Jasmine drove a dull colored minivan, some smoky color that couldn’t decide between blue or gray, but was as drab as its name was pretentious. I had no idea what model it was, but it was a minivan, so the name had to be pretentious.
“Hi Arclight!” The voice had to be from Wiki, though I couldn’t see him through the tinted child-safe back windows all minivans, and only minivans, seemed to have.
I smiled and waved in what I hoped was a friendly manner as the vehicle came to a stop. I made certain to stand on the right side of the road, so it was the passenger window that rolled down to greet me. “The doors unlocked, get in.”
A bit brusque, but Jaz was doing us a favor, so I ignored any social mistakes she might make. I popped the door and climbed in the front passenger seat. “Thanks. You know, I would have ridden in the back if you wanted.”
Despite being years older than me, Jaz managed to come across as younger through lack of confidence. The girl’s eyes darted around, as if expecting supervillains hidden behind every tree. Despite the fact that we met up in an empty campground. “No, Davin needs-.”
“My name is Wiki! I’m in costume!” A thud came from the back, where I presume the boy hit the window. The vehicle then began to rock as he moved about and kicked the seat. It reminded me of the tantrums Jay threw when he was a toddler, a behavior he had learned not to try by the time he was four. For all my parents’ faults, they raised their children to have a sense of decorum.
Jaz flinched, then turned to face her brother while I did my best to pretend I wasn’t here. “Wiki!” The rocking stilled at her quick bark of his name. Then the sobbing started. “Listen, I’m sorry. You know I’m not good at this superhero business.”
“It… it’s ‘kay…”
With her brother pacified, Jaz settled back in her seat while avoiding looking at me just as I’d avoided looking at them. She started the vehicle down the road in the silence that followed the miniature tantrum.
It promised to be a long trip to the docks in Swanquarter, and I didn’t want to spend it in awkward silence. “We’re not doing real hero work, Wiki.” Domenic and I had assured Jaz of that many times before she agreed to go on this trip at all.
“It… it’s not?” He sobbed out his question in a manner more fitting a small child than a man older than myself or Domenic.
Great, he’ll throw another tantrum at this rate. “It’s a treasure hunt, like I know your sister told you.” I glanced at Jaz, seeking confirmation.
“That’s right, Wiki.” Jaz spoke too fast for it to come across as natural. “You know most Imbued don’t fight, or commit, crime. We’re going to go out on a boat and see if we can find sunken ships.”
“Of the estimated thirty-two thousand notable Imbued in the united states, less than ten percent use their abilities for law enforcement, military or criminal purposes. The Powered Resources Employment Program reports that in twenty fourteen, the so-called ‘civilian Imbued’ industry contributed two hundred and fifty one billion dollars to the Gross Domestic Product. Okay, I’m Davin again! Let’s go git us some pirate booty! Arr!”
Two hundred and fifty one billion spread across thirty thousand. An average of just over seven million dollars each. I wondered how those numbers reflected reality, and decided most of it must be from a small pool of Imbued celebrity heroes and the miracle healers. I remembered when Elixer died a few years back and insurance companies fell because he was one of two people on the continent who could cure cancer.
Oh, right, Wiki said something about pirates. “We won’t be fishing up sunken treasure. I think most of that’s in Florida. This far north we’ll find more civil war ships than anything, maybe something from World War Two. Besides, even if we did find a gold ship, there are grave robbing laws.”
“Grave robbing?” Jaz asked.
I was about to go into detail, perhaps ask Jaz why she sounded so worried, but Wiki jumped in. “The Abandoned Shipwrecks Act passed into law in 1988 to protect historic shipwrecks from treasure hunters and salvagers by transferring the title of the wreck to the state whose waters it lies in.”
“But if you’re not going to get the treasure, how do you make money?”
Ah, that’s the problem. I hated being the spoiled rich girl who forget how important money was for other people. Jaz, much like Domenic, didn’t have the luxury of seeing money as a game to get the high score on. I no longer had that luxury, either. Holding Hunter as a captive was not a cheap prospect, and it blocked off a number of income sources as well; collecting her bounty, as an example. We had an excellent shot at allowing people to think she was dead, not as much when making specific claims where a Truthsayer might notice.
I hope Dom can control her without my Pairbond to help. I tore myself away from my own doubts. “Well, depends on what we find. Shipwrecks are state property, but finding those vessels is expensive and often paid for by not-for-profit groups and government funding. We can do it in days instead of years.”
Jaz nodded, but the tension didn’t leave her arms. “Makes sense.”
“We’ll still fish up a sample or two, to help identify the source. That’s where you come in, Davin.” More lie than truth; we didn’t need to identify wrecks when we could drop a sample off in the hands of a historian to do the work, which would cost us less in the long run than bringing Davin and Jaz with us. What we needed more than anything was witnesses and plausible deniability. To say nothing of the fact that Jaz was one of the few rides we could get, given that Hunter and I didn’t have vehicles.
