The moon had been out and shining over New York City, but soon after leaving the perimeter of the metropolis, Ghost Diver became lost amoung the clouds and the darkness of the night.
He had no need to waste time gathering belongings, seeking out and informing family members, or all the other concerns, trials and tribulations that accompanied moving from one city to another. Such tedium was for the living. No, he departed immediately, and at great speed. Encased in his bubble, the spectre could fly at hundreds of kilometers an hour. Night had not yet passed before he had followed the eastern seaboard to Central City.
The Ghost Diver slowed and surveyed this new city, wherein he would continue to enact his vengeance. It was smaller in size to the one he had just departed, but formidable. The downtown area featured enormous skyscrapers, emblazoned with the names of prosperous technology companies. The east side of the city was full of industrial warehouses, and the city’s harbor. Swaths of urban residential districts and commercial malls stretched out from these workplaces.
After he had eyed the city to his own satisfaction, the supernatural being decided to investigate the nightlife, and get to the business at hand. Noticing a streetwalker on a lonely downtown corner, he rocketed down next to her. “I seek out evil,” he began, but the instant the woman turned to look at him, she blanched, and, trying to back away, tripped on her heels and tumbled to the concrete sidewalk.
“Oh god. Oh god please…” She said, eyes wide and filled with terror at the sight of the ghastly being.
“You misunderstand, I am vengeance. I do not seek you.” The Ghost Diver floated gently closer, but his words were no use. The woman only tried to squirm back further, only to find her way impeded by a lamppost. “Please…please…please…” she whimpered over and over again, seemingly unable to vocalize anything more significant or louder than that. Tears streamed from her eyes.
“Step away from the Lady. Or should I say, float?”
The Ghost Diver turned. He had not heard this man’s approach. He was clad all in black. An armour-plated suit of some kind covered much of his body. His face was masked and goggled.
“I seek crime, and punish it.” said Ghost Diver, grinning eerily from beyond his diving helmet. “I wished only to ask this woman where it might be found.”
The black-clad man stepped slowly around Ghost Diver, keeping his distance from the bubble around the ethereal being. “Well, it seems to me you might be a mite too terrifying to just stroll up to someone and ask something like that.”
The Ghost Diver paused, watching as the man slowly put himself between the ghost and the girl. “You do not seem shaken,” he observed.
A grin flashed across the masked face. “I don’t scare easy.”
The Ghost Diver paused again, contemplating. “You are Midnight Man?”
The grin remained. “I see my reputation precedes me. Yes. Now would you back off and leave this poor woman be?”
Ghost Diver raised a drooping glove, gesturing towards a nearby building. “You will speak with me upon that rooftop.”
With that, the superhuman shot up into the air and fixed himself upon the designated roof. Midnight Man, now far below, helped the woman up and sent her on her way before quietly slipping into a nearby alley. Ghost Diver peered after him, wondering where he could have gone, when suddenly someone cleared a throat behind him.
The ghost turned about. Midnight Man casually lounged against a ventilation duct. “So, what’s the story?”
“I am to recruit you. An initiative known as Section 9, run through S.P.L.I.C.E., shall be fighting crime in Central City. You are known. You are welcome.” The Ghost Diver’s burning eyes flashed brightly at this.
“Huh. S.P.L.I.C.E. is finally putting some men here? About time. Sure, I’m in.” Midnight Man pushed himself off the duct. “Now, I’m not sure if I got this right, but did I hear you say something about crime-fighting? Maybe once or a half dozen times or so?”
Ghost Diver’s eyes flashed again, and Midnight Man grinned. He ran and leaped from the rooftop, a pair of lightweight, precision engineered wings automatically popping from his armored back, and a silent propulsion system igniting to fly him over the city’s streets. In an instant, Ghost Diver was at his side. The city would be much safer that night.
“Why, in the name of all that is holy, am I in Billings, Montana?”
Max Power was strolling along an alley with his new companions, Tempest and Agent Slate. The Agent had said little about their destination and even less about who or what they were looking for. The field agent that had met them at the airport had been equally tight-lipped to Tempest and Max, though he and Slate had talked for some time. Since finding out exactly where he was, Max had been silently steaming.
“One of the fastest growing cities in the country, Max. Billings has a trade and distribution area almost four states wide,” replied Slate unconcernedly.
“That is because it’s located in the middle of fucking nowhere, Slate! Hell, I could set up a pool hall twenty miles down the road, and they’d start calling it a competing market!” He took a long drag on his cigar. “Fuck the midwest. Steaks are about the only thing it’s good for.”
Slate simply shrugged and continued walking. For some reason, he allowed a silver pocket watch to dangle from its place on his belt, seemingly unconcerned by its gentle swing and bump with every step. Tempest trotted along, looking equally miffed, though that might have just as easily been because Max had tried to make some simple conversation on their trip over, and she hadn’t taken kindly. Wound tighter than the agent’s watch, that one.
They continued in silence for a while, before Tempest took her turn to sigh with frustration. “Slate. What are we looking for?”
