The interrogation room reminded me an awful lot of the classrooms I went to in grade school, before Nanna scraped together the money to put me in an expensive high school. I’d have settled for an ordinary ‘not violent’ high school, myself, which may have saved me from a lot of complications later in life. But Bea being Bea would have still gotten into the fight which broke her hand, and I’d have still broken into that building. If I hadn’t recognized Chloe’s face, she might have killed me that night.
I shook off that line of thought, and the dance of determinism that the so-called ‘Mark of Cain’ implied. The same determinism the Greenwitch invoked in claiming my sister as her own. Fuck.
A glance at the cheap chair in the room was all it took to determine it hadn’t a snowball’s chance in hell of holding my weight, so I decided to craft my own, then stopped. A glance at the mirror showed at least one person on the other side, wearing a belt with steel bits in it. I’m under observation; they want to get my measure before sending someone in. Alright, I can play that game. Hmm, what sort of attitude do I want to project? If I’m too obvious, they’ll realize it’s an act. Eh, screw it, utilitarian to the point of boring it is.
I shaped the basics stool legs right out of the costume, then sat down. I’m sure the chair legs sticking out from my rear would result in a few analysts getting a cheap laugh, but looking stupid the best way to convince them I didn’t know I was under observation. Or, at least, I hoped as much; with powers being what they were it never paid to imagine anything you thought, said or did went unnoticed by others.
I just hoped they didn’t have a telepath on the payroll, or that my Pairbond was enough to shield me from such a power. Then again, their Espers can’t be all that effective if Starfall managed to beat them for almost thirty years.
Which brings us back to my mother’s alleged murderer, and the Fate that tied me to Cecelia. Pairbonds were, near as I could tell, unable to kill one another. There were countless examples in the literature of ones who fought each other, sometimes carrying on feuds for decades. The most famous being the memoirs of Maestro, often credited as the most powerful Gadgeteer of all time. His Pairbond, a flying brick who had the gall to call herself Lady Liberty, fought him up until her death from cancer in the early 50s.
Despite them being sworn enemies, neither ever once attempted to kill the other. Nor did they ruin one another’s life using methods,such as her putting him in prison or him making her identity public. Both had a history of doing exactly that with their other enemies, but never each other.
It painted a grim picture of Chloe and I sparing Cecelia; I had imagined it was proof we could defy the Fate, and with that the Greenwitch. But the truth was that Fate always intended we save her, and we were ignorant of our roles until it was far too late. Whether I could have murdered her back in the warehouse knowing what I now knew, I could never know. Now, after having gotten to know her over the last few months, I couldn’t imagine executing her.
The Greenwitch knew, and she knew just how to play us so that we followed through with images of knights slaying dragons. Had I known the truth, Chloe and I could have stayed somewhere else until the pair was either killed or driven from the city and dealt with those consequences instead. It would have sucked, but it would have proven us able to break Fate’s hold.
The witch was smart enough to play us, and she can do it again if we give her the chance. Literal centuries of being alive may have made her crazy, but I could not afford the mistake of assuming insanity was equivalent to stupidity a second time.
Thus begins the quest of trying to imagine someone smarter than myself, and figuring out what he would do. Said imaginary smart person would have told that force which offers powers to go back to hell a third time. Then again, Granny made the same mistake as the rest of us; she said yes. And if greater power means greater loss, then she must have chosen to lose everything for power as great as hers.
I had to hope the judgment that allowed me to reject this cursed power twice was enough to beat over ten times my wordly experience. Just as I had to hope a three-person Pairbond was enough to defeat one of the most powerful Imbued ever documented.
Needless to say, I hadn’t much hope. Still, somewhere deep within me, was the ability to call on that same dark power. I could go to it instead of waiting for it to come to me. When the Greenwitch came for her pound of flesh, if she didn’t accept ‘no’ like she promised she would, then I would give everything to my power in order to save my sister.
