Not A Little Ominous (2.6)

Masterson had stayed put throughout the night. Cassandra sent the car past her house in the morning to get a better look than the publicly available street views.

The house was huge, and had some good bones on it, but had been painted garishly in pink, purple, and teal. Several of the windows flew nylon flags or banners displaying rainbow stripes, political symbols, recreational botanical insignias, and even sports logos.

Augury reported that the email triggered by the heuristic analysis of Gilbert’s report was still sitting unopened on the opposition’s server. That was almost too lucky to be believed, but she was in no position to question it and she knew it. She would go to Masterson’s house or work if she had to, but her preference was to catch her somewhere in between.

Conventional law enforcement could get some locational information by pulling data from the cellphone towers, but it was nothing like the tracking technology that 4B had surreptitiously inserted into the cellular infrastructure and software.

It was possible for someone with the right security credentials to watch a person’s movements with a reasonable amount of precision in realtime or after the fact, without having to bother anyone at the phone companies about it.

Cassandra watched Masterson’s path to work with interest, observing the varying speeds, the starts and stops. She’d already played back her incredible trip home, checking with traffic cameras to verify that she hadn’t picked up a bike or caught a ride.

In between, she’d reviewed the woman’s blog posts to try to get a feel for her as a person. It seemed like a fool’s errand, there was so much jargon and pop culture detritus. The whole thing was so forced. It just had to be a put-on. It was such an obnoxious façade for a grown woman, a college graduate even—albeit one who seemed to have taken five years to graduate—that Cassandra kept finding herself becoming almost irrationally angry.

She alternated between studying pictures of Masterson’s face to make sure she’d be able to recognize her given her apparently ever-changing hair colors and styles, and not being able to look at her for wanting to punch her.

In late afternoon, she took the car out to the Heights to get a feel for the lay of the land. She wanted to be rolling when Masterson left work, so she could find a way to cross paths somewhere that wouldn’t be too visible or too busy.

Masterson caught her off-guard, though, by taking the sunken footpath that cut across the island along an artificial creekbed. Once Cassandra realized what she was up to, she also realized this was ideal. She was not only getting new data about Masterson’s physical capabilities—which were definitely enhanced into the superhuman range—but had a perfect place to intercept her, assuming she was taking the path to the end.

Cassandra pulled into the park at almost the same time Masterson reached it, counting on the probability that the young woman would have to stop and collect herself after what had to be a very new and strange experience.

She was in luck: the woman she sought stood at the head of the trail, looking confused, bewildered. She laughed out loud, cupped her head in her hands, then took off her mask and hood and pulled out her phone.

“Crap,” Cassandra said, sliding out of the SUV. “Who’s she calling?”

“She appears to be entering the number manually,” Augury reported. Then, a moment later, “It is Detective Gilbert’s line.”

“Kill the signal,” she said quietly, then tried to think of her next move.

“Dang it!” Masterson said. Even knowing she was a recent college graduate—and having seen her web page—Cassandra was surprised by how young she sounded. “Don’t tell me that interfering with phone communications is one of my powers.”

“No,” Cassandra said. “It’s one of mine.”

“You drove past my house this morning,” Masterson said. Cassandra didn’t like the note of accusation in her voice. Behind it was fear.

Damn, this could go sideways fast. The last thing Cassandra needed was for her to bolt.

“It’s not your house,” she said neutrally, while she tried to figure out what to say.

“It’s a co-op. I’m a member. I have equity in it.”

“That isn’t all you have,” the woman said. “My name is Cassandra Davies.” She considered what cards to play, weighing her words carefully before she said, “Department 4B is very interested in people like you, Ms. Masterson.”

“Aw, crullers.”

Crullers?

“It is in your best interest to come with me,” Cassandra said. “I hope you come willingly. I would very much regret the alternative.”

“Dude, don’t hecking try me,” Masterson said, holding up her hands, palms out. Hecking. “I don’t like fighting, but I have no idea who you are and you have no idea what I’m capable of.”

