Well, I’ve got a little present for everyone’s Thanksgiving. Last year, I gave you the most heartbreaking part of Blank Mastermind. And now, I’m STARTING TO POST THE SEQUEL.
Yeah, hopefully that gives a couple of you something else to be thankful for today. XD
We’ll be all official and give a synopsis first:
Over a year later, and for Wolfgang Dankworth, redeeming a villainous reputation turns out to be a lot harder than he expected. The adulation of the public over his one heroic move has long since worn off. And finding a job is only punching up the fact that, to any respectable business, he’s about as welcome as a skunk at an outdoor wedding.
Aside from the Fernsbys and the remnants of his old gang, it doesn’t seem like he’s even welcome anywhere.
But then a letter shows up in the mail, inviting him to a secret event. A big move they’re about to make. Something to bring him up higher in society. An organization he joined the last year, named Silverwing.
Only . . . he can’t remember joining.
The SPI’s Hero Project branch is history. It’s been over a year since Mansley was revealed to be corrupt and all the former superheroes have gone back to their normal lives.
Case closed, right?
There are actually quite a few SPI agents who would say otherwise. Including Dallas Knight.
Everything Mansley did couldn’t have just been the work of one man. It goes deeper, and Dallas knows it. There’s an organization behind this. Only he can’t find any evidence. No connections that haven’t been investigated already. No other members.
But it turns out, he actually knows another member of the organization.
A few mild warnings before we start:
- This will probably make barely sense if you haven’t read Blank Mastermind, so I’d do that first.
- First draft with minimal editing, so you’ll have to excuse minor plot holes and such.
- Also some mild swears, but I shall try and bleep out with asterisks.
And here we have a banner:
And a collage for our first POV character
And let’s get started then.
The winged woman
It wasn’t until I’d already taken my coat off that I noticed the smudge of blood on my tie.
I sucked in my breath and quickly crossed my arms to try and cover it. Well, I had wondered why my favorite green tie had gotten shoved to the back of the closet. Now I remembered Wolfgang had shot me while I was wearing it sometime last year.
I’d gone after it with stain remover but . . .
I bit my lip, quietly panicking over the spot that I’d missed. A perfectly good green tie. With a brown smudge right on the front. How did I miss it?
And now here I was in the middle of an official SPI gala with a bloodstain on my tie.
Someone important was going to notice it if I don’t get my jacket back on. There were so many of my superiors here tonight and I’d really wanted to make a good impression . . .
I shifted my arms uncomfortably, swallowing.
Kaity’s hand touched my elbow. “Dallas? Is something wrong?” Even though we’d only been dating for a couple of months, she’d already learned to pick up on the smallest cues that something might be wrong, even if I tried to hide it.
I kept my arms crossed, glancing around a little before I replied through clenched teeth. “My tie.”
“Your tie?” Kaity’s brow furrowed as she looked over at what she could see of my tie. “Your tie is fine. It’s very nice and . . . green.”
“No, no, it’s . . . there’s a stain.” I opened my arms up just a little so she could see.
Her mouth formed a little O and she put her hand over it, flashing the pink polish she’d put on her nails.
To my horror, she licked a finger and reached over like she was going to scrub it off right there with her spit.
I took a step back, “Kaity, that won’t work! It’s a bloodstain.” And even if it would come off with that method . . . having saliva on my tie . . .?
Her blue eyes went wide. “Blood? Blood from what?”
I opened my mouth to try and quietly explain, but another voice interrupted, making both Kaity and me jump.
“Is there a problem here?”
I realized I’d taken my arms down and quickly folded them to cover the stain again as I spun around.
One of the SPI secret service agents. A tall man with dark skin who’d been by the entrance when we’d come in. He tilted his head curiously down at both of us. “Did I hear you say blood?”
Kaity swallowed, not answering.
The man narrowed his eyes for a second.
Oh no, we can’t get in trouble with security, no . . .
