(Continued, comments still welcome)
The next day I woke up in the apartment, poured myself a nice bowl of Captain O cereal, and caught up on the news. I had a lot to do today, but I promised mother I would try to look after myself when I got into Costa Sagrado, and I'd need the energy. I had the horrible feeling I was going to be sewer diving later today, and the thought did not fill me with glee.
I clicked on the TV since I was multitasking with my lap top between bites. Besides, Local news shaped opinions, God help us all, more than the internet did- at least, it shaped the opinions I'd have to deal with day to day. The world is connected, but I live where I live.
"Some are even claiming the New Samaritans crafted this giant chicken incident in order to stay relevant and keep the city government from asking the question: In this day and age, should we really be relying on superheroes to fight our crime for us? What does it say about us as a community when police are under more scrutiny than ever, but superheroes can have the most outlandish incident, and everyone takes their word for it?" The TV morning host put in just the right mix of worry for the danger to the public, and the disdain for folks who fought crime in their long johns.
I switched to another station; I should know better than to watch Channel 3 at anytime by myself. The gang at the base and I would mock the evening news reports, and deservedly so. News 3 was so biased against superhumans that if Jesus himself appeared wearing a cape, they would start collecting wood and nails all over again.
I flipped it to News 6. News 6 was as dry as toast. It didn't break out the pitchforks like channel 3 did, nor did it have the frivolous 'which male superhero has the nicest ass?' call in contests of Channel 13. Frivolous.
Ahem, yours truly is currently ahead of Tornado and Viewpoint by a narrow percentage. Swimming, it's great exercise for body form, that's all I'll say.
Channel 6, however, or at least it's news, was always a straight shooter, neither gilding the lily nor tarring and feathering unless we really screwed up or wowed them. The guy on the evening news had my respect even if I wanted to nod off sometimes at his rather old school delivery. The morning show wasn't much more interesting, and tended towards lifestyle news and traffic reports.
Though nobody can mess up traffic like superhumans.
"While details on how the chicken was unnaturally enlarged are still just the subject of speculation, it is known that local hero Pinprick has shrunk it down to manageable levels. Animal rights activists are already rushing to rescue the chicken, calling it a pawn and a gentle giant. Despite the deaths that the chicken caused to its one-time handlers. The Superhero Eel managed to stop its rampage, but rumors are that a new superheroine in town aided him. Currently its just conjecture," A middle aged woman said professionally, but again her delivery wasn't exactly lively. Oh well, better dull facts than sensationalism, right?
Looked like Valorosa would need to make her public debut to the media, name and all, soon. It's a dangerous thing to leave stuff up to the media. I still had some reporters that slipped and called me Fish Guy when reporting to this day.
The anchor woman continued, "After shrinking the formerly gargantuan chicken, Pinprick had an encounter with a supervillain who goes by the name 'Dark Lord Charming', a suspected Psionic using a Fairytale prince motif, women of the city are warned that they seem particularly vulnerable to the influence of this villain still on the loose."
Nothing new about the Fumians, or at least that could be connected to them? Yeah, I worried I'd be sucking sewer water for nothing. Okay, clean sewer water if Lady Obsidian's tests came back positive, but still frustrating to dwell on.
I finished my cereal and put the bowl and spoon away, the milk went back the fridge and then behind me, the TV continued to chatter: "Incoming news, the Harold J. Powers Middle School is under attack by three individuals in powered armor. We switch now to Brianna Freemont our reporter on the scene."
An attractive woman with a determined set to jaw, as if daring herself to show fear in front of the camera was speaking before the entrance of the school, the doors had been blown open by some kind of blast, maybe an explosive, "It's only been ten minutes since the text for help came through from one of the students. The camera was too blurry to make out the figures, but the description and audio is clear, three powered armored figures terrorizing the children in the school-"
I was already running for the door, and hitting my communicator for the team, "Mabel, I just saw the news. I assume you're already ahead of me, so any details would be welcome. Am I right in that I live closest to Powers Middle School?"
"Yes, and yes, you're only two and a half miles away, but you'll have to hoof it the whole trip," She chimed, "Others are on their way."
"Young teenagers in danger? I be surprised if the whole team isn't in on this," Clothes gone on the roof in a bag I kept there for such an occasion, costume on and I was leaping off said roof and hitting the street running, "I'm so sorry about the hovercar."
"No point in crying over spilled transport," She said, "Unfortunately, I've got no data on these three figures, even after trying to get a lock on the smart-phone footage, the images don't really fit any supervillains that are on file. They're a bit on the garish side."
