The shadows were long and dark drenching the landscape and giving the estate a gothic old world feel. Solomon standing on the mansion’s third floor veranda looked up at the moon with unseeing eyes.
“How is it possible?”
He’d been briefed on the day’s events and still found it impossible to accept. Willard, his oldest friend, had been captured. He remembered the events in Detroit, years ago, that had led to Willard being captured the first time. He didn’t think there was another psionic powerful enough to get past Willard’s defenses and put him to sleep. Yet somehow it had happened.
“Frank. What a disappointment you turned out to be.”
Solomon had fathered many children over the years. Most had died trying to earn his respect. The survivors were the ones who cut themselves off from him, living on their own away from his money, power, and influence. Solomon sometimes wonder if they were the smart ones.
The howl of a solitary wolf paying homage to the moon caught Solomon’s attention. He looked around the grounds that he could see from his vantage point surveying the area. The well-manicured lawn was nearly flat trees had been planted years ago to add an artistic touch to the ten acre property. He shrugged, not spotting anything out of the ordinary, and took a sip of the strong red wine.
“It’s been years since a wolf was spotted west of the Cascades this close to Seattle.” He mused. “Maybe I need to do a little hunting.”
Just then all the lights in the mansion behind him went out. He turned to look back at his house in time to hear shouts from the staff and guards. Not panicked sounding instead they were irritated at the loss of power.
The thunder of the front gate leading to the property being smashed open echoed through the night. Solomon’s amusement faded as a giant thundered down the driveway. The mutant had to be almost fifteen feet tall. More astonishing, his feet seemed to smash through the paved driveway and then the moon light reflected from his metallic skin and Solomon’s jaw fell open.
Abruptly, the night exploded with gun fire. Even from this distance Solomon could see bullets bouncing harmlessly off Ironmonger’s metallic skin. Then the first of his mutant guards got in on the act.
A beam of red energy lanced down the driveway and splashed across Ironmonger’s chest. He ignored it. The lumbering run left huge pot holes of shattered concrete behind Ironmonger indicating a vast weight, a weight far exceeding his size.
“Just what are you made of?”
Shadows swirled behind Ironmonger and a mutant blinked in. He knelt to the ground and did something and then the shadows consumed him again. A second later the claymore mine he’d planted went off. The explosion was so bright Solomon had to look away. He could almost feel the concussion from the blast, even at this distance. When he looked back down a part of the driveway had been destroyed. However, Ironmonger was still jogging forward.
“What the hell? Maybe I’ll have to get involved.”
Just then he heard a noise above and behind him. Solomon dropped his glass and turned. He gasped in disbelief at the sight of an enormous Werewolf in a hybrid battle form glaring down from the roof with glowing red eyes. Before he could act the monster dropped onto the balcony and his world exploded in pain as the creature backhanded him.
Angus wasn’t sure how much longer he could maintain his Osmium based body. It was his most powerful form but it was exhausting. At the sound of Dreadnaught’s howl he’d smashed through the front gate and grinned when all the lights in the estate went out. Cyber was doing her bit to help the attack. He knew all internet access was now blocked, along with cell phones, land lines, and the alarm system. The estate was cut off.
He barely noticed the bullets or other mutant attacks as he lumbered up the driveway. The problem with being so dense was that he weighed more than even the concrete could support. It felt like he as jogging through mud. Coming from Scotland this was something he was familiar with but he knew he needed to pay attention to his footing.
The explosion from the mine almost made him lose his balance and he stumbled forward. Angus shook his head, he was tempted to find the mutant who’d planted the mine but knew better. Solomon Chen was the target.
Dreadnaught’s victorious howl split the night and Iron saw a body falling from the balcony of the mansions third floor to smash into the professionally maintained grounds. Ironmonger left the driveway and slowed to a steady, long striding, walk. “Need to make sure the bastard is dead.”
As he approached the unmoving figure it started to glow. Feeling a spike of concern he focused on the body as it began to stir. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Dreadnaught drop to the ground, landing on all fours before standing up to his full seven foot hybrid form.
Before he could reach Solomon his body exploded up. Twisting and snaking with an impossibly sinuous spin the old man transformed. His clothes exploded away from the expanding body as the glowing intensified. Red and gold scales rippled down his back as his transformation took hold. His head transformed, snout extending jaw expanding and Ironmonger stumbled to a halt as the transformation finished.
The Chinese dragon twisted and turned looking over its twisting body before looking at Iron. The creature had to be thirty feet long and when he felt its gaze it seemed like he was looking into the eyes of a being of ancient and terrible power. The look froze Ironmonger. He wanted to move but he knew that this creature would destroy him if he resisted.
The dragon moved toward Iron its four legs and winding snake like body were poetry in motion. The beauty was enough to dazzle him. It made Iron wonder why they’d ever wanted to hurt this creature.
“You dare attack me? Fools! I’ve killed hundreds of your kind. I needed a distraction from today’s news so this will be fun.”
Just then a being of dark fur, claws, fangs, and red glowing eyes struck its back legs. The attack was swift and vicious and Iron felt horrified.
The shrill scream would have been enough to rupture a normal human’s eardrums. Fortunately Ironmonger currently didn’t have eardrums. The dragon twisted around impossibly quickly and struck at Dreadnaught. Despite Dreadnaught’s enhanced speed he wasn’t quick enough and Solomon’s jaws clamped down on his shoulder.
The dragon reared back lifting the Werewolf from the ground and shaking him. “Fuuuuuccccckkkkk . . .” Dread groaned, grabbing the dragon’s jaws trying to force them open. Even with his mutant power it seemed like Solomon was too strong. For a moment they were tied and then slowly the jaws opened.
