On Twisting the Hellmouth
On Archive of Our Own
Previous chapters are
On Twisting the Hellmouth
On Archive of Our Own
This is the fifth of six short chapters - I should post them reasonably quickly, I hope. All characters belong to their respective creators, giant megacorporations of doom, etc. and there is no intent to infringe on copyright. DC Movieverse / Warehouse 13
Note: This chapter is set a few weeks after the last. It somehow ended up being longer than all of the others combined!
5: Steve Jinks
Marcus L Rowland
Linda looks up from the test bench where her latest bridge model is gently swaying under the impact of a simulated 50 MPH wind. There are two strangers in the engineering lab, an attractive red-headed woman in her early twenties, and a slightly older man with close-cropped light brown hair, also very attractive. She smiles at them and says “Yes, I’m Linda, what can I do for you?”
“Would you mind switching that thing off?” the woman says loudly, “it’s a little noisy.”
“Sorry,” says Linda, hitting the switch and taking off her unnecessary ear muffs and safety visor once the blowers stop, “I’ve been working on this for a week, I don’t really notice any more.”
“Tacoma Narrows?” asks the woman.
“Yes; this is my best shot so far at a low-cost repair that would have been possible with the technology and materials they had available, in the time that they had before it collapsed. The original failed in a sustained wind at 40 MPH. I’ve got a five thousand-dollar repair that would take a week but keeps it under control to about fifty-two, but it falls apart even faster than the original when I take it to fifty-five.”
“That’s not good,” says the man. “Sorry, I’m forgetting my manners. I’m agent Jinks, this is agent Donovan, we’re with ATF.” He shows an ATF ID card, while Donovan is digging in her bag, apparently looking for hers.
Linda glimpses an odd device inside the bag; it looks like a gun made out of vacuum tubes with a metal framework and black butt, and various coils and rods. X-ray vision fills in the rest. The principle is obvious to her, a variant on the science she learned as a child; it must generate a polyphase energy vortex, a cone of plasma like ball lightning, which can be used like a Taser. It’s unlikely to be dangerous to her, but it could knock out or kill a normal human. She wonders who designed it. Another device seems to be an odd radio-based video communicator, primitive by modern standards, though some details of the internal antennae suggest that it might channel its signals into hyperspace; again, a bizarre variant on Earth’s current level of technology. Jinks has a similar gun under his jacket, somewhat larger, but no communicator. Donovan flashes her card, so fast that most people wouldn't recognize it; it identifies her as IRS, not ATF. Linda doesn't comment, of course.
“How can I help you?”
“Do you own a dark blue 2007 Honda Accord, license 4GUB555?”
“That’s right, what about it?”
“Our records show that you purchased it second hand, via Big Kahuna Quality Autos, is that correct?”
“That’s right. Though Big Kahuna Ripoff Artists would be a better description, you wouldn’t believe the faults I found.”
“Prior to that it passed through the hands of two other owners and the Helping Hand Acceptance Corporation, a repo company?”
“Two previous owners sounds right, I didn’t know about the repo guys.”
“We do,” says Donovan. “Did you notice anything odd in the car when you bought it?”
Linda thinks back. “There was a really ugly carpet in the back, didn’t match the rest of the car. I had to take it out and replace the original, as close as I could match it.”
“What was underneath?”
“The original carpet, with bad moth damage.”
“Not quite what we’re looking for,” says Jinks. “Was there a case of some sort? Maybe a large attaché case, or a metal flight case, dimensions about so big or bigger?” He mimes a box about a foot long, nine inches deep, and three high.
“No boxes at all. Why?”
“Miss Lee, have you noticed your car behaving at all oddly?”
“Does it ever seem to... move? By itself, I mean?”
“It’s a car,” says Linda, “isn’t that what they do?”
“Not this way,” says Jinks. He pulls out a packet of photos, a stretch of road. In the first two the road is clear, in the third a dark car is on the road. “These were taken by a traffic management camera shooting a frame every three seconds, on one of the roads near the Pasadena Medical Center. We’re pretty sure that that’s a Honda Accord, and we’ve got a partial read on the license plate. The first digit is 4; the last two are 55 or 56.”
“It could be mine. What about it?” Linda can guess exactly when the picture was taken; the night she flew Xander Harris to hospital in her car.
