“Shit man, why are you up so early?” Joaquin mumbled sleep slurred, looking at Andy’s watch, the glowing digits showing 7 AM.
“I can’t really sleep when I’m nervous or excited.”
Joaquin propped himself up on his elbow, hand massaging his stiff neck. The bar was slowly coming to life, gentle stirs in the far end, dark silhouettes gliding soundlessly between hushed words. He ran a hand over his short-cropped hair.
“Listen man, I know you’s mad at me for leaving you and runnin’ off but-”
“I’m not mad at you, Joaquin. You did what you had to and besides if you’d stayed you would have been caught and paraded before Globe. Your friends would’ve never come this far, probably wouldn’t have stayed alive for long either. This here would have never existed. I’m envious of you. You got to be what I’ve always dreamed of. A hero. You did well.”
Joaquin was speechless. “Am I Hero Number One now on that list of yours?”
Andy gave a cheeky smirk remembering the little tease they’d shared when they first met. “You are. Top of my list. C’mon get your ass in gear.”
Joaquin found the old detective sitting at the bar chatting with Dante. By the dark circles under his eyes he could tell Massey hadn’t slept. The nervousness and sleep deprivation had spread over to Quake, Nightwave and Kid, faces sullen on the nearby sofa. Only Betty shared the glimmer of excitement Joaquin and Andy had.
“Did you get your police buddies to join in on the fun?” Andy asked.
“Felix, er Officer Wallas will be waiting with some of the guys. He vouches for them. I think nearly gave him a heart attack when I called. Probably owe him two dates and a dinner by now.”
Joaquin noted she was in better shape today, some or other prospect of fulfillment and closure clearing her mind off inner demons.
“Let’s go kill Globe,” Joaquin said rising them up to their feet.
* * *
In the early morning the air was thin, a breathtaking chill filtering through their nostrils bringing in the dust scented rain vapors. The imprint of the tremulous weather muddied and clouded over the city stretched above their heads, a 360 giving them the sense of scale between their hunched figures throwing morning o’clock shadows against grey buildings, drying off their facades and the ominous tower across the city. Its windows absorbed the weak sunrays bursting through the grey dome to make them appear as if they were just catching fire, waiting for the wind to blow and carry it to consume all.
“What a day to die,” Quake cast his eyes up to the gloom.
“We’re not going to die. Are we?” Kid gave him an awkward stare, securing his favorite baseball bat in his backpack, swinging it over one shoulder.
“Not us, mijo. He’s talking about Globe. It’s going to rain on his grave.” Nightwave sent a prayer kissing the cross hanging securely around his neck.
“Do you think murdering him is the only option we have?” Massey asked standing back with Joaquin as the other five climbed into the van.
“He dun deserve nothin’ else. I ain’t gonna shed no tears for his sorry ass.”
Massey put a hand on Joaquin’s shoulder drawing him back. His touch was light and friendly his posture casual but a question pulled on his face.
“Did you call your daughter?”
Massey shook his head. “Was about to do it just now. What if she doesn’t want to listen to me? I haven’t spoken to her in months.”
“She will. You’s her family, you wouldn’t lie to her. She knows that, right?”
Massey picked the phone and dialed.
“Hey baby girl…I know, I know. I’m so sorry I didn’t call. Yes, I…I’m alright.” Massey looked to Joaquin who nodded giving him the incentive to continue. “I need you to do something for me baby girl, it’s really important you listen to me carefully. I need you to leave the building and go home. Please, Denisha. Just this once, trust me. Just go home I’ll explain everything later. I love-”
Massey took the hint of her hanging up, not redialing. Joaquin watched that exchange, the quiver in Massey’s voice where he couldn’t contain his worry.
“She’ll listen’. She’s smart, right?”
Massey caressed the flip phone, squeezing it tight. “Yeah, brightest woman I know. Ever since she was little she wanted to be a scientist. Every year a different kind but always there with the theories and the testing and experiments.”
Joaquin didn’t know what to say to that. Massey’s daughter had ended up working for the worst man possible falling for his lies.
“You okay?” Massey suddenly asked ceasing his ramblings.
Joaquin nodded. They hadn’t really talked and there was too much to be said and so little time. He didn’t know what more to say about his daughter. “Sorry you lost your job, man. That shit sucks.”
“We try to live in the present, not the past. Listen, Joaquin, I know that when we parted ways it wasn’t on the best of terms. You thought I treated you like a child and I guess I did, but I was only trying to protect you from all of this. I didn’t want it to suck you into some vertigo of death. I don’t even know how I got dragged into all of this. It feels like a daydream gone bad most of the times. So you understand I was scared that you’ll fall down a bad path, something Anne warned me about. There’s no easy way to choose the right path with these powers. You control them or they control you. But seeing you now I realize I shouldn’t have worried; this is all you have. This is you, alive and happy. I was wrong to push you places you didn’t want to go.”
