Thursday, July 7, 2011

Issue 1.3 - Meet Jack

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Working outside the law rather than above it carries certain advantages. Sure, police officers aren't lining up to shake your hand every time you show your face at the scene of a crime, but if you're any good at what you do, no one knows you. When Golem shows up to do surveillance, people say 'hey, isn't that a superhero?' and ask for an autograph. But when I show up for surveillance, people say 'nice suit' and move on.

Still, a concert full of screaming teenagers isn't exactly the easiest place to blend in when you're over 20. But look like a concerned parent and you might manage to pull it off. If you really want people to buy it, grab a little girl's purse emblazoned with Nova's smiling face, hold it in your arm, and look as miserable as possible. Nothing sells 'I belong here' like 'I really don't want to be here'.

I watch the concert from the back of the massive Metro Media Center. Low-power spotlights swirl through the audience, illuminating a sea of cheering, screaming faces. Men in suits patrol the crowds, keeping a watchful eye out.

Up on stage, lights flash as a male's voice booms across the speakers: "They call her Nova... because she's a SUPER-STAR!"

Everything goes downhill from there.

There's a lot of choreography--performers dancing in perfect synchronization on stage--and then there's Nova herself. The latest in a long line of corporate-designed superstars belting out generic love ballads composed by people she's never met.

Her only real distinction is that unlike the rest of them, she's actually got powers. Light-based, if I recall. During the act, they shine high-wattage spotlights on her--she absorbs the light and produces one hell of a show. Colors flash out from her--lasers fly from her fingertips as she's consumed by an incandescent flame. All harmless, but very pretty. Anyway, I'm not paying attention to that. My eyes are on the security team.

A few minutes later and I'm not paying attention to them anymore.

People watching is a lot like those games you find in newspapers with two near-identical pictures--you have to figure out what doesn't belong.

A miserable 30-something guy holding a little girl's purse at a teenage rock concert? Sure, that makes sense. But a 40-something guy in a hat and big trenchcoat, with the collars popped up to obscure his face? Not good. Not at all.

What's more interesting is that the security team casing this joint hasn't even made a move on him. Either they're sloppy or so good at their job that I haven't noticed their approach. And I wouldn't put money on the latter.

I weave my way closer to him and try to filter out the noise of the crowd. Beneath the dull roar and chatter, I pick up a sound--a low, throaty hum. Doesn't take a degree in neuro-rocket surgery for me to figure out what it is.

Coolant system. He's packing serious tech.

It takes a lot of skill to pick a pocket, but it's way easier to put something into one. Particularly when your mark is wearing an oversized coat with lots of pouches. I get up close, pull the small electronic wafer out--set the timer--then just nudge my way past him, slipping the wafer into his coat as I pass.

I count the timer down in my head as I make my way to one of the security agents. Put on my best embarrassed-but-concerned look. Then I clear my throat and shout to him over the crowd.

"Excuse me, sir? I'm sorry to bother you, but I think that the gentleman over there--the one in the hat? I think, um, this is really kind of awkward, but I think he's doing something indecent underneath that coat."

The security agent immediately gets a disgusted look on his face. The sort that tells me he's had to deal with this before. He puts his hand to his earpiece and starts directing other members of the security team to the person in question.

"I've got to go find my daughter," I tell him, and then I melt back into the crowd.

Just telling the security that you noticed someone with a coolant system under his coat won't always work. If they're any good, they'll want to know why you noticed the coolant system--which means now they're worrying about him and you. At the very least, they'll remember your face.

It's way easier to just frame the guy for something they expect, then when the security gets close, pull back the curtains.

I get within thirty yards of the stage when the timer reaches one second. I spare a glance over my shoulder; the agents are approaching the man in the coat, who's backing away in agitation.

Extra points if, in the process of framing the competition, you also incapacitate him.

The wafer explodes, tearing an immense hole in the coat's left flank. The man shouts with pain as all the agents pull their guns--there's a loud whirr, followed by another explosion. It's then followed by shrieks of fear and panic.

He sheds his trenchcoat, exposing the power armor beneath. It's a series of interlocking black plates--they have an organic shape to them that makes him look buff. As soon as I see it, I realize they're in trouble--it's high-end stuff. The sort of tech supervillains base an entire identity on.

A helmet unfolds from behind his shoulders, swings over his head, and snaps back together over his face. It's in the shape of a jawless golden jackal head.

Shit. Jackal.

They're in serious trouble.


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