The alert had come in during the wee hours of the night before, when Cassandra was sitting behind a desk in a tiny, one-room office rented out of an old building in the least renovated, least fashionable part of midtown that still had office space for rent.
The tall, wiry, dirty blonde-haired white woman was dressed in a white shirt with a black tie and pants. The jacket that went with them hung on a stand-up coat rack near the door.
The lights were low, the shades were closed, and she wore wraparound sunglasses.
The view through her ever-present mirror shades revealed a clean and orderly desk with a slimline computer and a curving three-monitor set-up, in the corner of a clean and well-lit office, warmed by the presence of several potted succulents on the desk and atop a filing cabinet.
She’d been using the monitors to watch and read every available bit of news from the president-elect’s visit when a soft chime sounded.
“You have a priority one alert, Madame,” the soft, disembodied voice of Augury said.
“Oh, thank Christ,” she said. “What have we got?”
The view on the monitors was replaced with a series of scanned documents, images, and OCR text. She cursed when she recognized it as the handiwork of Calvary Crossing Police Department. Detective F.X. Gilbert had managed to generate seven “priority one” alerts through the pattern recognition software in the past year.
“That man’s only two or three pins short of a truly impressive conspiracy theory corkboard. I hope this is better than when he thought the mayor’s son was a secret vigilante.”
“In fairness to Mr. Gilbert,” Augury said, “the young man’s car was photographed speeding through several intersections at times and locations that coincided suspiciously closely to several unsolved crimes.”
“Yes, well, if he had been fighting those crimes, they probably wouldn’t have been unsolved, would they?”
“Well, knowing your antipathy to Mr. Gilbert’s unique investigative instincts, I have taken the liberty of performing a preliminary analysis on the data in this alert,” Augury said. “I have concluded there is a ninety-seven percent chance of a genuine extranormal event.”
“Ninety-seven? Ninety-seven percent? You’re sure? You’re not shitting me?”
“I indeed am not shitting you, Madame. Not whatsoever.”
“Okay. Let’s see.”
She read the reports and the analysis and extrapolations, then read it all over again.
“Spandex, mask, suspiciously fast recovery, possible visible healing factor,” she said. “There’ve been no reliable reports of vigilante activity or extranormal activity in the city. First outing? Or maybe origin story? But she already had the mask and the suit. But how could she know this guy was going to hit the museum? Augury… who else has this?”
“At the moment, Madame? Calvary Crossing Police Department and your own inimitable self.”
“We’ll have to move quickly,” she said. “Branch will have it by tomorrow morning; their system runs the same pattern analysis we do. See if you can do some discreet editing to de-emphasize Masterson’s weirdness. If we’re lucky, they’ll be more concerned with the perp than the witness. If we’re very lucky, they won’t even realize what they have immediately.”
“Perhaps Mr. Gilbert’s habitual crying of wolf will work to our advantage,” Augury suggested.
“Or everybody will want to read it immediately to see if it’s as funny as the last one,” she said. “No. We have to move on this immediately. Sooner. Where does this Masterson live?”
“2222 The Heights.”
“The Heights? What kind of security system?”
“There is an alarm system installed, but the subscription is not current. Anticipating your whim: it is a former single occupancy house converted to multiple occupancy, currently owned by something called ‘The Chateau Maison Corporation’, of which Ms. Masterson is a stakeholder.”
“Is this woman for real?” Cassandra asked.
“Most likely,” Augury replied. “I have ascertained there is a seventeen percent chance she is a cover identity.”
“That’s… that’s not what I meant, but that’s worryingly high,” Cassandra said. Most U.S. citizens had a big enough bureaucratic, financial, and digital footprint that Augury could peg their chance of actually existing at greater than ninety-nine percent. “What do you base it on?”
“She has never held a driver’s license, and thus has never registered a car or had car insurance. Her credit history is virtually non-existent. She opened her first bank account two months ago. The only utility ever registered to her name is a cell phone. She maintains what I will term a limited but enthusiastic social media presence.”
“What’s that mean?”
“She maintains a ‘tumble blog’. The original contents are sparse, but incredibly varied. The content she shares is even more eclectic.”
The computer complied. A page came up, blisteringly pink and headlined with “only g*sh can judge me”.
“This… says she is a, quote, ‘Big Gay Dorkwad’. Has her site been hacked?”
“Assessing… it would not appear so. I believe no malice is intended. This designation is consistent with her language throughout her postings.”
“Why would she call herself that?” Cassandra said.
“It appears to be a combination of gently self-deprecating humor and radical queer identity.”
“I… see. So. We are looking for a radically queer ‘big gay dorkwad’, possibly with superpowers.”
