Bad Things and Good People
"Alright boys, we need to seriously..." Iris Todd paused her carefully prepared speech as she entered the room and noted the presence of only two of her three teammates. "Where the hell is Barry?"
"You didn't hear?" The somber tone of the question asked by Collin, accompanied with an angry glare from Aaron, brought a sense of worry to the speedster that she tried to push aside.
"Hear what? Did somebody die?" The reinforced glare from the blond male, and completely flat look from the muscular red-haired youth stopped Iris' attempted dismissal cold. "Oh fuck. Somebody died." Iris leaned back against the wall and pushed the door closed.. "Who?"
"Nobody died exa-..."
"Barry's mom was shot last night. She's in the hospital and officially in a coma, but unofficially she's brain dead and there's nothing anyone can do." Aaron cut off the team captain with the rapid and blunt statement of facts, maintaining his glare on the blonde girl as he did so. “Be volunteered to blink him out there so he can see her before they pull the plug.”
“I get it, I'm a bitch. God damn I didn't think someone really... Bad day for our class I guess.”
Collin noted his (and the absent Barry's) roommate about to launch another tirade at Iris' apparent dismissal but something in her choice of words made him speak before the other man had a chance. “What do you mean, 'for our class?'”
“Ramón's out today too, visiting his dad in the hospital. Apparently his old man works as a courier for one of the big corporate banks. He got jacked yesterday afternoon.”
“How is it that you're paying enough attention to Ramón's life that you know what's up with him, but you can't bother to find out when one of your own teamma-...”
“Shut the fuck up, Aaron.” Iris finally matched the glare that the blond man was directing her way. “Barry and I have one class together, and team meetings. You two are his god damned roommates. Don't get pissed at me for not knowing something prior to the first moment I could have found out unless I was either stalking Barry or dating him. In answer to your question, rhetorical though it may have been, I know about Ramón because Cat mentioned it while we were training.”
“You're training with Cat?” Collin jumped on what he saw as an opportunity to steer the conversation AWAY from the two blondes ripping each others' throats out.
“More like she's training with me. She's trying to get up to where she can read a mind going a hundred times faster than normal.” The speedster smirk as a memory was conjured. “She's not very good at it yet. She tried her mindspeaky thing yesterday and it was like listening to a recording playing in super slow motion.”
“How's Ramón holding up? Did she say?” Aaron looked somewhat guilty, likely as his thought process had caught up to that fact that he'd been dismissing the news about the muscular Mexican student to the same degree he'd been accusing Iris of doing.
“Probably better to ask Ames, she'd be the one to know the most, but from what Cat told me I think he's proud of his old man. Apparently got his car rammed off the road, shot twice, and still took out two of the four bad guys before they made off with an empty case.”
“Empty?” Both boys asked the question at nearly the same time.
“Yeah, apparently he wasn't even on a run when it happened. Guess it proves that crime doesn't pay, at least not unless you check your intel before going and eating some return fire from a middle aged Mexican.”
“Fuck.” Iris and Collin both turned to look at their third teammate, shocked by the amount of rage he managed to express in just one syllable.
“What are you thinking?” Collin had quickly learned once Aaron had come on the team that the blond youth was generally very good at figuring out puzzles and people.
“Remember two weeks ago? They sent us that whole 'watch your ass!' memo about it being possible that whomever was behind all those attacks last year to try and force SI infractions might have gotten a more detailed class roster?”
“Oh... fuck.” Iris made the connection and joined in Aaron's sentiment just a moment ahead of Collin.
“Wait, so you're thinking that these people got that information to go after out FAMILIES?” The muscular youth's tone was incredulous, but beneath that it was loaded with an obvious layer of fear. “That's... I mean... They watch for that stuff, right?”
“Don't know.” Iris had the door opened and was nearly through it when she answered Collin's question over her shoulder.
“Where are you going?” Aaron asked as he moved quickly to keep up with the blonde girl, glad she hadn't yet decided to make THAT an impossibility.
“You think they don't already know?”
“Don't care. If they know, then they can explain why the fuck they haven't told us. If they don't know, they need to.”
