“You can’t go in there, Steven.”
Agent Slate turned. Shamus had a pistol leveled at him.
“You can’t go in there anymore. The power’s gone, Steven. She’s gone. You go in there, and it’s a paradox. No-one knows what will happen. You said it yourself. Step away.”
Slate turned back. He was staring at the green door. He had to have passed three layers of security to get here. How did he do that?
He must have left Ariel back at the hotel to pass the day. Yes…that’s right. He said he’d stretch his legs. But Shamus hadn’t said anything then. His partner looked like he’d hardly heard him.
Agent Slate released the door handle – he could barely remember reaching for it – and stepped back from the door to look at the thick new concrete all around it. A bunker. No entries, no exits but this one. Not even an air vent. The squat building was perhaps the size of a two room apartment. It was surrounded by the gloomy walls of an enormous warehouse, only half-lit and empty but for this structure in its center. Caution tape lay in ribbons on the floor around them.
He stepped back and away, and let the air out of his lungs. Shamus holstered his gun.
“The Marshal isn’t gone, Shamus. She’s right there.” said Slate, gesturing helplessly at the door.
“But so is he.” His partner responded, grabbing Slate’s shoulder and giving it a squeeze. “There was no other way. She knew it. You knew it. The Director knows. He hates you for it, but he knows. You can’t go in there.”
Slate held a hand to his head. “Did I hurt anyone?”
Shamus laughed. “Just now? No, lad. Just the pride of a few SEALs and a Secret Service man or two. I was on to you and phoned ahead. Damn fools didn’t listen like they should’ve.”
Slate raised an eyebrow at him. “Why the gun?”
His partner roguishly tapped the side of his temple as he threw his arm around Slate’s shoulders and began pulling the agent away from the door and back towards the entrance. “A bit of psychology more than anything else. I’m your partner, lad. I know damn well that against you this piece of metal is nothing more than a tree ornament. But there’s the rub. You know that I have no bloody business pointing the thing at you. You trust me. A little jolt like this can put some sense back into that head of yours.”
“Mr. Slate-” “Agent.” interjected Slate as he and Tempest walked side by side into the dark recesses of Hell’s Kitchen, New York. “Agent Slate, then,” Tempest continued, “Why, again, am I tagging along on this venture?”
Tempest was dressed as a civilian, at the request of her new employer. She had bundled herself into a trench coat to keep the chill of the backstreets at bay. Slate remained in his unassuming black on black on white. They looked like a couple of middle income folk out for a night on the town who had taken a wrong turn. Every alley they walked increased their chances of getting mugged exponentially. When one is trying to find a super, Slate knew, one doesn’t actively look for them. They have a tendency to find you, if you put yourself into the right circumstances.
“Miss, your things are getting moved to Central City as we speak. R&D is hitting up employers finding an appropriate job for you in town. You just so happen to have superpowers and we’re going to be working together on busting crime. I figure we get a good start on learning to trust one-another. Besides, the people we’re out to find are going to be your partners, too. Best you meet them in their element, same as me.”
Agent Slate stopped in the middle of a particularly deserted alley. He’d heard the scrape of metal on brick ahead of them, and soft footsteps behind. He grabbed Tempest’s arm, stopping her short. She felt tense under his grasp. Hell’s Kitchen was a bad place for anyone, even a super.
There were a few beats of silence, then out of the shadows ahead and behind them, three men strode forward. The gleam of moonlight on knives and a heavy lead pipe served to inform the pair of their intent, but the lone man ahead of them spoke out.
“Evenin’. You’ve taken a wrong turn, the both of you. There’s a toll to find your way home again.” The man was a sailor, by his garb, and an unemployed one, by his stench. The other two were of similar station. “Hand over your valuables, or you’re dead.”
“Boys, boys,” said Agent Slate, reaching for his concealed pistol, “we can work this out. Do you take checks?”
“D’you take checks, ‘e says, Ed.” said one of the men behind them. “We’ll see what ‘e says when ‘e ‘ears ‘is little slice squeal.”
Slate had his fingers around the grip of his gun when suddenly a shadow dulled the light of the moon. He glanced quickly up and, for a moment, almost wished he hadn’t. “Mother of God…” He whispered.
Silver moonlight sharply defined the cold copper diving helmet, the loose orange suit swaying beneath it, all eerily suspended in an enormous, gleaming bubble. It was looking down at them, this thing, and even from this distance the red eyes gleaming from beyond the thick glass of the helmet brought a cold fear into the agent’s gut.
The suit’s loose gloves raised to either side, and Tempest gasped as suddenly two equally substantial bubbles cut off either end of the alley. The thugs hadn’t seemed to have noticed, and began chuckling and advancing.
“You boys are in for a rough night.” said Slate as he pulled his gun.
The otherworldly being shot down amoungst them like a bullet, raised an arm again, and fired a stream of bubbles which smacked into the lone man in front of the pair like a thousand sling-stones hurled at once. The man crumpled into a heap without a word of protest. Slate turned and fired, taking out the kneecap of the big man with the pipe behind them. He screamed and dropped like a sack of potatoes. There was a sudden wind, and the last thug, who had been the last to speak, was immediately and mercilessly slammed into the alley’s wall, sliding down to the ground with a moan.
With the lone, conscious thug’s wails as a backdrop, Slate turned to the creature that had come to help them. “Ghost Diver?”
“Correct.” Came the reply. A reverberation that emanated from the being without seeming to be made by any physical qualities it possessed. The Ghost Diver turned and Slate got a good look within its helmet. He gasped along with Tempest at the sight. A skull, its eyes filled with a bright red malevolence, grinned eternally back at him. Its jaws did not open when the being spoke. “These are killers. Vengeance must be swift.”
“No…no please!” Were the last words of the injured thug as the angel of death glided over him and raised a gloved hand. A bubble appeared over the man’s head, and his screams were mercifully silenced as the bubble slowly shrank and squeezed until bone shattered and gave, and the man’s desperate clawing at the gleaming bubble halted.
The other two suffered the same grisly fate, though they had no opportunity to object. Agent Slate and Tempest simply stood back, and watched as much as their stomachs allowed. Once Ghost Diver was finished, Slate strode forward. “Diver, I’ll come right to it. I’m a government agent with S.P.L.I.C.E., a watchdog for the proliferation of super-humans.” He shakily flashed his badge. “I’m looking for powerful patriots to defend America from the threat of equally powerful villains. Thugs just like these, who will kill and destroy for profit, but with abilities rivaling your own.”
“You wish me to join you.” The Ghost Diver turned to the man. “I seek my murderer. A spy. A traitor. My partner in life. My purpose is vengeance.”
The Agent dipped his head. “If you agree to help us, S.P.L.I.C.E. will use its resources to look into the location of your former partner.”
The fires in the Diver’s eye sockets burned brighter. “Agreed.”
“Good, then. We’re headed to Illinois and elsewhere to find more members for our crew, but we will be based in Central City when all is said and done. Head there if you like. We’ll contact you. And hey, if you happen to meet up with a cape named Midnight Man while you’re there, take his temperature, would you?”
The Ghost Diver said nothing to this, but immediately flew up and away, the most terrifying floating snow-globe anyone was about to see.
Tempest turned, found a quiet corner of the alley, and retched. Slate reached for his hip flask, took a fortifying swig, and, replacing it, pulled out a notebook, scratching a name off a list. “Two.”