Joaquin had never had the urge to hug someone. Ever since he was a small child he was deprived of that sensation, that gesture to hide your face in someone’s embrace and emote, be happy or sad or both. He mistook that flow of love for weakness and it made him angry now that he couldn’t explain the chaos that was beating at his chest and buzzing in his mind. Instead he stuck out his hand and said the only truth he could muster.
“Livin’ wit chu was the best time of my life, Detective.”
Massey took his hand and squeezed it tight. Joaquin returned the intensity with a broad smile.
“I hope we can still be friends after this ends,” Massey cleared his throat, rubbing some hidden tear away when the handshake ended.
“You bet, I still gots my game console hooked up in your livin’ room.”
Brady’s Bakery fake van slid into the heavy traffic filling the streets just like any morning, all moving in one direction, all carrying different intentions.
* * *
“They practically worship you.”
Anne leaned to catch a glimpse of the sea of heads on the plaza, 50 floors below. They were tiny black dots swaying in unison.
“The cameras or the people?”
Globe was in a glamorous mood today and all his clichés turned to good-hearted jokes.
“You have a knack for both,” Anne fueled his pride turning to face him, resting her back against the tall window.
“Some people would disagree. I’ve been called both a saint and a brute by the good citizens of this city.”
“They loathe the Nightprowlers,” Anne added giving him raised eyebrows.
“They need their protection even if they don’t realize it. It’s havoc out there.”
Globe stepped light-footed toward her dressed in a three-piece cream colored white and beige suit.
“I see the philanthropist is speaking today and not the Mayor,” she observed addressing the flamboyant scientist and former Major.
“What makes you say so? I thought they were both the same person.”
Anne’s tongue darted to wet her unmarked lips.
“You and I both know they’re not. You’re dressed for a parade. Are you celebrating something?”
Globe caught her hand, fingers digging into her skin at first but then they moved down to her wrist, gently rubbing circles there.
“Yes but not just yet. You’ll have to be patient. I promise you, it’ll be spectacular.”
He brought her slim wrist to his lips and planted a brief kiss near her knuckles. Anne controlled herself to not flinch and break at the touch. She hated how easily it had become for tears to pool in her eyes whenever Globe touched her. She hated this weak part of herself, the one that had followed Globe when he’d threated to turn her into a test subject. She was walking away on that pathetic woman, putting her in the past. A smile displayed itself on her plump lips.
“Well if you don’t mind I’ll go freshen up then. I wouldn’t want to look bad for the paparazzi.”
She slipped her hand free from his fleeting grasp and high heeled, crossed the room to the large white desk where she’d left her small red purse. Her expert fingers delicately lifted the keycard to the elevator from its place by the monitor and slid it inside the purse in one swift gesture. Now she could afford to grant a smile at Silas’s direction, the slender time-warper silently sitting on the couch in his usual attire, baseball hat and all, studying the interaction between his boss and Anne.
“Why are you being nice today, Anne?” Globe suddenly asked his voice nuanced with a cold note.
The click-clack of her heels stilled. “I’m always nice, Jacob,” she offered but he just tilted his head regarding her with a waiting smile.
Anne shrugged. “One never knows when one could die. Might as well be nice. It’s my new motto.”
Anne left his quarters brushing shoulders with Denisha in her smart suit. Why was she still here? Massey should have called her by now. She had to worry about the girl later. Instead of heading to her room, one of the places permitted to her, she turned down the corridor to her right, abusing the freedom Globe had given her in the past weeks, pounding her heels against the marble floor on her way to Sindi’s server room.
* * *
The crowd in front of Globe’s tower was already gathering up, the street closed and surrounded by police patrols. Nightprowler units were assigned to each corner of the plaza clutching their stun rifles, visors on the lookout probably scanning the crowd. Protest signs from both sides were ready to be raised in eager hands, their written word waiting to be chanted by loud voices, “The Minority Destroying America Are The Supers”, “Our Lives Matter”, “The Only SuperPower I Want Is Peace”, “I Want Time Travel”, “If You Arrest One of Them, One of Us Will Strip Naked”, “Jesus Was A Super”. They smelled of freshly used markers, neon and black, printed paper still warm under the colorful scribblings. A police cordon was trying to separate the two factions, worse than hooligans at a soccer match. A large screen was suspended in the middle of the stage, Globe’s logo spinning in its red and white colors.
Andy took the instruction given to him by the traffic regulator and drove round the blockade to the relocated road. He managed to find a spot across that overlooked the plaza, right behind the news anchor vans.
“Put the earpieces in now. You’ll feel a slight discomfort at first but please don’t move them around, it scrambles with the frequency. There will be a small buzzing when the line goes live and then we’re all set.”
“Are you going to be alright here? I mean even with these-” Massey asked hugging the two traffic cones they were going to use to secure the van.
