Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for language.
At first glance, the building Blizzard and her sister lived in was complete crap. It felt familiar. It was one of those apartments you would see in a movie, or a detective show, where there was a loud party twenty-four seven and countless underage minors partaking in alcohol alongside adults that should know better than to feed kids drugs.
But, of course, Blizzard was a gearhead. A tinker, who would need a hidden and well-protected workshop. She wouldn’t want any sort of attention at all.
That need to be unseen by everyone else was the first clue that she and her sister were squatting inside. From where I stood, the windows were crudely blacked out with paint and newspaper, with the occasional dim light turning off and on through them as someone walked inside.
From what Tintin could tell, the building was left abandoned and dilapidated from when… oh. I recognize where I am.
This was the Neon District, keyword being was. If I just leaned myself upward a little bit I could see…
Just beyond further dilapidated buildings was the beachfront. Off that long beachfront was what everyone in Shepard City referred to as the A-Crater. The events that lead to that... I remembered what people called it all over the news sites and internet forums when it happened. “Conduit Vs. Abomination, A Battle of Wrath.” It was a silly name for what might’ve been the most difficult fight I’d ever partaken in. Of course, the only thing that could replace the Second Boston Games for the worst moments of my life was me fighting one of Triple A’s happy-go-lucky mass murderers.
‘ARE YOU OKAY?’ Tintin’s words startled me out of reminiscing. I wanted to nod, if only so I didn't have to give away my nervousness. “I’m fine,” I spoke too quickly. Before Tintin could comment on my somewhat trembling voice, I calmed my power beneath my skin and climbed down the building I had perched.
Landed on the ground with a muted grunt, I let my sixth sense flash, and suddenly electronics were revealed in places that they usually aren’t.
Cameras were hidden just on the corner edges of buildings. Far too high powered for any normal person to secure them. The insides of the building, the doorframe of the apartment, and key places littered across the front lawn were also powered by something big, bright, and terribly expensive. It looked less like someone set up some random traps and more like they reorganized and engineered the roots of a tree to conduct lightning.
Considering the blue hue of my lightning, I was already nervous about accidentally draining anything connected to the power.
I avoided the traps set along the path the best I could. It must’ve been a sight to some of the homeless around. Some glowing blue girl playing hopscotch to an invisible grid.
I met the door, and another flash of my sixth sense told me of the cameras and motion detectors that sat around me, easily hidden in the dark archway. Either Blizzard or her sister would be answering the door soon, I figured. To make certain one of them did come to the door, I knocked hard.
‘IS THAT REALLY NECESSARY?’ I muted my mask. “It gets the job done, doesn’t it?” I was quickly proven right, and the door opened, just enough for me to spy wiring along the walls, something glowing behind where the front desk would be, and…
“Um, hello?” Asked the girl. Would it be fair to call someone only two years my junior a girl? Jade Friar was... interesting. At only fifteen years old, she somehow managed to mimic her sister in being more developed than most others her age. But it was clear how different we were on a physical level. Whereas I was tall with a leaner body, Jade from what I've seen was short, with soft muscles and an even softer gaze. It almost seemed cruel for what I was here to do. I unmuted my mask and spoke.
“Hello, Miss Friar. I’m Conduit.” Kinda blunt, but it worked. I imagined her eyes widening in surprise, as the door quickly shut after I finished my sentence. I heard the telltale jingle of a deadman’s bolt, two different locks, and after checking with my sixth sense again, three different electronic locks.
She didn't want any break-ins. I wonder if they reinforced the windows...
The door opened fully, but any glimpse to the inside of the front lobby was quickly overrun by a young girl with quite possibly the most silent smile I never heard.
If I weren’t wearing my goggles with my mask, she would’ve seen me blink in surprise. I don’t normally have this kind of reaction. It felt... strange. I waved somewhat awkwardly, and at some unseen cue, she squealed. “Oh my god. Oh my god! Ohmygodohmygodohmygod! Conduit’s at my front door!” That was a bit more familiar.
She turned away from me, jumping and cheering as though she won the lottery. Suddenly it was again unfamiliar. Granted, I’ve never gone to someone’s house as Conduit, so this is a first for me as much as it is for her. When her cheerful, and kinda dorkish, dance calmed down, I cleared my throat. “Hmm. Hello. You are Jade Friar, yes?” I saw her eyes begin to light up again, and quickly I cleared the space to put a finger to her lips. “Hold your excitement for a moment.”
She nodded fervently with my finger still on her lips. "Step back." I told her. She stepped back. "Now breath, and then speak." Jade followed my words to a tee, over exaggerating her breathing before her mouth speed more word vomit. “Yes! Hi. I’m Jade. Friar. Yeah. Hehe. Uh, come in?” Jade had a somewhat higher pitched voice than what I thought. A voice that was hopped up on caffeine and sugar. I nodded in confirmation and stepped in.
