Five Weeks, One Day Before the Michigan Avenue Proclamation
It takes a lot of hard, boring work and careful fact checking before cops can go from getting a tip to getting a warrant. Life for those of us working for Project Sumter is complicated by the fact that we are not technically a law enforcement agency (what we are, technically speaking, is pretty vague). If we want to raid a place or make an arrest we actually have to coordinate the operation with some branch of government that can legally do those things. On my team, most of that work is usually handled by Harriet or Dominic Screeton, my tactical team leader, so I spent the most of the time between getting sifu’s tip and the resulting sting working with Amplifier on various parts of her application process.
Mostly it was the formal address to the Senate Committee, which is one of the two big hurdles every talent joining the Project has to face. But once Dominic started talking about the kind of operation we were looking at I decided I also wanted to bring her along on that. The field stress test is the other big hurdle we all have to go through and the sooner Amp took her first crack at it the better it would be for all of us.
Most of Dominic’s law enforcement contacts are with the state police, which turned out to be fortuitous since they were already aware of the group that had wound up with Circuit’s damaged van. They seemed to be some kind of low grade arms dealers, mostly working with drug dealers and the like. I’m not sure how they planned to market an armored delivery van, other than possibly as a way to ensure drug shipments never got hijacked. Regardless, they apparently couldn’t find a buyer as easily as they thought.
The operation was shaping up to be a kind of sting. We’d give the State Police an excuse to crack down on the operation by suggesting they serve a warrant that accused them of accessory to assault. After all, the van had been last used by Circuit, who had merrily shot at Agent Samson at least eight times in the course of his escape from the Diversy Street incident. Now these guys were trying to sell it rather than turning it in as evidence of a crime. Even if we couldn’t make the original charges stick with what we found when we raided their place the State Police were bound to find something else they could charge the arms dealers with once they’d searched the building. The police could close down the death merchants, we’d get our van. Wins all around.
If this sounds like a lot of carefully cultivated self interest, well, welcome to my world. Helix sometimes wonders if keeping all our secrets is worth the time we waste on this kind of thing. I just try not to worry about it too much.
Especially when I had to worry about getting Amplifier through a crash course in field work, which is what we spent the rest of our time working on. When Helix first stumbled across her, Amp was working with a couple of friends, trying her hand at vigilante work. They’d been smarter than most, investing in body armor and some basic communication gear, but Amp proved to be woefully untrained in the use of firearms and teamwork, and she was still far below the basic conditioning threshold we like our agents to have. On the other hand, we weren’t planning to just throw her on the front lines and by the time we had all our paperwork squared away Harriet and Dominic agreed she was readyish for the field.
I walked into the briefing early that morning with a cup of coffee in one hand and a copy of the files we had on the arms dealers in the other. It wasn’t a big time operation but there was enough money and people behind it that we could be looking at some serious opposition and I wanted to be sure exactly what we might be dealing with before we went in. While bullets don’t pose much danger to me, just about anything chemical works just fine and I can be stunned by a flash bang same as anyone else.
I was looking over the speculation on whether the folks we were about to tangle with had any – the state police were fairly sure they didn’t – so at first I didn’t notice the slight change in the air when I entered the briefing room. After all this file wasn’t in Harriet’s special 24-point font, so I had to hold it pretty close just to read it properly. With the paper practically plastered to my face there wasn’t that much of the room around me visible so it took a few seconds for it to register; but the way things are moving around me always clicks sooner or later.
“Helix?” Once the papers were out of the way I could see that yes, he was in fact sitting at the table. Well, not exactly sitting, more like slumped in a chair with his head resting on his arms.
“Hi, Massif,” he said, voice muffled. He lifted one hand and waved it in a vaguely welcoming way. “What brings you here?”
“I have a morning briefing.” I dropped the papers onto the table and took another sip of coffee. “What brings you here?”
Helix raised his head to look at me. Even though his talent being present made it easier to see through the fog of random movement in the air I couldn’t read much in his expression beyond general exhaustion. “I have a morning briefing, too. Someone must have goofed up.” He fumbled in his coat pocket for his phone and eventually found it. “I am not in the mood for this…”
“I would never have guessed. You only look like you’ve been run over by a truck.”
He snorted out something like a laugh as he thumbed buttons on his phone. “Just flew back into town last night. Musta put in a hundred hours in the last five days. Jet lagged, cranky, in the wrong briefing room.”
I shook my head and focused on finishing my coffee. When Helix gets in a mood like that it’s best to stay out of his way. “Wait.” I paused with my coffee halfway to my lips. “You went out of town? Why?”
“Circuit hijacked some army trucks. There’s a write-up about it coming.” He lifted his phone to his ear and waited a second or two. “Teresa? What room is our briefing supposed to be in?” A pause and then, “That’s what I thought.”
He hung up without saying any thing else and looked back at me. “I think you’re in the wrong place.”
“Who?” We both looked over at the door, where a familiar, vertigo inducing knot of impossible was walking in.
“Hey, Sam,” Helix said, putting his head back down on his arms. “Don’t tell me they triple booked this room or something.”
