Plots Beginning, Ending, and Thickening
“My friends, I’m glad you all could make it.” Ramón Carerra stood and spoke as the last of the Overton Sophomore class entered the large lecture room they had all spent so much time in during their freshman year Ethics class. “I am also more than a little impressed, and thankful, that none of us decided to decline my invitation.”
“When someone in our class calls for a meeting without the Instructors being involved, well, history indicates that there’s a good reason for it.” Amelia spoke calmly from her still seated position near where her boyfriend had stood, but those in the room had gotten to know the powerful young woman too well over their time in the program together. To their eyes, the skinny blonde was quite obviously nervous.
“Plus Cat told us it was important.” The voice of Scott Jameson chiming in from where he sat next to the aforementioned auburn haired girl drew murmurs of agreement from the crowd, and a chuckle from the standing Mexican youth.
“In that case then I am thankful as well that my friend Catalina has decided to allow me to speak my mind instead of doing it for me.” Ramón took a deep breath as his remark drew a few more smiles from around the room, though the expressions quickly turned serious as the assembled students seemed to realize that even the outspoken youth was hesitating.
“So, to cut right to the heart of the matter; five of us in this room are screwed. We will not be able to advance in the HCP, and as things currently stand we will officially wash out at the end of the semester.” The muscular man paused, as his words resulted in chaos briefly breaking out in the room.
Nearly every student began speaking, or yelling, at the same time. No words were truly discernible from the noise for a long moment, before one voice easily cut through to everyone present. “He has more to say, and he’s not wrong.”
Where Ramón’s statement had been met with anger and outcry, the telepathic message stunned the room into silence. “Myself, Barry, Kaori, Susan, and Lisa are all doomed to washout this year, due to the academic requirements.”
“That’s bullshit.” The petite Japanese healer tried to instill conviction and rage into her words, but the telepathic declaration prevented her from mustering any real force. “The school has bereavement policies, even for cases where family members were only seriously injured and not…” Kaori trailed off as her speech summoned the memory of the funeral she had just returned from a few days ago. Her similarly grieving roommates moved to comfort the girl as she attempted to choke back a sob.
“The problem, it seems, is one of semantics. The academic requirements of the HCP stipulate, ‘a student that receives a failing grade on a midterm, major project, or final will lose their standing in the HCP without prejudice.’ The prejudice part simply meaning we will be free to reapply later. Even though we aren’t going to have our grades impacted by the projects that the five of us have failed to complete, those grades are still officially entered into the system.”
“But we aren’t… How the fuck are they penalizing us for this? Now?” Barry Jeung didn’t seem to be having any difficulty finding rage to infuse into HIS tone as he spoke.
“They aren’t, this is another case of politics. No one had even NOTICED the discrepancy before, but this time people were waiting to pounce on it. At the end of the current year, the loophole will be closed, but that won’t do us much good.”
“This is that new Oversight guy, isn’t it? Weaver.” The hispanic teleporter’s tone of voice was completely neutral, but anyone close enough to see the look in her eyes knew immediately her emotions were anything but. “I have a solution for that.”
“Cat, I think you have to tell them the next part. You’re the only one who could make it believable.”
All eyes in the room turned to Catalina Blake as Ramón retook his seat. “Harold Weaver isn’t the person pulling the strings to force the HCP to enforce the STRICTEST letter of the rules. He’s the person who alerted the University President and Dean Jilles to the fact that it was being done.” The hispanic girl smiled at the incredulous stares that met her statement. “Make no mistake, he isn’t on our side. The plus is that he isn’t on the enemy’s side either. He’s more like his own side. He sees that someone is trying to play him, and he doesn’t approve. Since he’s here with us, people who can all do TERRIBLE things to him, he’s decided that he’s going to even the scales so that we don’t decide to do something overt. He also found an… interesting stopgap that he shared with us, via President Walker and Dean Jilles.”
“Stopgap?” Lisa Shang was the first to get the word out, though it was rapidly echoed around the room. “What the hell good does a ‘stopgap’ do us?”
