A/N – Just in case you don’t read Heretical Edge and thus both didn’t get the announcement in the previous chapter of that story and missed this over the weekend, there was a commissioned interlude for this story, focusing on a look at a group of Civ-Touched, posted a few days ago. It can be found attached to the previous chapter button above. we
As she strolled down the hall of one of their main office buildings in the middle of downtown Detroit, Elena Evans spoke on the Bluetooth device in her ear. Her voice was crisp and no-nonsense. “Tell me precisely how many of the Easy Eight switched sides. No, just the Touched.” She paused then to listen to the response before exhaling. “Three. Which ones?” Again, she paused to listen while standing directly outside the office door. It had opened at her approach thanks to the sensors above which scanned her identity, but she didn’t go through yet. “How did he manage that without anyone hearing about negotiations? Find out.”
Finally walking into the office, she shook her head while heading for the desk. “No, there’s no need to sanction them. It’s not against the rules to switch sides, I just want to know how we were surprised. Somehow I doubt those three kept their intentions to themselves, or that it was spur of the moment. Are we certain that Grandstand leaving him wasn’t a ploy to allow her to operate in secret for this?” Reaching the desk, she checked through a few files that had been left on top. “Yes, I have the address for that theater right here. Are you ready? Ten Seventeen Wagontrail. Find out if they’re still living there or how long ago they left. Yes, now, there’s nothing you can contribute to this fight that someone else isn’t already doing. Take a small squad, just in case. Pearson’s people should be ready. Minister Gold will be… occupied for the time being, and Squire is following up on another–”
She stopped at a knock on the door, turning to see Alcazar standing there. The expression on the utterly average-looking man’s face told Elena that whatever he had come for wouldn’t wait. So, she gave a couple more quick instructions over the phone, before disconnecting the call so she could turn her full attention that way. “What happened? More betrayals?”
The man’s mouth opened before he paused. “Ah, well I was on my way to inform you that Braintrust’s move against the lab you wanted checked for any connection to Pittman has begun. Given the distractions through the rest of the city, it’s doubtful that anything unexpected will happen, but we’re keeping an eye on it. But just before I got here, one of our people informed me that we just received a phone call from the Banners girl.”
That confused Elena, though more out of curiosity about why he would be bringing that up right now, or look so confused by it. There are other things happening which were far more important at this particular moment than some lone girl calling them, even if she was someone they had an agreement with to leave one another alone. “Don’t tell me she’s trapped somewhere downtown and needs–wait.” Amending herself, Elena asked, “Is this about her missing sister?” Flea, and Trivial with her, had both gone missing at one of the worst possible times. The Ministry had reached out to Paige to find out what she knew about it, but the girl claimed it had something to do with business enemies her father was paranoid about and that he had taken his wife and adopted daughter on an extended ‘vacation’ of sorts to avoid them. Apparently she had convinced him to finally let her come home to finish the school year, but had no idea where they were now, and hadn’t known that Irelyn had left Detroit already to go look for them.
It was all quite the mess, but still didn’t quite explain why Alcazar would be bringing it up now, considering everything that was already happening. He knew better than that, so what–
“No,” came his flat response. “Actually, she was… ahh, calling on behalf of Paintball.”
Well, that certainly got Elena’s attention. Of course they knew that the boy had some interaction with Paige, after he’d rescued her from Kent. Part of her deal with the Ministry in exchange for not doing anything with the information she had collected was that they would leave both her and Paintball alone. Granted, if Elena had wanted to push that issue she could have, but for now it was an arrangement that suited them well enough. Paintball was a potential asset to be recruited later, once he had more experience and more understanding of what the city was like. And as for Paige, the very fact that she had managed to collect that information in the first place made her an intriguing potential resource all on her own. She was clearly far more than a simple spoiled rich girl, and even as a non-Touched, her resourcefulness and quick wit already meant she would be more useful with the Ministry than against them. Adding in the fact that she had actually resisted Kent’s attempt to erase her memory, something very few were capable of, and it all added up to Elena being quite willing to accept a deal to leave the two of them alone for the time being.
And yet, she had certainly not expected Paintball to reach out to them like this. Not so soon, anyway. “What was this message concerning?”
Over the next few moments, Elena stood and listened while Alcazar gave her a quick rundown of the situation. Apparently Paintball and his new team had managed to track down the source of the fire-zombies that had been cropping up around the city. Which was good, except the person responsible was about to unleash an army of them on a stadium full of innocent people, on opening night, no less.
“Paintball and his troupe are on their way into the stadium now,” Alcazar finished. “They have called for assistance from all avenues, but…”
“Yes, the city is rather involved right now,” Elena agreed. Her mind was racing through possibilities. If Paintball was willing to call for their help, the situation must be quite bad indeed. Or he was an even better potential recruit than she had thought. Either way, stopping a massacre like that was absolutely one of the things the Ministry was meant for.
