Over the last twenty years, much of US law enforcement had reduced or eliminated SWAT teams as their functions were taken over by local super teams. The pseudo-military nature of SWAT operations had never sat well with a lot of civilians, so turning those missions over to the supers was popular. This move also restricted the much higher casualty rate of tactical engagements to the supers, where losses were easier for the public to stomach for some reason (supers’ lives aren’t as “real” as normal people’s, I guess).
New Jersey was different. State and local police had no desire to integrate with federal super teams and could not be compelled to do so. The three official New Jersey teams (NJST out of Trenton plus local teams in Camden and Atlantic City) received no state funding or support; when Jersey wanted to spend money on law enforcement, they doubled down on police and state troopers.
The result was what the supers encountered as they emerged from the house with captured criminals in tow. I counted six cruisers and two larger armored vans forming a blockade in front of the house, and more than twenty men in black riot-control armor very similar to what Framerate was wearing. Most held military-grade P88s, an automatic weapon popular with US and Western European law enforcement.
Two teams, however, were set up behind broad turrets each supporting an anti-materiel weapon, what was often called the ‘brute buster.’ The weapon propelled dense shells at an incredibly high velocity, enough to penetrate an armored vehicle – or the natural defensive shielding of many super powers.
With those turret guns in evidence, another major anti-super weapon was likely being deployed. I checked the P88s at random and immediately found three that had been modified into ‘speed busters.’ These had a sophisticated active sonar capability and a fourth firing mode that would cause the weapon to spray bullets once it detected movement past a certain threshold. Unlike the ‘brute busters,’ I had never heard of the ‘speed buster’ actually being effective against real acceleration powers; speedsters already avoided being in the line of fire of automatic weapons in the first place. But maybe the weapons had a positive morale effect on the officers.
This active SWAT formation and blockade is what the supers saw as they emerged from the house. Millisec came out first, followed by Bronze Scarab with all four targets floating along behind her, and Flawless Form directly behind them. The SWATs, though stationed at varying distances behind cover, formed a rough quarter-circle around the front door.
“You can stand down!” announced Millisec as he led the procession toward the van. They hadn’t block the vehicle directly, I noticed. “All targets are in custody!”
“This is the Newark PD,” came the response, amplified from multiple external cruiser speakers. I spotted Captain Mallory behind an open driver’s side door speaking into a CB handset. “Drop your weapons and place your hands behind your head.”
“They can’t do that!” Millisec gestured back at the four floating men. “They’ve already been disarmed and secured! You can stand down!”
At this point, both turret guns were tracking the dark blue form of Millisec. The automatic weapons were clearly hot and aimed his way as well, although it didn’t look like the ‘speed buster’ feature was currently active.
“This is your last warning,” the captain continued. “The Newark PD is taking control of this crime scene. Everyone at this address is under arrest. All of you, drop your weapons, now!”
“He’s not serious!” Zephyr scoffed. “Newark’s really trying to arrest a super team in the middle of a mission?”
“Seems that way,” Millisec responded. The other team members hadn’t recovered from their surprise yet.
“They literally can’t do that,” Liberty sounded over the channel. “You’re federal law enforcement. They can’t arrest you for doing your job.”
“Oh? Good then,” Millisec said. And he smeared into a blur.
It took him twelve seconds total to disarm all fifteen of the officers holding firearms and remove the two larger guns from their turrets. I tried to visually track his movement, but it was simply too fast. Millisec would be visible for as much as a quarter second at a time as he slowed down enough to pull a weapon out of a man’s grasp or kick a wrist or stomach. There were indignant shouts, startlingly loud sounds of flesh hitting metal, and the grating noise of uneven wind against various microphone pick-ups as he worked.
“Now freeze! Stop this at once! You’re under –” was as much as the captain managed to get out before he flinched and fumbled with the handset. His flinch was due to Millisec dropping a large pile of guns, stacked neatly like firewood, at his feet. The super stood just behind them and let the silence stretch for a few seconds as the guns clanged and clattered against each other, settling onto the ground.
Although he spoke at a low volume not intended to carry beyond their two persons, Millisec’s tone was not casual; every word was crisp and full of venom. “Captain, as I said, the targets are in custody,” he spat. “We’re removing them to NYST headquarters. Don’t interfere further.”
“Get in the van and get out of there, quickly,” Zephyr ordered. Bronze Scarab and the rest of the team complied, quickly loading everyone into the seats of the rear area. 9.9 slid in the front driver’s seat.
Captain Mallory let go the handset altogether as he stared into the masked eyes of the super. “What do you think you’re doing?” Mallory was the taller of the two men, and also the more self-assured. But the policeman’s gaze held a flicker of fear that was entirely absent from Millisec’s.
The super raised one finger and inhaled, considering his reply. He held that pose as he watched the van doors shut and the team roll away from the scene.
“We’re leaving,” he finally said. The rush of air pushed the cruiser door back from the captain as the super departed.