At that, the two men fell in behind Iris as she made her way through the HCP facility towards the Dean's office.
Fred Owens sighed in exasperation as he attempted to pull his new Miata into the family's private drive, and saw that his younger sister had, once again, left her Audi blocking the gate. As the tall man entered the smaller side gate to approach the house, he found himself running his hands through thick, reddish orange hair in exasperation as he saw the front door standing wide open.
“God DAMMIT, Samantha!” The redhead yelled for his sister as he made his way through the open door. “You need to remember that Susan is at college and I have a JOB. No one is here to pick up after yo-...” The tirade stopped as the young man took in the room he was standing in. Furniture was broken, none of the paintings were on the wall, and there was a woman tied to the stair railing leading up to the second floor. A young woman, with short red hair, and a lot of dried blood on her clothes.
“SAM!” Fred had his phone out and already dialing as he ran towards his sibling. When he got close, he nearly vomited as the smell hit him. Pressing forward as a calm, female voice came on the line asking him to state the nature of the emergency, he reached a trembling hand forward to feel for a pulse.
“My name is Fred Owens, I'm at 808 Carlisle in Rochester.” The young man stood perfectly still, his voice having lost all emotion. “Someone... someone broke into my family's home while I was away. My sister is dead. Please... please send someone.” The phone dropped from his hand as Fred looked down at his sisters body, and tears began to fall.
“Claire! Get back here and help my carry all this junk. It's mostly yours!” The shout from the driveway came from a lean, sandy haired man in his mid 40's as he attempted to juggle four large shopping bags out of the slightly too small trunk of a Mercedes all at once. The blonde teenager he was yelling at turned back towards the man with a smile and a wave, the vanished into the large house without giving any indication that she would be back to help.
Johnathon Todd sighed in exasperation at his daughter, but there didn't seem to be any surprise in his expression. Grimacing as he stretched his left arm a little farther than it wanted to go the man finally got the bags properly unwedged and out, before slamming the trunk shut with an elbow and stalking up the stairs to the door.
Dropping the bags in the foyer, he turned towards the stairs to yell another set of likely ignored instructions to his daughter, only to be interrupted by the sound of someone approaching behind him. Johnathon turned just in time to see a shorter, stockily built man coming rapidly up the steps with a hood pulled low to conceal his face. Before Johnathon could say anything, the newcomer produced a small silvery revolver from his pocket and jammed it into the taller man's stomach. Shock on Johnathon's face was replaced with agony as his body effectively muffled the sound of the point blank gunshot that ripped into his stomach. The sandy haired man collapsed weakly against the hooded intruder, who responded by quickly shoving Johnathon further into the house and away from the doorway.
The wounded man let out a loud groan as he landed, and his vision swam as he nearly blacked out, but he held onto consciousness to see two more men join the one who had shot him. The third man in closed the door.
“Alright, old man. Here's how it works; you tell me where everything worth anything is, and how to get it. We leave in time for you to call an ambulance. Make it quick enough and we won't have to 'entertain' your beautiful daughter while we're here.” A mask of rage replaced the pain on Johnathon's face at the threat to his daughter, but his assailant simply smirked and jabbed the gun barrel into the older man's wound. “None of that old man, no-...”
A loud gasp from above drew the attention of all four men in the entryway, to see a terrified looking blonde teenager looking down at the foyer from the second floor railing. “Aw, shit. Bad luck, man. Now we're gonn-...”
The gunman never finished his sentence, as Johnathon Todd let loose a screaming roar and smashed his fist into his attacker's head with the berserk strength of a father protecting his daughter. “CLAIRE, RUN!” The words were barely intelligible as the 44 year old somehow rolled to his feet and attempted to tackle the other two men.
Unfortunately for Johnathon, the other two had time to prepare for his act of defiance. The larger of the two simply caught him mid tackle, and the other man unloaded a powerful strike right on top of the gunshot wound. Johnathon collapsed in a ball of agony, the taller man spitting on him as he landed.
“You think you a Hero or something? Stupid, now we gonna do even WORSE things to you two.”
