Month: March 2015

Chapter 48: Warning

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.”

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About Powers (Potential spoilers/hints in second half)

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Chapter 47: The Letter

Jeremiah Pierce
Macropolis Gazette

 

Mr. Pierce,

This letter should, if all goes well, be the third that you receive from me. I’m sorry about sending them separately, but I can’t afford the risk of sending them together. I have been told that you are not the kind of man who will publish a story without hearing it to the end. I want you to understand that if I don’t contact you again before the end of the month, then this is the end of my story.

Milton Plask was the last target I’d ever had as Knight. He’s managed to pull together more power in Confluence than any one man had ever had for over two centuries. As far as we know, he doesn’t have powers, but he still managed to organize the near simultaneous deaths of every other crime boss in the city.

We were supposed to kill him, throw the underground in Confluence into such disarray that the remains could be swept up by locals with no issue. It wouldn’t have worked out as well as w though anyway, it never does, but if we succeeded there would have been almost no downsides. But he found out, he knew we were coming. We failed, I failed, and Knight disappeared from the world.

I became Allspades.

As Allspades I could be so very different than I could have ever been as Knight. I didn’t become a better person; looking back I could see that The Cards were the good guys, even if they weren’t heroes. But Allspades didn’t need to hide in the shadows; he could afford to save the person calling for help and see the good of what he was doing. Knight never had that luxury.

But being Allspades couldn’t change who I was. The day that had killed Knight haunted me. Page haunted me. Allspades wasn’t enough to control the anger I felt.

So I asked for help, and I was given a choice. I could be Allspades, and hope I could control my anger, or I could leave, and avoid putting myself into the kind of situation where I needed to. I spent months with people trying to make the same decision.

But as long as I stayed with them, as much as they were trying to help, I didn’t get any better. The joy I felt when I could throw a punch just kept growing, and Page’s voice just kept growing louder.

But then I was given a third choice. A man I hoped thought I was dead gave me a chance. He asked me to go after Plask. To be Knight again.

I took it.

Now I’m back in Confluence; a shithole of a city with more criminals per capita than the few honest men should be able to keep paid. I’m here to kill the man who killed the only woman I’ve ever loved. And god help me, I think I’m going to do it.

Page is talking to me again. Doing her best to put me in the loony bin. Sooner or later she’s probably gonna pull it off.

But with any luck, I’ll be able to finish this job before that happens.

I’m sending this to you because their names deserve to be known. Because if I fail, it may be the only closure they ever get.

Thomas Crown, Helen Craig, Page Trueman

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

Knight stared down at the page sitting on his desk. He’d sent the first two before he’d left Macropolis, but he couldn’t bring himself to finish this one.

If Craig found out about them, then he’d probably wake up somewhere on the other side of the planet with three years of his life missing.

But he had to do this.

He picked up his pen one last time and wrote the last few words.

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

Thomas Crown, Helen Craig, Page Trueman, Mason White

Please remember us, because I don’t think anyone else will have the chance.

Thank you,
Knight of Swords

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Chapter 46: Rule Breaker

Rose and Barry leaned against two pillars in the lobby, taking turns glancing at the elevator. They talked vaguely about their current project, just enough to avoid suspicion, and Barry held an unlit cigarette in his hand. Nobody looked at them twice.  Barry checked the elevator again.

“That’s him, right?”

Rose stole a glance across the lobby. It was definitely Will, but she had never seen him looking that serious before, even when he told them Burnout had vanished. He was standing straighter, and his stride was longer. His hair was more disheveled than normal, and stress lines were visible around his eyes.

“Something’s wrong.”

She noticed Will stiffen across the room and quickly turned away.

Barry looked strangely at her, and she quickly signaled him to stop talking.

She glanced in the window to her right and watched his reflection. He glanced once around the lobby; his eyes paused on the two of them for a moment. She avoided holding her breath; Barry was less successful but he hid it by taking a sip of his coffee.

Will’s eyes passed over the room once more, but he continued out of the lobby.

Barry finally let himself breath. “What did you mean?”

Rose watched Will turn around the block. “I’m not sure yet, but I think I need to find out.”

Barry nodded. “Family emergency. Text me in 15; I’ll make sure everyone keeps on schedule, but you probably aren’t gonna be sleeping for a few nights when you get back.”

“It won’t take that long.”

“Sure, sure. I’m gonna buy you a coffee pot for your office.”

Rose smiled.

“Head to the parking garage. Try to look worried.”

“Thanks Barry.”

Rose rushed for the stairs. She had to hurry if she wanted to find Will, but she couldn’t do it outside of costume.

The parking garage was secure; you couldn’t get a car in or out without being seen by at least three cameras. But, if you didn’t need a car, the security meant nothing.

She reached a hand into her pocket, and felt for the seeds within. There wasn’t a name for this plant; she had spent the better part of six months designing something completely unique, and it had taken every second she had poured into it.

The largest problem with modifying plants was that any property she tried to give them changed another. She could make it strong, but not without losing flexibility. She could make it light, but not without losing density.

