Cape City Chronicles
v1: Today the City, Tomorrow...
#3: The Steel Secret!
by Jennifer Kohl
Lt. Alvarez looked over her notes. Who might have motive to free Pheromona? Most of her associates were dead or in prison, and the one known associate still free was also still at large and avoiding the police. Still, a lead was a lead, so Deshawn was out leaning on the usual informants to find out where Olympia was holing up these days.
That left Alvarez with only one lead, Pheromona’s only living family member, Dr. Laura Ferris, a postdoc at the state university. It was a long shot—there was nothing in the file suggesting any contact since Pheromona had become, well, Pheromona, and Dr. Ferris had even refused to testify on her sister’s behalf at her trial—but a lead was a lead, and Alvarez wasn’t about to pass up any possibility.
A quick check on the university website suggested that if Alvarez left immediately, she should be able to catch Ferris just as her 3:30 class ended, so she gathered up her things and drove to the campus. It was in a nice part of town, all brick townhouses and thrift shops. Between that and the campus police covering (up) any crimes that happened at the school, there wasn’t much call for real cops, so Alvarez didn’t know it well. Still, she found the university easily enough. A visitor parking spot was less easy, but she still made it to the lecture hall in the Engineering building in time to see the last handful of students—prettier and much more female than she would have expected for Intro to Cybernetics, she noted approvingly—exit.
Inside, she found one person in the lecture hall, seated behind the instructor’s desk. Caucasian woman, Alvarez’s inner cop noted. Late twenties, approximately five-three, blonde bob, blue eyes. The family resemblance to Pheromona was obvious—the same cute triangular face, upturned nose, big eyes, flawless pale complexion, and hourglass figure—but in addition to being blonde and blue-eyed rather than a green-eyes redhead, Laura Ferris was MUCH shorter than her sister. Also not a murderous psychopath with nigh-magical abilities, Alvarez added to her mental notes. Probably.
“Can I help you?” Dr. Ferris asked.
“Actually, I was hoping I could help you.” Alvarez showed her badge.
“Oh,” said Ferris. “This is about my sister, isn’t it?”
Alvarez froze. “How did you know about—” She cut herself off.
“I can’t think of any other reason someone from your unit would contact me, Lieutenant.” Ferris sighed. “What has she done now?”
Alvarez studied Ferris closely, mentally shifting gears. She’d expected smart from a professor, but the stupid kind of smart—sheltered, detached, ivory-tower. Her plan had been to present as the friendly neighborhood cop, worried for Ferris’ safety, and see what Ferris would let slip. But Ferris was clearly too sharp for that. “All right, cards on the table. She’s out. I need to know anything you know, any people she might contact, places she might go.”
Ferris stared at Alvarez a moment, and then laughed, bitterly. “Do you think if I knew any of that, I’d still be alive? My sister is a monster, Lieutenant. She wouldn’t let genetics stop her from eliminating a potential threat.”
“No love lost, huh?”
“The rest of the city learned that Mona was a monster during her reign of terror. But I had already realized that long before.” There was a motorized whirring noise as Ferris came out from behind her desk, and Alvarez realized she wasn’t that much shorter than her sister after all—she was just sitting in a wheelchair. “Mona got her powers in an accident, they say. Well, that ‘accident’ gave her powers, but it took everything from me: my home, my family, my legs—and I don’t believe the explosion was an accident at all. I think she knew the risks and went ahead with her mad scheme anyway. She hasn’t tried to contact me since, and I’m not interested in contacting her.”
Alvarez sighed. “So you don’t have any information. Would you be willing to undergo testing to confirm you’re not under her influence?”
Ferris shrugged. “You’re welcome to test me, but it’s a waste of time—I’m immune. The Westmarck effect, you know.”
“Ah, right,” said Alvarez. In her notepad, she wrote, Westmarck effect? Then she circled it and, after a moment’s thought, added an underline. “Well, if you do hear anything, keep in touch.” And we’ll be keeping an eye on you, Alvarez didn’t add.
Alicia sat quietly in a dark corner of the seedy dockside bar. One of the many skills she’d learned from Nightshade was the art of disguise, and she was employing it in full tonight—platform boots that made her even taller than her usual heels, chest binders to make her hourglass figure look pear-shaped, her hair braided, coiled, and hidden under a chin-length bleach-blonde wig with dark roots, and makeup carefully shaded to alter the apparent contours of her face, as well as changing her skin tone to cheap spray-tan orange. That had been the second thing she’d done this morning, after calling in to the office and taking a personal day.
Her boss had been unusually understanding—He probably thought I’m worried about Pheromona, Alicia thought. And if things were different, he’d be right in a sense—Alicia would have called in sick and staked out this bar regardless, because it was the best way to find Olympia, and she was the best way to find Pheromona.
