Today’s story is from the Friday Flash Fics prompt from two weeks ago, which I missed due to a migraine. It continues the tale from the previous three, back into the past of “Greater Good.” This ongoing story tells the other side of “Lesser Evil,” which was was my first superhero story—or, rather, super-villain—and focused on a telepath named Tristan Edwards, who could not only read minds but could force people to do (and even believe) whatever he wanted them to do. He was, for a while, with a superhero group, but he gave in to temptation when he developed feelings for another member of the team, feelings that weren’t reciprocated, and he did the unthinkable. That story is found in Lavender Menace: Tales of Queer Villainy, and I’ve written other flash pieces about those characters before. “Greater Good” partners with “Lesser Evil” in that it takes Jeff McKenna’s point of view—the Canuck superhero known as Cinder—who was the man Tristan fell for and telepathically manipulated and forced him to return the feelings. “Greater Good” takes place after the events in “Lesser Evil,” but only a little while after. This story is going to take quite a few parts to tell, and I’m not sure it’ll be every week (though right now it seems to be the only thing I want to write, so…) but I hope you enjoy the ride. You can catch up with part one, part two, and part three. This is the fourth piece.
Greater Good (Part Four)
“You don’t understand!” Pierre Marquette raised both hands.
Jeff tensed. Recon?
He’s stalling for time. Not sure why. Having Tristan’s voice in his head was starting to feel as familiar as his own. Give me a second.
“You’re from another timeline. You stole Pierre Marquette’s life from him, effectively murdered him.” Jeff took a breath. “What don’t I understand?”
“I am Pierre Marquette!”
“But not the one who was here three months ago,” Jeff said. “He was a devoted dad, a husband, a professor, and a pretty decent amateur baker, I’m told. Three months ago, though, Pierre Marquette asked for a divorce, left his family, stole from his university chem lab, then vanished.”
“It’s not that simple,” Marquette took a hesitant step back, turning just a little.
Jeff matched the motion, giving him no room.
“Right. I left out the part where you cleared out the family bank account and holed up here in an out of business veterinarian’s shop.” Jeff gestured at the basement as a whole. Sectioned off for holding animals of various sizes, it was surprisingly clean for a place that hadn’t been used in eight months. Or at least, not used until Marquette had holed himself up here.
He’s trying to see up the stairwell. Tristan’s mental voice carried annoyance. No idea why.
Jeff itched to glance behind himself. Was someone else coming? One of the other eight Colin said had been part of the incursion three months ago?
No one up here. I’ve got your back. Jasmine’s voice this time. Tristan had them all in a kind of telepathic network. I’m in the front room. Noire has the back exit, and Quantum has the front door. There’s no one else here.
Agreed. Matthieu’s voice didn’t have so much of a growl to it when it was a thought.
Marquette glared at Jeff. “So easy for you, isn’t it? It’s clean here. Good water. Enough food. Easy to judge when you have everything.” He shifted again. Jeff matched the move, resisting the urge to look behind him. The others would tell him if someone was at the top of the stairs.
Instead, Jeff tilted his head. “I’ve heard about where you come from. How things are different there. But you destroyed the Pierre Marquette who lived here. He’s gone.”
“Yeah, well, that’s kind of our thing,” Marquette said with a tiny smirk and vanished.
Invisible? Jeff thought, aiming a quick jab at where Marquette had just been standing, but hitting only air.
Teleporter, Tristan’s thoughts came a second later. He’s behind you.
Jeff whirled around. Sure enough, Marquette was at the top of the stairs, looking down at him.
“Leave us alone,” he said. “Or we’ll defend ourselves.”
Jeff answered with a small bolt of flame, which hit the door. Marquette was gone again.
Front room, Jasmine’s thoughts were calm, controlled. I have him in a forcefield—no, he’s out. My fields don’t stop him. Ah-!
He’s teleporting in close to strike then teleporting away again, Tristan explained. Jas’s got her armor up now.
Bastard is quick, Jasmine added.
Cinder jumped, bypassing the stairs and flying through the door into the upper level of the former veterinarian, and came to the former front waiting room soon enough. In another time and place, the scene might have been amusing. Lustre, in her gold and white uniform, was firing off bursts of laser light at Marquette, but he would pop out of existence and reappear somewhere else in the room, then do it again to land a punch on her. The punches were ineffectual now that Lustre had her armor up—she glowed brightly with her own personal forcefield—but it was a total standoff. Laser. Teleport. Punch. Teleport. Laser. Repeat.
