Masks 18: Part 6

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Masks XVIII

by

Rodford Edmiston

Part Six

"Oh, now that's good work," said the lead Detective, as he hurried over. "We had just gotten word he was no longer at home and were about to notify you, when your call came in."

"Girls, this is Detective Sandersen," said Blue Impact, very deliberately not mentioning that they had found the stakeout and followed the guy here from his home.

"Have you searched him?" said the Detective.

"We are waiting for you to do that," said Blue Impact. "Energia is actively holding the net so he can't move much, and with police doing the searching there will be fewer legal problems."

"I want them arrested!" shouted the figure on the ground, angrily writhing in the net. "They assaulted me without provocation!"

"Tell it to the DA," said the Detective. He squatted to give the fallen figure a visual once-over, after which he retrieved the stolen item: A black velvet bundle. When opened this proved to contain a silver cup filled with silver dollars.

"Oh, yeah. To my experienced eye, this is well over the value limit." He turned to Blue Impact. "Okay, professional opinion needed, here, from you masks. Does this guy fall under Coltman vs. Dachshund, or can we pull that hood off and get a good look at his face?"

The guy began struggling and swearing. Energia held him firm, despite being a bit startled by the Detective's question. She wondered if he knew Blue Impact was an attorney. Or maybe just suspected.

"Hey, don't I have a say in this?" wailed the prisoner, finally accepting he wasn't going to get loose on his own.

"Sure you do," said Sandersen, dryly. "Just not one we have to listen to."

"Hmmm, in my... professional opinion, he's not a known mask as either a criminal or a hero. Legal precedent since that decision holds that the costume of a hero or villain is not intended to conceal their identity but to provide an immediately recognizable alternate identity; a public identity. That 'mask' he's wearing is actually just a ski mask, and the rest isn't even a proper costume. Just black jogging clothes and work gloves. He's either a common thief or a very warm jogger."

"You don't even have to unmask him," said Energia. "He's carrying keys, a wallet, a smart phone..."

"Hey! You're spying on me!"

"I'll keep a grip on him and guide you to where those items are," said Energia.

"Good idea," said the Detective. He bent down to rummage through the prisoner's pockets, with occasional advice from Energia. The man tried to wiggle away, but between the net and Blue Impact helping to hold him still the man's pockets were soon emptied. The Detective finished and stood, holding the items. "I'm so used to costumed types not carrying ID I didn't even think of that. In spite of you telling me he doesn't count as a mask."

He opened the wallet and nodded.

"Okay, got his name and face from his driver's license. It's who we thought, all right."

Sandersen then pulled off the ski mask and officially arrested the man, by name, for grand theft. When finished he looked up at the trio of costumed supers.

"How do we get him out of that net while still holding him?"

"Uhm..." said Gadgetive, suddenly thrown for a loop. "Well, you have to put the net in a place where he can't walk through the walls, then open it."

"Great. We don't have such a place."

"We can't just keep him in that net!" said one of the other plainclothes officers present.

"We need that net back, anyway," said Blue Impact. "We'll give you contact info for Ike Kenniman. He's already working on a device specifically for desolidifiers. In the meantime, an ordinary neutralizer will work on his powers."

"Without a court order we can't put him under a neutralizer," said Sandersen. He straightened and sighed, looking tired. "He hasn't demonstrated any offensive ability."

The state law in re. usage of neutralizers had been hastily rewritten just before the war, in response to complaints about abuse by several state and local government agencies; most of which weren't even directly involved in police work. As a result the law was largely useless, restricting application where it was needed and doing little to reduce the abuse. The lawmakers refused to address the issue again, blithely saying they had done their jobs and it was up to the courts to apply the new law. Then complaining about activist judges ruining their work when the courts did so.

"The net's power supply is good for about another ten hours," said Gadgetive. "If we don't hear from you sooner I'll be at your station in nine to give it a recharge."

"We'll get right on that court order, then." He shone his flashlight on the man again and sighed. "We really can't keep him in that net for any longer than absolutely necessary, anyway."

"Here," said Gadgetive, kneeling beside the prisoner. "I'll - very carefully - adjust the net so he can move around but still can't get out of it. That should help."

"Thanks. Now we just need to figure out what he was doing between the time he left home and the time he came here."

"We followed him here from an apartment building," said Blue Impact. Again not mentioning how they found that place. "Since there's only a couple of keys on that ring I suspect he left his house keys there. We can show you where it is."

