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Eric Hutton

Born: May 25, 1978 (Atlanta, GA)

Erupted: June 18, 2000

Eruption Event: Helicopter Crash/Wilderness Survival

Nova Paradigm: Leader/Exemplar

Description: Hutton is 5'11" and 180 lbs. with dark brown hair and blue eyes. He presents the classic square-jawed, rugged masculine look with a solid build. His chin sports a pronounced cleft and dimple and he usually goes clean-shaven. Friendly enough in a casual setting, he can go to a cold, no-nonsense demeanor in an instant.

History: While being flown into the high Sierras on a college camping trip, a helicopter crash stranded Hutton and five other UCLA students in the wilderness. The crash also triggered the eruption of Hutton’s M-R node, heightening the general range of Hutton’s skills and abilities. Under the influence of his eruption Hutton escaped the crash unharmed, took leadership of the group and led them out of the mountain wilderness. When one group member began to falter from internal injuries Hutton carried her out at a dead run that he kept up for more than 24 hours.

Having erupted in a relatively low-key manner Hutton eschewed checking into a Rashoud facility. He was one of the few novas at the time to do so and also avoided subsequent involvement with Project Utopia. Instead, he completed a double-major in English and Anthropology at UCLA within the next year and went to work for the U.S. government as a consultant in 2001. Hutton trained with the FBI and went on to work on nova response tactics with their Hostage Rescue Team.

In September 2002 Hutton was reassigned to a joint FBI-Boston PD task force hunting the serial killer known as the Red Devil Killer, the first known nova serial killer. Shot during the attempted commission of his first murder, Peter Thompkins erupted and developed not only metamorphic powers but also the ability to evade detection by witnesses, forensic science and even nova metasensory abilities. Thompkins managed to kill six women in a three-week period, not including the woman who survived his first attempt. Hutton was able to deduce Thompkins’ signature and pattern and from that succeeded in tracking Thompkins down. The attempted arrest led to a physical confrontation between Hutton and Thompkins at the historic Old North Church that resulted in Thompkins’ death.

Hutton wrote an autobiographical true crime account of the case, The Red Devil Murders. His book topped the New York Times’ Best-Seller List for Non-Fiction for 28 weeks (18 months on the list total) and gave him national exposure. This led to Hutton being recruited by the Directive in 2003. Too well-known to work as a covert operative, Hutton became the team leader of one of the agency’s public teams of “blue-and-whites.” Although he was able to deduce the true purpose of the agency and novas’ roles within it, he was amenable to playing the part given to him as long as he could do some good. Over the next four years Hutton’s team took on a variety of high-profile missions for the Directive.

By August 2007 Hutton tired of being a beard for the covert agency and having a career that would go nowhere. He resigned and started working freelance. Most of Hutton’s income comes from writing books, speaking fees and selling the story rights of his cases. He also still operates as a freelance consultant and investigator, though he works many of these cases pro bono and the remainder for a nominal fee. He often volunteers for cases where his public profile can bring needed exposure, such as missing persons cases that don’t involve blond white girls.

Hutton is a licensed private investigator in California and Georgia and can usually operate in other states with relative ease. He maintains contacts among law enforcement agencies nation-wide, including among the Directive. He also maintains the “no Eufiber” policy that he learned with the Directive; the stuff still creeps him out on a fundamental level.

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Eric Hutton

Nature: Caregiver

Allegiance: Independent

Attributes: Strength 5 (Hard-hitting), Dexterity 5 (Athletic), Stamina 5 (Enduring), Perception 5 (Alert), Intelligence 5 (Penetrating), Wits 5 (Insightful), Appearance 5 (Rugged), Manipulation 5 (Persuasive), Charisma 5 (Natural Leader)

Mega-Attributes: Strength 1 (Lifter), Dexterity 1 (Physical Prodigy), Stamina 1 (Adaptability), Perception 1 (EM Vision), Intelligence 1 (MP Investigation, MP Tactics), Wits 1 (Synergy), Appearance 1 (Awe-Inspiring), Manipulation 1 (Persuader), Charisma 1 (Commanding Presence)

Abilities: Brawl 3, Might 3, Athletics 3, Drive 3, Firearms 3, Legerdemain 2, Martial Arts 4, Melee 4, Pilot 3, Stealth 4, Endurance 3, Resistance 3, Awareness 5 (Crime Scene Analysis), Investigation 5, Academics 3, Bureaucracy 3, Computer 2, Engineering 2, Intrusion 3, Linguistics 5 (English (native), Spanish, Russian, Japanese, Chinese, Arabic), Medicine 2, Science 2 (Forensics), Survival 3, Tradecraft 3, Arts 3, Biz 3, Rapport 3 (Detect Lies), Tactics 3 (Hostage Rescue), Intimidation 4, Style 2, Interrogation 4, Streetwise 3, Subterfuge 3, Command 5, Etiquette 3, Perform 2, Thought Discipline 3

Backgrounds: Contacts 5, Influence 3, Node 2, Resources 3

Powers: Armor 1, Intuition 2

Quantum 2, Willpower 9, Taint 0, Quantum Pool 24, Initiative 15

Merits: Iron Will, Natural Leader

Bonus Points (15 + 5 for Q2)

1 +1 Background

12 +6 Willpower

6 Merit: Iron Will

1 Merit: Natural Leader

Nova Points (58)

7 +21 Attributes (all 5s)

27 each Mega-Att 1 dot

15 +88 Abilities (111 total)/4 specialties

1 +5 Backgrounds

3 Enh: Mental Prodigy: Investigation

3 Armor 1

2 Intuition 2

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[What follows is a "Reader's Digest" version of Hutton's book, The Red Devil Murders. Bear in mind that it's written as of 2003 about events in 2002, so it's relatively early in the nova phenomenon.]

The Red Devil Murders

By Eric Hutton

It was the Fall of 2002 and the Directive was still over a year in my future. I had completed my college career with degrees in Anthropology and English and attended the FBI training school at Quantico. I had also undertaken government-sponsored “nova training” to help me focus and increase my abilities. This had resulted in my becoming a special consultant to the Justice Department; something a little more and a little less than an agent for the Government. My prior assignment had been working with the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team to develop improved tactics for hostage situations involving nova aggressors and new technologies. That was until I got the call.