"I guess I'll see. Whose closest to back up? I would guess Tornado," I sure hoped it was Tornado. His speed would mean we could get more kids out fast as soon as something opened. While the fact I was the 'strong guy' of the team didn't automatically mean I was a klutz, I wouldn't be nearly as good at it as, well, almost anyone else on the team. They might not even see Pinprick. But I'd make do. Maybe I could delay the villains until the others got there.
The scene had really picked up in the time it took me to run and bound there. Police had already pulled up and were circling the building. A chopper was overhead. The Reporter who was there first on site now had lots of competition, but she, her crew, and the other media types had been pulled further back with the other reporters and cameramen, and the police were not letting them that close to the door again.
Fine by me, less babysitting.
The only problem was-
"It's one of the New Samaritans!" someone, I think a reporter from channel 13, yelled way too loudly for my tastes. There was no time. In this day an age if they were watching the news the villains would know right away a superhero was on the case. I took a deep breath and leaped through a window hoping I wasn't about to get one of the kids killed.
The hallway I had entered was empty, and so I went into stealth mode again. Okay, it's not like I have a cloaking device, and a grown man in almost any costume is going to stand out in a hallway full of lockers. Still, I moved at a brisk pace and listened for sounds of voices, hoping at the same time I wasn't about to hear screams or shots.
Thank goodness, it wasn't. Instead, I heard crying, sobbing, and other signs of fear.
Not that's great, but it’s a hell of a lot better than screams of pain or blasting sounds.
The voices became clearer, more distinct.
"You didn't have to hurt her," One girl said simpering.
"I tasered her ass, or the equivalent," a distorted static riddled voice came out, "And given how she's ruined lives, she deserves worse, " There was a beat, "She is okay, right?"
Another voice, less static ridden but just as artificial, spoke up, "Slow it down, Laydee Lit, we're here to teach a lesson, that's right, we are serious AF about this. I could cut anyone of you. And you deserve it!"
Someone in there broke into a sob, "My parents are rich, they're only making me go to this lameass school because they think it'll keep me from being a brat-"
A third distorted voice spoke up, "Well, that didn't work. Sit down, Bethany. I swear to god I'd punch through your face but your rich parents would probably just buy you a newer prettier one, and you don't deserve it. None of you deserve it!"
By this point, I had figured out a few things.
One, Ladyee Lit or whatever she called herself, had doubts about what they were doing. All three of the powered armored people had chosen this school as their target for personal reasons. The one who said she could cut them sounded the most likely to go off. And the third one? Oh, lots of anger there too. The first one was the one I might be able to reason with. Despite having tasered someone. Just the choice to taser showed restraint in a weird way.
I considered sliding in baseball style but startling these guys could be dangerous. I needed to get them away from the hostages. Then I realized I had a way to steal a peek. There was someone's glitzy notebook dropped in the hallway, almost mirror like, and that reflective surface might be useful. Waiting for the voices to rise again, I gave it a light shove with my foot and managed to pin it at a useful angle to get a rough look inside the room without showing my face.
The middle figure had powered armor with claws, a whole cat motif, rather anime looking in my opinion, her eyes were huge. Somehow the pink touches to the armor did nothing to make those claws look any less dangerous. I didn't recognize the metal, but given the touches I'm not sure anyone short of a metallurgist could.
Another figure the one who I suspect had snarled 'They all deserved it' was wearing something with Greek inspired motifs. It was set up to look like Athena, I'd visited the replica in Nashville's Parthenon, and this was similar, the suit even had the Aegis symbol on the chest plate.
But it was the one with the static voiced one that really caught my attention. Laydee Lit's outfit was a dead ringer for Lady Obsidian's armor, but smaller, and with lightning designs over it. It was too different to be part of a frame up attempt.
This was a homage.
"My god," I said stepping out slow with my hands up, "she would weep to see this." I kept my eyes on Laydee Lit, "To see you, wearing that, scaring these people."
Laydee Lit stepped back as if I had slapped her. No electric field, no battle prep. She might have been ready for someone to come to the rescue, but she wasn't ready for this approach.
"It's the Fish Guy!" The woman in the cat armor blurted, her claws did extend, and she took on a hunched stance, ready to spring. I glanced at her feet spacing. They were too close together, western style. She might be a scrapper, but she wasn't a trained fighter. I was hardly a martial artist, but I could tell that much.
The Athena look alike worried me. She had stepped not towards me, but closer to the crowd of kids. I countered by walking slow to join them.
"I…" Laydee Lit said, "You don't know what they did, what they all did!"
"No, I don't," I admitted, "But I know Lady Obsidian wouldn’t handle it this way. I work with her. I respect her a lot."