My home, my chance for a normal life, those seemed probable losses; I already had minor Altered mutations, it could do the same to the rest of me. It could ruin my relationship with Chloe by rendering me sexless, take away our Pairbond, or even kill me. Perhaps the old myths Nanna spoke of about Satan claiming the souls of Imbued were true, and by accepting that power I would consent to an eternity of damnation, with no hope of redemption.
My soul for my sister’s life sounded exactly the sort of melodrama that the Source of Powers would appreciate. If, indeed, it could experience emotion at all.
More than all of that came the dread that Granny was right, that Fate was absolute and inviolable. There was a glut of literature dating as far back as Oedipus which all enforced the concept of Fate’s status as a force more inviolable than death. My attempt to beat one prophecy was what fulfilled it, and now I had to fear walking into the same trap a second time.
Or perhaps it was a triple-bluff, in which case knowing that I know that I know… the lines from Vizzini’s death started in my head. If only I knew of a way to immunize myself from Fate. Suicide, perhaps? Not the happiest idea, but-
I was distracted from my thoughts by the clicking of a door. A woman in a police uniform stood there, her eyes wide. The hand which had opened the door pulled back, hovering only inches above her hip. She wasn’t wearing her gun or holster, but if she were she’d have her hand resting on the handle right then.
It was then that I realized that my power had morphed into a forest of cruel hooked blades and spikes that could have reduced a human body to slurry. In a panic, I smoothed everything into a nice, humanoid shape without any decorations at all.
“Uh, sorry, I was just… uh, practicing with my power.” As I said it, I knew it was a weak excuse that would be picked apart, so I looked for a way to make it more plausible. With a gesture to the one-way mirror, I found my solution. “It’s not often I have a full body mirror to work with.”
“Was the fight that bad?” Her voice was soft, tender, more like that I’d expect from a teacher than an officer of the law. “I heard people were killed.”
Now that I was paying attention, the woman was a looker. She had a pretty face, and even the sexless police uniform couldn’t hide her excellent figure. That, I could dismiss as the nature of a job which required physical fitness. It was the fact that she was black which killed any illusion I may have had that it was mere coincidence that she was assigned to me; my race was a known fact. The part where she bore a superficial resemblance to my mother took it past basic manipulation tactics, and into Esper territory.
“It got pretty ugly, yes.” I wasn’t sure if my power-distorted voice would hide how upset I was, nor did I want it to. “But, I was aiming for intimidation rather than combat function. I can’t control minds or pluck bullets from the air. If I want to shield someone, I have to do it by getting between them and the bullets, and I don’t have super-speed, either. I was hoping, if I could look scary enough, that people would surrender or retreat.”
The woman smiled at me as she took a seat. “I’m impressed. It’s rare to find someone who realizes violence doesn’t have to be the first solution in this room.”
One way or another, it might be my only solution to the one thing which matters. “I… think that depends on who you’re dealing with. I don’t know what your files have on Salamander, but I tried the whole ‘ball of pointy death’ trick on him, and, well, he ran face-first into it.”
Her facial expressions hardened just a tinge. “We have a good idea of his capabilities, but I’m sure anything you can tell us will be appreciated.”
“Well, to start off with, I know he died in that fight.” That wasn’t quite accurate, but it was a start. “Or, at least, he was impaled in every major organ including his brain, then exsanguinated in a power-created vacuum. Either he doesn’t require internal organs to survive, or his regeneration continues even after his death. Otherwise, his abilities were inhuman but still nothing you couldn’t encounter in nature. I don’t think he’s bullet-proof, not that it matters with that level of regeneration.”
She kept a remarkable poker face, holding the same almost parental concern she’d worn through much of the conversation. “I see. I don’t believe he’s ever been documented receiving such a degree of punishment, before.”
I took a breath, wondering if I should feel proud or ashamed of her statement. “Well, I suppose I’m here to tell the story anyway, so we may as well start from the beginning. Uh, I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name, officer?”
“Williams,” she said. “Your emergency call came in at ten twenty two, so how about we start there?”
