I’m coming out of hiding
I’m dreamin’ on, dreamin’ on
Whatever lies you’re hidin’
Keep movin’ on, keep moving on
The team, minus John Black, are assembled at MIA headquarters. John is back at his mountain hangout, working on more vehicles and gadgets.
Probably avoiding more human contact, Alex thinks.
Costigan and some of his staff are on another video call. There’s generals and advisors and other important people in politics and the military and the intelligence world. The team doesn’t get to participate in these - and shouldn’t, given who leads it.
Alex understands the basic idea. Costigan is selling his expertise to people who still need it, even after he was unofficially ousted from AEGIS. A few key people, like Parker, came with Costigan to this new venture, and they formed the nucleus of this new business - acting as an intelligence think-tank, a sort of independent broker for information, the sort of deniable cutout that government agencies like the CIA can go to.
Right now they’re talking about Project Plato, the Navy’s new underwater aircraft carrier design, the thing meant to take war to the Atlanteans if it comes to that. They’ve talked about the Grasscutters and their own stolen submarine. They’ve talked about a dozen other brushfire wars, global hotspots, assassination attempts, and other matters, but none of those are things where Alex and the team have been involved.
Alex, meanwhile, is the IT czar of the new outfit. And they’d be able to enjoy tinkering with the network in interesting ways, if Emma wasn’t constantly interrupting them.
“I need new insults,” she says.
“You’re ugly and you smell funny,” Alex suggests. “Oh, you mean to use on other people.”
Emma scowls. “I’d break your face for that, but nobody could tell the difference.”
“I’d kick your ass but I don’t know which end is which,” Alex says coolly, running some commands on their terminal without slowing down.
Just as smoothly, Emma launches into the next part of her interruption. “You’re supposed to be smart. So instead of asking you to come up with anything original, god forbid, here’s a question. Do you think a dim bulb is gonna be insulted as much by something that isn’t a proper insult, as long as it sounds insulting?”
Alex is only mildly distracted by this line of reasoning. “I’d need an example. You’ve supplied the dim bulb, now give me something that’s not a proper insult.”
Emma is ready, and Alex tries not to laugh at her proposal.
“Dipthong. Hey, stop smirking, there’s actual logic here. Dipshit is an insult with a long established pedigree. Dipstick is the Rated G version. Fine. A dipthong is a gliding vowel. But say you meet someone who doesn’t know that, but has heard dipshit and dipstick. Are they gonna make the association and feel insulted by this new word?”
Alex doesn’t reply, because of an alarm that’s going off, that should never ever ever go off.
They pop a message up on the viewscreen, something only Costigan and Parker and others in the MIA office will see - TERMINATE LINK HIGH EMERGENCY - and run a short command that will commence a few critical steps very rapidly.
Alycia Chin, loitering nearby with arms folded, has been listening intently to the video call. But she picks up on the sudden distress of one of her teammates, and approaches Alex’s desk immediately.
Costigan, seeing the message, has excused himself from the call and turns as well to see what’s going on.
“Unauthorized data dump,” Alex reports tersely. “Desk 5.”
All heads turn to look at Desk 5. Nono Rodriguez is sitting at it, finishing up something on the computer there. She turns, and the expression on her face tells everyone she isn’t really Nono right now.
Without hesitation, Alycia draws one of her guns, loaded with stun gas, and fires. Nono expertly dodges the first round, but Alycia is ready with a second shot, and catches the girl mid-dodge.
Nono slumps down. Alycia rushes to the Desk 5 computer to assess matters. She turns back to look at Alex. “What was being dumped?”
“Everything AEGIS and MIA ever knew about Alycia Chin - including where she is right now.”
Alycia wants to bark orders - but she restrains herself, and looks to Costigan.
It takes the World War II hero only a few moments to consider the implications thoroughly. “Alex, wipe everything electronic. Parker, get the office and intel folks out of here. Unmarked vehicles. Alycia - get your team to whatever safehouse you have. Emergency plan Baker-2.”
his words fill the floor of the office high-rise MIA used to call home. “Move it, people!”
Alycia is leading the way down the building staircase. She’s carrying an unconscious Nono over her shoulder, and grunting, and grumbling just quietly enough that people know it’s happening, but not what she’s saying.
Emma is behind her, and Alex is bringing up the rear.
