Just over 30k words. On to the final stretch
Chapter Seventeen — Confrontation
Russ made good time to Phineas’ office, an old building on Perdido Street. Stone gargoyles stared down from top ledges of the seven-story building, and gave him a healthy case of the willies. Russ’ shoes clacked against the marble floor of the lobby. A gaudy angel statue sat in the room’s center, pouring red light tinted water into a tiny pond.
“May I help you, sir?”
Russ turned to see a mousy woman, the stereotype for a secretary if he had ever seen one. She was a handsome middle-aged woman wearing a steel grey suit, fitting snugly around a slim build. Her brown hair tucked away into a tidy bun atop her head and wire frame glasses sat on the edge of her nose.
“Ah, yeah. I don’t have an appointment, but I’d like to see Mr. Duth.”
The woman smiled. “Ah, you must be Mr. Belken. Take the elevator to the top floor. He will be happy to see you.”
Russ nodded absently. That was easy enough. He approached the single elevator and it opened without provocation. He glanced around, noting the lack of a call button. A camera lens traced him as he entered.
The elevator itself had a blank digital screen in place of buttons. The door closed and the elevator hummed. The ride was smooth enough Russ couldn’t tell if he was going up or down, but the door opened into a well-lit hallway. Dwindling daylight poured in through a glass ceiling casting odd shadows on the paintings lining the walls.
The paintings were themed with an odd mixture of Biblical lore and fantasy, but Russ caught wind of a recurring theme through them. He settled in front of a painting of Oedipus braving the underworld and it hit him. All the pictures depicted famous falls from grace. I see what you did there marketing Guru guy.
The door to Phineas’ office lie ajar, with mellow classical music wafting through the air– Pachelbel’s cannon to be precise. Russ stepped in to find he wasn’t the only one to visit that day. A pale-skinned man wearing a thousand dollar suit glanced over to Russ and smiled coyly.
There was something familiar about the guy, but Russ couldn’t put his finger on it. He was typical corporate d-bag material with sharp grey eyes and slicked-back black hair.
“Welcome, you have impeccable timing,” Phineas said. “I’d like you to meet my contact.”
Russ raised a brow. “I thought you said he wanted to stay anonymous?”
“Well, he had a change of heart, much like you.” Phineas gestured to an empty chair. “Please, have a seat.”
Russ approached, keeping his gaze on the stranger. “You look familiar, do I know you?”
The stranger nodded, and took a seat.
“Our new friend doesn’t say much,” Russ said.
Phineas stood, pacing over to his bar. “He has a flair for the dramatic. Coffee?”
“No thanks. It makes me jittery.”
“On to business then. You plan to post the video on your website, correct? Did you have any ideas for softening the blow?”
“A few,” Russ said. “I can lead it with an article about the trial, I can mention the video then release it a few hours later. I’m sorry it’s gonna bug me, you said this guy provided the video? I thought you said he was a superhero.”
The stranger laughed—an eerily familiar chuckle.
“I imagine not everyone feels comfortable in tights.”
“See but here’s the thing.” Russ leaned forward. “I might have a lead. I showed the video to a friend and the victim showed no signs of tension, despite pointing a gun at me. Almost like, he was just going through the motions.”
“Understandable,” Phinneas said. He sat back at his chair, blowing steam off a cup of black coffee. “When you consider he was being controlled.”
Russ raised a brow. “Huh? Controlled?”
“You were at the trial. The woman, Mech admitted to it. She calmed him. It set the whole thing into motion, a beautiful farce to tantalize the audience.”
“You’re saying Mech staged the whole thing?”
Phineas took a slow sip from his cup. “I am. My associate here has proof. Not only does Mech have the capability to control machines and people she can become one herself. A little over a year ago, she was on the other side of the law.”
“This is new,” Russ said, leaning closer. Of course he knew it already, but he had to play along. “You’re saying she can… become a machine?” He glanced over at the stranger and finally recognized him. He’d only seen his face in a Dossier. “So, how does ‘Professor X’ here, know this?”
“Because I worked with her. I’m no hero, Mr. Belken. I believe the term is super villain. My name is John Seiser.” His words pierced into Russ’ thoughts. But you already knew that, Micron.
Russ kept a poker face. Phinneas didn’t know, he was sure of it. This was nothing more than a mind game. He relaxed in his chair. “Should I know the name? You don’t really strike me as memorable.”
John frowned. “Gutsy aren’t we.”
“Semantics aside,” Phineas said, “Mr. Seiser wants the same thing we do. He seeks to expose the truth.”