Knowing he lost that fight Solomon tossed his head violently to one side flinging Dreadnaught free. He wanted to leap after him but his back left leg wasn’t working properly. Instead he limps forward intent on finishing off the irritating mutant Werewolf. Then he felt a powerful force grip him around the neck just below his head and lift.
Solomon twisted around trying to see who or what had grabbed him and saw the mutant he’d used his beguiling power on gripping him with two powerful hands. The beguilement had failed while he’d been distracted and now he had two foes to deal with. Solomon lifted his body off the ground forcing Iron to support his full weight as he wrapped the mutant in a draconic version of a python’s hug.
Then he started to squeeze while using his forelegs to rake at the metallic body of his foe. After a moment Ironmonger started laughing, “Is that the best you’ve got, old man?”
“Fuck.” Solomon hissed, “You’re strong and almost physically invulnerable.” Then he made eye contact. “How are your psionic defenses?” Solomon started pushing his beguilement once again and he felt Ironmonger freeze. Ironmonger’s tight grip still held Solomon like a vice preventing him from falling free but he knew in a moment Ironmonger would be his Thrall. Then together they’d hunt the mutant who’d had the audacity to hurt him.
“No you don’t, bitch.”
Pain exploded at the back of Solomon’s neck just below his head and then his whole body went numb as his spine was severed.
“N-No,” he managed to gasp. The pain at his neck got worse and then in horror he saw his body fall away. The image of his long snake like form twisting and turning was the last thing he saw as his vision faded.
Scott sat. His hands shackled to a metal ring attached to the metal table bolted to the floor. He was now wearing a grey jump suit reserved for mutant prisoners. The suit covered him from ankle to wrist although the zipper stopped low enough so that the PDC around his neck was clearly visible and in contact with his skin. The SMAC agents had followed protocol separating the captives even though Soulsnatcher had remained unconscious. The trip to the Farm and the holding facility had been surreal for Scott. He’d made this trip before, with captive mutants, but never as a prisoner.
Female agents had taken custody of him and directed him to remove his clothes. They’d tagged everything, ordered him to shower, and watched to make sure he did a good job. Scott had thought about asking one of them to join him, he remembered Beth from a night of passion about two months ago. But he kept his mouth shut and docilly followed orders. He was undercover and needed to play along. Sooner or later either Rhonda or Taser would visit and explain what was going on.
They’d ordered him to get dressed giving him a sports bra, panties, the jumpsuit, socks and sneakers. After that they’d photographed him, taken a DNA sample, finger prints, and brought him to the interrogation room. Then they’d left him to wait. This was a standard procedure to mess with the prisoner’s mind.
It didn’t bother Scott. He’d been through the Agency’s version of SERE school. Survival Escape Resistance and Evasion school had given him a number of tools for situations like this, except he’d never heard of anyone being in a situation like this. He was a prisoner of the Agency he worked for. Sooner or later Scott was sure someone would clue him in on what was going on.
To occupy his time Scott closed his eyes and focused on his power. The dampener worked based on skin contact. When Rhonda had snapped it on his neck he’d accidentally reacted by pulling his power in, allowing it to hum along just under his skin like he did during sex so that he could feel his partner. The collar had activated and he could feel its dampening effect at work. It felt like a layer of oil covering every inch of his skin.
He slowly tried to push his shield out, just around his eyes, so he could test his ability to use it to see into the infrared spectrum. As soon as his shield touched the dampening field the power vanished. He kept himself from reacting but felt shocked. Scott took a few deep breaths and focused on the knot of power. Still over half full. Although, it was getting hard to measure since he’d blown the door off what he’d thought Cindy’s limit was by having several rounds of sex with both Ironmonger and Dreadnaught. He’d more than doubled the amount he had when he woke up as Carnifex.
With nothing else to do he slowly extended the shield until it was just below his skin, millimeters from the dampening field. He held it there and wondered what he could do with it. He slowly pulled against the shackles until the slack was gone. He felt them bite into his soft skin, then with his mind he used his shield to add force to the pull. Instantly he felt the shackles start to cut his soft skin and stopped.
Next he tried to lift his body from the chair, just a tenth of an inch. Success! It wasn’t enough for the watchers to see but enough for him to know he wasn’t powerless. Then the door to the cell banged open and Rhonda walked in along with Kevin. He tried to keep his face expressionless sure there were watchers on the other side of the two-way mirror.
Kevin stepped to one side of the door and stopped folding his arms over his chest and giving Scott an intimidating scowl. Rhonda moved around and pulled out a chair opposite Scott. She spun it around so the back faced the table and then sat dropping a thick file onto the table and folded her arms over the back rest. The move, posture, and her every gesture screamed with masculine virility and confidence. This was a male, at his prime, confident, and in control. Scott wanted to laugh.
“Cindy Snow, also known as Carnifex. Australian citizen. Female. Twenty-eight years old. Wanted in Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, and South Africa. You’re an International mercenary with a record of extreme violence, voracious sexual appetites, and brutal effectiveness. I don’t have any record of power testing but a review of film and eye witness reports indicate D-class energizer around level eight.”
Rhonda paused looking unblinkingly into Scott’s eyes. He felt a flutter at the shield around his head and breathed a sigh of relief. Either Rhonda had tried a projective empathic push or an Agency telepath had tried to get a read on his reaction to Rhonda’s introduction.
“You have the advantage of me, sir.” Scott lifted one auburn eyebrow, intending to play along.
“Of course. My name is Special Agent Scott Irons, my code name is Eros, and I’m with the Special Mutant Affairs Command of the Mutant Affairs Agency. I’m a mutant and the team leader of the strike team that captured the mutant criminal Soulsnatcher.”
“You had a little help.”
Scott couldn’t resist the taunt at Rhonda’s arrogant posturing. Then he felt stunned when he realized what she’d just said and the blood drain from his face. Providing your real name broke every protocol. ‘She knows I know who she is . . . that means that statement was for those watching us, not me. What fucking game is she up too?’