“Well, we were doing our usual sweep, trying to find new stashes to replace old ones, when we spotted a live hit. We landed on the roof, and it turned out to be a lot more ‘live’ than anticipated…”
I recounted every bit of the story save for a handful of gory details; I left Chloe’s near-death out, as well as Cecelia’s stabbing and anything which might tell them more about our powers than they already knew. All told, the complete story took me most of an hour. Funny how retelling the story took so long; it all seemed to happen in a matter of seconds.
“And you let Quash leave without a fight?” Somehow, she still managed to sound friendly, sweet even, despite all but accusing me of allowing the bad guys to get away again.
“We weren’t sure we could win,” I said for the seventh or eighth time. “Quash had most of his team with him, and he threatened to use his power and bring the building down on us. I wasn’t ready to call his bluff, not when there were so many wounded to consider.” And I couldn’t bring my self to kill, not even him.
She marked down something on her notepad. “No Truthsayers on your team?”
You can stop probing us for weaknesses. It took all my willpower to keep from giving voice to that thought. “Officer Williams, we both know Truthsayers can be beat. Plus, as your colleagues have reminded my team over and over again, we’re not law enforcement officers, and pretending otherwise is a crime.” I was pretty sure Samaritan and Stand Your Ground laws would have let us attack Heritage one way or another, but I wasn’t a lawyer. “We are not cops.”
She nodded, with another note scribbled as I talked. “I understand.” I didn’t believe her, though may have been my hangups over the Espers that assigned her to my interrogation. “I also understand it’s getting late, and what you witnessed must have been difficult.” She pulled a card out of her breast pocket, then slid it over to me. “This is the number of an excellent therapist with experience in cases like this one, if you want someone to talk to. If you’re concerned about the costs, she’s been willing to defer payments before for heroes.”
I picked up the card, then absorbed it into my armor. “That’s generous of her.” I wouldn’t be taking advantage, but it cost nothing to be polite. “Does that mean you’ve gotten everything you need?”
“For the time being,” she said. “You may be required to testify in court, if it comes to that. Thank you for being so understanding.”
Yeah, I bet. I stood up as my metal reshaped itself to no longer be a chair. I doubted it looked any more dignified than it did during its creation. “You just keep putting the scum in jail, and I’ll consider us even.” It turned out the door was not locked, and another officer led me to the front area. Around me cops hesitated, despite the fact that I changed my costume from death-knight to a simple smooth statue.
ReliefLoveJoy. Chloe stood first, followed by Cecelia. It was Cecelia who spoke for the both of them. “For future reference, if they say it’ll take an hour, they really mean three hours if you’re lucky.”
She was exaggerating; we spent less than an hour and a half in the station. “Thanks for the tip.” I joined them out the door, and only after I was certain we were out of earshot, I spoke. “So, how’d your interrogation go?”
FrustrationDisgust. “Next time I’m alone with Seraph, I’m going to rip his wings off, shove one down his throat, the other up his ass, and keep pushing until they met in the middle. And I think I might have agreed to a date!”
ShockDefend. Chloe reached out to her, then hugged her. I bit down on my jealousy; they had to play the part of a couple for the spies, and I had to tolerate it. It did not mean I had to like it. “What happened?”
“He kept asking me about my costume!” That’s not good. “And I kept ignoring it, but he kept asking and I got the impression that he considered it weird that I didn’t want to talk about it, so I told him he’d have to peel it off of me first. Then he gave me his number! Creep.”
HesitationRelief. “That’s just a Gadgeteer thing,” Chloe said. “Most of them don’t know how to shut up about their toys.”
I was about to say something, when my phone rang. Which should have been impossible, since it had no SIM card it should only have been able to send 911 calls. Then there was the additional mystery that it got a signal despite being under several inches of metal.
I pulled it out, nonetheless. AlertRetaliate. “Who is this?” And what weird physics breaking power is going on? I looked around, though I knew Cecelia’s senses would find a threat long before mine could.
“Let Chloe know her father wants her home. Now.” The phone went dead before I could respond.