THE INVESTIGATION UNIT IS ABOUT TO ARRIVE.
Immediately following the message, two men and a woman stepped out of her shadow.
The warning wasn’t enough to keep Bettie from giving a little squawk and jumping. She was startled, not scared, so she kept her head together enough to redirect and enhance the force of her jump. Bettie slid back a dozen feet, far enough to get her out of immediate threat range but close enough that she could still react if they tried to pull something. Or at least, that was the plan.
Before she’d gone more than a few feet, she slammed right into Dauntless. He didn’t even stumble at the impact. His arm wrapped around her protectively and he said something in his deep, rumbley voice. “It’s okay.” he said. “They’re not a threat, just the unit we’re here to guard.”
One of the men was wearing black pants and a grey shirt. Her eyes flickered to the Citadel logo on his chest. The other two were in business casual, a suit and pantsuit respectively. It only took her a moment to see the plastic badges dangling from their necks. Each had a photo and the Citadel insignia.
Dauntless stepped around her, his hand raised to shake. “Operative Isaac Dauntless. This is my shadow, Operative Bettie Boom.”
The man in Support colors was the first to react. “**INCENTIVE NAME**.” He took Dauntless’s hand without any sign of discomfort. “This is John Smith and Jane Smith from Analysis.” Bettie felt her jaw drop at the obviously fake names and had to physically restrain the urge to lean forward and inspect their badges.
MOST FIELD ANALYSTS DON’T USE NAMES, EVEN OPERATIVE STYLE ONES. THEY USE TEMPORARY FAKE ONES FOR CONVENIENCE.
Oh… that made sense, sort of. Analysts weren’t supposed to be combat trained so that sort of made sense. The ones with valuable powers or skills couldn’t afford to expose themselves to any avoidable risk.
“This is the room with the bodies?” ‘John’ asked. Dauntless nodded.
He led them in, past a pair of policemen in uniform. Bodies wouldn’t have been the word that Bettie would’ve used. The whole room was wrecked, scorched almost beyond recognition. There was a melted lump of metal by the door. The carpet was still there, at least in a few patches here and there. But mostly, the room was down to bare concrete, both the floors and the walls.
Right by the exit from the living room, in front of what she thought was probably a short hallway that led to the bedroom or rooms, there was most of a skeleton. The bones were blackened and broken, parts of them were just flat out gone. She might not have even recognized it as human if most of the skull wasn’t still intact. Bettie’s nostrils flared as a weird smell hit her, like burnt pork or charcoal.
The right hand was almost completely untouched. It still clutched an orange plastic… hazmat suit? It looked a lot like the ones the guys on Titan’s Rock had been wearing last night. Without thinking, Bettie looked around but didn’t see anything that looked like the oversized mechanical butcher’s tools that they’d been using. Obviously.
“Bettie, you take the balcony. I’ll block the door. **INCENTIVE NAME**, will you be able to get them out if anything unexpected pops up?” Bettie was already moving to follow the directions Dauntless had given before the man nodded.
“No problem. I can shadow-hop about a hundred miles a day. I’ve still got plenty left for today and I’ve worked with the Smiths before. They know what to do if it’s needed.”
John moved to the center of the room, where a goldish-colored glow appeared around his head. Once he was there, he didn’t move, just stood there. Jane went from spot to spot, not giving any sign that she was in any particular hurry. She knelt down and held her hands above a burnt spot or the… remains.
Bettie wasn’t trying to pay any particular attention to them, focusing on the view through the shattered window. She didn’t see anything of interest on the balcony. The view was nice but she didn’t see any obvious threats and would’ve been shocked if she did.
“First subject, male, died in fear. Not for himself. He was focused on someone else. More than one? Two. His last thought was of them.” John’s voice was distant, clinical.
“This wasn’t a home. It was a workplace. I’m not picking up any sense of attachment. I’ve been to more than one lab that was more important to the workers than their houses. This… this place is more like… I don’t think it was used often. Probably one of several similar facilities.” Jane’s voice was halting, changing in tone from sentence to sentence.
“Subject didn’t understand why he was burning. The fire came from his own body and spread to the rest of the room. Confusion and fear for his… his team are the most persistent impressions I’m getting. The suit’s not his. He found it in… in the closet by the entrance, hoped it would save them.”
Jane stopped moving around the kitchen and came over to… to sniff the orange suit. “Nope. It was meant to prevent the burning, not stop it. The burning was… yeah, I think it was definitely some kind of Empowerment but… this isn’t right. There’s something…”
“We need to see the other room.” John stated, voice flat.
“Bettie, move to the hallway and keep watch out here. I’ll escort the Smith’s and **INCENTIVE NAME**.”
She waited for them to troop past then took up her spot. Bettie tried not to stare at the blackened thing on the ground in front of her, shifting her gaze from the front door to the balcony instead. She focused on the voices coming from behind her instead.
“Dammit, I hate Richards tech. Trying to read it gives me headaches for days.” Jane’s voice, obviously annoyed.
“Subject Two died almost immediately. The fire appeared in his lungs and- a second Empowerment?” John lost his flat tone, surprised. “He died in fear and confusion. Subject was worried for his friend but not himself. Subject trusted… Subject One completely. Subject was certain that he would be saved.”
“I don’t… I’m not certain what this is supposed to do. The impressions are… strange. Note, that’s typical of the fugue state that accompanies Richards type inventing. Purpose… purpose was making… no, giving powers?” Shock. Jane wasn’t the only one, Bettie was… that was… Holy shit. “John, verify this. All three subjects died from uncontrolled usage of Empowerments they didn’t have before entering this apartment.”
Bettie didn’t hear anything else for a few minutes.
“Confirmed. Assumption is consistent with feelings of surprise and confusion. Additionally, Subject Three died from burns but shows no signs of smoke inhalation. Subject’s corpse is sprawled across highly flammable material, specifically including fertilizer and-
“Fuck it, I’m calling this. Operatives Dauntless and Boom, this is above our paygrade. Whoever set this place up managed to come up with some way to grant Empowerments. He had it down so well that he was using uncontrolled pyrokinesis as a lethal security measure. We need a full Analysis team to go over this place with a fine comb and we cannot let word get out. Understood?”
“Understood.” Bettie recognized the deep voice and knew she should be saying the same thing. This was bad, really, really bad.