In The Stairwell
Our opening panel shows a raised-roof van parked on busy street. We can see the dome of the Legislature in the distance, placing the scene in Edmonton. It is the middle of a working day, and people are breaking for lunch. We can see people leaving a nearby building labelled “Government of Alberta, Department of Justice”. Inside the van are three men, sitting at consoles. The van is packed with electronic equipment, with clusters of antennae in the fibreglass raised-roof section. The men are speaking Russian.
[Translated from Russian] “I’m getting an upload,” one of the men says. “It was scavenged from a server we have not been aware of, it must have been air-gapped and Tempest shielded.”
“That may be of interest,” says a short, heavyset man, apparently the leader. “Save it for Josef.”
The first man types furiously on his computer. The third man says “I can’t believe that these fools would take their personal phones into a Tempest-shielded room!”
The leader replies “Most of them do not, or we’d see this every day. We have gotten lucky today, and hopefully Mother Russia will profit from it.”
The third man nods, and adds “And they share that profit with us!”
The men return their attention to their consoles.
The battle is over. The unconscious villains have been secured and transported to remand. Clean-up crews are taking care of the debris from the Robot and hotel. There was much less debris from the Harry Hayes building, and the building immediately to its west, where The Librarian had been shoved by Alphonse.
Redcoat, Electron, The Librarian and Can Opener leave with senior CPS officers, to return to CPS HQ to do the required paperwork. The Posse elects to go to McDougall Centre and the ANWPP office, which has a CPS liaison, to do theirs. When they arrive, an ANWPP officer finds Polly, and tells her that the Prosecutor’s Office has decided to withdraw the charges against Griswold’s henchmen due to chain-of-custody issues with the captured powered armour. It seems that their lawyers found out that a suit of armour was missing and that CPS couldn’t physically tie the suspects to the armour. Rather than risk compromising Griswold’s trial with suggestions of evidence issues, they’ve chosen to withdraw the charges. The men will be released today (Labour Day Monday), and might even have been released already.
Polly is not amused. She finds Psyclist, grabs him by the collar and lifts him to eye-height. He activates his GoPro, then does a quick scan with Mental Awareness. He has a thought bubble that reads “No signs of mind control, she’s just mad.” Without saying a word she carries him into a stairwell and dangles him over the drop. Psyclist is alarmed, and thinks “Well, a Mental Blast is only likely to make her madder, and its only 3 floors down …”. Stick, who has followed them into the stairwell, is impassive.
“I’ve just been told that the charges against Griswold’s henchmen have been withdrawn”, she tells him, “because of a chain-of-custody issue with the evidence. One suit of armour is missing. Now their lawyers are trying to say ‘if the suit does not fit you must acquit’, and they can’t prove who was in which suit. They don’t want the issue brought up at Griswolds trial, to cast doubt on the evidence against him.”
“Oh” says Psyclist, suddenly remembering the suit he’d pilfered from the scene. “Don’t they have DNA evidence?”
“I don’t know, and I don’t really care. What I care about is that four men, men who helped SLAUGHTER my FAMILY, attacked CHILDREN, children I CARE about, have been released from custody to continue their mayhem because YOU, a person I TRUSTED, broke that trust by STEALING EVIDENCE from a CRIME SCENE!” She pauses for dramatic effect. “You need to fix this, either talk to the prosecutors, return the armour and get the charges reinstated, or help me hunt those bastards down!”
Stick glares at her.
“I don’t see how returning the armour will help the situation. The chain of custody has been broken, and that really can’t be fixed” Psyclist laments. “And we can’t just kill them.” He starts looking down the stairwell, trying to work out vectors to get him to the sides and break his fall.
“Think of it as an execution,” Polly replies.
Stick interrupts, “Canada does not have Capital Punishment. Even if it did there has been no trial, conviction or death sentence. Killing them is murder.”
“Well then, murder it is!” Polly responds.
“Me first,” Stick says, crossing his arms defiantly.
“Certainly,” says Polly, gesturing, “after you!”
“No,” says Stick in exasperation, “you’ll have to murder me first.”
“Then what am I to DO!” she wails.
“Griswold is the one you want,” Stick says. “These four are just accessories. Killing them is crossing a line, and you can’t ever go back. Take it from me, you do NOT want to go there.”
