The Sum of Zero: Part 5
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This story contains graphic imagery and mature themes that may not be suitable for younger readers. Many thanks to Tapestry for betaing...
"That is a beautiful thing, Piper." John Caulder said, with a twinge of satisfaction in his voice. The dark-haired detective was leaning against the one way glass, watching the Mayor's chief aide and Detective Cortez bracket Lyttle for information about the Friends of Humanity activities in New York. Sidney Lyttle had been completely drained of his former bluster, and meekly responded to every question put to him. The fact that Cortez was grinning at him the entire time may have accounted for his acute discomfort.
"Agreed. So John, what's the play now?"
"Not sure, Will. I think that starting to check Lyttle's answers against our own info is first. If we're lucky, we'll turn up a connection with the bombers and the serial killer. Has the judge come through with that search warrant yet?" John said, rolling his head to try and ease the tension from his cramped neck muscles.
"Twenty minutes ago. The chief has a squad prepping now." Piper replied, adjusting his glasses.
"Right. Well, I guess we should go with them, man. Got a vest racked?"
"Yeah, yeah. That's what I love about my job. Playing target for a bunch of heavily armed zealots."
"Like the men said, Piper. If you can't take the joke, you shouldn't wear the badge." John clapped him on the shoulder and as they threaded through the labyrinthine depths of the station.
They stopped outside of the dispatch station while Piper went to clear a car for them. Caulder wandered over to the requisition screen, where a short, red-headed officer was collecting ammunition for her shift.
"Hey John. Where's your little friend?" Erin said, slotting rounds into an empty clip.
"Piper's getting the car right now. How's Vice?"
"Same old, same old. Old whores rolling college students in bus station johns, sickos peddling kiddie porn in the park, and hauling old perverts out of the PussyCat theatre, and having to put up with them jacking off in the back of the growler."
"So, are you free for dinner tomorrow night? Maybe Italian? I know a good place." Caulder said, smiling crookedly.
"Sorry John. I already work Vice and well–" Erin slapped the clip into her Glock and chambered a round. "-- I just don't like to take my work home. See you later."
"It must be my tie." John muttered as he found Piper and they headed for their car. Piper looked at Caulder with a smirk, and the detective scowled back.
"Definitely must be the tie." John said pointedly, and Piper chuckled.
"That's what I was thinking, you know."
"I mean, I've seen some ugly ties in my time, usually on the chief, but that has to be the ugliest."
"That's great, Will. I really appreciate it."
"When you came in today, I said to myself, 'Will, that is one damn ugly tie.'"
"Yeah, I got it! Enough about the tie." Caulder said, and turned his attention back to driving out of the crowded parking garage, ignoring his partner's wry chuckles beside him.
The streets of New York where rain wet in the early morning gloom. The brief thunderstorm had cut the sooty haze of the city to ribbons, leaving it smelling clean and fresh for a short time. Caulder wove deftly through the traffic, following a series of side streets and alleys to the warren of wharves and warehouses on the East shores of Manhattan. A half dozen patrol cars waited in front of the Friends of Humanity building. It seemed far less imposing in the light of day, Caulder thought as he and Piper stepped out of the car. Their feet hit the street at the same time as two uniformed police officers burst through the front doors, dragging a man between them. John and Arch headed over to where the man lay, blood oozing from his nose and mouth.
"What happened with jagballs here?" Caulder jerked a thumb at the man on the street.
"Him? Oh, decided not to heed a search warrant and then tried to draw on a New York City police officer." The first cop said, crossing his beefy arms over his chest. "Another victim of poor decision making skills."
"So I see. But, Officer... Reynolds?" John squinted at the man's nametag. "I don't want to see any officers taking a few kicks out on the people here. Got it?" Caulder said and Reynolds nodded sourly. "Good. As for this guy... seems to me like there's an awful lot of stairs in there. You say he fell down a flight of them?"
"That's right, detective."
"Right. Make sure it goes in your report. Take him to the hospital." Caulder motioned with a jerk of his head, and Reynolds and his partner started off to their cruiser, suspect dragged between them.
"Dealt with?" Piper said, appearing at Caulder's elbow. John shook his head and sighed.
"For now, anyway."
"The beats have got the building cleared, John. We should get to it."
"Yeah, you're right." John started towards the steps and then paused. "In a sec, Will."
"John, where are you-- John!" Piper threw up his hands disgustedly and jogged after his partner. "What are you doing?"
