“Nate, we need to talk.”
I looked up to see Erin standing over me, a concerned look on her face. Everyone else was asleep, passed out on the uncomfortable hospital chairs the nurses helped us bring in. It was oddly cozy, but at the same time there was a subtext of unease. I guess it was hard to completely relax when you were on a teleporter’s shit list.
“Sure,” I whispered, unfolding myself from the small chair and following her out into the hall.
Erin partially closed the door behind us, leaving a crack to stop the latch from making a noise and potentially waking the others.
“What was that back there?”
“What do you mean?” I asked, not positive what she was talking about.
“The energy-blast…thing you did. What was that? I didn’t know you could do that, but I should have. You can’t keep things like that from me. It’s my job to keep the team safe. It happened to work out this time, but we got lucky. Next time, we might not be.”
She didn’t sound angry, but she defiantly sounded like she was in charge.
“I didn’t know I could do it either, it just…kind of happened.”
Erin furrowed her brow, “So it’s a new power?”
“I don’t know. I’ve never really tried to do anything like that before.”
“You really don’t have any experience with your powers, do you?”
“No, I really don’t,” I answered, leaning against the wall.
I knew it was coming, people always wanted to know why. Erin seemed to be asking it in earnest, but that didn’t make me feel any more willing to get into it. Still, I didn’t feel like she would just let me walk away.
“Bad memories,” I offered, something in my mind dragging me back to the visions I saw during the fight with Shard. The faces in the fire.
Erin averted her gaze, staring off down the hallway before nodding. “Okay, keep it to yourself for now, but don’t let it get someone else hurt. Get ahold of your abilities.”
I gave a slight nod, she was right. If I had been in control or had training…Corey might not be in a hospital bed right now.
Erin offered me a smile, but we were both slightly startled when the door swung open, revealing an excited looking Ian.
“Sorry, I heard you guys talking and…”
“Ian, this is kind of a private conversation,” Erin said, looking at me.
“It’s okay,” I said.
“Alright, go ahead, Ian.”
“Something about the teleportation device we saw the prison-”
“-You mean the goo?” Erin interrupted.
“Yes, I mean the goo. Anyway, it struck me as familiar, and I was trying to figure out where I’ve seen it before. Then I realized I hadn’t.”
Erin crossed her arms, giving Ian an eyeroll. “That’s what you just had to tell us?”
“Hold on let me finish,” Ian said, holding up a hand.
I was really beginning to get the feeling that Ian had a flair for the dramatic and loved letting everyone know he was smart.
“The reason I didn’t place it immediately, is because it reminded me of similar technology in a CADMUS report from over twenty years ago.”
“CADMUS?” Erin asked, puzzled.
“Yeah, you know, the anti-metahuman agency that used to-”
“-I know what CADMUS was, but how did you get ahold of their reports?”
“Oh, Hollands gave me a bunch of files that were turned over to Argus when the U.S. shut CADMUS down. He thought they might possibly come in handy at some point, and apparently, they have. Anyway, there was a research scientist working for CADMUS by the name of Kurtis Thatcher. He was working on spacial manipulation tech, like literally folding space-time. He posited that if he could perfect the technology, he could use it as a means of rapid transportation and deployment of soldiers on top of being a way of containing metahumans like Genesis.”
“Was Genesis around back then?” I asked.
“No, but I said metahumans like him,” Ian answered matter-of-factly.
“How does that relate to the goo?” Erin asked, reining Ian back in.
“Thatcher’s tech could be used to store very large objects in small places, like a full-grown human in a small ball of goo. Granted, I don’t know about the weight-thing, but some of the science is beyond me. Anyway, after CADMUS was disbanded, Thatcher went his own way, and the project was abandoned. I think that Shard, or whoever gave him the tech used Thatcher’s work.”
“Hm.” Erin though to herself for a moment before shrugging, “We don’t have any other leads, so I guess we might as well check it out. Even if he doesn’t know anything about it, he might be able to give us something we can use. Where is Thatcher now?”
Ian practically lit up when Erin said we should investigate Thatcher. He quickly regained his composure and tried to act professional.
“He’s working for a small R&D company called Menlo Solutions in Newark, New Jersey.”
“Jersey? Really?” I asked.
Ian shrugged, “I didn’t decide where it was going to be.”
