The Gathering Storm, Part 32

Posted: 30th August 2013 by Jeff Bouley / Deacon Blue in The Gathering Storm series
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I know, I know…you figured it would be a few weeks before I got back to this. I can’t say I blame you. Though, truth be told, I’d rather have dropped a one-shot in as buffer first before doing another chapter of “The Gathering Storm.” But I’m in the zone, so I’ll run with it.

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When Solstice’s cell phone rang, she would have bet good money it was Isabella reaching out to her a third time tonight to add yet another item onto a short but growing grocery list, as if Solstice didn’t have enough to do for the next several hours patrolling the streets. She’d even been following up on a couple investigative leads, something she wouldn’t have done in the days before Query had maneuvered her into actually learning some research and scouting skills and seeing the value in proactive work.

So, when it wasn’t Isabella’s name she saw on her phone, but instead the very costumed hero she had just been thinking about, Solstice’s nagging irritation turned to something more like nervous flutters.

“Query?” she said into the phone, “what did I do this time? What mess are you going to tell me to clean up?”

She heard a brief and subdued but very clear chuckle on his end. “No mess to clean up, but I do have some good news/bad news stuff for you. What do you want first?”

“Does the good news involve you solving the bad news for me?”

“Probably not,” he admitted.

“Well, shit. Give me the good news first anyway.”

“I’ve been keeping tabs on communications in the DA’s office and New Judah PD. It isn’t looking good for Marty the Hun. They’re moving forward pretty aggressively and, well, it’s remotely possible I may have arranged for more evidence to pop up about Marty’s child porn habit.”

The man wasn’t even into that kind of stuff and yet we’re probably going to get him sent to prison and quite possibly killed there for that instead of his many actual crimes, Solstice mused. Ain’t karma a bitch, Marty?

“So, the bad news…” Solstice prodded.

“Do you know who Marty worked for?”


“You ever heard of Murphy Walsh?”

“Sounds vaguely familiar,” Solstice answered.

“Otherwise known as the Fixer or, you’ve probably heard this one: the Emerald Godfather.”

“Ooooo. Isn’t that the head of the Mafia here in New Judah?”

“Solstice, you need to do some more homework if you’re going to work these streets. The Mafia is the traditional Sicilian Italian mob, though—yeah—a lot of people say ‘mafia’ when they mean Query-3organized crime and mobsters in general. Walsh heads up the Irish Catholic mob here in town. Been fighting for market share against the biggest of the Italian mob outfits, headed up by the DeCavalcante crime family, as well as fighting against the Russian Jewish mob that used to be headed up by a guy called Tsar Alexi until he got offed in the spring.”


“Yes, Solstice. Did you not learn anything about World War II in high school or college? I think they would have mentioned in that curriculum at least that there were Jews in Russia, too, like lots of other places.”

“No need to get sarcastic. It’s the Jewish mobster part I’m having trouble wrapping my brain around.”

“Well, Solstice, if the Italian Catholics can justify killing people and extorting them and everything else,” Query noted, “I think some less-than-fully-devout Jews can manage the same feat—especially if they’re Russian,” he finished, delivering the last four words in a low mutter Solstice could barely hear.

“Point taken. So, are you telling me that Marty the Hun’s boss has a hit out on me?”

“Close enough. No official contract on you, but he’s looking for you—not as psychotically and randomly as Marty was, but looking all the same. Word’s out on the streets. Walsh is among the people least convinced that Marty was into kids, and he’s not happy you took down one of his top guys.”

“Query, you’re the kind of guy who keeps tabs on things in New Judah. Any reason you didn’t tell me I might get blowback from a big-time mob leader doing all this?”

“Well, because first off, you went after Marty all on your own and already were on the mob’s dance card after that. Nothing to do but finish dealing with him anyway, which I helped you do. Second, there was no reason to assume that Murphy Walsh would take a personal interest in you. He has now, so I’m telling you.”

“What am I supposed to do?” she asked, trying to figure out if she should be more worried about organized crime leaders than psychotic, hyped up street gang members and transhuman villains—or less so.

