- April 16, 2023
The Wolf Pack (Chapter 22)
I’m sure no one should be surprised, but Dr. Stupid-ass-name is being picked up across the country, not just by Aegis City’s news outlets. For once watching TV is of the utmost importance and not just my lunch time entertainment. And for once the news isn’t purposely trying to anger me, it just happens to be doing so.
“Susan,” I call for my assistant, almost earning the eye roll.
Dressed as formal as ever, she stands at attention by my side with other subordinates in tow. I tell my field commander and the leader of the science team, “You’re cleared for training and you’re cleared for your previous assignments, I don’t think this is a situation that needs you on standby.” For Susan, which has caught on as her name, “Call the kids to base, see where they are and if they can come here, I want them where I can see them during this trial.”
Now I don’t find this trial exceptionally angering or troublesome, we have his illusion doohickey, so if he gets off, he can’t cause any more trouble outside of being a petty thief. I can see the trial going either way, but the only way it affects me is whether or not I give the Hood another chance to kill him before or after he’s served his time. The thing is, I know the impressionable teenagers won’t see it that way.
Susan questions me, “Even the Hood, Director?”
“Especially the Hood.” Is she stupid? He’s the one most likely to do something.
“Can we like… know his name, or have something to called him that doesn’t have ‘the’ in the name?” she asks me.
My brow twitches.
“Just called him Hood then,” I tell her, “no one’s making you add the ‘the,’ he’s not going to shoot you.”
“He won’t? I seriously needed that clarification, because I always thought the ‘the’ was kind of douchey.”
She needs to consider that I might kill her instead. I came up with that name.
We find James, in his seat in the computer lab. Where else would he be, I gues? I squat down next to his chair to ask him about his progress as everyone else leaves. I tap his shoulder, and snap him from his internet binge.
He snaps his head to look at me, shocked to see me so close without me looking disgusted. I bring my finger to tap on his shoulder, giving him a tempo as I ask him, “How much progress are you making in the Savaage’s servers?”
Tapping him on his shoulders keeps him going steady, it paces his subconscious when he’s using his powers. Clearly, he informs me, “I’m in their systems but I’m trying to sort through everything to make sure they don’t know that I’m there. I’ve found the locations and the identities of contributors and partners across the world that I can send to someone,” and when I stop tapping on his shoulder, his head dips, eyes growing wider as he asks, “If you want.”
He’s a strange guy, he’s really afraid of me, still not sure why.
I make sure to hold eye contact with him, he’s too afraid to drop it. I tell him, “That’s a thoughtful idea, but we’ll keep that for ourselves, keep tabs on them. What I want to know is if there’s anyone or anything in the U.S., Aegis City specifically.”
James eyes flash blue, using his power again to do as I ask and get away from my stare. He tilts his head as he searches, and he looks like he sees something far away, squinting his eyes. The more and more I watch him do this, the more and more I want to know what it looks like from inside his head.
Slowly, he tells me, “I can’t… I can’t find anything on Aegis City, unless it’s in these folders, they’re too risky to open.”
“What makes them risky?” I ask him, noticing his head is still tilting. I bring my hand to his cheek and right him. His face tightens at my touch.
“Ah,” he mumbles first, “well, security, firewalls, the way they are in my head, they can hurt me back.” Oh, that’s interesting, and terrifying.
I move my hand to poke his face and order him to, “Stay back then, don’t take risks.”
“There is one thing I want to ask you about, this folder name, it has the most security around it,” James informs, as his eyes go back to normal and he stops using his power, his expression is still filled with apprehension. “Does the name, ‘Ion’s Playtime’ mean anything to you?”
I really hope that isn’t what it sounds like.
Even still, I stand up as I wrack my mind about what that could possibly be about. Ion, I can’t say I’ve heard that name before. Is it, a codeword, codename, a place? Maybe a tool…
I don’t get much more time to think on it because the doors to the room open for Susan, who comes rushing back in. For once in her life, she looks worried instead of aggravated. “Director, ma’am?” she calls for me, hesitating to wave for my attention.
