Whatever he had been dreaming of evaporates in a moment of acute pain. Andrew clutches his head in agony as a familiar voice echoes in his head. ‘You will report to me this instant.’ The invasive presence doesn’t wait for a reply, assured of Andrew’s compliance. He is soon left with command of his thoughts again. It takes a few moments to fully recover from the assault, but he manages to sit up and gather himself. Not for the first time does he wish his…what, employer? Overlord?…would try using a cell phone. Of course, that kind of traceable contact is abhorrent to those in the conspiracy business. Wouldn’t want to leave a trail of bread crumbs to guilty parties, would we?
Andrew had been expecting the summons, but that didn’t make him feel better about it. The morning had been rather stressful enough without having to play this balancing act. And, of course, He will want to know about the incident last night and Andrew has very little to report on that. Susan was rather lacking on details or explanations that would clarify the event. The media has been running the lie Lady Fabulous had reported at the scene. A cult-like gang of fanatics had chosen the school dance as the perfect event for a mass suicide. What better way is there for dying than to incur the wrath of the Alpha?
Joan and Susan are gone, probably to meet up with that friend. He doesn’t like Susan going alone, however, he is certain he could neither dissuade her from such an errand nor convince her to take her body guards. She’s in no physical danger, he thinks. He is not especially reassured by this thought. There are so many other dangers to consider with that girl.
He takes a few minutes to straighten himself out. His dark brown hair is short enough that he doesn’t need to worry about sleep mussing it up. Gazing at his reflection in Susan’s master bath, he notices that his dark green eyes are a little blood-shot, but that will pass. He takes a swig of mouthwash and starts to compose his report in his head. The tricky part is always deciding what he can convincingly lie about. As he debates whether Joan is an important detail, he brushes off his black slacks and dons his white dress shirt over his cotton under shirt. Susan’s behavior toward the vigilante will have to be discussed, he decides and slips on his black dress jacket. One last glance in the full-size mirror in Susan’s bedroom to confirm his presentable appearance and Andrew descends the northern staircase to the first floor, grabs his overcoat from the entrance closet and departs the apartment, locking the door behind him. The elevator ride down thirty flights is enough time to finalize his report and the valet is swift in bringing his silver Jaguar to the front of the building.
The drive is short. He focuses on his story, running it over repeatedly in his mind. Repetition is the key to believability. He must convince himself that it is all accurate information and that there is nothing else of importance to relate. He looks at it from every angle, trying to see flaws and considering what questions might be posed and the responses that will be expected. By the time he pulls through the gates of his father’s mansion, he is confident of his story.
The mansion is expansive, exactly what one would expect of an entrepreneur of Alexander Martin’s caliber. The man is one in a long line of brilliant men, only the most recent of contributors to the Martin fortune. Martin Enterprises is a company with a reputation for being on the fore of technological innovation. They are one of the most accomplished contributors to Super Hero equipment, communication, and computer technology. They have also been the leaders for two decades in so-called “green” innovations, a field that has only recently been of importance to other businesses. The Martin family, being the head of the prestigious company since its conception nearly a hundred years ago, has become a dynasty of money and power in Darclann. Only the O’Connells can rival their wealth and influence. Most would expect them to be blood rivals, but the two families are closely intertwined through marriage and abiding friendship, to the disappointment of newsmen everywhere.
Alexander Martin, a tall, broad-chested man in his mid-fifties, is very handsome and charismatic. His penchant for small scandal, rather than making him a despised character, actually improves his appeal. The man has had six wives, two of whom were the twin sisters of Brian O’Connell, Jennifer and Jessica. Jennifer, Alexander’s second wife, died giving birth to Andrew. He married Jessica within a year and then swiftly divorced her when it was discovered that she was unfaithful. One might wonder at the continuing friendship between Alexander and Brian after such events, but there has never been an indication of ill feelings between them.
With the two families being so closely intertwined, it has always been assumed that Andrew and Susan will become the next royal couple of the city. Their obvious friendship has only reenforced this assumption to a level of certainty for most of the tabloid reading populace.
Andrew leaves his car with a servant at the broad front steps, his jacket is placed in the able care of the butler, who informs him that his father and uncle await him in the wine cellar. He tries not to cringe at the prospect of facing both men. His father’s power is limited to his likeability, but it is often sufficient to get even the strong-willed to drop their guard. Andrew enters the wine cellar, twists a bottle of cheap Chardonnay in its rack and prepares his defenses as a secret panel opens to reveal an iron-lined elevator. Twenty floors down, the elevator reaches the underground lair and the doors slide open with a cheery ding.
“Ah, there’s my boy!” Alexander booms. The room is comfortable, with plush carpet, deep armchairs and a warm glow from the false fireplace. The wood wainscoting and billiards table puts one in mind of an old-fashioned gentlemen’s club. Alexander is leaning against the mantle with a cigar in one hand and a glass of brandy in the other, his crimson smoking jacket perfectly in place with the setting. An arm-chair sits before the fireplace at an angle that reveals only an etched jaw line from the elevator opposite. This diminished view is still enough for Andrew to recognize the reclusive figure easily. Despite the apparent warm atmosphere of the room, the boy is filled with a distinct chill that means his uncle is not in as amiable a mood as his father. “Well, come in and let’s get this over with. Natasha is anxious to go shopping, you know.”