“It’s almost morning, we’ll grab Whit and Adam and head see if we can get a meeting with…Dr?” Erin asked, looking at Ian.
“Dr,” Ian confirmed with a nod.
“…With Dr. Thatcher.”
“I’m fine, leave me alone.”
“Corey, you were stabbed, you aren’t fine,” Whitney tried to argue, practically pushing Corey down on the bed.
“It’s not up for debate, you’re sitting this one out,” Erin said.
Corey sunk down and crossed his arms, looking sullen.
“You’re already hurt, and the doctor said trying to fly or do anything like that will tear your stitches. Once we’re done, we’ll make sure to fill you in on everything,” Erin reasoned.
“And we’re only going to Jersey, so it’s not like you’re missing out on anything spectacular,” Adam commented.
“Fine, I’ll stay,” Corey said with a dramatic sigh.
“I’ll stay too,” Whitney said. “Someone needs to keep an eye on him, and I’m still sore from the fight.”
She didn’t look up from the ground, but she seemed…afraid?
“Alright,” Erin said gently, noticing Whitney’s façade too. “Keep an eye on him and call the Regents if you have any trouble. Looks like its just going to be me and the boys,” She said with a slight smile, looking at the rest of us.
“…Thanks. Yes. Yes, we’ll be careful. Alright. Bye.”
Erin let off an exasperated chuckle. “James says he managed to schedule a meeting with Dr. Thatcher in a half hour.”
I looked up at the mid-sized building in front of us. It didn’t stand out like Daedalus Technologies did, but they were a minor rival in the advanced tech market. I’d heard the business types at work mention Menlo Tech a few times. They had good ideas, and a few brilliant ideas, but lacked the capital to work on large projects.
“Why would a scientist like Thatcher come work for a place like this. Especially after working somewhere like CADMUS?” I asked as we fell in step with Erin as she started for the door.
“I think you just answered your own question,” Ian said. “CADMUS wasn’t known for their impeccable morals. Most of the scientists that worked for them were stuck with jobs at NASA or other government-sanctioned research fields. A few went on to work for Argus, and others were jailed for crimes against humanity. Kind of difficult to get some jobs even with a good resume.”
“Fair point,” I replied.
“We’re here to see Dr. Thatcher. We’re with Argus,” Erin said as we approached the receptionist.
The lobby was small, clearly not meant for lots of visitors. The receptionist seemed about as incompetent as she could be. It took her forever to figure out how to use the office phone.
“Dr. Thatcher? The Argus agents are here. Yes, Sir,” She looked up with a smile. “Dr. Thatcher says you can wait for him in his office,” She said, pointing down a hall to her left.
Erin said thanks and we started down the hall.
“Anybody else have the feeling something’s off?” Adam asked, looking down several hallways as we passed them. There were several crates still stacked on pallets and wrapped in plastic. I looked through a window built into the wall that looked in on an empty lab space.
“I do,” Ian said. “There’s dust built up in areas a normal janitorial crew would clean.”
How did I miss that? Sure enough, when I looked at the floor in places where I would usually mop, there was a fine layer of dust.
“This keeps getting more interesting,” Erin commented as she came to a stop in front of Dr. Thatcher’s office. The door was already open, so we filed in and found somewhere to sit while we waited.
We were quiet for a while, just sitting around, but the quiet soon grew into boredom. “Did you guys ever find anything in Russia?”
“Not really,” Erin said. “We didn’t get to meet with the main URH team, they just sent the two members of the team who responded to the break in. What were their names? Buyan and Wyrlook?” Erin asked, looking to Ian and Adam for confirmation.
“Yeah, that was them,” Adam said. “The portal maker and the giant.”
“Right. Anyway, they couldn’t tell us much. Like Ian said, the stuff was already gone by the time they got there. The facility was pretty cagy, but eventually they let us inside and took us to the storage room where the goo hit.”
“The whole place is built underground, carved out of solid stone. There is no direct way from the outside into any of the storage facility without several tons of dynamite. So, we talked to some of the guards and looked at the reports and it looks like the good just slithered in through the front door like sentient tar,” Ian said, getting excited.
“But did you find out what ‘Obyek 41’ was?” I asked.
Erin shook her head, “No. We couldn’t get anyone to tell us exactly what it was, but Ian managed to put together that it was some kind of weapon, right?”