Roy Simmons was the Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Boston field office. The Boston police had called in the FBI for assistance on a case; he wanted me to act as a consultant. I was somewhat surprised at this as I hadn’t had any practical investigative experience at that time. But there are people who think that nova abilities make up for anything, so I accepted it. The real surprise came when I arrived at the Boston office.

I was shown into the SAC’s office where I was met by five men and a woman. The woman, five-six, blonde, blue-eyed and superhumanly beautiful was a nova, as was one of the men. The man I recognized. Lean and dark-haired, his name was Joe Ayers. He’d been called many things, a “sensitive,” a “psychometrist,” even a “seer.” Whatever you called it, he had the ability to see through time. He was a bona-fide crime-solving psychic and his presence made this a high-priority case. Hell, the presence of three novas made this damn near a national emergency and I began to suspect what was going on.

Introductions went around the room. Simmons was a tall, powerfully-built black man in his late thirties. He’d been third in his class at Quantico and had a distinguished record with the FBI; he was the poster-model for the Bureau’s record of consummate law-enforcement professionalism. Ayers I knew by reputation. Peter Froelich, a bookish-looking man in his mid-thirties, was the Bureau’s resident expert on psychological profiling. Detective-Sergeant Pat Flannery, a large, graying man in his late forties, was so much the archetype of the Irish cop that I almost could smell doughnuts; he was the investigative lead for the Boston PD. The last two, however, were the real surprise guests: Todd Carlisle and Alexandria “Alexa” Marks, special advisors on loan from Project Utopia.

When the casual pleasantries were out of the way, Simmons took the lead. “Eric, we’ve got a major problem here.”

“A nova problem, obviously,” I opined. “What are we talking about?” I was hoping I wouldn’t hear what I was about to hear.

“We’ve managed to keep it out of the media so far. We’ve got a serial killer and he’s a nova.”

“Jesus H. God.” I felt weak in the knees. Normally I can pick up a car with no problems, a tank with some quantum energy, but at that moment I wasn’t sure if my legs would support my 180-pound frame. “How bad is it?”

“Bad enough,” put in Flannery in his south Boston accent. “Over the last fifteen days we’ve had three dead, one survivor and nothing to go on.”

“A survivor?” I asked.

“His first try, Stacy Phillips, thirty-four, a secretary,” said Simmons. “He was trying to rape her when she managed to get a gun out of her purse and shot him. She wounded him but he escaped. By her account we’re pretty sure he was baseline at the time.”

“God in heaven. The implications...”

“Exactly,” interjected Carlisle. “If the public finds out that there’s a nova out there killing people, then it could set the cause of nova-baseline relations --“

“I think,” interrupted Marks, “what he meant was that if this person erupted in the attempt of an act of murder and was predisposed to be a murderer, then the implication is that his nova abilities would emerge to make him better at it. A sort of super serial killer, if you will.”

I nodded as Simmons took control again. “Unfortunately, it looks like that’s exactly what we’ve got. Since the first incident, we’ve got three dead women and zip for evidence. No trace evidence, no witnesses, and–“

Ayers interrupted, “And I can’t see him.” The tone in his voice was one I’d heard before but from somewhere else. A priest I’d known, a man who’d seen one too many tragedies in his life and who’d completely lost his faith in God. Ayers had the same haunted look in his eyes, the realization that the center of his universe had just imploded. Something on which he’d built the foundation of his life had just turned to dust and he didn’t know what to do about it.

Flannery chimed in again. “Nobody sees him. Not coming, not going and sure as hell not in the act. It looks like his victims are giving him access, letting him get close. That’s not the way he did it with Phillips: He ambushed her, attacked her with a large kitchen knife, and he was wearing a red devil’s mask. Now he’s ripping his victims apart. I’ve seen pictures of lion attacks that don’t look this bad.”

Simmons pushed two evidence bags across the desk along with some photos. One held a kitchen knife and the other a red, leering devil-face mask.

“The mask, the devil’s mask,” I spoke up, the wheels in my head starting to turn. “It’s his face, his real face, the one he wears under the mask he shows to the world. It’s the monster inside, the monster that he really is. When he kills, it’s an act of anger, of hatred, and of vengeance. He has to hide his hatred but it builds, until he lets it out. Then he shows his true face and lets it out.” I looked up at Froelich. “Am I right?”

Froelich gave a grim little smile -- a sign of approval -- and nodded. “Yes, that’s what the profile indicates. Middle-class white male, twenties to thirties, average in every respect that anybody would notice. But at some point in his life he developed this anger and hatred towards women. Towards a specific woman, most likely. Someone he can’t strike out at in his regular life, so now he’s taking his anger out against her by proxy, through his victims.”

I thought about that for a moment. “Have we established his target profile?”

Froelich shook his head. “No. Timing, location, no apparent patterns. Other than the fact that they’re all female, there’s no common theme among his victims that we can see, either. He’s either targeting women at random -- unlikely -- or there’s some triggering event that we’re not seeing.”

Marks spoke up. “It’s also possible that his nova abilities let him perceive something about his victims that’s not readily apparent or lets him make connections that wouldn’t be obvious, especially if you factor in his particular obsession.” Carlisle shot her a look at that, though I wasn’t sure why. Maybe because she’d shown him up in contradicting him earlier. Or maybe he didn’t like promoting the idea of the killer’s hook being a nova thing.

“That’s why you’re here,” Simmons told me. “I’ve known Fred Garvey at HRT for two years; I trust his judgment and he’s got nothing but good to say about you. Says that you’re better at seeing connections and options than anyone he’s ever met. I’m hoping that maybe you can get inside this guy’s head, give us an idea of where he’s going.”

“I’ll try,” I promised. “Let me get settled in at the hotel tonight and review the casefile, get up to speed. Maybe I’ll have some ideas tomorrow.”

