Author Topic: Chapter 5  (Read 10520 times)

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Offline Daen

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Chapter 5
« on: August 25, 2022, 04:41:04 AM »
Chapter 5

The crowd let out an enormous cheer, echoing through the indoor stadium, and Gil winced. He’d been to large-scale sports games before, but those had been soccer matches in Portugal. And they’d been outside. The noise was nearly deafening.

It was just him and Blip here today. The raid on those Black Claw hounds had been two days ago now, and Gil was still thinking about it. The sheer violence had been bad enough, but the callousness? That somehow made it even worse. From what he’d seen while patching up those team members, they all shared Matt’s attitude. They even joked about how some of their victims had died. One of them bragged that he’d been the one to throw that man out the window.

Gil had wanted to get Tyler to rein them in, but he’d been on the phone for most of it, with Meera or some other Grimm leader in some other part of the world. He had said the fight against Black Claw was global.

It seemed to be over now, though. There was a huge celebration planned, which Tyler and Meera were preparing, that would coincide with the New Year event in DC. Black Claw was effectively gone now, and everyone but Gil seemed to be caught up in the festive atmosphere.

“Earth to Gil. Come in, Gil,” a hand snapped some fingers in front of his face, and Gil started. Blip stared at him with bemusement. “You all right? Where did you go just now?”

“Uh I’m fine. Sorry. I was just thinking about… the raid.”

“That’s understandable and all,” Blip responded sympathetically, “but we’ve got a job to do here. So focus, ok? I can’t do this without you.”

“Right.”

Just after the raid, Gil had spoken with Tyler in private. Tyler had agreed that Gil should stay out of active shooter situations from now on, but had been ecstatic that Gil had developed the sight. He’d almost made an announcement right then and there, but Gil had stopped him. So far, only Gil, Tyler, and now Blip, knew that Gil had become a full-on Grimm.

It must have been triggered by the adrenaline of the fight, Tyler had speculated. Sometimes the sight developed, if it was ever going to develop, in someone who was in a heightened emotional state. That had certainly been Gil’s situation. He’d then accused Tyler of sending Meera after him back in his house, to trigger that very thing. Tyler had admitted it, proudly. He would do anything to have another Grimm in the family, even if it meant scaring the hell out of a houseguest.

They’d both agreed that Gil could contribute in a different way now, which is why he was in the stadium. He could use his sight to help, and he didn’t even have to fight. Blip was at his laptop, set up in one of the abandoned sections of the stadium. Since the game was only a few days before New Year’s Eve, it wasn’t fully attended, but there were still at least twenty thousand people here. As the teams vied for supremacy on the football field, the crowd cheered or booed as appropriate.

During one of those cheers, Gil caught sight of a shifter. It was just for a few seconds, but as the cheer died down, he could see the man’s features change back into human. “Got one!”

“Keep your eyes on him,” Blip instructed unnecessarily. Gil was focused on him tightly. “Now, you know what to do.”

Feeling a little nervous, but much better than he had during the raid, Gil stood and walked down the empty seating until he was closer to the crowd. He edged his way towards where the man was now sitting, and hoped his eyes weren’t watering. “Sir?”

The man, wearing an eye-wrenching orange jacket, looked at him curiously. “Yeah?”

“You’ve been randomly selected for a cash prize, sir. Only one in a thousand get picked for every game, and you just won three hundred bucks!”

The shifter’s eyes narrowed, but then he smiled. “My lucky day, huh. How do I claim it?” As he spoke, two men to his right congratulated him. Apparently they’d all come to the game together.

“Here,” Gil leaned forward. He held out a white card, with a QR code printed on it. The man pulled out his phone and scanned it. “There. You can fill out a survey if you want, on the stadium and the game, but the money’s yours either way. Congratulations.”

“Thanks,” he responded happily, and then pocketed his phone. Obviously he wasn’t going to use the code until after the game, but that worked too. Gil made his way back up to where Blip was seated, resisting the urge to rub at his eyes.

“Nice job,” Blip commented, scanning through the list on his computer. “One down, several million to go.”

