I listened to Cassandra retreat down the stairs, whilst my imp watched more to ensure nobody else tried to sneak up here and eavesdrop. One of my many complaints about being Anima; nobody seemed to believe I had a right to privacy. All of which was secondary to the situation I had just put myself in by defending the girl. To start with, Zach and Laura looked pissed at me, and to them it was for a good reason, and I was too much an outsider in this group to hope they’d forgive me.
We all stood in uncomfortable silence for a while, before I gave up and accepted that I would need to be the one to start the conversation. “She needs help.” I hoped that would be enough of a reason. “Getting powers never goes well for anyone.”
Not always true; for some of us getting powers was the easy part, the beginning of a long nightmare. For others like me and Zach, they were a eventful moment in the middle. “And besides, we all have some idea what else she’s survived.”
I gave a look at Zach and Daryl. Some of us have a better idea than others. I felt terrible for the guilt trip, but they were the ones who should know better than anyone the hell that girl went through. Daryl had the good graces to look ashamed, but Zach and Laura remained defiant. Dammit, this is my fault and I’m going to lose friends because I finally started trying to do the right thing.
“Y’know, as much fun as it sounds to have my own personal stalker on the team, don’t they have therapists for that?” Zach didn’t bother looking at me, instead having his eyes locked on the balcony. “Plus all the other government programs, like finding us jobs? She can work in a nuclear plant. I’m sure she’d feel right at home in a cooling lake, alongside the rest of the radioactive waste.”
Dammit, I suck. I wanted to help Cassandra, but doing so hurts Zach. “Therapy’s not magic,” I repeated a line Doctor Cantu told me more than once. “She needs to want help, first. And right now, it’s us she wants help from.”
“And by ‘us’, you mean ‘me’,” Zach muttered. “Or am I the only one who noticed how she literally murdered me? I’m going home while I’m behind. See you Wednesday, maybe.”
“Wait! I-” By the time my brain got around to coming up with a message and telling my mouth about it, Zach had taken another flying leap off the second story. Dammit. My hand came up on reflex at some point, so I felt rather stupid when I brought it back down to my side.
Daryl looked toward where Zach had made his retreat as if to follow, but I was the only one who could chase him down without getting hurt, and I stood there like a moron. Laura just kept watching me, silent, judging.
God damn it, how do I keep screwing everything up? “I just said we should give it a couple days and try this again, that’s all.”
Laura looked at me for a while, while I felt like I was in a police interrogation like they showed in the movies. After what felt like eternity had passed, she spoke. “You’ve never had your heart broken before, have you?”
You have no idea. I stomped down on any number of unwelcome memories, lest I break down here and now. Given the nature of my power, it might retaliate against Laura if I lost control in the wrong moment, as it had with Zach once. “Is that what happened between them? Zach said she wasn’t that…”
“Zach says a lot of things,” Laura interrupted. “Most of them are fucking retarded, and the more something bothers him, the more retarded he acts. You’ve known him long enough to figure that much out.”
She’s right, I’m a selfish bitch. “Sorry, I didn’t think.” Great, now what am I supposed to do?
“I wouldn’t worry about it too much.” Laura sighed, then took a step toward me. “You made the right choice. At least this way, we know where Cassie is and what she’s doing, rather than having her running around out there doing god only knows what. Which might get her hurt or killed, and then Zach would blame himself. Or she kills Crucible, or goes even crazier stalker and we have Kitten 2.0 on our hands. Better to keep her where we control her, and Zach knows that, or at least he’ll figure it out once his brain remembers it knows how to think.”
Wasn’t she the one chasing Cassie out of here, like, a minute ago? I looked in Laura’s eyes, unable to tell if she recognized the incongruity in her words and actions. “You think so?”
“Yeah, probably,” she said. “Don’t get me wrong, he’ll be pissy for a while, but he’ll figure it out. Besides, right now we have a complete lack of fire protection and are going up against a dude who can turn a parking lot to molten slag in two or three minutes. Zach might be dumb enough to risk his own life for a grudge, but not if it means the rest of us get turned to charcoal. Since it seems he’s not going to give it up like he said he would.”