Her staff had been the first attempt to avoid that, but it was only a partial success. This suit had turned out much better. The seed began to sprout, twirling its way around her fingers and over her hand. At first, growing the suit had taken all her concentration for almost 20 minutes. It had been that way for months; then, in three days she had gotten it down to less than ten. Now, she could do it in less than a minute while running.

The plant and grown beneath her clothes, and she could feel tiny vines removing the buttons of her outer layer. She quickly rolled her shoulders back and caught the dress shirt and jacket she had been wearing. The vines beneath it thickened and grew together into the olive green vest of Hawthorne. The pants were harder, but she had figured that out a few weeks ago. A nearly invisible seam of vines split along the sides and she removed them without slowing down.

The next part was the hardest. She’d given up the helmet once she realized how little time she would have to stop by her house after work. She grabbed another seed from her bag and brought it up to her hair. It began to grow and harden, quickly covering her hair and pulling it up towards her neck. It begain to wrap around her head, covering everything but her eyes. Then the color shifted, growing darker until the helmet was pitch black, with a single red rose appearing on the left side.

She pulled a simple, but thick, visor from her bag. It was the only part she couldn’t grow, but it was small enough that she could carry it around without much difficulty. She checked Barry’s truck up ahead; he left the window cracked like he always did.

Hawthorne reached into her bag one more time, letting the remaining seeds within sink into her suit, before she tossed it and her work clothes into Barry’s truck.

Will had been heading west, and he left less than 3 minutes ago. She should be able to spot him from the rooftops.

She launched herself off the parking garage and to the nearest roof.

She scanned the streets below, but she couldn’t spot his messy gray hair among the few people still on the street.

“You caught up fast.”

She froze. It was Will, but he definitely shouldn’t have known she was coming after him.

“Did you-?”

“You shouldn’t be so surprised. I had you pegged as an office worker on day one, I’ve heard your voice, and your hair was still messy from your trip to the office. If you pay attention, you start to notice how people look when they’ve been roof hopping or flying. Don’t worry, I didn’t take to close a look at your face, and I’m not going to look for your name. But you should head back to work; this isn’t something for you kids to deal with.”

“What’s happening then? You don’t look like you’re out for a walk.”

Will turned away. “It doesn’t concern you. But a friend of mine will be stepping in for the next meeting. Make sure Red, Burnout, and Mach know.”

“And what about Allspades?”

Will started to walk away.

“Will, what about Allspades?”

Will didn’t slow down. “Allspades decided not to be a hero any more.”

Hawthorne gritted her teeth. She pulled a seed to her hand and threw it at his feet.

Will hopped to the side before the roots grabbed his feet.

“He wouldn’t do that. Not without telling us himself.”

Will looked her in the eyes. His eyes were still serious, but there wasn’t any anger in them, not for her at least. When he spoke, she could tell he was trying to be gentle.

“Allspades got called back by his old boss. I have an idea of where he’s going, but there’s not much that we can do about the government’s black suits.”

“Black suits?”

“Old timer’s term. Agents with powers and the guys who work with them. The previous Council agreed to leave them alone if they did the same. The second generation pretty much kept that going. Allspades was a black suit, and when they called he went back. He’s not a hero anymore.”

“And you’re just going to let it go.” Hawthorne’s voice was flat. She wasn’t sure if she was trying to hide her anger or her sadness, but it didn’t look like Will bought the act either way.

“Heroes can’t do anything against black suits.”

Hawthorne stared in shock. Will had always been a little distant, but he definitely wasn’t the kind of person to abandon them. Any of them.

“Luckily, I’m not a hero.”

Hawthorne looked up. Will’s eyes were still serious, but there was a hint of playfulness behind them.

She made a decision.

“I’m going too.”

Will looked in her eyes. After a moment, he sighed.

“I’m not talking you out of this am I? There’s a thousand reasons I shouldn’t let you go.”

“I don’t care. Allspades is one of us, and I’m going even if the others can’t.”

Will tried to stare her down, but she didn’t budge. Finall, he nodded and led her across the rooftops.

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Chapter 45: Information

Milton Plask

Age: Unknown

Height: 2.4m (Appr. 8 ft)

Weight: Est 136-158kg (300-350lbs)

Race: Unknown (Northern European)

Skin Tone: Caucasian, Pale

Eyes: Pale Blue

Hair: Bald

Last Known Location: Confluence City

Bio: Appeared on Agency radar shortly after the assassination of The Old Guard in relation to the disappearance of The Memetic. An unforeseen power struggle between three rival families led to his sudden rise to power within Confluence. The Memetic’s involvement was suspected but never confirmed.

Plask’s operations include-

Knight skimmed through the rest of the report. Drugs, kidnapping, extortion, grand larceny, vandalism, sabotage, all suspected nothing proven. Plask was, legally, a well to do concerned citizen who just so happened to inherit money and companies from three men who hated each other more than they loved their wives. Knight flipped the page…apparently Plask had no trouble loving their wives for them. He kept reading, but eventually his head got stuck on one sentence.