“If you look at that picture, the front wheels seem to be slightly above the road surface.”
“Maybe. Perhaps it hit a bump or something?”
“If we go back to the previous picture, this is only three seconds earlier, and the car isn’t visible at all; to drive to that position between frames it would have to be travelling at more than 160 MPH. No Honda Accord ever built could do that. But right at the top of the frame there’s something that looks like the bottom of a wheel.”
“That’s not very clear; it could be almost anything, like a kid’s balloon or a plastic bag blowing in the wind.”
“It could be, but the shadow beneath it is about the right size to be cast by a Honda Accord just out of shot, about twenty feet above the road.”
“Or something smaller nearer the light?”
“Maybe. We don’t think so. And there have subsequently been several other reports of a flying car in the Pasadena area, the last was just after the earthquake last month.”
Linda curses herself for her carelessness. “So what’s this about? Are you seriously telling me that there are two ATF agents here because you think I’ve got a flying car? Shouldn’t that be the FAA’s job?”
There’s an awkward silence, then Donovan says “It’s complicated.”
“I’ll bet it is,” says Linda. “Look, I’ve got to get this finished by the end of the afternoon and I really need to try a few more variables with the bridge. Can this wait until this evening? I can give you all the time you need tonight.”
“We can continue this later,” says Jinks. “But if we may, we’d like to take a look inside your car. It shouldn’t take long.”
“Go ahead,” says Linda, digging into her purse for the keys. “It’s in parking lot seven, bay B23.”
Linda puts on the ear muffs and visor, and starts the blowers again. It wouldn’t be possible for anyone human to listen in on their conversation as they leave, but of course she doesn’t have that limitation.
“What do you think, Steve?”
“I don’t think, I know. She was lying when she queried the identification of the object in the second picture, she knew what it was, and she knows her car can fly. But she really doesn’t know about the box. Or maybe doesn’t know that she has it.”
“Boy, I’ll bet you were fun at school…” The voices fade beyond easy audibility as they move into a noisy corridor.
Five minutes later she’s talking to Bruce Wayne in Gotham City, describing the visitors. There’s a pause, then he tells her “Jinks used to be ATF, there’s a notation in his file that he has ‘an inexplicable ability to tell if someone is lying to him.’ They have him listed as a transfer to the Secret Service, but no information I can access on his current posting. There's no Agent Donovan matching the woman's description in the IRS or ATF database, I'm guessing it's a cover. It may take me a while to get information out of the Secret Service, their security is much tighter.”
“Well, it sounds like they're in the flying car business now. Any suggestions as to how I handle this?”
“Tell the truth where you can, and throw in a few misleading lies to keep him off track. I’m sure you can come up with some ideas. And try to find out why they’re interested, of course.”
“Always happy to help.” He clicks off without saying goodbye.
Donovan comes back alone fifteen minutes later, alone, and says “Okay, we didn’t find anything. Thanks for your help.”
“Is that it?”
“We might follow up this evening, if we don’t develop any other leads.”
“Okay, make it after seven; that will give me time to get home and shower.”
When the doorbell rings that evening, Jinks is alone. “Agent Donovan will be here a little later.”
“Okay. Come on in, can I get you coffee, or a drink?”
“Coffee would be good.”
When Linda comes back with the coffee, Jinks is looking at some of the books on her shelves and petting Streaky the cat. “Jane’s Guide to Jetpacks and Personal Rotorcraft?”
“I have a friend in Washington, he’s a big jetpack fan, I thought it might be interesting to find out more about the technology.”
“What do you think of it?”
“Say you have a scale from one to ten for danger, and one to ten for stupidity. Jetpacks go up to eleven on both counts.”
“You’re a Spinal Tap fan?” He looks surprised.
“I house-sat for Nigel Tufnel last year, he gave me a copy of the documentary.”
“I’ve got some signed pictures somewhere if you want one; I’m not a big collector.”
“Okay... Looking at these books here, about half of this shelf seems to be about aviation engineering and science related to flight. An Introduction to Avionics, The Science of Superman, Vector Thrust Dynamics, Gyroscopic Effects in Rotor Aircraft... are you sure that you’re not working on a flying car?”
