Five Weeks, One Day Before the Michigan Avenue Proclamation
Jane Hammer certainly lived up to her name. I can process all kinds of movement but, even though I’d been warned, I wasn’t ready for just how fast she moved. It took her all of two seconds from the time she hit the ground to run a loop around me and get to the van, which rolled onto its side to the tune of screaming metal. I cursed and turned to start back towards her but I needn’t have bothered.
She came back my way even faster than she’d left and when we collided the force was more than the ground under my feet could safely handle. The parking lot was fairly worn down concrete and under that there was only gravel fill, I know because a great deal of it sprayed in the air when a chunk of paving about five feet around pulled loose and tilted up, sliding a few feet to the right in the process. It had taken the force of Jane’s hit but ruined my footing in the process.
At least I had known what to expect and managed to keep my balance. Jane, who had used a fairly straightforward shoulder slam that probably would have smashed a normal man’s ribs into kindling, hadn’t expected me to stay standing or for her to wind up stopped, much less for the ground to move under her feet. She slipped and went down on all fours.
Even though I knew it wouldn’t work training prompted me to try and kick her closer hand out from under her. The force from the kick vanished as soon as we made contact and her appearance changed subtly. According to Voorman, vector traps don’t move force, they store it and can release it later, although the amount of force they’re holding drains away over time. So I’d basically just handed her a free kick. She retaliated by punching me in the thigh and letting the extra force spring back out at the same time, which hurt about as much as the evil eye she was giving me as she swung.
Trading punches was going to go nowhere fast, neither one of us could really hurt the other that way. So I grabbed her wrist and shoulder before she could recover from her punch, pulling her off balanced and into a hip throw that dropped her to the ground. When we stayed in direct contact the whole time her talent was basically useless, while mine still ensured that I never lost my footing. I’m not sure why that is but that’s the kind of thing we leave to the scientists. While wushu doesn’t have a whole lot of wrestling in it, it does still include some basic throws and pins to go with all its other moves. Against a complete amateur, which Jane obviously was, that’s more than enough.
Or so the theory went. But I hadn’t even gotten her fully locked into a pin when she started kicking her feet against the ground. To my amazement her appearance started to warp slightly, like it had when she’d absorbed my kick, and even glimmer around the edges. Somehow kicking against the ground was letting her build up force. By the third kick I realized what was going on and shifted to try and pin her feet as well. After fumbling for a couple of seconds I only managed to get one of them.
Jane’s next kick after that hit the ground with enough force to rock the loose pavement we were on. The next after that actually shoved it a half a foot sideways. This was getting bad. If she managed to knock us airborne all my advantages would vanish – in fact, she’d be way ahead of me, since vector traps don’t need their feet on the ground to be quasi-invulnerable.
So I let go, timing it so it happened a split second before her next kick. With nothing to push against Jane wound up flipping herself over and skidding along the ground a good ten feet. I winced. Even if she didn’t feel the impact with the pavement she’d still get scrapes and limbs would still get yanked out of socket. For all that, she still got to her feet before I could get to her. I might have the advantage in durability, since Voorman said traps could only absorb one vector at a time and had to use it before they could grab another, while I could shunt hits into the ground all day. But Jane had far more mobility than I could ever hope for. At least I did have time to get off the broken pavement before Jane came back for more.
In fact, she backed up several steps, moving with a weird rocking motion of the feet and storing up a little more force with each step she took. Now that I had a clear look at it I remembered something Voorman had said about the principle of action producing equal and opposite reaction and Jane’s talent, but I hadn’t really understood it. Looking at it now, it seemed that every time her foot hit the ground she absorbed the impact and released it on her next step, making each step gradually a bit stronger than the last. I wondered absently if that took training or if it was instinctive.
Jane wasn’t distracted by such things. She was focused on taking me down and I was more than happy to let her try. Even with just a few seconds to study her it was clear to me that she had never had any kind of formal hand to hand combat training. All she was doing was building up a head of steam and slamming into her target with all the force she’d accumulated. And the fact is, that would probably be enough for eighty to ninety percent of the people she would fight.
But wushu isn’t just fighting hand to hand, it’s reading the flow and pattern of movement, anticipating it and countering it. While Jane’s movements were bigger and more powerful than anything I’ve seen from something that didn’t have a six cylinder engine in it they were actually very simple and easy to analyze. And while they might be too fast for an untalented man with my level of discipline to follow I could see her coming in ways she probably wasn’t expecting. The files suggested vector shifts and vector traps perceive the world a lot differently, so she probably didn’t realize that the way she manipulated momentum caused her to light up like a Christmas tree.
To my eye the average person is surrounded a dull red haze that gets lost in the gray static of ambient motion once they’re more than twenty feet away from me. A running person may work their way up to yellow and be visible thirty feet away – forty if they’re really fast. But Jane burned white hot and I could probably spot what she was doing from the other end of a football field.
