- January 29, 2023
The Wolf Pack (Chapter 18)
The city just keeps getting darker, and more devoid of the good that’s supposed to keep us going. Fear fills heroes, distrust fills people, and doubt fills those trying to hold us together. The fight with Hundress and Stoneman went too far, it scared those in South Aeg.
There are protests in the streets outside of the Aegis Needle, my family’s tower, and people have even shown up at Tommy’s house and place of work.
Everyone’s family need an armed detail around them.
For the first time, people saw the fight against crime get dirty in their streets as much as North Aeg’s, and they couldn’t stand it. North Aeg was… relatively calm. I hear… I hear a lot, and it’s the snide comments about it. About it was about time, and how they want to languish in the destruction of an establishment they felt was a middle finger in the first place.
No, this isn’t the Hood, this is Emily. Time just seems so hopeless; I never thought it would get like this. I almost took a life, I destroyed so much out of a moment of weakness and fear. Once that happens, if it happens… everything changes.
I don’t mean to sound self-absorbed, or self-centered, I just know that I wouldn’t be forgiven like the others. I’m afraid, in a way I’ve never been before. I think I get why people don’t protest the Hood like they do me. Sure, there’s the sexism, but even beyond that…
The Hood is just a guy with guns to most people, and many other people are just people with guns. Everyone in this country shrugs off mass shootings like I do bullets, he’s a dime a dozen, but a girl with the power to smack the lights off of any building, to destroy everything with my ‘hysterics,’ scare them. For the longest time I thought it was ridiculous, and hypocritical, but against David, I may have proved them right.
Maybe, maybe, that’s why I feel so melodramatic, but seeing the city now –listening to it now- it doesn’t feel as clean. Eyes look up at me and it doesn’t seem hopeful, but distrustful. I want to make up for it. It’s terrible, but I almost want something bad to happen so I can fix it, and be how others want me to be, someone who makes people believe in… something.
I wanted to start with the Hood, but the city is giving him so many chances to prove why he shouldn’t be changed. Like right now.
A black man, one I don’t know, he gets pulled over by not one cop car but two, the moment he drives over the edge between North and South Aeg. One car from each. The Hood tells me that the same group of cops do this to defer accusations of corruption in one department to the other.
The reality is the old Carone mob had dirty cops in both.
This time it’s personal, the first cop, white but not all four are, step up to the window after pulling the black man over. In North Aeg, anyone who works in South Aeg is a traitor and deserves what they get, so no one is going to report them.
I have to wonder if people would whisper the things they do if they knew I could hear them all whenever I want to… sometimes even when I don’t.
The first cop has the man roll down the window, as the others from South Aeg out get of their car. “Well, isn’t it Mr. IA.” I’m gonna guess that means Internal Affairs.
Really, it means he knows the man in the driver’s seat. This is no random beat down. The cop leans down, places his hands along the window of the car and points to the man in the driver’s seat.
The man is bewildered. “It’s Mr. Scott to you, what can I do for you officer?”
“Would you step out of the vehicle?” the officer asks, but it feels like an order.
Mr. Scott tries to ask, “Why was I pulled ov-”
“Get out of the car,” the officer orders as he stands up and points for him to get out.
“No, what’s your badge number?” Ronald demands to know, keeping his hands on the wheel.
The cop pulls out his gun and aims it at Ronald, answering him, “Here’s my badge number, now get out.”
Mr. Scott puts his hands up and begins to get out with only a second of hesitation. “Alright, alright, what is it? Why are you doing this?” the poor man asks as the cop forces him out of the car. The second the car door is shut the cop him hits in the gut. At least he holsters his gun now.
“Why?” another cop asks, a detective or higher up based on the lack of a police uniform. He wears a shirt and tie instead, reminds me of my dad’s.
“You’re IA,” he tells Scott, “take a guess,” and then he kicks his knees out so he falls to the ground. “You’re sniffing around the wrong bush.” With that last word he kicks Mr. Scott on the ground and the two start to beat on him as the third comes to help.