“I… I never thought about identifying antiques.” Something in Jaz’s voice perked up, like a weight had been lifted off her shoulders.
Poor girl, I gave her false hope and now I have to break it. “I don’t think that would work.” Sorry. “For general stuff, sure, but appraisals require a lot of specific knowledge and training. How to spot fakes is a big deal. But there’s no harm in trying, right? Maybe Davin’s power is better than you realize.”
Jaz’s hands trembled a little on the wheel. “Oh.” A single syllable that carried the weight of a world on its back.
My heart went out to her; the stress of taking care of someone who couldn’t care for themselves was something I hoped to never experience for myself. I wished I could do more to help them. I remembered the Infiltrator who pretended to be Starfall the night I got my powers, who told me I’d be happier and do more good signing checks for good causes rather than using my powers. I couldn’t remember his name, but for the first time felt like I knew what he meant. A single week of my family’s household budget would seem like a godsend for Jaz.
A weight pushed on the back of my seat. “You seem upset.” Davin’s voice was a bit too close for preference, given that he was a little more than a stranger and his breath was less than fresh at the moment.
“Davin!” The vehicle swerved as Jaz almost lost control, then regained it. “Get back in your seatbelt! You know how dangerous that is!”
“Seat belts reduce the odds of injury in a crash by up to fifty percent, and the odds of death by up to seventy.” Davin’s voice receded as he recited information from whatever part of the Internet his brain had linked up to.
Meanwhile, I wondered how I’d stop the vehicle if it did indeed go off the road. I knew my power beat concrete and steel, a car wreck wouldn’t threaten me much, but one day I might need to stop a crash to save passengers. Maybe if I grab the frame, I could slow it without ripping it in half. I’ll have to talk to Domenic and Hunter, they may have some ideas.
“Do you miss your boyfriend?” It seemed that Davin had found his way back to his seat while I was thinking.
“He’s not my boyfriend.” The fake relationship was between Chloe and Domenic, for cover purposes. As such, it could not be between Damascus and Daybreak who were meant to be seen as partners and nothing more. After all, I still intended to come out as a gay hero when the time was right, and the less connection there was between our civilian and costumed identities, the better.
“That’s not what the fan pages say.”
What. “We have fan pages?” When did this happen, why didn’t I know? “I thought we were still complete unknowns.”
“Uhuh! Standing up to Quash and killing Hunter really made a splash in the local scene! Plus you got the whole petite sexy girl and gentle giant thing going on. You’re Raleigh’s favorite OTP for now. Well, except one of the forum users called Queen Bee. She says Damascus has had more old white dudes in him than the Whitehouse.”
I brought a hand up to rub my eyes. “I think I know who Queen Bee is.” Domenic must never find out. “Speculation aside, Damascus isn’t gay, but I am.”
“That’s okay, you don’t have to lie to make me feel better, I’m not jealous.” What. “I have an internet girlfriend. She doesn’t know I’m really a guy, but that’s okay, I’m not supposed to know she’s really a guy, too. I’m talking to her right now.”
“Davin, you know I don’t want you doing stuff like that. It… it’s not safe.” Something told me Jaz wanted to say a great deal more. She gave me a look somewhere between embarrassment and fear. “I’ve tried to keep him away, but his power makes it impossible. I even took him to a building which blocked cell phones, but it didn’t work.”
Block cell phones? “Like a Faraday cage?” His power sees through shielding. I flipped open my cell, just to confirm I had no signal this far away from the city. “You can access the Internet from anywhere? Have you ever attempted to access networks that aren’t on the grid?”
“No!” Jaz jumped in her seat. Based on the lurch forward her car took, she stomped the gas in the process. “Davin can only access the same stuff web browsers access, nothing more.” Her voice trembled by the time she finished the line she must have rehearsed a great many times over the years.
It didn’t take a Truthsayer or a computer scientist to know Jaz was lying. Even with my limited computer science knowledge, I knew Davin’s power had to be doing a lot under the surface. With a range that exceeded a cell phone tower, and the ability to interact with the Internet using only his mind, there was little reason to believe Davin couldn’t tap into… every computer and cell phone in his incredible range. “Oh.”
“Davin didn’t get lucky like you did.”
Lucky. I forgave Jaz’s accidental insult, in light of what I could have done to her and Davin. “Sometimes it’s easy to forget some powers are more useful than others.”
“It’s okay, you were just trying to help.”
Davin seemed oblivious to his sister’s fears. Perhaps he can’t access computers as easily as I thought, or it would have happened and he’d know his sister is lying. Then, if he succeeded, would he even notice an individual computer in the massive amounts of data on the Internet? It would be like looking for a specific needle in a continent full needles. The only thing I was certain of is the answer might ruin what was left of Jaz and Davin’s life.
I lost my family when my powers stole my happy lie. I’ll be damned if I do the same thing to these people.