Yes, for the first time the episode will be serialized! Read part I this week and come back for part II next time on Superheroes and Villains! :-)
“Don’t drink the Kool-Aid,” Batman whispered to Blackbird.
“Nightrider. She’s on a rules and regulations kick.”
Blackbird stopped and directed a very skeptical gaze at the biological wizard. “Nightrider? She’s never followed The Book in her life. What happened now, did aliens take over her body?”
“Well that would be interesting, but unfortunately no. I think Frodo’s attack really freaked her out. You know how insecure she is…”
Blackbird thought for just a minute before replying, then he reflected that they weren’t near a water cooler. Under Frodo’s old arbitrary rules they couldn’t be gossipers because they weren’t at the water cooler. Nightrider hadn’t enforced anything, but neither had she removed any of Frodo’s rules from the “Official Q Lab Rules and Procedures” notebook. “I was there when she, eh removed, Jeff, so I understand her nervousness. But—” He abruptly stopped talking as Nightrider approached behind Batman.
“Batman, will you excuse us for a minute? Thank you.”
The short, heavyset Korean politely nodded and walked toward his cubicle.
* * *
“What do you mean ‘Q Lab isn’t safe?’ ”
“Did you remember to send the signal to wipe Jeff’s memory before we pulled his chip?”
“No, but you—”
“No. I didn’t either. Not only did he leave this time bomb before he left, but he still knows who we are!”
Blackbird sighed and mumbled something under his breath in response.
“What was that?”
“Only wondering what might have been… If only we had simply killed him instead of dumping him. Now, what options do we have available?”
“Well he shouldn’t have been a problem. We had no way of knowing he had left such a nasty program behind before he left! But as for now we cannot completely abandon Q Lab itself. I myself have too many experiments tied up in those labs. Besides we dumped him with no money, no identification; he can’t do anything more to us.”
“The annual budget is next month. Can’t we just—” He broke off as Nightrider’s expression twisted into horrified recognition.
“Frodo had budgetary authority! It never mattered because we could always persuade him, well up until right before he left. But we got rid of him with so little planning that we did not just forget to wipe his memory—we forgot to extract his passwords and codes.”
“Yes, that is bad, though in my defense I never took How to Overthrow Your Boss 101. But can’t Mouse Tail break into those accounts?”
Nightrider chuckled. “Neither did I. I do not think such a thing has ever happened in Q Lab before. There must be a first time for everything, even stumping Mouse Tail. I hope not, but…
“Bah, forget that—I’m sure that he can—eventually.”
“You are probably right, but do not forget Jeff’ penchant for security. It could take Mouse Tail weeks to crack the proper accounts. Unless we had Jeff right in front of us to give directions it could take forever to…Hold on, we must bring Jeff back in long enough to break him. Then we might as well dispose of him, unless we need to extract any more information.”
“Shall I contact Poe?”
“Yes, by all means. Jeff may be penniless, but I don’t doubt that he will have tried to hide from us. Have him fly in as soon as possible. He can land at Mammoth International and drive to Daze Springs. Tell him he’ll be paid over his normal rate, I’ll leave it up to you to negotiate the actual price. Don’t forget a bonus for healthy delivery; we need him in good enough shape to be breakable. But make sure it is small enough that we can divert the necessary funds without Jeff’s codes.”
Nightrider laughed. “Shut up.”
* * *
Jeff knew that he couldn’t keep running forever, the stress alone was doing unpleasant things to his body. He couldn’t help it, but every time he thought about Q Lab his back developed an itch right between his shoulder blades. It was only his imagination Jeff was sure, but he could not banish the irrational conviction that a tracking device lurked in that exact spot.
With a groan Jeff rolled over, or at least he made an attempt. The front seat of his battered Honda was not within light years of the word “comfortable.” For some reason his last check had bounced and his apartment had evicted him. He couldn’t understand it; he had only missed one payment—unless something had gone really wrong with the money transfer from Gordon’s accounts.
So for the past two nights he had parked his car under working streetlights outside of the North Side Slums and tried to sleep. All of his anti-Q Lab activities were suffering as he caught up on sleep in internet cafes and bars throughout the day. After several minutes of tossing and turning the past few days of exhaustion finally caught up with him and Jeff fell into a dreamless sleep.
* * *
“Is it ready?”
“Yes ma’am, I mean Nightrider, sir!”
“Shut up,” the Q Lab leader grinned.
“Shutting up. But please don’t bake me in a pie.”
“Hmm…okay, but there aren’t enough of you anyway. Isn’t it four and twenty?”
Blackbird laughed. “Well here we are. We’ve strengthened that entrance that the Magenta woman broke through—I don’t think that a Mack truck would even make a scratch now. Those rooms over there are new labs, though for now they only have subsidiary experiments to projects on-going in the main Lab.”
“I like it. But what do we call it?”