At the same time there was a slight grunt from Kevin. Scott looked over at him. He was still leaning against the wall but he just shook his head.
“Nice ta meet ya, Taser.” Scott gave Kevin a lascivious wink before turning back to Rhonda. “So, why am I under arrest? I just helped you bring in a dangerous criminal. You should be thanking me.”
Rhonda shook her head. “A criminal whose escape was orchestrated by . . . who? What brings a powerful international mercenary to Seattle? We have pictures of you and another mutant known as Ironmonger entering a Fists of Anarchy rented warehouse. Why? Did the Fists free Soulsnatcher? Is that what you were hired to do?”
The fluttering against Scott’s shields turned into a spike and then a drill. Pain flared in his mind as he felt the shield start to separate under the assault. Scott knew an Agency telepath was working from the other side of the glass and he poured power into his shield closing his eyes concentrating.
“Listen to me when I’m talking to you. You are in a lot of trouble young woman.”
The words were from a great distance as Scott patched the shield then doubled and triple layered it. The attack continued but his shield was holding. Scott opened his eyes and glared up at Rhonda.
“Fuck you. I want a lawyer.”
It was hard to think about what he should say as Cindy while also keeping the telepath out. This was a black op so Scott doubted the telepath was authorized to know what was going on. Besides, he’d had enough of C-Class mutants messing with his mind. There was no telling what that mutant might do if he let him or her into his head.
The sound of Rhonda’s open handed slap across his chin was amazingly loud. There wasn’t much pain since his shield still protected him from taking more than skin deep damage. However, the move almost had achieved its intended effect it distracted Scott and the telepath had surged forward with his attack. At the same time Scott had instinctively extended his shield beyond his skin. The first layer vanished when it touched the dampening field.
Fortunately, even though the mutant had pierced the second layer the third had stopped him. Scott took a deep breath and looked over at Kevin.
“I thought mutants had rights? What’s next, the water board?”
Abruptly the mental assault stopped. Kevin walked over to Rhonda and put a hand on her masculine shoulder. “Why don’t you take a break Eros? I’ve got it from here.”
Angrily Rhonda got up and stomped out of the room. Scott waited until the door closed and Kevin had taken the chair turned it around and sat down. He placed his hands on the folder and looked calmly at Scott.
“Okay, I get it. Good cop.” Scott nodded toward Kevin. “And bad cop.” He gestured with his chin toward the door and the departed Rhonda. “But seriously. Why am I under arrest? What are you charging me with?”
Kevin tapped the file. “As you are an Australian citizen, and our records indicate that you are wanted in Australia for a number of crimes, we’ve notified the embassy. Under the mutant protection act we are allowed to hold you for forty-eight hours. Provided you can prove you are in this country legally we’ll release you. Unless the Australian embassy requests extradition.”
The wink was very subtle but it was enough for Scott to relax slightly. There was something going on. This whole thing was for show. It still didn’t explain why Rhonda was using Scott’s real name.
“Is it normal for Special Agents to introduce themselves? I noticed Agent Irons gave me his name but all I know about you is your code name.”
Kevin nodded. “It’s very unusual.” He stood up and collected the folder and walked to the door. Then he paused and looked back over his shoulder at Scott. “Although, in Scott’s case it doesn’t matter, not after meeting the press down in New Mexico and then running to the cameras after capturing Soulsnatcher, to let them know the threat was over and that he’s the one who stopped it.”
Disgust dripped from every word and all Scott could do was sit still and feel shocked. Rhonda had just ruined his life. When they swapped he couldn’t go back to work as a SMAC Special Agent. Not if the media knew who he was.
Director Cox looked at Rhonda feeling disgusted. “What was that interrogation all about?”
“I trust Thirdeye. I needed to know if he could penetrate Carnifex’s mind while she’s wearing a PDC. I suspected the psionic training CC gave him would help, but didn’t expect him to stop Thirdeye cold. If he got into her mind then we would have had to implant a cover personality or any telepath she meets while in custody would know about the operation. I suspect that she has some limited access to her abilities even with the dampener working.”
“You over step your authority, Rhonda.”
Rhonda tried not to wince at the use of her real name.
“First you pull that stunt with the media. That forces my hand. I can’t keep you in SMAC. Then you use the arrest of Soulsnatcher to become a national hero. I’ve already gotten calls from D.C... There are several Congressmen and women who’d love to talk to you.” The growl in Cox’s voice would intimidate most Agents. Rhonda just waited for him to get to the point.
“Then you arrest Scott/Carnifex. After he helped you capture Soulsnatcher you should have let him go. Did you know someone attacked Solomon Chen’s estate? All electronic devices failed. The house was destroyed and the first responders found several dead mutants along with Chen’s broken body next to his severed head on his lawn.”
“Good riddance if you ask me. He probably got cross wise with someone else in the criminal underworld.” Rhonda shrugged not really caring about the news.
Cox slapped the desk. “We were trying to use them to get into a Filipino terrorist group. Now that approach is closed.”
“Maybe, but the mission objective was to stop the flow of cash back to the Filipino terrorist group. With Solomon Chen dead I’m pretty sure the cash flow will halt. Mission success.” For a moment they locked eyes in a contest of wills. “Look, Director, everyone on the strike team recognized Carnifex. I couldn’t let her go. It would have caused too many questions.”
At this Cox leaned back and let out an explosive sigh. “That might be true. But the interview was out of line. We could have arranged a covert escape. Now Scott’s being held in max mutant security at the Farm.”
“Where do we go from here . . . sir?” Rhonda added the sir a moment later than appropriate just to let Cox know what she thought of him.