That’s when he decides to intervene.
With a bang on the roof of Mr. Scott’s car, the cops stop and instinctively take a step back, but the detective, he doesn’t get away. His arm is grabbed by the wrist and hoisted off the ground.
He comes face to face with the black helmet. Everyone says it reminds them of the abyss, and yet, I don’t feel that way.
It feels like looking into nothing at all sometimes, and that stills me more than some arbitrary black hole.
Regardless, I hope this cop feels terrified, he deserves it, but not for the Hood to kill him. Then the cops will be enraged, they’ll start taking it out on innocent people, and then the law and half the media will support them doing it.
Better to terrify them, better to hurt them as they hurt others.
I nearly sink face into my hands, what is wrong with me? Aren’t I supposed to be inspiring? What the hell is the point in having all this power and having no idea what to do with it? Every choice feels so extreme and yet not extreme enough. Everything I do feels like it could be dangerous for everyone around me because I am what and who I am.
Still this cop, this abuse of power deserves punishment, and… I feel lucky the Hood is here handing it out.
No wonder people can’t trust superhumans, they can’t even trust the officers who are supposed to protect them. They’re even attacking their own.
The Hood stands up, lifting the cop by his wrist, about to wrench his arm from its socket. The gray sky before the rain is his backdrop, and I’m sure he picked that vantage point for the fear effect.
He looks down at all of them, scaring them with the arm strength an armored suit must be affording him. “I have to know,” the Hood begins to ask, “do you think you can do this because he’s black, or because this is North Aeg?”
The cop in his grip screeches and yells, “Let me go you goddamn freak!”
“It shouldn’t matter to you,” the Hood goes on, and punches the cop in the gut, and continues on, “the answer won’t change how much hurt you’re in for.”
The Hood takes his free fist and backhands the first cop to the ground. The others go to take out a gun and baton, but the Hood leaps down to kick the gun away. Before the last cop in uniform can do anything, the Hood takes him by the head and forces his head into the rear of the car. The cop holds his bleeding nose as he falls to the ground.
The Hood takes the chance to kick him in the nuts.
Another cop cracks his baton against the back of the Hood’s neck.
There’s no doubt the Hood could have dodged, but he didn’t need to. He wants to terrify these pigs some more. And he succeeded as the cop holds the broken baton in his hand, scared out of his mind, a growing moan in the back of his throat.
The Hood smashes his fist into his palm as he walks towards the third cop. The cop inches back as the vigilante asks him, “Couldn’t wait for your turn?”
I can’t watch anymore. I place my head in my hands as I sit on a gargoyle, high above them in the street. I watched the Hood leap from where I sit, seeing this coming a mile away. I wrap my cape around my arm, then all around me.
I turn to Tommy, brooding at the edge of the building, doing as terrible an impression of Batman as I am. At least I have the cape.
He hasn’t been the same since the Stoneman got away. I don’t blame him; David Sanchez might come after his family if he survived.
God, we still don’t know if he did.
I ask Tommy, “Has it always been like this, in North Aeg?”
He gives me a ‘huh’ in response, and I elaborate, “Dark… and sad? I, I never actually had much reason to come here. I’ve stopped a few robberies, car chases, small time superhumans, Marie’s house, but that chalks up to only a couple months of popping in and out, thinking I left it better than when I came. Was it like this before?”
Tommy only goes, “Hmm?” still looking away, drifting off into space.
“Tommy,” I repeat, with a hint of a growl, which gets him to move his eyes towards me. “Are you listening?”
Tommy looks straight at me, confirming what was easy to tell. He sighs and brings his hand to his forehead, clearly overridden by darker thoughts.
“Sorry,” he apologizes first, “it’s just when I’m thinking, I’m thinking of Sanchez, how he may still be out there and when I’m not thinking of him, I’m thinking of the last week, and people harassing Sofia, and Jonas, and my mom, and… none of them are like me. None of them can light on fire, or fly, or run away. Anyone can hurt them, or David… David can just show up, and with a poke… that’s it.”
