Shortly after the two would-be assassins (it kind of weirded me out that I’d had to deal with two groups to whom that applied to in one night) left, I caught two familiar smells from upwind.
Should I leave? No, she’ll probably cooperate with them, if only to keep up appearances and they’ll recognise me instantly. I sighed and leaped up into the bedroom – only to stare down the barrel of a shotgun. My eyes moved up to Sara Jane Saltston’s face. She looked half scared and half mad.
“You didn’t run away,” I said wryly, getting my first good look at her in the moonlight. My first thought was ‘stern librarian from hell’. She wasn’t anything like beautiful, or even pretty, but… attractive. Her face was sharp, with high cheekbones and very slim, pale lips. Her grey eyes were sharp and alert, with a carefully restrained touch of fear and uncertainty in them. Her long hair was open and unkempt right now, and she was wearing a dark green, ankle-length silk nightgown and fluffy slippers. At an inch or two below six feet, she was taller than average, though still quite a bit shorter than me.
“Who are you? Why’re you here?” she asked, her hands very still.
She might have military experience. Or perhaps she used to be a supervillain herself, and those weapons are her own work, I guessed, though that was admittedly a big leap.
I opened my mouth to reply, and she flinched back – almost pulling the trigger. I froze, before I realised that I still had the monkey up.
Smart move, stupid. Of course she’s going to be nervous and jumpy with that mug in front of her. I closed my mouth again and pulled the monkey back in, hoping she wasn’t going to shoot me in the head while I was actually vulnerable to it.
“Good evening, Ma’am. My name’s Kevin. I’d taken a stroll through the night,” I said in as soothing a voice as I could without seeming to be patronising her. “And I noticed those two assailants breaking into your house. I decided to investigate – and I am sorry for trespassing in your home – and then engage them when it seemed like they were going to cause you harm.”
Father would probably be proud – nothing I’d said was untrue, there were no gaps or leaps in logic (by cape standards) and it completely omitted mention of everything I didn’t want mentioned.
The maybe-metahuman woman relaxed, lowering her gun (but still holding it so she could easily snap it back up and shoot) as she took a deep, calming breath. “I… Well, I guess that makes sense. Thank you. Really, thank you very much, Kevin,” she replied. “You don’t happen to know who those t-“
She was cut off when a clear, strong voice called out for me to stand down. I recognised Camille’s voice, and decided to comply for now. No use antagonising my daughter’s beau.
A few minutes later, I was sitting on an arm chair in the living room, with the lawyer and the two heroes interviewing us on what had happened.
I was rather concerned, really, that only Vek and Dearheart were present, but I doubted that me asking them about their lack of numbers in front of what they probably considered a simple civilian victim, so I kept my mouth shut with the intention of confronting them later on. I still couldn’t help but be concerned. Hennessy was most likely still off the roster, recuperating (I felt a weird, cold tightness in my chest, when I thought about how tired she’d looked after our confrontation), but the others should have been available.
My experience gave me a sneaking suspicion, but I refrained from voicing it, instead focusing on answering Vek’s questions without giving away what I’d really been up to.
“So you were just… taking a stroll, in a three-piece suit… and you just happened to come across two unknown supervillains breaking into a house?” she asked, her face as expressive as… well, a goat’s. Her voice was disbelieving, though.
I shrugged. “My power protects my clothing and compensates for restrictions in my natural movement, so I can fight as well in a suit as I can in spandex. And I was on my way to meet a lady, besides.” I winked at her, though that mostly just made Camille snort derisively.
“You’re in the city for less than two days and you already have a date?” Vek asked in surprise. She almost bleated the sentence.
My mouth quirked up in a smile. “No, not a date. At least, not that kind of date. I happen to have quite a few old friends in the city.”
She nodded. “Alright, what can you tell me about the two villains?” she asked.
I cleared my throat and started to explain. “I identified them mostly by smell. One, I dubbed Brimstone. Her arms are apparently made of volcanic rock. She can generate very powerful fire blasts. My paranoid nature suggests that she may be capable of generating lava in some form. And she is definitely tougher than would be natural for a woman of her build, perhaps up to paragon levels, considering how easily she shrugged off my restrained blow. She seemed calm, in control of herself and was reasonable enough to abandon her goal when confronted by me.”
Vek nodded, then motioned for me to continue with one snake; most of her snakes were playing with the little boy, who seemed largely unconcerned about the situation and more interested in trying to tie the snakes into knots, while his mother looked worriedly at him.
