Inside Job Part A
“How-?” I started, and then shook my head. The mechanics of how there were two people in one body could wait a second. I had a more pressing question.
“How do I know it’s really you?”
Dallas took a deep breath, “The first time Psychic Club went up against your group in the Gauntlet, you blinded us, but Robin stole one of your stun rays. Then Ethan tackled her in puddle form and she accidentally shot herself trying to get him off of her.”
“And,” he added, looking chagrined, “I was a real bitch to you for no good reason.”
Since that had been a bit over three years ago, and I barely remembered it, I nodded. It would have been relatively easy to, say, psychically extract a memory I was currently thinking about, if I hadn’t been prepared. It would be a hell of a lot harder to pull out something so obscure. And why would Elise/Tracy/Dallas remind me that Elise had been so snappy and unpleasant? That’s what convinced me.
“It’s them,” I said with a nod. Monica lowered her hand slightly and shook her head.
“You must have been really desperate to come here,” she said tightly, looking perturbed.
“You have no idea. Seriously.”
“How did you get tapped for this job?” I asked. Elise and Tracy were relatively inexperienced to have been asked to do something so dangerous, but it wasn’t unheard of.
“Warren, the reason I was being such a bitch to you all at Sky High wasn’t just because I was being difficult. I was trying to get myself recruited,” he explained.
“Hmm, not a bad plan. But it would have been quite a long shot, considering that Speed, Lash, and Penny defected,” Monica said dryly, and Dallas nodded grimly.
“Yeah, I figured that out pretty quickly. The director came up with this plan after Mind Mist and the Ghost failed to get in. It took quite a bit of doing, but we managed it.”
“Ok, how are there two of you in there?” I asked. Dallas grimaced and grabbed a chair to sit, turning it backwards and folding his arms on the backrest.
“The psychic shields on this place are damn good; good enough that not even Mind Mist and the Ghost could get in,” he started. “Their powers work differently from Tracy’s though. Ghost can make his whole body incorporeal, and Mind Mist discorporates just her mind. Tracy’s power literally works on a whole different plane. That’s how we got through the shield.”
"Wait, Principal Powers told us that astral projection didn't work," I said warily.
"The Bureau was keeping this operation so far under their hat, I wouldn't be surprised they told her that. The fewer people that know something; the fewer people can spill the beans," Dallas pointed out.
“Back to 'different planar psychic powers.' Neither of us took Advanced Psychic Theory,” Monica reminded him. Dallas sighed a little in impatience.
“Psychic powers work on a whole bunch of different levels and planes of brainwaves, like different radio frequencies. The shields here block most of those frequencies. But there are some frequencies that the builders didn’t even know existed, and so they didn’t try to block them. Tracy’s power is so rare they didn’t know they could block them. There are probably a few other oddball powers out there that could get through, but not a lot. So I ‘rode’ in psychically with Tracy through the chink in the shields, and we tried to find an appropriate person to appropriate,” he explained.
“Is Dallas still in there?” Monica asked sharply. Elise/Tracy shot her a look of disgust.
“He put himself to sleep. When he found him, he was catatonic, nearly starved to death. This place was pure poison to him, given his powers. With all the psychic interference going on around here, I’m honestly surprised he lasted as long as he did,” he explained. “What, you didn’t think we displaced him, did you?”
“He’s a first-generation power; they’re more unstable,” Monica said, glaring.
“You’re doing well enough,” he pointed out acerbically.
“So I’m one of the lucky ones,” Monica pointed out with more than a hint of bitterness.
“So you’ve been borrowing Dallas’ body, because he wasn’t really using it. Then what?” I asked quickly, before more sparks could fly. Monica wasn’t looking particularly happy at the whole situation.
“Tracy controls his body, and I control his mind and memories. We’d gather any information we could, both from observation and from the shapeshifters. Then we’d hop out after we put him to sleep and report; our bodies are in a Bureau hospital nearby.”
“Slick system,” Monica commented, nodding a bit in appreciation of their craft.
“Yeah, but then the academy started figuring out someone was spying and things got harder. At first the shapeshifters could only meet every few days, and then every week or so. The techs started cycling the shield frequencies too, so it got a lot harder to get in and out. We stopped going out except for every two weeks… Then someone found the shapeshifters.” Dallas stumbled to a halt and took another deep breath.
“I don’t know how they found them, and I couldn’t watch what they did to them, so don’t ask. After that, they got more creative with the shields. We haven’t been out in two months. And if we leave, we’re not sure we can get back in. If that happens, Dallas’ body dies.”
