“Trouble ahead,” Nightwave announced, pointing across the street at a convenience store’s parking lot.
A handful of smashed hoods in their twenty’s jumped a police patrol. They were chanting rhymes, rocking the car, kicking dents in its doors with their pristine white sneakers. Classic scene, Joaquin thought, adding it to the fourth position on his shit list, right after breaking and entering. In an unsuccessful attempt to drive off, the patrol car’s tires spun.
Quake sent a minor tremor their way, shaking the ground under the car with enough intensity to throw off half the hoodlums and get the others running like mad, shouting obscenities from afar. Half the block caught on the quake, car alarms lighting up the length of the street with alternating red blinking lights.
Joaquin turned away from the main street, taking a shortcut, his group still close behind. They arrived in front of a black back door, indicating no welcome or entry. Massey, Anne, and Andy were already there, trying to look less out of place than standing in some alley in the middle of the night.
“J, you never mentioned your guardian was such a good looking man,” Quake whispered into Joaquin’s ear.
“He’s on the straight and narrow fool. And he’s a cop.”
Quake pouted. “Shame. Double shame.”
Seeing them all surprised Joaquin. He reacquainted himself with their faces; long lost friends he thought he wouldn’t see again, wouldn’t need to see again. Massey’s five o’clock shadow had grown into a neatly trimmed beard riddled with greys and whites, changing his expression. His eyes were still warm and kind as they studied Joaquin. His slight grin subsided when Andy came into view. As always, Andy’s hair was messy, but his posture wasn’t that of the geeky fast-talker obsessing over supers in that dingy apartment anymore.
“You lot look like shit. Were you mauled by bears on the way here?” Anne didn’t leave a time slot for his reply. “Alright, let’s talk, or do you want to keep silently staring at each other?”
Joaquin snapped out of it, blinking the momentary relapse in memory.
“We talk inside,” he cocked his head toward the black door.
“Inside where?” Massey asked.
“A safe place,” Betty reassured. Joaquin noticed how she chose not to look Massey in the eye, like he’d know that she went berserk on a Prowler earlier.
Joaquin thundered his fist against the steel door.
“You’ve…grown.” Anne’s eyes raked predatorily over his body, leaning closer. Joaquin stiffened at the approach, but then she moved her body away from him, chasing his imagination with a scent he’d forgotten. Too many sunsets had come and go since he’d last seen her and she hadn’t changed one bit, carrying her larger than life persona with the same air of authority. Last time, however, he was still a boy, easy to impress, easy to fool. Joaquin stepped around her, unsure of her true intentions now, the deep dark secrets locked beneath the charismatic surface, playful and treacherous when needed. He still offered her a white-toothed grin accepting the teasing compliment.
A window, previously invisible, slid open on the door surface, and a pair of eyes peered at them.
“Pass?” a gravelly voice asked.
“Lasagna,” Joaquin offered.
The accented voice barked back. “Wrong one!”
“Open up man, you know it’s me.”
“Yeah, how do I know you ain’t some double pretending to be who you say you are?”
“There ain’t no such thing. Let us in or I break down this piece of shit door.”
A latch lifted, bolts ticked off to release the lock. The brisk laughter of a plump short man met them when the door was swung open.
“You’s got balls to show back here after the stunt ya pulled last time, kiddo!”
Anne stiffened a chuckle. “Did he insult someone’s private parts?”
The man regarded Anne head to toe.
“The lady know’s ya best, kid! He nearly had this bulk of a man rip his head off. Funniest moment of my life though.”
“Aight, aight, enough. We gettin’ in or what, Dante?”
Dante blocked the entrance with his body. “Do you vouch for all of them, J?”
“Alright then, get in here all of ya before some of em’ Prowler asses sees ya.”
“What is this place?” Massey asked when the door shut behind him, locking into place.
“The Sound Factory before it shut down and reopened as a safe house for supers. Dante here runs the place,” Nightwave explained.
The walls painted with the likes of Brando, Hepburn, Sinatra reminding of the olden days of cigar smoke and blissful chatter; sensual booths were flying crimson colors matching the cushioned sofas aligned under cubicle chandeliers. Soft music played on a turntable, the instrumental vinyl aiding to the charm of the establishment.