“They murdered my entire FAMILY, EVERYONE I knew and loved!”
“I don’t own your conscience,” Stick says, and stalks off.
Polly thinks for a moment, then puts Psyclist down. On the stairs. “This isn’t over,” she says. She returns to finish her report, Psyclist heads for the mens room. They find that Stick has left the building. Everyone finishes up their reports, then all but Polly & Stick return to the Secret BaseMent.
Polly heads over CPS headquarters. There, she hunts down one of the CPS officers she worked with after the fight at the kids house, who she thinks might be sympathetic. She gains access to the mug shots and arrest reports for the four henchmen, and copies them with her phone. Her contact hisses “Be careful with this. If something happened to them, like they disappear or something, and it gets traced back to me, I could get in trouble.” Polly nods understanding, then heads back to base.
Stick is wandering the streets of downtown, upset about the direction Polly is taking. He stays out very late, brooding over the ethical dilemma he finds himself in.
Back at base, the evening news is just starting. The big fight downtown dominates the coverage. The damage to the hotel is significant, but does not threaten the structural integrity of the building. It will be closed for weeks for repairs. There is cell phone video of the unknown flying super, and his incendiary attack. The burn victims are doing well, thanks to the quick actions of Gallowglas and Alphonse. All are expected to fully recover. There is video of the rescue. The news reports also note the RF jamming that occurred during the battle. All phones, radios and TVs within 2 kilometres of the site were disrupted. A government spokesperson is interviewed, saying that the events in Calgary make it clear that the Harper Government is doing the Right Thing by requiring registration of supers, and establishing programs to use them constructively. CBC and CTV do not air any comments by the Liberals and NDP, but CITY and Global do. Both say that this incident makes it clear how the Conservatives are mishandling the situation, and call for immediate elections.
A number of sources are spouting conspiracy theories. These are popping up on Social Media, Facebook, Fox News, etc. Some popular ones:
- the Government is attacking its own citizens to justify registration, Martial Law, etc.
- the Opposition is staging these events in an attempt to bring down & replace the Government
- Artificial Intelligences are rising up to enslave or exterminate mankind
- different factions of supers are vying for control of the world
- the Liberal Media are overplaying super-violence to promote their agenda
Ben spends some time cataloging and archiving the coverage. He also works on his armour, then touches base with Agatha and the kids before turning in. Gallowglas looks for protective headgear, something with a fantasy flair — more Wonder Woman than MMA. She finds something that will do, with a bit of artistry. She orders it, with the intent to keep looking for something more in keeping with her tastes.
Stick returns to the base in wee hours of the morning, aggression issues still unresolved, just in time to take the SUV and leave for the Symposium in Red Deer. His drive to Red Deer is uneventful. He arrives with time to kill before the keynote. He bumps into Agni, and asks about the search for Cassandra. There is nothing new to report. Stick offers the Posse’s support.
The keynote address, delivered by Captain Awesome, is full of “Rah, rah yay for us” and “the challenges we face” etc. etc. It is rather boring, and semantically null, much as expected. Stick’s mind wanders, and he begins to wish he could nod off for the rest of it. Then he notices Captain Awesome’s Chi. “That looks familiar,” he thinks, and then his mind wanders again.
The other members of the Posse are going about their daily business. Ghost has to work, completing the work on her client’s tax audit. Hammer goes to his office. Psyclist and Gallowglas are avoiding each other.
About lunch time, Psyclist gets a text from Brianna Labby (his contact at CITY TV News), telling him to check the news RFN. He forwards the message to the rest of the Posse, then turns on the TV. There is a breaking news story. A source on Facebook has published a document outlining secret programs the Government of Canada is running regarding supers. It is the Myiati Document. Worse, the source names Myiati, reports he is in Red Deer in Witness Protection, and even lists the address of the safe house he is at.
Psyclist texts the general gist to Stick, then sets up the Posse Conference Call.
Stick gets the message as he is leaving the Keynote and queuing for lunch. He joins the Conference Call to get more details. Psyclist fills him in. “Redcoat and his gang of thugs are still in town,” Stick says. “They’ll be heading up here soon, if they haven’t already left.”
Mike says “I have Redcoat’s hotel info, I’m on my way there now. It’s the Sheraton in Eau Claire, room 624.”
