Winter 2013: Super Incident at Huntingdon Border Crossing.
Jensen’s cell phone buzzed with a text message.
Engage super Huntingdon crossing
Jensen thought, Huh. Well, that’s new. Castiel’s never scrambled me for an engagement. The Huntingdon Border Crossing between the United States and Canada was about forty minutes away with Osric driving. The superhero looked at his roommate, slouched next to him on the battered couch in their small living room. About ten feet of sarcasm stuffed into a 5’8” compactly muscled frame, Osric Chau was his friend and FBI liaison. Chau watched the large LCD monitor on the far wall with focused attention.
Jensen said, “Hey. Engagement orders on a super at Huntingdon Border Crossing.”
“What?” Osric answered absently. Chau didn’t look away from the monitor where he was rewatching one of the security videos that showed a blurry image of the supervillain and mind-controlling terrorist Papaver. Chad, self-titled hacker genius, had just sent them the videos last night.
“You don’t know what’s going on? Thought you kept on top of things,” Jensen smirked. Lordy, it’s fun to pick on Osric. The guy always had a comeback.
“I’m too busy wiping your ass to cover two cities with their own teams of supers.“ Heh. Osric paused the video and turned his intense stare on Jensen. His Adam’s apple bobbed deeply as he spoke. “It’s not one of ours. Gotta be Vancouver or Seattle. And since when do you take orders from anyone?”
“It’s Command,” Jensen lied smoothly. It was true in a way. Castiel had created the Super Network and ran covert operations for the secretive superhero leader, Command.
“Fuck it.” Osric abruptly shambled into motion. “We’ll call in on the way.”
Jensen took their laptop and paused by the front door to activate the security system, then walked back to the attached one car garage. Osric had loaded cases with his weapons and Jensen’s modified bicycle with motorcycle tires, chainsaw, and superhero costume in the back of their white van. Super-enhanced surveillance and computer equipment lined the inside of the vehicle on the left side and a bench ran on the right side. While Osric drove, Jensen clicked through the profiles of children and adults up to age twenty-five on the active tracking list of potential supers in British Columbia. No one looked suspicious.
“Nothing on the profiles,” he called out to Osric. He stripped off his normal clothes and shrugged on his black superhero bodysuit of thin black lycra with a simple pattern of orange and navy V-stripes. For the moment, he left off the uncomfortable gas mask.
From the front, he felt the build-up of frustration and concern in Osric’s thought streams peak and then tip over. Osric gave up on the phone and yelled back, “Can’t get a hold of anyone. Since when did you run with the big boys?”
“What’s that?” Jensen unpacked Osric’s M110 sniper rifle. Not likely to need it but don’t know what we’re walking into.
“Command. How long’s he been in your contacts list?” Osric asked again. Never told Osric about my connection with Castiel. Old habits die hard and Osric was FBI first and a friend second.
“He isn’t. Never called me before,” Jensen answered without much thought. Hate messing with Osric’s damned sniper rifle. Just give me a chainsaw or bang stick any day.
“What the fuck?! How do you know it’s him, dumbass?” That’s Osric for you, tactless.
“I just do,” Jensen said, dismissively. Don’t want to think about it. But why? Osric’s reaction made sense. Why do I think that the text is from Castiel, that we’re racing to intercept and kill a dangerous mind-controlling super from Canada headed into the United States? He felt his mind turn away from that line of thought and he quickly contained the thought stream before it could disappear. A quick scroll back through the messages on his phone; the text from Castiel was gone. A flicker in his mind warned him and he hid the thought stream where he could find it again.
“You better find out. How’s he even know this is going down? Prolly a new super kid gone crazy in Vancouver. Grace of God is too fucking busy at St. Paul’s Hospital to handle super business and Chad needs to sleep.” Osric tossed his cell phone into the back.
Jensen snatched the phone out of the air. “Hey-“
“You try em, will ya?” Osric demanded curtly. “I’m driving.”
“Mister Safety Conscious,” Jensen teased him. “Whose plan was it for me to jump out of an airplane without a parachute to land faster?”
“Yeah, well unlike you, I can’t walk away from a car accident,” Osric snapped. The chip on his shoulder for being born normal flared up sometimes. Jensen withdrew his awareness from the jealousy in Osric’s thought streams.
“Yeah, I’ll call ‘em.” Jensen called and then texted Lou, Jeff, and Todd. It was 1:00 p.m. Osric would generally only call in emergencies. One of them should have picked up or returned the calls by now, especially Lou. The FBI super operations officer based in Bellingham monitored his phone closely. Jensen dialed British Columbia’s Super Network emergency hotline. The line patched through to a recorded message. “No one picked up on BC’s emergency line.”
“Huh,” Osric grunted.
Jensen entered a search sequence into Chad’s custom interface program on the van’s laptop. Real-time video of the outside of the Super Network Center in Vancouver streamed onto the monitors. Nothing looked unusual. Expected to see a couple inside views, at least in the front office. Chad, or Dr. Badass, was one of BC’s more colorful superheroes and he was also the one who had enhanced most of the van’s surveillance equipment. There’s a thought. He called Chad.
