12.2 Precipice

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Conglomerate Shelter, somewhere beneath the Pacific Ocean – Monday, the 18th of June 2012. 06:19 PM.
“You want to talk to the musician? Why?” Eve asked, an incredulous look on her face. “He talks to no one. Very boring.”

Maybe he doesn’t talk to you because you’re a bunch of villains. Chris refrained from pointing out the obvious. She wasn’t sure how Eve would take it, and putting her assigned chaperone in a foul mood wasn’t going to help her cause.

“Maybe he’ll talk to me. I’d like to try,” she said instead. “I just need a few minutes. You can keep watching me through the window. Plus, you get to take a break from having to shadow me. It’s win-win, really.”

Eve’s eyes narrowed slightly. “Gentleman said nothing about letting you speak to anyone else. You wanted to see Watchmirror, oui? The Visionary. This…” she waved a hand at the cell’s viewing window, “…is not him.”

“Does it matter?” Chris countered. “He agreed to let me look around under supervision, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do.”

Eve didn’t look impressed.

She would be taking a risk by letting me in there, Chris assumed. Gentleman probably wouldn’t be thrilled about it. She needed some more leverage, something to assure the villainess that the boss was going to be happy.

“Look, I’m going to help Gentleman with Sanctuary and the Oracle,” she said. “I don’t need any more time to think it through. And if you’re nice to me, I’ll even let him know that you influenced my decision. How’s that sound?”

These words finally swept the frown from Eve’s face. “You have decided, then?” she asked, a tiny smile forming on her lips.

“If I can look around and talk to everyone I want, then sure,” Chris replied, hoping she sounded convincing.

Eve’s purple-lined eyes flicked between Chris and the cell’s occupant. She puckered her lips with exaggerated thoughtfulness, pointedly taking her sweet time in making a decision. “Fine,” she said. “You get a few minutes. I’m waiting here. You come out when I say so.”

“Sure,” Chris said.

The villainess stepped over to the cell’s sturdy metal door, which was to the left of the large window and, as far as Chris could tell, exactly identical to the one sealing her own cell. She had seen Eve close that door, but didn’t know how she’d opened it. The unlocking process intrigued her for all kinds of reasons.

Eve carefully positioned herself in front of the door before activating the touch panel with her thumb. One small light above the doorframe lit up, then another. Eve raised her chin to look up at them.

A facial recognition system? Chris wondered. She knew those kinds of scanners were pretty much standard in highly funded, high security environments. But that couldn’t be all there was to it. This wasn’t some government facility; it was the secret hideout of the world’s most elusive villain group. Chris couldn’t imagine that Data would be satisfied with such a mundane, over-used setup.

And indeed, while she was watching Eve and Eve was watching the two lights, three small spheres detached themselves from the doorframe to whir around the villainess. Two returned to their default positions almost immediately. The third approached Chris, aiming a brief flash of blue light at her before it returned to the door.

Hi, Data.

That was more like it. Unfortunately, the complexity of the system also meant that Chris stood no chance of tampering with any of the locks. It would take an extremely skilled Technician to even try, and Chris had a feeling that if they failed, their failure would be met with instant termination. There were bumps and notches with no apparent purpose all over the walls and the floor, hinting at traps and dormant security features. Even the light vents above looked suspicious to her.

She wasn’t terribly disappointed, though. It wasn’t as if she’d made an escape plan yet. Doing so required much more information than she currently had – and the cooperation of the other prisoners.

As soon as all three spheres had reset, the door slid open, partially retracting into the wall.

Maybe the door could be blocked, Chris assumed. But I’d set off all kinds of alarms. Maybe instant termination. Not a good idea.

Eve glanced over her shoulder as though to ensure that Chris was still behaving properly, then poked her head through the open door. “Bonjour, Jasper,” she cooed. “You have a visitor. Play nice! I will be watching.”