She stopped for a moment, then turned to look at Daryl. “Although I suppose now I know why he’s still doing this. Neither of you thought Kitten was dead, did you?”
Daryl looked down. “Sure, pick on the guy who can’t escape by jumping off a building.”
“Oh, you can,” she said. “It’s just a bit more of a permanent solution in your case. Now why the hell didn’t you tell the rest of the class Kitten might still be alive? It seems like critical need to know information.”
“We didn’t tell you because we didn’t want you worried, because we thought we were being paranoid. I don’t want to speak for him, but I know I’m paranoid.” Daryl ran his thumbs over the tablet computer he held. “I… if I saw her decapitated, staked through the heart into the sidewalk, run over by a tank, covered in thermite, and set ablaze, I still wouldn’t believe she was really dead. No point in making you guys deal with my crap.”
Good fucking lord am I a selfish bitch. I swore to myself I wouldn’t turn out like M- Sapphire, yet here I am doing the exact same bullshit, with no concern for anyone other than myself. I have to at least try to make up for it.
“If you want to talk about it, we’re here.” I realized how lame I sounded before I finished speaking. “Or, well, I know of a great therapist if you’d rather talk to a professional.”
“Nah, I’m good,” Daryl said. The tablet shaking in his hand begged to differ. “Besides, shrinks all answer back to the Feds. You should see the leaks online, creepy shit. Speaking of, never trust a smart phone unless you’re the Gadgeteer who built it.”
“Alright, that sounds like something my idiot brother would do.” Laura smiled, as seemed to be the habit for the Parker family when things got too personal. “But for the sake of the team, I’mma have to ask for that to stop happening. If we don’t got each other’s back, we’re all fucked.” She seemed intent on ignoring Daryl’s conspiracy theories, and I chose to follow suit; Doctor Cantu would never betray me like that.
For that matter, Laura and Zach both had an amazing ability to drop things the moment it looked bad, then play the whole thing off like it never mattered in the first place. As far as coping mechanisms went, either they knew how to repress to the point that it could be called a mental illness, or they were far better adjusted than I was.
“Sure, I’ll keep letting you know about all possible psychopaths I think might, maybe, be looking in our direction.” Daryl’s coping mechanism seemed to be sarcasm. “Y’know, on top of all the gangs in the city that we keep outmaneuvering somehow. Seriously, though, I wish I knew more about our unnamed super-precog backer. I bet I’d sleep better at night.”
Laura’s glance in my direction was unreadable. It didn’t look accusing, and accusation was an expression that I assumed you wanted the other person to recognize, otherwise there was no point in doing it. Nor did it appear to be a warning or any message I could discern.
“Sorry,” Glen said while I was still trying to translate her expression. “It has to stay secret. Suffice it to say some of us owe a lot to this person, and I think most of us would rather walk from this team than spill. I’m one of them”
“Same here,” I backed him up.
In regards to Muwth, I probably would pick her over the team. She was there for me when nobody else was, taught me that even though powers were a curse, the price had already been paid and we could do something positive, use them to bring something other than more pain and suffering. She convinced me it was possible for Imbued to find happiness in this world. She never believed it, herself, but her lies were motivated by kindness. In many ways she was everything my mother failed to be, there was little to nothing I would betray her for.
“After all’s said and done, I think we all would.” Laura said. “Even if we only count the help in taking out Kitten, we’re all in debt. We’d have to be real sacks of shit to snitch now. Plus, backstabbing a precog? Tell me how that’s not the dumbest thing you’ve ever heard. Especially one who managed to organize Lightbringer, Los Fieles, Guardian, and Anima to show up on a moment’s notice Christmas Eve. Dunno about you, but I can think of some countries I’d rather start shit with.”
