Hawthorne fidgeted in her seat under Will’s gaze.
The train car winded along the tracks. They had already passed Hyrfell and they were making their way through the mountains. Will ignored the scenery. He stared across the car at Hawthorne. He had managed to get Slipstream to let him borrow the BIT train again, but it would still be almost three hours before they reached Confluence. He had to know if she really understood what they were getting into.
“What do they teach you about Confluence?”
She relaxed a little at the sound of his voice. Even a history quiz was better than silence. “It was built as a central trade route for river traffic. It managed to keep that up straight up until the first trains were laid out, and it didn’t lose much then. It’s built at a narrow point in both rivers so highways and trains ended up crossing right into it. It’s stayed a relatively powerful business center, but it’s only a little over half as big as Macropolis. Its crime rate is relatively high, but it has few reported murders. And it has the lowest hero count of any city of its size.”
Will nodded. “You aren’t wrong. What they don’t tell you is that as of a decade ago, there were three major crime factions in Confluence. Each one budded off a different shipping company back during the river trade. They’re the reason that the city managed to stay on the map once they started laying the train tracks. The companies owned half of the city, and employed most of what was left.
“The crime rate is so high because the local cops became too afraid of the companies to arrest anyone they didn’t catch in the act. And most of the local heroes aren’t official for the same reason. The only reason the homicide rate dropped so much in the last decade is that one man managed to consolidate all three of the companies under his power. Milton Plask.
“From what I’ve learned, he’s the one Allspades’ old group was supposed to take care of in their last mission. If this agent managed to convince him to come back, then that’s probably who he’s after.”
Hawthorne tapped her fingers on her knee. “Why isn’t this common knowledge? I thought everyone knew Macropolis’s dirty secrets. You can’t hide something that big.”
Will shook his head. “It’s easier than you think. They did business with the government; if anyone needed anything smuggled into the country, or even across it, they were the people to talk to. They made a deal to keep themselves out of textbooks, and they squashed any real research into it, so nobody can get any real information out about it. That’ll change in the next few years; Plask doesn’t care about secrecy like they did, he’ll just ask for more money and they’ll stop bothering with it.”
“So why do they want him dead? It sounds like he’s less in control than they used to be.”
“Because he doesn’t care. The companies kept their people under control; anyone who got on the news wasn’t going to last long. But Plask only cares about making a profit. So long as they report in on time and pay their dues, his people can get away with anything. And he still keeps enough of the cops in his pocket to keep them out of trouble. The black suits probably want him taken out because someone saner will take over, they have no intention of destroying the companies; they just want their old business partners back.”
Will glanced out the window. The landscape passing by had grown flatter, and the small patches of trees had grown into large forests.
“The fact is that nobody in Confluence is going to help us. You’re not going to be able to wear a mask, and you’re not going to be able to count on the cops or any locals to show you any favor for being a hero. When this train car stops, I’m going to give you one last chance to go back to Macropolis. But once you step off the train, you have to do everything I say, or neither of us is going to make it out of here alive.”
Will reached into the cooler next to his seat and grabbed a small bottle of vodka that he poured into a soda. “Want anything?”
Hawthorne swallowed, her mouth suddenly dry. “Water.”
Will tossed her a bottle and sat back down. “I’m not trying to scare you out of going. But the fact is that we won’t be in Macropolis. There are only a couple of people in Confluence that wouldn’t do their best to keep us from interfering, and both of them would rather leave us to ourselves than have anything to do with outsiders. If we make a mistake, there’s no backup, there’s no rescue, and there’s no plan b. And none of that would change if I was on my own. But my job is to keep you and the others safe as long as you’re under my care, so I want you to understand, if I tell you to run, you run. You don’t ask why, you don’t go sneaking around to ambush whoever’s left, you run. Got that?”
Hawthorne took a long drink. “Allspades is stubborn and childish, but you weren’t there when we were tracking down the trucks. He was smiling; he was enjoying the fight more than anyone I’ve ever seen. But afterwards, he hated himself for it. When you showed up at the end, everyone else watched you. But I saw the look in his face. He kept flinching, like somebody was scolding him. Whoever these people are, they’re the ones who did that to him. Believe it or not, I know what it’s like to hate yourself, to hate the way you have to act in order to survive. That’s how he feels, and the only way he’s going to get any help is if we can get him away from this city as fast as possible. So talk all you want about how bad this city is, and how we’re going to die. I’m not turning back, and I’m not giving up.”
Will finished off his drink. “We have two more hours until we get there. You sound like you made up your mind, but take your time and think about it. You don’t want to rush into this.”
To himself he muttered. “At least I tried.”
About Powers (Potential spoilers/hints in second half)