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To the Victor…
Chapter 12: Bad Days All Around
by Tog

Mourning Angel sat on the uncomfortable wooden bench outside the police captain’s office.  As she sat there, the realization of what she was about to try weighed on her.  Lista was much better suited for this sort of thing.  And why couldn’t she do it?  Because of some silly excuse about too many people here recognizing her.  It also felt so wrong to be out of costume.  The feel of spandex had grown on her.  It now felt odd to be in a dress, yet here she sat.  Blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail and a light blue summer dress was really all it took to make her just one of the crowd.

“Sorry about the wait,” the captain said as he poked his head out of the office door.

Mourning told him it was fine, and followed him into the office, where he closed the door behind her.

Captain Pruitt was a distinguished man.  Not tall, and not as fit as he once was, but he looked like he could still walk a beat if it came down to it. 

His office was decorated on one wall with official commendations and awards from the police department and the city.  There was even a plaque on the wall which said something about service to the Freedom Phalanx, though it was too far away to be seen clearly. 

The opposite wall was covered in personal items, such as pictures of the captain in his younger days with friends and family.

The wall which held the door had only pictures of police officers on it.  Each had a small engraving on the bottom of the frame and a small black ribbon across one corner.  These were the faces that looked at the captain throughout his day.  She of all people could understand why he placed them there, and it made her feel a little worse for what she was about to do.

She turned her southern accent up to full and gave a broad smile as she shook his hand.  “Captain, Pruitt.  Hai.  I’m raylly happy you were able to find time to mayt with may.  My name is Victoria DuChamp.  I’ll try to be just as quick as I can, but I am a touch nervous.”

“Nonsense, my dear.  There’s nothing to be nervous about.  I’m glad to be of help.  As I understand it, you need to interview a public official for a journalism class?”

“Yessir, that’s rayt.”

“Well then, before we get started, why did you choose me?”

“Well, Daddy was a deputy for a spell down by Savannah, that’s the big one in Georgia, and I’ve always had a soft spot for law enforcement.  With evrthin’ happenin’ lately, I just couldn’t help but think this would be perfect, but I was worried you wouldn’t have the tam.”

“No, no.  I can spare a bit.  What is it you wanted to discuss?”

She fumbled with the tape recorder until she got it switched on, then set it on the desk.  September 8th, 2005, interview with Captain James Pruitt.  Good afternoon, Captain.”

“Good afternoon.”

“There are a lot of unanswered questions surroundin’ the reports that heroes in Paragon are becomin’ as much of a thrayt to the population as those they’re sworn to fahght.  I was hopin’ to get some of those cleared up.”

“I’ll be happy to tell you what I can.”

“Arright.  I guess, first off, have there been any actual arrests or saynctions taken against any hero or group?”

“Not so far, no.”

“And have any of these heroes or groups been identified?”

“That, I’m afraid, I can’t answer.”

“I’m not askin’ for you to tell me the names, if you have ‘em, I’m just asking if you have any.”

“It’s an ongoing investigation and I can’t comment on that aspect of it.  I’m sorry.”

“I see.  Well, maybe you can tell me this, then.  How many of these incidents have been reported?”

“Over 100 as of yesterday.  We get a few more every day, and we’re doing our best to get the details on each one.”

“Have any of them not panned out?  By that I mean, have you come across any that were definitely fawlse reports?”

“Yes.  Several.  I didn’t include them in the total.

“So those 100 cases are confirmed to have actually happened?  Or are they the ones that just cayn’t be shown to be fawlse at this time?”

The Captain reached down to cover the recorder and silently mouthed, “Off the record?”

She nodded, and switched off the recorder.

“What are you really after?”

“The truth.”

“Tell me what you really want, it’ll go faster.”

“Okay.  Fine.  I’ve looked for victims and witnesses.  I’ve listened to scanners.  I’ve hung out in hero bars.  No one.  Not one single person I’ve talked to, or eavesdropped on, has ever seen any of these things happen.  What I want to know, straight up, is do you have any confirmed cases of hero abuse?”

“Confirmed?  No.  Most of what we get is too vague to be of any use.  I guess that’s to be expected.  You ask if there was anything unusual about the attacker and they tell you he wore gold spandex, could fly, and shot fire from his bare hands.  You’d be surprised how little that actually helps in this city.

“In a few cases, there was a description that matched a known Hero, but it turns out that that same Hero had an airtight alibi for the time.”

“Could this all be a huge hoax then?”