When she didn’t get a reaction, Eve withdrew from the open door. Chris could now see that the cell’s occupant was still sitting on his cot with his back turned to her, staring at the gray metal wall that was in front of him. His light brown hair was in utter disarray and hung into his face, hiding most of it from view. He didn’t even glance at Eve. But his head swiveled slightly in the direction of the door, as if he was tracking the sound of her movement.

He was obviously not looking forward to receiving visitors to any kind. Chris didn’t blame him. The visitors she had received hadn’t left her looking forward to more, either.

At first, Chris could only stand in the doorway, paralyzed by the depressing atmosphere that filled small room. Jasper Davis had the look of someone who’d been in villain captivity much longer than she had, someone who had finally given up. She could imagine all too well what was going on inside his head. If she lost Ryan, she might very well end up in the same dark mental place Jasper was in.

She’d been there before. Back after the death of her baby brother and what it had done to her and her family.

But there’s hope, she thought, trying to convince herself as much as she wanted to convince Jasper. I’m here now, and I’m going to listen to your story.

“Hello Jasper,” she said carefully, watching him from the door frame. “I hope you don’t mind me stopping by. I’m not a villain, I promise. I’d just like to talk to you.”

To her surprise, he actually gave her a response. “I can’t stop you, can I?” he said in a rough, scratchy voice.

“I’m not coming in if you don’t want me to,” Chris replied. “Like I said, I’m not a villain. But I’m in the same position as you are, and having someone to talk to really helps.”

Jasper tilted his head to the side, and she could have sworn he was listening to something other than what she’d just said. He closed his eyes, a faint smile playing over his lips.

Is he smiling at me? Chris was puzzled. No, most likely not. He wasn’t even looking at her.

“Come in,” he said in a strangely distant voice. “Just make sure you close the door behind you. Please.”

Wouldn’t you rather have it open? She wanted to ask, but didn’t. She assumed he had reasons that were beyond her understanding.

Chris stepped through the door.

“Five minutes!” Eve called after her. Then the door slid shut behind her, sealing the small room.

Now that she had succeeded in getting her way, Chris discovered that she didn’t actually know what to say. She had plenty of questions, but she didn’t want to make the poor guy even more uncomfortable than he already was. Besides, she had a hunch that their captors would be listening in. Conversation topics that included escape plans were very much off the table.

She decided to inspect the music equipment in the room instead of approaching Jasper directly; maybe it would give her with some kind of clue get the conversation rolling. As far as she could tell, their cells were the same size. But his had been outfitted with an electronic keyboard, a set of bookshelf speakers and a mahogany desk and laptop that looked brand new.

Are they giving him internet access? No, that seemed very unlikely. Then she realized: They want him to compose music for them.

Chris frowned down at the keyboard and lightly placed a finger on one of the keys, not pressing it. She remembered how the Counselor – the now-deceased Visionary who’d been the leader of the Wardens team when she joined up – had used power boosting music to track Legion in North Dakota and Canada. She also recalled that DJ, the creator of that music, had already been missing at that time.

Did any of the heroes ever go looking for him? She wasn’t sure. It was a saddening thought.

“You know who I am, right?” he asked, compelling her to look up from the keyboard and meet his eyes. They were very blue and surprisingly vibrant, making her reconsider her earlier assessment of his mental state.

“Yeah, I think so,” she replied. “DJ, right? You disappeared from Europe a while back.”

He nodded, making the effort to brush his hair back from his face. Now that she could actually see all of it, Chris noted that he was even younger than she’d remembered. He might actually have been handsome, but the youthfulness softened his features, and his sadness had been etched deeply into his face. It wasn’t how he’d looked on television. He seemed quite happy after his transition, Chris remembered.

She wanted to ask how he ended up here and how long his captivity had been. And maybe more importantly, whether he’d been forced to produce power-boosting music for the villains. But the pained look on his face choked her up, keeping the words from spilling out.

“You probably know how my powers work,” he said, filling the silence that hung between them. “And what they want from me.” His mouth twitched at the last few words, as if he couldn’t decide whether to laugh or to cry at the situation. But his voice was flat and emotionless.

