"I'm not sure how seriously to take this," said Special Agent Sanders, concerned. "Either this guy is a raving lunatic, completely divorced from reality or he's the secret power behind one of the nation's major political parties! As well as at least two of its biggest political scandals!"
"Who says he can't be both?" said Special Agent Thompson, sourly. "Or that he's the only one? In either party?"
"Please leave your cynicism outside the office," said Special Agent in Charge Covington. "Focus on what we know about this case."
"Right," said Sanders. He looked down at his notes. "Well, we have enough on him to hold him without bail until trial. That trial will be spectacular, too, even if he does just turn out to be delusional."
"What, exactly, was he doing?"
"The biggest plan currently in the works was to support Gibbons - whom he saw as a moderate but easily deceived - in order to get Carl Donner in a position to execute a bunch of operations he - Montgomery - saw as essential to returning the US to its former greatness. As he saw it. Which largely means putting the world back as it was towards the end of the Cold War. If his records are accurate he previously tried going straight for the win with Thurlin, only to have that bomb because his Veep turned against him. Then he backed Sievers' opponent - twice - and lost completely - twice. This time Donner was to be Montgomery's man in the office, doing what Montgomery wanted to be done, with Gibbons kept in the dark. Gibbons was being set up to take the fall if Montgomery's machinations through Donner were uncovered, hopefully leaving Donner as the new President."
"That almost sounds reasonable," said Covington, frowning. "Well, if this were a third world dictatorship or eastern Europe in the Sixties."
The two agents spent nearly three hours going over what they had uncovered from Montgomery's computers and physical records with their boss.
"This... It's detailed enough that he obviously was keeping close track of not only what the general public knows about political affairs in the federal government over the past fifteen years, but an enormous amount of inside information," said Covington, when they finally finished. He sat for a moment, slowly shaking his head. "That includes stuff that's classified. Yeah. This is big. I'm going to make some calls."
"I just hope we can keep what this guy was doing quiet," said Sanders. "At least until the trial."
"Not much hope of that, I'm afraid," said Thompson. "We arrested this guy at his office, which is a federal workplace. The news hounds are already sniffing for a scandal."
"Just do what you can," said Covington.
* * *
Again, the desire for a scoop and the temptation to be the one who provided it overcame the secrecy measures employed by the feds. Within two days of the meeting multiple news outlets had multiple versions of what Montgomery had done, though few came close to the truth in facts or evaluation of potential impact. Within a few more days there were enough additional leaks and official press releases and comparing of notes that the basic framework of the story was available.
Gibbons' tactic at this revelation was to smugly proclaim that this proved he had nothing to do with any of the scandals. Ignoring that he had been a patsy in the operation.
In the main room of a certain defunct bakery these events were definitely a topic of discussion.
"Wow. There's sure a lot of red faces - more from angrily shouting denials than embarrassment - among politicians these days," said Gadgetive, as she madly channel surfed. "Everybody is denying being affected by outside influence. They're even claiming PACs don't impact their decisions. Then having to explain why they changed their position on something after a donation."
"What gets me," said Energia, scowling, "is the ones saying that letters, e-mails and even phone calls from voters don't affect their decisions."
Tricorne was again together for the Summer when the news broke. Though all three members tried to leave politics out of their heroing operation, some things were inevitable.
"Looks like both sides were involved," said Blue Impact. "Turns out Montgomery was collecting info on others who were doing the same thing to the various political parties as him. None of them were as extensively involved as he was, but it was there. Some were even working the same party he was, though none were pushing it in exactly the direction he wanted."
"Do you think this might bring about reform?" said Energia, obviously doubtful.
"For a while," said her teacher. She shook her head and gave a wry grin. "Folks who think this is something new or unusual aren't paying attention. There have always been those who were the 'hidden power behind the throne' or wanted to be. Probably always will be such people. That's why we have to keep checking these things."
"What I don't understand is the folks in power who are still supporting Gibbons - most of whom were also Thurlin supporters, and may still be - and denying that this Montgomery guy had any influence on them or those they supported," said Gadgetive, getting back to her point. "Despite the evidence of how he even redirected their funding and organizational activities in ways they didn't even know about!"
"I just wish they could find Donner," said Energia, with a gusty sigh. "Of course, if they do he'll take a lot of the heat away from Gibbons."
"Eve Hind is certainly feeling smug lately," said Blue Impact. "She'd been hoping to get back at whoever it was who maneuvered her into supporting Thurlin for those few, early years of his political rise. She was disappointed that it wasn't some vast conspiracy. Just a half-vast clever idiot with delusions of grandeur.
