Patrick kept pacing and it was making Jared antsy. He knew that Patrick was the most hesitant about this mission. He hated it too, but revenge and the thought of being able to talk to his sister again were highly motivating. Even then, he didn’t honestly know when it came time to do it whether he would be able to go through with the mission. Why do I have to be the bad guy?
Patrick’s main motivation was saving his own life though, and despite his sometimes callous attitude Jared had come to realize Patrick was fairly kind hearted. The idea of actually hurting, much less murdering, someone was tormenting him.
“Can we go over the game plan again?” Patrick asked.
“Once we get to my place,” Jared said. “Or maybe even the car.” He wasn’t sure there was any point in keeping up the charade that he was Steve around Tasha, but he figured there was no point in exacerbating the situation. He wondered if Patrick half hoped listening ears might hear them talk about the plan and stop them.
They had successfully gotten through customs, despite being held up half a day with questions by security agents. They had all the right documents proving they were citizens and had an explanation for their whereabouts, so eventually they were released. Jared was impressed that Patrick had held up under the questioning given how hard he’d found it himself to stick to the details of the cover story Mirkov had fed them. Jared just hoped their miraculous survival and return to the C.S. wouldn’t be considered too newsworthy and they could avoid any run-ins with reporters.
“Speaking of the car, is that it?” May asked. A luxury sedan matching the description Tasha had told them was pulling up to the curb. A man got out of the driver’s seat and went to open the passenger side doors. He had tan skin and slanted eyes, black hair spiked up from his head. He was dressed sharply in a black suit that Jared suspected was very expensive.
“Hello Tasha, can’t say it’s a pleasure to see you again. I take it these are the guys I’m supposed to pick up?”
“Obviously, Mr. Choi,” Tasha replied. She’d made herself scarce while Jared and the others were getting processed, but then reappeared as they finally exited the airport. Jared wondered how they were supposed to explain who she was if anyone saw footage with her and asked about it later.
“Well get in then,” Mr. Choi said. “And I’d rather you not use my real name. Why can’t you call me Booster like everyone else?”
“Same reason I don’t like people calling me by my code name; it’s silly. In fact, it’s even sillier. At least Cat could be short for Catherine or something.”
“Yeah, well you don’t have a life outside of Black Rain and I do. Not really cool of you spreading around my real name to every agent I end up working with.” Tasha just laughed and climbed into the front passenger seat.
Patrick looked at Jared, who shrugged and climbed in. Patrick lifted up the one bag they’d brought with them and threw it into the back of the car. May climbed in besides Jared, followed by Patrick. Mr. Choi climbed into the driver’s seat and started driving away.
“So is it safe to talk here?” Jared asked him. He certainly hoped so given even the brief exchange before entering the car could have already given them away. Mr. Choi glanced in the mirror at him and nodded. “Then perhaps it’s time to go over the plan again.”
“All Mr. Choi needs to know about the plan is that he will be introducing you to Yves Alexander so that you can join Blue Skies. Then before the new recruit meeting in four days, he will boost your powers.”
Grey Snow, Black Rain, and Blue Skies. Who comes up with these names? Jared noticed Mr. Choi taking a piece of Nicorette gum. Stressed? I wonder if he really wants to be here anymore than we do.
“You don’t have to pretend, Tasha. It’s pretty obvious you’ve brought them here to kill someone,” Choi said. “I’m hoping you don’t intend to harm Yves though.”
“Would it really matter if we were?” Tasha asked. Choi’s jaw clenched and his teeth ground.
“I suppose it wouldn’t.”
“Right answer. But Yves is not our target,” Tasha said. Choi looked at her tensely, probably wondering if she was lying or not.
“Well that’s a relief,” he said, not really looking relieved at all. “I like those guys. Most of them anyways.”
“And hopefully there will be no need to hurt them. I guess it depends on how effectively you can boost these guys’ abilities. If they can take out the target quickly then there won’t be any problems, now will there?”
“Your plan is to assassinate someone in a meeting full of gifted individuals, many of whom are military personnel, and you don’t think there’ll be problems?” Mr. Choi asked incredulously. “Just what kind of powers do you guys have?”
“Don’t answer that,” Tasha said. Jared wondered why she didn’t want Choi to know.
“No,” Choi said. “I’m not boosting powers again without knowing what they are. You aren’t tricking me into a repeat of Sunlight City.”
