Dr. Mind’s thoughts went still, despite the turmoil around him. He didn’t struggle against the grip of the suit-wearing man who dragged him through the lab. He caught a glimpse of lab-coated individuals standing around the lab in disarray. A few moments later, he was shoved face-first against a blackboard, Dr. Lazarus beside him.
“Well that was unexpected,” Lazarus commented as the suit-wearing man patted him down.
Dr. Mind sneezed from the chalk dust and the man searching his pockets shoved his head against the blackboard. He tried to crane his neck to get a look at either of the two men, but his vision swam and made it difficult to discern out any distinct features. Apparently satisfied with their search, the two men hastened away, leaving the tinkers slumped against the chalkboard.
“Oh wow, this feels weird,” Lazarus said, clutching his head. “Feels like I’m drunk.”
“You get used to it,” Dr. Mind said, unable to keep a bitter tinge out of his voice. “Damn Dr. Destructo!” he cursed. “Must he always come back to haunt me?”
“A good nemesis is like a bad girlfriend,” Lazarus quipped, pointing one finger into the air. “It’s… Uh… Damn, I’m usually better at those.”
Dr. Mind took the chance to get a look around the lab now that his vision had cleared. It was split into three rooms- two small rooms with windows into them from a larger central room with a large blackboard on the wall opposite the elevators. A man and a woman in yellow and white body armor and armed with some kind of energy weapons stood at the elevators. The suit-wearing men huddled in one of the side rooms, and an armored man was shepherding the labcoat-wearing people into the other, though he seemed content to ignore the two tinkers.
“The armed people are Temple Sun,” Dr. Mind whispered to Lazarus. “I guess they’ve given up working behind the scenes.”
“I’m sorry, I think I’m missing some pieces here,” Lazarus whispered back.
“So am I,” Mind replied. “How did they end up with the Nullifier?”
“Oh, that?” Lazarus whispered. “Requisitions brought that in a few days ago from a private auction.”
“What?” Dr. Mind exclaimed. One of the Temple Sun men looked over sharply. “From whom?”
“The office of the mayor. Very hush-hush. One of my employees got me in.”
“Robert Banks,” Dr. Mind said.
“Rob, yeah. How did you-“
“Dr. Lazarus,” said a voice, relishing the word “doctor.”
“Speak of the devil,” said Lazarus.
“Oh, were you two just talking about me?” Rob Banks asked as he entered the main room from the side room. “Well. I guess I could have been more subtle.”
Robert Banks was the spitting image of his father, albeit younger and a good deal thinner. His suit marked him as project management rather than research. He would have been involved in keeping a project’s notes organized and the scientific staff on task without actually participating in the research; the parallel of what Rena did for Lazarus.
“Dr. Mind, what a pleasant surprise. You know, it’s funny- you always said you couldn’t crack the nullifier, but it took maybe a few days for the team here to figure it out,” Banks said.
“Well isn’t that something.” Dr. Mind said, standing up to face down Banks.
“Yeah, it really is. Anyway, I’m being rude. Dr. Lazarus, or Dr. Emery, if we dispense with the ridiculous titles, I really should thank you. Thanks to you, we have a detection method and a preventative measure. Soon enough, we’ll cure this scourge.”
“And how are you going to do that?” Dr. Mind asked. “Do you expect to be able to cover the world with nullifiers? After this, you’re going to be pretty high on the ITAB’s hit list.”
“Oh, it’s already done.” Banks pointed the screen of his phone at the two tinkers. “Two words. Open source”
I pulled the painting out first and glanced at it. An uncomfortable feeling passed over me the moment I got a good look at it. It wasn’t watercolor as I’d initially suspected, but it was definitely abstract. It was painted in a blue so dark it was almost black, with shafts of light shining down through it. It took a moment to realize what it was- the view of the surface of the water from below.
I pushed the painting aside, unsettled, and took a closer look at the electronics.
“Wah dis?” exclaimed Nemo. “Bunch ‘a bullshit.”
“No…” I said. “This is…” What is this? I picked up largest piece of electronics, a beige plastic box with a large slotted wheel on the top and a cracked lens on one side. Whatever it was, it looked old- Huge, clunky, obsolete.
“Who knew the bossman was an artist, eh?” Nemo shone a flashlight on the painting to get a better look at it.
“He’s not,” I guessed. “This isn’t his. It’s-” I cut myself off as I realized what this was. Randwulf. He worked at SMART back when this kind of thing would have been used. “It belonged to Jones’ power enhancer.”
“Oh damn,” Nemo said. “Not so bad a score after all!”
