Posted: 6th August 2013 by Jeff Bouley / Deacon Blue in Single-run ("One off") Stories

About to lay into some writing for the next chapter of “The Gathering Storm” soon, but here’s a little one-shot story to hold you over.

The presence was getting to him.

The presence of a tall, muscular, costumed transhuman before him, regarding him closely. Ready to commit acts for which Gavin might be unprepared.

Oh, he had thought himself prepared. He’d imagined this scenario for nearly a week, building up his courage. It wasn’t the first time he’d been undercover. But it was his first time dealing with a black-hat transhuman up close, and he felt an unfamiliar quiver of fear in his guts that hadn’t struck him so hard since his first time posing as a dealer in a narcotics bust.

And here he was, so quickly it seemed fortuitous. As if he were blessed.

It didn’t feel like a blessing now. Happenstance seemed more like doom all of a sudden.

The man before him wore a unitard of black and blue, with a wide, metallic belt and metal bracers. His name was uninspiring—Headbuster—but it communicated all too well what he could do to Gavin. And this wasn’t even the ultimate target. This was just the audition; the opening act to get to the man’s boss.

“So, you’re trans,” Headbuster rumbled, as if his voicebox was as muscular as his torso and legs.

“Yeah,” Gavin said, steeling his voice as much as possible but fairly certain that showing a little trepidation was fine—perhaps even expected by someone so imposing and standing several inches taller than himself. “I’m a transmitter. Electrical. Good for a few stunning  jolts before I have to rest—maybe one potentially lethal one. Never had a reason to try to kill anyone yet, though.”

“Yeah,” echoed the man just behind and to the side of Gavin. “Good Transmitter. He saved me, man. Good people.”

“Shut up, tadpole,” Headbuster snarled at the slight young man going by the name Toadstool and wearing a sea-green unitard and brown domino mask. “I get it; he got your ass out of an ass-whooping by the Ravers—a fucking bottom-tier street gang. You’re slipping into noob habits. You made introductions for Zap here. Now shut the fuck up.”

Headbuster waved to a man in the corner, who walked over and took up a spot between the larger man and Gavin.

“So, Zap, I want you to strip.”

“Excuse me?” said Gavin, wearing a simple blue and silver sleeveless unitard and a white ski mask—the kind of thing a fledgling black-hat transhuman named Zap might wear in the early stages of his criminal career.

“You get feedback into your ears when you shock someone, Zap? You deaf? I said, ‘Strip.’ Naked. Every last piece of costume. Down to your bare, hairy ass, if you got enough man in you to grow hair all over.”

“Can I ask why, first? I’m not here for a date with this guy…uh…”

“Pete,” the plain-clothed man before him said. “I’m the test subject. Demonstrate. But first you gotta strip, or Headbuster here’ll smack you around a bit and I’ll do it for you. Or you’ll end up dead in an alley. Get to it.”

The square-jawed head above Pete and behind him nodded once, shallowly, and Gavin knew he was fucked. The department hadn’t sent him in with a wire, because they feared it would be all too easy to identify on him. But the only electrically based power he had was in the gloves a patrol had picked off of a costumed crook on his first crime spree six months earlier—a guy who wanted to pass as transhuman, just as Gavin was now. These guys weren’t idiots; they wanted to make sure he was the real deal before they’d bring him in. Headbuster’s boss liked having a mostly transhuman crew.

The power cells and electronics in the gloves were compact, so no one would be able to tell they were anything other than typical gauntlets. Later on, he’d be able to wear them and pass as trans.

But now wasn’t later, and without them on him—right here, right now—he’d be found out as a sham.

They’d know he was a liar at the least and suspect him of being a cop. Either assumption would probably lead to him being dead. Sure, there were other cops in the general vicinity, but they’d never get to him in time to save him even if they knew he was being murdered. Headbuster looked like a guy who could kill very quickly and quietly if he needed to.

Slowly, Gavin began to strip, and tried to figure out what he would do. Should he shock the guy in front of him and make a break for it? No, the doors had been locked behind him; he remembered that now. And Headbuster didn’t look slow or lumbering. Could he shock the big guy and just subdue Pete, then get out? No. As soon as Toadstool realized his new friend was a cop, he’d use him numbing venom to take him down. Looking at Headbuster’s costume, he realized it looked insulated—he’d probably need all the juice from the gauntlets to take him down, and then he’d have nothing but bare hands against an armed civvie and a costumed lackey behind him.

Gavin was down to the gloves now, naked otherwise and unmasked, when he decided his course of action. Pete had a gun. All Gavin had to do was touch him like he was going to stun him, grab the piece, and gut-shoot him, then unload into Headbuster and hope he could retrieve the gloves in time to take down Toadstool.

Not a good plan, but the only one he had. The gun Pete had would have at least 10 rounds if it was fully loaded, and maybe 13. That was a lot better than three or four taser shocks.

Off came the gloves, and Gavin knew he had to get himself centered—just buy a few more seconds.

“You sure you’re OK with me just zapping you?” he asked Pete, and looked up at Headbuster.

“Doesn’t matter what he thinks—” Headbuster began, as Pete cut in with, “Just do it. Your name’s Zap; show us what you got—if you’re for real. Just get it done. I need time to recover before a date tonight with someone a lot better looking than you, and with parts I actually want to see.”

