Author Topic: Chapter 9  (Read 5729 times)

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Offline Daen

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Chapter 9
« on: June 10, 2022, 01:02:05 AM »
Chapter 9

When they got to the briefing room near the geographical center of the building, Petra was surprised to see that it was pretty full. Somehow she'd thought this would be just her, Nick, Chuck, and perhaps a few others.

Some of them were armed, too. Petra could see Chuck's look of surprise at that, as one of the guards approached them. "Your key, sir?" He held out a hand to Chuck.

Chuck seemed even more taken aback. "Why?"

"Darius' orders. We're collecting all the keys. I don't know why."

Chuck handed it over reluctantly. The two of them spotted Nick on the other side of the room, and wove their way through the crowd towards him. "What's going on?" Petra asked him as soon as they were close enough.

Nick looked just as perturbed. "I don't know. Darius has been downstairs in Analysis with data collection teams all morning. Then he called for this meeting, which apparently includes the entire staff of Kiri Atoll. This place is going to get pretty full."

His prediction was already proving accurate. Petra noticed Doug among the growing crowd. He was the heavyset man who had been so anxious when Nick was first getting her acclimated to this place. He seemed to have noticed her too, because he turned red and looked down at the ground.

Nick and Chuck were throwing theories around, but it was pretty clear they were just speculating. On a whim, Petra went over to Doug. If possible, he seemed even more shy as she approached, with his eyes locked onto his feet. "You're Doug, right? I'm Petra. We met a few days ago, upstairs."

"Yes ma'am, I know," he mumbled. "Everyone knows you."

It seemed he was right. Everyone around her was giving her sidelong glances and whispering to each other. It wasn't rudeness exactly, but it wasn't far off. "Are you ok, Doug? You seem uncomfortable." She kept her voice low.

"I-" he paused, still looking down. "I just want to apologize, ma'am. When we first met, I didn't know who you were. I just assumed you were another trainee. I'm sorry for not showing you the proper respect."

What did that mean? Petra hadn't noticed any strict pecking order among the Veil operatives working here. Maybe Doug came from somewhere that prized open respect, such as Japan. His name didn't fit, but it was possible he'd just been raised there. "Look at me," she ordered, and waited until he hesitantly met her gaze. It was a good thing she'd graduated to contact lenses, because those ridiculous glasses would have undercut her point slightly. "You had no way of knowing, and I wasn't offended. Don't put any more thought into it, all right?"

He nodded right away, his eyes still darting downwards, but Petra held his gaze. Eventually, he offered a tentative smile. "Yes, ma'am."

This was good. If she was supposed to be in charge of these people someday, Petra would have to engender trust in them. They had to see her as a person, not as just this creature Morty had turned her into. Her two other Veil friends were looking at her: Nick with curiosity and Chuck with amusement. Petra merely nodded at them and stayed where she was.

There was a projector on the table in the middle of this briefing room, and it was displaying a map on the far wall. It showed Munich, and a good portion of southern Germany. There were four red dots displayed, one of them in the city itself. "What's going on there?" She asked Doug, trying to get him more comfortable with her.

He still looked a bit tentative, but launched into an explanation anyway. "For a few months now, we've been having trouble in and around Munich. That bottom dot on the map was a data farm operated by the Veil. It was firebombed about six weeks ago. No one was killed, but we lost years of data we'd been collecting on fades operating in the area." He pointed to the dot which was farthest to the west. "That was a safe house for Veil agents. Ten days ago, it was compromised. We got word through some of our fade sources that Greed had been told where it was. He sent some of his goons in there, but we'd already gotten everyone out. It was a close thing, though." Doug sighed. "I don't know what the other two dots are. Other incidents, I guess, that haven't been shared with the rank-and-file."

Petra looked at the map with new concerns. She had assumed the Veil was the only human organization that knew about the fades, but in retrospect that was a foolish notion. If fades like Greed were influencing criminal organizations worldwide, it stood to reason that there were other humans in the know. "Who's doing all this? Some kind of rival to the Veil?"

"That's the current theory," Doug confirmed. "I think it started in Lisbon, four months ago. You heard about the explosion there?" Petra nodded. "We lost four of our best people there. Chuck was there too. He barely made it out alive. If you ask me, it was the same people. We don't know who they are, or who's in charge, but I've heard rumors they're also reaching out to the Fades. Contentment is still with us, but if these guys can influence fades like Contempt, or Excitement, or Greed.." He trailed off ominously.