“SuperCon! My man! How ya doing?“ Chad’s voice drifted breezily through the van.
“Good. Osric’s trying to get a hold of Todd, he’s not picking up.”
“Todd’s good! There’s nothing wrong here. Just turn around and go back home.” How the hell does Chad … oh. They’re surrounded by surveillance equipment super-powered by Dr. Badass.
“I heard you got trouble,” Jensen comments.
“No…. I mean yeah, how’d you know?” Chad suddenly sounded distant and mildly curious, like a trigger had executed a mind-control program. I know that feeling.
Jensen hung up, hit the power switches and yanked out the battery units on the laptop and the custom surveillance gear. The screens died. For a moment, it looked like it had worked, and then the laptop powered back on and the webcam light turned red. Chad was still watching.
“Lucky guess. You’re sounding a little confused there.” Jensen kept his face relaxed and let a smug, teasing note creep into his voice.
“No, no,” Chad said breezily. “It’s all under control.”
“Yeah right, when are you ever under control?” We’re in trouble if Chad’s compromised by a super with mind control. Thirty minutes to the border crossing.
Osric deliberately glanced at the side of the road, then turned his head to the front. Jensen tipped the laptop cover down to limit the webcam’s field of view.
“Hey, listen. I owe you for sending us those videos last night. How bout I spot you dinner tonight?” Jensen took his chainsaw case and strapped it into the extra-large basket on his bicycle. The laptop and optics case went into the saddlebags. “Dean’s been asking about you. He wanted to thank you for the rec-”
Chad interrupted in a calm voice. “That’s right. You’ve been looking for a controller for Dean, haven’t you?” It took a moment to recall what Chad would know about Dean. Chad would know Dean as a normal mentally disabled by a past minionization.
“Looking for a controller.” Like hell. “Yeah, that’ll make him happy.” He took the .762 semi-auto for Osric.
“Yeah, poor guy’d be happier if a controller took care of him, made him feel all happy and safe,” Chad said breezily. Happy and safe, that sounded like an empath or a minion master. Maybe Chad was trying to get them a message underneath the mind control.
Osric slid their van in front of a beat up station wagon stopped at the traffic light at the intersection of 539 and 544. He hopped out to talk to the driver, leaving the front door ajar.
“Yeah, those are the words, man. You know what?” Jensen rambled on inanely in an attempt to distract Chad.
“What are you doing? Why are you stopping?” Chad asked flatly.
“Osric’s taking a pit stop, you know how he is, no bladder capacity, you know him-” On the cell phone screen, Jensen saw Lou calling in. “Hey, I gotta take this. Call you right back.” Jensen closed the laptop cover.
Jensen pulled Containment’s gas mask on before he popped open the back door and lifted his bicycle out. The lone woman driver looked relieved at seeing his alter ego, Containment, the town’s superhero for almost the last two decades. Containment slammed the back door to the van.
“Lou,” Containment said. His voice was tinny and high-pitched from the gas mask.
“Vancouver’s in trouble. Jeff called me. He’s locking us down,” Lou said rapidly.
“Who are they scrambling?”
“Can’t tell you that,” Lou said tersely.
“You got ID?”
“Nobody’s got ID.” The sound of Lou’s voice was off. He was lying.
“Van with Dr. Badass’ compromised gear at 539 and 544,” Containment said and then hung up.
The country highway was oddly deserted for the afternoon. Their van was parked in the middle of the intersection in front of a beat-up, beige and white Plymouth station wagon from the 1970s. No one else was stopped at the light or in one of the two gas stations on opposite corners.
Turning to the driver, Containment squeaked, ““Ma’am, may we borrow your vehicle?”
“Oh, yes, yes of course Containment,” the woman simpered. Behind her, Osric rolled his eyes and made a gagging motion.
Containment handed Osric the .762 case and cell phone. “Head back and get ID from Lou. He knows more than he’s saying.”
“Gotcha,” Osric said with a puff of white breath in the cold air.
Containment turned to the woman, “Stick with Osric, ma’am, and he’ll leave the car with you when he’s done.” The woman nodded and got into the passenger seat of her car.
Thirty minutes. There were two routes from here to the border crossing. Chad won’t know which route I’ll take. As Osric got back into their van to pull it over to the side of the road, Containment swung his leg over his bike and pedaled east on 544.
I can make it to the border in twenty minutes if I speed a little over twice the speed limit. It was hard on the tires or he would do it more often. He dialed Chad. The wind whipped past him in a roar. His body poised on the edge of wiping out as he zoomed past the scattered cars and trucks moving at only fifty or sixty miles per hour. The call went to voicemail. He tried again. Nothing. He put the phone in his bike basket.
