Author Topic: Chapter 14  (Read 9900 times)

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Offline Daen

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Chapter 14
« on: June 10, 2022, 01:01:09 AM »
Chapter 14

By the time Nick got back to Kiri Atoll, Petra had the situation mostly in hand. He glanced at the flurry of activity surrounding her with suspicion, but politely waited for her to be finished.

Petra handed her car keys to a young man. "It's on the ground floor of the Olympic lot in downtown Seattle," she told him. "White Honda Civic, license plate E07 FFJ. You'll need a picture ID and proof of vaccination to cross the border. You already have my home address; just drive it there. Understood?"

The young man nodded and stepped through the door. She finally turned to face Nick, expecting him to look angry, but he was just smiling faintly. Petra took a deep breath. "So, there was a situation, but it's mostly handled. Didi and I were on a road trip to Seattle this morning. It was nothing fancy, just some sightseeing and shopping," she explained uncomfortably. He would be upset enough at what she had to tell him already. There was no point in explaining everything.

"Greed threatened the people closest to me. I thought that meant my mom and her family, but he was after Didi! On our way back, we were surrounded by fades. There were five of them, blue-tinged. I told them to back off, but they said they were after her, not me. I knew the magnet wouldn't be able to keep them all away, so I.. took her back to her house in Vancouver." Hesitantly, she held out her key to him. At least she'd been able to recover it safely.

His eyes narrowed in suspicion, before widening completely. "You used a transport key with a civilian??" He exclaimed loudly.

"It's not as bad as it sounds," she assured him quickly. "She took a hit to the head while we were running from the fades. I was able to convince her that she was just dreaming. That she'd fallen asleep on the way back home. She's there now, resting."

"What if she didn't buy it? Or decides later on, that what she experienced was real? This is a risk to Veil security, not to mention the fades in general!" Despite his words, his tone was more worried than angry.

"I know. I wish there had been another way, but you know how deadly fades can be! They had us surrounded, and the only way out was by using the key." She sighed. "All they had to do was touch her once, and I doubt Darius could pull off another miracle to save her, too."

Nick's expression was tight and strained, but he nodded eventually. "What about now? The fades probably know where she lives."

"I know. I asked Andy to put some of her security people on Didi's house like they did my mom's. So far there hasn't been any activity."

He still looked unhappy, but Petra was reasonably sure he would back her play. "So Darius finally let you in on the hunt for Colin?" She asked, more to distract him than anything else.

He nodded. "Apparently most of the fade leadership is holding off on judgement. They're just standing back and waiting for us to resolve it on our own. Darius figured I'd be more useful in the search than cooling my heels here. Chuck's still working on his 'magic solution', but there's no telling if it will work, or if it's genuine," he added untrustingly.

Petra had already explained why she still believed Chuck. Why she was sure he wasn't responsible for any of this. It wouldn't do any good for her to repeat it now. She could only hope her beliefs were proven true, and soon. For now, she was just grateful her little field trip hadn't blown up in everyone's faces yet.

-.-

At least the rest of the evening had gone well so far. After dealing with the 'Didi situation' as Nick called it, they finally had a chance to get to that art project he'd mentioned earlier.

If anyone needed a distraction it was Nick, and Petra threw herself into the work gladly. She'd done some research on the right materials to use, and looked up a few photos of the last chute while it was in use. He had a pretty good eye for artistic detail, for someone who spent most of his time as an administrator and field agent. Apparently that hadn't been his first painted chute, either. The pictures showed his earliest work depicting a flaming cannonball streaking towards the ground. "What do you want?" He asked, sounding a little uncomfortable. "I was thirteen."

Petra shrugged, suppressing a smile. "No judgements here."

His later work with Darius had been more detailed. The pictures were of two people, one on each side of the chute. Their arms were outstretched, and adorned with feathers allowing them to soar through the air. One was slightly smaller than the other- a clear analogy to Daedalus and Icarus.