He’s talking to me, at least. He’s still here. I am here, and so is Ryan. We’ll figure something out.

“And you’re not doing what they want,” Chris assumed. She gently dislodged the chair from the computer desk, turning it to face Jasper on his cot before she sat down.

“Wouldn’t you do everything you could to prevent some very dangerous supervillains from becoming even more dangerous?” he asked.

The question was uncomfortable in more ways than Jasper could possibly know. Chris broke eye contact in an attempt to keep her face blank and her emotions locked away. The obvious answer would have been ‘of course—what kind of idiot would help make a bunch of supervillains more powerful?’

But truth was, she was willing to make compromises. For Ryan’s sake, and for everyone out there who still needed her. She couldn’t die. Not just yet.

While she sat there thinking, another wave of weakness rushed over her, disrupting her sense of balance. The room’s metallic walls spun around her, and her vision was reduced to a jumble of shapes and colors.

Then the feeling passed as suddenly as it had begun. Chris blinked a few times to clear her vision and found herself eye to eye with Jasper. He had risen from his cot and was now standing right in front of her, his face scrunched up with concern.

“Are you feeling alright?” he asked. “You suddenly gasped and went white as a bedsheet.”

She touched her cheek with her fingers. Even though the dizziness had passed her skin felt hot and feverish.

It’s the Power Zero, she thought. Shit. Don’t those side-effects ever fade?

She glanced up at Jasper and said, “I think so. They injected me with Power Zero. But I don’t think it’s going to kill me.” She hoped that she was right.

He stared at her for a long moment, saying nothing. Then, he turned back around to sit on his cot again. At least he wasn’t facing the wall now; he was facing Chris, acknowledging her presence.

“I’m not going to ask if you are feeling alright,” Chris said. “But… are they treating you okay?”

His gaze dropped to the floor, and his hands withdrew into the depths of his long sleeves. The shirt was stained and most likely hadn’t been washed in weeks. “I can’t complain. They want me alive,” he said.

“Me, too,” she said. “I just don’t know for how long.”

“That’s the crux of the matter, isn’t it?” he replied. His eyes darted over to the keyboard. “We don’t know how long we can refuse them.”

“How do you know I’m refusing them?” Chris asked, keeping her attention centered on him. “Do you know who I am?”

She almost hoped his answer would be no. She’d never felt less like a hero than right now.

“I know your name came up on the news a few times, but I don’t remember it,” he said, flashing a weak smile. “I know what you sound like, though. You’re as worried about tomorrow as I am.”

Can’t deny that.

Chris caught herself chewing on her lip and stopped, glancing through the window to where Eve was waiting. The villainess didn’t appear to be in a hurry; she looked quite content to be having a smoke break.

“I guess we still have some time. I’m curious about your story,” Chris said. “How you ended up here, and how long it’s been.”

“It all started when I left London,” he said. “That was my decision, by the way. We had a good thing going. Maybe not good enough, but we tried.” He smiled a little, but not at Chris. His eyes focused on something beautiful and distant that Chris couldn’t see.

“There were others with you?” Chris asked.

He nodded. “There were six of us, all rogues who wanted to disappear for one reason or another. Our leader owed a debt to Gentleman, and that is where the trouble started. We were the group who hijacked the television studio in Liverpool.” The smile vanished from his lips.

Liverpool? Where the Antithesis showed up, right before villains hit New York? A memory flared in Chris’s mind, something about a group of invisible villains and a red-haired woman who had used the hijacked studio equipment to broadcast her message to the world. Her lack of apparent villainy had been a puzzle to the entire Wardens team.

“You were with an Irish woman, right?” Chris asked.

Jasper nodded again. “Tess, our Technician.” It seemed like he wanted to say more, but he didn’t. His lips tightened into a grim line instead.

“Who else was in your group? If you don’t mind me asking.”