Ten minutes to the border. Containment came up on the intersection leading to Huntingdon Crossing. Osric hadn’t called back yet, not unusual but…. Out of the corner of his eye, he glimpsed a shimmer in the air. Vancouver’s Grace of God and Ontario’s Flowerpower have superpowers with that look. On the road ahead of him, a white gateway flashed briefly into existence. A woman in garishly colorful maroon tights and a flower t-shirt skated out of the doorway. The door slammed shut and disappeared. She spun around and skated backwards to face him as he caught up to her. He felt her thought streams; she was clean. Her wheels smoked on the road as she ripped through the surface at twice the speed limit. That was not going be fun to repair.
He swerved to avoid the smoking trail left by her skates and reached out with one hand. She flung out her arm, clasped his hand, and lifted herself on top of his chainsaw case with her super strength, holding onto the basket.
“This is not comfortable!” she screamed at him over the wind.
Containment wove a little. She was blocking his view of the road. Flowerpower caught on and leaned over, cramming her head into the side of his face. “Any idea who it is?” she yelled.
“No!” Containment shrieked back tinnily through the mask. “Sent Osric for info!”
“Your voice is hilarious!” she screamed back.
“In your dreams!” She paused to gather her breath. “Grace of God and Vancouver are locked down! Dr. Badass is taken! We got the call from Todd before he went under! He’s secured in a panic room!”
“Is Pilgrim coming?” Containment pressed his mask against her face. Scott Pilgrim was a Class I superhero in Ontario resistant to mind control. Might be why Todd would call the Ontario supers before the teams in Alberta or Saskatchewan.
“No! Too squishy! He’s talking to Dr. Badass, keeping him distracted! Whoever it is, he can take minions over the phone! Scott felt it! I ditched mine!” Oh fuck. “I’m outta here after this!” she screamed through the wind.
“He knows I’m coming?” Containment asked.
“Yeah! Power up your gear?” she screamed.
Why am I sure that the super will cross at Huntingdon? His thoughts skipped and he let them fall into a new place. It was more important to get the civvies out of the way. “Move the civilians? Keep them out of the way!”
“Maybe!” Her short hair changed color from white to a complex geometrical spiral in electric blue and black. She jumped overhead. Containment whipped his head around and saw her disappear into a doorway in the sky.
With super speed and strength, he wove easily between the sparse traffic. Less than ten minutes out. Have to start slowing down soon if I want to preserve the tires. Now’s not the time to worry about that. His phone buzzed. It was Lou. He shoved the phone underneath his mask.
“The van’s not here,” Lou said. His voice was curt and loud inside the mask. “Can’t find it.”
“It was north of 539 and 544. Where’s Osric?”
“Osric? I haven’t seen him,” Lou said quickly.
“I sent him back to town. Listen, who is it?”
“Jeff said to lock down.” Lou speaks so quickly that it would sound like a mutter if his words weren’t clear and loud.
“I’m heading to Vancouver. Gonna have a chat with Dr. Badass.” Pointless talking to Lou more, he wasn’t gonna budge. Jensen stuck a finger under his mask and ended the call.
Close to the tiny town on the south side of Huntingdon Border Crossing, he stopped pedaling and coasted, letting friction slow down the bike. The car next to him drove past a lamppost and flashed out of existence through one of Flowerpower’s doors. The town looked and felt deserted; nothing moved. He zig zagged through the barren strip-mall streets empty of moving vehicles and people, then he coasted through the toll booth structures at the border. The usual complement of customs and border officers were gone. A few empty cars and trucks littered the waiting area. The streets in the cozier residential area north of the border looked clear too; no one was on the streets or visible inside of their homes. Flowerpower had gotten the civilians out. He turned back to the border crossing buildings.
The roof over the toll booth structures would make a decent lookout with clear escape routes north and south. Containment carried his bike with one hand, hopped lightly on top of an abandoned truck, then jumped from there to a lower segment of the roof. He walked carefully on the steeply sloped roof that was slick with condensation and over to the observation deck, wheeling his bicycle beside him.
Osric’s voice behind him made him turn around to look. “Eh. Told him you’d come here and not the observation deck.” Several meters away, Osric stood next to a slight, lanky man dressed in a bland, upper middle class suit jacket and tan slacks. He couldn’t feel their thought streams.
“Easier escape route up here, for you at least.” Osric rolled his eyes and raised his .762. The weedy man standing next to Osric smirked.
Containment dropped his bike and sprinted to the controller. Osric fired into his chest. The bullet thumped into his costume, blew a hole in the fabric, and then fell to the rooftop with a clink and a clatter as it rolled. His hands reached out for their faces.
“Heh, told him that wouldn’t-“ Osric’s next words were muffled as Containment clamped a hand over each man’s nose and mouth. Loss of consciousness, nothing like it. The controller stayed still, but Osric kicked wildly, or was it the other way around? He couldn’t tell. Damn mind controller. He tucked the men crossways under his arms. One of them let the rifle drop as his hands came up instinctively to claw at his nose and mouth. Containment knelt and pressed his body carefully down on top of them, so they wouldn’t be seriously injured as they struggled. Hopefully, loss of consciousness would break the mind control.