“Get away from my dad.” The two thugs looked up in surprise, seeing the tall, slender teenager had made her way downstairs and now stood across the foyer from them. The attempt at a commanding tone, even one with no trace of fear in it, was somewhat ruined by the pink outfit and cheerleading baton the girl had armed herself with. Both men exchanged a look, then started laughing.
“Take your friend, and get out. Or you'll regret it.” The second threat stopped the laughter, and the smaller man responded by producing a switchblade from his jacket.
“No girl, I think you'll regret it. Unless you treat me REAL nice.”
Claire locked eyes with the knife wielder for a long moment, then the girl smiled. THEN she disappeared.
Before either man could react, the smaller of the pair was smashed off his feet as the thirty inch metal baton crashed into the back of his head with bone breaking force. The taller man turned to barely catch a hint of blonde and pink before the girl was gone again, this time the metal baton crashing up between his legs as she reappeared directly in front of him. Claire danced back a step, then swung the baton like a baseball bat into the now doubled-over man's head. He went down with a wet *THUD.*
Then Claire screamed, as the first man dropped by her father grabbed her from behind and stripped the baton out of her hands with one arm as the other wrapped around her throat. “You think you're hot stuff then, Super bitch? Well I'm gon-...”
It was the last words the man ever said, as he was interrupted by three loud bangs. Johnathon Todd had found the revolver his attacker had dropped when the older man had laid him out with the desperate punch earlier. The moment the injured man saw his daughter's attacker drop, he felt the gun slip from his fingers as he fell back to the floor and closed his eyes. The last thing he heard before he lost consciousness was the panicked voice of his daughter yelling at a 911 operator.
“What the hell do you mean you won't allocate any resources to this?” The petite woman's knuckles were white as she gripped the phone and absolutely radiated rage, and truly wished that her power could reach through the phone lines as easily as her voice. “No, NO! Look, put me through to the Director. Yes, I'm aware she's busy, but if you check that little list of 'Things to Interrupt the Director For,' you MIGHT notice that an HCP Dean calling in an emergency is NEAR THE TOP.”
Kathryn Jilles slumped back against the chair she sat in as the mildly incompetent and moderately terrified DVA clerk she'd been speaking with put her on hold with a promise to transfer her as soon as possible. Looking around the conference room, the Overton HCP Dean noted that all of her faculty had arrived, as well as Janette Riley.
“Dean Jilles...” The hesitant male voice coming from the headset caused Kathryn to actually grind her teeth in frustration. “I swear, I tried to transfer you, but the Director says she's in the middle of something and to tell you she's 'working on it.'”
Some of the anger slipped away from the small woman as she noted the amount of fear in the voice on the other end of the phone. It really isn't his fault that his boss is ducking my calls. “Thank you, Trent wasn't it? Thank you for your efforts. Please relay one last message to the Director for me. 'Work quickly, or I'll see you in person.'” A smile came across her lips as Trent read her message carefully back to her. “Yes, exactly that. Thank you.” Even with a large portion of the rage she'd been seething with moments before dissipated, there was more than enough left to insure that the phone slammed back into its cradle would need to be replaced before it could be used again.
“Right, so please tell me that SOMEONE has better news than a bureaucrat's assurance that they're 'working on it.'”
“Define 'better.'” The words spoken by Overton's Subtlety Instructor after a long, uncomfortable silence did NOT bode well for the meeting.
“Alright, let's just go with news then. Information that is new to some or all of us. Do we have any of that?”
“Quite a bit, I think. I can go first, if no one else wants the spotlight?” The offer from Janette was accepted around the table unanimously, though everyone present also noted that she hadn't been stepping forward when the Dean had been hoping for 'better' news.
“Alright, Janette. How bad is it?” The Dean hung her head in her hands as she asked the question, expecting to hear the worst.
“I have no idea.” The deadpan response from the attractive blonde woman drew surprised looks from around the table. “To my knowledge there have been five attacks perpetrated against families of your sophomore students so far?”