“I call the other one ‘Smelly’, mostly because her smell was quite weird and unfamiliar to me – definitely unnatural. The way they moved, she was the brute of the pair, and she took a surprise shot from Mrs Saltston’s weapon,” I threw a questioning look at her gadget. “About which I am quite curious, actually.”
The woman, who’d put on a rather more concealing robe over her nightie, gave me an amicable look. She’d warmed up considerably, as soon as the heroes arrived and the danger was over. “I specialise in superhuman law, specifically in working in providing legal defense for various cowls,” she explained. Camille gave her a dirty look, which was oddly comforting. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who got those from her. But she did restrain herself from commenting, so I guess I still rated special treatment, all things considered. “A few years ago, I represented Gunnery and helped her work out a very favourable deal. Part of her payment to me was a set of advanced weaponry for the purpose of self-defense.” She turned to look at Vek. “All registered and properly secured, of course.”
Vek nodded, but I had another question.
“Don’t gadgets like that usually require constant care by their makers?” Which was the reason why Cartastrophy had to keep going to Elouise’s garage and perform the upkeep for her cars.
“Gunnery specialised in reliable personal weaponry, which was one of the main reasons why the judges were willing to strike a deal with her despite her crimes. She’s creating advanced weaponry for the military and several other agencies now.” There was a note of pride in her voice.
“Quite so,” Vek said with what might have been a frown – it was quite annoying, father’s lessons on how to read animal-like metahumans were not quite as vivid in my mind as the normal ones – and they hadn’t been as extensive, either. “Move on, please.” She didn’t seem to like the subject very much – perhaps she’d been involved in capturing Gunnery, only to see her get out of the punishment she deserved in exchange for services rendered.
“Well, she took the shot, and later got up after I threw her around a bit. She didn’t display any powers beyond her enhanced toughness, but that may well be simply because she didn’t get the chance to. She didn’t talk at all. After I removed them from the bedroom, I told them to end the fight and leave instead of fighting me, and they complied, leaving.”
“You simply convinced them to leave? You didn’t offer them anything?”
“I ‘offered’ not to beat them up. There is no doubt in my mind that I could’ve taken them down, I just couldn’t be sure that I would also be able to prevent collateral damage, or defend Mrs Saltston and her son.” That got me a smile from the lawyer.
Stars above, I was just recently planning to interrogate woman, now she’s looking at me like I’m a hero. It made me feel quite uncomfortable, to be quite honest.
It didn’t help that, the whole time, Camille had been looking at me with a contemplative look. Contemplative. Not hostile, or murderous. Why? What changed? It couldn’t just be me having saved this family – she was already like this when she arrived, and she didn’t even make any accusations. It was even weirder than the situation with Saltston.
Vek nodded. “Well, I am quite grateful you happened to stumble across this, Mr Paterson,” she said in a calmer tone of voice. She then looked at Saltston. “Madam, the police will be here in a minute. They’ll provide protection and investigate this matter.”
Saltston nodded, though she seemed dissatisfied. I would be too, if I was a Syndicate agent who was about to get a police investigation to deal with. That couldn’t be good for business.
“Thank you for your help, Vek,” she said, then she got up and turned to me. “And you as well, Aap Oordra,” she continued, holding out a slender, perfectly manicured hand.
I raised an eyebrow as I took her hand, gently squeezing it as we shook. “You recognised me?”
She smirked. “I was a fan, back in the day. You may not remember me, but I attended some of your shows, as well.”
Now a grin spread on my face. “Really? Well, that’s just perfect. Gotta protect my fans.”
Camille snorted and whispered, “Yeah, what few there are.” So, not entirely out of the doghouse then.
But Saltston wasn’t done yet. She reached to a small stack of cards on the living room table, picking one up along with a pen. Then she wrote something on the back, handing me the card.
I took it, looking closer. It was a business card with her phone number and e-mail. And she’d written another phone number on the back in neat, precise writing.
“My business and private number. In case you need some legal representation, or just someone to reminisce about the good old times,” she said with a smile that I was all too familiar with.
She… she’s hitting on me!? I’d come here to interrogate her, which would’ve included applying a lot of psychological pressure, if needed. And now I had not only saved her life – making me the hero of the evening, it seemed – but I was basically getting asked out on a date!?