Sunlight City? Was he involved then? Jared hoped Krieg’s hologram didn’t betray his anger. May reached over and grabbed his hand and he realized his was gripped into a fist. He forced himself to relax it and tried to give her a smile. He peered into the mirror. Too small, but I don’t think I look mad. Good. Tasha shifted slightly in her seat though and he wondered if she could sense it.
Probably has super senses if she can do limited transformation. She’s a serious problem. She saw I wasn’t Steve and if she figures out how much I hate them then there’s no way I’ll be able to infiltrate their organization. Dammit. There had to be a way to deal with her, he just didn’t have a clue how to do that without the rest of Black Rain figuring out what he’d done. It’d be a lot easier if she was going on the actual mission with them but, as far as he knew, she wasn’t.
“Steve here heals and Patrick is very strong,” Tasha said. “Katherine won’t be on the mission itself.” She doesn’t want Choi to know about Patrick’s fire abilities and she’s not telling him May’s real name. Why? Choi snorted.
“Good luck. Even boosted, I don’t think you’ll have much of a chance.”
“They might stand more of a chance though if you tell us everything you know about the people who’ll be in that room,” Tasha said with a smile. Is that the actual point of having him drive us? Spill his guts about all the people who’ll be trying to kill us when this goes down?
“I can’t tell them anything I’m sure you don’t already know.”
Tasha’s smile widened. “Probably not, but your perspective might have value.”
“Fine,” Choi said tersely.
It was an hour drive to Steve’s place and Jared hated every minute of it. The litany of specials that Choi listed out and described made him quite certain this was a death sentence. And he knew he was only thirty minutes away from the hospital his sister was in, but he couldn’t go without risking blowing his cover. Not yet anyways. If he received information on her condition through conventional means it would be a lot less suspicious for ‘Steve’ to visit his dead friend’s sister.
They pulled up to Steve’s house and he was reminded just how much money Steve actually had. Well I guess if they’d lived and she’d hid her language ability well enough then Katherine would have been set for life. As far as powers go, hers would have been easy to hide behind a screen of just being really good at learning languages. Steve’s prejudice was deeply unfortunate, but Jared knew his parents had died under questionable circumstances relating to someone with powers. There wasn’t any way to prove what had really happened and Steve became convinced that people with abilities were a bunch of ticking time bombs just waiting to go off, after which they’d probably get off free and still be around to do it again.
Jared’s upbringing had ingrained in him not to ever feel hatred towards general classifications of people and he was never comfortable with Steve’s bigotry. But given its origin and Steve’s nearly disturbing lack of other flaws and overabundance of charisma, physicality and wealth, many people, himself included, had overlooked the young man’s prejudice. Since both people Steve personally knew who had gifts were in the closet, as it were, the darker parts of his personality only rarely even saw the light. And looking at Steve’s mansion again, he could understand why Katherine might be willing to overlook it, even ignoring Steve’s many other positive qualities.
The building rose up five floors above them, cut from solid granite. At the corners, towers rose up a few floors further, ornamentation carved into their stone sides depicting historical achievements of the Foster family. Large arches connected the towers, creating walkways from which one could dive into the rooftop’s infinity pool. Beneath the arches hung a great deal of plant life, given the upper reaches of the house a jungle-esque appearance.
Jared shook himself from his reverie and got out of the car, then helped get May’s wheelchair out. Jared could see Patrick’s nervousness and excitement. No doubt he was happy that he’d soon get to see his family again, but he was going to be all alone with Tasha and Choi until they dropped him off. Jared was just relieved that Tasha wasn’t staying with them, though he planned to check his body thoroughly to see if she’d left any monitoring devices. Not that it should matter once he activated Krieg’s disabler.
“Well, that was painful,” he said as he pushed May up the walk. “But I guess no matter what happens, this’ll be over in a week.” He pulled out Krieg’s disabler and switched it on, feeling gratitude towards the little jerk for a change. The jammer should subtly scramble any bugs that had been placed around the house before their arrival.
“And then what?” May asked.
“If we’re still alive, hopefully I can join Black Rain and figure out the identities of all of those bastards who killed my parents and put my little sister into a coma.”
“And if you succeed?” May asked him. Jared clenched his hands on her wheelchair handles.