A smooth, lazy voice drawled, “Well, ain’t this a sight for sore eyes.” Fuck. Containment looked up. It was Gabriel, a super from California with reality alteration powers. He shouldn’t be here. California wouldn’t get called to back up Vancouver. “Too bad I don’t swing your way because this is a mighty interesting situation here.” The short, ginger-bearded superhero in his forties was dressed in a blue suit with a red checkered dress shirt that could be mistaken for a tablecloth. Translucent wings rose high above his human form. “I’m pretty sure he wants you to let him up. I mean, I could be mistaken-”
“You’re mistaken. He definitely wants me on top,” Containment squeaked through his mask.
“No, he’s saying no, he really wants you to get off,” Gabriel drawled arrogantly. “He’s a little bit of a control freak, so if you don’t mind.”
Containment ignored him. Can’t feel their thought streams.
Gabriel talked to the air. “You know that I can’t guarantee your safety if I summon and I definitely can’t if I alter reality around you.” The mind controller must be projecting his thoughts to Gabriel. “My powers do not play well with supers like Containment, which you would know if you’d attended super school like- Listen up, Christopher! You haven’t heard this guy’s reputation! Vancouver was perfectly fine, no complaints of abuse of power, this guy shows up, knocks down Dr. Teddy Bear no problemo by himself, and then a few years later two of Vancouver’s finest die while they back him up against Dr. Teddy Bear and I’m not so sure those were accidents!” Huh. Didn’t know that’s what Gabriel thought of him.
“Yeah? I’m almost hoping you’ll lose consciousness because that would make the whole situation easier to deal with, like the gentle supers we are when you’re not around,” Gabriel snarled. “Yeah, well, screw you too, buddy.” Gabriel’s wings spread and flared gold in the dim winter sunlight. The superhero looked ready to attack.
“Keep it decent!” Containment squeaked in a muffled voice.
“Really, you want to worry about that now?” Gabriel said in an amused voice, but folded his wings. Containment felt the men below him shiver and jerk reflexively, then soften as they began to lose consciousness. “Oh, I can feel it now. Yup. Yup,” Gabriel said carelessly. One of the men was out. The other was still struggling. “Nope, not gonna do it. I really thought that would be it, but unfortunately-” Gabriel made the shape of a gun with his right hand and pointed his index finger at Containment. Fuck.
Gabriel’s phone buzzed briefly. “Huh.” A momentary look of confusion passed over the superhero’s face. He read the text message and then poked slowly at his phone.
Containment feels the man’s struggles slow to a stop. He got up, holding the two unconscious men dangling limply from his hands, their bodies lying partly on the rooftop. Can’t think. Can’t tell which man is Osric, which one is the controller. Gabriel turned the phone around and showed Containment the screen.
(Castiel Command Code:--------------------)
Kill them, now.
Containment jerked the bodies in the air, fast. Their necks snapped. His hands crushed their soft mouths, the bones flexed and snapped, his hand spasmed and he grabbed their brains and his fingers slid through. Slick, raw teeth and soft jelly glided between his fingers, on the palms of his hands. Gabriel’s thought streams leapt into his mind. He followed the burst of thought streams and contained Chad and Todd’s thoughts streams, civilians, the first piece of Pilgrim’s mind. That one was the worst. His head throbbed. It was too much to contain. His legs buckled and he curled up under the onslaught of thoughts.
Gabriel raised his hand, forming the shape of a gun again. Containment couldn’t spare the attention.
A bolt of energy burned a hole through his chest. The observation deck blew up underneath him. He fell.
Containment’s chest healed before he hit the ground along with the debris of the observation deck.
Pilgrim’s lashing thoughts tangled with the thought streams of the others. It was like untangling a moving, writhing ball of snakes while that take a bite at me when I touch them. Pilgrim’s thoughts recoiled and clove back together. Dr. Badass was next. The man was a genius. Too many thoughts at once, they move too fast to reconnect. It was all he could do to release the control held by the dead minion master. A flash of intense heat and a roar; Gabriel was throwing fireballs. Todd and the civilians next. They were farther away and harder to hold. Nice and steady, take em one by one. Flashes of light burst across his face. Gabriel was last. His eyes felt heavy.
Lou’s voice woke him. “…Like a service animal. I’m not saying I approve….” Containment’s mask had melted. Jensen brushed bits of rehardened plastic off his face, knocking rubble aside. His head throbbed. Thought streams of other people fall out of his mind. They are only echoes, just wait them out, he tells himself. These people, they are talking to Dean.
“Hey, up you go,” Gabriel’s voice said kindly, lifting his body away from the melted wreckage. A shimmer of light played over his eyelids and soothed his headache. Grace of God was here. “Aren’t you a big boy. What’d you say his name was?”
“Dean,” Lou answered.
“Hey Dean, let’s get some clothes on you, because this is a little indecent,” Gabriel snickered.