“I doubt it.  I really do.  There are just too many reports.  A lot of them come from pretty reliable sources too.”

“Define ‘reliable’, please.”

“When some drugged out guy comes in to say he’s been beaten up by a hero, but has no evidence, it’s pretty easy to dismiss it as confusion or hallucinations.  When some celebrity does it, it’s still pretty easy to write it off as attention seeking.  When fifty people from the same house party report it, it could be a planned hoax.  But when 100 different people report it, from all walks of life, and all get a lot of the same details very similar, but not exactly the same, you really have to wonder just how far some people will go for a hoax.  We’re talking seventy-five to a hundred people making the same basic reports.  The events change in minor ways, but the overall theme is the same.”

“Have you considered that it’s a small group of people dressin’ up as heroes to cause trouble?”

“Actually, yes.  We did think of that.  That’s still a possibility, but why?”

“Could it be a major villain settin’ up the city to not trust the Heroes?”

“Not likely.  Even if the citizens lost faith in all of the other Heroes, the Freedom Phalanx would still be around.  Any major villain would have his hands full there.”

“I see your point.”

“Besides, we’re hiring more police officers over the next few years.  This should give us more of a presence on the streets and that will help to put people at ease as far as the day to day stuff goes.”

“How many more?”

“Well, 15 this year.  Then we’ll be bringing on about 20 additional officers each quarter for the foreseeable future.”

“Where did the city find the money for that?”

“Green-Machines.  You know, the eco-friendly cars?  The feds got some to test a few months ago and were so impressed that they plan to replace the entire fleet with them.  That got our bosses to look into them and we’ll be changing over too.”

“I’m not really that familiar with them.”

“I can’t explain how they work.  Something to do with some sort of synthetic chlorophyll or something.  Basically, the cars have a sort of ‘blood’ that carries electricity in it.  As long as the sun shines on the car, it recharges the fluid.  Without a charge, the car will run for about 5 days.”

“How’s the performance?”

“Great so far.  No different than a regular car in our tests.”

“Does the ‘blood’ need to be replaced?”

“Eventually, yes.  That will be expensive, but it only has to happen every five years or so.  And it still comes out to be less than one year’s worth of gas.  That’s a story you should be following.”

“Oh, dammit!  Oops, sorry about the language.  I never did turn the tape back on.”

“It’s probably for the best.  Not much I could really say on the record anyway.”  He smiled a wry smile and stood up to inform her that he was no longer giving an interview.

As she passed though the doorway, she paused to look at the photos on the wall.  Turning to face him, she asked, “Were they all yours?”

The captain stopped, one hand on the door.  “Yes.”  He said it in a way that was either defensive or proud, possibly both.

“Where you put them in the office says a lot about you I think.  We’ll talk again.”

She walked out of the office and listened as she made her way to the elevator.  He didn’t call her back, but it did take quite some time for the door to close.

 

She returned to the base to find Tog and HAAL in a very animated conversation.  Epim was out with Ent and a few other people from the group, but Lista was in her room.  Mourning knocked lightly and jumped back when the door suddenly slid open.

“Oh, Hey Lis.  Are you on your way out?”

“I was just gonna raid the fridge.  How’d it go?  Did you do that stuff I told you?”  She walked back into the room and sat down on the bed.  Mourning joined her.

“I can’t flirt, but did spot a way to get in with him.  I played up the ‘daddy was a cop’ angle.”

“Good play.  That gets him thinking that you understand what he’s really like.”

“I felt dirty.  I want to go back and come clean with him.”

“No!  You can’t do that.”

“I know, but still.  I hate doin’ stuff like this.  I’m not good at keepin’ my feelings out of things.”

“Hey, speaking of your feelings, how’s it going with Beau?  You guys spent any quality time together in the back of a burned out van yet?”  She said it with a wink and finished with a shoulder bump to Mourning’s arm.

Mourning blushed a bit.  “I’m not ready for that!  No, things are good with us.  We still go out a few times a week.  He loves the dogs.  They seem to like him.  We’re just takin’ things slowly.”

“And he’s okay with this?  This ‘slowly’ thing?  I mean, he’s a professional gambler.”

“Yeah, we’ve talked a lot about it.  He’s experienced, I’m not.  I’m really not.”

“Talked about it?  What did you say?”

“Basically the truth.  That I was so scared of being such a disappointment to him in that aspect, that it would probably sour what we have.”

“He offered to ‘coach’ you then, didn’t he?”

“No!  He’s not like that.”