“And try not to kill him,” Headbuster added. “So don’t show off with your full power. Just put him down like you’re a taser.”

“Sure thing,” Gavin said, and got his hands within a couple inches. Braced himself, and—

Pete suddenly went rigid, shook and then tumbled. Headbuster caught him by one arm before he hit the floor, and gently laid him down.

Gavin felt his mouth hanging agape, and shut it quickly. Wiped any surprise from his eyes. Steeled himself for something different now.

“Satisfied?” he said to Headbuster, his thoughts jumbled as he tried to figure out what had happened. Was Pete undercover, too? Did he just fake being stunned? Damn, he’s a good actor.

“Shit,” Headbuster said with a little respect creeping into his voice. “No doubt. Most Transmitters I’ve seen have to touch a guy. You actually have a few inches range. Look, it’s gonna be a few weeks before we can bring you in fully—gotta be careful. But you’ve passed the first stage with flying colors.”

Gavin sighed with relief as he started to dress again, putting the gloves on first, just in case he’d need them. Relieved to be alive. Thankful to “Pete.” Ready to shit himself at any moment.

“Told ya,” Toadstool said to Headbuster.

“I ain’t said you could talk yet,” the big man said to the smaller one, with faint amusement mixed with threat. “But let’s go grab a drink and chat a bit—get to know each other—before Zap here gets back to real life and has a little vacation before we really put him through the paces.”

* * *

A couple hours later, Det. Gavin Bancroft was beginning to feel normal again. Back in his plain clothes with a badge and gun. Out of the costume. At his desk writing the report. Once again one of the up-and-comers among “New Judah’s finest” instead of an actor in a wanna-be criminal role. But he looked down at his hands. He hadn’t had a chance to ask if there was another undercover cop there doing the Pete role, and he wondered, for just a moment, whether he really was a Transmitter.

Could I have been a transhuman all along? It seems like too much happenstance for Pete to have been a plant. Too much luck all the way along before that, for more luck to come on through for me just then. And for no one to tell me I had backup in there seemed unlikely now.

“Bancroft,” called his lieutenant. “In my office, please.”

When he entered, he saw a man sitting in one of the chairs there. For a moment, he had expected it to be “Pete,” but this man was a bit stout and wearing a nice suit.

“Bancroft, meet Carl Beacham,” the lieutenant said, and Gavin shook hands with the man, then recognized the name. The attorney who worked for—or with—one of New Judah’s most prominent yet secretive heroes: Query.

“Query wanted me to tell you, ‘You’re welcome’,” Carl said with a sly grin.

“For what?” Gavin said, then looked down at his hands again. Shit. “Oh. Man. Query. He bailed me out? He took that guy down? How?”

“New fun weapon he’s been playing with, based on some old, failed gun design,” Carl said. “It’s like a taser gun but a rifle. I mean, taser rifles aren’t anything new, but this one doesn’t fire a charged round. It fires a wire like a basic taser pistol, then quickly retracts it. He figured it might come in handy one day. Maybe you guys will let up on him monitoring your communications so much now. If he hadn’t heard about this operation, you’d be down one detective today.”

“Oh, we’re thankful, but his nose is still too deep into our business,” the lieutenant said, “and I think you need to answer a few questions about where he is.”

“Let’s not do this dance again,” Carl said. “I’ve already done the routine seven times. I don’t know where Query works,” the attorney lied smoothly, “and if you hold me up to question me yet again, I’ll file suit against you for harassment.”

“Worth a bullying try, right?” the lieutenant said, waving one hand absently in a gesture of surrender.

“Well, tell him ‘thank you’ for me,” Gavin said, realizing happenstance had indeed struck for him at the last minute today, and started wondering again if he was transhuman—maybe a Charm. Have I been especially lucky my entire life?, he thought, then returned his attention to Carl. “I wouldn’t have had a chance to continue this investigation without him bailing me out.”

Carl raised one eyebrow. “I wouldn’t continue this investigation if I were you,” he said, and turned to the detective’s superior. “And I wouldn’t suggest you put him out there again with these folks; they’re thorough and they might test him again someplace that doesn’t have a high and open window. Give it a couple months and Query can toss you a transhuman from Pennsylvania who wants to build a white-hat rep somewhere where the cops don’t try to arrest every hero and vigilante transhuman. He’ll come complete with a fake criminal history and everything in Philadelphia—Query loves fucking with the Philly PD anyway. That guy can do the undercover and he’ll have real powers so it’ll go way smoother.”

“Look, I appreciate that and all—” Gavin began, but he could already see that look in his lieutenant’s eyes. This case was finished as far as Gavin’s part. His professional pride stung him then, but then he felt a horde of tension go out of his neck and shoulders and realized he was actually pretty damned relieved.

“It’s for the best,” Carl said, getting up and putting his hand out again for a farewell shake. He looked into the detective’s eyes and Gavin could see him reading him like only someone who worked with transhumans every day probably could. “Let a crazy guy who wants to be in costume take this on. Query isn’t a guardian angel, and I think you used up all your luck today, kid.”

Probably not a Charm anyway, or any other kind of transhuman, Gavin conceded silently. And the name Happenstance would have sounded stupid anyway.