You Can Only Anticipate What Someone Is Going To Do If You Know Exactly What That Someone Has Just Done.
The heroes’ faces were inscrutable behind their masks. I really wished, in that moment, that I had some emotion to work with, because I was completely floundering.
“Calm, Hannah. Just think it through.”
Right, right. The Tower had Black Armor- Stonewall, Skew had called him. Of course they did. It made sense. He'd been at school, and he'd made himself a priority target. Then, not a day later, the Outliers had been fingered as suspects in a high-profile robbery. No wonder the Tower had gone after him first. Skew hadn't been able to contact him because he'd been here. In a cell. Behind an energy barrier.
I stared at the captive vigilante, feeling the gazes of the heroes on the back of my neck. Was this… a test? Their lack of comments made me think so. “Why is he still wearing his mask?” I asked softly. It seemed like a good, non-confrontational point to start on.
Neither of them responded, sharing a quick glance. Then, Comet spoke. “It is a complicated legal issue. Legally speaking, our superhero identities exist separately to our civilian ones. Unfortunately, due to the government having a less than favorable view of our organization, that same clause applies to those operating outside the law. If he removes his mask while in custody, the identities are confirmed to be related, and he can be prosecuted under either. If we remove it, however, he is free to walk, because, technically, he’s a completely unrelated person we are illegally detaining.”
I frowned, thinking that tidbit over. “That makes… no sense whatsoever. I can’t think of a single reason that should work like that.”
Comet sighed. “That’s because it doesn’t. That was the lies-to-children version.” Wait, did she just- “The real explanation is infinitely more complicated and convoluted. If you would like a two-hour lecture on the fine points, I’d be more than happy to help you.” She didn't even sound sarcastic. “Seeing as you don't, though, it'll have to do for now.”
I made a noncommittal noise, and turned back to studying Stonewall. He didn't seem to be able to hear us. Given that his head hadn't turned even slightly the entire time we'd been standing there, he probably couldn't hear us either. He was sitting on the bed, staring straight ahead at the wall in front of him. His broad face was scrunched up in an almost-comical expression of concentration. I wondered what he was thinking about. “What's he being charged with?” I asked after a moment.
Comet replied. “Illegal use of a metahuman ability, multiple counts of reckless endangerment and vigilante activity, obstruction of officers of the law.”
“It's the standard for situations like these,” Stump interjected.
“Yes. Situations like these.” There was a subtle emphasis in her words, and I knew without a doubt that it was a warning directed towards me. No doubt she knew I hadn't registered, and all the charges she'd described could easily apply to me. Maybe not the last one, but they might be able to spin my involvement in that situation with Valiant into something similar. I wasn't in one of these cells yet, though, so I was obviously being given some leeway. At least, I hoped it was leeway. The other option was 'rope to hang myself with’. I doubted it, though. Stump had seemingly taken an interest in me, although I couldn't possibly imagine why…
Hmm. Could he be someone I knew, from school? One of the other gymnasts? There were some guys there that I was on speaking terms with. Outside of that, and Sabi, I didn't have any relationships closer than a casual greeting in the hallways or class. Still, it would be enough for him to show an interest in me if he recognized me. I hadn't exactly done anything to hide my voice, and my particular shade of strawberry blonde wasn’t too common (it's almost like a very dirty pink). It was the most likely explanation, but it could be something else entirely.
It felt wrong, seeing the man who had quite possibly saved my life, as well as many others, locked away in a cell. But as impulsive as I am, I'm still not stupid, and I knew there was nothing I could do about it. Technically, he was a criminal. But then technically, so was I, and I wasn't in there. I resolved to tell the Outliers what had befallen their comrade. It was the least I could do.
I tore my gaze away from him, and towards the exit. “Well,” I said with obviously faked cheer, “this has been very informative. Really, very interesting. But, we were going somewhere?”
Comet fixed me with her gaze for a second. Suspicion, my instincts read in it. She didn't act on it, though, merely nodding and moving towards the exit.
It was a relief to be out of the creepy cells, even if it was just more of the featureless steel corridors. There was no slope this time, but we did make three 90 degree right turns in the span of twenty seconds, which really should have just made a rectangle.
“So who was the woman in there?” I asked after a period of silent walking.
Comet didn't even seem like she'd heard me, but Stump replied. “That's… classified, I'm afraid.”
“Nah, I've just always wanted to say that. Her name’s Ado.”
“What, like Shakespeare?”
“No, apparently it's a Biblical thing. Woman who got turned into a pillar of salt.”
“Oh. So let me guess, salt shifter?”
He nodded. “Got it in one. She's leader of a meta gang called the Cabal of the Enlightened Savior, though I think they just go by the Cabal these days. Under previous management, they had a whole cult thing going, which is why she's got a Biblical name. Real bunch of nutters. Since she took over, though, they've reformed as more standard criminals.”
“How'd that happen?”
“Murder, we think. The previous leader, a gifter called Sacrament, and most of the hardliners from the old lineup disappeared in the span of a week. A few days later, Ado shows up in charge of what was left. Considering there's not been a trace of the disappeared since, it's assumed she killed them all.”
“What, by herself?”
He shrugged. “Apparently. She was a member while it was still a cult, so maybe she took advantage of that.”
“Wow. That’s… scary. Especially considering her power doesn't sound that impressive.”
“Then you underestimate her severely,” Comet said from ahead of us. I hadn't even realized she'd been listening.
“Er, right.” I turned my attention back to Stump. “Why'd she do it?”
“Dunno. Personal reasons, most likely. It's not confirmed, but Sacrament was almost certainly a relative of hers.”
“Yep. Similar appearances, age difference that'd match a mother and daughter.”
“So she killed her own mother.” I shivered involuntarily. “There's no way she can get out of that cell, right?”
He laughed. “Not a chance. And the woman led a creepy religious cult that sacrificed people. I doubt she was a particularly good mother.”
“Still,” he agreed.
“So that's the back story. What's the plot?” He looked at me questioningly. “Why do you have her now?” I clarified.
“Oh. She's tied into this whole business with that robbery, somehow. Ops thinks she might've stolen it originally. She's definitely got some connection to the Outliers. As an identified point of importance in the criminal world, she was already on certain lists, and this bumped her up them. Thrust and Fog brought her in.”
“You sure know a lot about the procedures in this place for someone's who's only been here a few months,” I noted.
He coughed. “Well, I'm a quick study.” I looked towards Comet, expecting some kind of response or commentary, but she just kept striding on ahead.
When she stopped, it was sudden, and I almost ran into her back. “We're here,” she said curtly, gesturing towards a door. I was 100% sure this time that it hadn't been there before she pointed it out. “The others are already assembled. Wisp, wait outside. I do not want you starting a fight with my team.”
“Hey,” I protested, “I've never started anything. It's always been other people.”
Apparently, she didn't find that very reassuring. “Just wait outside, please.” I nodded, moving to stand beside the door so I wouldn't be visible from the inside. She tapped something on the wall, and the door swished open. Followed by Stump, she strode inside, marking a hush into the buzz of conversation that the opening had let loose.
I closed my eyes, and took a deep breath. You've got this, Hannah. Kick their ass- wait, no, do the opposite of that.
“Wouldn't that be getting your ass kicked?”
...just don't screw it up.
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