michael burnham

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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Exposure: 4-1

The sound of taps clacked from the room as Impetus strummed his fingers on the table, hand coated in the kinetic barrier he could conjure. The noise sounded akin to glass against glass, four strikes that blended seamlessly into the next four as his fingers rolled. As he scanned the television in front of him, he watched curiously as Grandmaster and Michael Burnham exchanged words and gestures.

He stopped with his index finger to the glass and dismissed the barrier, and his raw finger covered the distance of the gap and touched against the glass. His head tilted as he watched Grandmaster lean forward, and Burnham grinning widely as he leaned backwards.

“I’ll tell you his name, alright. You might have heard of him. Goes by the name of Anthony Barnes.”

Grandmaster paused. Was Impetus seeing hesitation, disbelief, or something else? The mask obfuscated his face, and with it, any trace of trying to gauge his colleague faded away. Impetus knew exactly why he did so; to take away that advantage from his enemies, or people he interviewed or interrogated. To remove the human aspect was a great advantage in itself, as it masked away any emotions or expressions that may give away any information.

So Grandmaster has told him once or twice. Impetus watched as that pause in the conversation spoke more about what was going on with him, than any contorted expression could convey.

“Anthony Barnes.” He repeated, with no part of his body moving. Not even a flex of a finger or a tilt of the head.

“What, did I fuckin’ stutter or somethin’?”

“The politician Anthony Barnes. Leader of the Union of Britain party.”

“The one and the very same-”

Grandmaster snipped off the last bit of his sentence by slamming his fist down into the table abruptly. Such a reaction wasn’t what Impetus had known of Grandmaster.

Bullshit.

“You think I’m lyin’?”

“I think you’re full of shit.” Grandmaster said, now raising his hand and pointing a finger right at Michael’s face. “Anthony fuckin’ Barnes, Burnham? Really?”

Michael lowered his shoulders, as if to show he was defenceless. With his hands already behind his back, he showed how incapable he was to physically react. That grin somehow managed to pull itself wider. “Not very professional of yer’. But I’m not lying.”

The grin dropped from his face abruptly. “I’ve got no fuckin’ reason to lie to you. It might be out there, ain’t easy to believe, but I’ve got evidence.”

“Evidence.” Grandmaster said, slowly curling his finger back into his fist.

“Evidence, is there a fuckin’ parrot in this room? Evidence, you daft cunt!” Michael struggled lightly against his handcuffs. “Weeks of recorded phone calls, back an’ forth emails, names of places where all the stuff he’s asked me to do for him.”

Michael stood up as he spoke, raising his voice to a pitch that made Impetus flinch. Once calm, now his voice echoed with a conceited fury behind it.

“What fuckin’ more do you want from me, you fuckin’ idiot cunt?! You’re getting’ everything you want and all I’m askin’ for is less years for all I’ve done. Is that so hard for your piece of shit brain to handle?”

Grandmaster paused again.

“And you’d be willing to testify this evidence in an official interview as well as pleading guilty in the subsequent trial.”

Michael lowered himself down to his chair and sat down. As if the emotion had never washed over him, he goes back to his unusually calm demeanour. “That’s right.”

“Got a bit of a temper there, Burnham. Might wanna watch yourself with that.”

“I find it hard to keep me hat on when yer’ not cooperating, when I’m tryin’ to do you a solid. It’s fuckin’ ungrateful, that’s what it is.”

Impetus leaned back in his chair with a curious expression on his face. He watched as Grandmaster took the file he had on the table back into his hands, a sign that he was due to leave shortly. Grandmaster sat up, with his posture improved.

“You throw out the name for one of the guys gunning for Prime Minister and you expect me to believe you right away. I’ve got every reason to be suspicious of you and whatever you say.”

This time, Michael was the one who paused.

“I dunno what else you want me to say. You’ve got the name, I’ll give you the evidence.” Michael stoppe, then tapped his finger on the table three times, each harder than the last. “We done here then?”

Grandmaster stood up, taking the file with him. He pointed it to Michael as he spoke. “We’ll be conducting an official interview in an hour where you can testify all this information. Once you’ve done that, we’ll process you as normal.” He lowered the file down. “Thank you for your cooperation.”

Grandmaster turned and walked out of the room, turning a head to the guards outside. Giles could barely make out what he relayed to him before the door closed.

“…earned his breakfast.”

The guards came in afterwards. They stood up Michael and held him by the shoulders from behind and escorted him out of the room. He took one last look around before he was out of sight, the doors locked and the room returning to inactivity.

Impetus stopped the feedback.

He didn’t have to wait long before Grandmaster walked into the room and took a seat beside him, turning it around to face him. He brought one leg up and rested it on the other.

“Anthony Barnes.” Impetus said, with a slight tinge of whimsy to his voice.

“Anthony fucking Barnes.” Grandmaster repeated with more vulgarity. “Anthony Barnes is apparently the great mastermind behind all of this. The robberies, the kidnapping of animals. A politician who’se doing bad shit behind the scenes.”

“We are in one of those cartoons, the Saturday ones.” Impetus repeated. “If this is a joke, we are the fools here. If this isn’t, there are more implications. Bad ones.”

“Mmm.” Grandmaster said, rolling his head back. “Came outta left field. What the hell do we even do now?”

“I thought you knew how to do your job. Now you need me to tell you what you have to do?” Impetus said, showing a slight smile.

“My mood for wise cracks has gone, give it a few hours.”

A few moments passed before Impetus spoke. “You’re taking this quite seriously.”

Grandmaster looked off to the side. “Too many things here that don’t add up. How would we have known that Anthony fucking Barnes had anything to do with this, if it wasn’t for Burnham squealing? Is somebody behind Barned as well? What the hell is even going on that we don’t know about?”

Impetus nodded. “You’re over thinking. Calm yourself a little.”

Grandmaster turned to Impetus, bringing his leg down to the floor. “It’s my job to over think. That’s how I operate, and I work best when I’m under duress. Let me have some stress for once.”

Impetus grinned slightly. “You’ll burn yourself out like that.”

“Doubt it.” Grandmaster leaned back a little. “I ain’t dead yet, and I doubt this’ll be the end of me.”

“I think what you want to be asked is, where do you go from here, Grandmaster?”

Grandmaster leaned forward, holding his hands together, forearms on his knees.

“We take the interview with Burnham, he tells us where to find what we need, we gather the evidence. The phone calls, emails, anything else, enough that we have irrefutable evidence. Then-” Grandmaster sits upright, putting his hands on the arm of his chair. “-we kick down Barnes’ door and arrest him, and this whole thing is finally over.”

Impetus smiled again and stood up this time, stretching his hands upwards. The prolonged stretch made him groan slightly, and as he walked past Grandmaster he put a hand on his shoulder.

“It is going to be a big day for you, Grandmaster. You’d best get some coffee.”

Impetus walked out of the room, and Grandmaster waited until he was just closing the door before he spoke.

“Yeah, I’m gonna need a shit-ton of coffee for this.”

Grandmaster glances at the screen for a second, watching the blank room for a few seconds before he hauls himself out of the chair. He shakes his head before he turns off the monitor, and finally leaves the stillness of the observation room, mirroring how lifeless the interview room had started to become.

…final time of interview, concluded at 11:34am.”

Taking another long sip, Grandmaster swirled the contents of the empty paper cup in his hand before throwing it into the stack forming on his table. Now two cups high, he contemplated asking somebody to get him a third.

He had returned to his office after talking with Michael, leaving the interview process to the other Grandmaster requested a live feed to watch it in its entirety and it was obliged, and he was watching it all unfold on his laptop whilst taking notes. To the right of him sat his helmet on the table, which he gave a single glance to every so often whilst scrawling down notes. A full sheet of A4 paper later, he let the pen finally come to rest on top of the paper, flexing the fingers in his hand to relieve him of the strain they’d been under.

His helmet was on a type of sleep mode where though it was still active, all but a few processes were shut down, and were easier to start up at the cost of some power draining away. This would mean that if the helmet’s internal phone went off, he’d be able to know. Whilst it was shut around his head, it made a more discrete noise into his ear that only he could hear, but the volume was amplified through the speakers of the helmet to alert him if somebody was calling him.

In this such instance, his helmet’s phone was ringing like this.

With a bit of an inquisitive look, he grabbed his helmet and slid it over his head, speaking a vocal command before it had even shut tight around him.

“Answer.”

The comm on the phone became active, as he noticed by the slight difference in noise. The display came alive as well, showing details of where the call was coming from.

GREATER MANCHESTER POLICE HQ. DIRECT LINE.

“Hello, you’re speaking to Grandmaster, AKA Agent Kai Rhodes of the National Farside Unit.”

Good morning, Agent Rhodes. This is Sergeant Paul Anderson of the Greater Manchester Police. I hope I’m not interrupting anything.”

