Nobody and the Spider (16.5)

Intermission

 

Previously

 

The screen went black.

“What the shit?” Cho wondered.

The laptop started smoking. He cursed, waving the smoke away. He disconnected the wooden box from his laptop and in a panic started waving the laptop up and down, trying to put the fire out.

“Sir?” someone called out, knocking on his office door.

“Shit! What is it?” Cho asked, dropping his laptop in a trash can.

“Um, Mr. Beacon wants to know if you’re done with your speech,” the man asked. Cho grabbed the box and shoved it under his desk.

“Yeah yeah, I’m coming out.”

Cho left his office and made sure it was locked tight. The person who’d knocked on his door was nowhere in sight. He thought that was weird but didn’t give it a second thought. He entered the war room where Beacon and the others waited. The screens in the war room were running cell phone and helicopter footage of protests, counter protests, vigilante actions against both, and clashes with police by people with and without powers. It was chaos everywhere. The talking heads had devolved to screaming at each other.

“But superheroes have protected us for decades and this is how we repay them?” one talking head asked. “By forcing these violations of privacy on them, we’re telling them that all the trust and good will we’ve built up in our cities and our communities over the years means nothing.”

“Anonymity breeds irresponsibility,” said another talking head. “If we could see their faces and know their names, the worst of the abuses we’ve observed this past week in the streets of Jet City would never have happened!”

“Without Mask Law protections, fewer people would take up the noble profession of crime fighting. Before long, only bad guys would operate in the open while good guys staid at home, ignoring the call to service because they wish to be law abiding citizens or fear exposing their friends and family to danger. And I know I don’t have to say it, but I will! The only way to beat a bad guy with a superpower, is a good guy with a superpower!”

“There’s nothing in the Constitution that says a person has the right to wear a mask. In fact, stop pretending that these superhumans have our best interest in mind at all. They enact their power fantasies and soap operatic high school drama in our cities and on our streets and call it ‘crime fighting’. Ask around. Good guys, bad guys, they all know each other! They hang out in the same circles because they can’t relate to normal humans anymore. It’s one giant club and we’re not in it!”

“Shut it off. Shut it all off,” Cho ordered. His social media director did so. The room got quiet and all eyes were on him. “Ahem. We’ve all read the reports. Everyone here is aware of what the news and the internet are saying. I don’t blame them. I mean, all we’ve been telling them is ‘the investigation is ongoing’ and four days is a long time for conspiracy theories to brew. But that’s over now. So all that’s left is what the investigators have found. And it’s not great. Honestly, it could blow this whole city apart and level my political career for good. But it’s the truth. And it’s going to kick all our asses. So I want everyone here to be ready for anything.” He paused, then added, “Good luck to you all.”

In front of city hall, Cho stepped out to a throng of reporters, journalists, and news people of every stripe. He’d never seen a bigger press pool. Everyone and their mother was here to listen to what he had to say. There were even a few drone reporters hovering nearby, capturing B-roll for news sites. Not two blocks away, police barricades manned by cops in full riot gear stood vigilant against several groups of protestors and counter-protestors.

Cho took to the stage and cleared his throat. The speech would define his short career. Though it would be quickly overshadowed by coming events, it would be remembered as the turning point of the crisis. The point before everything went to shit.

“Good morning,” he began. “My fellow Jetizens,” Cho caught himself and quickly cleared his throat. “Erm, Jet City Citizens. Ahem. There’s a lot to get through, so I’m just going to get to it. This morning, not two hours ago, city and federal investigators finished their investigation into what people are calling the ‘Cosmo Incident’. On May 13, a terror attack was perpetrated on residents and visitors of this fair city. Using a sophisticated hacking tool, these individuals were able to hijack the visual displays and audio systems of the Cosmo Convention Center, then hosting Hero Fest, and create a facsimile of the supposed leader of the gang known as the Spiders. They then caused the facsimile to threaten the people attending Hero Fest with bombs, should they fail to adhere to their demands. We now believe this was intentionally done to separate those with superpowers or vigilante inclinations from the others, making them more easily identifiable.

“This was followed by the cutting of power to the entire convention center and an area around it equivalent to about five city blocks. Less than an hour after that, the masked vigilante known as Nobody and a group of Cosmo security personnel he apparently hypnotized, perpetrated a mass shooting within the Cosmo hotel, killing dozens of people and…” Cho sucked in a breath. “and injuring many dozens more, apparently targeting what he considered to be ‘criminals’ and ‘enemies of Justice’. After that, a series of explosions occurred within the convention center which caused a massive structural collapse, leveling half of the main building.”

He paused again, fighting with his emotions.

“Two hundred people are… are dead. Many hundreds more were injured in the resultant violence. And the one behind it all, the Spider hoax and the shooting and the bombing…” he took a breath. “…Nobody, we know you’re out there. We have the manifesto. We know what you’ve done and why you did it. There is no running from the consequences.”