Ian nodded. “A Russian weapons company paid to have it stored there for the next fifty nears or so. Of course, the company went bankrupt in the late Nineties, so there wasn’t anything to look into on that end.”
“Then Shard showed up and you know the rest,” Erin said.
“Yeah,” I muttered, not really knowing what else to say. The sound of approaching footsteps caught our attention, and we turned to see a well-dressed man walk into the room, a thin smile on his lips.
“Sorry to keep you all waiting. Norn, I assume?” Dr. Thatcher asked, shaking Erin’s hand.
“Yes. Nice to meet you, Dr. Thatcher.”
“Please, call me Kurtis,” He said, moving to sit behind his desk and motioning for us to move closer. Erin and Ian moved to sit in the chairs directly in front of his desk, leaving Adam and me to stand behind them.
Thatcher was a spindly man on the shorter side with mostly gray hair and a square jaw. He wore a pair of horn-rimmed glasses that looked like they were in the middle of transitioning from outdoor to indoor lighting.
“So, what can I do for you?”
“Well,” Ian said, moving to the edge of his chair. “We were interested in the spacial manipulation research you did for CADMUS.”
Thatcher’s face fell as he let out a long breath through his nose. “Of course, what else would Argus be interested in.” He muttered rhetorically. “You’re Clyffe, right? Named after the Wardenclyffe tower?”
“A fan of Tesla, then? Perhaps a bit of an inventor yourself?”
“Uh, yes. You could say I was a fan, and I dabble occasionally,” Ian said, confused.
“I can tell, you have that air about you,” Thatcher said, studying Ian for a moment.
“Kurtis, we think someone might have continued your old research. There was a villain managed to break two individuals out of a secure Argus facility with an unknown device that seemed to be capable of spacial manipulation.”
“Really? Now that is interesting.” Thatcher said, leaning back and steepling his fingers. “As I’m sure you probably know, my research into space-manipulating technology was abandoned and locked away in the Argus archives after CADMUS was shut down.”
“Wait, your research is in the Argus archives?” Erin asked.
“I assume so. Either that or destroyed. They denied my requests for it,” Thatcher said.
“Argus has old CADMUS reports, but I checked their archives for your research. It never made it into Argus’s custody,” Ian said.
“Hm. Now that is worrisome,” Thatcher replied, appearing to be deep in thought.
“But could your research potentially be used as a means of teleportation?” Erin asked.
Thatcher nodded, “Yes, it could be used to fold and create an isolated pocket of space-time, a kind of pocket dimension if you will.”
“And that would let someone transport people?”
“Well, it would allow transportation into and out of the pocket dimension from remote locations, but there would have to be an entry point at the location you wanted to travel from, and one where you wanted to travel to,” Thatcher explained.
“Is there anything you could give us that might help us find whoever is using the tech, or maybe a way to track it?” Erin asked.
“One thing that I never managed to do was create a useful way of moving an entry point while maintaining the integrity of the pocket itself, but I theorized that it would give off a unique magnetic field. If you would be willing to wait for a moment, I might be able to make you something that could give you a rough…”
An urgent buzzing grabbed Thatcher’s attention. The office phone on his desk had a red light blinking frantically.
“What’s that?” Erin asked, tensing up.
“It’s a perimeter breach…” Thatcher trailed off.
Erin stood up suddenly and looked panicked. “Guy’s, I can’t use my powers.”
Oh no. Dread and panic filled my stomach as I reached out for my powers only to find them unresponsive. It was like a puzzle piece was missing, a part of me was gone. It was odd, I’d wanted my powers gone for so long, but now that I needed them, they were gone. I guess that was irony for you.
“Dr. Thatcher, we need to get you out of here,” Erin said.
Adam drew both his guns and moved to cover the door. I hadn’t noticed it at first, but there was no denying the faint humming in the back of my jaw.
“Hallway’s clear,” Adam said, looking to Erin for orders.
“Adam, I think we need your other self. Will the dampener stop you?” Erin asked.
“No, I can still feel him.”
“Will you?” She asked.
He nodded and pulled his mask over his head. He went still for a moment, almost seeming to faint, before jerking upright, and laughing. “What’s the occasion?” he asked in a strange tone of voice. It was almost…happy?
“Our powers aren’t working, there is a dampener somewhere, and we’re with Dr. Thatcher. We have to get him to safety, and there is at least one intruder that we’re assuming is hostile,” Erin explained.
What was going on here?