Cox gave Rhonda a hard look and then after the silence stretched picked up a document and slid it across the desk to Rhonda. “CC is dead. I don’t have the ability to put Scott back into that body. But you already know that. Is that why you went public?”
Rhonda moved to pick up the document but Cox’s ham sized fist came down on it holding it in place. “I don’t know why the Director of the Mutant Affairs Agency made the by name request, but you are now the director of the MAA Legislative Liaison Department. When you get to D.C. they’ll swear you in. You’ve also been promoted, Senior Executive Service. Congratulations.”
Cox let go of the documents and Rhonda saw it was a new contract. She hid her grin, just barely. The promotion doubled her salary but more than that was the prestige of the appointment and the assignment itself. She was now a peer of Director Cox and working in D.C. meant access to real power. No more long nights staking out rogue mutant criminals. No more dangerous missions risking her life for a public who didn’t know or care.
She’d followed orders even when she didn’t understand them and the Shadow Lord had come through. She now had more power living in Scott’s body than she’d ever dreamed. Combine that with this assignment and she knew she’d been right to accept the offer when they’d recruited her.
Rhonda signed the contract and pushed it toward Cox.
“I don’t want that. Take it out to my secretary Doris. She’ll notarize. Then they’ll need to swear you in but you can do that in D.C. I’d offer you congratulations and wish you good luck, but I think you had a hand in setting all of this up. Now get out of my office, “Mr. Irons”.”
Rhonda picked up the contract and felt a flash of irritation. Cox was trying to ruin her good mood by insinuating that she’d done something nefarious to get this appointment. While it was true, she didn’t want to let it go. Physically Cox was no match for her. However he was also a mutant with the ability to control gravity around him and his own density. Rhonda was pretty sure she could kick him in the throat before he could drop her with his power or turn ethereal.
She caught a flicker in Cox’s eyes and knew he’d anticipated her and was ready. Rhonda gave him Scott’s lopsided grin, “I’d have to respect you to give a shit about what you think, Mr. Cox. I’d also be careful about what you say to me and about me. I know that you only recently became the . . . director. You see Dr. Debbie White and I have had several long talks. About, life, careers, how it feels to go from being female to male . . . I don’t think you want the gist of our conversations to become common knowledge.”
Rhonda saw him flinch and it was enough. She turned on her heel and marched out of the office. ‘After Doris takes care of this, I think I’ll use an Agency teleporter to get to D.C.. No point in going back to Scott’s apartment. There isn’t anything there I want. Although, there are a few loose ends that need attending . . .’
The bright sunlight reflected off the waters of the Potomac dancing and dazzling the eye. Spring in D.C. is always beautiful and the cherry blossoms were in full bloom creating a riot of white and pink. Anyone less jaded would have slowed down while walking through the park to enjoy the display. The woman wrapped in her dark rain coat ignored everything except the need to get to her destination.
She rounded a curve in the sidewalk and saw the park bench. The view of the water from the bench would be perfect. There was a person already waiting. She got closer and then let out a slight gasp. Even though he was wearing a long grey trench coat, over what she assumed was a suit, and had a hat pulled low over his eyes she recognized the, “Tiger of the Senate.” He was surprisingly young to already have so much power and such a reputation. ‘Why would he need a reporter?’ She pressed the record button on her phone and hurried forward.
The man gave her a clear open look and flashed his perfect white teeth in a brilliant smile. “Please have a seat.”
They didn’t bother to shake hands which didn’t surprise Lois. That sort of contact could have consequence in a world filled with mutants. Instead she waited, not attempting small talk, and looked out at the slow moving water. Unnoticed by Lois a small trace of smoke escaped her pocket as her phone shorted out.
“I’ve been following your work. You write concisely, efficiently, nothing is wasted and nothing is left out. If words were knives then your stories are razor blades. I respect that.”
“I-I didn’t know you followed my work.”
“The piece you did on the mutant gang down in Miami? Brilliant. Too bad you weren’t around to cover the tragedy in New Mexico.”
“It was over before I could get there. The MAA handled it very quickly.”
“Yes, one of their elite teams, I believe, dealt with it.”
“SMAC, Special Mutant Affairs Command, we’ve heard rumors . . . No one knows anything about it or what it does. It seemed like they messed up in New Mexico but less than a day later they caught . . . what was his name?”
“Yes.” Lois shuddered. “What a terrible criminal. To pull the souls from his victims and then able to assume their form and if mutants, their abilities?”
“He didn’t actually take their souls. It was their life energy and a psychic imprint. I’m hearing from my sources the man is absolutely insane. He’s absorbed so many people that he doesn’t know who he is or what’s going on. He’s a slave to his hunger.”
Lois nodded. “Did you get that from the Agent who lead the team? Agent Irons is his name, right?”
“No, I’m on the oversight committee that manages the MAA. However I’ve got a copy of the report he filed, which is one of the reasons why I wanted to see you today.”
“What would you say, if I told you Agent Scott Irons has been reassigned from the field to D.C. to run the MAA Legislative Liaison Department? And that I could arrange for you to be the first person to interview him. With recent events the MAA Director feels that it’s time for the SMAC teams to come out of the black ops world and to the extent that’s practical, let the public know what these heroes do to protect us.”
Lois’s heart started racing with excitement but she kept all emotion from her face. “Why would you offer me such a scoop? There are dozens of senior reporters and I do written media, not live interviews.”
The man flashed another boyish grin, “There are a few reasons. You have a face and figure for TV. I think that’s a new opportunity just waiting for you. Next, this will be the first engagement with the press, officially that is, MAA would like to control it. Using this format allows use to have an editorial review, to make sure nothing classified gets out. Lastly, I can make this happen with a phone call to Director Hoover, but I’ll want something in return.”
“What’s that?” Lois knew this was coming. Nothing this good came for free.