“I’m surprised this place has managed to evade a raid,” Andy ran his fingers across the ancient plush seats.
“It’s of no interest to the Nightprowlers,” Betty explained earning a quizzical look from Andy. “As far as they’re concerned it’s just another run down bar the owner chose to close, hoping to save some money and dignity.”
“Yeah, lameo. Don’t let the Al Capone inspired interior fool you, it looks like a bomb hit it from the outside,” Kid hopped on a swirling chair, swiveling around. “Waaait, didn’t that actually happen? Back in the 50’s or was it the 30’s?”
“Ignore the Kid. This is the biggest safe haven this side of town. Despite what Dante here says, the perimeter is practically supers clean so the Nightprowler take no interest, true. Little do they know all of them are right under their nose. You are safe here,” Quake explained smiling.
The newcomers ventured further and the swanky bar took the form of something else. The sofas turned to beds and the tables used for dining. There were bags with clothes, some put on hangers secured to a makeshift net used for laundry. Some of the residents were sleeping but those who were awake sipping on the house alcohol glared at them, acknowledging Joaquin and his men and weighing in the rest.
“How did you find this place?” Massey inquired.
“We didn’t. Dante came across us, needed some help proving the point to a group of misunderstood, prickly men. We stuck around, made it a sort of home to come to whenever,” Quake’s smile broadened. “Welcome to our home, I suppose.”
“We’re gonna need the backroom, Dante,” Joaquin’s voice dropped low at the request gathering the wandering looks of his friends, gesturing them to follow.
As Dante guided them, Joaquin noticed Anne’s deepening frown. He also noticed the people staring at her.
“People know you been hangin’ with Globe,” he explained. “Half of ‘em are thinkin’ of killing you. The other half know you been sneakin’ supers out of the city. They won’t start anything here.”
“I’ve seen some of them on the SuperHub list. No wonder we couldn’t’ find them. This is like ground zero.”
“Chill, they won’t do nothin’. Besides youse with me.” He puffed out his chest.
“That’s a comforting thought,” Anne murmured.
Dante led them straight to the bar standing in the middle of the refugee camp they’d created and produced a key, hidden on a chain under his shirt. He rounded behind the counter and unlocked the door to what looked to be the storage room. The backroom, as Joaquin had called it, was stacked with boxes of cans, water, blankets, outdated magazines and a few dozen books. Propped against the wall were a handful of stasis rifles, early day models but still good enough to pack a punch. In the middle of all that sat a large table. Joaquin gestured for them to settle down.
He pulled the small man aside and put an arm around his shoulder. “Listen, Dante…You might wanna’ keep the doors locked for a time, while we sort some shit out.”
Dante regarded him with a tired expression, telling he’d heard that one before. “What did you do now?”
“We got ratted out. Cosma.”
Dante’s gasp was pained. “Impossible!”
“Promise you’ll be careful old man.” The last thing Joaquin wanted was an army of Nightprowlers storming the place, taking all the supers. He couldn’t know when Cosma had started dropping information into Globe’s lap but so far the place had remained undetected and he hoped it would remain so until they were finished with Globe. A small part of him hoped she kept The Sound Factory a secret from Globe. He couldn’t imagine her being that selfish and poisoned to put at risk women and children.
“Si, si, of course. I got enough firepower to blast ‘em to Kingdome Come. You be careful too now, right?”
Joaquin tapped his chest. “I ain’t afraid of no bullets.”
Dante smacked him on the shoulder and excused himself. Once the door clicked shut, Joaquin turned to his friends who sat around the table. He stood, but shrunk a little under Anne’s gaze. In the light, away from the noise, the danger, and the distractions, they clearly saw each other.
“You’re Miles Jensen, aren’t you?” Andy lit another cigarette; eyes pinned on the grey-haired man.
Miles shifted in his seat. “I’m popular these days I hear.”
Andy propped his elbows on the table, leaning across. “I’m sorry that your ability was stolen from you. It would have been fascinating to see it in person.”
“How did you know?” Miles frowned.
“Nough’ with the weirdness. We got us a big, ass ripping, scrotum tickling problem named Globe.”
Andy slumped back in his seat. Joaquin crossed his arms over his bulking chest.
