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When the Hunters Become the Hunted
Chapter Three: The Manhattan Transfer
Disclaimer: I do not own The Incredibles.
N.B.: This fanfic is dedicated to the late Elizabeth Peña.
The morning after their disastrous raid on Traction House, the Parr family were still in bed, exhausted from the labours of the night before, when they were rudely awoken by a loud knock at their front door. Any doubts they may have had as to who it could be were summarily crushed a few seconds later when the knocking came again, this time followed by a cry of, “NSA, open up!”
“Oh God,” groaned Helen. Tired and still reeling from the revelation of Lucius’s arrest, she had completely forgotten about the debriefing.
Ever dutiful, however, Helen got out of bed, put on her dressing down and went to answer the door. Sure enough, standing on the doorstep was Rick Dicker, badge in hand and looking even more grim-visaged than usual.
“Agent Rick Dicker, National Supers Agency and this is official Agency business,” he declared in a matter-of-fact tone. “I now require you and your family to accompany me to the local NSA office for the purposes of debriefing.”
“I figured that’s why you were here,” replied Helen. “Now if you’d just give us a few minutes to make ourselves presentable, we’ll be right with you, OK?”
“Oh, very well,” Rick Dicker sighed reluctantly, “but make it quick – the NSA top brass are after blood.”
With that, Helen went back into the house and called out to the others to get ready.
“Bob, Vi, Dash, Jack-Jack,” she yelled, “get up, we’ve got a debriefing to go to! I want us out of the house ASAP!”
Not needing to be told twice, Bob, Violet and Dash got out of bed and immediately set about getting themselves dressed, while Helen busied herself with Jack-Jack (who was still too young to dress himself), before heading back to the master bedroom to get herself dressed. Within fifteen minutes, the entire family was gathered outside, fully clothed and ready to go. Rick Dicker then ushered them into the back of the brown and beige 1975 Dodge Sportsman that was parked in front of their house and together they set off on the fourteen-kilometre drive from the northwestern suburbs to the NSA office in Downtown Metroville.
“So, Rick,” said Helen as the minibus picked its way through the morning traffic, “what’s the current situation?”
“Helen, you have to understand, the NSA is in an awfully precarious position right now,” explained Rick Dicker. “The failure to capture Kostanjić has left us embroiled in a full-blown international incident with the Yugoslavs and Israelis, and that’s before we get to the domestic criticism. People are already calling for superheroes to be outlawed or worse and there are those on the right who would use this tragedy as an excuse for violence against the Super community.”
“The Black Cross Movement,” said Violet.
“Exactly,” replied Rick Dicker.
“Have there been more deaths overnight?” asked Bob.
“Yes,” sighed Rick Dicker, “The sixteen missing from last night are now confirmed dead and another four died in hospital for a total of sixty.”
“Are more deaths likely?” Bob enquired, even though he knew what the answer was likely to be.
“Let’s just say that eight or nine people are ‘on the edge’,” said Rick Dicker grimly.
“Bet Mirage has been taking some flak,” remarked Violet.
“You could say that,” Rick Dicker responded.
The Parrs knew that, despite being officially cleared of responsibility for Operation Kronos, Mirage was still very much a hated figure within the NSA, with many regarding her as someone who’d escaped justice and who should have been executed or imprisoned for her actions on Nomanisan Island. This made her an easy scapegoat and it was more than likely that she would face dismissal (if not a lot worse) if management found her to be at fault.
The Metroville office of the National Supers Agency was, in many ways, symbolic of everything that was wrong with the NSA in the 1970s. Built in the mid-1930s in the heart of Downtown Metroville, it was a large, imposing Art Deco structure that had originally been the headquarters of the Metroville Police Department, before being sold in 1973 to the NSA, who were desperate for a new office in the city following the decriminalisation of superheroics. Unfortunately, years of neglect had left the building in poor shape and it was generally ill-suited to its new role in life (for example, there was no apparatus bay, forcing the NSA to use the office parking lot as a makeshift motor pool), but with the political and financial screws turned hard against their thumbs, the hapless NSA couldn’t afford to be fussy.
