Scene 22 – October 16th
Exterior Docks, Night
After an instant that felt like weeks, the world holding its breath as I stared down the barrel of a gun, a sigh came from behind the buyer.
“You know,” said a new voice, “I really thought you guys could handle this.” The sound of snapping fingers, and the woman’s gun vanished in a twist of smoke. “I’m glad I kept an eye out after all. You should be ashamed of yourself, Canaveral, bringing an untrained Journeyman into something like this.”
The buyer whirled on the newcomer as Canaveral and I turned our attention his way. He was a slender man in a well-tailored tuxedo, blood red and shining white. A red domino mask hid his identity without hiding his good looks, and he was toying with a top hat in one hand.
“Of course it’s you,” the buyer sneered. “What is it with our patrons getting in the way tonight? Is Starling going to show up next? Has Brewer sabotaged our purchase?”
The magician-looking man shrugged. “If you don’t want me interfering, you could offer me something in return. Or simply not conduct your business on my doorstep.” He smiled at Canaveral. “Hey Navi.”
The hero grinned back. “Max. Does this mean that you were the one who called in with that anonymous tip?”
I recognized the newcomer now, after Canaveral called him by his name. It was the Magnificent Maxwell, a local villain who themed himself after a stage magician, performing magically-enhanced tricks of prestidigitation and misdirection to commit his crimes – mostly theft, mostly from museums. Why was he helping us?
“Yeah, that was me,” Maxwell agreed. “These assholes were literally setting up a drug deal right outside my current hideout. I really don’t know what they expected.”
“Excuse me,” said the buyer in an icy voice, “I’m still here.” She reached into her jacket and pulled out another pistol, even larger than the other one, and pointed it at Max. How the hell had that fit in there?
He just snapped his fingers again and the second gun vanished as easily as the first. “Why did you think it would work the second time if it didn’t work the first?” he asked. “I mean, it’s not like equality does anything to me.”
“It’s a bit of an inconvenience for my friend here, though,” Canaveral said, inclining his head towards me. “Would you mind?”
“Not at all.” The magician made a wide, sweeping gesture, and the faint rainbow tint that the mist had added to the world vanished – I felt my ESP return with a momentary lance of pain to the back of my skull, as my brain readjusted to having an extra sensory input. “And since I’m feeling generous…” He swept his arm the other way, and all the fallen thugs were suddenly bound up in chains that coalesced out of thin air, as was the woman who had led the buyers.
“You’ll pay for this, Maxwell Copperfield,” she warned, glaring at the man. “Ambrosia won’t take this kind of interference lying down. You-” She was cut off by the sudden appearance of a gag across her mouth. Who was Ambrosia? I made a note to look it up later.
“Thank you, Max,” Canaveral said, walking over to the man. “It’s always nice to have you helping instead of hindering. Have you reconsidered joining the good guys?”
“Have the MLED expanded their library of magical knowledge?”
“Then no.” He gave an apologetic shrug. “You gotta do what you gotta do.”
“Um…” They both turned to face me.
“Ah yes. Max, this is a recently-empowered metahuman, currently using the nomme-de-guerre of Newton,” Canaveral said, introducing me. “They’re considering their options for when they register with the MLED, and are currently taking advantage of the vigilante rules to get a taste of heroing.” I hadn’t realized there were such rules, actually – I had just trusted that Canaveral knew what he was doing. “Newton, this is Maxwell-”
“The Magnificent Maxwell,” the Magnificent Maxwell interjected.
“-the Magnificent Maxwell, a petty thief.”
He crossed his arms. “A petty thief? I take offense, Navi.”
The hero shrugged. “If the shoe fits, wear it. You’re a thief, Max. Accept it.”
“I’m an artist,” he insisted. “Thievery is simply a necessity in my line of work.”
“Arthur Peregrine doesn’t need to steal.”
“Men like Arthur Peregrine hoarding all the magical texts is exactly the problem-”
“I hate to interrupt,” I said sarcastically, “but shouldn’t we be arresting you right now?”
“Ah, my sidekick brings up a good point.”
“Not your sidekick,” I muttered.
He flapped a hand dismissively. “Have you done anything tonight that I need to arrest you for?”
“Not in your sight, at least.”
“I didn’t think so.”
“Then I’ll be off, while you explain to the new kid what’s what.” He tipped his hat to Canaveral respectfully.
“Hold on! The keys to those chains?” the hero requested.
“Ah yes.” Maxwell dropped a keyring into his hand. “Terribly sorry, completely slipped my mind.” He then produced a large black sheet from within the jacket of his tuxedo and tossed it into the air. It obscured him from view as it fell, and when it hit the ground he was gone. A moment later, the sheet simply evaporated as well.
Scene 23 – October 16th
Exterior Docks, Continuous
“Well, that could have gone better,” Canaveral sighed.
“Yeah, I got a gun pointed at my head,” I complained. “And you just let a supervillain get away!”
He shrugged. “That bit wasn’t as bad as you think, really. If Max hadn’t shown up, I would have let them leave and they’d just get picked up by the police that are surrounding this area. Speaking of which…” He pressed a hand to one of his cowl’s fins. “Send them in, please. As for Max, well… there are parts of this whole thing that a lot of people don’t realize.”
“First off, there are supervillains and then there are supervillains,” he said. “Not everyone is an insane murderer like Cobalt Red or Graviton. Hell, not everyone is an incidental killer like Motael or Voltage. In fact, most villains try to avoid killing – particularly in New Venice, where the Mountain King redefined the rules of engagement back when he was active.