“Aviation technology is one of the units in my engineering course. What’s this really about?”
Jinks sips his coffee, then says “Without getting too specific... a material was developed in 1961 which could have revolutionised flight. One of the first uses was a flying car, a modified model T Ford. The problem was that the material was incredibly dangerous. It accumulated energy from its surroundings, and unlesss the energy was released carefully it would eventually discharge it in lethally dangerous quantities. Most of the material was destroyed, but a couple of samples went missing.”
“The guy who developed it was a little absent-minded, he left the samples in his car, and someone took them. One surfaced in eighty-four...” He hands Linda a photograph of a pair of boots, with a length of bone protruding from one boot, and wisps of smoke coming from them. “That’s all that was left of a highway patrolman who flagged down a car carrying that sample outside Los Angeles.”
“The car was later impounded by repo men working for the Helping Hand Acceptance Corporation, who were apparently unaware of the box and its contents. Their mechanic seems to have had an inkling of its nature; when last seen the car was outbound past the moon’s orbit and accelerating, with him and at least one other person believed to be aboard.”
“This sounds like the premise for a bad movie.”
“I wish. We believe that another sample somehow fell into the hands of a minor criminal called Brett Whaley, who was killed in ninety-four by Jules Winnfield and Vincent Vega, hit-men working for a gangster named Marcellus Wallace. According to Winfield’s deathbed confession in ninety-seven, they also killed two of his associates, one of them in a car which was subsequently cleaned up, abandoned on the street and repossessed by the Helping Hand Acceptance Corporation. Vega was found dead the next day, apparently killed by his next intended victim, a boxer named Butch Coolidge. Winnfield was unable or unwilling to describe the contents of the box, except to say that it glowed with ‘The light of The Lord,’ which led to him giving up his life of crime; it’s possible that he actually saw a radiation discharge, which may have caused the cancer that led to his death. We believe that the box ended up with Wallace, who amongst other things was the franchisee for eight lots in the Big Kahuna Quality Autos chain, including the one where you bought your car. He was last seen two days after you bought your car. He’s now missing, believed dead. The box was never recovered.”
“That’s all very strange,” says Linda, “and seriously creepy, but I haven’t seen any glowing boxes.”
“But your car flew.”
“Did I say that?”
“I’m saying it. That’s your car in the traffic camera picture.”
“So you just want to eliminate me from your enquiries?”
“Yes. If you would please just answer the questions without going off at a tangent... is that your car?”
“Okay... yes, it’s my car.”
“You’ll be disappointed.”
“Supergirl flew the car there. It was an emergency, I was taking someone to hospital and the traffic was really bad. Supergirl flew the whole car there.”
“She isn’t in the picture.”
“She’s pretty fast.” It isn’t quite a lie.
“Why drop you there rather than at the hospital?”
“Superman and Supergirl have friends, people who know how to contact them quickly in an emergency. I’d rather not say how... The trouble is that if their enemies find out, their friends become targets for people who want to lure them into traps. It’s advisable to keep a low profile. Look at how many times Superman has had to rescue Lois Lane.”
“You’re a friend of Supergirl?”
“I was in school in Midvale nine years ago, the first time Supergirl visited Earth. I’d better not say more.” It’s all true, and if he draws the right conclusions Linda’s home free.
Jinks rubs his temples, then says “Okay... okay, I guess I believe that. One last question then... why didn’t you tell us this afternoon?”
“You really want to know?”
“It would be nice.”
“Can’t it just be that you’re a cute guy, I wanted to see more of you?” He really is cute, nice too, but there are too many lies in her life, she can’t have a relationship with someone who can detect them.
“Nice try, but I’m pretty sure that isn’t the reason. Also, I’m gay.”
“Well then, maybe it was your cute sidekick I wanted to see?”
“Nope. You’re not gay, neither is she.”
“Sure about that?”
“I have pretty good gaydar.”
“Okay... If I’d told you about supergirl straight away, would you have told me about your glowing box thingy?”
“Oh crud. No, we wouldn’t.”
“So what happens now?”
“Did you ever see Men in Black?”
“Sure. You’re planning to neuralyze me?”