At 8:50 a.m., the Dodge Sportsman carrying the Parrs and Rick Dickers pulled into the parking lot-cum-motor pool to the rear of the NSA office and the six passengers immediately stepped out of the vehicle. Beyond the chain-link fence surrounding the yard were hundreds of angry protesters, wielding hate-filled signs and chanting slogans like ‘NO MORE SUPERS’ and ‘WE WILL TRIUMPH’, the latter being one of the Black Cross Movement’s main battle cries. The Parrs just ignored them, instead marching calmly and quietly across the parking lot and into the building.
After signing in at reception, the Parrs and Rick Dicker made their way through the semi-organised chaos of an NSA office during shift change until they reached the eighth floor, which basically consisted of a bunch of grey cubicles that had been hastily outfitted with low-rent office furniture. Rick Dicker then went off to take care of some unfinished business of his own, leaving the Parrs in the waiting room, together with Mirage, who had been sitting patiently next to a dead plant for the past half-an-hour. Unsurprisingly, the catastrophic failure of last night’s mission had left the dusky-skinned Super thoroughly demoralised. Convinced she was going to be kicked out of the NSA, she had the unmistakeable look of a woman awaiting the gallows, but tried to put on a brave face anyway.
“Morning, Mirage,” said Helen, as she and her family took their seats on the brown velveteen L-shaped couch.
“Ah, the family Parr,” drawled Mirage, a forced smile on her face. “Good to see you again. Shame it had to be under such unfortunate circumstances.”
“Likewise,” replied Helen. “So, have you heard about what happened to Lucius last?”
“No, why?” asked Mirage.
“Well, at some time after 10:00 p.m., Lucius was arrested at one of the Bonneville Guard’s armed barricades for kidnapping and breach of curfew,” explained Helen. “By the looks of things, the Bonneville Guard held him at their post and then turned him in once the curfew began.”
“That’s terrible!” cried Mirage, appalled at what she was hearing. “It’s bad enough that Lucius got arrested, but what I don’t understand is why they accused him of child abduction!”
“Guess they saw Jack-Jack with him and thought they could get him a longer prison term,” suggested Violet. “That or the Bonneville Guard are even more racist than we previously thought.”
“Either way,” said Helen, “I’m going to have to make a statement to the police either later today or tomorrow. I might be able to get the kidnapping case dropped.”
“Even if you do, he’ll still be looking at ten years inside for breaking the terms of his registration,” said Mirage, a degree of pessimism in her voice.
“Yeah, and that’s assuming he lives long enough to stand trial,” Violet added darkly. “Loads don’t.”
Bob, Helen, Violet, Dash and Mirage were painfully aware that the Black Cross Movement had been secretly infiltrating local and state law enforcement agencies for the past four years. Consequently, getting arrested in a Black Cross-controlled area (especially for a breach of certain Normal supremacist bylaws) was now every Super’s worst nightmare and with good reason – suspects were often tortured by police and deaths in detention were commonplace.
“Anyway,” said Helen, keen to move on to a slightly less depressing topic, “has there been any official reaction to the incident at Traction House?”
“There’s been no word from either the Black Cross Movement or the MCC as yet, although a response is surely on its way,” answered Mirage. “As for the NSA, I need scarcely remind you that in all probability, at least one of us will be facing disciplinary action.”
It was then that Mirage abandoned her cheerful façade and sighed.
“I reckon I’ll get blamed for this,” she added glumly.
“Mirage, this isn’t your fault,” said Helen, in a desperate attempt to reassure the white-haired woman.
“Don’t play naïve, Helen,” retorted Mirage. “You know perfectly well that the public and the senior management will be looking for someone to blame and they’ll be looking to blame me, not you!”
At that moment, a smartly-dressed man with slicked-back brown hair and Aviator sunglasses entered the room and announced, “We’re ready for you now.”
The Parrs and Mirage rose from their seats and one by one, the five Supers who’d attended the Traction House incident were called into a conference room at the opposite end of the building, where they were each interviewed by members of Internal Affairs, as well as other senior NSA agents. First to be brought before the panel was Mirage, followed by Helen, then Violet, then Bob and finally Dash. The whole process went on for hours, only coming to an end at two o’clock in the afternoon.