“Technically six against sophomores at present. Also two attacks against family members of first year students, both of whom are in their second year of their normal college studies, and one attack against the family of a third year student.” Apparently not all the Overton professors were aware of the additional attacks, as looks of further surprise, and anger, appeared at the information supplied by Elena Martinez.
“Let me guess, the third year student in question entered the program early?”
“Correct, a very rare circumstance”
“Why the hell didn't we hear about more of these?” The growling question from the Close Combat Instructor was echoed by the Weapons Instructor. “I knew about four attacks, and only the ones on the actual second years.”
“Attacks might not be completely accurate. You're aware from the incidents you already knew about that there was always a 'legitimate' crime being committed in addition to the attack?” Elena waited for nods from bald male and red haired female Instructors. “Of the nine incidents we know of, only four of them resulted in serious injuries, or worse. Two are maybe technically 'attempted incidents,' as the criminals involved were subdued, and the other five were quite thorough home break-in burglaries that thankfully took place when no one was home.”
“And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why we can't really tell how bad this is.” Attention turned back to Janette as she inserted a small thumb drive into the console next to her and began typing. “We look at the data point from our end and see no possibility EXCEPT our students being targeted. Am I correct in assuming that there are no other freshmen or juniors in the HCP that would appear to be second year students if one only examined their public records?” The Dean nodded in confirmation, and the monitor behind Janette lit up. “So here we have nine HCP students out of thirty one, that are publicly sophomores, whose enrollment in the program is most likely compromised by a conspiracy targeting the Overton HCP.” A series of red dots displayed on a US Map, six clustered close together along the East Coast, another three appearing relatively close together in the Midwest.
“It looks like a pretty straightforward pattern to me.” Rachd's gravelly tone indicated there were many things he would rather be doing about this problem than 'discussing.'
“And I'm sure you're all in touch with the news enough to be aware that there's been a major uptick in criminal activity in several areas recently? Mostly high-end burglaries, with a great deal of focus going towards rumors that someone has set up a very thorough information for purchase system regarding security systems, insurance information on high end items, and even more ambitious things like courier and armored car routes?”
“So the bad guys are using this new crime wave as a cover.” The Weapons Instructor sounded slightly unsure as she spoke. Dani had seen enough of Riley Walker's better half to be certain that there was another shoe waiting to drop.
“The spike in criminal activity started roughly three weeks ago, the first incident involving a family member of an HCP student from Overton was approximately two weeks ago. Which would make that a logical guess, except that the criminals apprehended on scene in the two completely failed incidents involving our people are, in fact, common street criminals. In fact since this crime wave started, there have been over two dozen different 'crews' arrested.”
“Our conspirators could be the ones running this information business? Selling information to criminals, and inserting records for the families of our students to make sure they're targeted?” Janette smiled in response to the plausible idea put forth by the Control Instructor, but shook her head.
“Again, on the surface, that makes sense. However you have to look at the whole picture.” A few more keystrokes and the number of red dots on the map began to multiply at an incredible speed, rapidly turning the areas with just single blips before into huge blobs of red. “Whomever is running this info sale is not being very smart, or very picky about their clientele. A few of my technical people have postulated that it's the behavior of someone who knows a LOT about computer systems, but not much else. Now imagine the amount of effort that would go into tracking down whomever is behind this if there was no involvement with the HCP and Heroes, and even if somehow all the criminal involved were being vetted by the seller to be at least non-violent, then think about how much MORE pressure is being applied to solve this as quickly as possible because those things ARE factors. Even with someone apparently running interference with law enforcement getting its act together...” Janette paused her speech and looked around the table, waiting for everyone to work through the process and come at least close to the same conclusion she had.
“Considering that whomever we're up against has been working VERY hard to avoid leaving these kinds of tracks, to the extent that our best guess is that they murdered their own co-conspirator last year when he stepped over the line, I can't imagine they would be bold, or stupid enough to try and create a crime wave on this scale just to further their goals.”
“So what, we're supposed to believe that this really is a coincidence?” The angry tone as the Ranged Combat Instructor finally weighed in on the conversation indicated his feelings for that idea.
