James Maxwell was thorough. Always. On his desk, arranged in chronological order along with a hot cup of tea, was the complete history of one Nicholas Amita Rabbit. Ashe had, in characteristic exhaustive style, gone the extra step, cross-referencing and researching each fact. In his comfy, rolling chair, sipping his hot tea with milk, James Maxwell scrolled through the necessary details. The knot of information was slowly unwinding to answer one burning question: was Nicholas the Surge?
For the most part it was boring reading, and told him nothing he didn’t already know. Orphaned, separated from his siblings and adopted by one Samuel Young, a leading distributor in child pornography who also dabbled in illegal drug and arms dealing. It was a generic sob story that was more humorous than pitiful to Maxwell. The political tycoon had worked with Young several times when he had been alive; he’d met Rabbit when the young man had been programming databases and encryption codes for fun. He had been a meth addict who still occasionally starred in dirty videos, usually for Young’s private collection, and had a reputation for flying off the handle. It was possible such a situation had stirred feelings of resentment for the system; Solace had allowed a man like Samuel to adopt him, after all.
Was it enough?
Rabbit was highly intelligent, above and beyond what Young’s had ever recognized in him, and had received a substantial inheritance at his adoptive father’s death. Wealth and intelligence were a dangerous combination, especially when boredom was added to the mix. If Rabbit felt that he was superior to others, that only he had the ability to fix the city’s problems, it was logical to conclude he would take do so, being a man of action.
In that case, the question was whether or not Rabbit had the ability to be the Surge; the power at his disposal to manipulate electricity. The answer was hardly available in any of Solace’s databases, but Ashe had taken the time to highlight certain points of interest in Nicholas’s work history.
Solace Police Department, March 18th, entry no. 9873340. Officer Lister on call for traffic incident involving delivery transport and private vehicle. Motorist on motorcycle, Nicholas Amita Rabbit, pronounced dead on the scene. No autopsy required. Morgue ident 49-I702.
New Anomalia University, March 18th. Nicholas Rabbit reported deceased by SPD officials. Employment terminated.
City Morgue. Body ident 49-I702: invalid entry.
Solace Police Department, March 20th. Retraction of entry no. 9873340. Nicholas Amita Rabbit reinstated in system as living. Inquiry to false ident of corpse in progress.
New Anomalia University, March 20th. Nicholas Rabbit now reported in critical condition by family. Long-term disability leave granted.
Greater Solace Hospital and Care Services Database. No entry for Nicholas Amita Rabbit in March.
Maxwell poured over the information with a dissecting gaze. The story laid out in the public records was feeble at best. Either everyone who had ever seen them had been suffering from head trauma or there was a lot of money circulating to cover up the strange circumstances. A man did not simply get falsely identified at a morgue only to be found alive but in critical condition outside of conventional hospital services. Even if he believed in such coincidences, where had Rabbit been recovering and what had happened to the misidentified corpse? Considering the city’s extensive DNA records, how could a corpse be misidentified in the first place?
Money was the only thing that could orchestrate such a cover up, as far as he knew, and even if it was sloppy and poorly organized the very provable fact that Rabbit was alive seemed to keep anyone from looking too deeply into the circumstances around the anomaly. They were fundamental to James Maxwell, however. All of life revolved around cause and effect. The effect was that Rabbit was alive when it seemed he should not be. What on earth could be the cause of that if not the possession of otherworldly abilities?
There was, of course, one other piece of information at Maxwell’s disposal that caused a twisted grin to begin to pull at the corners of his lips. It was a news article published in May that had appeared between the business report and stock information. It was a small, rather boring article by Johnson Swan, an inquisitive if not overly enthusiastic investigator of business and trade shortcomings. He had been explaining in far too technical jargon the current crisis looming over the heads of those involved in the banking industries when a peculiar quote came about from one of the victims of his rhetoric. The man, an investment broker by trade, had mentioned offhandedly that business was in fact better than statistics were showing due to the decline of unaccountable transactions.
While innocent enough to most people, there was just one problem with his statement: there was no such thing as an unaccountable transaction. All transactions had a traceable source and were therefore verifiable. Even should the source be set up for fraudulent use, it could still be accounted for. Only one phenomenon in Solace had the ability to cause unaccountable anythings and that was the Surge.
It had not only been the banks that had failed to report strange occurrences within their systems at that time: city-wide the effects of the Surge were unseen. And at that same time, Nicholas Rabbit was supposedly in critical condition somewhere unknown to anyone.
