Stark flies through the halls of the Jupiter City 9th Precinct, her panicked countenance alarming the other officers. A few of them recognize her and clear a path, positive she only has one destination in mind. Stark takes an elevator to the fourth floor, passes a room of detectives and barges into Warden Crata’s office. Her face is red from rage and exasperation.
Warden Crata lowers his glasses. “Before you–”
“How could you allow that hand to be stolen? That was our only lead! You run the largest, most secure prison full of insane criminals! How does one hand go missing? You know we–”
“Officer Stark,” Warden Crata says deeply and sternly.
Stark shoves her anger and impatience into a bottle and calms herself. “I’m sorry, sir. What happened?”
“We’re being spied on.” The warden presses a button hidden inside the glass on his desk. His office door slams shut and locks itself.
Stark turns from the door to him. “Feelers, sir?”
Outside the office, several detectives gather to witness her powers in action. With Stark one of the rare exceptions, most officers are not allowed to have powers. Individuals with abilities- Ohaida, Sulublei, S’nue, Vanusi- should they want a law enforcement position, are recruited into the army.
Stark rolls her sleeves up to her elbows and lifts her hands. Glowing azure dots appear down the length of her forearms, the sizes varying. Bubbles of corresponding size exit those azure dots in rapid succession. They fill the entire office, careful to avoid all outlets and sharp corners, including the acrylic awards on mounted shelves behind the warden’s desk. One of the lower shelves supports a photo of Warden Crata and two young ladies.
One of the young ladies, the one on Crata’s shoulders, shares the same lips and ears as him. They smile just alike in the photo, her infectious cheer raining down the warden’s shoulders all over the redhead holding onto Crata’s hand. The years since that photo was taken have done irreparable damage to that joy.
Stark shuts her eyes and connects her sense of touch to the bubbles, which not only extends her range but increases her sensitivity to movement as well. She feels the warden’s shallow breathing as a bubble passes between his nose and mouth.
Stark opens her eyes and calls the bubbles back into her arms. Once the last bubble does so the azure dots fade away, as does her audience. “No one else is present within your office.”
“Good. Now, allow me to explain the situation.” The warden gestures to the seat before his desk and Stark obliges. “Every night this week, someone has breached the precinct’s security system. Every night they went deeper until they were able to claim the hand.”
“If you knew of the intrusion, then how did they succeed?”
“They didn’t. At least, not initially. I was told of the primary incident and reviewed the footage. Nothing seemed out of place. So, I played a hunch and had my tech department surveil our precinct with thermal imaging.”
“You think the culprit can turn invisible?”
“Yes, but they aren’t arrogant in that ability.” Warden Crata opens the dossier before him and reveals three images of the same hallway corner. The middle one is the only one to show a heat signature, a relatively small one.
“That’s not much to go on.”
“Look at the timestamps.”
Stark investigates the timestamps and finds that the middle image takes place between the two on the sides by two seconds apiece.
“The culprit is tall, over six feet. I showed the image to my physician and he says the exposed flesh is a wrist. Our thief dressed from head to toe in some kind of thermally insulated clothing. Those aren’t easy to come by.”
“An avenue to learn our thief’s identity.”
“That, and his height and invisibility power. No matter how careful, he’ll turn up in my search.”
Stark smirks. “Not only that, but we may have discovered his target.”
“The young lady, Nuria, was tricked into reading books that gave her cause to flee campus. However, the books were swapped out with the same ISBN numbers she was given not even five minutes prior.”
“You suspect it was a plant?”
“I do,” Stark says with a nod.
“But that would mean the thief knows that Nuria is a phoenix, which implies they have intimate knowledge of the young lady. Additionally, they are cold and calculating. They could be plotting against her as we speak.”
“Then that means–”
“You need to terminate her weekly trips to this city. Perhaps send her back home.”
“But her counseling isn’t over. She still needs to heal.”
“She’s a child, Stark. The fastest way for her to move past the ordeal is if she doesn’t think too much of it. Which means you can’t make any more fuss over it. Give her an outlet to distract her.”
Like you did for me, Stark thinks.
“While we’re on the subject,” Warden Crata places the photos back into the dossier, “how is she doing?”
“Hopefully better than before. I don’t get much chance to see her during the week.”
“Change that. Give her an authority figure to count on. A person in power she can see has her back.”
“Trying to make me feel better about this, aren’t you?” Stark asks with a scowl.
The warden sighs. “And it’s not working.”
“Let me know when your search pays off,” Stark says as she turns around. She doesn’t smile until the office door closes behind her.
“Are you positive?” the therapist asks. “She was still tight-lipped about the incident but seemed in high spirits today. It might not be in her best interest to end things before we can develop a rapport.”
“I’m sorry, Dr. Sonya, but I have to insist. Thank you for your help.”
Stark shakes Dr. Sonya’s hand, but the doctor watches her climb into the Jeep with a guilty countenance.
“And?” Nuria practically shouts when Stark closes the door. She flinches when Stark leers at her. “Sorry. How’d it go?” she asks softly.
“She has agreed to end the counseling,” Stark says. Though she was definitely quite fond of Nuria.
“Good. Her office was boring. She doesn’t let me listen to music or meditate or anything.”
“Meditate?” Stark asks as she exits the parking lot.
“Yeah. Shuri’s been trying to teach me when we have time.”
“The headmaster’s grandson? The two of you are friends again?”
“We never stopped. Just hit a rough patch for a second. Hey, can we listen to the radio? I like station 82.2.”
“In a moment. I still have a few more questions.”
Stark hears the enthusiasm in Nuria’s voice drop. She clicks her tongue as she turns onto a highway. I can do this.
“How’re your classes going?”
Nuria beams. “Oh, awesome! Thanks for talking to Zathony for me. It’s a little tricky understanding Professor Marmagar, but he thinks I should learn to fly soon.”
“You’ve already learned to summon your wings on command?”
Nuria snorts. “Only during free fall, but Professor Marmagar thinks this is a run-before-I-walk process.”
“And when does he plan to do this?”
“Tomorrow. You should come watch me kick a- butt.”
“If you keep it at “ass” then you may curse in my presence.”
Nuria giggles. “You must’ve had the coolest mom.”
Stark tightens her grip on the steering wheel. From the recesses of her mind come wild cackling and rampant splashing. Drops of sweat stain her face. She starts to apply greater pressure to the gas pedal.
“Mine says a lady should watch her mouth.” Nuria turns her head. “So, you coming tomorrow?” she asks again.
Stark sucks in a breath and relaxes. “I’ll try to. Now, you said you wanted to listen to the radio.”
“Station 82.2, please.”
Stark enters and locks the doors to her quarters. She unfastens and deposits her boots at the door. She unbuttons her uniform shirt and hangs it beside a dozen other identical copies. Her dark t-shirt doesn’t show the sweat its damp with. She places her badge atop her dresser, leaning it against an empty fishbowl. The rest of the dresser is covered by a collection of photos taped flat against the surface. One of them is the same as the one on the warden’s shelf. All the others show Stark in the arms of two parents. In all of them, the mother’s face is scratched out.
Be happy, Nuria. I can assure you, my mother was anything but cool.