I stiffened in shock at that.
“He’s still catatonic?” I asked.
“Yeah. He needs a really good therapeutic psychic to pry him out of his mental corner, and that’s just not my gift. If we leave, he’s just going to sit there until he starves.”
“Jesus,” I whispered.
“Warren, Tracy and I haven’t been able to be in our own bodies for more than an hour at a stretch for over two fucking years. Can you get us out? Soon?”
“You know, you’re putting an awfully large amount of stock in the fact that he’s here to do some good and not just because I hauled him in here for nefarious purposes. I mean, with me being a known supervillain and all,” Monica said casually.
“Oh please. Warren would sooner drop himself into the Arctic Ocean than turn supervillain,” Dallas said, rolling his eyes. I actually laughed a little at that, albeit nervously, and Monica’s lips twitched a bit in a repressed smile.
“You’re pretty accurate,” I commented guardedly.
“Telepath,” Dallas, or rather, Elise said, in a tone that clearly said, “Duh.” “The few times I managed to get past your walls in high school I picked up one or two things. That and your actions speak much louder than your thoughts.”
I raised an eyebrow.
“You did everything possible aside from getting your DNA changed to distance yourself from Baron Battle. Seriously, it’s not that hard to figure out,” he pointed out.
“What are people saying out there? Rumors, gossip, eavesdropping, anything,” Monica cut in. Dallas shrugged.
“Not much yet, only a few people have seen you back. But the guys you fixed up… they’re damn near dancing. They think it’s the best thing to happen since they got Jolt cola in the cafeteria.”
“Nice to know where I rank up,” I muttered.
“I can find out more for you. We have a damn encyclopedia set’s worth of information and nobody to give it to-.”
“And that’ll help, but we don’t have that much time,” Monica interrupted. “I know you’re desperate, but you shouldn’t have come here.”
“Who else would have? No one else could have!” he snapped.
“I don’t mean in here, I mean you shouldn’t have come to my door. And we can’t get you out of the academy right now; they’d never let you out,” Monica pointed out.
Dallas’ face fell a mile.
“But maybe we all can,” I said encouragingly. “If you help.”
“Thank God, you do have a plan.”
“We’re not going to tell you everything. You’re so desperate to get out you violated protocol by coming to my door. Nobody does that, not even the hardcore masochists. You can’t leave here without looking like I worked you over,” Monica said flatly.
Dallas looked stricken, and I couldn’t quite believe my ears. Elise and Tracy had come here looking for help, and they had to get beat up for their trouble?
“I know, I knew that, but we’re just so damn tired. We panicked, ok? We just had a freak-out moment…”
“You know, I think there’s something you can do right now to help get this done faster. I need you to tell me about the students that have been recruited in the last three years. I know a little about them, but I’m guessing you should know more. Tell me about the reluctant ones, the first generation powers, and the ones people have been pounding on, and fast,” Monica said thoughtfully.
“You’re staging an uprising?” Dallas hazarded hopefully.
Monica gave a noncommittal shrug and I glared at her sharply. We had finally found one damn ally in this place and she wasn’t going to let him in on anything? That made me uncomfortably aware about how little I knew about the exact details of everything we were doing. This was Monica’s show right now. I had half a mind to spill everything I knew, just to give him (or them) a little hope, but one thing stopped me:
The knowledge that three people had already died trying to cross the academy.
How much information was too much for him to know?
“Ok, ok, I get it; the less I know, the less I can say,” Dallas sighed, looking resigned. I consciously relaxed a clenched fist before I powered up; he just looked horribly saddened and defeated.
“It’ll be soon. That’s all I’m going to tell you,” Monica said with a hint of encouragement. “Just concentrate on holding yourself together. I’m sorry it has to be this way, but you know how it is down here.”
“Yeah… yeah…” Dallas said, rubbing his hands with his arms as if trying to chase away a chill. “All right, here’s what I got.”
We both listened as Dallas rattled off names, powers, descriptions, personalities, and locations with speed and clarity. Monica seemed to recognize some of the basic information, but Elise and Tracy obviously knew them better. Though they had been stuck here, they had been far from idle.
“No wonder they picked you for this,” I said in slight amazement at the sheer volume of information they were spouting off without hesitation or reference to any kind of notes.
“We have one or two talents,” Dallas said with a ghost of a grin.
“I don’t think we can spare any more time,” Monica broke in abruptly. “I’m sorry we have to do this, but I can’t send you out there without a scratch. I hope you can make him cry on cue.”
