“Let me get this straight. The first victim was already dead, and you shot the perpetrator.” Chief Brown rubbed his eyes. The red hue of his skin, tang of sick-sweet sweat, and puffy fingers suggested he wasn’t healthy. Speaking of heavy salt diets, does this guy eat anything that’s not deep fried? I have to come up with some way to convince him to go on a diet before he dies of a heart attack, diabetes, and gout at the same time.
Meanwhile, the pair of Internal Affairs guys sat to the side and observed my dressing down. They were good at disguising their emotions, perhaps helped by them having little personal to invest in the situation. Either way, they seemed content to let us pretend they weren’t there.
<It’s so sad when people treat their bodies like garbage,> Phoebe said. <No, you didn’t accidentally transmit any thoughts, but your attention has been focued on his physiology for one point seven seconds. Given the rate your brain processes information, that’s practically a whole minute.>
While Phoebe was speaking, so was I. “He clearly demonstrated a willingness to use a deadly weapon against members of the law enforcement community.” While I addressed my pretend boss, the message was more to the IA investigators. “As well as a lack of cooperation, and threatening behavior, both verbal and nonverbal. After, I remind you, he murdered a woman. Clear suicide by cop, in my books.” <Guess I need to work on hiding my tells better. Speaking of, how are you holding up? Earlier got pretty ugly. You know I’m not like that, right?>
“That is not your call to make, Officer Ellison,” Brown said. I could understand that he was pissed, getting dragged into this drama at such a late hour, especially with how cavalier I was being about the subject.
<I don’t like pretending to be an asshole.> I chose to send that thought, as I thought it.
<I know, you’re a sweetheart, but I’m fine. It’s not like…> Phoebe trailed off for a while, then put on her usual attempt at a seductive tone. <Or maybe it’s just a case of delayed shock. Perhaps you should stay with me tonight, so we’ll both feel better in the morning?>
Phoebe hesitated long enough for the older Internal Affairs guy to unknowingly speak over her. “You’re registered as a Tank 2 even without charging your abilities. As I understand it, you’re immune to any weapon or energy attack short of military grade equipment.”
I ignored Phoebe as a field of battle I did not yet have the tools to engage, instead focusing all my attention on the investigators. “I may be knife proof, but my partner’s a normal human.”
“A partner who wasn’t in the room at the time,” the younger investigator said. There was a brief, bizarre jump in his heartrate, and a moment of surprise that he hid well. I almost missed the faintest glimmer of an energy spike as my blue steel reacted to the use of a power.
I kept my reactions under a tighter lid than the investigator, as if I noticed nothing. <We got an Imbued on our hands. Infiltrator or Truthsayer perhaps?>
<Nothing we weren’t prepared for,> Abernathy cut in. <Phoebe will monitor the suspected Imbued exclusively. Keep following the script.>
I hate this script with a passion. “My partner was less than four seconds from arrival,” I focused on my annoyance at myself, in case he was an empath as well. “I chose to protect the only living person in the vicinity whose life I was concerned about.” I sound like a jackass. “In addition, he may have had a secondary hidden weapon, or a plan to retrieve one from the kitchen. There were too many dangerous outcomes resting on a single unknown factor. I eliminated it.”
Emotional peaks from all three. The Imbued has no special control of his emotions. I didn’t need my tech to inform me of those details; all three individuals heard me refer to the man I shot as ‘it’ instead of ‘him’. Fuck, I pushed too far.
The Imbued investigator sighed. “Opinion aside, the audio record of the event supports your claim that you did your best to talk down an unstable perp, then discharged your weapon after it became clear he wasn’t responding to communication. You say you couldn’t save the woman by shooting the perp before she was stabbed?”