Dean blinked. The halos around the people stabbed his eyes. Lou wrapped a silvery blanket around his torso. The sensation felt strange. Lou’s strong hand brushed against his bare skin. The hand reminded him. He flinched from the feeling of Osric’s slick, raw teeth and brain sliding in the palms of his hands. The thought drifted by vaguely, which one of his hands held Osric and killed him? He didn’t want to know and he wanted to know. It niggled at him.
“It’s okay, Dean. We gotcha.” Lou said directly, “Don’t touch him, he’s frightened by touch.” Gabriel hurriedly let go and Lou lowered Dean onto a stretcher. Dean closed his eyes for a moment.
“Where’d the hell Containment bugger off to? Not that I’m complaining,” Gabriel added.
“If Dean’s here, Containment’s left,” Lou said.
Grace of God’s sweet voice sounded
like clanging bells. The ringing hurt. “My mom told me he uses Dean as an
anchor for power backlash.” She crossed her arms, her face obscured by the
light that shone forth from her body. “He hides in his secret base until he
recovers. We’ll keep an eye on Bellingham until he’s back. The civilians don’t
deserve to suffer because Containment can’t regulate his power use,” she said sanctimoniously.
“You should get on this, because this is … this is not right. This is abuse of superpowers,” Gabriel said with disgust. “Not to mention killing his FBI contact along with that psycho. We’re lucky that guy was a mind controller. For a moment there, I was worried. Didn’t you say they were roommates?”
“Yeah,” Lou answered shortly.
“Well did-“ Gabriel started to say.
Grace of God interrupted defensively, “This is your responsibility. He’s on the U.S. side of the border, you need to handle this.” Dean shivered. Her bright, shimmering light and her bell-like voice hurt.
“Handle him! I’m in California! I wouldn’t even be here except Dr. Badass hacked us and that maniac mind-controlled everyone!” Gabriel snapped. “This is the fault of you Vancouver supers for letting-“
Dean blinked. Tears clear the dust from his eyes. In the distance, he sees a man. Dark mussy hair, his face after twenty years, he recognized it from – that place he can’t remember. What is he doing here?
“… did to the buildings!” Grace of God’s voice rang.
Gabriel huffed, “Well, excuse me! I was clearly under mind control at the time!” The superhero scrunched his face dramatically and held his hands up, framing the buildings at the border crossing. The cracked, melted debris floated into the air and reformed. For a moment, it looked perfect until leftover metal and debris fell from the sides of the building and from the roof. “Well it’s basically all there!” Gabriel said hastily.
Hope that wasn’t my bike, probably was, Jensen sighed to himself. His eyelids fell inexorably shut.
Watching through his binoculars, Misha saw Gabriel restore the buildings and crushed vehicles at the border crossing. The situation looked stable. He ducked back behind the side of a dingy store on the south side of the border.
Misha glanced at Ramona, the superhero Flowerpower, and gave her a nod. “Strange how that civilian appeared. I don’t mean to criticize you. He came out of nowhere.” Ramona gave him a look. She knows something and isn’t telling me. “What’s going on? We should check on Dr. Badass and Todd, but if-“
“I gotta put them back,” she interrupted guardedly.
“Right. Of course, the civilians come first,” Misha responded.
Ramona held out a hand. Her grip was cool and firm. They took one step through a doorway into subspace. White highways flowed through black emptiness. Her superpower is incredibly beautiful. He lifted himself on her hand as she skated a short stretch down one highway. A door appeared and they came to an abrupt stop in a cheap motel room where superhero Scott Pilgrim lay sprawled in a gangly heap over a laptop on the bed. A splotch of drool stained the hideous floral striped duvet near his mouth.
“I’ll take care of him,” Misha said. Ramona nodded and disappeared back through the subspace doorway. Misha was careful to tone down his strength as he checked Pilgrim’s pulse, then his breath. Herding Christopher to Huntingdon Border Crossing was more physical action than he’d seen in some time and he didn’t want to crush Pilgrim’s wrist while taking his pulse. The superhero looked fine. Maybe it’s power backlash from the remote takeover attempt by Christopher, Misha speculated. He gently rolled Pilgrim on his side with his head facing slightly down in case of vomit. If the superhero stayed under or worsened, he would risk a text to Grace of God.
While he waited for Ramona to return, he sat on the bed beside Pilgrim and thought about the situation. Gabriel’s presence at the scene, Containment killing both his FBI contact and the controller, and that civilian appearing out of nowhere…. Getting a straight answer out of Ramona is an exercise in frustration that he’s not looking forward to.
The Vancouver super network at the time Christopher was tracked should have seen the signs and intervened. It may be a cultural problem. British Columbia’s been a weak link in the Super Network for years. They had improved recently but were under staffed. Dr. Badass and Grace of God were the only Class I supers in Vancouver proper and now they only have one. Dr. Badass’ powers were extremely useful for surveillance, but there was limited time in a day and Dr. Badass needed to sleep. Misha felt his mind skip.
