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To the Victor…
“Zach, I’d like you to meet my oldest friend. This is Heather. We sort of grew up together in the orphanage.”
Heather stared up and the big man. “Holy crap! You’re freaking huge! Doug said you were big, but holy crap!”
Zach smiled at the girl and shook her small hand before leading them down to his lab.
“What exactly is it that we’re going to be doing?” asked Zach.”
The girl seemed to change tone from the giggly seventeen year old to a seasoned professional. “Okay, you ran the pictures through the computer looking for anything hidden, right?”
“Did you look at the pictures for anything obvious?”
“Like the name of a hotel or cab company or license plate? Of course.”
“What about the scenery? Trees, plants, bugs?”
“Nothing we could positively identify, other than it was tropical.”
“Did you run the sunsets to compare them to the analemma?”
Tog shifted slightly and asked, “The what?”
“Heh. I didn’t. I’ll let her explain while I set it up. Very nice idea.”
“Thanks. Okay, the Sun doesn’t come up in the same spot every day because of the tilt of the Earth. That’s why we get seasons. In the winter, the north part is tipped away from the Sun, and in the summer we tip towards it.”
“Right. I know that bit.”
“Okay, if we start at the winter solstice, the sun creeps a little further north each day until the summer solstice.”
“Makes sense, I guess.”
“Okay, this part is hard to explain but the orbit of the Earth isn’t a perfect circle. It’s an oval. All orbits are. Because of this, the Earth moves through some parts a little faster, and other parts a little slower than if it were a perfect circle. This means that the Sun can be a little ahead, or a little behind where it ‘should’ be on any given day, except for two days a year.”
“Eyes… glazing… over… point… nowhere… to be… found.”
“The point is, that if you take a picture of the Sun at the same time every day, say , it will make a figure 8 shape in the sky. That shape is called the analemma, and it’s not a perfect figure eight. One side is bigger than the other, and there is nowhere on it where the curves are the same in two different places. ”
“Give me a list of stuff to look up later. How does this help us?”
“By measuring the direction and distance the Sun moves over three or more consecutive days, we should be able to figure out the approximate date they were taken. If we know the date, and the interval between the pictures, we can compare it to the shape of the analemma to see how far north or south of the equator it was where the pictures were taken by looking at the angle it’s offset. That can help to narrow down the choices. Are you ready Zach?”
“Yes. They are loaded in, and ready to go. From the looks of things it’s about 0.4 degrees per day, but there isn’t a way to measure it more exactly from these images.”
“North or south?”
“To the north.”
“Okay, so spring.”
“I hate to mess up all this fun sciencey stuff, but can’t we just look at the date stamp on the pictures?”
Zach gave a
wry smile. “I did that. According to his time stamp,
these pictures were taken around on
“YES! Oh my god, this is perfect!” Heather’s squeals echoed throughout the lab. “Zach, did you see this picture?”
“I did. I didn’t think about using it to get a date though.”
“What’s on it?” asked Tog.
“Probably Jupiter and the Moon,” said Heather. But even better, there are some stars that show up too. Zach, can Athena match the picture to a real time?”
“She just did. February 20th, , Universal time, give or take an hour.”
“Can she plot the ecliptic against the horizon?”
“About 18 degrees North.”
“Can she convert the time stamp on that picture into the actual time it was taken, then apply that offset to all of the pictures?”
“Isn’t this fun Doug?”
“Oh yeah. Laugh riot. What will this give us exactly?”
“If we can figure out where he went, and we know the dates, we can hack in to the airline, maybe cruise line, passenger lists for those destinations, then make a list of all of the people that came from Paragon City, or nearby as the first leg of their trip. That shouldn’t really be a long list when you think about it. From there, we just have Ent track them down until she sees the right one. Pretty simple really.”
Zach turned to face Tog with a broad smile, “Can we keep her?”
Mourning walked into Beau’s apartment with the dogs. In the last few weeks, she’d been spending more and more nights here. The base just wasn’t the same without Lista around for color.
His message said to head to the apartment and wait for him. He had some errands to run, but wouldn’t be too late.