Polly says “We’ll join you there, then head up to Red Deer.”
Stick says “I’ll notify the Premier, then go to the safe house. I just hope we’re not too late.”
Stick hangs up to call Premier Notley. After getting past her assistant, he reaches her, “Were you aware that the Myiati Document has been published on Facebook, and he has been outed, along with his address?”
“No, I was not,” she replies, “but I hear feet pounding down the hall. I suspect they are coming to tell me just that.” There is commotion in the background.
“There are Federal supers in Calgary — Redcoat, Electron etc. They will be coming for him, and there could be others. We need to move him someplace safe. I am in town, and heading over there right now. If the ANWPP can move him quickly, I’ll be the only one there when they show up.”
“That sounds like a plan,” Notley says. “Keep me informed. I’ll get the ANWPP moving on moving him.” She hangs up.
Stick thinks “I hope the Facebook article has the right address, otherwise I’ve just swatted some poor schlep,” as he dictates the address into his phone to get turn-by-turn spoken directions to the safe house.
Meanwhile, Mike, Ben, Polly, Tia and Jazz have remained on the Conference Call. Mike says “I’m at the hotel. I’ve found his room, and am flying up to the window to check it out.” There is a brief pause, then “It looks like we have a medical emergency here. I’m going off-line to call for an ambulance.”
An ambulance arrives at the Emergency Department of Peter Lougheed Centre. The patient is wheeled into an examination room.
“We have a male patient, late twenties or early thirties. He is unresponsive but apparently conscious. He was eating in a restaurant. Witnesses say he just dropped face-first into his soup. Someone pulled him out quickly, he did not appear to aspirate anything. Breathing is rapid and shallow, BP is 190 over 90, heart rate is 160.” a paramedic tells the emergency room doctor. “ID lists him as ‘Paul Wilson’ of Ottawa. The only other thing in his pocket is a hotel room key.” The paramedic hands over a ziplock bag containing a wallet and a plastic card-key in a sleeve labelled “Eau Claire Sheraton” with the number “617” hand-written on it. He also turns over a vial containing a sample of the soup, and water from his glass. “It looks like Locked-In Syndrome”.
The doctor pulls out a penlight and leans in, shining it in the patient’s eyes. “Pupils are responsive. It still might be neurological. Vitals are stable, lets run blood panel, and get an MRI and an EEG.”
Orderlies wheel him out, headed for Imaging. The paramedics return to their ambulance.
When he is brought back, the doctor looks at the chart. “This makes no sense,” he says. “The MRI shows the brain lit up like a Christmas Tree, and the EEG shows frantic activity. This isn’t any sort of coma or seizure.” His face has a frown as he turns to the nurse. “We need someone from Diagnostic Medicine down here.”
In a few minutes three doctors walk in, two men and a woman. “Ah, Dr. Laurie” the ER doctor says. “Thanks for coming down. The patient is apparently conscious but unresponsive. MRI and EEG show a great deal of activity, so its not a coma or seizure.”
Dr. Laurie responds sharply “I can read the chart, tell me something I don’t know.”
”We think it might be Locked-In Syndrome,” the ER doctor offers.
“Don’t be an idiot,” Dr. Laurie says. “Its not Locked-In Syndrome, the MRI shows the pons operating normally, and the blood work shows no indication of a stroke, so its something else.”
Someone in the background offers “Could it be Lupus?”. Everyone glares.
“What did he have on him?” Laurie asks.
The ER doctor pulls out the bag with his personal effects.
Laurie looks them over. He takes the card-key out and gives it to the woman doctor who accompanied him. “Wilde, go see if there is anything in his hotel that might explain this, like recreational drugs, venomous bugs or drain cleaner. Take Penn with you.”
As they leave, Laurie turns to the ER doctor. “She has this mortal fear of stinging insects, and his apartment has plumbing issues.”
He turns his attention back to the patient. “Well, ‘Paul Wilson’, what is wrong with you?” Laurie takes out his own penlight and shines it in the patient’s eyes, noting the response.
The ER doctor says “I’d be careful there. The blood work shows Mutation Virus anti-bodies. He could be a super, and have laser eye beams.”