He brings his hands to his head, wiping his hair back and showing me how bloodshot his eyes are. He admits, a crack in his voice, “They won’t tell me, but they’re scared. I can’t blame them, I can’t protect them.”
I haven’t dealt with that, even thought about that. My family, we’ve always been used to threats. My father being a politician and my mother a CEO, death threats were just spam filtered through the mail, read by security and tossed into the trash most of the time. We never worried, and it was only more of the same shit when I came out as Espada.
Tommy’s got a normal family in that regard, their lives are at risk, and Tommy blames himself. I don’t know why he didn’t go with a secret identity, but whatever reason I can tell he’s blaming himself now.
“I need a distraction,” he says with a pop of his head, and he looks around, looking to where the Hood is beating up the dirty cops. I notice then that the fourth cop is sneaking up on him. The Hood is either getting sloppy or still messing with their heads. Tommy leaps at the opportunity, standing up and lighting himself on fire, “I need to hit something.”
Just like that I’m alone, and watching the worst of what we have to offer.
The Hood is beating up on the same cop as the aforementioned Mr. Scott climbs into his car to wait out the pain. The Hood at least acts as if he doesn’t hear the fourth cop sneaking up on him. The Hood keeps beating the same guy, at least until he takes the cop’s fingers, the ones he needs to shoot, and bends them backward.
“Oh, did that hurt?” the Hood mutters to him, his voice deep and harsh as his words hit the screaming cop’s face. The Hood declares the cop’s pain to be, “Good, there’s so much more than that left. If you wanted to be a dirty pig, you should have gone to LA.”
As this goes on the fourth cop aims his gun at the Hood’s head. The Hood’s helmet may not be cantorium, but it’s still bulletproof. There’s nothing to fear, but Tommy still uses that as an excuse to crack heads.
“Watch out!” Tommy yells as he comes in as Pyre.
He enlightens the cop to his presence as he comes down feet first. The cop is about to change his aim to shoot at Tommy, but the Hood takes his knife and throws it with precision, showing that he always knew who was behind him.
The knife pierces the chamber right before he shoots and it explodes in the cop’s hand, just in time for Tommy to drop him.
Tommy moves atop of him to punch the cop in the face a few times into unconsciousness, but not with the Hood’s brutality.
The Hood comes up behind Tommy to scold him, “He was mine, they were all-”
“You done fucked up now,” the first, original, dirty cop growls from the ground where the Hood threw him. He’s pulled out his gun on them, pointing it between the two of them. Months ago, I would have felt a need to intervene, but a cop with a gun is nothing at this point. Tommy may not be bulletproof but the Hood is right there, and superhumans with heat rays are definitely worse.
The dirty cop still points his gun at Tommy, capitalizing on Tommy’s worst and currently agonizing fear, “Your name is Rodriguez, I know your face, your name, I’ll pay you and your family a visit you little shit!”
At that threat, it’s second nature for me to stand, about to fly in and smash his hand for even thinking such a thing, but the Hood is much better at being scary. Much better.
He moves in the way of the cop’s gun and attacks him the same way the cop attacked Tommy.
“No, you won’t, Officer Kent,” causing the cop’s eyes to go wide at hearing his name, his tag having been removed beforehand. The Hood approaches the cop, threatening him with the same subtle mutter, “If I hear you went within even a block of anyone named Rodriguez, I’ll personally fill you, and your wife, Stacy, with enough lead for your kids’ pencils for a year.”
He knew who the cops were before they showed up, multitasking at his best. Busting down on corrupt cops and planning a team meeting all in one night.
The dirty cop is feeling what Tommy was a moment ago, fear of what will happen to those he loves because of his decisions. Barely able to get out a word, he whispers his thoughts as the Hood comes face to face with him. “How, how do you know who I am?”
The Hood grabs the cop by the scruff of his uniform, and lifts him up off his feet, telling him, “I know all the cops who were on Carone’s payroll.” The cop can only be more scared the more the Hood talks. “Yeah, I know about your old bosses too, because I’m the one who took them out.”