“Of course not. Even with several of our students living in areas where the criminal activity spikes are the highest, we shouldn't be seeing more than one or two cases this early. I'm just saying that our opponents didn't make this crime wave. I think they stumbled across whomever WAS making it, probably months ago, and very discretely manipulated the data THAT person, or persons, was collecting to make sure it included as many of our students as they could.” Janette hesitated, and sighed before continuing. “That, and the other thing.”
“Please, Janette, don't keep us in suspense.” The frustrated tone from the HCP Dean drew an apologetic smile from the blonde woman as she continued.
“Sorry, but as I mentioned briefly and I'm sure you've all noticed; all the various Federal alphabet soups that SHOULD be organizing this thing into a very rapid application of overwhelming government force seem to be running about haphazardly and working at cross purposes? The only level where anything effective is currently being accomplished is pretty much at street level, and those officers and agents pulling more criminals in is only going to help stop the problem once someone higher up the ladder gets the greenlight to correlate all that intel to track down the source.”
“What possible motivation could have been manufactured to get multiple law enforcement agencies dragging their feet to this extent?” The Focus Instructor sounded genuinely confused at the idea as he asked the question.
“Credit. Someone has got the FBI, DVA, and all the politicians involved in the local and state law enforcement convinced that they, and they ALONE need to be the ones who ultimately get credit for ending this.”
“Hai, Elena, you two still have decent contacts?” The question from the Dean didn't offer any clue as to where the contacts in questions were located, but both women nodded an affirmative without needing more. “Start convincing people that looking magnanimous in letting someone else take the lead will be worth just as much good PR at the end, and it has the bonus of leaving them without any egg on their faces from the inevitable screw ups that will happen midway through the investigation. James,” the muscular Instructor looked surprised to hear his name at this point, “you still have a lot of contacts in Force Ops. They can't do anything official, but I'm willing to bet you could convince someone to set up some valuable intelligence gathering and call the whole thing a 'domestic readiness exercise' or whatever nonsense name they're slapping on it these days.” Rachd grinned an affirmative at the suggestion.
“Isn't there anything else we can do?” The plaintive question from the animated redhead was met with a long moment of silence.
“Have we informed all the families that, well...”
“Yes, Janette. But 'be extra careful' can only go so far, and we don't have the resources to put security details on all of them.”
“I do.” The two words from the blonde again snapped all attention to the woman.
“You have no idea how long it will take for them to track down the information seller and shut it down, and even then...”
“Even if law enforcement decides to keep tripping over their own feet, my people are a bit more focused. Assuming it doesn't violate any obscure HCP rules or Federal laws I'm unfamiliar with, I'll arrange to have discrete security assigned to the remainder of the sophomore families. If you'll excuse me, even if I call in some favors this is going to take a few days to set up.” Janette rose to leave, but the Dean waved a hand for her to wait.
“Before you go, you mentioned that you had some solid leads on why our campus is graced with the LOVELY presence of a group like RoH?”
“Ah, that. Those leads were followed and confirmed, unfortunately it's a literal dead end.”
“Literal?” The Subtlety Instructor was the first to ask the question that had popped into most of the faculty's heads.
“All the information lines up neatly and runs directly back to a now seized and defunct account belonging to one Roger Wiels. The man who was found to be responsible for taking out contracts on Heroes last year and 'killed himself' when the net was closing in. Everything with Rights of Humanity was actually set up months before his death, he financed the whole group's move out here.”
“Juan, a moment of your time please.” The middle aged hispanic man looked up quickly from his laptop and felt his jaw drop open at the appearance of his boss.
“Mr Weaver, are you okay? Do yo-...”
“In the office please, Juan.” Harold Weaver entered the aforementioned room without waiting to see what his assistant did, seeming to ignore the other members of the Oversight Committee present staring in shock at the condition of their current director.
“Mr Weaver, what happened?” The overweight man moved with surprising speed, making it into the office behind the taller blond man before Harold had even made it halfway around his desk. The office door pulled firmly shut behind him as he waited for an answer.