Grandmaster leaned back on his chair, watching as the interviewers began to leave the room. Two other people came inside the room to escort Michael Burnham out, who was starting to grow irritated by being handcuffed so much and pulling on the bindings with clenched fists.

“Morning, Sergeant Anderson. We don’t normally get a lot of phone calls from the boys in blue. You’re not interrupting anything. How’s your day been?”

A bit up, a bit down, otherwise fine. I was directed to yourself after enquiring about the case with Michael Burnham.”

“Oh?” Grandmaster replied, sitting back upright in his chair. “Word travels fast. I’m currently leading the on-going investigation, so I’m the right man to talk to. What can I help you with?”

“I’d like to know the current status of Mr. Burnham himself.”

Grandmaster paused for a moment before responding, pondering. “The official report will be done within the next few days if you fancy a read yourself, but I can tell you that he’s been interviewed. He’s going to be processed and sent over to prison in a very short time, once we’ve confirmed what he’s told us on the interview.”

I see. That’s good news then. I do have a question though, if you don’t mind me asking. Michael Burnham is a rather ‘mundane’ criminal, as far as we’re aware. The NFU are normally on cases involving more ‘alien’ things, so why is the NFU interviewing him?”

“He’s directly involved in a case regarding the theft of MAGI-Tech and Fartouched animals. The case itself was sent over to us from the Police.”

But he himself isn’t Fargraced or directly responsible for these allegations of theft or kidnapping of Fartouched animals?”

Grandmaster paused again, to contemplate. He leaned forward, resting from hand to elbow on the table.

“Sergeant, I’m not a fan of doing this dance all day, so if you wouldn’t mind getting to the point of this all, I’d appreciate that.”

“What I’m trying to say, is that this man isn’t under the jurisdiction of the NFU.”

“He kinda is. He’s directly involved in our investigation-”

-and I’m aware of that, Agent Rhodes.” Paul interrupted, just at the end of the word. “But let me explain the situation. We’ve been hunting for Michael Burnham for a long time, and weren’t aware at the time that he was involved in this case. Michael Burnham needs to stand trial for the many ‘normal’ crimes he’s committed, not just the alleged cases you’re trying to find evidence for.”

“Just speaking between you and me, off the record. One could assume that there might be some resentment in this matter because we managed to bring him into custody first.”

Speaking between yourself and I, that’s not only incorrect, but quite a childish and unprofessional accusation to make.”

Grandmaster paused again. “I apologise if it could have been seen that way, sergeant.”

This is about correct protocol, ‘Grandmaster’. Regardless of whether the agents of the NFU used their Farside powers to capture a wanted black market dealer or not before we could, all cases that don’t have a direct link to the Farside, Eldritch or Fargraced individuals need to be handled by the Police force.”

“I can appreciate that, but I’m not quite sure where you want to go with this. To be perfectly honest, I can’t just un-arrest him.”

Burnham needs to be taken into proper police custody and dealt with in a proper manner.”

“That can be arranged. Once we’ve clarified the evidence that he’s testified in this case, we’ll be happy to give him over to you.”

Sooner than that. He’s going into police custody today.”

“Today?” Grandmaster said, in a perplexed tone. “We’ve got some interesting Fargraced here but we’re not miracle workers . How quick do you expect us to check what he’s told us in that time frame?”

We don’t.” He replied. “You can carry on your investigation without him. We’re going to send some of our boys down to your headquarters to retrieve him.”

“You’re going to-” Before he could respond by repeating what Paul had just said, Grandmaster stopped himself. “He’s part of an on-going investigation. How do you expect us to deal with that when he’s in a police cell somewhere?”

You can come to our headquarters and arrange an interview with him. I’m sure you and your Fargraced agents can figure something out.”

“With all due respect, you know damn well that’s going to be a problem for us. Who on the Police force has the authority to do this, exactly?”

“I do. You don’t have the power over non-Farside matters, Michael Burnham included.”

“We have as much power as the police do with regards to any individuals in a case that link them directly to the-”

-this isn’t a debate Agent Rhodes, and I don’t intend it to be. We’re going to be retrieving Michael Burnham and putting him on trial for the many crimes that don’t involve the Farside, within the next few hours Is that understood?”

Grandmaster refused to answer initially, restraining himself and his tone of voice. “Loud and clear, Sergeant.

Good. I’m glad we’ve come to a resolution. That’s all I needed to speak to you to.”

“I think we’ve discussed all we can on the subject. Have a good day, Sergeant.”

Goodbye, Agent Rhodes.”

As tempted as he was to cut him off before he could say goodbye, Grandmaster put the phone down the moment he heard the final syllable escape from the other end of the line.

The first thing he did was remove his helmet. The second thing he did was stand up and take in a deep breath, exhaling it out slowly. In moments where he felt tense, angry or about to head into conflict, he could feel his powers trickle more into his senses than normal, spiking with fight or flight or his survival instincts. The room slowly became an arrangement of objects ready to arm himself with, a maze of implements that made him aware of every possible avenue.

He put his hands behind his head and tried to relax himself, pacing from left to right. They were like lights or illuminated notes that drew his attention to them, and though he never felt an urge to use them or act out in violence based on this, he was startlingly aware of how many things he could do with what he had on hand, and how distracting it was to a regular train of thought.

A few seconds later and he could feel himself focusing clearer. He turned to the table and took the pen he was writing with into his hand, and could only feel the regular prompts his powers gave him for using it as a weapon, as opposed to his normal thoughts being over saturated in violent images.

He balanced the pen perfectly on the tip of his finger, watching it sway slightly as it balanced itself. Satisfied, he lowered his hand down and let it roll onto his desk. He smiled, though he wasn’t entirely sure why. The closest he could guess would be that he was relieved that he could control his powers, or that they hadn’t consumed him yet.

He was drawn into looking up by his helmet alerting him to the presence of something. Letters came onto his visor.

FARSIDE PRESENCE DETECTED.

The image he saw showed only the presence of Farside energy, a halo of static around an orb shifting with purple and navy blue wisps of energy within.

Grandmaster sighed deeply and removed his helmet, putting in on the desk.

“Messenger.”

Without his visor, he could see it for what it really was; an mote of glowing light hovering in the air within arms reach, sometimes looking glassy with how the way the room’s light reflected off it. Regardless of what angle he looked at it, it would always be visible to him.

He reached up and took the orb in his hands, and a voice called out to him, all around with no specific point of origin. The voice of Messenger.

Grandmaster, if you would please see me in my office, immediately.

He felt the mote slip through his fingertips as it vanished into nothing, left with his fist gently closed together. With a slight grunt, he rubbed up the side of his face.

“Gonna need so much coffee.”

He made sure his helmet was fully closed around his head before he took in a deep breath, then made his way to the Head Director’s office post-haste.

“Director Messenger will see you now.”

Victoria called out as Grandmaster sat on his chair, one leg folded over the other and his arm along the back of the chairs to his side. He stood up and nods, giving Victoria a finger point before walking over to the opening door. It was reminiscent of the door leading to Sage’s office, a vault of a room that seemed impenetrable from the outside.

As he walked inside the room, he noticed a certain modesty to it. There was no carpet or fancy colours, staying the same aesthetic as the rest of the building. Messenger’s black wooden desk was in the centre of the room, so he could face the door. A pair of chairs sat opposite him, with his computer to the side so it wouldn’t obscure his view of them. Behind him were drawers and a filing cabinet in the far corner. On the wall opposite to him was a single painting; his own, a memorial to all the Head Directors of the National Farside unit. Beyond that, the room was pleasantly spacious, not wonting for much else.

Messenger nodded as he entered, and Grandmaster closed the door behind him. Messenger gestured with an open hand to the chair in front of him. “Grandmaster. Have a seat. Please remove your helmet.”

Obliging, Grandmaster made sure to remove his helmet first and took a seat on the chair. He conservatively put his helmet on his lap, allowing them to speak face to face.

“Good afternoon, Messenger. Doesn’t Director Sage normally cover the personal side of things, as far as the higher-ups are concerned?”

“Normally she does, yes. Director Sage is on holiday for a fortnight, which has left me to pick up the responsibility. Nothing I mind, I assure you.” Messenger said, watching Grandmaster sternly.

“Makes sense. It’s not normally an everyday thing for me to be summoned by a Director, either.”

Messenger nodded in response. “Circumstances permit it, occasionally. I don’t like to waste time though. I’ve asked you to come here regarding the current investigation you’re in charge of.”

Grandmaster paused for a second, then nodded.

“It’s been brought to light that recently, some of your actions regarding this investigation have been somewhat brash and overzealous, to use the term.” Messenger continued. “You’ve been rushing the standard procedures, as far as I’m aware. You of all people are more than aware of the necessary steps to take when it comes to being the head of an operation like this.”

“I understand, sir.” Grandmaster said. Though he was going to continue, he saw Messenger was going to speak and held his tongue.