"Hot dog. Come on. I'll buy you a soda." Caulder jibbed as he walked towards the gunmetal silver cart with it's jaunty red and yellow striped umbrella.
"But, I thought you were a vegetarian?"
"Popular camouflage, Will. Hi, can I get a dog, extra mustard and kraut, no relish." The old man nodded and pulled a hot dog from his heater to his grill with a sizzle. Caulder nodded in obvious satisfaction, his mouth watered.
"Excuse me. Are you a cop?"
"Are you a cop?" The man repeated in clipped tones. His Con-Ed uniform was streaked with dirt and oil."
"What's going on in that building over there?" He asked between bites of his hotdog. The hotdog vendor gestured with one skinny arm.
"It's a drug bust, yes? Always drugs in this place!" He said.
"Just a normal investigation. There were some arrests here last night." John said, collecting his hotdog. The other man nodded and took another bite of his hotdog. John turned back towards the building with Piper even as the vendor waved expansively towards the building.
"See? What I am saying! Drugs!"
Piper jogged up the stairs and ducked between the two officers barring the door. John followed more slowly behind, finishing off his hotdog and staring at the face of the building. With a sigh, he tossed away the mustard stained napkin and entered the building after his partner.
The Number calmly watched the two detectives enter the building while he finished his hotdog. The vendor was still rambling on about drugs and Mafia, but the Number ignored him as he gathered up his tool kit and hard hat. He walked slowly down to the subway station and boarded a train to return home. He was retracing his morning route, which had taken him to the docks in the dawn hours.
He had left the station and made his way down into the first levels of the sewers, his Con-Ed uniform making him invisible for all intents and purposes. The filth coated him, to his intense disgust, but he fought down the urge to flee and pressed deeper into the system. After a number of twists and turns, the Number was through a rusting steel door and down a long abandoned access tunnel. It led him to one of the forgotten pneumatic subway tubes of the turn of the century. Surprisingly, this one had been broken into at some time, and a heavy series of power cable bundles snaked down its length and back out the end. An old junction box dangled from the roof, rusted free of its bolts and hanging at the end of it's still drawing cables. A series of smaller cables had been spliced to it, and fell to the ground under it, along with a thin wire wrapped in black rubber.
The Number unpacked his laptop from the carefully waterproofed toolkit and plugged it into the rubber-cased wire. It booted up and he pecked his way through the security features with two fingers. Above him, police would be just beginning to search the offices, giving him plenty of time to work the seemingly dormant computer. The screen of his laptop blossomed up to a series of remote windows, and the Number tapped a few keys. The drive hummed as it downloaded the information through the rigged thinwire cable connection.
The Number had been whistling softly, keenly aware of the haunting echo Bach's 'Toccata and Fugue in D Minor' was creating in the empty tube.
A soft ping from the laptop drew him from his trance, and he unhurriedly unhooked and repacked the computer into his toolkit. He had donned his hardhat again and disappeared back into his urban camouflage created by the Con-Ed suit. The Number has retraced his steps back to the street, and had paused when he saw the sudden appearance of the detectives at the police cordon around the building. He'd stopped to watch, buying a hotdog as cover as the detectives spoke with police at the scene. A few minutes with the dark haired one had confirmed that his association with this cell of the Friends of Humanity was finished.
The Number considered all of this as he waited for his stop. There were only two more bombings to take advantage of before it ended. He'd changed the targets from those Lyttle had chosen in the computer, so he was sure that the police would not interfere with the new teams. Shame, since it would likely see the last of Sidney Lyttle, with him 'lying' to the police. Still, now he had to push up his time table, and the Number did not like those sorts of disruptions.
The Number got off at the next stop and switched lines instead of going up to his home. He had the needed tools in his toolkit, and a schedule to keep. The roaring behind his eyes gave him a sick moment in the station, but a deep breath and the darkness behind his eyes slowly soothed his anxiety born from the new changes. It was just a matter of recomputing, he told himself as he boarded a new train.
The time had come to get his final plans in place and to prepare to bring his healing purity to a wicked and mad city; time to let it finally hear his symphony of fire.
"Hey Scott. You're up early." Kitty said, yawning into her cup of coffee. At nine in the morning, even her own rigidly established health and fitness regimen collapsed before the prospect of a cup of dark roast, six sugars, no cream. Yuchhh the cream.