She opened the patio door to let the dogs out onto the little patch of rooftop grass while she looked out over the city. It was nice to see a city that wasn’t Paragon. For now, at least. She shifted her head to the sky. The night was cool, but not really cold, and a think blanket of clouds was doing a good job of keeping the heat in.
She wasn’t sure how long she’d stayed there, nor did she hear Beau come in. The dogs did, but had grown so used to him that there was no reaction. He had managed to set the table and get most of the take out dinner he’d brought before she noticed him.
“Hey, Sweets,” he said. “How was today?”
“Good I guess.” She moved closer to him and kissed his cheek. “Tog said they may have a line on a guy that might know something that could lead to information about Lis’. I’m not getting my hopes up though.”
“That does sound sort of iffy. You want rice?”
He watched as she arranged the food on her plate, then stared at it.
“I don’t get it.”
“Don’t get what?”
“Any of it. I mean, what’s with this need for power that some people seem to crave?”
“You really want to discuss it, or is this just a rant?”
“If you can explain it, go for it.”
He set down his fork and took a small sip of wine while he composed his thoughts. “You know it’s gonna be a poker analogy, right?”
“Not surprised, really.”
“I play poker. I don’t do it for fame, or money, or glory. I do it because it’s fun. Marcus does it for fun. Most of the really good players do it because it’s fun. But not all. Some just have to be the best. If they get a bad beat, they freak out and throw a tantrum. For them, it’s more important to be known as a good player, than it is to actually be a good one. In your world, these are the guys that want to be on the news. They want the world to know who they are. They want that reputation, good or bad. Push a busload of tourists over a bridge, or save them from it, either way works for them, but one is a whole lot easier to set up.
“Other guys are in it to get rich. They want to retire at twenty five and see poker as an easy way to do it. They play really aggressively, and tend to be over the top when they win big. When they don’t make enough, and they will never make enough, they push it back a little bit. Maybe to thirty. Most of these guys have ulcers and heart attacks by forty five because they get stressed about it. These are the street thugs and drug dealers. Too lazy to work for their money, but still wanting to live big.
“Finally are the scary guys. These guys don’t come along in the poker world very often, but when they do, no one is safe. They are the manipulators and sociopaths. For them, it’s not about winning the game or making money, it’s about getting everyone else to hate each other. He wins because everyone else gets caught up in petty battles. By the time he gets involved in the game, everyone that’s left is too frazzled to deal with whatever he does. No one ever really knows what he’s after because by the time he reveals it, anyone that might care is gone. I think that’s what you’re up against. I’ve known you for just over a year, and you still don’t even know who the bad guys are. He’s taken a huge toll on you and your friends, and there is no way for you to strike back because you’re chasing a phantom.”
“So, you think I’m wasting my time?”
“No. Not at all. I think what you do is very important. A hell of a lot more important than playing cards. I just worry that you’re slipping into the type that becomes so consumed with winning that nothing else matters. What you do is serious. I know that. But you can still have fun with it. At the end of the day, look back on things and find one part, even a tiny part, that you can laugh about, or it’s going to eat you up inside.”
“Maybe. I don’t know any more. I used to be so sure of everything.”
Kym had just rounded the corner of the building when she saw a new hero in trouble. It was a girl, screaming and punching for all she was worth against a band of Hellions, but things were not going her way. Kym ran into the midst of the group and waved her hand in the face of the biggest Hellion. The fumes gave him a powerful hallucination and he turned and cowered.
This gave the girl a shot. She finished off the second to last gang member with a deafening shout, then turned her attention to the last one. Between the two of them stood Kym, dressed in a flowing black cape and cloak. She seemed to be waiting to see how the battle would turn out, rather than acting in it. The girl took a deep breath and fired off a pair of yells that seemed to shake the world.
The shock of the impact snapped the Hellion out of his stupor and he took a step towards the girl. Her hands flared with a bright pink aura and she hit the Hellion; the impact sending him into a bus stop bench, then hard to the ground. Three more yells and he was unwilling to get up again.
