I opted to visit the original ‘crime scene’ while Lynx dealt with her superiors. How she planned to explain what happened in the hours between when I knocked her unconscious to when she woke up, I had no idea.
The bank Vine attacked was, of course, cordoned off by police, though even if they weren’t investigating a crime the building was in no condition to allow the public inside. What the police could not do was cordon off the kilometer path the conflict took through the heart of the city. Even if they did have the resources, the disruption to businesses and commuters would have been unacceptable.
I stopped to look at the carnage, just another gawker amongst the many. Vine’s power was to hyper-accelerate the growth of almost all plantlife, violating biology and the conservation of mass in the process. She also had some level of telekinetic control of plants, which she used to create living battle armor. Doing so was not good for the plants, and anything her power touched tended to die and decompose in a week or less. Coupled with dozens of different species of seed she carried with her, she had quite the versatile power.
The plants I was closest to wouldn’t survive even that long; someone burned their way through the barriers Vine threw up in her way. Flecks of blood adorned much of the foliage, another testament to the battle as it took place.
I turned my attention to the overgrown turf that Vine left behind, and the footsteps that had trampled it. Scorch marks, bootprints, deep footprints from Vine’s armor, necrosis born of Lynx’s power. It painted a picture the news crews hadn’t caught, or if the media was as well controlled here as in America, they hadn’t wanted to catch. <If she was mind controlled, it wasn’t a puppetmaster archetype.>
<What makes you so certain?> I took Doctor Patil’s question at face value; curiousity, rather than accusation.
<Vine fought back.> I kept walking, doing my level best to look like a gawker rather than an investigator. I entrusted my perfect memory to capture the moment for later reference. I could recall what I saw, even stuff I failed to notice the first time, as I drew my conclusions. In my mind’s eye, I put together the scene from the footsteps; how she must have moved to fight them.
I transmitted as I walked along the route, my head down. Even in Canada, city dwellers weren’t so friendly that my antisocial body language aroused suspicion. <Here, she anticipated one of Lynx’s dive-attacks, evaded and created this poison ivy cluster.>
Is there a vulnerability in Lynx’s power that Vine thought the ivy would exploit, or was this simply what she had on hand? I kept moving, narrating the story as fast as I pieced it together. <Then she made this maple to shield against Pyroclast. In the process, she destroyed a good chunk of the sidewalk, but no sign she stumbled over the rubble.>
<Which suggests a level of control and familiarity a puppeteer generally doesn’t have over their victims. Also rules out most hallucinogenic and emotion manipulation abilities, both of which would reduce combat effectiveness in their own ways. Uh, unless she was less combat effective?>
I still wasn’t sure what I thought of Doctor Patil as a leader, specifically the matter of his dependence on my judgment. I was trained to have autonomy in the field, but always viewed it as a double edged sword; a tool, but one that might bite me in the ass. I would have prefered a more reliable, tactical thinker in the command center. <I’ll ask Lynx later, but if Vine could fight like this while drugged, she’d kick my ass in a fair fight.>
I kept walking past a storefront where decorative hanging vines had punched through the glass. <A struggle occured here, where a couple civilians were attacked by Vine’s power.> It seemed unlikely that the heroes would have flailed around on the ground in panic to leave the patterns on the ground. The blood spatter had been washed by rain and time enough that I couldn’t tell if the glass or plants had done the cutting. <Slowed the pursuers down to rescue them.>
<She didn’t want to kill, but wasn’t afraid to hurt them.> Phoebe’s voice startled me for a moment; I knew she was part of the command crew, especially for investigative purposes, but hadn’t realized she was in position now. She took my silence as a prompt for her to continue. <Uh, there are lots of plants she could choose from that are lethal. Even tobacco seeds are deadly with her power behind it, but nightshade would be better. Right?>
At the end, her voice bordered on a plea that I agree with her. <I am an idiot.> She was right, of course, and I was mentally kicking myself for not seeing it first.
<She might have chosen not to carry deadly plant seeds. But she wouldn’t need that for a lethal attack when she could make dandelion sprout in someone’s lungs.>
Even as I said it, I wasn’t sure she had that ability; many powers you would think could kill directly couldn’t. <Or, she could have used that hemlock.>
The telltale white flower so often mistaken for Queen Anne’s Lace had taken up residence in the decorative bushes in front of a strip mall which the fight had gone right past. I refused to believe Vine would have failed to recognize the saucer-sized white flowers and all they implied.
<So either Vine was resisting control enough to avoid lethal takedowns, or her controller isn’t willing to murder,> Doctor Patil concluded.
<Or she wasn’t being controlled,> I added. Tying ourselves down to this belief that the heroes wouldn’t turn under the right circumstances was stupid to the point of suicidal. <Whatever the logic, she chose not to use lethals.>
I kept walking, observing the dance of combat. <She nearly got hit by a flying brick, here. Based on the impact crater, I’d estimate six or seven tons maximum strength. Probably Titan.> Putting him at the higher limits of super strength powers. <What is his ranking, anyway?>
<Brawler 2.7,> Phoebe answered. <Which should cap below three tons. Six puts him in the low fours range.>
My thoughts returned to all the surprises Lynx had for me during our fight. <Seems Vancouver has a habit of underselling their heroes.> A detail I will keep in mind in all future interactions with them. <Do you think that’s common to Canada, or just here?>
While they puzzled out that question, I kept walking. The end of the battle occured in the parking lot of a strip club. Much like the bank, where the battle started, this scene was cordoned off by police investigators.