“I know you do, Grandmaster. This is why it looks like you’ve been acting on impulse over acting rationally. I’m well aware that you have a habit to bend certain rules or procedures to complete your work, but this is almost going too far.”

“With all due respect, sir. Everything I’ve done has been with the best interests of the NFU in mind. I’ve never once done what I’ve done with any bad intentions in mind.”

“And I appreciate that. Before Sage went on holiday, she made me quite aware of that.” Messenger said. “I’m aware that you’ve not done anything that would constitute an abuse of power. What I’m trying to say is, you’re coming close. It could be perceived as such. As one of the higher ranking agents we have, we need you to set a good impression. Which means less bending the rules because you know you can, and working within them to show that you don’t need to do that.”

Grandmaster sat there silently.

“Is anything troubling you that would drive you to be a little more impulsive like this? Do you feel a need to prove something? You don’t need to prove anything, Grandmaster. Everyone at the NFU already knows of your devotion to your work.”

Grandmaster shook his head slowly, taking in the words. “If there was a problem, I’m sure Sage would have already let you know.”

“If she knew of the reason, she neglected to tell me. And if that was the case, she hasn’t told me for a good reason.” Messenger brought his hands onto the table, steepling his fingers. “That’s irrelevant though. Here’s what I propose happens next.”

Messenger brought his fingers down, interlocking them gently. “After the current investigation is done, we’ll arrange for you to have a review of your current job. A one to one to see how you’re coping and if there’s room for improvement. Director Sage informed me that whatever you’re doing is important and that I shouldn’t burden you with this until you’re done. Once the investigation is done and you’ve finished your work, we’ll conduct the review when the time is right.”

“A review.” Grandmaster said, both worried and relieved.

“Your position is in no danger, Grandmaster. I’ve no reason to fire you, no gross misconducts of note, and you continue to perform to your job role with dedication and skill. We will, however, have to look into how you’ve been acting regarding this latest investigation and see if there’s any external factors at play. Perhaps stress, or some desire to push yourself harder, or even if it’s how you feel you should act.”

“Up until that time, Director Sage informed me that you’re to continue with your investigation. I’ll keep an eye out for the reports that are going to follow, and I hope that there’s no issues in future. If there are any issues or any problems you’re facing, the NFU has the support you need. Don’t be afraid to ask.”

Grandmaster nodded once. “I will.”

“If you have nothing further to ask, this meeting is adjourned.”

Grandmaster stood up and nodded, taking his helmet off his lap and putting it on his head. He bowed his head politely and walked out, whilst Messenger kept an eye on him until the door closed behind him.

When he was outside, he began to roll his shoulders. To the side of him, the female voice of Victoria called out to him.

“Everything go alright?”

“As well as it could be.” Grandmaster said. “Can’t talk to my boss that well. I always lock up a little. Must be something about higher authority.”

Victoria smirked slightly. “It’s not like you to be quiet.”

“I have my moments.” Grandmaster said, turning to her. The gleam of his helmet’s lights stared back at her, the lack of an expression on that helmet made it hard to judge his intent. “Not all the time, but sometimes. Y’know, I kinda liked today when it started. Now it’s starting to peck at my head.”

“One of those days?” Victoria said, turning on her chair to face Grandmaster.

He nodded to her. “Let’s hope it stays today.”

Grandmaster looked up to the lift doors, then turned back to Victoria. “Good chat.” That’s all he said as he walked away and pressed the button, and the doors opened nearly instantly. He walked inside and turned on his heels, and as the lift doors began to close, he gave Victoria one last flick point before he was sealed inside, and being hurried down below. Victoria giggled slightly, rolling her eyes before she took her phone from her lap and put it back on her desk, checking Facebook once again for new status updates.

Once out of view, Grandmaster sighed and leaned against the back wall of the lift, tapping into the side of his helmet.

MENU.

“Call Visionary.”

CALLING Agent Visionary (mobile).

A few rings later, Grandmaster was accosted by the sound of Visionary’s voice. He walked out of the elevator, making his way back to his office.

Hello?”

“Hey. Just me. Just a quick one. What are you and your team doing today?”

Hello, Grandmaster. We’re going to be the recon squad for the Eldritch capture today. Why do you ask?”

“Damnit. I needed a free pair of hands. Nothing to worry about, on a tight schedule. Take care out there.”

Of course. Speak to you later.”

Despite the abruptness of his call, Visionary spoke with a pleasant and polite tone. The phone call ended as Grandmaster walked past a hot drinks machine in the corridor.

MENU.

“Call Impetus.”

CALLING Agent Impetus (mobile).

The phone rang for half a minute before somebody answered.

My office is a short walk from yours, you know. There is no need for a phone call, Grandmaster”

“I’m not at my office, that’s why I’m calling you. Common sense, Impetus.”

That’s fair. You sound in a rush. Things have gotten busier for you?”

“I’m always in a rush. Listen, as much as I’d like to do this whole chit-chat and back and forth we normally have going on, I need less banter and more professionalism right now. What are you doing today?”

“Paperwork now and training later. You are about to ask me to do something for you, aren’t you?”

“I am, and i’ll owe you if you do.” Grandmaster stated.

Impetus considered. “You are a man of your word. What do you need?”

“Here’s the scoop. In the Burnham case, he mentioned the location of where the Fartouched animals were being held, as well as the computers that were stolen. Burnham said they were being tested on but he didn’t know why. Poor little bastards, can’t stand to think that animals have been hurt. I need you to get a Containment Squad and get out there today, in the next few hours. I want some eyes on the scene, and once you’ve found something, I need you to tell me what’s going on. I’d just rather have a voice I know at the scene, and I don’t have time to wait for reports.”

Impetus listened carefully. “I can do that. I’ll be honest with you, I could do with a change of pace. I feel restless.”

“That’s what we call a win-win. I can trust you to take care of this, so keep me updated.”

“I shall. You make it almost sound exciting. I’ll be in touch.”

Impetus dropped the line.

“We’re getting there. Getting closer now, I can feel it.”

Grandmaster finally made his way to his office and closed the door behind him. He removed his helmet again and left it sleeping on his desk as he sat in his chair. He ran his hands over his face, feeling the material of his armour against his skin.

“Let’s see if he was bluffing.” Grandmaster said, leaning back in his chair. “Your move, Burnham. Ball’s in your court.”

Discoveries: 3-8

By the time Kai had driven them back to the headquarters, it was closer to one in the morning than it was to midnight. His black BMW quickly drove through, only halted by security checks and speed bumps along the way. For people being detained there was a side entrance which was more heavily guarded and better fortified, almost separate from the rest of the building. Kai parked up and got out of the car, with Shaun in tow.

“Bring in the goons, I’ll bring in Burnham.”

Shaun nodded, and they begun to retrieve their detainees. Whilst Shaun was hoisting the two men over his shoulders as he’d carried them previously, Kai was busy grabbing Michael by the scruff of his collar, and hauling him up. He was more resistant than anticipated, so Kai forced him out of the car and shoved him forward.

“Get moving.”

With Michael at the front and Kai holding him by the scruff of his collar from behind, Shaun followed as they went through even more security checks. When they finally entered the building, they walked over to the front desk, separated from the rest of the room by thick glass, with a small panel that could be slid up. The guard on desk duty, a young man with ginger hair, sat behind a computer. Behind him was the door to get inside, a pair of filing cabinets either side of that door and a wooden box hung on the wall to the side. He nodded and typed on his computer as he spoke.

“Morning. Seeing you out of armour, now that’s new.”

“Mornin’. What can I say? I like to surprise people.” Kai smiled. “I’ve got three new people to check into the NFU hotel.”

“Busy night.” He typed some more, going between watching the monitor and Kai. “So, three individual. Names?”

“Michael Burnham, no idea who the crap these two are.” Kai said, pointing a thumb towards Shaun and the two men over his shoulders.

“Any special procedures requires for their confinement? Regular cell, solitary, any emotional dampeners required?”

Kai took a look at Michael and shook his head. “None more than usual.”

“Right. Detainment period?”

“Until further notice.” Kai said, taking a glance at Michael. Whilst he was wearing a scowl as he had been since the start of his incarceration, he was busy looking around, studying the building around him.

“I can’t put that down.” The guard said, taking a look at Michael himself. “I need a figure.”

Kai took another look at Michael, more analytical. Sizing him up with his eyes. “A week, but be ready for extension on that period.”

The guard nodded, and his keyboard clattered with keystrokes. “Mmhmm. Dietary requirements?”

Attention was drawn to Michael, who was still busy looking around, as if ignoring the question. When Kai nudged him with his shoulder, he spoke almost instantly. “Nothin’.”

“Any special requirements?” The guard asked after typing a single letter.

“Nah.” Michael said, staring the guard down. His eyes were averted to his screen and paid no attention to the gaze.

