There was a moment of surprise as the man in the doorway drew back a half step. His attention had been on someone in the room, and he’d only seen me out of the corner of his eye. I had a split second before he realized he didn’t know who I was and I used it to plant my feet and drive my shoulder square into the center of his chest.
Now that may sound like an impulsive action for someone like me, who’s used to careful plans that require minimal effort. But in this case, it was the only option that made sense. He wasn’t sure who I was, because he hadn’t seen me clearly yet. I wasn’t wearing a mask or anything like that, so I looked fairly innocuous. I could try and pass myself off as someone passing through, like I had with that college student in Texas. In fact, that would be what I would try to do under most circumstances.
Except this wasn’t a normal job. I wasn’t breaking into a lab, a bank or a corporate office. I was in the basement of Project Sumter’s Midwest headquarters, a secure government facility, and I was about to break in to the evidence room. Playing coy wouldn’t help, and it would give this guy a clear look at my face. He had to be taken down as quickly and quietly as possible.
The idea was to slam him to the floor and hit him with enough current to keep him down for the count as he fell, then deal with whoever else was in the room before they could do something inconvenient, like grab a handgun or worse, call security. This plan hit an immediate snag when the other man didn’t go down.
In fact, he didn’t even back up or grunt in discomfort. It was like slamming into a brick wall, except not quite so abrasive. I shifted my feet to get better traction and pushed harder, but he still didn’t move. Trying all that didn’t take more than a second, and I was just about to back up to try something else when the blond man got around to grabbing me, one hand on one shoulder the other under the opposite elbow, and twisted me through the door and flat on my back on the ground.
I reached up with my left hand and snagged his ankle, then gave a sharp tug. Nothing happened. It was like trying to yank over a flag pole. I’m getting close to forty, and I’m not as spry as I used to be. Any other time I’d wonder if I was getting soft, that maybe the fall had taken more out of me than I thought. But here, in the basement of Project Sumter, I was certain I was dealing with a talent. And unfortunately, it was one I didn’t recognize.
With a twitch of my own talent I tripped the switch in my gloves, intending to trigger the electrodes built into them and carry out the electrocution part of my plan, even if the toppling part wasn’t working. I immediately discovered a new design flaw in my set-up. Rather than having a complete taser rig in both hands I had put a positive terminal in my left hand and a negative terminal in my right. With only one hand on my target, no current would flow unless the man was grounded in some way. Which he apparently wasn’t. And not even I can force circuit out of open air with so little charge to work with.
I tried to bring my right hand up and grab hold of his leg with it, but he was bending down at the same time to grab my left and it was a simple matter for him to switch targets and grab my right wrist. A second later Heavy Water slammed into his back and stopped dead. It was kind of eerie to see a six foot tall man, weighing in over two hundred pounds and in training stopped dead in his tracks by a man just as tall but at least twenty pounds lighter who wasn’t even paying attention to him. I probably would have given that some more thought if it hadn’t felt as if something extremely heavy slam into my left hand at that exact same moment. I lost my grip on the other man’s ankle and my entire arm and shoulder wrenched up and around and flipped me halfway over onto my chest. A dizzied glance didn’t show any source for what hit me, but I didn’t have much time to look.
The blond man held onto my other arm just long enough that getting flipped over wrenched it out of its socket before letting go and turning around to deal with Heavy Water, leaving me face-down on the floor, right shoulder in significant pain and left hand reporting that it was very possible some fingers were broken. And worse, I had no idea what had happened.
I’d like to say at this point that one of the many gifts my talent gives me is the ability to switch nerves on and off like all other electrical circuits. Alas, real life is not so convenient. I’m not sure if it’s the chemical component to nerves, or if some part of my subconscious just doesn’t want to tamper with my own body that way, or if there’s something else I don’t understand causing it, but messing with the nervous system is outside my abilities.
So I had to brace my left elbow and push myself up onto my knees with no relief from the pain. I was vaguely aware that someone had come up and put a hand on my shoulder, thankfully the one that was still socketed, and was saying something to me. Probably an admonition to behave myself. Grabbing his leg and shocking him down to the floor was simple, if uncomfortable.
He grunted in pain as he collapsed and then I gave him a second shock to the body, to make sure he stayed quiet. While I did so I heard the sound of ceramic breaking, followed by a wet splat.
I looked up to find that Heavy had stopped using plain force on the blond man and switched to tricks. Where I favor magnets and Tasers as my primary tricks, he carries a number of hard ceramic containers filled with ink and scored along one side. He’d apparently backed up from the other man and broken one on the door frame. The ink settled in his hand in one large glob, refusing to flow apart as he used his own talent to make it more viscous than cold oxtail soup. The blond man backed up a step but Heavy flipped it forward like a man pitching underhand and the whole glob flew in a gentle arc that slapped the other square in the face and stuck.
As Heavy’s victim staggered back, clawing at the ink blob and making a mess out of his hands for his trouble, I clambered to my feet and slapped both hands into his back, ignoring the shooting pains from my fingers and shoulder as I triggered my taser a third time. He stiffened and went down, proving that whatever his talent was, it didn’t make him immune to electricity as well as physical impact.