Petra glanced at Chuck again. None of her reading material had included recent events. She'd learned more about the incident in Lisbon from Didi than she had from her friends here. That scar on the side of Chuck's head- had he gotten that in Lisbon? It looked fresh enough.

She didn't have time for further speculation, though. Darius had arrived, and was at the door talking to the guard from earlier. "Did you get them all?"

The guard nodded. "Yes, sir. All twenty-eight keys are accounted for."

"Good. Keep a close watch on them." Darius stepped up to the front of the room. "Good morning everyone. I won't keep you longer than necessary- I know how busy you all are. However, there have been developments on the situation in southern Germany."

He looked up at the map. "As you know, we have very little information on this group, and we've been trying to identify them as a first step. Yesterday, Veil agents conducted a raid on a facility we believed to be one of their staging grounds inside Munich. Just as our people moved in, a massive fog cloud appeared over the building and the surrounding blocks. The targets in the building used that cover to escape. We didn't even catch sight of them."

The assembled group gave a murmur at that. Doug gave her a concerned look as Darius went on. "The fog dissipated almost immediately. We swept the whole area, and found no devices or water sources that could have caused it. The Isar river is over six kilometers away from that site, and the local weather reports predicted clear skies for at least two days." He looked over at Chuck, expectantly.

Virtually the entire room had done the same. "What is he talking about?" Petra asked Doug in a whisper.

"Magic," Doug said just as quietly. "The same stuff Chuck and the other magicians use to make things like the keys. Sometimes it can be used to affect the weather."

"I don't understand," Chuck said, clearly agitated. "The Covens would never risk breaking the Pact like that. They'd never use their powers publicly, either. It would risk exposure to the rest of the world. Whoever did this wasn't working for them."

Petra had read about the Covens. Apparently, magic-users worldwide gathered into close-knit groups that were akin to the wiccan faith. There were several hundred groups spread across the globe, but they mostly kept to themselves. Like the Veil, these groups were concerned about the truth getting out, and them being harassed and killed for their abilities. Chuck and his possible ancestor Merlin had been part of a Coven that had eventually joined the Veil. The Pact had been a simple agreement between Merlin's descendants and Darius: as long as the Veil never tried to figure magic out for themselves, the Covens would never use their magic against the Veil. That agreement had held for centuries now.

Darius nodded in response to Chuck's assurances. "Local informants told us that the group's leader was in the building. Nearby security cameras should have seen him despite the fog, but the footage was corrupted in real-time."

That caused another stir. Petra gave Doug a confused look, and he leaned in. "Only a fade can do that in real-time. Human hackers would have to take the camera offline, or corrupt the data after the fact."

"Fortunately, one of Contentment's people was in the area at the time. She was able to reconstruct some of the images." Darius pressed a remote control, and the projector switched from the map to a photo. He kept going, and the photos showed four people running out of a building and down an alley. He paused on the fifth one, and a number of people in the room gasped.

The last shot showed one of their faces- presumably this leader Darius had mentioned. Petra didn't recognize the man, but a bunch of others apparently did. "That's Colin Larson!" Doug said, not really to her anymore, as he'd said it loud enough for the room to hear. He wasn't the only one to make that exclamation, either. Low voices whispered across the room.

"He's a magician," Doug lowered his voice and clarified for Petra's sake. "Chuck trained him. He was Chuck's right-hand-man until.. four months ago."

"As far as we knew, Larson was killed in Lisbon four months ago, along with Hewell, Ortiz and Chandler," Darius continued evenly. "We never found any remains. If they did survive and started this rival organization in Germany, Colin would know everything about our security, and our procedures. It would explain how this group has been able to outmaneuver us so easily thus far."

"Sir," Chuck spoke up, and the room fell silent immediately. "The man I knew would never break the Pact, or betray the Veil in any way! I swear to you that Colin Larson is dead. That person," he jabbed a finger in the direction of the photo, "is an imposter!"

