Mayella Island, North Atlantic International Waters – Friday, the 22nd of June 2012. 06:13 PM.
Since Checkmate had already teleported Christina to get medical attention in New York, there were no more pressing concerns to keep Radiant from returning to the island. Kathy’s ominous revelation had left him with an icy lump in the pit of his stomach. She hadn’t revealed the details, but he could guess where this was going. Gentleman’s schemes had never been anything but harmful.
When he materialized above the island, he saw a large campfire burning by the base of the cliff, protected from the weather by a sturdy canopy fashioned from tarps and wooden poles that Calavera fashioned together with his powers. A small group of heroes sat around the fire. Sarina was among them, her hair shining more red than blonde in the radiance of the flames.
Kathy should be out there with the girl, he mused. Make sure no one starts any arguments. If Rune heard about Samael, he isn’t going to let her rest.
As much as he wanted to address the events surrounding the Sleepwalker’s power surge in Poland, he first had to know about Gentleman’s final scheme so he could fill the others in. Depending on what it was, it could potentially change everything. Including the question of whether or not Sarina was going to remain on the island.
Peter is with her. Radiant spotted the last remaining Warden on a beach towel next to the girl, sitting with a grilled corn cob in his hands. He was fond of Sarina, Radiant remembered. He wasn’t going to let the other heroes pester her.
Regardless, he activated his armband to relay a message to anyone listening. “Listen up, heroes. I need to discuss some urgent matters with Kathy. I’ll be joining you by the fire in a few minutes. All right?”
“Got it,” Rune replied through the armband. “But don’t take too long. Some of us have questions.”
Having made his point, Radiant beamed himself to the top of the cliff to climb down into the stone chamber containing their surveillance equipment and Kathy and Morpheus’ tech. He was immediately greeted by a pale, bleary-eyed Kathy. The former Covenant IT specialist sat on a chair amidst a multitude of consoles and monitors, busying herself with the lines upon lines of updates that scrolled across her main screen. A smaller monitor to her right showed scenes from an international news channel, alternating between showing an angry mob of young people and a severe news anchor’s face.
Andrey removed his helmet and set it down among a clutter of empty fast food cartons before planting himself next to Kathy’s chair. “What is it you wanted to show me?”
She tapped the screen with its scrolling updates with a finger. “It’s the Conglomerate. It’s blowing up in our faces, Andrey. Take a look at this.”
He did, though the text moved too quickly for him to form connections between individual lines. “I see a long list of names, but I only recognize a handful of them.” As he scanned the list, one name in particular drew his attention. “What’s going on with Dorokhov? He’s a Russian minister.”
“These are Conglomerate associates, Andrey. All of them.” Kathy sank back into her chair and rubbed her face with both hands. “Athena’s name is among them.”
As much as Andrey wanted the world to remember Athena as the heroine he had known and not as the traitor she had become, he had no control over the avalanche of bad press that was about to break loose. Gentleman’s dead man switch revealed proof of everything Athena had done, up to and including the destruction of the Covenant’s IT infrastructure. She would never be able to return to Earth again. Not without risk of imprisonment, perhaps even an execution order.
The thought saddened him more than he cared to admit. He couldn’t take looking at the scrolling list of names anymore, so he turned to the smaller monitors showing live newscasts. They were set to mute, but some of the channels displayed news tickers at the bottom. Shocking reveal. Anonymous whistleblower makes announcement.
“Gentleman set up a dead man switch,” Morpheus’ pleasant baritone rang from every loudspeaker in the room. “It is a Pandora’s box of information. All of Data’s accumulated knowledge about conspiracies and traitors in the highest ranks of international governments and organizations was simultaneously released to news stations, bloggers and youtubers worldwide. The reveal includes the names of everyone who ever worked with the Conglomerate in some fashion. Spies, benefactors, assassins. You wouldn’t believe who some of them are.”
It wasn’t a stretch to unravel Gentleman’s post mortem scheme. Villains were in love with chaos and mayhem, and as a former Broadway actor, Gentleman was particularly proficient at manipulating the media and human emotions.
“The international community is already in shambles, but now it’s going to go up in flames,” Andrey ventured. “God help us all when it does. Can the process be undone?”
Kathy’s mouth set in a grim line. Since she didn’t respond, Morpheus went on.
“Using Data’s resources and methods, I’ve had some limited success erasing some of the files before they were seen, but I’m afraid I couldn’t catch them all. Gentleman meant for the Conglomerate to die with him. If it didn’t, one of his associates would no doubt have taken control of the remaining personnel and resources.”
Andrey’s fingers clutched the back of Kathy’s chair. “What’s with the unrest in…” he leaned in close to read the channel logo, “Italy? It’s too early for riots. The world leaders still have the chance to smooth the waves if they act fast.”
“The big reveal included information on plans – by some governmental bodies in Rome – to test any Italian under the age of 30 for undetected powers,” Morpheus explained. “Those tested positive would be ‘treated’ with Power Zero for the rest of their lives. It was the first reveal to be made public, about fifteen minutes ago.”