Maxwell did not believe in coincidence.
There was a soft but purposeful knock at the door before it slid aside and allowed Ashe to enter. His disarray of curls and his clothing reminded Maxwell very much of a college aged man trying to look respectable but unable to part with the essentials of his normal attire. The sweatshirt under his blazer would have been disgraceful in any other work environment, but Maxwell was beyond caring. After knowing the man for half his life, his skills were more important to Maxwell than his appearance. Besides, standing next to a rumpled assistant made him look even more appealing.
“More reports?” Maxwell asked, swallowing the last of his tea.
Ashe crossed to the desk, took his empty cup and went to refill it from a kettle on an end table across the room. “Not at the moment, sir. Nicholas is here to work on your surveillance issues again. Shall I have him meet you there?”
“No, I don’t think so.” Maxwell waited then took his fresh cup of tea from his assistant, smirking at the new warmth in the palm of his hand. “Very interesting reading you provided today. Quite fascinating. I think I’d rather speak to Nicholas here before we head down to business.”
“Oh? You’ve made a decision then?”
“Sort of.” He took a sip, careful not to burn his tongue. “I want to judge his reaction, though. The surveillance room has no cameras of its own and I want to be able to review it. It’ll have to be in here.”
“Of course, sir. I’ll show him in as soon as he arrives.” Ashe straightened up a few items on the desk before leaving Maxwell temporarily to his thoughts. When he returned, it was with Rabbit in tow. The Hindi man looked annoyed if not a little apprehensive.
Maxwell stood as they entered, setting down his second empty saucer of tea to greet him.
“So, why are we here and not where the work needs doing?” Rabbit asked immediately, throwing pleasantries aside.
Not missing a beat, Maxwell smiled and sat back in his chair. “I too am a busy man, Mr. Rabbit. I still have a few things I need to see to. I won’t take me long. Have a seat.” He gestured to the straight-backed chair on the other side of his desk, the comfort of which was questionable. Rabbit eyed it for a moment before sitting down as instructed. “This is your first time in my home, isn't it?”
“On this floor, yeah.”
It was an absurd answer. Maxwell’s office offered a spectacular view of the cityscape through live windows that faced the setting sun and the buildings of the Core. The walls were a rich, blood red that accented the brown leather chairs and sofa arranged as a sitting area against the windowed wall. Like every room and hallway in his home, luxury and elegance beamed from every nook and cranny. He knew for a fact many estates had less than forty percent of the regal appeal his home boasted. Not impressed indeed.
“Surely you’ve seen no better. Samuel’s home paled considerably in comparison.”
Rabbit shrugged, his eyes never leaving Maxwell. “Doesn't mean I'm impressed.”
“Just like the SPD wasn't impressed with your recent job performance,” Maxwell countered with a cold chuckle. He enjoyed watching Rabbit’s brow twitch at the jab; the way his face slowly morphed into a scowl from indifference.
“Not like they were doing the job themselves.”
“No indeed. They passed it into your capable hands. All the same, it seems they could have handled it better in this case.”
Rabbit continued to scowl, not at all amused with the turn the conversation had taken. “Most of the time they can't tell the victim from the perp.”
“Don't trust them, hm?” Maxwell asked, continuing to lay down the bait.
Rabbit unknowingly took it at every opportunity. “I don't really trust anyone,” he stated, sitting back in his chair.
“Not even your partner?”
The dark skinned man raised an eyebrow at his statement, seeming to calculate his response as he turned a cold gaze on the man across from him. “I don't consider him my partner. He's about as useful as the rest of the SPD, most of the time.”
Maxwell could not help but laugh. Despite all reasons not to, he liked Rabbit. “I take it you're the type who follows the rule that something done right, you’ll ultimately need to do it yourself.”
“Don't you have work to finish so that I can do my work?”
Caught in his ruse, the politician turned a charming smile on his guest as he looked over at his terminal screen where the hypothetical work was supposed to be done. “Doesn't mean I can't be a polite host. I'm nothing if not civil.”
Rabbit’s response was an undignified snort as he crossed his arms across his chest and leaned back, leaning his head back to stare at the ceiling, perhaps hoping to find a more entertaining way to pass his time there.
It was rather insulting.
