Chapter 19


Maxwell stroked the soft hairs on the top of Phineas's head as he walked past the buzzing terminal his son sat in front of and towards the occupied plastic cell. Out the corner of his eye he watched the young teen rub his hair into a different state of disorder than the one his father had created with the affectionate motion with a knowing smirk well hidden under his expressionless mask. Phineas had done very well; there was no reason to rub it in.

"So, what are you going to do with him now?"

Sitting at the bottom of the cell, leaning against one transparent wall, the Surge seemed to either be sleeping or in a deep state of meditation. Maxwell looked at him for a moment, trying to assess which, and, deciding on the former, turned to Phineas. "Do with him?"

"Well, yeah." The red head swiveled his chair, once all the way around and then on the second revolution stopping to face his father. "We just going to keep him locked up forever?"

Maxwell shrugged. "What do you care what I intend to do with him? Your only responsibility is keeping him locked up."

Phineas grumbled and spun in his chair again. "Well, I didn't exactly build the cell for extended captivity. No bathroom, nowhere to sit, and he hasn't eaten since he got in there. But if he can't use the bathroom, guess that's a moot point."

"Point is, he can't stay in there much longer," Maxwell summed up for him, illustrating his understanding of the dilemma. Phineas nodded. "How long would it take you to make a separate containment cell for him to be relocated to?"

"Um...I'd have to make everything out of non-conductive materials. That includes installing a waterless toilet. So...a while. And I'll need a bigger allowance. A lot bigger."

Maxwell's expression went sour. This large a gap in his plans was a rarity, and it made him look silly and disorganized. Ashe generally saw to all the details and handled any loose ends. Apparently what he was supposed to do with the Surge once he had him wasn't an important enough detail for Ashe to feel inclined to give it any attention, leaving him wide open to scrutiny and criticism. At least the Surge was asleep and unaware of this hole in the plot.

"It'll take me the better half of a month to get a new cell ready, though," Phineas continued. "What'll we do with him until them?"

"Forget it." Maxwell rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Why don't you go upstairs and play or something? I have things to do."

Phineas frowned and slipped from his chair. "Yeah, okay. He's been asleep for like...ten hours now. I don't think he's doing so well. Sick or hungry or bored or something--I don't know. He'll probably be kinda pissed when he wakes up."

That was understandable. Maxwell waved Phineas away and watched his reflection in the wall of the cell sulk towards the exit. Maxwell pressed his hand against the wall and peered down. Surge peered back up.

"Not so asleep, then."

"You're so clever."

Maxwell smirked. "Still have that attitude I see."

"Not much else at my disposal right now. You may have noticed." He let his head fall forward. His hair was a greasy mess. Maxwell guessed he was in need of a good scrubbing in general. "So what now? Going to bore me to death in my own private hell?"

"It's an option, but not one of the two I've decided on."

Grunting softly, Surge stood. "And what options are those? Work for you? Not going to happen."

"Not so much. I can't help but notice you need a shower, a bed, and some food, though. I happen to have all of those in my estate above and either way you choose, those needs will be taken care of." Maxwell gave him his politician's smile.

Surge was not amused. "What are the options then?"

"Quite simply they are as follows: be on your best behavior or die."

"Ha." Surge shook his head and paced in his cell. "An ultimatum. Wonderful. Well, James, you mind expanding on the best behavior bit? For all you know, this is as good as I get."

"I highly doubt that. I don't see how you could possibly fuck it up, though, unless you've a mental disability making it impossible for you to be cooperative and amicable. I am offering you nearly free run of my home and access to everything within so long as you do not escape, contact authorities of any kind or attempt to kill me or my family."

"Not really my style, but what if I do?"

Maxwell waited for Surge to face him, wanting to look him in the eyes as they conversed rather than observe his fitful pacing. "If you do, we will catch you again. If you do, Ashe will see to it your photograph and footage of your capture is handed over to the government. If you do, you will be an ungrateful asshole."

Surge looked at him hard. "So what exactly do you want from me, then? All I have to do is sit around and not make a break for it?"

"And look presentable. I'm not about to have you slumming it in my nice home. But if I can't control you, the better alternative is to keep you from interfering with me. As a guest in my home or in this cell waiting for death, the outcome is the same for me. Which do you prefer?"