“It appears so.”
“Are there more pictures?”
“Accessing… yes. She appears to frequently take ‘selfies’, which she posts under the tags ‘it me’ or ‘gpoy’, though the latter tag also holds innumerable pictures of various fictional characters and inanimate objects. The former tag holds the most recent photos.”
The screen updated to show the tagged posts: the same face on the ID photo she’d already seen, but the hair was different. Where Masterson’s ID showed messy, shoulder-length strawberry blonde hair, the most recent posts showed her with head half-shaved and the other half dyed pink and spiked up. It appeared she did not keep one hair style or color for long, though. Older posts showed a succession of colors: green, purple, flame red, various attempts at rainbow striations.
“Do people find this sort of stuff attractive?” she asked.
“I am sure I do not know,” Augury said. “I have located more pictures under the heading of ‘suns out guns out lmao’. I am eighty-eight percent certain these are also pictures of Masterson.”
“Why the uncertainty?”
“It appears she is shy,” Augury said, filling the right-hand monitor with the contents of the second tag: pictures of small, very pale, very well-defined biceps. The bearer of the arms was standing out of frame, cropped out, or in some cases covered with lime green rectangles.
“Wow,” Cassandra said.
“I have located more information about the Chateau Maison,” Augury said.
“It appears to be a cooperative housing corporation.”
“A commune?” Cassandra said. “A grown-up self-identified ‘queer kid’ who made it through college without a single loan, now living in a goddamn commune. Well, that’s it for nocturnal extraction. She’s probably in bed with five other people at this very moment! Can you imagine?”
“Madame, I literally cannot. If I may, however, offer an observation about your imagination…”
“You may not. Okay. We’ll check it out in the morning, see what it looks like. I want continuous location monitoring on her cellphone. If she leaves the house in the night, I want to know. And keep monitoring the usual communication channels. If there’s any chatter, any sign of mobilization…”
“Madame, you offend me,” Augury said.
“Sorry. I know you know your job. I programmed you to know it,” she said. “Just… keep doing what you’re supposed to be doing. We’ve got to get to this one first, and we don’t have a lot of cards.”
“We do have one advantage.”
“To our opposition, this is a routine matter,” Augury said. “They are unaware that they are in a race. We, knowing full well that we are, are prepared to deploy with haste. They are not.”
“Thanks. That actually makes me feel better,” she said. “In the meantime, let’s work the other end. There’s no photo or sketch of the perpetrator, but this scar sounds distinctive enough for a matching heuristic.”
“Access the CCTV networks, traffic cameras, everything we have access to, and see if we can get a picture of this guy, maybe establish his comings and goings.”
“I do not believe that will be possible or necessary,” Augury said. “There is an anomalous pattern.”
“There are gaps in the local panopticon that are consistent with the technical difficulties reported at the museum,” Augury said. “I believe our quarry has some means of ‘jamming’ recording equipment, which is sufficient to mask his identity but not his whereabouts. Indeed, I can far more easily follow the trail of apparently malfunctioning cameras than I could locate a distinctive scar based on rough description.”
“Well,” Cassandra said, “that’s something. Tell me what you have?”
“I am working on extrapolating his movements backwards to his arrival in Calvary Crossing, but I have a clear enough picture of his movements tonight, up until the point where he left the museum and, frankly, vanished,” Augury said. “But he appears to have entered it by the conventional method, after having been dropped off by a ride-sharing service, which picked him up outside a bar he did not go into nor linger long at, to which he walked from a drug store, at which he was deposited by another ride share…”
“Skip ahead. Or back.”
“He appears to have been staying at a Mega 7 motel out in the Tides.”
“The portion of the island built up from landfill, Madame,” Augury said. “Mostly residential, primarily detached single-family units. It was meant to be a suburb of sorts, a place outside the city center for the upwardly mobile middle class who were otherwise fleeing to the mainland, but various ecological and climatological shortcomings kept it from ever becoming fashionable.”
“You mean people with money didn’t want to live on a flood-prone garbage dump,” Cassandra said.
“Indeed,” Augury said. “Also, some of it has been known to form sinkholes or catch fire. There are also persistent rumors that some of the mass used in construction contained unacceptable levels of lead and toxic waste, though the investigation into this was shuttered before it could reach a conclusion.”
“Imagine that,” Cassandra said. “You said our man vanished? So he hasn’t been back to the motel room?”
“Certainly not,” Augury said. “The anomaly has not recurred, and no man with a scarred mouth is visible in any camera in a ten-block radius around the motel.”
“Call the car, then,” Cassandra said. “We’re going on a field trip.”