(Are you in position?)
(Almost.) Steve looked through the crowded room, finding an empty stool where he could sit and concentrate. (Okay, I'm in place. I'll start looking for the target.)
There were dozens, perhaps hundreds of people spread out through the massive house and wandering through the grounds. And he was looking for just one of them: a man named Anthony Blake. He gathered children from around the world, claiming to be an adoption mediator, but instead of arranging legal adoptions, he sold them on the underground market. Some of them eventually ended up in other families, sure. But most of them didn't.
Between the nature of his work and a truly prodigious number of aliases, Blake was remarkably difficult to locate. But they'd gotten a legitimate tip that he'd be at this party, and so the Bloom team was dispatched. Steven's job on this mission was to find the guy. He took a deep breath, and started to look.
He knew he didn't have the most impressive ability at the Agency, but he liked to believe it was one of the more useful ones. It was a simple thing: the ability to see through anything. Everything. When he was a teenager, it had been nearly uncontrollable; he'd keep looking for miles and miles, until his vision lifted off the curve of the earth and into space. The Agency had taught him to control it, to focus on closer things. Like elusive child traffickers.
And now he'd found him. (He's in a bathroom on the third floor,) he thought, knowing Sam would pick it up. (Can you see it in my head?)
(Ouch,) she thought back; he felt a phantom twinge in his own head, but a very faint one. She'd been trained as well. (I don't know if I could get used to that kind of vision. But I saw enough to tell where he is. Leo?)
Samantha's ability was powerful, but she was primarily a touch-telepath. She could only do long-distance mindreading with people she knew well. If she could read all the minds in the building, this mission wouldn't have been so difficult--but then, if she could do that, they'd probably all be out of a job.
(What are you laughing about?)
(Just overcome yet again by your talent and brilliance.)
He could practically feel the warmth of her smile. (Leo's going up the stairs now. He's almost there... Okay, he's got him.)
The lights flickered for a moment; a few people looked up, but it mostly went unnoticed.
(Okay, they've teleported into the safehouse. You can make your way out, honey; we've got it covered on this end.)
"Hey, are you Steven Bloom?" Steven refocused his attention; there were three men standing in front of him. Big, burly men. Who knew his real name.
(Cover's blown,) he thought desperately at her. He stood up, but he was backed against a wall with nowhere to go. He sized up each guy, considered his chances, and then took a run at the one on the right.
He might as well have slammed into a wall of concrete. One of the guys, he couldn't tell which, punched him, and then everything went black.
* * *
When he came to, he was handcuffed to a chair in a small room. The walls were stainless steel, the fluorescent lighting was industrial and depressing, and there were hooks hanging from the ceiling. Taking it all in, Steven decided he must be in a meat locker. There was no one else around, but the door he was facing was locked, and it was cold.
(Sam?) he thought. But there was no reply; he was out of her range. Leo couldn't help either; he could only teleport to places he'd already been to, and it was unlikely that he'd ever been here. Or that he knew that Steven was here. He couldn't alert them by more traditional means, either; they'd taken his watch, his shoes, and everything else that could have concealed a GPS tracker.
Next, he had to figure out where he was. He looked through the walls of the meat locker—but he couldn't. They were completely impervious to his sight. He tried again, straining. But it was no use. In every direction, the walls were stopping his sight.
Steven had never encountered a material he couldn't see through, but now it was as if he was an ordinary person. Clearly this was more serious than they'd originally thought.
There was a groaning noise, and the door started to swing open. Steven quickly hung his head, pretending unconsciousness. He could still see through his own closed eyelids, and he looked through them now, watching the man close the door and then walk over to stand in front of him. He was a slender man, white, with a livid scar slashed across his forehead. It was a face he remembered from one of their prep documents; this was one of Blake's subordinates, James McHughe.
"Mr. Bloom," McHughe said. He had a Scottish accent; Glasgow, Steven thought. Recon had been uncertain about his national origins. "Or Agent Bloom, I should say. You can drop the act, we know you're awake."
"Wh-wha?" Steven tried to look groggy, which wasn't difficult. He raised his head slowly.
"Where 'm I?"
"In a place where you can't use your special powers, whatever they may be. You're totally confined to this place; no matter what you can do, it won't get you out of here."
"Is... is it a shield?" Steven's motive wasn't only to keep the man talking; he was curious as well. He'd heard theories that powers like his and Sam's could be nullified, but nobody had ever managed to actually do it.
McHughe obliged him. "A human shield, you could say. You may not know this, Mr. Bloom, but in our line of work there's a special demand for children with special powers, those like the ones held by you and others in your agency. We test every child, just in case. And that was how we found Emily. Her power is very different: she has the power to stop your powers. Not only that, but she can transfer her ability to any object she touches. Such as, for example, the walls of this meat locker."
"What do you want with me, then?"
