First-Timer

“Are you all right?”

Alan let out a long breath, something between a sigh and a hiss, and looked at his assistant’s concerned expression through the darkness. Trevor was new, and young; he could be forgiven a few stupid questions at stressful moments, at least. He might even have missed the bullet hitting Alan’s leg.

“No.” Despite his best efforts at being patient with the boy, he sounded annoyed. “It could be worse; I think it just grazed my thigh.” “You were shot?!” To Trevor’s credit, his alarmed outburst was in the same hushed tone as his initial question. To his further credit, he immediately rummaged through his pocket and pulled out gauze and bandages.

He is a trained agent, Alan reminded himself. Even if this is his first mission.

As first missions go, it was turning into one of the worst. They’d been given a straightforward enough assignment: monitor a target for suspected abuse of magic. It should have been routine - as routine as the job got, at least. It should even have been relatively safe. The target’s suspected ability was nothing particularly dangerous; they were watching her for counterfeiting and forgery.

It should have been the ideal mission for a freshly trained recruit.

What it should not have been was an elaborate bombing plot by an unrelated third party that somehow framed Alan as the lead bombing suspect while their target completely vanished - from view, and from MASK’s scrying network.

Alan inhaled sharply as Trevor gently tugged the fabric away from the wound. He was lucky it was just a graze, and he knew it, but knowing that didn’t make it hurt any less. At least the kid - Trevor - he seemed to know what he was doing with the bandaging, so Alan turned his mind away from the injury and flicked his comm back on.

“Retcon here,” he murmured, letting the mic pick it up. “How’s it look?”

“Bad.” The voice on the other end was terse. “They got your photo. Someone started a riot, it’s between you and the gate. Status?”

“Good news, only injury between the two of us is–” He broke off briefly as Trevor tightened the bandage, sending a flash of pain through his leg. “Is a bullet graze on my thigh. Bad news, a bullet grazed my thigh.”

“Blood trail?”

“Negative.” The gunshots had stopped, but the general noise had gotten louder. That must be the riot, Alan thought.

“One less thing to worry about.” A sigh hissed through his earpiece. “We’re scrambling for back-up right now; lie low until we get someone over there.”

“Yes sir.” He flicked the comm mic back off and leaned back against the wall.

“That’s the best I can do while we’re out here,” Trevor said quietly. “I kept it as clean as I could.”

Alan looked around the grimy alley and sighed yet again. “Thanks. Were you listening?”

He nodded. “You can’t fix the photo thing from here, can you?”

“I wish,” Alan muttered. Technically, he could. The reason he’d been sent on an anti-counterfeit mission, after all, and the reason for his designation “Retcon”, was his ability to alter chains of information from the source. But it had a physical range, and the cost to power it… “No, I need to be closer. Close enough they’d notice the silence.”

He wondered, sometimes, why affinities like his weren’t considered abilities too. “Eating” sounds and creating a zone of silence was sometimes just as useful on its own… though not this time.

Trevor sat back on his heels, looking thoughtful. “Would they? It’s really noisy out there.”

“What’s your point?”

“There’s more than enough noise out there for you to use,” he said. “I think you can get enough of a charge to fix the photo without anyone really noticing the change in volume.”

Alan frowned, looking at his latest partner consideringly. “Maybe,” he admitted. “But we were ordered to lie low until–”

“We’re not the military,” Trevor interrupted. “We’re not supposed to blindly follow orders.”

“We’re also not supposed to recklessly endanger ourselves or our mission,” Alan retorted.

“Of course not. That’s why we need a plan.” Trevor smiled. “And I think I have one.”

* * * * *

Roughly thirty minutes later, Alan - alone in the alley - flicked his comm back on.

“Nexus, you there?”

“We’re still working on that backup, Retcon. Whisper and Angel are the only ones easily available and neither of them are very useful for your situation.”

“That’s fine. Hopefully we won’t need it. Presto and I are going to go deal with those photos, then head for the gate.”

There was a long pause before an answer came over the comm speakers.

“You sure you can pull it off?”

“No,” Alan admitted calmly, “but we have a solid retreat strategy. At worst, we’ll be a little closer and a little more banged up.”

Another heavy sigh hissed into his ear. “All right. Do me a favor, one of you leave the mic on?”

