When I first met Darryl Templeton he was in his early thirties, single and ambitious. A lot like most people would describe me now. We worked together off and on, Darryl first working as field analyst and then field oversight on my team. Pretty much every kind of work Project Sumter did at the time we handled. Everything from cover-ups, introducing newly discovered talents to the rules of the game and heavy investigative work to serious archive updating and scientific research got handed off to our team. When we worked in the Midwest he ran into Mona Walters and was smitten. He fell in love, got married and gave up field work.
I saw him less after that. He moved up into the administrative side of Analysis. The next time we ran into each other he had gray hair coming in and he was asking me to look after his wife when she tried her hand at field work. When he was in a car wreck I took some time off to check in on him during his recovery.We stayed good friends even though we didn’t see each other regularly.
Until his wife was killed in the field. While on my team.
Now Darryl’s almost a stranger to me. When HiRes got him on the phone I barely even recognized his voice, rough and scratchy instead of level and confident as I remembered. But in person the differences were even worse. He hobbled on a cane, his hair was gray on white and worst of all he didn’t grin when he saw me anymore. I’d avoided him since our brief collaboration after the Michigan Avenue Proclamation just because looking at him reminded me that a fundamental part of my world had shifted out of place and not been replaced yet. The first thing I noticed when he walked into my office was that his face had new lines on it, creases at the corners of his mouth and eyes that made it look like he was perpetually frowning and sleepy.
He lowered himself slowly into one of the guest chairs and finally managed a smile for me, though it was tired and grim. “Congratulations, Helix. You finally rated your own office. I knew you’d have one as soon as I heard the courts had ordered Project Sumter to stop withholding promotions from talented agents.”
My return smile wasn’t really any better than his. “Look who’s talking. You went out and found a whole office full of talents to supervise. Is it any easier than riding herd on the analysts?”
“You have no idea. Project Sumter analysts are the only kind of people I know that get exponentially more difficult to deal with when you have more of them. Talents pale in comparison.” A little of the animation I remembered from the old Darryl came back, his eyebrows waggling in a way that meant he was joking – but it was funny because it was true.
I didn’t laugh because the joke wasn’t that funny but I did manage a more heartfelt smile. It lasted half a second before I remembered what we needed to talk about. “Darryl, I need to talk to you about…”
My voice trailed off because I wasn’t really sure now to describe what I wanted to talk about. But Darryl hadn’t been head of Analysis four years for nothing. “You want to talk about Circuit and what’s happening around the country right now.”
“Never could fool you.” I cracked my knuckles absently on the desktop as I marshalled my thoughts. Training told me to start on easy ground. “I know Circuit has been your number one concern for a while. Did the Secret Service have any idea something was going to happen?”
For a moment Darryl studied his hands, resting on top of his cane. In the past he’d always been the kind to look you in the eye when telling you… pretty much anything. I wondered when that had changed. “We knew something was going to happen. Lots of buzz going about something building up in Toronto. But nothing to indicate it was a US concern and not a Canadian one. And no sign that it was my office’s concern at all. In fact, most of the Secret Service thinks this is a NSA or FBI matter, not something for our agency at all.”
“But you’re here.” I folded my hands together and pressed them down on the desk to keep from fidgeting. “You must think this is connected to Circuit.”
His head snapped up, a bit of the old fire in his eyes. “Of course. But right now the Secret Service is not inclined to agree with me.”
My eyes narrowed just a bit. “Darryl, are you even supposed to be here right now?”
Again, I’ve known Darryl a long time. That one word was enough for me to guess what his excuse was. “No one said you could come here but no one said you couldn’t. And HiRes is here to guard Voorman so you just tagged along as support. Is that it?”
“Close enough for government work.”
“Right.” I leaned back in my chair. “So what do you think Circuit is up to?”
He spread his hands helplessly. “How should I know? Are you sure it’s even him out here?”
