Exposure: 4-3

Visionary knocked on Grandmaster’s door twice, light raps of her knuckles that proceeded her entering before he responded. He didn’t tell her to enter though, nor did he say anything until she was inside, with the door clicking shut behind her.

His helmet was on the table, beside a pair of empty plastic cups that had housed some coffee; a third, half drunk, was within arm’s reach. An open laptop faced him, and his expression was stern and serious, his tone of voice grave and lacking character. Visionary was accustomed to this from him, and knew to hold back on anything light hearted.

“Thanks for coming back, Visionary.” He said, glancing down to the screen of his laptop. “Hope your operation went well, but this requires your attention. I mean, hell, this is gonna require Messenger’s attention, truth be told to you.”

Visionary’s eyes flickered for a brief moment. “Messenger? I’ll need you to explain what’s going on. Is this with regards to the Burnham case?”

Grandmaster nodded, then pointed to his laptop. “Come and take a look. I’ll be the narrator to this Brother’s Grimm little story I’ve uncovered.”

She nodded and walked over, standing to his left. He tapped onto Outlook and opened a recently opened email he’d received, bringing up a batch of pictures taken by phone.

“With the Burnham case, you know he confessed and gave us the location of evidence to help us convict Barnes. Turns out, he wasn’t lying about it, and it’s all really solid stuff. He gave us the location of the Fartouched animals that were kidnapped, as well as the computers that were stolen, some storage bin north of Manchester city centre that Burnham took them to. And that’s the thing. I sent Impetus out because I wanted eyes and ears from somebody I can trust and’ll keep in touch with me, and because I ain’t got time for reports. Well, he showed me what he found out.”

He clicked, and opened the pictures.

The first picture was that of a calico cat, dead. Lying on its side in a cage. It had barely entered decomposition but its skin was withered, wrapped around bone and sinew tightly. The life from its eyes was just as drained as the rest of the body.

Grandmaster began to cycle through the photographs. The next two animals, a black rat and a bulldog had suffered the same fate. The rest of the animals, over two dozen in total, had their heads turned at right angles, their necks snapped to ensure their death.

Visionary’s eyes went wider, and she looked at Grandmaster. “They killed them.”

“If that were the half of it.” Grandmaster said, turning his head to Visionary.

“Why did he put them in a storage locker though?” She asked. “That doesn’t make sense.”

“I didn’t think so either, but Burnham’s smarter than I gave him credit for. See, that’s not the biggest thing we found. The C-Team took some laptops with them to extract data from the hard drives on site.”

He navigated to a second email, sent three hours later. This one had several video attachments, five in total, and he clicked the final one. It was several hours long and he paused it immediately, going about halfway through the recording before pausing at a spot where Burnham was meeting a secondary figure. It was showing a small living room from a ceiling corner view, with the blinds closed. A table was in the centre of the room, with the engine that Doppler’s crew had stolen lying in the middle. It was modified, with wires attached to the power generator and a control panel strapped to the side, and beside the engine was a small metal case. Three animal cages were next to Burnham, with two that had already been opened, their gates slightly ajar. One was rodent size, another for cats, and a third for dogs.

“That’s Michael’s home.” Visionary said, leaning in closer. “A containment team raided it. We found nothing.”

“Yup, but this was five days before we caught Burnham. He took security footage of what he did with Barnes. I reckon, because he knew if this went south, he needed to clear his name and have evidence that he was just an accomplice, not the main conspirator. Makes a little more sense when you think about it, and it points to him keeping everything in a storage locker-”

“-for evidence.” Visionary interrupted. “That’s very pragmatic.”

“You’re telling me. He even recorded the audio. Take a gander.”

Visionary turned slightly to Grandmaster and nodded. Grandmaster hesitated a second before pressing play.

The video came to life. Anthony Barnes walks forward a few steps and points towards the engine. He sounds frustrated, and a little weary.

And this is it, with the modifications I asked for?”