“I’ll kill them all.”
“You know if you can’t get all of them and they figure out who you are then your sister will be in even more danger than she already is.”
“Maybe, but if Mirkov isn’t able to cure her, or just doesn’t choose to, then she might as well be dead anyways.”
“Just because someone’s broken doesn’t mean they might as well be dead,” May said softly. Jared paused a moment. Does she believe I think their situations are equivalent? He looked down at May and was tempted to keep rushing into the house so that she could take off Katherine’s face. But he made himself wait, and put a hand on her shoulder.
“No, it doesn’t. But a coma isn’t broken, it’s shattered into pieces. If she’s conscious at all, then she’s trapped in a blind and immovable body with no way at all to communicate and nothing to do but silently scream. And if she’s brain dead and can’t be brought back, then all that’s left of her anyways is a husk. Would you care if someone killed you then?” May reached up and grabbed his hand.
“I guess I wouldn’t. But… just don’t put too much faith in Mirkov, ok? His promises aren’t worth dying for.”
“I know he’s not exactly trustworthy, but I don’t know what else to do right now.” Jared liked the feel of her hand on his, but he knew they should get inside. He removed his hand and continued to push, managing to get her through the door with only a bit of difficulty. His new muscles definitely came in use during situations like this.
He closed the door behind him and breathed out a sigh of relief, switching off the hologram. May followed suit. “Is that really wise?” she asked him. “Tasha could easily double back and spy on us as a fly or something again.”
“A little late at this point, May. She definitely saw my real face in the plane, so whatever Mirkov did to her to make her forget it the first time is just going to make her more suspicious now. The mission to infiltrate Black Rain is already blown if she tells right away. If she doesn’t, then we need a way to deal with her quickly that doesn’t raise suspicion. Still…”
Jared went back over to the hologram and pushed a button. He heard a soft click.
“Patrick, if you can hear us and Tasha is still with you, please find a way to let us know.”
There was a bit of static and then Patrick’s voice came over the radio.
“So Tasha, how long you been in the evil Bitch bizness?”
“Most of my life. I mean at first I tried the evil nice girl thing, but being a bitch is just a lot more efficient. You get shot way less often when you kill people without warning them to run away first.”
Jared switched off the feed. “Ok, we should be able to talk freely if Krieg’s disrupter works.”
“Given they seem to be trying to have us assassinate someone just to keep proof of the possibility they still exist from coming out, I would be surprised if there is a way to deal with her that wouldn’t be pretty damn suspicious,” May said.
“Maybe not... but if I think of something then we should still try.”
“There might be another option. Mirkov gave us lots of information on Black Rain and we know there are two agents here, one of which was involved with destroying Sunlight City. Booster doesn’t seem on great terms with them and Tasha doesn’t seem the most professional. Could we just try and turn one of them against Black Rain for information?” May inquired.
Jared thought a moment. Maybe…even if we succeed in assassinating General Hargrave and they invite me to join Black Rain, there’s no guarantee they’ll even tell a new agent anything of use. How many innocent people am I willing to kill for these monsters to learn all their names? He doubted it was many and thinking about the answer being any left him feeling hollow inside.
Mirkov knew many of the higher ups in the organization, but he’d been gone too long to be certain he knew everyone involved with the Sunlight City plot. He clearly thought this was the best way to find out without endangering himself and his family, but there were definite holes in the plan. A direct route might be more preferable, the only problem was Tasha wasn’t likely to fall for the same trick she had before and could thrash all of them combined.
“If it were just me… I could do it. One way or another, I could probably make Mr. Choi tell us what he knows. If he knows anything worth finding out at least…. But there’s no doubt Mirkov is keeping tabs on us through Krieg’s devices somehow. If we go off plan, he’ll just activate the pain chips until we comply.
“I think they’re reluctant to kill retired members out of fear that those members will have contingency plans in place in the event of their deaths that will show Black Rain exists. But… it’s a gamble. If Mirkov does have a plan like that and dies of old age, there’d be the risk of retaliation against his daughter. Acting directly, they’re at a stale mate. If Black Rain harms Mirkov or his family, their existence might be revealed. But if Mirkov tries to harm Black Rain without taking out most of the organization quickly, then they’ll kill him and his family. And so he’s not going to just let us do what we want. That’s why…even if there’s a chance we’ll fail or it’ll take a long time, we have to try and infiltrate them. And to do that…we have to kill General Hargrave.”
