The guard explained what had happened in a calm and forthright manner. The woman had shown up at the front door at about four-thirty that morning. He’d let her in. She’d talked to him about how wasteful energy use cost the company money and contributed to global warming, so he’d turned off unnecessary appliances like the hall lighting and the security system. Then a two-man work crew arrived. She had a photocopied memo from the lab director, but the full authorization paperwork had gotten lost. It was the sort of snafu that happened all the time, and nothing to be concerned about.
Once in a while, the police detective interrupted to ask a question. Mostly, they were echoes of the guard’s statement followed by a request to confirm that he’s actually just said that. The guard seemed a bit annoyed at having his perfectly reasonable account challenged, but patiently repeated himself.
Finally, the recording ended. Commissioner Harris turned to the two costumed heroines.
“That’s the witness’ statement. You see why I wanted your help on this case.”
Red Lynx nodded. “Of course.” Harris was not inclined to call on the capes every time he ran into difficulty, nor did he hesitate to do so when it was really necessary.
Harris turned off the monitor. “Obviously, we’re dealing with a mind controller,” he remarked.
“Strictly speaking, it was suggestion rather than mind control. She didn’t give orders. She convinced him to go along with what she wanted.”
“What difference does that make?”
Kestryl spoke up. “The difference is that it narrows down the suspects. It was somebody who can’t just control people like puppets, but can make them believe whatever she says, even when it doesn’t make sense. Sounds like Psiductress.”
“Yes it does.” Kestryl grinned for a moment at her mentor’s approval, until she continued. “On the other hand, Psiductress usually covers her tracks better than this. Normally, nobody knows that she’s struck until the suggestion effect wore off enough for the victim to realize that something was wrong. This time, other employees arrived within two hours, found the ransacked lab, and started talking to the guard while he was still fully under the effect.”
“Maybe she got careless and overconfident.”
“Perhaps.” Red Lynx turned to the commissioner. “Did the guard give you a physical description?”
Harris snorted. “We held off on that until we sat him down with the police artist. Damn near drove both of them crazy.” He opened a file folder on his desk and pulled out an utterly generic sketch of a thirtyish white female. “He said she had a big nose. The artist drew her with a big nose. He looked at the picture and said the nose was too big. Repeat for a half-dozen other features.”
“No useful description, then. Is there any chance of recovering the last pictures the security cameras took?”
“The computer forensics team is working on it.” The hard drives had been reformatted and wiped. The guard had directed the intruder to the server room, convinced that it was a perfectly sensible thing to do.
Red Lynx looked thoughtful. “Commissioner, where is this guard now?”
“They sent him to the hospital for a checkup. Nothing: no drugs, no alcohol, no neurological problems. Just in case, he’s on medical leave pending the investigation. Why? Do you think he might be in danger?”
“No. However, it would be useful to question him again to see how long the suggestion effect lasts.”
“I’ll have the case detective do that.”
Kestryl was taking another look at the sketch. “If it wears off, maybe he’ll be able to give you a better description. Remember what the guard said about how she kept commenting about her looks while the work crew was hauling stuff out? That must have been her planting suggestions to trip him up when he tried to describe her.”
Red Lynx nodded. “Good thinking. That would explain the confused description.” Kestryl beamed. “If it is Psiductress, this will be the first time anybody’s debriefed one of her victims before and after the effect wore off. That could give us some useful clues about her M.O.”
The rest of the police file was routine administrivia, without any additional information. “That’s what we have,” Harris declared. “We’d certainly appreciate any help you two can give.”
Red Lynx looked grim. “If it is Psiductress, we may want some additional help, ourselves.” As the two turned to leave, she concluded, “If you find out anything else, we’ll be at League Headquarters.”
Synergia was on monitor duty. “A message came in for you two from Commissioner Harris.” She glanced at Kestryl. “It must be important; he spelled your name right this time.”
Kestryl snorted. The variant spelling to distinguish it from the common name and from the “Kestrel” who’d been active during World War Two had seemed like a good idea at the time. Now, it seemed more appropriate for a thirteen-year-old mallrat than a nineteen-year-old costumed crimefighter. She might as well be calling herself “Junior Kid Sidekick Girl”.
One of these days, she was going to change her nom de cape to “(Something) Woman”, if she could think of “something” that sounded impressive and wasn’t already in use.
She put that thought aside as the message appeared on the main screen. The guard’s follow-up interview was very different from the first one. He was now perplexed and disoriented, remembering every detail of what had happened but unable to explain his behavior.
That was consistent with Psiductress’ known powers. Her suggestibility effect started to fade after a few hours and wore off completely within a day. Its main aftereffect was to leave the target feeling like a complete idiot.
The message also included an attached file containing an inventory of what had been stolen. Synergia pointed out three batches of bulk radioisotope samples. “I think that’s the break we need. Now that I know exactly what combination of energy signatures to look for, I can detect that anywhere within a few klicks, unless it’s the bottom of a cave or something.”