“I had a fascinating conversation with Overton's Close Combat Instructor today, Juan.” Harold seated himself behind his desk as he spoke, and produced a small hand mirror and a packet of wipes. His lower lip was just slightly swollen, and split on the right side, a moment's work removed the trace amount of red smear that had been left behind. The Oversight Director frowned as he noted that his shirt had also lost the top three buttons, and there was an angry looking bruise forming along his collarbone and the bottom of his throat on the right side.
“He attacked you?” The older man's tone was incredulous, but tinged with a bit of devious glee. “Mr Weaver, as unfortunate as that is, this would allow us t-...”
“Professor Rachd and I had a discussion, Juan. Not a fight.” The blond man replaced the mirror and package and produced a quick-cold compress from another drawer, which he placed gingerly against his bruises. “It was a discussion that I apparently entered lacking some EXTREMELY important information that resulted in an unfortunate misunderstanding. What I would like to know, Juan, is WHY THE FUCK DID NO ONE INFORM ME ABOUT FAMILY DEATHS IN THE PROGRAM?”
The volume of the Oversight director's shout was impressive, easily heard by the investigators working in the outer room, and likely throughout a relatively wide area around where the Committee had taken over to compile their work. The grey haired hispanic man sitting directly in front of that shout found himself cringing back in his chair, eyes closed for a long moment, before he realized that his boss had stopped and was waiting for a reply.
“I didn't, Mr Weaver, sir, we haven't been tracking any information on the students outside of the program. It was in the Declaration of Scope document, abou-...”
“I would direct you to recall paragraph 17, section 3-B of that document, Juan.” Harold ignored the shocked look on his subordinate's face as he recited chapter and verse at the man, and waited patiently for Juan to pull his reader from his jacket and begin paging through the file.
“'Pursuant to the above stated objectives, Oversight will also maintain a basic appraisal of events occurring outside the boundaries of the HCP which might impact the participants, but which the program would not be ab-...' I'm terribly sorry Mr Weaver. You're right, we should have been monitoring for this sort of thing.” Juan's face was flushed a deep red from embarrassment as he attempted to avoid his boss's gaze. “Am I correct in assuming that this is the excuse being given for the significantly reduced scores among several of the HCP sophomores for the past few weeks?”
“No Juan, you are NOT correct in assuming that is the 'excuse' being given. It is the REASON for those things, and as such we need to make sure that all of our reports reflect the weight these tragedies are laying on the young people in this program.” Harold's expression was deathly serious, and his voice still quivered slightly from suppressed rage. “You'll personally see to getting all of those updates sent out no later than tomorrow morning, Juan.”
The hispanic man's eyes widened and he actually came up out of his chair as he began his protest. “Mr Weaver, there are hundreds of documents that will need to be updated, and with the time alone it will take to determine which students are directly involved and take all the facts into consideration...”
“So you'll work all night.” The completely cold tone halted any further objections from Juan. “Keeping me appraised of things like this is your job, Juan. Because you didn't do your job it left me walking up to an extremely powerful, and notably violent, Super, and giving him a perfect justification for doing me serious bodily harm.” Harold moved the compress for a moment and gingerly felt the swollen area before replacing the cold-pack. “And from what our profiles on the Instructors have shown, I am damned fortunate that it was only Rachd that I misspoke in front of, and not Reyes, as there is a good chance she would have killed me before I realized what a mistake I made. I don't like being uninformed, Juan. Now go do your job or pack you god damned bags and get out, and I'll get someone who CAN.”
“Yes, Mr Weaver.” With that acknowledgment the older man quickly fled his boss's office, reclaiming his workstation and typing furiously before the door swung shut again and obscured him from the director's view.
Harold, now alone in the small office he had claimed for himself, sat silently for a long moment before producing his own laptop and placing it in on the desk. It's not like Juan to make a mistake like that. He misses little things sometimes, but this... Someone is trying to play me for something more than the usual games.
After a few more moments of consideration, Harold Weaver logged on to a very securely encrypted email server and began sending a string of inquiries and instructions to a few people whose loyalty he was absolutely certain of.