“Yeah, we’re really speeding through it,” Gil said sarcastically. “Could you help me with these? I think one of the lenses is going back into my eye.”

Blip stood up quickly and moved over to Gil’s position. “Hold still, if you can. I know you’re not used to contact lenses, but you’ll adapt. Just be glad you can’t go into Stage Three. I nearly got one of my contacts wedged into my eye permanently when I did that.”

That was a creepy thought. Stage Two was just an emotional change, not a physical one. But in Stage Three, when the shifter’s actual body changed, wearing something on top of your cornea could be downright dangerous.

After Blip adjusted the lens, Gil felt a little better. “I still don’t get why I have to wear these things. I’ve had 20/20 vision for as long as I can remember. And I’m not a shifter, so why are they necessary?”

“So that shifters don’t find out you’re a Grimm, remember? When we go into Stage Two or Three, from our perspective, it’s your eyes that change. They get really, really black. It’s kinda scary, actually. As long as you’re wearing those, no shifter can accidentally see you, but you should still be able to see us.”

“As long as I don’t have to wear them when I go to bed,” Gil grumbled, but there was no real force behind his words. The longer he could keep the secret, the closer he could get to having a normal life again. As if there was any real chance of that happening now. Black Claw may be gone, but after all he’d seen and done, in barely a week, normal seemed like a distant dream. Another cheer rang out, and he snapped his vision back to the crowd. There! Another shifter had changed. This one wasn’t a wolf or hound, or snake like in the raid. This was… some kind of cat. It looked a little like a jaguar or leopard. “Got another one,” he said quickly, and headed out to ID this new one.

So it went for the remainder of the game. All told, Gil was able to pick out over twenty of them. Some of them claimed the money immediately, while others delayed. Either way, Blip was able to get their names and phone numbers remotely, and add them to the list. Tyler and his group had to have identified thousands of shifters by now, both part of and separate from Black Claw. They could also trace shifters through their lineage. They couldn’t be sure in all cases, but a human parent and a shifter parent would have children who were fifty-fifty chance of being either. Two hound parents would definitely create a hound offspring.

“Can’t we do this from video recordings? I can see Hitler change in that speech now, so can’t I check security cameras?”

Blip shook his head. “Not unless the camera’s pointed at them when they’re feeling emotional. The chances of that are pretty slim. Unless you want to install twenty thousand cameras in this place and monitor every one of the spectators all the time,” he added wryly.

“I’ll pass on that, thanks.”

Blip gave him an evaluating look. “Ever hear of the Dinkheller video?”

Gil shook his head.

“It’s dash-cam footage from a cop who was killed decades ago. A deputy named Kyle Dinkheller pulled over this old veteran, Howard-something. The camera on the car showed the whole incident, with Dinkheller getting shot and killed at the end, and the vet driving off.”

“That’s horrible.”

Blip nodded. “The video is used in police training to this day. But most people don’t know the whole truth. The vet who shot the cop? He was a shifter!”

Gil raised his eyebrow at that. He supposed it was only natural that shifters and cops would get into all sorts of altercations without the cops knowing it. That strike team he’d been with had probably all seen the video themselves. “Does Tyler’s strike team know this?”

“Sure they do. Most of them are ex-cops themselves. Mr. Harrington recruited them, told them about shifters, and now uses them to go after Black Claw people. Most of them are all-too-happy to help. They were happy to help even before they knew what shifters are.”

That made sense as well, Gil reflected sourly. They hadn’t shown any restraint in that apartment building, certainly.

“Anyway, there are other events we use, aside from major sports things like this. Eurovision is a big one, because everyone there is all patriotic. I went with Meera to one of those last year, and we got several hundred IDs. We were exhausted at the end of it, but it was totally worth it. Even counting the round-trip flights across the ocean. The Arba'een pilgrimage is another gold mine, but we’re both a little too white to fit in there. I’ve heard of Grimms passing through the crowd there as everyone grieves.”

Gil had never heard of that, but his experience was mostly American and Portuguese. It made sense that Grimms, and by extension shifters, would be from all walks of life and parts of the world, including the Middle East.