The more force Jane put behind her movements the easier they were to track and anticipate. I almost felt guilty at how easy it was to toss her back to the ground when she came around for another hit. This time instead of letting her go flying I kept ahold of her and bled her momentum out into the ground. I also made it a point to grab her by the leg and wrestler her into a lock that would break it if she tried to power her way out again. “Give it up, Jane!”
“What?” There was a note of confusion in her voice and I belatedly remembered that, unless Project Sumter had actually had her in custody at some point she wouldn’t know what her codename was.
“Never mind.” I sighed in exasperation. At least her friends had stopped shooting at me once she came into the picture. “Are you going to give or not?”
In response she started drumming her hands on the ground. “If you try and move you’re just going to break your leg. Believe me, you won’t be breaking mine.”
She exhaled deeply, a lot like sifu would when “centering the chi”, and there was a confusing flurry of motion. She kicked against my leg lock and I held steady, not moving, but she managed to press herself down into the pavement with enough force to crack it again. For a split second I lost my footing and couldn’t keep her in the join lock; then suddenly Jane was free and bouncing a good ten feet in the air. She didn’t land on her feet but I don’t think that really bothered her much.
And this time she didn’t come back around for another pass, this time she just kept running away. I swore and then yelled, as loud as I could, “Amplifier! Jane’s running for the alley on the east side of the building!”
A second later I heard Amp’s voice, at normal levels, saying, “We’ve got it.”
I suppressed a shudder. If she was still where she started the operation she was a block and a half away, coordinating communications for-
The fast retreating point of light that Jane made as she retreated into the distance suddenly vanished in a weird pulsing of the air. I’m not sure normal people could have spotted it but I sure could.
“What happened?” I demanded.
“Just hit her with a little noise, one of the things I picked up in the past few weeks” Amp replied, still throwing her voice. I knew that she’d been having occasional meetings with another wave maker, who’s codename hadn’t been shared with me, to help them understand how she did her little ventriloquist trick over long distances. Apparently she’d picked up a few new tricks in the process.
“Is she still going to be a problem?”
“Don’t think so.” There was a pause, then, “Yeah, Dominic says they’re spraying her down with some of that riot foam stuff now. Voorman said that would be enough to hold her.”
“Good.” I turned back to the building, dusting myself off as I went. “Let’s see if I’m needed inside.”
As it turned out, I wasn’t. Helix’s team had come through the front door and locked down the concessions part of the office as soon as the shooting started and the rest of the building had been cleared by the state police by the time I could actually get to it and get inside. After about five minutes of fast and furious work the raid was all over but the clean-up and analysis. This after nearly a weak of intensive planning.
My life in a nutshell.
All the work paid off, though, as the police got plenty of charges to press against the arms dealers and we got – well, we didn’t get the van in pristine condition since Jane had it hard enough to completely roll it once, but the body of the vehicle was mostly intact and hopefully analysis could get something out of it. On top of that, no one got seriously hurt other than the officer who was in the van when Jane rolled it. Even he got away with nothing more than a few sprains and a broken leg. Not bad given all the shooting that went on.
After asking around a bit I managed to track down Helix and our analyst team in what appeared to be the office of the accountant in charge of the operation. As with most criminal operations focusing on making money, most of the relevant evidence was probably going to be found there.
The small room was pretty cramped since Helix was there with Agent Herrera, his field analyst, who I’d heard being called Mossman, my field analyst, Auburn Reinke, and a youngish kid who I didn’t recognize but assumed to be Samson’s field analyst.
I’d passed a vending machine in the hallway, presumably one of the cover company’s offerings, and it appeared that Auburn had bought some popcorn out of it, which she was now trying to convince Helix to pop for her.
“It’s important,” she was saying, “to have something that crunches when you’re doing mathmatical analysis.”
“Then you should have bought some potato chips.” Helix put his hands on his hips, an action that would be totally lost on someone like Auburn, who suffered from Asperger’s syndrome and couldn’t process body language much better than I could read facial expressions. “I’m not a microwave.”
“Potato chips are only for decoding messages.” Auburn’s tone suggested that everyone should know that.
“Just pop the popcorn,” I said, sidling up behind the skinny kid, who was shuffling papers back and forth with Mossman so that they made weird patterns. “She’ll never get off your back if you don’t.”
Helix sighed and took the bag of popcorn. Then he pushed past his supervisor and out the door. I glanced at Herrera. “Where’s he going?”
“I think there’s a microwave in the lounge a couple of doors back,” she said with a hint of amusement in her voice. “I don’t know as he can regulate temperatures enough to pop a bag of popcorn without burning through the bag.”
“Auburn, did you look over the records here already?” I asked.
“She glanced at them,” the skinny kid started to say, “but-”
“Yeah, I’ve seen them.” Auburn sat down in the room’s only chair and slouched there. She didn’t understand body language or facial expressions and she didn’t use them, which actually made it easier for me to understand her, since I’ve always been bad at seeing them. “They get guns from drugs and sell them back to drug people. Waste of money for the druggers, but makes these guys money. The van was already theirs.”
