SideKicks

Issue 10: Tower of Babel

Brain Child disappears three days after getting back to Gotham, but despite any inquiries nothing is found on her where-abouts. There isn’t much time to look, either, as without Batman (and other missing heroes), keeping the peace is very difficult. One good result of this hero vacuum is that the Zeroes actually get some small recognition for their deeds; it’s not much, but the police in Gotham will at least be more receptive and the citizenry at least have heard of them.

A month after returning, three events noteworthy happen:

  • In Metropolis, the ProtoCorp HQ has a break-in and arson attempt. Dr. Alexander Proditor downplays the issue in the press saying that no permanent damage was caused.
  • Gotham Century Tower nears completion. 1,054 meters high on completion, it’s the tallest skyscraper ever built. Since the Tower was a primary campaign platform for the current mayor, the press and TV is inundated with advertising and fanfare about the impending completion. A massive parade and city-wide holiday is planned for the grand opening in two weeks time. Such an event would be a magnet for some of the more destructive and crazy super-villains, so Harvey Dent wants everyone to be alert of possible targeting of the grand opening.
  • Casting a damper on the festivities is the recording of several tremors along the Gotham fault-line in recent weeks. Geologists at Gotham University have tried to assure the public that these small seismic shifts are perfectly normal and there is nothing to worry about, but the whole city is understandably uneasy about it. An even greater sense of unease than usual pervades the entire city.

For the first time in weeks, the endless press of crime lessens a bit in Gotham, leaving both Teen Lantern (who now has newly discovered powers, somehow unlocked in his ring) and The Kinetic Kid with some time to look into these matters.

First, the pair discover that ProtoCorp stock price has been rising and falling at a very rapid pace since news of the break-in and arson attempt. Attempts to get further information on the strange occurrence is stymied. After a bit of discussion on the relative importance of the relevant news, the two decide to head to Gotham University to investigate the unnerving earthquakes plaguing the city.

Once there, the pair arrange to meet Dr. Kyle Kellington of the Gotham U geophysics department. Since they have some time to kill, the pair split up and decide to investigate separately; Teen Lantern decides to see what the word on the street is (as well as cruise for chicks), while the Kinetic Kid meets with a Dr. Victor Fredricks, dean of the College of the Sciences.

Teen Lantern overhears some of the student body more prone to recreational biochemistry talk about a new drug that only “eggheads” use. Attempts to get more information are unsuccessful, though Teen Lantern does end up with quite a few numbers of comely co-eds — much to the consternation of Violet, the AI embodiment of his ring. He reports this new information to the Kinetic Kid.

Meanwhile, the Kinetic Kid had suddenly decided to attempt to get an adjunct teaching position at Gotham University. Dr. Fredricks is polite, but clearly uninterested — though he does allow the Kinetic Kid to take a very difficult physics exam, just to humor the hero. Dr. Fredricks is flabbergasted when the exam is returned, complete, in a matter of minutes and done perfectly. Dr. Fredricks says that the exam results will take a least two weeks, however, to grade. Taking advantage of the good doctor’s surprise, the Kinetic Kid asks about the referenced drug, inquiring if perhaps some of the faculty may be using it. Dr. Fredricks stiffly denies any illicit substance use by anyone on the teaching staff.

The Kinetic Kid and Teen Lantern then go to their meeting with Dr. Kellington in geophysics. Kellington repeats the press sound-bite of the University that everything is fine and there is no danger, but it is clear that he’s hiding something. Attempts to get Dr. Kellington to say more are met with stonewall resistance, though Teen Lantern manages to lift a file while Violet distracts the good doctor which spells it out: The quakes are increasing in severity and it is most definitely not safe. There is no known geophysical mechanism to cause it, however; it seems someone or something is aggravating the fault line underneath the city. The Kinetic Kid asks Dr. Kellington about the drug as well, but gets a mildly offended response. He then asks — HYPOTHETICALLY — what would happen if the quakes were dangerous. Dr. Kellington admits that, with the current rate of growth in severity, a catastrophic earthquake (anywhere from 7.0 – 9.0 on the Richter Scale) would occur in two weeks time. All hypothetical, of course.

Two weeks is a long time, however, and the break-in at ProtoCorp seemed more pressing, so the pair decide to travel to Metropolis and investigate.

Deciding to first get some more information on the strange behavior of ProtoCorp stock, the duo disguise themselves as high-brow investors working on behalf of Wayne Enterprises and enter a brokerage firm. They are seen immediately and inquire about ProtoCorp. Mr. Secretary, the investment broker sent to help them, agrees that the stock behavior is most unusual, but further information is restricted to share owners only — unless the Mr. Wayne wished to wait for the annual SEC end-of-term report, in which any proprietary stock information is required by law to be released to the public.