Purging the MIA’s computer systems isn’t quite the loss it might have been. Alex has been thorough in maintaining secure off-site backups. But who would have guessed that something like this could happen?
I guessed, Alex smugly tells themselves. My alarm picked it up immediately.
Unfortunately, wiping the computers also wiped the evidence of what Nono - or whoever or whatever influenced her - was up to, or where she was sending data.
The trio reach the parking garage at the base of the building. They find, predictably, a squad of security robots sent by Tyran Enterprises parked outside the entrance. The robots have blocked off the street and are rerouting traffic. They’re also keeping Parker and her intel team from driving their black Escalades out of the building.
“Ol’ Tex-Mex Tyran is curious about you, huh?” Alex asks, but Alycia is too busy to respond to the comment. Alex has learned to recognize when Alycia is processing a lot of data, and they can see it happening now.
Finally she breaks out of the momentary trance, and looks around for her teammates. “We shoot our way out,” she decides.
Emma smirks. “Subtle. I like it.”
The pyrokinetic rushes forward. She shouts loud, getting the robots’ attention. “Hey! Hot Mess here! Now renamed to Firebrand! Well known supervillain, happens all the time in this city, you fucks! Come get me!”
She unleashes a wall of flame that washes over the robots. In the smoke and confusion, Alycia darts out, gun in one hand, Nono stabilized with the other. She launches shot after crack shot, aiming for the robots’ sensors. Alex follows, firing EMP rounds at the robots that seem most ready to act.
As the trio fan out onto the street, the robots turn to track them. This is all Parker needs. Her SUV leaves the parking garage at high speed, plowing through the hapless Tyran security bots. An emergency-brake skid lines her up with the street and she takes off. The others follow.
“Sewers,” Alycia reports. “We’ll get to the Chimeras and get out of the city.”
Ever since the Invisible Invasion, the sewers of the city have been set up to monitor Atlanteans trying to get in. Fortunately for the team, that apparatus was set up by the military and in cooperation with interested parties - like MIA. Alex can make them invisible for their trip, but probably can’t use this magic incantation again. Still, you don’t really want to use the sewers too many times in your life.
The team are halfway to their destination when Nono groggily regains conscious. Rather than waste time explaining or risking that she’s still co-opted, Alycia tosses her down, stuns her again with a few careful shots, and shoulders her once again.
Alex wants to check their phone. Does the world know about MIA? About the team? Was the leak public? Curiosity is a thirsty bitch, but it’s not getting satisfaction, not now. Phones can be traced, and while Alex might think themselves the world’s best hacker, even they know they aren’t the world’s only hacker.
The team stops at a junction. Emma raps Alycia on the shoulder with her knuckles. “Gimme,” she orders, nodding to Nono.
“Keep her under,” is Alycia’s order. But she grudgingly hands over her payload.
The team arrive at the outskirts of the city, and the spot where the ultra-stealthy Chimera craft are concealed. Emma lugs Nono into the one she’ll be flying. Alex sets the spares on autopilot, then climbs in and takes off in their own craft. Behind them, Alycia boards and flies, ever watchful of her team’s safety.
It’s going to be a long trip to John’s workshop in the Appalachians.
John Black is in a cave, working on the stealth jet he’s been building. When the Chimeras land, he walks out to greet the team, still wearing grease-stained coveralls and carrying power tools.
“I got a thing saying don’t use my phone,” he yells over the sound of the craft touching down. “What the fuck’s going on?”
Alycia composes herself. She’s holding back some kind of strong emotion - Alex can tell that much.
“I - we - are burned. A data dump on me was released. We don’t know the scope. But we should assume that would-be attackers know everything.”
She looks at John’s projects, then back at the man himself. “If the plane can fly, we’re leaving on it. Regardless, everything here should be considered compromised and must be destroyed.”
“How long we got?” John asks.
“I’ll give you 30 minutes,” Alycia says coldly.
The next half hour is spent hauling everything possible into the back of the jumbo jet. Everything else - mostly the tools and raw materials, stuff John can easily replace - go into a big pile. Alycia has stockpiled enough explosives here to make a big satisfying boom, scattering the evidence of John’s work across a half-acre of mountainous terrain.
Nono once again starts to wake up during the loading, and Emma puts her down with stun gas, a look of worry and regret on her face. She glances at Alycia reflexively, expecting to see a look of something - condemnation, iron determination, something - but what she sees, and Alex spots, is a look of sadness.