Andcrey frowned at the screen. During his time his time spent working under UN command, he had never heard about any plans – by any of the world’s governments – to suppress any newly emerged Evolved. Athena, who was much more proficient at the intelligence game than he was, had never mentioned anything, either.
A question burned inside him, demanding to be asked. “How much of this is true, and how much is made up?”
“Each of the claims contains just enough truth to convince the masses,” Morpheus said. “I doubt the one regarding Italy. Most of its Evolved had migrated to France and were never of any concern. The ‘reveal’ succeeded in causing unrest, however.”
This isn’t going to end with Italy. Gentleman has always schemed on a global scale. There’s more coming.
Andrey glanced at the monitor, where a flustered news anchor was revealing more details from the so-called leaked documents. “No wonder.”
“What concerns me most is the announced video broadcast featuring the Oracle,” Morpheus went on. “I haven’t found a way to erase all mirrors of it. It’s going to go live on at least two different news channels within the next few hours.”
“Please tell me it’s fake.”
“Yes. Gentleman never captured the Oracle, but the UN won’t disprove the video unless they produce the actual Oracle. Which is something they won’t be able to do.”
“Why not?” Andrey asked. “Last I knew, they had her and Sanctuary hidden away at a secret location.”
“Had. The woman is dead.”
Andrey hoped he misheard. “What? Since when?”
Kathy rubbed one of her droopy eyes with a fist. “Don’t look at me. Morpheus is the one with the news, I’m just collecting data and trying to make sense of it.”
“Technically, one of my child mirrors delivered the news. It was an infiltrator, dispatched to track Conglomerate activity and follow it back to their base. It did, eventually, but only after infiltrating the UN’s Evolved research facility in Israel. It was present when the Oracle requested to die at Mascot’s hands, thwarting Gentleman’s plan to kidnap her.”
Andrey grabbed the nearest chair and sunk heavily into it. It took him a moment to find words. “Christina was on her own all this time. I can’t even begin to imagine what she went through.” The regret turned bitter in his mouth, stirring a darker mood within him. “This is critical information, Morpheus. I still wonder why, exactly, I didn’t know about this sooner.”
“Right,” Kathy added. “For an egotistical string of code, you never talk much unless someone pokes and prods you.”
The AI responded in its usual unfazed, matter-of-fact fashion. “My infiltrator mirrors don’t communicate with me unless they fulfill certain mission criteria. An ill-timed data stream back to me could jeopardize their given task. Athena has the full overview of everything I do, so perhaps you should ask her.”
Is that really all there is to it?
Andrey didn’t doubt that Athena trusted her virtual assistant – he was the only entity capable of keeping her company in space, after all. But he couldn’t help but wonder if she ever suspected him of pursuing schemes of his own. Morpheus wasn’t human. Was an Artificial Intelligence bound by feelings of friendship and loyalty? Andrey was doubtful.
“I’m sure she’ll agree with sharing the location of Jasper Davis,” he said. “I know she’s busy right now, so why don’t you go ahead and fill us in?”
Kathy blinked at him. “Jasper? What did I miss?”
“Christina told me that he’s somewhere out there, and that our artificial friend has the details.”
“Not all the details,” the AI corrected. “Drifter swapped him out for a Conglomerate proxy located in Milan, Italy. I didn’t alert the local authorities because I have not yet determined whether they’re trustworthy.”
Andrey pinched the bridge of his nose with two fingers. “Just give us the location. Everything else, we can worry about later. When I’m done talking to the other heroes, I want a report on everything your mirror picked up from the UN and Conglomerate bases.”
Kathy leaned closer, taking his large hand into her own. “Leave it to me and Athena to find Jasper. There’s a girl out there by the campfire who needs to have a word with you.”
“We need more than a word, we need a group consensus on what we’re going to do next. Dancer’s problem solving methods are going to cause some friction.” Andrey picked his helmet back up, rolling it in his hand. “You should listen in at least. We may need your input.”
Kathy bit her lip. “I should be out there with you, shouldn’t I?”
He shook his head. “No. Just find Jasper. That will help us all a great deal. He’s friends with Dancer, and he’ll have a positive influence on her. She’s walking a dangerous path. We can’t let her continue on it. Her power is far too dangerous to be used irresponsibly.”
“I wish I could disagree.” Kathy heaved a heavy sigh. “She was such a sweet girl before getting powers, too. And a fan of yours. Maybe you could use that to your advantage.” She offered him a wan smile.
Andrey had his doubts, but didn’t voice them. “Good luck,” he said for his own benefit as much as hers, and rose from the chair to make his way back to the ladder. To fresh air, and to everyone who depended on his ability to make tough decisions when it came down to it.
When he emerged from the surveillance room, the tropical storm was upon the island in full force. The effect of Dancer’s weather changing efforts had lasted a few minutes at best. The rain poured down in torrents, curtaining his view. He immediately closed the trap door to spare Kathy from death by drowning.
