I obliged, leaving a splotch of shadow on the rat’s white fur.
“Thank you,” Dr. Mind said, and placed the squirming rodent back in the pressure chamber. He flicked a switch on the control panel and the pump whirred to life.
I watched the digital pressure gauge sit still for a few moments before commenting, “It’s just sitting at 29.7. I think it has a leak.”
“It does,” he said, and pointed to the rat. “I think that answers one question, but begs another. You’ve mentioned that you can feel the air currents around and through your shadow, have you not?”
“I can, yes,” I said.
“Then tell me, where is the air inside the chamber going?”
I concentrated for a moment, tracing the path of the air through the pump, swirling around the pressure chamber, and then- “It’s going into the rat,” I said, confused. “That doesn’t make sense. Where does it come out?” Dr. Mind nodded. Right, that was his question.
I followed the air currents further, through the circle of darkness and found where it exited. “It’s coming out of me!”
Sure enough, now that I realized it, I could feel a faint outward flow of air from the surface of my body.
“Well, that is interesting,” Dr. Mind said. “I think I’ve just isolated a weakness. Don’t worry, I won’t tell.”
“What?” I looked at him curiously.
“Chlorine gas. Or Hydrogen Cyanide. Really any toxic gas.”
“Oh shit,” I said. “You’re right. If someone started pumping that through a mark I would be royally fucked.”
“I wouldn’t have put it so colorfully, but yes.”
“Wait, but the flame went through the balloon,” I reasoned. “Wouldn’t it, you know, just go through?”
“I’m not sure. It’s possible there was no connection to the other side of the rat so it defaulted to you. Or potentially this is simply pressure normalization and it would have happened anyway. Either way, I’ve come up with a solution to your hypothermia problem.”
He nodded. “A space heater.” He grinned, and it took me a moment to realize it was a joke. “And a blanket,” he added. “No, it’s simple. I’ll just leave that running, with a pressure release valve for when it exceeds say, 35 millimeters. When you suit up, it’ll start normalizing through you instead, providing you with a constant flow of warm air. You’ll light up like a torch on infra-red, but it’ll keep you alive.”
“Oh, cool!” I said.
“As long as you help pay my heating bill,” he added. “It’s through the roof.”
The door of the repurposed warehouse opened and Savage entered. He shifted to a more human form as he approached. When he reached us fell back into one of Dr. Mind’s leather desk chairs.
“Where have you been?” he growled at me.
“I was actually hoping you could help me with that,” I said. I explained my meeting with Temple to the best of my memory, but left out the fact that he’d tried to hire me to kill Myriad. “And the next thing I knew I was back, about a day later,” I finished. “I don’t remember a good portion of the last 24 hours, though I assume I was asleep for some of it, because I’m not tired.”
“Hmm, that does present a problem,” said Dr. Mind. “You asked about the tracking data. If you want, I could retrieve that for you.”
“Temple,” Savage said. “He’s a metahuman.”
“From your description of his power, it sounds similar to Basilisk’s,” Dr. Mind said. “That’s very unusual, except between direct relatives. Perhaps we should call him back in.”
“What does he want with Virtue?” Savage said. “He can’t just have been after you. That was too much of a coincidence. Making do with what he had.”
“I agree. He definitely wouldn’t tell me everything.” Something Sasha had said earlier popped into my head. “Should we tell the police?”
“The police? No.” Dr. Mind shook his head. “They’re not equipped to deal with Temple Sun.”
“Are we?” I asked.
“Irrelevant,” Savage said. “Our little snooping operation was illegal anyway.”
I shot Savage a surprised look. I hadn’t even considered that. “What happened after the Temple Sun agent burst in?”
“He grabbed you and left,” Savage said. “Honnette was as surprised as I was. He had no idea who the security contract had gone to.The local branch set it up.”
“Local branch meaning Rob Banks?” Well that’s suspicious.
He nodded. “As much as I want to implicate Honnete in this, I don’t think he had anything to do with Lim’s crime spree.”
He shook his head. “He was telling the truth in there, as far as I can tell, and the paper trail backs him up. I think we need to look more closely at the local influences. See who profited from this. Lim may have been the mastermind, but he would have needed backers.”
“Banks,” I said, making the connection. “He’s getting put in charge of the local branch.”