Darius stared at him evenly for a few seconds, before speaking. "I've already reached out to the Covens, but haven't heard back from them yet. From what you've told me, there is no magic that allows people to take on the appearance of others, but that man may have been wearing a detailed disguise. Have you heard of any magic that allows you to call up fog when you need it?"

"Well, yes."

"As far as you know, does Mr. Larson know how to alter the weather?"

"He did." Chuck's tone was starting to get angry. "But he's dead."

"Did you teach him how to make transport keys, too?" Darius glanced over at the guard carrying all the keys.

The crowd had gone, if anything, even quieter. Chuck looked pale. "I didn't teach him that.. but he may have figured it out on his own, like I did."

Noises of dismay erupted from multiple people. "Then they could be anywhere!" One man objected, looking at the door. "They could walk in and out of here without a trace!"

Darius raised a hand to quiet them, but the noise continued. "We trusted you magicians!" A woman from the far side of the room said. "My partner nearly died when that data farm was bombed!"

"That's enough!" Darius called out loudly, and the voices subsided. "We have enough external problems already- I will not have us turning on each other!" He took a deep breath. "Chuck Saunders has been a Veil agent for eight years. He says he has no knowledge of this, and I believe him. Magicians have worked as a part of the Veil for centuries, and I trust them. However, it seems clear that the Pact has been broken by at least one of the Covens. Given the evidence, I have no choice but to confine all Veil magicians to this base until we can get to the bottom of this."

During this exchange, a group of people had clustered behind Chuck- the other magicians, Petra assumed. There were only eight of them. They didn't look happy at Darius' pronouncement, but Chuck reached out to them encouragingly. "We understand," he said loudly, to the whole room. "And we will cooperate. Hopefully when we prove that this guy isn't who he looks like, everyone here will realize we're all on the same side."

At Darius' urging the guards dispersed the crowd, sending them on their way back into the facility. The nine magicians stayed in the room, under guard, and Darius took the bag of keys. It was clear now that he'd taken them to keep anyone from running during this meeting. The head of security, Andrea Kipping from her badge, whispered something to Darius, and he nodded. "Proceed as we discussed, Andy. I want things underway when I get back."

"Keep the magicians here for the time being," he ordered the guards. "I'm taking Nick and Petra to Vancouver to meet with Contentment. If we're lucky, she'll have information we can use to clear all this up," he added with a sympathetic look to Chuck.

Chuck's features were angry and set, but he nodded stiffly.

-.-

The Veil's Vancouver 'office' wasn't what Petra had expected. It was a coffee shop. At this time in the morning it was packed, with at least forty people in three different lines. Darius led the way past them, into one of the back rooms. He pulled out a small mirror as they moved. It was the Veil's alternative to cellphones, because they worked on the island despite the repeated EM pulses.

This was yet another device that Chuck and the other magicians had created. Petra still couldn't believe that he was, effectively, under house arrest! She didn't know him that well, but had enjoyed his company, and liked to think she was a good judge of character. While they waited for Contentment, Darius moved to one side of the back room, chatting with other agents over the mirror. Like the keys, it allowed him to contact people based on his thoughts.

"Was locking them up like that really necessary?" Petra insisted quietly to Nick. "Taking the keys was one thing, but we wouldn't even have those keys without Chuck and his friends!"

"Darius had no choice," Nick responded. His voice was calm, but his expression was troubled like hers. "Contentment knows what was on that picture, and that Colin worked for the Veil. She'd feel compelled to share that information with the other factions. Darius believes that Chuck is innocent, but he still has to show the fades that we take this seriously. We can't have even the appearance of favoritism."

"But why is Chuck being blamed for this at all? I know he trained this Colin guy, but he's been on Kiri Atoll with you, or training with me, for the past few months. He hasn't been in Germany or anywhere near it!"

"It's more than that," Nick glanced at Darius for a moment. "Chuck wasn't far from the warehouse in Lisbon when it exploded. He was knocked unconscious- that's where he got that scar on his face, by the way. He says he doesn't remember anything that happened just before the explosion, and then he woke up a few minutes later. But then, he also said Colin died there."

"You don't believe him?" Petra didn't like where this was going. Chuck and Nick had both trained her, and had been kind and reliable while doing so. They had different methods, but she considered both of them to be friends.