She presses her lips forward like she’s about to say a word, but hesitates because she knows it’s bad news. “Well,” she starts and pauses, “Pyre and Icicle said they needed to go home, originally planned to…”
I wave that off, “Alright, that’s fine, give me the bad news that has you ready to piss your pants.” It’s the Hood or Burke, but which one? Maybe both, dear god don’t let it be both.
She points to the screen and recommends, “Hmm, maybe you should turn on ACN.”
Driving can be soothing for some people, relaxing even, especially when driving a car whose engine will make everyone in the backseat go deaf. But as my car fails to silence my radio, I grip the steering wheel tighter and tighter. I can’t help but listen to the defense attorney pick apart every witness cop who was there when Dr. Magician robbed the bank and when I turned him in.
The question is, what do I plan to do about it. The asshole did call for me by name.
For the first time in a long time, I’m having a hard time coming up with a strategy. I don’t know how to disarm the argument, silently kill the bastards, or in general make this problem go away without causing everyone as much stress as possible.
As I pull up in front of the courthouse, I realize two things. There’s no way I can get involved and not make life hard on everyone, and there’s no way I can stand by and do nothing as a criminal gets a pass on prison using my name. No, I don’t get people out of jail, that’s not what this helmet means.
This helmet means that when someone does something so wrong the code demands death, then death comes. I was taught that, by my father, my mother, my mentor, master… just a lot of people.
One told me that I should love my neighbor, love those around me and treat them with dignity. I was told that others can have their opinions and I can have mine, and that I should do no harm. I was told I can hate whoever as much as I can, and others will do the same, as long as I do no harm. But once someone puts their hands on someone else, there is only one place they need to be sent.
But we disagree on what that place is, if there’s even one, and who goes there.
For the sake of my health, and sometimes others, some get to go behind bars. But Evan Settleborn, Dr. Magician, whatever he likes to go by, belongs in one place. The code didn’t call for his death, so I guess he’s not a murderer, but that doesn’t mean he gets to go free.
And my name is not going to help him get away from going to where he belongs.
The press is out front in force, originally waiting for someone from the trial to come out until they see my car. I see the damn scavengers and rats watching, and by the fact they haven’t swarmed me, I know they don’t know whose car this is. It’s time I inform them.
The second I open the door and show my head, the press lose their shit, and turn from professionals to paparazzi in seconds. It only gets worse when Burke lands in front of me.
With all their scoops and lack of respect and dignity, they don’t get close enough to put a camera in either of our faces immediately, they slowly work their way. Emily has her arms crossed scowling down at me as she floats a few inches off the ground, and people think we may fight.
They get what they want, a good money shot when Emily floats down to place her hands on my shoulders, and begs, “Hood, think this through, for just one second, you’re not going to help any-”
I interrupt her by taking out my guns, and everyone gets silent until I press them into Emily’s chest. She’s shocked, everyone is shocked, and I’m relieving myself of risk. I minimize the damage I can do if I lose it, and I walk push past her as she grows more confused over this than any math test she’s taken.
“Hold them,” is all I say to her.
The press goes nuts and gets within touching distance, and start getting shouldered by me. I won’t let anyone stand in my way, not even Emily as she tries to fly in front of me again. I see her fumbling with my guns, and I realize she has no experience with them, handling them like someone who has no desire to touch a gun.
When she tries to get in front of me, I wish for a second that I didn’t leave the SMG in the car and really floor her. For once the vultures have their use and stand between me and her, not letting her through to me as she calls for me.
She tells, “Please, Hood, stop, you’re not going to make anything better, or change anything!”
The worst thing is she may be right, she probably is right, but the sadder thing is I’m not planning on helping anyway.
I shove the last of the rats out of my way, one tripping backwards with his camera, and it makes me smile to see it. I push the goddamn doors open to the courthouse, and everyone inside, the people waiting for the court decisions, the guards and workers, and the people waiting to be called, they all stare at me, the freak at their door.
Not many are afraid, why would they be? They probably don’t believe half the shit they hear and they shouldn’t.
I walk inside, push right through the metal detectors and the guard actually places a hand on my shoulder to stop me. Why are they so goddamn stupid? I see the look in his eye and he actually thinks he has the power to stop me, he thinks he should.