Once they had been debriefed, the beleaguered superheroes were made to sit and wait while the powers that be determined their fates. Forty-five minutes later, a stern-looking Rick Dicker returned to the eighth floor and immediately went over to Mirage, who instinctively stood to attention, even though they held the same rank.
“You’re wanted, Mirage,” said the older of the two agents in a sombre tone of voice. “Upstairs, Assistant Director Humboldt’s office, now.”
Dutifully and without saying a word to anyone, Mirage trudged gloomily out of the waiting room and, together with Rick Dicker, marched up the stairs to the twelfth floor, fearing the worst.
Assistant Director Chris Humboldt was sitting in his office on the twelfth floor, overlooking the endless sea of concrete, steel and glass that was the city centre. He was a tall, broad-chested ruddy-faced man with a black flattop haircut, a pair of deep-set blue eyes that seemed to gaze into a person’s soul if he looked at them long enough (they almost certainly actually could) and a walrus moustache that would have put Joseph Stalin’s to shame. A career-minded individual, Humboldt had twenty-three years’ experience with the National Supers Agency, rising through the ranks to become an Assistant Director and head of the Agency’s Metroville bureau. He was a ruthless disciplinarian who routinely fired agents and superheroes on little more than a whim and had gained a reputation as one of the most belligerent, inflexible and generally unpleasant agents in the whole of the NSA. Whenever anything went right, he would invariably try to take as much of the credit for himself as he possibly could; but when something went wrong, you could bet that he’d be the first to throw someone under the proverbial bus to appease the masses.
At 2:50 p.m., the silence of the office was broken when there was a knock at the door.
“Who is it?” asked Humboldt.
“Agent Rick Dicker, sir,” said a familiar gravelly voice. “I’ve brought Agent Schreiber up here to see you like you asked, sir.”
“Bring her in here,” snarled Humboldt.
The door creaked open as a deeply apprehensive Mirage entered the office, accompanied by Rick Dicker and a short, balding man by the name of Kevin Blake, who held the rank of Deputy Assistant Director and was the firm but fair head of both the Criminal Investigation Section and General Duties superheroics. All three of them stood and saluted as Humboldt rose from his seat, it being customary for NSA agents to remain standing when in the presence of a superior unless specifically asked to sit.
“At ease, you three,” said Humboldt, a severe look on his face. “Agent Dicker, you can go.”
Rick Dicker duly obliged and left the room, closing the door behind him, at which point the dressing-down began in earnest.
“WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED OUT THERE, SCHREIBER?!” bellowed Humboldt, spit flying from his mouth as he spoke. “THIS WAS SUPPOSED TO BE A STRAIGHTFORWARD ARREST MISSION AND IT TURNED INTO THE GUNFIGHT OF THE OK CORRAL! THEN, AS IF TO TOP IT ALL, THE GUY YOU’D BEEN SENT TO APPREHEND BLEW UP THE BUILDING HE’D BEEN LIVING IN! RESULT: AT LEAST SIXTY DEAD, GOD KNOWS HOW MANY INJURED, AND STILL YOU DON’T HAVE YOUR WAR CRIMINAL! THE YUGOSLAVS AND ISRAELIS ARE IN UPROAR! GO ON, WHAT HAVE YOU GOT TO SAY FOR YOURSELF?!”
“Sir, with respect,” said Mirage, “the Bonneville Guard discovered the arrest warrant in my car when they stopped us at the barricade. From that point on, they were going to leak that information to Kostanjić, whatever we did. We went for it and, unfortunately, everything went to hell.”
“Schreiber, because of your actions, at least sixty people are dead, with more deaths surely to follow in the coming days and weeks!” Humboldt yelled angrily. “You have caused a major international incident and left almost five hundred people homeless! You also gave us, not one, but two armed offenders to go after! Your actions have put the NSA in a very difficult position indeed, to say nothing of yourself! This could all have been prevented, Schreiber! Why didn’t you abort the mission?”
“Ah,” retorted Mirage, “if I’d done that, the Bonneville Guard could still have warned Kostanjić, Kostanjić could still have escaped and, given his reputation for murdering innocent civilians en masse, he may very well have blown up the building anyway, the only difference being that our response times would have been longer and more lives would have been lost as a result.”
“That’s enough out of you!” snapped Humboldt, banging his fist on the desk. “Personally, I reckon we should’ve got rid of you in ’73 when we had the chance,” he added bitterly.