The cop looks like he’s about to scream in terror, but the Hood brings him down over Scott’s car, hitting the back of his head on the metal. He lays there on the ground, out cold.
The Hood leans his head back as if gearing for something, but decides against. “I’d spit on all of you,” he mutters, “all you pigs.”
The Hood walks to the driver’s window where the IA officer struggles to pull himself up. The Hood spooks him when he tells him, “You’ll get a check from S.I.L.A.S. for the car damages. Go home.”
Mr. Scott tries to say thanks, “I can’t thank you enough-”
“No,” the Hood stops him, “I said all you pigs and that includes you.”
Mr. Scott is still breathing hard, staring up at the Hood in bewilderment. “You… you really hate us.”
“Of course I do,” the Hood tells him, as Tommy watches him in shock.
“You hate the system? Maybe you should have been a cop,” Mr. Scott says as he turns on the engine, “all good ones hate the system, you could fix the system you hate so much rather than just randomly beating cops up in the street and corner alleys. Instead, all you do is-”
The Hood’s hands slam down on the door of the open window. “Can’t fix what people won’t believe is broken. And if what you say is really true, you and all the ‘good’ cops would have left the force… rather than letting it continue on.”
The Hood eyes him over his shoulder, quieting the pig.
Mr. Scott nods his head and wastes no time starting his car and taking off.
The Hood watches as the IA officer pulls away, and Tommy watches his back with thanks. “Thank you,” he tries to tell the vigilante, “I really appreciate-”
“You shouldn’t have interfered,” the Hood interrupts. It’s hard not to cross my arms and judge him for continuing to be a dick to Tommy.
“What’s your problem with me?” Tommy asks, finally bringing this thing between them to a head.
The Hood asks Tommy, “Really want to know?”
“What?” Tommy says.
The Hood crosses his own arms and explains, “When I first noticed the problems between Emily and Marie, I noticed you. You would be friends with the both of them, but you didn’t do anything to help them get along, not here, not during training, not ever. You knew what the issue was, but you just let them fight until they were ready to kill each other.”
That’s, that’s not his job, that wasn’t anyone’s job to fix! That was business between Marie and me, Tommy doesn’t have to make that his problem.
“I knew the problem after a week, and in that time I did more to help them get along than you did, and you’re supposed to be their friend.”
The Hood was the one who helped me figure why Marie hated me, talked with me as to how to help her, and I can’t remember one time Tommy tried to bring us together. He would just avoid me if he were with Marie first, and I just understood.
“Then there’s something else,” the Hood continues with a raise of his finger, “there’s the fact that you act like a dumbass to get away with it, but you’re not dumb, you just play dumb and innocent to the two of them.”
Tommy naturally grows angry at these accusations, his fire flicking to grow that much more intense, but then he begins to shake his head, calming down, turning his flames off. “You, you don’t get me, you don’t understand.”
“Did it ever occur to you that knowing the problem and knowing how to fix it are two different things? Did it ever occur to you that I had other things to worry about than two girls fighting?! Do you think the world just revolves around the four of us? Like we don’t have families and problems we go home to?
“I’m not here to fix their problems, I can’t even fix mine. The reason you could help at all, is because you don’t have anything better to do.”
The Hood, actually loosens up, I can tell by how his shoulders slump first, and then he lets his arms fall away.
“Maybe, jackass, there’s the fact that they don’t ask how I’m doing, so maybe they can fix their own problems.”
I, I didn’t know Tommy felt that way. What has he been dealing with that I don’t know about? I’m supposed to be team leader, but I’m fucking up so bad. I don’t know everything I should with those on this team.
“Hood,” Tommy calls out, turning the questions on him. “I got a question for you, how do you do it so easily? Be a goddamn psychopath and drop people like this?” he questions, gesturing to the beaten bodies around them. “Kill people without any remorse? Maybe you should work on that instead of complaining about every other fucking person.”