As he was standing in the rain, his heart went out to the families who sought refuge on the island—including his own. His thoughts turned to Denis, his nine year old nephew who was still afraid of storms. Hopefully the palmwood cabin fashioned by Rune and Calavera kept him warm and dry.
For better or worse, everything we do from this point onward is going to affect the refugees. Andrey suspected that their numbers would increase before long, and soon there wouldn’t be enough space or resources for everyone who needed a home away from war, unrest and disaster.
After one last glance in the direction of the small refugee settlement that lined the edge of the forest, Andrey beamed himself to the canopy at the base of the cliff. The campfire conversation died down at his approach. Rune sat on an overturned beer crate, flanked by Aura, and a vacant spot was reserved for Crashbang. Sarina and Peter, the last remaining Warden, warmed their hands near the fire. Calavera and Spirit completed their group. The two Latin American heroes showed more interest in the baked potatoes and the grilled corn cobs than the conversation, but Andrey had no doubt they were listening.
The rain turned the world beyond the canopy into a blur. It was so loud that Andrey had to raise his voice to be heard by everyone. He set the helmet down in the grass, but left the earbud in so he was available to Athena’s communication attempts.
“We don’t yet know how the UNEOA or anyone else is going to react to what happened in Poland,” he began, looking at Sarina as he settled onto a crate by the fire. “Athena is still working to salvage the footage of the Sleepwalker showdown, but it might not have much impact after the big reveal that’s about to hit international news stations.”
Peter piped up the instant Andrey paused to catch his breath. “Shouldn’t we wait for our teleporter before we discuss all the important stuff?”
Andrey started to answer, but was cut off by Aura who was looking at him from across the fire, her eyes huge behind her red-rimmed glasses. “We can’t wait for him, can we? What you’re about to talk about is too important to wait. I can see the colors around you … they’re changing and shifting around like a big puzzle. We can talk to Checkmate later, tell him everything.”
After some murmurs of agreement, Andrey filled the other heroes in on all of the recent developments, starting with the Sleepwalker’s subjugation and ending with what Morpheus and Kathy had told him about Gentleman’s post mortem scheme. Those present around the fire already knew about Christina’s rescue, but the mention of her name – and Gentleman’s death – still incited whoops and cheers. Even though Andrey took care to stress facts rather than Athena’s opinion of the events, the cheers died down when he moved on to the events in Poland. It soured even more when he reached the last point on his list. Judging by their shocked faces, everyone realized what Gentleman’s information bomb meant for the world.
Calavera spoke first. “South America is already, how you say? Chaos. If this is true, Spirit and I must go back home. Make things right where we can. Protect our people.”
“I understand,” Andrey assured him. “Checkmate will take you wherever you like when he’s back. Call on us if you need backup. May we call on you in case of emergency?”
“Yes. We respect what you do. This is good.”
Peter tossed a twig into the fire, the blaze reflected in his eyes. “Who’s going to help build cabins with Calavera and Spirit gone? We don’t have anyone else with the power to shape wood. With new refugees coming, we’re going to need more cabins.”
“I can help with cabins,” Sarina suggested. “I think.”
“No, you’re not helping with anything,” Rune rumbled. “Wherever you go, shit hits the fan. Coincidence? I don’t think so. There’s a reason the UN and the EU wanted to take you out.”
The pounding rain was uncomfortably loud in the silence that followed. Rune’s words hung heavy in the air, and no one spoke up to disagree with them. Not even Peter. The Warden chewed on his bottom lip, his gaze flicking between Sarina and the others.
Sarina’s expression was blank. “I can leave if you want. I’m only here because Radiant wanted me to stay.”
Andrey interjected before the discussion could escalate further. “I want you to stay, and I want us to work together. I respect your opinion, Rune, but you need to take a close look at what’s happening. We’re facing impossible odds. We’ll never make it through the aftermath of what’s already happened if some of us don’t play along.”
“He’s still pissed I showered him with sewage in Liverpool,” Sarina said, deadpan.
“No, the problem is that I don’t fucking trust you,” Rune shot back. His expression had hardened to granite when the subject of Samael’s death came up, and hadn’t changed since then.
“Stop!” Andrey cut in. “This isn’t how we communicate with each other on this island. If you have concerns, Rune, we’re going to address them together. Dancer gets a chance to prove herself like everyone else.”
The words stirred Peter from his passivity. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with Sarina. Why don’t we ask Aura what she thinks of her?”
Heads turned, and everyone’s eyes shifted to the bespectacled wisp of a girl, who shrank beneath the sudden attention.
Andrey flashed the girl a smile, hoping to reassure her. “It’s all right, Aura. We all trust your opinion.”
She straightened, pushing the glasses up on her nose. “Um, okay. What I see is… so much power that her aura envelops everything and everyone near her. I don’t think it’s bad, there’s just a lot of it. And there are many possibilities, shifting and changing colors every time I look. I’ve never seen that with anyone else.”
“You don’t think she’s a danger to the island or anyone on it?” Andrey asked.
“No. But if I can suggest something, maybe she should try to heal Milan? Crashbang, for those who don’t know him. If she’s the Healer, she should be able to do it. Right?”