Technopath stood outside the Miskatonic gates in, reluctantly, their civilian clothes. They knew no cameras were on them, and could have persuaded them to stop recording and transmitting even if they were, but they still didn’t like being out exposed like this, their face visible to anyone who looked. Which of course was the whole point of the outfit, that no person or tech could see their unguarded face and flag it as Technopath, but still. They felt... naked. Especially after being seen so recently thanks to that asshole with the mind-control chips.
Which of course was why they were here. They’d argued, but the rules were clear: any Protector subjected to mind control had to be cleared by the Miskatonic doctors before returning to work. Anyway, Panacea insisted, and when it came to medical and psychiatric matters, not even Gloriana or Athena would gainsay Panacea.
They took a deep breath. Just a couple of steps forward and they would be seen by the security cameras on the gates. Just one foot in front of the other—
They sprawled on the sidewalk, head swimming following a hard kick to the head. There was a weight on their back, a person. Whoever it was, was small, but so was Technopath. Nonetheless they tried to struggle upright even as an arm snaked around their throat.
Update, they thought, head still swimming. Whoever it is, they are small and strong. They tried to struggle, but the world was getting blurry and fading out.
“Nighty-night,” a feminine voice mocked in their ear, a vaguely familiar one.
Olympia? they thought. And then they were out.
Tantra watched the gyrating flesh on display, bored. He’d been in strip clubs before. This was a pretty good one, but it couldn’t compare with turning a “good” girl into a whimpering, begging slut with a few caresses. He could have done it to any of these girls, too, but just by looking at them he could see they were already sluts. Of course he knew that was all that any woman was, but it was more fun to teach them that then to start with one who already knew it.
Finally she walked into view, the woman he was actually here to meet. Tight black skirt suit, her dark hair in a bun, she almost looked respectable, but he could see the stripper beneath. He always could.
“Groper,” she said with contempt, looking down at him coldly.
“Devildancer,” he replied calmly, stroking the heads of his good girls on either side of him. “As I showed you the courtesy of using your professional name, I ask you to use mine. Tantra.”
“You know that’s not what “tantra” means, right?”
He rolled his eyes. “Whatever. We have business to discuss. Sit, we’ll talk.”
“That’s the only reason I even allowed you in here,” she replied. Nonetheless, she sat.
Point for me, Tantra thought. Just a matter of time before I have you begging to be fucked, bitch.
“I have a business proposition,” he said. “See these girls? Good little college girls turned mindfucked little slave sluts. Bet they’d be real popular! I’ll sell them to you, two for one kind of deal—a hundred grand for the pair. Train them to strip, make them whores, I don’t care. They’ll do whatever you want, because they’ll do whatever I want.” He grinned. “But that’s just the sample. We can team up! I can bring in any girl you or your customers want, break her, make her eager to please. I can make sure the girls you’ve already got never pocket any extra on the side, never rat you out. What do you say?”
Devildancer’s smile was thin, cold, her dark eyes deep and unreadable. She nodded toward the stage. “Saving up for medical school.” She turned her gaze and nodded to a girl giving a lapdance in one of the booths. “Twin toddlers.” Then she indicate yet another girl, leading a couple of businessmen by the hands into a back room. “Paying for her mother’s hospital bills.”
Tantra’s eyes narrowed. He suspected he was being made fun of, and he hated being made fun of. “What’re you trying to say?”
“I used to be out there, boy. I grabbed every bit of power I could, clawed my way up, took over this city’s clubs and brothels and meat markets, to free these girls. Now you think enslaving them is a prospect I’d consider? You’re a worm, not even on the level of the pimps and slavers whose corpses I climbed to power. Get out of my club.“
Tantra scowled. Bitch. Who does she think she’s talking to? But he just smiled and said, “Fine. It’s your loss. C’mon, girls.” The three of them slid out of the booth, and he turned to face Devildancer. Hail Mary time. “No hard feelings.” He held his hand out to shake.
She took it. The stupid bitch fell for it! he crowed inside his head. And then he stroked his thumb along the invisible line between thumb and hand just right, and—
“Groper,” Devildancer said calmly. “I got where I am by forming pacts with powers darker and stranger than you can imagine. I have danced with the efreeti in their halls of fire, partied atop the Brocken on Walspurgisnacht, orgied with incubi and succubi. Your little parlor trick might work on inexperienced little girls like these, but to me? It barely registers.” She withdrew her hand. “Now. Leave my club, or I will call up the erinyes and tell them what you do to women. If you’d ever read a book, you’d know why that would be extremely bad for you. Or you can stay here and find out firsthand.“
Throughout her speech, Tantra darkened, and by the end, he was nearly purple with rage. But then he swallowed it back, and smiled. “Like I said. Your loss.” He turned and snapped at his companions, “C’mon, sluts. We don’t need this dump.”
Devildancer smirked as she watched them go. Let him try. The last pimp to try to set up shop in my town is still screaming. I wonder how long this weasel would last?