“Please. Tracy was a real drama queen. She can get tears out of anyone she ghosts.”
“Warren,” Monica turned to me. “Scorch him on the arms, shoulders, and neck, like you were holding him down while you were angry. It doesn’t have to be serious; it just has to look that way.”
I let the heat glow along my hands without even conscious thought. It was logical, practical when she said it. Dallas couldn’t go out there without looking like we had worked him over at least a little, or it would destroy Monica’s reputation. Considering how long she had been gone, anything to deviate from what people remembered could be dangerous, even deadly, to all three of us. It wouldn’t hurt that bad, not really. It wasn’t like I was going to seriously injure him or anything. Besides, Monica had said he had been a punching bag for the last however-many years, so this wouldn’t be so different…
Jesus, what the fuck am I doing? I realized suddenly, and abruptly powered down.
I hesitated for a long minute and finally shook my head.
“I won’t,” I said. I was willing to heal some of the supervillains as the price of admission. I’d probably hurt some of them in hall scuffles or the cage fights; I took that as a given. But I wasn’t going to deliberately hurt an ally, a fellow superhero, even for verisimilitude. What the hell had I been thinking?
Anger flashed over Monica’s face, followed by exasperation, and then guilt. Dallas’ eyes flicked between us, the atmosphere tense enough to break.
“Warren, it’s ok. Look,” he said, gesturing to the multitude of scars on his exposed arms. “Dallas is tough, and this won’t be the first time he’s taken hits just for wandering in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“That’s not the point,” I said quickly. Monica swallowed hard, but she didn’t say anything else.
“No, Painbreaker’s right. It was dumb to come here. And light burns’ll heal faster than bruises and broken bones,” Dallas said with ruthless honesty. “Just make it quick, ok?”
“It won’t hurt,” Monica put in, and Dallas shot her an incredulous sideways glance.
“Are you sure we can’t do this some other way? They know you don’t leave scars,” I pointed out a bit hesitantly.
“Let them think you did this for me. It adds to the impression we’re trying to give,” she whispered.
“Do it,” Dallas said shortly. “I don’t need you two to hang for our fuck-ups.”
“I don’t want people to be too afraid of me to ask for help-.”
“Jesus Warren, this isn’t Sky fucking High!” Dallas interrupted. “We get it, we really do, but seriously, do this, and fast.”
I was mentally running through a whole selection of Mandarin curses at the situation as I let myself go into a near power-up, and grabbed Dallas quickly by the wrists, then upper arms, and then neck, like I had been restraining him. Red handprints were left behind, raised and probably painful, or would have been, if Monica hadn’t been channeling the pain to her.
“That looks bad enough,” Dallas said philosophically when I pulled away.
“Throw him out of the room Warren,” Monica said quickly. Dallas took a few deep breaths, and began to cry, the tears making him look very much the victim.
“Don’t worry, I know how to fall,” he added.
Before I could talk myself out of it, I banged open the door and heaved Dallas out hard. He hit the opposite wall with a spectacular smash that looked a hell of a lot worse than it was. Heads popped out of doors all along the hall to see what the racket was.
“Pull that stunt again, and it’ll go worse for you,” Monica announced in a voice that had been dipped in liquid nitrogen.
The heads abruptly vanished back into their rooms as I slammed the door shut theatrically. Then I slid down the door and held my head in my hands.
“Jesus,” I whispered. “Jesus.” That had been one of the most fucked up things that had happened to me in at least twelve hours. I hadn’t even hesitated when Monica had first asked me to hurt Dallas, and that had me messed up even more than everything else.
Monica sat down next to me and put her arms around me, hugging tight. She didn’t say anything, just dropped her head down on my shoulder, being close to me.
I knew I’d be risking my reputation by coming here, but I didn’t think I’d be risking my integrity; what made me a superhero and not just a thug. I had been so careful to keep from hurting people badly since I had graduated; I had given supervillains warnings before letting the fire fly, keeping any injury as light as I could. And now I had just nearly hurt an ally without thought or hesitation.
“What Dallas told me is really going to help. He just put several more people on the list, and took a few others off that could have been bad choices. And with what just happened…” She must have felt me stiffening involuntarily in anger and disgust, because she pressed on quickly. “That really thickened our cover. Both ours and his. Hers. Theirs. I’m not quite sure how that works… But it’ll turn out ok, I promise. We’re going to get through this. Nobody knows what we know, or can do what we can do. This is going to work, I promise you.”
