Chapter 11


Maxwell dismissed Phineas right away, brushing the excited child off and ignoring the way he slunk out of the room. His gaze was fixed on the man under the red lights at the other end of the room. The Surge’s eyes followed Phineas out of the room, then snapped back to Maxwell, dangerously narrow.

“Well, you’re not what I was expecting,” Maxwell admitted, still eyeing his catch. “In fact, you’re nothing but a child.”

“And you’re nothing but an old man.”

The Surge’s icy demeanor alongside his ridiculous hair and baggy clothing were too amusing a combination not to laugh at. This reaction didn’t seem to irritate the Surge unduly, though that might only have been because he had been so put out to begin with.

“What’s your name, child?” Maxwell asked when his laughter had subsided.

“What do you want?”

“I believe I asked you a question.” There was no hint of amusement left in Maxwell’s voice; he did not like to be ignored.

The Surge did not seem to care. “How is this containing me?”

“Confused?” Maxwell approached the transparent partition. If his captive wasn’t going to follow normal conversational protocol, neither was he.

“I can’t exactly look up the answer at the moment,” the Surge countered.

“Do you at least know where you are?”

The look the Surge leveled at him was sub-arctic. “You really think there’s a possibility I don’t know who you are? I know more about you than anyone else in Solace. I even know your real name,” he added, one eyebrow arching slightly.

Now that was interesting. Maxwell didn’t think there was anyone alive besides himself and perhaps Ashe who knew that James was not his given name, and if Ashe did know it wasn’t because he’d been told. The Surge must have done quite a bit of research to uncover that bit of trivia; such exhaustive information gathering was not in keeping with the sort of attacks the vigilante had leveled at him. In that case, either the interest was personal, or there was something else at play that was holding the Surge back. Either possibility was intriguing.

“Then be fair and tell me yours.” Maxwell smiled just a little and made his tone congenial. Honey and flies and all that.

“You know my name.”

Maxwell crossed his arms over his chest. “‘The Surge’ is not the name you were born with.”

“It’s the only one you need to know. I don’t have anyone important to me that you can find and threaten, so my real name has no value to you.”

Maxwell chuckled. “I suppose you’re right. You really do know a lot about me. So I’m supposed to call you ‘the Surge’? Seems a bit unnatural.”

“Just Surge is fine.” The vigilante sounded almost sullen as he made this admission.

“Well at least we’re getting somewhere,” Maxwell responded.

“What do you want?”

Maxwell smiled. What a persistent man this was--if only his behavior were less two-dimensional, they might be able to interact as equals. “Nothing at the moment. I honestly didn’t think Phineas’s toy here would work.” He gestured at the contraption the boy had put together for him, and then put on a thoughtful expression. “I do wonder what the government will pay for you....”

The Surge lashed out at that, punching the barrier between them. The blow was too weak to even rattle the plastic. Maxwell was careful only to smile condescendingly in reaction; cornered children often expressed anger rather than resort to another, more appropriate emotion that might put them at a disadvantage. That was one of the things that separated children from adults: children didn’t realize that anger was just as debilitating as fear.

“Temper, temper,” he chided.

The Surge growled at him and dropped his hand back to his side. In the red light, the smear of blood on the partition was almost invisible. Either the Surge was incredibly frail or the barrier was sturdier than it looked.

“Fine.” The Surge stood up straighter and looked at him with what was not quite a sneer. “I’ll answer the question for you, since you’re being so reticent. You have the Surge now, so what are your options? You can keep him like a pet and have him work for you, or you can sell him to who ever will pay the most--probably the government, so they can reprogram him to work for them. Power and creds are all that sway your opinion. You’re so fucking archetypical that you’re not even a challenge!”

He was yelling as he finished his speech, wild-eyed and bristling. Maxwell chuckled and started to speak, but was cut off as Surge continued to rant: “The whole reason I’ve failed so miserably where you’re concerned is because of your assistant! He caught everything I did before it ever became a problem for you! He’s so damn good at what he does that there’s no way anything you do will ever fail. All of your successes you owe to him, and you’re content to enjoy the benefits his work has earned you. You’re the stereotypical rich man who gets what he wants from other peoples’ efforts. You think everything is a game set up for your amusement and people are your pawns! And they had better just take what you give them, because it's in their best interest just because you fucking said so! You are the worst constructed person I've ever had the misfortune of dealing with!”

He punched the wall between them again, hard enough this time to make the thick plastic shudder. Maxwell eyed the split, raw skin on his knuckles and wondered how such a frail looking man could summon that much strength.

“You are nothing,” he concluded, speaking through clenched teeth.

Maxwell smirked at him and applauded with deliberate slowness. “Very impassioned speech. How long did you have to rehearse to get it just right?”