<The numbers suggest their average is similar to the United States. Perhaps a little higher, but Canada’s historically not as aggressive as the United States about recruiting even lowest tier Imbued into government organizations. But the numbers are a little funny.>
“Sorry, sir, we’re still investigating. You’ll have to wait to pick up your vehicle.” The officer was old, old enough that I wondered why he hadn’t retired years ago. It made sense that they’d have him doing what was essentially the same job as the greeter at a mall.
“Sorry. Do you know when you’ll be done?” I spoke to the cop on autopilot. <Funny in what way?>
“No. Sorry I couldn’t be of more help.” Based on the small jungle that blanketed the parking lot, I couldn’t imagine it would be any time soon. Even after Vine’s power wore off, they’d have to clear all the rubble, bring in new dirt, and repave the whole thing.
<The bell curve is completely off,> Patil explained. <The highs aren’t as high, and the lows aren’t as low. Statistically, Canada’s lower population means they won’t have as many outliers on the power scale as America does, but they should still have far more than they do.>
“I guess I’ll check back in a couple days.” <Think they’re padding up the weaker members, hiding strength of the stronger? Either way, someone’s lying about their Imbued stats.> Or, more likely, everyone is. I kept my eye on the parking lot as I walked.
I doubted the remaining vehicles could were salvageable as any more than recycling. Several had been overturned, usually by rampant plant growth. Some had burned, while others bore damage patterns I didn’t recognize. I took a picture of those. <What do you think caused that?>
<Permafrost. Ice powers, guess she’s stronger than the ranks suggest as well,> Doctor Patil answered.
<Don’t fight her,> Phoebe added. <Depending on how her power works, the blue steel might not be able to absorb the attack.>
<Thanks.> Ice, fire, plants and a flier. They are one South American kid away from summoning Captain Planet.
<Omygod! I loved that show!> Phoebe sounded unreasonably happy that I knew the reference. I resolved to never inform her that the only reason I knew about it was because I dated a woman who had a son of the right age.
I kept walking, now focused on memory rather than observation. Most of the plants, appeared typical for the region. Pines, brier bushes, and at least one grape vine were unsurprisingly amongst the mix. Then there were a handful of tropical looking flowers commonly used as house plants, at least back in the States. I had no reason to believe they wouldn’t be sold here as well.
I kept going until I found the park I was headed for since the beginning. <That explains why they fought her so hard in the parking lot; if she’d made it to open turf, they might have been forced to kill her to stop her.>
I took a seat on one of the concrete picnic tables and closed my eyes. I didn’t recognize one of the plants Vine had covered the final battlefield in. Despite their apparent rarity, Vine had used them prolifically. Perhaps they’re stronger than other plants?
They still failed, but I wouldn’t expect any plant to hold up for long against pyrokinetics, cryokinetics and Lynx. <While we’re here, what was that long, stringy plant which Vine used? The greenish brown one. It appeared exotic, likely rare, and she used a lot of it. Does it have some special property?>
<The recognition software says it’s a species of Macrocystis,> Patil answered. A picture flashed into my mind, showing a towering underwater forest. I was more in awe that I could remember something I never saw before than the scene itself. <They’re a genus of giant kelp common to the Pacific coastline. Found all the way from California to Alaska. It says they’re some of the fastest growing lifeforms on the planet, which may explain why Vine kept them around.>
Damn. That could have been a lead. <Thanks.> It was no surprise Vine would want a plant that grew fast and became gigantic; perhaps it even had other useful properties for her power, I couldn’t know. Still, something about it bothered me.
“I still don’t know if you’re secretely brilliant or idiotic.”
My eyes snapped open to look at the woman in front of me. She had almond eyes and black hair of obvious Asian origins.
Her hair was cropped short enough that, combined with her height, she could be mistaken for a man from behind. Her skin seemed darker now that she was out of costume; a deep tan that I doubted came from spending her days at the beach. Her clothes were practical, with a denim jacket that bordered on vintage.
So this is Lynx out of costume. Not quite what I was expecting. “Uh, hey.”
“You really didn’t peek when I was out, did you?” Lynx sounded surprised at that revelation.
“Didn’t seem like the right thing to do.” That, and if I needed to find her again, I had a biometric map so thorough that it’d make the TSA blush.
She shook her head. “Most people would have done it anyway. Most people wouldn’t have been stupid enough to show up here, either.”
I raised an eyebrow. “I’ll take that as a compliment, sort of. I take it you’re saying that to bring up a point?”
She turned her head to watch the kids playing deeper in the park, as if they could tell her what to say. “I’m just trying to figure you out. Most people would have run and never looked back, rather than walk into a potential ambush.”
You have no idea. “I guess I’ll answer your question with a question. Most people would have told their fellow officers everything and I’d be swarmed by Imbued police and taken into custody. You didn’t. Why?”
She sighed, turning her head to look at me again. “Because you might be able to help.” Her dark brown eyes bordered on black, but they were no less expressive than Phoebe’s when she was about to cry. “You can help, right?”
I threw all of my effort into not thinking anything that would be transmitted back to base. “I can try. Speaking of, I examined the crime scene. Vine was a skilled martial artist, and Titan’s at least twice as strong as you say he is.”
“How did you…” Lynx caught herself. “Nevermind. Did you get anything that’s new?”
Not really, no. “Maybe. Does poison ivy mean anything special to you? Does Vine have combat skill powers? And does Vine go to the beach a lot?”
Lynx hesitated for a moment. “No, no, and she has a… friend… of a friend… who owns a property by the coast. She likes the seclusion, why?”
Friend of a friend, huh? “Because I think I have our first lead.”