I dropped my View and focused my attention on the video feeds from NYST, which showed three supers carefully securing four Kowalczyks in the back of the van. The body behind the driver’s cabin had two built-in benches along each side with reinforced metal rungs and bars for latching restraints. Buzz’s eyes started to peek open as the long cuffs holding his arms behind his back were fastened to the wall. Mikey was clearly terrified as he received the same treatment. Bronze Scarab set Big Joe, his hands and feet still bound together, sideways on a cushioned bench and produced a length of steel cable to run between his shackles and the wall.
“You’re done resisting?” this was from Flawless Form, who had removed the cuffs from Old Joe and was holding his dislocated arms behind the enforcer’s back. The older man winced in pain as the van listed to the left, pulling his arms against the super’s grip.
“Yeah,” he coughed out. “I yield, man. You got me.”
Flawless Form’s mouth tightened into a line for a moment before he said, “I’m going to pop your shoulders back in. This will hurt.” The super gripped the man’s left arm with both hands, bracing his knee against the hip.
Old Joe sought and held Mikey’s eyes as the younger man watched the procedure with interest. A long, slow pull outward was accompanied by a small pop, and then an immediate reversal to push inward resulted in a second louder click. Old Joe’s loud yell and a stream of curses followed.
The super didn’t draw out the process but immediately shifted and repeated it for the other arm, eliciting a louder bout of salty language.
“Hey Buzz,” Big Joe groaned from his awkward position. “We need to settle the thing.”
“They got mics in here,” Mikey warned. His voice was lower than I had expected, if toneless and nervous.
“Eh,” said Buzz. “Prob’ly the last chance we’ll have together. Once we get to HQ they’ll separate us.”
“Let them talk,” Zephyr said over the team channel. “Unless they start coordinating an escape action or something. More evidence.”
“You know they’ll go easier on a kid,” Big Joe said. He looked straight at Buzz, pointedly not at Mikey.
Buzz scoffed noisily. “Are you kidding? Somebody’s gonna be made an example. And, no offense buddy,” he looked down his nose at their junior member, “you’re a cub scout. They’ll have you confessing to everything from pickpocketing to high treason in ’bout a minute.” Mikey scowled at that.
Old Joe was thinking hard, glancing between Mikey and Buzz. “I’m the obvious choice,” he pointed out.
Buzz shook his head, but it was Mikey who spoke. “No, Dad!” his voice was softer, pleading, if still deep. “You can’t! You… promised… Mom…” he dwindled to silence as he spoke.
“Promised your mother I’d keep you safe,” the older man chuckled cruelly. “Never much chance of keeping that one.” Silence followed that comment.
“Does anyone have any idea what they’re talking about?” The rumbling voice was GigaGiant’s; it came over the same feed as Liberty’s.
“No clue,” 9.9 answered. She was out of earshot up in the driver’s seat.
“Delphic?” asked Zephyr. I was starting to really dislike that question.
“Nothing beyond the obvious,” I typed and sent. “They are arguing about appointing one of them to do something. They are being intentionally vague as to what. I speculate an opportunity for one of them to escape or to somehow become exempt from prosecution.”
“It could be,” Liberty mused, “that they think one of them can turn state’s evidence on the others and walk.”
Zephyr laughed. “Then they’re in for a rude awakening. We have all four of them dead to rights!”
“I don’t know,” Liberty rebutted. “They’re the only eye witnesses to what happened to Refraxx. They-” she cut off when it was clear that Buzz had started speaking again.
“…be me, guys,” he insisted. “I promised you I’d take the fall if it came down to it.” He nodded to Mikey and Old Joe. “You two need each other, and you,” swiveling his nod to take in the supine Big Joe, “need to watch out for both of them.”
“Boss,” Big Joe said, and he saw Buzz scowl in response to the title. “Boss.” He said it more loudly, defiantly. “They’ll kill you. You can’t.”
Buzz opened his mouth in a wide, feral grin; for a moment it seemed like there was a fire glowing inside his mouth. “Don’t worry. I have a plan.”
“Now I’m worried,” Zephyr announced.
“Should we be worried?” Framerate asked Buzz, echoing Zephyr’s thought. The super sat between Mikey and Old Joe, across from Buzz, who closed his mouth with a clack of teeth before opening his mouth to answer.
Buzzed canceled his reply when they felt the van begin to rapidly slow down. As it came to a stop, one of the two rear doors opened and Millisec stepped up to sit on the other side of Mikey from Framerate (across from Big Joe).
Bronze Scarab addressed the US super first. “Not that I’m complaining, Millisec, but don’t you usually head off as soon as the field work is done?”
The speedster nodded. “Yeah, but I wanted to ask about this guy’s powers.” He gestured to the hogtied enforcer. “Seriously, man, what was that?”
“What was what?” Bronze Scarab asked.
Big Joe ignored her and addressed Millisec, shaking his head. “Don’t know. Not sure it’s real.”