The Senator reached into a pocket and pulled out a thumb drive. Cautiously Lois took it. It seemed far too heavy for such a tiny device. She put it in the pocket of her coat and waited.
“There are several files on the drive. Each file is named for a member of Congress, or a Judge, or a Governor. When you open a file you’ll find all kinds of information. Mistresses, bank statements documenting illegal payments, e-mail traffic with discussions about selling influence . . . I could go on and on but I’ll let you see for yourself. Some of it surprised even me. In payment for the scoop on a group of true American patriots, I’d like you to take down another group. These aren’t heroes.”
“Why not go to the D.C. police or the FBI?”
“Ha! Have you been paying attention to the news? Half of the men and woman on that device have connections with a senior member of both the Justice Department and the FBI. No, the best way to do this is to get it out. The light of public scrutiny is the only way to take out these cockroaches.”
“I-Is this information dangerous?”
“Smart girl. Yes. Very much so. That’s why, if you agree, I’ll be sending over a small team to protect you.”
“How do you have those kinds of resources?”
At this the Senator reached over and took her hand before she could react and Lois felt a tingle rush through her body. “Because there is another group, one you can’t speak of . . . ever. They are the Shadow Lords and they’ve been arranging things, for the public good, in this country for a very long time. Now, do you agree to our deal? If you help us I promise we’ll help you.”
“Help me . . . do what?”
“Achieve your deepest dream. To be a powerful news anchor and then eventually to run a news organization. I can see it all . . . and it can be yours if you promise your loyalty to us.”
“I agree.” Lois didn’t hesitate. Opportunities like this came along only once or twice in a life time. As soon as she said the words a tingling sensation raced through her. She wanted to pull away but couldn’t move. Then it was over.
“Excellent.” The Senator sounded pleased. “I think you should leave now. It wouldn’t do for us to be seen together.”
“Of course, my lord.” Lois stood up and paused, “My Lord, I want a copy of the report you mentioned. I’ll need it as research before my interview with Agent Irons.”
Lois turned around and hurried away unaware of the way she’d phrased her comment. The man shook his head. That level of psionic control would slip a little as her mind adjusted to her new reality. A reality where anyone with the right code word could command her to do anything including kill herself. Once he was sure she was out of sight his form blurred and shifted.
Soon where Senator Johnson had been sitting an elderly Asian looking man stood up. “I hate wearing that fools face. Although, now that Charles wears his skin I guess I need to stop thinking of him as a moron. Charles is no one’s fool.”
Then he chuckled at how that piece of trickery had played out. CC had thought the mutant he was swapping to Senator Johnson’s body was the one Director Cox had picked. Instead, Cox’s secretary had switched the name. After CC’s death when Cox had followed up it looked like CC had been killed before the swap occurred. Cox was smart and well trained with a suspicious mind. It would look odd if he were to suddenly die. Still, they might need to come up with a back up plan for him.
The man stood up, surprisingly spry for his age. “And what a wonder to discover that Johnson was actually a mutant. A low level telepath who was using his power very subtly to increase his own influence. Charles was overjoyed at not having to become a normal human.” He shook his head, “You’d think going from eighty to his late mid-thirties would be enough.”
Scott lay awake in bed. The mattress was thin but the missing comfort wasn’t what was bothering him. He kept playing the events over in his brain. There were so many little things that didn’t add up. It all started with Rhonda reporting Hazard and switching to plan B.
He’d been watching the news for most of the last day. There wasn’t much else to do while in his little cell. There was nothing about Hazard in the Pacific Northwest. That was odd since if he was here and active something should have happened. No one knew much about him. He’d show up and pull off an outrageous crime and then vanish.
The news had been dominated by headlines of the massacre in New Mexico and the mutant hero who’d stopped the rampaging evil. It had been surreal for Scott Rhonda’s impromptu press conferences were run over and over again. The speculation about SMAC was intense and Scott knew it was only a matter of time until the government opened the doors, at least a little, into the world of mutant special operations and law enforcement.
Scott had been mesmerized by the stories. Then there was the way Rhonda treated him and the wink from Kevin. They’d put on a show for someone. Either that or Rhonda had wanted to see if Scott was going to blow cover due to the PDC. At this he touched the device. The hard cold metal under his tiny questing fingers sent a shiver down his spin. The collar seemed to big but he was sure that was just due to his new perspective.
Scott’s mind continued to try to add up the events of the last several days. The way the operation had gone down felt off. There should have been a backup team. Even if Hazard had been spotted, something Scott was starting to doubt, there were enough agents in SMAC to cover that event and free up Rhonda and Kevin. Normally, within a day there should have been a face-to-face contact with either Rhonda or Kevin. Instead all contact had been electronic. Scott had been expecting an order to meet up so he and Rhonda switch. Instead the order to go deep and authorization to take any action required to maintain cover.
He’d also just seen the news, a footnote to the main broad caste, about a mutant member of the Mutant Affairs Agency who’d been shot by a sniper at long range. The picture of CC on the cable news broad caste had caused Scott to sit up. He’d felt shocked, then nauseated, then enraged. “Was that why I was told to go into deep cover? Because they didn’t have a way to swap me out?”
Scott got up and started pacing around his cell. ‘Rhonda loved being me while we were training. Based on what I’ve seen, both on TV and here she’s assumed my life and it looks like she’s adapted. No, she’s more than adapted, I think she loves having my body and living my life. I bet she made up the Hazard sighting so she could switch to plan B and put me in Cindy. Then she had to be put in my body.’
Rage washed through Scott. He had no way to prove any of that but his gut told him he was right. Rhonda had manipulated all of them. With nothing else to do Scott returned to the bunk and sat down in the lotus position and tried to calm his mind. He used one of the techniques CC had taught him to meditate.