Dr Wilde and Dr. Penn arrive at the hotel, and take the elevator to the 6th floor. The doors open to reveal the hallway, with signage showing rooms 601-620 to the left, and 621-640 to the right. Wilde gestures to it, and they turn left. Wilde knocks on the door of 617. There is no answer. She knocks again, and still getting no response she swipes the card key and opens the door.
Nobody is there. The room is a typical hotel room: Queen bed, TV, desk/dresser and bedside table. Its a bit more upscale than average. Wilde heads for the bathroom, Penn takes the main room, starting with the bedside table. Wilde quickly rummages through the toiletries. “Nothing unusual here,” she says as she comes out. “No prescription meds or anything to indicate a pre-existing condition.”
Penn has moved to the dresser and notices a sheet of paper with handwriting on it — “624, 631, 638”. Wilde has opened the closet. There is a suit of powered armour hanging there. “Uh, Kal, this is … unusual”.
Penn comes over. “Maybe its some kind of fetish thing?”
Wilde touches it, lifting the arms etc. “No, I think that this thing is the real deal!”
Ben is pedalling his bike furiously, weaving through traffic to reach Eau Claire. He has Jazz in the sidecar. He has GoPros everywhere, even as body cams, filming everything. Tia is running, switching between road, sidewalk and cross-country. Tia is carrying Gallowglas. They arrive at the hotel at the same time as the ambulance. Hammer and Hotel Security are waiting for them in the lobby. The security man says “Room 624” to the paramedics. Everyone heads to the elevators.
The door to 624 is already open, and another Hotel Security officer is in the room, tending to Redcoat. He is in civilian clothes, recumbent on the bed, eyes open looking up at the TV. The TV remote is lying on the bed beside his hand. The TV is tuned to a news channel, which is showing the daily forecast. As they enter the room the forecast ends, and the TV returns to covering the breaking news. The security agent says “There is no sign of trauma. I can’t rouse him. I’ve tried shaking, pinching and smelling salts.”
The paramedics perform a quick assessment, and attach monitors. One of the paramedics says “I think he might be awake.” He turns to Redcoat, and says “Can you hear me? Blink twice if you can.” Nothing happens. He says to the other paramedic “No response.”
Psyclist runs a surface scan on Redcoat. All that he sees is the first line of the Myiati memo, then a discontinuous glitch in the thought stream, and then the line repeats.
The paramedic says “There’s nothing we can do for him here, we should transport him to the hospital. Lougheed Centre is closest”.
Polly says “He is here with three others. They might also be effected by this, we need to check on their welfare.”
Hotel Security calls down to the front desk, and gets the other three room numbers: 617, 631 and 638. Security leads them further down the hall to 631. There is no answer to the knock, so he opens the door. Electron is in his room, in much the same state as Redcoat. The paramedics call for another ambulance. Security calls for police, since it might be a criminal act. The situation repeats at 638 with The Librarian. “617 is this way”, he says, heading back the other way. He knocks on 617, swipes the card-key and opens the door in a single, well practiced motion.
Dr. Wilde and Dr. Penn turn to face the door. “What is this?” bluffs Penn.
Polly pushes past the security officer and counters with “Who are you and what have you done with Can Opener?”. Her hand is on her sword, which is loose in its scabbard. She does a partial draw.
Penn’s eyes bug out at that. Dr. Wilde takes over. “I’m Dr. Wilde and this is Dr. Penn. We’re with the Department of Diagnostic Medicine at Peter Lougheed Centre. We have a patient in the ER named Paul Wilson who is catatonic and unresponsive. He had a key to this room in his pocket, so we are here looking for clues to help treat him.”
“Then you’ll want to see the other three,” says Psyclist.
“There are others?” Wilde says, incredulously.
Penn says “You should see what’s in the closet.”
Hammer opens the closet. “It’s just Can Opener’s armour. I guess we’ve just outed his Secret Identity.”
Penn looks crestfallen at “just the armour”.
Psyclist leads them to the other rooms, where a paramedic or security guard is tending to each patient. The doctors perform their own preliminary exam. “They’re all the same as Wilson,” says Penn.
“We need to get them to Lougheed Centre,” Wilde says.
Hammer says “This seems similar to what happened to me when I was taken. Dr. Howser, at the South Health Campus, treated me. He has some previous experience with these things. We should send these patients there, too.”