Command was meeting with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon about unrest in Somalia and the situations in Iraq and Syria, so his schedule would be up-in-the air until afterwards. His mind skipped again and he caught himself. The situation warrants further investigation. A good decision is impossible to make without knowing more about what’s going on. Pilgrim’s pulse and breathing were steady and even.
Flowerpower skated back through a subspace doorway. Her hair was colored a deep maroon-black that matched her maroon tights. “How is he?”
Misha answered, “He’s out but looks fine. Possibly power backlash. How are the civilians?”
“Good.” She leaned over Pilgrim and pulled a red vial from her large purse. Cupping Pilgrim’s head of mousy brown hair, she opened his mouth and poured the liquid inside.
Pilgrim suddenly jerked upright, sitting cross-legged on the bed. “Minus one level! I can’t believe it!” he exclaimed. Misha eyed him warily. Pilgrim’s video game superpowers are bizarre to say the least.
The vial disintegrated in her hand. Ramona looked at Scott guardedly.
“Thanks, Rammy.” Pilgrim smiled up at her. “Wait, where are we?”
“A motel in Burnaby,” Ramona answered. “Remember Todd calling us?”
“Right.” Pilgrim grimaced and brought his finger in the air, scrolling through screens that were invisible to Misha and Ramona. “Since when are we superheroes? That’s-”
“We’re in an alternate universe,” Ramona answered.
“Another one? But superheroes suck,” Pilgrim griped.
“Third time’s the charm,” Ramona said evenly.
“Love your hair,” Pilgrim said with a cheesy grin.
“Thought you didn’t like it when I changed my hair color,” Ramona said.
“Well I got used to it, I mean, it happens a lot. I mean, I like it now,” Pilgrim babbled.
“Christopher is dead. The immediate danger is over,” Misha interrupted the fluff before it got out of hand. The controlled civilians need to be intercepted and treated and I need to contact Command about Gabriel as soon as possible.
“Oh. So-” Pilgrim started to say.
“If you would check on Dr. Badass and Todd,” Misha suggested.
“Yeah. We’re on it, right Rammy?” Pilgrim grinned goofily. His brow furrowed in concentration as he stood up and rooted around in his jean pockets, muttering, “Hang on … just a sec….”
Without waiting for Pilgrim to finish, Ramona said, “I’ll check on Todd.” She took a step and disappeared into a subspace doorway.
After a few minutes, Pilgrim whooped, “Heh, I still have it!” A giant pixelated gold key appeared out of midair in front of the superhero and hung there in a disturbingly blatant violation of the physical laws of the universe. Pilgrim opened his right hand and the gold key flashed and levitated into his hand, where it shrunk to the size of a cell phone. “Chad gave me a key to his place for a LAN party after the last all Canada block party. Lucky I haven’t cleaned my inventory for a couple years.” …That key would have been immensely useful earlier, Misha thought.
“Back in a jiffy,” Pilgrim said jauntily. The videogame superhero touched the door of the motel room with the key. The key dissolved; the door chimed and swung open. A blast of heat and noise rolled out of Dr. Badass’ work-live condo in a high-rise in downtown Vancouver’s waterfront. The floor to ceiling windows overlooking Coal Harbor were mostly obscured by tall racks of buzzing computer equipment. Pilgrim stepped through and seemed to fade and shrink.
The view through the open doorway scrolled to follow Pilgrim’s progress through the condo. The 2-D side-scrolling doorway interacted bizarrely with the 3-D space and Pilgrim had to pass through several doors, battle giant spiders and increasingly numerous and gigantic dust bunnies, and navigate numerous contrived puzzles before reaching the other end of the living room. Misha did his best to guide Pilgrim through the dungeon instance. I changed my mind about the key, Misha thought.
Through the doorway, a white speech bubble appeared next to Pilgrim’s head and read, “Found him!” A slack-faced Dr. Badass sat at a desk with two monitors. The other superhero wore a rumpled white dress shirt with bulging shoulders. He looked slack-faced and disoriented and did not respond to Pilgrim’s presence.
The text in the speech bubble read, “He looks out of it!”
“Pilgrim, the range on Dr. Badass’ powers is anywhere he can network, but he needs an access point within a few feet,” Misha said. “He wears networked devices on his person and it appears as if he has shoulder mounted devices. Remove all networked devices and return with Dr. Badass.”
A rectangular speech bubble displayed, “Accept quest Yes/No.”
The text in Pilgrim’s speech bubble read, “Yes.” Without any searching on Pilgrim’s part, a watch, a cellphone, two shoulder-mounted network devices, and pieces of networked smart fabric enlarged into the center of the doorway, a chime sounded, and then the item disappeared. Finally, Dr. Badass himself disappeared into nothingness. Misha felt a shiver of dread at viewing the extent of Pilgrim’s unnatural superpower.
Pilgrim ran back through the 2-D screens to the entry point. The bodies of the giant spiders and dust bunnies had disappeared. A chime sounded and Pilgrim stepped out of the doorway and back into life.