Scott realized that he still felt guilty about releasing Soulsnatcher on the world. The damage he’d caused, the lives he’d destroyed, it was a disaster. A disaster that should have been avoided. He’d warned SMAC but they’d done nothing. Why? ‘Because Rhonda needed a disaster? Or because she didn’t want to admit that we were in contact? Why did all the contact numbers change? Why did my login get deleted? It makes no sense. Even if she wanted my life why would she allow all those people to get hurt’ Then the image of Rhonda talking to reporters. How the news was spinning the story, “hero” mutant saves hundreds of lives. “She wanted to expose SMAC and accelerate her career there wouldn’t have been a better opportunity.”
Then he thought about his arrest. It was the only thing that made sense. Bringing Soulsnatcher in like that and showing up in front of all those agents many who would easily recognize him . . . Rhonda had no choice, she had to arrest him or blow his cover. Too many of the Agents on scene didn’t know Scott was one of theirs. “Still, why haven’t they gotten me out or made contact and given me a SITREP?”
Earlier that day he’d been informed that the Australian Ambassador had called Director of MAA to thank him for capturing “Carnifex.” This had included a request to hold her until they could arrange to pick her up and return her to Australia to stand trial.
“Is there something the Agency needs me to do down-under?”
Scott couldn’t think of anything. However, they’d been trying to get after the terrorist group in the Philippines. Maybe this was a step toward that goal. About two hours ago a guard had come by letting Scott know it was ten minutes to lights out. The cell had a small dim light over the sink which was next to a toilet. High up there was a window with thick bars.
Scott’s mind ran through ways he could escape. He could probably rip the sink off the wall and pull out the pipes. If they were metal instead of PVC he could use that on the bars. Or he could try to pull the bars out of the wall. The pressure would destroy the skin on his hands, they’d heal. Once through the window he could fly up and away. Then they’d either detonate the collar or it would lose signal and detonate on its own. That wouldn’t kill him but all the skin around his neck would be shredded. Cindy didn’t have any healing powers so it would leave a nasty scar. For some reason this fact was suddenly very important to him. He didn’t want an ugly scar around his swan like neck. Still considering his options Scott heard a click and the door opened.
Scott stood up and took a step forward and stopped. Taser stood in the doorway. Scott thought he recognized the voice but since the man was covered in black spec ops clothes with a black balaclava over his face Scott couldn’t be sure.
The guy nodded. “Hurry. We’ve got a one minute window to get down and out of the cell block. Then the sensors come back up. They’re in a maintenance re-boot right now.”
Scott touched the PDC. “Can you remove this?”
Taser tossed Scott a device that looked like a key fob and backed out of the room. Scott pressed it to the collar and pushed the button. The device sent an encrypted key into the collar and there was a beep then a click as it opened. Instantly, Scott pushed his shield out covering his skin and then the collar. He floated it to the bed and then snapped it closed and pulled out the key. No reason to leave evidence behind.
Not bothering to walk Scott floated two inches off the ground and shot out of the cell. Taser had already jogged to the far end of the hall and was waiting by the door. Scott paused. There was a cell directly across from his. He knew who must be in it
“What are you going to do with him?”
“I don’t know. Back into a hole I guess. Why do you care? We’ve got to move.” The door to the cell block was now open and Taser was on the other side.
Scott thought of all the people Soulsnatcher had killed. He reached out with his power shaping the shield into the form of a blade that was only a few microns thick. He slipped the blade into the crack between the door and the wall and slashed down against the metal bolt holding the door closed. He cut it easily and pulled the door open with his power. Soulsnatcher was sound asleep on his back. Scott could see him from the doorway. With a quick thought encased him in a form fitting shield. Holding his body still Scott broke his neck. Then after a moment he released the shield. The smell of defecation was strong as the corpse voided its bowels. Scott closed the door and using a shield bent the hinges slightly to keep it closed. Then he turned and flew as fast as he could down the hall. He just made it through the door when lights started to come up behind him.
Taser closed the door and waited . . . listening to the voice on the earpiece. Then he looked over at Scott. “What did you do?”
“What needed doing. Let’s get out of here.”
Taser turned around and jogged to a door two thirds of the way down the hallway. They were through it in a flash and Scott saw it was a set of stairs. Taser paused and pointed up.
“I can’t go with you any further. The stairs lead up to the roof. There is an access door for maintenance to get onto the roof. The roof has pressure sensors, motion detectors, and thermal imaging. I’d advise going straight up.”
“What about you?”
“I’ve got a way out, but I need to go down. Oh, this is for you.”
Taser handed Scott a smart phone and a battery. “Good luck, Rhonda.” Then he turned and pounded down the steps. Scott stood there feeling stunned. “Rhonda? What the fuck.”
Scott grimaced, for a moment he thought about chasing Taser down to find out why he’d called him Rhonda. Then he shook his head, long hair swishing around his shoulders. Using his power Scott flew up the steps stopping at the locked and alarmed door. He knew that if he opened it an alarm would go off.
Maybe he should wait to give Taser more time. He seemed confident he had a way out. A way that he could use but by implication Scott couldn’t. “I guess I’m still undercover.” Scott looked more closely at the door and saw the sensor. A pair of contact plates right next to the door handle. If the plates separated there would be a break in current and that would trip the alarm.
Scott shaped a shield into a blade with a saw tooth edge and a very sharp point. He drove it slowly through the door and then used it to cut a circular hole big enough for him to fly through head first. Holding the door in place Scott focused on the shield around his body. It extended about a half a centimeter from his skin. Adjusting the frequency he caused light to bend around it. Then he adjusted it to make sure none of his body heat escaped and the surface of the shield matched that air temperature. He slowly pulled the cutout from the door and quietly laid it flat on the floor. Then he floated into the air and rotated so he was face down parallel to the floor with his hands extended above his head. Now in position he slowly slipped through the hole.
