“So far we’ve got three folks from upper crust neighborhoods with no connection between them, each getting a different power and then crashing.” Ian knew Alexis knew all this because she’d just told him in different terms, but it helped him organize his thoughts, “All three had priors?”
“Only Stark had anything serious,” Said Alexis over the comm. “She has two assaults on record. The rest… drunk and disorderly, vandalism, petty theft…”
“If I hadn’t basically grown up with Laurel, I might draw some broad conclusions about the rich kids.” said Ian. “But let’s focus on the ones that behave badly. Just because it’s not on their record doesn’t mean they aren’t into other things. And it may not be criminal—this wouldn’t be the first time we saw a business trying to replicate or manipulate descendant powers.”
Alexis let her fingers fly across the holographic screen in front of her. “That’s why I’m giving the new computer at LSI HQ its inaugural live test. Laurel is going to be crushed that she wasn’t here in time to see it, but time might be a factor if victims starve to death.”
“I’m sure she’ll understand.”
“Me too. Now, the way I see it, not everyone affected might end up going on a crime spree—or at least not one where they get caught. Also, they might not all crash. If this is something they’re getting into voluntarily, what would be the point if it ruined you pretty much instantly.”
She laid in a search through the Vimes 2.0 architecture Laurel had installed at the HQ, searching for hospital admissions for severe malnutrition as well as unsolved crimes involving suspected descendant powers or interfacers.
“If you’re running a search, try ‘weird news’ too.”
“Trust me,” said Ian, “Even in this day and age, people don’t instantly guess ‘superpowers’ when weird and wacky crap goes down. Considering the Magical World stuff out there now, it’s not all that unreasonable.”
Alexis added that term to the search and started Vimes. Within seconds, it began returning results matching her various parameters in tabs. “In the past two weeks, there have been four other hospital admissions. No deaths, but that’s twice the number of cases we knew about.”
“Any connections with the ones we did know about?”
She shook her head even though he couldn’t see her. “Vimes can’t tell us that. Hospitals only report cases to the NIH database with no identifying information. We’ll have to talk to the doctors and see if the patients are willing to talk to us.”
“That seems like a long shot assuming they did this on purpose.” said Ian, “But if that’s all we have to go on…”
Even as he was saying so, Alexis was searching through some of the other tabs. “Actually, it might not be—thanks to you.”
“Thanks to me?”
Alexis laughed lightly. “Weird news. I’m going to see if we can send some of the kids or Detective Rodgers to the hospitals while I check this out. Where are you right now?”
“Patrolling somewhere over Twin Timbers.” said Ian, “There’ve been a few car jackings here and across the bridge in Rohan Court.”
She put the address from the news story into her palmtop and stood up from the console. “Do you want to meet up with me at the Pickett Lane community center? I think I’ve got a lead that’s worth checking out. I think it might pique your interest at the very least.”
Picket Lane was a vanity project that put most of its emphasis on the vane part of the term. Billed as ‘a good old fashioned suburb—within walking distance of everything you need’, it took up six city blocks that could have been used for affordable apartment towers, much needed retail space, or a fair-sized park in order to drop a section of suburban tract housing (plus boutiques and restaurants) right in the middle of the city proper.
The sound walls separating it from the rest of Mayfield gave it the look of a cult compound is viewed from certain angles and the surrounding towers, which threw shadows over the one and two level houses contributed to a record rate of seasonal affective disorder.
Its community center was a testament to the ‘waste as much space as possible’ design credo the whole place operated off of. Not only was it a sprawling building instead of having two or more floors, but it had a large, open parking lot rather than a multi-level garage or pod station.
Said parking lot was what garnered the most attention from Chaos and Darkness when they arrived.
Chaos couldn’t keep himself from laughing. “Oh my god, are you serious?”
“That’s what I said when it popped up from Vimes.” said Darkness. “But it’s real, it’s about as petty as everything our three hospitalized criminals did, and considering this all happened in the hour and a half that the HOA was meeting, I’m inclined to believe someone used superpowers to do it.”
The parking lot at the Picket Lane community center was a riot of color thanks to just over a dozen cars being cocooned in yarn as if someone had knitted a tea cozy the size of a rhino and dropped it over them. At least five irate looking people were there, attacking the yarn with scissors. A small knot of others were mobbing a pair of MPD beat cops.
Only a few people weren’t so absorbed in what they were doing that they missed the two heroes landing, but they soon made it clear to everyone else.
“It’s about time!” cried one man, standing up from where he’d been snipping his SUV free of its festive prison. “Someone needs to hunt down whoever did this and beat them senseless!”
“Yes!” a woman with graying brown hair agreed, turning from the cop she was berating. “We demand justice!”