“Unless you think you can take down an entire organized crime operation, you just watch you back,” he said. “You aren’t the only costumed white hat in the city with a target on your back. Most of them have several. But I would suggest being less of a loner and making some friends who are in costume. Wouldn’t hurt to hang out at the Caped Cuisiner or Un-Secret Lair for several meals each week. I can put the word out that you’ll be a semi-regular and some of the white hats will talk you up. It’s not like anyone’s really dressing like you out there right now for any fanboy or fangirl reasons, so the white hats eating there will know it’s you, and if they’re chumming up with you, you’ll know they got the word through me and that they’re the real deal.”

“Um…sure. You know, I’m not the most social person…”

“Solstice, you get awfully cozy with some of the people in the nightclubs dancing or in the Goth scene. If you can make out and sometimes do the bump and grind with people you’ve only known a few hours sometimes, I think you can manage some small talk with people in masks who are sporting fewer piercings and tattoos. I also might have an option for you soon to have some official backup and get an actual paycheck doing your Solstice gig—I’ll keep you posted on that. Remember, you chose costumed life. It’s kind of like being in prison. Make friends who can watch your back, or end up dead a lot quicker.”

Solstice was about to rip off a sharp retort about poking around her private life and ask how he even knew what she did in her civilian nights as Michele Cho, then she remembered this was Query. She doubted he even knew how not to dig into other people’s personal lives.

“Have I mentioned before how much you need to work on your pep-talk skills?”

“Once or twice, and we haven’t known each other that long,” Query said. “I don’t bother giving any kind of pep talks to most folks, so you must be growing on me. Oh, and just so you know, it looks like Isabella texted you about adding a bottle of vodka to that shopping order.”

Once again, Solstice bit back her words. No matter how tempting it was to know how Query knew what was being sent to her phone, she figured mentioning it would only encourage him—and not give her a bit of comfort knowing anyway.

* * *

In Solstice’s apartment, Query handed a crisp trio of $50 bills to Isabella Fuentes after ending the call on his cell phone with Solstice.

“Our little secret?” he said to Solstice’s roommate and stepsister.

“Oh, yes. That almost might have been worth doing for free,” she said with a mischievous grin.

* * *

After already having received one surprise visit by the president of the United States, Dr. Jack Hansen was only mildly taken aback to see Barack Obama in his office once again.

For all the strange things that happen in this facility and all the questionable things I’ve been involved in for the sake of national security and my own ambitions, I don’t suppose unannounced visits from the president should rate in even the top five weird things in my life.

“Mr. President,” Dr. Hansen greeted the man courteously.

The president stood up, shook the researcher’s hand, and motioned for him to sit on the sofa in the office as he settled back into the chair he had been occupying.

“Dr. Hansen,” Obama began, “I’d like to talk to you about what you do here. In more detail.”

“Have I done something wrong to trigger your increased interest? Couldn’t General Alexander tell you everything you need to know?”

“The general makes it his life’s goal to keep secrets. That’s why he’s head of the NSA.”

“But, you’d be able to…um…ensure you were getting the correct story, right?” Jack prodded, hinting at but not speaking directly to the power he knew the president kept hidden from everyone else: the ability to detect when someone was lying.

“Dr. Hansen—General Alexander is well-versed in hiding information without having to lie, even when directly pressed. That is why at least two administrations before mine were unaware of the Genesis One operation even though it runs on government money.”

“I see your point, Mr. President. But, is there something else driving—”

“Dr. Hansen—Jack—there are already four aquatic offshoots of humanity…four whole new species…in ocean settlements around the world—four thousand of these beings now, give or take. They started appearing out of the wombs of women at the same time transhumans did, and now they breed among themselves and their numbers are slowly growing. Not just people with special powers, doctor, but four whole entirely different species that don’t even hardly look like us—it makes me feel like Cro-Magnon man probably did when Homo Sapiens started cropping up.”