“We can also look at airport footage,” Blip went on, “but there’s a ton of that. Way more than you or Meera could watch, given that planes are constantly landing and dropping people off. That’s why we need as many Grimms as we can get. When people get off the plane, usually they’re all emotional, so they go into Stage Two all the time. Since most of the passengers have assigned seating, figuring out who they are is a cinch. We’ve developed all sorts of ways over the years. Meera finds it boring, but her gifts lie elsewhere.”

“If you say so.”

Blip must have caught something in his voice, because he gave Gil a suspicious look. “What do you mean by that?”

The game was almost done now, and it wasn’t even close, so they’d both taken a break from watching the spectators. Gil felt it would be an ok time to discuss this. “You like her, don’t you? Meera, I mean.”

“What? No. You’re all wrong there.”

“Am I?” Gil grinned a little. “I’ve heard your voice tone change when you talk about her. I’m no matchmaker, but I’m not blind or deaf either. You’ve definitely got a thing for her.”

Blip hesitated. “Ok, maybe I do. Maybe it’s even more than just a thing.”

“Have you let her know?”

“God, no!” Blip sounded scandalized. “I’m just a friend to her. Besides, it could never happen. Even if she wasn’t a Grimm, because a Grimm could never love a shifter, there are other reasons. I’ll carry this torch in secret, ok?”

Gil felt his smile fade. “Ok, putting a pin in that Grimm/shifter thing, because I don’t agree with that either, what other reason could there be?” Blip looked at him with fear, but Gil spread his hands. “Look, as much as I want to play matchmaker and tell her how you feel, I won’t. You can trust me with this. Besides, she kinda scares me. Even if she’s technically my aunt.”

“Yeah, she scares me too sometimes. That’s part of the attraction,” Blip responded. Eventually, he sighed and sat down next to Gil. “About two years ago, I got sick. Like, really, really sick. High fever, trouble breathing, skin rashes and lesions. Then I lost time. I blacked out, and the next thing I knew it was the following day, and I was waking up in a hospital bed with an IV in my arm.”

“Wow.”

“Yeah, it wasn’t fun. The trouble is, according to my doctor- who works for Tyler, so he knows about shifters- this is a congenital defect. I take medication for it, but it’s not a sure thing. If I have a relapse, I could be right back where I was.”

“So? You’re not the only person to live with a chronic condition, you know. My dad’s a diabetic. Has been since I was a kid.”

Blip hesitated. “It’s a little more complicated than that. My condition behaves a little like rabies, it turns out. When I blacked out, I was with Meera. She was checking up on me in my room at the time. Not like that,” he added harshly, when Gil grinned again. “She was just concerned is all. Anyway, apparently I attacked her. Like some kind of wild animal. I went full Stage Three and everything, and tried to tear out her throat with my teeth!”

“Sheesh. Was she hurt? Were you?” Gil added, thinking about Meera’s martial skills.

“No, we were both fine, but if that had happened in public, it could have raised a few… thousand eyebrows. Can you imagine the exposure? A shifter, going Stage Three out in the open where anyone could see, and attacking people? Believe me, I considered telling Meera how I felt. Trying to become someone she’d want in turn. But even if it could work, and it can’t, I’m not willing to risk her like that. If I have a relapse in public, then anyone close to me would be put under a microscope as well. Meera wouldn’t be able to function as a Grimm with that much attention on her, and she loves her job more than anything. I couldn’t do that to her.”

His voice held such conviction that Gil didn’t know what to say at first. The poor guy was being held back by his own biology. Gil had a friend in a similar situation back in Lisbon, though that was gender dysphoria. The depression his friend had gone through was… staggering, and Gil could only do so much to help. Once again, he hoped that Blip would be able to find other shifters like him, if only for his own peace of mind.

Blip’s phone rang, thankfully breaking up the somber moment, and he answered. “Yessir?” He listened for a moment, and then looked over at Gil. “Yes, he’s here. Understood, sir.” He hung up.

“What’s going on?”

“Mr. Harrington wants us both back in the office building right now.” He started packing up his things. “Apparently someone broke into the office, and they’re holding the intruder there now.”