“Sounds like a plan. Seven tomorrow?” Simmons scanned the group. Seeing no dissent, “Seven it is. Hutton, we’ll get your briefing materials on the way out.”

* * *

Simmons drove me back to my hotel as I started skimming the briefing materials. Three dead women, and one very scared survivor. No obvious physical similarities, different backgrounds, different jobs, different lives. But they shared something, and that something drew a killer to them. And I’d been tasked with figuring that something out before it made another woman into another victim.

“Nobody expects you to do it by yourself,” Simmons said out of nowhere.

“Huh?” We were at a red light and I looked up to see Simmons looking at me.

“I’ve seen that look before, when a rookie gets in on his first big case. Especially when the rookie’s got a rep as an up-and-comer.” The light changed and Simmons looked forward to drive. “I’ve never brought anybody in on a case if they didn’t have something to contribute and you’ve got more than most. But you’re not here to catch this guy, you’re here to help catch this guy. Got me?”

I chuckled. “Loud and clear, boss.”



“Okay, Eric. So, if you don’t mind me asking, what are you doing in Justice?”

I wasn’t sure how to take that. “Excuse me?”

“Sorry if that came out wrong. What I mean is, most novas who work in law enforcement are independent consultants -- like Ayers -- or those showboat ‘public defenders’ or they go work for Utopia and T2M. Jeez, for what we’re paying Ayers for two weeks time, I could add four senior agents to my team full-time for a year. You, on the other hand, are pulling down a government salary, albeit a moderately inflated one.” He grinned. “And we both know you’re not doing this for the fame, the glamorous lifestyle or the extravagant perks. So what’s the deal?”

I shrugged a shoulder. “Growing up, even in college, I wasn’t what you’d call focused. I drifted a lot, interest to interest, major to major, club to club. When I erupted a couple of years ago, it was in a survival situation. I pulled the group together, got one girl off a mountain before she died. It felt good, making a difference like that. Helping people seemed to be a goal I could get behind.

“As for the rest... Well, the idea of helping people for a fee just left a bad taste in my mouth and I have... doubts about Utopia. Of the choices left to me, my particular abilities and inclinations seemed geared towards law enforcement. When the government made me an offer, I took it.”

Simmons laughed. “Man oh man! And I thought I’d seen some idealists in my day.”

“Don’t give me that,” I retorted. “You haven’t exactly maximized your earning potential doing this, either.”

“My earning potential doesn’t run into eight figures.”

“And if it did? If you turned into a nova tomorrow, somehow I don’t think you’d be cleaning out your desk.”

He chuckled. “Touché. Maybe not. Then again, there’s plenty of things I’ve seen that I’d be just as happy not to’ve. Somehow, I don’t think members of Team Tomorrow get out of bed at 3 AM to see... well, just about anything I’ve ever gotten out of bed at 3 AM to see.”

“Roy, I don’t think they get out of bed at 3 AM for anything other than a late-night snack.”

And so began my friendship with Roy Simmons.

* * *

Later that night, I was sitting in my room looking over the case notes I’d been given. Well, let’s be honest; I was looking at photos of four women and the attending background notes. The rest of it I’d already read and considered. A comprehensive and probably very accurate psychological profile analyzing our attacker’s MO and symbolism, courtesy of Peter Frohlich. Forensic reports, what little they turned up. It had been raining heavily the night of the first attack which had ruined any trace evidence there and there was nothing at any of the subsequent scenes. That alone indicated quantum powers at work. And since serial killers often stalk potential victims before the first act of homicide, working up their nerve as it were, the Boston PD was running down leads from every stalking report from the last eighteen months. Nothing there yet, either. So I turned to the victims and tried to climb inside the head of a psychopath.

Stacey Phillips, thirty-four, a secretary for a publishing house. First victim, only survivor, attacked in the parking garage next to her place of work where she’d been putting in some overtime. Happily married for eight years, mother of one little girl, age six. Curly red hair, blue eyes, a freckled fair complexion. Avowed atheist. Primary hobbies are tennis, horseback riding and collecting movie soundtracks. Carrier of an unlicensed firearm now sitting in a Boston PD evidence lock-up. She and her family were also currently under the watchful eye of the Boston PD in a safe-house, just in case her attacker should feel inclined to finish the job. Not likely, according to Froelich; our boy seemed to be an impulse killer, not tied to any ritual pattern. He probably wouldn’t feel the compulsion to go back and finish the job.

However, the protection of the Phillips family also had the side-effect of keeping them away from the media. Something to be desired, since news of these crimes would probably drive the city into a panic. Regular serial killers are bad enough. A nova committing murders? Murders that the authorities couldn’t solve? There’d be mass hysteria.

Next victim, Christine Charles. Forty-two, claims adjuster for an upscale insurance company, specialized in policies on expensive jewelry, five figures and up. Natural blond starting to turn white, cut short, brown eyes, and an overdone tan. Married to her third husband and by all accounts was getting ready for her third divorce; apparently also seeing her masseur on the side. No particular religious beliefs. No kids, no real hobbies; a career woman to the end.

She was killed in the parking lot of the motel after her latest “massage.” Her boyfriend was settling up the bill when the murder took place. That and the fact that she tipped him extremely well didn’t make him a likely suspect. Hubby was having his own extramarital fling, which accounted for his whereabouts the night his wife died; his philosophy seemed more along the lines of getting even than getting mad. Of course, it wasn’t really expected that either of them tore her apart with super-strong clawed hands that left no residue in the wounds but you never can tell.

Victim number three, body number two, Deborah Whitney. Twenty-one though she looked younger, waitress, community college student, aspiring writer and poet. Shoulder-length straight hair, natural brunette with blond dye-job, blue eyes. She’d only been in the city for two months, no real connections yet except for her job, classes and church. Devout catholic and straight as the proverbial arrow. She’d moved to the city to get out on her own and to people-watch, to get experiences for her writing.

