Masks 10: Part 12

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Masks 10: Part 12

by

Rodford Edmiston

Paul heard voices as he approached a crossroads in the Assembly base. Two of them. A man and a woman. Thanks to his "retirement benefits" he quickly recognized the man as Hotfoot, but the woman was a mystery. As he rounded the corner he saw why: she was a civilian. That is, someone who wasn't a member of the team and wasn't wearing the uniform of the support staff, as Paul was. She also wasn't wearing an ID badge.

"Excuse me, miss," said Paul, stopping to block their way. "Where is your ID badge?"

"Oh, don't be such a hardass," said Hotfoot, pushing past Paul. The woman laughed.

Paul went to the nearest com panel and called in a security alert.

* * *

"That son of a bitch had no right to snitch on me!" said Hotfoot, at the disciplinary hearing.

"He had not only the right, but an obligation to," said Dr. Gorgeous, completely without sympathy. "Standard procedure. If you see someone you don't know who isn't wearing a visitor's ID tag, you call it in."

"All he had to do was ask me who she was! Hell, he should have been able to guess."

"You're missing the point," said Maciste. "We don't care if you bring your girlfriend to the base. We don't care what you two do in your quarters. We do care about keeping track of who comes and goes here. For all Paul knew, she had mind-controlled you to bring her into the base."

"These security procedures were instituted for very good reasons," said Lucille, still trying to be reasonable. "They're based on decades of experience by dozens of teams and here they've already caught three intruders since we opened this base. If you don't follow the procedures you endanger everyone here."

"This wasn't like that!" said Hotfoot, exasperated. "I know she's trustworthy, and I vouch for her."

"Still missing the point," said Buzz, swinging back and forth in his chair.

"The best locks in the world are useless if one person leaves the door open," said Lucille, sternly. "She was brought in without Security's knowledge. Whoever was then on Security watch would have called her in the first time she showed on a monitor, and if they hadn't the automated alert system would have eventually. However, not all the base is covered by cameras, so that could have taken some time. Regardless of when she was noticed - or by whom - she still would have caused a security alert because she wasn't properly checked in."

"I didn't leave the door open," said Hotfoot, exasperated. "I made sure it was closed behind us."

Lucille gave him a long, hard look.

"Are you deliberately being dense or did you truly not recognize my use of a metaphor?"

"Huh?"

"I vote the latter!" said Buzz.

"Actually, I suspect you're trying to divert attention away from the fact that you brought your guest in by a route you knew was camera-free. You used proper procedure to open the sally port door, avoiding an immediate alarm, and presumably hoped to get her to wherever you were going while avoiding cameras."

Dr. Gorgeous leaned forward, to emphasize that she was serious.

"This isn't your first breach of security. You're a valuable asset to this team, but if you leave us vulnerable due to ignoring basic rules and even common sense, you'll be dismissed."

Hotfoot stared at her for several long seconds, jaw muscles working as if he wanted to say something but couldn't think of what. Then he spun around and left.

* * *

"We've had some of our best brains working on the physical and chronological constraints of the problem," said Dr. Gorgeous. She sighed and briefly rubbed her face with both hands, looking tired. Too many different things going on for too long were wearing her down. "Sorry I didn't get back to you sooner, but we've had some problems with our newest team member which had to be taken care of. I have our analysis, now."

The President nodded.

"First, it's all but certain Tritonicus was physically moved to wherever it is being kept, rather than being teleported, or simply sunk for later retrieval. Too many complications, too large a signature for either option to be well hidden. Probably towed underwater, to reduce chance of detection. The tow vehicle for this was probably a submarine. The barge left in the monster's place was mostly flooded, to ride low in the water and provide drag to match that of Tritonicus, as well as not show up on radar when it was being towed into place. Blocks of flotation material were installed to keep it just on the surface. The most likely scenario is that the submerged submarine towed the barge, itself awash, alongside the artificial iceberg, and a crack team - possible including supers - then quickly switched towlines and coolant lines and erected a radar screen to simulate the iceberg's signature."