I turned that over in my head for a while, and finally nodded. I couldn’t fall apart at everything, even, or perhaps especially, not the worst things.
“You were tired. It’s still pretty early,” Monica offered as a kind of an “out.” “Go back to sleep for a while. No one’s going to be awake for a bit yet.”
“I had the weirdest dream,” I said in sudden remembrance, quickly grabbing on something, anything else to talk about.
“A lot of people have weird dreams around here. The psychic interference…” she waved her hand a bit, indicating the air thick with the mentally poisonous emanations.
“It almost seemed too sane for academy psychics,” I muttered as I got up.
“It’s been a while since dream analysis, but if you want to talk about it…” She trailed off as I helped her to her feet.
“No it’s… nothing,” I said finally. I was extremely tired still, and very stressed. Perhaps I should be grateful that my dreams had only been odd and not blood-soaked nightmares.
“Sleep,” she suggested. “And when we get up, we can actually do something that isn’t going to involve us hating ourselves in the morning.”
I snorted a bit at that, half in amusement at the caviler statement, half in relief. We’d be trying to help people from now on; not fixing bodies, but trying to fix minds. We’d be giving people hope and courage, helping them help our friends, helping them take down this place for good. Yeah, it would be easier to sleep at night if I knew I didn’t have the dubious task of aiding the enemy in front of me.
“You know, I have to admit that’s the most creative and ballsy infiltration plan I’ve ever heard of,” Monica commented, nodding at the door as she sat on the bed.
“No kidding,” I muttered. I couldn’t believe Elise (and by extension, Tracy) had been working on this since her senior year. Curiously it made me feel a lot better about the Bureau. They had been bringing more resources to bear on the academy than I had ever imagined. They hadn’t been ignoring the issue; they just hadn’t been telling us everything.
Somehow that was both comforting and a little irritating. I gave myself a mental shake from politics and ethics and everything else; if I tried to sleep while thinking about that I’d end up with nightmares.
I was going to go and sleep on the couch, like I had planned before, but Monica grabbed my hand as I was going to walk by.
“Warren, I’m sorry,” she said, not meeting my eyes. “I keep asking you to do things, and I know you don’t want to do them. Not even if it means saving ourselves, because you don’t want to take this place down at any cost. Some costs are too high.”
I hesitated a little, waiting for her to go on.
“I’m… I’m not used to feeling when I’m here. I was always numb before, and using my powers didn’t seem that bad because it didn’t affect me as much. It just feels so much more intense now and I’m not used to it. What happened with Ash, and what I asked you to do just now, I’m sorry. I need to make myself stop.”
“It’s because it’s here, isn’t it? The psychics,” I stated. The almost thoughtless way I had been ready to hurt Dallas to save our own cover might have been mostly from exhaustion and stress, but I definitely wouldn’t have put it past Psion either. I wasn’t immune to her manipulation, thought I thought by being aware of it I could stave off the worst of its effects... that was the theory anyway.
“It might be. But I’m not going to blame them for my own issues. Just… keep reminding me what I should know. Any way you can. Because it’s going to be really easy to forget that good things even exist down here,” she said, squeezing my hand tightly.
I almost crushed her hand in my return grip, feeling a relief I hadn’t known I needed until right now. This was what I needed to know; that she was at least aware of what was going on, that she knew she might be getting messed up. Knowing that she might be reverting was a potent enough motivator to keep an eye on her own behavior. And since she knew it, I didn’t feel quite so out of my depth.
“I will,” I said, with feeling. Monica tugged on my arm a little and I finally met her eyes. She looked relieved, determined, but also kind of happy.
“I should-,” I said, nodding over at the couch.
“Warren, you don’t have to be such a gentleman you know,” she said, looking up at me with entreaty. I hesitated for a second; we’d already talked about some things in-depth, about boundaries and when would be the right time for some things. But honestly, the way things were going, “the right time” might never arrive.
The hell with it, I thought, and lay down on the bed again.
It was a lot more comfortable to hold her next to me, and I could feel her relaxing as she drifted into sleep with me. I didn’t take any liberties… well, ok, a few. I’d have to have been made of ice to be completely polite at that point. Both of us were a little too tired to go terribly far though. But her skin was sweet when I kissed her neck, and I could feel the flat, taut muscles of her belly trembling slightly when I caressed them.
She was cradled in my arms, her back to me, but she reached back with her hands and glided them through my hair, down to my neck, pressing hard in places that seemed to make me relax almost involuntarily. Eventually we couldn’t fight our own exhaustion anymore though, and this time I had no dreams.