“Who do you think you are?” he questions me, “Who is-”
“Do you want me to beat you half to death?” I interrupt, getting in his face, and making him piss his pants when I add. I see the fear in his eyes, but most importantly the realization. “I’m wearing a bulletproof suit with knives in every joint, I’m literally edgy, and your… a fucking door guard? Fuck off.”
I shove him aside and assume the lack of footsteps means he gets the message.
I proceed through the hallway, people staring, shocked after seeing me outdo the security officer. I demand from them, “Where is he?!” and they cower, but I don’t get an answer. I demand again, “Where is Settleborn?!”
A mother, cradling a clearly delinquent son, points along with so many others, saying, “There.”
I hear that same goody-two-shoes, call me from behind, and she’s not getting another second glance. I have a destination, and I’m walking to it.
I hear her scream my name, getting closer, even as I’m at the double doors and I have to decide if I’m at the point of no return.
She has superspeed, she could be next to me, stopping me if she wanted to, but some part of her is holding back. Some part of Emily wants to know.
But then that point loses, I hear the wind blow, and I feel it as she’s coming. She makes the choice for me.
Yes, this is the point of no return.
I kick the fucking double doors right open. And the courtroom, this tired, old, wooden courtroom, with its lawyers, and its jury, and its stupid bystanders, they all shut up and look at me, and the girl behind me who’s realizing it’s too late.
I walk inside so the doors shut in her face.
Everyone has their eyes on me, even that snotty lawyer, with his slick back hair and arrogant, swamy smile. I looked his name up on the way here, I wanted to know the name of the man who thought he could call me out.
“Casey Kubrick,” I call out to him, and I open my arms to let him know, “here I am, ready to take the stand.”
This man, he proves to be the only person in this room with any stones, not even Dr. Magician himself has anything to say. Kubrick, he looks at me, he smiles, and he turns to the judge. “Permission to bring up a new witness, judge?”
The judge is this old, white haired, black man, and the current witness is a cop of the same color, one I spooked in the bank.
“That’s not how-” the prosecutor tries to say, but the judge shoots him a look and a shake of his head. The rules changed when they couldn’t stop me from walking in.
I walk down the aisle and before the judge can say I word, I say, “We don’t need to wait for his fucking permission.” People gasp, and they stare as I hop over the gate. When the security guard twitches, thinks about stopping me, the judge gives him a look and shakes his head.
I walk to the stand, and the guard holds the bible to me. A bunch of paper doesn’t mean anything, it won’t stop me from lying or telling the truth. I open the door, and he tries to tell me to swear and I tell him, “That garbage doesn’t mean jackshit,” and I take my seat before the courtroom.
This whole time, I think he thought I didn’t notice. I think Kubrick actually thought that I didn’t notice him smiling, him grinning from ear to ear, eating shit from the floor because he thinks he just won.
“Ask your question.” I challenge this man, this lawyer who defends pieces of shit for a living, who thinks he’s going to use me to get a bonus on his next paycheck.
Kubrick looks around him, he sees a courtroom, one he understands, his home turf, but he doesn’t realize what he’s brought upon himself. I tore down and burned his home turf when I walked in.
Kubrick, he moves from his spot, his false safe zone beside Settleborn. He walks into the middle of the courtroom, thinking that this is like any case before.
No, he thinks it’s better, he thinks it’s going to be the easiest case of his life. Because of that, he asks me one simple question. “What gives you the right?”
No, no, he can’t have it easy. I have to make him work for it; I have to challenge him. “The right to what? Spit it out.”
Kubrick places his hands on his hips, his nice suede belt, and he starts chuckling, but he doesn’t laugh, not yet. He’s shaking his head; he thinks I’ve fucked up. He tries his question again.
“What, the hell, gives you the right to take matters into your hands, to take the law, into your own hands and do with it as you see fit?”
He blinks his eyes stronger than ever before; I can see that he’s going to sweat from all the rage. He doesn’t wait for me to answer. He just rants, “I’ll tell you, nothing, you’re just a lunatic, a monster who makes things easier for everyone else who’s supposed to uphold it,” and with a raising and slamming of his finger, “the law. Guess what, you should have never have gotten on this stand, boy,” and the sweat comes down his face, the chuckle exudes his confidence, and he growls at me, “you never should have sat down, because now I can tear you apart. You know why? Because you’re a monster, who thought that no one respects the law more than they fear you.”