“No,” says Donovan; Linda tries to pretend that it’s a surprise that she’s appeared in the doorway behind her, when in fact she’s heard her quieting down Shelby Junior outside, and every move she’s made since picking the lock to let herself in. “That’s my job.”
As Linda turns, Donovan shoots her with her ray gun; the thing actually stings a little, and Linda guesses a normal human would be knocked out. She goes down, Jinks deftly catches her and lowers her gently to the floor. Linda feigns unconsciousness, eyes almost shut, and listens to their conversation.
“How long will she be out?” asks Jinks.
“About five minutes, with a five minute memory loss. Is that enough?”
“Plenty. We need to get her into the kitchen.”
“What do you plan to tell her?”
“Electric shock, I think.” They half carry and half drag her into the kitchen, and lay her on the floor by the counter. Donovan spills a little water on the floor, while Jinks does something to the coffee-maker.
“I’ve just arrived, she went to make me a cup;” says Donovan “then we heard her scream and the breaker tripped. Open the breaker box, switch off then on again as she comes around; you can be fixing it, I’m giving her first aid.”
Linda waits until he’s got the cupboard open and the lights off, plus a few seconds for luck, then moans and pretends to come round.
“Stay still,” says Donovan, “You’ve had a bad shock; we need to make sure you weren’t injured when you went down.”
“What the hell happened?” asks Linda.
“I think you had an electric shock. You went to make me coffee then the lights went out.”
“I’ve found the breaker,” Jinks says on cue, and switches it on.
“Wonder what caused… there, there’s a burn in the coffee maker’s cable, I can see bare metal. It must have touched a hot pan.”
“That shouldn’t have given me a bad shock,” says Linda. She’s an engineering student, of course, she’d know that. “The breaker should have tripped first.”
“There’s water on the floor,” says Donovan, “that would have made the shock more severe.”
“Maybe,” says Linda. “What happened?”
“You told me about Supergirl flying your car to the hospital,” says Jinks, “then Claudia arrived and you went to make her coffee.”
“I don’t remember that.” It’s true; she doesn’t because it didn’t happen.
“You’re still a little woozy there. Would you like me to call your doctor?”
“No, I think I’ll be okay.” She pretends to be a little shaky as she gets back on her feet, with Donovan helping her to stand. “Do you have any more questions?”
“I think we just about covered everything,” says Jinks. Linda thinks he looks a little guilty, and guesses that he hasn’t been doing this as long as Donovan.
“Maybe you should get an early night,” says Donovan. “Can I get you anything?”
“Don’t worry, I’ll be fine. I’m just going to rest on the couch for a while. Would you mind letting yourselves out?”
Linda rests on the couch and listens to them leave, and to their conversation as they get into their car and drive off.
“Dibs I drive,” says Donovan, “or Artie hears all about your interrogation technique when we get back to the Warehouse.”
“I found out what happened, it just wasn’t what we expected. Are you sure she’ll be okay in there?”
“She’ll be fine, just shaky for a little while; on that setting the Tesla’s pretty safe. It's for her own good, if she goes looking for that stuff she might find it, and we don't want more deaths.”
“Better hope that she is okay; you don’t want Supergirl coming after you.”
“Don’t worry,” thinks Linda. “I’m fine.”
When she’s quite sure that they’ve gone, and made sure that they didn’t leave any bugs behind them, she calls Bruce and tells him what she’s learned. Neither of them has any idea what the Warehouse might be, but tracking Jinks and Donovan shouldn’t be beyond Batman’s capabilities. It’ll be interesting to find out…
Superman fans who aren’t familiar with the Warehouse 13 cast, and in particular Steve Jinks, may have seen the same actor play Jimmy Olsen in Smallville seasons 6 onwards. The friend in Washington with an interest in jetpacks is Timothy McGee (see chapter 1 and my story The Return). The “dangerous energy-accumulating substance” is Flubber, from Disney’s The Absent-Minded Professor, source of the flying Model T. I've made some changes to its properties. The Helping Hand Acceptance Corporation and the glowing thing (never seen clearly) that can make a car fly come from the movie Repo Man; another glowing box is seen (but never explained) in Pulp Fiction, the source for Marsellus Wallace and Big Kahuna Burgers, and inspiration for the sprawling Big Kahuna megacorporation I've invented for this and earlier stories.
Comments please before I post to archive