I looked at Sapphire, worried at the conflicted emotions my partner was radiating. It had been almost a year and a half since the last time she was in the same room as Anima. I couldn’t imagine how I’d feel, in either of their shoes. And, as much as I longed to, there was nothing I could do to fix it. Anima wouldn’t listen, she blamed me almost as much as she blamed Marisela.
Right now, Sapphire was trying rather halfheartedly to deal with Captain Berger. I stepped in, to a spark of relief from Sapphire. I gave a quick hand signal no one else could translate. We need to talk about this later.
“I’m sorry, ma’am, we need to put everyone under Infiltrator quarantine for at least the next forty-eight hours.” That would distract her from whatever she was discussing with Sapphire. “Class ‘B’, non-hostile watch, individual cells. No access to television or other media. Make sure the officers that transport them are trustworthy and know to avoid talking any more than is essential. They do not have the proper training to talk to them more than absolutely necessary. And make certain every last second of interaction is recorded.”
“This seems pretty extreme.” She wasn’t wrong, but the risk of damage was absurdly high. “You know what this means, right?” Captain Berger did not look pleased, and I couldn’t blame her.
I nodded slowly. I knew far better than her just what it meant. Nano’s brand of mind control was nasty. It made the target highly suggestible, and then filled that void with his words. The more sane or reasonable they were, the more believable the victim found the source to be, the more easily that influence stuck.
Exposing them to the expert subliminal manipulation that was advertising media could have life ruining results if they came from an alcohol company, or some fad diet infomercial. To say nothing of what the wrong, or right, words from a child or spouse or other close relationship might do to warp their perceptions.
“I don’t like it any more than you do.” Probably not true, I wasn’t the one who had to run around doing the actual work. The worst I’d have to deal with was an hour or two of extra paperwork. Finding the time and resources to dedicate police officers to what was no doubt an overtime assignment. Infiltrator was one of the words police officers prayed they would never hear during their careers.
“I need to start organizing, now.” The captain didn’t seem to believe me, but that was anticipated. It didn’t take the Sympathy/Sapphire interaction to know she had no respect for me.
Sometimes I hated the whole ‘costumed hero’ culture. A necessary evil, hero-villain rivals sometimes got nasty, so the mask mattered. And where masks went, costumes followed. But they made it hard to be taken seriously, sometimes. Either that, or I was overthinking things, and it was simply my age that put the woman off. Age and the fact that I made her job harder.
“I’ll make sure you’re provided essential care details, as well as therapists licensed to handle such events.” Or, more accurately, Silf already has. I turned and left, neither expecting nor getting a thank you. Now was where the hard part of my job began.
I took a slow breath, looking at the cell. After burning my strength fixing Nano’s victims to the limited extent that I could, I still had a job to do. I took another breath, allowing my senses to extend once again. I already called in sick for tomorrow, and wasn’t sure I’d be in Thursday, either. That depended an awful lot on how this interrogation went.
Nano was barely awake, and couldn’t be comfortable laying with his face on the metal table of the interrogation room. He was burnt out, enough that we could almost trust someone other than me to be in here. If not for one unfortunate detail. I gripped my dress to make it easier to slide into the seat. Much like the table, it was bolted into the floor.
“I trust you understand that you’re being denied a lawyer, and why?”
His head bolted up. “Wha?” He squinted at me for a moment. He was in worse shape than I’d expected, if he didn’t even notice me until now. “Yeah, I get it, big scary Infiltrator.”
I nodded, giving him time to pull himself together. “You’ve put some thought into this.”
He had nothing to say, just looking down at the floor for a moment. “Also gave some thought about the heroes. You’re the big mystery, no one knows what you can do. I’m guessing you’ve got some kind of immunity?”
If anything, having double the number of senses might make me even more vulnerable. “That’s one possibility.” The other is if you tried to use your power on anyone right now, you’d give yourself a stroke. “But this isn’t about me, this is about you. What possessed you to rob a bank?”
“I needed the money, okay? Isn’t that usually the reason people rob banks.?”