“There is something else,” Alcazar added. “One of our VIPs is attending the game. Candid Panther.” Even now, just between the two of them, he used the secret code name for one of the Ministry’s most important clients rather than say the real name aloud. It was simply a good habit to be in. “I’ve attempted to reach him, but there’s no response. I believe he turned his phone off.”
Repressing the urge to curse, Elena was already tapping the Bluetooth device as she spoke the name, “Ministers Gray.” The phone dialed, ringing through to the office several buildings down the street where they would be working.
“I don’t have it yet,” Price, the raccoon, announced immediately by way of greeting. “I told you, Ms. Evans, we will call as soon as we’ve tracked down th–”
“This isn’t about that,” she interrupted. “I have another job for you, of more immediate importance.” With that, she quickly gave him the information. “Use Yellowbrick and get to the stadium. Candid Panther is there, in Box…” She paused, then passed along the details as Alcazar provided them. “Get there and extract him right now. And while you’re there, provide any assistance you can to Paintball and his people. Quietly, of course. We may wish to have a discussion with the boy later, about this as well as the report that his group was robbed by the same people who hit us.” She considered her own words before nodding thoughtfully. “Yes, a discussion would be good. But until then, there’s no need to cause more of a scene. I’ll give you a mask. I would send others, but–”
“We’re stretched thin right now, yeah, yeah, got it,” Price confirmed. “On our way, but you might wanna light a fire under the actual authorities out there, or scrounge up someone who can do something more official.”
With that, he disconnected. Elena didn’t mind. The situation was too important right now to waste time with niceties. Instead, she focused on giving the Grays each ‘a mask.’ In her case, the term didn’t mean a literal, physical mask. Instead, she focused on both Price and Fisher, using her power to cloak both of them in an illusion. Another thought added herself, Sterling, Simon, Alcazar, and several others to the ‘white-list’ for that illusion. Whenever anyone other than those people looked at the Ministers Gray, they would see a large, heavy-set man in Fisher’s case, and a dog in Price’s case. Having a bear and raccoon running around the stadium would have caused far too much of a problem, otherwise.
Once she was satisfied, Elena immediately turned her attention back to Alcazar. “Call the local police precinct in that area. I believe the person you want to talk to is Captain Lemar Callan. He’s one of ours, and he will listen. Have them send everything they have to the stadium, right now.”
That done, she turned and walked around to sit at the desk, finger tapping the keyboard there to bring the computer to life. Part of Elena wanted to call her husband and tell him what was happening, but he was entirely too busy at the moment. A quick glance at the computer screen told her that much. The secret video camera he wore hidden within his helmet as Silversmith was broadcasting to one of several windows she had open, revealing a rather intense fight against Cuélebre happening right at that moment. For just a moment, she watched the screen, before reminding herself that watching things like that only made her more anxious. Much better to distract herself with other things, and there were plenty of distractions to be had.
So, pushing those thoughts out of her mind, Elena simply sent a non-emergency message to let her husband know she had something of importance to talk about. Then she switched windows to bring up another live video feed. This one showed Glitch and several of her people, broadcast from the Braintrust leader’s own costume, as they carried out their raid on the lab. It was one of the best possibilities of where Pittman could have been getting assistance to create his little automatons. Of course, as far as most of the Braintrust people (Touched and Prev alike) knew, they were there to steal equipment. Only Glitch was aware of the Ministry’s request. While her people were busy looting supplies, she would be taking the records Elena had asked her to procure.
Soon, she was as satisfied as she could be in that moment that the raid was going off as well as it could. Unsurprisingly, the security guards on-site were no match for a full-scale Fell-Touched invasion, and the police and Star-Touched response would be… a long time coming.
Looking up, she focused on Alcazar, having tuned out his own murmured conversation while she was assessing these situations. She said nothing, simply meeting his gaze with one eyebrow raised questioningly.
“The authorities are on their way,” he informed her. “Or will be shortly. And–” Holding up one hand to ask for a moment, he turned his head and clearly listened to something on his own Bluetooth, before nodding. “Good to know.” That said, he turned back to Elena. “Candid Panther has been extracted. Or, well, he’s in Gray’s pocket dimension, in any case. They’re still working on the rest of it. But it seems Fisher would like to give Paintball a brief glimpse of himself, to begin to prepare him for any future encounters. If you wouldn’t mind removing the boy from the illusion for a moment?”