Hers was the scariest case by far. She’d been working the dinner rush at her job around 6:30 PM when suddenly she just wasn’t there. Somehow, everyone in the place just lost track of her for a few minutes. By the time someone went to look for her she was dead in the alley behind the place and there was no sign of her killer. Nobody remembered seeing her go out back, nobody remembered her with a customer, nobody even remembered a customer who’d been there before and wasn’t there afterwards. Somehow this guy had walked her out through the back and mutilated her to death, then he’d just walked away and nobody had noticed.

Most recent and hopefully final victim, Charlene Myers. Twenty-six, law student and paralegal at a prestigious Boston law firm. Black, dark complexion. Engaged to and living with a business student she’d met at school, they’d dated for two years and lived together for eight months before he’d asked her to marry him three months before. Their relationship had had the normal ups and downs, nothing out of the ordinary. Even the low-key kinkiness in their sex lives had been utterly normal. Both of them attended the same baptist church on an irregular basis, mostly Easter and Christmas. Whenever she could squeeze in a little free time, Charlene’s hobbies were running, bicycling, and raquetball. She also exercised on a regular basis.

Apparently, her normal morning routine was, whenever possible, to bicycle from the apartment she shared with her boyfriend to the health club where she was a member. She’d do a light workout then shower and dress for work. The club was only two blocks away from her place of work and the walk was her regular cool-down. After work, back to the health club, change, maybe more exercise if she had the time and energy and bicycle home. Sometimes her boyfriend would pick her up or drop her off. Only the last time around she’d bicycled away in the morning and never made it to the health club. Her abandoned bike by a loading dock had drawn the notice of a patrol unit and the sound of her pager going off -- her boss trying to locate her -- had led the patrolmen to her body.

Four women, all completely different in appearance, age, background and lifestyle. No common medical conditions, no common services or products used. I’d even considered the esoteric, things only a nova could notice like natural scent, brainwaves, natural EM field or body-heat patterns but my OpNet research had ruled those things out as well. There were no common threads whatsoever to tie these women together, either to their killer or to the archetypal victim model he’d built in his head. There was something I was missing, some idea or concept that was dancing just out of reach. What did devil-man see in these women that I didn’t see? Well, that much was obvious; he saw another woman. So how did he put together the jigsaw puzzle pieces of these women’s lives to reach the picture of his target? That thought seemed important, but a knock at my door chased it away before I could follow it.

I glanced at the clock beside the bed: 2:38 AM. I hadn’t planned on going to sleep for another hour and a half but nobody knew that. Normally, I wouldn’t have needed even the two hours I’d planned on getting, except I was a little tired from the trip. And I hadn’t slept any in the previous ten days. Even so, only Simmons knew I was here and he wouldn’t be bothering me at this hour. I crossed the room quietly and checked the peephole. Well, well, well. Miss Alexa Marks. I cracked open the door.

“Miss Marks, a bit late to be making social calls.”

“Perhaps under normal circumstances, but I didn’t think you’d be asleep yet.” I caught a bit of a stressor-edge to the way she used the words “normal” and “you” that would’ve been just below a baseline’s threshold of perception. She was making a private joke to herself. God damn. She knew my nova abilities allowed me to do without sleep. I watched the flutter of the muscles around her eyes. More, I suddenly realized, she knew I’d figure it out. The manipulative little bitch was testing me.

“Miss Marks, I am not inclined to play games with you, especially not here and now.” I went to shut the door.

“No! Please, wait! I’m sorry.” She sounded sincere enough that I stopped shoving the door in her face. “I’m sorry, please, let’s start over.”

I considered for a moment, then opened the door wider. “Miss Marks, what do you want?”

“To talk, really. About the case -- and about you.”

“I think the case is better left for the office and I’m really not that interesting a subject.”

“You may be wrong on both counts. Please, may I come in?”

Now Alexa Marks was not unattractive; quite the contrary, she possessed an etherial beauty that only a nova could have. Even so, beautiful or not, I do not generally allow strange women into my hotel room in the middle of the night. But some nagging little voice in the back of my brain was telling me that I needed to hear what she had to say. I opened the door wide and stepped aside.

She didn’t step inside so much as glide. Very graceful. She sat down on the bed and I turned my desk chair to face her and sat down also. “May I offer you anything? Only the best expense account living that a mid-range government employee can have.”

She smiled. “No, thank you.” She paused for a moment and I felt her sizing me up again. “I’ve read about you, you know. In my line of work, as a Utopian law enforcement liason, I’m expected to know about any novas I may encounter. You were quite a sore loss for us, I’m afraid. Strength, speed, intelligence, acumen and social grace, all in one package. And now here I am with the famous Eric Hutton, the universal nova.”

“Eric Hutton the what? Famous?”

She laughed lightly. “Well, perhaps notorious is a better word. It’s not that often that someone turns down twelve million dollars a year plus benefits for ‘mid-range government employee expense account living,’ as you put it. As for the other, well, that’s sort of a label. It’s usually easy to label novas, you see. There’s fire novas and ice novas, strong novas and fast novas, smart novas, metamorphic novas and... well, you get the idea. But then there’s you. You’re outside the box, with a little of everything.”

I shrugged. “A nova-scale jack of all trades -- but master of none.”

“Say, rather, that you’re versatile, with many talents and few limitations.”

“I’m no Caestus Pax.”

“Yet. But someday you may be everything he is and more.”

I raised an eyebrow at that. “Excuse me?”

“See what an education you missed out on?” she teased. “Let’s put it this way: It is far easier to teach new tricks to an old dog than to a nova. Some are better at learning than others but it helps to have a broad beginning.”

“I’m afraid I don’t follow.”

“Okay, take Randel Portman, the Fireman.”


“Now, he was the first known nova. So you’d think that if it was simply a matter of time and effort, he’d have learned more new abilities than any other nova, right?”

“But he hasn’t?” I guessed.

“No, he hasn’t, and not for a lack of trying. Oh, his powers have grown. Now he can extinguish a major conflagration in a large structure and barely break a sweat. But he still doesn’t do anything else and probably will only learn minor variations on his abilities in the next few years. He’s just too focused on putting out fires.

