The Return of Dr. Necropolis
Chapter 4: I Know What You Did That Summer
Tiffany stepped into the FBI command center. From the outside, it had looked like a fairly sizable tent, but inside it was stuffy and crowded. A bare electric light bulb hung from a single outlet strung from the ceiling, and a handful of techs sat at computer screens around the tent’s periphery, all dressed in either the trademark blue FBI windbreakers or blue coveralls. The computers themselves hummed with unthinking electric efficiency, but between their waste heat and all of the bodies sitting close together in such a close area, the tent itself was both overly warm and vaguely nauseating. Casey Walcott stood on the far side of the little tent, perhaps ten feet away, hovering over a tech who was reviewing some kind of closed-circuit surveillance footage. He was an older guy, balding and a little paunchy, almost kindly-looking with his steel-rimmed glasses and jowly cheeks. But Tiffany knew he had a temper. It had been years since they’d worked together, and even after all that time, Tiffany still had absolutely no desire to renew their former professional partnership.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t like she could go home before she’d at least talked to the guy. They might’ve been partners once, briefly and long ago, but now Casey was a full section manager in the Manhattan Field Office while Tiffany herself was still just a lowly Field Agent, and at a much less prestigious location. He was, therefore, fully capable of compelling her presence at a crime scene that was well outside her personal jurisdiction in the middle of the night. The fact that he was willing to merely reinforced what she remembered from their time together.
Casey Walcott, she thought. Major league asshole.
She walked up to him. “Well, you asked me here, Casey. Tell me what you got.”
Casey turned around, took in the way Tiffany was dressed, and his eyebrows rose. “Circus come to town, Ms. Trujillo?”
Tiffany scoffed. “Gimme a break, Agent Walcott. You called me down here in the middle of the night on a Sunday. I figured maybe you had a hostage situation or something and dressed the part.”
Casey looked at his watch. “Well, it’s Monday now, Tiff, so don’t worry. You’re back on the clock. But since you asked, no, I didn’t call you down here because you used to like to play dress up. I called you because I need some information.”
“And it couldn’t have waited another six hours?”
“What? You think this is some game for me?”
“I’m not the one playing games, Casey.”
Casey looked around, realized the techs were staring. “Come on, Agent Trujillo. Let’s take this outside.”
Tiffany followed when Casey led her outside but was surprised when they got away from the command tent, and still he kept walking. “Where the Hell are you going?” she asked.
“What is your problem, Tiffany?” Casey asked. He turned, looking both surprised and pissed off. “I’m taking you to the crime scene. It’s why I called. Are you coming, or would you rather stand there and question every single move I make for the rest of the night?”
Tiffany hurried to catch up, boots clacking loudly on the ground.
“Fuck, those things are ridiculous,” Casey said.
Tiffany shrugged. “Dramatic effect. The Owl’s idea.”
“You’re an FBI agent now, not a fucking superhero.” Casey shook his head. “It’s time to grow up, Tiff. Past time.”
What the Hell do you know about it? Tiffany thought.
But then she looked at him, and even she could see that he was right. He was what the FBI wanted. He’d gotten promoted because he looked the way they wanted him to look, thought the way they wanted him to think. One of them was an imposter in a costume, and the other was an honest-to-God special agent in the FBI.
Tiffany didn’t quite shake her head. “You had something you wanted to show me?”
Casey lifted up a line of crime scene tape and stepped underneath. Tiffany followed and then followed again when Casey opened the door to one of the Diamond District’s shops. On the floor inside the shop, there were several chalked outlines where bodies had fallen--three in all, but Tiffany had a feeling that there were more that she couldn’t see. The bodies themselves had been removed, but even in the dark, Tiffany could see where blood had spilled from the victims’ heads, where it had spread and stained the shop’s tightly-knit dark carpeting.
“What happened?” Tiffany asked.
“The Siberian Tiger weaponized the Neural Disruptor,” Casey replied. “At least, that’s what we think happened. There were ten more bodies just like these three scattered around the rest of the district, and not a scratch on the lot of ‘em. But they’re all dead, and they were all bleeding from the ears right before they died.”
“That’s why I called you. Because the SIberian Tiger has somehow managed to turn the Neural Disruptor into a kind of weapon of mass destruction.”
“But Frank would never do something like this,” Tiffany said.