Dr. Badass appeared in midair and started to fall. Misha jumped off the bed with super speed and caught the other superhero below the shoulders. The man shuddered erratically, his receding blonde hair waved as his head bumped against Misha’s chest.
Misha held him carefully. The muscle spasms stopped, but then the superhero went slack in his arms. This is not a normal response to release of mind control or minionization. It reminded him of-
A loud sneeze drew Misha’s attention. Pilgrim sniffled, “Is he going to be okay? I’ve got a key to Ontario’s Super Network Center. There’s a safe room there.” The videogame superhero looked filthy. Pilgrim was covered in dust and bled from cuts on his face and his bare arms. Dark, flat patches of dried blood marred his jeans and light blue shirt. He suddenly jammed both of his hands deep into his pockets to search his inventory.
Before Misha further considered the risk of sending Dr. Badass to Ontario via Pilgrim’s disturbing video game transportation system, Ramona returned with an echoing clatter of her skates on the thinly carpeted wood floor. She gave them both an indescribable look. “Grace of God is back at St. Paul’s, they have a safe room set up.” She took Dr. Badass with one arm, grabbed Pilgrim’s hand and skated back through a doorway into subspace.
Misha sat down on the edge of the motel room bed, braced his arms on his legs and closed his eyes. It had been a long week. I’m glad that the immediate danger is over. Cleanup of this situation could be lengthy….
In a dream, he walks down a long corridor. The smooth concrete walls and floor are painted blood orange and dimly lit by colored cylindrical lights hanging from the ceiling. Each light flares as he passes underneath. At the end of the corridor he abruptly enters a large, spiral labyrinth made of hedges. The first barrier in his mind falls. This is a construct to detect mind control created by the superheroes Witness, Hero the White, Alberto Savage, Grilley, Third Crystal Sphere, and Mobile. He has seven more constructs to pass before he reaches his appointment with Command.
The final gateway opens onto a garden on a hillside. At the top of the hill, he closes his eyes.
Misha opens the door to an office. A careworn man with curly brownish blonde hair, a large nose and deep lines in his face sits behind a plain desk. A bicycle leans against the back wall. Command’s face looks new and unrecognizable to him, as it does each time they meet. The identity cloak is maintained by Witness during these meetings, to prevent Misha from recognizing Command, or Kevin Parks, outside of these dreams. It no longer seems strange to him that the leader of the Super Network is not a superhero himself, simply a man who reluctantly stepped up to take on this burden. Why? He doesn’t know and he remains slightly suspicious of Command’s motives.
“Come in, sit,” Kevin says.
Misha takes a seat on one of the grey mesh office chairs in front of the desk and gives his report. The specifics of the rest of the conversation elude him.
Misha opened his eyes.
The bed jumped as Pilgrim flopped down next to him. “That was harder than I thought. Did you see the size of that last dust bunny?!” Pilgrim babbled cheerfully. Pilgrim’s wounds were healed and he appeared dirty but energetic. Flowerpower leaned against the wall of the motel room with her arms crossed, staring at them.
“It was ridiculously over-sized,” Misha said reassuringly. “I’m impressed by how quickly you solved the puzzles.”
“Oh, those. I do those all the time. Once you get the hang of it, it’s pretty straightforward,” Pilgrim commented casually. “So how are ------------------?”
Misha’s mind blanked out. “I don’t know what you mean,” he said.
“Um, you know --------------------------?” Pilgrim asked, with a puzzled tone of voice.
A strong aversion to speech overcame him. “Let’s not talk right now.”
Scott shrugged. Ramona gave the doofus a glare and he closed his mouth.
“Misha, Todd and the others, they’re fine,” she said to Misha. He was under mind control.
Misha blinked and looked at her, slowly focusing his eyes on her face. “Good, that’s great to hear. I don’t fully understand what happened at the border crossing. If I could get into Dr. Badass’ condo to look at his surveillance records, that would be helpful.”
“Sure,” Ramona said and took his hand. Misha’s face was blank and cold; slate blue eyes stared out from his face that wasn’t his own. The square, muscular body was threateningly close to her. He held her in his firm grip. If she triggered the wrong mind-control program, he would tear her apart. A rush of terror and confusion overwhelmed her senses and she fell into the ____. A doorway to subspace opened.
Ramona imagined a highway of light connecting their motel room and Chad’s condo before she stepped them into the disorienting unreality of subspace. Her skates spun over the path that existed in her thoughts. She pulled hard left and up, balancing Misha’s weight on her right side. Misha can take the abrupt stop with his super durability. A quick jerk sideways on her wheels, ripping the carpet in Chad’s overheated condo and they were inside.
“Thanks. It will be difficult for me to leave undetected. Would you mind coming back for me in an hour, or when you have time?” Misha asked flatly.
“Sure, text me?” Ramona asked.