“Good. And the other two? Are they unconscious?”

Shaun took a single step forward, the men hanging lifelessly over his shoulders. “Yeah. Sorry about that.”

“Don’t worry about it.” The guard responded. “We’ll ask for their details in the morning. Do they need any medical attention?”

Shaun turned to Kai, who gave him a small nod. Shaun nodded back to him, then turned to the guard. “Maybe they should be looked over. They weren’t hit too hard, but you never know.”

“We’ll get a medical team to check them in the morning. That about wraps it up. Cells two A, B, and C are available.” The guard stood up and walked over to the wooden box and pushed it open, showing rows of cell keys. He scanned along them with his finger, then took the three for the cells in question and handed them over

Kai nodded, then gave Michael a shove, to which he grunted in response. “Thanks. Back in two.”

Kai led them down the corridors, leading Shaun, Michael and his two men from the nicer front portion of the building, down to the holding cells. It looked far more plain, less decorative, as rows of steel doors with pull down hatches at eye level lined down the walls. The doors had a small metal panel near the keyhole, and underneath the hatch which you opened to talk was a second which you could push in, so food could be put inside. Each one was labelled with a number and a letter, and errant snoring was heard inside as they went past 1-J and turned a corner.

The first cells they approached were all labelled with a two, and the hatches were open to show that they were currently vacant and unlocked. He pulled the door open by the thick handle and pushed Michael inside, keeping his back faced to him. The room was basic, bare of any frills or decorations. The bed was nothing but a mattress on a block of wood on the other side of the room, with a pillow against the back wall so your feet would be facing the entrance. To the left of it was a stainless steel toilet basin at the floor, and a blocky metal sink between that and the bed.

Kai reached into his pocket with his now free hand and dug out the keys for his handcuffs.

“It’s about as luxurious as it’s gonna get for you.”

He watched Michael flex his hands as the cuffs were removed, rubbing at the thick indentations that they left. He was looking around the cell, and Kai mused for a moment.

“Didn’t think the cuffs were that tight on you.”

“I’ll live, just ’bout.” Michael said, walking over to the bed and sitting down on the edge. He sat with his hands on his knees, returning his stare to Kai.

Kai took the key to the cell and passed it between his hands, before stepping outside and locking the door. He walked to the next cell and opened the door for Shaun, who walked inside and put one of the men on the bed, sprawled over mattress in an comatose stupor. He did the same for the other, and once Kai had locked both of the doors he began to walk back to the entrance.

“That’s some good work right there.” Kai said, dusting his hands together.

“It feels like it was too easy.” Shaun said, as they got out of earshot of the cells where Michael and his men were being held. “This guy’s a big thing, right? Why’d he get caught so easily”

“Yup. He is, and it’s way too easy. He’s not an idiot, even if he wants us to think he is. If it was just him being stupid, I’ll be surprised.”

They walked past the front door, and Kai waved back to the guard, who waved as well.

“Tomorrow, we’ll start questioning him.” Kai continued. “Find out why it was too easy, what he’s doing with what was stolen, see if he’s linked to the Ten Granders and Doppler’s crew. My money’s on him being involved with all of them.”

“It’d be a bit anti-climatic if it wasn’t.” Shaun said, shrugging.

“Couldn’t care less, as long as we’ve got the right people in prison. You in tomorrow?”

Shaun shook his head, as they walked over to the security checks once again and were let through quickly. “Day off.”

“Enjoy it. I’ll let them know you need a lift back.”

Shaun nodded. “I’ll head to the staff room. See you later.”

Kai nodded, as Shaun started to walk back around to the front entrance of the headquarters, then waited until Shaun had walked around a corner before he scratched his chin.

“That kid’s going places. I’d better go and get some sleep. Good thing I’ve got a late start tomorrow.”

He took his phone out and made a quick call, letting the drivers know that Shaun required a lift back to his house, and slid the phone back into his pocket. He took his car keys out and unlocked it from a distance, and put his finger through the metal ring so he was swinging them around as he walked over.

Kai got in, sat in the driver’s seat and started the engine, then made sure his windows were fully down before turning the radio on and cranking it up, then pulled out and drove away from the headquaters.

A fully armoured Grandmaster walked through the front entrance of the NFU headquarters. The sun was starting to climb through the sky, and a clear shade of dark blue was slowly becoming visible through the smother of grey clouds. It felt like hardly any time had passed; he had more of a nap than a full sleep, running on four hours of rest two mugs of coffee and a bagel. Three mugs of coffee, if you count the third one he procured from a vending machine inside the building.

He walked into the cafeteria with the white paper cup in hand and set it down on the table. As he often was, he was meticulous and careful when it came to disarming himself of his own helmet. He let it rest on the table, with the glowing blue eyes facing him as they begun to fade and power down. He brought the cup to his lips, blew on it once and took a single sip before putting it back down with a grumble.

“One day, they’ll use some damn coffee instead of dirt in that coffee machine.”

“It’s instant coffee. You can’t expect more, Grandmaster.”

Impetus spoke softly as he walked around the table and took the seat opposite from Grandmaster. Whilst he normally wore quite casual clothes around the headquarters, he was in full body armour today. He never wore a helmet, but half of his face was normally covered by a light grey mask, from the bridge of his nose that covered his mouth and all of his face from the sockets downwards. The rest of his armour, whilst offering light protection, didn’t shield him much from physical damage. The material underneath the protective pads on his shoulders, forearms, biceps, chest and thighs were a pale grey like his mask, but the raised points of armour themselves were a pale, unusual orange.

The only visible skin on him right now was his face, and even that was bare, his mask being dumped on the table once he sat.

“Guess I can’t expect better than the crap in this cup. Impetus, it’s been a while.”

“It has, Grandmaster.” He offered him a smile. “Not my own doing, I assure you.”

“It’s just how work works, isn’t it?” Grandmaster raised his hand, resting it on his helmet. “Nice to see you in your actual uniform for a change. Must be what, the first time in half a year since you’ve worn something that ain’t gym gear.”

Impetus leaned back on his chair. “I can’t say I’ve seen you out of your armour. It must smell horribly, considering you aren’t one to take it off. A second skin to you, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, well. Some of us need it more than others.” Grandmaster shrugged. “We didn’t win the Farside lottery, us ‘normies’. Not all of us are barrier makers, or that ‘second wave’ crap you tend to spout out to make yourself feel important.”

“It’s true.” Impetus said. “You may think I’m arrogant to say it-”

“-yup.” Grandmaster interrupted. “I definitely do-”

Impetus countered his interrupt with his own. “-but I don’t think you’d sound half as bitter if it did not hold to be true-”

Grandmaster quickly sliced off the end of his sentence, to add his own. “-and whilst you may think it’s true, if the ‘first wave’ does their job, it makes you a little bit redundant, so I figure you’re trying to remind yourself as much as other people. So you feel like you’re just being held in reserves, instead of sitting on your thumbs all day-”

“-and when that time comes, you’ll be the first to thank me, and the boy.”

Their pause was uneasy. It was broken when they both formed a wide grin on their face.

“You know, we just pick off from where we left off. Glad you’ve still got some sense of humour, you arsehole.” Grandmaster chuckled lowly. “Been on patrol last night?”

“Yes. Predictable, and boring. Calm before the storm.”

“Guess you need to make an appearance once in a while. Those autographs don’t sign themselves.” Grandmaster sniffed the air, glancing down to his coffee. “The boy, you mean Verus.”

“I do.” Impetus says, nodding.

“The name’s a bit different, not sure what I think about it just yet.” Grandmaster said, strumming his fingers on his helmet. “What do you make of it?”

“Exceptional people need exceptional names. I like it.”

“Sure, you would love it, Impetus. Latin named guy loves the boy named after a Roman gladiator. For a Greek, you love a lot about Italy.”

Impetus nodded, matter of factly. “It’s a beautiful country. You should go sometime. I’m sure, in ancient times, you’d have been a master of the Colosseum.”

“No doubt. Makes me feel like my powers are a few centuries old.”

“They’re not far off your actual age, then.” Impetus raised an eyebrow.

“Oh, you’re gettin’ better. That one was almost an insult this time.” Grandmaster said. “It’s taken you all this time and you’ve worked up to that one. All that practice, for that.”

“I’d like to think, I’m more useful in other areas.”

“Mmm.” Grandmaster grumbled, taking a glance at his cup again. “Sure. My powers are telling me how to best shove this paper cup down your throat to choke you. They tend to flare up when you run your mouth like that.”

“How is that going, anyway?” Impetus asked, turning the conversation more serious.

“Not bad. I’m coping with it. Still a lot of intrusive thoughts about my powers telling me the best way to kill people with whatever I’m holding at any given time, but you tend to ignore that. It’s like background noise.”

“Have you considered therapy?”

