“Enter,” Book’s raspy voice called out. The door to his city-supplied apartment slid open slowly, revealing a thin, well-dressed man. The man’s expensive-looking shoes clacked on the tile floor when he walked inside. Book studied him thoroughly, a thin smile cracking his rocky face. The figure walked up to Book and held out a hand.
“Hello, Mr. Book, I’m –”
“Morphine Somers. How pleasant of you to drop by.”
The green-haired visitor raised an eyebrow at his host, before adopting a more placid expression. He continued speaking, addressing the rocky invalid with a politician’s silky tongue.
“Of course, you’ve probably seen me on the news feeds. May I sit?” Morphine asked, looking around the room. He could find no chair, save the one holding Book.
“If you wish, but I didn’t think the mighty Morphine Somers sat on the floor anymore.”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“Why, surely a man in your position is bound to have been exposed to the… finer things in life. I’m certain that the days of the penniless revolutionary are long gone, eh?”
Morphine smiled politely, but his eyes betrayed more than a little indignation. Book smiled himself, amused.
“I’m not here today to discuss myself, Mr. Book. I’m here with an offer for you. I’m sure you’ll find it very … accommodating.”
“Oh? An offer? How very interesting. Whatever could I have to offer a man like you, Mr. Somers?”
“The only thing you have to offer anyone, Mr. Book: that amazing brain of yours.”
“I’d like to think I have more to offer than –”
“You would, I suppose, but that doesn’t mean you do. Now, as for my offer, as you may know, I have proposed that a new police department be formed in Halo City. I am in need of… competent personnel. I want you to be working directly under myself in my proposed. Something of a personal assistant, but with elements of a vice president. I’m sure you’ll find the perks to be well worth the work.”
“When would I start?”
“Right now, if you accept.”
“Interesting, and what would I be doing…?”
“Our first project involves a little research, actually.”
“What kind of research?”
“Find me the ten most dangerous mutants in this city, but none of the X-Men. I’ll be back here tomorrow to collect your results.”
“I haven’t said yes.”
“Then say yes now. I have places to be.”
“Drop by tomorrow, then. I’ll have ten names for you.”
“Care to tell me why we ran away so quickly? The X-Men will be worried about you,” Victor Ten Eagles said calmly, staring at his traveling companion’s emotionless eyes under a lightly billowing hood. Xi’an Chi Xan did not move, nor did he respond. He merely listened to the hum of the bus’s anti-grav engines, and stared at the lush Vietnamese countryside as it whisked by outside the window. Victor scratched the top of his bald head and grunted.
“You haven’t said much since we left Halo City, Xi’an. It’s getting kind of tiring.”
Xi’an turned his head and stared at the muscular Indian.
“I’ve just been thinking.”
“That’s descriptive…” Victor said, sinking back into his seat. Xi’an turned back to the window.
“Sorry,” Victor said softly, “Where are we going, anyway?”
“A small shrine a few miles outside of Saigon. I spent many months there during my first trip here. It is where I found the first few fragments of inner peace. I hope that a trip there may help me to clear my mind, to dispel the confusion clouding my thoughts. Ever since Luna used her powers on me, I feel… unbalanced. It is difficult to describe.”
“I understand. You’ll speak when you’re ready.”
“Thank you, old friend.”
“We’re not so old, yet.”
Xi’an smiled for the first time since the journey began.
“But we are getting older.”
“And you say Henri just left?” Krystalin said, confused, “That doesn’t seem like him.”
“Yeah, he sent me a message that said ‘Went to Vegas,’ and then he was gone,” replied an exasperated Shakti Haddad. The two women stood in the HCP’s lounge area, next to a perfectly comfortable white sofa set.
“Vegas? Why would he go there?”
“I’m not sure. Didn’t you say that Henri was done with Halloween Jack after his last visit to Vegas?”
“That’s what he told me,” Krystalin responded, folding her arms, “Was there anything else in the note?”
“No, but I checked his computer. There was a message from an unknown sender, signed ‘J.’ I assumed that meant ‘Jack’ or ‘Jordan.’”