Polly turns to the paramedics. “Take them to the South Campus hospital. Find Dr. Howser, brief him, and get him there.” She then turns to Dr. Wilde. “Have Can Opener, or Paul Wilson, or whomever he really is transferred there as well.”
Wilde says to Polly “Dr. Laurie will not be pleased.”
“Who is Dr. Laurie?”
“He’s our boss, and the head of Diagnostic Medicine.” She grimaces. “He hates other doctors taking his patients. He can be … very trying to deal with when he doesn’t get his way.”
“Invite him, too, as a consultant.”
“That won’t really help.”
“If he’s a problem, I’ll handle him.”
Penn smiles, “That would be fun to watch.”
Polly turns to Hammer. “You and Psyclist go with them to the hospital, help out as much as you can. Alphonse, C4 and I will go support Stick.” Psyclist is on the phone with the ANWPP, describing the symptoms of the HoCPD and asking if there are any other cases turning up. He requests a police guard for the victims, in case it is an attack of some sort. The ANWPP and CPS arrange for a police guard at the South Health Campus.
About this time the police arrive. They tape off the rooms with yellow “Crime Scene Do Not Enter” tape, and start processing the rooms. They take the Ottawa super’s possessions into secure storage.
Psyclist and Hammer follow the ambulances on the bike. Alphonse picks up Polly and C4, and starts running north.
Stick pulls up at the address in the SUV. His Chi-vision shows four people inside, reacting to his presence. Three draw guns, two of which take up defensive positions facing the front door, while the third covers the rear. The fourth shrinks almost to invisibility.
Stick pulls out his phone, and calls Notley again. “Did you let his bodyguards know I was coming?” he asks.
“No,” she responds. “I’ll do that now.”
“Good,” he says, “because they’ve taken up positions to blast me when I come to the door.”
She hangs up. A few minutes later Stick can see one of the bodyguards taking out his phone, and after taking the call everyone stands down. One opens the door. “Mr. Stick?” he calls.
Stick walks up to the house and goes in. “How are things here,” he says, “any sign of anybody watching the house?”
“No,” says the lead guard. “Everything looks good.”
“I did’t see anyone either,” Stick responds. “Do you have an evacuation plan?”
“Yes, we were just putting it into action when a suspicious SUV pulled up out front.”
“Ah, that was me. Well, better execute it now. I’ll stay here, and provide a warm reception to anyone who shows up uninvited.” Stick then turns to Myiati. “You take care.”
Myiati nods, and heads out the back with his bodyguards to their SUV in the detached rear garage. Stick does a quick scan for possible ambushes, and watches them leave. He then sets up a routine, scanning the property, the street, the neighbouring properties, and then out as far as he can reasonably perceive.
After about half an hour, Stick notices something. A strong, organized Chi source has appeared on the rooftop of a building about 500m away. He is still on the Conference Call with Gallowglas, Alphonse, C4 and Slammer. “I’ve got something,” Stick says. “Someone on a rooftop, about 500m SE. Its a commercial building, about 3 stories. Its the tallest building for blocks. Where are you?”
Polly answers. “We’re just approaching town now.” She opens Google Street View and finds the safe house, and then the building. “I’ve got it, the tallest building for blocks” she says as they start running up Gasoline Alley. “We’ll check it out.” She looks at the map, estimating the distance. “ETA is 3 minutes.”
A black Lincoln Navigator with commercial plates and a car rental agency bumper sticker pulls to a stop in a residential neighbourhood. A middle-aged man gets out. He is trim and fit, and carries himself with a military bearing. He has a distinct “Don’t fuck with me” expression on his face. He opens the rear door and pulls out a long, narrow case. It looks like a hunting rifle case, only bigger.
He locks the SUV and crosses the street. Rounding the corner, he crosses again and turns into the alley, behind a 3 story commercial building. He climbs the external fire escape to the top floor, then free climbs to the roof. It is a flat roof, with a gravel covering and a low parapet. He crosses the roof, sits down and opens his case. He pulls out a Barrett .50 caliber sniper rifle with bipod and scope, binoculars, and his Ghillie blanket. He lies down, draws the blanket over himself, and puts the binoculars to his eyes.