Four photo stills from the CCTV cameras inside the Cosmo appeared on the screen behind Cho, showing a blurry Nobody, James in his motorcycle helmet, and the costumed Mallory and Tina.

“The freedom given by our Mask Laws allowed this individual and his accomplices to do this. As such, I am calling for the immediate repeal of all Jet City Mask Laws until this affair is sorted out. For the families of those who lost their lives in this tragedy, I promise they will answer for what they’ve done. I promise. Nobody and his co-conspirators will be brought to justice. Thank you.”

He left the podium to cries of “Mr. Mayor!” and camera flashes. Beacon joined him afterwards as he walked back to his office, congratulating him on a speech well delivered.

“Wasn’t my best,” Cho admitted.

“You did fine,” Beacon curtly replied. “The JCPD is fortifying key critical positions as we speak. You’ll have control of the streets before day’s end.”

“Just make sure we don’t have any more incidents like we did this morning and I’ll be happy,” said Cho.

“I’m sure your officers will do just fine,” Beacon replied.

“Keep me posted on the superhero front,” said Cho.

“If I may, I’d like to remind the mayor that neither I, nor my team, will be able to do our jobs if the Mask Laws are repealed,” Beacon said, in a measured tone. Cho abruptly stopped and turned to face him.

“Then I guess you’ll just have to do your job on the other side of city limits,” Cho said. Beacon eyed him for a moment, then took a kerchief from his breast pocket and wiped his forehead.

“The governor won’t be pleased to hear that.”

“He can come down here and tell me that. Or better yet, answer his damn phone,” Cho said, storming off.

When he returned to his office, the first thing Cho noticed was that the mystery box was gone. The second thing he noticed was a mess of loose papers on his desk flying from the breeze coming from the slight crack of his open office window.

“What the fuck,” he said flatly.

Two minutes before, a man dressed in a janitor’s uniform, hat pulled low over his eyes, wheeling a large trash bin behind him had infiltrated the building, picked the lock to Cho’s office, and hidden the box in said trash bin. He opened the mayor’s window to throw off the trail and calmly walked out the back door, through the alley, and into the back of a waiting windowless white van with a fake janitorial service logo spray painted on the side.

“Did you get it?” the driver asked.

“I did,” the man replied, prying the box open to make sure of its contents.

“Thank god. We might have a fighting chance now.”

“You’ve done enough, James,” Nobody said.

“Bull shit!” James replied.

“You risked too much. The only one identified was me. Just me. You and others can and should walk away right now.”

“Those fuckers,” James took a breath, holding the memories at bay. “Those fuckers are going to pay for what they did. They’re not getting away with this shit. Too many assholes get away with shit in this world. Not this time. They’re getting what’s coming to them. And… I’m gonna be there when they do,” said James, pulling out of the alley and into the streets of Jet City.

“They will,” Nobody said, slightly grinning as he tapped his fingers on the box. “They will.”

 

The Spider tapped his fingers on the metal rail overlooking the machine. Theo and two of his engineer buddies were working feverishly to keep the new energy core from blowing the place up. It wasn’t pretty; a hideous chimera of Brighton tech, salvaged Fusion Inc. hardware, the Cosmo Corporation’s state of the art reactor core and Theo’s own homebrew systems. Somehow it held together. Now they just had to get the damn thing to keep running long enough for the device to work. The dishes on the device whirred, stopped, started again and hummed as they charged.

“Look at that beauty. I love it when a doomsday weapon comes together,” Rio said, parking himself next to the Spider on the walkway.

“It’s hardly a doomsday weapon. You’d know that if you read the briefs,” said the Spider.

“Tell that to the people outside,” Rio said with a humorless chuckle.

“And to everyone not wearing these,” Lydia said, modeling her protective ear buds.

“Working Group 7 wants to create color revolutions on demand. This is the closest we’ve ever gotten,” said the Spider, sounding stressed for the first time they could remember. “Intelligence groups and mercenary corporations will pay out the ass for tech like this. We prove it works during the Centennial when the whole world’s watching or it’s back to square one.”

“You know, doing the revolution tango is a lot more fun the old fashioned way,” Lydia said, tapping the AR-15 slung over her shoulder.

“We are a ‘supervillain in charge of a street gang’. Stick to the scenario, sergeant,” said the Spider.

“What happens when this thing backfires and turns all our brains to mush?” Cynthia asked, joining the other two.

“We consider ourselves lucky,” the Spider said, wiping sweat off his brow.

“Is the Spider nervous?” Rio asked with a laugh. The Spider’s piercing brown eyes whipped to his, which shut Rio up real quick.

“You here this baby purr?” Theo called from down below. “We so totally got this!”

“Okay. All right. Let’s fuck this town up,” the Spider announced.

 

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