With the blond man finally out of commission I had enough time to glance around at the rest of the room. The first thing to do was to make sure there wasn’t anyone else in there, which was difficult with all the shelves running down the length of the room. But there wasn’t anyone here in the entrance, or behind the desk that was right next to it. I glanced over at Heavy, who was stripping the blob of ink off the face of the blond man so he wouldn’t suffocate. I jerked my head towards the back of the room. Heavy just nodded and slipped off, quiet as a ghost.
The second thing to do was check the charge in my vest. To my dismay, it was almost three quarters empty. Not much I could do about it at the moment, except do everything I could to avoid having to use it again on this trip. I made a mental not to come up with some way to charge it from conventional current without needing specialty equipment.
All that was left was priority number three. I stepped over to the computer and rested one hand on it.
A computer is nothing more than a massive collection of circuits that process information based on one factor, whether a given circuit is open or closed. These circuits form patterns upon patterns, and the astute mind which has had enough practice can interpret them. If they were born with the fusebox talent, they can even manipulate those patterns with a little practice.
It’s not the most elegant way to program a computer but it is a great way to get a look past firewalls or other password protections. And, since all I wanted to know at the moment was whether or not an alarm had been sounded, direct interface was the best way to go. It didn’t take more than a few seconds to determine that there was no sign of anything like an alert going through the system. No files were being deleted or removed, the firewall wasn’t locking the terminal out from the rest of the network and it didn’t look like anyone was trying to access the cameras in the room from outside. Satisfied, I lifted my hand off of the computer tower.
“Coming your way!” Heavy called. That was followed by a wet splat and the sound of someone falling to the floor. I hurriedly stepped away from the terminal and glanced down the rows of shelving. A short brunette woman lay sprawled on the floor in a puddle of ink that was no doubt as slick as oil. Of course, on a linoleum floor, like you find in most government buildings of a certain age, pretty much any liquid would make things slippery.
I stepped down the hallway to block the woman’s path, but I needn’t have bothered. Heavy was on her almost before I could do anything, slipping a plastic zip-tie around her wrists before she had a clear idea what was going on. A moment later she was gagged and dragged into the corner of the room.
While Heavy was doing that, and trussing up the other two men we’d stumbled into at the door, I started poking through the various boxes and other detritus on the shelves. When he finished and came to help me look around I said, “I hope she didn’t see your face clearly.”
“I told you we should have worn masks,” he said. “It’s not worth it to ‘look inconspicuous’ if they know who to throw in jail afterwards.”
“We’d never have gotten past that wall man if we wore masks, he’d have figured out we were up to no good in time have someone hit the alarm.” The boxes on the shelf were dated too early to be what I wanted. I waved for Heavy to follow me and moved on to the next aisle. As we walked I said, “If you’re worried about my methods you could always go in business for yourself. You’re certainly capable of it.”
“Not me, mister,” Heavy said, shaking his head emphatically. “I promised myself once that I’d never be one of those guys who just went around causing problems for the hell of it. You, you got standards, boss. But you still know that you need to raise havoc from time to time. I like that.”
“Um…” I really didn’t know what to say about that. “I’m not exactly an altruist, Heavy. I’m doing what I do because it needs to get done, true. But also because I’m the only person who can do it right. I prefer jobs well done, no matter how ‘important’ they are, to being a hero.”
“That’s what I’m saying,” Heavy said, and shrugged. “Maybe you just don’t hear it like I do. Anyway, I like the work, it pays well and…” He glanced at the aisles of boxes. “I think it’s better for Grappler, too.”
Suddenly I found myself interested in the shelving as well. I realized we were now at the end of the last full aisle, the last row of shelves just beyond was empty. I headed down it. “Heavy, you know that I’ve never really-”
“Wall man.” Heavy said, cutting me off. “Is that what they’re called? That big blond guy from before?”
Grateful for the change of topic, I switched mental gears and thought about it for a second. “Honestly, I’ve never heard of anything like him. It’s not like I’ve seen a comprehensive list of all talents Project Sumter knows about, and I doubt any such list encompasses all the existing talents in the world. He’s really bothersome, whatever he is. I’m not even sure what he did to my arm. It’s like you rammed into me, instead of him.”
“Is that even possible?”
“Is any of what we do?” I pulled a box off the shelves and rifled through it. It was full of the kind of junk you’d expect in any mundane evidence box. Stuff in little plastic baggies, stuff in big plastic baggies, stuff in plastic baggies of every size in between. None of it looked like what I wanted. “Whatever it is, it has it’s limits. Good thinking dropping the ink on him, but why’d it take you so long to jump him?”
“Didn’t want to get shocked when you tased him,” Heavy said. “When I realized you weren’t going to be able to I tackled him, for all the good it did.” He waved to my right arm, still dangling slightly awkwardly. “Want to take a second to get your arm back in socket?”
“When we find what we need.” I put the lid back on the box I had pulled, wincing as my right arm moved in some way it didn’t like, shelved the box and picked a new one. This time it only took a few seconds of pawing through it to come to a conclusion. “This looks like part one.”
Heavy smiled and tipped his own box so I could see the contents. “And this is part two.”