“Now Ayers on the other hand, there’s some potential for growth. With time and practice he could expand his perceptions... oh, in all sorts of ways. Not only pretercognition -- that’s the Utopian term for it -- but other forms of psychic perception as well. Maybe in time other areas of perception, too. But in the long run, he’s probably not going to have any abilities apart from his nova perceptions.

“And then there’s you. You have nova-level ability in virtually every area of human potential and that ability will grow and evolve over time. Some day, you could grow as strong as Pax, as intelligent as Antaeus, super-fast, super-tough... Maybe more. After all, every nova ability at its fundamental level is an extension and outgrowth of human potentials. You could learn to master any or all of them.”

I couldn’t help but chuckle. “Mom always said I could be anything I wanted to be when I grew up.”

She smiled a dazzling smile. “Eric, you could be everything you want to be. Utopia could help you to achieve that, if you’d let us.”

I laughed and there was more defense to it than I would have liked; she was very smooth. “Nice recruitment speech. Sure, I’ll just drop everything and join right up and in return the good people at Utopia will help me become an über-nova. And don’t tell me, they’ll also issue me a lifetime supply of fame, wealth, purpose and global goodwill?”

Her expression became hurt and even knowing it was artifice it almost made me regret my words. Almost. “Eric, I’m serious.”

My own face became grave. “So am I, Alexa. Nothing’s free. Ever. Everything has its price. You’re talking like I could become the most powerful being ever to walk the face of the earth. What’s the price of ultimate power? What’s the price that Utopia will charge to help me get it? What price did they charge you for what you’ve gotten?”

She stood up and I could tell that her next words came from someplace genuine inside. “It was worth it.”

I stood up as well. “Are you sure?”

She started to say something, paused, then, “I think I’d better be going.”

I nodded. “Until the morning, then.”

I saw her out, then tried to return to the case. For the rest of the night, though, I kept wondering what she might’ve started to say. I didn’t sleep.

* * *

One of the downsides to being a nova is that caffeine doesn’t do anything for you, unless you’re into No-Doze by the gross. On the other hand, quantum energy makes up for just about anything if your body can channel it properly and in this case mine could. So the large travel-mug of coffee I was sipping when I stepped onto the outside terrace of my hotel was mostly symbolic of starting a new day and finishing off the three deluxe breakfast platters that room service had brought me. Simmons’ car was parked in the lot below, and he was standing beside it looking up at me.

“Hey, Hutton!” he yelled. “Get a move on, huh? It looks bad when the boss is late.”

I shrugged and vaulted the railing. Roy only had a little over a second to wince before I hit the sidewalk. I stepped over and opened the passenger-side door. “Well, don’t just stand there. It looks bad when the boss is late.”

He glowered at me as we got in the car. “Remind me never to kid with you.”

“I thought I just did.”

We pulled out into traffic, and Simmons’ cell phone rang. He pulled it out and activated it with a practiced gesture. “Simmons.” He grimaced in response to what he heard. “Where?” Pause. “I’ve got Hutton, we’re on the way.” He thumbed off the phone.

“Another one,” I stated.

“Another one,” he confirmed. “And there’s media there asking questions. They know we’ve got a serial killer.”

“Have they picked up on the nova angle yet?”

He shrugged. “Dunno. We’ll find out when we get there.”

* * *

Angela Shiomi’s driver’s license said that she was twenty and the picture showed a smiling, pretty young woman of Japanese extraction. That was a far cry from what was left in the small alcove in the Boston Garden where a maintenance worker had found her.

Flannery briefed us in. “She’s an electrical engineering student at MIT, originally from Hawaii, interning with Siemens as part of a co-op plan. They were one of the sponsors of the charity exhibition game last night; apparently she was a big basketball fan and was working as a volunteer. Her cell phone voice mail had a couple of calls on it. We get the impression she split with her group after the game last night and was supposed to meet them at a pub down the road. Obviously, she never showed. We’re running down numbers from the phone’s caller ID, I’ve got detectives contacting them now.”

“Any leads?” I asked.

“Apparently she was hanging out around Larry Bird a lot last night but I think for right now we can rule him out as a suspect.”

A voice called over from the alcove where the body was. “Hey, Pat, you’ll want a look at this.”

We walked over to where the forensic team was in the delicate process of removing the body. A police photographer was taking shots of something near the chalk outline that had been drawn. It was a symbol, drawn with blood.

Flannery frowned. “This is new.”

The forensics specialist who’d called us over spoke. “We’re pretty sure the victim drew it just before she died. She covered it with her body; the killer probably didn’t see her do it.”

“What is it?” Simmons asked.

“It’s Japanese,” I replied. “A kanji character, a symbol describing a word or concept. I don’t know what this one means, though.”

“Let’s find out,” Simmons replied.

Fortunately the Garden was equipped with wireless OpNet relays so a quick data-search only took a few minutes. “It means ‘oni,’ a demon-figure from Japanese mythology,” I reported.

Flannery snorted. “The devil thing again.”

Simmons sighed. “Well, it’s that or we book Larry Bird.”

I put away the op-phone and crouched down, examining the pattern of the blood-spatters. Then I checked that against the wounds on the body, then the position the body was found in. I tried to reconstruct events in my mind. Something wasn’t right.

I stood up and turned. “Stacy Phillips’ account estimated her attacker wasn’t too tall, maybe five-eight or nine. But I’d say that Miss Shiomi’s killer was about eight feet tall.”

Simmons raised an eyebrow. “You think it actually was Larry Bird?”

I wasn’t experienced enough to mix banter with a crime-scene investigation then. “No, I think he changed.” I stepped back to get room. “Imagine I’m the killer. I’ve got the victim here in front of me. We’re talking. I’m only a couple of inches taller than her.” I slouched down to about the right height. “Now, if I’d started talking or acting weird, she probably would have tried to run. But she didn’t even manage to get turned around. Whatever happened was fast enough it must’ve taken her by surprise.” I raised myself up onto tip-toes and raised my arms, hands crooked like claws. “He changes. She shrinks back.” I plunged one hand forward where her chest would have been if she’d fallen backwards and swiped with the other. “He gets her before she even hits the ground.”