“Our opponent wishes to use word games and semantics to strip out almost twenty percent of our class.” Ramón took over the presentation again, though he did not stand this time. “They know that if the HCP changes the rules mid-year to accommodate us, it will win a battle but lose the war. It will be painted in the most unfavorable light possible at the end of the Oversight in three more years. Three years of time to distance the arguments from the tragedies that would otherwise correct the skew. So instead, we deny them their opportunity to reduce the size of our class.” The muscular youth wore a somewhat forced smile as he continued. “We switch our majors to ‘honorary degrees.'”
“We what?” The confused question from Susan, the only one of the five named as ‘doomed’ who hadn’t yet spoken, seemed to adequately express the looks worn by most of the class.
“You see my friends, many decades ago this country was not as enlightened as it is today. Many of the fine Universities that now freely allow women or minorities to enroll and pursue real academics did not do so sixty or seventy years ago. A few of them, Overton included, decided to do something that was forward thinking, for its time. They allowed women to attend classes, but only to audit them. If they audited enough, they would receive a shiny ‘honorary degree’ certificate to take home and show off to the other housewives.”
“And the fact that this isn’t sixty or seventy years ago isn’t an issue because?” The sarcastic question came from the petite healer as she had recovered from her earlier emotional stumble.
“Because like so many laws, rules, and regulations; it was never taken out of the books. They just stopped doing it, but it’s still there. Probably won’t be after we all do this, but since the HCP is going to fix this crap at the end of the year that shouldn’t be a problem.”
“And this gets us what, the right to stay here until the end of the year instead of the end of the semester?” Barry’s tone as he asked the question sounded bitter and defeated.
“It gets us a win. We’ll be out of the running for admittance to the third year with no ACTUAL academic record at the end of this one. But it won’t count against us UNTIL the end of the school year. We still finish the HCP second year training, we qualify to apply for the third year of the program after we take a year off, and most importantly; we don’t let the fuckers who are trying to rip up our class win. I already finished the paperwork for mine.” Ramón stood and produced four sheets of paper from the shelf beneath his desk. “I hope the rest of you will join me in supporting our friends who still can advance.”
“Good afternoon, Dean.” A somewhat frazzled looking Kathryn Jilles glanced up from the papers in front of her and attempted to offer a smile to her visitor.
“Riley, got any more surprises to drop on me?”
“A couple.” Seeing the expression on the petite woman’s face turn sour he actually laughed softly. “And it looks like I get the bonus of delivering surprise news to a telepath in person. Weaver’s on the warpath.”
“Oh? How much on the warpath does a man like Harold Weaver get?” Kathryn seemed ready to dismiss the idea, then caught something from the blond man visiting her that snapper her attention back up to him. “He’s doing WHAT?”
“Did. Past tense.” Riley accompanied his statement by striding across the cluttered office and turning on the wall mounted monitor across from the Dean’s desk. It took a but of fiddling before the University President figured out how to get to television channels, but once that hurdle was cleared he quickly found what he was looking for; political news networks.
“…and incumbent Senator Ned Learner, a senior member of several important joint committees is facing a shocking plummet in the polls as an attack ad released just last night by a previously unknown PAC is destroying his image, and voter base.” The talking heads went back and forth for several minutes before they cut to the actual ad in question.
“Senator Ned Learner, ANTI HERO.” The ad was remarkably low budget, but it had several key things going for it. An image of the actual memo that the senator had apparently sent to insure that the HCP would enforce the insane semantics that would cost five promising young Supers their chances to advance in the HCP. Statements from three former staffers who had resigned in disgust, and likely because they were intelligent enough to run from political fallout THIS bad as fast as possible, verifying that the memo was real. Representing a state like New Jersey that had MORE than its share of issues with rogue Supers where the public was overwhelmingly in support of Heroes and the HCP, this was the political attack ad equivalent of a nuclear strike.
“So I’m guessing our HCP Budget Committee in the Senate will have a new chair after this year’s election.”
“That seems a safe bet.”
“In the interest of trying not to have further ‘unfortunate discussions’ with your Instructors, his exact words mind you, Harold Weaver has been going through all the messes that Raines made last year and has found another one he can undo, in hopes of earning some goodwill.”