"The really sad part is that Montgomery was only responsible for part of the lies and distortions. A significant part, but only a part. He even complained - in the journal he kept about his covert activities, and in person once he realized he wasn't escaping punishment, accusing others of the same crimes he committed - about others interfering with his work. He didn't know who most of them were and they seemed completely unaware of him, but he was certain there was some group deliberately working against his project. The data they're getting from his logs is helping the investigators find some of those others."
"Well, all that still won't get rid of Gibbons," said Energia, irritated. She threw her arms wide in aggravation. "He's refused to accept responsibility for, well, anything."
She settled down a bit, though she was still scowling.
"Truthfully, all he's done is trash talk and make 'jokes.' You might get him on inciting violence, I guess, but that's unlikely. As Gibbons himself has said, it fails the Reasonable Man test; no reasonable, rational person could misconstrue his 'jokes' as serious orders. Nothing he's actually done is impeachable. Also, there's so much resistance to his more outrageous ideas that even most of the folks in his own party aren't supporting them. So we will likely have to live with him for at least the next three and a half years."
"At least the housecleaning these events forced on him have resulted in competent, responsible people being installed in a lot of the positions which previously went to Montgomery's choices," said Blue Impact. She grimaced. "Mostly."
* * *
Of course, not everyone was paying much attention to the scandal. At least, not all the time. Some people were actively busy trying to help others. Some of them worked for the Bureau of Special Resources.
"Whoever did this guy's - formerly gal's - previous powers evaluation was an idiot," said Dr. Timberlake, sourly, as he gave his weekly report to Brade and Doro. "He's an odd type of probability manipulator. I suspect that on some level she either wanted to be a man or was envious of males."
"Umph," said Brade, frowning. "Well, does it look like he wants to turn back, now that we know how the change happened?"
"No. He's... satisfied. Interestingly, learning how to control his powers went a long way towards correcting the neurochemical imbalance causing his mild, recurring depression. The researchers are joyously predicting several award-winning papers being written once they figure that one out."
"I recall that he was cleared to return to work," said Doro. "Does it look like there any legal or social consequences to that?"
"No. We managed to keep quiet that he was causing the storms. The meteorologists never knew it was him and haven't told anyone but us that the storms had a single person causing them."
"Good," said Brade, nodding. "With luck, this guy will be able to live out his life normally. Except for maybe helping with the occasional weather emergency."
* * *
Getting the legal complications involved with our operation at the old Wold property settled took longer than the actual operation and fight had. Much longer. The fact that witnesses uniformly testified that we were peacefully holding our "religious ritual" and the cultists forced their way onto private property and attacked us should have made it a clear case of self defense. However, the fact that half of us were armed - even though technically legally - engendered significant suspicion. The fact that the cops couldn't figure out how to open that one box didn't help. Fen's raft of attorneys plus my own and those of some of the other participants had to organize a unified assault on the District Attorney's office to even get bail.
After conferring with each other, speaking in a language at least as exotic as what the mages had used for their spell, the defense attorneys petitioned for a summary judgement as soon as possible. Largely because several of the people involved were not locals and needed to be elsewhere immediately. The DA's office was so used to people - innocent or guilty - asking for delays and extensions they weren't quite sure what to do about this. Mention of the guarantee to speedy trial further confused them. Once mention of magic came out, however, there was a collective silence for about three hours... then abruptly all charges against us were dropped. It's like they suddenly wanted to be rid of the lot of us.
Fortunately, they decided to continue holding the surviving cultists.
"Just how did you arrange that?" I asked Fen, giving her an accusing look.
"Wasn't me," she said. "I didn't even want magic mentioned."
We - that is, the entire bunch of us, mages and defenders - were in Fen's loft over her theater in downtown San Francisco. This was the first time I had ever seen the roomy place crowded; Fen isn't one for parties. I glanced warily at the mages and their guards; some of them were obviously envious of Fen's art collection, which among other items included original work by several famous cartoonists from a century earlier. One page even included a rendering of Fen, as some sort of leader of a fantasy werewolf pack. Oddly, the art was getting more attention than her 1938 Nobel Prize.
"Me," said Dutch, raising a hand. "I knew that all the magical activity in that park lately had both the state and city politicians spooked. They had just gotten things quiet and managed to placate the fundies of all stripes who were demanding the land be exorcised. They didn't want to start that up again."
I nodded in sudden understanding. Given the conflicting demands from self-proclaimed representatives of multiple different religions - some of which didn't even officially exist - of course the city and state would want to avoid bringing attention to that property again.