“Not bad at all,” I agreed. I put a hand on Nemo’s shoulder as I talked, leaving a black handprint. “I’m going to put this someplace safe. You gather up the cash and see if you can haul it back to the safehouse.” I ran my hands over the electronics so that I could bring it with me when I teleported. What percentage is enough? I wondered. I’ll have to do some tests. For now, I just covered as much as I could see, then teleported to Jamisson.
I appeared in the building we’d been using as a temporary base of operations, cast in dark metahuman-resistant concrete. Jamisson sat at the console with his tablet computer in his hands. The bank of monitors from the Wardens’ building he’d used to monitor each of the team members’ vitals and location, along with a few news channels, among other things.
“Where’s Dr. Mind?” I asked. The tinker was conspicuously absent from his makeshift lab area, and I didn’t seem to have a mark on him. Jamisson stiffened a bit, but relaxed when he saw me. I guess I should start announcing myself.
“He’s meeting with Dr. Lazarus to get information on Rob Banks,” Jamisson said, looking at me over his shoulder. “The intel you got was good- he’s worked at LazTech for at least the last year. Dr. Mind worked with Lazarus after he first manifested his abilities. It made sense to use that connection.”
I guess that explains why he didn’t send me after Banks. Why break in when you can get invited in? I paused for a moment, shocked by my own thoughts. Why is my first instinct is that I would break in?
“I found something,” I said, distracting myself.
“Hm?” Jamisson put down his tablet on the desk that formed the base of the console and spun his chair around.
“I found an Anchor Boys stash with some weird stuff in it. I think it’s Randwulf’s.” I proffered the tangle of electronics and let the shadow covering it fade so he could see it. His eyebrows rose.
“Well,” he said. “There aren’t too many places that would stock these anymore, even in the Anchor Boys’ territory. Maybe an antiques store or a pawnshop.”
“And they’d have records. I’ll start checking them.” Finally getting somewhere. “What is it?”
“You don’t know what this is?” He ran his fingers through his hair and leaned back a bit. “Christ, you’re making me feel old. It’s a slide projector. You put photo slides in the carousel to make slideshows. This one’s totally fused together, though.” He leaned over and tapped part of the projector that was pitted and scarred with bubbles. “Look at this- the plastic is warped around where the bulb would be is. Somebody put in a bulb that was way too bright, melted the slide into the projector.”
“Weird,” I said. “Maybe he needed to look at something that he only had available in that format,” I suggested. “And he just got the wrong replacement bulb.”
“I don’t think so. Look at all this.” He ran some of the tangled wiring through his hands. “It’s been heavily modified. It’s safe to assume that whatever changes he made were deliberate. Until Dr. Mind gets back, we won’t know why, but for now, I can try to get the slide out, see what it is he wanted to look at so badly.”
“Sounds good,” I said. More waiting. “Let me know when Mind gets back.”
I jumped back to Nemo, who was about halfway back to the Anchor Boys safehouse. He’d managed to scavenge a shopping cart from somewhere and had hidden the cash inside some ratty plastic bags, and between the cart and the all-enveloping coat hiding his muscular frame, he looked for all the world like a homeless man scavenging in the wreckage.
“Nice work,” I commented. He jumped a few feet away from me, one hand reaching into his coat. Looks like he brought a gun. Probably not the worst idea.
“Shit,” he said, relaxing. “You spooky.”
“I try,” I commented dryly. “Did you get the painting too?”
“Nah,” he said, resuming pushing the cart over the rough asphalt. “Prolly worth money, I know, but damn creepy.”
I couldn’t help but agree. We made our way back through the increasingly chill streets as the sun set. The streetlights around the edge of the destroyed area flickered on as we approached the building. I could tell as we approached that something was wrong. I could feel inside the building much more clearly than I should have been able to, and a quick check confirmed that the door hung ajar, letting in a draft.
“Something’s not right,” I said. I couldn’t feel any motion inside. Maybe they left? Went home for the night?
I used the paracord I carried with me to close the distance to the door and slipped through without making a sound. It looked like a bomb had gone off- or it would, if there was any damage to the building. The structure was intact, everything in its place except the people. I counted maybe ten, twelve bodies scattered across the building, with one group in the carpeted office and another which had made it to the main warehouse floor. The collection of handguns on the desk was gone, and each body had one clutched in a still hand or on the floor nearby.
A sort of numb calm settled over my mind, easing away the frustration that had been building over the past few days.
Temple. He came here. I was only peripherally aware of Nemo as he shoved through the door and froze. Why? To hide something? These guys didn’t know anything. To find something? A thought struck me. If he came here, for whatever reason, where would he go next? To finish what he started. He’s going after Ransom.