Masks 19: Part 9

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Masks XIX:

A Disturbance of the Peace

by

Rodford Edmiston

Part Nine

"Did you get it?" Sally asked, as we hid between some large trash bins on the far side of the mansion.

"I did some damage," I said. "I just hope it was enough to disable the thing."

"What sort of weapons is that, anyway?" she said, leaning tiredly back against the wall.

"That is not a military weapon," I said, hotly. "It's an assassination weapon!"

"Uh..." said Sally.

"Okay. Yeah," I explained, calming myself a bit. "Sorry. Saw the results of too many such weapons during the War. Damn Nazis... It can be used to pick off individual people or small craft, on the sea and in the sky and maybe even underwater. Given the size and complexity of that thing, though - even if they can make it a lot smaller - it isn't very practical for using in a regular military action. Artillery is just as effective from what we've seen, and almost certainly a lot cheaper and easier to deploy. However, if what you want to do is kill a particular person or small group of people, or make obvious the fact that you can..."

I stopped, turning my head. My hearing was almost completely back by now, and I could definitely hear aircraft, approaching rapidly.

"I can't see them," I said, "but those sound like heavy helicopters."

"I really hope you disabled that thing."

"Whether I did or not, they would have to be complete idiots to try and use it without making sure," I said, confidently.

Sometimes I put too much trust in the intelligence of humans.

Some sort of alarm sounded, perhaps from the ship. We heard distant shouting, as well. I shifted back into seagull form and flew up to the second story roof of the mansion. I took one look, then dove back down.

"I don't believe this," I said, squawking as my voice returned to human. "They look like they're trying to use the pinhole gun."

"With it damaged?!"

"Hopefully they're just checking it out. They might not even know I hit it if they were distracted by the noise I was making shooting."

"We need to move further inland, anyway," said Sally.

Rising into crouches, we hurried towards the nearby woods. We hadn't gone far when there was a brilliant flash, followed closely by a loud bang. Then came a bright, ruddy glow grew, which was accompanied by loud hissing sounds.

"Run!" I yelled, again following my own advice. "If we're lucky it will only eat half the island!"

Though I had a head start, Sally quickly caught up. She also grabbed me, threw me over her shoulder and took off at three times my speed.

Fortunately, the gadget didn't actually "eat" more than part of the ship and some of the pier and a bit of the small bay those were in. There was an enormous blast of steam, which splashed salt water all the way to where Sally and I were running. Hot salt water. We were actually knocked down by it, and also slightly scalded. Once we were able to get back to our feet, we saw that the helicopters had veered off and were circling.

"Let's see if we can find a working phone, back at the mansion," I said, "and tell them it's safe to land, now."

Sally and I staggered back to the huge, fancy home. I decided to enter through the same sliding door as before. It was already open and we knew there was a phone there. Once we turned the corner, though, we were stunned by the damage we saw. Most - but not all - of the windows facing the pier were broken, some having just a few shards left. Most of the trees between there and the harbor had been stripped of most of their greenery. I wondered if the security center - which was much closer than the mansion to the gadget when it blew - was still operational. If not, would any surviving robots continue to function without it?

"See any robots, or movement?" I asked, worried.

"Noting so far. Well, except that damaged one."

We squeezed past that first robot at the sliding door and I grabbed the phone from the floor. I hookflashed a few times, but couldn't get a dial tone. I confirmed it was, indeed, still plugged in, and sighed.

"We could try to find another phone - maybe someone's forgotten cell."

"I think I hear helicopters again," said Sally, cocking her head from where she stood near the broken picture window. "Getting closer, now."

"We better stash the rifles somewhere, then."

Back outside we could see and hear the aircraft circling lower and closer. We could also hear something else. A man was yelling through a broken second floor window.

"Somebody help me!" came a shouted command.

Note that this was not a cry for help, but an order for someone to help the caller.

"That's Harvek!" I said, recognizing the voice.

I walked backwards out onto the lawn until I could see him.

"Are you hurt?"

"No! I'm locked in! Come let me out!"

"Don't worry, sir! Help is on the way!"

"It better be! I don't pay you people to be left trapped here!"

"What are you doing?" said Sally, once I was back at the wall.

"Hopefully, by the time he realizes his people have lost and we aren't going to help him, the cops will be here to arrest him," I said, smirking.

* * *

We were sitting on some lawn chairs on the concrete pad outside that entertainment room when an FBI first response SWAT team arrived. They were weapons hot and no-nonsense. I figured Sally and I would be ordered to the ground, but the team leader seemed to recognize us.

"You folks Suzy and Harvey?" he asked, though along with the others he was pointing his gun at us.