“Not yet.” Grandmaster takes the cup and takes a small sip. “It’s not that bad. A little worse than it has been. Not as bad as when I first got Fartouched. I’ll survive. How’s the insomnia going?”

“As well as you are. There’s good money when you don’t need to sleep.”

“That’s one advantage. Count your lucky stars for that.”

“Mm.” Impetus said, leaning forward. “I heard you caught Michael Burnham last night.”

“Word gets around quickly.” Grandmaster said, nodding. “Sure did. Me and Verus took him out. But, let me just run it through you. I need an opinion on it all.”

Impetus nodded.

“So there’s Burnham. He’s been working the black market for years now. He’s smart, ruthless, he knows what he’s doing. He’s been cutting deals with low level thugs and gangs so it’s harder to trace it back to him. Takes me a week to drag the information out of one of his hired goons from the Technomads. This guy isn’t a small fry, is what I’m saying, and he’s not an idiot.”

Impetus nodded again.

“So this guy, Burnham, gets a phone call from one of his lackeys and tells him, we need to meet up at this pub in Stockport where they met before. Says he thinks he’s got some information on the stuff he’s sold to him and he thinks there’s a job opportunity, but it’d be safer to speak in person. Burnham, for whatever reason, says yes. He meets up, me and Verus are there waiting for him. And all he has to defend himself is a pair of hired thugs, and he tries to run away.”

“My question is, what do you think about that?”

Impetus considers it for a moment. “Very easy. Too easy.”

“Exactly. Why the hell did this guy get caught?”

“The answer that makes the most sense would be, that he wanted to be caught.”

“That’s what I thought.” Grandmaster points to Impetus. “But that raises another question. What’s he got to gain from getting caught like a moron?”

“I cannot say. Maybe he turned over a new leaf. He felt so guilty, he wanted to turn himself in.”

“That’s one hell of a hopeful sentiment you have. Must be nice being so optimistic.”

“That’s the best answer I can tell you, Grandmaster. I cannot answer for him. You’ll have to ask him yourself.” Impetus leaned back on his chair. “I’m to assume you’ll be interrogating him for answers.”

“Yup. It’s the only way I’m going to get answers.”

“You always seem to be putting yourself forward. Too many operations where you’re in charge that you don’t need to be.”

“I guess I like to make myself seem more important than I really am. It must be why we’re good friends.”

Impetus grinned slightly. “That must be it.”

“Could do with somebody sitting and watching if you’re up for it.”

“If I get time, I will.” Impetus nodded. “I’ll see if I can. When are you going?”

“After this coffee, I’m gonna take a slash and then drag him out of his cell, and the fun will begin then.”

“I’ll have to see.”

Impetus nodded, and stood himself up from his chair. “Not a pleasure, as always, Grandmaster. I’m going to the gym after this morning shift. Do you fancy joining me?”

“Might do, yeah. I’ll see ‘if I get the time’.” Grandmaster grinned back. “Talking to you is the worst thing that happens to me. This coffee is rated higher right now.”

Impetus just smiled and began to walk away. “We will speak soon.”

“Later.” Grandmaster said, giving him a slight wave.

He stared into the reflection he made in the coffee before he took another sip from it, and put it back down on the table as he swilled it around his mouth. Begrudgingly, he swallowed it down, and pushed himself out from the table. As he put on his helmet, his voice became distorted by it halfway through what he was saying. “Actually, I change my mind. The coffee and Impetus are about the same today.”

The coffee was abandoned on the table, to grow cold and be poured away as Grandmaster left the cafeteria.

A clanging of metal woke up Michael Burnham rudely, jolting upright on his uncomfortable bed. He raised his hand up as if to strike something, restraining himself when he realised that he was still in his cell, and the knocking had come from the door. He grumbled lowly to himself and sat upright, still in the clothes he wore yesterday. He watched the hatch open downwards, as a pair of eyes stared into his prison cell accusingly. He was met with a male voice.

“Rise and shine, Burnham. You’re going in for early questioning today.”

Michael sat upright on the bed and rubbed his eyes for a good ten minutes, until his eyes began to open more clearly. The rough sleep he had made half of his face feel numb, and he needed time to adjust.

“No breakfast?” He asked, turning to the hatch.

“Breakfast after questioning. The sooner it takes, the quicker you get something to eat.”

“I talk better when my belly’s full’a grub.”

“That’s not what’s going to happen. We’re going to come into the cell, put handcuffs on you and escort you to the questioning room. Any attempt to escape and we will be forced to incapacitate you. Is that understood?”

“Loud and fuckin’ clear.” Was his response, and he stood up off the bed, stretching his arms upwards. The guard turned and nodded to the side, to a person that Michael couldn’t see. After a few seconds, the door began to click and the internal mechanisms came to life with grinding gears and other mechanical noises. Soon after, the door opened.

A pair of guards, both male, were waiting for him. The one on the left had a pair of handcuffs at hand, whilst the other walked into the cell first. The guard with the cuffs followed afterwards.. Michael stared at the first guard for a few seconds until he spoke.

“Turn around and put your hands behind your back.”

“You’re the boss.” He said, in a mock tone. He turned, and extended his hands backwards. The guard gripped him by the upper arms and shifted to the side. The other guard secured the handcuffs around his wrists, tight enough to restrain but not tight enough to dig into the skin. The guard holding him let go, and held onto Michael’s biceps and gave him a nudge. He turned around, and he was lead out of the cell. “Not much point in tryin’ to do a runna’.”

“If everyone was as sensible as that, it’d make our lives much easier.”

Michael turned to the guard, and a grin pulled along his face. “If only.”

The trip to the questioning room wasn’t very long, as both buildings were connected by one corridor, a long windowless hallway that lead directly to the headquarters, where the first few doors were that of the questioning room and the room where observations of what occurred in the former room took place. All the while, he curiously looked about, watching people going past, studying their faces, perceiving the curves and turns of the building ahead of him.

He was put inside the room and sat on a chair, hands stuff cuffed behind his back, and the guards locked the door upon absconding. He looked around, staring at the individual table ahead of him, and the dots of black around the room. The lack of reflective glass made him more curious about how he was being observed, but for the time being he was content to stare at the door, until it opened ten minutes later with a click to the lock.

He studied the figure clad in carbon fibre body armour, eyes dancing over the mask and the glowing blue eyes that stared back at him as he took a seat opposite him, letting a file drop onto the table in front of him. He opened it up, letting the blue glints of light stare downwards onto the page, absorbing the information.

“Michael Burnham.” Grandmaster said, his voice echoing with a distortion. “Fourt five year old, Caucasian male. Normally, I go through each and every one of your offences, but quite frankly, I want to go home on time, so we’ll skip that whole bit. Let’s just summarise it as ‘a lot of bad things’. That fine with you?”

Michael tilted his head slightly. “You’re the fella that caught me, with that kid.”

Grandmaster nodded. “One and the same. Good ears you’ve got there.”

Michael nodded back. “Faces and voices, two things I’m always good at rememberin’.”

“So I’ve been lead to believe. You’re a very wanted man, Michael. A lot of good people want you behind bars. A lot of bad people want you dead.”

Michael grinned widely, pulling his lips apart so Grandmaster could see his teeth reflect the light. “Gotta reputation to keep. I get the feelin’ I’m not getting my call, or my soliciter.”

“That ain’t a good thing, and you’d be right. No call, no lawyer.” Grandmaster continued to study the file as he spoke, his mask making it hard to tell what he was focused on. “It does beg a few questions in the grand scheme of things, which is why you’re here instead of enjoying a lovely breakfast of lukewarm porridge. I’m not complimenting you, so don’t misunderstand me when I say, you’re not an idiot. You’ve been in this game for a long time. You tripped up badly, and there’s not a chance a man like you didn’t see this coming.”

Grandmaster watched, and he assumed that Michael was restraining a smile, a slight tremble on his cheeks.

“If people do good work for me, I treat ’em well. Gave him the benefit of the doubt. Didn’t think the pigs would send the freaks on me.”

“You’re at least aware that this is in the NFU’s hands now.” Grandmaster said, reaching down to close the file. His head tilted up, and his attention was brought onto Michael. “Mike, I’m having to suspend a lot of disbelief here, because ‘giving the benefit of the doubt’ to a scumbag like Macey sounds about as stupid as actually meeting him.”

“Macey did good work for me. Rewardin’ good work keeps people workin’ for you. Trustin’ ’em helps. It’s all part of the great plan to keep it all runnin’.”

“Getting caught by me and a kid was part of your ‘great plan’ as well, I take it.” Grandmaster’s helmet ran protocols through his visor and vision, locking onto Michael’s face. It began to ran scans, diagnostics, the intention tracking program starting to analyse him as he responds.

Michael paused for a second. “Na’, not so much that.”