“Hey, new guy!” Adam said, turning towards me. “Nice to see you again!”
“What do you mean? I’ve-”
“-Drop it, Nate,” Erin hissed as Adam pushed out into the hall. “Come on, Dr. Thatcher.”
Erin almost shoved Dr. Thatcher forward as Ian and I formed a sort of loose barricade around them while Adam took the lead. He moved down the hall, momentarily stopping at the junctions we passed on the way in, briefly checking the adjoining hallways for signs of hostiles.
At the third junction, Adam suddenly let off a series of rounds, alternating fire between his twin guns. Then he dove to the side right before I was blinded by a torrent of yellow light. The beam was brief, but it left a smoldering crater on the wall.
Adam spun himself into a sort of seated position on the ground and unloaded more rounds at the unseen attacker before violently jumping out of the way of another energy beam. Then I saw the…thing. It was humanoid but looked like it was made of rubber or tar with a shifting pattern of glowing yellow lines covering its entire body.
The glowing lines around its hands flared up before firing two separate beams, one at Adam and one at Dr. Thatcher. Erin managed to tackle Thatcher to the ground, saving him from the fate of the wall behind his head.
I hated feeling useless. There wasn’t any way I could go up against this thing without my powers. Adam had his guns, but even they seemed useless. The material the thing was made of merely rippled when the bullets struck. Ian had pressed himself against the wall, trying to stay out of the thing’s line of sight.
With its laser barrage proving ineffective, the goo changed tactics. Its arm suddenly launched out at Adam, stretching like it was made of putty. Even though Adam was almost inhumanly fast, the arm just whipped around and coiled around his arm. It yanked Adam into the air before slamming him into the floor.
“Ian,” Erin whispered. “Take Dr. Thatcher back the way we came and find another way out.”
“What are you going to do?” Ian asked, a petrified look on his face.
“Help our teammate,” She said, standing up from her cover. Ian rushed over and helped Dr. Thatcher up before urging him down the hall. I just stayed where I was: hidden behind a stack of plastic-covered crates. Like a coward.
The goo-man was still focused on thrashing Adam but snapped to look at Erin with its eyeless face when she was still a few steps away. It tossed Adam to the side and shot out it’s taffy-like arm at Erin. She was hit in her midsection and throw back against the wall. Then the body rushed forward like it was reeling itself in. It slammed into Erin and the wall, its body deforming around her. The goo raised its free hand, and the glowing lines flared up like it was getting ready to…
I felt weak and my heart skipped a beat when the laser fired at point-blank range. But when the glare faded, Erin was still there, unscathed, grinning from ear to ear and glowing slightly green. Her powers were back, but how? Then I saw it, her right hand was griping a small, crushed object. The power dampener?
The goo pulled back in alarm, but Erin’s glow turned from green to red and she let off a punch. Her fist connected with the goo’s chest region and it acted like a bomb went off, the substance rippling like water as the figure launched back, collapsing into a puddle on the floor.
I realized the hum was gone from my skull and reached out to my powers. I felt the familiar presence press against the back of my mind and the pricks of cold as the energy enveloped me. It surprised me how much of a relief it was to have back, and how anxious I’d been without it.
“Nate, go after Ian and Thatcher, make sure they’re alright.”
I nodded and started after the twin geniuses. My energy gave me a boost and after rounding the corner, I spotted them at the end of the hall.
“Nate, look out!” I turned around to see the dark form of the goo flying after me. “Flying, really!?”
The goo brushed past me, whipping out its arm that seemed to rapidly grow. I braced myself as it slammed me into the wall, luckily the energy padded the worst of the pain.
Continuing on its way, the figure easily caught up to Ian and Thatcher. Erin rushed past me while I tried to tear myself from the me-shaped crater in the wall. Erin’s color had changed to blue and she was moving just as fast as the goo had, but it didn’t matter.
Ian was effortlessly tossed to the side as the goo seemed to explode, covering Thatcher before enveloping him. The man let out a scream that was quickly cut off by the tar-like material covering his mouth.
It took the figure a moment, but Thatcher’s shape soon dissolved into the form. Damn it. He was gone. Erin was still running at full speed towards the thing, but it didn’t seem worried, in fact it almost seemed to…smile?
Before Erin could reach it, the black and yellow goo lifted into the air before flying through a window in a shower of glass before disappearing from view.