Now that we were talking, he sounded kinda whiny, young. I mentally dialed back my idea of his age to younger than I was. Probably a student. Fairly typical, if someone was going to manifest powers, it tended to happen in the teen years. It would make him new to his powers. But not so new that he didn’t know the flaws in his ability. “I’m guessing you did something irreversible and need to fix it.”
His depleted aura dimmed even further. “Does it even matter?”
“It matters to me.” With that, I drew what remained of my reserves, and reflected his power back on him. For a matter of moments, he had access to Sapphire’s power. Her strength, her invulnerability, and he could have ripped me in half if he’d acted in that moment. Fortunately, he didn’t even know it happened.
Instead he collapsed, crying. “She wasn’t supposed to know!” Easiest a perp had ever cracked that wasn’t suffering withdrawal. Then again, between the power exhaustion and being hit by his own power while emotionally vulnerable, it was to be expected. He kept sobbing. “Sh- she was. I loved her.” He looked up at me, as if begging my understanding. “I just… I just wanted her to love me back.”
Oh. No. “And it turns out, your power can’t make that happen.”
His head fell into his arms, as he cried.
Fuck, please tell me I’m wrong. “Or, I’m betting it can work like that. But not for very long.” I paused to think, letting Nano imagine it was for dramatic effect. How to approach this correctly? There was a perfect path, between his power’s nature, the damage he’d done, and the guilt. I just needed to find it. “Your power’s not alone in that weakness. There’s more resistance if you’re making someone do something that violates their nature.” Emphasis on the one word that matters.
“Oh god!” He pulled up his mask, which turned out to be pretty low tech. Then he turned and started heaving into the wastebasket next to him. It was something of policy not to take those away from villains unless we absolutely needed to. Sure, it tended to result in more suicides amongst Imbued prisoners, them having their costumes to hang themselves with. But that was way better than the danger of leaving them with absolutely no possible way out, even if that way was death.
I ignored my own less than settled stomach, and switched my own mask over to ‘hazard’ mode. I’d be running off contained air for the next half hour. “So, after you raped her.” His energy flickered, drawing on power he didn’t have. We were reaching the xenith point. “It went against her nature so much that your power over her broke. I still don’t know how this leads to a bank robbery.” I resisted the impulse to imply his performance was so bad as to cause it, that wouldn’t get us where I wanted.
“Blackmail.” He was breathing hard. His power increasing slowly. Pretty soon he’d have the energy necessary to influence me. “She wanted ten thousand by the end of the month. I did… small stuff, I even got half of it already. I just needed more. I was so close.”
That was a first in my experience. Blackmailing a mind controller. How did she expect he wouldn’t eventually get sick of it find a hitman? She was a question for us to resolve later. “It wouldn’t have stopped, you know.”
“I know. I just needed time, to come up with a plan. Her resistance might have worn off…”
“You know what happens next, right?” Energy crackled in the air, known only to my power. I tasted the new signals, the ones coming to join him. Camouflage. Awareness. The former, part of the natural shuffle, a signature that matched his personal nature. The latter was obviously an aspect of my own power, the power about to make him Surge. He would be a nightmare to face with that combination, no matter which Aspect he lost to gain these two.
“I go to prison?” The energy dimmed. He was resigned to going to jail, in a way he even welcomed it. Ordinarily, that’s what we wanted. Ordinarily, we weren’t dealing with Infiltrators.
“That’s part of it.” The power swelled again. “You will be tried, for your crimes in the bank. For what you did to that girl, when we identify her. To date, there’s never been an Infiltrator to go free for crimes at this severe or public. In the next six months, you will be executed.”
His head snapped up, and the power Surged toward him.
Now! “And then, we’ll give you a job.” The power hesitated, crashing around us, a tsunami that forgot what direction it was going. “A new name, a new identity, a new mask. After that, your life belongs to the government. Imagine what a power like yours can do in hostage negotiations, or getting information from terrorists. I don’t know what job they’ll want you for. All I know is it’s your best chance for redemption. Your only hope for a future. And only if you accept.”
The energy around us dissipated, fading into the void beyond where my power could follow, the Source that feeds all powers. “Okay.” It was a whisper and a plea. “Okay. I accept.”