“No one is alleging that Frank McGuinness was here,” Casey said. He reached inside his coat pocket and drew forth a few color photos on printer paper. “This was his old partner, the Siberian Tiger, along with his ex. They somehow managed to get a hold of some of his old tech, and, well…”
Tiffany took the photos. Surveillance cameras had caught the Tiger and Gun Girl Gracie multiple times. The Disruptor was a conspicuous headband on the Siberian Tiger’s head. Gracie, meanwhile, had at some point become a bottle blonde and had gotten an outsized boob job. Howewver, she still carried the same nickel-plated pistols she’d carried back in the old days.
Despite herself, Tiffany wondered what Frank would think.
“What do you know about the Disruptor?” Casey asked.
Tiffany tried not to be stunned by the absurdity of the question. “Clearly not as much as you’re hoping,” she said at last. “Frank McGuinness is a legitimate, fully-functioning mad scientist/genius. I mean, you know that, right? I couldn’t possibly hope to understand how he--”
Casey cut her off. “But you knew him? You worked his case?”
Tiffany shook her head. She did not want to get into this with Casey Wolcott.
“Tiffany?” Casey asked, pressing.
At last, Tiffany said, “Yeah. I knew him. But I didn’t work his case. This was back before. Back when I was in the Diogenes Society. When Puck and I…”
“When you were a superhero?”
Tiffany shrugged. “Yeah. Before I joined the FBI. Puck and I chased him. Puck’s the one that finally brought him in. At the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.”
“But you knew him before then, too. Right?”
Tiffany turned away. She looked out the windows of the shop, saw the lights in the street, all the techs working to collect evidence. But in her mind’s eye, she was far away. She was again a scared teenage club-girl with a disease that no one understood, walking into a white-tiled clinic at Yale’s New Haven hospital. The clinic had belonged to Dr. Frank McGuinness, a young resident doing brilliant gene therapy that few understood.
“I, uh… I had a medical condition,” Tiffany said. “A genetic condition that no one else understood.”
“And?” Casey asked.
And Frank’s the one who figured out what it was, Tiffany thought. Against her will, the memories came flooding back.
“You’re pregnant,” Frank had said. And then he’d smiled, and there hadn’t been any judgment in it. “I take it that you’re that girl we saw on TV a few weeks back? The one that ‘Puck’ character saved from the burning building?”
Tiffany had nodded. “How could you possibly--?”
“I’d thought as much. Thought that Puck might be an alien.” Frank had cleared his throat. “Look, I, uh… Why don’t you sit down.”
Tiffany had sat, and Frank had pulled up a chair and sat down next to her.
“I’m sorry to be the one to have to tell you this, but… You and Puck can’t be together. He seems like a nice guy on TV, but the fact is, his baby is killing you.” Frank had put a hand on Tiffany’s shoulder then, as though to cushion the blow. “Truth is, I don’t know that I’d even call it a baby. Not really. It’s more like an alien infestation. Your genotypes just aren’t compatible, and the embryonic growth that your mating has produced has, well… It’s started rewriting your cellular DNA at a fundamental level. It’s a fascinating RNA transcriptase mechanism, really, but, uh, I can see that you really don’t care about that.”
“What does it mean?” Tiffany had asked. The shock of it left her numb. She hadn't been able to even begin to process the larger implications.
“Well, we’ll have to terminate the pregnancy, of course. It wasn’t viable in any case. And, uh… Well, I doubt you’ll be able to have children, you know, afterwards. But we can run some tests. I don’t want to rule out all hope.”
“Will I die?”
“Not if we move quickly. But you’re lucky you came to see me. We’re in uncharted territory here.”
Tiffany turned back around, forced her mind back to the present. “And Dr. McGuinness helped me control it.”
“He gave you your powers, isn’t that correct?” Casey asked.
Tiffany shook her head. “No. He helped me survive them. The powers… I did that to myself.”
Casey looked dubious. “But I thought--”
“How is this relevant?” Tiffany asked, cutting him off.
“I thought you’d have figured it out by now,” Casey said. “I need someone to go talk to Dr. Necropolis. I’m sending you.”
“That won’t work.”
“Why not?” Casey asked. “You have a history with the man. Use it. Get him to talk to you. That’s your job, Tiffany.”
That’s not what’s gonna happen, Tiffany thought. I’m not gonna go in there and just use history to make Frank feel vulnerable. I’m not gonna be able to play on his emotions. That’s what he is gonna do to me. That’s why he’s Dr. Necropolis, and I’m still just Special Agent Tiffany Trujillo.
But there was no use trying to tell that to Casey Walcott.
Instead, Tiffany said, “Yes sir.”
And then, at last, she was free to go home.