The Hood doesn’t answer at first, he looks around at all of them. I’m sure there isn’t any simple answer, but that’s what he’ll give. He doesn’t want to open up to Tommy of all people, but now he’s been caught misjudging him.
“At first,” the Hood begins to admit, as he turns his head to face Tommy, “you have to really hate what you’re firing at, and eventually it becomes second nature.”
Tommy’s face loosens, unprepared for the answer he got, like I am. Tommy turns away from the answer to immediately try and forget it.
“Let’s just go back,” Tommy tells the Hood as he lights up, and flies back to me, but I don’t think he realizes that I was listening. I sit back down, and behave as if I hadn’t just eavesdropped. I was eavesdropping, that wasn’t my conversation to listen in on, that was stuff someone’s supposed to share with me by choice.
He comes back to his place from earlier, and the Hood’s grapple pierces through the gargoyle under me.
As he pulls himself up, the Hood looks at the two of us, sulking. He called us here and it’s going pretty shit. “I’m just waiting for Icicle, and then I’ll tell you what I found out,” he informs us, and takes his seat on the gargoyle.
We wait there; awkward isn’t the right word for how we sit there, but it isn’t far off. There isn’t much to talk about, despite being three kids with active lives, there’s nothing that we want to tell. We’re so full of fear, hate, and remorse. For once, I think Marie might actually have the best attitude of us all right now. I’m happy for her, but still sucks for the rest of us.
By the time she finally ice skates her way to the building I fly down to meet her.
“Hey Burke,” she greets me with a smile, but it goes away as she sees my frown. “Okay, what’s wrong?”
I shake my head.
Corrupt cops, infighting, same old nonsense beating down an already dreary looking day.
I just say, “Same old shit.” Marie gives me a somber smile with the ice over her face, and places her arm around me. “I was just thinking that you’re probably having a better day than the rest of us, and I thought that was fucked.”
Marie chuckles as I take her shoulder and fly us off the ground.
“I just woke up two kids who didn’t want to go to school because they had to go to daycare afterwards,” Marie complains to me, “but then again that’s a normal day.” Normal now, daycare was something I helped her with, we don’t mention that though, makes things less awkward.
I fly us up to where the Hood and Tommy sit, and she sees the way Tommy responds to us, telling Marie all she needs to know.
“And here I thought, you were exaggerating,” Marie comments. All I said was three words.
Tommy furrows his brow, confused as usual, but this time he shrugs it off and doesn’t even ask. He said that we never ask him how he’s doing, the ‘we’ had Marie too. That argument with the Hood is something I should tell Marie about that later.
Right now, the Hood has to inform us on something that’s been bothering him. As always, he’s melodramatic.
He stands up from the gargoyle looking out over the city. Hearing his hands clench tells me that whatever this is makes him angry.
He turns towards us and starts with something I don’t think he’s ever done before. “Thank you all for coming,” a sentence that prompts Marie to tilt her head.
“Are you okay?” Marie asks point blank.
“Am I ever?” he asks her back.
“Good point, carry on.”
I can hear the inhale the Hood takes in after that. He hits us with something stranger than his behavior. He tells us, “For a week now, while searching for the Stoneman,” a name that makes Tommy flinch, “I’ve been looking for the radiation he gives off.”
I legitimately don’t know and need to ask, “What do you mean radiation?”
“He’s turning things into stone, that’s a chemical reaction of an extraordinary kind so it gives off radiation,” he explains. I really should have paid attention in chemistry. “Of course, other superhumans like Tommy and Marie give off radiation too, not to mention ones who are hiding out.”
Marie places her hands on her hips after taking a step in-front me. I think she’s getting impatient with this explanation, cutting to the chase. “I can guess that you’ve cut this all down and found something suspicious?”
The Hood nods and confuses me further. “The radiation levels that a superhuman leaves are different depending on how severe the chemical reaction they trigger, and the same level for the Stoneman is happening in the same place over and over again.”