"She captures villains and brings them to justice," Athena gave a distorted hiss closing on me, "We're teaching villains a lesson. It's the same."
"She takes villains to a trial and jail, and," I said adding a glance to the large crowd, "she doesn't threaten many for the deeds of just a few." I sure hoped I was right about some of these captured kids not being involved, "Are you taking them to the police? To jail? Going to let due process run its course?"
"Mabel," I hit the subharmonic in my com, "I need back up, and I need some data about incidents in the last year or so here at this high school. Sooner would be better than later. I hope you're hearing all this."
"On the ball, Tiger, and you've got back up on its way. Heck, the whole squad though some are slowed down."
Great, all I had to do was delay these girls, and I was sure it was girls in those sets of armor, from killing someone or hurting them so badly that they ruined a lot of lives, including their own.
"The police won't do anything, not for a group of rich b**ches whose daddies pay lawyers to hide their involvement. They killed her, they might as well put a knife to her throat!" Athena snapped.
"Her name was Florence," Laydee Lit said, "Florence Portly, and her life was hard enough with that last name and a weight condition! Then they started spreading other lies, making photo manipulation, and putting them up where others could see it. They said she had herpes, they said she was a freak! They left things in her locker, on her email, on her phone! We tried to tell her to shake it off, but she couldn't. And then, when she complained-"
"But her grandfather's a judge," the Cat girl pointed a claw at one girl in the crowd, "And her dad is a cop, " She pointed at another "Everyone blew it off, said Flo was just 'troubled', sure, she was, and those three were the ones troubling her."
"I count a lot more than three in this class room," I reminded, "This the new math I've heard tell about?"
"They all stood by! They did nothing! They knew about it! And when we tried to warn them!" Athena slammed forward, and I blocked her looking her in the eyes, she stopped moving, but continued talking, "They did nothing. The cowards! They're guilty too!"
"If we'd said anything they would have screwed us over too!" A boy in the pile finally let slip, "After they planted drugs on Jeremy? Are you crazy! We didn't know Flo was going to, none of us knew! And then she was dead, and what did it matter?"
"You can't threaten people for being weak," I told the three armored girls, "That's not going to make any of them stronger, it's just going to make you their new bullies. Don't you think they've had enough of that? Do you really think that's going to teach them anything they didn't know about themselves? They're ashamed, they're scared, and they failed to do the right thing. That doesn't mean they deserve to go from bully to bully each bully thinking they've got the better-"
Athena, who had been nearly nose to nose to me anyway, struck me hard, "Shut up!" I don't know how old the girl in the suit was, but the tech of that suit hit me forced me to stagger to the side, and I don't stagger easily. I felt that!
"He's trying to trick us, he's trying to confuse us! And he's trying to spare Flow's murderers too! Admit it," She yelled at me in that distorted voice, "You're not going to let us take justice for Flo on the three who drove her to hang herself either, are you?"
"I'm not going to let you kill them, whatever you call it," I said, "Or even hurt them. I wish I knew more about talking to talk you out of this, but I'm trying to understand. Now you understand me, I will not let you turn yourselves into killers to avenge someone who cannot possibly be any less dead just because you avenged her. You'll have to kill me first."
"You can't stop us all, Queen Kat, kill Ashley! I'll handle fish guy!" And she charged me.
Queen Kat said, "On it, Inner Goddess!" Drew her claws and turned on the unconscious tasered girl.
Maybe that armor gave her strength and stamina comparable to mine, it sure felt like it, but I certainly had one edge. I knew how to fight. I grabbed Inner Goddess or whatever her name is by the arm and threw her at Queen Kat before anyone could get gutted.
"Fine, if we both have to go through you," Inner Goddess (If that wasn't a sign all the good names are taken I don't know what is) declared, "We will! All together, we can take him."
"We're fighting a superhero" Laydee Lit! protested "That's crazy. It's- we were just supposed to scare them, not kill them!"
"In or out," Queen Kat told her as she slashed at me, "There's no middle ground anymore." Blood flowed from my side, and she came close to lancing a kidney. What was this metal made of? This didn't feel like the magic of the spear, it hurt, but I didn't feel that sense of violation I did from the spears empowered by the Eldest.
"Your call, Lit," I said, sweeping the legs out from under Queen Kat. She tumbled, I heard some servos whirl and click, the suit was adjusting for its user's lack of expertise and balancing. Internal gyros? Nice, "I'm siding with Lady Obsidian."
Inner Goddess hammered me down to one knee, I looked not at her but Laydee Lit, "Who are you siding with? Who do you feel is the hero now?" I wiped my lip.