Russ drummed his fingers on the desk. He couldn’t exactly blurt out that Negator was responsible for trying to take over the world. “If it’s the truth we’re after I’m not against working with a villain. However, I’m going out on a limb here. You probably want revenge or something like that. What did the Macro Corp. do? Blow up your volcano lair or something? I don’t want to get involved in something based around a petty grudge. If you can prove to me this is the right thing to do, I’m still in.”
“You have the proof.”
“I also know you can do the same thing as Mech, apparently. So where’s the proof you didn’t just control the victim yourself?”
Phineas glanced over to John, who smiled. “Mr. Seiser. Does such proof exist?”
“It does. I wasn’t there. My powers, like Miss Mech’s have a limited range. Mr. Belkin’s accusation is baseless.”
“There you have it,” Phineas said.
“So how about a demonstration?” Russ said. “Control me.”
“We’re partners and all, so I trust you won’t make me do anything embarrassing.” Russ leaned closer. “That’d be more than enough evidence for me.”
“Mr. Belken. I would ask you not to agitate him,” Phineas said. “He’s a valuable ally.”
“Sorry, it’s my way,” Russ said, smacking the table. “I didn’t believe in the Macro Corp. till I saw them with my own two eyes. Why should it be any different for a super villain?”
Go on, Negaturd. I think I’ve got you figured out now.
“It wouldn’t be ethical,” John said.
“Ethics? Ha. I think Mr. Seiser here is nothing but a con man.” Russ fiddled with his phone. “Let me look him up, I have a few connections myself.”
With the government access blocked and his link severed to the Macro Corp. servers, it was nothing but a bluff. He could only tap into personal data. He let out a low whistle. “Oh man, John, you’re a baaad boy.”
“I’m aware he has a record,” Phineas said. “Everyone is entitled to reformation.”
Russ scowled. “Reformation, huh? Then why are we so hung up on hanging Mech out to dry? The idea is to find the truth, not pad it with more lies. I’m out of here.”
John charged Russ and the world snapped into focus, but did nothing to slow the attack. He drove a fist into Russ’ stomach and backed away, returning to his place next to Phineas. The creeping pressure of the punch stung, worsening over several seconds.
To put on an act of telepathy, John seamlessly raised a hand to cover the attack. Russ relaxed his focus and endured the haymaker with a flinch. He had to feign surprise. His hands were tied—he couldn’t fight back.
“What the–?” Russ doubled over in pain. That part was real.
“Seiser. We agreed on this. No violence.”
He lowered his hand. “He wanted proof. I gave it to him.”
“My apologies Mr. Belken, but you know what is at stake here. Go and release the information as soon as possible. I don’t want to have to resort to more drastic measures.”
“What do you stand to gain, Duth? Why are you working with a creep like Seiser?”
“Plenty. This is justice.” Phineas narrowed his eyes. “Ever since the Macro Corp. showed up, the city has fallen into a state of apathy. I approached you because of your deep understanding of this matter. Even now with your hesitance, I respect you Mr. Belken.”
“So much you stoop to terrorism? Cute,” Russ said. “Now may I leave? Or do I need a permission slip from Doctor Doom here?”
Phinneas waved him to go. “Mr. Seiser. Cooperate, please.”
Russ stood, cradling the aching pain in his stomach. He kept an eye on John as he wandered to the exit. Negator is just gonna let me leave? After showing me the truth? He hesitated. Wait. He knows we’re on to him. Finding this out didn’t help me at all.
Exactly. John’s words invaded his mind. I know about your little falling out because I caused it. Watch as everything crumbles around you Micron. I will enjoy watching you squirm.
Russ gave him a mental middle finger for the trouble. Yeah things looked bleak, but Russ always found the flashlight when the room was pitch black. He already knew what he needed to do.
He dialed out as he walked. Kirin picked up on the second ring.
“Hey baby! We still on for that hot date?”
“What?” Kirin said.
“You know, in the usual spot? Oh, I can’t wait.”
“Russ…? You’re not making any sense.”
He stepped into the elevator, glancing around for a camera. He found six. The door opened and he lingered in the lobby, talking loudly. “Of course not, cause you make me so crazy. Can you wear that sexy little number? You know the one. In fact, do me one better, bring me something skimpy too.”
“R-russ. I don’t understand, you’re talking gibberish.”
“It’s cause I’m excited to see you, that’s all. I’m out of time, out of patience so I need you right away.”
“Oh. OH!” Kirin said. “You want me to… I’ll meet you there.”
Russ hung up. The secretary gave him a sour look. “Hey, don’t look at me like that. A guy’s got his needs, alright?”