And then that's it. That's all there is.
The Return of Dr. Necropolis
Chapter 2: Titania
Tiffany Trujillo almost dropped her keys going into her apartment. She’d been wearing three-inch heels for the last four hours, and it was dark, and truth was, walking in heels was murder. It probably would’ve made more sense to glide up the stairs, but she was tired, and gliding took effort. So she hoofed it like a real girl, but then she caught her foot on the last step before the landing on the third floor, just as she was reaching into her purse for her keys. She cursed, and her keys went flying, but then time slowed and elongated, and she was able to grab her keys and right herself before she fell and before the keys themselves went flying over the railing and she had to trudge back down three flights just to get into her apartment. After a day of laundry and housecleaning, followed by her sister’s baby shower--and the nearly two-hour drive each way that said baby shower entailed--the effort of super-speed left Tiffany lightheaded and exhausted. But on the flipside, she supposed that she must’ve looked like a ninja snatching her falling keys out of the air like that, especially in a dress that made her look like Cinderella.
Not that there was anyone who might have noticed.
A moment later, Tiffany turned her key in the lock, opened the door, and called out, “I’m home!” But neither of her cats were waiting at the door, and even calling out like that felt like an effort after the never-ending traffic of I-95 and the stress of all those girls fawning over her sister’s giant pregnant belly.
Tiffany threw her keys down, grabbed a glass off the shelf, opened the fridge, and tapped the box of chardonnay that was the only decent occupant inside her refrigerator. The chardonnay was stiff but drinkable even after two weeks in the fridge--three cheers for vacuum packaging!--and Tiffany let out a sigh. Then she kicked off her heels on the spot and focused what attention she had left. With a grunt, she jumped and left the ground, gliding like a queen with her arms straight out from her sides across her apartment and onto her couch.
So what if my baby sister is having a baby? she thought. I’m still the only one in this family who can fly.
Tiffany landed lightly on her couch, kicked her feet up, and finally let herself relax. She needed to get out of the dress, but for now, it was just too much effort. Instead, she took another drag on her chardonnay.
And then her phone rang.
“Good evening, ma’am. This is Lieutenant Blaine Winters, special liaison to the FBI field office in Manhattan. Is Special Agent Tiffany Trujillo available?”
He sounded impossibly young, even over the phone.
Tiffany lay back and closed her eyes. “This is Trujillo, lieutenant. Do you know what time it is?”
“It’s ten p.m., ma’am. Sorry for calling so late.”
“Are you fucking kidding me? This is the first day I’ve had off in two weeks. What the Hell do you want, Winters?”
“Yes, ma’am. I’m sorry, ma’am, but Officer Walcott directed me to call you about yesterday’s incident here at the Manhattan Diamond Exchange. He said you were something of an expert on, ahem, Dr. Necropolis.”
Tiffany shook her head. “Frank McGuinness is in Sing Sing, lieutenant, so you can tell Cassey Walcott that I sincerely doubt that he had anything to do with the heist.”
“Yes ma’am. Umm... Officer Walcott said that he wanted your opinion on the crime scene.”
“My...?” Tiffany looked at her watch, shook her head. Decided to agree to whatever would get this Winters kid off the phone, even if it was a favor for Casey Walcott. “Fine. Whatever. Just tell Casey to email my boss, and I’ll be down there tomorrow morning, first thing.”
“What?” The moment stretched out. “Don’t tell me. He wants me down there tonight?” It wasn’t really a question.
“Shit. What an asshole. And I was just down there. You guys couldn’t have called an hour ago?”
“Sorry, ma’am. He just--”
“No, it’s okay. Jeez, Winters, even the Diogenes Society never kept hours like these.”
Surprisingly, Winters laughed. “That’s not what the old-timers say.”
“Yeah?” Tiffany said, “well then they’re lying to you, pal. Trust me, nobody fucks you around like the government does.”
It took Tiffany nearly three-quarters of an hour to change clothes, dig up her gear, and--most importantly--comb the hair spray out of her hair so that she could pull it back into some semblance of something that she could wear to a crime-scene. By the time she got the Diamond Exchange, it was well past midnight. Unfortunately, the place was still hopping.
The Exchange itself wasn’t just a single building, it was actually a little neighborhood on Manhattan’s east side in Midtown. Also called the “Diamond District”, it had once been a major import/export jewelry exchange and wholesalers’ market, but while some of that still took occurred, these days the District survived more on its retail reputation than on any need actual jewelry wholesalers had to examine product in bulk and in-person. Still, the place made a flashy target, especially in the era of Internet sales and just-in-time delivery, and as Tiffany drove up, she could tell that the Siberian Tiger and Gun-Girl Gracie had made a mess of it, hitting storefronts on both sides of the street and all up and down the row. In response, New York City’s police department, the FBI, and the New York National Guard’s Enhanced Powers Division—the so-called “Centurions”—had combined to turn the place into a circus of flashing lights and crime scene tape.
Of course, the Centurions hadn’t been called “Centurions” back when Tiffany had been been a member. Back then, they’d been the Diogenes Society, and they’d have laughed, Tiffany knew, at even the idea of federal oversight. But that had been a very different time. For one thing, they’d had Puck, and he’d never have stood for it.
Tiffany shook her head. No use dwelling on ancient history.