"It's been that kind of night, Kitty." Scott said, sitting in front of his laptop and looking at her through the small cam on the top of it. Kitty noted with a bit of surprised that Cyclops looked mussed, tired, and if she was correct, the slightest bit drunk. "Remy send you our little package?"
"Yeah, I got it about twenty minutes ago. Want me to get started on it?" Kitty said automatically. She had been an X-Man first, and even through most of her time was spent under the leadership of Storm, there was something about Scott that just screamed 'command' and it was followed immediately.
"I'd appreciate it. It's pretty high level encryption; real cutting edge shadow stuff. Remy's eyes were crossing when he looking at it." Scott said, and Kitty grinned.
"Remy's an amateur." She said. There was enough of the Logan/Wisdom inspired rogue in her to enjoy a delicious, almost sexual joy of hacking. "Lemme see what I can do. You mobile?"
"I'll give you a call when I've got something."
"Great. Thanks, Kitty." Scott smiled crookedly into the cam. "And enjoy yourself." He said before he cut the connection. Kitty grinned as the uplink terminated. One thing Cyclops knew was his people. Kitty set the coffee on the console beside her and brought up the file.
When Pete dropped in a few hours later, her coffee was ice cold and the only sound was the muted clack of keys. Fantastic stacks of code rose and fell on the screen before her, far beyond anything Wisdom's fast and dirty hacking tricks could handle. He settled for leaving the tray of food on her console, a bottle of juice by her elbow and a kiss on the top of her head as he left. Even as he left, he wasn't sure she'd even realized he was there.
"Come in, Doctor Sharpe." Emma said off-handedly, stopping Sharpe a half second before she was about to knock. Lillian raised an eyebrow at the blonde woman who hadn't looked up from her stack of paperwork.
"Agent Frost, correct?" The doctor said crisply. Emma Frost nodded and pushed a pile of papers to one side.
"Indeed. We met at the last murder scene."
"I remember. Since your fellow agent and Detective Caulder are both not available, I thought I should bring this to you." Lillian dropped a file folder of paper and flimsy x-rays on her desk. Emma flipped open the file, rifled through it quickly and closed it again.
"I'm afraid I lack your medical training, Doctor. What am I looking at?"
"We did a chemical analysis on those arrow heads. The lab came back with a lot of things, including a trace of an abrasive paste. The lab identified it as a jewelers finishing paste, used for grinding and polishing gems." Lillian recrossed her legs. "According to the people I've spoken with, the sanding smear is a very specific material, used only by such specialists and artisans."
"So, with it being a limited market item, we might be able to draw up a list of suspects based on those buying it in the region." Emma finished for her. Lillian nodded and picked up the folder.
"Doctor Sharpe, tell me something." Emma said as the doctor was turning to leave. "Why is it that you're here? I took the liberty of examining your files. You graduated at the top of your class from Stanford. As a pathologist in the private sector, you could be drawing a considerable salary."
Lillian Sharpe sat back down, checking that the door was closed first. Her face was very still, like carved stone as she gazed levelly at Frost across the desk.
"Agent Frost, have you ever felt helpless before?" She asked emotionlessly.
"Not in some time."
"Neither have I. At least, not since joining the police force. However, this has not always been the case. You see, I reached medical school very young. My classmates were all at least two or three years older then I was. Obviously, it was a very hard time for me. I was friendless, alone, and very scared."
"Not uncommon for young students." Emma observed, and Lillian nodded.
"Indeed. During my second year, I had something of a growth spurt. I hit my final height, and began to fill in physically as well. Suddenly, the gawky girlchild in the back of the lecture hall was a woman. An attractive one at that." It was said in that same detached voice, without a trace of self-flattery in it. To Sharpe, it was a simple fact, and nothing bragging involved. "So, I suddenly was noticed. Invited on dates, to parties. For the first time, I was liked. You're an attractive woman, Agent Frost. Did you have a similar stage?"
"In a sense. I was much younger."
"Lucky for you. In any case, I reveled in the change. My grades slipped as I indulged in my new found popularity. I drank at the frat parties, snorted cocaine with my 'sisters' in the sorority and plunged from the top third of my class to the bottom of it."
"Again, a common occurance."
"One evening, I was drinking at a party when I blacked out. One minute I was doing shots with a girlfriend, the next I was lying nude in a strange bed, aching from every orifice." Lillian's eyes lost focus, going distant as she recalled the morning. "There were three of them in the apartment. I known them vaguely; three rich kids wasting their parents money playing at school. They laughed at me when I said I was going to the police. They laughed and laughed."