Michael Burnham nodded. The footage was of a good quality but it was still grainy, and didn’t show his facial expressions clearly.

That’s it. Everything you asked, you got. You get what you paid for, don’t ya?”

Anthony rubbed his chin, holding his elbow with his other hand.

I assume you’ve tested the device.”

Michael nodded. “Made sure it worked, then killed ’em.”

Anthony walked over to the cages, and opened one of them wide. The camera could just see that the two cages that had been opened, were empty. The third he knelt beside, and put a curled finger in the gap. Afterwards, he yanked his finger back out of the cage and stood, then nodded.

I need a demonstration. I assume these-” Anthony points to the metal case on the table. “-are the sedatives I requested?”

Michael nodded again and walked over. He opened the case, and the contents were obscured by the lid shielding it from the camera. He did take out something in his hand, a syringe and a vial that he began to fill up.

Anthony went back to the cage and opened it. He reached inside, and his mumbles were barely audible above the sound of the cat struggling inside. It hissed for a few seconds and let out a growl, but grew subdued in seconds.

Shh, there there. Come on, now. No need to scratch me.”

He emerged calmly with the cat held by the scruff of it’s neck, and he curled his other arm underneath to support it. He brought it over to Michael, who carefully administered the sedative. Within a minute, the cat had fallen asleep in Anthony’s arms. He brought it over to the table, easing it down onto it’s front and stroking behind it’s ears.

Michael nodded, and took the wires attached to the engine, and begun to fasten them around the cat’s waist and head. He wasn’t particularly careful when doing so, but he made sure they were tight enough. He moved over to the control panel and adjusted something on the screen before turning to Anthony.

Ready?”

Anthony nodded.

The moment of truth. Go on.”

With one final tap on the display, the engine began to activate. The hum of alien energy was audible and the screen began to show flashes of static, flickering boxes of white and black that seemed to surround the engine like a halo. Moments passed, and the cat began to convulse and shudder. Anthony leaned in, his hands beginning to clench whilst Michael watched calmly. The cat began to spasm more and thrash and rolled it’s head up, eyes wide, letting out a weak and feeble meow before collapsing. The cat looked gaunt and frail, an exhumed corpse; just as in the pictures that were seen before.

Michael tapped the display once and the engine powered down. Anthony stared, and though his expression wasn’t perfectly clear, it was obvious he was shocked.

…what did you do?” He stated, staring straight through Michael.

Sucked ’em dry. What’cher think was gonna happen, Barnes?”

Anthony’s voice began to fill with a slow fury. “This isn’t what I asked for, not in the slightest.”

Pacing towards Michael, Anthony raised his finger accusatory. Michael raised his hands, a gesture that Grandmaster felt familiar with.

You asked me to get you the engine, and fer’ these modifications to it. I did exactly what’cher wanted, word by word. It ain’t my fuckin’ fault if it went tits up!”

I asked you to get me something that could cut off people’s power. Drain them of their Farside energy and they’d be powerless. That’s what I-”

-that’s what you thought would happen, ya daft cunt.” Michael interrupted, raising his voice. “That ain’t my fault, not one bit, so don’t point ya cunt finger at me, blamin’ me! I took your money, I hired Flare an’ her little twat crew to steal those animals for you. I asked Doppler’s Crew to steal the Engine. I even got some anaesthetic because you wanted these bastard animals sedated, when I would’a just plugged them in live and kickin’! I’ve done everything you asked me to do, exactly as you wanted, no questions asked, and now you’re blamin’ me because it fucked up. Ain’t that right?!”

Anthony stared quietly, then lowered his hand down. Michael stepped forward, repeating himself.

Ain’t that right?”

After a second, Anthony nodded.

Yes.” He raised his head, speaking deeply. “But I have nothing now. What am I supposed to do? I promised. I said I’d have a way to suppress their powers. I wanted to turn them off altogether, neuter them, but this is just execution. This isn’t what I wanted, Michael.”