“We got jumped tonight while saving Miles; nearly got these fools here killed. One of our own betrayed us. Now Globe’s got his tabs on us and we ain’t safe no more. We figured it’s time to ends this. That’s why I called.”
Anne exchanged looks with Massey.
“We got upstaged too, our entire operation was compromised, months of hard work destroyed. It can’t be a coincidence both happened in one night.”
Joaquin nodded. “We got a rat, maybe you do too.”
“If they were keeping tabs on your team then…” Massey looked over to Betty, focusing on the bruises on her slim features. She cleared her throat, knotting her fingers together over the table.
“I came to see you, Detective, and if they were trailing us to begin with, it’s possible they followed me to you. I’m sorry, if I’d known-”
Anne chuckled. “He hurled a dozen Nightprowlers at us just to be on the safe side. I can assume the same transpired on your end. It’s unlikely you could have prevented any of this, not without striking first and with a direct attack at the heart of Globe’s empire. Globe’s a betting man; he would have expected you to expose us at some point, knowing the connection between us. That means he knew who was operating the Railway, but he didn’t have a way to get to us. He just had to wait. Tonight he hoped to see one of our deaths. He probably boiled up when the Prowlers returned empty handed.”
Joaquin shrugged. “I got the team capable of stirring shit up, you got the way in. I say we do this.”
Anne tilted her head. “What’s your end goal?”
“I wanna know what Globe’s been doin’ with all the supers he takes. And I wanna pop a bullet in his skull once I find out.”
“That’s as close to our happy ending as it gets.” Anne crossed one long leg over the other. “I’m about to disclose information with you now, that is vital to the succession of this operation. I assume all of you here have come knowing there will be great risk, possible death and no reward except for that useless, trivial thought of your eternal soul receiving forgiveness for the atrocities committed in the act of serving justice. Jacob Globe’s role as a mayor of this city and as its supposed eradicator of the disease known as the “supers genome” is a front for a long-term experimental case of his in altering the genome that gives us the abilities we have.”
“What kind of experiments?” Kid asked, eyes wide.
“The kind where all that defines you as a super is taken away, ripped out from your very being and placed into a mass gene pool then squirted into the vein of new vessels ready to receive the more potent version of the mixed gene. Globe reconstructs the DNA, creating supers far more powerful than any existing. Our strength and numbers have been frail and, to my knowledge, only a handful of us exist today. The rest are defects.”
“What about us? Or the others in the city?” Quake raised an eyebrow.
Anne raised one back at him. “You are not as powerful as you think. Your abilities are simply the product of a tiny spark, kick starting that genome to run at the utmost lowest capacity. What I’m talking about is the birth of people capable of wielding the elements at the snap of their fingers, people bending time and space, manipulating reality. Read some comic books, run your imagination wild. He’ll be able to do all that if he succeeds in those experiments. There will be supers that cannot be replaced by defects in any number of years’ time.”
“Supers stronger than you?” Andy asked puffing a cloud of smoke. Massey gave him a sharp look waving the smoke rings away.
“And him,” Anne nodded, looking at Joaquin. He wrinkled his nose dismissing the notion of stronger supers than him and Anne.
“You think I’m making this up.”
“Damn straight I do!”
Anne fumed. “Kristof, a very lethal super’s DNA is the base, a piece of him will be transferred to others and you know what he is capable of! Andy, you’ve studied him, you know what I’m talking about.”
Andy killed the cigarette in an ashtray. “He is a gravitational force pulling other abilities toward him, absorbing them but he started with very basic abilities that are still supreme compared to many of the ones supers today showcase. Super strength, flight…it was unreal when he first appeared. Like nothing I’ve ever seen.”
“Whoa…I’ve never seen anyone fly!” Kid exclaimed.
“The way you talk, I assume we don’t have to worry about him right now. I’m more curious who the vessels are? Cause we’ve been hearing rumors of ordinary folk going in for tests, thinking they’re helping create an anti-virus or some shit for their fellow men.” Nightwave drummed his fingers on the table.
Anne crossed her hands. “It’s possible Globe will try the first batch on defects. If the new gene destroys their DNA and reconstructs it in order for it to contain a fully developed supers gene, he’ll mass produce that and give everyone the next “flu shot”. In the turn of next year everyone will be a carrier of the supers genome.”