“Jordan Boone. He only goes by Halloween Jack, now, not that it matters. Did his message say anything else?”
“Just that he needed to see Henri. About what, he didn’t say.”
“Whatever it is, it can’t be good. At least we can be glad that whatever they’re doing, they’re going to do it in Vegas. The last thing we need right now is for Halloween Jack to move into our city.”
“No, the last thing we need right now is to be down another man. First Xi’an leaves, and now we have to deal without Henri? We need all the manpower we can get.”
“I know, but how much more would we need if we had Jack tearing up Main Street?”
“I don’t want to think about it. Just… find Tim and Luna, and tell them what’s happened. I’ll find Eddie and Sham, just so everyone knows what’s going on. We’re going to need people to pull extra shifts. I’ll make up a new schedule.”
“Sure. I’ll let them know.”
Krystalin unfolded her arms and walked to the door. Shakti watched her leave, running one hand over the soft fabric of the couch next to her, the other hand rubbing her right temple.
“So… Henri just left?” Eddie said into the vidphone, scratching his head, “That doesn’t seem like him.”
“I know,” Krystalin responded to the glowing image of her friend displayed before her, “I just had to give you the heads-up, and, well, this is where I feel a little uncomfortable…”
“What’s up? Is something else wrong?”
A worried look spread across Eddie’s face. Shakti smiled for a second and sighed.
“Not… wrong, specifically, just…”
“Spit it out! I’m gonna have a heart attack!”
“I just need everyone to take on an extra shift or two until Henri gets back. I feel bad asking, but –”
“That’s it? Geez, I thought we were all gonna die or something. That’s no big deal.”
“Yeah. No problem.”
“Thanks. Listen, I’ve got to find Sham and let her know –”
“Don’t bother. She’s coming over to baby sit tonight while Rosa and I go shopping. They sell clothes in my size in this town. I’ll let her know what’s up.”
“Thanks, Eddie. I’ll e-mail everyone their adjusted schedules once I get them worked out.”
“Sure thing – listen, I gotta get going. Talk to you later.”
“Later. And… thanks.”
“You sound like a broken record. One thanks is good enough.”
Eddie laughed heartily before the screen on Shakti’s face went blank. She tapped her left index finger on her chair’s armrest a few times before turning to the holomonitor in the far right corner of the desk. With the push of a button it came to life, and she set her hands on the keyboard. She had gotten spoiled in the few days Henri had taken over the paperwork – she did not look forward to picking up that slack again.
“Who was that, Eddie?” Rosa called out from the bathroom. Eddie turned away from the vidphone and walked to the couch as he responded.
“Just Shakti. Apparently Henri ran off to Vegas.”
“Henri? And he just… left? That doesn’t seem like him.”
“That’s what I said. Anyway, she’s going to need us all to work extra shifts ‘til he gets back.”
“Yeah. Remind me to tell Sham when she gets here.”
“Sure… but, about that… doesn’t she have a real name? I feel bad calling her Sham all the time. It feels like an insult.”
“It’s the only name she gave us. Considering her… background, she might not have another.”
“I guess, but –”
Rosa was interrupted by the phone ringing again. Eddie got up from the couch as fast as he could (he didn’t always remember to change himself to a lighter metal when he got up – it made things go faster). He ran to where the phone sat on the end of the kitchen counter. Tapping the blinking red button, he saw Sham’s face appear on the screen.
“Eddie? Thank God you’re home… look, I’m really sorry, but I’m going to have to cancel on you tonight.”
“Nothing… well, I mean… it’s…”
“Are you OK? You look worried.”
“I… went to visit my friend, Quiv – Quiver – and… and his door was all wrong and when I went in, there was blood on the floor and the chair was smashed and I think something happened – something bad.”
“Oh my God… Where are you?”
“I’m in the landlord’s room – Quiv didn’t have a phone yet. I’m so worried… I’m sorry, I just have to look for him –”
“Look, send me the address. I’ll be down there as fast as I can and we’ll look for him together.”
“No, I don’t need –”
“Look, this isn’t a good city for a kid to be wandering around in.”