We need to stop him before he teleports out of the building. Can you shut him down, Recon? Jeff said, aiming a fire bolt at Marquette, who vanished before it hit. The wall smoldered, but didn’t catch. Jeff shook his head. He didn’t want to set the place ablaze. There were newspapers covering all the windows and the door, and what little furniture remained was all plain wood.
I’d need to look him in the eyes. Tristan’s mental control of another was always best when he could see directly into his target’s eyes.
Wait. That was it. Looking. Seeing.
What are you thinking? Tristan asked.
Jasmine, Jeff thought, closing his eyes. Go bright. As bright as you can.
Even behind his eyelids and visor, light got through, and he raised a hand. Marquette cried out, and a moment later, a rush of satisfaction flooded through their telepathic link along with Jasmine’s thoughts. Just nailed him in the shoulder with a good shot. He can’t see to dodge.
Cinder dared to squint, and saw Marquette swaying, holding his shoulder with one hand, desperately shaking his head and blinking in the over-bright room.
Then Quantum rose up through the floor, grabbed Marquette from behind, and threw him down, hard with one thickly muscled arm.
Marquette grunted once, then fell still.
Quantum looked down at the prone man, then turned to look at Jeff. “One down,” he said. “Seven to go.” The man’s voice had bass, and between the throw-down and the determined look in his eyes, he was kind of the hottest thing ever, really.
Quantum’s lips turned up. “Thanks. You’re cute yourself.”
Ever since his powers had first kicked in, Jeff had been warm. So the cold shock of realizing what he’d just announced to everyone in Tristan’s telepathic network made him want to gag.
We’re, uh, on our way, Tristan’s voice was uneven in Jeff’s mind. I’ll just… get out of all your heads now.
Jasmine’s light dimmed down to normal levels. She looked at Jeff, then away, then back again. She offered a brittle smile.
Oh, this was the worst.
Finally, she cleared her throat, and nodded down at Marquette. “What do we do with him? Do we even have a cell that would work for a teleporter?”
Back to business. Jeff had never been so grateful to her in his life.
“He needed to see where he was going to teleport,” Jeff said, knowing full well his face was burning red. It took every ounce of self-control not to open the door and just fly off. Shit. Shit shit shit. But he reined in the humiliation, clenched his jaw, and did the job. “Let’s start with a blindfold.”
After they got Pierre Marquette cuffed and blindfolded and into a dimly lit room with no windows, Jeff showered and changed—he tried not to read too much into having the whole room to himself—and got dressed again. He stared into his locker for a few long seconds.
Maybe he could just stay here, forever?
He rolled his eyes.
He found Tristan first, standing at their investigation board in the main conference room.
“Hey,” Jeff said. It almost sounded casual.
Tristan turned. Hazel eyes, a softer sort of face, and more-or-less average looking in every way, Jeff knew most of the team struggled with Tristan Edwards, even as a reserve member. He’d been a part-time gas jockey when he’d reached out to NAMDA about his developing telepathic abilities. His academic record wasn’t anything of note. There had been a couple of troubling incidents with his father—a man Jeff was convinced had been at least verbally abusive to Tristan, but Tristan hadn’t admitted anything else—and, of course, he’d been openly gay.
Juan, especially, struggled with Tristan, but Juan had also been at the mercy of a Mexican telepath, Titiritero, who’d forced Touchdown to use his own abilities to knock bank guards into comas during a robbery he and Cirrus had tried to stop. One of the guards had died. When it became clear Tristan’s telepathic ability to dominate others into doing whatever he wanted were on par with or better than Titiritero’s, Juan had lobbied hard for Tristan to not be allowed to achieve full status as a NAMDA agent, which meant he’d be confined to Canada, his home country, given the current metahuman travel restrictions in most countries.
To Jeff, it seemed like a waste of resources. They’d butted heads over it, but ultimately, the people in charge of NAMDA had agreed with Juan—telepaths dominating others were already a topic the news outlets loved to use when they wanted to stoke up fear about metahumans, and if anyone found out NAMDA had such a metahuman working for them, it would be a PR nightmare.
Tristan hadn’t seemed to mind. As a reserve member, and one more-or-less off the books, he had anonymity and freedom the others didn’t always have.
Also, when it came down to it, apart from his metahuman abilities, Tristan was a twenty-something with zero aptitude for the kind of work agents generally handled. Jeff had asked Juan to help train Tristan in hand-to-hand combat, which he’d done grudgingly, and it hadn’t taken more than a month for Juan to declare him more or less hopeless. They were still working on it, but Jeff had watched them spar, and he didn’t disagree.
“Hey,” Tristan finally said. “So. Guess I’m not the only gay guy on the team, eh?”