"I really want to see what he has stashed there," said Gadgetive, hopefully.

* * *

Very soon, with a bit of help from the landlord, they were in the man's room.

"I swear, he never caused any trouble, always quiet, got along with everyone else in the building, always paid his rent on time..." said the man, babbling nervously.

"It's all right," said Sandersen, ushering the man out. "We'll take it from here."

"I am very glad there wasn't a fight in here," said Gadgetive, with feeling, as she looked around the room. "Wow... He even has a complete set of Young Atomic Engineers. Several editions of some volumes. I almost hate that we had to arrest him. Guy has taste. Let me know of they auction any of this off when the legal stuff is all settled."

"Just don't go any further in than this," said Sandersen. "This is very much a look but don't touch situation."

"Looks like a large part of the money he got from selling what he's stolen went for other collectibles," said Blue Impact. "Wow."

The walls were lined with shelves and display cases. These were full of books, artwork, framed pulp magazine covers, miniatures, props, movie posters and many other collectibles. The room was cool, and a dehumidifier hummed away in the middle.

"He must have been spending it nearly as fast as he was bringing it in," said the Detective, impressed. He sighed and shook his head. "Sorting all this out may take months."

"Years," said Gadgetive. "You need to be really careful with how you pack, move and store this stuff, too."

"Well, you three have the official thanks of the city," said the Detective, shaking hands all around. "I'm afraid we have to clear out for the forensics team, now.

* * *

"One of my contacts sent me the information the police now have on the phantom thief," said Blue Impact, late the next morning. "Turns out he was a city employee, working in utilities. Something with the electrical grid. Oh, and his father is a jeweler."

"That fits," said Gadgetive. The court order for the neutralizer had come during the night, so she had gotten up early - for a change - and gone to the jail where the man was being held to retrieve the net. Which she had done by staying outside the cell with the neutralizer and telling one of the CSIs how to do it. She'd still managed to get breakfast later than her partners in crime fighting. Energia suspected she saw getting breakfast last as a challenge. "He'd have access to the businesses beforehand, as well as knowing the underground routes and the merchandise."

"They still haven't found where he stashed the stolen items," said Blue Impact. "Well, except for a few collectables he kept for himself in that apartment, like that comic. They're pretty sure he's already sold the stuff he could get rid of quickly. The rest must have been put in yet another location. He's made several large deposits to his checking and savings accounts, lately, as well as lots of large withdrawals. He likely already did enough to attract the attention of the IRS. The police also confirmed that the collectibles we found at his place were recent purchases. Most of which came from out of state. When the cops pressed him on the money coming in he claimed he'd made several sales from his comic book collection."

"Ah-hah!" said Gadgetive. "That's our guy, then."

"You mean you weren't already sure?" said Energia, with exaggerated innocence. She grinned as the gadgeteer blew a raspberry in her direction. Then she stretched. "Oh, well; mystery solved and still a day and a half to go."

"I don't know whether it's connected," said Blue Impact, sounding a bit wistful, "but he's also recently divorced."

"Hah!" said Gadgetive, oblivious to the subdued attitudes of her teammates at this bit of information. "Yeah, marriage is for suckers. Like you'd ever see me married!"

"You're asocial," said Energia, a bit more tartly than she intended. "You don't even date."

"Hey! I'm seeing a guy at college! We just both know it's purely physical."

"Yeah," said Blue Impact, quietly. "Purely physical."

* * *

Just after lunch - naturally, at a time when there was no-one in the main room - a message came in. A mission assignment. Even with Energia flying in from the kitchen, Blue Impact got to their new com center first. She read the message aloud as the others entered the main room.

"Oh, come on!" said Energia, who had been upstairs in her room, packing nonessentials to get a head start on leaving for school. She currently didn't even have a cape on. "We just closed one case, we've got just over a day before we planned to leave and they send us on a manhunt?!"

"Yeah, teach," said Gadgetive, sourly. "They don't even know who they're after."

"That's why they want us on the job. This person is causing property damage and injuries and likely doesn't even know it. Between you two we should be able to find the source of the disturbance."

"What about school?" said Energia. "I know we're due back on different days, but we'd all planned to head out at the same time, a few days ahead of the first school opening, to leave time for personal stuff. What if this takes a while?"

"We'll head out to the affected area in just a few minutes," said Blue Impact. "Make a preliminary survey. If we can't find them today, well, we'll just have to wait and see how long this takes."