Nick was very still for a moment. "Chuck and Colin were very close. He took Colin's 'death' very hard. If those four men did survive, and went rogue, Chuck would have a reason to keep it secret."

"A reason that was more important than the Veil itself? A reason so important he just let himself get arrested with no direct evidence against him?"

He nodded. "It's possible. Colin was Chuck's prize pupil- his most gifted trainee. They worked together closely for more than two years. It might have been more than that; I'm not sure."

Petra took a moment to parse that last sentence. "They were together?"

"I don't know," Nick repeated. "Chuck never talks to me about that sort of stuff. If so, they didn't have anything to hide, not from us. Despite how old our leader is, the Veil doesn't hold onto old prejudices. But Colin is from England, and has a long military background. Both of those organizations have pretty old-fashioned views." He sighed. "I want to believe Chuck, but I don't have that luxury. I'm Darius' second-in-command, and soon I'll be yours. Like him, I can't afford to show any favoritism. We just have to follow the evidence, wherever it leads."

A week ago, Petra might have found all of this overwhelming. She'd just been a photographer, with a small life and very little influence over the world. This kind of dilemma and suspicion should have scared her, but Petra was realizing that it didn't. Maybe she'd been exposed to so many terrifying things by now that normal conflict wasn't that big a deal. She stayed with Nick, talking through Colin's actions and motivations until Contentment finally showed up.

Darius and Petra both turned towards the light switch when the yellowish cloud started pouring out of it. Nick grabbed for his sunglasses so he could see as well. "Sorry I'm late," Contentment said as soon as she was out of the wall. "Contempt had a few choice things to say and wanted to make sure I heard them all."

"Thank you for meeting with us so quickly," Darius moved towards the fade. "I assume you've told the other fade leaders about Colin Larson?"

She nodded. "They took the news well, but there were some.. concerns." She hesitated for a moment, and Petra could tell that it was a massive understatement. "However this was not the first time my siblings have heard of this man. He has met with several of them in secret over the past few weeks."

Darius and Nick shared a confused glance. "This is the first I'm hearing of it."

"It was a surprise to me as well," Contentment admitted. "Apparently Colin has been claiming that the Veil is unreliable, and fracturing from within. He offered his own services in your place, saying that he will happily use magic to our benefit, which is something the Veil would never do."

"I can assure you, he's lying about the Veil," Darius said firmly. "We remain as strong and steadfast as ever in our determination to keep the peace between your people and humanity."

"This man is one of yours, though," Contentment pointed out. "Or he was anyway. That alone lends some credence to his claims."

Nick spoke up from the side. "We're not convinced he is the real Colin Larson. He could be an imposter."

"If so, I suggest you find out the truth quickly. Many of my siblings don't have the same patience that I do," Contentment warned him, and then bowed to Darius. "Until we meet again." She went amorphous again, and seeped back into the light switch.

She was probably right, Petra reflected bitterly. She had sounded rattled, and if someone named Contentment could be put on edge, there was no telling how upset the others might be.

Nick reached out to the bag on the table, and retrieved one of the transport keys. "I'll get out to Munich right away and help the team canvas the area. The fades might be able to scramble security cameras, but they couldn't do the same to people. If there are any witnesses, I'll find them."

"No you won't," Darius cut in. His voice was stone-cold. "I can't have you anywhere near this investigation, Nick. You and Chuck have been friends for a long time, and people know it. I'll handle it personally. That should reassure some of the fades at least."

"You don't think I can stay objective with what I find?" Like Chuck before, there were traces of anger in Nick's voice.

"I don't want to put you in that position. For now, your responsibilities are training Petra, maintaining the Atoll, and keeping in contact with the fades if I'm unavailable. Understood?"

Nick's expression went blank, and he nodded curtly. "Understood."

Darius gave him a faint smile, as if realizing he never should have doubted Nick's dedication. He nodded at both of them, and then used a key on the backroom door, disappearing from sight.

Petra let the silence linger for a bit. "Could you send me home for now?" She asked softly. "My training can wait until tonight or tomorrow, and I have to get to work soon anyway. Besides, you have a few things to take care of yourself."

He nodded, obviously a little distracted, and opened the door for her. "I'll.. keep you updated on Chuck's situation."

"Thanks."
« Last Edit: June 10, 2022, 01:51:31 AM by Daen »