"That's pretty much the scenario the Navy came up with," said Sievers. She seemed as tired as Dr. Gorgeous.

"At the time of the exchange the monster was equidistant from land to the east and the west, in terms of both energy and time required to move it to shore, taking into account prevailing winds and currents," said Dr. Gorgeous. "That must have been deliberate."

"Again, the same evaluation."

"Most likely, it was taken to neither southern Africa nor southern South America, but somewhere else. One suggestion is an abandoned whaling station in the Antarctic."

"That last is news to me," said Sievers, thoughtfully. "I can see how moving in the same direction it was already going would help throw us off the trail, though. Those installations would have equipment for handling large whales... Could one be used for something as big as Tritonicus?"

"If this plot were begun shortly after Tritonicus was captured, and whoever responsible is a gadgeteer or could hire one or more gadgeteers, that would be plenty of time to modify one of those old stations for the task."

"I'll have our intelligence people check satellite photos, but don't hold out much hope. That area isn't covered very often."

"There's one other thing," said Dr. Gorgeous. "If they did use a submarine it would be a large one. We are checking on the disposition of every conventional and nuclear submarine large enough. Even those known to be decommissioned but otherwise intact."

"That will hopefully narrow things down some," said the President, hopefully.

"Not as much as you think. Submarines large enough for this task go back to World War Two. Germany had some long-range cargo submarines which could stay under for weeks, recharging their batteries by running their diesel engines through a snorkel. They even had two classes of nuclear-powered ones late in the War, which Odessa used to evacuate high-ranking Nazis after Germany fell. For some reason, those latter are still very popular with masterminds and mad geniuses."

"God..." said Sievers, paling.

* * *

"Wish you could stay longer," said Template, hugging Colossa.

"Me, too," her lover replied. She laughed, softly. "At least I got to work on my tan."

"Yeah, about that... They did catch the students who took the photos, but Andrea still is upset about you nude sunbathing on the roof. There's just too many flyers on this island."

"I know, I know," said Colossa, rolling her eyes. "With the air traffic control measures you told me about I just didn't think of that, okay?"

They hugged for a while longer, then slipped apart, though they still held hands for a bit.

"Miss you already," said Colossa, quietly.

"Bet you won't miss your share of diaper work," said Template, snickering.

"Believe it or not, I'll even miss that."

* * *

Hotfoot was storming aimlessly around the Assembly base, staff members giving him a wide berth.

He wanted to hit something. When he saw Paul, talking with two of the techs outside the hangar, he knew what he was going to hit. He walked quickly up to the trio, grabbed Paul by the shoulder, yanked him around and threw the hardest punch he could.

Paul, caught by surprise, automatically reacted as he'd been trained. Hotfoot slammed into the floor hard enough to break his right shoulder and collarbone.

* * *

"I have to say, I'm very glad to see you," said the President, as she shook Brade's hand. She managed not to look intimidated, despited the difference in height. And hand size. And weight. And age. "We're definitely going to need super help with this mess. Not just because Tritonicus is involved, but because it looks like supers were responsible for its disappearance."

"I'll do what I can, Madame President," said Brade, formally.

"Eventually you'll have to start calling me Livia," said Sievers, with a smile. It actually seemed natural. "Madame President sounds just... awkward."

The President indicated a chair in front of her desk, and moved to sit in her own. For now it was just the two of them, despite the concerns expressed by her advisors. The President needed Brade to feel that she trusted her, and by showing she trusted the super physically she hoped that would also reassure her that she trusted her advice. Brade sat with the care taught by several decades of living in a world too small for her.