“At a time when the local gangs are in disarray and the hero team in residence has split up,” Dr. Mind added. “If you take the long view, that’s all because Lim set up a conflict between the Wardens of Tomorrow and the CCS, which resulted in the CCS leadership being captured. From there the conflict between Blackwell and the Anchor Boys escalated and-”
“We don’t need a dissertation, Mind. It’s an interesting theory, but I doubt he could see that far ahead,” Savage said, interrupting Dr. Mind. “But I’ll investigate Banks. Everyone’s got secrets. I’d wager his are interesting.”
Dr. Mind sighed. “It’s the precognition paradox, I know. Still, it seems awfully convenient that our current situation lines up so well with Lim’s goals. I’ll talk to the police, see if they have any leads on the rest of Lim’s co-conspirators and warn them about Temple Sun- without mentioning your break-in. With any luck, Banks employing a PMC with a history of massive collateral damage will get police detectives on the case as well.”
“Don’t do that!” Savage protested. “They’ll just spook the game! This requires a gentler touch than those oafs at the PD.”
Dr. Mind’s voice hardened. “I don’t think I’ve managed to make clear the legal situation we’re in. With the team disbanded and the handler on medical leave, you’re not legally permitted to do anything a normal citizen couldn’t.”
“How would they know?” Savage asked. “Jamisson’s not around, and even if he was, he’s never reported me.”
“He didn’t report you because MLEA’s with enhanced senses have the legal status of a K-9 unit. You smell something suspicious, you have probable cause to do a search. But do you know what you are without a handler? A civilian. No MLEA status.”
“MLEA? You need to get out of your books, Doctor.” Savage said. “You’ve been out of the field for too long. We just call them ‘Heroes,’ and you don’t need a goddamn license to save lives.”
“Doctors do,” Dr. Mind said. “If you try to do this without government backing you’re just going to step on each other’s toes.”
“That’s okay. I have claws.” Savage turned and started to leave.
“We need to communicate!” Dr. Mind shouted at his back. “You can’t go vigilante on us.”
“Tell them or don’t. Won’t change my plans.” Savage called back. “This is what I do.”
Dr. Mind growled in frustration as Savage left the building. “Damn him!” he exclaimed. “I thought we’d been making progress with him. That he’d agreed to work with another person at all was a huge step forward.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Everyone else on the team was in favor of UMBRA. Setting up paths of communication between heroes and the civilian law enforcement was vital to maintaining our status. He never agreed. Thought more oversight would compromise his ability to work outside the law.”
“Wasn’t that the point? We’re not supposed to be above the law.”
“Explicitly, yes. Collateral damage, natural rights violations, illegally obtained evidence, UMBRA was supposed to stop all that. It’s predecessor, CLEAR was supposed to stop it. Neither really succeeded. Not completely. We don’t have psychiatrically insane heroes running around any more, thanks to CLEAR. Heroes have government oversight, in exchange for a paycheck thanks to UMBRA. It’s a much better system than what we had before. But then you get people like him. Classic vigilante. He’ll work with the system, sure, but as soon as the rules get in his way they’re gone. It’s a paper barrier at best.”
Dr. Mind fell silent and I checked the time. I still need to meet whoever that was on the phone. I need answers.
Dr. Mind broke the silence. “I need to update Jamisson. They’re using my technology, so he should be out of the hospital soon, but it can’t be soon enough.”
I nodded. “I actually have to go. Let me know if I have another mission?”
“You won’t be getting another mission for a little while,” Dr. Mind confessed. “Savage is probably off the grid again, and we’re out of alternatives. Short of jumping the gun and promoting you and Guardian Angel to full hero status, there’s nothing I can do, but you don’t have enough hours yet.”
“Still a journeyman, I guess,” I muttered. “How am I supposed to get community service hours as a hero if I can’t do anything without supervision?”
“That’s the way the world works,” Dr. Mind said. “How do you think you learn to practice medicine on people if you’re not licensed to practice on real patients? Let me assure you, it’s not through practicing without a license.”
“At least you got into med school. I can’t even get into the Hero program.”
“You can’t?” Dr. Mind said.
“Nope. The university has a policy against kids of supervillains as per CLEAR regulations.”
“Hm.” Dr. Mind furrowed his brow. “Let me talk to Jamisson. He’s a friend of Dean Storm; he should be able to convince them to make an exception. You’ve more than proven yourself.”
“Really?” I asked, not bothering to conceal my excitement.
“In my eyes at least,” Dr. Mind said.
“Thank you,” I said. “I really do have to go,” I repeated, and left.