"Sally and Henley," I said.

He laughed, and they relaxed a bit. Since he hadn't told Sally and me to get up - or on the ground - we remained sitting. We were both tired enough to appreciate the opportunity to rest.

"What can you tell us?"

"Solomon Harvek is locked in that room up there," I said, pointing. "Better send someone after him before he tries to escape. He might hurt himself."

"On it." He gestured and four of his team headed inside. "What else?"

"They had what the researchers here are calling a pinhole gun," I said. "We sent them to the northeast portion of the island, by the way. Don't know how the device works, but we managed to disable it. When the people on the ship tried to use it anyway..."

I gestured in the direction of the bay.

"Is that what they used on the Coast Guard boat and helicopter? Shit. Glad you two managed to make it ashore. Were there any other survivors?"

We both understood he meant FBI and Coast Guard survivors.

"We didn't see any," said Sally, sadly. "Henley and I were out on the deck, talking, and the explosion shoved us overboard."

True enough, if not completely.

"You two look like you've been through Hell. Judy, take them to where the medics were setting up triage."

"Oh, did you see any of the security robots?" I said, as Judy came to escort Sally and me. "They're devices like the damaged one in the doorway, there. Pretty dangerous."

"Yes, sir, but they appeared to all be inoperative."

* * *

"God, what a mess," said Sally, after we had both been examined, treated and left to lie on cots. They had even allowed us to use portable showers set up for the agents, so we were finally able to wash off the sea water and the contaminants in it.

"Oh, yes," I said, smiling a bit. "Cleanup will take at least months, and probably years. Multiple government agencies, from very local to federal, will be wanting to take part. Even the UN will likely make noises about wanting to be 'kept informed.' I suspect that some of these groups will be hoping to conceal complicity by their own people. Others will probably want to find out what weapons were developed here."

Unfortunately, people much worse hurt than us were soon brought in, mostly from the security center and ship. We were politely asked to vacate those cots to make room for them. Sally and I wandered back to the mansion in our on-loan surgical scrubs.

"Feel like raiding some closets?" I said, with a mischievous smile.

"Lets!"

The LEOs had already cleared the mansion and moved on, so we had the whole place to ourselves. We found - very expensive - clothes which fit, and I cobbled together a hot meal in the kitchen. The power was back on by now, and even the gas ranges were working.

We explored the building rather thoroughly until dark, then went to bed early. We found a fancy bedroom at the rear of the building with intact glass. The large shower worked - though we used it more for entertainment than hygiene - and the bed was very comfortable. Though there was a note of discord to our idyl.

"If you ever change into a woman when showering with me again..." said Sally, though she gave a tired laugh as she said it. I was currently quite male and we would both definitely need to shower again in the morning.

"I was just going to show you an interesting trick with the shower massage. It's not my fault you kept rubbing for a few seconds before realizing you had more in your hands than you were expecting."

She sleepily muttered where she would put the shower massage if I ever repeated that trick.

"Promises, promises..."

* * *

Sally and I had breakfast in that fancy dining room the next morning; we even invited some of the agents to join us. We then went through a more thorough debriefing. The transfer of information wasn't all one-way, either. For instance, I learned that the robot interrupted my call because Security thought I was Harvek! He was supposed to be locked in his room, with the phone removed, and the folks in the island security office had a bit of a panic when that one robot reported he was downstairs, making a phone call. Again, they hadn't bothered to revoke Harvek's security clearance, due to the rush.

Harvek's own co-conspirators - about half the people on that list had also been on the "yacht" - were responsible for locking him away. He claimed that was due to a double of him running around, and that this was just a precaution until they verified who he was. Which explanation so twisted the actual sequence of events that no-one except Harvek believed it. Eventually, investigators determined that others of that group of wealthy conspirators had ordered him to be "secured" because he was - indeed - the one who ordered the pinhole gun used on the Coast Guard boat and helicopter. They hadn't wanted to bring that sort of attention to their endeavor that soon.

Because it was a converted military craft, much of the ship had actually survived, along with some of the people on it. Because of that, we also learned more about the weapon. The gadget was something a company owned by one of the wealthy people in the conspiracy was working on for the Shilmek war, but it wasn't ready in time. After the war the program was cancelled. Most likely because of the realization it wouldn't work through the types of force fields most starfaring cultures used.

"It has a modern incarnation of the Vilcain Visualizer for targeting things, while it's charging a supercapacitor bank," said the FBI tech who talked with us. "Then it briefly opens a teleportal and dumps all that energy on the other side. Something they learned how to do from the analysis of the device Sung used to bomb that super school."

