I hit the halfway point today just over 25,000 words!
Chapter 14 — New Order
While Russ showed up five minutes ahead of schedule, Phinneas Duth showed up exactly on time. The final second rolled over just as he stepped from his car. There’s a lot to be said about a guy’s choice of car. He drove the exact kind of ride Russ would expect from a guy like him. A Lincoln: One percent edition.
“I hope I did not leave you waiting long. You struck me as a five minutes late sort of fellow.”
“Five minutes early actually. Can’t find out what kind of person the other guy is if you’re late. You struck me as an overachiever.”
Phinneas smirked. “Arriving on time demonstrates a dedication to efficiency. I wouldn’t want to give the wrong impression I have all the time in the world. Your early arrival indicates you are eager to work with me, or you have an excessive amount of free time.”
“Got me on both counts,” Russ said. “I’ve been stuck for weeks on how to expose the Macro Corp. and here you crack open their evidence like a pro. What’s your secret?”
“I have connections,” Phinneas said. “I have always respected your approach, chasing the truth above all else with a dash of spirited protest.”
“Well, thanks. To be honest, I got nothing against the Macro Corp, I just think they have a bit too much power for its own good.”
“Exactly.” Phinneas offered a memory stick. “This is the evidence you seek, put simply, it is the data provided to the court before it was tampered with.”
“That’s one heck of a power play, how are you so sure?”
“Every bit of data that goes through the courtroom is available to me, much like ‘Mech’ my contact has the ability to understand and read digital data as though it was a memory.”
Russ gasped. “Whoa, hold on. Your contact has– superpowers?”
Pinneas nodded. “As you said, simply having powers does not make one evil. The sole determined factor comes from how the individual uses these powers.”
“I see,” Russ said. He reached for the memory card. His hand shook. More than anything, he wanted to see the contents, but he knew doing so could turn him against his friends. He took it and attached it to his phone.
The virus scan announced it was clean save for two files, one a video he saw in court, the other stamped approximately an hour prior to it. Inside was the same video without the inline assessments– replaced with simple threat warnings he was familiar with on their heads up display. This proved it wasn’t Kari’s thoughts at all, but the video feed data from their missions.
Russ’ heart sank. The video really was a fraud. Phinneas had real dirt against the Corp. and if it came out during the harsh scrutiny of their actions it would mean the end of the Corp.
“Remarkable, isn’t it?”
The terror racing through him manifested as false excitement. “T-this is good stuff. We have to let the people know about it.”
“In time,” Phinneas said. “It’s too conveinent right now. That’s why I wanted to consult with you. You could leak a small part of it on the website, give people a taste of the truth and let them come to their own conclusion.
“R-right. That makes sense.” Russ swallowed a lump in his throat. “So, you’ll trust me with this?”
“Of course. I can’t think of a better person to take care of it. This is close to home for you; I read your earlier things on line. It must be hard to tear down the heroes you grew up worshipping.”
It did. Part of the reason Russ took the job as heel centered on his love of the idea of a superhero. It those ideals were misrepresented; it would lend credibility to his complaints.
In other words, fans made the best critics.
“Thank you.” Russ said, closing his hand around the memory stick. “I’ll make this work. If you don’t mind me asking, who is your contact? I’ll keep it out of the report, I just think I should know so I have a name to thank for the proof.”
Phinneas shrugged. “I would love to tell you, but you realize the problem don’t you? Heroes value their anonymity.”
“Well if they’re a hero, doesn’t that mean there’s a part they want to be known?”
“I’m surprised at you, Mr. Belkin. You, a lover of comic books, know better than anyone. Some heroes pride themselves on their discretion. I speak of masterminds, sitting behind the lines guiding those with inferior intellects. My contact is more of a ‘Professor Xavier’ than a ‘Cyclops’.”
Russ smirked. “No offense, you don’t strike me as a comic book lover.”
“On the contrary, I love American comics, I read them religiously in the rare free moment I had between classes at Berkeley.”