But now she was hunting Olympia for a different reason, something far more important than mere vengeance or justice: because her Master wanted her to. It wasn’t that she didn’t care about those things anymore—she was glad that Master’s will aligned with them for now!—it was just that there was something more important now.
Being a hypno-programmed slave wasn’t much like Alicia would have expected, if she’d ever bothered to think about what she expected. When she woke up from her trance—well, for starters, she woke up at all. She was wide-awake and feeling perfectly normal, albeit both hornier and in a better mood than usual—the smiles and little flirtations that had always been part of the “Alicia” mask the Cardinal wore came more naturally than ever now. It wasn’t anything like being a robot or a zombie. It was like finding religion: she had a new sense of purpose, of her place in the world. She felt at peace, full of love—and she wanted, badly, to share.
Fortunately, Master’s orders aligned with that desire, too.
There. Her target was entering the bar—a large man, square-headed, muscular but not sculpted—someone who worked out, clearly, but for strength, not looks. She stepped up behind him and, in a thick New Jersey accent with a nasal twang—voice mimicry being another skill her old mentor had taught her—said, “I’m lookin’ for the bitch that stole my man. I hear you run wit’ her.”
The large man turned, looked Alicia slowly up and down, and grinned. “I am thinking I offer you better man who is not leaving,” he replied in a heavy Russian accent, “but you are not looking worth it.” He turned back to the bar while the regulars laughed.
Alicia grabbed his arm, twisted it behind his back, and shoved his face into the bar with a loud thump. Leaning down next to his ear, she whispered viciously, “G’dye Olympia, Boris?”
“Fuck you!” he replied, struggling to rise.
She twisted his arm until he screamed. “If you do not tell me,” she whispered sweetly, in perfectly accented Russian, “I will break every bone in your hand, starting with this one.” The sickening crack as she pulled back his pinky echoed through the suddenly quiet bar, followed closely by Boris’ surprisingly high-pitched scream.
“Southeast!” he gabbled desperately. “The old Massey’s!”
A sporting goods store, of course. She wrapped the fingers of her free hand around his ring finger. “Which old Massey’s?” The chain had done well until it tried to expand too much. There were three abandoned locations in Southeast alone.
“Please! No! The burned one!”
Alicia straightened up, tossed back her hair, and smiled. “Thank you, Boris,” she simpered sweetly, back in the New Jersey accent. Then she flounced out.
As soon as she was out the door, Boris was back on his feet. His right hand useless, he clumsily pulled a gun out of his jacket with his left, then chased out into the street after Alicia—but she was already gone.
Alvarez left Ferris’ office feeling frustrated. She pulled out her phone as soon as she reached her car, and called Sgt Dawson as she pulled out of the university parking lot. “Tell me you’ve got something,” she said.
“Maybe,” he answered. “Just rumors, but word on the street is somebody’s recruiting muscle—and they’re hanging in the old Massey’s on 53rd.“
“Shit, a Massey’s? That’s gotta be her. All right, I want eyes on the place immediately—”
“Already done,” Deshawn said smoothly. “Anybody moves in or out, we’ll see them.”
Unless it’s a Special who has a trick up their sleeves—and most of them do, Alvarez thought bitterly. “Okay, there’s a chance Pheromona’s there, so nobody moves until I get there, understood? I’m on my way.“
It wasn’t a big chance—Pheromona wasn’t stupid. But love made people stupid, and twisted as it was, what Pheromona and Olympia had was something like love. It had helped bring Pheromona down before—she’d wanted to make sure Olympia’s feelings were real and not a product of her powers, so she’d made Olympia immune. Permanently.
Nobody had ever been able to figure out exactly what Pheromona did, but Olympia’s body now secreted a chemical that countered Pheromona’s pheromones without interfering with natural emotions—and a doctor had been able to synthesize that chemical and use it to cure her victims. They became vulnerable again in a few hours, but it was something.
Come to think of it, Pheromona probably has a grudge against the doc who made the cure. Alvarez picked up her phone to have Deshawn assign someone to keep an eye on Janelle Johnson, and nearly jumped out of her skin when it buzzed with a reminder: “Meeting w/Masters, 4:30 pm.“
“Fuck!” she pounded the steering wheel. Masters was a rich asshole who thought he owned the city just because he owned most of the buildings in it, and because he employed most of the people in it, and his companies held most of the government contracts, and... Well, the point was, Masters was the kind of guy who’d think he owned the city because he didn’t see the difference between a phrase like “my sandwich” and “my city,” “my employee,” or “my friend.”
But, among the things he actually did own was Masterclass Munitions, who made the best equipment around for taking on Specials. And he was a big supporter of the police—huge contributions to the Policeman’s Ball, the Widows and Orphans fund, discount and even outright free equipment for Alvarez’ unit—not to mention the Mayor and several councilwomen’s biggest campaign contributor.