“Yes, thank you.” Without further interaction, he walked to Chad’s computer. I can’t wait to get away. In her mind, the doorway was only partly closed and she called it open.
Back in the motel room, Ramona sat down next to Scott on the bed. The thin carpet over wood felt nice under her skates. Misha was under extensive mind control if he couldn’t remember his wife and kids. Her retconned memories of this alternate universe filled in as she mulled over them. “I promised to take him back when he’s done.”
“Misha? Fine. What’s bothering you, Rammy?” Scott said with his sweet, goofy smile.
“Misha and Containment have a tragic, angsty superhero backstory. I don’t want us to get caught up in the tragic end.” And the mind control that he’s under creeps me out.
“Wait, how do you know this?”
“I met Containment before. He broke me free of mind-control when I was in middle school, then we fought together when we were Gideon’s minions. When Containment left Gideon, I left too.”
“What?! You never told me about this!” Scott yelled, like a brat.
“I’m telling you now. It’s a retcon,” she said, keeping her voice even.
“Eww, gross! I hate those. How long ago was it?” Scott asked.
“Nine, ten years ago.”
“How did he break free?” He asked with a puzzled note in his voice.
“I dunno. He wasn’t ever completely under Gideon’s control. When he took off his costume, Gideon couldn’t recognize him as his minion.”
“His identity cloak is insane! I don’t have that do I?” Scott burst out.
Ramona shook her head. “You didn’t need to in Canada.”
“I don’t get how that works.”
“Canadian supers don’t have identity cloaks because supervillains here didn’t kidnap superkids without a cloak. Now identity cloaks are a thing. Almost every super down there has it.”
“I still don’t get how that works.“
“I’m gonna shower.”
“No fair!” Scott leaned against the bathroom door outside and babbled through it while Ramona looked at her face in the mirror. “I can’t wait to get back home. I have to work tomorrow! Those vegetables don’t chop themselves, you know!” Ramona took out a hand mirror from her purse and turned around to check the back of her head where Gideon had once implanted a mind control chip. She ran her fingers over the back of her neck and above, into the hairline and around her skull, moving the hand mirror to check visually. It looked and felt clean.
She gently popped open the bathroom door. Scott poked his head in.
“You can come in, you know,” she said gently.
The goofy look he gets on his face hasn’t changed, even after all these years. Scott stepped inside and she closed the door.
The noise from the fans cooling the computer hardware combined into a dull roar. Misha wondered how Dr. Badass had withstood the heat and noise which, to a super without fortitude, might feel unpleasant and cause hearing loss with long-term exposure. He slogged through another screen of Chad’s nearly indecipherable code. Most of it wasn’t interpretable without Dr. Badass’ superpowers. This was a dead end as far investigating the engagement at the border crossing. Gabriel and Containment were chancy to approach directly. Hero the White’s super discernment would clarify the matter, but the trouble lay in convincing him to make the trip.
Gabriel’s distinctive voice interrupted his thoughts. The surveillance program on Dr. Badass’ computer was stuck on a live stream of interior and exterior views of Los Angeles’ Super Network Center. Misha watched as Gabriel’s FBI contact and handler, Matt Cohen, misted Gabriel’s feathers and talked him out of breaking into one of the panic rooms where several supers and FBI agents had taken refuge and refused to come out.
Dr. Badass’ secured files contained records on supers in BC, Alberta, Pacific Northwest, and California-Southwest. It was clear why a controller would choose California-Southwest. Gabriel was one of the more powerful supers in the world and the region lacked a resident mind-controller. The question was if Christopher had initiated control on supers in any other region. The potential fallout from this was nightmarish.
Misha dialed Tara Larsen, one of the Coordinators in Atlantic, the tightly run region of the Super Network that covered the densely populated area from Quebec and Toronto south to Washington D.C.
Tara picked up immediately. “Castiel.”
“So formal, Tara.” Why was she calling him Castiel?
“I’m in a meeting with Angel and the others,” she said in her calm, professional voice. Right.
“I’ll keep it brief. The Class I for Bellingham in Pacific Northwest needs a new FBI handler. He and Gabriel behaved oddly. The two of them and a civilian were the only witnesses to the end of the incident. We need more information. Do you understand?”
“Yes. I have an unassigned handler with resistance to mind control, a former super liaison from the Oakland police force. We planned to send her to Los Angeles for that investigation.”
“Go ahead with that, but send her to Bellingham to interview the civilian first.”
“I understand. She should be en route within the hour,” Tara said.
“Wonderful, thank you. I’m observing the situation in Los Angeles. Use me as a contact point and text me her number.”
“Yes sir,” Tara answered.
Misha hung up.
The edges of Jensen’s mind felt raw. Noises scurried along the edge of his hearing. A ceaseless, agonizing wail stabbed into his head and he needed to answer it. Slowly, he pulled himself into a groggy, dim consciousness.
Not enough air. A heavy, suffocating weight lay over his body. His arms and legs were dead and disconnected.
In the distance, the alert siren howled. Bellingham was under attack.
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