Savage bounded across the room, shoving Sean out of the way, and pressed Kevin into the wall forcefully. “Why were you at Blackwell’s base in Herald Square?” he roared.
“Holy shit!” Wren exclaimed, and threw himself off the couch away from Savage.
“I volunteered!” Kevin gasped as he strained against Savage’s grip, eyes wide.
“You volunteered to kidnap Castor?”
“No! I’m his roommate! I needed something to do since Wren was missing and the police took over the search, so I volunteered to help clear rubble. You want to know what happened, why don’t you ask him?”
Kevin stared pointedly at me.
“What?” I said, incredulous.
“You said you came past here on your way from Ramen Shaman. Since I’ve been helping clear debris, I know that’s a lie.”
He continued, “Ramen Shaman was in one of the buildings destroyed by Blackwell.”
Fuck. Not only that, it was a Blackwell front. How did I forget that? Has he been keeping that in this whole time?
“Okay, I lied,” I confessed. What else is that direction? Mogul Bank, Super City Shoes, Diamond Heights, Mercy… Oh. “I was visiting my mom,” I said, mentally apologising.
“Where? Why would you lie about that?”
“Mercy Memorial,” I said regretfully.
“What?” he asked, looking confused.
“Mercy Memorial Hospital,”
Jamisson’s voice backed me up. “Will Denzien was logged as a visitor to Diana Denzien this morning.”
He was speechless for a moment.
“Savage, what are you doing?” came Jamisson’s voice from the ceiling near the door. He sounded angry.
“This is him,” Savage said. “It was his trail I followed to Herald Square.”
“Kevin Demarcy, student at Collswell University. Volunteered at the ruins of Herald Square over the weekend,” Savage relaxed slightly as Jamisson confirmed Kevin’s story. “He’s harmless, but this means we lost our only lead. Mr. Demarcy, would you mind answering a few questions before you leave?”
“Yes! I mind!” Kevin shoved his way out of Savage’s grip. “This is ridiculous.”
“I’m sorry if that seemed like a request. You’re a suspect now, like it or not, and it looks like you’ve been brought in for questioning.” He paused for a moment. “I do believe you, but I’ll need to get your story down on record before I can officially release you. Mr. Denzien, I’ll want to ask you some questions too.”
“Okay,” I said, standing.
“You’re cool with this?” asked Kevin disbelievingly.
“Yeah, I am,” I said, confronting him. “I’ll do anything I can to help find out why they took my friend, and frankly I’m surprised you won’t.”
“Hey, cool it,” Sasha cut in.
“No! I’m not going to sit around and get accused of kidnapping my best friend.” Kevin moved to the door. Savage watched him go suspiciously.
“No one’s accusing you of anything, Kevin,” Sasha said. Kevin stopped.
“They just want a statement,” Sean said. “I don’t see the problem.”
“The problem is that I’m somehow a fucking suspect,” Kevin said, back to us.
Wren spoke up tiredly. “Kevin, just tell them whatever you know. They know you didn’t do it.”
Kevin’s shoulders dropped. “I still feel like I did,” he said, voice catching in his throat. “It was my fault.”
The door opened in front of Kevin and Dr. Mind beckoned him through. “This way.”
Savage followed them out, bristling.
“Well that was interesting,” Sasha commented.
“Yeah,” Sean agreed, fidgeting with his gloves.
Wren nodded dumbly as he sat back on the couch. Sean, Sasha and I joined him. “He can be stubborn sometimes,” Wren said after a few moments, and turned the TV on.
We watched a few episodes of some TV show I didn’t know, laughing and joking along. Kevin came back in partway through, still looking tense, but much calmer than he had been before.
“Hey, I’m going to go get your stuff,” Kevin said to Wren when he entered. “I’ll be back.”
“I have to go too,” said Sean.
I chimed in. “Yeah, that guy said he wanted to ask me something. I should probably go see what that was about.”
“See you guys later, then,” Wren said. “Thanks.”
My communicator buzzed as I left the room, and I peeled off towards an empty hall. I checked the message. It was from Jamisson.
“Get suited up and see me,” the message read.
I left the building, and once I was a few blocks away in a more secluded area, I stopped and I let darkness flow from my skin and cover my clothes. Why does it cover my clothes? I wondered briefly. I left footprints of the stuff wherever I stepped, and left handprints on people I touched. From what I could tell from my experimentation earlier, as long as it’s touching someone or indirectly connected to me, it won’t fade. I ran my hands over the communicator, letting my power flow from my skin onto it, covering it in darkness, then teleported it back to my pocket. It worked exactly as I’d hoped. Dad was right, I mused. The more I use it, the more I find ways around its limitations.
