Blades & Barriers: Chapter 65

                The next few days passed by largely without incident. Unseelie and a rotating list of teammates drove around with Iliana and Steven, continuing to hit dead-end after dead-end as they searched Port Valins for former United Avalon citizens. Coming up empty should have been a relief for her, except that with every failure she knew the diplomats were getting closer to finding another of their refugees, and perhaps creating a confrontation that would cost people their lives. Although she’d initially been on the fence about sending the interns to UA, now that they’d obtained permission and a guide, she wished they could just get on with it. She was sick of working blind.

                The interns themselves were being watched by Bayou, who was taking them along as he investigated lead after lead from their small list of potential killers. Most of the work was more stake-outs, watching to see if the person they were tailing suddenly dipped out of view at the same time new murders occurred, or if they headed over to the section of streets where the bodies disappeared. They had no luck, but Bayou was quick to remind them that this was to be expected. Their target knew someone had nearly caught them before, which could mean they suspected police or Heroes were in pursuit, so it made sense that they’d go underground for a while and let the heat die down. Patience, once again, was proving to be the hallmark of what defined a Subtlety Hero.

                After so much nothing, it was a surprise when they were heading back from more fruitless surveillance and they received a message from Dispatch, informing them to change out of costume at the base, grab their pre-packed bags, and take a cab, not teleport, to a specific harbor in exactly one and a half hours. None of the three needed more prompting than that to understand the moment had arrived: with almost no warning, just as promised, it was time to visit United Avalon.

                All three moved at a whiplash pace, grabbing their bags and bolting to the car waiting for them. Along the way, each wondered what they would find awaiting them. A fishing boat, with a carefully concealed compartment in the bottom where they would hide out. Maybe a yacht with high-tech tools to avoid detection. It could even be a simple speedboat, meant to look innocuous and uninteresting. Many theories were tossed about in the three brains, yet all found themselves swallowing an equal amount of surprise as they reached the specified harbor and left the car behind. This was very much not what they’d been expecting.

                “A cruise ship?” Brett sounded uncertain, which he was, checking the name of the harbor over and over again. It lined up with the one Dispatch had given them, but there still had to be some kind of mix-up. Why would she send them to a harbor specifically dedicated to loading and unloading cruise ships for a covert mission?

                “In plain sight. Bold. Risky, but bold.” Jerking a thumb toward the crowd of people waiting to board, Justin continued. “We’re supposed to be tourists, remember? And what’s the best way to sell that cover? Show up on a ship full of actual tourists. Blend in with the crowd. You don’t try to sneak in; you waltz through like you’ve got every right in the world to be there.”

                Angela was staring at the crowd Justin had pointed to, a look on her face that might have read as worry on someone else, but with her features came off more as annoyance. “Something doesn’t line up. Sure, people go to United Avalon sometimes, but not that many. Certainly not enough to fill a whole cruise ship at once for a single trip.”

                “Right you are.” The voice came from behind them, where the cab had formerly been, from a wholly unremarkable man wearing wide, unfashionable sunglasses. “They’d never fill this boat on UA tourists alone. This cruise does a lap around several tropical islands; allowing you to get off and stay at one if you so choose, then catch the boat on the way back. UA is the first stop on the tour, meaning anyone who gets off there will have approximately five days to check out the country before its time to come back. A very firm deadline, since the countries involved keep a careful eye on cruise passengers to make sure they return when they are supposed to. You can imagine the warning bells it might set off if a few people were to miss their ride home.”

                All three eyed the man cautiously. He seemed to know what was going on, but Dispatch had given them more than just the name of a harbor and a time. She’d also passed on a code phrase, to make sure they could identify their guide and vice versa. Angela stepped forward, as Brett and Justin knew she would, taking a confident step closer to the mystery man. “I hear the seas are rough out today.”

                “When danger is on the horizon, the seas are always rough.” He paused, looking almost sheepish for a brief moment. “I want it on record that I didn’t come up with that code phrase. Dispatch writes them all, I think it’s a creative outlet for her, so she gets a little carried away.”

                “Methinks the guide protests too much,” Justin muttered.

                Angela ignored him, sticking out her hand to greet the incognito Hero. “Thanks for taking us out of the country, sir. I’m Angela.”

                He shook her hand, but clipped off the opportunity for more introductions. “Call me DV, that’s fine in both normal and Hero mode, not that you should expect to see or do much of the latter. And I already know your names just fine, so skip telling them to me. Here’s what you all need to know: from the moment we make landfall until the boat comes back, we are under a ticking clock. This whole operation falls so barely over the line of legal that a stray wind could blow us across. That means we leave when it’s time and you all do exactly as I tell you. If anyone thinks they might have an issue with that, please don’t get on the ship. You’ll just be endangering yourself and your team. And me too, though I doubt you care as much about that.”

                There was a pause as DV waited to see if anyone would actually step aside. After several moments, he seemed to accept their answer. “Okay, so we’re all in I see. Not sure if that’s bravery or inexperience, guess we’ll find out in the clutch moments. There’s one more thing that you need to know before we board, however. My ability allows me to fade from people’s memory. When we’re apart, you might find your recollection of me slipping, especially if I have to crank up my power. I’ve got it momentarily turned off for this meeting, so you’ll all recall why I’m hard to remember later on, but from this point on I’m going to have to keep it working. We’ll communicate through text if there’s anything I have to tell that you need to remember, even if I’m standing next to you. I’ve got some special phones for the trip so we don’t need to worry about bad batteries or someone hacking our messages, but keep them on you at all times. Oh, and I’m in cabin four-twenty-six, come find me if you need anything on the boat.”

                “Aren’t we going straight to United Avalon?” Brett asked. “Doesn’t seem like we’ll be on the boat long enough to have something come up.”

                “Still a cruise-ship, kid. They aren’t exactly in a big hurry. Based on the predicted weather patterns and this vessel’s historical record, I estimate we’ve got at least two days to kill before we arrive. Two days when we all need to sell the cover of being normal, everyday tourists. Because I don’t know if UA keeps spies on these boats to look for people doing exactly what we’re trying to pull, but it’s what I would do, so we have to assume they’re at least as thorough.”

                Everyone could see Angela perk up visibly, her serious side slipping away as she realized it wouldn’t be needed quite yet. “So if I were to get wildly drunk and pass out on the pool deck, that would just be part of selling the cover, right?”

                “I don’t think you’d need to go quite that far, but it would be a touristy thing to do,” DV agreed.

                Angela clapped her hands and scooped up her bag. “Clear a path, shitbirds! Mama has a bar to drain.”

                They watched her saunter toward the crowd, only throwing an occasional glance over her shoulder to make sure the rest of her team was coming. Eventually, DV shrugged and started to follow.

                “She’s committed to the role, I’ll give her that much.”