“Sir, forgive me for playing devil’s advocate, but we are talking about a woman who lives and breathes Nazi hunting and superheroics,” drawled Kevin Blake in a refined upper-class accent. “If she thought the mission needed aborting, she would have done so.”
“Yeah, well, she got it wrong, didn’t she?!” retorted Humboldt, before turning his attention to Mirage, who shuddered violently as she felt the man’s electric blue eyes pierce her very soul. “I hope you have enough blood on your hands, Schreiber,” he said callously. “It’s because of incompetents like you that people want superheroics banned. Here, sign this!”
Humboldt pushed some papers across the desk. Mirage looked closely at the documents, then at Humboldt.
“This is a transfer form,” she said.
“That’s right,” said Humboldt malevolently. “You are to transfer to the NSA’s New York City bureau by July 31st this year.”
“And if I don’t?” asked Mirage.
“Then your superheroics licence will be revoked, you will be dismissed from the NSA and we’ll have to liquidate you,” replied Humboldt, “because you know too much, and those who know too much must die.”
Mirage sighed. She knew that the NSA office in New York City was critically understaffed and that anyone who transferred there could expect to be BRUTALLY overworked; but at the same time, she also knew that Humboldt was not joking about having her executed. It was pretty much an open secret that the NSA would sentence disgraced agents and superheroes to death in extreme cases (though they would never admit to this publicly, of course). This was seen by many as a necessary evil, as wiping the memories of a person for whom the NSA had been such an integral part of their life could easily trigger a psychosis, resulting in them going on a killing spree and forcing the NSA to kill them anyway. As far as the senior management were concerned, one dead agent was preferable to several dead civilians and a dead agent; it was just basic mathematics.
“All right, fine,” said Mirage grudgingly, “but I am not happy!”
“I knew you’d see it my way,” grinned Humboldt.
Mirage then spent the next quarter of an hour filling in the necessary paperwork. Once that was done, she handed over the weapons keys to Humboldt’s safekeeping and prepared to leave, but before she could do so, she was stopped by the Assistant Director.
“Don’t think you’re indispensable, Schreiber,” said Humboldt warningly. “You’re not. If you don’t deliver the goods in New York, you’re dead!”
“I’ll bear that in mind,” Mirage responded coolly.
Not wanting to be in the presence of Chris Humboldt for a second longer than she had to be, Mirage gave a perfunctory salute, turned on her heel and left the office, before making the long, slow trek downstairs to the first floor. Ten minutes later, the superpowered Latina arrived in the foyer, where she was immediately greeted by the Parrs and Rick Dicker.
“So, Mirage, how did it go?” enquired Helen, anxious to hear what had become of her friend and colleague.
“Not well,” Mirage answered dully. “I’m being transferred to New York City later this month.”
“Mirage, I’m so sorry,” uttered Helen in a tone more commonly used when consoling someone whose grandmother has just passed away.
“Don’t be,” said Mirage, not wanting the Parrs to feel sorry for her. “If I didn’t agree to the transfer, they would have dismissed me from the NSA and probably executed me. Anyway, what did you guys get?”
“No further action, I’m afraid,” replied Helen, feeling somewhat guilty that she and her family had got off so lightly compared to Mirage.
“Ah, I thought as much,” said Mirage. “With the Black Cross Movement apparently prepping for war, the NSA would want to hold on to superheroes of your calibre whenever possible. God knows, it’s not as though you’re Agency pariahs and the management is actively trying to scapegoat you!” she remarked, righteous anger at her treatment by the NSA top brass evident in her voice.
“If it’s any consolation, Mirage, we still think you’re a great superheroine and a great agent,” Violet chimed in, placing a hand on Mirage’s shoulder.
“Thanks, Violet,” said Mirage, a pained expression on her face, “but somehow I don’t think Washington feels the same way. Now if you don’t mind, I have some firearms that need returning to the armoury.”
With that, a dejected Mirage took her leave of the group and proceeded to make her way over to the reception desk.
Rick Dicker then turned to the Parrs.
“I think we’d best be going too,” he said quietly.