Not my problem.” Michael said, stepping back. The shift in his tone was noticeable, aggression into calm and controlled. “If you wanna tamper with shit you don’t know, your business.”

Anthony began to run a hand through his hair and turned away, and left his palm in his grey hairline. He let out an exhale, defeated and contemplating.

I need one more thing from you. I need you to get rid of the animals, and the data we have. No evidence. Destroy it all.” He turned, letting his hand drop to his side. “Nothing remains. No links to me whatsoever.”

Michael nods. “That ain’t a problem.. What about that?” He said, pointing to the engine.

I’ll deal with that. Just… do what you need to do. How much do you need?”

This one’s on me.” Michael said, prodding his own chest with his thumb. “You’ve made me well off enough, I think a freebie’s in order.”

Anthony nodded, turning away from the engine. “Thank you. I’d best leave. Help me move the engine to my car. I’ll find a way to hide it.”

Grandmaster stops the video.

Visionary lowers her hands from her gasping mouth.

“The rest of it is just him moving the engine out of the room.”

After a second, Grandmaster shoves his laptop closed, then leans back in his chair. “Everything clicks now. Burnham knew it was gonna go tits up from the start, so he recorded everything. We have enough info here to verify every claim that Burnham made. He knew, he fucking knew, and he’s covered his back every step of the way. And the moment it went south, he was ready to take a dive to drop Barnes in it, and save his own skin. That smart son of a bitch.”

Grandmaster rubbed the bridge of his nose. To his side, Visionary nodded slowly. “You were right.”

“I don’t give a crap that I was right.” He stated, leaning backwards, a dawning realisation washing over him. “I’m astounded. Burnham was much fuckin’ smarter than I gave him credit for. That man’s smarter than any of us here.”

“What do you mean?”

“Because you didn’t notice what he did halfway through the video, and now that I’ve seen it again, I saw exactly what he did. That son of a bitch. When he was talking to Barnes, that little rant he gave him?” Grandmaster turned to Visionary. “He worded that perfectly, because he knew he was being recorded. He made sure that he said that he did everything because Barnes hired him to do it, and got Barnes to admit to that on camera. God fucking damn.”

“And that’s why he kept the evidence.”

“That’s not all.” Grandmaster rubbed his face. “We didn’t get an admission of attempted murder, ‘cos there’s no intent to kill people. But what we did hear was an admission of intent for nullification of Farside-born abilities.”

Visionary raises her head and meets eyes with Grandmaster.

“It might be just a step above GBH, but it’s enough to issue a warrant for arrest.” A smile starts to grow on his face. “We got ’em.”

Visionary nods. “I’ll go and inform the Director. This will most likely have to be brought to his attention.”

Grandmaster nods. Visionary starts to walk out and Grandmaster’s helmet begins to let out an alert. He takes his helmet and puts it over his head, and as Visionary begins to turn on the knob, he speaks.

“Hold up, Visionary.”

She turns around to the sound of his distorted voice, taking a step closer to his desk.

“Answer, loudspeaker.”

The system that changes Grandmaster’s voice in the helmet now starts to crackle with background noise, and a familiar voice pierces through.

“Grandmaster here. You’re on loudspeaker.

Hello, Grandmaster. Whom else am I talking to?” Impetus answered.

“Just Visionary. I’ve shown her the pictures and footage you sent me, so she’s up to date. What’ve you got?”

Hello, Visionary. I hope you are well today. Did your operation succeed?”

“It did, Impetus. Thank you for asking.”

Grandmaster wags his finger from left to right. “Can you two skip using my helmet to catch up for one second here? Impetus, what did you find?”

Impetus scoffed. “So impatient, but I guess this is serious, is it not? You’re aware that we found that footage on the computers. We found something else that you need to see. I’m sending a picture to your email address… now.”