“No, of course not!” I thumped my desk for emphasis. “I talked to him over video conferencing and even now I’m not sure it was the same guy who built a hydroelectric power plant in a state park. He just didn’t feel right. You’re the analyst, Darryl, you’re supposed to work these things out.”
Darryl put his elbows down on my desk and pressed his fingers into his temples. “How I wish it was that simple these days, Helix. I’m more administrator than analyst these days – other people handle that for me, now. I just hand out assignments during my office hours.” He sat back up and waved his hand dismissively. “I’ve worked on the case on my own time, of course, but like I said, no one had any clue this was coming down the pike.”
“You mean you had no idea what was going on and you came anyway? You have no plan?” I was out of my seat and waving my hands in the air like a windmill waiting for Quixote but I didn’t care at that moment. “What is wrong with you Darryl?”
He didn’t get up as fast as I did but he was just as upset. “Because as soon as I heard what happened I knew he’d be involved somehow, and it would be here. Everything he’s done that matters, everything he’s done since he killed Mona, it’s happened here. This is where I need to be.”
That was simultaneously the stupidest thing I’d ever heard and something that made total sense. Rather than call him on it I slumped back into my chair and said, “Did you at least come with backup? Please tell me you’re not here on your own.”
“HiRes has Hush with him.”
“Creepy guy who never talks?” Darryl nodded a yes. “Who else?”
“Frostburn and Coldsnap are here in town, but not here in the building. They were useful last time, breaking the hydroelectric plant. I thought we might need them again.” Darryl shrugged and sat back down, too. “Although I guess a hydroelectric plant in the river would be more noticeable out here than his last one.”
I stared at him a moment, trying to figure any possible angle he might have on this. I knew he wanted Circuit in taken down – wanted him gone bad – but it really sounded like he’d been caught as flatfooted as the rest of us. Just to be sure I asked, “So what do we do now?”
“You’re in that chair,” he pointed at the furniture in question, “so that means it’s you’re call. Only person in this office ranked higher than you is Bob Sanders and I think he’ll agree with pretty much anything you suggest.”
I put my head down in my hands. “I was afraid you were going to say that.”
Jack yanked the door to my office, bringing my head up with it like they were attached with a string. “Somebody got power back to the city, Helix. Sanders wants you on the floor pronto. Time to find out what’s been going on while the lights were out.”
“Come on, Darryl.” I was out from behind the desk before he was out of his chair. “If I’m really in charge of this fiasco then I want your eyes on it, too.”
We were back out on the streets around daybreak. I was feeling fine although the world was starting to turn a little fuzzy around the edges. While I’d told Clark the truth about not getting tired this was also my first time out on the streets, facing people with guns and maniacs who wanted to take over the world, or at least the city. I was stressed and starting to feel it. The rest of the team looked even more frazzled around the edges when we piled out of Lincoln’s apartment and into the predawn gloom.
After about half an hour of debate Teresa had decided that the best plan would be to try and fry Circuit’s wonderful EMP weapons through the ground. It hadn’t taken long for Amp to find a frequency that would destroy the coolant pump in the weapons without doing much damage to anything else the real question had been how she could deliver it without wrecking half the windows on a block. To make a long story short, Clark and Lincoln had worked out where major electrical circuits ran and they were hoping Amp could amplify sound down them for a city block or two, causing the cooling systems in any of the weapons in the radius to malfunction and short out the whole unit.
It wasn’t a great plan but it was what we had and it worked in no small part because the electricity was out and there wasn’t an noise from the power grid itself to contend with, so if power came back on we’d be right back where we started. Worse, we had to go underground to hit the major electrical stations where Clark thought the plan would work best. That meant going into the sewers.
At least, Al, Teresa and Amp did, Lincoln and Jane stayed at street level to serve as lookout and Clark and I went ahead to scout out the next point of entrance. Which basically meant finding a manhole cover about six blocks away.