Once in the open Scott simply flew up. He picked up speed as he gained greater distance. Once he figured he was a mile up Scott turned and getting his bearings flew toward Seattle and his apartment. “If I have to stay undercover I want a few things. Like my computer.”
Feeling strong Scott started accelerating. He wasn’t sure how fast he could fly but objects on the ground raced by. The speed, the freedom, it felt glorious after being locked up for more than a day. It normally took him forty minutes to drive up to the Farm. He made the trip in about fifteen. His luxury apartment was the only apartment on the top of the five story building. Half the roof was his apartment the other half had been open for his use and he’d put down some Astro turf carpet, added a picnic table, lawn furniture, a hot tub, a grill, refrigerator, and a large outdoor flat screen.
Scott landed next to the refrigerator. He opened it and grinned when he saw it was still full of beer. Rhonda must not have spent much time here. He floated a micro-brew out causing the top to pop and snagged it out of the air. He took a long pull and signed.
“Damn I’ve missed that.”
“I hope you don’t mind, I’m one ahead of you.”
Startled Scott spun around ready to attack. Standing up from the lawn chair, Scott would have sworn was empty, was Director Cox. He held up a small device. “This is a Chameleon Field Generator. That’s why you didn’t see me when you landed. We have a mutant who’s able to create things like this . . . they defy science, yet work. Of course we can’t replicate them. So each device has to be created by him therefore the supply is limited. Don’t ask me to explain how he does it. He’s a cross between B, C, and D-class . . . we may have to come up with a new category for him.”
Scott gave the director a level look then took a second long drink. He floated another beer out of the fridge and shut the door. Cox moved to the outdoor table and sat down and lifted his own beer for a deep drink. Scott sat down across from him.
After a moment he fished out the cell phone and battery. He placed each on the table and lifted a single auburn brow. “It’s not like I wasn’t expecting you. Or at least some type of message. Particularly, after Taser gave me this. I mean, really. I have to put the battery in the phone. The battery needed to go home in order for the phone to work. Meaning, you needed me to return to my home in order for me to continue to operate.”
“It could have meant the Farm.’
“Since I was already at the Farm, in the brig, I figured this is what you meant. After all, Agency cell phones are the most secure communication devices in the world. There was no reason to give it to me with the battery out.”
“Well done.” Cox took a drink. “Agent Irons, report.”
The three words had a calming affect on Scott. Without emotion he started with the shift to plan “B” and moved through the events that led up to meeting the director. He also included the things that didn’t add up and his suspicions. Director Cox didn’t interrupt. He just listened.
“There are a few things you should know. First, Rhonda’s human body is dead. We shipped it to the prison using false records. At the time we thought it was the safest place to keep Carnifex.”
Scott nodded, “I didn’t see her, but I thought it likely.”
“CC was murdered about ten days ago.”
“I saw the news. How?”
“Sniper. Long range. Trained. The only lead we’ve got is the office where the shooter setup. We haven’t found the weapon and the shooter egressed without leaving a trace. Nothing there indicates a mutant.”
“Fuck. That means I’m stuck?” Ever since he’d seen the news report he knew he was stuck but to hear the Director say it made it reality.
“I’m afraid so. Although, I asked Techno, the mutant who created this,” Cox tapped the CFG, “to look into creating a device capable of swapping a pair of minds into each other’s body.” Cox shrugged. “He might create something, or not. His gift is . . . sporadic.”
“What do you want me to do?”
Cox finished his beer and then looked at the second beer sitting by Scott’s elbow.
“Get your own.”
Grinning Cox got up and grabbed two more and returned to the table. He popped one open and took a drink. “I agree with you. I think Rhonda set you up to be Cindy. I have long suspected there is a secret group working behind the scenes in our government. I think she’s part of that group. A shadow government. She was too young to run a team. But Director Hoover ordered me to give her a chance.”
Scott emptied his beer and opened the second one.
“Then the mission goes sideways, but Rhonda comes out on top. She broke every rule and went public, just in time to fight and defeat one of the most powerful evil mutants we’ve ever seen. Now she’s a hero, the face of SMAC, and untouchable.”
“Why untouchable? And she didn’t bring Soulsnatcher in . . . I did. Everyone on the strike team can attest to that, particularly Seraph. She was there and saw me take him down.”
“Yeah, well, Seraph is dead. We found her this morning. The forensic team thinks poison. No one else saw you take Soulsnatcher down, you just arrived with him collard. I’m also starting to think Thirdeye is part of this cabal which leaves Taser.”
“That doesn’t explain why she’s untouchable.”
“She’s untouchable because she is now running the Legislative Liaison Department, is a peer of mine, and works directly for Director Hoover. Yes, she’s been promoted . . . again. Although, the records indicate that it’s “Mr. Scott Irons” since Rhonda Torres is officially dead, killed in the line of duty. My source inside Hoover’s office said that this appointment came at the behest of Senator Johnson.” He shook his head, “She now has cover from the MAA director, a cabinet official who sits on the National Security Council, and the ranking member of the Senate oversight committee for Mutant Affairs. So, yeah, she-no-HE is untouchable.”
He took another drink and added, “If CC had been able to complete his mission then we might have avoided all of this.”
“I sent CC to D.C.. He was supposed to swap Senator Johnson into a high class call girl. The call girl would have gone into my old boss, Brenda Taylor. She’s in her eighties, was one of the original generation of mutants, her abilities let her fly. She was once head of the FBI Mutant Investigations department before it was shut down and re-instated as SMAC.”
“Why would you do that to some poor prostitute? Turn her into an old woman?” For a moment Scott felt sad for the call girl. “I’m glad it didn’t work out for the whore’s sake.”
