Masks 18: Part 5

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Masks XVIII

by

Rodford Edmiston

Part Five

Another night, another stakeout.

"You sure that will work?" said Energia, as Gadgetive hunched over the display built into the dash of the flyer. "We're running out of time, you know."

"Yeah," said the gadgeteer, absently. "That sensor pod I hung on the front hardpoint will detect etheric disturbances. I've already mapped the background and masked it out."

"What if he comes up through the ground, like he has a few times before?" said Blue Impact.

"This isn't three dimensional," said Gadgetive, sounding irritated.

She said nothing else, apparently considering that explanation - or perhaps reminder - to be a sufficient answer. The other two looked at each other and shrugged.

"Okay..." said Energia. "Here's a question I've had before but kept forgetting to ask: Why are we using this instead of - or with - Gadgetive's super detector?"

"There's dozens of supers in this city," said Blue Impact. "Including us. As far as we know, there's only one desolidifier."

"Ohhh, yeah," said their gadgeteer, a bit later, with a gleeful chortle. "Got something. I think..."

"Can you put the image on the console display?" said Blue Impact.

"Huh? Oh, sure..."

The display for the center console popped up and showed what she was seeing. The position of the screen gave a good view to all those in the flyer.

"Just remember, we can't go onto private property without invitation unless there's someone actually in danger," said Blue Impact, as she tried to decipher the image. "The city gave us permission to go onto their properties, with the understanding that any harm which comes to us there is our fault."

"I can tell you're a lawyer," muttered Energia.

"You mean from the fact that I teach legal courses at the Academy?" said Blue Impact, innocently.

"Shush!" said Gadgetive, suddenly. "Definitely have something."

"Get the net shooter ready," said Blue Impact, reflexively snugging her seat harness.

"It's armed," said Gadgetive, after flipping switches without looking away from her display.

Blue Impact lowered the flyer between buildings near where Gadgetive had spotted the furtive figure. The craft came silently around the corner, and she slewed to point the nose where they expected the target to be. Unfortunately, the person was moving quickly towards a building which held - among other businesses - a jewelry store. The target was also paying attention. Despite the silence of the craft, they were spotted. The quarry abruptly reversed course. Blue Impact yawed the flyer in his direction and drew a bead just as the figure dove through the pavement.

"Call up the utility plans for this block!"

"I've already got those," said Energia. "Putting it on the console screen."

"That," said Blue Impact, after a few seconds, "is a maze."

She looked at Gadgetive.

"You still tracking him?"

"Sorry, teach. Whoever that is must have at least low-level super speed. They're already out of range. They also made several sharp changes of direction while I was still watching."

"That's definitely someone who knows the tunnels and sewers around here," said Energia.

"Okay," said Blue Impact, with a tired sigh. "At least we scared him off this time. I'll let the police know what happened. Oh, make a copy of that video I can give them. He may have been masked, but at least we have build, height and such. That may help the cops."

* * *

When Energia came downstairs the next morning, Blue Impact was already on the phone. After listening for a moment to this side of the conversation she realized the senior member of their team was talking to that same comic book shop owner they had visited the day before. She resisted the urge to use her powers to "listen" to the electrical impulses to the speaker so she could hear the other side of the talk.

"Woke up with a hunch," said Blue Impact, after ending the call. "I got the name, phone number and address of the man the shop owner bought that one comic from."

"You think he may have wanted it back?"

"The shop owner said he sold it to him two years ago, to fund repairs on property which was damaged during the war. That the former owner was unsatisfied because the store wouldn't pay what the other guy thought it was worth."

"A suspect!" cried Gadgetive, from the stairs, where she had come down in just panties and a t-shirt. She was almost crowing. "A valid suspect!"

"Get dressed," said Blue Impact.

"We're going after the guy?"

"Eventually, but right now I'm going to tell the police about him. I just want you to put on some clothes!"

* * *

The previous owner was quickly eliminated - too old, too tall, had a good alibi for several of the robberies - but when questioned by the police he mentioned that a private collector contacted him just days after he sold the book. That man's description fit what the police had been able to determine from the video. Of course, that was pretty general.

"They won't tell us anything about this second suspect," said Blue Impact. "That's understandable. They want the arrest to stick so they're following proper procedure. However, they also want us standing by in case he makes a break for it."

"Standing by where?" said Energia. "They won't tell us where he is!"

"It's apparently close enough for us to get to quickly," said Blue Impact, with a shrug.

They stayed in the old bakery the entire day. They trained, they ate, they cleaned and repaired, they watched TV and played games. Not only was there no further word on what the police learned from the suspect, there was no other trouble in the city which needed their special sort of aid.

"I know I said I wanted a quiet Summer," said Energia, tired from doing nearly nothing. "This is ridiculous!"

Finally, a call came in. A Detective Blue Impact knew reported that the interview with the man the previous owner of the comic told them about had produced nothing solid. He had even let them search his home without a warrant.

"However," Blue Impact relayed, once the call was over, "since we know that the culprit has some super speed his alibis could be challenged. The police are putting a stakeout on him. Hopefully, he doesn't also have super senses."

"So what do we do?"

"They can't tell us his name or where he lives or anything else personal about him," said Blue Impact. "However, that doesn't mean we can't look for ourselves. Gadgetive, do you think you can find the stakeout team? That specific one?"