Admittedly, despite my remarkable sixth sense to know where anything with an electric charge is around me at all times, it didn’t prepare me for the sheer amount of metal and wires that protruded out of every flat surface I could see. Holes were broken in and around walls and ceiling. More pulses of my sixth sense told me that they ran with intense power and, like the strange roots outside, permeated throughout the building’s skeleton like veins and nerves. Everywhere and impossible to lose sight of.
I’ve seen my fair share of tinker-gearheads molding their environment to fit them. I worked with Tinman for a living. But this was filled with something almost... intimate. Everywhere, from the main lobby, to the side rooms, to even the stairs, there was this feel of achievement. Blizzard somehow managed to claim a whole apartment building for herself and her sister, outfitted it with power, defensive systems, and possibly more I don't see. It wasn't like the mass produced steel chrome that Tinman had, or the cruel and rough experiments of Technomon. This wasn't some tinkers random lair. It was a fully fleshed out home.
I felt like an intruder.
“So!” Jade's voice went high for a moment as she clapped. I must've been staring at the inside of her home for too long. I pulled myself from the sheer character this place radiated and focused on her instead. Her face lit up red and she coughed, clearing her throat before speaking again. “So. Would you like to sit down? Rest your feet? Pillow? Tea? Wait, how can you drink tea, you have a mask!” She was rambling. I recognized the signs because Carla and Jess did the same whenever we talked about capes. I began to raise a hand before she could go on some tangent about my mask and tea, and I could almost feel Tintin’s laughter about my predicament.
She caught sight of my hand and paused. “I wouldn’t mind a seat.” I told her in no uncertain words. Her eyes lit up again in excitement, but she seemed to have heeded my advice from before and took a deep breath before walking towards the stairs. “Follow me then!” She disappeared upwards, and I took the brief free moment to mute my mask.
“Tintin, I want you to keep an eye on traffic cameras, as well as department stores and the junkyard. If Blizzard isn't anywhere on the streets, she's digging for material. If not hurting for resources, she's coming home. I don't care if she's being crucified, you see her, I want to know about it.”
‘ALREADY ON IT.’ Blue lightning burst from my concentration for the briefest second and arced across my body before I could pull it back in. My nerves were shot from the media circus in front of HQ, and I was on too high a charge for a stupid recruitment mission.
I followed my own advice and took a breath before unmuting the mask and following the excited younger girl upstairs.
We stopped climbing on the third floor. She was seemingly vibrating in place, and suddenly that guess about her being high on caffeine felt less hypothetical. Jade kept looking behind herself, at me, and I was suddenly wondering if I should’ve just waited downstairs for her sister.
The door to the third floor was locked. Jade dug at her hip and pulled out a ring of keys. Some of them looked like normal keys, the kind you'd find anywhere else. A couple others looked more like decorative charms or fancy keychains.Jade ended up selecting a key that looked like it was made of ice. Frozen bubbles and what looked like copper wiring were actively glowing inside of it. It hurt my eyes to look at. I failed to rub my eyes through my goggles and then her arms were outstretched, as though she were a cheerleader or Willy Wonka showing off his chocolate factory. “Welcome to the Icebox!”
...well, she wasn't wrong. Once I walked through the frame, she shut the door, and the chill filled my bones and made my skin tingle. The walls looked like the kind you'd find in a walk-in freezer, or the bottom of a handheld cooler; coated in ice and light perspiration. Soft mist (or would it be fog?) rested above the floor. Every wall that once existed as a separate room down a long hallway was smashed down. Sometimes crudely, sometimes precise. The entirety of the third floor was seemingly transformed into one whole room, immediately available to whomever walked through the floor's door. Everything but the load-bearing walls and pillars were either replaced, taken apart, or simply left as frost-covered debris, probably to be taken care of sometime in the future. I chanced a look at Jade, who seemed to be putting on a coat that sat next to the door, and was simultaneously walking towards a sort of rest corner. Despite the cold, and my being here, she hadn't stopped smiling. If anything, I was sure it grew larger.
My nervousness felt almost unfounded, but I might as well be in enemy territory. Under truce, yes, but still. This was a vigilante’s laboratory where objects and gearhead tech were conducting massive amounts of power to reverse, disobey, and insult the laws of thermodynamics. And that tinker’s sister was fangirling over me.
I tried not to think about the disappointment and possible fear I was going to rain down, but I didn't have much of a choice. Jade's coat was wrapped tightly around her person, and she had already sat down in one of two chairs next to a fireplace. With blue fire.
