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To the Victor…
Tog had arrived back at the base to find Epim standing in the entry way.
“Glad you’re back, I was worried when I heard the call, but Marcus won’t tell me what’s going on. Where is Lis’?”
“Marcus got a package from the butler at that house from last year. A nice package. Lis saw it, called us to get him and took off.”
“What was in it?”
“Just a phone transcript that links Danforth to the riots, the stuff at the hotel, and maybe the explosion at the Crey lab in IP.”
“Nice. Let me see.”
Epim’s radio announced an incoming message.
“Ep, it’s Mournin’. We’re in Galaxy and a warehouse just blew up. It blew up ugly. We could use some help tendin’ to the injured.”
Epim glanced at the address on the bottom of the transcript. “Where exactly?”
“Warehouse 8 in Constellation way.”
“We’re on the way.” She looked at Marcus, “You think she went there?”
“I’d bet on it. She took off as soon as she saw it on that paper.”
“Mourning, we think Lis’ may have been in there.”
The group arrived at the warehouse to see the fire was mostly out, and many heroes helping with the injured. Mourning was inside, pushing the flames into corners where the fire crews could be most effective, and emitting the occasional puff of chemical vapor to help them move a little faster and reduce fatigue.
There was no sign of Lista.
Later that evening, a small group sat around a table and discussed what happened.
“We can’t reach her,” said Mourning. “Her last suspected location was that warehouse, but she’s not in it. If she’s not there, and we can’t reach her, then I’d guess someone caught her and took her out of the place before they blew it up to hide it.”
“You don’t think she’s dead?” asked Marcus.
“I doubt it. If she were close to death, her medical teleporter would have kicked in. She might have been taken out of range though.”
“Well, she got caught at the address on the transcript, so Danforth has to be involved. I say we go get him.”
“We can’t, Marcus.”
“Why the hell not?”
“Because that might be what he wants. He’s really popular right now, and he got that way by standin’ up to the hero community. He’s also got that judge on his side, plus there are probably a lot of others we don’t know about. He’s supplied cars to both local and federal law enforcement, so they have reason to like him too. The best thing for him would be for a band of heroes to go in and assault him. Especially if we’re wrong.”
“You think he’s not involved? Did you even read that transcript?”
“Yes. The person identified as “RD” is assumed by the investigator to be Danforth because the calls were made from his office; but all at around . That’s kind of late to be in the office. It might be someone else working for him that’s usin’ his office as a set up. Neither person identified themselves.”
“God you think a lot,” Marcus said as he stood up so quickly the chair he was sitting on fell over.
“We have to look at everything before we do somethin’ stupid.”
“Sometimes you can’t see everything!”
“Then you evaluate what you can see and go with the most likely solution.”
“And sometimes everything you can see still isn’t enough, so you have to go with your gut. If the community cards are the 5, 6, and 7 of clubs, the 2 of hearts, and the jack of diamonds, the other guy could have a straight, a flush, a straight flush, or he might have a steaming hand of crap. How he bets can tell you if you know what to look for, but in the end, you have to go with your gut.”
“You also have to look at the stakes of the game. If you’re playin’ for a 20,000 dollar pot, it’s not much of a risk. Not for you. We’re talkin’ about playin’ for the public image of all heroes in Paragon, and we’ve been losin’ for about eight months. You’re right. Odds are good Danforth is involved, but that still doesn’t mean he knows where she is.”
“How could that be?”
“Let’s say he is in charge of things. He has his people set up a trap and wait. The warehouse blowin’ up might be the message that they got someone, but that doesn’t mean he will know who they have or where they took the person they got. We need more information.”
“Okay, what do you suggest?”
“Two things. First, we need to confirm that this transcript is real. It could be a forgery and part of the trap. Second, we need to see who really owns that warehouse.”
“And just how do you propose doing that?”
“Legwork. And Athena.”
night ended with an unwelcome dawn. Few on the team had slept,
with many searching for clues on the street and in the smoldering carcass of the
warehouse. By late afternoon, Athena had managed to confirm that
telephone calls were made from Danforth’s office on those dates and
times. Similar investigation showed that the package with the
transcripts was mailed from just outside
able to track down the desk that had been in Brian Devon’s office and found that
it had been bought at an estate auction by someone in
“So,” said Tog. “How sure are we that this thing is real?
“Almost positive,” said Mourning.”
“We were able to track down the warehouse owner for about six holding companies, then the trail just stopped,” said Marcus. “So now what?”