“What do the Aquati, Piscians, Mer and Kappa have to do with—”

The president held up a hand to cut Jack off, and continued: “The United States—and Russia, but given our relations with Russia lately I don’t much care what shit they get—is already blamed by much of the world for being somehow responsible, or at least one of the major parties, for USPres_Barack-Obama-1transhumans even existing. Lately, we and the Russians, Japanese and Chinese have been openly accused of being responsible for all the aquatic races, too—that they are a side effect of us tampering in human genetics to create superpowers. Frankly, ever since I confirmed with you that Genesis One created Doctor Holiday, I’m kind of curious whether we are responsible for all this genetic shift. And you’re going to help me start clearing that up.”

“I see. What do you want to know?”

“Your precise and exact goals. What you are doing and to whom you are doing it. What you have created that is outside this facility right now that no one knows you’re responsible for. I have a full file available to me on Genesis One, but I don’t dare carry it around with me given the security level it has, and I don’t really want to spend any more time reading it with General Alexander keeping me company in the very small, very stifling room he keeps it in. I also don’t trust it gives me the whole story. I want your personal and honest summation of what you do here running Genesis One, from your mouth, so that I can compare what you say to what I’ve been given.”

“Well, sir, we try to make transhumans—and we succeed more often than not. Simple as that,” Jack answered. “But that’s not what you’re asking, right? Look, we—and I mean Genesis One and the government in general before we existed, too, because I’ve been given access to all government research and intel on transhumans going back to the mid-1960s before the public knew about them—haven’t done anything in the general population to trigger genetic shifts. Frankly, I don’t think the Russians or Chinese have either—or anyone else—at least not on any significant scale. I don’t know what caused the evolutionary process to jump-start, but all evidence points to a worldwide effect—not starting with any specific countries or isolated actions.”

The president considered the man for a moment. “To be honest, I assumed that you were doing something outside this lab and then bringing in promising subjects later to work on them more directly. After all, the Change Gang has been out there slipping compounds to various populations and individual victims—”

“Mr. President, we’re already a very expensive black-budget operation. To inflict experimental compounds on the general public and then track people to see who responded would be such a monumental task we could never pull it off with our staff, and it would make our costs go up so much we’d never be able to stay secret. The Change Gang does it because they’re reckless and just don’t care what happens, and even their results seem spotty at best.”

“So, you really are focused primarily on the—”

“—telepathic aspect of things,” Jack finished, realizing that this was the second or third time he had cut the president off and feeling a certain nervous dread that he was getting this comfortable with a man who could order his disappearance. “The Chinese government can easily monitor its population to locate who has transhuman powers because they’re an oppressive, authoritarian state. They don’t get them all, obviously, but they find a lot of them and then they conscript them into the military to turn the promising ones into potential weapons or tools. The Russians aren’t quite as free to do that since the Soviet Union collapsed, but they have their own ways. Frankly, so do we, to a limited extent. But we figured the best thing we could do to keep ahead, since China outnumbers us so much in terms of people, was to become expert in creating powers that no one else has—as well as remaining chummy with India, since their large population and traditional tensions with China could be helpful to us if there was ever any open Chinese aggression against the West using transhumans.”

“So, Genesis One is about niche expertise. You want to keep ahead of everyone else by doing what seems to be the impossible. That’s why Doctor Holiday got created.”

“Sir, Doctor Holiday was a fluke. Both in terms of why we were able to create him—which was the dumb luck of having someone here on staff with just the right set of powers to even attempt what we wanted to do—and how potent his final powers ended up being. He wasn’t even a primary project. He was just something we were lucky enough to be able to pursue on the side—the unlucky part was that he got out of control and got out. And we have lots of side projects, including some promising work to perhaps make transmutation or flight powers achievable within the next 15 or 20 years. But telepathy is the big thing, and I’m not sure anybody else in the world knows even 10 percent of what we know here about telepathy.”

“And if the intel I’ve been given is true, telepathy is only possible between telepaths.”