Darkness rolled her eyes, thankful that the gesture was hidden by her veil of black heat. “Everyone, please just calm down. We’re here on a matter that might not even be connected to this.”
A blonde they both recognized from a previous visit the Picket Lane, huffed as she marched up to them. “And just what could possibly be more important than this wanton act of vandalism?”
“We deal with psychopaths on murderous rampages, violent criminals, superpowered lunatics, and other situations you don’t even want me to begin to explain, Mrs. Tate. Please don’t tell me you think a yarn-bombing is more important.”
Mrs. Tate bristled. “Whatever a yarn-bombing is, I can assure you this isn’t it!” She tottered a bit on her impractical heels and rushed over to her own car, which had been partially hacked free. “just look at this!” She threw open the hood.
Inside, the batter case, front wheel motors, climate control system, and everything else that would normally be visible beneath the hood was obscured due to being perfectly knitted into their own crocheted pseudo-cozies.
Chaos looked at his fiance. It was taking all his self control to keep from laughing. “Okay, now I’m impressed. They did that to all these cars in less than an hour?”
“Who cares about how!?” Mrs Tate scowled, slamming the hood down. “I want to know who. Isn’t that what you people are for?”
Having already dealt with a carbon copy of Tate, Darkness just stared her down through her cowl. “Lives are at risk, Mrs. Tate, and time is very likely to be factor.” With that,s he turned and waved the two cops over. Once was a short, broad shouldered black man with a thick push-broom mustache, the other an older Hispanic man who was clean shaven and had two fingers on his left hand that were visibly prosthetics. Their badges identified them as Munroe and Blanco respectively.
“Afternoon, officers.” She said more brightly than she’d addressed Mrs. Tate. “Long day?”
“The longest.” said Blanco with a weary sigh.
Munroe lifted his hat enough to scratch the side of his head. “Not that we’re not glad to have your help, but this isn’t exactly the kind of thing I’d expect the big guns to come out for. It looks messy, but nothing looks like it’ll be broken once everything’s cut away. Criminal mischief at best.”
Darkness gave them both a sympathetic look. “It might be linked to a case we’re helping Special Investigations with—people who never displayed powers before manifesting them for criminal activity and then getting sick. Any leads that might help from the statements you’ve taken?”
Blanco and Monroe looked at one another and smirked. Munroe took out his city-issue palmtop and flicked through the statements, “Everyone was pretty quick to offer suspects. Surprise, surprise, Mayfield’s most overbearing homeowner’s association has a lot of enemies.”
“The victims-slash-perps in our case are all in their twenties, fairly well-off and with a few non-major priors. Anyone like that?”
“Narrows it down a bit.” said Munroe. Most of these are people Mrs. Tate over there and her cronies are trying to drive out of the neighborhood or people from the surrounding neighborhoods they have beefs with; not exactly a young crowd and not the kind of people with priors that didn’t get sealed thanks to connections.”
He ran through his notes for a bit. “Ah. Here’s two you might want to check out: Jane Thomas, twenty-eight. Mr. Dalton over there,” He inclined his head toward a balding man in his fifties who was so intent on freeing his car from the yarn that he still hadn’t noticed the two superheroes, “says that she’s a ‘known vandal’, that he and some of his neighbors have called the cops on her multiple times, and he’s ‘certain’ she does drugs.”
“She fits the profile.” said Darkness. “Can you give me the address?” Monroe did. “And the other one?”
“Oh boy.” muttered Blanco, taking over for his partner, “Len Chalmers. That whole mess wasted an entire hour of our time hearing out. He’s a nineteen year-old living with his grandmother. It’s the grandmother, Helen, who seems to be the real focus, but of course, everyone here is sure the kid is on drugs and two of them have restraining orders on him after shouting matches on the street.
“Apparently, the grandmother is a known ‘troublemaker’; unapproved Christmas lights, painting her house without permission, not given out approved candy this Halloween—for some reason, all of this has given the HOA reason to try and use loopholes in their charter to take her house from her at least twice this year and today’s meeting was on whether or not to try again.”
“Makes me glad to live in a tower.” Munroe rolled his eyes.
“You and me both.” said Blanco.
Chaos looked back at the association members who were gathered around to listen. Some of the had the decency to avoid his gaze. “Yeah, I can see where messing up their cars is the real crime. Sounds like motive to me though. You have an address?”
“Sure thing. 309 Oceania Court.” said Munroe, checking his notes.
“Excellent.” said Darkness. “Thank you both for your help.” She nodded to Chaos. “Let’s go.”
Before they could take flight, Mrs. Tate shouted out, “Wait! That’s it?! You’re not going to do anything to help us get out cars out?”