“All those disparate forces came together, united under the banner of Christmas and the fact that some things are greater than any man.” Daryl’s sarcasm was palpable. “Like how some things belong dead. Not since 1914 has anyone seen such a Christmas miracle.”
I wasn’t sure I could buy into that belief, that some people deserved to die. Even in the case of Kitten, there had to be something, a reason why she became a monster, a way even someone like her could find a better path. Just because I had no idea what that reason was, or how she could make amends for her past, didn’t mean it was impossible, it just proved how I and everyone else was imperfect, and flawed.
Perhaps I was telling myself that to alleviate myself of guilt. My hesitation, my weakness, was the reason any of this had happened in the first place. If I’d been willing to put Kitten down, most of this wouldn’t have happened. Cassie wouldn’t have gotten powers. All the suffering she went through was my fault, and I was sick of failing to take responsibility for my own… failings.
Meanwhile, Daryl kept talking over my thoughts. “Still, I’d really like to get to know our reclusive precog. If nothing else, we could use a code name so we know what we’re talking about. Hey, how about we just say ‘Oracle’? I know the name’s been taken by at least a hundred people and no one’s going to be fooled for a second, but the best codes are ones that aren’t actually codes. Make everyone else work to decode absolutely nothing.”
“Sorry, you won’t be getting any secret tidbits from me,” Glen said. “But that Oracle idea’s not half bad. I’ll have relay that one back as a suggestion.”
Daryl smiled, though the expression would have been lost on Glen. “Cool. And, actually, that’s a good reason to take Cassie up on her recruitment offer. The original Cassandra was a precog, and one of the most powerful if we take the mythos at face value. I wouldn’t, myths are always exaggerated, but she certainly went through enough hell to justify a power at that level. People hear that name in connection to a team with our record, and they’ll draw conclusions.”
The room went silent for a moment as we all picked our thoughts to dwell on. For my part, I fixated on what I remembered of the tragedy of Cassandra. A precognitive of unparalleled clarity, cursed so that she would be seen only as a madwoman, unable to actually prevent anything she saw, and so beautiful that she would never be valued as anything but a sex object. It was a cruel reflection of Muwth, cursed to being valued for nothing but her gift, bordering on real madness, and trapped forever in the body of a child.
“That’s… not a bad idea,” Laura broke the deafening silence. It made sense that she’d take the practical approach, as heartless as it was. For that matter, I didn’t know if knew enough about the source material to know Cassandra’s story. “One that might even sell Zach on this. Think people will really think she’s our oracle? I mean, how would we even tell anyone without them pointing a Truthsayer at us?”
“The beauty of it is we don’t have to,” Daryl said. “I could start a few rumors online, but it’s easier to let them draw their own false conclusions while we run the whole ‘we neither confirm nor deny’ smokescreen. Easily the smartest lie that the world has ever known, still works even if you know it’s a lie. And it’s not even the craziest conspiracy theory I heard this week. Did you know some people think the Russians have a military base on the moon?”
“Oh, right, Mike was telling me about that. Said it was dumb as hell. Something about if they had that, they could just drop space rocks on us and win.”
“I’m less concerned about the rocks and more about the Tech that lets you reach the moon undetected,” Daryl said. “Teleportation or cloaking fields at that scale? Assassinate all the enemy leaders. Nobody can even prove you were there.”
“I said something about that. Make said Tech like that would come with many flaws to work that easy, and he’s a Gadgeteer so I took his word for it.”
“Well, I’m also a Gadgeteer, and I say it can totally be done. You should introduce us, so I can give him an itemized list of why he’s wrong.”
“Oh, that’ll be a wonderful evening right up until you start building a doomsday device to prove the Russians don’t have a doomsday device.” The rumble of laughter followed. Through my imp still in the hallway, I could hear how truly inhuman it was. “Actually, you’d get along pretty well, I think. Maybe too well.”
“What? Are you worried I’ll leave your team the moment I find someone smart enough to keep up with me?”
“Nah, I’m pretty sure we’re stuck with you. But his husband’s the jealous type.”