He was powerful, useful, helpful—but arrogant enough to think that gave him the right to “consult” with city officials whenever he had an agenda to push. Problem was, he was right—maybe if they had confirmation Pheromona herself was in that store, Alvarez could get away with skipping the meeting, but Olympia wasn’t a big enough fish on her own or a certain enough lead to Pheromona to justify it. The Mayor would come down on Alvarez hard if she blew off Masters.
Grumbling to herself, she called Deshawn again, told him she’d be longer than planned, and reiterated her orders to watch but do nothing until she got there. Then she made a u-turn and drove down town.
Dr. Laura Ferris stopped her motorized wheelchair in her living room and let out a sigh. It was always a relief to get home. She loved teaching, and enjoyed her research even more, but even a motorized wheelchair, even in a place literally required to be fully accessible, was a pain in the butt to get around in—often literally.
But once her day was over...
She closed her eyes and thought the activation sequence for the interface at the base of her skull, hidden behind her hair. Subdermal servomotors whirred into life, and, slowly, she stood.
She had not been entirely honest with the police officer who’d questioned her earlier that afternoon. Her sister hadn’t been the only one who’d gained powers from that explosion; Laura had, too. Specifically, where Mona could control her pheromone production, Laura could control her histology. Someday, the implant which allowed Laura to connect her brainstem to technology that could bypass her partially severed spinal cord would be usable by anyone—that was the goal of her research, after all. But until that day, Laura was the only one who could use it without pumping herself so full of immunosuppressants that she’d have to spend the rest of her life living in a bubble.
That was part of why she needed the chair—to keep the secret. The other reason was that she had to use her powers, actively, nonstop, every second the implant was active, or her immune system would reject it and she’d go into anaphylactic shock. Years of practice meant that she could now go for hours before the headaches started—but it was still a huge strain. She might be able to go a day without the chair—but after two or three? She’d be useless.
She walked over to the closet and slid it open. A bin of random electronics—assorted cables and chargers from a lifetime of devices—sat on the closet floor. She picked up one cable in particular, which to the untrained eye would look like any other cable in the tangle, and plugged it into the back of her neck.
A click, a whirr, and a panel slid open. Inside was what appeared to be a person of shining silvery steel, with red highlights. A click, another whirr, and the suit split open.
Laura unplugged the cable from her neck, turned, and stepped backward into the suit. Its interface port plugged into her neck, and it closed around her.
That was the last reason for the chair: the rumors were that Iron Lady, superhero, founding member of the Protectors, was a tech billionaire or an elite soldier with government backing. Nobody would even think of a wheelchair-bound academic.
Now then... Laura thought. Controlling the suit was instinctual now, as easy and automatic as turning her head or speaking: she barely had to think about it, and she was connected to the Protectors’ secret server, accessing files on Pheromona and her associates. The only recent info was a possible location for Olympia, but at least that was a start.
A few minutes later, Iron Lady soared above the city on a jet of concussive force. She hovered a moment, a shining silvery star barely visible in the late-afternoon sky, and then shot toward the southeast quarter of town.
Laura reviewed Olympia’s file while she flew. She already knew most of it, but a refresher was always valuable. Helena “Olympia” Nikros, MD, PsyD, she read. An Olympic gymnast in her youth, Nikros had gone on to study psychiatry at the University of Cape City, while continuing to compete in collegiate gymnastics. However, shortly after completing her degree, she learned that her parents and coach had frittered away all the money she made as a sports star, leaving her penniless and deeply in debt.
Working at Miskatonic—her dream job—didn’t pay enough to cover her debts, so she sold off memorabilia from her time in the Olympics. When those ran out, she stole them back—using techniques and ideas she’d picked up from her patients—and sold them again. Eventually, she was found out, went to prison, and came back out again with more criminal skills and contacts, and began her infamous romance with Pheromona.
Somewhere in there, she’d become a low-tier Special, somehow. It wasn’t quite clear if her powers just bloomed late, or were the product of whatever tinkering Pheromona had done to her, or some combination of the two, but they were definitely there: strength and durability just shy of superhuman, though nothing compared to a heavy hitter like Gloriana or Athena, and fully superhuman flexibility, though again not to the level of someone like Contour—Olympia could fit through a window that was only a couple of inches open, but she couldn’t stretch out her limbs to four times their normal length or fold herself like a newspaper.
And like a lot of low-tier Special criminals, she stuck to her theme: she and her ever-shifting little band of interchangeable street toughs would hide out in sports-themed locations, commit sports-themed crimes, and use sports-themed weapons like baseball bats and hockey sticks. It was a way of staking territory and keeping herself known in Cape City’s underworld—but it made it relatively easy to tell when she was on a spree.
Speaking of—the Protectors’ system was flagging an alarm. An electronics store in southeast was being robbed—just like Pheromona’s first robbery after she got out! It was close, too; Laura could be there in a matter of seconds.
Olympia can wait.
She altered course and angled downward toward the store.