I’d been chasing Aspect — or what I thought was Aspect — and then he was to my left, then down the block, through the alley, through the warehouse door, and then inside there were a couple dozen of him and I stopped.
Stupid mistake. Really, just idiotic. It was reflexive: I just wanted to figure out which one was really him. There had to be a way to tell. But then everything around me was a blur of motion, and I was immobilized and then sedated.
I woke up restrained. Chains, a reinforced metal frame — clearly engineered for a Cape with super strength, like Massive, not me — centered on a pedestal in a circular room with an observation gallery above. Junia was looking up at me, all noir glamour and sexual menace. “How do you feel?”
“Stupid.” I should have known Aspect was the bait in a trap: every time we’d been up against him in the past he’d used his talent to quickly escape. This time he’d always been just a few steps ahead, leading me, drawing me in. I remember realizing it, even, in the moment. But I wanted to catch him, without Rapture, without Massive, without any help. I wanted the credit for the basket, and not just an assist.
“Don’t blame yourself, Fleet. We had a secret weapon: a little girl who can stop time in a small area. Act of will. She’s really quite something.”
That rang some bells, but now wasn’t the time to get into it. “Where are your friends? The guy from the bar, and… white hair?”
“Rex couldn’t make it. Creative differences. He’s moved on to other things.” Which meant he was dead, probably. “Your friend from the bar is Carl. Or Carlos, whichever you prefer. He’ll be along presently. A lot going on today. And we have a lot to talk about.”
“Get tired of waiting for me to make up my mind?”
“We knew you weren’t coming over to our side almost from the beginning. We—”
“I thought we were on the same side.”
Junia smiled, the way you smile at a five year old who doesn’t understand life insurance and miscarriages and cancer. “I hoped we could be, but things don’t always work out the way we want.”
“I guess not.”
“We were hoping you could have given us some insight into the machine, at least. The computer? Analysis and planning, mostly, I take it? Simulation? Something like that could be very useful to us.”
“I’ve never actually seen it.” Which was true, after all. All that you see in the room is the display, the interface. Dreamland One is somewhere else. Probably far below HQ, under layers of concrete or bedrock or whatever. Safe. “I don’t know much about computers anyway.”
“A shame.” She had a gun in her hand, suddenly, casually, as if she’d willed it into existence. “Last chance to cross the aisle, Cassius. You and Mandy and the baby. But only as a package deal.”
Maybe it had been about Junior all along. But that made things simple. “Sorry.”
Junia shrugged, raised the gun so the muzzle was pointed at my forehead, took careful aim, and slowly squeezed the trigger.
I’ve seen super-slo-mo video of bullets being fired. It’s fascinating: the bullet slides out of the barrel like a ship being launched, followed by an expanding cloud of combusting gas and sparks that fades into nothing, leaving only smoke. Junia and her gun were somehow similarly in slow motion, getting ever slower, until the firing ground to a stop like a movie paused mid-scene.
The door behind her creaked open, just a hair, just enough for a sliver of light and a pair of curious eyes.
The little girl… what was her name? We’d been briefed, a while back. D1 was aware of her, of her gift, but she was considered too young for the approach; apparently our competition had no such qualms. She stepped cautiously into the room.
I was genial in my tone of voice. “I know you.”
“They said you might.”
“Parker? Something with a ‘p’. Portland. Portland Drew. How’d you get a name like ‘Portland’?”
“My parents were hipsters.” She walked around Junia, frozen in place behind a muzzle flash.
‘Were’. I felt a stab of pity and anger, but I didn’t show it. I nodded at the blonde. “How do you do that?”
“Dunno. I just do it.” Portland studied the frame and the chains holding me. “Can you get out of that?”
“I don’t think so. And Carlos is probably coming, so you’d better—”
“I froze Carlos in the hall.” She crossed her arms, a show of determination. “I don’t like it here.”
Me either. “How small an area can you affect time?”
Portland cocked her head to one side, made a face. “Dunno.”
“Can you speed it up ?”
----- ----- ----- -----
I clattered as I walked, chains trailing from my ankles, the rusted broken end links dragging on the concrete and the tile. Portland held my hand.
McLeary met us at the door bearing those enormous shears cops use to cut through combination locks, and didn’t object when I said I was taking Portland directly to see D1. “He’s expecting you both.” Of course. Mandy was waiting outside the huge blast door, Junior in her arms, also having been summoned. We all went in together.
Portland Drew, eight years old, and Junior, three weeks old. Dreamland One has big plans, apparently. Maybe my son isn’t the Kwisatz Haderach, but at this point I’m pretty sure his son will be.
Or maybe I’ve got it wrong. Maybe it’s just a coincidence. Junior hasn’t even shown any powers yet; nobody seems to expect him to. We haven’t been told to watch for anything. We’re taking care of Portland, Mandy and I, so maybe Junior will grow up thinking of her as a sister.
I’ve given up trying to second-guess D1; Mandy’s the one with the visions.