“I could have handled this myself,” Clark said, carefully looking up and down the street while tapping his tire iron slowly against his thigh. I’d lost track of what happened to that thing for a bit but apparently he hadn’t.
“The scouting part or moving the manhole cover?” I leaned out from the side of the building we were hunkered down by, looking up rather than out. “Do you want me on the roof?”
He glanced back at me. “Right. I keep forgetting you can do that.”
“Not your fault. Most people aren’t trained on taxmen tactics. Do you want me up top or not?”
He jerked a quick nod and went back to checking out the street. I stepped out into the middle of the alley and did a quick assessment of the angles then jumped.
It was just a quick flexing of the knees, bend them a little then straighten back out. Most of the strength of the jump came from wherever it is taxmen keep all that power we store, all the muscle we build up is either a place to store it or just a camouflage built up over the years, not the actual source of the power we get to throw around. Personally, I try not to think too much about how it works and just enjoy the results.
Building jumping, either on top of or over, is something I’ve done a fair amount of. Project Sumter actually has an obstacle course for it about an hour outside the city limits and it’s something I’m good at and really enjoy. The rush of air as you go up is only matched by the brief feeling of weightlessness when you hit apogee. Trust me, it’s fun every single time.
Except for the one time that someone switches a floodlight on right in front of your face while you’re on the way up.
After spending most of the night by emergency light or moonlight I wasn’t prepared for the sudden brightness and for the second time in twelve hours I blew my landing and tumbled across the rough concrete roof. I clambered back to my feet, hands and shoulder aching, blinking furiously to try and see what was going on around me. I could dimly see that the world around me had gone from a deep gloom to a dull gray and the air was full of dozens of half-heard sounds that I’d never noticed until the power outage silenced them.
“Damn it, what was that?”
And someone was cursing, there was that, too.
Training, according to Al the heart and soul of police work, kicked in and I shouted, “Federal agent! Who’s there?”
I immediately felt foolish because the man on the roof with me said, “What? Wait, I can’t see anything. You got a badge?”
And of course, I didn’t because I hadn’t been an official federal agent the night before. Not that it would matter since we both seemed to be blinded by the sudden illumination around us. But since the building I’d been jumping up on, another shop of some kind, had been ringed with floodlights for security and I’d basically been looking right at them I figured he’d get his eyes back first and notice I looked a lot like a teenaged girl who’d somehow wandered onto the roof.
I was right and I was wrong. Only as the sparks in my vision began to fade did it occur to me that whoever it was on the roof with me, he didn’t have any better reason to be up there than I did. Looking back it should have been obvious that he trouble, but I was flash blinded and shaken from my bad landing so I didn’t really tumble to the fact that something was wrong until something clanked at my feet and started hissing. My vision was clear enough by that point that I could look down and see a cloud of gas already up to my knees and rising quickly.
A glance up told me the guy who’d thrown it was about ten feet away and his head looked weird. I took a single long step, closer to a jump than anything, and as I slid to a stop next to him I realized it wasn’t his head, he was just wearing a gas mask. I probably wanted one of those for myself and his was the only one handy. But when I snatched at it I misjudged my grip strength and wound up crushing the eye goggles in one hand rather than just grabbing it and pulling it off his face. He staggered back with a yelp, dropping a second smoke bomb or whatever it was he’d thrown at me in the process.
It wasn’t safe to stay up there with nothing to protect me from whatever fumes he was throwing around. A quick jump to my right sent me over the edge of the building and down into the street below. I landed as lightly as possible and looked around. There were two other people in the street, closing in on the alley where I’d left Clark. I rushed over to it much faster than any normal person only to find myself in the middle of another cloud of gas.
Yeah, outrunning our ability to keep track of our surroundings is a major taxman weakness.
I had enough time to figure out that it wasn’t smoke in those bombs before a weird sense of dislocation, of numbness hit me and I pitched forward on my knees. I had just enough time to make out Clark, lying face down on the ground, before the world faded away.