Emma felt the rage in the woman, burning but distant from her. It was lie a wall existed between her mind and her emotions.
"After they finished laughing, they raped me a second time. All of them. I bit the smallest one when he tried to force his cock in my mouth. He knocked out three teeth and used my anus instead. For three hours they used me, taking turns and occasionally beating me so I would 'learn some respect', they said. In the end, one of them forced another drink laced with whatever rape drug they had used the previous night, and dumped me back in my dorm room."
"Did you go to the police?" Emma said, but she was sure she already know the end of they story.
"Yes. They arrested them, but it never went to court. One of the boys was the son of a district court judge. The other had an uncle who was a police commissioner. They never had to worry about prosecution. After that, I found that I had no trouble focusing on school. Nothing else had the power to touch me."
"The therapists call it a severe case of dislocation by intellectualization. I'm afraid to feel, so I don't. Not more than weak shadows of emotions, in any case. At least, in most things. I feel curiosity; a joy in solving problems and intellectual challenges. And I can feel hate." Lillian Sharpe's lovely eyes locked on Frost's with a hard glare. "I can hate very well, Agent Frost. All three of those men have had their reputations, careers, and in one case, their life destroyed by me."
"How?" Frost said.
"You are an FBI agent, Emma. Telling you would reopen closed cases and perhaps see me facing possible prosecution. That I will not tell you. However, all were repaid in kind. My family have some influence. However, to answer you initial question, I do this because it's the only place that I feel anything. The joy of the challenge and the anger and revenge when I help send the guilty to jail. I am trapped here, Agent Frost."
"You avoid your doctors, don't you?" Emma said.
"I'm not ready to face some demons yet, Agent. Now, I have to return to the lab. Good luck, Agent Frost. You're hunting a remarkable man. I'll feel satisfied when you bring him to justice."
"Will you? Truly?"
Lillian Sharpe opened the door and smiled briefly at her.
"Yes, that I would feel. Good day, Agent Frost." Sharpe closed the door and threaded out of sight through the crowded hallway. Emma sat considering her words for a long time before turning back to the file she'd left.
"Scott." Caulder grinned and handed over a cup of coffee. The tall man looked tired, and John was willing to bet his eyes were red-rimmed behind those curious red glasses he wore. "Long night?"
"Something like that."
"I figured. That Frost must be something else." John grinned as the other man winced.
"I did not–"
"Hey, I know, man. I know." John smiled wider. "I bet you didn't at least two or three times." Scott flushed and hid his face behind a long pull from his mug. John pulled a file out of a stack on his desk and passed it over.
"The transcripts from our friend Lyttle's confession. Makes for some pretty interesting reading. Including the part were he talks about were most of the Friends of Humanity equipment came from." Caulder sat on the edge of his desk, across from Scott.
"Yup. More than thirty thousand weapons, special devices and supply crates were smuggled out before SHIELD shut them down. Lyttle used to be a security chief in one of the main bases. They've got everything up to a small nuke hidden in garages all over the country." Caulder sipped his coffee. "This is getting uglier and uglier."
"We got a name on the bombers?"
"Nope, but we do have–" John rifled through his papers, hunting up a sheaf of printouts clipped together. "–the guy who makes them. Eckert. Thomas Allen Eckert. Former technician on the Sentinel Prime project. Master machinist and designer. Did a bunch of weapon stuff for the CIA before moving to the Zero Tolerance program."
"Have you picked him up yet?"
"Here's the thing... um, he was confined to the Eastpark Mental Hospital less than a week after the collapse of the Zero Tolerance program. Guy's been locked up for almost a year now, I guess. Rubber room type."
"So, Lyttle is lying to us, or someone else is using Eckert's name." Summers scowled as he flipped through the reports.
"Yeah, sounds like it. Still, I'm going to take a trip down to Eastpark later today or tomorrow, and see if this whackjob has any visitors he could be passing blueprints to or something." Caulder tossed the sheets back on his desk and motioned at the room. "We've gotten official permission to assemble a small task force on this, so we'll be moving everything into this area."
"Check-ins and such?"
"On the grunt work, yeah. On the other hand, we get to be at large and carefree." Caulder said. "You have any leads?"
"Just a few things the Bureau is looking at. I'll let you know."
"I have this feeling, Scott."
"I think we're getting close."
"I hope you're right, John." Scott looked grim. "Because if not, someone else is going to die."
They sat silently for a few moments, before leaving on their separate trails.
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