Oh boy. A red dot appeared in my peripheral, and I knew that Tintin was recording. Probably for if, when, Tinman gets back.
As I sat down on the opposite couch, a dark blue recliner, Jade began talking immediately. "Alright, before we get into the whole, 'secret identity', 'safety', 'gearheads and the danger of addiction,' I want to talk about some... royalties."
I blinked beneath my mask. What was she talking about? I opened my mouth to speak, but she started before I could get a word out. "You know, certain benefits my sister and I get for joining your superhero squad! I was thinking a spot in the tower, and of course, protections for my sister and her 'hobby.'" She said hobby with finger quotes.
My thoughts felt scattered, so I took control of a conversation that neither of us were trying to have. "I'm sorry, I'm not here for that." Jade stopped trying to talk about her sister's habits in tinkering, and I continued before she could get another word in. "If I were here to invite your sister, Ms Friar, I would've come with another tinker-gearhead. I'm here to talk to you about Technomon."
Jade blinked, then giggled. "That loser? Ha! She couldn't even try to take my sis down! Seriously. We have footage of us robbing the bitch blind." I wasn't expecting this. Jade initially had this image of a young groupie who idolized her heroes, and now she's coming at me like a teenage businesswoman.
I continued. "I mean, wouldn't you want to know how I found out about you? About Jacklyn?" Jade shrugged. "Like, easily? I mean, you're Conduit! You won the Boston Games almost completely solo, and have the backing of an international superhero team! I would've guessed Jackie told you at some point before you tried the homesell." She... really?
Wait, not important. I leaned in, my voice growing quieter. "Listen, this is important. Yesterday afternoon, Technomon and at least five of her cyborgs raided Hebert-Wilborne High School with the intent of stealing tinker-gear technology. She described the tech as belonging to Blizzard before hopping on a teleportation pad to the Third Boston Games. She knows your faces."
Jade's previous smile died. Her eyes flitted about, trying to find something to focus on as what I just told her settled in her mind. "Oh. Oh fuck. Oh fuck! She knows? About..." She swallowed harshly, and suddenly began to shiver in place.
I didn't do anything to move other than nod. "Yes, she knows. And considering that it was during school hours, and targeted a specific locker with access to a dimensional pocket, it's likely others might know as well. You and your sister are exposed."
"But we're protected, right!?" She seemed to beg. Tears were gathering in her eyes. "I mean, you're one of the good guys! You can help us! And the others, Ammo, Tinman, they can-"
"They were caught in Technomon's pad. They're in Boston." I interrupted. Her voice died at the admission, and she seemed to crumple in on herself. She took a minute to find her voice, albeit small. "You... you're the only IHL hero in the city, aren't you?"
Jade pulled her knees to her chest, and her whole body shivered and shook in a silent cry. I stood up and walked to her side, if only to let het know she wasn't alone. Her silent cries eventually died down, and when they did, I kneeled to her face. "Listen. Jade? I need to know where your sister is. I can't contact the other vigilantes in the city if she's still in danger. Do you know where she is?"
She looked up, her eyes reddened. She sniffed and wiped at her face with her sleeves as she spoke. "No... she never talks about where she goes. She just shows up with more stuff."
Dammit. This was my only shot at finding her anyway. It would be easy to stay, just long enough to get Jacklyn to listen to me. As I thought about how I might convince her, I heard Jade mutter under her breath. "I told her, I told her to be more careful. The full metal bitch and her stupid cyborgs, and then mom might find us, and she should've been more fucking careful...
Mom? I thought they were orphans.
...I ignored it for now. It's better is she knows what she's going to be put up against. “Jade, I need you to listen to me very carefully. Technomon may be in Boston, but her beasties can sometimes perform rudimentary tasks on their own through delayed timers. Since she knows your faces, it'd be easy to figure out where you sister comes and goes. Is there anything in this place that can-”
Tintin’s text cut me off. ‘INCOMING VEHICLE, APPROACH CALCULATED TO ARRIVE AT BLIZZARD'S RESIDENTIAL BUILDING. SPEEDING AT 80 MPH. SIMILAR ENERGY READINGS TO THAT OF BLIZZARD’S RESIDENTIAL BUILDING.’
I spoke through my pause, ignoring the curious look she gave me. “Nevermind. Your sister might be arriving soon. It’ll be easier if you speak to her about-” Tintin cut me off again. ‘BLIZZARD’S SUSPECTED VEHICLE JUST SUFFERED A CRASH THREE STREETS DUE WEST. TWO OTHER VEHICLES APPROACHING SUSPECTED ALLY, WITH SIMILAR ENERGY READINGS TO THAT OF TECHNOMON’S EXPERIMENTAL TELEPORTATION DEVICE.’
Oh. Fuck me.