“If presented with a similar situation, I’d perform the exact same actions,” I said. “I followed my training, attempted to de-escalate the situation, but that simply wasn’t possible. If given the ability to go back in time with what I know now? I’d have pulled the trigger and hoped for the best. At which point it would be very likely that the victim would have fallen back with the perp and landed on the knife. Perhaps her wound would have been survivable.” I paused for a second and decided that I was acting far too reasonable. “But it’s far more likely we’d be right here having this exact same conversation with you accusing me of murdering two people instead of one. Are we done here?”
The investigators both looked at Captain Brown; an untrained eye would see it as a deferral to his judgment, while we all knew it was a judgment of it. I wondered what they hoped to learn about the man in this situation. There’s deeper information below the surface. <Command? I think there’s been exchanges between Brown and these investigators before. Not certain of what nature and can’t probe deeper at the moment.>
“You’ll be put on administrative duty for the time being,” Captain Brown said.
“You’re benching me?!” I didn’t shout, but I put more emotion in my voice than I felt. No matter what, I had to maintain the illusion. “It was a good shooting!”
“Standard operating procedure for any shooting,” he said. Not strictly true; SOP after a shooting was to remove the officer from duty entirely, as opposed to assigning them to desk duty. As usual, theory met reality and lost; there simply wasn’t the budget to cover officers, especially Imbued officers, getting impromptu paid vacations. “I have no doubt the investigation will take your side in this situation. I am also requiring you see our therapist. I will be relying on his judgment as to when or if you will be allowed to return to full duty.”
“A shrink? Oh, I see how it is.” I channeled my contempt for what I was about to say. “Looking for dark secrets, right? Well, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go home, take a shower, get my skin clean.” I stood and walked out without bothering to look back. My scanners and the people in command were better than my physical senses could hope to be. <Did they buy it? And was it necessary to play race card?>
<Phoebe thinks the Imbued bought it,> Abernathy answered. <I think the others did, too. And in my opinion, playing the race card was the best way to put them off their game. Perhaps we could have found another method, but it was the best method with the limited information we have access to.>
I walked as briskly as I could without it calling undue attention. Some attention was necessary, but I needed to look like someone trying to avoid attention and failing, rather than someone trying to get attention. <How about the other bit of the plan? The witnesses are safe and sound?>
<Safe, sound, and in the hands of very appreciative FBI investigators,> Abernathy said. <The state department already confirmed the story we want to be believed scores an eighty on their EV ratings. They’ve used the scry-blanket to distort more esoteric scanning techniques, which coupled with your power resistance will create a near impenetrable smokescreen. All that’s left is the autopsies.>
I stepped out of the door into the warm night air; spring hadn’t begun too long ago, and already the weather was well on its way to a record setting heat. Inconvenient, in that the warmth meant criminals would be out on the streets rather than hiding inside from the weather.
<I’m sure your puppets will fool the forensics guys just as well as you fooled my scanning tech. That was… disturbingly realistic, just so we’re clear. How did you make them look so human?>
<Years of practice,> Phoebe answered with no small amount of pride. <Chantelle and I have been in an epic test of skills against Integral and Doctor Kobayashi for years. They perfect their medical scanners, and we break them. Then they come back and break them again. And the stuff we learned from samples of the Vine replicants are pretty awesome, too. There’s nothing we can’t do with biology. Maybe we’ll show you some time.> She whispered the last sentence, making it clear what she really meant.
I chose again to ignore Phoebe’s innuendo, as down that path lay only madness and ruin. <After tonight, I’ve no doubt you’re the best in the world.> Fuck, that sounds like an innuendo as well.