Pulling myself out of experimentation, I made my way back to the Wardens’ building and up to the console room where Jamisson was waiting. My eyes took a moment to adjust to the lower lighting. Jamisson reminded me of the images I’d seen of Data Spider, the founder of the Databank, sitting in his darkened room with banks of monitors curving around him.
“Shadow,” He greeted me, spinning his chair away from the bank of monitors. He removed the reading glasses he wore and placed them on the desk next to him. “Your classmate’s clean. He checked in with his RA during the evacuation and while he was at Herald Square, his alibi is solid. It wasn’t him.”
“So we’re out of leads?” I asked.
“Not quite. Savage reported something while he was on Demarcy’s trail. He said he found footprints in the rubble with no scent trails, which sounds like they were dosed with Denudine.” I nodded. Savage had mentioned that it affected his ability to track people. “I don’t know how Blackwell got their hands on a shipment of Denudine, but Dr. Mind says we might be able to track down the shipment itself.”
“That’s right,” came Dr. Mind’s voice from the console. I stiffened in surprise. I wasn’t used to being on this side of it. “Being as dangerous as it is, every shipment of Denudine has a T-Ray transmitter which I should be able to activate remotely with the right signal. I’m waiting for a response from Chlora Pharmaceuticals.”
“While he gets that working, there’s something I want to talk to you about,” Jamisson turned his attention away from the console. “There are rumors about your relationship with us. It seems you told Limit Break that you’re an independent contractor we hired because we’re short-staffed.”
“I did, yes,” I said. Where is this going?
“If we are able to trace the shipment, it’s unlikely we’ll be able to risk a full assault. Blackwell is dug in deep.”
“All respect sir, how does this relate?” I asked.
“I’ve taken the liberty of contacting Underhand, and he says you’ve done work for him before.”
“He lied. I’ve never worked for him.” Anger crept into my voice. Despite how often he asked. Is he accusing me of something?
“I am aware. However, that’s what he’ll tell Blackwell, and they’ll believe him. You’re not in the official database, either, since you’re still fulfilling the community service requirement to qualify.”
It finally dawned on me what he was getting at.
“No!” I protested immediately. “You want me to infiltrate them and exfiltrate Charity, don’t you?”
“Yes, that is one of the possibilities,” Jamisson said evenly. If he was startled by my outburst, it didn’t show in his voice. “There’s no other way we’re going to be able to get in. You’ve shown skill with social manipulation, and if you mark one of us like you did with Chastity, you can safely extract at any time.”
“I’m trying to get past my name,” I said angrily. “When I tell people my name, I want them to say ‘oh, like the hero?’ not ‘like the supervillain?’ If I get seen working with Blackwell-“
“You want people to know your identity?” Jamisson asked disbelievingly.
“Yes,” I said simply. “Eventually. Once I’m established.”
Jamisson rested his chin in one hand for a moment.
“I misestimated your motives. You should have told me your goal.”
“Why?” I asked.
“I can try to get you more public exposure in the future. Call you as a witness in the trial of Chastity and the Upright Man this weekend. Have-” An icon appeared on the monitor behind Jamisson with a *beep.* “We can talk about this later. Dr. Mind is paging.”
Jamisson gestured at the icon and Dr. Mind spoke. “I’ve reactivated the transmitter and found its approximate location. It should be marked on your comm’s map.”
“Good,” Jamisson said. “Maybe we can make some progress now.” He spoke to me, “Think on it. You could have a chance to pull down Blackwell from within.” I gritted my teeth. He’s right. “Afterward, I’ll absolve you of all blame for anything they do. Legally, you’ll be in the clear.”
“I’ll do it,” I said. Dammit, he’s right. A chance to do some damage to Blackwell? I can’t pass that up, even if I have to work with them to do it.
“And if you manage to stop some of Blackwell’s plans, we can make sure the public knows that was you,” Jamisson continued. “I’ve done this before, it shouldn’t be too much different…”
“I said I’ll do it,” I repeated.
“You will? Good. I’m going to order a pizza, you want any?”
I laughed, prompting a glare from Jamisson. “How do you think I eat when I’m working this thing all day?” he said. “I’m starving. Between the situation at Davis Academy and this thing with Blackwell I haven’t had any time to eat.”