“Ms. Masterson, I think you have no idea what you’re capable of,” Cassandra said. “And that’s why I would like you to come with me. I’m sure you know there are procedures for these things. I have ways of quantifying your new capabilities.”

“I know about 4B, though… people disappearing,” Masterson said. “Dirty tricks, black ops, psyops stuff… they say 4B is the reason that business guy disappeared last summer?”

“Of course people tell sinister stories about Department 4B,” Cassandra said, “but here’s a simple fact: not registering your powers is a federal crime. Using them in a public place compounds it.”

“It’s not like I wasn’t going to register?” Masterson said. “I just… kind of had to make sure, you know? Like, what if I just thought I had superpowers? I mean, one time I thought I could control goldfish.”

“Goldfish?”

“Well, I mean, I didn’t think it was goldfish specifically, but I didn’t have any other fish in my dorm room. Anyway, to make a long story short: I can’t control goldfish, but there isn’t really anything I’d want a goldfish to do that it doesn’t sort of do on its own. You know what I mean?”

“Ms. Masterson, I assure you, I do not,” Cassandra said.

Christ, she keeps up her internet persona in person. The urge to punch her was intensifying. Maybe that’s just nerves? She’ll probably drop it once she gets comfortable with me.

“Call me J.J. What do I call you?”

“You could certainly call me ‘Agent Davies’,” she said. “Every active superhero currently operates under 4B’s eyes, with an official 4B liaison handling their case… or one dogging their steps. Every individual with noteworthy powers, whether they use them in a crimefighting capacity or not, is in the 4B database, willingly or not. If you come with me, I can promise you: you won’t disappear. Will you come in?”

“Okay,” J.J. said. “Here’s the thing. You know how if you get a phone call from someone who says they’re from some company and they want you to do something, you’re supposed to hang up and look up the corporate number?”

“If you would like to call the regional office, be my guest. You won’t learn anything that contradicts what I’m telling you.”

“Okay? I just meant… look, you want me to climb into a black SUV. Right now, I want to go home, and I want to… not climb into a black SUV. Among other things? I get pretty dang motion sick when I ride in cars. So how about you tell me where I can meet you to do the thing, and I’ll get there on my own power?”

Cassandra thought about this. On the one hand, it would give the woman plenty of time to disappear. On the other hand, she was close to running anyway, and it wasn’t as though Cassandra could stop her.

“Very well,” she said. “If this will secure your cooperation.”

Cassandra gave her the address.

“That’s got to be a warehouse?” J.J. said.

“Surprisingly astute observation,” Cassandra said.

“So, instead of getting into a black SUV with a stranger, I’m going to an abandoned warehouse?”

“It’s not an abandoned warehouse,” Cassandra said. “It’s a warehouse currently being used for other purposes.”

“Whatever. It’s like, five minutes from where I work,” she said. “Is it cool if I stop by after work tomorrow? It’ll be kind of late, because I also have to meet my lawyer at the police station?”

“It would be in your best interest not to mention your powers to them at this juncture,” Cassandra said.

“I didn’t figure on doing that?” J.J. said.

“And, listen: don’t delay,” Cassandra said. “There are consequences to ducking registration. I will do everything I can to protect you, but it might be out of my hands. There are more people than me who are going to be interested in a newly-emerged superbeing.”

“Well, that’s a little, you know, ominous?”

“Just be there. And if the situation changes? I may need to pull you out.” Masterson’s phone chimed. “That’s a text with my phone number. Add me as a contact, and if I call you, answer. If I text you to run, just start running. Don’t worry about where right away, just get out and get away from wherever you are. Don’t go home. Don’t go to anyone connected to you. Just get somewhere safe and call me when you’re hidden, because if I text ‘run’, that means someone’s after you.”

“Oh, good,” J.J. said. “It’s not a little ominous anymore.”

“J.J…. I really need you to believe I have your interests at heart here,” Cassandra said.

“Okay? I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“You had better.”

Cassandra watched her pull her mask back up, put her hood on, and leave, then she got into her SUV and followed her progress via cell tracking until she was sure the woman was home.

God help her, she still wanted to punch her.