At least a dozen cop cars were parked around the District, blocking traffic flow all the way across Fifth Avenue, which at this point looked like some kind of midnight street fair for law enforcement officials. It must have been Hell on the commuters earlier in the day, Tiffany thought, but by midnight, there weren’t nearly as many onlookers as there were regular beat cops just standing around drinking coffee and soaking up the opportunity for as much easy overtime as their department would allow. But while most of the uniformed officers were just standing around outside the tape manning crowd control, inside the crime scene tape it was a different story. Whole masses of folks were scurrying busily--analyzing, taking pictures, taking notes, documenting the scene in the minutest detail. Nearly all of these wore the Bureau’s trademark blue windbreakers with the orange letters “FBI” stenciled on the back, and they all came and went from a single central hive, a large blue canvas tent set up in the center of the scene that served as the Incident Command Post. Tiffany was pretty sure that that’s where she would find Casey Walcott. However, Tiffany’s initial attention was drawn to the pair of young men standing outside the command tent like, well, centurions.
The first was tall and very muscular, light-skinned, lantern-jawed, and sporting a blonde crew cut. If he wasn’t quite as big as Schwarzenegger in his prime, he was at least big enough that he could’ve played Guard on any number of teams in the National Football League. However, he was dressed like a soldier. He wore a regular, regulation U.S. Army Combat Uniform but with a soft cap and his sleeves rolled up--which just served to show how big the kid’s arms were. He had a single black bar stencilled onto a green tab that looped through a central buttonhole at his mid-chest.
Lieutenant Winters, then.
Winters’s partner was black, not quite as tall, thin--athletic rather than skinny--and kept his head shaved bald. He’d forgone the Army uniform in favor of black leather pants and a heavy leather biker’s jacket, both of which Tiffany recognized from her Diogenes Society days, and he wore mirrored sunglasses, even at midnight, much to the consternation of the FBI agents nearby. Against the looks the FBI guys kept throwing, the kid’s face was stony and impassive.
Tiffany was suddenly glad that she’d decided to wear her own uniform from back in the day. It was also black leather--pants and a sleeveless vest, though only the vest was reinforced with Kevlar. The lack of sleeves drew attention to Tiffany’s arms and to the heavy titanium bracers that ran halfway up her forearms. The bracers were evil-looking things, burnished silver with spikes and a positive-sequence charge that had been designed in, ironically enough, by none other than Dr. Necropolis himself.
In addition to the uniform, Tiffany had also worn a push-up bra. Because at thirty-six, she was experienced enough to know that she needed whatever advantages she could get. Whether that meant wearing an ex-superhero’s uniform to in/timidate the beat cops or just showing some cleavage to get the drop on any man who was just too stupid not to look her in the eyes, it was all the same. You took what they gave you and used it for whatever it was worth.
That was something else she’d gotten from Dr. Necropolis.
Tiffany got out of the car, hung her badge around her neck, and headed for the crime scene. A couple of the cops started staring, but she ignored them and headed straight for Winters and his partner. When she got to the crime scene tape, she made a point of gliding over it rather than just ducking under like a real girl would. Then Winters noticed her, and she had a moment of satisfaction as she watched his mouth drop open.
But then Tiffany’s own mouth nearly dropped open. She recognized him!
Of course you do, Tif, she thought. He’s Blaine Winters. Gave his name right over the phone.
Blaine Winters. Son of Scott Winters, also known as The Eagle, and Emma Jean Winters, the so-called Ice Queen. Scion of the whole damned ultra-human community. It had been a coup when he’d joined the Centurions after doing college ROTC like a real boy, proof that the government wasn’t simply trying to control ultra-humans and the way they lived their lives, that Uncle Sam just wanted to sponsor the efforts of those gifted with super-abilities. After the way the government had botched the Diogenes Society’s nationalization, causing Puck to leave and a whole lot of hard feelings besides, Winters’ voluntary recruitment--and the tacit familial approval that it implied--had done a lot to keep the peace in the small but tightly-knit community of those gifted with super powers.
“Titania?” Winters asked. “What are you doing here? I thought you were retired.” The shocked look on his face was priceless.
“You called me at home,” Tiffany replied. “Don’t you remember? I, uh, don’t go by the name Titania anymore.”
“So now you’re--”
“Well, to be fair, Winters, I’ve always been Tiffany Trujillo. But yeah, now I’m a special agent for the FBI, assigned to the Bridgeport, Connecticut, field office. Still, I figured that if we’re here talking about Dr. Necropolis, I might as well wear the old uniform. I take it that your friend ihere s the new Kid Zulu?”
“It’s just ‘Zulu’ now,” Winter’s partner replied. He had a formal African accent, the kind a person got from learning English in a former Colonial school run by British expatriates. “I have never understood why Dr. Mbeke allowed people to call him ‘Kid’.”
“But... Blaine said, “I don’t understand. How come you’re not a part of the Centurions program?”
“Just lucky, I guess,” Tiffany said. “You know, Puck... he objected to the idea of joining the Army. Didn’t want to do anything with the government at all. And it’s not like they could force him. He used to wear those crazy Hawaiian shirts just to make the point that he wasn’t gonna be what you expected him to be, and there was nothing you could do about it.” Tiffany sighed. “But then he... well, he went back to Alpha Centauri. And my protection went with him.
She shrugged. “But people knew, right? I mean, Puck and Titania, we were a team. People knew that we’d been together. So it’s not like they could just draft me; literally everyone in America knew--at least five years ago, they’d known--that I didn’t want anything to do it. So the government and me, we came to a compromise. And now I’m in the FBI.”
Zulu’s face was still stony, but Winters looked confused, and Tiffany realized that she’d overwhelmed him with her cynicism. In a way, he was exactly like Puck--powerful enough to be exactly who he wanted to be and damn the consequences. Only Winters wanted to be a soldier. Unlike Tiffany and Winters’s friend Zulu, Winters himself didn’t need a bunch of tricks, fancy gadgets, and kevlar-reinforced leather to keep him alive in super-combat. So he could dress exactly the way he wanted. And he chose to wear a uniform.
Tiffany didn’t know what to make of that.