I kept walking, passing up the parking lot; I didn’t live far from the precinct, so I never bothered to drive. A light crackle in the air told me that tonight, the behavior was due to pay off. <You know, there are people who claim that Imbued are proof of extraterrestrial breeding programs who would call what you pull too outlandish to be believed. As a half-serious question, are the Illuminati real, and if so will they cause problems?>
<You don’t have to worry about the Illuminati,> Abernathy said. <Not since they tried to build a weather control device in the arctic. Santa’s black-ops elves hunted down and ate every last one. Think pointy-eared Ewoks.>
I would have laughed, but far too much effort had gone into this mission for me to screw it up for something so stupid at this critical juncture. <I can’t decide what’s scarier: the idea that you just told a joke, or the worry that you didn’t. On a serious note, were right about phase two’s beta scenario: I’ve got a tail. One with a weird power, at that.>
<You’re certain?> Abernathy’s tone changed to mission mode. <Your scanners aren’t showing anything unusual in the vicinity.>
<Exactly,> I said as I took a deep breath of New York air. As with Vancouver, the city was a blend of scents more unpleasant than not, but there weren’t any signs of trouble to be detected in the air. <Nothing at all unusual in a city where there is always at least three unusual things tripping my tech in any given moment. When I arrived this afternoon, there was a faulty power transformer setting off my EMP threat detector. A junkie in the precinct building setting off my aggressive potential threat detection. And stray air pollution is constantly triggering toxic environment alerts.>
<That is bizarre,> Abernathy agreed. <I’m running dianostics now, but there doesn’t appear to be any Imbued influence over your brain. Even if there was, we should still be receiving details through your uplink. Diagnostics don’t show any damage to your systems, either.>
<Well, whatever it is hasn’t impacted my other senses.> I wished I could turn my head so that both ears could focus on the same target. <I can hear this guy flying behind me. About twenty meters up, using a method that generates an inordinate amount of free carbon. Also sounds an awful lot like echolocation, but without the pattern or focus.>
<Our hack into your precinct suggests there was no use of their equipment to order your tail, but we didn’t crack the IA investigators’ encryption. It may be related to their realization that you have power resistance. Or perhaps an independent hero or villain connected to the supposed deaths of our witnesses.>
<Doesn’t matter, we anticipated this.> I kept walking as if nothing was wrong, wondering if he planned to follow me back to my home. Meanwhile, I studied the changes to my perception without the alerts active. As careful as possible, I bit down on the tip of my tongue and slowly increased pressure. <My pain threshold is unchanged, which suggests I’m in full possession of my perceptions of harm.> I bit down harder, until a metallic flavor entered my mouth. <Medical repair fields just kicked in to fix my tongue, but not a single alarm was tripped in the process.>
<That shouldn’t be possible,> Abernathy said. <The med systems don’t activate unless they detect injury thanks to the alarm system, or you order them manually.>
<Welcome to the wonderful world of superpowers.> A pity we blanketed the area in anti-Esper tricks. <Perhaps we’re dealing with an Infiltrator power that works on technology?> I glanced around until I located a traffic monitor camera. <Think you can use that to track our tail?>
I made a point of crossing the street at that light; I’d have to cross eventually no matter what, so it wouldn’t read as too suspicious. In the minute it took for the pedestrian light to turn, Abernathy had an answer. <Camera is nonfunctional. It registers as functional, but the data it’s collecting is useless jibberish that anti-tampering software sees as legitimate. Whoever’s doing this is too good to be natural.>
<Yet somehow unable to track me via security cameras,> I added.
<Of course not,> Phoebe said. <A villain that doesn’t make mistakes doesn’t advance the story’s narrative.>
<We don’t know that they’re the villains, Phoebe.> I kept an ear on my shadow’s location. Flight includes the ability to hover. Doesn’t seem to fear that the civilians might notice his presence. Isn’t careful of my recorded enhanced senses. <They could just as easily be normal law enforcement who want to make sure I’m not a threat. After all, they think I murdered someone without regret or hesitation.>
<But if it’s not the villains, then how are we supposed to find them? Ooh! Or maybe it’s a secret ally! A real ally instead of all the fake ones! And they’ll come back later and save your life! It’ll be so cool!>
As if I need more stalkers helping me. <Or it turns out this is some superpowered paparazzi who’s hoping to take pictures of me in the bathroom,> I said. <If he tries to follow me into my apartment, I am going to have to stab him.>