It shouldn't have been surprising, not after everything she'd learned about Darius and Nick, but Petra did find it disturbing. Icarus had died in the story- flying too close to the sun and burning up. Did Nick see himself like that? Reaching for some achievement or accomplishment too dangerous to obtain?

"I know it's a sad story," Nick said, gazing at the pictures. It didn't look like he'd seen Petra's expression, so this was most likely self-reflection. "Icarus' problem was that he was trying to do more than Daedalus wanted; trying to outshine his father. To me, this is more like Icarus and Daedalus as they should have been. Father and son in coordination. Not always agreeing with each other, but always on the same side."

"I can see the appeal in that," Petra acknowledged, thinking back to some of her own disagreements with her mother.

They spent the next half hour or so trading ideas on the next subject. Nick had his heart set on another flying theme, despite how meta it was. His interest in Greek myth was strong as well: probably because Darius dated back to those times. In the end they settled on a more ambitious project.

Ancient Greeks had believed in four winged demigods named Boreas, Euros, Notus and Zephyrus. They were literally the North, East, South and West wind in order. They didn't really have a story, but no story was better than the previous one. Or at least more uplifting.

Drawing two men wearing feathers on their arms had probably taken a while. It didn't take Petra long to realize this new depiction would take days to get right. It seemed a shame as well, given that people would only see it when the chute was deployed, and then only when Nick was close enough to the ground to be seen.

The wings were the trickiest part to get right, and Petra took her time with Zeph's, while Nick was on the other side working on Boreas. Faint classical music emanated from a stereo on the other side of the room. These were Nick's chambers here in Kiri Atoll, but he lived a pretty spartan life. There were a few photographs of him and his Veil colleagues sitting on the desk on the other side of the room. As one of the higher-ups he had his own private kitchen, and Petra could see that it was both well-used and kept clean.

Finally they agreed to take a break and leaned back on the small couch. They couldn't get internet on the island due to the REMP, but Nick had found a way around that. Apparently he'd taken one of the magic mirrors and placed it in front of a tv in the Veil building in Vancouver. He pulled out the other one here, and they watched some late-night comedy and relaxed.

"Is this a date?"

His question came totally out of the blue, and Petra didn't know how to respond at first. She tried to compose her thoughts clearly for him, but couldn't even really do that for herself. She was still holding the paintbrush from earlier, which had dried out somewhat.

"I've only been this way for about a month now," she began slowly. "Even before, I wasn't exactly active in the dating scene. It's just, when this happened to me, it changed more than just my physiology. My mind and my perceptions changed as well, and I'm still getting used to that."

His glance faltered for a moment. "So you're not sure."

"I didn't say that," she tried to put a trace of admonishment in her tone. "I don't know how these changes will affect my future. I don't even know if I have a future, romantically speaking, but I want to explore this new.. perspective."

Now they were getting to the real issues. "I can't tell anyone from my old life, or anyone who isn't in the Veil. Doug isn't an option, and Chuck definitely isn't. Darius might be able to give me some advice, but nothing more. That leaves you."

He snorted. "You're really making me feel special here."

She twirled the paintbrush briefly, with irritation. "My point is, you are literally the only person in the world who can share this with me. That would be important on its own, but you're also the only person I want to share this with. So, yes. As far as I'm concerned, this is a date."

"Good," he said, and leaned in close.

He just stayed there for a moment, studying her face. Torn between curiosity and hesitation, Petra made the rest of the journey. The paintbrush slipped to the ground, forgotten.

-.-

It felt like only seconds later, but probably had been a few minutes, when a faint chime emanated from the magic mirror in front of them. Sighing, Nick reached out and tapped it twice on the corner. An image of Andy, who was upstairs currently, swam into view.

They were still on the couch, snuggled up next to each other. Petra wasn't sure how the people in the Veil might react, but Nick didn't seem embarrassed at all. To her credit, Andy didn't even bat an eye. "We just got word from Munich. Darius will be downstairs shortly, and wants you both there with him."