Kinetic Kid and Teen Lantern decide then to buy exactly one share, which is enough to get them access to the restricted information: Proditor was forced to admit in a memo to shareholders that the damage done by the saboteur was much worse than press-releases stated. Proprietary research documentation was stolen and the backups destroyed, as well as lots of valuable equipment. It will set ProtoCorp research back by quite a lot — in excess of a year, at least. The pair of heroes then thank Mr. Secretary and promise to give a good report of the brokerage firm to Mr. Wayne before heading out and deciding to confront Dr. Proditor directly.

Once at ProtoCorp headquarters, they find the reception to be very wary, almost outright hostile. Asking to see Proditor, the pair are kept waiting for forty minutes before two guards — armed with clearly unusual weapons and also highly suspicious — escort the pair to a private elevator and take them to see the CEO of ProtoCorp. On arriving at the top floor, they are greeted with eight fully armed and kitted out The Red Shirts with Proditor in the middle.

To quote the Kinetic Kid: “Jesus!”

Proditor is very cold and suspicious of the pair, though Kinetic Kid manages to calm the situation somewhat. The Kinetic Kid tells Proditor that Brainchild has been missing for a month and Proditor is very interested. After a moment, Proditor shows the pair a surveillence video that seems to confirm their worst fears: it shows Brainchild walking through ProtoCorp, taking out guards, and finally sabotaging the research facility. The last shot before the screen goes blank is Brainchild looking directly at the camera and smiling. Has Brainchild gone rogue? The Kinetic Kid and Proditor promise to exchange any further information.

After a good night’s patrol and rest, the duo decide that the only thing left to do is go and investigate the Gotham Century Tower itself. A bit of digging reveals the project was started nearly six years ago by the previous Mayor, and has been a project in constant trouble. Meant to be both a symbol of the reborn Gotham as well as a money maker for the city (the proceeds from rent of office and apartment space go to the city as well as boosting tourism), the Tower is basically a mini-city in itself with its own fire, police, and other municipal accoutrements included within. Delays in construction, financing, union strikes, super-villain attacks and so on have made the project into a boondoggle and something of a bitter joke among Gothamites (it’s called the ‘Gotham Century Tower’ because it won’t be finished until next century!). The current mayor promised during his campaign to get the project back on track. Unfortunately, it looked like that was one campaign promise that was destined to fail as problems continued to plague the project.

That is, until a year and a half go when the chief architect proposed a radical redesign to the upper 2/3rds of the building yet to be completed. The design reduced the material and time needed to complete the structure by nearly an order of magnitude. Use of robotic labor (supplied by a number of companies, but most notably LexCorp) in place of humans, while controversial, dramatically improved productivity on the construction site as well. After squandering years and hundreds of millions of dollars, the project was suddenly looking to come in on time and under budget. The transformation is nothing short of miraculous.

It is odd, then, than the Chief Architect (one Harold Sumiyoshi) inexplicably committed suicide six months ago by jumping off the top of his magnum opus. The project has still progressed smoothly despite his death, however.

After a bit of discussion on the facts, the Kinetic Kid and Teen Lantern decide to go visit Harold Sumiyoshi’s widow, Mary. The Sumiyoshi household is actually in a fairly pleasant area of Gotham — a middle-class suburb, really. Not rich, but definitely comfortable. The pair knock on the door and Mrs. Mary Sumiyoshi greets them and asks them inside.

While going through the hallway into the living room, the pair both notice a set of pictures on the wall. Most are photos of Harold and his wife, but there is one which contains three people: Harold, Mary, and some unknown other man. This immediately gets Teen Lantern’s suspicions up.

The Kinetic Kid is considerate to the widow, consoling her briefly and stressing the importance of the questions they are about to ask. While still sad, the suicide happened half a year ago and Mary agrees to help in any way she can. The Kinetic Kid asks the widow about Harold and she notes a distinct downward spiral in his attitude soon after he drafted the original redesigns. He became moody and withdrawn, almost paranoid and having mood swings between manic giddiness and violent anger. He would go off on lengthy, nearly incomprehensible rants about the mayor, the city counsel, and even the citizenry themselves. She tried to get him to see a doctor, but he would have none of it. The Kinetic Kid notes that this seems strange in the extreme — shouldn’t Harold been on top of the world at this point? His dream was just about to come a reality, having saved it from a morass and probable slow death. Mary agrees that his slide in mental stability was strange and that perhaps they should talk to Harold’s good friend and current chief architect of the project, Vincent Mallory.