"I can sure try!"

* * *

Finding the stakeout took a few hours. However, between Blue Impact and Gadgetive they had sufficient resources to do that without breaking any laws. Soon the large apergy flyer was hovering over the suspect's house, fully cloaked. The timing was fortuitous; the man had just gotten home from work.

"Okay, baseline scan completed and background features masked. If he does go desolid I'll know it immediately!"

"We're very early," said Energia. "The crimes happen during the night, and it's still afternoon."

"If he's going out tonight - and there's no guarantee of that, even if he's the culprit - he'll likely leave early. Remember, the police didn't find any of the stolen items or the costume at his house."

"So he'll have those stashed somewhere," said Gadgetive, nodding.

"He's smart," said Blue Impact, also nodding. "However, I actually do expect him to go out tonight. We stopped him last night before he could steal anything. He'll want to catch up."

"Funny how we know so much about him - even where he lives - but not his name," said Energia.

They stayed on station, stealth mode engaged, for over an hour before anything unusual happened. Then things went fast.

"Got the signal! He's in the basement... He's in the ground, heading for the storm sewer!"

"Windscreen overlay, please," said Blue Impact.

A transparent map with a moving dot appeared on the front of the canopy. Blue Impact moved the flyer above the dot and kept it there, flying high enough that buildings weren't a problem.

"How big is that storm sewer? He's moving at a good pace."

"According to the official city maps, a meter and a half," said Energia.

"If he can move that fast crouched over..." said their pilot, frowning. "I've got the reflexes but not the ground speed."

"Yeah," said Gadgetive. "We may need to hem him in before trying to catch him. How do we do that to someone who can go desolid, though?"

"You made the net so I could handle it easily, remember?" said Energia. "You get it close to him in an open area and I'll guide the net in."

They followed the trail to an apartment building. There their quarry went from storm sewer to utility tunnel, through a basement, up to ground level to cross an empty lot, then back underground in the basement of the apartment building on the other side before resolidifying.

"Lost him," said Gadgetive. "Unless he's got his stash hidden in the basement, we don't know which apartment he's going to."

"Doesn't matter," said Blue Impact. "So far all we have him on is misdemeanor trespassing."

"He wasn't staying long anywhere there wasn't air," said Gadgetive. "So he likely doesn't have breathing gear in whatever he was wearing when he left home. We'll see if there's any in his costume, I guess."

They waited for two more hours, snacking on food bars.

"Okay," Blue Impact said, finally, "it's still well before dark and he doesn't seem to be going anywhere any time soon. I say we take a break."

The others were reluctant to leave the stakeout, but both of the younger team members also admitted they could use a restroom.

"We'll make it quick," said Blue Impact. She glanced at Gadgetive. "You really need to find a way to put a bathroom in this thing."

"To preserve modesty we'd need a larger vehicle to have enough space for a separate toilet," the inventor muttered.

They were soon back on station with still more than an hour until sundown. Feeling much better.

* * *

"On the move, again!" said Gadgetive, suddenly, four hours after their break.

"Keep on him," said Energia, excitedly, as Blue Impact maneuvered the flyer.

This time his path was even more indirect. Finally, though, he traversed through a short section of packed earth between a utility tunnel and the basement of an office building.

"Wonder which business in there he's after?" said Blue Impact, on full alert.

"He's staying desolid. Moving upwards."

"Is there an online list of who or what is in that building?"

"Sorry," said Energia, after working for a moment. "Not seeing it. Got the address and the name of the building owner but not who is renting."

"I wonder if there's a sign listing them at the front..."

"He's... doing something," said Gadgetive. "Not going fully solid, but that's probably a partial rematerialization. He must be grabbing what he's after."

"All right," said Blue Impact. "Stay alert! Gadgetive, as soon as he leaves I want you to project his path, give us a best location for netting him."

"Roger!"

He didn't follow the exact same path on the way out, but as Gadgetive noted aloud there were only so many pipes and basements in that neighborhood and he was still avoiding long periods in volumes with no air.

"There," said Gadgetive, very shortly after their target began his retreat. "He should surface to cross that empty lot!"

As predicted, the dark-clad figure - clearly visible in the eerie green of the amplified light image displayed on the windscreen of the flyer - was seen climbing rapidly out of the ground just beyond the foundation of a building. Blue Impact aimed the flyer, leading expertly, and launched just before he reached the center of the empty lot. He glanced up at the sound, then frantically lunged to his left. Energia used her powers to change the course of the net and guide it to the man, then wrap him in it.

"Got him!" she crowed. "It's holding him, too!"

"Calling the cops," said Blue Impact, as she also guided the flyer onto the ground beside the fallen figure. "Make sure you keep holding him!"

"On it," said Energia.

They got out and surrounded the silently fuming figure. The scene was a bit eerie, full of long shadows and glaring brightness, due to being sidelit by the flyer's headlights.

"That, my friends," said Gadgetive, beaming, "is how you do it!"

"I hear sirens," said Blue Impact, looking up and off towards the street.

"With your ears they could be the next county over," said Energia, grinning.

Soon they could all hear the sirens, approaching rapidly. Sure enough, several police cars quickly pulled up at the nearest curb.



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