Nick grimaced, and started to untangle himself and get off the couch. "Right. What's the big news?"

Even Andy couldn't keep the triumph out of her otherwise-professional tone. "He caught Colin. He's bringing him in."

Half an hour later they were all down in the detention area in the sub-basement of this place. It was still within range of the REMP and inside the massive Faraday cage, so it was safe. Petra, Nick, Darius, Andy, Doug and Chuck all looked through the one-way glass at their restrained prisoner, Colin.

He didn't look so threatening this close up. Somehow Petra had built up an image in her mind of a radical terrorist type: small in stature, but determined and willing to die. Colin matched the photos she'd seen of Chuck's colleague and friend. He was average height and thin, with red hair and dark eyes. His hair was a bit longer than in the photos, and his skin slightly more tanned, but it was him. He just stared passively ahead at the glass, heedless of the restraints keeping him in his chair.

"How did you catch him?" Nick asked Darius, admiration clear in his voice.

Darius only shrugged. "It was an accident, best I can tell. I wasn't there myself, but Henderson, one of our field ops who used to work in Stuttgart, basically just ran into him on the street. He thought quickly, and had Colin in a choke-hold before he could say a word. Fortunately no one saw him, so he was able to get him out of the street.

"That seems a bit convenient," Andy said suspiciously, and Darius nodded.

"That's what I thought too, until I saw the footage from Henderson's body cam. Colin was just as surprised as Henderson, from the looks of things. He even tried to run for it. I guess we just got lucky this time."

"I want to speak to Henderson anyway," Nick said automatically, "and to get a look at that footage. There may be clues to the rest of Colin's organization on it."

Darius nodded at Andy, who left the room to arrange it. Chuck moved towards the holding room door, but Darius stopped him. "You're not going in there- either of you," he glanced at Nick, too. "I'll conduct this interrogation personally."

"You still don't trust me?"

Darius gave Chuck a hard stare. "I said earlier to everyone that I believe you, Chuck. I still do. But even you have to admit this looks bad. If I let you in there with him, people will say you had the opportunity to send secret messages to each other. The fades already think we're conspiring against them because of Colin! I can't risk giving them any more ammunition to use against us."

He smoothed his features, visibly trying to control himself. "You can both watch from in here, at least. You might be able to see something I miss. It's the best I can do."

Both Nick and Chuck looked like they wanted to argue the point, but Petra stepped up between them. "They'll take it," she assured Darius, pulling the two of them back a step.

Darius nodded and went through the door. "You said you were working on a magical solution to the Colin situation," Petra said to Chuck before he could say anything. His face turned a bit red, and she raised a hand to forestall his objection. "I know, that's not Colin. What would your magic solution look like?"

Chuck paused for a moment, his eyes darting back and forth between Petra and the imprisoned man. "There's no way to track individual people using magic, but there is a method of tracking the use of magic itself. I was trying to pinpoint where he was exactly every time he used magic to hide or to flee. I was in cooperation with the Covens worldwide, just to make sure I didn't end up tracking them instead."

"How close were you to being able to do that? Could you finish it?"

He looked confused. "I was only a few hours from having a working spell, but there's no way of knowing how effective it'll be. Besides, why bother with it now? We have the imposter in custody." He gestured at the holding cell.

"Could you finish it anyway?" Petra requested, trying to keep her voice mild. "I don't know if Darius will be able to get anything out of that guy in there, but even if he does, we won't know if it's the truth. It would help if we could tell where he's been these past few months."

Chuck hesitated, still obviously wanting to watch the interrogation. He seemed to take the man's presence here as a personal insult, given who he was mimicking. Petra still wasn't sure it was an imposter, but she wasn't about to say that to Chuck. Eventually he nodded, and went upstairs.

