Part One: Randy
Not even in the top ten. That's sad, Tony thought as he stared up at the digital screen. We're a top notch team!
He shifted in his chair, the leather of his uniform making an unpleasant squealing sound against the vinyl of the chair he was sitting in. A door slid open behind him, and he heard the computer's too-pleasant female voice chiming "Entering the monitor room, Sharon Golbirg."
"Not even in the top ten, huh?" Golbirg said.
Tony stood up and looked at her, sharing his displeasure with the glance he shot in her direction. Golbirg had the same optimistic half-smile that always adorned her features. It made her look like a cheerleader, Tony thought. Or at least, like one of those bubblegum pop singers, an image not helped by her propensity for midriff baring shirts and short skirts, both of which she was wearing right now. How she fought in those things, Tony had no idea.
"Twelve," he said. "We barely moved on the charts at all."
She shrugged and gave him an "oh, well" smile.
"Hey, at least we're moving up. It takes time, Tony. We did a lot of good this week, I'm sure our fans have noticed that. We'll do better next week."
"You think that makes me feel better? Our backers are watching those numbers, you know. They'd have no problem selling off a fully functional, barely used headquarters to a new team. And everybody knows that new teams have an accelerated shot up the charts in their first few weeks on the market."
"Attention, News Daemon active. Fire detected in downtown area," the computer chimed.
"Alright!" Tony shouted, pumping his leather-clad fist into the air. "That's always great for the charts!"
Realizing what he was saying, Tony lowered his arm. He looked sheepishly at Sharon to see her glaring at him. She was sliding the transport band onto her right arm and putting on the sensor helmet as she did it.
"The charts are important, Tony, I know that. But being happy that a fire broke out so we can go stop it? That's just cold."
"I know, I know. it's just... this is important to me, you know? I feel like it's my shot at the big time. This is the first team I've been on that even cracked the top 50."
"Attention, News Daemon active. Fire detected in the."
Tony cut off the computer by barking, "Situation acknowledged. Operatives Golbirg and Rousseau responding. Download coordinates to sensor helmets..."
He paused and looked over at the numbers on the front of the helmet he had grabbed out of the bin and the one that Sharon had fixed onto her head.
"...5 and 7 and initiate immediate transport upon confirmation."
Tony slipped the helmet onto his head and enjoyed the rush that came from being cybernetically linked to the computer database. The flood of information was like watching a movie containing all the highlights of the city's history in the space of a second. A second later, the displays inside the goggle had come up, and he flicked his eye over to the map that sat just above the right corner of his vision. Another thought toggled the menu down in front of his eyes reading "Transport: Confirm/Cancel."
Tony mentally "clicked" on "Confirm" and felt the rush extend into his physical body as he and Sharon were digitized and sent into the computer for transport.
The last thing he remembered hearing was Sharon screaming out "Something's wrong!" and yanking at her helmet.
Part Two: Adam
THE NICK OF TIME
The cliché is that when you die, your life flashes before your eyes. All Tony could think of was an uncomfortable feeling of being stretched, and that he'd forgotten to feed Kirby that morning. He hoped the dog would forgive him.
He inhaled as his eyes began to focus. Inhalation meant breath. Breath meant there'd be someone to feed a very agitated Kirby that night. He was aware of muffled sounds around him. Rapidly, they coalesced into words.
"...know what the hell just happened. And for god's sake, somebody wake up Tony."
Tony felt himself being pulled roughly upright by the shoulders, shaken. He forced his mouth to make words, but his tongue felt like wool. The world was shuddering back into focus, multiple frames of vision resolving into one. "Ib hff. Igh. Zshht. Illl be fing. Fine." He cleared his throat. "Jussht stunned for a secon'. My nervugh - nervous - system is experiencing lag. Was. What happened?"
The two images in front of him resolved into one. Sharon bending in front of him. Extreme closeup of cleavage. He was sure she must have had bionics to keep herself from falling out the shirt. Thank god for the twenty-first century. Chief standing behind, big arms folded across his barrel chest, his permanent scowl deeper than usual. Gavin crouching, playing with the transit pad controls.
Chief was one of those grizzled, ageless types. Salt-and-pepper beard; too many lines on his face. Tony wasn't exactly sure of his real name; he just always went by "Chief". He's been a prominent player on some big-name teams: Microsoft's Silicon Valley Champions; Coca-Cola's New York City Falcons. Tony wasn't sure what had brought him out of the big time and onto a second-rate startup team like Nike's Boston Rage.
Gavin straightened from the terminal, a pouting look on his face. Tony almost laughed. He'd often joked that Gavin should have joined the Abercrombie and Fitch science adventurer squad, if there'd been one. Pouting looked perfectly natural on his too-perfect features. That was the point, of course; Gavin's schtick was a malleable subdermal layer that, among other things, allowed him to change his appearance. Tony figured the Rage's backers had picked him up as window dressing; the male equivalent of his sister. Although for all Tony knew, Sharon's... assets... were perfectly natural. Her talents lay in other directions.
Zoom outward. They were on a rooftop; clear sky except for a column of black smoke a couple of blocks away. Their specialized firefighting and rescue equipment - digitally sent in with them - was on the ground, not strapped to their backs. The mission flashed back into his head: fire. Burning building. "The fire-"
Sharon straightened, and Tony inwardly sighed in disappointment. "Old news. The Suspects cleaned it up fifteen minutes ago. Fire's out, civilians evacuated."
Tony frowned. The Suspects had been number twenty-six on the list. They were new - Tony wasn't even sure who their backers were. "I don't understand. Our response was immediate. Did we get late feed on the disaster?"
The Chief snarled. "Check your internal clock. We got shafted, boy. 'Less you want the glamour and prestige of doing shit cleanup work."
Tony looked inside himself, at the dataflow that passed through his sub-brain. That was his own unique trick - a secondary nervous system and backup computer intelligence, allowing him additional processing speed, reflex action and other small benefits. In theory, he could think, move, process and react faster than anyone alive. All six of the Rage, as far he knew, had some similar enhancement. He checked his clock, which was reset every minute by satellite.
"We lost half an hour." He frowned. They couldn't afford to lose five minutes. They were an immediate response team; everything from the instant situation downloads via computer to instant digital transit was geared to getting them to crisis situations before conventional responses like police and firefighters. That was the whole point of big, corporate backing. No one else had the money for private digital transit pads, personalized crisis intervention equipment, artificially intelligent computers and bionically - or otherwise - enhanced field operatives.
Gavin turned, fidgeted his hands around when he realized he didn't have pockets to stick them into. Tony was glad for his own more functional uniform. "We were stuck in a redundant sub-process of the transit queue. The Chief and I were only a minute or two behind you when we digitized, but we all arrived at the same preprogrammed time."
Sharon raised an eyebrow. "Preprogrammed?"
Gavin nodded, his frown deepening. Tony was always surprised when Gavin managed one of his technical explanations; Tony kept expecting him to be brainless. "I'm afraid so. I'll need the Computer to confirm - whoever messed with the system was awfully clever - but it looks like what happened wasn't just a system burp; it was intentional."
Tony looked in the direction of the smoke; activated the automatic zoom in his contact lenses, sweeping the city. Somewhere down there, the Boston Suspects were speaking to the press, probably putting on a modest face; affecting a little embarrassment at dealing with the press. Modesty looked damn good for the camera. It's the tactic Tony would have taken.
An intentional delay. The Suspects would look good down there. If the Rage showed up for the cleanup effort, it'd look either like after-the-fact scuttling to hog the public eye or the lame too-late response of a second-rate team whose information came from public channels. Tony didn't like the word that kept running to the front of his mind. An intentional delay.