“Well I appreciate your dedication. You tell ‘Professor X’ I’ll make him proud. I always wanted to be an X-man.”
“Of course you do. They’re one of the good ones. We must bring the truth to light without having this become a dreaded mutant hunt. The Macro Corp. may have lied, but perhaps they had a good reason. I will leave it to you to find this. If you feel it best to expose it outright, I will trust your judgment.”
Phinneas offered a polite wave before returning to his car.
“Thanks Mr. Duth.” Russ said, pocketing the card.
“No, thank you.” He smiled, stepped inside his car and drove away.
Russ returned to his own car, working through a game plan. Negator would try to cause some damage in the mean time, but he’d have to find the best way to expose the information. He could spin it and take a page from Phinneas’ suggestion. The people deserved the truth, the Macro Corp did have a good reason to stretch the truth.
He stopped first for a post-dinner snack, a massive batch of hot wings, and headed home. The chat with Duth left him feeling much better about the whole ordeal, he just needed to run the plan by Ray. Something didn’t sit right. Who is the wild card? The only thing he knew about the mystery person is their ability to manipulate data– like Kari.
He squeezed his hands around the steering wheel. A dangerous implication came to mind, Kari herself might have shared the data under an alias. Perhaps she knew it would come out and it would be better to implicate the Macro Corp. as a whole.
Ray isn’t going to take that accusation well. I’m gonna need hard proof.
He pulled up to the house and entered with his head in the clouds, struggling to find some shred of hope in the chaos. Two steps in the door Joyce stopped him at the shoulder. “We need to talk.”
Russ nodded absently. They stepped into study and she closed the door, locking it and put a jammer on the door.
“Whoa, there,” he said, smiling. “If you wanted me all to yourself, there’s no need for the cloak and dagger. I’m all yours JJ.”
She smiled back at him, dismissing his empty flirting– cause that’s exactly what it was. Russ may have thought Joyce was a catch, but she also towered over him and could break him in two. “Ray told me you went to talk to Phinneas Duth, did you learn anything?”
“Boy, did I ever.” He pulled out the card and his phone, showing her the unedited video.
Joyce stared slack jawed. “That’s bad news.”
“Worse, Kari might have been the one that gave it to him?”
“Kari? Why would– no, I get it. She would do something like that.”
“You’re the first person I’ve shown it to. It’s not a sure thing, but if I could get some evidence she’s the one that gave him the info… it would help. You’re the only other suspect.”
“Me?” Joyce said, scowling.
“You can imitate her powers. Someone stamped this data an hour earlier than the court footage. It’s no secret you hate her, you even have a motive.”
Joyce folded her arms, annoyed. “I don’t hate her, I just– find her suspicious. Bad enough Ray is shacking up with that floozy, but she’s a criminal. It would be so much easier to just put her away for good.”
“See, stuff like that makes you look more guilty. Better leave this to me.”
“You’re right. Joyce said, sighing. “Thanks for telling me Russ, it means a lot to me.”
“Don’t think I’ve forgiven you for the sandwich. I just– well, we need to tread carefully. This Phinneas guy might be an ally not a threat. I’ll keep you posted. One more thing.”
“Matt, Jay, Kirin, Sam and I are keeping things going. I want you to join us.”
“I can’t,” Joyce said. “I’ll keep it a secret, but I can’t help you directly. Ray isn’t… in the best of shape right now. I need to keep an eye on him.”
“Is he sick?”
“Headaches are getting worse. He’s irritable and prone to violent fits. So, let me get that under control for now.”
Russ flinched. “Say, Joyce, doesn’t that seem sort of familiar?”
“I don’t understand your point.”
“N-nothing. With you on the case, I’m sure it’s nothing. Thanks, JJ.”
She nodded, snatched up the jammer and left the study. Russ sent out a text message to the others, suggesting they meet in Kirin’s greenhouse for a meeting. He had to let them know the details as soon as possible. He’d leave it to Joyce to tell Ray. She’d know better than anyone what he could or could not handle.