“He has a gun!” one of the guests shouted, and the screaming started. The guests who hadn’t already begun to panic did, and I could feel the air shift as Honnete hit the ground, swarming with security. The gunman, dressed in dark grey clothes hung with what looked like bits of string, took aim.
“Get down!” I said to Gregor, more to give myself an excuse to do so than out of any fear for his safety, and ducked under the table.
As soon as I was out of view, I covered myself in darkness and teleported to the mark nearest to the person with the gun. I appeared near the gunman, the cord trailing back to the dress of a cowering guest to make up for the distance. I lashed out the cord, wrapping it around the gun, then yanked it out of the gunman’s hand. It clattered to the floor.
He dashed forward, faster than should have been possible, and threw a punch. I cast the rope out around him and teleported along its length to appear behind him. His fist passed through a man-shaped cloud of darkness that I had left behind. He stumbled, and I capitalized on it. I wrapped the cord around his legs and pulled, sending him sprawling. He caught himself on his hands, but I tightened the knot around his legs and yanked him off balance again. His face hit the ground and he groaned.
By this point, security had surrounded us, so I let them handle him. I teleported back to Gregor, appearing under the table, and quickly banished my covering darkness. I peeked over the table to see the security dragging the would-be assassin off in handcuffs. The elderly couple at the table were clutched in one another’s arms.
“My gut says it was a set-up,” Gregor said to me in a conversational tone. He seemed far more relaxed than he ought to have, given the situation.
“What do you mean?” I asked. I wasn’t short of breath, despite the exertion.
“I think they faked an assassination attempt to see what heroes were present. Even though a lot of heroes resent Honnete, they couldn’t let him get killed.” He nodded my direction. “You obliged.”
“You would have let him die?” I asked.
“No, of course not,” he scoffed. “His security had it handled. He was safe in seconds.” He looked at me for a moment, then continued. “Think about it. Why didn’t he shoot?”
At the head of the room, a uniformed security officer twisted the microphone off the podium. “Ladies and gentlemen, we apologize for the disturbance,” he said into the microphone. “Convention Center security has the situation in hand.” He placed the microphone on the podium with an audible *thump.*
“That’s odd,” Gregor said as the security officer departed.
“What is?” I prompted when he didn’t elaborate.
“He’s not Convention Center security. He’s from Temple Sun security.”
Temple Sun again? I recalled my last run in with the security contractor/paramilitary group. They did not go for subtle. Didn’t think they would go for normal uniforms.
“How can you tell?” I asked
“I recognize the effects of their drugs. Very distinct smell.” He wrinkled his nose. “They all stink of it.”
“A renegade branch of Virtue made some kind of deal with Blackwell,” I said. “Blackwell stole a suit of powered armor from Temple Sun, and now the Virtue national branch is contracting security from Temple Sun? What’s the connection?”
“I don’t know,” Gregor said, sounding irritated, then smiled. “Let’s find out.” He stood without warning and started towards the door. I jumped to my feet and followed.
We didn’t look out of place among the other guests who streamed out of the convention center. Nobody wants to stick around after that.
Out on the street, we parted from the fleeing elites and made our way to an unoccupied side street.
“He’s that way.” I said, pointing in the direction of the mark I’d placed on Honnete once we were away from people who could overhear.
Gregor started to change, shifting from his normal human appearance into the more animalistic frame of Savage. The transition was unnerving to watch, but was more smooth than I would have expected.
“Well, I guess I’m obsolete,” Savage said with a smirk.
“I can only track people I’ve touched,” I said, apologetic. “You’re not completely useless.”
“Hah!” He laughed, then said, “let’s go make an appearance.”
“Is that a good idea?” I asked, uncertain. “Do we want him to know we’re investigating him?”
“After your stunt, he already knows, even if he didn’t before today. Confronting someone is a valuable source of information. If they find out you’re after them, you just have to watch what they hide.”
“Stunt?” I asked.
“Yeah. I personally don’t go for anything so flashy. What you did? That’s going to be all over the news. ‘Collswell Hero Defends Metahuman Regulation Advocate.’ I can see the headlines now.”
I remained quiet, frustrated with his obstinacy.