I stepped back in. “That’s how he does it. He pulls some nova trick so that he’s nothing special to anyone, except when he decides to draw in his victim. He gets her away from people, probably seeming both harmless and engaging all at the same time. Then it happens. One second he’s Joe Average, Mister Nobody. The next -- boom. Then back to invisible.”

“Christ,” muttered Flannery. “What the hell do we do about that? It’s not like we can put out a BOLO for ‘Average-looking guy, blends into background.’”

Simmons mused for a second. “Hey, Hutton, I think I read something somewhere about how novas can feel each other out. Could you, y’know?”

I shook my head. “I know what you’re talking about but I’m not real good at it. Also, it only works over short ranges and there are ways around it. If Ayers can’t get a fix on this guy, I wouldn’t count on me being able to. No, this guy is homing in on something about these women. If it’s not something physical then it’s something in their lives. We have to re-interview their families and acquaintances.”

As we made our way back out to the parking lot we walked past the area where the uniforms had wrangled the reporters. I’d managed to enter unnoticed but no such luck walking out. From the buzz of conversation I picked up, “Nova? Nova, nova, nova!” Within moments video cameras were pointed my way and still cameras were flashing.

”Sorry about that,” I murmured.

“Don’t sweat it, Hutton,” Simmons replied. “We were gonna have to deal with those vultures anyway. On the bright side, maybe they’ll be so interested in you they’ll leave the rest of us alone to do our work.”

* * *

There was no such luck on that count. By the time we got back to the FBI offices at 1 Center Plaza, the news of the devil mask had already leaked and the story was off and running on “The Red Devil Killer.” Simmons gave a press conference where I stood in the back and off to one side. Flannery laid out the time and location of each of the attacks, mentioned that the first victim had escaped alive and said that all other details were confidential pending the conclusion of the investigation. I was identified as a special consultant to the Justice Department, working with Froelich to receive field experience in psychological profiling -- which was true enough. Ayers’ involvement was downplayed, Simmons merely saying that we were following up on the leads provided by his insights. We almost made it out, until...

From the back of the room, “Is it true that the Red Devil Killer is a nova?”

It was like somebody dropped a bomb on the room. Simmons shouted down the noise, then answered, “We have no conclusive evidence of that at this time.”

“But there are indications?”

“We will not discuss details of an ongoing investigation. Let me caution all of you and the public at large, fear is dangerous enough in these situations. We do not need to make it worse with unsubstantiated speculation.” But that horse was out of the barn.

Simmons wrapped up the press conference and we got the hell out of Dodge. I already had an idea and it came up right: Carlisle and Marks had sold us out. If Utopia couldn’t suppress the news of a nova serial killer then they were going to position themselves to ride to the rescue. And for the rest of the day, I could sense one unspoken thought pass back and forth between cops, detectives, the feds and me: The hell they will. Say what you will about Utopian meddling, it’s great at shutting down bureaucratic in-fighting and inter-departmental turf wars.

The next few days were tense, everybody waiting for Red to drop another body on us. The public was getting more and more panicky. The Michaelites were crawling out of the woodwork and it was only a matter of time before they caused trouble. The extra interviews turned up a few more pieces of information but nothing that jumped out at anybody. Christine Charles had talked about trying to save her marriage. Deborah Whitney was thinking about nursing school. Saddest of all was Angela Shiomi: She was supposed to travel home for her parents’ twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. Had she followed through on those plans she would have been in Hawaii on the night she was killed.

We did have one amusing moment which would turn into something helpful later, courtesy of a BPD beat cop named Brian O’Donnelly. O’Donnelly comes into the task force room at BPD HQ lugging a huge rifle case with a NRA sticker on it.

“I brought something to help out, in case this bastard’s as tough as some of those other novas out there.” He gave a wicked grin as he unlatched the case and flipped up the lid.

“Christ on a crutch, is that thing legal?” asked Simmons.

“Yer goddamned right it is, Second Amendment legal. I’m the NRA and I vote.”

I put an arm around O’Donnelly’s shoulder. “Jesus H. God, O’Donnelly, that’s a thing of beauty. You are my new hero. If I ever have kids I’m gonna name all of them after you, even the girls.”

We laughed about it but we also kept it in the corner, just in case. That instinct would be proven right four days later. But not before two more bodies turned up.

* * *

Melissa Barnes, aged 30, brunette with brown eyes. Found torn to shreds in Christopher Columbus Park on the morning of September 20. Flannery gave us the rundown.

“Last time anyone saw her was last night, at a seafood place a couple of blocks over. Had dinner with her twin sister, Samantha. They argued and left, headed in separate directions. Apparently Melissa was a bad girl, took up with Samantha’s boyfriend behind her back.”

“And let me guess the rest,” Simmons took up. “Nobody saw where she went after she left the restaurant, whether she talked to anyone or knows how she may have gotten from there to here.”

“Yeah, Roy. Ayers must’ve rubbed off on you, you’re almost as psychic as he is now.” Flannery chuckled.

“Yeah. And about as good at catching this guy. You got anything, Hutton?”

“Maybe,” I responded. “It’s hard to tell with the savagery but I think he took her from behind. On the run. If so, it means he’s getting bolder. He didn’t just ambush her, he let her run a little, to play with her.”

“Fuck,” swore Flannery.

“He’s the one who’ll be fucked, when we catch up to him,” returned Simmons. “Let’s get on that.”

* * *

While I took a hard look at Melissa Barnes’ life, one of the BPD detectives found something interesting on Charlene Myers. Two days before she died she settled a $25,000 arrears on her law school tuition with a cashier’s check. They were trying to run down the source of the funds.

With a new death, media attention ramped up further and public opinion went from scared to angry. A lot of people called for City Hall to bring in T2M, as if Caestus Pax would just swoop down from the sky and pluck the Red Devil Killer out of the crowd. There had been one altercation with a nova and a crowd of baselines. Little did anyone know that it would be over within 72 hours. One casualty to go.