The hull of the jet isn’t fully sealed. John piles everyone else into the cockpit, the only safe place for people to be at the moment while the thing is in flight.
“Controls aren’t that different from the CHIMERA,” he explains. “Two pilot stations and one operator. I’ll be in back - I can handle the low pressure. Where we goin’?”
“Wherever we can find safety,” Alycia says.
The girl takes hold of the controls, and pushes the jet into a hard acceleration and take-off.
“I wish I knew.”
Alex, naturally, took over the operator station. Now, they work on their laptop - the jet has yet to be outfitted with anything but the most essential systems - and with John’s help, point a satellite dish at a bird Alex knows can be used anonymously. Unfortunately, the plane’s movement means John has to continuously adjust the dish, so he’s now clamped to the outside of the jet.
“Over a degree,” Alex calls through comms. “Okay…”
Emma takes over piloting. She’s no expert, but she can hold a stick steady. Alycia, thus freed, unbuckles from the pilot’s seat and moves back to look over Alex’s shoulder.
“I need to know how bad this is,” she says.
“I’m looking, I’m looking…”
It’s been 3 hours, 47 minutes, and 23 seconds since the leak.
The search starts from news sites and the public Internet, and moves into more exclusive digital strongholds to which Alex has access - supervillain forums, Discord servers known for leaking sensitive military information, and so on. Finally they’ve got enough to report on - but they don’t feel “ready” by any stretch.
“This was a selective, targeted leak. The world doesn’t know anything - not yet, but that may be a matter of time. But enough people know.”
Alycia scans the list of sources that received the intel, and Alex can sense the wheels turning. Finally she nods.
“This was an attempt to get me taken in, by anyone with the muscle to try. Someone wanted me off the table. The public leak will happen in time, of course. It always does. The Cairo incident put me on the map. But this may be the one that really does it.”
Alycia gestures to where Nono is thoroughly tied up in a corner of the cockpit. “Keep an eye on her. If she wakes up, that’s fine - don’t stun her any longer. I need to do some thinking.”
Alycia, sitting in the pilot’s seat again, is belted in and secure. Emma is still operating the craft, leaving Alycia to her thoughts.
Most of all, she’s doing her best not to cry.
Her eyes are shut. Her breathing is carefully regulated. She’s cocooned herself into a meditative isolation. And within the boundaries she’s raised between her body and mind, thoughts run free.
Hanging out at coffee shops and cheap restaurants with Summer. Her occasional visits with Daph, while the girl is busy coaching or hiking or whatever thirty-seven other things she does to keep busy.
The art project with Jason.
It’s all gone.
This is the end. There’s no retirement no, no living under an assumed name, no “Alice Chan” cover that will fool the collective intelligence agencies of the world.
She can’t count on the protection of AEGIS. Rex Tyran saw to that, by systematically discrediting its leadership and casting doubt on its abilities.
There’s no nation that would take her in, no country whose neutrality would be enough to shield her.
Sure, she can evade the strike teams, she can run from the hounds, but she’s doing that now.
She hoped that maybe… maybe somehow… there would be a way out.
The last she heard, even the Newmen are persona non grata in the United States, thanks to the State Department. All for the high crime of helping refugees - an assignment she’d given them.
I am cursed to be alone. Everyone close to me is cursed to suffer.
She feels the old self-hatred, the bitter rationalization of her father’s indoctrination, rising. It would be better if she were alone. She doesn’t deserve to be around people. There’s no existence for her as a person, just as an operator, a tool, a weapon.
She tries to push it away, tries to assert self-control, but she doesn’t have the strength.
She could bail out of the plane. Assuming John packed parachutes.
John - he’d follow her. Like he did in Mexico.
The thread of memory comes back. How the team formed. How they supported her.
I should leave them behind, a part of her says.
They would never allow that, says another part.
A sudden surge of wild emotion makes her want to attack people in the jet - knock them out - take one of the Chimeras in the back - just leave, just fly - so they wouldn’t have the choice of following her.
Even as bad off as she is, she recognizes this impulse as unhealthy.
The Baker-2 protocol specifies a way for MIA personnel to reconnect with each other.
Yes. She can wait, wait until a message comes in, wait for instructions.
Those are her orders.
Right now, she can be an instrument of someone else’s will, whether that be her long-lost father or Craig Costigan.
Right now, she doesn’t have to feel these emotions.
Yes. That would be easier.