“That’s when I knew I had to run.” Chloe started sobbing again. It wasn’t the first time she had to stop during the tale, and I was certain she left out a few details of some import in the telling. I played the strong silent type while she talked, glad her tears weren’t glowing anymore.
“I think I can fill in the blanks from there.” I just stared at the police station in the distance. The head of the most powerful gang in the city happens to be one of the wealthiest men in the state. The fact that he was also married to one of the most famous heroes, who happened to have luck manipulation abilities, was horrifying at best.
The more I thought about it, the more elegant the scam came together in my mind. Starfall made her name wiping out drug and prostitution dens, and tracking down leaders that were otherwise protected by Espers and Breakers. She always attributed it to her luck powers being better than their powers. People accepted that answer because it made about as much sense as anything to do with powers. However, with subtle assistance from Heritage, she could be fed actionable intel about the underworld and use it to destroy targets one after another.
In return, Starfall would be able to eliminate competition, as well as manipulate police or prosecutors. Maybe she could even convince the state regulators to not look too hard if she used her powers to help her legitimate businesses. There were all kinds of Espers pointed at big business to prevent Imbued cheating, but I wasn’t raised to trust the upper class to play by the rules they set for us plebs.
It took me only minutes to think up all these possibilities; I could only imagine what two adults and all their associates might scheme over the course of decades.
“So.” Chloe’s voice startled me. “What about you? How’d you get your power? What did you lose?”
I looked over at her, debating what to say. I settled on the truth; she’d find out anyway. “My sister was hurt.”
“I heard about that.” Chloe looked away from me. “She’s in my grade, but…” she trailed off. All the unspoken reasons why Beatrice had no friends at school. None of the ‘good’ kids associated with her, for reasons as much her fault as anyone else’s. “So you got powers to get justice for her?”
“No.” I didn’t see a reason to tell her I had a chance to. “Swear you’ll tell no one?” I accepted her nod as a confirmation. “Bea’s medical expenses are more than we can afford. If I’d known how useless my power would be for making money, I would have turned it down.”
“Why would anyone want to turn down a chance to be a hero?” Again, she turned question into accusation. “Plus your power is awesome. With a bit of training, you could be one of the best heroes in the state. While my power just means I’m just another flying brick. Pretty much the most boring power there is, except the non-flying bricks.”
Says the girl that tossed me around like a rag doll. “You felt it, too, right? You have to give something up to get your powers, and no matter how strong your power, it will never be worth it.”
“Don’t you dare say that!” I was forced to look away from Chloe or be blinded again. “I lost my entire family, and every happy memory I have of them was ruined, and it’s worth it! It has to be! I’m a hero now, I can make things right!” When the light faded, she was crying again.
Fuck my life. I wanted to yell at her for possibly blowing our cover. It was a Friday night, and a church parking lot wasn’t the most concealed of places. I didn’t need some drunk recognizing my truck, let alone one of Heritage’s goons. Instead, for the first time in my life, I wished I wasn’t raised to be a gentleman. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to be so insensitive.”
“It’s okay.” Chloe forced a smile. On the other hand, there’s something to be said for making pretty girls happy. “I wouldn’t blame you for hating me for all the horrible stuff my family’s done to your people.”
Then she goes and says stuff like that. “I try not to judge people for what other people who share some of their chromosomes do.” I thought about bringing up the broken ribs, but she’d apologized for that several dozen times already. “They’re responsible for what they do, and you’re responsible for what you do. Nothing more, nothing less.”
“Alright, we should get going.” I started the engine. I knew I could do this, but I couldn’t focus on it, driving, and listening to Chloe. I took the truck down a narrow alley, slowing to allow time for my metal to flow out from its resting place in the framework. It took almost a full minute, but I managed to cover every outer surface of the vehicle except the tires with a sheet about half as thick as aluminum foil.
“See, told you your power’s awesome.” Chloe started to glow, the only source of light in the vehicle except the dash.
Somehow, despite all forms of light being blocked by my metal, I could see outside like it was just a sheet of glass. Inside, only Chloe kept the vehicle from near pitch blackness. I understood that the laws of physics curled up in the corner and wept where we Imbued were concerned, but my power was bizarre even by that standard.
The police station was a straight shot forward, only a few blocks away, but they did an impressive job of being ready for us by the time I pulled into their parking lot. Twelve cops visible, all but two standing behind squad cars.
I stopped the truck in the middle of the lot, more or less surrounded by the cops. I dropped control over the metal shell, keeping only the door covers in liquid state. “I’m certain they’ve alerted Imbued backup already.”
Chloe tensed for a moment. “Do you think they called her?”
“Unlikely. She had a party to attend, they’ll only bring her in if it’s an emergency.” Or she told them to call her despite being off duty, or she called them after you ran off to keep their eyes out for new Imbued in the city. I kept those thoughts to myself. “But let’s do this fast, just to minimize our chances of exposure. You ready?”