“I’ll do you one better.” Trevor’s voice echoed over the comm and down the alley as he crouched down next to Alan again. “We’ll both leave ‘em on.”

“Don’t get killed,” code-name-Nexus muttered.

“No sir,” Alan replied cheerily. “All right, Presto, help me up.”

Trevor slid an arm under his, supporting him as he gingerly got to his feet. “You good?”

“I’m good,” Alan replied through gritted teeth. “It’s not that far.”

The riot was still going strong, from the sounds of it. The way it had just exploded out of nowhere - literally and figuratively - was suspicious as hell. Clearly their mark was more than just an opportunistic mage; the timing was too good, too inconvenient for them.

“How close do you need to be?” Trevor’s voice was barely a whisper in his ear.

“Twenty meters from a cop car should do it,” he murmured back. “Then a couple seconds to do the change.”

“Can you make it if I get you to thirty?”

“If the last ten don’t involve running or shoving through a crowd,” Alan muttered drily.

“I can do that. We’ll need to loop around a little to get that close.”

Alan nodded wordlessly. Trevor had done a good job tying up his leg; he could make it. He could even make it to the gate afterwards - alone, if he had to and didn’t run into anyone. But possible or not, it still hurt.

They crept around the rioting crowd, winding back around from the other side, until Trevor stopped in a shaded gap between buildings, just out of the potential line of sight of the police. “Here,” he whispered. “Get past the building, you should be close enough.”

Alan nodded again and stepped away, leaning against the wall for support. “Signal?”

“You’ll know.” Trevor hurried back the way they’d came.

Alan watched him go, hoping to whatever deity happened to be listening that this was going to work. “Hell of a first mission,” he muttered.

We’re still figuring out how this happened,” Nexus said over the comm. “It shouldn’t have.

“Life’s not perfect.” Alan grinned humorlessly and started limping down the not-even-an-alley. “Gate’s still in back of the supermarket?”

There are more than one supermarket, you know. But yes.

“Great.” He peered around the corner of the building. There were the police, maybe a third of a block away, along with the edge of the loud, angry crowd. And nothing between them and him to hide behind.

Well, hopefully it wouldn’t matter in a minute. Alan waited, watching for the signal he would supposedly recognize. Or at least for a good opportunity.

Minutes ticked past. Breakable objects were thrown. One of the crowd got tased. Alan wished Trevor would hurry up.

As if on cue, there was a sudden loud bang from the crowd and several screams - sounds that echoed in his ear over the comm. The angry noises lulled for a second before resurging as the rioters turned away from the police line en masse, aiming for the direction of the noise.

That must be my cue, Alan thought as the cops went into a confused flurry of activity - presumably to identify the explosion and potential new threat. He quickly darted - well, mostly, in a limping leg-dragging sort of way - out from his corner, heading for a parked car that looked like it should be close enough. Somehow, no one noticed, and he collapsed in the cover of the tire, taking a moment for a quick thank-you to whichever deity had been listening and bothered to help.

That out of the way, he closed his eyes, bit his lip and drew on the cacophony filling the air. He could feel the little bubble of silence surround him, but Trevor had been right; it was small, and he was far enough away from the cops that they were outside of it and wouldn’t notice a thing.

On to business, then. He knew exactly what he needed and sat up, peering through the car windows to find it. A cop’s laptop, connected to their network… there, he spotted one. Focusing on it, he concentrated on what he wanted to do. Change the photos of me at the bomb scene; height, build, hide distinguishing feature.

He felt his powers snaking into the network, reaching through and branching out to affect all instances of the pictures. After a minute that felt much longer, it tailed off and he sat back, wincing as he moved his injured leg.

“Did I get them?”

The lack of response was just long enough to be disconcerting. “You did. Good work, you two. Now get out of there.

Heading over to you, Retcon,” came Trevor’s voice. “Then it’s to the gate and back home.

“Don’t jinx it,” Alan muttered, heading back to the not-an-alley to meet up with Trevor.

The way looks clear,” Nexus said. “You’re on the same side of the rioting and Presto got them moving the other way. Just don’t waste any time.

“I don’t plan on it.” Alan nodded to Trevor as he reappeared, looking disheveled and significantly dirtier than when he’d left. “Okay, Presto, let’s go.”