Loose Ends: Part 4

Tara wore the katana she’d carried the night before. I wondered what it did if anything. I hadn’t made it, after all.

It could be that it was just a sword that she’d chosen to use when she adopted her late father’s superhero identity—Ronin. Given that they were masterless warriors and he’d left the True, I could see why the name might have resonated with him and her too.

All the same, it would be disappointing if it were normal. At the very least, it ought to be able to cut like Cassie’s sword. Ideally, I could design it to shield her or maybe act as a ranged weapon, making her effective outside of hand to hand combat.

The police opened the chain-link fence’s gate and let me walk past after I told them my name. Tara smiled and walked with me down the trail through the woods toward the Hardwick Industries buildings.

Once we were out of sight of the garage, and knowing her, outside the hearing of the police, she started laughing. “You could have asked me about my sword.”

“We were a little busy last night.”

She grinned. “It doesn’t do anything except cut things. It was my dad’s. If you want to make one for me, I’ll be happy to retire it. It’s more to remember him than to be useful.”

“I’d like to. We should talk about what you want out of it. This is your internship. I don’t know what C and the others are having you do, but it seems like an opportunity to try a few different things.”

She looked down the trail ahead of us and held a finger to her lips. “We’re close enough to the back of the buildings that someone might hear us.”

We stopped talking and walked further down the trail. In between the beginning of my internship and now, fall colors had come to the forest. It had been too dark last night to appreciate them, but the trees’ leaves were red, gold, yellow, and orange—with the exception of the pine trees. Their needles were as green as they ever were–though there were pine cones on the forest floor and the trail.

We arrived at the back of the buildings to find police and people wearing navy jackets with letters “FBI” written in yellow. People were hauling boxes out of every available door—the side doors between the lab and the offices as well as the front and back of both buildings. The rumble of a large truck’s engine came from the far side of the lab building. I assumed that a truck must be getting loaded there.

Seeing the place during the day told me how much destruction I’d missed the night before. Both the lab and office buildings had broken windows and melted spots in the metal walls. Even Sandy’s office had broken windows. I didn’t remember that happening last night.

A look back, as Tara and I walked toward the offices, gave me a new perspective on the forest. The fight hadn’t gone too close to the employee garage, but the open lawn behind the lab was pockmarked with burned soil and grass. Trees had been knocked over and large branches had been broken and burned.

I didn’t remember that either, though as I thought about it my implant sent me images of the destruction. Not feeling like I had to review it, I stopped the images and followed Tara into the office.

Amid the FBI agents going through the place, I saw one person I recognized—Stephanie.

She stepped out from her cubicle carrying a box just as we stepped through the door. “Nick! I’m surprised you’re here. There’s practically nothing in your cubicle. If it weren’t for the pile of papers, I wouldn’t know anyone used it.”

Dressed in jeans and a blue, long-sleeved blouse, she didn’t look much different from most workdays.

Then she glanced over at Tara and grinned. “And you’ve got your own superhero escort. Don’t steal anything.”

Tara didn’t reply.

I glanced down at  Stephanie’s arm. “Are you okay?”

“My arm? It’s almost like new. Your doctor’s great.” She glanced around at the FBI agents in the room. Then she rolled up her sleeve. The claw marks were raw, red skin, but it was healed skin. We’d let Haley’s cousin experiment with alien tech that the original League had. It worked.

“I’d love to talk more, but it doesn’t seem like the right time. I’ll catch up with you later, maybe tonight, okay?”

“Sure. I won’t be too busy. Just schoolwork.”

She nodded. “Excellent. I’ll see you then. Oh, but one more thing… Agent Lim’s in Sandy’s office. He wants to talk to you.”

“Okay.” I watched her walk out with her box and then turned to Tara, “I guess we should go in.”

We walked in to find that the office had been all but stripped. All of the filing cabinets and the desk were gone, making the long, L-shaped room feel empty. Agent Lim stood next to the broken window. He turned toward us as we walked inside.

Waving us toward a small table and chairs in the corner, he said, “Come over here and sit down.”