-.-

The intruder was on one of the basement levels of the office building, trussed up like a turkey. When Gil and Blip were brought in to see her, Gil wondered if all those ropes were necessary, but then he realized. If the intruder was a shifter, and she very likely was, she might be able to shift out of normal bindings. He’d read about some that could even burn through handcuffs and duct tape with acid or even lava!

Tyler and Meera were both there, and pulled Gil and Blip back away from the woman. She was conscious, whoever she was, and glaring at them. There was a bruise forming on her left cheekbone, probably from when she’d been captured. In an undertone, Meera spoke first. “She was on the computer core level, trying to break through the encryptions. I don’t know if she succeeded or not. I don’t even know how she got into the building! The security cameras have no record of her.”

“Who is she?” Tyler asked. Apparently he’d arrived just moments before Gil and Blip had, and was still playing catch-up as well.

“No idea,” Meera responded. “Her fingerprints don’t match any database we have access to, and the same goes for her bloodwork and retinal scan. It’s like she’s a ghost.” Gil blinked in surprise at that. Fingerprints were easy enough to check, but bloodwork? That took hours in normal circumstances. It seemed that Tyler had some pretty powerful equipment here. He’d never even heard of retinal scans being used to ID people in large numbers, either.

“Is she a shifter?”

Meera nodded. “A goblin, from what I saw. She went into Stage Three just as I found her, and nearly cut me in half,” she said a bit shakily. “Still, I got close enough to conk her on the head and she shifted back as soon as she passed out. That’s why she’s tied so tightly. Goblins can extend their fingers into needle-like weapons, dripping with acid. If she tries that now, she’ll just drip acid out on the floor. How do you think she even knew about this place, anyway? Do you think others are on the way?”

Tyler shook his head. “Goblins are solitary creatures. They spend most of their time online. It’s unlikely she informed anyone else, but just in case, I asked Jack to bring a few of the team over here. They’re setting up shop on the ground floor now. With our defenses and their firepower, we could hold off a bunch of shifters if they come after us. As for how she knew, I have a suspicion,” he looked over at Gil.

Feeling a little on-the-spot, Gil shrugged. “What does this have to do with me?”

“He’s got a point,” Meera put in. “We’ve been unnoticed here for years, and now, days after you show up, a goblin breaks in and tries to hack our computers? That’s a bit of a coincidence.”

“Easy, Meera,” Tyler put in. “No one’s accusing you of anything, Gil. But I do need to examine your things again, all right?”

Gil didn’t quite know what to say, but he also didn’t mind. “Go ahead. I’ve got nothing to hide.”

It took about half an hour for Jill to bring his things over from Tyler’s house. She dropped them off at the front door, apparently unaware of the hidden strike team members, and then returned to work. Just a few minutes later, Tyler opened up the DNA test kit. “There.” He lifted a small device out of it. “This is a location tracker. Remotely activated, from the looks of it. It’s not on right now.” He dropped it on the ground, and then crushed it with the heel of his boot. “Before you blame anyone, Meera, we both know that Gil doesn’t have the technical skills to build something like this. It’s not quite military-grade, but it’s definitely a cut above what’s publicly available.”

He lifted the DNA test kit. “Where did you get this?”

Feeling his stomach twist slightly, Gil answered. “It was a gift from a friend. I’ve known her for years, and she tried to help me find my family, a long time ago. She gave me the kit, and I’ve held onto it for, uh, sentimental reasons I guess. I used it on you, remember?”

Tyler nodded. “We would have detected it if the tracker had been on when you first arrived. Your friend must have waited until after you’d been searched to send out the signal. When you were out on the street, remember? Did you call her?”

Gil could remember it, yes. He’d just been brought to DC by these strangers, who claimed to be doing it for his own protection. He’d fled, and called his friend to update her. Then, overcome by curiosity, he’d returned to the office. Mutely, Gil nodded.

As one, all four of them looked back at the prisoner. Almost unwillingly, Gil said one word. “Sanders?”

From her chair, her expression still dark, the prisoner nodded.
« Last Edit: August 25, 2022, 04:56:09 AM by Daen »