“He is.  He may not show it, but he is.  All men are pigs, some are just better trained.”

“Oh, that’s profound.”

“Look, Angela.  Here’s the thing.  I know you.  I care for you deeply.  Seriously.  I don’t know if I ever had a sister, but I’ve got you and that’s close enough.  I know you’re, I guess ‘sheltered’ is as good a word as any for it.  I don’t want you to fall for some scam he’s running and get hurt by him.  That’s all.  Some guys will string you along for months to get what they want.  For some, it’s like it makes it better somehow.  Just keep your guard up.  I may give you crap from time to time, but I’ll always be there if you need me.  You know that?  Right?”

“Yeah.  I do.  You’re just so damn hard to take sometimes.”

“Pffft.  If you ask around a bit, I think you’ll find that I can be ‘taken’ pretty easily, if you know what I mean.”

~~~~~

Tog was passing by Lista’s room as the torrent of laughter poured out into the hall.  “Girls…,” he thought.

He entered his room, closed the door, and switched on the music player.  As the sounds of Bill Haley filled the room, he closed his eyes and gave serious thought about where Hero University was headed.  They still couldn’t get Danforth to commit to anything.  It was like he was just stringing them along.  Sooner or later, a decision had to be made as to whether or not to just drop him.  HAAL had already decided it was in their best interests to forget about him.  “He may be right,” he mumbled.

“Tog, you have a message from Epim,” said Athena.  “I will transfer the call here for you.”

“Thanks, Athena.”  There was a click as he picked up the handset.  “Tog here.”

“Tog, this is Epim.  I think we have a problem here.  We’re in Atlas Park, near the main Sewer entrance.  Loop has done something stupid.  In front of the news cameras.”

“Be there in a bit.”

 

Epim saw Tog approaching and said, “Here he comes.”

Ent and Kym turned in time to see him enter the little plaza.  “Okay, what happened?” asked Tog.

Epim began.  “Kym, Ent and I had to check out an office over there.  When we came out, Loop was out here with a few other new heroes.  We came over to say hi, and heard him selling his services to them.  One of them asked what it was that he could do, so Loop looked around for a Hellion then said, ‘No, gang members, that guy in the hat there will do’ and fired one his devices at some random guy on the street.  Some sort of pulse radiated out of the guy and washed over everyone, but the guy was scared to death and took off running only to collapse a few dozen yards away, gasping for breath.”

“And the press?”

“They were just setting up for another hack job about heroes going to far.  As soon as it happened, I heard them yelling about actually getting it on tape.”

“Great,” said Tog with a sigh.  Ent.  Hold on to my dignity for a few.  I won’t be needing it for this.”

As Tog walked over to the reporters, Ent turned to Epim and expressed a good deal of confusion.  Epim was still explaining it when Tog reached the reporters.

“Hello.  My name is Tog, and I was hoping to speak with you a moment.  Privately.”

“Not a chance, big guy.  Anything you have to say to me is on the record and in front of witnesses.”

“Fair enough.  You’re Justine Almage, is that correct?”

“It is.”

“And you’ve been doing a number of stories on heroes taking their authority too far.”

“I have.”  Her smile broadened.

“I was wondering then, just why there have been no stories about the hero community policing its own.  Also, I think I would be correct in assuming that this is the first, and only bit of really evidence that any of this has actually happened, is that right?”  He cursed himself for slipping again.  Finesse dammit.

“Well, we are not aware of any heroes looking into the matter.  And it would be fair to say that that footage we just shot would be the best bit of evidence, not the only bit.”

“I was wondering if I might get a look at it.”

She burst out laughing.  “Right, we’ll just hand it over to you!  Are you serious?”

“I don’t want to handle it.  I want to see it.”

“Why?”

“Because there are many of us in the hero community who would like to get to the bottom of this.  If he really did what those people say he did, then there will be consequences.  By the way, if you would return your calls, you would find that many of us have been seeking answers for months.  I tried to speak to you about it back in May.”

“Okay.  Tom, hook up a monitor.  Let’s show this guy what we’ve got.”

Tog hunched over the video monitor to see the events unfold exactly as Epim had described.  He knew her account was accurate, but it was important to see just exactly what the news crew had filmed.  They got it all.

Tog stood up slowly, thanked the news crew, and turned to face his friends.  This would be a long night.

~~~~~

Epim arrived back at base quite late.  She had stayed to talk with the news crew in a futile effort to get any further information.  She entered the small common room to find Sliss sitting alone in the dark watching some space movie.