“Not that I’ve heard.” Agent Samson took a seat at the table. He hadn’t brought anything with him but he still seemed to take up half the table. I unconsciously inched a few steps away. “How’s things coming with the van follow-up?”
“Helix!” Amplifier practically bounced into the room. Helix jerked upright, sending his own cup of coffee teetering across the table. Samson caught it before tipped over entirely. Sadly he couldn’t also grab Helix before he tipped out of his chair when Amp wrapped him in a bear hug so I had to grab them both before our senior talent got sidelined with broken ribs or something.
Have I ever mentioned that Helix has serious ideas about personal space? I think it has something to do with the way he can only affect temperature in the area immediately around him; and I’m not sure if he just doesn’t like other people’s body heat being there, messing with stuff or if he’s worried about someone getting hurt. Regardless, he wormed out of Amp’s hug in record time. As he started to straighten out his suit he said, “Good morning, Amplifier. What brought that on?”
“You’ve barely said ‘hi’ for the last two weeks!” She protested. “Where have you been?”
“Out of town.” He took his coffee back from Samson and sucked down about half of it. “What is going on here? Don’t tell me there’s supposed to be four meetings in one room.”
“Amp’s getting ready for her field stress test,” I said quickly, trying to get a sense of where all this was going. Helix was right, it didn’t really make a whole lot of sense for us all to be here at the same time. “She’s actually supposed to sit in on my briefing. What are you here for?”
“Dunno.” He tossed off the last of his coffee and looked at the empty cup glumly. “Teresa just called me up this morning and told me we had a meeting here.” He glanced at Samson. “Pastor? What brings you here? Something to do with your media notoriety?”
The big man sighed. I’d heard about his appearance on television and I was still trying to get over the idea of Project Sumter’s personnel being interviewed on the news, but I had to admit it did seem like a good angle for a missing persons case to take. It’s just that we so rarely investigate those and. when we do, there are other considerations to take into account.
The two actually don’t work that well together. We’d probably have left the Elizabeth Dawson case alone if it hadn’t been for her father and the fact that pretty much everyone was sure Circuit had something to do with it. But our point agent on that case didn’t really look happy with the notoriety his part had brought him. “We’re probably going to have to pull a team of analysts together to go over all the tips that newscast has provided but no, that’s not why I’m here this morning. We’re here because Massif’s team has finally tracked down one of the leads we handed off to them.”
“Well, yeah,” I said, waving at Amplifier with the files I’d just been reading. “That’s why we’re here. But what about you two?”
“It’s going to be a joint operation,” Voorman announced. We all, except for maybe Samson, turned in surprise. I’d been expecting Harriet to be leading this briefing. Helix had no doubt anticipated having Agent Herrera leading his briefing. But Voorman closed the conference room door behind him and locked it, so he obviously wasn’t expecting anyone else. “In case you are wondering, I’ll be briefing you talented people, Agent Herrera is in charge of field analysts and Agent Verger is going to be coordinating the tactical teams.”
Helix threw me a glance, something I caught more as a quick movement then a meeting of the eyes. He asked, “A joint operation?”
Amplifier cleared her throat. “I take it that doesn’t happen very often?”
“It hasn’t happened in over seventy years,” Helix said. “Not since Project Sumter was part of the war effort. Getting the tactical support and complicating factors of various talents to work together smoothly is very difficult. I’m not sure this is a good idea, Voorman.”
“We’ve been considering some revisions to normal procedures over the last few weeks,” he said. “And by we, I mean certain Senior Liaisons and the Senate committee. They’ve decided this is a good test case.”
That got an inaudible grumble from Helix. At least, I couldn’t make it out and I don’t think Voorman did, but from the way Amp snickered it probably wasn’t very nice. “Sir, with all due respect, why this one?” I asked. “The write up from the state police suggest there’s only twenty or so of these guys, and there’s no reason to expect all of them to be there at any given time. I think between us and the police we can handle this.”
“And I would agree with you. Except we received these from the South two days ago.” He set a pair of files on the desktop and pulled glossies out of them. At first he made to put them up on the whiteboard that dominated one wall in the room then he caught himself and handed them to me, apparently remembering I wouldn’t be able to see them otherwise just in time.
I squinted at the pictures as Voorman went on. “These two people are known criminals with unusual talents. The man is Static Shock, a fuse box, and the woman is Jane Hammer, a vector trap.”
“Vector trap?” Helix sounded as confused as I was. “What’s a vector trap?”
“You don’t know?” Amplifier asked, incredulous.
“There’s sixty-two known talents and some are rarer than others,” Helix said defensively. “I can’t have met or heard stories about them all.”
“I’ve never heard of vector traps either,” I said, passing the photos back to Voorman.
He put them up on the board as he said, “I’ll be covering the capabilities of both of talents, as not everyone here has heard them before.” I knew he was referring to Amplifier there, since I was pretty sure the rest of us were familiar with Circuit’s abilities. “But Agent Massif, I hope you took special note of Jane Hammer. We’re expecting you to act as a counter to her abilities.”