“Please don’t ask me to guess, Riley. That is a VERY long list of messes.”
“Raines, and some of his backers who are no longer a part of the HCP Budget Committee, removed the ‘parents day’ from Overton’s HCP last year, citing numerous bullshit reasons. Weaver is bringing it back, AND he’s financing transport and local accommodations out of Oversight’s ‘discretionary fund.'”
“He’s not worried about backlash for misuse of those funds?” The Dean was smiling a bit, in spite of her wariness of the apparent support Harold Weaver, of all people, seemed to be providing.
“Direct quote once more; ‘I just obliterated a 5 term incumbent’s career, and they know it. I have til after the elections of doing whatever I want before any of them grow enough of a spine to come at me. This isn’t me joining your side though, this is me fixing shit so I can do my job.’ For what it’s worth, I believe him.”
“Oh?” That one syllable spoke VOLUMES of the Dean’s curiosity.
“I’m every bit as much a political creature as he is, Kathryn. Someone is trying to set him up to be both a pawn and the scapegoat. He’s decided that he’s going to go full on offensive, and make enough overtures that WE are at least shifted to more or less neutral. He won’t stand for someone using him like that, he’s too proud. He’ll raze his own career to the ground and drag his enemies and manipulators down with him before he lets ANYONE use him like that.”
“It’s good to have your perspective on this Riley. Not a friend, but possibly an ally. DEFINITELY a potential weapon. I would love to know how he got that memo.” A brief flicker of telekinetic power turned the monitor off as the Dean found no interest in seeing what else the pundits had to say about the changing political landscape.
“How have your wife’s efforts progressed towards safeguarding the rest of our students’ families?” The Dean couldn’t quite keep a note of embarrassment from her voice as she asked the question. Damn them for manipulating the politics so well, it should be US providing that protection.
“Almost all covered. We avoided setting up on the families you told us not to, I’m going to assume because you know that they’re already adequately protected and try VERY hard not to speculate on why the parents of an HCP student wouldn’t need any extra security against violent criminals.”
“How’s that ‘not speculating’ working for you?” The Dean was pleased to hear that Janette had been successful in arranging security in only a couple of days, and had to smile at the uncomfortable way Riley was now fidgeting.
“Just… Are all of the ones you warned me off of Heroes?”
“Not even half of them.”
The overweight blond man’s eyes widened slightly. “Then, wha-…”
“Trust your first instinct not to speculate. Believe me when I say that none of the people I warned you off of are in any real danger from common, or even NOT-so-common, criminals.”
“See boys? I told you this would work out. Look at the SIZE of this place!” Clem Dison was not a particularly intelligent man, but he was a VERY physically imposing one as he loomed over his two sons and directed them towards the very large house in front of them.
“I don’t trust it, dad. You got this all from some computer thing for like two grand? People with houses this big got big security. We should get outta here.” Dennis Dison was the smallest and youngest of the three approaching the house. He was also the only one without a criminal record (notably different from not BEING a criminal) and he wanted to keep things that way.
“Shut up Den, Pa’s got this one. You saw the code at the gate got us in just fine.” Alex was the older child, and looked for more like his oversized father than his younger brother. “Computer thing’s legit, proved that when the gate opened and the alarm turned off. Now we just got to go in the house and find the valuable shit. Unless you’re worried about the one itty bitty bitch that lives here?”
“And how the fuck do we know that she’ll be the only one here?”
“No fucking arguing on the job, both of you.” Clem’s voice was quiet, but commanding as the three approached the door. “Computer shit says she’s alone, so she’s probably alone. If she’s not, then we handle her AND whoever she got with her.” The large man reached into his jacket to produce a very heavy looking revolver as he spoke.
“This is stupid, Dad.” Dennis’s final objection was answered with a (relatively) gentle cuff to the side of his head. Considering the blow was done using the pistol, it still sent the young man sprawling on the porch.
“I said no arguing.” The large man growled the words at his son, before turning and kicking the front door nearly off its hinges. “HEY LITTLE BRITISH BITCH, WE’RE HERE TO ROB YOU! GET YOUR ASS DOWN HERE AND BE GOOD ABOUT IT AND YOU DON’T GET FUCKED UP!”
