Today was the day. <Or at least it better fuckin’ be.>
Lilly had trouble sleeping that night. She tossed and turned trying to ignore the restlessness, but that only made it worse. She got up in the middle of the night and started to workout. It was something to try and burn through that energy. It succeeded in making her body sweaty and tired but not her mind. She stripped out of her BO-filled prison jumpsuit and climbed back into bed.
If everything went as planned then she wouldn’t have to see this cell again.
Prison was like having an irritating itch that you could never scratch. You had to do everything everyone else told you all the time, which was not how Lilly was programmed. Then, even in your private time, you were confined to a small cell. So if you wanted to do anything to relieve that itch it got broadcasted in the security booth upstairs.
She was sure they’d watched her impromptu workout closely and wondered why she was up in the middle of the night. She wouldn’t tell them even if they asked nicely. That was another way that she was programmed.
With no sun or moon to pass the time all the prisoners were constantly at the mercy of the guards. The guards had watches which told the time. When Reggie came by she had to assume it was morning.
They went through the routine. She stood against the wall, he patted her down, and she politely instigated sexual banter which he dutifully refused. Usually he didn’t talk much at all aside from the standard commands, but today was a little different.
“You nervous?” His question caught her off-guard.
“What? Me? I’m touched Reggie, I really am, but I’m actually innocent. This is all just a big misunderstanding.” She felt the restrains go around her wrist and ankles and could practically see the strongman rolling his eyes.
He led her around the ring of level 3 and stopped at the bathroom. A female guard stood inside the door and did not look happy to be there.
“Clean yourself up, Wraith. You need to be presentable for the judge.”
There were some basic toiletries available, but nothing she could use to kill the guards and escape. The female guard watched her like a hawk as she undressed and entered the open-room showers. A dozen nozzles lined the walls and she took one in the middle. She scrubbed off her workout’s BO and did all the personal hygiene expected of a lady. Wrapped a towel over her chest and gathered her hair in another one. She brushed her teeth and gave herself one last look over.
She looked a little thinner than she’d like, but there was no getting rid of her award-winning face and priceless personality. She gave the mirror one of her thousand-watt smiles before shrugging into a clean prison jumpsuit. She’d requested a pretty dress and some heels, but they’d said no. The heels were a stabbing hazard, and they were right.
“Let’s go.” The guard grabbed her roughly by the arm and dragged her into the hall where Reggie was waiting. “She’s clear.”
Reggie made sure with another pat down before re-shackling her and heading to the surface level of the prison. Outside there was a caravan of vehicles waiting along with two Heroes.
“So much attention for little old me?” She smiled at the color-coded pair. “You shouldn’t have.”
One of the Heroes approached her, and for a second she thought the woman was actually going to take a swing at her. <I probably killed someone she cared about.> She managed to think before she placed a hand on her shoulder.
The world spun a little bit and Lilly staggered, but she shook her head and her vision came back into focus. When it did, she gave her head another shake, because she was seeing three of her.
“What the fuck?”
Outside the prison there were three naked Lilly’s. They all just stood there like statues trembling slightly in the cool breeze. The other Hero produced three different colored jumpsuits. The real Lilly was currently wearing white while the rest were dressed in orange, red, and black.
“Did you think we wouldn’t find out?” One of the Heroes got all up in her face. “Did you seriously think you were going to break out of this place under my watch?”
Lilly had no idea who this chick was, but she wasn’t about to let her see her hope shattered like a broken mirror. Instead she leaned closer and took an audible whiff.
“Hero-chick,” she took another whiff. “You stink girlfriend. You should use some mouthwash after you suck dick. Just a friendly piece of advice.”
The Hero blushed, raised her hand, balled it into a fist, and then brought it within an inch of Lilly’s face. Lilly didn’t even flinch. She just gave the woman her thousand-watt smile. “Chop chop Jeeves. I have someplace to be.”
Needless to say, the female Hero didn’t ride in the SUV with the real Lilly. That was good, because the fact that they knew something was up did not bode well for her. It was a decent trek from the prison to the federal courthouse where she was going to have to face a jury of her peers, but that gave her plenty of time to think and plan.
She knew the woman was some type of duplicator. Those were always a pain in the ass to fight, especially when you didn’t know what type of duplications she made or what her secondary powers might be. The other Hero was a complete unknown, and she hadn’t gotten any type of read off what he was. Then there was Reggie and the other three guards who came with her last time. They rode in her car. They were all low-class Supers mostly with physical enhancements. She had plans to deal with them.
All of those plans came to a sudden halt when her SUV took a right while the other three kept going straight.
“Hey, where are we going?” She turned to look at the street behind her. “Don’t get all rapey on me now Reggie. I’ve got a court time to meet.”
“You’ll make it.” Reggie hadn’t dropped his usual strong and silent mentality, so whatever was happening was part of their plan.
