Blood, Light and Iron
The restoration work on the Morisot was done, and Walter Bourchier was beyond pleased.
"You are truly an artist, young woman, I am amazed!" he told me at the presentation - after a careful thirty minute examination. "I literally cannot tell the difference between the repaired and the undamaged sections."
"Thank you Mr. Bourchier," I answered. "I guess it is my gift, small as it is."
"Small!" he said, shaking his head.
"Well, I'm not knocking evil invaders out of the sky or flying faster than a speeding bullet..."
"There is more than a difference in degree between the 'gifts' that make Terana's super-powered beings and the gifts our artisan's and craftsmen possess. You shouldn't confuse the two, gifts such as yours are just as precious, and perhaps more vital to us as men."
This attitude, coming from the reclusive Mr. Bouchier, surprised me.
"You aren't fond of the super-powered?"
"Just like with all men, there are the good and the bad, only because it is so public does the good seem so much grander and the evil so much more heinous than normal men. I have been trifled with in the past by men wielding such power and by those without, and I found I didn't much care for it either way."
The honest conversation about the super-powered was interesting, but nowhere as profitable as our contract, and the bonus he paid on top of the contract was going to make for an upgrade in my lifestyle pretty soon. Especially as he promised to spread the word about the kind of work I did amongst the other serious collectors. When I confirmed the new total in my bank account the next day, I decided it was time to celebrate, and flew out to spend some time with Trey.
In the six months I'd been working on the Morisot, Trey had been busy, with intermittent help from me, in establishing his base. He'd finally picked a western facing cliff on Mount Mildred, just east of Lake Tahoe. It was easy enough for me to use my 'midnight field' to disintegrate a large enough space in the interior of the mountain, leaving Trey to build the framework for the infrastructure. He spent endless hours in his suit, lifting and welding beams and sheets of steel. The past few weeks had been spent pouring concrete in the main levels, and at last there were a few flat and dry floors. Enough space, Trey said, to allow him to move in.
The power source for his fortress was the ticklish part at first, but together we had reverse engineered the Cloud King power source. It was a variant on the fusion reactor technology that we used back on Meadow, and the materials needed would have been beyond most metallurgists, but mine was a genuine Teranan super-hero, so he didn't let that stop him. The prototype fusion generator he built was more than enough to power the fortress, and would have powered all of the Fort Richardson and Los Angeles as well if we'd let it. If the generator he had on the drawing boards was built — scratch that- when it was built, it would have the potential capacity to power every city on Terana!
I was so tempted to ask a crew to come in from Obsidian and get the construction phase of the fortress over, but I kept telling myself I needed to step back. This was Trey's future he was building, and I couldn't do it for him. He'd wind up resenting me for it if I did.
So I jumped out on weekends and some evenings to help with the heavy lifting and to get Trey in the sack. Trey treated both with equal enthusiasm, and I certainly couldn't complain about the results of either one.
Jack Pelham was still riding high on the big, fat check the museum had received from Walter Bourchier, and from the publicity of the restoration, as well as the coup of having a part of Bourchier's collection on display at the museum. I had begged off the PR part of things, and flush with this success, Jack had been more than willing to give me some extra time off. Time I was using on the trail of the mysterious Preston Miles.
The Slurr were still working on finding out more about the Praetor Corporation and Preston Miles, but even with their presence within the walls of the corporate headquarters, I kept drawing into dead ends everywhere I looked. Partly, it was a matter of ignorance. Very few people knew anything to begin with, and those who knew anything didn't know much, and they were hard to get to.
One interesting observation they were able to make was that it was never the chief of security or even the janitor who was the first one in and the last one out every day. No, those honors always seemed to go to a man named Jules Harker, an account executive whose office was on the third floor. The small, balding Mr. Harker spent inordinate amounts of time at his desk each day with his eyes closed and the fingers of his left hand on the bridge of his nose, as if to soothe the spot where his glasses rode.
I spent the two weeks Jack gave me slowly closing in on Jules Harker. I circled him, dipping in now and then, touching the edges of him, feeling the grain of him, the flow of his mind, and all without impinging on his consciousness. I was lucky to have the success I did.
Jules Harker was a first class telepath and mentalist. Perhaps as good as anyone on Terana, perhaps as good as anyone outside of the Spirit Masters trained by Eru Jehn. He sorted and categorized the minds he touched, and tagged those he found useful or potentially dangerous. But he was the web, not the spider in this trap. The Spider was Preston Miles, and during my brief little touches in Jules Harker's mind I caught my first real break in a long time. Jule's Harker knew where and when Preston Miles had been born. Merrimack Hospital, in Canterbury, New Hampshire. July 17th, 1992. By the Teranan calendar, that made him 43 years old.
Wing and I took off for home to get ready for a trip to Canterbury, and as we went, I could only wonder about what I might find. Preston Miles had been very careful to keep himself unknown, but would he go so far back in his efforts as to wipe out the very facts of his birth?
I checked in with Trey and let him know where I was going to spend the rest of my night, and told him I'd check back sometime tomorrow. I let Wing pull into her pod at the focus to refill and recharge the various things she might need, and while she was doing that I took a shower and cleaned my midnight costume. With the core of it being Legion armor, it didn't need much. I grabbed an apple and ate it, washing it down with a root beer, after which I did a bathroom pit stop, washed my hands and face and, with that accomplished, Wing and I were off.
Merrimack Hospital sits on a bluff overlooking the Merrimak river and serves several of the nearby communities besides Canterbury, especially Boscawen, just across the river. It was not a large place. Serious injuries or illnesses went to Concord, the state capitol ten or twelve miles to the south.
I had expected to have to work my way over to the Canterbury hall of records, or the nearest such repository to find the birth certificates, but I got lucky. Seems the small-town folk in Canterbury and the folks at Merrimack Hospital took pride in the new generations of New Hampshirites they helped bring into the world. They had kept photocopies of all their birth records since the photocopying technology had been available, and that had been well before 1992.
I found three old wooden filing cabinets full of photocopied birth records, each in a manilla folder with other hospital documents associated with the deliveries. The records were in immaculate order, and sorted by date!
July 17th, 1992 had been a busy day and night for the delivery room. They'd had three in one day, which was very busy indeed for them. Baby boy Umbridge, baby girl Wingate and baby boy Kittering.
Unfortunately the unofficial birth records the hospital kept didn't capture the first names of the babies if they weren't chosen early in the process. There was little chance I suppose that the nefarious Preston Miles was either actually Preston or Miles when he was born, but without the given names on the certificates, I had two candidates and no clues as to which one it was. The records did indicate that baby Kittering, father Wayne and mother Abilgail were a local Canterbury family and that the address for the Umbridge boy was in Gerrish, a few miles northeast. I took Wing to the address given and found a quiet, elegant rural street with very few homes sitting on what to me where rather large wooded estates. Canterbury wasn't large enough to have neighborhoods, just a small central business area with a general store, a pub, church and gas station. I decided it would be worthwhile to come back during the day and check around at the pub, and maybe the church. I pored over all three folders for as many details as I could remember, hoping some of it would be useful. The Maggie Wingate file was sadly complete, including details of her death.
I jumped back to the focus, let Wing settle into her pod and hit the sack, setting an internal alarm for six hours. That would get me up in time to have a chat with Trey before I returned to Canterbury.
Trey was amused the next morning, and expressed his disappointment that I hadn't thought to return to his new fortress to get my sleep. The fact that sleep wasn't all that I'd have gotten, I think he forgot to mention.That the time difference worked out better my way, I didn't mention. No need given him any clues.
.... There is more of this story ...