I entered Raman Shaman and looked around. The tarp that blocked off the section of the restaurant that had been demolished in the fight between Charity and Blackwell rippled in breeze through the open door. There were very few people there, I had expected that, given the hour.
Who here could it be? I took a closer look at each of women in the restaurant, and my eyes stopped on one in particular. She wore a pair of dark glasses beneath a drawn-up hood. Sunglasses at night?
She pulled the sunglasses down with a finger and glanced at me over them, her eyes specks of pale white light. My stomach lurched as the world reoriented itself and I found myself on a rooftop, staring up at the moon.
“Myriad,” I said, voice much more level than I felt. “Strange as it must sound, I’m relieved.” I looked down and spotted her perched on the lip of the building a few meters away.
“Charmed,” she said, voice dripping with sarcasm. “I was half expecting you to flake out again and not show.”
“Again?” I asked. “I’m blank a lot of the last day, so if we agreed to anything, I don’t remember it.”
“You don’t?” she asked. “Damn. I guess I used a little too much.”
“Too much what?”
“Oblivion. It’s the best way we’ve found for clearing mental influence; that’s actually its original purpose.”
“Oblivion… that exists?” I asked. “I thought it was just rumors.”
“We try to keep it under wraps. We don’t want the wrong people to know we have it.”
So the memory gap’s not because of Temple? That’s a relief. “What happened?”
“When you showed up in my house and asked me to go plainclothes for a while, I peeked into your brain and got a faceful of the goddamn sun. I figured that wasn’t supposed to be there so I hit you with some ‘bliv to clear your head. You set up a date and then poofed before you gave me any answers.”
“But… I don’t remember anything after that either.”
“Yeah, that’s what happens when you use too much ‘bliv. Takes longer to get out of your system, so you can’t form any memories for a while. Sorry, you’re not getting those back anytime soon. Now, tell me why I should trust you after that shit you pulled with Charity.”
Should I tell her? Reaching a decision, I elaborated. “Someone tried to hire me to kill you.”
Myriad harumphed. “Let me guess. You don’t do that sort of thing? I guess I should be glad for that.”
“Also, good to know Temple’s command isn’t absolute.”
“Shit, Temple?” Myriad exclaimed, nearly losing her balance.
“You know him?” I might be able to get some answers.
“It looks like my misdeeds are catching up with me,” she fumed. “Took the fucker long enough.”
“He said you’ve stolen from him twice now. I only seem to remember once. What was the first time?”
“You stole his blood?”
“Yes, that is what I just said. Opiate wanted a sample to see if she could replicate his powers. Said she needed someone with as few steps removed from an original manifestation to be able to replicate the formula.”
“The formula for what?”
“Super juice, dumbass,” she snapped. “What else did you think you would make out of a Nightmare’s blood?”
“He’s a Nightmare? That doesn’t make sense- he was…” I trailed off, remembering. “He was acting strange, but I assumed he was just… megalomaniacal.”
“I think he’s one of the lucid ones, like Gom Ziggurat or Metatron. If he wasn’t, there’s no way he would have lasted this long.”
“How do you know? I mean, how do you know about him?”
“Research,” she said, too quickly. “Anyway, he’s got his old mercenary company working for him now, so if he’s in town, shit’s about to get real.”
“Mercenary group… He said he was in the armed forces.”
“He was, but not the army. He was part of a mercenary group, and not the nice kind.”
“There’s a nice kind?”
“Surprisingly, yes. His team specialised in cleaning up messes that governments didn’t want the media or the UN to find out about- interrogation facilities, illegal research labs, chemical weapon factories, that kind of thing.”
“So what’s he after?”
“I dunno. I assume he wants his stuff back.”
“The armor and his blood… I assume you still have the armor. What happened to the blood samples?”
“She gave one of the samples to a friend of hers, and Basilisk ended up with another. There are three more.”
“That explains why his power seemed so similar to Basilisk’s. Why now? Basilisk got his powers almost a decade ago.”
“The armor, I think. It must have been a trap. I’d wondered how the Peddler had ended up with a suit of Temple Sun armor. It seemed too convenient.”
“That doesn’t make sense. How would he know you were the same person who took his blood?” She’s hiding something. How does she know so much about Temple?
“He doesn’t have to make sense,” she said. “He’s crazy, remember?”
You’re one to talk. Temple’s put the sun in my head. You’ve got the moon in yours.