“What’s not real?” Bronze Scarab asked again.
“Obviously it’s real, man. We were both there.” Millisec scrutinized the enforcer. “Why would you think it’s not real?”
“What’s not real?” Bronze Scarab pressed.
“Joe’s dream land,” answered Buzz. He seemed amused by the interruption. “When Joe speeds around, he sometimes sees an imaginary world rather than the real one.”
“He told you about this?” Millisec asked.
“Yeah,” Old Joe answered. “We’ve all heard the stories. But it ain’t real.”
“How do you know?” Bronze Scarab was captivated by the idea.
Tension mounted in silence; Old Joe and Buzz waited for their compatriot to speak.
“Nothin’ comes back with me,” Big Joe relented. “Tried pickin’ up a rock… always lots of rocks around. Doesn’t stick.” He struggled against his bonds a bit. “Cameras don’t see nothin’. Nobody can come with.”
“Until now,” Millisec reminded him.
Joe nodded to concede the point. “So either my dreams are contagious, or it’s a real place.”
“Probably someplace on Earth,” Millisec said. “Gravity felt normal, and so did the air. A bit hot.” He stared at something unseen. “Looked like a desert.”
“What happens if you leave something there?” Bronze Scarab continued to express her interest. “Can you come back and pick it up later?”
“It doesn’t stay; it comes back with me,” Joe said. “And I’ve made footprints in the dirt but never seen any when I return. I think I’m somewhere different each time.”
Millisec hummed thoughtfully. “So, when I held onto you while -”
“As interesting as all this is,” Buzz interrupted. “I think we better clamp it until we have a chance to lawyer up. Okay boys?” He ignored the frustrated look from Millisec and accepted his underlings’ nods.
Silence reigned in the van for several minutes. I expected Millisec to try to push for more, or to leave, but he instead unslung his backpack and started inspecting various pieces of equipment. Most of his pieces were purely mechanical – rope, some liquids, a telescoping baton. The few items with electronic components were shielded in individual metal casings, and I saw the pack itself was lined with metal.
I felt a pang of jealousy when I thought about what it was like to be the fastest man on Earth. No one questioned Millisec’s heroism. His powers, supported by both training and resources, provided him with viable solutions to thousands of dangerous scenarios. He probably saved, or assisted in saving, more people on a weekly basis than most local super teams helped in a month.
But then I remembered back to my video call with Zee and Lakki, and how awful it felt to have to make excuses for the things I didn’t do. The problem would be a million times worse for Millisec; with few limitations on where he could be or what he could accomplish, any minute spent to have a personal life or even rest would cost how many lives?
From what little I had seen, the man dealt with the problem by compartmentalizing. He thought about one problem at a time, and he didn’t let himself dwell on what wasn’t directly in front of him. That undoubtedly made him less skilled when a broader perspective was needed, but it might be what he had to do to stay sane.
As I let my emotions flow from jealousy into concern and then pity, I noticed a request on the NYST dashboard for me to switch to a private channel. I complied. “This is Delphic.”
“Hey, Zephyr here.” His voice was intentionally soft, enough so that I strained to make out his words. “So, Whisper just showed up at HQ.”
“Whisper is there with you?” I wasn’t expecting her to be anywhere near NYST operations right now; there was no indication in her file that she could cover large distances quickly.
“She is and she’s I don’t know what exactly but she wasn’toldandnowshe…” He cut off his own rapid speech, inhaling deeply. “Something I said set her off. She vanished. Can you check on her? Trace her com?”
“I will try,” I sent, and disconnected.
When Whisper wasn’t solid, I had great difficulty in tracing her with my View. So I tried the easy way first – I called her.
She picked up after almost a minute, audio only. “Yes.” The word evaporated over the line, weightless, flavorless.
I started typing about Zephyr asking me to look on her, but I stopped myself and deleted it. Instead I sent, “Hi Lakki. You have been told about Zee.”
A shuddering sigh. “Yes, Delphic. He’s gone.”
“I am very sorry.” My synthesized voice couldn’t do justice to the sentiment.
“I know. I know you did everything you could for him.” I heard a slight rustle, and then a video feed came on. I didn’t recognize the background; she wasn’t at NYST headquarters.
Whisper’s – Lakshmi’s – mask was pulled up above her eyes, puffy and still tear-filled. She stared blindly down at me – likely into a mobile device – and tried a subdued smile through her tears. “Zee would have wanted me to show my gratitude. That was always important to him. So… thank you.”
I couldn’t think of anything fitting. “You’re welcome.”
Neither of us spoke for a minute, and she kept the camera pointing at her the whole time. I watched her collect herself: straightening her posture, squaring her shoulders, hardening her eyes. When she finally put her mask back into place, the motion was quick and definite.
“So,” she said, her eyes somehow boring into mine even through the video stream, “are you ready to talk about why Lady Liberty had Refraxx killed, and what we can do about it?”