“We wouldn’t have left her in Brenda’s body. Just long enough to find a criminal on death row to swap her into and set up in witness protection. At that point we would have made Brenda’s death look natural.” Then the director shrugged, “It doesn’t matter now. CC was killed before he made contact with Brenda.”
Suddenly, Scott remembered what Taser had said. “Why is Taser calling me Rhonda?”
Cox looked away for a moment. “I ordered CC to modify his memories before he left for D.C.. I wanted to keep this operation to the absolute minimum people with a required need-to-know. Taser could act as your handler thinking you were Rhonda as easily as he’d be able to do it thinking you were Scott. Easier really since thinking of his buddy Scott as the hot red-head would have messed with his mind.”
“So the only people who know who I really am are you, me, and Rhonda?”
“Yes. And Taser thinks you’re Rhonda. To the rest of the world you’re Cindy Snow.”
They lapsed into silence. Scott finished his second beer and went for a third. After drinking half he looked back at Cox. “What now?”
“I’d cover up your escape, if I could, but the Australians have already been notified. We’ll use the story that Soulsnatcher tried to escape and was killed during the attempt. Oh, by the way, thanks for that. He was too dangerous to be allowed to live but I couldn’t order anyone to do what you did.” Cox tipped his beer in salute to Scott and took a drink before continuing. “The story will be that in the confusion you got away. That’s the best I can do.”
“Go to D.C.. Dig. We need to find out more about this Shadow Government. Right now everything is circumstantial.” Cox shook his head frustration in his voice. “The phone Taser gave you wasn’t just a signal to meet me here. It isn’t a normal phone. I’ve loaded it with data you can use. It’s secure and uses biometrics. When you power it up for the first time press your finger to the screen. It’s already been paired to Cindy Snow. There are bank accounts, access numbers, as well as the software needed to create your own pass ports and IDs. I also suggest changing your look. Right now you look like a walking wet-dream. Something a little more subtle, sophisticated, would be good.”
“Director, you dirty old man, I’m wearing a prison jumpsuit.” Scott couldn’t resist a feminine giggle, and the urge to tease the director, men were just so single minded!
Cox grinned and continued, “I’ve started to form a small team. Taser’s on board. I’ll introduce you to others as well once you’re in place.” He shook his head, “I don’t know who these people are, but Rhonda is one of them. We need to focus on her and Director Hoover to start. Then look for anything odd or anything that might connect them.”
Scott stood up, “I’ll need a good telepath. A teleporter would be helpful.”
“Feel free to recruit anyone you can. The more mutants we have not associated with the government or one of the three letter agencies the better.”
“Okay.” Scott headed toward the back patio door.
“Are you going inside?”
“I am. There are a few things I want.”
Cox stood up. “Keep it light. Be out quickly. My advice is to cleanly cut your ties to your old life. You aren’t Scott Irons and will never be again. I’m sorry for that, and for everything you’ve lost.” Then after pausing added, “Eventually, we’ll get Cindy Snow either cleared or her crimes commuted.”
Scott gestured down at his body and then floated into the air. “I’ve gained a lot. More than I’d have thought to be honest. I’m far more powerful and to be honest, I think I prefer being a woman.”
The director looked a little troubled but nodded and then turned around and walked to the edge of the building stepping off into space. Scott knew he had power over gravity and watching him float down out of sight was the first time he’d ever seen the Director use his power. Scott picked up the empty bottles dropped them in the trash before hurrying inside.
Scott looked around the apartment that had once been his sanctuary and realized that it no longer felt like home. It felt off. Everything was a little bigger than he remembered. Scott floated up until he was eight inches above the floor and nodded. “Wow, the point of view really changes the way the room looks.”
The mystery solved Scott quickly started collecting the things he wanted to keep. He picked up his laptop and threw it in a bag. He added a few pictures. Opened his private safe and cleaned out the money and deed to his father’s farm. He left the guns since they no longer offered much use. Not since he’d figured out that he could create a shield the size and shape of a bullet and send it at high velocity to about a hundred yards. Then he hurried to the guest bedroom. He kept several sets of women’s clothes. Over the years they’d come in handy for unexpected guests. Most wouldn’t fit him. He did find stretchy pants, a t-shirt, along with a hoodie. Sadly, the prison underwear was the best fit.
He stuffed the jumpsuit into the bag and then left the apartment. Veiling he flew into the night heading for the storage facility. It was so late that it was starting to become early when he landed. Scott felt physically and emotionally exhausted. Rhonda’s betrayal and the news of a Shadow Government pulling the strings behind the scenes was enough to make his head hurt. The fight to take down Soulsnatcher, the escape, committing murder, and learning that he was now trapped in Cindy’s sex-pot body probably for the rest of his life . . . it was all just . . . mentally and emotionally draining.
Scott checked his power level. This was becoming a habit that he didn’t plan to change any time soon. He saw he was getting low but not desperately low. The priority now was sleep. Scott unlocked the pad-lock flipped the industrial handle up and rolled the sliding door up revealing the van with all of Cindy’s things.
He shut the door and then used his power to latch it closed and lock it. It was pitch black in the storage unit so he adjusted the shield over his eyes allowing him to see into the IR spectrum. It didn’t help much since everything was cold. He stumbled to the van and fumbled the door handle open. The dome light came on and he climbed inside. Everything was as he’d left it. He turned on the battery powered Coleman Lamp and shut the door. Wanting nothing more than sleep Scott unrolled a sleeping bag and dug out a pillow. He crawled inside and turned off the lamp. The darkness felt comfortable and safe. In a few seconds Scott was sound asleep.
If you liked this post, you can leave a comment and/or a kudos!
Click the Thumbs Up! button below to leave the author a kudos:
And please, remember to comment, too! Thanks.