Dennis cringed from his place on the ground, almost unable to believe that his father was so stupid as to actually ANNOUNCE their presence and intent. All she has to do is hide and call the police and we don’t even get HALF as much stuff.
“I’m really sorry you decided to bring a gun to a robbery.” The quiet, faintly accented voice came from the speaker next to the destroyed door. Clem Dison had only a moment to wear a confused expression at the calm statement, before his chest exploded apart in a spray of blood.
Almost a second later, the two surviving Dison’s heard the loud *CRACK* of a high powered rifle. The two boys reacted quite differently.
“YOU CRAZY BITCH!” Alex Dison produced his own handgun and spun, firing wildly in the direction he thought the shot came from.
“Alex, no, she-…” The warning became irrelevant as the second shot tore through Alex’s chest the same as his father a moment ago, and the second Dison dropped lifeless to the ground.
“You seem like the smart one, want to stay there and wait for the police to collect you or take your chances?”
“You’ll go to jail too, crazy bi-… woman. You murdered my family.”
“Your father and brother are career criminals, currently wanted in connection with a combined total of over thirty violent crimes. That number includes eleven murders, or suspected murders. Seeing as they were breaking into my home, armed, you really think I’M going to end up in prison?” Dennis spun to look at the doorway again as the last words were spoken in person instead of through the speaker.
Standing in the doorway, holding a bizarre looking rifle, was a petite woman with either very dark blonde or very light brown hair. The expression on her face carried some emotion the young man couldn’t place, but something about it terrified him. “How did you…?”
The question cut off as the woman twitched the barrel of the rifle slightly to one side and fired, the porch next to Dennis blasting apart as the heavy slug ripped through it. No sound accompanied the shot, but a second later he heard the same rifle report as earlier.
“It was a trick.” Realization dawned on the young man.
“It was an opportunity to surrender. I could either trick you, or shoot all three of you down before you had a chance to do anything.” There was no note of boast, not any emotion at all in the woman’s accented voice. To her, this was a simple statement of fact.
Dennis found himself actually relieved a few minutes later, when he could finally make out the sound of approaching sirens.
Kimberly Cuan jerked in surprise as she suddenly found herself in an unfamiliar room, apparently cuffed to a heavy steel chair. What the fuck? I was on my way down from the loft, and… How the fuck did I get here? Where IS here?
“Ms Cuan, it’s a pleasure to meet you.” The calm, measured voice that came from behind the young woman caused her to flinch and yelp involuntarily. In response, the man belonging to the voice circled around her chair and entered her field of view.
“What the fuck is going on here? Why the hell am I tied to a chair?”
“Please, let’s not insult EITHER of our intelligences by pretending you don’t know the answer to that.” Kimberly stopped thrashing theatrically as she took in the icy blue eyes and expensively tailored suit of the man in front of her.
He looks like he doesn’t have the slightest care in the world. Like he sees people chained up in weird rooms all the fucking time. FUCK. “So I got caught then. Alright, let me see my lawyer.”
The man did offer a small smile in response to that. “What part of this situation makes you believe that you’re in the presence of law enforcement, Ms Cuan?”
Oh hell no. Fuck no, God no. “Look, we can make some kind of deal? I’m good with computers, I don’t know what you need but I can prob-…”
“Who supplied you with the names?”
“Um…” The young woman thought for a brief moment about trying to deflect again, but something in the man’s unfathomable expression told EVERY instinct she had that doing so would be a terrible idea. “I set up data mining engines, crawlers, tore through the security in social media like it wasn’t there. Built trojans into insurance companies and wir-…”
“I’m referring to 31 specific names.” The dark haired hacker tried to bring her hands up to run through her hair and was reminded again of the shackles she wore.
“Which 31 names? If you tell me which ones I might be able to walk back through, but you have to know I was on my way OUT when you guys grabbed me. The database is slagged, irrecoverable in every sense of the word.” For a long moment Kimberly was terrified that the man with the piercing stare wasn’t going to believe her. It’s the truth, I swear it’s the truth, if you’re reading my mind or something you have to believe me!