He focuses on the safe house, and scowls when he sees the SUV parked out front. “Shit,” he thinks, “I’m too late. I’m secure here, so I’ll stake it out for a bit just to be sure.” He scans the area with his binoculars, returning frequently to the safe house.
After a few minutes, he spots Alphonse, carrying Polly and Jazz, running up the street towards the building. “Damn, they’re on to me!” he thinks. He quickly breaks down the rifle, and slings the case on his back. He opens his jacket to clear the way to his holster, should he need it. He hears Gallowglas, Alphonse and C4 enter through the front door. He jogs back across the roof to the rear of the building. He pulls a gadget off his belt, pulls a line and hook out of it, and hooks it to the building parapet. He aims the gadget at the base of a wooden power pole in the next block, and squeezes a trigger. A line shoots out the other end of the device, and anchors itself in the power pole. He clips it to the climbing harness he is wearing, and jumps off the roof, zip-lining down to the ground. He retracts the zip line, jogs the short distance to his car, tosses the rifle case in the back, and drives off.
Polly says to Stick, over the phone, “We’re arriving.”
They run up to the building. Its about 50 years old. The main floor has a convenience store and a restaurant. There are apartments upstairs, and the entrance for them separates the two businesses. They enter that door, and start pounding up the stairs to the roof.
Stick notices the Chi source starting to move, descending towards street level and moving away from the building. “He’s moving, descending to the ground outside the building. I’m losing him in ground clutter.”
Polly sends Tia out the front door to look around, inconspicuously. Tia goes out, seems to hear something, runs to the corner of the building and then back. “Just an SUV driving away,” she says. “If that was him, we’ve lost him.”
Jazz chimes in with “Or it was a soccer mom taking her kids to practice.”
They resume the climb to the roof. The roof is empty. Polly notices that the gravel on the rooftop, near the edge facing the safe house, has been disturbed. It could have been from a rifle bipod, or a photo tripod, there is no way to tell.
After conferring with Stick, the walk over to the safe house, climb into the SUV and wait. Stick leaves the Conference Call, and calls Notley to report what has happened. “We lost him,” he says to complete the report. He also talks to SISSI. They conclude that if nothing happens by 6:00 PM, its not likely to happen. Any opposition will expect he has been moved by then. They make arrangements to meet in Calgary in a few days, when the analyst will be down for meetings.
Stick hangs up and calls Polly back. He tells her to take the SUV and head back to Calgary. He’ll stay for the rest of the Symposium, and then take the Red Arrow back home. The remainder of the Symposium is uneventful.
Psyclist, Hammer and the ambulances with Redcoat, Electron and The Library arrive at the South Health Campus. The ambulance with Dr. Laurie and Can Opener is just leaving the Lougheed. He was unable to get the transfer of Can Opener overturned. Penn has warned them that Laurie is unlikely to have given up in taking the case back. “He can obsess about these things sometimes,” he said. Orderlies whisk the patients to a specially prepared locked ward. CPS guards are on duty.
Dr. Howser is waiting for them. He authorizes Psyclist to perform a deeper scan on the patients, to try and understand what is happening to them. Psyclist discovers that the loop is a construct on top of the patient’s psyche. It is constructed very differently than what was done to Hammer to install the “kill switch”. It is like comparing an Old Master painting to a 90’s fractal computer graphic. The construct in the patients shows skill and craftsmanship, with careful brush strokes and attention to detail. The work in Hammer’s head is precise, mechanical, and artificial — like it was laid out by a computer. He tries to reach deeper, and access the patients psyche and memories, but is unable to get past the facade on Redcoat (skill vs. skill roll against the creator of the facade).
Psyclist suggests a “Cognitive Reset” — mental blast them into unconsciousness — to see if that breaks them out of the loop. Dr. Laurie is enthusiastic about the idea, but Dr. Howser nixes it. Psyclist then suggests using anesthesia to induce unconsciousness. Howser reluctantly agrees. Anesthesia does not break the loop.
Hammer suggests electro-convulsive therapy. “My god man, we don’t do that any more!” says Dr. Howser. “Its not the twentieth century!” Dr. Laurie starts listing conditions in which electro-shock is still used, but Howser shuts him down. “We don’t do that HERE.”
Polly: 3 Stick: 2.5 Ben: 2.5 Mike: 2 Tia: 1