Then he placed a little ball in the middle of the table and tapped it with his palm. “This will keep our conversation private—maybe not from Nick if he knew about it ahead of time, but short of that, we’re safe.”

Tara and I sat down with him.

He grinned. “First of all, great job. We didn’t get everything we could ever have wanted, but we did get more than we could’ve realistically hoped. We have evidence that all of Higher Ground’s leadership was involved with the Nine, that they’ve been using alien tech for experiments on unwilling participants, and that they were constructing a superpowered army for the Nine. Russell Hardwick, CEO of Hardwick Industries has been shown to be working with them as well.

“We haven’t tracked down every implication of what you guys found in the office, but it’s going to be big when we do. You don’t know it, but you saved my butt.”

15 thoughts on “Loose Ends: Part 4”

  1. I love how Tara/Ronin can guess what Nick is thinking just by seeing him glance at something. Reading between the lines bordering on telepathy.

    One part of the follow up I hope to hear is the fallout for Protection Force. Those guys were on video fighting heroes and basically colluding with Rook.

    1. And while he’s wearing a full suit of rigid armor with a helmet that covers his face, too. It could have been more a stare than a glance of course.

  2. Great chapter, one quick edit:
    “Ideally, I could design it shield her or maybe act as a ranged weapon,”

    “Ideally, I could design it to shield her or maybe act as a ranged weapon,”

  3. Jim, I’m struggling a bit with how cavalier everyone is being, especially with Nick’s civilian identity.

    1) He’s an intern, but gets his very own superhero escort? No one else seems to share that privilege, and even Stephanie calls it out in her civilian persona.
    2) Even if the entire FBI supposedly knows Lim had people inside, shouldn’t their identities still be kept safe from the moles referenced in earlier chapters?
    3) There seem to be local police onsite as well, exposing Nick even more.

    I can’t see any scenario where the Nine don’t find out and suspect Nick as being at least superhero adjacent and working with the FBI. He’s now a target for interrogation and reprisal.

    What am I missing?

  4. Though not said here, Tara’s stuck there all day escorting former employees in to get their personal stuff. It actually benefits the FBI too as she’s quite likely to notice if someone’s “personal” stuff is probably evidence.

    So, Nick’s not the only one escorted by Tara, nor is he the only person grabbing their personal stuff, but that hasn’t been said directly in the text at any point.

  5. I would also add that is has been shown in the early work, that the FBI is kinda bad at the protecting identities thing. As when Sean and the Justice Fist would do something. The FBI would question Nick and Haley which got Sean to notice the special treatment.

    One of the oddest things to come out has people being ticked at Nick over people figuring out his and their identities. But no one bats an eye at Cassie literally just bringing someone in. Older gripe of mine, but hypocrisy is something that irks.

  6. This is a great book, really one of the best web fictions and one of the best in the genre overall. It deserves way more acclaim than it generally gets around the community. I think one of the main reasons for this discrepancy though, is the pace. It’s hard to maintain interest and immersion long term with the current pace. For people just starting, there’s a lot of material. For people reading in real time however, the updates would need to be either way longer or way more frequent.

    1. You’re right about that and honestly, I’ve often thought that I should be putting out another 1000 words a week or ideally writing at the pace that Wildbow does–2000 to 4000 word updates.

      The thing is that Wildbow (last I heard) does this full time, does not have kids, and is not married.

      As for myself, I’m not doing this full time, am married, and have kids.

      As a result, I don’t have the time to do all of that plus double or triple the amount of writing output.

      I wish I could though. I suspect I’d be more successful at this than I am. Sometimes in life, you have to do what’s possible instead of what’s ideal.

      1. I’m happier with quality over quantity. I liked Worm but honestly, for myself it had a Tolstoy-ish feeling to it like Wildbow was getting paid by the word or something. Ironically, Worm felt like it was going to go on forever without end while in contrast I’m HOPING that LoN goes on forever without end. I guess what I’m trying to say boils down to this: Please don’t change your current methods as it may badly impact your excellent work.

        **Folds up soapbox, sticks it under arm and wanders off**

        1. “Hey now! Some of us still need that soap box so we can tell our wordsmith how much we appreciate his craft!”

          **Chases after Andrul.**

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