I woke to the sound of beeping and the sensation of weightlessness. Immediately replaced by a long, annoying beep and my ass slamming into a hard tiled floor. I respawned immediately after the collision, aware enough to appear on my feet.
“You are awake,” a female voice spoke. My head snapped in her direction, ignoring the rest of ‘obvious hospital room’ to focus on her. The first thing was she was a blue version of Com, but beautiful. The word ‘elfin’ came to mind for this slender and serene looking woman with a childlike face. She also didn’t seem to put off heat or the bright glow like he did, which made her almost soothing.
My costume was gone, replaced by one of those flimsy hospital gowns. I brought my hand up to my head, they’d put what felt like a cheap paper mask on my face. It seemed pretty stupid, considering my identity wasn’t a secret. “How long was I out?”
“Based on the investigative records, approximately eighty hours,” she answered. “My name is Silf, are you feeling well?”
Eighty hours? I lost over three days. I wondered what Kitten was up to while I was out, then I realized ‘Silf’ had asked a question. I didn’t recognize her name, but with hundreds of Imbued in this area alone, that wasn’t unusual. I stretched, testing my body. My hands felt a little numb, but other than that I felt fine. “Yeah, I think I’m good.” In the background, the annoying screech of the heart monitor finally shut off.
“That is good,” Silf said. “You are now under arrest.”
What. “The fuck.”
“You have the right to remain silent,” Silf ignored me. Her emotionless expression went from being quietly beautiful to sinister in that moment. “Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you. As a known Imbued, you have the right to be recognized either by your civilian or costumed identity. Should you choose to be recognized by alias, you will be treated as an adult under the law regardless of legal age. Do you understand these rights?”
“Yeah, I’ve seen Law and Order.” I kept my eyes locked on hers, she kept eye contact without so much as blinking. “I want to know why I’m under arrest.”
“I must know if you wish to be recognized as Zachariah Mason Parker, or Respawn,” Silf stated. “If the former, we must wait for your parent or legal guardian before continuing this conversation.”
“Huh. And the part where my identity’s already public doesn’t matter?” Silf didn’t bother to answer the question. I chewed the decision over for a moment, but in the end I knew I wasn’t bringing my mother into this if I could help it. “Respawn it is.”
“Very well, Respawn,” Silf said. “You are charged with breaking and entering, destruction of property, possession of a Class Four weapon without a permit, discharge of a Class Four weapon in a residential zone, and felony murder.”
“Hey, I heard someone screaming for help, th-” my brain caught up with what she’d said. “Murder!?”
“A miss Ferne Sinclair,” her voice stayed calm and almost lyrical. “Records indicate you were classmates.”
“She’s dead?” I dropped unthinking on the edge of the bed. Everything came rushing back to me. The pain, the confusion, the desperate last ditch attempt to save my own life. “You’re sure?”
“I have observed the crime scene, as well as the forensic reports,” she said. “I assure you, your weapon was quite thorough. Are you willing to accept my word for it, or would you prefer to see the results yourself?”
“I…” I swallowed, I knew I was about to make a mistake. “I have to know.”
Silf turned her head to the wall, as a flatscreen TV clicked on. The first photo was pretty meaningless, they’d taken the time to photograph the door I took off its hinges. The next couple were of the house itself, and I wondered what they were even for.
The fourth, I wasn’t expecting. A photograph of myself, both arms missing from the elbows down. My costume had rips and scorch marks where blood was seeping out, probably shrapnel from the gauntlets. I knew they dealt a lot of damage when at full power, but with how my power worked I just didn’t think much of it. I was used to treating everything from paper cuts to decapitation the exact same way.
I jumped back when the next picture was shown. “Oh god!” I closed my eyes and tried to forget the image that was now burned into my memory. Ferne’s body was ripped apart by the explosion, even worse than mine. Her lower half was still straddling my shins, a trail of gore where an upper body should be.