“Or unless they break up the samples to sell,” Red Lynx added. “We’d better move fast. Who’s next on the monitor duty roster?”
“Normally it’d be Meson Man, but he’s on a trip to Brazil. Cycloblast is covering for him.”
“Call him in. As soon as he shows up, we move out. You fly a search pattern; we’ll follow on our bikes.”
Synergia made a quick call on the secure League line. When she finished, she turned back to Red Lynx. “Should we bring in the police?”
She shook her head. “Based on the police reports, the prime suspect is Psiductress. The last thing we want is her cornered and in a position to brain-scramble an armed officer. I think we’d better handle this ourselves.”
Synergia nodded. “Good point. So, what’s the plan—when we find the stuff, I mean?”
“Two of us go in at separate points. One hangs back in reserve, staying in constant contact with the other two. That way, Psiductress only gets a chance at one of us, and the other two will immediately know what happened. If necessary, they can move in on her while she’s preoccupied with her target.”
“Makes sense.” Synergia nodded. “I think I’d better be the one to hang back. You two are a lot better at stealth entry. Zapping the front door off its hinges is more my style.”
There was a lull, until Kestryl spoke up. “Did Cycloblast say how long it would take him to get here?”
“Not long. He said, and I quote, ‘about ten minutes, unless there’s a line in front of the phone booth’.” She grinned at Kestryl. “A ‘phone booth’ is where we used to change into costume, back before your time.”
“Yeah, when you made costumes out of mammoth hides and fought giant dinosaurs.” Kestryl shot back.
“I’ll have you know I fought a giant dinosaur just last year.” Synergia shook her head. “If I didn’t know that Doctor Desolation has been around since the nineties, I’d swear there’s a six-year-old boy inside that armor.”
Red Lynx headed toward the kitchenette for cup of coffee, rolling her eyes a bit at her comrades’ banter.
Synergia’s voice sounded on the commlink. “I think I’ve got it. About four klicks away, at two o’clock.”
Red Lynx checked her GPS and glanced at a street sign to verify her location. “Sounds like the harbor district. Come down below rooftop level so you’re not so visible, and meet us at the convention center.”
The two motorcycles followed the flying superheroine down Thirtieth and then onto Garrick Boulevard. Synergia landed in the convention center parking lot and was joined by her companions as her energy nimbus faded.
“How far from here?”
Synergia pointed. “About nine or ten blocks that way.”
“Good. OK, from here on you’re riding with Kestryl and guiding us in. With luck, we’ll take Psiductress or anybody else in there by surprise.”
Kestryl opened the cycle’s saddlebag and took out a spare helmet. “Here; wear this.”
“You think I need that? I can have a force field up in a tenth of a second.”
“You can be on the asphalt in a tenth of a second.” She grinned. “Besides, don’t you think you should set a good example for us young people?”
Synergia stuck her tongue out at Kestryl. She then put on the helmet and climbed onto the rear seat of the cycle.
“Hang on!” Kestryl’s passenger clamped her hands around her waist as she powered up the engine. “I’ll take it easy for you.”
She did take it easy, driving in slow quiet stealth mode. Finally, Synergia spoke up. “This is it.”
Kestryl braked to a halt, followed by Red Lynx. “The isotopes are in this warehouse, down in the basement.”
“All right. Synergia, you stay with the bikes and keep an open commlink to both of us. Kestryl, you go in the window on the left.” She raised her grapple gun. “I’m finding a way in from the roof.”
Quickly, Red Lynx climbed to the top of the warehouse and surveyed it. Nothing unusual so far. A quick IR scan showed no sign of anyone else in the area. She found a roof access hatch, picked the lock, and looked inside. Nobody home as far as she could see or hear.
She did a broad-spectrum scan. Nothing but standard background noise and local radio chatter... and then a quick burst of static on a wide band of frequencies. She couldn’t pinpoint an exact source, but it was definitely coming from somewhere inside the building.
Apparently, some kind of unusual machinery was running in here. Perhaps the radioisotopes had been stolen to power it. That didn’t sound like Psiductress’ style. Had she already sold the loot to someone else, or teamed up with a more tech-savvy partner?
The only way to find out was to keep looking. But they’d better be even more careful about it than they’d planned, and to be ready to retreat and call in the rest of the League for support.
She spoke into the commlink. “I just picked up an odd energy spike from inside the building. Synergia, take a look and let me know if you recognize it.”
There was no reply. “Red Lynx to Kestryl: please respond.” Still nothing. “Red Lynx to Synergia: come in please. Red Lynx to team: report.”
Suddenly, the rooftop was lit up in violet. She turned to see Synergia flying toward her.
Synergia pointed toward her, and a bright violet nimbus flared around her hand. Red Lynx felt a jolt to the chest, and then everything went dark.