I stood up straighter. “It’s just . . . it’s a stain, sir. Nothing to worry about.” I still kept my arms crossed. “Is there something we can help you with?”
He didn’t respond for a second, then gave a single nod. He motioned to Kaity. “Miss Culpepper is in charge of running the stage lights. It’s almost time for the presentation. If your date can spare you for a moment . . .”
“Oh.” Kaity relaxed visibly. Her hair bounced a little as she turned her head to look at me. “This shouldn’t take too long, Dallas. I’ll be back when the presentation is over, okay?”
I nodded. “Alright.”
She’d become quite the technician over the past few months. And picked up my habits of volunteering for every possible job that needed doing.
Kaity bumped my arm and smiled on the way past. “Don’t worry about the tie,” she whispered. “It’s barely noticeable. You’ll be fine.”
She followed the man off towards the stage, his large frame cutting a path through the crowds and her tiny form following after him like a tiny sailboat following a shipping barge.
I stood where I was for a little bit, trying to remember where I’d put my coat.
There was a spot to put coats or other personal belongings near the door. . . Kaity had put her purse there. And I’d left my coat. That was it.
No one was paying any attention to me, so I carefully let my arms down and started weaving my way over towards the door. I could go out and grab my coat really quickly, put it on to cover the stain, then be back in time to see the presentation on stage.
I didn’t have any giant security guard walking ahead of me, but being smaller than nearly everyone present, I was able to slip through the crowd without too much of a problem. The buzz of conversation hummed in the air, glasses clinking with the champagne they’d handed out to those agents who were at drinking age.
I kept my head down. Barely anyone even noticed me slipping through and muttering “excuse me” to people I accidentally bumped into.
The door was just a yard away now. I just needed to get out the door, go down the hall a little and take the first right towards the door to the outside . . .
My shoulder bumped against another young agent’s arm and I stumbled, raising my hands apologetically. “Excuse me, I’m sorry . . .”
The agent didn’t seem to ruffled by it. He smiled back at me. “No problem, it’s fine.” I started to turn back to the door, but his face changed expression so suddenly I almost wondered if I’d given him a heart attack.
I froze in place. “Are you alright?”
“Hold on . . .” he scanned me up and down for a few seconds with wide eyes, then his mouth opened in a shocked grin. “No way! Are you Dallas Knight? Amazing Man’s sidekick?”
I felt my face turn slightly red. “I-I . . . well . . .” I took one more step towards the door, but forced myself to stop and answer the question. “Yes, I was. But Mr. Fernsby hasn’t been a Hero for over a year now and . . .”
“Dude, that’s so cool!” the agent clapped his hands together and laughed. “Seriously, I’ve heard so much about you. That whole thing with the bomb and everything? And the forcefields? Awesome.” He stuck out his right hand, using the other to push his black hair out of his eyes. “Agent Winter, by the way. From Seattle.”
I cautiously took his hand and tried not to wince at his enthusiastic handshake. “N-nice to meet you, Mr. Winter.”
“Same to you.” Mr. Winter pulled his hand back and propped his hands on his hips, looking me over again. “I did sorta think you’d be taller, but whatever.”
I was used to getting that by now. But it still took a little effort to control my facial expression when it was delivered by an agent obviously younger than me and taller by over half a foot.
“Yes, well.” I clasped my hands behind my back, shifting on my feet. “I need to . . .”
“Hey, can you do any forcefields?” asked Mr. Winter eagerly.
I stood there for a second, watching to make sure he was serious. “No,” I responded slowly, still not sure if the big grin on his face meant if he was joking. “I lost my powers just a little before Mr. Fernsby did. The nanites that provide the superhuman abilities can only take so much energy output from the user before they are rendered unusable. It’s similar to . . .”
“Oh, right, right, right . . .” Agent Winter shook his head a little, “Sorry, I knew that. Stupid. Anyway.” He recovered from his embarrassment in a fraction of a second and was back to smiling. “So what do you do nowadays? Any other sort of hero-stuff?”
