I learned something about the legal process in the hours I waited in a cell: the people that it matters most to don’t get to see it. Eventually Miss Spencer arrived with a cop. He pressed the panel on the cell door, which buzzed open. Never mind that I could have escaped on my own without any problem.
I stepped out of the cell. “So, how’d it go?” I forced my voice to stay calm.
“Somewhat better than expected,” she answered. “The prosecutor didn’t even try to justify the murder charge, even at negligence level. The weapons charge stands, but the judge appreciated your prior good works and seeking out a therapist. Everyone was willing to settle for probation. I strongly recommend you take it.”
“What’s that going to mean?” If it gets me out of this fucking cell, I’ll be happy.
“In essence? You go to jail if you’re found breaking the same law again, and the police are given a lot more wiggle room as to what counts as probable cause. You can be searched any time you’re in costume.”
I was already thinking of ways I could use my power to sneak weapons past a search. “And if I break other laws?”
Miss Spencer raised an eyebrow and gave me a look that my mother would be jealous of. The cop watching us didn’t seem terribly amused, either.
“Okay, fine, no crimes. Except against the laws of physics. It’s not my fault if those don’t enforce themselves.” Still didn’t get so much as a smirk from either of them.
“So, anything else I need to know?” Not that it mattered, this put me back on the streets and that was all I cared about.
“The therapist will be court mandated,” she stated. “You’ll be expected to attend sessions every other week for six months. You are pleading guilty to the crime, and accept it on your permanent record. If everything else goes well, it will be expunged in five years. Ordinarily, you’d also have to reveal your identity to the authorities, but that’s moot in your case.”
Thanks for reminding me. “Sounds good, where do I sign?”
It was almost two in the afternoon when I got out of prison, with a cardboard box containing my backpack and the remnants of my costume. At least Mom or Laura dropped off a set of clothes for me to put on. I didn’t bother pulling my costume from its bag, simply using my power to tell me everything. The arms were gone almost to the shoulders, and the torso still had fragments of metal sticking out of them. Blood that might have been mine and might have been Ferne’s was spattered all over the costume.
I could have died for real. The thought hit me like a ton of bricks, and I slumped against a wall. I ran my hand along my stomach, exploring my abs. Not a mark on them, even though some of the metal was stuck half an inch into the armor. They had me on an IV in the hospital, and my power did nothing. If not for the armor, some of the shrapnel could have easily hit something vital.
“Are you alright?” The woman at the desk asked me. She didn’t sound concerned, just annoyed that I hadn’t left already.
“Y-yeah, I’m fine,” I lied. I stuffed the bag into my backpack. My power showed me that my books and cell were where I left them over a week ago.
She pointed at the sheet in front of her. “I need you to sign that you have everything back.”
“Sure.” I followed her instructions without even reading the paperwork.
I pulled my cell out of my backpack and texted Cassie. ‘Sorry. Talk 2 u asap.’ Then I sent one to Laura and Mom. ‘Free. Errands. Hm 2hrs.’ It was going to be a bit before school or work let out, so I bee-lined it straight to Mike’s place. It felt wonderful to run again.
Half an hour and about twenty respawns later, I’d reached Mike’s place. This time there was a cute, if mousy looking redhead at the counter, with glasses that completed the ‘librarian’ look. “Hello sir, can I help you?”
A familiar rumble spoke. “He’s here for us, Tay.” I wasn’t expecting Glen to be here, but it wasn’t a surprise.
Her eyes widened a bit, and she examined me a bit closer. “Oh! I saw you on the news, about the fire.”
I gave her what I hoped was a nice smile. “It really wasn’t anything special. I think anyone with my powers would do the same. Well, see you around.”
I went for the back room, where Mike was busy typing away at the computer plugged into his machine. “Figured you’d be here sooner or later.” He gestured to a new copy of my costume hanging from a hook in front of the not-really-confederate-flag. “How are you handling life on the outside?”
“He was flirting with your receptionist,” Glen kindly informed Mike.
I was not flirting. Honest. I just laughed it off. “Being on the inside does things to you, man.”
Glen rumbled what passed for a laugh with him. “How many times did you drop the soap?”
I slumped down. “Twice a day. Not a single taker.”
Then Mike cut in. “Can’t say I blame ’em. Now don’t flirt with my employees or I’ll fire you.””
Brutal. I tried to imitate my lawyer’s look. “I don’t even work for you.”
“Out of a cannon,” he added. “Into the sun.”
I laughed. “Walked right into that one, didn’t I?” I looked at his machine for a moment. “So, umm, have you managed to figure out anything from my power so far?” I wasn’t sure which answer I’d feel better about.
“Some,” Mike smiled broadly. “I can even get simple life to survive the process. I’m up to some of the least complex jellyfish. At this rate, it should be only a year or two before I can replicate donor organs.”
That was good to know. I set my backpack down and pulled out my destroyed costume. “While we’re on the subject, here’s the old suit for the recycling bin. Umm, you may want to scan it or whatever first. I don’t know if the blood is from me, or from the… uh… vampire I had to fight. I know she had an ability to grant weak powers to other people, or that’s what she told me. Maybe you can learn something from it?”
“Well, I ain’t really a biology expert,” Mike said. “But it’s not going to hurt anything to try.”
“Cool.” I took the costume and tossed it, bag and all, on the pad. While Mike was busy punching buttons, I went straight for my new outfit. It still carried a serious amount of weight in the arms. My power sense did the rest. “Umm, the gauntlets are still built in?”
“Yeah, why?” Mike asked.