“What we need to figure out is what he accomplishes by that,” Betty added.
“What does every madman with illusions of grandeur want?” Anne snorted. “He wants to be God in possession of an army capable of shifting the world at his command. Major Globe, father of the new generation of supers, his own twenty-first century Übermacht.”
“Hold up. Why would you wanna help Anne, I thought you missed those days, the Jade Council, the power? Ain’t Globe gonna give you all that back?” Joaquin set his jaw, his fingers clenched into fists. Nightwave, Kid, and Quake all watched for her response taken aback by Joaquin’s words.
“Someone was paying attention in history class, I see. Yes, seeing the Earth eradicated of defects would be my wet dream, but the Earth ruled by a megalomaniac with a trigger finger over unstable supers is a scenario I’ll have to pass. I value my Sunday massages and mojitos.”
Betty interrupted, “Did he take someone from you?” The question sounding like a slap against Anne’s face. The older woman shot her a look of confusion and hurt in her handsome features.
“He’s taken from all of us, and if we keep sitting here telling tales, he’ll take much more.”
Everyone turned to Massey. “It doesn’t matter that he knows about us, that we’ve been exposed. It doesn’t matter what he wants to do or how he wants to do it. He acts while we sit. My baby girl has been in that monster’s clutches, and I’ve been unable to do anything about it! I’ve sacrificed my job, my reputation all in the name of saving people from him. I kept telling myself this is the right way, and tonight, I made myself believe that again, but when the Prowlers came…We should have never let it get this far. You were right, Anne.”
Anne slowly nodded. Massey let out a deep sigh.
“You know, I swore that I would help save as many as I could. Defects, supers, I never separated them, never had the luxury to do that. We took supers along with their families on the boat. Terrified people. The look in their eyes as they were watching their home shrink to a dot behind their backs, as they were running…I won’t forgive him for that. I never promised I would sit idly and let Globe rule with an iron fist. And I’m sure as hell going to do something about ending that.”
“You’re getting emotional, Detective. But I get your point. Hell to the yes!” Andy spun the cigarette box between his fingers.
“When we talked to Miles, he remembered an elevator leading up to a lab,” Quake offered.
Anne frowned. “Up? Are you certain? His laboratory’s in the basement of the building.”
“That’s what Miles swore by.” Miles nodded confirming his words.
“Is it possible there are two separate facilities?” Betty asked.
Anne rubbed her tired eyes. “I don’t know. Maybe. I could find that out.”
“You reckon Globe dun know you’s involved? But you said he knew bout’ the Railway.” Joaquin rocked back and forth on his feet, watching her.
Anne grinned. “I think he figured it out about Massey and Andy and our deceased captain of the sailboat to freedom and beyond. I’ve given him no reason of doubt and all the Prowlers that attacked us are dead. I dare say that if he were expecting me he wouldn’t have sent merely his hounds but a counterpart for me as well. He was aiming for easy pickings of a batch of supers with the addition of the two defects that were running them out of town, presumably wanting their heads on spikes. Two rabbits with one bullet and an entire operation dismantled within minutes. Sad to admit he succeeded in that last part.”
“So how do we do this? Considering he hasn’t started these trials and there’s still time to stop em’.” Nightwave asked.
“Oh, he has started them but without a clear success. There was an error a few months back and he lost a lot of data. He’s catching up, hence all the hazardous hunts he’s been ordering.”
“We do this our way. Quake will shake things up, then Nightwave will turn day into night and we storm in. Kid’s got us covered,” Joaquin winked at the boy. “You get us in, make sure Globe stays busy while Betty and Massey get people out. Then we make Globe pay.”
Anne threw her head back in laughter.
“If you’re brawling with some streetwise super or the Nightprowlers that could work, but this isn’t that. First off there are innocent people in that building. Second you’d be dead before you step through those fancy glass doors. Globe has firepower and he has a supply of nasty tricks beginning with the supers he controls. Don’t underestimate him. He’s very dangerous and very smart.”
“You got a better plan?”
“As a matter of fact I do.”
Next: Death at Breakfast