He paused, as if had been a long time ago and he was trying to remember. Or maybe he was as aware of the Antithesis headlines as Chris was, unwilling to link them with the names of his friends. “All of the European off grid cases,” he finally said. “I’m sure you’ve heard about them.”

Dancer was one of them, Chris recalled. She wasn’t sure what to think of that whole Antithesis deal, but Jasper didn’t seem like the kind of guy who would hang out with a world-ending monster. Chris knew all about those. She’d stood face to face with Legion, after all.

“You sure gave us heroes a lot to talk about,” she said, assembling a smile for his sake. “How did you stay hidden for that long?”

“We had a power surged Wildcard whose powers convinced everyone to ignore us,” Jasper said. “A shame it didn’t work on Gentleman.”

“Did you try?”

“Not hard enough,” he said grimly. “I only stuck around for Sarina. She stuck around for Patrick and for her idea that she was going to save the world.” There was that sad, faraway look in his eyes again. “She actually could, you know. She just needs to learn how.”

Dancer? Save the world? Chris was incredulous. Everything she knew about Dancer suggested that the girl was either a total pushover or a total nutcase. She couldn’t possibly be the right casting for the ‘world’s chosen hero’ role. But Jasper seemed to believe in her, and the poor guy obviously needed something to believe in.

“I never met her,” Chris said cautiously. “What’s she like?”

Jasper’s smile returned. This time, it was more than just a twitch of his lips; it lit up his whole face. “I could tell you what she sounds like,” he said dreamily. “Or what the Princess saw in her. Emily really liked her, you know.”

The Princess? That toddler Visionary in France?

The mention of Emily’s name scattered that thought. “You know Emily?” Chris blurted.

“Not very well,” Jasper admitted. “She spent most of her time with Tess and Sarina. But she was a part of our team, and like me, she stayed because she wanted to. She saw something in Sarina. Maybe she saw what I heard.” He smiled that detached smile again.

Chris opened her mouth to ask more about Emily, but Eve cut her off. “Time to go!” the villainess called through the window.

“Jasper.” Chris closed her fingers around his wrist and pulled him back into the here and now. “Give them one of your tracks. Just one. Alright? It’ll keep them off your back for a while.”

I’ll figure something out in the meantime, she added silently. She couldn’t say the words with Eve listening in, but maybe he could read them from her face. He nodded.

“One track,” he said. “A booster for your powers?”

“Yeah. Whatever else they want, you can do it later. Just start with me. They’re going to need me, and it will satisfy them for a little while.”

Chris would have liked to stay another moment, use this last opportunity to ask another of the many questions that were swirling in her head. But one look at Eve’s face convinced her that she’d already overstayed her welcome. She couldn’t ask for anything else right now.

Chris stood, offered a lame fist-bump to Jasper’s skinny shoulder, then turned away from the cot.

“See you,” he said softly behind her, barely audible.

“Same,” Chris replied. Then she was through the door and out of the cell, back in the corridor with her assigned chaperone who pointedly gave her the once-over before closing the door.

“You didn’t take anything from his room?” Eve asked.

“Like what? His computer?” Chris replied. She slipped her hands into the pockets of her hoodie and turned them inside out, showing that they were empty. “You were watching. If I had taken anything, you would have seen.”

“Right,” Eve said, squinting through the window as though to make sure she hadn’t missed anything. “Watchmirror is next door, and that will be quick. Come.” There was an eagerness behind her words that Chris didn’t like at all. And she couldn’t shake the feeling that whatever it was that awaited her after her date with the Visionary, she’d like it even less.

“How do you know it will be a quick talk?” Chris asked. “You didn’t say anything about a time limit.”

“No limit,” came Eve’s reply. “But he doesn’t want to talk to you.” The villainess began to saunter down the corridor, beckoning for Chris to follow.

“Why not?” Chris asked.

Eve rolled her eyes in exasperation. “Because, silly girl, you are a dead hero,” she said. “No one likes dead heroes. They have a bad smell about them.”

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