“Deskwork, mainly.” I glanced over at the door, biting my lip. “I assume you’re aware of the scandal with the Hero Project director, Derrick Mansley. I’m looking more into that.”
The presentation could start any second. My hand unconsciously went to cover the stain on my tie. If I could just slip away for a little bit and get my coat . . .
“Ah, cool,” Agent Winter nodded, shoving his hands in his pockets. “And how’s that working out for you?”
“Alright. I’m not finding much at the moment, but we’ll see how things play out . . .” I took another small step towards the door. “Would you excuse me for just a s- . . .?“
The words trailed off as the lights in the room dimmed. Sounds of other chatter in the room toned down to whispers. It was starting.
My shoulders slumped a little under the thin, white fabric of my shirt.
“Hey, they’re starting the show.” Agent Winter edged past, clapping me on the shoulder as he went. “I’m gonna go find my seat. It was great talking to you, Dallas.”
“Y-you too.” I made an unsuccessful attempt to keep the mournful note out of my voice. Please God help me not run into anyone important before I get my coat . . .
Most everyone had already found their seats at the round tables placed all around the room and knew where to go in the dark. I hadn’t taken the time to find which seats were for Kaity and me.
I bit my lip hard. If only I’d had more time to research what all goes on when you’re taking a date to an official gala . . .
It was impossible to find the chair with my nametag on it in the dark without making myself look like a total idiot, so I simply moved on past the tables with the food on them and positioned myself against the wall to the right of the stage. It was especially dark over here, so hopefully no one would see me until the lights came back on. Then I could find our right seats.
The bustle subsided and a hush fell over the room.
Another second, and a spotlight beamed down on the middle of the stage, lighting up a giant circle of the wooden platform and the blue velvet curtains hung behind it.
A man strode out, his shiny shoes clacking against the wood. His brown hair was combed back perfectly, his wide smile showed perfect teeth and he held a microphone and an official looking piece of paper.
I’d never met him before, but I knew him instantly from pictures I’d seen.
It was Mr. Ecks, the official founder and director of the Superior Protective Intelligence agency.
He stepped right into the middle of the stage, his eyes a little squinted against the brightness of the spotlight, but his grin didn’t waver. He waved to the audience with his hand holding the paper.
“Well, it’s certainly nice to see so many faces here tonight.” Mr. Ecks nodded, firmly. “I’m sure you all know who I am already, but I’ll make the introduction just to be sure. Director Ecks, the head of the SPI you all so faithfully work for.”
He stopped for a bit as a swell of applause went through the room. The sound died down and he started up again.
“Every day I’m amazed by the amount of work our organization gets done. This has turned into a really amazing agency over the years and I’m very glad to be a part of making the world a safer place along with each one of you.” Mr. Ecks smiled widely, sweeping his arm to indicate everyone present.
He dropped his arm and glanced at the paper he held. “Some of you have been here since the beginning. Some of you have just come on within the past year or so, but everyone holds an important role. Tonight, we’re here to commemorate and honor someone who’s been with the agency for five years, as of tonight.”
Mr. Ecks looked up from the paper, his expression earnest. “I’ve had the privilege of closely working with many agents over the years, but I can honestly say that I’ve never seen such impressive, fast results in our operations than those overseen by this agent.” He glanced down at the paper. “I actually had statistics run. She has over a fifteen-percent higher productivity rate than any other agent. In our history.” He raised his eyebrows and stopped for a second, letting his words sink in.
A murmur of surprise and approval came from the agents present.
“She’s an incredibly hard worker,” Mr. Ecks continued. “She’s nearly flown up through the ranks within the years she’s been here, climbing fast towards the top. And, while she’s probably been fit for this role for a long time, tonight I am honored to . . .” he stopped for a second and frowned, a smile still playing in his eyes. “You know, why don’t we bring her out here to receive this herself?”