“Quality telepathy, yes—more or less. The research world in general knows that low-level ability to read surface thoughts or push emotions or simple kinds of actions onto someone exists. Those are verified Psionic powers. Even the ability to directly control a person, like Ultramaster does. But to actually read thoughts clearly, and to communicate in complex ways just mind-to-mind over vast distances, and to network with multiple minds at once? To the best of my knowledge, no one else has any progress on that front. And that’s a tool we could use so well. With even a few dozen telepaths, able to coordinate and communicate intel from almost any distance—we could do things in terms of espionage and threat containment that no one else could. And enough telepaths working in unison, we’ve found, can allow them to clearly read the thoughts of non-telepaths or communicate messages to them at relatively close range.”

“Why do you assume no one else knows this or is working on it?”

“Because there aren’t many true, natural telepaths on the planet, probably, and most of them wouldn’t know what they’re capable of because they’d have to interact mentally with another telepath just to even have a hint of what they’re capable of doing. Also, no one else knows because only two people here in this facility know, and I’m one of them, General Alexander knows and you know. Unless you’ve been careless, even the people who know about this facility on your end—the secretary of state and secretary of defense—don’t know about that core area of work here. Well, also General Hayden knows, who was NSA director when Genesis One launched.”

“But we figured it out. About telepathy, that is. Why not anyone else? Surely others—”

“No, Mr. President, we didn’t figure it out; I figured it out,” Jack said, and hoped he hadn’t just sounded too arrogant. “Think of Newton or Einstein. Why didn’t anyone else come up with the same thoughts they did? But what they came up with ushered so much more, and it ushered it because they shared their knowledge. Well, sir, I’m the Einstein of the telepathy game. I had a theory and I was convinced of its truth, just like Einstein and relativity. And I convinced General Hayden to set me up with this facility. And I’ve proved my theories true mostly and ironed out the errors where I was wrong, and we now have five nearly fully-functional telepaths here—the only reason you don’t have a battalion of them, Mr. President, is because we have to figure out how to ensure loyalty before they’re put out into the field and ensure that they won’t reveal the secret of what they can do to anyone else. No one else is doing this because I refuse to share that knowledge. And perhaps that makes me a rotten example of a scientific genius, but on the other hand, it means that the United States is in an arms race where it’s still the only one who knows how to make the weapon.”

“Or knows that it even exists,” the president said.

“Or that it even exists,” Jack confirmed.

* * *

If there was one place Query felt relaxed, it was when he wore the skin of Milo Phillips. No mask, but still with his true identity of Alan Millos hidden. No costume and no weapons, but armed with verses. Sitting or standing among rappers—mostly young but a few near his age or a little older than him—performing with them or just listening to their beats and rhymes.

It was the one time aside from being Query that he could feel most natural and genuine. But as Query, there was often violence, threats, trickery, extortion and probing into other lives. There was a vibrancy and truth there, but Milo was as close to his true core as Query was. Not flip sides of the coin but two equally valuable currencies.

And now, sitting near the stage in this cozy venue, he watched as Alliterati took the stage. It was his venue right now, as he played the role of lead act and emcee for the other acts. The man was out of place in some ways. Not just because he was white—there were other white rappers of worth in these underground hip-hop circles—but because he was transhuman and, in his own way, costumed. That costume was a hooded white sweatshirt, the hood of which zipped from the top of his head down over his face, leaving his eyes visible through the holes in the hood and usually his mouth and chin. No one but Query had ascertained his true name or appearance. He was known, but also anonymous, just as he liked it. Milo could respect that; Alliterati was kin of a sort.

The hooded man took the stage and spoke without a microphone in hand, using his transhuman powers of sonic transmission and sound manipulation to make himself heard, just as he could use it to insert beats and rhythms without having to rely on electronic tools.

“Welcome, everyone,” Alliterati said. “We’ve got some tight acts on tonight. Nothing sloppy,” he added, his gaze drifting through the crowd and, as he spoke the word “sloppy,” ever so slightly lingering on Slaughter Vox, darker than he was but Asian, and so often trying to be black, unlike Alliterati. Alliterati only tried to be himself, and that was why he was more respected among his peers and fans.

“And what do we have here?” Alliterati continued, his eyes fixing on Milo now. “Milo. Good to have you here; can I coax you to the stage for a couple raps?”