An alert chime interrupted the conversation. Athena had a message. “I’m sorry to interrupt, but there is a visitor in the guest lounge for Tog.”
“Ack, she’s early. Well, might as well come meet her.”
The group left the conference room and entered the guest lounge. On arrival, Tog looked around expectantly, then froze. Before them stood a man of about 50 who bore a beaten and weary expression. He was muscular and fit, but time had not been kind.
“Doug! Here! It’s me.”
Doug approached the older man slowly. After looking him over, he said, “You’ve got some nerve showing up here. I thought you didn’t have the chance for parole.”
“Me too, but someone pulled some strings. I was told that you had arranged it, being the big hero and all now.”
“No. It wasn’t me. As far as I’m concerned you should be in there ‘til the day you die, and frankly I’d have much rather it had been long before now.”
The older man looked hurt by the words, “Is that any way to talk to your dad?”
“Dad? DAD?!” He yelled, as the room fell silent. “A ‘dad’ is someone that takes you fishing, or teaches you to catch a ball or ride a bike. A ‘dad’ is someone that’s there to tell you it’s okay to go to sleep because there are no monsters under the bed. A ‘dad’ is someone that actually seems to give a damn about you. You are a lot of things, but ‘dad’ isn’t any of them. You’re the just the guy that knocked up my mom.”
“Hey, I know I messed up but I’m still your father.”
“Messed up? Mom died! Do you even get that? Mom is dead because you killed her!”
“It was a closed casket. They couldn’t get her face put back well enough to tell that she was a woman. Did you know that?”
“Doug, listen to me…”
“Davy was 14. He sees you break in to the apartment and starts screaming for help, and your answer is to hit him with a softball bat? Good plan there ‘dad’. Really thought that one through! I guess “Parenting for Morons” had too many big words for you.”
“Dammit, Doug. Shut up and listen to me!”
Or what? You’ll hit me? I got news for you. I got hit in the face with a car last week, I’m pretty sure I can take whatever you can throw, but I’m willing to let you try your luck. Hell! I’ll give you two free ones. It’ll be like old times. You get a new belt or would you like me to find one for you?”
“I don’t want to hit you.”
“Is it because I’m not 10 anymore? Maybe I could find a teenaged girl in here for you to hit. Would that be better for you? Hey Kym! Come here, meet my father, just keep your guard up.”
A dull, black mist surrounded the girl as she backed away.
“Doug, dammit. Listen to me. I never expected to get out of prison.”
“That’s what ‘life without parole’ means.”
“Because I never expected to get out, there is a lot of stuff I never expected to have to say.”
“You mean like, ‘sorry I used to beat you to sleep’, ‘sorry Davy had no memory of his mother’, ‘sorry you guys had no shot a normal life, living in that orphanage’, ‘sorry I brutally murdered the only two people that ever loved you’. Stuff like that?”
“Would you let me talk?”
“The only thing you could say right now that I think I want to hear is ‘Is that an axe?’ and half a scream. How sure are you that you want to keep talking?”
Epim moved close to Doug, but was careful not to touch him. She said, very softly, “Doug. Let him talk. I’m right here for you.”
“Yeah, Doug. Listen to her. I’ve gone through a lot, and I’m getting older. Listen to what I have to say. Please.”
Epim felt Tog relax a tiny bit as he said, “Fine. Talk.”
“I’m getting older, like I said. And I never thought I’d get out of prison alive. When I got my papers, I realized that I was on my own again. That I’d have to make it on my own. I’m old, and I’ve been inside a long time. I’m also not in the best of health…”
“So, what, you want a kidney? Bone marrow? A lung? Cause if it’s forgiveness you’re after, you’ve got a hell of a lot better shot at getting any of those things from me.”
Epim placed her hand on his arm.
“Don’t you dare ‘son’ me, you psychopath. Actually, let me apologize. There are some psychopaths here that I actually feel pretty close to. I’d hate to lump you in with them. You know, Charles Manson called his followers his children. Funny thing is though. I don’t recall him killing any of his ‘children’. That still puts him above you in my eyes.”
Epim’s grip tightened.
“Fine. Doug. I’m here because I didn’t need a plan for when I got out of prison, until now. I woke up today, and they let me out. You’re my only son…”
“Not. My! FAULT! And sure as hell not by choice.”
“You’re my only son. That means, it’s your responsibility to take me in and support me until I can get social—OOF!”
In the still room, the crack of the blow seemed to echo forever. Doug’s father staggered then collapsed on the floor.