May listened to his words carefully, staring at him intently. It was a moment before she replied.
“Do what we want? I want to go home to a ranch that no longer exists to parents who aren’t alive anymore and ride horses with legs that don’t work. I can’t do what I want, ever, and Mirkov has little to do with it. But yeah, he’s making me do things I don’t want, like hurt people and kill them. But I get why you do. I do. When they robbed my house and shot my parents, I couldn’t do anything. All I could do is sit and watch them bleed to death while the robbers laughed.”
Jared was taken aback by May’s statement. Before, she’d told him that she never really knew her family. Evidently she’d been holding back. She continued on, voice carrying a clear, quiet intensity.
“And I didn’t want anything more than to kill them. A moment later I’m in control of another body and it’s shot to death and I feel a lot of pain and then nothing as I watch a copy of me fall to the ground in front of where I’m sitting. Then I’m in another body and another and another until they run out of ammo and I grab a poker from the fire and stab through one of their throats and then tackled the other one and managed to bite through his throat, my mouth filling up with his blood, only it’s not really my mouth, not exactly.
“And a few minutes later I’m sitting where I was, more copies of my own body strewn out in front of me than there are of other people. Within a month I was drafted into Grey Snow, our ranch confiscated to build a highway and long rows of flats, and a pain chip put in my head.” She stopped talking for a second, hesitant. “I’ve never told anyone that. I’m sorry I lied to you before, when I said I hadn’t had family in so long I don’t remember them. It’s easier to pretend that’s true, to try and believe that’s true. But it’s not, and I’d give anything if I could have my family back. So yeah, I get why you want what you do, why you’d do anything to have even a chance to save your sister. And I owe you, because I botched a mission and people you cared about died, and I’m sorry. So I’ll do my best to help save your sister and avenge your parents. But I don’t like hurting people, and I don’t want to spend my whole life killing them. Not for Black Rain, not for Grey Snow, not for any reason.”
Tears pooled in the corners of May’s eyes, and Jared could tell she was fighting to keep them from shedding. He was speechless. He and Patrick had wondered, no matter how long she’d been with Grey Snow, why she didn’t at least have some of the defiant attitude they did. Why she seemed to so dutifully follow orders. Even if she were free, she has nothing left. No family, no home, no dream, not even the hope of revenge because she already got it.
“May… don’t. Don’t do something you don’t want to do. Not because of what happened. Patrick’s right, it’s not your fault. I’m sorry I haven’t treated you better. I’ve been trying to do better. It’s just been hard…I mean our first interactions involved my friends getting blown up and you shooting me. So it took time to adjust to the fact that… there’s been days knowing that I’ll get to see you is the only thing that got me up in the morning. Well, I mean, besides the pain chip.”
May frowned slightly in bewilderment, blinking the tears away. What Jared had said surprised her almost as much as it’d surprised him to be admitting it. “Why?”
“You’re brilliant, beautiful, and have an increasingly good sense of humor. Kind of hard to ignore that after a while when you spend most of the day with someone, every day. Don’t get me wrong, most days I get up because I want to try and save my sister. And now the thought of wiping out the bastards who killed my parents and destroyed most of my city is pretty motivating, but there’ve been some days that just wasn’t enough. Everything seems just …hopeless. But I know if I get up I’ll get to see you and I want to.”
“Sorry I shot you,” she said. “Though I think you’ve got a few up on me now for body count in our sparring matches.”
Jared laughed “Only because you go easy on me. We still haven’t found out if you take my head off whether I’d live. Not really eager to, either. If I did, you think I’d grow a new head or a new body? Or just flounder around until someone puts back together the old ones?”
“Maybe both. Now there’s a scary thought. Two of you wondering around,” May said smirking.
“What, you’re the only one who gets to be two places at once?” Jared asked.
“Well I did pay for the monopoly on it. That’s why I have no money,” May said.
“And here I thought it was because we were slave labor,” Jared said.
“That doesn’t help.”
“Well we have a mansion right now and nothing we can do until tomorrow. Might as well make use of it.” Jared grinned. As serious as the situation was, he had pretty awesome memories of this mansion. If the estate’s trustees hadn’t stripped the place too much yet, he would love to share some of them with May.