Why, indeed. “No reason.” I’d just have to talk to Muwth about needing to avoid cop patrols in the future. I rolled the costume up and stuffed it in my backpack. “Umm, I don’t want to sound like an ass, but I’d better get home. Trust me, I’d do anything to get out of whatever Mom has planned for me, but putting it off’s just gonna make it worse.”
“You should be grateful for your mom,” Mike said. “She’s only hard on you because she loves you and wants you to be safe. Mine disowned me at nineteen, after she found out about my lifestyle choices.”
“She disowned you because you were gay?” Wow, what a bitch. “That’s just fucked up, man.”
“Nah, she was all about that, kept trying to hook me up with her gynecologist’s son.”
“Then what was the problem?”
“I’m a republican.”
“Ah.” I couldn’t decide if that made it better or worse. “I’ll keep that in mind. About my mom, that is. My politics involve wishing the aliens would hurry up and conquer us already so maybe intelligent life can run the planet.”
Mike chuckled while I left. I waved at Tay when I was on my way out the door, but she was with a customer and only glanced at me. I slowed my walk the moment I got outside. “So, you still with me?”
“You sure you don’t have some kind of Esper power?” Glen did his version of a whisper.
How to not lie. “Nothing that works on you. I just figured we had to talk about our mutual friend.”
“Sorry I wasn’t there to help you,” Glen said. “I thought it was just some easy stuff and…”
I couldn’t stand him apologizing to me, not after everything. “Not your fault. I… I lied to her.”
The silence was deafening, and I just watched the fog on my breath waiting for Glen to say something. “Why? How?”
I was expecting that question. “I thought she might be lying to me, about villains I might find, but I wasn’t sure. I decided to create a sort of test where I would put together a string of alerts to lead me to a supervillain.”
“And this proves she was lying to you?” One of the things I hated about talking to GL was how there were no clues to what he was thinking. If he sounded happy, or sad, or angry, it was because he wanted to.
I sighed, it was a question I asked myself a lot. “I don’t know. Maybe? Or maybe every time I fought Ferne before, it ended with me losing and either going into a coma or dying. No ‘villain here’ signal for Muwth to tell me about. This time, I sent the signal before the fight began.”
“How does that?” Glen started to ask. “And it worked? I don’t even have a head and that’s giving me a headache.”
“Well, it got me half eaten by a vampire, so… don’t ask me how, but it works.” I rubbed my hand over my face, it was cold enough that I’d be respawning soon. “But then she got me that lawyer and saved my ass from my own stupidity. I just… I need to talk to her myself, so could you not tell her. I’ll understand if you tell me to fuck myself, I lied to you too.”
“Bet you she’s already figured it out,” Glen said. “Plan on pulling that shit again?”
“My lesson is learned,” I welcomed the respawn that cleared my head. “I’m done with this, all of it. I’m going to stop Kitten, and then I’m hanging up the mask forever. I’m sure Mom and Anima will both be thrilled to hear it.”
“Dude, if I had hands I would punch you right.” Glen’s voice was like metal being twisted. “You fucked up. We all fuck up, that doesn’t mean you can just give up. You want to make this better? Then keep making things better.”
It was my turn to hesitate. “I’ll think about it.”
“Fine.” He didn’t sound fine. “I’d better get back to Mike. We’ll talk tonight.”
“Better make it tomorrow. Even if I wanted to, I won’t be going out tonight. My homework’s already a week late, and Mike’s right, I should treat Mom better, and… I’ve gone a week without the internet. The porn, it calls to me.”
“Alright, tomorrow it is.”
I started jogging, and only after getting home did I wonder if it was insensitive to make jokes like that with someone who didn’t have a body. I didn’t have long to think about it, two sets of arms were around me the moment I opened the door. My power let me know it was Mom and Laura.
“Don’t you ever scare me like that again!” Mom cried into my shoulder.
I knew then that I’d made the right decision. The next hour or so was spent just enjoying being with my family. I got comfortable with the idea of dropping the superhero gig. I could still run the Interaction with Muwth, and save lives that way. Sure, dad would be pissed, but fuck him. Hopefully Glen, Cassie and Alex wouldn’t be too bothered.
Laura was the first to beg off, so she could go to her job. For reasons I didn’t pretend to know, the week before Christmas meant even tattoo parlors got more customers. A bit later, so did Mom. She was going in to work early again. She looked tired and it was my fault, but she didn’t say a word of complaint to me.
True to my word, I spent all night surfing the internet, finding what news I could about me and Ferne. It was virtually nonexistent. I didn’t even get named in the paper, just that there was an Imbued fight in some guy’s home and an explosion resulted in injuries and a death. When Miss Spencer said they silenced the scary stuff, she wasn’t kidding.
I gave Mom a hug before she went to work and not long after started my jog to school. Cassie hadn’t answered any of my texts, and I was worried.
I knew things were wrong the moment I got to the school. The students didn’t look like they went to a school that just won the state championship. A couple students gave me dirty looks as soon as they saw me. I was used to that, but only from the gangers, and these were just ordinary students. Even one of the teachers looked at me like I was trash.
Cassie wasn’t in our usual spot, but I did manage to find her near the lockers with Alex and a few of the other cheerleaders and football players. “Hey, Cassie, are you-”
“Fuck off, Parker,” Alex spat at me. The two other jocks in the group stepped up to flank him, blocking me. I knew Alex, his body language. He was prepared to hit me if I got any closer. Behind them, Cassie just looked at me for a moment, but I couldn’t figure out what was going through her head.
She turned and walked away.