Tommy then finds it in him to focus. “Where?”
“AUSI,” Aegis University of Science and Innovation, one of the best schools on the planet, “Dr. Ray’s office specifically, and it’s the only place the radiation seems to be.”
Dr. Ray… if I remember right, she was the head doctor when we were dealing with the disease-causing, seizure-inducing infant.
I have to ask, “But why bring this to us, why not the Director first?”
The Hood grumbles, and takes a moment to actively look away. Strong reaction from him, practically telegraphed to me what the problem has to do with.
“Something wrong with Director Knight?” Marie asks him, her eyes now focusing on him with the rest of us.
The Hood grumbles and grunts, as if he’s too embarrassed to say. “Claire’s overworked, stressed, every time something goes wrong with superhumans, our fault or not, it’s her problem, and she has a lot of those right now.”
I ask him, “Is keeping it a secret from her going to help?”
“I want to make sure it’s nothing before dropping it on her plate, and if possible,” he says as he turns his head to us, “deal with it quietly ourselves.”
Tommy tilts his head and focuses on the Hood before he asks, “Why do you suddenly care about the Director so much?”
Marie can’t help but question, “Yeah, and why do you always call her Claire for that matter?”
I bite my tongue to keep from saying they’re related. If Tommy and Marie knew though, it would explain a lot. Why won’t he just tell us? Who am I talking about, this guy won’t even show us his face.
“It’s,” he starts, and during his pause I can bet that his next word will be, “complicated.”
Right before I could think it, he retorts, “You know she knew me before this team was a thing, take that and leave it alone.”
Tommy stares at the Hood for a few seconds before smiling, and pointing a finger at him, “Do you have a crush on the Director?”
Uh, I hope not.
The Hood jerks his head towards Tommy as he growls, “Excuse me?”
“Oh my god, you have like a little boy crush on her,” Tommy laughs, and for once in a long while, I really want him to shut up. I know he was depressed a second ago, but now I actually want him to go back to that.
“No… I do not… that’s not…” the Hood rambles, bringing his hand to his face in a moment of dumbassery, “that’s not even close, you’re an idiot.”
Marie does take a moment to point out, “Isn’t the Director a little old for him anyway?” She realizes then, “How old is she for that matter now that I think of it? Or you, you never take off that helmet for us to know.”
“It-, I-, she-, it doesn’t matter!” the Hood yells as he throws his hands up, “Can we get back to the task at hand, I want someone to watch my back for a worst-case scenario, at least, while others actually check on Claire. I haven’t… haven’t seen her in a while, see how she’s doing.”
She’s got him all stuttering in circles. How close are they? Maybe she’s an older sister, or… is she the aunt he told me about?
Tommy volunteers, “I’ll go with you, to AUSI I mean.”
Marie moves to his side and places on hand on his shoulder. “Is that because of what happened with David and your parents?” He crosses his arms and shakes his head, fibbing like a five-year old.
The Hood crosses his arms, asks Tommy, “If he’s there, not that I think he is necessarily, you ready for round two?”
Tommy turns his eyes to the Hood, and holds his hands out in front of him. “If no one’s around,” he declares, “no holding back,” and his hands catch fire.
“Good,” the Hood says.
I think these two just had a positive bro moment.
The Hood turns to me to ask, “Can you two check on Claire?” He’s asking me to check on a woman not known for her warmth. Yeah, that sounds like fun.
That being said, I nod my head. “Will do, right Marie?” Marie nods her head to the both of us.
“Thank you,” he says again, and it’s just as weird the first time. More sensibly, he tells us, “Be there to let her know in case we do need help, it’ll save us time and risk, which is less of a headache for us all.”
Tommy puts his hand before him, in the middle of us and asks, “All hands in for a team break?”
None of us go for it, not exactly fun that we’re having here.
The Hood tells him, “You’re an idiot, Thomas.”
Pingback: The Wolf Pack (Chapter 17) - Something Central
Pingback: The Wolf Pack (Chapter 19) - Something Central