Brianna Warner took a deep breath before walking through the door. Time for another dance. It was always the same, any time she wrote an article about Masters’ latest shady dealings: research, gather sources, lay out evidence, build a narrative—and then go to Masters or one of his army of spokespeople for his response, which was always transparent bullshit. And then nothing would happen to him, and a few weeks later he’d pull something new and they’d go around again.
She stepped into the ridiculous glass office, flicking her eyes around automatically for changes since her last visit. She only saw one, but it was a major one, a new bodyguard, a slender, dark-haired woman in a pantsuit, dark sunglasses, and earpiece.
“Welcome as always, Ms. Warner,” Masters said expansively. “Have a seat. I don’t believe you’ve met my new assistant. Very?”
The “assistant” nodded gravely.
“Nice to meet you,” Brianna said blandly. “How are you today, Mr. Masters?”
“Well, quite well,” he said. “And you?”
“Fine. So, you’re not concerned about the allegations of illlegal union busting at your Ninth Street project?” And they were off.
As they verbally sparred and danced, Brianna wished—not for the first time—that she could use her powers to probe Masters’ thoughts. But it wouldn’t do any good. His mind was a maze built into a steel trap, deceits layered upon deceits until reality was impossible to find, and anyway it wasn’t like she could use any of what she found. She already knew his crimes before she walked in, and nothing in his mind would be admissible as proof. And she knew he was recording every conversation in his office, to say nothing of her own easily subpoenable recorder; if she printed something he didn’t say, the libel suit would bankrupt her in a second, and the Chronicle five minutes after.
But assistants and bodyguards saw and heard things, too. She probed gently at the mind of “Very,” and recoiled almost immediately at what she found.
“Are you all right, Ms. Warner?” Masters asked blandly.
Shit. Must have let it show on my face. “Yes, sorry.” She took a sip of one of the waters Very had set in front of them and continued with her questions. I’ve gotta get out of here. But I can’t just skip out on the interview. Unless... maybe my powers can be useful on him after all. It was a risk, but she had to try: she projected her impatience to leave onto Masters.
Two questions later, he was becoming visibly annoyed. “Ms. Masters, I believe I’ve told you everything relevant. These unsubstantiated rumors you’ve heard are simply that—rumors, and nothing more. I see no need to continue addressing them one by one. If you have any further questions, you may direct them to my office.”
It was the dismissal she’d been waiting for. “Thank you for your time once again, Mr. Masters.” She needed to go home and change. And then she needed help.
Alex tapped her fingers irritably, waiting for the email to come in. It had taken over an hour to get the bus line to tell her where Grouper bought his ticket and what contact information he’d used to get, and still longer to use that to get a cell phone number. A smart criminal wouldn’t leave that kind of trail, she knew, but Grouper wasn’t smart. Anyway, there had to be a way to find him, otherwise how was he recruited into...
...into whatever it is mind-controllers are being brought here and recruited into. Alex didn’t have all the pieces yet, but she was certain she was on the right track.
Her email binged, and there it was: call and text records for Grouper’s phone. It was amazing what threatening a phone company with obstruction of justice charges could get you. She scanned down the list and soon found the date he bought the ticket, then up to look for incoming calls and texts in the days before. Boom. Five incoming texts and six outgoing, all tied to a number with a Cape City area code. Gotcha, she thought.
But just as she was about to run a check on that number, she noticed something else: three calls to different Cape City numbers, one each of the last three nights, all at about the same time. And one of them looked vaguely familiar.
On a hunch, she picked up her phone and dialed it. “University Pizza and Subs,” said a voice on the other end. “Home of the Graduate Assistant, triple hot pepper and mushrooms on a—” She hung up.
You idiot, she thought. Looked like she’d be getting a chance to question Grouper personally about why he came back.
“You’re sure?” asked Hex.
Brainwave nodded. She’d come straight home from interviewing Masters, put on her costume, wig, and mask, and climbed out the fire escape while concentrating on the charm her witchy friend had given her.
Hex frowned. “Masters usually just relies on his money. This is new.”
“I know,” said Brainwave. “But there’s no question. His bodyguard’s mind was just cycling pure devotion over and over. I got flashes of memory in there too, of a white room, overwhelming sounds and lights—she’s definitely been brainwashed.”
Hex studied Brainwave. “Memories... are you okay?”
She nodded. “I’m not that good a telepath. I can’t get the full experience, just impressions. Sometimes that’s a blessing.”
“So... Masters is dabbling in mind control. That’s scary. But what can we do about it?” Hex was a witch, a fairly good one—but while her spells could locate a stolen item or bind a mugger in place, she couldn’t blow up a city block or summon up bolts of lightning like the heavy hitters. Brainwave was much the same in terms of power level—she could pick up impressions of thought and memory, but if she probed too much she quickly got overwhelmed by the complexities of the mind. She could project emotions into someone else’s mind, but only ones she was currently feeling. And she could telekinetically pick a lock or throw a brick, but not lift a car or block bullets with her mind.
They were street-level heroes, well below the level of someone like the Protectors—but they did their part, and they were proud of it. But sometimes... “We need the big guns,” said Brainwave.
“You mean..?” asked Hex.
“Yeah. I know you know how to get in touch with Panacea. We need to get the Protectors in on this.”