Grandmaster’s helmet whirred into action. A few seconds passed in silence, where Grandmaster assumed that it would have responded sooner. It finally finished, and came up with text in his vision.

INTENTION SCAN INCONCLUSIVE.

Grandmaster frowned, though Michael couldn’t see it through his helmet. A small window of text appeared to the left.

DETAILS:

FACIAL SCAN INCONCLUSIVE. CAUSE: UNKNOWN.

BODY LANGUAGE AND TONE INDICATE 22% CHANCE OF DECEPTION, 78% CHANCE OF TRUTHFUL INTENT.

Grandmaster kept up the pace, applying some more pressure.

“You wouldn’t be trying to lie to me, would you Burnham? Because right now, you honestly don’t need a charge of perverting the court of justice added to your long list of how screwed you are when you go to jail.”

“I think you’re misunderstandin’ me. Look at it from where I am, sitting in this chair and starin’ at your fuckin’ masked face. At t’end of the day, I’m fucked, no two ways ’bout it. I’m off ta jail for a long time, the pigs lock me up and throw a fuckin’ party, pop open the bubbly and act like fuckin’ heroes.. I ain’t got anythin’ to gain from being here, ya daft prick. Why the fuck would I wanna be caught? Is it that hard to think that I might have trusted somebody not to fuck me over?”

Grandmaster checked his intention tracker again. The percentage of truthful intent rose to 89%.

“So you’re gonna play nice, is what you’re saying to me. Ballsy move, for a guy who’se good at saving his own skin.”

Michael grinned at that last comment. “Savin’ it again now. Now’s about the time you offer me a deal.”

“You’ve got nothing I want, except to see you behind bars for a long time.”

“You wanna know why I did it. The robberies, hirin’ Doppler’s crew. I know you can’t use what’s said here in a court’a law, but I know that’s what you want.”

Grandmaster leaned forward. It took him a second to respond. “You’re offering a confession.”

“To the recent stuff. Like fuck am I tellin’ you anythin’ about what I did before, but you wanna get down to what’s goin’ on? Cut me some years off, I’ll give you that.”

The sound of fingers strumming on the table echoed through the poor acoustics of the room. “Not convinced. Why? You get caught and you roll over. Not buying what you’re selling.”

Michael stomped onto the floor, causing an abrupt noise. His voice snarled, breaking the façade of restraint. “Because if I’m goin’ down, I want the cunt who got me into this goin’ down with me too.”

Grandmaster didn’t respond to the noise, nor the tone of aggression. The words however, made him sit upright in his chair, the intention tracker running in the background, protocols feeding him information from .

BODY LANGUAGE AND TONE INDICATE 86% CHANCE OF INTENT OF REVENGE.

“I give you a confession of him pullin’ the strings, an’ I can even get you some hard evidence that it was him. Confession, plead guilty, stitch the fucker up. If I’m goin’ down. I take him with me. You finish yer’ case, I get outta jail earlier, an’ maybe I can stab the bastard when he’s in with me. Win win for everyone.”

Grandmaster leaned forward. As much as he wasn’t being given much information from his helmet, he could feel a burning in his chest. A relentlessness being offered respite, as Michael preyed on his desire for justice and to finish what he started, the end to the chain he was pulling.

In the moment he felt tempted, he felt himself give in.

“Who’se behind all of this?” He asked. “No games. Give me his name, Burnham.”

Michael leaned back on his chair, and once again his lips parted and an uncomfortably wide grin crept over his face. The prisoner revelled in the control he had over the conversation at this moment in time.

“I’ll tell you his name, alright.” Michael said. “You might have heard of him. Goes by the name of Anthony Barnes.”

Discoveries: 3-7

“I’m still not sure why you need me around here.”

Shaun glanced up from his phone when he spoke, taking a short look through the windscreen before turning to Grandmaster in the driver’s seat. He was staring at the front yellow door of the Red Bull, illuminated by four lights designed to look like lanterns in a horizontal row on the front wall of the building. The front entrance has two stairs either side, covered by a grey wall in front and with an old fashioned lattice fence in front of the edge.

He put his feet up on the dashboard of the car after a little fidget. This of all things caught Grandmaster’s attention, giving a glance to the left.

“I mean.” Shaun carried on. “We were here half an hour early and it’s quarter to twelve now, I’ve not seen this guy show up yet, and I’m not sure why you even need me here. You can take care of some goons by yourself, can’t you? You’re Grandmaster after all.”

He asked it as a legitimate question. To offer Shaun a rebuttal, he raised his hand and slapped his backhand onto Shaun’s shins. This caused him to flinch slightly.

“First of, feet off the dash. Show a little more respect for the man’s motor.”

Shaun complied with a grunt, lowering his feet.

“Second of, we need to be early in case he pulls something funny. Always gotta be prepared.”

He leaned back a little, one arm resting on the car door where the window was rolled down. A cool breeze flickered into the car, sending a lick of air across the back of their necks.

“Third, to be totally honest, we’ve got no idea what this dickbag’s capable of. Could be Fargraced, could be packing heat. You’re tough, and your powers aren’t flash or obvious. You’re a relative unknown, none of the criminals know what I look like, none of them give a rat’s ass about you. It’s a relatively safe bet we’ve got.”

“I figured you didn’t want me here for my charming personality.” Shaun cracked a smile, and locked his phone. He shoved it into his jeans pockets, looking out of the front window again.

“I’m not much for small talk. And fourth of all, don’t call me Grandmaster.”

“You have a name?” Shaun said.

“Being smarmy, huh Verus?” Grandmaster shot him a glance. He wasn’t in his armour today, taking a more casual approach to his attire. It was incredibly simple but it worked with his figure; white shirt, blue jeans, a black suit jacket and polished black shoes, which contrasted much with Shaun’s constant use of plaid shirts and Sketcher trainers. “Kai. Kai Rhodes.”

“I didn’t pick the name.” Shaun said in defence.

“Neither did I, but here we are.”

“Let me just run this through you again.”

“Uh-huh.”

“We’re going into that pub to wait for this really well known guy, real piece of shit, does all sorts of stuff on the black market, because he thinks he’s gonna meet the guy he made a deal with.”

“Ryan Macey of the Technomads.”

“Him, he’s gonna meet him again for whatever reason, in a very local pub in the middle of Stockport city central, and he doesn’t find it suspicious? He’s just fine with it?”

“Yup.” Kai responded.

“And we’re going to go inside and make an arrest on him, and he’s probably gonna resist and you want me here to back you up, and we’re gonna cuff him and drag him back to HQ for questioning?”

“That sounds about right.”

“Doesn’t that seem really suspicious?” Shaun asked, turning to Kai.

Kai nodded. “Oh yeah. Real suspicious. Let’s be honest here, this guy knows what he’s doing. He’s probably just gonna send us into a trap, or not even show up. But, this is the best lead we had, and I’ve every reason to believe he’s suspicious of us, but seeing as he hasn’t shown any paranoia, we have to go along with it.”

“You think we’re going into a trap?”

“Damn right I do. That’s why I want you here. You’re the anti-trap. What are they gonna do, stab you?”

“They might stab you.”

“That ain’t gonna happen.” Kai leaned back, starting to turn his neck left and right. One of the joints cracked.

“You’re confident.” Shaun turned to look out of his door side window. They were parked curb side on a T-junction in the road, facing a terrace of different sized buildings and in a line where the pub in question was. The Red Bull was the shortest building on that particular row, in the centre between two different road junctions that split off from the main street.

“I am. Aren’t you?”

“I’m feeling kinda neutral on the whole thing.” Shaun said. “Hey, we’re on double yellows, you know.”

“We’re part of the police force of England.” Kai said, as if to make his point clear.

“We should be setting a better example.” Shaun said in a mock tone, joking. “What would people think if the NFU were breaking all the laws?”

Kai cracked a smile, laughing under his breath. “You show me a single person who gives a shit about parking on double yellows. Everyone does it. We’re just here for a short while.”

“How can we explain this to the NFU though?” Shaun sat up, making elaborate hand gestures. “They’ll take my badge away from me.”

“Let’s use the excuse of ‘we were working with the public’s best interest in mind’. That’s a good one. I should ask the lab to add in some excuse generator software for times like these.”

“You can get that?” Shaun asked, sitting upright and looking to his right. “Really?”

“Hell if I know. Maybe. I’m gonna have to ask when we get back.”

Kai took a glance at the time on the dashboard behind his wheel.

“Eleven, fifty two. We need to get in early, so show time.” Kai took the keys out and unlocked the doors. “Remember. We’re doing the dad slash son gimmick. We’ve heard good things about this place and we decided to stop in for a quick pint before going down south. Fishing trip or some crap.”

“So I just need to pretend to be your kid and act like I don’t like you? Should be easy.”

“See. You’re a natural.” Kai gave him a pat on the shoulder. “We wait to see what happens. If for some reason he does show up, we arrest him and chuck him in the back.”