Jeff winced. “Okay. I maybe deserve that.”
Tristan shook his head. “No. You don’t. I mean, I’m a little confused as to why you didn’t tell me, but at the same time? You don’t owe anyone any explanations. We get to come out when we’re ready. Y’know, unless you accidentally tell everyone on the team at once, telepathically.” He shrugged his shoulders. “I’m sorry about that. I tried to break the connection once I realized what you were thinking, but it was too late.”
“It’s okay. And it’s not your fault,” Jeff said. He clenched his jaw. This was officially the worst conversation, ever.
“He is, though.”
Jeff blinked. “Sorry?”
“Quantum. Colin,” Tristan was smiling the tiniest bit. “You’re right. He’s hot. Great arms. Nice face. Super butt.”
“Oh God. This is so humiliating.” Jeff rubbed his eyes. “Also, those comments are not at all professional, mister.”
“Yes, boss. You’ll be fine,” Tristan reached out, and touched Jeff’s shoulder, giving him a little squeeze. “It’ll pass. It’s not like we don’t have a shit-tonne of work to do.”
Jeff eyed the board. Someone—Tristan, he supposed—had updated it to show Pierre Marquette’s capture. The first of eight people from another timeline to invade. It still made his head spin to think about it. Eight people from a whole other version of Earth. And from the future, to top off the insane with something even stranger. They had knowledge and skills—and, apparently, powers—they didn’t even know about. Except for Colin, who’d come here chasing them down and was contemporary to their timeline and time both.
“Seven more to go,” he said.
“Yeah,” Tristan said. “At least we know Colin’s flags were right. Pierre Marquette stole some of the things on the watch list from the university lab. Led us right to him.”
Jeff suppressed a smile. “Right to him” was overstating, but he couldn’t fault Tristan’s optimism in the face of their first success.
“He hasn’t told us everything.”
Jeff turned. “Marquette?” He hadn’t realized Marquette had said anything yet. When he’d last checked, the man had been sullenly silent, unwilling to say a word.
“No, Colin,” Jeff stared straight at the board. “There are things… things he’s holding back. I can tell. He’s careful when he talks to us about some of this…” He gestured at the board. “Like the watch list.”
“You think he’s lying?” Jeff so didn’t want to have to consider Colin might be leading them all astray, but if he was… Jesus. They’d been operating under tight need-to-know on this one. Most of NAMDA had no idea the incursion had even happened. The last thing they needed was the media getting hold of this—or for the remaining seven to find out NAMDA knew they’d arrived.
As it was, Pierre Marquette being in a cell was bad enough. His disappearance would probably tip off the other seven to something being up, and they barely had any idea who the other seven might be. Their suspect list of “people who’d been acting out of character since the incursion event” was a mile long. Tristan could only telepathically probe people so quickly as it was, and finding opportunities to get him in the same room with their suspects wasn’t always easy.
“Not lying, exactly,” Tristan said. “Just… not telling us everything. He’s not lying about them needing these supplies. But his story about this stuff being used to make future tech? I don’t know if I completely believe that. Or if it’s the whole story.” He blew out a breath. “If you want… He could tell us.”
Jeff swallowed. He knew what Tristan was offering.
“No,” Jeff said. “The last thing we need to do is turn on each other.”
Tristan nodded. “Okay.”
They stared at the board again.
“How many interviews do you have tomorrow?”
“Ten,” Tristan said, and he sounded beyond tired.
“I’m sorry so much of this is on you,” Jeff said. “Maybe you should go to bed early. Get some sleep.”
Tristan smiled. “I can’t sleep when everyone else is awake. Their minds are too loud. But I do sleep like the dead when everyone else is asleep, so there’s that.”
Jeff laughed. “At least there’s an upside.”
“It’s like how you never get cold,” Tristan said. “Zero insomnia if there are enough people around me already asleep. I don’t even have to worry about caffeine late at night.”
“In that case, you want to maybe grab a coffee? Because I just came out to the whole team by accident, and I could use a friend to talk that through with. Someone who’s been there.”
Tristan’s smile grew. “I’d really like that. You sure it’s okay if I’m seen with you?”
Right. The downside to being so recognizable as Cinder, even when he wasn’t in costume. Jeff sighed.
“How about the cafeteria?” Tristan said. “The coffee is shitty, I know, but.” He shrugged.
“Let’s split the difference. I’ll go get us some good coffee to go,” Jeff said. “And meet you there.”
“Deal.” Tristan smiled. “You know, when this is over, we could go camping. I know a place, and you wouldn’t have to worry about being seen.”
Jeff nodded. “That sounds like a great idea.”