“I’ll be with you the entire time. I promise I’ll cry help if someone comes knocking on my door. Till then I’m trashed and waiting for a toll truck, just as we talked.”
Andy watched them blend with the onlookers, the curious crossing the sidewalk to mingle into the crowd, get a whiff of that Globe propaganda. A spokesperson for his office eagerly grabbed the microphone.
“…Entire neighborhoods have been rescued from the vicious attacks of superhuman individuals through the hard work of this administration and especially Doctor Jacob Globe’s unyielding drive to end this…”
The stereo carried the voice of the unknown lackey across to Andy. Encouraging applauds and boycotting “boos” erupted after that each trying to outshout the other.
Andy jumped over to the back of the van and wiggled his fingers opening the laptop. He reinstalled his old chat program and located the names of his five SuperHub hunters from back in the day. He added three of them to a group chat and rang. “Joe” picked up first.
“Nate, man where have you been? I haven’t, we haven’t heard from you in weeks.”
“Yo, Nate, what’s going on?” That was Maya.
“What do you want now?” Lester groaned.
Andy gritted his teeth at the mention of his former alias.
“No time for idle chit-chat. I’m sending you an IP address and I need you to locate a user logged into a super computer. I need one of you to go stealthy in and find only the extension used for booting a live video feed without that user knowing you’re there. I need the rest to bash aimless attacks at the security of that super computer. Got it?”
Andy unclogged his signal, introducing them with his whereabouts. They had little time before Globe’s hacker realized someone was trying to maneuver through the security.
“Wait, what? You don’t need three of us to hack.”
“Is this another super?”
“Are you pulling my leg? Hacking Globe’s tower? What are you up to, Nate?”
They all talked over one another. “Can you do it or can you not?”
“Give me a minute.” It was Joe breathing heavily into his microphone. “Can’t believe I’m doing this.”
“You’re only saving the lives of millions, no pressure. I’ll need access to that extension once you find it. The rest, please unleash your best attacks.”
oH THIs Is GOoD, this is REALLY good. bUT NOT ALL is what IT seems, aNDY. pAY ATTENTION.
Andy was sorry he couldn’t bark back at the voice in his head, so indistinguishable within the stream of his own thoughts now. He sunk his teeth into his tongue drawing blood. It quieted the phantom roving in his brain and gave him that strange sensation of tasting iron in your mouth.
Minutes later Andy was in possession of the backdoor, in control of the suspended screen. He took out a small flash drive in the form of a Weiner dog and stuck it in the port of his laptop. A video montage of 80’s best to worst video clips was loaded into the playlist preceding the start of the live feed.
“What’s going to happen now?” Joe asked from the other side still hanging around.
“Watch the news,” Joaquin answered hanging up. He hit sent on his keyboard.
* * *
Joaquin moved through the crowd aiming for the middle of it if he could judge it correctly. He looked up at the looming tower, 50 floors of glass that could easily collapse over everyone if they made a wrong move. Betty gave him the okay sign nodding toward a broad shouldered man in civilian clothes. He brought a walkie-talkie to his mouth. Joaquin hoped they would move fast enough to pull people out before anyone got hurt.
“This is a good place as any, Joaquin,” Quake raised his voice to be heard over the shouts.
“What can you see, Kid?” Joaquin nodded toward the tower.
“There are a lot of people inside, scattered. Top floor mostly. I don’t see any supers about, so that’s good, right? Um, there are heat signatures underground, like a lot.”
“That’ll be the lab,” Nightwave leaned in to be heard. He simulated presence, clapping along to appear harmless.
“What chances do we have that those are civilians and not Nightprowlers?” Nightwave asked.
“Anne would’ve said somethin’.” Joaquin frowned counting the windows imagining the faceless figures creeping behind them. He had to count on Anne’s intel that only Globe’s mindless admins occupied the building. Some doubt crept on him that shadowy assailants were hidden from Kid’s vision just like the Prowlers last night. When the big screen on the stage went black, canceling the live feed and came back displaying 80’s punk music watermarked by an anarchy symbol, Joaquin tested the earpiece.
“Team Joaquin checkin’ in. We good?” Andy’s response was clear in his ear.
“Go for it.”
Joaquin stood close to Quake avoiding the earthquake that was to come.
The ground began to shake and at first everyone in the crowd was too preoccupied with what was happening on screen, some springing into a dance routine, others turning around panicked to search for signs of danger. The tremor began vibrating on a higher frequency canceling the noise the stream was creating. Now everyone began to scream and turned to run, threatening to stomp each other down. The Nightprowlers sprang into action clearing pathways through the sea of limbs to where Joaquin stood. When the windows began to rattle Quake subdued his attack, keeping it at a steady level. In the same instance Nightwave stripped down the shadows and wrapped them around the team shutting the plaza off into a white spot suppressed by blackness creating a sleeve for them to run through leading to the glass doors.
Next: Critical Error