I stood from my chair, no longer trying to protect my outfit. The dress was pretty cheap, and I had more just like it. “I’ve gotta go start the paperwork. I’ll send someone in to work out the last of the details.”
I barely made it out the door before collapsing. The familiar comfort of Sapphire’s Aura warping around us as she caught me in my fall. I’d be calling off Friday as well.
Sapphire led the way into Shadow Boxer’s room. We didn’t bother securing her, she could have broken anything we had readily available. Besides, we weren’t here to threaten her. Sapphire was there to lead the conversation, I was just on observation. I sat on one of the chairs, a bit back. I could stay awake, but not much more than that right now.
“Of course I get to talk to the enforcer. You think your skinny ass can take me?”
Sapphire simply waited a moment, she was good at the stoic persona. “Would a fight make you feel better?”
Shadow paused for a second, then crossed her arms. The muscles shifted and veins bulged. That kind of muscle mass would have been potentially crippling to a normal human being, but her regeneration no doubt either made her bones unbreakable, or healed them back quickly. “Maybe I’d enjoy beating you ’till you’re not pretty anymore. Now where’s my lawyer?”
Sapphire just ignored the threats. “You’re not under arrest.”
“You’re shitting me.”
“You can thank Nano for that.” I watched Shadow Boxer’s face as she caught the meaning. “It doesn’t matter what you say or do right now, you could confess to everything being your idea and giving us documents to prove it. Even the most incompetent defense attorney would get the charges dismissed before you even needed to worry about posting bond.”
“So I’m free to go, just like that?” Shadow Boxer’s voice made it hard to determine any emotional tone at all, but the context made her doubt obvious.
“You’ll be required to undergo the same forty eight hour observation as everyone else who’s been influenced by his power, for your own protection.”
“Even if he didn’t use his power on me?”
That was my turn to chime in. “Not something we can prove beyond a reasonable doubt, seeing as he did use his power on you. The reason you’re not as messed up in the head like the other people at the bank is because you’ve already started developing a resistance.” I couldn’t afford to use my power on her right now, I was too low on strength, I’d have to do it the old fashioned way. “The question isn’t if, it’s how.”
Sapphire followed up, giving me time to rest. “And more importantly: why. What did he tell you?”
Shadow Boxer kept silent. I gathered my scattered thoughts and pushed the conversation. “We know it has to be something against your nature. There’s no reason Nano’s power can’t last for years if he says something the victim would be inclined to believe.”
“The question is, what did he tell you?” Sapphire continued for me, stepping forward. She levitated, taking herself to eye level with the larger woman. “What was worth risking you job, maybe even your life, for him?”
I chimed in the last of it. “You might as well tell us. At least then, the therapist won’t need to report back with ‘extremely hostile’. Cooperation only helps you. Otherwise, we might have to keep you under quarantine until we know you won’t run off to try to rescue him.”
“Both of you can go fuck yourselves.” Shadow Boxer’s voice rumbled unnaturally, warped by her inhuman physiology and the effect her kinetic power had on the air around her. “You said it yourself, you’ve got no leverage.”
Without my power to back me up, my guesses were just that, guesses. Still, they were guesses based on a lot of experience. She was Altered, which means her physical form meant a great deal to her. It had to be something she didn’t believe, yet didn’t resent him for. Then the comments she made at Sapphire. “He called you pretty, didn’t he?” Or something like it.
She hesitated, then looked at me. “What part of ‘go fuck yourselves’ do you not understand?”
“We’ll let your shrink know you won’t be cooperative.” Sapphire said, then turned from the woman. I stood, slowly, to avoid making my headache any worse. We were out the door before she spoke again. “It’s going to take a lot longer than two days to clean this mess up.”
I nodded slowly, not willing to speak if I could avoid it. Shadow Boxer’s life was ruined by her powers. I needed time to recover before deciding just what to think about Nano and his victim. He, at least, would be strictly controlled. What we did about her was unclear. It wouldn’t be wrong to say all three lives were ruined by powers.
I glanced over at Sapphire. They were hardly alone.