He turned to the side, looking behind the curtains, and made a dramatic gesture. “Maxine Wellington, come on out here!”
Applause swelled in the room again as a woman’s high heels clicked against the wood of the stage platform. I leaned forwards a little to see as she came into view.
The lights shone off her thick, black hair and she had an east-Indian, cinnamon colored complexion. Her wide, red painted lips parted in a wide smile. Her hips swayed side to side as she walked and her black pencil skirt pressed tight against her legs. Everything about her just seemed . . . sharp.
I leaned back a little as she reached the center of the spotlight along with the Director.
Maxine came to a stop and smiled at all of us in the room. Even with my being in a darkened corner, I somehow felt that she’d looked directly at me for a second.
“Well, Agent Wellington, what do you think of the SPI?” Mr. Ecks held out the microphone towards her, smiling.
Maxine took the microphone from Mr. Eck’s hand, her shiny red nails clicking against the handle, and spoke. “The SPI is an phenomenal organization. Personally, I’ve been to many government organizations . . . worked for quite a few . . . and I’ll tell you now that none of them have the amazing potential that the Superior Protective Intelligence agency has. And none were as personally enjoyable, for me. I’m honored to be a part.” She smiled, winking as she handed the microphone back to Director Ecks.
“Well,” Mr. Ecks drew out his word as he took it back. “We’ve been honored to have you as a part. And as of now, Maxine, you’ll have a much bigger part.” He handed over the paper in his hand. “As of tonight, Maxine Wellington is the Assistant Director of the agency. Second in command, overseeing all operations.”
Maxine’s mouth opened and her eyebrows went up in shocked joy, even though I got the impression that this wasn’t news to her. She laughed and did a sort of fist-pump thing I’d seen Roy do before.
Everyone stood out of their seats with a collective cheer, clapping loudly. Something felt odd in the pit of my stomach, but I clapped along anyway.
The lights came slowly back on. Mr. Ecks put his hand up, bringing the noise down just a touch as he spoke into the microphone again. “Please take the time to greet your new Superior if you possibly can. Thank you all again for coming, it’s a pleasure.”
Maxine waved to everyone and leaned over to the mic one more time. “And I can’t wait to get started. We’ll be on the rise before you know it. You guys are all great.” She grinned, waving again.
The applause continued as Mr. Ecks and the new Assistant Director walked off the stage together.
The lights were back to normal in a minute and everyone was starting up their conversations again. People were going through and getting food.
I should have moved. Really, me and my stained tie were right out where everyone could see. But I just stood where I was, my forehead wrinkled in a frown.
Something she’d said. Something . . .
Two things actually . . .
I’ve had my head in that research too long. I’m imagining things.
“Hey.” A voice from the side made me jump. “Agent Knight, isn’t it?”
I turned towards the voice and my heart skipped a beat. Maxine Wellington stood just a few feet to my side, her hand outstretched and a smile spread across her face. She’d had a cardigan on before and I hadn’t seen the tattoos. Wings, spreading out from under her strapless dress, wrapping up over her shoulders.
I stared without meaning to.
She tilted her head slightly. “Former sidekick of Amazing Man . . .?”
I straightened, snapping out of my shock. “I . . . yes, that’s me.” I took her offered hand and shook it, willing mine to not tremble. “It’s n-nice to meet you.”
Maxine smiled. “I’ve heard quite a bit about you and your work. The whole hero project and being the sidekick to Amazing Man. Very impressive.”
“Thank you.” I swallowed.
Was I the first person she’d talked too? Where was Kaity? Why did she think I was so important?
“Congratulations on the . . . promotion,” I offered. “You must be very proud.”
Maxine laughed, patting an hand on my shoulder. On her high heels she was taller than me and it made me feel like she thought I was a child. I bit my lip.
“Oh, I knew it was coming sometime. Ecks always left hints.” She smiled, her teeth flashing a brilliant white. “And now things can really start to move now that he’s got someone he counts on as much as me as his right-hand-man.”