Grandmaster pulled open his laptop, and Visionary walked back around to his left as the screen came to life. A new email came in, and he double clicked on it. Inside was a PDF attachment, and he opened that as well. Inside was a report, detailing instructions in small print. Further down as he scrolled, he came across blue paper and white outlines, with precise and detailed drawings, measurements and engineering information.

“Schematics?” Visionary asked, leaning forward.

Schematics of the engine that Anthony Barnes has hidden from us.”

“Okay.” Grandmaster said, leaning back on his chair. “That’s good. Should help us as evidence that he was using it for nullification purposes.”

I would not show you just a mere engine blueprint, Grandmaster. Can you see anything different about it?”

Grandmaster scrolled back up and him and Visionary studied it for seconds. Grandmaster shook his head. “I can’t see anything. Looks just like the engine in the video.”

Exactly.” Impetus said. “Like in the video, Grandmaster. Not the engine when it was stolen.”

“Yeah, makes sense. You modify something like this, it’s untested, so you’ll need notes. I’m no engineer, but I don’t see what you’re getting at.” Grandmaster scrolled back up, reading through the instructions before. His eyes wandered over a note, scanning the bottom of the page.

This is not just that. This is an official schematic. It has come straight from MAGI-Tech. These are official blueprints. The engine was modified and these notes are annotated and signed by-”

“-Artifex himself.” Grandmaster said, as he saw Artifex’s signature on the bottom of the page. “Son of a bitch.”

“He’s still in the NFU workshop. I’ll send a C-Team to bring him in for questioning.”

Grandmaster nodded. Visionary bowed her head and left the room, closing the door behind her. “Impetus, you make my job easier and harder at the same time. Goddamn.”

A pleasure as always, Grandmaster. I would help you with Artifex but I need to continue here.”

“That’s fine. Give me a bell if you hear anything else.”

Of course. Goodbye for now.”

Impetus dropped the call.

Grandmaster took his helmet off again and left it sleeping on the table. He put his hand on his head, so that the tips of his fingers brushed against his temples. With a deep sigh, he spoke aloud to himself, barely above a whisper.

“Just a little longer, Kai. Just a little longer.”

The metal door opened with an ominously loud noise, a crack of metal and machinery that signalled the entrance sliding open. Several members of an NFU containment squad stood ready, armed with Emotional Dampener Rifles. They held them losely, fingers off the trigger as they walked through the open doorway. The last man inside took the keycard that’d been acquired from the receptionist, who had shrunk behind his desk and hadn’t said a word since their arrival.

One man led the way and two men flanked him, three others behind. With their armour, they were virtually indistinguishable, and walked slowly towards the control panel that lead them to Artifex’s workshop doors. Their approach caught the attention of the security camera, as several red dots started to dart and trace on their clothes. No further than ten feet from the door, the apparent leader raised his hand and signalled for a crunch of boots on the floor, and everyone stopped in symmetry.

The lens of the camera rotated for a second, before it spoke to them.

Weaponry detected. You have not been authorised to enter the workshop. Please identify yourself or the automatic defence systems will be armed. You have ten seconds to comply.”

Raising his head, the leader replied.

“Commander Jason Cohen of the NFU.” Jason said, turning his head. The red dots began to focus on him all at once, attracting to several points on his chest; his heart, shoulders, ribs.

Voice recognised. Commander Jason Cohen, no designation. You have not been scheduled for a visit. Please remove your helmet and disarm yourself for confirmation of identity.”

Not wasting more time, Jason passed his rifle to the man next to him, who held it by the stock as he took off his helmet. The red dots began to trace around his cheeks, along his nose and forehead and even dipping into his eyes. It took seconds to process before the voice called back to them.

Identification confirmed, Commander. Artifex has been made aware of your presence. This is a reminder that Artifex has strict policies regarding visits-”

The voice stopped. A few seconds later, it spoke again. Accompanied by the door being pulled open by machinery, and the way to Artifex’s workshop being opened.

Please enjoy your stay.”