It is here that Teen Lantern decides to pull a risky maneuver, using one of his new ring powers. Switching to Yellow, he invokes the emotion of Fear — affecting both the Kinetic Kid and Mary Sumiyoshi. Instantly, two yellow specters appear, one being Captain Kinetic who immediately begins to berate his former sidekick. The other is far more monstrous: it is the very image of Harold Sumiyoshi, but a broken, bloody, mangled mess of a man. With the sound of cracking bones and wet, oozing putrification, the horrific manifestation lurches its way over to the poor widow and cries out in a gurgling voice: “Yooooou killllled meeeee!”

To quote Kinetic Kid: “HOLY SHIT!”

Mary Sumiyoshi screams in abject terror and scrambles over her seat, eventually moving to a corner and curling up into a fetal ball, whimpering and sobbing piteously. The Kinetic Kid, completely unaware of what is happening, immediately moves to attack the image of Captain Kinetic, but does no damage to the construct. Teen Lantern struggles to control the abombinations, to no avail. Mary Sumiyoshi screams out, “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’m so sorry I slept with Vince!” His suspicions confirmed, Teen Lantern changes his ring to Compassion, banishing the yellow monstrosities and healing Mary’s mental anguish.

Shocked by the events, the Kinetic Kid decides to escort a dazed and out-of-it Mary Sumiyoshi to her bedroom, quickly mentioning demonic possession and suggesting that the widow contact a priest for an exorcism of the premises before beating a hasty retreat.

The pair then go to the Century Tower project itself, to find Vincent Mallory — current head of the project, friend to Harold, and lover of his wife. Vincent proves to be a genial fellow, happily answering any questions that are given to him. He confirms the widow’s testimony about the strange behavior of Harold before his death. Teen Lantern then bluntly mentions his affair with Mary and, for a moment, Vincent is dumbstruck. After regaining his senses, he tries to explain himself while the Kinetic Kid attempts to salvage the situation diplomatically. Vincent mentions that Harold was never at home and that his continued slide into insanity took a toll on his and Mary’s marriage. And it’s not as if Harold was a saint; he had a lolita on the side who would make “deliveries” to him every week.

This information causes both the Kinetic Kid and Teen Lantern to pause. Kinetic Kid begins to describe Brainchild’s non-costumed appearance and Teen Lantern makes a construct of her as a visual aid. Vincent confirms that is who he saw. Teen Lantern is particularly angered by this news; it does seem as though Brainchild has betrayed the Zeroes. And given that Harold had contact with her a year and half ago, she must’ve been involved with this before she even joined the team!

The pair ask if they can look around Harold’s old office and Vincent agrees. Before leaving, though, Kinetic Kid says that Vincent should go visit Mary — the woman is lonely and could use a shoulder to cry on and a friend. Vincent admits after Harold’s suicide, he wanted to give her some space and not try to be a reminder of their adultery, but agrees to go see her later.

A search of Harold’s office reveals a bottle of pills marked ‘Brilliance’ and copies of the Tower plans, while a quick hack of his computer brings manic, paranoid journal entries planning to “kill ’em all!” to light. Although not an architect, Kinetic Kid’s knowledge of physics allows him to see the shocking truth of the Tower plans: the tower itself is an earthquake machine! Once completed, sympathetic vibrations from the tower to the fault line will cause a catastrophic quake.

The pair then head to the top of the tower, where robot workers continue the construction apace. Here they find a large metal ball, meant to keep the building stable in the wind. Working together with Kinetic Kid as the brains and Teen Lantern as the brawn, the duo manage to rework the upper floor just enough to stabilize the tower and prevent a catastrophic earthquake — the tremors will continue, however, until the tower is properly redesigned and rebuilt. They then expose the problem to the authorities and the Gotham Century Tower project is shut down, just a few days before its completion.

In the aftermath of the reveal, Mayor Janet West finds herself in a political minefield. Outrage over the project — that it could’ve resulted in another massive earthquake in the city — reaches to such levels that the city council orders a special election to take place in one month. Mayor West will run, though her current poll numbers are pathetic.

Vice Mayor Argus Blackwood is also running, hoping to supplant his boss. In a press junket, it was revealed that he is being sponsored financially by ProtoCorp.

Charles Grey, a self-made billionaire, also stepped up to run for the public office.

Currently, Blackwood is in the lead in the polls.

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