"I prefer to go home." Surge sighed heavily. "That and a muffin. I could really go for a muffin."

"Done."

Surge blinked. "Done? Well, what kind?"

"What kind do you want?"

"...Blueberry. The kind with the crumble topping."

Maxwell nodded. "I'm sure Ashe will be able to locate some for you."

"Okay... Thanks." Surge looked up at the ceiling of the room. "So you're telling me I can leave this cell right now and have a muffin if I pretend I'm on vacation or something rather than act like your prisoner."

"More or less."

Surge smirked. "Can't figure out how to contain me for much longer, huh?"

"Killing you is always an option," Maxwell reminded him.

Surge shook his head, continuing to look up at the red lights. "Not for me."

Maxwell watched him think. Everyone had a different way of thinking, different movements of their face or bodywhen they were deep in thought. Surge seemed to be of the sort that squinted, though perhaps it was just the light in his eyes. He looked very intent, though, focused and calculating. Perhaps thinking of a way to double-cross Maxwell, a loophole he could expose.

"I'd like to go into the wires again."

"Out of the question."

Surge's body slumped.

Maxwell pondered. "You need to be in your electric form now and again, don't you?"

"Do you need to breath now and again?" Surge spat back. He sounded tired.

"Well, I suppose Phineas may be able to build a closed circuit course for you to run around in." The politician stepped away from the cell and paced over to his son's terminal. "If that's your final demand, I'm sure we can accommodate you to some extent. So, shall I release you or put a bullet through your brain?"

Surge stood straighter and moved to the middle of the cell. "I can do good behavior, but don't expect too much. I'm not high society."

"That we can work on." Maxwell surveyed the terminal flicked the switch labeled "do not push this button on accident". There was an odd drumming noise, a pop and then a swish as the sides of the cell spread open like a flower blossoming upside down. Surge knelt down and slipped out. Once he was free, Maxwell closed it back again and turned the power off. The red lights died, the dull hum from the machinery was silenced and all that remained was the white light from the hall to show them to the exit.

Maxwell walked from the darkness into the hall and waited for Surge to join him. After several seconds standing alone, he flipped the overhead florescent light on to see what was keeping the young man. Surge knelt beside the cell with the end of his coat in his arms, trying to pry part of it from the closed cell walls it was caught between.

"Leave it."

"I like this coat."

"You can get it later," Maxwell assured him. With the Surge free, he felt impatient. He needed to be where he wasn't completely alone with the potentially dangerous man, in his home where the cameras watched over him. "Gentlemen don't wear coats in the house, anyway. You'll be provided with suitable attire upstairs once you're clean. You're around the same height as Julian, so I don't imagine we'll have any problems dressing you until other arrangements can be made."

Surge's mouth fell into a slight sneer as he let the coat fall to the floor and walked over to where Maxwell waited. "Don't talk about me like I'm something to be kept."

"The fact of the matter is that I am keeping you, Surge. If you dislike my tone, that's one thing, but if your issue lies in the details you'll just have to get over it." Though he looked displeased, Surge followed as Maxwell escorted him to the elevator. "Ashe will see to your comfort once we arrive. Mind him. You can give me all the attitude you want but I will not tolerate you being disrespectful to Ashe. He will show you to your room, the bathroom you may use, and provide you with a temporary wardrobe. A light meal will be brought to your room to tide you over until supper, where I expect you to be in attendance and suitably dressed. Have you any questions?"

"Not yet."

"Well when you think of one, you may ask either Ashe or myself. I'll be in my study."

Surge gave a nod of understanding. They rode the elevator up the single floor to the foyer where Ashe, as though in possession of a sixth sense, was waiting for them. He eyed Surge critically for a moment before turning a surprisingly doubtful look to Maxwell.

"You're certain this is the wisest choice, sir?"

Maxwell grimaced. As unhelpful as Ashe had remained during the capture, he was going to moan about his tactics now? "Ashe, at some point we either win by force or by compromise. I'm not stronger than him as far as abilities are concerned, so I thought a bit of trust was in order. I won't kill him in his sleep and he won't kill me in mine."

"And while you're both awake?"

