’t think there’s any reason to put your men in further danger,” Bronze Scarab replied.
The captain took a step back, a snarl curling his lips; he exchanged a bemused glance with his partner. “Assistance?! That’s not what I said!” His voice, loud to begin with, was now booming enough to create a bit of reverb in the line. “The perps are in my city, not in New York. You give us the info we need, and we will clean up this mess.” He squared himself against her and kept her eyes. “The supers have done enough damage to Newark for one night. We can take it from here.”
A faint flush washed over Bronze Scarab’s features at this; she made fists out of her hands although she managed to leave them firmly at her sides. “With all due respect, captain, it’s the supers that are in a position to resolve this mess,” she insisted, struggling to keep her tone civil.
“Uh huh,” he grunted again, and pulled his shortwave receiver out of his belt. He turned away from the supers as he began, “Marcie, get me Tim on the phone. We need the full team to roll out as soon as we get the address….”
The roiling blue tentacle had stretched halfway from Bronze Scarab to the captain when Flawless Form’s hand touched her shoulder. The construct stopped reaching and quickly pulled back as she gave a grateful nod to her partner and regained her control.
“So Captain Mallory is mobilizing a SWAT team?” Zephyr asked. “At least one of them is bulletproof! How is he planning to take them down?”
Bronze Scarab coughed. “For that matter, how are we? I don’t have anything that can stop Old Joe.”
“Who’s the backup?” Flawless Form asked.
“Nine-Point-Nine and Framerate,” she answered. The right eye of her mask had a miniature lens in it that acted as a display; that explained how she had the navigation data to fly directly to the warehouse.
“That might do it,” he admitted. “If he slows Joe down and she reduces his leverage, you should be able to get him immobilized.”
The heroine nodded, but she still looked uncertain. “If not, what would we -”
“Good evening,” said a baritone voice. The two supers each jumped at the man who stood facing them, near where the captain had stood during their previous exchange. Sergeant Trellis also gave the man his full attention, and murmurs from the police still working nearby made it clear his presence had been noted.
Millisec wasn’t tall. He wore a midnight blue costume with heavy plating on his head and torso, but tight around his muscular arms and legs. A large pack was securely fastened to his back, and several projections from his belt made it clear he was heavily equipped… or perhaps armed. The emblem across his chest was a stylized clock with two long hands right next to each other, as though the second hand was caught in the instant of ticking over. The dark costume color made the medium brown skin of his chin and hands seem lighter by comparison.
“I take it you’re the surprise?” Bronze Scarab asked, but she didn’t wait for an answer. “Did Liberty fill you in on the situation here?”
“Refraxx is in trouble and needs a rescue, right?”
The heroine sighed in weary resignation. “Not quite.” She gestured for the USST hero to follow her over to the open trunk. “We’ll fill you in, and quickly. We have an assault to plan.”