Kai knocked on the panel separating the front seats of the car and the back. The glass had a few scratches and it sounded dense.

“Bullet proof, and the doors are locked on the inside. Just like a squad car. We bring him in, I grill him for what’s going on or who he’s working with, and we get one closer to sorting this mess out.”

“This is a weird question to ask, but what if he does show up and he get him?” Shaun asked curiously.

“Then I wanna know what the hell is going on, because nothing is that easy.”

Kai stood out of the car first, and Shaun followed afterwards. Once they were outside, he locked it twice to be sure, then looked over and gave Shaun a nod. They walked to the end of the street, made sure no traffic was coming either way, then walked across. They took opposite sets of steps to head up inside, and Kai was the first one to push open the double doors and make his way inside the Red Bull.

The interior was as most pubs were in Manchester; working off the rustic aesthetic that the English pub was well known for. The pathway forward was blocked, and lead off into the left side, where a dark wooden arch lead them into the main area of the pub. To the right was the bar, where a single patron was sitting down in a dust brown overcoat, a flat brim hat on his head, a nursed pint of Guinness in his hands. Wooden tables littered the area neatly, with our chairs each, and at the far left of the room were leather booths with tables in the center against the creme walls.

If one went around to the other side, they’d enter the function room. The floor looked more like old, grey scale prints with a spotty design and the chairs had more fabric woven into them than anywhere else. The bar could serve either side this way, though it seemed that Kai had predicted incorrectly. Only the barman and the lone patron were here at the moment, and both of them looked about as bored as each other.

Between both rooms, the room extended a small corridor outwards. Gents to the left, ladies to the right, smoking area out at the back.

“Thought you said it’d be busy.” Shaun said, as he walked inside and took a look around with a sceptically raised brow.

“Thought it would be.” Kai said, as he walked inside further. They caught the attention of the bartender, who stood up a bit more upright and flashed a warm grin. He looked in his fifties, with his hair starting to go grey at the roots. He had a worn face, and hands that suggested a long history of manual labor. His navy polo neck shirt was tucked into his trousers, straining to hold in a large beer belly.

“Afraid we’re comin’ up to pay day. Footies not on either. It’s a slow ‘un.” His accent was definitely Mancunian.

Kai and Shaun walked over to the bar, and Shaun took one of the stools and had a seat. Kai leaned on the bar, and engaged the bartender. “You’re not wrong. Hell, I thought a well known place like this would be packed tonight.”

“Aye, not tonight. It just happens, ain’t the end of the world. What can I get you two?”

“I’ll get-” Kai took a moment to look through the small fridges underneath the bar, at the far end. He briefly scanned up above, eyeing up a half full bottle of vodka that was hanging with the rest of the spirits behind the bartender. “-you got any good local beers or ales on tap?”

“None on tap.” He said, giving Shaun a quick look.

“Can I get a bottle of Doom Bar?” Kai leaned on the bar with an elbow. He started to reach for his wallet as the bartender nodded, and turned to Shaun.

“Can I get a bottle of Stella?”

The bartender looked over Shaun for a second, then back to Kai. He gave a nonchalant shrug, then turned around and fetched the beers out of the fridges. He used the bottle opener underneath the bar and popped them both open, then handed them out. “Glasses?”

“Nah, I’m good.” Kai said, turning to Shaun.

“I’m good.”

The bartender nodded. “That’ll be six twenty.”

Kai handed him a ten pound note. A second later, his hand was filled with change and he nodded, obliging him with a smile. “Appreciated.”

Kai and Shaun took their bottles and walked over until they were at a booth. Kai sat facing away from the door, and sat close to the wall. Shaun sat facing the door, and Kai gave him a nod.

“Just keep an eye on the door.” He said, in a hushed tone. The television near the bar was on, showing Sky Sports, so Kai wouldn’t have been heard by the bar. A man in a black suit and a blue tie was reviewing the previous games done yesterday, with a woman in a blue jacket and black top moving onto sporting news afterwards.

“Right. Did you pick up on anything?” Shaun asked, whilst taking a sip of his beer.

Kai took a sip of his own drink, and nodded. “Yeah. That bottle of vodka they have behind the bar is the best thing to use to crack somebodies skull open. Other than that, nothing. They might be in on it, not sure yet.”

Shaun nodded and put his beer down. “Helpful. So we just wait now.”

“Yup.” Kai said, leaning back and sipping on his ale. “Try to not talk too much about work stuff.”

“That doesn’t leave me with much to talk about. It’s the only thing we’ve got in common.” Shaun said, taking out his phone. He holds it up, so the back of it faces the door. “What do you do when you’re not at work?”

“Not a whole lot, tell you the truth. I’ve been watching a lot of series. Got that Netflix, so I’ve been catching up on everything that everyone’s talking about.”

“I didn’t take you for a binge watcher. What have you been watching?”

“Started with The Wire and Breaking Bad, because people won’t shut the hell up about how good they are.” Kai holds his ale up. “I’ve looked into a few other things. Parks and Rec is funny, but I don’t have much faith in comedy from the yanks.”

“It’s pretty good.” Shaun said. “Have you seen any of the animated shows? Bojack Horseman, or Rick and Morty?”

“Can’t say I’m into the cartoon side of it all.”

“They’re pretty adult cartoons.” Shaun said, pausing. Kai gave him a funny look, smirking slightly. “Not like that sort of adult cartoons.”

Kai holds his hands up. “Hey, whatever floats your boat, not gonna judge.”

Shaun rolled his eyes. “They’re really funny. Give them a go.”

“Recommendations noted.” Kai said, finally taking another sip of his beer. “Football team?”

“Stoke City, ‘course.” Shaun said, confidently.

“West Brom here. Could be doing better this season, but Stoke ain’t doing too bad lately.”

“Huh.” Shaun said, though his attention drifted elsewhere for a second. Still holding his phone up, he loaded up the camera and muted the volume, making sure the flash was turned off before he took a picture. He lowered his phone down and put it face down, sliding it over to the table to Kai.

Kai couldn’t see what was going on behind him, but as he lifted up the camera and looked at the latest picture, he was filled in. A man wearing a dark green t-shirt, an opened waterproof jacket and black tracksuit bottoms, with white trainers underneath. Kai put the phone down without changing his expression and slid it back, his tone going even quieter.

Fuck me. He actually showed up.

Michael Burnham had taken a look inside for a second, then walked over to the bar. He gave a nod to the bartender, who nodded back to him in response. His voice was deep rough around the edges, and his accent sounded more like it was practised than natural.

“Pint of bitter, ta.”

Their transaction was mostly wordless afterwards. The bartender poured him out a fresh pint, and he handed him a crumpled fiver in return. Coins were given back, and he took a sip and sighed afterwards. They nodded to each other again, and he walked over to a table near the middle of the room with his front facing the door.

Shaun took a glance out, then began talking again to clear the silence. “Hey, I just saw something on facebook you might like.”

Go on.” Kai said. Shaun began to type into his phone on the touch screen, then passed the phone over. It was an unsent text message, with the words freshly typed in.

What now?

Kai laughed to himself. “Send me that link later. That reminds me of something. Let me just take a look.”

“Yeah, sure.”

He typed a munch longer string and passed the phone back. Shaun took a look.

Finish your drink. He’ll know what we’re up to. Follow my lead.

Shaun took another swig of his beer. He considered it lucky that he was almost finished anyway, and Kai just left the remaining third of his ale in the bottle. Shaun tilted the bottle up and necked it, putting the phone in his pocket.

“Well.” Kai said, starting to stand up. “That’s one. No more for me. You want another?”

Shaun took a second to look at Kai and shook his head. “Nah, I’m good.” He took a stand shortly afterwards, leaving his bottle behind.

Kai turned around and caught a glimpse of Michael, who had his pint in one hand and his phone in the other, hidden underneath the table. On second thought, he reached behind him and took his bottle with him, and he walked over to Michael’s table and sat right down next to him. Shaun followed, and sat opposite him.

Michael turned his head slowly at Kai, who showed a much more cheerful disposition. “Hope you don’t mind if me and my lad take a seat here. The place is kinda dead, y’know?”

“I kinda do mind.” He said, squinting. “M’waitin’ for someone.”

“That so?” He said, turning his head to Shaun. “Well, if that’s the case, I do apologise. We were just stopping by, seeing the locals. We heard nice things about this place, but we thought it’d be a lot busier.”

Michael’s squinting turned into a deathly stare. He put down his pint and shifted his phone back into his pocket.

“I don’t know who you are, but I’m gonna give you some advice. You, and your ‘lad’, need to piss off and leave me alone. Yeah?”

Shaun and Kai exchanged a glance. Kai held his hands up and stood up from his chair, and Shaun did the same as he made a remark. “Wow, that’s rude.”