There was a stream of lightning and Queen Kat's armor was now dancing with sparks as she went down from the electrical onslaught.
Inner Goddess' head whipped around, "Marcy? You back stabbing sell out" Before she could lunge, I put her in a full nelson.
"She's not a sellout, she's being very, very brave, and she's keeping you from becoming a monster. Trust me, sometime in your life, you're going to realize what she's done for you."
Inner Goddess shook back, and forth, she struggled, but she wasn't getting out of this. She didn't know how to apply the strength the suit gave her.
"This fight," I said, finally pressing my fingers at the base of the helmet and applying force, until I severed the link between the controlling apparatus in the helmet and the rest of the suit "is over."
Inner Goddess collapsed, the weight of her armor too much for her to lift.
Laydee Lit just stood there, and for a moment, I thought she would change her mind and fire at me anyway, but no, she was just staring at Queen Kat, still dealing with the fact that she had struck a friend, and more importantly, that it had been the right thing to do.
"We did everything wrong," She looked at her still flickering hands, "I did everything wrong. I'm sorry," She turned to face the students she had terrorized, the bad and weak alike.
Only to find they were all gone. In their place was Lady Obsidian.
"Fish Guy we weren't beating you, you, you distracted us so she could save them all," Lit said, "Like a hero should."
"It's Eel, actually, but yes, and you? You did the hard thing, the right thing, and for just one moment, you were a hero too," I told her, "We bought Lady Obsidian time to get them all to safety."
"It's Marcy, it's just-" the girl took off her helmet revealing an African American girl who looked thirteen, fourteen tops, "My name is Marcy and I didn't know they were going to kill I-" her eyes welled up with tears as she moved closer to Lady Obsidian who tilted her head.
Then Marcy just sat down, she just sat right down there on the floor and began to cry. Lady Obsidian took her own helmet off, and sat down with the girl putting her arms about her.
"Sshhh shhh, it's okay, Marcy. I'm going to talk to the authorities, I can't promise you justice, but I can promise you will not face injustice alone," Dr. Vivian Vernon, veteran of a decades of superhero battles, took the girl who had been a villain for I suspected less than a half a day, and let her cry herself out.
"Mabel," I asked, "Please tell me you recorded all that? At least the audio I mean? And," I paused, "Did you scan the cellphones in the room?"
"Yes, and some of it is very interesting, I think these three 'villains' may have been onto something , I'm also scanning the tech on the suits by using Lady Obsidian's armor and, wait, the scans just flexed. Are any of you playing with the wiring or –"
Right before my eyes, the suits began to dissolve, going from solid, to metal that looked like mercury, and then straight to gas which smelled a bit like blood and ozone. I sure hoped none of this was toxic. "Mabel, looks like someone is protecting their patents," I glanced at Lady Obsidian for conformation.
Dr. Vernon was still holding Marcy close. The girl's armor was gone, leaving only the blue jeans and "COEXIST" shirt she had worn before.
My team leader answered with a nod and a soft, "Sure seems like Fumian work but let me focus on the more important thing here," And then went right back to whatever she saying to Marcy before I had interrupted.
I overheard some of it.
"Now the police will be coming here, we can't change that. Your family will be called, and you are going to have to answer a lot of questions and face some consequences for what your part in this. So, will your friends. Now, you are minors, so I'm thinking no names will be released officially, but it may get out unofficially. We'll do what we can to prevent that. I can also tell you that we will investigate what happened to Flo and try to get justice for her, real justice like it should have been the first time. I will get you a top notch defense attorney who is a friend of mine on your case. That won't mean you'll be off the hook but it does mean you'll have a better chance for leniency," Dr. Vernon's voice was soothing, calm, and had that element of dignity that I always wished I could master.
Marcy nodded a lot, muttered something about her father, and dried her eyes. At this stage, I got the feeling that as a 'guy' I was about as useful as a third wheel on a motorcycle, "You got it from here, Lady Obsidian?" I asked.
"Sure do, you go outside and join the others, Eel," my team leader nodded, "Good job."
"Good job yourself," I said with a smile, "I barely saw you slipping the others out of here in force bubbles. Sound muffling ones at that." And I started to leave.
"Wait," Marcy called out as I made my way towards the exit.
"Yes, Marcy?" I stopped after giving Dr. Vernon a curious glance. She gave me a reassuring nod, so I went on, "What is it?"
"I just wanted to say, 'Thank you' for stopping me from," A deep breath, "from becoming a murderer."
"You stopped yourself," I said, "I just reminded you of who you are," A glance to my team leader and then back to the teenager, "and maybe who you wanted to be. But, you're welcome."