There was a moment of silence as the room processed that. While I’m sure Helix and Samson had competent analysts, Auburn was an honest to goodness getman, in the same mold as the original. The Man From Gettysburg had been a single-minded, relentless genius who set out to destroy both sides of a conflict that killed all three of his sons. He nearly killed both Corporal Sumter and Shenandoah more than once and stopping him eventually required the assistance of Fog of War, who supposedly brought a plan crafted by Robert E. Lee himself. Even then the original getman only got caught and hung because he was over seventy. He claimed to have thought of a way out of the trap set for him but lacked the strength to carry it out.
And Auburn? She may have suffered from a weird way of looking at the world, and had an even harder time making herself understood, but she also had a photographic memory and incredible reasoning skills. Sometimes I wonder if she’s not as dangerous as the original getman simply because she hasn’t, or can’t, experience the same kind of traumas as he did.
To avoid thinking about such cheery subjects I asked, “If you had all that figured out, why did you want popcorn?”
“Wanted to double check.”
Of course. Self esteem was not one of her strong points.
“I see,” the skinny kid said. “There’s no record of purchase for the van anywhere in the last month of records. But I don’t know why that makes her say they already had the van…”
“Because all this stuff came up ‘with drugs’, which means from Mexico,” Helix’s analyst replied, the papers in his hands ignored as he stared off into space. “It had to come up through Texas and the south. This place is part of a network based in the south – remember, the write-up on the two talents here came from our southern offices.”
“Yeah, I remember,” the kid said. “What’s significant about that?”
For once, I was following the analyst’s logic. “It’s significant because Circuit always works in such a way as to minimize Helix’s impact on his operations. The South’s Senior Special Liaison hates him, won’t let him operate in his jurisdiction. If Circuit wanted to set up a money-making operation, or just start assembling material for that overthrow of the government he’s supposedly plotting, what better place to do it than the one part of the country his archrival isn’t allowed to work in?”
“Oh…” The sound of the light dawning for the kid. “So when he winds up with a van he can’t or doesn’t want to repair instead of abandoning it he arranges to sell it through a satellite operation.”
I frowned at that. When the kid put it that way, the whole theory suddenly sounded wrong. “Didn’t Voorman or Samson say something about Circuit having enough armor plating to manufacture replacement parts? Why wouldn’t he want to repair the van?”
“Because he didn’t just build one van.” Helix tossed Auburn the popped back of popcorn as he walked back into the room, “He’s got several. There’s this whole story behind it, it’s got to do with auto plant closings in Detroit and one of the most absurd cons I’ve ever heard of, but we’re pretty sure he’s got half a dozen of the things, maybe as many as ten. For that guy, anything worth doing is worth doing on a grand scale. He may not have gotten his hands on enough plating to build all of them and have resources left over for spare parts.”
“You’re sure about that?” The kid asked.
“Reasonably. That’s the conclusion Mona came to. You can ask her-” Helix caught himself and sighed, running a hand over his face. “Never mind. There’s a write up about it somewhere, I’m sure. It was never proved, but it was as likely as not. That’s how we knew what VINs we should look for when checking out the van here.”
“What’s important,” Herrera said, putting a comforting hand on Helix’s shoulder, “is that we have a potential lead into Circuit’s organization on a scale we’ve never had before. I want all this sorted and boxed and back at the offices by this time tomorrow. The more people we have looking at this, the better.”
Helix nudged the skinny kid with his elbow. “Movsesian, I want you and Darryl to sit down and-”
“He resigned,” Auburn said. Helix stared at her silently and for once she took the cue and went on. “The day after you left for Omaha he handed in his resignation and left town. I haven’t heard where he went. Agent Philmore is interim head of Analysis, Clark could talk to him-”
“He’s never worked any of Circuit’s cases,” Helix snapped. There was no doubt he was pissed. Not at the kid, Movsesian, or Auburn but still angry above and beyond his grumpy norm. “Try Lightning Cage’s old field analyst, Williams. Go over all the accounting stuff here, see if it matches what he’s done in the past and if you can trace it back to any of his past operations. I’ll give you the name of a contact in the CIA, tell them to see if they can get it back to Morocco. This time we’re blowing the lid off his whole damn network.”
I reached out to give Helix’s shoulder a squeeze, thought better of it, and settled for saying, “Take it easy, big guy. He’s finally made a serious mistake. We’ve never caught anyone from his organization in a position to talk to us before, never caught any talents that worked for him. Definitely never found this much evidence in one place before. It’s only a matter of time before we get him.”
“Assuming that this organization is actually part of Circuit’s. That’s not proven yet,” Mossman said.
“Duly noted.” Helix sighed and cracked his knuckles, then slumped against the wall and shook his head. “I almost hope it’s not. Circuit wouldn’t be this careless if he didn’t have something big in the works. It’s a race now. If we win, we catch him.”
“And what happens if he wins?” Herrera asked.