I nearly jumped out of my skin when I heard someone talk out of nowhere. My head snapped over to the figure as I reached for something to arm myself with, but all I was doing was grasping at a blank wall. And then, I realized who had been lurking in the dark.
“Cypher? What the hell are you doing here?” I shouted, still trying to calm down from the jump scare. He was wearing drastically different clothes than the ones he wore during the fight. Instead of body armor and leather coats, he was wearing a three-piece suit with a bright orange tie along with his ever-present mask. “And how the hell did you get in?”
“Do you really think I can’t pick a lock?” He asked, putting his feet up and tossing a manila folder on the table. “As for why I’m here…” He partially answered, gesturing towards the folder.
I opened the folder and glanced at the papers inside. They had the Argus emblem printed at the top while the body looked like it was some sort of report, but I really wasn’t in the mood to read it all and find out.
“What is it, some kind of report?” I asked, trying to convey just how much I didn’t appreciate him breaking into my house. It was cool that I was standing just a few feet away from, and having a conversation with, the top hero, but that didn’t mean I was cool with how he acted. I’d seen heroes who thought they were entitled because of their powers and status, and it was one of the things that pissed me off the most.
“Yes, it’s my report from today’s engagement,” He answered. I kept waiting for him to go on and explain its relevance, but he seemed content to wait for me to probe.
“And what does that have to do with why you broke into my house?”
“Well, I usually fill out the report in advance and then see how much needed to be corrected once the mission was over. I was mostly correct this time; I had expected the Gold Diggers to use Wrath as a means of distraction, but what I hadn’t counted on was you.”
Was he for real? I knew he was smart, but did he really make a game out of predicting what would happen when he and the Regents went out? How things would go down? Who might die? And on top of all that, he knew the Gold Diggers were going to use Wrath, but brought him into the fight anyway?
I was full of questions, more than Cypher seemed forthcoming with answers. But the reason he was here still wasn’t clear to me. He said he was wrong about the reason for the Gold Diggers trying to use Wrath, so that wouldn’t be in the first round of his report. Then, the thought dawned on me: Cypher hadn’t seen my face during all the fighting, so how did he find out who I was? Maybe I could play it off like he had the wrong guy.
“What do you mean ‘because of me’?” I asked, hoping that it wasn’t too late to play dumb.
“Oh, please,” He said, putting his feet down and leaning forward to look at me. “You were the one who yelled out and gave The Anarchist the idea to use my own teammate as a weapon.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about, I’m a janitor for Christ’s sake,” I tried to lie, hopefully convincingly.
“You are Nathaniel Thomas Peterson, born on February fourth, 1997, the only child of Allan and June Peterson. You were determined not to be a Mutant at birth but were placed on the metahuman registry four-and-a-half years later as an Enhanced after the accident that occurred on August seventh, 2001 that left you orphaned.”
A lump formed in my throat and anger stabbed me like a poker shoved into burning coals. “Who the fuck do you think you are?” I hissed, slamming my hands on the table and staring into the blackness of his mask. In the reflection, my own face stared back at me, and it caught me off guard. The expression looked murderous. Swallowing hard, I tried to get a handle on my emotions and forced my face to relax.
Apparently, he wasn’t done.
“Currently, you are employed at Daedalus Technologies as a general custodian. As of your last physical, your powers were described as energy constitution and limited, sporadic foresight. Your current Argus Liaison is James Owens, I’m sure he can confirm you attempted to call him at 11:36 am, and that your dampener was turned off at approximately the same time; not to be turned back on until well after the confrontation was over?”
“How do you know it was me earlier?” I asked, trying to not sound angry; not that I really cared at the moment.
“I have my ways,” he answered, actually sounding sincere.
“So, this is what you meant by ‘later’ I guess, huh?”
He nodded but remained quiet. I took it as sign to keep going. “And this is the first version of the report?” Another nod spurred me to keep going. “You said that you didn’t expect me to be there, so I’m not mentioned in this report.”
“What do you want me to do then? I’m lost. Are you saying you’re going to add my name to the report?”
He nodded, slowly and purposefully. Leaning back deep in the chair, he crossed his arms and looked more like a store mannequin than an actual person partially due to his hidden face. “I think you know the rules about vigilantism.”
My blood ran cold in my veins. It had briefly crossed my mind when I decided to run in to the fray, but saving the city took precedent in my mind. “What do you want?” I asked, the anger beginning to mix with equal parts fear. I began to realize just how easily this no-faced man sitting in front of me could ruin everything I had worked so hard to build with barely a word uttered.
“That isn’t the question,” he said, sounding like a fortune cookie. “Your name is going in the report whether you or I like it or not. It isn’t something I can help; other people saw you at the scene and it doesn’t take a genius to determine your identity. If I choose to omit your involvement, it could turn my relationship with Argus sourer than it already is, and you go to prison.”