<Another countermeasure.> She felt that broken hope begin to seep away.
She didn’t know what her rescuers’ plan was, but they were going to have to improvise on the fly, and that was if they could even find her.
The SUV came to a halt at what looked like a water treatment facility. Her guards got out and led her inside, and down into the bowels of the city.
<Ahhhh.> She got it now. She was being brought in under the radar…literally.
They walked the subterranean passageways of the city for fifteen minutes until she felt the earth tremor around her. The radio on Reggie’s hip went insane with chatter, which he quickly turned off.
“The convoy got hit by an IED.” He announced to the team, who all drew their sidearms. “We’re to proceed to our secondary location for pickup and transport back to the prison.” He turned and gave Lilly a hard stare.
“Hey, don’t look at me. You’ve had me under lock and key for months. I’m not doing anything.” Her lips only turned up slightly at the corners.
“Let’s move. Time is of the essence.” Reggie turned to drag Lilly back the way she came.
“I agree.” One of the other guards, Lilly didn’t know who he was, turned and shot another guard point blank in the head. The guard was dead instantly and fell like a downed tree.
To his credit, Reggie didn’t hesitate. He was a professional and good at his job. He grabbed the gun as it turned toward him and crushed it in his hand. Metal screeched as it warped under his powerful grip, but it gave the traitor time to counter. His fist found Reggie’s head and the strongman stumbled back as electricity exploded around him.
Lilly made a note that this guy was some type of absorber.
With Reggie off balance and the other guard advancing on him she saw her chance. There was just one guard in the way. The guy looked to be on the younger side, and whatever his ability was it wasn’t keeping his eye on the ball. He was too busy watching the other guard and Reggie that he didn’t see Lilly coming. She lashed out with her foot and aimed for the guy’s groin.
The problem with the attack was that her ankles were shackled together. She knew that and was prepared for what she had to do. The shackles didn’t have enough give for her to reach the guard’s babymakers, so she let the force of her blow lift her other foot off the ground. It was incredibly awkward and reduced the force of her kick by about half.
But hitting a dude in the junk was still hitting him in the junk. She caught him with his legs open and totally unprepared. His eyes practically rolled into the back of his head as pain coursed through him. He collapsed and started to dry heave on the ground.
She had a moment to revel in his misfortune before gravity became her problem to worry about. She’d sacrificed her footing to land the blow and the price for that was landing hard on her back. She tried to roll with in, but she still got the wind knocked out of her. She pushed through the lung spasms and struggled to her feet.
This was her chance to escape and she wasn’t going to miss it. She’d never get another. If they caught her they’d throw her in the darkest hole they could find and throw away the key. She wouldn’t even have Reggie’s well-sculpted ass to look at every once in a while.
She grabbed the wall for support and started to shuffle down the hall. <I should have grabbed a radio. Shit!> She screamed at herself as she picked up speed as much as possible. She felt like a walrus trying to run in these shackles, but it was the best she could do. She could still hear the sounds of a brawl coming from behind her, so whoever the mysterious guard was he was buying her precious seconds. She rounded the corner and continued her flight to freedom.
The only problem was that she was in an underground labyrinth of pipes and the only exit she had was back to the water treatment plant. The workers there would find it highly suspicious if she came back out in her prison jumpsuit, handcuffed, but without the guards.
<I need something to get this shit off.> She started to look for something small enough to pick the lock with.
In addition to the many wonderful things her father had trained her to do, lock picking was one of them. It was actually pretty easy to get out of standard handcuffs as long as you had the right equipment, and thankfully the underground tunnels were bountiful. Someone left their tools out and she was able to grab some stiff wire to shove into the slot. She started with her feet and thirty seconds later she was sprinting away like her life depended on it. She entered the treatment plant as stealthy as possible and found the locker room. She stole a dude’s jacket that was way too big for her and hoped it hid her white jumpsuit from a casual glance. She pulled the collar of the jacket up high to hide the collar around her neck and walked right out the front door. The pocket of the jacket had keys so she stole the guy’s car too.
And his phone. The phone was key. She dialed a number from memory and it picked up after the first ring.
“Who the hell is this?” the voice was rushed.
“Don’t tell me you forgot about me already, Uncle Curtis.” She put on a pouty face even though no one was there to see it.
“Yes!” She heard him cheer. “Nano, Plan B worked.”
<Mika’s with him.> That caught her by surprise.
There was a ruffled sound of the phone changing hands before Mika’s voice came over the line. “Hey, Shadow!” He still sounded like the kid he was. “Glad you made it out.”
“Me too. So what’s the plan?”
“The plan if for you to get to this address.” A text appeared on the phone with the location. “But you need to get to a hardware or grocery store ASAP.”