* * *

On the night of September 22, Patricia York was found in Cambridge. Blond, pretty college student, 19 years old. Addicted to drugs and alcohol as a teenager, York had spent years getting her life back on track. She’d done well enough to earn admission to Harvard but the college scene had taken its toll on her sobriety. We got the story from her roommate, Tonya Hall.

“Patricia worked really hard to stay sober, really hard. She went to meetings, stayed away from parties, talked or e-mailed with someone from her family every day, all the stuff they tell you to do. It’s how we wound up as roommates; I’m LDS.”

“LDS?” asked Flannery.

“Latter-Day Saints,” I clarified, “Mormon. No drinking or drugs.”

Tonya nodded. “Right. Neither of us wanted a roommate that would put temptation into our path.”

Flannery grunted his understanding. “So what changed?”

“A guy. Tommy Davis. He’s a real partier. Patty knew she should’ve stayed away from him but... I had to come get her at 3 AM last weekend. Patty was so disappointed in herself. She had just passed her second year anniversary of sobriety. She felt like she let her group down, her sponsor, her family. More than anything, she felt like she had really betrayed herself, you know?”

I blinked and pieces slid around in my mind. “We need to go. Miss Hall, one of the other investigators will finish taking your statement.”

She looked at me. “I, uh, well, I could finish talking to you later, though, right?” She called as I left the dorm room, “Do you have a church home, Mr. Hutton?”

Simmons and Flannery fell in behind me. Simmons asked, “What, Eric?”

“I know what the Devil goes for: betrayal. Acts of betrayal. Patty York betrayed herself by giving up sobriety for a boy. Melissa Barnes betrayed her sister. Angela Shiomi betrayed her parents by not going home for their anniversary. Charlene Myers... How’s a law student come up with twenty-five large? She’s a paralegal, has access to confidential files and sensitive information. She betrayed the canon of legal ethics. Deborah Whitney was going to go to nursing school, giving up on poetry; she betrayed her art. Christine Charles was a fickle lover. I don’t know how he knew. Maybe he sensed their guilt or read their minds. But that’s what put him on to them. Now we have to go back to the beginning: Stacey Phillips. He targeted her as a baseline. We have to find out what she feels guilty for and who knew about it.”

It was early in the morning on September 23 when we reached the Phillips’ safe-house. It took a little while to get them roused and awake enough to answer questions. It probably could have waited for morning but none of us were in a waiting mood.

“Have you found the man who attacked my wife?” Robert Phillips wanted to know.

“Not yet,” I replied, “but we think we know why she was attacked.” I turned to her. “Mrs. Phillips, we’re not accusing you of anything. But in the days prior to your attack, were you feeling guilty about anything? Had you disappointed anybody or betrayed a confidence?”

“What? No, of course n... well... actually, yes, maybe.” She shrugged. “I don’t know if it was worth getting stabbed over, though.”

“We’re not dealing with a rational person here, Mrs. Phillips.”

“No. Well, it was my daughter, Amy. It was right before the start of school -- she’s in the first grade now -- and I was supposed to take her shopping for new outfits. But work was really busy, I had an event to attend. I couldn’t take her, she went with Robert.”

“Was anyone outside your family aware of this?”

She pondered for a moment. Then her eyes went wide. “We argued over the phone. I was on my cell phone, in a cab.” She didn’t need the next question. “I hailed it on the street... but I’m pretty sure it was a Metro Cab.”

Flannery was calling it in even before we were in the car. It would take a few hours to run down the logs with Metro Cab, to identify Peter Thompkins as Stacey Phillips’ driver. It wasn’t enough for an arrest warrant, not yet. But it was certainly enough to bring Mr. Thompkins in and ask him some pointed questions. We weren’t going to take any chances, either. We headed back to BPD HQ to round up the men and brief them in. Besides, I wanted O’Donnelly’s rifle.

* * *

The sun was up on the morning of Monday, September 23, 2002 by the time we were ready to move. Besides myself, Flannery and Simmons we had a dozen BPD uniforms, half a dozen BPD detectives and another half dozen FBI agents, plus SWAT on tactical alert. Thompkins was already out in his cab; apparently he’d been putting in record hours the last few weeks. Metro Cab dispatch fed us his location in North End and Flannery told them to send him to the Copps Hill Cemetery. It would give us an open location in case we needed it. I also found out it was right next to Christ Church, better known as the Old North Church, where the lanterns were hung to signal Paul Revere’s ride. Who says you don’t get to sight-see when you’re travelling on business?

It was around 9 AM by the time we got the trap set. This neighborhood was old and crowded with narrow one-way streets jammed between buildings, nothing like the neighborhoods I was used to in Atlanta and L.A. I began to sweat that we might wind up getting someone killed, if it came to a fight. But I had to trust to Flannery and Simmons to know how to operate in their territory.

Thompkins came down Hull Street in his cab and pulled into an open spot across from the cemetery. Out of sight, patrol units were already blocking the intersection where Hull dead-ended into Salem Street at the famous church. Flannery gave the signal and jumped out of the car. More patrol units emerged to cut off Hull behind Thompkins and on the far side of the cemetery. I heard Flannery yell, “Peter Thompkins! Step out of the car with your hands up!” A circle of cops and feds started closing in and Simmons and I waited to see what Thompkins would do.

Thompkins decided to run. He gunned the engine on his cab and tore out down Hull. One of the patrol units on Salem pulled out and cut him off, getting T-boned in the process. I jumped out of Simmons’ sedan and told him, “Pop the trunk.” The cops surrounded Thompkin’s cab as the driver’s door burst open and Thompkins climbed out. I didn’t see the actual transformation because I was busy retrieving Brian O’Donnelly’s prized firearm from its case in the trunk and slamming home the magazine. But I did emerge in time to see Peter Thompkins reveal the monster that hid inside his soul.