“Well fought”, said Kym who was still watching the Hellion to be sure he was really down. “You might want to start on smaller groups for a while. ‘Til you get used to things. My name is—“
Kym spun around to see the face of the new hero. “Debi? Aww hell.”
“You’re a hero?”
“Looks like it.”
“God, you’re not any smarter out of school are you?”
Debi’s hands flared again. Kym became enveloped in an inky black mist as she said, “That would a bad idea, even for you. I’ve been at this about a year, and I’ve had a lot of coaching.”
The glow around Debi’s hands faded. “What do you mean by coaching?”
“I was a
The two girls entered the burger place and sat far from the door. Kym started.
“Let’s clear the air a bit. When I first saw you out there, I didn’t know it was you. I saw a new hero in trouble, so I tried to do what I could to help. I had planned to invite you to the school so you could learn how to use your powers a little better, and maybe survive longer in a fight. Now that I know it’s you, I’m torn.”
“Well, I still don’t like you. That’s part of it. I don’t like being around you, and the thought of spending even more time with you makes me throw up in my mouth a little. The other part is that now that I’ve seen you out here, it’s pretty obvious you have the desire to be a hero, and will probably keep trying, with or without training. So, you know, the offer still stands.”
“What would I have to do?”
“Show up and learn stuff. It’s school.”
“Yep. There are quite a few teachers there now. The teachers are all heroes, so they know what they’re talking about.”
“Are you a teacher?”
“No. I’m sort of a teacher’s aid, and I scout around looking for new arrivals that show promise.”
“You actually think I show promise?”
“You didn’t run and you didn’t go to the hospital. You should have run, but you didn’t. So, yeah. I think you show promise.”
Debi gave a slight smile.
Kym didn’t. “So where did you get the voice?”
“You remember Dr. Xian? The cheerleading advisor from last year?”
“The one they fired for doing something ‘inappropriate’ with the cheerleaders?”
“That’s the one time I ever felt sorry for the Stepford Clique. If I’d known then what I know now, I would have camped his house and showed him a different sort of bad touch.”
“Well, it’s not what everyone thought. He wasn’t a medical doctor, he was a science one. Like physics or something. Anyway, he found a way to make air “sticky”. That’s what he called it anyway. Basically, it turned regular air into really thick air. We were using layers of sticky air for pads for tumbling and stuff. A few weeks ago, he sends me this little choker necklace and these gloves and tells me to try them out. The necklace amplifies my voice and makes waves of sticky air out of it. It’s really cool. I can’t wait to hear back from him and let him know how it works. How about you? How’d you get the black stuff.”
“That is something I might tell my best friend, but since you’re the one that asked… Piss off.”
“I told you my stuff!”
“Yep. Dumb move on your part. Kinda surprised you did that. Lesson one. Don’t talk about your stuff to people you meet on the street.”
“I don’t have to work with you do I?”
“Maybe. Here’s the thing though. I see you as the lesser of two evils. I don’t like you. I don’t give a crap about you, your friends, your hopes, dreams, or desires. When you were just another citizen, I’d protect you with the same disinterest that I would any other person. If you stick with this and become a hero in this city, and we end up running together, I will have your back. Always. Sure, I’ll be taping a ‘Kick Me’ sign to it, but if anyone actually tries it I’ll flatten them. I expect the same from you.”
“So you’ll be picking on me the whole time?”
“Yeah, probably, but I won’t lie to you. That’s not so much an ethics thing on my part as it a fear one. There’s a new girl that would cut me in half if I did.”
“Ha ha. Right. Wait… You’re just trying to scare me, right?”
“Nope. She’s wicked scary. Here’s a little rundown on your new peer group. We’ve got one guy with two different people living in his head. They take turns being in control. We’ve got another woman that thinks of dead people and turns the tears to fire, or something like that. We’ve got an eight foot tall insect from space and a seven foot tall lizard-man with the mind of a child. There is a little robot guy that is probably more human than most of the people. And finally, a shrink that does her best to keep us all together. That’s just the staff. Some of the other people are really messed up.”
“Yep. You needed valium when that red-head made the varsity squad, right? I can’t wait to see you cope with this.”