“Tell me about Jonah Frellis.”
The seeming complete change of topic pushed the girl even further off guard. “Who?” Her voice was weak, and carried genuine confusion as she wracked her brain for anything resembling that name.
“I don’t have any partners, I’m a solo act!” The protest carried a note of pride. The young woman might be about to die, but she was NOT going to let someone else take credit for what she’d managed to do.
The outburst seemed to momentarily confuse the man, then he simply nodded and asked a new question. “What do you know about another hacker who uses the handle ‘Better Than All,’ spelled out in that ridiculous ‘leet’ crap.”
“He’s…” There was a pause as connections were rapidly made in Kimberly’s mind. “Holy shit, that’s your Jonah Frellis, isn’t it?”
“Please answer MY questions and I MIGHT answer some of yours.”
A sigh from the girl in the chair. “He’s my competition I guess. He managed to steal about half my database while I was still compiling it. Fucked everything up too. MY plan was to set up some real PROFESSIONAL crews with unparalleled information and get rich. That fucker decided to sell my work for two to three grand a pop to anyone that would pay. Because of him I didn’t get even HALF of wh-…”
“Enough. How ‘irrecoverable’ is the original database?”
“The ORIGINAL? Umm… time travel maybe? All the original components, hard and soft, are LONG gone. The rig I just took apart with the last of the backups was like… generation seven. Can’t keep the originals in the information business, it makes it too easy to track.” Please oh please oh please don’t let that be the answer that gets me killed.
Kimberly’s interrogator spent several long moments examining her before he stalked away, and out of her line of sight. Oh god, he’s going to kill me. Or call in the guy who tortures me to make sure I’m not tricking whatever he was doing and make SURE I’m not lying.
Instead of death, or the appearance of some far more monstrous individual, Kimberly heard the soft sounds of a cellphone being put into use.
“Initial interrogation is concluded, we’ve reached a dead end on this.”
Oh god, please oh please don’t let that be a literal ‘dead.’ Please!
“No, she’s much more thorough than the other one, and we couldn’t get much of use from his equipment. Wasted effort.”
The other one… ‘his’ equipment. They already have Jonah. I bet THAT little fuck is how they found me. I hope they tortured him to death! I hope the don’t torture me to death…
“We could, but I would like to propose an alternative to handing her off to the authorities.”
What, NO! Give me to the authorities! No alternatives! But Kimberly’s terror over what those ‘alternatives’ might be left her unable to find her voice to interrupt the man’s phone conversation.
“We recruit her. She’s VERY good at what she does. It’s only a matter of time before someone else with her skill set shows up, and she’ll be an asset.” A pause, during which the bound girl found her spirits beginning to lift with hope again. “It’s the best option, sir. The numbers don’t lie.”
Recruitment, prison, or the ‘other alternatives.’ “If it matters, I’d like to vote for the recruiting thing?” Best of the bad options. I hope.
“Joyce, so good of you to stop by.” The large man’s greeting was jovial, but there was an easily detected edge in his voice.
“Patrick, I was a bit surprised to receive your invitation so soon after our last meeting.” The middle aged woman smiled, though the expression was more reminiscent of a wild animal baring its teeth as she closed the door to her host’s office behind her.
“Your turn, Joyce.” All traces of the false cheer were gone from Patrick’s words as soon as the door clicked shut. “I played out my part, all attention is pointing OUTWARDS. Time to prove you deserve a piece of this pie that we’re all spending so many resources on.”
“Upset about losing your pet senator?” The dark haired woman smiled genuinely at the glare her question produced. “I will applaud your audacity though Patrick. Credit where it’s due. Your insane scheme actually produced measurable, POSITIVE results.”
“You want to mock MY plans? What have you actually accomplished?”
“For a start, I provided the information that made YOUR plan possible.”
“Yes, you provide ‘information.’ Sometimes it’s even ACCURATE, miracle of miracles.” Patrick took his own opportunity to grin in response to his colleague’s glare. Joyce’s data gathering had set them on several wild goose chases during the past year.