Jason slid his helmet back on and took his rifle, then lead the way for him and the other five men to enter the workshop.

It was as much of an organised chaos as Artifex had normally worked with. Artifex himself was stood next to the table closest to the entrance, and to the side of the hand that leaned on the table was a laptop and a phone-like device on top. His white shirt had the sleeves rolled up, but otherwise he wore his characteristically smart attire as normal. He didn’t look annoyed, but calm and patient.

“I want to make it clear that I haven’t turned off the defence systems just yet, and you’re armed men. Even if it’s verified you, I need to be totally fucking sure about this.” Artifex raised his head. “Commander.”

Jason stepped forward, and Artifex raised his hand. Jason didn’t move further, and he let the hand drop to his side.

“Artifex. Nice seeing you again.”

“Not nice seeing you with a fucking rifle in your hand. You know, I made those weapons for you, and you come here holding them like this. Six armed men, standing in my workshop, what’s the phrase…” He snapped his fingers quickly three times. “…armed to the teeth? Some sort of fucking irony here.”

“I don’t like being here as much as you don’t like it, either. But we are here on official work business, and it’s not the kind that you can schedule or announce.”

“Mm.” Artifex responded, quickly. He took the phone off the top of the laptops and tapped the screen, then nodded. “My workshop, very secure. Normally sets to non-lethal, unless weapons are registered. Also set up some of my Intention Detectors into the security feeds, and it’s telling me you’re being honest. Or you’re very fucking good at lying.”

“Not that good, I’m afraid.” Jason turned his head. He caught a glimpse of the man to his right, who was holding his rifle in his hand. He’d yet to put his finger near the trigger, and he assumed nobody else was doing so. “And I’m not here to talk with you, either. We’re here to bring you in for questioning, regarding the theft of your stolen engine, and your involvement with Anthony Barnes.”

Artifex nodded slowly. “You know, now is good time to make joke asking if I’m being detained or not, but we all know how well that’d end for me.”

“That’d be in bad taste right now.” Jason responded. “Would you like us to call your lawyer for you whilst you’re en-route to the NFU headquarters?”

“No. “Don’t think is necessary. I figured you’d be here to talk about this with me, so I did you a favour.” Artifex raised his hand and put the device on top of the laptop, then patted it a few times. “With regards to stolen prototype and dealings with this specific client, all information recorded is on this. Will save you time, though I’m aware you’ll be looking through my workshop. Evidence gathering and all that.”

“Glad this could be done peacefully. If you’d like to make your way with us, we’ll make sure this goes as quickly as possible.”

“Room will need to be secured. Give me five minutes.”

The containment team waited and watched as Artifex began to secure the room for his absence, and he took the laptop with him after he was certain all defence protocols were up and running. He turned the lights off and locked the workshop door, before leaving through the relative darkness of the corridor. Two men behind, two either side, and Jason and the final officer leading the way, with Artifex in the middle.

With his arm on the back of his chair, Artifex casually glanced around the interview room. He hadn’t been there for long, a few minutes at most, so he was a little surprised as a familiar set of armour entered the room and sat across from him. Grandmaster had a file in hand, brown paper with sheets inside of it. He threw it on the table so it landed in front of his chair and pulled the seat back, resting down. Artifex watched him carefully, studying his moves.

“You were quick.”

“Things feel like they’re going really quick. For the purpose of this interview, I’m going to call you Janos. You okay with that?”

Artifex nodded. “Before we start, good to see you’re taking care of the suit. We can talk about it later though. I mean, I want to hear how it’s been doing.”

Grandmaster nodded. “For the record, I’m starting this interview at 13:06pm on December 3rd, 2015. My name is Kai Rhodes, also known as Agent Grandmaster of the National Farside Unit. With me is the person being questioned, Janos Briggs, also known as Artifex. Janos has declined a lawyer’s presence here today. This will be a quick interview, as Janos has come willingly here today.”