I forced myself to stop laughing and apologized. “I’m sorry, it was just such a sudden change in tone. It caught me off guard.” My stomach rumbled, reminding me once again that I had not in fact been to Raman Shaman. “I missed lunch while I was out with Savage, so pizza would be great.”
Jamisson grinned. “I hope buffalo is okay. There’s this pizza place that has the best buffalo pizza;-they don’t usually deliver, but we had a deal with them: delivery in exchange for an endorsement and some press.”
I couldn’t help but laugh again. Agent Jamisson was so serious so much of the time that I forgot he was still human sometimes. I don’t know why, but I had expected plain cheese or something, something less interesting.
“Sounds good to me.” Not my favorite, but I’d eat just about anything right now.
“Where is he?”
I jumped at Savage’s voice, and Jamisson dropped his slice of pizza. He waved his hands frantically to wake up the console, then scanned through the screens to find where Savage was. He pulled up a security camera feed from Wren’s room. Wren was sitting on the bed, talking with Kevin.
“Savage, calm. He’s still in his room.”
“No he’s not.”
I could hear a door get forced open and saw Savage bound into Wren’s room.
“Woah, what’s-“ Wren exclaimed over the camera feed.
“He’s still here.” Savage sounded confused.
“Do you do this a lot?” Kevin asked dryly after his initial surprise faded. Savage prowled the room silently, eye fixed suspiciously on Wren.
“Are you going to stop him?” I asked Jamisson.
“I trust him,” he replied simply.
“What’s this?” Savage said, inspecting a plastic bag with some plastic bottles in it.
“Hey, those are my meds. I’ve got-“ Wren started to protest.
“This is Denudine.”
Jamisson stiffened in surprise.
“…It’s what?” Kevin blurted in disbelief.
“Who’s had access to your medication?” Jamisson cut in. “If Savage is correct, this could be how they administered the Denudine to mask your trail.”
“Uh, me, Kevin, the guy at Bristlecone, uh, Sasha, maybe.” He trailed off.
“Sasha,” muttered Kevin under his breath, quietly enough that the microphone didn’t pick it up.
“If it was DeMarcey, he would have switched it back when he brought it,” Jamisson commented. “Savage, check out Bristlecone Pharmacy. I’ll do a background check on Sasha.”
Savage nodded and stalked out of the room. Jamisson leaned back away from the console and spoke to me.
“Meet with Underhand. He’ll connect you with Blackwell.”
The next day, I met Underhand in his offices. His offices, in this case, being a law firm that was a front for villain-for-hire organization that was actually a metahuman employment agency. Underhand was playing a double-bluff all the time, and I didn’t trust him.
I stepped through the door and into the office. Underhand greeted me with open arms, standing from his desk, red suit immaculate.
“Shadow!” He said, voice booming.
“Underhand,” I replied.
“What brings you here?” he asked as he flipped through the folder on his desk.
“My contract with the Wardens expired. I need work,” I lied. He knew it.
“Yes, I heard.” He winked hugely, playing along. Christ, this guy. “Matter of fact, I have a contract that just came up, since you’ve been so verbal about not wanting to work for me in the past. A contract with Blackwell.”
“That could work,” I said, trying to stay serious as Underhand overacted. “What’s the job?”
“They didn’t give details, but it’s a heist. They want something stolen.”
“I can do that. Put in a word? Work the rumor mill?”
“Already done,” said Underhand boastfully.
Later that night, after my classes, Blackwell contacted me while I was out on the streets, in costume, for that reason. At first, I thought it was just a normal pigeon, but after it flapped closer I saw that the steel-grey feathers were actually steel- or something similar.
Mafic, I thought, recognizing the construct as his. The metal bird screeched and took wing. How does that thing fly? I wondered as I followed. It should be way too heavy. I kept track of various landmarks as I wound through the city. The Lots, I thought, recognizing a street name. I could see wary eyes watching me. Blackwell tags covered CCS tags on some of the hastily-constructed buildings. The whole area smelled like gasoline, and from every corner I could hear gas-powered generators picking up slack where the shoddy infrastructure had failed. Dr. Mind had tried to create a cheap, portable source of energy for the Lots while the city got around to installing actual infrastructure, but that project was cut short when someone figured out how to make them into bombs.
The steel pigeon landed above the door of one of the many partially constructed buildings, abandoned when the area became unprofitable. Here we go, I thought, and entered the building.