Epim stood holding her broken hand.
“Doc! What the hell?” Tog stared at her in surprise.
“I wasn’t sure The Other Guy could hold you back much longer, and I sure as hell wasn’t going to listen to any more of it.”
“I didn’t let TOG through. He wanted the old man worse than I did, but I fought him off. You gonna heal that hand?”
“No. I earned this one. It’s going in a cast.”
Tog turned to the rest of the base, which had now gathered in the common room. “Everyone, I’m really sorry about that. Bert, I—I’m sorry.”
As he walked off to the pad to the lower levels, Kym came up beside him and placed her tiny hand in his. “Wow, I guess my parents really aren’t so bad.”
Tog continued looking at the floor as they walked. When they got to the pad, he dropped to one knee and looked at her, tears welling in his eyes. “I’m really sorry for what I said. I should never have brought you into it. You were just the first person I saw. You know I’d have never let him touch you though, right?”
“Actually, I’m pretty sure I could have leveled him with one punch. I was a lot more scared of you just then. But we’re cool. If you want food or anything later, let me know. Doc is cool for the shrink stuff, but I’ve got this self pity, parent hating thing down cold. Therapy can wait a bit. Right now, you need the CD in my headset. Tracks 4, 5, and 9. On repeat, and crank it.”
Tog gave her a forced smile and vanished from the pad. On the way to his room, he stopped at Kym’s door for a moment, then moved on.
Lista felt herself coming around. There was a throbbing feeling in her head and a general disorientation, but there was still no sight or sound. As she became more aware, bits of what she could recall played over and over in her memory. These recollections came to an end with the sound of a voice that seemed to come from inside her head.
“It appears you’re coming around. Good. We can get on with it. There are things I need to know. Things I need for you to tell me. Before we get into that, however, I need to make you aware of just what’s going on with you.
“First off, the reason you cannot see is because we have taken the liberty of placing opaque contact lenses in your eyes. The good news is that they are extended wear, so you can keep them in for up to six weeks. The bad news is that you may need up to four sets before we finish with you.
“My voice is coming to you from a pair of devices much like hearing aids. They can receive short range radio signals, and can block out virtually all other sound. You will hear only what I want you hear, and you will hear it whenever I want you to. It also prevents you from getting a fix on my position.
“That brings us to the containment of your natural weapons. By now you are aware that your mouth has something in it. That something is a small ball with a conductive surface. If the mood strikes me, I can fill your mouth with electricity. The outside of that device is a large, flat plate which will not only deflect any frost breath you are able to generate, but register any sudden drop in temperature and trigger one of the disciplinary devices.
“Continuing on the theme of your head, you may have noticed that you can’t move yours. Yes, your hair has been secured to the back of the chair in which you sit and the high steel collar keeps your head stationary as far as any up and down motions goes.
“Your hands each hold a small sphere, similar to the one in your mouth. In addition to a severe electrical current, they can also vibrate with enough force to dislocate fingers. Around your hands are steel spheres to give the electricity someplace to go.
“Your waist and limbs are bound to the chair with cord made of a special carbon fiber. That chair will melt before those bonds weaken.
“Nourishment and water will be provided in the form of an I.V. in your left arm. You will not be permitted out of that chair for any reason until we are done with you. The seat of the chair is open and there is a toilet below you. As you are naked, when nature calls you are free to answer.
“At random times, in intervals of 6 to 120 minutes, the device in your mouth, the ones in your hands, or one of the others I’m leaving as a surprise will activate for 5 to 60 seconds. Any lowering of the temperature around you will trigger these devices for a minimum of 2 minutes, possibly as many as 10. But there is no need to fear. None will actually be fatal.
“Finally, a little about me. I do not make threats. They are pointless. A threat is an act of unpleasantness that will befall a person should they do, or not do, something contrary to the desires of the one in control. They are intangible. It’s like trying to train a dog with only the promise of reward or punishment. Instead I make statements of fact. If I tell you that I intend to do something, you can be sure that I will follow through exactly as stated. If there are conditions attached, I will honor them to the best of my ability. Experience dictates that anticipation of injury does little to persuade those of heroic bent, so I’ve come up with this method. I am going to activate these devices, and leave you in their care for a while. It could be hours, it could be days. When I return, I will give you one chance to answer my questions. If you do not cooperate, I will turn up the intensity one level and reduce the interval by ten percent. For each lie, this will double. You will not die in this chair, though you may wish it. I’ll return later, to see if your resolve has softened.”