The politician smirked, patting his assistant on the shoulder. "Well, that's what you're here for."

Ashe was not amused. He didn't argue any further, though, but made an agitated check against his datapad screen. "If I'm to tend to him, I need you to sit down and give the shipment authorization. It's all on your desk and the contact list is loaded on the terminal screen. I'll allocate the funds once you've settled on the figures, so have it done by four." He motioned for Surge to follow him and started up the grand staircase without waiting for a reply.

Maxwell watched them go, a little speechless at being ordered around and not quite sure whether he had truly found a solution to his problem or exposed an even more critical flaw in setting the vigilante free. At the moment, it was Ashe's problem and he ignored it and headed to his office to tend to the work assigned him.

Over the years, managing his side business had become less of a serious endeavor and more a dull but lucrative way to pass the time. As a twenty-something drug and weapons dealer trying to move in not only legit but powerful circles, there had always been the threat of blackmail. Twenty more years of coming out on top and proving more capable left alone then under threat had ended most of the disputes he actually needed to see to in person. He was a figurehead who invested more money than time and he liked it that way. He had no interests in the fates or dealings of the people on the street side of the business. He made only small changes to the numbers on the shipment authorization, more to make it look like he was concerned about the profitability of various drugs and weapons than because there was anything wrong with the figures that had been initially submitted. H

e was nearly done inputting the last of his changes when the door to his office opened, admitting someone who could have been a stranger. 'Who are you and what have you done with Surge?' would have been trite, but it seemed very appropriate given the startling transformation. With his hair brushed back and a decent albeit loosely fitting dress shirt and pants on, Surge looked less like a punk teenager and more like a confused young man who thought blue stripes were tolerable in polite society.

"I thought maybe Phineas would have some hair wax, but apparently not," Surge said as he walked over to the seating area and plopped down. He mussed his bangs with his left hand where they fell flat and shapeless in his face.

"No. His hair does that on its own, unfortunately. Did you ask Ashe?"

"He said you had mouse and gel but mouse makes it fluffy and gel is all hard and sticky."

Maxwell shrugged and tried to wipe the smirk from his face. "Well, I'm sure Ashe can locate some and have it brought here along with your muffin. You'll live without it for now."

Surge nodded.

"You certainly look much better all washed up. Feeling better?"

"I guess. I'd like to go into the wires now."

Maxwell shook his head. "I haven't had time to ask Phineas to set something up for you. You'll have to wait. Why not take a nap or have something to eat?"

"I don't need either of those, I need to be in the wires." Surge looked up at the ceiling again, practically glaring at the light fixtures. "You don't have anything battery operated? I'd settle for a wristwatch at this point."

Maxwell raised an eyebrow and rummaged through a desk drawer. In the back corner was a datapad that he'd stopped using. Ashe was much more easily used for reference and was generally at hand more often than the gadget was. He laid it on the desk. "I thought you needed a larger run than a handheld device."

"And you'd like tea but you'll settle for a coffee now and then." Surge crossed to the desk eagerly, like a junky about to get his fix. "Can I?"

"It's 'may I' and I have one quick question before you dive in. If, while you're in there, I were to turn it off, what would happen to you?"

Surge grimaced. "I'd have to stay in the batteries until you turn it back on. Honestly, I'd rather that prison to the one downstairs, though. May I?"

Maxwell turned the thought over in his head for a moment and nodded. Surge burst into a brilliant spark of light and was gone, a hot trail leading from the spot in which he had stood to the device on the desktop. The datapad's screen was a blur of pictures and documents, running through all the contests of the drive in random order. Maxwell imagined Surge within like a child running down the aisles of a store, hands stretched out to each side and knocking over everything his fingers touched. It was a tiny place to rummage through, though, even given the size of the memory and processor. Maxwell caressed the power switch, almost daring himself to press it. It was, in essence, the long-term imprisonment he'd been searching for. No need for food, cleanliness, waste, nothing. He could turn the device off, pocket the batteries and have the Surge in permanent storage for as long as he desired.

And Surge knew that.

Maxwell moved his hand away from the device and returned to the shipment authorization. He and Surge both had things they needed to do, it seemed, and so long as they respected each other's nature, things could prove much more interesting than a pocket of batteries.