Silf said nothing, and I forced myself to look at the screen again. The picture now showed her upper half had smashed into the a wall. One arm was missing entirely, and her eyes were open. I couldn’t help but feel they were staring at my unconscious body. I fought down the need to vomit until I respawned again, which settled my stomach the easy way. “Okay, please, I’ve seen enough,” I whispered.
“As you can see, the evidence is ironclad,” Silf’s damnably calm voice stated. “There is no doubt that you are responsible for the crime. There is only the question of motive and mitigating circumstance.”
“But sh-” the door opened, and I looked over to see a dark skinned woman in a smart beige suit standing there. Behind her, a pair of police officers didn’t look too happy.
“We tried to stop her, but she claims to be the kid’s lawyer,” one of the cops explained.
“I was unaware that he had a lawyer, and he declined to request one.” Silf’s voice hadn’t changed this entire conversation, but I chose to believe she was annoyed. “What is your name?”
The woman didn’t so much as smirk. “Lakeshia Spencer, from the firm Lowery, Estrada and Spencer. My apologies for not being here sooner, one of the hazards of relying on precognition.”
I am so confused right now. “Uh, that’s okay, ma’am.”
Silf spoke. “The use of Espers in legal matters-”
“Is irrelevant,” Miss Spencer interrupted. “As long as they’re limited to investigations only, the use of Imbued abilities by legal teams is allowed by Virginia law. My firm helped write the statute, we know its limits.”
Red light flooded the room, and Com appeared. “And here you are, reduced to ambulance chasing. Now get out of here before we have a discussion with the bar about this encounter.”
“Oh, please. James loves lawsuits; they’re how he avoids his wife.” The woman looked at me for the first time. “Our firm has been given an anonymous retainer to represent you. You’re in your rights to refuse, but trust me when I say you want the help. Imbued law is a quagmire that public defenders are woefully underprepared to handle, and the retainer is non-refundable.”
“Wait, you can get anonymous retainers? What happens if the client says no? Isn’t there some conflict of interest or something?”
She smiled at me. “In order, a lot of supers use anonymous methods to protect their identities, we’ll use any remaining funds to cover costs of pro bono work, and it doesn’t matter who the benefactor is, the client is our only concern, within the bounds of the law. If you want to ask more questions, I charge by the hour.”
“Talk about having nothing to lose.” I looked over at an obviously displeased Com and smiled. “You’ve got yourself a client.”
“Would you kindly give me a moment to consult with my client?” Miss Spencer didn’t look away from me.
“We’ll be right outside,” Com growled.
“Make it fifty feet outside,” she added. “We’re well aware that walls are no obstacle to you. It might get uncomfortable if you have to testify under oath about the full extent of your abilities. I’m curious, though, can you lipread? And just how easily can you see through clothing?”
Wait. Com can see through walls? He can see through clothes? I slowly crossed my arms over my lap even though the pair had already vanished from the room.
“Now,” Miss Spencer said as she plopped her briefcase on the table. “As your lawyer I’m bound by law to keep any secrets you tell me, as long as they aren’t a matter of planning future crimes. What happened, what are they charging you with, and how much is true?”
“Breaking in, using a weapon, and m-” my throat caught as I thought of the pictures I saw. “They say I murdered Ferne.”
I fought down my emotions again, until my power kicked off a second time. “It’s all true, but… I heard him, uh, the guy inside the house, call for help. When I got in there, Ferne was doing something, like she was absorbing his life force or something.”
“Vampire package,” she said as she scribbled on a piece of paper. “Go on.”
“Well, I,” I hesitated because what I was about to say sounded really fucking stupid in hindsight. “I body slammed her and knocked her away. She used her power on me and I… I normally just regenerate and walk away without a scratch from anything… but…”
She nodded. “I’ve seen some clips of your fights. You’re used to being untouchable, and she took that feeling away. It’s understandable that you might over react…”
“No!” I jumped to my feet. “Umm, I mean, no. That’s when I recognized who she was. She was going to kill me so I couldn’t reveal her identity.” I sat back down, hopefully I didn’t make too much of an ass of myself. “She didn’t give me any choice.”