To that end, the Parrs and Rick Dicker promptly joined Mirage at reception and, after signing out, went straight to the parking lot/motor pool at the rear of the building. They then got into their vehicles and drove off in opposite directions, with Mirage heading to the local NSA armoury in her E3 BMW 2800, whilst Rick Dicker took the Parrs home in his Dodge Sportsman.
By the evening, the Parrs still had no news about Lucius and were becoming increasingly concerned for his safety at the hands of the authorities. Helen had just gotten back from Metroville Police Headquarters, where she had spent the last few hours giving her statement to the police, and was now sitting in the living room with Bob, Violet and Dash, all of whom were desperate for any kind of new information regarding the African American Super.
“OK, Helen, what’s the latest?” asked Bob. “Is there any word on Lucius?”
“No, nothing,” said Helen, shaking her head. “I couldn’t even get them to tell me which station he’s being held at.”
“But they did take your statement, didn’t they?” queried Bob.
“Of course they did,” replied Helen, somewhat annoyed at being asked something so blatantly obvious. “I told them that Lucius was babysitting for us and that I explicitly authorised him to take Jack-Jack with him when it became apparent we’d be late coming home.”
“Well, if they took your statement, I guess Lucius must still be alive,” said Dash, a hint of optimism in his voice.
“Not necessarily,” Helen countered bluntly. “If the Metroville PD or the Bonneville Guard had done anything to him, they’d want absolute deniability. Besides, it probably won’t make much difference in the long run – fact is, ever since the Black Cross Movement and their paramilitary thugs started infiltrating the Metroville Department of Corrections, the city’s prisons have been a virtual death sentence for Supers, especially those on the MSAD register!”
There was a brief pause in the conversation as Helen put her head in her hands and sighed heavily. Deep down, she felt that she was to blame for what happened to Lucius; after all, she was the one who’d talked him into coming over in the first place.
“This is all my fault,” she declared disconsolately. “I never should have asked Lucius to babysit Jack-Jack. I should have known something like this would happen.”
“Helen, this isn’t your fault,” said Bob reassuringly. “Lucius was aware of the risks when he took the job; we all were. You were just doing what you thought was right.”
“Yeah, try telling Honey that!” remarked Helen sarcastically.
“Speaking of Honey,” interjected Violet, “how is she?”
“Poor thing was worried out of her mind when I saw her,” Helen answered grimly. “Apparently, she’s spent the day going from one police station to another in the hope of finding some fresh info about her husband, but they wouldn’t tell her anything and, given what I know about the system and how it works, there wasn’t a whole lot I could say to comfort her. No wonder she fears the worst.”
“Incidentally, Mom,” said Dash, “when you were making your statement to the police, you didn’t by any chance tell them where or why we went out?”
“Of course I didn’t!” shouted Helen, clearly offended. “What kind of backstabbing traitor do you take me for?! For the record, at no point in my statement did I mention anything about where we went or what we were doing last night and I certainly didn’t tell them about us being Supers!”
“Sorry I asked,” said Dash ashamedly.
Later that evening, after Helen had had her dinner, the Parrs sat in front of the television and watched the local news programme, which was covering the aftermath of the Traction House incident.
“In the wake of last night’s disaster on Traction Avenue and Fifth Street, the City of Metroville has announced plans for tougher anti-Super measures.”
“Damn them!” yelled Helen, enraged that the Black Cross Movement was using a tragedy that they’d created in the first place to further their own racist political ends.
The report began with footage of Dave Lethbridge, a short, slightly tubby man with glasses and a combover, making his way down the steps of City Hall while being flanked by journalists and photographers, before cutting to him addressing the Metroville City Council.
“Metroville Mayor Dave Lethbridge unveiled the Supers Control (Amendment) (№ 12) Bill to the public at a press conference late this afternoon. In an emergency meeting – the first of its kind in Metroville since World War Two – the MCC showed overwhelming support for the bill, which is expected to become law by the end of the month and looks set to tighten the city’s already-strict anti-Super legislation even further.”
The report then cut to a caption, which consisted of a heading that read ‘KEY CHANGES’ with a series of bullet points beneath it.