I teleported into Honnete’s suite, using the paracord to get some extra range from Honnete and conceal myself in an adjacent room. Using the airflow through the hotel ventilation, I scouted out the room I was in- a bedroom, from the feel of it. I couldn’t feel much of the other room through the crack in the door, but I could tell by the mark that Honnete was there.
Something caught my attention in my peripheral vision and I looked down to see wisps of darkness floating in the air, lingering behind me when I moved.
I waved an arm experimentally, and it left a trail of shadow that drifted gently in the air for a few moments before fading.
What the hell? When did that start? I recalled what Dr. Mind had said. Overloading can mess with your powers. I overloaded when I was rescuing Charity; overloaded with Neuraplast in my system. That has to mean something.
A surprisingly short time later, I felt a cold breeze come in through the window and Savage climbed into the room, looking far less human than before. He’d lost the suit in favor of his usual dark urban camouflage pants and shirtless torso, covered only by black fur.
Christ, I wonder if he knows what people write about him on the internet, I thought, then gestured wordlessly to the door to the room Honnette was in. Savage nodded and opened the door.
As we stepped into the room Honnete was in, I saw he was sitting in an armchair with some kind of mixed drink and a book. He looked up at us, surprised, but only for a moment.
“You know, I have a speech prepared for this very moment,” he said, his voice calm and level. “It starts with ‘criminal scum!’ and has a rousing bit about how you’re only making my point for me, and how you and your kind will be hunted down for this, but I’ll spare you the theatrics. Did someone hire you for this, or is it more… vigilante?” He put down his drink.
“Actually,” I said as I stepped farther into the room, savoring the word, “we work for the government. But nice try.”
Best part is, it’s true.
“So do I. If you want to talk to me, make an appointment,” he said, still calm.
“Actually, no, you don’t,” I countered. “Virtue, as a political entity, is not officially affiliated with the United States government. You’re just a lobbying group. Again, nice try.”
“What part of the government? What agency?” he asked.
“A part that likes to make an impression, and a part that doesn’t like to answer questions,” Savage said.
“That doesn’t narrow it down much.” Honnete narrowed his eyes.
“Wasn’t intended to.”
He remained silent, and I looked to Savage to take the lead.
“We need to know if you were involved in the attacks by the Collswell branch,” he asked.
“What? No!” Honnete looked like we’d just insulted his grandmother. “Government sponsored hero teams are something we worked hard to create.”
“Then why did you advise Congress to get rid of the youth teams even while your Collswell branch was trying to kill the local youth team? That seems like too much of a coincidence.”
“Because it’s unsafe!” Honnete’s face became flushed.
Wow, he really cares about this.
“The Occupational Safety and Health Administration classified superheroism as one of the most hazardous occupations, far above serving as a police officer and almost as dangerous as working for a PMC, in terms of psychological trauma and risk of physical injury. I don’t want metahumans to be pressured into becoming CLEAs, especially not children.”
I’m glad that term never caught on. ‘Civillian Law Enforcement Agent’ is a bit of a mouthful.
“That doesn’t make sense. UMBRA was something you helped create,” Savage said.
“I helped Congress write it, yes, but the youth teams were not part of the bill. They were created by the Department of Metahuman Affairs to organize the power safety training required by UMBRA,” Honnete argued. “I would still rather metahumans used their abilities in the private sector or joined the police, or even the army, if they really want to fight.”
“But you know this is going to cause a rise in metahuman crime in the long run-” I started to say, when I was gripped by sudden horror. I froze in place, body tense, heart pounding with a rush of adrenaline. My awareness of the room sharpened as I tried to find what was causing this. What’s happening to me? The influx of foreign emotions was familiar, somehow. One of the room’s three doors was open a crack, and I could feel breathing through it. I used my power to drop to a crouch and spin in an instant to look through the door. Peering through the sliver of open door, was Amélie.
Contagious emotions, I thought with my last moment of lucidity. I must be feeling her fear.
I could hear Savage snarl as he backed against a wall.
Gotta get out of here! I looked around the room, looking for an exit in unthinking panic.
She can shut us down until-
The world exploded into light and sound.
-Temple Sun arrives.