“Justice,” said the man, turning down yet another dank, smelly alleyway.
Max spat on the ground. “Bastard’s not gonna give it up, Tempest. For whatever reason, he wants us acting natural. Goddamn spooks don’t ever trust nobody to get a job done right.”
Slate rounded on the two of them. “Now listen here. We’re looking for someone, yes, but this guy’s trickier than most, and if we don’t play it right, he’s not gonna show himself, never mind help us. So either shut your traps or, if you are incapable of patience, talk about the great game the goddamn Yankees are probably playing right now. Lord knows why I’m fucking missing it to do this bullshit.”
He swung back around, but didn’t take two steps before his hand shot to his belt. “Son of a bitch.” The watch was gone.
“Tempest! In the air! Now! See if you can find who took it!”
Ariel was just in regular streetclothes, but the chances that she’d be recognized in Billings were slim to nothing. She zipped quickly up above the buildings, and caught sight of a kid running at full tilt down a side alley. She pointed in the direction of his escape. “Over there!”
Max and Slate ran forward, trying to find the appropriate route, Max easily outpacing the agent. Meanwhile, Tempest flew out ahead of the miscreant and then quickly descended in front of him, using her air powers to lift and hold him in mid-air, where he struggled. “Lemme go!”
Max soon arrived on the scene, followed eventually by Slate. As soon as he arrived, the agent walked forward to the struggling figure. “My watch?” he asked, raising his hand.
The child – the boy couldn’t have been more than thirteen years old – glared at the open hand for a few moments, but eventually he relented and dropped a silver watch into the agent’s palm. Slate nodded, but he continued to hold out his hand. “And our wallets?”
Max’s curse singed the ears of those gathered as he felt at his pockets and discovered that indeed, his wallet had been missing. Tempest also took a moment to investigate her purse, quickly learning that the change purse was gone as well. Her lips twisted in response, and when the boy began protesting that he had no such things, she started twirling him end over end. Eventually he relented in that as well, returning their lost valuables.
“Now,” said Slate, gesturing for Tempest to set the boy down, which she did gently enough. “Where are your parents?”
“Don’t have none.” Said the boy, who they’d learned was named Chuck.
“Why aren’t you in the orphanage?” he asked, raising a brow.
“Didn’ like it.” The boy pouted.
“Alright. We’re going to see if we can find you a nice foster home, and maybe some employment for those tricky fingers, Chuck.” He pulled a radio and called for their local S.P.L.I.C.E. agent to come and pick up the kid. Soon he was on his way.
Shortly after the child had departed, the three noticed a new face amoungst them. They hadn’t seen…it…approach.
“He was a criminal. You did not mete out justice.”
The voice had a heavy Asian accent, and came from beyond a white and red Japanese kabuki mask, wreathed in shadow. The liquid darkness descended from the mask in the general shape of a man, though the image rippled, and shadow licked about the feet of the being as if it were wearing a cloak made of the insubstantial stuff.
Before Max or Tempest could react, Slate stepped forward. “The law does not prosecute minors in the same way it prosecutes adults. Besides, it was petty crime. At worst, he’d get some time in juvy. This way, he might get another chance at a better life.”
The kabuki mask simply stared vacantly, its expression just as harsh and judging as it had been before and would likely always be. After a few more beats of silence, the being spoke again.
“You must…pardon me. The mask requires justice of its wielder. It sees the world in black and white. It is…difficult to resist, sometimes.”
The voice sounded less alien, more lifelike now. “I am known as Shade.”
Slate nodded. “Yes. I’ve been looking for you.”
The shadowy figure returned the nod. “I thought you might be. I heard your conversation. You work with S.P.L.I.C.E.?”
The agent nodded again. “Yes. We are opening up a new branch of our service to the country, and accepting new members. We seek justice too, for everyone, but most specifically we combat super villains. Those men and women who have been granted abilities beyond the norm, and choose to use them for evil. We will seek them out by any means.”
Shade’s voice became vaguely off once again. Emotionless and cold. “Our cause aligns. I will join you. Where am I to go?”
Slate pointed east. “Central City. Our base of operations will be there. Welcome to Section 9.”
Shade did not reply. Quite suddenly, the body of the being melded into the shadows of the alley, the mask quickly disappearing from sight, enveloped into what seemed like a pool of inky blackness, which quickly solidified and became simple shadow once again.
All three supers simply stared at the spot where the…thing had once been.
Tempest cleared her throat. “You know, Slate, when I agreed to this, I was pretty sure it wouldn’t be worth it. Now? I’m certain of it.”
Agent Slate glanced at her and sighed. “How do you think I feel? I was ordered to do this.”
He drew out a notebook and crossed another name off the list. Bastard found me every kook he could pluck, giving me just enough sane people to remind me how ridiculous this is.
He glared down at the last name, ‘Midnight Man,’ and snorted. If we last ’till Christmas without killing each other, it’ll be a miracle.