"Y'know," said Gadgetive, thoughtfully, "even after we head back to school we don't have to quit. We all have ways to get back here quick and easy. We could continue in the evenings for a few nights, maybe work on weekends."

"We'll see," said Blue Impact.

* * *

The best guess as to the location of their target was in the downtown area of a city only half an hour away from the bakery by flyer.

The team's large apergy craft was the size of a minivan and much heavier, besides being far more streamlined. It had multiple safety features, including stabilizing software. They were still tossed around as they dropped into the storm from the stratosphere.

"This is rough," said Blue Impact, whose superhuman reflexes were taxed keeping them on an even keel and on course. "Much worse than any of the storms reported before."

A sudden, hard, prolonged gust tipped the flyer and shoved it sideways.

"I'm glad I'm riding in here instead of flying out there!" said Energia. "I thought weather warpers could barely affect things on this scale."

"They can't make quick changes," said Gadgetive. "This has been building for weeks. That's one reason the trackers have such a good idea of where the source is. The only problem is that the source is moving around a small city, and sometimes going outside it."

Blue Impact didn't even try to land, but kept above the buildings, moving at a low ground speed.

"It's like a small hurricane," said Gadgetive, "only it stays over this area!"

"So is this guy doing this in his sleep?!" said Energia. "If it's continuous..."

"Sleep isn't unconsciousness," said Gadgetive. "It's an altered state of consciousness."

"So if he can't - or won't - stop when we find him or her drugging them might work?"

"Almost certainly," said Blue Impact. "If the person causing this turns hostile you may have to zap him."

"Understood."

Energia's stunning shock effect was rough, but actually safer than hitting someone with enough drugs to quickly knock them out. Even with those high doses, her way was also much faster.

"All right," said Blue Impact, putting the flyer in station keeping mode above an intersection. "According to our instruments and the satellite photos this is the center of the storm and it's currently holding still here."

"So it's not like a hurricane," said Energia, peering upwards through the transparent canopy of the flyer's cockpit at the ominous clouds overhead. "There's no eye."

"I'm not getting anything definitive," said Gadgetive. "Can you sense anything unusual in the energy fields here?"

"Nothing," said Energia, after a few moments.

Very few supers could detect other supers directly, and she wasn't one of them. Even with all Zeep had taught her. Her super senses just didn't extend in that direction. There had been hope she might be able to detect the weather manipulator's powers in action, but that wasn't proving out.

"Wish the Super Monitoring Network were still around," muttered Gadgetive, as she continued working. "I understand why Ike killed it, but these short range detectors just don't have enough resolution."

"I guess it doesn't help that there are three supers closer to the detector than the person we're trying to detect," said Energia, with a wry laugh.

Gadgetive froze. Then began swearing in five languages as she angrily worked the controls. Fortunately, none of them were English.

"Are you telling me," said Blue Impact, slowly and carefully, "that you forgot we three are all supers?"

"No! I just... forgot to mask out our presences."

This required a few minutes. With Blue Impact fuming, Energia fidgeting and Gadgetive fussing, the latter soon had their signatures blocked.

"Huh. This thing is only supposed to spot active supers; the more they're using their powers the better the range and definition."

"'But...'?" said Energia.

"Well, I'm seeing several supers. However, the closest is in the building over there. Which is close enough to the current center of the storm for government work."

"So, how do we approach this?" said Energia. "Just walk in?"

"If possible, we wait for Gadgetive's blip to move," said Blue Impact, frowning in thought. "If it leaves the building that would be best. We can contact whoever that is on the QT, preserving their privacy while we check whether they're actually our target."

"We could wait until quitting time," said Energia. "Whoever it is will presumably brave the storm to go home."

"We shouldn't wait that long," said Blue Impact, "the storm's doing too much damage. Though we should fly around and get several bearings on the supers you're detecting. All of them."

This they did, Blue Impact keeping them high enough to avoid being blown into buildings. In spite of some occasional strong downdrafts.

"We're actually attracting some attention," said Energia, peering out the side of the canopy. "There's folks in buildings watching us out of their windows, and even a few pedestrians."

"Any law enforcement?" said Blue Impact.

"Not so far. Weren't they notified we were coming?"

"They were supposed to have been. Maybe they were asked to stay out of the way."

"Most cops would rather let supers deal with supers," said Gadgetive, the majority of her attention on her work.

"I'd say it's more likely they are busy with the storm," said Blue Impact.



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