Plask has thus far eluded all attempts to infiltrate the higher echelons of his operation. As of this writing, thirteen agents were lost, including two teams of Walkers.  

“I wonder if that includes us.

“Probably not.”

A voice came from the front of the care. “You say something back there?”

Knight watched Craig glare at the driver. He managed to do it without turning his head away from the road. Judging by his flinch, the driver found it just as creepy.

The driver was young, probably new, but he didn’t seem nervous about either of his passengers. An old part of Knight’s mind woke up. The driver was short, skinny, and pale, so he either got shoved behind a desk until now, or he wasn’t used to working during the day. His hair was greasy, matted, like he wore a hat most for the day, and Jack spotted the faintest bit of a tan, a thin circle wrapping around his wrist like a string bracelet. He normally wore gloves, and long sleeves. He kept glancing up and to his right, then down along his arm. Knight made a note of the shadow slowly crawling up his sleeve.

He stored that info in the back of his head. He might need it later.

Knight shut the folder. There wasn’t anything he needed to know in there. It just helped to pass the time.

“Craig. The report didn’t say. He still using the same club?”

One of Craig’s eyebrows peeked out from under his sunglasses.

“You really don’t remember do you?”

Knight scoffed. “I try not to think about that night too much. Should I know something?”

“The Meridian Lounge was condemned the day after your…rampage. It would have cost us quite a bit if Plask could prove we were responsible. Luckily, there was no one around to prove we were involved.”

“Funny how witnesses disappear when you’re around.”

Craig adjusted his tie. “It is quite unlucky. However, I believe Plask suffers from the same issue, so it could very well be his fault.”

“Right.” Knight checked the exit sign. They had a ways to go. “So where is he then?”

“I believe he had a new club built on top of the Meridian’s remains. Unless I am mistaken, he calls if Midnight. In fact, from what I understand, the same staff works at both.”

“So it’s in the same spot, with the same people, and a name that’s almost the same.”

“But it is not the same club.”

“Of course not.”

Knight sighed weakly and unbuckled his seatbelt.

The driver looked like he was going to say something, but thought better of it.

Knight laid on his side and closed his eyes.

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

Rose landed lightly on the roof of the parking garage, carefully steadying the drink carrier in her arms.

“Psst.”

Rose glanced at the large red pickup and spotted Barry’s feet on the other side.

“You don’t have to hide, Barry. It’s not like he can see through walls.”

Barry peaked his head out. “We don’t know that. But I’m a bit more worried about why an ex-superhero gets to waltz up to our boss’s boss’s boss’s floor without issue. You don’t think-”

“I doubt he’s a walker, Barry.”

“Well…yeah, but you never know, do you? I mean if you did, then what’s the point of having a secret identity in the first place.”

“Mostly so people don’t use you for coffee runs.”

Barry smiled. “Speaking of…”

Rose glared playfully at her old friend. She sighed and held out one of the coffees to him.

Barry grabbed it and bowed. “Thank you, oh goddess of the earth. Your rich bounty astounds and invigorates me as always.”

Rose fought to not slap him. He deserved it, but they had had a no coffee spilling rule for four years. It would be a terrible time to ruin that. The last war had escalated quickly, and a small part of her still regretted the incident with his dorm room.

“Let’s go before you start another cult.”

“Hey! That was an accident! How else was I supposed to explain those things?”

Rose ignored him and walked into the building. Barry quickly followed behind her.

“So, you’re sure he’s still here?”

Barry nodded. “The express elevator hasn’t come down since.”

The express elevator went between the top ten floors and the first, no exceptions.

“There are a lot of other ways he could leave.”

“None that wouldn’t make him more suspicious than he already is.”

“Fair.” Rose sipped her coffee. “So…I guess we’re waiting down on the first then?”

“I can’t work before 10 anyway, you know that.” Barry grinned.

“Just don’t look suspicious. He could still recognize me.”

Barry nodded and they waited.

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

Will fought to avoid tapping his foot. Ryan wasn’t a walker, but he was a good friend and had his fingers in more pies than Will wanted to count. Even if he couldn’t get his information here, it was the only place he could figure out where his other contact was.

Ryan strolled out from behind the endless stacks of papers.

“Any luck?”

Ryan shook his head. “Some old files, mostly blacked out. These guys never wrote a report that made it past their boss. And Plask has more red tape around him then any mob boss outside of old comics. I can point you towards Confluence, but I can’t tell you anything about him without making a few calls.”

“No. If they find out I’m looking into it…it could turn out poorly. If that’s all you have here, then that’s all I can go on.”

“Sorry, Will.”

Will waved it off. “It’s about as much as I expected to get on short notice. Any news on the other front?”

Ryan coughed. “Some, but I’m waiting on something. I’ll call you if anything turns up.”

Will nodded. “Thanks.”

He turned to leave, but Ryan stopped him. “Keep an eye out Will, you don’t want to mess with black suits if you can avoid it.”

“I’ll manage. They can’t hate me any more than they already do.”

Ryan smirked and Will walked out the door.

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