I nodded. My gaze kept going to the wings on her shoulders and the odd way they moved with her skin. The silvery sheen around the edges.
Yet more of the research effects showing. There had been something in the scraps of Mansley’s burnt and shredded papers about a wing. Something about rising.
And I mean, rising and wings went together . . .
I looked away, but not quickly enough for Maxine to not catch me.
“Like ‘em?” she asked, turning a little, so I could see more of the pattern that stretched across the dark skin on her back.
Actually they made me very uncomfortable. But I didn’t want to be rude, so I just gave a noncommittal. “They’re very . . . interesting.”
A second of silence before she met my gaze again.
“So I hear you’re researching the old files from Mansley’s screw-up? Digging through that old mess?” Maxine propped one hand on her hip, tilting her head at me.
I nodded. “Yes, ma’am.”
She twisted her mouth to one side, then looked around a little, as if to make sure no one was listening. Magically, everyone seemed to have cleared away from the space, leaving us a bubble of privacy in which to talk.
Maxine leaned forward. I resisted the strong urge to lean back as the smell of her perfume wafted up around me.
“Just, between us two, I really think there are more productive things a bright young dude like yourself could be doing,” she said, keeping her voice low and barely moving her lips. “That problem’s over and done with, really. I think you’d make a good desk agent for bigger operations. With all your experience? Working on the exciting things with the field agents and getting up there. Getting on the rise.”
On the rise. There was that phrase again.
Something twisted in my gut and I resisted the urge to wrinkle my nose.
“You know, something exciting, but without the . . . blood and guts.” Her eyes flicked down to my tie.
I felt my face flush and quickly clapped a hand over the stain on my tie.
Maxine shrugged her shoulders, the wing pattern on them gleaming in the light. “Just, a word of advice from the new Assistant Director.” She winked. “And if you want, I can stick in a good word for you to get you on the up-and-up.” With a smile and a quick blown kiss, she was gone. Her heels clicking as she walked off to go talk to someone else.
My eyes stayed fixed on the wings on her shoulders until I forced myself to tear my gaze away.
Maxine . . .
I closed my eyes, trying to think of my list. I’d written down all the possible keywords for the organization. There were only a few things I’d been able to get from the heaps of destroyed evidence.
Wings was one.
Rise was another.
Max. I’d always assumed it was short for “maximum.” But . . .
She’s second in command of the SPI now. She’s been here for years. She came on after Mansley. How can she possibly be a mole?
Soft footsteps sounded on the carpet next to me and I nearly jumped again.
Kaity walked over and bumped against my arm. “Are you going to eat anything, Mr. Beanpole?”
I smoothed a hand over my hair, barely registering the question as my mind spun in circles to try and place my gut feeling in a logical box. “I-I . . . I don’t know . . .”
She started pushing me towards the buffet, then stopped and frowned. “Are you okay? Is something wrong?” She looked down at my tie. “Are you still worried about that little thing? Dallas, it’s so small . . .”
I shook my head. “Just . . . a headache. And . . .” I lowered my voice a little, trying to keep it from shaking. “The keywords. Wings? Did you see the tattoos . . .?”
Kaity squinted for a second, looking between Maxine, who was now off talking with someone else, and me.
She shook her head and sighed, smiling a little. “Dallas, we can’t walk by a pigeon without you getting antsy about wings. Just relax for tonight.” She looped her small arm through mine and grinned, tucking a piece of her straw-colored hair behind one ear. “Pretend it’s a date, okay? Because it kind of is.”
I swallowed and nodded, following obediently as she steered us both towards the food line.
But the sick feeling in my stomach stayed for the rest of the evening. Even trying for Kaity, I couldn’t eat more than half a sandwich.
Aaand that’s what we’ve got for the week and I’ll be back next Thursday! What do you guys think so far? What things are you hoping to see? Are you doing anything fun for Thanksgiving?
Have a great day, guys. And I’m thankful for all of you. ❤