Chapter Thirteen

“Agent Smoke, I need to have a word with you. Please wait in the lobby, Agent Mirror.”

Luke sees Aiyana roll her eyes in his peripheral vision, but she leaves, and he’s left face-to-face with the legendary Agent Smith, Director of the PLE. He swallows, and tries to calm his racing heartbeat. It doesn’t work.

“The PLE is establishing a Chicago headquarters. You will be integral to this. Agent Wire will be here by sunset, the Doctor will be coming to examine Aiyana, and I’ll send a few Agents out to give you a small but well-rounded team.” Smith speaks calmly, confidently, his words stated as absolute fact. Agent Smoke finds himself nodding along without consciously deciding to do so. “You will have three days in Los Angeles to do what you need to do, and recommend your replacement. Agent Wire will be the senior Agent in Chicago, with you as his direct subordinate. Do you understand?”

“Yes, sir,” Smoke replies immediately. He stands when Smith does, and when the Director reaches out to shake his hand, Smoke feels a torrent of warm, giddly excitement pass through him. He had entertained ideas about what he would do with his own team (it’s technically Wire’s team, but with Wire’s abilities lending better to support, Smoke will almost certainly be the field leader), but never thought he’d get one so soon. Now he can call at least some of the shots, can do something about the dangerous parahumans he’s heard live in Chicago.

“Tell Agent Mirror her welcome package will be in the mail.” Smith says, heading for the door. He pauses, and turns sideways to smile at Smoke. “And congratulations on your new posting, Agent Smoke.”

Smoke nods once, then twice, unable to keep the smile off his lips.

[*]

“Shield, Abyss, Mend. Welcome to PLE Chicago.”

Three manilla folders sit in front of Wire at the conference table. Two more lay behind those, closer to him than the first three. To his immediate right is Luke, who shares the head of the table with him, and the three named Agents sit at various points along the rectangular table.

Wire himself is a tall, skinny man with hair the color of sand and skin one color away from chalk. He wears the same uniform Luke does, only with a white form-fitting jacket over it, complete with bulging pockets. His mask, like everyone else’s, is off, hanging off the back of his chair. He’s a fairly normal-looking guy without it, just a guy with a case of mask-hair and facial scars that suggest acne in his past.

“This is Agent Smoke, who will be field leader, and we will be occasionally joined by Agent Mirror, who is with us on a probationary basis.”

The mention of Mirror causes the first reaction in the assembled Agents; Abyss grimaces openly, Shield shifts in his seat, and Mend suddenly finds his hands very interesting. Luke feels his eyebrows draw togther as he watches them, wondering if they’ve heard about Mirror, or if any of them were once probationary members of the PLE as well. He hasn’t yet had a chance to get through all of their folders – Abyss’ folder by itself is going to take an entire day, talk about a woman with a complex ability – but he doesn’t remember seeing “rehabilitated” or “former probation” in anything he’s read so far.

“How probationary?” Abyss asks, leaning onto her elbows on the table. Luke, not for the first time, lets his eyes wander up and down her the pale skin of her uncovered arms. Her tattoos cover every available inch of skin from her collarbone down to her wrists, each one a name in a different font, color, or size than the one next to it. Most are small enough that he can’t read them from this distance, though ‘Baalberith’ takes up the entirety of her right inner forearm.

“Masks on with her until you’re told otherwise,” Wire says, “she’s one of the most accurate shapechangers we’ve got solid information on. Otherwise, she’s just got touch-teleportation through reflective surfaces.”

“Literal Name, then,” Mend comments, still looking down at his ungloved hands. He glances up to meet Wire’s eyes, then back down at the table. A round, freckled man whose pudge is only just starting to give way to muscle Luke assumes the PLE training regimen is putting on him, Mend is a man easily overlooked. Luke figures he’ll be good if they need someone to interact with the natives out of uniform, especially in the heavily Polish and Irish areas.

“So far,” Wire answers, flipping open one of the folders closer to him, “all we know about her is the touch-teleportation and the shapechanging, but she’s implied she has other tricks up her sleeve.”

No one comments on that one. A parahuman with more tricks up their sleeve is par for the course, as all of them well know. In Luke’s experience, teams have a good idea of what their teammates can do, but not all of that goes in the official reports. Even if everyone were completely open with everyone else, the best Agents are constantly experimenting, researching their Names and thinking up ways for their powers to interact with others.

“Our first official assignment will come after the Doctor has had a look at Agent Mirror, but we’ve got standing orders to be on the lookout for Mirror’s girlfriend, Predator,” Wire hands the opened folder to the left, where Abyss takes it and starts flipping through what little information they have on her. “She’s involved with some of the criminal element in Chicago. The official stance is that Mirror only unintentionally assisted her in crimes, believing she was a private investigator using her Name to track down information.” He pauses. “Agent Mirror is not to find out about any of the information we may get on Predator. Part of her probation is that she’s to report any contact with Predator to us, but the Director doesn’t think she’ll stick to that if Predator contacts her any time soon.”

“Why do we have someone we cannot trust in our ranks?” Shield speaks for the first time, leaning back in his chair. The sharp angles of his face are set into distaste, and he folds his arms over his chest. The metal shield strapped to his back hits the wood of his chair with a light tap, and he shifts to get comfortable against it.

“It’s either take her in, or take her downstairs,” Wire says, referring to the extensive prison facilities the PLE is forced to maintain, “and the Director thinks she’ll be fine after we catch Predator.”

“So, we arrest her girlfriend and then expect her to play nice?” Abyss asks disbelievingly, handing the folder to Shield.