“Hi Sliss.  Where is everyone?

“Hi.  There is a big meeting in the conference room.  They let me watch this movie.  They said I’d be bored in there.”

“They’re probably right.”

“What is cry-oh-genetics?  Is that like the genes that make you cry?”

“No.  You know how you slow down when you get cold?  It’s sort of like that, only if it’s done right, everything slows down, but the person is still alive when they warm up.  Supposedly, you could sleep forever.”

“Oh, okay.  I thought it was weird that no one was crying.”

Epim smiled at him and got back in the lift.

She arrived at the conference room too late.  Things had just ended.  She saw Mourning coming out and approached her.

“What was that all about?”

“State of the Supergroup address.  Where we are.  Where we’re goin’.  That sort of thing.  I heard what happened today.”

“Yeah.  Tog is pretty mad about it.”

Loop is coming by for a ‘talk’ in a little bit.  I’m trying to decide were the best place to wait it out might be.”

Feedback Loop arrived a bit after 8 PM and was shown to the room where Tog was waiting.  From outside the door, it was difficult to hear anything.  There was yelling, and some profanity.  At least one chair sounded like it would need to be replaced.  It wasn’t until the yelling stopped that Epim got worried.

She cautiously opened the door to see Tog leaning forward on the table, using both hands for support, and Loop standing against the far wall looking very confused.

Without moving even so much as his head, Tog said, “Get him out of here.  NOW!”

Epim grabbed the smaller man and pulled him to the entryway; he teleported out without a sound.  She returned to find Tog hadn’t moved.

“He’s gone,” she said.  “Are you okay?”

His whole body relaxed at once and he collapsed into the former chair.  “The Other Guy just saved me.  Again.”

“From Loop?  I can’t see him as much of a threat to you, even without The Other Guy.”

“No.  Not Loop.  Me.  Doc, I was gonna kill that guy.  Seriously.  That smug son of a bitch just doesn’t get it.  Any of it.  It’s all a game to him.  He’s been selling his services to other teams.  He’s been shaking down citizens in some sort of extortion scheme.  He called it panhandling for components, but basically, he was implying that they needed to pay him to keep his stuff working order so he could protect them.  Then he started in on the personal attacks on the people here.  I was just about to hit him with bits of that chair when I found my self in the corner of the room.  The Other Guy kicked me out of my head again.  Only this time, he refused to do anything.”

“He’s still keeping you safe.  I bet he tried to get through to you but you wouldn’t listen.  He had to push you out to stop you from doing something we all know you’ll regret.”

“Maybe so.”

“Do you recall what it was that set you off?”

“The whole thing.  That attitude like he was above the rules, better than everyone else.  He mentioned more than once that the world owed him.  He didn’t get into MIT like he wanted.  He didn’t get the right color of car for his birthday.  His hair doesn’t layer right.  He just—Gah!  I can’t think about this now.  I’m going to head to Dark Astoria for a bit.  The Other Guy and I need to work some stuff out.”

She sat in silence as he stormed out of the room and into the lift.

Moments later, Sliss came in and sat down beside her.  “Can I ask you something?”

“Is it important?” she snapped, then felt horrible about it.  “I’m sorry.  I’m just worried about Doug.  What is your question?”

“In that movie I was watching, one of the people killed himself so the others wouldn’t try to save him from something.  Later, another guy had to kill his friend because he couldn’t save him.  Why would they do that?”

She gave a small sigh.  This would be hard to explain.  “Okay, I know you understand about self sacrifice.  I’ve seen you put yourself at risk for your team-mates quite a bit, even if it meant bad things for you.  That is called self sacrifice.  You care about another person so much that you do something you know will be bad for you so that other person will be okay.  In the first case from the movie, the guy killed himself to protect the rest.  If they would have come after him, they might have been killed too.  He knew he couldn’t be saved and didn’t want them to risk it, so he stopped them the only way he could.”

“Then why would the other guy kill his friend?”

“Sort of the same thing.  If the hurt guy was so bad off that there was no way to save him, he might die a really slow, painful death.  His friend killed him to end his suffering, because that was the only thing he could do to help.”

“Can that ever happen in real life?”

“Sadly, it can.”

~~~~~

Tog returned very late from his trip to Dark Astoria to find Purrlina curled up on a couch in the day room.  He checked his messages and found only one.  Danforth had seen the news and pulled his support for the school.  Tog deleted the message and walked slowly to the lift, then into his room.  Maybe tomorrow would be better.






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