"Do you have some task for me as well?" Nick asked quietly, and she could see a trace of amusement in his expression.

Petra flushed a little at his tone, remembering what they'd been doing just a little while ago. She shook her head, trying to stay focused. "Ever since I first heard about this rival group, it hasn't made sense to me. If that really is Colin in there, they could have done a lot more damage to us."

Nick nodded slowly, moving away from the one-way glass apparently to avoid distractions. She moved with him. "I've had my own questions about that. Colin knows, or knew, every one of our procedures and security measures. We thought he was dead for months on end. You're right: if he really did betray us completely, he could have killed dozens of our agents in that time. He might have even toppled the Veil as a whole, or at the very least revealed our existence to the world."

He looked haunted at the very possibility. "That in itself would have been catastrophic! It would be virtually impossible to prove the existence of fades without their cooperation, but if he'd told even one nation's Intelligence community about us, they would have hit us like a tsunami. We'd all be in federal custody by now, and all of Chuck's little toys would be in a lab being turned inside out."

He was on the same page- that made things a little easier. Petra pondered the results aloud. "Instead, he damages our ability to gather information on some of the fades. He compromises a few safe houses, and disrupts some of the Veil's plans. That's it. No one killed, or even hurt. At first I thought Colin was working for one of the fades, but that doesn't make much sense either. Even aggressive fades like Greed and Rage know that the Veil is essential. Harming us is only harming them in the long run."

Petra trailed off, trying to get into the head of her opponent. Whoever it might be. "I could have destroyed them, but I didn't. The Veil is not my enemy," she said aloud, her eyes closed. "I've used my time and energy to distract and disrupt them, and to make them look bad in front of the fades. But why? I don't care about money or power as people know it, or I would have used magic to get those things."

"I spoke to some of the fade leaders, trying to convince them that the Veil was weak," Nick's voice continued in her place. "I even hinted that I could replace the Veil with my own organization. But why?"

Petra's eyes snapped open. "Morty. It has to be about him. The Veil is his connection to this world. He's the one thing that we've got, which Colin's rival organization didn't."

Nick thought about it for a moment. "Ok, say you're right. If I'm human and I know about Morty, I'm probably in awe of him. He has the power to make someone immortal, and he himself has been around for basically as long as time has existed. If I'm a fade, I'm probably terrified of him. He has the power to obliterate me with a thought! It's his power that has kept the fades at peace since the dark ages."

They both stood in silence for a bit longer. Eventually, Nick sighed. "I've got nothing. We can speculate until the sun burns out, but it won't do us any good without proof."

Petra wasn't so sure about that. "If it was a fade behind Colin's group, how would he control them? I know they won't possess anyone out of fear of Morty's WMD-like power. Would they bribe the humans, like Greed did when he tried to have me killed?"

Nick nodded. "Most likely. Usually fades influence human society using the internet. They can transmit messages invisibly and directly to any computer, anywhere in the world. They don't always use money, though. Greed has been known to use footage of compromising stuff to blackmail some of his Wall Streeters and gang members to do what he wants."

"It's just a hunch at this point, but I think that we're dealing with a fade. I doubt it's anyone we've met before, though. All the fade leaders seem intent to stay neutral when it comes to Veil matters. Those blue fades who attacked me and Didi in Seattle- I assumed they were sent by Rage or Greed, but what if it was this mystery guy instead?"

That itself was a painful thing to consider. Didi had nearly been killed, regardless of who was behind it. Petra had kept a safe distance from her friend for a few days now, relying on Andy's security to keep her safe. And because she wasn't all that sure Didi would buy the cover story about her head injury.

Nick raised his eyebrows. "What are you getting at, Petra?"

She wasn't sure, truthfully, but her instincts had come through for her before. "This fade may not think of himself as our enemy, but he's wrong. We need to know our enemy, and I'm going to need help to draw him out."
« Last Edit: June 10, 2022, 02:09:30 AM by Daen »