“Your collar has a GPS tracker embedded in it. Right now I’m screwing with their systems, but they’re close to kicking me out. Find some aluminum and wrap it around your neck. It’ll help block the signal so you can get to the rendezvous undetected. Once you’re there I can get that thing off you.”
There was a pause in the statement that she didn’t like. “Nano?”
“The aluminum will block the GPS and it’ll also stop them from detonating the explosives in the collar. If you want to keep your head I’d find some soon.”
Lilly’s foot pushed the pedal to the floor and the beat-up truck she’d stolen lurched forward.
She didn’t care how stupid she’d look with aluminum around her neck. It was infinitely better than having nothing left but a bloody stump.
“I’ll call you back in five.” Nano handed the phone over to Armsman.
“Stay safe, kid.” He cut the line.
That was exactly what Lilly intended to do. She wasn’t going to die today.
Seth sat in front of the computer like everyone else and waited. The small, slim, brown-haired man marched in front of the rows of computers and looked them over individually. It was kind of creepy, and Seth was not getting the best vibe from subtlety in general.
“Don’t confuse subtlety with James Bond.” Professor Willis started off the class. “Being a secret agent has nothing to do with this specialty. If anything, we’re the exact opposite. We’re the guys in the background making sure that the sexy secret agent man gets all the right information to step in and save the girl.”
Seth rolled his eyes. He really didn’t give two shits about girls right now. He’d originally said no to this class because of a girl, but then he changed his mind. What better way to discover a lying cheating bitch than to beat her at her own game. That’s why he was taking subtlety. To make sure nothing like Liz ever happened again.
“Now that I’ve wiped any illusions of subtlety grandeur from your minds, if anyone wishes to leave please feel free. I won’t hold it against you and the other professors are still accepting transfers until the end of the week.”
Seth thought about giving up, but then just shrugged. He didn’t have anything better to do. If he became a Hero this wasn’t going to be his major anyway. He just wanted to learn enough to know when someone was playing him. <I’ll stick it out. I just need to pass.>
“You need to do more than meet minimal grading requirements to pass this class.” Professor Willis continued to parade in front of them like a general marshalling his army. “You need to impress me, or show me that you have the spark of something greater inside you. Anyone can punch a wall down, but it takes a different breed to think of a way through that wall without the bad guy knowing while getting his social security number.”
<This is going to be a long class.> Seth got the feeling Miles Willis liked to hear himself speak.
“With all of that being said, today we start with the basics. That begins with an aptitude test of my own design and a simple question. What are the different types of intelligence gathering?”
A hubcap-sized hand went up from the back row. “Human intelligence and signal intelligence.”
“Very good, Mr. Jackson. Those are two of the eight types of intelligence gathering. HUMINT is what people most traditionally associate with espionage, and SIGNINT is what all of those new movies are about. Intercepting data and discovering the secrets within. Anyone else? …No…It seems pop culture is limited to those two. The other six types of intelligence gathering are: geospatial intelligence, measurement and signature intelligence, open-source intelligence, technical intelligence, cyber intelligence, and financial intelligence.”
<Shit that’s a lot of intelligences.> Seth didn’t even know the majority of those existed.
“We’ll cover each of these in some depth during the semester, but today is about finding out what you know. Please turn on your computers.”
Seth did as instructed and a blue screen with a logon appeared.
“Your first test is to figure out the password. Open the drawer to you right. There is a mix of crap in there. Somewhere buried in that crap is the password for your computer. Everyone’s is different. Piece together the puzzle and log on. You have ten minutes.”
<You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.> Seth really just wanted to light all of the crap on fire, but that wouldn’t go over well, so he got to work.
Figuring out the password wasn’t simple. He tried the birthday of the ID he found and got nothing. He looked for common trends in the drawer. One of those was cats. Whoever this imaginary person was, Seth thought they were an old cat lady who would live and die alone before being eaten by said cats. He tried the cat names he found, but none of those were good. There was a planner in the drawer as well, and he went through that trying a number of passwords. None of those worked. Eventually, he found a tab marked passwords in the planner.
<No, it can’t be that easy.> He opened to the page and several alpha-numeric combinations were written neatly and orderly.
He found the one marked Comp. ID and plugged it in. The computer booted up and brought up a screen with a giant picture of a cat’s face. There were icons on the left but he left them alone and waited for the ten minutes to elapse.
“Time!” Professor Willis called. “And what lesson did we learn today?”
<People are stupid.>
“People write down their passwords and keep those numbers close.”
“Yes. Thank you, Ms. Scarborough. We learned that the average person doesn’t have the patience or memory capacity to remember all the various passwords for logging onto their various electronic accounts. You will most likely find someone’s passwords written down somewhere near their computer. Now, our next test is going to be using the same items in the drawer to find a bit of intelligence on the hard drive. Click on the top right icon to begin. You have another ten minutes.”