“Yeah, tell me about it. Just here, trying to be friendly. Did you hear that?” Kai turned to the bartender, who shrugged.

“Didn’t hear nothing.” He said, in denial.

“Guess we’ll just be going then. Don’t wanna cause a scene or anything. Have a good day.” Kai said with a pleasant smile, and turned to walk away. He took a single step before he stopped, and Shaun walked around until he was just out of Michael’s line of site. “Oh, yeah. I shoulda said something.”

Kai walked back, and put his bottle on the table on the corner, standing above Michael, who wasn’t giving him the time of day enough to even look at him.

“I have a message for you. From some guy called Ryan Macey. Says he’d love to come down for a quick pint and to catch up on business but he’s too busy rotting away in custody whilst he waits to be sent to prison, so he can rot in a cell there.” Kai grew a smile, and withdrew his NFU badge from his pocket, letting it fall open to show Michael. “But I reckon, you won’t need to worry too much. I’m going to make sure you’re going to jail along side him. Michael Burnham, you’re under arrest. You know your rights. Let’s just stand up slowly, and make this easy for everyone involved.”

Kai reached for the handcuffs inside his jacket pocket. Michael pushed his chair back slowly and raised up to his feet, and as he did so, the door to the pub opened again. Shaun turned his head as a pair of individuals came through the threshold, the first of which was a tall, well build man with a shaved head, wearing a light grey, button up shirt with short sleeves, dark grey trousers and black trainers with green laces. The other had dark, black skin and wore a white shirt, black tracksuit bottoms and a zipped up tracksuit jacket that covered his neck. He too wore a shaved head, and both looked as if they spent more time in the gym than they did at home.

“He brought some mates.” Shaun said, turning his head to Kai. Kai gave him a nod, and Michael began to grow a smug smirk along his face.

“Looks like you two are a bit fucked, aren’t ya?” He said, as he turned around. He and Kai stared at each other, locking eyes for a moment. Kai’s expression changed from one of confidence, to scanning Michael’s expression as if to determine something about him. Michael began to sidestep, but not before Kai reached up and placed a hand on his shoulder, much to Michael’s distaste.

“Not as fucked as you’re gonna be. Shaun.”

Shaun took the subtle hint and turned, walking to the two men who were now feet from the confrontation, and stood in the way to bar them. They both turned to each other, shared a glance and cracked a smile each.

The man in the tracksuit had a deep, rumbling voice. “I don’t feel good about beating up a kid

Shaun held out his arms slightly, a calmness in his voice.

“Let’s be reasonable, yeah? No need for this to turn south. Let’s just stop and-”

Shaun felt a fist plunge into his stomach, catching him off guard and causing him to lean forward.

Kai turned around to see what was going on. Michael broke from his grip and bolted for the door. Kai grabbed the bottle off the table and swung around, aiming to strafe around the hired muscle, who was reaching out to grab him and thwart that attempt. Shaun didn’t wait for him to try, and grabbed the arm that was pulling away from his torso. Once he had a grip, he threw the arm to the side, causing one of the men to stumble and knock into the other. Both of them were caught off balance as the one who was shoved caused the other to strike into the wall.

Kai made a break through the door, bottle in hand. The two thugs both swore between them. The dark skinned one kept his eyes on Shaun, whilst the other was turning to leave.

Shaun grabbed him by the shirt so that when he went forward, he lurched and strained the fabric, and Shaun pulled him back to get his attention. Both of them stepped forward, bolstered by outnumbering and out-sizing Shaun at every step. They had nearly a foot of height over him at least, towering down on him. This didn’t stop Shaun from walking forward, meeting them in their personal space.

“I was gonna be nice, but I’ve changed my mind. You’re both under arrest.”

They both shared a low chuckle, and the one in the tracksuit let out a louder laugh.

“Yeah, boy, what’chu gonna do to-”

Shaun raised his hand and struck him across the face with his backhand. He didn’t stop rolling on the floor until he slammed into the opposing wall, causing one of the paintings that was hung up to rattle and come lose, striking him on his shoulder.

The other guy’s face dropped, turning an even paler shade of white. Shaun didn’t give him the pleasure of chatting and raised his other hand, striking across his face with an open palmed slap. His body tumbled, colliding with his colleague into the wall, both out with a single show of force.

Michael bolted past a silver car that was parked just outside the Red Bull, almost stumbling into it as he made a break across the road. As he scrambled to get clear and gather some distance, Kai leapt down the three steps that were separating the pub from the pavement below and weighed the bottle in his hand for a moment. He already knew how to use it from the moment he saw it. Instinctive tugs from his powers already gave him insight into how best to use it as a bludgeon, but now as he thought about throwing it, his muscles had already learned how to turn it into a projectile.

Kai took a step to run forward, then pelted the bottle. It spun through the air until it came into contact with the nape of his neck. He didn’t want to aim for the head, as it may have caused more damage than allowed, but the nape would have stunned him regardless.

Michael felt the glass bottle strike him, and he took one step before he fell over onto his face. The bottle deflected off him, launching a little into the air before dropping down and shattering on the floor in the middle of the road. He lay there as Kai ran over, handcuffs in hand.

He kept him on his back and kelt down, pushing his knee into his spine. There was a little struggle between them as Michael tried to stop his arms from being grabbed, and tried to keep his arms apart when Kai shoved the handcuffs over them.

“You’re nicked. Up and at ’em.”

Kai stood up once he was physically detained by the cuffs and grabbed him by the clothes, hauling him to his feet. He made sure Michael was in front of him at all times and kept pushing him forward, making him walk quicker than his staggered state would allow. When they got to the car, Kai fished out the keys from his pocket, and unlocked the rear doors before unceremoniously shoving Michael into the back seat, slamming the door afterwards.

Michael sat up, but didn’t seem to want to cause any further fuss and simply glowered in the back seat.

Kai shoved the keys back in his pocket and dusted his hands. “Alright. One down, two to go.”

Just as Kai had started to walk over and reached the steps of the Red Bull, Shaun had made his way outside. Over his left and right shoulder with an arm over each to keep them in place, he carried both of the thugs and hopped down the steps. He nudged his left shoulder up, where the black skinned man had a pair of handcuffs on. The other man was lacking, his hands dangling free below him.

“I’m a bit disappointed. Only took me one punch to beat them.”

Kai just shrugged, smiling slightly, a dry sarcasm in his voice. “Damn. What a pity.”

“I only had one set of cuffs.” Shaun said, shrugging. Both men bobbed up and down in the air. “What are we going to do with the other goon?”

“Spare set in the glove compartment.” Kai nodded, then turned and walked back to the car. Shaun followed with him, and when Kai opened the back door, Shaun dumped the unconscious body into the back seat, and he landed with his head on Michael’s lap. Michael had shuffled over to the far side, but even then he wasn’t far enough to avoid any contact with the body. Kai meanwhile opened the passenger seat and flicked open the glove compartment, grabbing a spare set of handcuffs that lay on top of an extendible police baton and a taser. The second thug couldn’t resist as he slapped the cuffs on him, and Shaun hoisted him up and dumped him on the back seat.

“Make sure they’re sat up. Needs to look professional.” Kai said, giving Shaun a flick-point. Shaun nodded and obliged, leaning over the pair of bodies and began to rearrange them. Michael stared at Shaun as he did so, and it wasn’t until a second passed that Shaun noticed and returned the look. They looked at each other for seconds, and Shaun felt a mild discontent in keeping him in his sights for too long. He frowned, and returned to adjusting the men in their seats.

“Just remembering your face.” Michael said.

Shaun stopped for a second, then turned to him. “Yeah, that’s a really creepy thing to say. Prison’s gonna love you.”

Michael grinned widely, stretching his lips across his face. Shaun frowned even harder at him, and finished sitting up his hired muscle properly. He stood upright before closing the door with a flick of his wrists.

Shaun opened the passenger seat door and sat down, interlocking his fingers and cracking his joints. Kai was already sat in the driver’s seat and revved up the engine, turning his head to Shaun.

“Good work. Knew it would be easy.”

“I expected a bomb or something.” Shaun said. “Big explosion, death trap sort of thing. Maybe work’s just getting my expectations up.”

“You never know. Buckle up.”

Shaun nodded, and locked his seat belt in place. “So, next step?”

“We drag them back to HQ, put them into custody, and get them ready. I’m gonna be interrogating our new acquaintance Burnham to find out what’s going on. Then, we see how many years and convictions we have evidence for, and make sure he spends as much time in jail as we can physically get for him.”

“Sorted.” Shaun said, putting his hands behind his head.

Michael remained silent as Kai slipped the car into first gear, and began to pull away from the Red Bull pub. He only began to smile and feel a moment of satisfaction when he saw it finally fade out of view in his side mirror. He wound down the window with a push of a button and let the cold night air brush against the back of his neck again, shifting up gears and heading back to headquarters with due haste.