“But if you put it in, I still go to prison, so what’s the point?” It felt like the walls were closing in. Maybe this was it. Maybe I’d bitten off more than I could chew.
“Going to prison isn’t the only option you have. The alternative is you become sanctioned and become absolved of the past violations of the St. Petersburg Accords in good faith.”
So that was what he wanted. “No thanks,” I said, walking out of the kitchen. It was a knee jerk reaction; not gonna lie, but it felt damn good.
I heard the sound of the chair being pushed back followed by footsteps as Cypher tried to catch up to me. “This isn’t a game Nathaniel- “
“-Its Nate,” I interrupted him, grabbing the front door and yanking it open. “Thanks for visiting, Cypher, hope you have a nice evening.”
He stopped in the middle of my front room, a few feet away from the door. “Nate,” he said, putting emphasis on the name, “Do you know how valuable a precog can be? How many lives they can save? You sought me out of your own accord because you knew the city was in danger- “
“-But you already knew they were going to do that! You’re the smartest man in the world, you don’t need me! You can see the probabilities or some shit like that and do the same damn thing. I don’t see the future, I see some cryptic vision that I have to guess at to figure out what it means. The city was destroyed in my vision, but look around; It’s still here, no thanks to me! I was an idiot to think I could help.”
Cypher didn’t make any move to leave, he just stood there and looked at me.
“My powers only work if I have enough information, yours do not. I’m not saying you would be the be-all end-all of precogs, but you could be another line of defense. And to be honest, I need your help, but you’d be no help from Asphodel.”
“I knew there was a high probability of today’s attack occurring, that’s why I called other heroes in. Several villains were congregating the city, including the two on this morning’s news. They were meant to join the fight with the others, but they got nervous and tried to nab a score to make it worth their time. Fortunately, several of my team were there to apprehend them. The entire attack was a distraction, that was obvious enough, but I have no idea who orchestrated it, or to what end it was trying to serve.”
“And, you want me to help you find out why?”
He nodded, but I still wasn’t about to just turn on my promise.
“I don’t get what the big deal is. You’ll catch whoever it is in the end, you’ve done it before just fine. You took down the entire Ouroboros with just your team, you can’t catch one villainous mastermind?”
“This one is different. They’re as smart as I am from what I can tell.”
I didn’t really know how to process that. Someone as smart as Cypher? Was that why he wanted me? Because I could see random events, he thought I could somehow help give him an edge? As far as I knew, Cypher hadn’t ever been beaten in mind games like this. It might seem like he was on the backfoot, but then his plan would come together like a puzzle falling into place. If someone could get a one up on Cypher… No, it wasn’t my problem; it was his job to make sure that didn’t happen.
“The answer is still no. I’ll deal with whatever I have to, but I’m not going to be sanctioned. I made a mistake, and I’ll pay for it. Besides, even if I wanted to, there’s no way I could get sanctioned before you have to submit that report. It takes weeks to go through all the tests and evaluations.”
“Not necessarily,” He said in a low voice, finally walking towards the door. “If you change your mind and decide you make something good come out of your powers, I can get you sanctioned in time. I have to file the report on Monday, so you have till Sunday to think it over.”
As soon as he crossed the threshold, I started to swing the door shut, but at the last second, he caught it and held it open just a bit. “I’ll know if you change your mind. Just think it over.”
And with that last plug, his hand slipped away, finally letting me push the door shut. I locked the door even though it kind of seemed pointless against someone who demonstrated the ability to get in regardless. Thoughts swam through my mind as I looked for a way out of being arrested, but nothing seemed like a good idea.
The house rattled for a moment as something large flew overhead, probably the Regent’s vtol taking off from wherever they parked it. Was I really meant to be a hero? Was I given these powers for a reason?
If only things were that easy.
So many memories had be dredged up in such a small space of time. It was like being forced to look through a scrapbook full of snapshots from the worst parts of my past. For so long I had tried to hide away that part of me, the part that most people would say made me special. I hated knowing that if people knew what I was my personality, my accomplishments, what I liked, what I hated; it all became irrelevant. I was just the boy that could glow blue.
The real chance of going to prison loomed over my head like an executioner’s axe. One of my worst fears was becoming reality. I wish I could take it back, take it all back. I kept telling myself that, but the more I said it, the emptier it sounded. It was like an old and washed out mantra that didn’t stand for anything anymore.
As much as I didn’t like to admit it: I was a metahuman. But even if I decided to embrace my powers, my abilities, that wouldn’t make me a good hero. Hell, I tried, and I sucked. If that wasn’t an indication on what kind of hero I’d be, I didn’t know what was.