The Surge straightened up again and took a step back. His expression was cold again, and Maxwell enjoyed the idea that he had caused a crack in the vigilante’s icy façade large enough for him to spew out such self-righteousness.

“You’re making quite a show of being angry, but I think what you’re experiencing right now is more primal than that.” Maxwell rubbed his chin, making a show of thinking this over. “Fear, perhaps?”

The Surge pivoted in place so that he faced the wall to their right, and crossed his arms over his chest. “Go away.”

Maxwell didn’t move and stood eyeing his captive for several moments, partly to see if Surge would start to fidget under his scrutiny. He was a little disappointed when the young man closed his eyes and ignored him.

He really was at a loss as to what to do with his prize. The Surge was obviously not going to work for him--he’d known from the outset of this project that it was unrealistic to think he might--and Maxwell did not feel that he could bring himself to sell the man to the government. He didn’t need the bounty the vigilante carried with him, nor did he want to deal with the attention and the questions that would follow his claim that he had caught the Surge.

“I suppose I’ll have to kill you,” he said at length.

The Surge did not open his eyes, and he sounded almost bored as he asked, “Why is that?”

“Because if you won't work for me and I can find no other use for you, I might as well kill you to neutralize the threat you pose," Maxwell answered. “If I set you free, you’d probably just kill me.”

Brown eyes opened and leveled a look of palpable disdain at him. “I don't kill.”

“I wouldn't know. I haven't kept up with your exploits.”

“You wouldn’t.” The Surge’s gaze wandered away from him. “Ninety percent of my work has never been attributed to me.”

“You’re that good, hm?” Maxwell wasn’t sure if that was difficult or easy to believe. He didn’t give it much thought.

“I’m that old,” Surge corrected. At Maxwell’s skeptical expression, he explained. “I’ve existed as long as this city has had electricity. The ability to incorporealize at will has given me limited control over what physical form I take, and because of that I have a sort of artificial immortality.”

It couldn’t have been the surge coat that gave him his power then; the coat had only been designed to handle electricity, not to become it. Even now, over a thousand years after its creation, there was no technology capable of turning a physical mass into an electrical impulse. Maxwell had had Phineas do some research into the subject and even he had been unable to explain what exactly was giving the Surge the sorts of capabilities he’d displayed over the years.

“So where does all this power come from?”

Though the vigilante didn’t look at him, his eyes narrowed in thought. “If I tell you,” he began deliberately, “I want your word that you won’t kill me.”

Maxwell smirked. He should have guessed as much. He nodded and gestured with one hand for the Surge to go on.

“I'm an incarnation of part of an ancient deity.”

The matter-of-factness with which the Surge spoke was amusing. “Jesus's third cousin twice removed?”

“More ancient than any god you've heard of.”

Maxwell pursed his lips, but decided not to press the issue for now. “You're only part of the deity? Then there are others.”

“Yes, but not like me.” At Maxwell's look, he clarified by adding, “They each have their own power.”

Maxwell was still not satisfied. “Such as?”

“I've never met any of them,” the Surge answered, “So I wouldn't know.”

Maxwell considered. Either the Surge was withholding information from him or he really didn't know very much. How would he know even as much as he was telling, though? Maxwell had assumed that the vigilante could only access information that he could find inside the city's wires, and Surge's words prior to the change in conversation had seemed to imply the same, pseudo-immortality or no. If that was the case and the deity and its reincarnated composite pieces were real, there had to be some contemporary knowledge circulating on the subject for the Surge to have been able to learn of it. If the information was out there, Maxwell wanted it. He made note to discuss the matter with Ashe later.

“Where did you find out about all of this in the first place?” he asked. “Surely you weren’t born knowing it.”

The Surge paused and turned a thoughtful gaze on him. “I am very old,” he said finally, “And I know a lot that I've forgotten.”

Maxwell gave an undignified snort. “I have no patience for riddles.”

“I mean, I know a lot that I've forgotten I know. The data is still there, but I haven't accessed it in so long that I forget about it altogether. I don’t remember how long I’ve known about the nature of my abilities, or where I found that information in the first place.”

Amused at the way the vigilante referred to himself as though he were an organic datapad, Maxwell nodded. “It will be something to look into later, I suppose.”

He wasn’t sure how much of the Surge’s story he believed, though the vigilante’s demeanor gave him the impression that he at least believed what he was saying. Based on their conversation so far, he seemed more likely to refuse to give information at all rather than lie.

“We’ll have plenty of time to discuss it, after all,” Maxwell added, touching the barrier between them with the tips of his fingers in a sort of parting gesture.

The look the Surge gave him before he turned to leave was unreadable.