She took a slow breath. “Yeah, let’s do this.” She put the metal mask I made over her face.
I focused on my power, allowing my metal to fully wrap around my body. I had about half a ton of the stuff in the truck to call on when I needed. “Just remember to open the doors slowly and close them quick.”
“And go.” I popped the handle while Chloe cranked up her glow to maximum intensity. Everything to conceal our identities just a little more. Paranoid, perhaps, but now that I knew about Starfall I felt more than justified in my paranoia.
I stepped out first, confident they’d be unable to identify me except as a shell of liquid steel. Even my sex should be impossible to know through my armor’s shape and distortion of my voice. With any luck they’d assume I was Altered or a shapeshifter.
I made certain to keep my hand on the metal until Chloe closed her door. Only then did Chloe dim her power enough that she could be looked at by normal eyes. I took a moment to look at all the nervous officers. “Relax, we’re on your side.”
They didn’t seem relaxed, but their selected leader did approach. He was a tall, frail looking man who obviously spending more time behind a desk than in the gym. Old enough that his brown hair was going gray. “I’m Lieutenant Larson. Feel free to call me Dan. Could you please state your business?”
Larson? That must have been a great name to have at the police academy. “We’re dropping off some illegal goods we found, sir. Seventy six illegal firearms.” Either he was used to stuff like this, or he had the world’s best poker face. “They’re in the back of the vehicle, but my partner can unload them for you.”
He looked at my truck. “Is the vehicle safe for us to touch?”
That question surprised me. I considered saying ‘no’ as a way to keep them from doing something like peeling the metal off and peeking at my license plate, but rejected that idea for fear of breaking some hazmat law. “I’d rather you didn’t, you might hurt it.” The use of ‘hurt’ instead of ‘damage’ was just another layer of deception. Let them draw their own conclusions.
“I see.” He studied my truck for a moment, then did his best to study Chloe. Her costume was just a metal mask and bedsheet, held together by metal bands. Between that and the gold light radiating from her eyes, ears, and mouth, she was close to impossible to recognize. I tried not to focus on where the light under the sheet originated, but near as I could tell it was only Chloe’s bodily fluids, such as tears and blood vessels, which generated light. “Okay, you’re clear. Set them next to the vehicle.”
“Sure, got it covered.” Chloe’s voice crackled with electricity. It wasn’t enough to disguise her femininity, but I doubted anyone could successfully identify her voice. Granted, her parents already knew her identity, but if anything that made it more imperative no one else ever found out. Her parents were scum, but I didn’t want to be anywhere near the shitstorm unmasking them would bring.
Chloe landed in the bed of the truck, grabbed the chain I’d made, and lifted the cage full of guns with casual ease. Chloe set it gently next to the vehicle while everyone stared, the only sign of effort was a slight green tint to her glow. I already knew how her power didn’t require effort, just a battery to charge. To people unaware of that weakness, Chloe just made herself appear to be one of the strongest Imbued on the planet.
I looked over at Lieutenant Larson. “So, how’s the bounty system work, anyway? We’re a bit new to this.”
“We will need to verify the bounty, of course,” he answered. “As well as the location you found it at. As this appears part of an entirely new case, an investigation must be completed before we know if you qualify for a bounty, and the exact amount. Overall, I expect the process to take approximately two weeks. We’ll need some form of bank account or contact information, as well.”
I thought about his statement, but it all seemed reasonable. “You can use my SEID, right?” I hadn’t expected to be paid right away, and two weeks was enough time to pick out a few more bounties. The plan was to convince Nanna I found a part time job somewhere. It would take some convincing to get her to accept money, but she was in too tight a spot to refuse for long.
“Of course. Follow me inside and we’ll take care of everything.” He looked over at Chloe. “We’ll need yours as well, to give you your half.”
Chloe shook her head. “I’m not taking anything.”
Larson examined her for a second. “Any reason why not?”
“I didn’t do anything but lift a couple things. Damascus did the real work. Besides, I owe him one.”
I knew she wasn’t taking the money, but it was still touching for her to say. Chloe bordered on disturbingly naive, but I didn’t know a lot of people who were as genuinely good as her. In fact, other than Nanna, I didn’t know any.
“We do still need to identify you for the police report. Have you applied for a SEID?”
“Not yet.” Chloe hesitated for a moment. “I wanted to put a costume together before going official. Think you can skip me?”
“We can put you down as not providing an alias, but you’re better off getting your own.”
“Why?” Chloe’s glow intensified some.
“A lot of news papers keep an eye out for Imbued related police reports.” I silently cursed inside my armor; I had hoped to avoid notice if at all possible. “There are limits to what they can publish before an investigation closes, but they can give your names immediately. I’ve seen some new heroes receive some awful monikers from the press or the general public.”
“Well, if all you want is a name, I can do that.” Chloe’s light shifted into the blue scale. “I was thinking ‘Daybreak’.”