“But what about –”
“She’ll understand. We can go shopping another time – I’m more worried about you.”
“…Thanks. I’m sending the address to your Protectorate comm.”
“All right. See you in a few.”
The screen died out as Eddie turned around. Now came the hard part. Rosa strolled out of the bathroom.
“You look great, babe,” Eddie said, smiling.
“Thanks. Who was that?”
“That was Sham. She… can’t make it tonight.”
“Oh, no… maybe we can leave Joaquim with my family for the evening… what am I saying? Is Sham all right? Is something wrong?”
“Yeah. Her friend’s missing, there’s blood all over the apartment… I’m gonna have to cancel tonight, Rosa. I’m gonna help Sham look for this guy.”
“You’re the best,” Eddie said, leaning in and kissing Rosa on the cheek. He turned and walked to the extra-wide door. He looked back and smiled apologetically at Rosa before exiting. Rosa sighed and walked absent-mindedly into Joaquim’s room. The baby was sleeping peacefully, but she talked softly to it anyway.
“All dressed up and no place to go. Guess it’s just you and me tonight, champ.”
The baby made soft gurgling noises in his sleep, and his face soured.
“I know what you mean…”
“I can’t find Tim and Luna anywhere. I’m sorry,” Krystalin said as she strolled into Shakti’s office without knocking. The young mutant walked over to Shakti’s desk and plopped down into a chair opposite the large oak desk. Shakti looked up from her monitor at her exasperated friend.
“Anywhere? Did you try their comms?”
“Yeah. They were turned off.”
“Off? They’re not supposed to turn them off… they’re not supposed to be able to turn them off!”
“Could something have happened to them?” Shakti asked.
“Without Tim lighting up half the city? Unlikely. They’re not the type to go out quietly.”
“True. So where could they be?”
“I don’t know. Could be anywhere, I suppose,” Krys said, reclining.
“This is not good,” Shakti said, rubbing her temples.
“Could be worse.”
“Don’t jinx us, please. Things are looking bad enough.”
“Sorry. Did you get in touch with Sham and Eddie?”
“I got Eddie. He said he was going to see Sham anyway. I’m just working out the new schedule. Can you take an extra shift on Thursdays?”
“Sure. Any word from Xi’an or Victor?”
“Nothing official. Gate guards said a pair matching their descriptions left the night of the Foolkiller incident. That’s about all we have.”
“You OK? You look like hell,” Krys inquired sincerely. Shakti looked back at her and smiled.
“I’m fine – just a little worried. Xi’an disappears, Henri just up and leaves, and no one knows where Tim and Luna are. I really wish Bloodhawk would make up his mind to stick around.”
“Oh, yeah… where did he run off to?”
“No idea. He just flew off after the Foolkiller went down. Didn’t even wait long enough to offer him membership…”
“You think he would have accepted?”
“No, but it would have been worth a try.”
“I suppose. Listen, I’m gonna get some sleep before I go on duty. You want me to bring you something before that? Food, or coffee, maybe?”
“Come to think of it, I haven’t had anything to eat tonight,” Shakti said, patting her stomach, “I’ve got food in my apartment, though. I’ll grab something when I’m done here.”
“OK. Try not to kill yourself, Shakti. If you need any help, just ask.”
The desert air felt strangely cool against his scaly hide, and calming besides. Bloodhawk supposed that he had just been uncomfortable in the confines of Halo City. He had nothing to worry him now, though, in the breezy plains of his sandy home.
He spread his wings wider and wider, catching more of the air currents he needed to fly. He was heading south, towards his makeshift base, to restock on grenades and catch some sleep before returning to patrolling his home. The incident with the Foolkiller had taken too long – who knew what forces had encroached on his home in his absence?
Bright lights and loud nights – Vegas hadn’t changed a bit since his last visit. Well, except for the fact that the laws of physics seemed to be working again. Henri didn’t see a single floating building, and the sky was all the same color.
He turned his eyes to the all-too-familiar Synge casino – he didn’t even see the VU generator sitting atop it like it should be. On second thought, Vegas had changed a lot since he last visited, and it made Henri very uncomfortable.