"I'm sorry about the confusion in titles. I do expect you to eventually be approved for the Cabinet position I described, but that takes time and I need your help right now. So, for the present, you're a Deputy Assistant to the President, on the National Security Council, part of the Executive Office staff. Your official title is Deputy National Security Advisor for Super Affairs. Eventually, you will be in the Department of Defense, as a special advisor to Secretary Carver. That will distance you from me, personally, but give you more authority and better access to intelligence. However, that appointment depends on when all the political wrangling can be finished, which could take months."

"I actually understand about that," said Brade, with a slight smile. "I do have some experience in these things."

"I will formally introduce you to the senior staff at the meeting in the Situation Room in a bit, but I wanted to have a private talk, first," said the President, her own smile fading as she thought of something. "From what you just said, I take it this isn't the first time you've been in the Oval Office?"

"Oh, Lord, no," said Brade, with a wry laugh. "First time, it was with the rest of the initial team of recruits, here to be formally inducted in a ceremony overseen by Richard Nixon. The room was crowed with press, then, of course. Including live television."

I need to keep in mind how old she is, thought Sievers.

"Someday - maybe several somedays - we need to sit down and talk about history," said the President. "For now, what does the super community have to offer to help with the Tritonicus situation?"

"Several psis and mystics have a vague indication that Tritonicus is actually on an island off the western coast of South Africa," said Brade. "It's privately owned, but officially part of that nation, so I suggest we ask them, officially, to check for us. Some supers have asked their contacts in that region about this and they have informally promised to look into things. However, considering that several of major businessmen have vacation homes there - including three of those who own companies which manufacture armaments - that could be difficult. Allowing us or the UN to investigate would be even more difficult. An official request from the US and the UN would definitely help."

The President scowled, deep in thought.

"That location is a surprise, since everyone had come around to thinking it would be on an Antarctic whaling station. Though, if a mastermind is involved, of course the location would be a surprise. They would take the monster to somewhere near the first place we thought of, knowing we'd dismiss that after we thought for a bit."

"Exactly. Another bit of good news, we know there is a device for detecting Tritonicus. We believe it is in the old Guild Hall, now under the management of the Assembly."

"There's actually a device for detecting that specific monster?" said the President, startled.

"It was built by the Society of Covert Adventurous Masterminds, as part of one of their extortion schemes. The Border Patrol stopped them, in the process confiscating a lot of equipment. Among that was the gadget they used to locate Tritonicus."

Brade shook her head, looking serious.

"People are lucky SCAM didn't get around to actually waking that monster, back then."

"I'm surprised the Border Patrol was allowed to keep that device."

"International treaty," said Brade. "Seriously, this is something you need to know, though I'm not surprised you don't. Anything which limits the exercise of power by bureaucracies tends to fade from their awareness. The Deacon was the one who got the UN to vote that supervillain weapons were to be rendered inert and kept in the custody of the super heroes who captured them. To keep them out of government hands and avoid political complications. Before that there had been several problems with super weapons aggravating the arms race."

"That explains all those bizarre collections!"

"Uh, no," said Brade, grinning. "Supers like trophies. The treaty just legitimizes the practice."

They spoke for several more minutes, mostly briefing each other on what the super community and the various governments involved were planning to do. Then it was time for the formal meeting.

"One more question," said Sievers, as she gathered her notes. "Why Brade? For your mask name, I mean."

"Oh, that," said the super, with a laugh. She smiled at some memory. "The expensive suit in charge of our public image kept harping on me to wear a braid. More than once he said 'There needs to be a braid in there, somewhere, to reduce the emotional impact of all that bulk.' As if I were an object - and a particularly voluminous one - which needed a decoration to look less intimidating. I was already sensitive about my new size, and felt really annoyed at his insensitivity. I finally promised that I would have a braid, somewhere. He nearly blew a gasket when he found out I chose that as my mask name."

The President tried not to laugh. Really. She failed.

* * *

My MidAmeriCon II photos can be found at:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/116299515@N07/albums/72157672912728166

I'll be making some notations and comments and maybe rearranging the order a bit later.



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