Milo shook his head slowly, but smiled slightly with gratitude at the kind offer, which hadn’t been extended to Slaughter Vox—one of Milo’s biggest detractors. Respect was good. Particularly respect that he’d earned without breaking bones or through fear.

“Well, that’s a shame, but I hear you. Sometimes, we like to enjoy and not have to perform. Whether we’re young or a man who burst on the scene in his 40s and still teaches something to young cats with more years of rapping behind them. Daring dinosaur dynamo dining on the rusty rappers rooting for the wrong rhymes,” he finished, going into his signature alliterative style. “Old cat cussing, canting and crooning sweet savory syllabic syntax to the max. To hot tracks, slow tracks, weaving, wheezing; belting, bolting; crashing, crushing and crisp.”

“But enough of that, right? We all want to hear what these cats have to spit into the mic. Let’s bring EZ Street out here to kick it off.”

Milo settled back to let verses carry him through a night without a black mask and without black thoughts.

* * *

“Janus, the man sees Query at least a couple times each week. He meets with him in person,” Underworld said, exasperation saturating every word. “Why don’t you have tracking devices on his car or his briefcase? Why don’t you have someone follow him regularly?”

“My dear, I realize that with everything else we’ve been doing, you’re a little late to the party with regard to the whole ‘neutralize Query because he’s the most annoying threat to our efforts’ notion,” Janus said. “But now that you’re harping on the subject, you should know this occurred to me shortly after my boots hit New Judah soil and long before I recruited you to be my partner.”


“It was a beautiful plan. An attractive woman to dance with Mr. Beacham while he was out having some time to himself who could drop a tracking device on him. A highly trained merc team hired from parties unaffiliated with me—a team of 18 seasoned killers, mind you—to follow the signal of that device. They tracked the lawyer to Query’s private lair. They quietly mobilized and worked their way toward Query’s office.”

Janus stopped talking, and Underworld knew it was for effect. She humored him.

“And?” she prodded. “What happened? How did they fuck up?”

“They didn’t. They did their job perfectly—not that I let that get in the way of torturing the two who got away and came back to report the failure to me,” Janus grumbled.

“So, someone tipped Query off and he had backup, eh? A whole passel of transhuman buddies?”

“No,” Janus said. “Query somehow figured out they were coming, without any tip-off from anyone and without any stupid mistakes on the part of the mercs, and he took out 16 of the 18 people who were systematically hunting him through the building. Killed most of them. One of them slashed the hell out of his arm—right to the damn bone—and he still walked away.”

“How is that even possible?” Underworld asked. “How could he anticipate a professional, covert team and take down a force that size solo? And why didn’t you tell me this before?”

“It is possible because this is Query, and apparently, he is even less to be underestimated than I had been led to believe,” Janus said. “Remember how he managed to upset our carefully orchestrated plan to woo or abduct Zoe Dawson? And I didn’t tell you because I’m not excited by recounting my failed efforts to people I’m trying to hook into my operation. Fact is that as I found out—and then you and I found out together—Query is hyperaware and largely unflappable, and if you come against him or try to thwart him, he will make your efforts to deal with him exorbitantly expensive in terms of time, manpower and money.”

“Well, now I see why you went so many steps above and beyond in our own security protocols, so that he doesn’t track us,” Underworld said. “So, he’s clearly someone we can’t leave running loose. Why not try again with Carl Beacham? We might get lucky. Query might be complacent about you now.”

“Complacent!” Janus spat. “That man doesn’t seem to understand how to do complacent. Yes, we might get lucky. Or we might convince Query that we’ll never give up coming after him, in which case he will escalate things and our criminal efforts won’t yield us anything but red ink and redder pools of blood at our feet,” Janus countered. “Besides, any time I go after him, all I do is give him more intelligence about me and my operations. I shudder to think what he might have gleaned by rummaging through my safehouses in the woods. I can’t have him building significant intelligence on me.”

“So what do we do about him?”

“Oh, worry not, Underworld, I have a most devious plan. One that even Query shouldn’t be able to sniff out. But for now, just trust. You’ll find out the truth soon enough.”

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