“Second has to do with secret identities. See, the MLED knows a decent number of villains’ identities,” the hero explained, “but we don’t make use of that information. Because there are also villains who know heroes’ identities – DMO servers aren’t as secure as they like to pretend, unfortunately – and there’s a truce of sorts to leave those secret identities out of the whole hero-villain business. If we go after them in their identities, they’ll come after us and our families, and vice versa.”
“Mutually assured destruction,” I commented as police officers began appearing and arresting various chained up thugs. One of them approached Canaveral and took custody of the keys that Maxwell had left.
“I guess I can see why Max might not be a high priority, if he’s no killer,” I ventured, “but he was right there!”
“I was getting to that. See, the other reason that identities are off limits is that there are so many shapeshifters, illusionists, roboticists, cloners, and the like out there.” He sighed. “And while it’s not exactly likely, it’s happened enough that someone thought to be committing a crime was actually being impersonated that any competent lawyer can get a case thrown out, if the arrest is only based on identity. Even between different appearances of the same costumed persona.”
“So…” I considered this for a moment. “Are you saying that you can’t arrest Maxwell because you didn’t actually see him commit a crime?” I asked. “And if you arrested him for previous crimes, his lawyer would argue that they were the work of an imposter?”
“That’s essentially it, yeah,” the hero confirmed. “It’s a pain, I know, but it’s the way it works. It’s pretty much impossible to connect different appearances of a costumed person in a way that stands up legally without using their actual identity. So even though I know that, say, Max stole a book on ancient English magical artifacts last month – even though I was there and saw him do it,” he complained, “I can’t arrest Max for it tonight, because it could have been an imposter back then.”
“…that seems kind of stupid and contrived.”
Canaveral sighed heavily. “Tell me about it, kid. I don’t mind all that much for Max – he’s not actually a bad person even if he’s a thief – but for some people…” he shook his head. “Anyway. The point of all that is that the MLED – which loves ranking people in fours, by some reason – has created a four-tiered system for how to respond to supervillains. Basically, it ranks people by threat level – low, medium, high, plus a null ranking for vigilantes – and gives guidelines on how to respond to people on each level.
“Max is ranked as a low threat despite his power and skill, because he makes an effort to be non-lethal – more than that, to not even really harm anyone. Since he’s ranked low, I ignore what I know of his identity and let him go, unless he’s committing a crime in front of me or I have reason to believe that he’s about to.”
“So he didn’t break the law tonight,” I said, working it out, “and he’s obviously about to go and move his hideout, so you don’t try to take him in.”
Canaveral stared at me. “Yeah, basically. Move his hideout?”
“He mentioned that the drug deal was happening right outside his hideout, and that’s why he sent in an anonymous tip,” I defended my reasoning. “That narrows his location down to just these four buildings here. He knows you know that now, so he’s probably going to move – it’s not like it’ll be much of a problem for him if he can teleport like that.”
“Well reasoned, kid,” the hero said after a moment. “Mazel tov.” I blushed at the praise, and found myself grateful for the mask that hid my face from my hero. “But honestly, I know Max pretty well. He’s probably not going to bother to move.”
“What would move Maxwell up the threat ranking?” I smirked. “If he started to act intelligently, and moved his hideout?”
Canaveral chuckled for a moment, before telling me, “If he started to kill or seriously injure heroes or civilians, that would automatically take him up to mid threat. His hammerspace magic is potentially very dangerous, especially since he’s recently expanded into teleportation, so he might even be bumped to high threat.”
“Is the only difference between mid and high how actively dangerous they are?” I asked, “with low being people who stick to non-lethal regardless of potential danger?”
“It’s all about expected danger, at least theoretically,” he said. “In low, serious injury or death is considered unlikely, whether because of a lack of power on their part or because of a lack of intent. In mid, it’s considered a strong possibility. In high, it’s considered nearly a guarantee.”
“That’s… not a lot of gradation.”
Canaveral shrugged. “Take it up with Director Shepard. I didn’t design the system – I complain about it for the same reason, actually. Same for the power classification system.”
“What’s that like?”
He glanced at his wrist for a moment, then at the police officers – they had finished carting away the subdued gangsters, and now seemed to be waiting for us to finish talking. “You know what? My patrol is nearly finished, and the officers here need to get our statements on this fight down before you can head home and I can head back to the MLED Compound for another debrief there. Why don’t you come around to the Compound in a few days, when I’m on-call instead of patrolling, and I can answer more questions then? I’ll introduce you to the Journeymen and any other members of the Champions that are around. That way you can see who you might be working with if you decide to register as a hero, and get more testimonials than just mine.”
I tilted my head at him. “You really think I’m still considering being a hero after having a gun pointed at me the first time I ever go out in costume?”
He gazed at me appraisingly. “Yes, I think you are. Are you?”
“… enough that I’m tempted to take you up on the offer of introductions for more reasons than just fangirling over Anima,” I admitted.
Canaveral wore an odd expression in response to my joke, but after a moment he said, “then come on out. Worst case scenario, you don’t like what you hear, and you decide to register with either the MED or MMD. Or just the DMO generally, I suppose, if you’re not going to use your powers in your career.”
I thought about it for a moment. It wasn’t a difficult decision, though, as it wasn’t exactly final. It shouldn’t even require me to make my decision when I came in, since I still had almost the entire one-month grace period. “I’ll have to check my schedule,” and talk to my dad about this crazy night, “but I should be able to. What would be the best time?”