My face must’ve been a sight to see (though the women probably thought I was dumbfounded for other reasons than the ones I was concerned with), because Saltston and Camille started to giggle, and Vek gave her own, bleating rendition of the same.
I felt a slight blush begin to creep into my cheeks, which I immediately crushed to retain some dignity. Then I put the card into my breast pocket. “I’ll keep that in mind, ma’am,” I said, keeping my voice and face level. Then I looked at Vek. “A word, please?”
She nodded, retrieving her snakes (the boy had fallen asleep… I’d paid him little attention, but it was strange that he’d been so quiet and disinterested the whole time) and wishing Saltston a good night. I followed suit, earning another rather familiar smile. I did my best to be charming without seeming too inviting (I wasn’t sure I was ready for dating again).
Vek, Camille and I waited outside as we heard the sirens approach. I took the chance to look them up and down, while Vek talked to someone on her smartphone.
Their costumes looked as pristine as ever, though that didn’t say much when one considered Vek’s power. But there were signs of wear and tear – Camille’s hair was dishevelled, her make-up smudged and she was slightly favouring her left leg. Vek was sporting a few patches of singed fur, and her stance wasn’t quite as self-confident as usual.
“What has been going on today? This should’ve drawn a far bigger response,” I said, making sure that I didn’t sound accusatory, only curious. “Not just the two of you. No offense.”
Camille shot me a quick dirty look, but then she went back to being pensive. So weird.
Vek seemed… chagrined (I was definitely putting goat faces far up on my list of annoying mutations). “This night has been insane. Seven different events that required our deployment, not counting this one and the one the rest of our team had to address while this here went on. Three of those seven involved metahumans in some way, one a group of mercenaries equipped by a Gadgeteer and two more with normal criminals wielding heavy ordnance.”
I whistled. “Wow, that’s… unusual, unless things changed far, far more than I thought. Add to that that big brawl I drove into yesterday…”
She nodded. “Something is up. It might be… well, him returning.” Camille flinched, her body tensing up. I saw a trickle of blood run down from her lip, where she bit too strongly into it.
I nodded right back, making sure to keep my face neutral. It would not be favourable to tip the Good Guys off to my plans, and I couldn’t be sure that Vek or Camille didn’t have some means to analyse tells beyond the usual (their specific power sets were not public).
Vek stomped in place with one hoof, giving me an insecure look. I raised an eyebrow in a questioning gesture. She opened her mouth to say something, then stopped for a moment, but I just waited.
“We’re short our heavy hitter, with Chayot out of commission,” she said, making both Camille and me flinch. I still remembered just how tired Hennessy had looked after the brawl. “And we’re looking at some massive threat sources, if our reports of the Ascendant’s allies are correct. Nevermind that we’ve been tipped off that the Matriarch seems to be making some inquiries in his direction.”
Oh no, I hope they’re not going to preemptively attack Elouise because she’s been trying to fulfill my request. I’d rather not have to break up a fight between at least one of my daughters and the heroes… or worse, my two daughters who didn’t know about each other yet.
Another thing to worry about.
“I can guess where this is going. You need another heavy hitter. And with Chayot on leave, I am most likely the most powerful combat meta in the entire state,” I said calmly.
She nodded. “I am sorry that we have to ask this of you, after all you’ve gone through,” she said, her snake-arms jerking nervously (I was studying her closely, in order to figure out her tells).
But her words made me stop for a moment. If they’ve been briefed on the last few years… that might explain Camille’s change in behaviour. And who knew how it might influence Tamara or Hennessy?
I sighed. I really didn’t want to play hero any more than I had to, but… It’s my fault Hennessy is in that state. Nevermind that she might feel obligated to return to the field if things get too bad.
No matter what else was going on, I wanted to keep her safe. That meant picking up the slack. So I sighed, and I nodded. “Alright. You have my phone number. Call me in case of an emergency – but only an emergency, please. I have some time critical business to take care of, as well.”
Camille looked honestly surprised when I agreed, and I gave her a quick smile that caused her to frown at me, her eyes half angry and half confused.
Vek was less ambivalent. She simply grinned from ear to ear, her teeth huge and yellow. “Thank you very much, Aap Oordra. It is appreciated.” She held out one snake-arm, and I shook hands with her.
Five minutes later, the police had arrived and I left them to take care of business. It was time to hunt down Brimstone and Smelly.