“I learned from my mistakes, and thought BIGGER this time around. But I will acknowledge that it is INDEED my turn.” Joyce turned to leave as soon as she’d spoken, catching her co-conspirator fully off guard with her rapid acquiescence.
“Oh, one thing I should check.” The woman was clearly enjoying keeping the much larger man off balance as she timed her statement to perfectly interrupt the question he was about to ask. “Do you have any plans in motion that require the continued existence of RoH or the HLM?”
“The extremists?” Patrick laughed mockingly in response. “You think you can use THEM? They’re the one thing still being closely monitored inside of Overton. Hell, the FBI sent a counter-terrorism specialist just to watch that situation. The man and his team are good, by all accounts as well.”
“Contrary to what little reconnaissance you may or may not be performing, Patrick, all attention is NOT focused away from Overton at present. As per the plans we ALL agreed to, I’m content to wait until the watch directly around the HCP slackens a bit.”
“Even if you are right, you honestly think you can use the MOST obvious angle to attack from?”
“Definitely. The obvious attack is frequently obvious because it has a great potential to be effective. The trick is figuring out the subtle way to do the obvious.”
“No more word games, Joyce. What the fuck are you planning?”
“Mmmm, no Patrick. No complete spoilers for you, only GOOD boys get those.”
“And if I bring this to Edward, Harvin, and Lee?”
“Then I let THEM laugh at you for a bit and continue on my way.” The smirk Joyce met the threat with seemed to deflate the large man a little. He had known before making the threat that it had no real weight behind it. Compartmentalizing each member’s tactics was one of the best ways to insure that the whole thing couldn’t implode all at once if things went wrong. None of the others would act unless he actually brought them something to act on.
“Give me something, Joyce. Give me a reason to believe you ACTUALLY have a plan and aren’t about to fuck this all up, and I let you walk out of here.” The statement, spoken in an emotionless tone seemed to penetrate the woman’s superior air quickly. The accompanying click as a switch in Patrick’s desk sealed the door shut drove the point home the rest of the way.
“I’m not making a play yet, Patrick. No need for threats or grandstanding.” Joyce managed to keep her voice level as she turned back to the large man, but there was a heavily implied threat as she placed a hand into the small clutch she carried when she met Patrick’s gaze. “Like I said, first step is to wait and let things ACTUALLY die down. I’m not suicidal.”
“And the part where you actually use the RoH for something WITHOUT things getting wrecked before they even get started?”
“That’s the simplest part. If you want to use a group like that, you just have to trick them into using a tool they would NEVER use on their own.” Joyce smiled as she saw the large man behind the desk still hadn’t caught on. “In spite of their rhetoric, neither RoH or their Militia ever do the dirty work themselves. They contract for it. I have just the ‘superb’ individual in mind for this particular contract. One that the agents watching both groups will NEVER see it coming.”
Patrick’s eyes narrowed as he noted the extra emphasis on the word before they went wide with shock. “There’s no possible way you could get those zealots to work with a Super.”
“I don’t plan on TELLING them, do you?”
“You really think it’s going to be that easy?”
“Unlike your scheme with using a national crime wave as a cover, I’m not pretending ANY of this will be easy. But the man I have in mind comes HIGHLY recommended. He’s one of the best at what he does, it’ll be a shame that at the end he’ll be far too much of a loose end.”
Patrick considered his colleague for several long seconds before depressing a button on the bottom of his desk, unlocking the door with an audible *clack* sound. “Then I guess all that’s left is to wish you good luck.”
“I thank you for that, Patrick.” Joyce managed to keep all traces of sarcasm out of her voice, and wore a polite mask over her features as she turned and exited the room.
Once she had reached the elevator, the mask dropped away to reveal a look that should have bored a hole through the steel doors in front of her. Think you can threaten me you fat pig? Won’t you be surprised when you learn that it’s YOUR recommendation of my chosen asset that got him picked. He’ll get the job done, he’ll be taken care of, but the faintest of trails will be left leading straight to YOU. And Edward will make sure you’re taken care of, just like he had me take care of Roger.