“Right.” Just as soon as I knew what those were I could get started. Unfortunately, Jane had looked pretty unremarkable – a brunette woman in ratty jeans and jacket that were either very old or very expensive. “I don’t suppose we’ve got any kind of way for me to pick her out of the crowd?”
Voorman pulled a chair out from the table and sat down, loosing very little of height in the process. “From what I hear she’ll be almost as distinctive as Agent Samson here, at least in your eyes. Her rap sheet says she’s also six feet tall, so that should help the rest of you identify her out.”
“Lovely,” Helix muttered.
“But all this is just in the event that the situation deteriorates,” Samson added. “I’ll be praying that things don’t go that far. They might choose to simply surrender once we make ourselves known. Assuming these two are even there.”
“How often does that happen?” Amplifier asked.
“Sometimes,” Helix said, voice grim. “But not often enough.”
A weapons ring would be the perfect kind of thing to run out of an abandoned warehouse, or at least that’s what you’d think, right? So of course this particular group decided to hunker down in the back of an office complex. As nearly as we could tell the front half of the building was devoted to a legitimate business that managed vending machines. The constant in and out of concessions served as a cover for moving the other, more exotic wares that were sold out of the back.
The building all this happened in was a large, L-shaped three story structure. From the blueprints on file at city hall, most of the storage space in the structure was on the ground floor in the short part of the L. There was a small loading dock there with enough space to hold a half a dozen regular vehicles or a couple of semis at a time. We figured that was where the van we wanted would be kept.
Now since the van was merchandise the dealers had been looking to sell the state police had decided the easiest way to handle things was to pose as a group of people interested in buying the it. The police had handled that side of things through their own channels but, at our insistence, they’d agreed to pair me with the man that went to check out the vehicle. The rest of the Project people on hand would hang back with the police team and wait for our signal to sweep in and round up anyone we managed to catch on site once we’d confirmed that yes, this was the vehicle we’d come for. If it wasn’t our warrants would start to look a lot flimsier in court.
And yes, if we want to maintain good relations with the police that is something we have to think about.
What really struck me as funny about all this was that buying what was basically a small APC from a back alley arms dealer turned out to be a lot like buying any other used car. The dealer rep who brought the van out to the parking lot for us to look at spent most of his time talking, detailing the van’s gas mileage, it’s good condition, it’s spacious interior (which looked like it had been made that spacious when a cut-rate chop shop ripped all the innards out in one hour’s time) and, of course, the bulletproof plating. In turn, the undercover cop who was handling most of the deal pushed for a lower price and asked to take the van for a test drive, a cover so we could check the VIN. If it wasn’t the right van our warrant wasn’t valid.
And me? I wound up standing around and looking tough, which is fine since I’m a pretty big guy, at least vertically. The important part here was to make sure my temporary partner didn’t get hurt, there were only the two of us and if things got hot it would be a minute or two before the rest of our teams got there. So when he climbed into the van to check the VIN I moved so that my body blocked most of the door.
The rep and his two bodyguards were just starting to get curious about what the cop could be doing when he reached out and tapped me on the shoulder. I nodded back to him and he slammed the van door closed. One of the guards took a step forward to protest but I shoved a palm to his chest and brought him up short. With my other hand I pulled out a badge and said, “Gentlemen, you’re under arrest for accessory to the crime of assault.”
Dealer rep and his other bodyguard exchanged a look and the rep said, “You’re serious?”
“You have the right to remain-”
The bodyguard pulled a pistol of some kind and shot me before I could get any further and I assumed that pretty much ended any possibility of reading them their rights, or their coming peaceably for that matter. The rep had already turned towards the building and started yelling “Five-Oh!” when I took the other bodyguard, who had tried to back away when his partner started shooting, by the wrist and threw him to the ground.
The guy with the gun just stared at me for a second, then fired three more times. He only hit me twice and I felt more than saw the spikes of momentum bleed out of the bullets, through my body and down into the pavement at my feet once they made contact with my skin. Since the guard I had thrown probably had a gun too I kept hold of his wrist and used my position of superior leverage to quickly wrench his arm out of socket with a disturbing popping noise.
With his dominate arm out of service I figured I could focus on the other two, who were now staring at me like I was… well, what I was. Some kind of freak.
They bolted for the building as soon as I took one careful, measured step towards them. Unfortunately, since keeping at least one foot on the ground is a survival skill for me I had to keep that pace and let them get a good ways ahead of me. I’m told the slow, deliberate approach can be very unnerving to watch but I’ll tell you this, it’s frustrating to do. Not only did the other two guys get back to the building way ahead of me, at least two other people started shooting at me from the windows. I knew I couldn’t get hurt by it but they were ruining a perfectly good shirt and it was obnoxious. Plus the bullets were hot and they burned when they got stuck under my clothes.
I did my best to brush them out as I went but quickly wound up with bigger concerns on my hands. I’d covered about half the distance between the van and the building when something dropped off the roof and hit the ground, becoming a very bright knot of momentum that rocketed towards me like a cheetah after it’s prey.