“Believe what you will. You don't get to be as powerful as I am without manners. I suspect that's why you live in that little apartment of yours despite everything else. You've got money and connections enough to live very comfortably.” There was a slightly vengeful bite to his words that he didn’t bother holding back. James Maxwell was not accustomed to being scoffed at.
“I'm comfortable enough.”
“Perhaps you're afraid to come under the judgment of the Surge should you make yourself more prominent in society?”
“I've got nothing to fear,” Rabbit replied, taking the bait yet again. “Besides, I think of the two of us, you're the one who should be worried about the Surge.”
Maxwell gave him the wide, toothy grin of a Cheshire cat. “Apparently,” he said, victory dripping from his voice as he turned his full attention to the screen blinking before him. He closed everything down, saving it all for later use. He wanted to go over the facts and his hypothesis one last run through before enacting the slowly formulating plan. With a few final clicks at the keyboard, he got up, glad for the opportunity for some movement. “Shall we head down now or are you enjoying my ceiling too much to be bothered moving?”
Rabbit rolled his eyes and stood as well, preceding his host to the elevator--there was no stairwell available for the quick descent.
They went down the single floor and came out onto the dressed down floor thirteen. Unlike all of Rabbit’s previous visits, the normal silence was replaced by a loud, hollow banging coming from the far end of the complex. Rabbit paused, unsure if he should be alarmed or not. Deciding it was not explosives going off or a police raid in the works, he decided to ignore it but still turned a mixed expression on Maxwell. “Let me guess. A guest.”
“He really shouldn't be able to do that....” Maxwell looked almost worried as he puzzled over his giant guest locked in the infamous white room. Certainly he wouldn’t be able to escape no matter how hard he pounded at the door, he consoled himself. With a smile more confident than he felt, Maxwell gestured towards the security hub. “Don't let that distract you, though. Some people hold on to life much more desperately than others.”
“I'm just glad you're not being that polite a host to me,“ Rabbit mocked, pressing forward to continue with his task at once.
Maxwell lingered in the hall, as though the sounds of the banging had become a much sweeter melody. “I only treat those who fuck with me that kindly. You'll just have to get in queue.”
“No thanks.” The dark man took a seat at the hub, fingers itching to work and be done with it. “If I ever fuck with you, Maxwell, I can guarantee you won't touch me.”
The politician’s smile only grew at the veiled threat. Getting incriminating statements from Rabbit was quite nearly as easy as taking candy from a baby. There was almost no pleasure in it. Almost. The catch was far sweeter than the task.
“I'll keep that in mind.”
With another undignified snort, Rabbit began his work while his temporary employer watched with feigned interest. As he worked, the solutions he tried to grasp at seemed to flitter out of sight, evading him quite keenly as he hacked and coded his way through the intricate system. With a final sigh of resolve he pushed away from the terminal, rubbing at the back of his neck with one hand.
“That should keep you from losing anything else. It’s only a temporary fix, though. If it’s anything more than your run of the mill hacker, this is just going to prove a minor inconvenience. I need a little more time to develop something that’s permanent or can at least give the Surge a challenge. I know I said I’d retrieve some of your lost information but it‘s really not worth the time if I can‘t guarantee it’ll stay put,” he admitted dully as he stood.
“Agreed. How much time will you need to code something like that?” Fate seemed to work in Maxwell’s favor. He liked that.
“I'll need a week or so. I'll call Ashe when I have it figured out,” Rabbit explained, heading towards the elevator once more. He turned back to Maxwell, expression still unreadable as he took one last jab at the man he hardly pretended to like. “Do you need to see to your guest? Should I show myself out?”
“Nonsense. Wouldn‘t want you to get lost. Follow me.” Maxwell moved in front of him and showed him to the elevator. This was a game that required each player to act within a strict set of rules regardless of how seemingly pointless the rehearsed steps seemed. In games such as this one, carefully planned operations called for methodical actions and so long as the trap had not yet been sprung, Rabbit needed to see him only as the stuffy and socially conscious politician.
As Rabbit disappeared down the elevator shaft, Maxwell took a last look down the long hall towards the continued banging. There was still one more piece missing from their game, one more pawn without which he would not be assured of victory. That worried him very little, though. He had the means to acquire what he wanted, the means to do whatever he damn well pleased. He smiled to himself as he awaited the elevator’s return, his own cleverness sparking a bit of joy in the hollow of his heart. He was going to win whether or not Rabbit or the Surge wanted him to.