“Look over the door.”
Nightrider directed her gaze up to see a large sign that read “The Q Lab Annex.”
* * *
A sharp knock on the passenger side window startled the man awake from the first real sleep he’d had in a week.
For a moment Jeff flashed back to the last night he’d been so rudely awoken—his last day as Frodo Baggins. He was not in a good mood as his eyes cracked open. The sight of light glinting off a silver badge was enough to penetrate the rage of his sleep fogged brain.
“Yes officer?” he wearily queried as his window rolled down all of the way.
“You can’t sleep here buddy.” The officer sounded at least slightly apologetic.
“What? Why not?”
“Ah.” Now Jeff saw a sheepish grin flicker briefly across the observing visage. “I’m not exactly sure. They tell me it is an old ordinance, and Chief Quinsa has just announced that it must be enforced. No exceptions.”
“Even if I’ve been doing this for a couple of days already?” Jeff was nervous. Not only had this spot boasted a working streetlight but it was in range of an unsecured network. He hadn’t found many similar sites near the Slums.
“I’m afraid not. You’ll need to move. The hotel a couple streets over would be best.”
“What about the park? Are there any free benches there?” He didn’t really want to leave his car with his computers inside, but he knew of a network that overlapped part of the park’s parking lot and he was desperate.
“Nope. Those are reserved for bums. You have a car, so you’re no bum.”
“Okay sir,” Jeff sighed. He climbed into the driver’s seat and inserted his key into the ignition. Before he walked away the policeman offered one last piece of advice.
“Don’t just pull around the corner and park. I’ll be watching and your plates are flagged now.”
“Thanks,” Jeff mumbled before shifting the car into gear.
* * *
Nightrider leaned back into her stuffed easy chair, and raised her tumbler of brandy. “I don’t know. Are you sure we did the right thing?”
“Hmm?” Blackbird looked up from the old book he was perusing. “What right thing? Dumping Frodo?”
“Yes. Do you ever have any regrets that perhaps we were too hasty? Perhaps we upset the balance of Q Lab too much with a coup d’état…”
“No!” Her companion was decisive. “If anything it was Frodo that was upsetting the balance. For years everything had run smoothly, even if he did control the budget. Didn’t you notice that it was only after Xanga began to contact us that he changed? I think that he was jealous of the importance that everybody placed on Xanga’s ideas. Heck, if he’d had more power at the time I daresay he would have derailed Queen before we were able to test it.”
Nightrider sighed as she drained her chilled glass and then walked over to a side table to pour herself another. “I suppose that you are right. His budgetary authority was imposed only two days after we began testing on Damien. Hah, there is another point. What didn’t he like about that boy? Don’t you remember when he put his foot down on helping him? He was so irrational and arbitrary.”
“Aren’t they all? The bad ones I mean.” He raised his own glass. “Here’s to your reign, may it be long and peaceful.”
“Hear, hear.” Nightrider grinned before slumping back into her chair. “As soon as we can find him and extract the codes we’ll dispose of him. He is entirely too much of a distraction at large. I know that he can’t do anything—heck, we even deleted his Social Security account, right?”
She took another contemplative swallow of brandy before continuing. “Bah! I know he can’t hurt us, but I cannot stop thinking about him. This should be my time to steer Q Lab towards greater success, but my life is preoccupied with Jeff. First we find his time bomb, then we discover that we still need him, and finally we cannot find him. What is next? Will he fly out of the sky like Superman? How hard of an operation can it be to track down one programmer?”
“Hmmm, speaking of operations have you kept up with the Acidity reports?” Blackbird did his best to distract Nightrider from Jeff whenever possible. He reasoned that such an obsession as she had developed couldn’t possibly be healthy. Sometimes thankfully she allowed herself to be sidetracked, at least for a time.
“No, how is surveillance of that creature going?”
“Not well. You remember when our Queen subject died, of course. I still can’t believe the bad luck we had that he would fall in front of that truck. Of all the people controlled by that monster… We haven’t been able to capture anybody else so that we can implant Queen. It almost seems as though the minions have all disappeared.”
“That won’t work. We have to redouble our efforts to find them. I want to keep on top of the situation, and it is simply impossible without a spy in their ranks.”
“Understood. I’ll look into assigning some of any new recruits.”
“Oh yes, recruits.” Nightrider mused for several moments. “Keep me apprised of the recruitment situation, but please handle the details yourself. I simply cannot stand conducting normal interviews, let alone Q Lab sessions.”
“Shut up Blackbird.”
“As you wish…ma’am.” * * *
TO BE CONTINUED...
What will happen next time? Will Nightrider continue to lose her mind? Will the fire burn down Q Lab? Oh wait, sorry, wrong script. Please ignore that last question.
Labels: Acidity, Blackbird, Damien Valiant, Dr. Gordon, Jeff Smark, Nightrider