“The major changes are as follows: firstly, the expulsion of all Supers and other so-called ‘subnormals’ from the city’s public education system, as well as all college campuses within city limits; in addition, the curfew for Supers is to be extended to 9:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. daylight-savings time or 8:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. standard time; finally, the deadline for registration with the Supers’ Affairs Department will be moved forward from September 30th 1977 to September 1st 1977.”
“They have no shame,” proclaimed Violet bitterly, before adding, “It’s just as well I graduated from high school when I did.”
“It’s alright for you!” retorted Dash, “I’m still gonna be expelled!”
“More importantly,” said Helen, her tone as serious as a major nuclear accident, “we’ve now got a month less to get out of Metroville than we previously thought.”
“I appreciate how you’re all feeling right now,” said Bob firmly, “but we’ll have plenty of time to plan our next course of action in the morning. It’s getting late and we could all do with a good night’s sleep. It’s been a long day.”
Helen, Violet and Dash reluctantly agreed with what Bob had just said and, on that note, the long-suffering Supers got up from their seats, switched off the television set and turned in for the night.
The next morning, at 10:00 a.m., some thirty-six hours after Lucius’s arrest, the Parrs once again found themselves receiving an unexpected knock at their front door.
“I’ll get it!” said Helen, who promptly went to see who it was that was paying them a visit.
It was not a neighbour wanting to borrow some laundry detergent. Instead, Rick Dicker was standing on the Parrs’ doorstep for the second time in as many days, looking particularly sombre, even more so than he did the day before.
“Hello, Rick,” Helen greeted him. “What brings you here?”
“Bad business, Helen. Very bad business,” said Rick Dicker lugubriously. “I wouldn’t have come, but I thought it’d be best if you heard it from me, in person.”
“It’s about Lucius, isn’t it?” said Helen.
Rick Dicker nodded.
“Yes,” he sighed. “Yes, it is. Can I come inside please? I’d rather not discuss this matter out here.”
“Yes, of course,” replied Helen.
With that, Helen ushered Rick Dicker inside and summoned the rest of the family into the dining room for an emergency meeting with the veteran NSA agent. As Bob, Violet and Dash filed in, they could immediately tell from both the impromptu nature of the meeting and the look on Rick Dicker’s face that this was no social call.
“Alright, Rick, give it to me straight,” said Helen, as they sat around the dining table. “What’s going on with Lucius?”
“Well, Helen, I’ve got some good news and some bad news,” responded Rick Dicker. “The good news is that, as of this morning, the kidnapping allegations against Lucius have been dropped.”
“Well, that’s something at least,” remarked Violet, grateful for small mercies, though still deeply concerned for her godfather’s safety.
“What’s the bad news, then?” asked Helen.
Rick Dicker gave the Parrs the look of a man who was about to deliver the worst possible news.
“There really isn’t an easy way for me to tell you this,” he said grimly. “Earlier today, Lucius was charged with breach of curfew and violating the terms of his MSAD registration. He has been remanded in custody pending trial.”
For the Parrs, it was as though Rick Dicker had just announced the death of a loved one. They knew that Lucius’s life was in extreme danger and that they were unlikely to see him alive again. If he was convicted of the remaining charges (and he would be), he would be facing up to ten years’ imprisonment and Supers did not do well in prison at the best of times, especially not when they were a known superhero in a Black Cross-controlled correctional facility.
It was at this point that a visibly upset Helen got to her feet and left the room, while the others continued to sit in silent contemplation of Lucius’s fate. This was followed shortly thereafter by an almighty cry of “SHIT!” coming from the master bedroom, courtesy of a certain auburn-haired woman with brown eyes and full-body elasticity.
It had not been a good two days.
End of Chapter Three
Current Residence: Stockton-on-Tees, England, UK
Favourite genre of music: Rock, Irish folk, Celtic punk
Wallpaper of choice: Violet Parr
Favourite cartoon character: Violet Parr; Helen Parr; Mirage; Sunset Shimmer; Applejack; Sonia (Sonic Underground); Gadget Hackwrench; Amy Mizuno; Catzi; Sora Takenouchi; Rebecca and Molly Cunningham; Peg and Pistol Pete; Paloma (from Atomic Betty); Beatrixo; Tanya Mousekewitz
Personal Quote: In the words of the Supreme Being, I AM THE GOD OF HALON 1211, AND I BRINGETH UNTO YOU...