"You're our leverage, Mr. Bloom," McHughe said. "We want Tony back, and we'll do whatever we have to do to get him. We've started negotiations now; you'd better hope they go well." He leered. "Otherwise, we might have to start sending them pieces of you, just to let them know we mean business."
He turned away, opened the door. Steven looked through the open doorway, quickly: he was in a deserted butcher shop, there were three other people in the building, all adults, the front of it was…
But then the door swung shut. He was blind again. And he hadn't felt even a hint of Sam, or seen the girl they were talking about.
The meat locker wasn't cold enough to kill him, but it was cold enough to keep him uncomfortable. There wasn't much to do other than look at the gray metal walls and the hooks hanging down from the ceiling. It was difficult to say how much time passed, but he thought it was two or three days. Four times, one of the others came in to give him water, but he never spoke, and never gave Steven any food. He still couldn't tell where they were keeping him, and he never felt Sam.
He was lightly dozing when the door opened a fifth time. McHughe himself had returned, as sinister as before. And this time he was holding a knife.
Steven flung out his thoughts once more, desperately. For just a moment he thought he felt (Steven?) but the door closed, and he was cut off yet again.
"Looks like your agency isn't willing to negotiate," McHughe said. He was casually tossing the knife from hand to hand. "Myself, I think they just need more of an incentive."
Steven tensed his body, preparing to throw himself backward or sideways, anything to keep that knife away from him. McHughe curled his lip and started forward. "Why don't we start with an ear? Or maybe part of your nose? We'll save your hands for next time."
There was a loud crash from somewhere to the right; Steven sprang backward, only barely managing to stay upright. But McHughe startled as well; clearly this hadn't been part of the plan.
"What the hell was that?" he shouted.
Steven had a pretty good idea of what it was, but he remained silent
The yells and crashes had been coming steadily closer. A rhythmic pounding with the cadence of footsteps rattled the floor. Steven looked up, testing his vision again. This time he could see through the door easily. His sight wasn't necessary, however, as an unimaginably brutal force pulled the door off of the meat locker, and tossed it aside as if it were nothing.
"Mr. Bloom, I'm here to save you!" Hoyt said, grinning from ear to ear.
(Samantha, I'm here, I'm here,) Steven thought. He didn't receive any words in reply, but he knew the overwhelming sensation of relief he felt wasn't coming from himself alone.
McHughe was pale and shaking like a leaf. He pulled out a gun, but before he could shoot, Hoyt grabbed the barrel. It crumpled in his hand like tissue paper. "Y'know, I really wouldn't shoot that thing," he said. McHughe paled further.
"There's a kid here, too, they called her Emily," Steven said. "She nulls powers, so I can't see her, but she's here someplace. She was touching the walls of the locker, but she must have run away when you broke in."
"Got it, Mr. Bloom!" Hoyt said. "I am so impressed by how you got such good intel even while you were tied up in here. You are such an incredible agent, I bet it was like the Beijing job--" He finished handcuffing the trafficker, and then started untying Steven. "Did you hear that, Mrs. Bloom?"
(You don't have to say it out loud, Hoyt.) Her relief was now tempered by fond annoyance.
(I missed you,) he thought.
(Glad you're in one piece, sweetie.)
In the end, they found the little girl hiding in a cabinet. Sam spoke to her softly in Korean, and was able to coax her out. Holding the little girl, she was unable to use her telepathy--and considering the dark circles under her eyes, Steven wasn't sure if she would have the focus for it anyway.
"Her real name is Park Na-Young," she said to Steven. "We'll have to find her family."
"Shouldn't be too much trouble," he said. "How did you find me?"
"Hoyt and I cross-referenced all the available information on this group. We found some things the previous analysis overlooked, and we tricked Blake into giving up more information." ("She was amazing," Hoyt interjected.) "So in the end, there was a 65% chance you were somewhere in this area. Shaw wanted us to spread out more, but somehow I knew you were here."
"Stevie, glad to see you're okay!" A heavy weight settled on Steven's shoulders: Leo's arm. "Now I bet you're not doing too well, so what say we get you to a shower and a nice warm bed?"
"No, Leo, I don't want to--"
But it was already too late. The lights dimmed, and then went dark completely. He was falling through endless darkness, turning inside out, being smeared across the universe--
"Hey now, that wasn't so bad, was it?"
"Yes, it was. It always is." There was little heat in Steven's voice, though. The hotel bed, with its crisp white sheets, looked almost obscenely wonderful.
"It got you here, didn't it? Listen, Steven, I'm gonna go back and..."
"Yeah, yeah," Steven said, waving at him vaguely. "I don't care." As soon as the lights flickered again, he started pulling off his clothes. He forced himself to shower, then crawled into bed. He was asleep before his head hit the pillow.
When Steven woke up, his wife was lying next to him, her face turned toward his. He reached over and interlaced his fingers with hers.
(Thanks for the rescue.)
Sam didn't open her eyes, but she smiled. (Any time, partner.)