Andrew strides easily to the fireplace, taking a position that allows him a view of his uncle’s Romanesque profile beneath a black hood. ‘Why does he feel the need to dress up for these meetings?’ He wonders to himself, but says out loud, “What is it you need to know so urgently?”
He is looking at his uncle but it is Alexander who answers, “The whole city is in a tizzy over this Homecoming Massacre. The girl was there with the Alpha. And we know you were at her place this morning, you scamp. Was there any informative pillow talk?” He gives a raucous wink to match his leer.
Rather than confirming or denying the allegations of their physical relationship, Andrew chooses simply to begin his report. “I was at her apartment this morning, but only as an aid. She did not have much intelligence concerning the villain who instigated the massacre. She mentioned that it was a highly unusual event. The boss appeared to have the ability to make puppet minions out of dead bodies. The bodies had to be killed again to break the boss’ control completely.”
“Fascinating,” Alexander interrupts, his boisterous demeanor replaced by curiosity. “I’ve never heard of this kind of ability. Is it possible it was not a natural ability, but one achieved through technology?”
Andrew considers this question carefully, reviewing what Susan had said and what he had inferred from his connection with Joan. “It is difficult to be sure, but Susan seemed convinced that this was not a manmade phenomenon. She is investigating the incident right now, actually. There were a couple of subject matter experts on hand at the event, one of whom was mortally wounded and was brought to her lair to recuperate.” His uncle, staring unseeing into the fireplace, furrows his brow. It is the only indication that he is deeply troubled by this information. Alexander shows his vexation by pacing before the electric flames. “There was a man of little power. He seemed to be tagging along. The girl was powerful and skilled. Neither of them are registered.”
Alexander stops mid-pace and stares. “She brought a wounded vigilante to her lair?”
“Yes, sir. When questioned, she couldn’t give a satisfactory reason for her actions. It is possible she was induced into it, but I highly doubt it.”
“Oh?” his uncle asks quietly, breaking his silence. “You have a better theory, I presume?”
Andrew takes a deep breath. He is entering shaky territory and must tread very carefully. “I have only guesses. She did not seem to be under any external compulsion to care for the girl. However, they did seem to be kindred spirits, connected on a deep level. It is understandable that such a connection might be enough to warrant protection. She called me in to help the girl recover and keep her under control should she awaken.”
“Ah,” Alexander interjects, looking relieved. “Then you were able to connect with the girl, eh?”
“Yes, but not on as deep a level as I am normally capable of,” he replies, slightly abashed by his failure. “Her defenses were considerable, even unconscious. I was able to ascertain that she has appreciable ability and that she is not…precisely human.” Both men were looking at him now with interest. “I cannot better express myself. She is like Heroes in ability, but the source of her power is different.”
“Where is this girl now?” Alexander asks.
“She was taken home this afternoon. I assume by this time that she is back to hunting. Her recovery was uncommonly swift. She had the aid of a healing system, but even that cannot account for her recovery. I was lead to understand that her injuries were severe.”
The room is silent for a few moments as the men contemplate this information. A non-human Hero might throw a wrench in their plans. The uncle steeples his long fingers and states, “You retrieved a blood sample, of course.” Andrew nods and produces a small vial from his inside jacket pocket. His uncle takes it and holds it up to the light as though such a primitive method could reveal its secrets. “I shall analyze this fully and see if she is as non-human as you seem to think. Keep me abreast of any developments.”
“Yes, Uncle Lucien,” Andrew responds to his retreating back. Another secret panel slides open at the far end of the room and the cloaked man departs through it without a backward glance. Once the door slides shut, the chill in Andrew’s chest departs as well.
Alexander polishes off his brandy and stubs out his cigar in an ornate, silver ash tray. Then he claps his son on the shoulder and steers the boy back to the elevator. The ride back up to the house in companionable silence. Once out of the wine cellar and returned to the mansion’s foyer he asks, “So will you be staying for lunch, young man?”
Andrew’s control on his emotions utterly masks his distaste for this request, fortunately. It does not do to antagonize the man who holds one’s fortune in his care. “Sadly, I have a prior engagement, Father. Give my regards to Natasha.”
“It wouldn’t kill you to call her ‘Mother,’ you know,” Alexander responds with a benevolent chuckle.
“But she is not my mother and I have learned the error of getting attached to your wives.” The words are cruel, but he drapes them in amiable sarcasm so as not to upset his father. When you have the ability to make everyone like you, it can be rather painful to discover that your children don’t. Thus, Andrew has made it his ambition to prevent his father from ever discovering how much loathing he has for him. It is quite an endeavor, but he manages it.
Back in his Jaguar, Andrew takes a few deep breaths to relax and regain his icy composure. Just as he feeling himself again, his pocket vibrates. His cell phone displays a text message from Brianne. Her thumbnail photo is of her characteristic coy smile and winking brown eyes.
<Interested in a quick lunch? ; )>
He can’t help smiling. He always does when she texts him, his small, secret joy. His life is layer upon layer of secrets and lies, but she is his favorite secret for several reasons, not the least of which is what she means when she asks questions that end with winking smiley faces. He texts her back in the affirmative and drives away from the gloomy mansion with the prospect of another excellent work out to cheer him.