Pausing briefly, Elena considered before nodding. It wasn’t a bad thought. Potentially allowing Paintball to meet with Fisher and Price had its benefits. They could test the boy’s ability to keep a secret, for one. Any attempt to tell anyone about a bear and raccoon Touched in the city, or any whisper about their existence at all, would tell the Ministry a lot. And preparing by giving him a glimpse or two ahead of time so that it might not be a complete shock… yes. “Have him tell you when.” For a moment, she waited, until Alcazar gave her the go-ahead nod. With that, Elena added Paintball to the exceptions list, allowing him to see Fisher for what he was for several seconds, until Alcazar nodded again. Then she removed the boy and murmured, “What interesting lives we lead.”
“That is an understatement,” Alcazar informed her. With a sigh, he shook his head. “And what a time for Z to be out of town, right?”
Elena gave a very soft snort at that. “Yes, well, that does seem to be how these things go, doesn’t it? But her mission is still important. We need to know where Flea and Trivial went after they were last seen in Florida. There is a trail, and she will find it.” After a brief pause then, she sighed. “That said, yes, it would be nice if she were here right now. As she is not, we will simply have to make do.”
The two of them considered that for another moment, before Elena again turned her attention back to Paintball. For some reason, the fact that the boy had reached out to them still gave her pause. It made her reconsider a few things. For a time after the situation at the motel with the escaped witness, who turned out to have Touched, she had thought the boy would become a problem. But as he made it clear that he had no intention of going to the local authorities, she had assumed he simply knew that such a thing would be pointless, and might even have been searching for a higher authority to go to.
But this? His willingness to request their aid when the situation called for it… yes, that bore further thought. Perhaps a direct conversation would not be a bad idea. Fisher had already made–well, not first contact exactly, but a first look, anyway. If the boy–
Her musings were interrupted, however, as Alcazar abruptly turned away, hand rising to touch his earpiece. “What? Are you sure? Yes.” Without another word, he focused on Elena. “Would you allow the Alloy girl to see Price for a moment?”
Given his tone of voice, Elena didn’t question it. She simply did as requested, focusing on the girl in question until Alcazar nodded to show it was enough. Then she turned the illusion back on for her before asking, “And what was that about?”
She then listened while Alcazar informed her that the boy Paintball’s people were after wasn’t the actual villain after all. Price had located the girl in question, too late to stop her. But at that moment, they had needed to draw Paintball and his partner to the room where the girl had secured people who could tell the pair what was happening. The quickest way to do that had been to catch Alloy’s attention with a glimpse of a raccoon so they would investigate. Which was a bit of a crude method, but seemed to have worked, at least.
“Do you want the Grays to take more direct action?” Alcazar asked then, clearly passing that question along from the two themselves. “Given the situation.”
Elena considered that for a moment with a thoughtful frown. Before she could answer, a ping from her computer drew her attention that way. It was a response from Sterling. The situation with Cuélebre had been contained, and he was ready to hear what was happening.
So, she called him. Hearing his voice as he answered, she immediately started with, “I do hope you and your people weren’t too exhausted by that little exercise.
“There is a situation which requires your attention.”
“So, the boy contacted us of his own volition.” Sterling noted that some time later, after the situation had been thoroughly resolved. Well, as resolved as it could be with the Jennica girl escaping. She would certainly be a problem later, as would these others who were supposedly competing for a spot on the Scions.
Elena nodded once. She and her husband were standing on the patio outside their own bedroom back at home. Both were exhausted from the long, complicated day. It had been far past time to rest. Everything else, including the fallout from the explosion of gang violence, would wait until the next day. But this was a conversation they needed to have. “Through the Banners girl, no less. Which means both of them are willing to ask for our help if the situation warrants.”
Sterling considered that while taking a sip of his drink. Setting the glass down on the railing, he looked out over the grounds while murmuring, “That is quite interesting. Maybe you’re right, they’ll both be assets in the future.”
“I do hope so,” Elena noted as she glanced up toward the sky and put an arm around her husband. “They are both quite talented in their own ways. And you know how I hate to waste talent.”
Giving an audible snort, Sterling smiled fondly. “Yes, you are quite opposed to the concept. Does that mean you’re giving the Grays the go-ahead on their request?”
Elena thought about that for a moment. Doing something like this would be a big step. And yet, Paintball had taken the first of those when he asked for their help. Drumming her fingers along the railing, she watched the sky briefly before coming to a decision. “Yes. I think we should tell them to go ahead. And you?”
Sterling’s mouth pursed as he considered before agreeing, “Yeah. I’ll tell them to make contact. If Paintball does anything with that he’s not supposed to, we’ll find out. And if he doesn’t… well, we can go from there.”
Once he had sent that message along, the man returned to his spot next to his wife, hand finding its way to her back to rub there tenderly. “I suppose we’ll see how that goes. But in the meantime, I think I’ve had just about enough of Ministry and Conservator time for the day.
“And not nearly enough of beautiful, brilliant wife time.”