Artifex watched as Grandmaster opened the file and took out several photographs. The first sheets were print-outs of the PDF that was on the file of the computers that were previously seized.

“For the purpose of this interview, I refer to the event in which Janos was brought into NFU custody for questioning. Janos, when you were brought in, I was made aware that you already had a laptop that you said has, and I quote, ‘all the information on this’, with regards to the questions you’d be asked today. This leads me to believe you’re aware of why you’re brought in today. Is that correct?”

“That is correct.” He reponded.

“You’ve been brought in today with regards to information about the prototype engine that was stolen by Oliver Sullivan, also known as Doppler, as well as information that has recently been discovered about dealings that you’ve made with an Anthony Barnes. These dealings involve the prototype engine in question and modifications that, in documents seized today, indicate that you yourself have made to the stolen prototype engine.”

Grandmaster slides the sheets of paper towards Artifex. “I am showing Janos evidence A.1, the PDF document that shows proof that he has made modifications to the stolen prototype engine.”

“Would you like me to explain from the start, what is going on?”

“Yes please, though I’d like to make you aware that in doing so, anything you do say may be given in evidence. We would like to know primarily why you hadn’t reported to us that you knew where your stolen prototype engine was and that you’d modified it without the NFU being aware, despite knowing that it is part of an on-going case that we have.”

Artifex nods, then leans back further on his chair.

“Okay. So, the situation is like this. Anthony Barnes approaches me, tells me that he would like to privately hire my services, and even offers a sum of money up-front to keep things confidential. What is important here is that such contracts are made with my safety in mind. Is a promise of safety to me that such work can’t be sold or used publicly, nor used against me or MAGI-Tech. Said contract is on the laptop, so you can verify that as part of procedures. As part of contract, totally legally binding with regards to client confidentiality.”

“Anthony Barnes and I signed contract that stated total confidentiality, in return for previously agreed work that he reveals once it’s all done. We sign contract, he pays up-front, then decided to show me my prototype engine. At this point, contract has bound me. If I mention to NFU, contract is broken and I have a very huge lawsuit on my hands. That is why I did not inform NFU that he has my stolen engine.”

“And then what happened?” Grandmaster asked.

“He tells me what he wants. He wants engine to drain energy instead of produce it. I ask him why he wants to do that, and why he didn’t just ask for me to make him an engine to start with. Idiot idea if you ask me. Tells me, there’s not enough time, apologises and all that. He tells me what he wants, doesn’t say what it’s for, but knows I’m stuck and have to do it, because I want that engine back eventually. So I got to work, I made the modifications and left the engine functioning so it can be used normally, or as wanted.”

“What modifications did he ask you to make on the prototype?”

Artifex takes the sheets of paper and begins to neatly arrange then, putting them on the table just after he speaks. “Said he wanted me to make the engine suck in energy, instead of producing it. Not out of the realms of possibility, but I questioned many times. Why? He didn’t tell me. Told me I wasn’t hired to know that. Told him it was a dumb-shit idea, really dangerous, he had no idea what he was working with, but he was stubborn. I knew look in his eyes. It’s the look in mine. Arguing isn’t going to work.”

“After you modified the prototype engine, what happened then?”

“He took it and left. Not spoken with him since then.”

“And that was your entire involvement with Anthony Barnes?”

“That is correct.”

“For the purpose of the interview, I’m communicating through my helmet to the observation room currently watching the interview in progress. Are there any further questions you’d like to ask?”

Grandmaster waited.

“No further questions. Janos, thank you for your time.”

“Thanks for making this quick”

“We’ll be searching through your workshop for any additional evidence that may help with our enquiry. You’re not permitted to enter or be near that building until further notice. We require you to stay in the Headquarters until such further notice is given. Is that understood?”

“Understood, yes.”

“We’ll do our best to accommodate your needs for the duration of the stay. I’m concluding this interview. The time according to my helmet is 13:16pm on December 3rd, 2015.”

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