He splays his hands out, he points to the authorized press reporting, to the press outside, and the cameras I can see. He tells me, “I’m going to make this world see who you really are, a psychopathic, murdering freak.”
That’s it? That’s it? He got me on the stand, and that’s all he wants people to see? He has no ambition, he’s just another tool in this world’s rumbling machine. Because of that I just can’t help myself.
I laugh in his smug little face, and it breaks his smile, because he doesn’t get it.
None of them get it. I laugh alone. I laugh and everyone stares. They watch, and they are horrified because they don’t understand.
Kubrick isn’t trying to make the world see anything new.
I snap on him, go from laughing to challenging in a moment, “What world are you living in that makes you think people don’t already know that about me? They’ve always known,” and point to the jury and spectators, “you’ve all known, and watched,” and I center my eyes on Kubrick again, who in his heart and mind, still can’t get it. “Guess why they haven’t done anything, they don’t care.
“That’s the root of it all, all of this world’s problems, with this courtroom, with all the courts and legislatures, famines and wars, no one, actually cares. Everyone knows about the starving kids in Africa, everyone knows about the beheadings in the Middle East, everyone knows they’re killing the planet, everyone knows about the refugees who’ve lost their homes, everyone knows that a murder in black is murdering people they don’t know in the streets, and they say they feel bad, they say they sympathize, whatever that means, but no one cares.”
Kubrick, he asked me a question. It’s time I answered it.
“You say I take the law into my own hands?” I stretch out my hands before me, laughing, “What law?!”
Everyone jumps, the judge watches me with his eyes wide and unblinking, the guard steps back and cowers by the jury, and Kubrick is frozen, his eyes locked by the abyss.
“There is no law, not since people started getting fucking superpowers,” I tell them, I tell them truthfully, “not in this god forsaken country,” because let’s be honest, “what kind of fucking law do we have where what is right, what is true, and what is justice is passed over for the fucking dollar signs that go into your pocket and his?!”
The ‘him’ I’m pointing to, is the man on trial himself.
Kubrick takes his eyes off of the abyss for a moment, to really look at the man he is representing, to look and actually think about, who he is.
He looks back to me, he brings his eyes back to me, and he realizes that he has lost, but I’m going to twist the knife. “Nothing I tell you,” I say it so simply, I slam my arms into the wood as I release the truth to them all that, “you want to talk about the law, the law that doesn’t trust the word of officers of the law over this criminal wanted in one too many countries? But then does trust those same officers of the law when they abuse their power for their own wants and needs?”
The heart of the matter is this, “There is no law, there is no justice, we live in a country where with your so called law, two people can commit the same crime, in the same manner, in the same place, and get two different, goddamn sentences. With your law, a girl can get raped by a boy and he’ll only get a few months because prison would adversely affect him as a gold medal athlete. With your law, kids with toy guns get killed by cops, and no one gets punished. With your law, Settleborn can be a famed thief and still potentially be found innocent, but you know what that law also allows?
“For me to kill your client and walk out of here unscathed.”
This small little man begins to look as small as his client.
He shouldn’t have tried to imply that he cared about this system. It changed the moment superhumans were the only ones who could take on other superhumans and survive. The fact that we’re the ones arresting them should have never been questioned. We’re the only ones who could arrest them but that’s why they can’t be legally incarcerated?
Is this system why we have the cycle where the monsters are constantly in and out of jail cells? There’s no point.
I flex my hand and pop out my knife. “I should just put a bullet in him, but I relinquished.”
Settleborn immediately stands up, waving his arms around and tries to say, “Wait, no, I plead guilty! You saw the tapes, I did it!”
The lawyer, with the last bit of bite in him, tells his client, “You don’t have to give in to his tyranny-”
“Shut up, I know what I am, and it’s something that likes living, now take me to jail.”
I slip the knife back into my wrist. “Excellent choice.”