“We do what’s necessary to keep her with us,” Wire says, a warning tone to his voice, “we can’t afford to have a shapechanger like that out on the street, and it would be a waste to throw her in prison.”

That brings a tense silence to the conference room, one Wire breaks after a few seconds. “Our police contacts are Officers Gonzalez and Jones; they’ll be handling any petty crime we come across.”

Shield frowns, handing the folder to Mend. “Are you asking me to ignore a murder if it happens right in front of me?”

“I’m ordering you not to expose yourself,” Wire says, his tone carefully neutral, “and to report any non-parahuman crime you may encounter to Officers Gonzales and Jones.”

“Does anyone have anything power-related they need taken care of right away, or any special needs?” Luke asks. He looks to Abyss, but doesn’t honestly know if the others have anything about them that has to be considered from day one.

“I need a discreet tattooist,” Abyss says immediately, “I have to cut right through one of the names,” she taps one of her tattoos to show Shield what she means, as he’s the only one of them who doesn’t know her abilities, “to call on my allies, and I know Mend’s healing doesn’t heal the ink back up into perfect alignment. They won’t answer if the tattoo is anything but the exact way they demanded.”

Wire nods and reaches into an interior pocket of his jacket, taking out a pen and notebook. “Anyone else?”

“With a healer on hand and my shield bonded, I am fine,” Shield says shortly.

Luke looks to Wire. They both know Luke doesn’t have any particular needs, and Wire will take care of his own supplies. Communication between them on that front passes in an instant, and Luke turns to Mend.

“Mend?” Luke asks, leaning forward onto his forearms. “Do you need anything to work with?”

Mend shakes his head. “I’m fine, but everyone else needs to start taking in more protein and calcium. I make healing go faster, but I don’t create skin and blood out of nothing. I can’t fix Smith’s equipment, either.”

Wire frowns. “Have you ever tried fixing anything a different creator parahuman made?”

“Can’t do it,” Mend says, his eyes darting from one of his teammates to another, “I don’t know why, but it doesn’t work. I can piece together Shield’s, um, shield sometimes, if he lets it go, but it doesn’t always work and we don’t know why.”

“I’ll have the Doctor look into it when he gets here,” Wire decides, pen moving. No one looks particularly happy at having the Doctor involved, but no one says anything against it, either.

Luke and Wire give everyone a few moments to remember anything else they may need, then Wire speaks. “One last thing: this isn’t LA or New York, where every police chief in the city knows about us. Gonzalez and Jones are the only two we know and trust with the PLE’s existence, and the civilians around here know even less. Parahumans dot info says there’s a parahuman community here, but we don’t have any information on it. We’re playing everything close to the chest until otherwise noted. Got it?”

Everyone nods, and Wire waves them out with a hand. “Tomorrow the Doctor arrives to evaluate Agent Mirror, and the day after that we’re going to have a full team meeting, her included. Stick to your cover stories, get settled into your new places, and find excuses to meet one another with your civilian faces on. Dismissed.”

[*]

“What do you think of the team so far?” Wire asks the next day, as the two of them move things into Wire’s office. The PLE bought them a two-story-plus-basement building and gave them the funds to equip it at their discretion, but they still had to either hire movers or put things in themselves.

Luke gives it a bit of thought, running his hands through his hair. He hadn’t had a chance to finish reading everything about everyone (Abyss in particular), but he’d gotten through at least the first page of all their files.

“I think they’ll get it together, but at first it’s going to be rough,” he says, wedging a file cabinet into place.

Wire nods. “I think integrating Mirror is going to be the hardest, but there’s already plans in motion for that. Straight from the Director.”

Luke pauses, turning to look at Wire. “What plans?”

Wire looks at Luke for a few moments, then shrugs. “Abyss is handling it.”

Abyss?”

For all that she has one of the most flexible Agents Luke has yet seen, nothing he knows about her screams ‘I can handle team conflict’ to him.

“The only reason she’s effective is that she talks things that call themselves demons into making contracts with her, Smoke. I think she can handle one unfriendly college student.”

Luke wants to say that Mirror – Aiyana – isn’t unfriendly, she just distrusts them because they did some borderline shady things to grab her, but he keeps it to himself. Wire isn’t just his contact any more, he’s his commanding officer, and Luke knows he doesn’t yet know Aiyana like Luke does. He will, and then there won’t be any need for plans ‘straight from the Director’.

(He hopes.)

Chapter Fourteen

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12 thoughts on “Chapter Thirteen

  1. I cannot express how glad I am so see you updating again. This is looking really good. As a reward, I’m going to review you on WebFictionGuide! (Tomorrow. Now is sleep.)

    One quibble: I wouldn’t have used parentheses on the closer. I would have just said “Or so he hopes.”

    • Thanks! I’m working on Ch14 as we speak, though that one may be a bit more finnicky than Ch13 was.

      I’m about half-and-half on that one. I’ll give it some more thought.

      • Do what you will. Remember, you’re always the final authority. It might be just because I like to use parenthetical statements pretty much exclusively for asides. If it takes time away from new writing, don’t bother; that’s more important in this case, because it’s a preference issue.

  2. Oh, this could be interesting. An object complementing a name? And I can’t wait to see what all these new powers do.
    Okay, so lets see.
    We’ve seen Smoke.
    Wire, something with communication, maybe?
    Smith is apparently a creator, like a tinker or conjurer.
    Mend is a repairer, healer and fixing stuff.
    Shield… same thing as Smith, but more specialized and with additional shield powers?
    Abyss, we’ve been told the basics. Tattoos summon demons.

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