He was eight feet tall, a classic demon-form that I took in from the ground up. Goat legs with cloven hooves, a serpentine dragon’s tail, powerfully-muscled arms and torso covered in tufts of fur that emerged from beneath dark scales the color of old, dried blood, the terrible curved claws on the hands that had ended six lives, a decayed ram’s skull crowned with twisted horns, with gouts of flame pouring out of empty eye sockets. The devil’s mask had been a poor, poor approximation of Peter Thompkin’s true self.

I leapt up on top of a nearby delivery van. This wasn’t bravado or drama. I needed the highest vantage I could get for a down-angle shot. The Barrett M82A3 is a .50 caliber sniper rifle, classified by the armed forces for use in anti-materiel and explosive ordinance disposal; in other words, shooting things you want to destroy from far away. One of these rounds could destroy the engine block of a truck. If it penetrated or I missed, a shot lost down-range would literally shoot through buildings and endanger civilians miles away. Anything that didn’t end up in Thompkins had to end up in the ground. The rifle was usually considered too unwieldy to be used in a live-fire situation by the average shooter. I wasn’t the average shooter and I raised it to my shoulder.

Thompkin’s emergence had set even hardened cops back on their heels for a moment. But to their credit it was only a moment. Sidearms came out, shotguns came up and Flannery ordered Thompkins to surrender again. Thompkins took a step forward, instead. Caught in a hail of gunfire, he shed 9 mil rounds and shotgun pellets from his hide like raindrops in a thunderstorm. Thompkins roared his defiance, so I squeezed the Barrett’s trigger and roared back. Unlike the smaller rounds, this one left an eight-inch divot in Thompkin’s chest, without penetrating all the way through. I found this rather satisfying.

I started to think, Thank God, he’s not completely bulletpr--

Then the hole started to shrink.

My next thought was, Son of a bitch. That’s not fair.

Thompkins took another step forward so I put three rounds in his chest in as many seconds. Those holes began to close, so I did it again and again after that, emptying the magazine. The Barrett makes a sound like God’s Own Judgment and if I weren’t a nova I’d probably have permanetly damaged my hearing. On the bright side, the last few holes seemed to be closing somewhat slower than the ones before it.

Thompkins finally charged me, ignoring the cops surrounding him. Good. Quantum flowed out of my node and the seconds it took him to close the distance on me were like giving a baseline hours to plan. For all Thompkins’ obvious power, this was probably the first real fight he’d ever been in, nova or baseline. He didn’t know how to pace himself, how to regulate his use of quantum. He’d burned some on the transformation, some on scaring the bejeezus out of the cops and a huge chunk on closing up those holes I’d blasted in him. Whatever he did to hide from metasensory powers, I’d bet he was doing now just out of habit. He was looking obviously drained and if I could keep him burning the q-juice, I could wear him down.

Timing my jump with quantum-powered reflexes, I leapt high and long over Thompkins’ head as he slammed into the van I was standing on. I tucked and rolled some twenty-five yards away, next to the wreckage of the cab and the patrol unit. I tossed the Barrett away, he did the same with the wreckage of the van. Showoff. He charged again and I took a few steps back, timing the next move carefully. As soon as he crossed my imaginary line, I reached back, grabbed his cab and made like Carl Yastrzemski (in honor of my host town). It didn’t knock him down but it did make him stop and think for a second. I swung again overhand and broke the frame over his head. I ducked under a swipe of his claws and aimed the nastiest kick I could manage at his left knee; it gave. He tried to stand but faltered; the knee wasn’t healing. Soon.

“Thompkins! Shut down your powers and surrender!” I shouted. As much as I wanted to finish this guy, this had to be legal. But Thompkins was too far gone to listen and I would get my desire. He roared another bestial scream and lunged with his good leg. I dodged again, then used a modified aikido throw to slam him down face-first into the pavement. Thompkins started to rise again, only to shudder and collapse. Then his form began to shrink and revert. Moments later, the body of the cab driver was lying there.

The cops closed in cautiously, guns drawn. I moved in and checked his vitals. “He’s dead,” I reported. “He burned himself out.”

“Is he gonna stay that way?” somebody asked. “God, I hope so,” somebody else replied.

Flannery came up beside me. “Hell of a fight, kid. Hell. Of. A. Fight.” He turned to the approaching Simmons, “Whatever you’re payin’ this guy, ain’t enough.”

“Tell me about it. You got the bastard, Eric. Good job.”

“I wasn’t looking to kill him.”

“We know,” Simmons replied, “but some guys just don’t go easy. Some are too mean to give up, some are too stupid and some are too scared. I figure he was at least two of those.”

Flannery gave me a friendly slap on the shoulder. “You made history, Hutton and you can be proud of that. We know a thing or two about history here in Boston. So we’ll go back to the house, do a metric fuck-ton of paperwork and then Simmons here will buy us all dinner and drinks.”

Simmons laughed at that. “I don’t have the budget for that. You haven’t seen how this guy eats.”

I held up a hand. “Okay, okay, whatever. First, though, I think somebody should buy O’Donnelly a round in honor of his gun collection.”

* * *

Like most other serial killers, Peter Thompkins turned out to be surprisingly mundane. His mother had left his father when he was young, just as his own wife had left him earlier in the year. Beyond that, we never found any indication as to why, no journal or manifesto. Most likely, the nova instincts that guided him, led him to destroy any such evidence.

Pat Flannery received citations from BPD and was fast-tracked for a Lieutenant’s position. Unfortunately, he died of a heart attack at the age of 49, three months before a position opened for him. Roy Simmons also received a commendation and is now working for the Department of Homeland Security in Washington, D.C. Peter Froelich continues to research criminal psychology and is one of the foremost specialists on nova psycho-pathology in the U.S. Brian O’Donnelly has gone into politics as a lobbyist for the NRA to the Massachusetts legislature. Joe Ayers continues to work as a police consultant but his reputation hasn’t yet recovered to his pre-Red Devil fame. To the best of my knowledge, Todd Carlisle and Alexa Marks still work for Project Utopia. As for myself: So far, I have not turned into a quantum-fueled god. I have, however, turned into an official government agent as a field team leader for the Directive. Where the future goes from there I can’t say. Yet.

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