Five minutes in Seth had the information. The cat lady had used the same password for half of her stuff and the security questions had been pretty easy with all the information in the drawer. Seth wasn’t by any means a computer geek, but the last two exercises told him was that he was pretty good at figuring stuff out about people. All it did was make him angrier that Liz had been able to get through his defenses so easily.
<Apparently, all you need to get by me is a rockin’ bod and to know your way around the bedroom.> It was a realization he’d come to before, but it still sucked to think about it.
“Anyone who hasn’t succeeded in their task please raise your hand.” There were a few but not many.
A year of fighting other people gave you some skill at reading them. This was just an extension of that. Seth was in the middle of wondering whether this was HUMINT or SIGNIT gathering when the door to the classroom banged open.
“Excuse our interruption, Professor.” A woman in a black suit stood in the doorway flanked by two men.
“It’s quite alright, Agent Phillips. What can I do for you today.”
“Is Mr. Abney present?”
“Yeah, I’m here.” Seth stood up and waved at the DVA goons. “What do you want?”
“Please come with us.”
Seth had his fair share of meetings with the DVA over the summer. Most of them had a lawyer present at them, and he hadn’t said much.
“I’ll need to contact my attorney if we’re gonna keep playing this game.” Seth sighed.
“No need, Mr. Abney. Please come with us.” The two big guys started moving toward him.
“Yeah, fine. I’m coming.” Seth started to move before the guys could haul him out of the room. That would just do wonders for his reputation.
“Return to class once you’re finished with the lovely Agent Phillips.” Professor Willis was laying the charm on thick. “There is a homework assignment. It would be a shame if you missed it.”
Seth didn’t give a rat’s ass about homework. He wanted to know why the DVA was pulling him out of class. The three agents were tight-lipped until they reached the teachers’ offices and they passed through a door at the end of the hallway with the Dean’s name on it. Inside Dean Ditmar sat talking with Hunter and Abyss. Seth recognized both Heroes from last year. Hunter was the one who brought in Liz; on top of being Angela’s father. Absence was a nullifier who’d come to speak to the class. She’d also had dealings with Liz when she was Wraith.
It wasn’t hard to put two and two together.
“What happened with Liz?”
The Dean’s eyes turned to regard Seth, and the young Super couldn’t puzzle what the older man was thinking.
“Please, Seth, have a seat.” He gestured.
“I don’t want to sit.”
“Fine.” Agent Phillips rounded on Seth, ignoring the three Heroes in the room. “If you want to be questioned standing that’s fine by me.”
The three Heroes might have neutral expressions, but Agent Phillips looked pissed.
“Less than an hour ago Lilly Noel, aka Liz Aretino, aka Wraith escaped from federal custody. I’m here to see if you had anything to do with it.”
“Oh.” Seth involuntarily took that seat after all. He didn’t know it was possible to feel unbelievable joy and unbearable sadness all at once.
“Mr. Abney, where were you forty-six minutes ago? Where is your personal computer and cell phone? What have you been doing since your last interview?”
The initial shock of Liz’s escape was washed away as the DVA agent dug into him. His resolve hardened and he glared back at her. “Remember that who lawyer thing? It’s in the Constitution and just about every state charter. Yeah, I thought so,” he stated when the agent’s eyes flashed with anger. “We’ll wait for my attorney to arrive, and then we’ll talk.”
“That will take time, and clearances to get him down here. It’s time we don’t have if we want to reacquire Wraith.”
“Well then, I suggest you use one of your teleporters and we take this meeting above ground because I’m not talking without counsel present.”
“Mr. Abney has rights, Agent Phillips. Please respect those in my school.” The Dean came to Seth’s defense even though he looked conflicted about it.
The DVA agent seethed for a moment before regaining her composure. “Hunter?”
“On it.” The man disappeared.
“Let’s take this meeting upstairs then.” Agent Phillips motioned for him to get up and move toward the door.
The two other DVA agents walked much closer to him this time. The only thing saying he wasn’t in custody was the lack of handcuffs around his wrists, and if Liz got away he didn’t know how long it would be until they tried to slap those on.
Seth hadn’t done anything to help Liz escape. He’d been in class forty-six minutes ago and he’d spent the summer drinking his liver into oblivion and fucking random chicks.. He wouldn’t even get out of bed to pay the pizza delivery guy much less help the woman who broke his heart. But that was all when Liz was in custody. Now that she was out, the government would be looking for scapegoats.
Seth had been around enough people with power to know they were going to pin the tail on anything related to her crimes, even some kid who was thinking with his dick more than his head.
<They aren’t going to get me.> Seth’s family had one of the best attorneys in the county on retainer since this all started, and his father would use all his influence to ensure Seth didn’t sully the family name.
Seth wasn’t going down for this bullshit. If the DVA wanted a fight they’d get a fight, and it all started now.