“You’re in luck,” Miss Spencer stated. “What was found at the crime scene matches twenty two unsolved deaths in the last four months, some as far away as New York. It seems like Ferne has been busy.”
Twenty two murders. “Wait, if they knew she was a mass murderer…”
“Why are they charging you with a crime instead of giving you a medal?” she offered.
She sighed and set the notepad on her lap. “It’s complicated. The societal answer is they don’t want people knowing just how difficult it is to control Imbued. The phrase ‘cover up’ isn’t accurate but they go out of their way to make sure the public only knows about the good cases while keeping the bad out of the news. Misleading but not, technically, untrue.”
As seemed to happen a lot these days, I thought immediately of Kitten. “Sounds about right. So, is there another answer?”
“As a matter of fact,” she tapped her pen against the pad. “They had no intention of enforcing the charge.”
“It’s a negotiation tactic,” she explained. “First they go in with the big guns, scare you with this idea that you’ll be in prison for years. Second, they act like they’re being nice by reducing charges, like you owe them for it. In your case, the B&E because it’s meaningless and the murder charge might become accidental manslaughter. They’d even fold the weapon charge as part of the manslaughter charge. By the end of it, you’d have a plea deal that sounds too good to be true. Likely just community service and a psychiatrist, and your record’s expunged at twenty-one.”
I blinked. “Why?”
She shrugged. “A number of reasons, but ultimately it’s about establishing control. They make it sound like they’re doing you a favor. They get you seeing their psychiatrists and following their rules. After a few years, it becomes a matter of inertia. An expunged record even gives you the opportunity to become a police hero in the future.”
“The law is always playing catchup with those who’d exploit it for their own benefit,” Miss Spencer stated. “And by definition, government uses the law as its primary weapon. That’s why the world needs lawyers, because not everyone has the ability to protect themselves. Imbued are even more vulnerable, as they generally avoid turning to others for help and Imbued law is often more complex than regular case law. Luckily for you, I’m very good at what I do.”
“Guess I have to stop telling jokes comparing lawyers to mosquitoes, now.”
“Please do,” she deadpanned. “You can do so much better than that. For example, did you know there are more lawyers in Washington than people?”
I chuckled. “Okay, never heard that one before.”
“I’ve heard all of them,” she said. “Now, let’s get down to business. We can laugh at the B&E; the man you saved is still in intensive care, but his story confirms he screamed for help. For similar reasons, the murder charge is trumped up and won’t hold water.”
I felt bad that I hadn’t even thought of him until now. “Okay, that’s good.”
“As I see it, the only charge they can make stick is the weapon. Class Four is military grade, equivalent to grenades or assault weapons, and based on the damage I don’t think I can get it reduced to a Three. What did you use, anyway?”
“Pretty much a pipe bomb, I guess.” I wasn’t willing to admit who gave it to me, and hoped she wouldn’t ask. “My power makes it reusable.”
She frowned. “That may be a problem. It shows planning and intent. I will argue for suppression, you committed a crime to prevent a greater crime, but Class Four weapons are serious. Fortunately, you have an established history of saving lives with your powers and no prior criminal record. Unfortunately, the laws on necessary civil disobedience are wishy-washy at best. It can go either way depending on the judge.”
I nodded. “Okay, and worst case?”
“Then it’s a matter of risk assessment,” she answered. “They will probably offer a plea that requires you going to counseling and paying fines, or we can risk going to trial, which no one wants. Trials are expensive, juries impossible to predict, and it risks becoming evening news fodder. It’s a big game of chicken, but if they feel they’ve committed we’re stuck with it. And even if you’re found not guilty, a judge will almost certainly mandate therapy. How bad do they want to control you?”
Well, fuck me then. “Pretty bad, I think.”
“You might be better off taking a plea,” she advised. “I should be able to get you released without bond pending trial. I’d also suggest preemptively finding a therapist. It would go a long way toward mollifying the courts. My firm knows a number of doctors trained to work with police officers and can put you in contact with one.”
“Okay, that sounds like a good idea.” Whatever it took to keep me free long enough to deal with Kitten. After that, it didn’t really matter.