Darkness managed to keep her face schooled. “As much as we live to serve, Mrs. Tate, the best I could do for your car is burning the yarn away. And even if you were fine with all the damage to the paint, the yarn is wrapped around the battery case and other sensitive equipment.”
Just the thought of her paint job blistering away had already convinced Mrs. Tate not to press further, but the idea of her battery case catching fire made her blanch. “I-I understand.”
“I might know someone who might help though. I’ll have to make a few calls, by they wouldn’t come cheap.”
“Anything is better than having to cut all this away by hand.” Mrs. Tate said, regaining her snippy edge.
Darkness ensconced herself in black heat and rose from the ground. “I’ll be sure to pass that information on.” With that, she and Chaos took flight, headed for the Chalmers residence.
Once they were out of earshot of anything lacking wings, Chaos asked, “I’m guessing the ‘person you know’ is a certain student of yours. You sure that’s a good idea?”
She nodded. “Darkness is on good terms with the school. It would make sense for her to contact Alexis Keyes for something like this. Plus, I know him and he’ll blow any cash he makes on his friends—I count it as a class morale-boosting exercise.”
“I meant exposing him to Pickett Lane’s HOA. The sticks up those guys’ asses have sticks up their asses. It’s hardly the place for impressionable children.”
Darkness shrugged. “The kids already have it in their heads that, because the Institute is affiliated with the Descendants, it’s at least partially a school to learn how to be superheroes. The way I see it, working with those people is a good exercise for that.”
“I’m… not following.”
She smiled at him, bringing to mind years past when a teenaged Alexis was about to suggest something that would get teenaged Ian in trouble. “It’s all about self control and dealing with frustration: there are some terrible people in this world who you can’t just toss in jail.”
“But you can perform an epic yarn-bomb on their cars.”
Helen Chalmers had seen a lot in her day. She’d seen humanity capture an asteroid. She’d read about the first human child born outside of the Earth’s atmosphere. She’d witnessed the rise of superpowers and the dawn of an age of superheroes.
Despite that, she didn’t expect to find two of those superheroes standing on her stoop on a Saturday afternoon. It took her a moment to find her voice and another to decide to treat them exactly like any other visitor. “Yes? Can I help you?”
Darkness relaxed, having expected panic in the old lady. “Helen Chalmers?”
“Yes, that’s me.” She adjusted her glasses, “What’s this about?”
“May we come in, ma’am?” asked Chaos, “It’s a bit of as long story.”
“Oh, of course,” Helen stepped back, pulling the door open further. “Of course. I’m sorry if I’m a bit rude, I just didn’t expect… well you. Either of you. Can I get you something to drink?”
Darkness and Chaos followed her in. The foyer opened onto a large, cheerfully decorated living room. If Len Chalmers was the yarn bomber, it was easy to tell where he got his material: there were samplers on the walls, caftans draped over the sofa and armchair, crocheted covers on all the pillows, and balls of yarn in a basket next to the aforementioned armchair.
Helen motioned for them to sit on the sofa and took her seat in the chair, picking up her current project—an orange and yellow wooly hat with ear flaps—in the process. “Now, you were saying?”
Without revealing any names, Darkness outlined the events that brought them to her door, starting with the food truck robbery and the hospitalizations. Before she could get to the yarn-bombing, however, the front door opened and in stepped a slightly overweight young man with a few days worth of beard on his chin.
“I’m back Grams. I picked up…” He paused in the foyer, a bakery box under one arm and a backpack hanging off the opposite shoulder. Len Chalmers stared wide-eyed at the two superheroes in his grandmother’s living room. Their reason for being there clicked into place instantly. “Oh shit.”
Helen frowned. “Lenny? Is there some kind of trouble.
Chaos jumped to his feet. A gust of wind nudged the door shut behind the young man.“Not if Len here cooperates.”
“Cooperates?” Helen asked, starting to rise herself.
“Mrs. Chalmers, your grandson might be in serious danger.” Darkness said, standing as well. “He–”
A loop of orange yarn leapt out and wrapped her ankles, tightened, then yanked her legs out from under her, sanding her crashing back down onto the sofa. It then began to rapidly slither around her legs, forming a cocoon.
Chaos started to react, but yellow suddenly filled his vision as a knit blindfold covered his face, then yanked forward, slamming him to the floor.
“Grams!” Len shouted.
Helen’s eyes glowed white as orange and yellow yarn paid out from the yarn balls at her side, looping first around her wrists, then through her fingers before extending to entrap the two heroes. “I’m sorry, Lenny, but you know I can’t let them hurt you.”
Landon Porter is the author of The Descendants and Rune Breaker. Follow him on Twitter @ParadoxOmni or sign up for his newsletter.
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