"So, that land is safe, now?" I said, hopefully.
"Oh, definitely," said Dr. Piano, who had wandered over to learn what we were discussing. "What do you plan to do with it?"
"I dunno... I have a lot of my funds tied up in that," I said, making a show of rubbing my chin and looking uncertain. "I might need a while to decide."
"You're going to leave it fallow, aren't you?" said Fen, laughing. "Just leave it, and every time the city makes a fuss hint that you might have a buyer but can't reveal the details. When they ask you what happened to the sale, sadly say nothing came of it. From now on."
"Hey, what's the use of having an indefinite life ahead of you if you don't make long-term plans?" I asked, innocently. "It helps that the Wolds already had it zoned for basically whatever they wanted to do."
"You just want an excuse to have a private bit of wild land on the outskirts of a major city," said Dutch, grinning.
"Maybe," I said, smiling.
Even Dr. Piano laughed.
* * *
"We now know the source of the Black Virus," said Lady Carver, back on Pine Island specifically to deliver information which officially didn't exist from the UN. "An illegal black project, as I understand you people already suspected."
"I'm surprised the Gibbons administration admitted this," said Eve. "Even in private to UN officials."
"They're... embarrassed. They knew nothing about the program. Of course, neither did anyone in the Sievers administration. According to the records from Montgomery's computer, during Sievers' first term a group of rogue officials decided they needed unconventional weapons, for reasons making sense only to themselves. They covertly organized several programs to develop them, ostensibly for the deterrent effect. Though how something kept secret even from one's own president can deter enemies wasn't explained. These programs were conducted with people sworn to secrecy using diverted funds and kept hidden from all elected officials. Then those who organized this mess started falling by the wayside, for multiple reasons. The program which produced the Black Virus was one of the last to fall, and none went to completion."
"Yet the Black Virus exists," said Template, angrily.
"What Congreve - well, Nunnally - acquired was the rushed final effort of the program's director, to try and justify it. It was not by any means intended as a finished product, but rather a preliminary article intended only for further testing; a starting point."
"Damn," said Dr. Dunning, paling. "No wonder it was so... indiscriminate."
"I have made certain that the information on how this organism was created has been destroyed," said Lady Carver, flatly. "In fact, that and several similar operations have been performed by the Gibbons administration and verified by the UN. Once you destroy your samples there will be no more Black Virus."
Left unsaid was the fact that there would be no negotiation of that act. Given how much the school depended on UN support, the virus would be destroyed.
"At least we can be sure, now, that the Black Virus didn't get out, and likely won't," said Eve, nodding.
"What about our vaccine and the notes made on the virus?" said Template.
"Those can't be used to recreate it," said Dr. Dunning. "We only have sketches of the RNA; and even if we had a complete map that alone wouldn't tell anyone how to make it. That would require a major research program."
"Good riddance," said Eve.
* * *
"I am very glad we're through with that mess," said Brade, with a tired sigh. "Well, for the time being. There will likely be repercussions for months. The actual situation seems to be on the mend, though."
She sighed again, and stretched.
"I hate politics and I really hate political corruption, and worse than all that is political opportunism taking advantage of indifference."
"Well, here's something to cleanse the palate," said Converse, handing Brade a report. "Summing up, there's a major hurricane moving towards Texas. They'll likely need super help, and we should start organizing now."
"All right," said Brade, with a slight smile. "I'll have Doro get on it immediately."
She scratched her head and yawned.
"Let's just hope it isn't too bad."
* * *
Later that evening - after Lady Carver had observed Dr. Dunning's sample of the virus thoroughly destroyed, thanked all those involved and left - Eve came across Template sitting on her favorite rocky outcrop, staring out at the ocean.
"You seem thoughtful," said Eve. "Perhaps even unsettled. Are you dissatisfied with this resolution of the Black Virus matter?"
"Oh, no," said Template, with an uncomfortable laugh. "I'm... actually a bit embarrassed to admit something. That I didn't get to engage in the cathartic violence you predicted."
"Well, I think that, just this once, you should be satisfied without that," said Eve, amused.
"Amen to that."
* * *
Sorry this is a bit late. I finally went to the doctor yesterday for a persistent tendonitis in my right elbow. Partly because of that I was able to sleep over ten hours last night and am feeling much better. Of course, that means I got up late, despite frequent complaints from my calico. :-)
This is the end of Masks 18. I have already started on Masks 19 (a murder mystery/detective story) but think I will try to write another Freddy on the Loose to tie up the loose end in that series first.
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