Shortly before lunch Sally and I were on our way back to the mainland on another Coast Guard boat. As we approached the mainland dock we were surprised to see both Shaw and Ernest waiting for us. We were greeted warmly by them with handshakes all around. Then they took us to lunch - Shaw's treat - while we got them caught up. It was a fancy restaurant, but fortunately we were all wearing very nice clothes. Even Ernest, for a change. I may have been wrong - my empathy had been overworked during the past thirty or so hours, along with the rest of me - but there seemed to be something interesting developing between those two.

"All that in one day," said Shaw, amazed, when Sally and I had finished.

"Try living through all that in one day," said Sally, tiredly.

After the meal we got back into Shaw's limo... which headed for our hotel. That surprised me.

"Uhm, how did you connect us with the people who rented that suite?" I asked, as we approached the hotel's front entrance.

"We joined forces," said Ernest, wearing his poker face. "Due to trying to find you two. It took a while, but the common factor was Sally."

"I called Brade," said Shaw. "Since you were missing, she eventually confirmed our suspicions."

Usually I get a bit of a smug thrill when I reveal that the person someone has been dealing with isn't my true self. This time I felt a bit embarrassed. Especially since they were still dealing with Henley R. Regatta, rather than Lawrence Hawthorne.

"I won't apologize for the deception," I said, shrugging with a casualness I didn't really feel. "Brade made very clear the need for circumspection. I do feel bad about it, though."

"Oh, I definitely understand," said Shaw, mostly covering his irritation at us not being open with him. "I expected supers when she told me help was coming. In retrospect, a shapeshifter was an obvious choice."

"What am I?" said Sally, pouting. "Chopped liver?"

Shaw and Ernest both laughed at that, and I had to smile.

"No, definitely not." Shaw sobered, looking back and forth between us. "My thanks to both of you."

Ernest echoed that, and there were more handshakes.

"Well, I better change into the person who is actually supposed to be in our room," I said. A bit tentatively, I shifted into Lorraine.

"That is freaky," said Ernest, staring.

"Do you want to come up?" I said.

"I... don't think that is necessary," said Shaw. Ernest also seemed to have had enough of me for the time being. "My office will contact you - through the Bureau of Special Resources - when we need to talk to you again. For now, you can go back home."

"Same here," said Ernest. He grinned like a kid contemplating his pile of Christmas presents. "I already have enough for multiple articles. All of them potentially prize winning."

"Well, goodbye, then," I said, back in character, as the car stopped. "As well as good luck. To both of you."

We exited the limo and went inside.

* * *

We stayed just one more day in Seattle. Most of that time being necessary to get the airline tickets. Sally and I toyed with the idea of taking a train, or even staying longer, but in the end decided we were no longer in the mood to play tourist.

Of course, we were far from done with the affair. Though for a while, things were as normal as they could be for people like us. Over the next month, Brade made sure we were kept advised of news connected to the case. For instance, Doro made a complete recovery and was back on active duty less than a week after we left Seattle, thanks to Brade busting her budget to spring for a regeneration tank. The men who actually committed the murders were successfully identified, mainly through several law enforcement agencies going back over the evidence - much of which had been acquired by Sally and me - once Doro was cleared. Three of the men had already been arrested, though the ringleader and a couple of others - including the doctor they worked with - continued to evade the LEOs. There were also federal and international indictments for all the survivors from among the misbehaving rich people who had funded the research on that island. That investigation was going to require someone with the mind of a Medici to unravel. Especially since some of the people involved had diplomatic immunity! Those behind the plot - including the survivors on the ship - gave press conferences in which they all denied doing anything wrong. Then they claimed they were just ensuring their own safety and comfort from the next disaster, but had been attacked by the United States government! Note that most of them made their statements as individuals, and often contradicted what others involved in the conspiracy said. Sometimes even accusing each other in the process.

Much of the information Brade supplied us had been in the news, but much hadn't. I felt glad that Brade had managed to keep the role - or roles - played by Sally and myself confidential. Though we both now had aliases we would have to be very careful about using again.

"Well, well, well," I said, as I read the business news, some Benny Goodman music playing at low volume for background. "Looks like poetic justice to me!"

"What?" said Sally, from where she was trying to cook supper in the kitchen. She had returned from a bodyguard job just a few hours before, and we were both looking forward to some downtime together.

"Without its leaders, Corporate Salvage is going get the same treatment as it gave so many other companies," I said, a bit more loudly. "They're being bought out by a group of executives who specialize in acquiring companies in trouble and dissolving them."

"What goes around," said Sally, poking her head in, "comes around."

"Speaking of which, supper's on me."

"What?"

"Unless something's supposed to be burning?"

She screamed a single word of profanity and ran back into the kitchen.



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