Rattling Cages: Part 4

So the first rule of pretending to be normal was “pretend you’re grateful for being saved” instead of being annoyed that some overly powerful idiot just blew up a machine you were hoping to reverse engineer.

The second rule probably went something like, “Don’t stuff your pockets full of burning debris.”

I narrowly managed to do the first and avoid the second.

I did the first by saying nothing while the super descended and landed in front of us.

He toned down the burning a little bit, but standing in front of him still felt warm. The snow and ice on the sidewalk melted around him. With the temperature being well below freezing, I couldn’t complain about it.

As he landed and walked toward Haley and I, I realized that we weren’t alone. Most of the people inside had followed us out the door. The ones that hadn’t watched from the windows.

Now that I saw him close up, I recognized him.

He worked for Protection Force using the codename Solar Flare — thus the yellow costume with reddish, flame-like decorations spelling out the words “Solar Flare.”

The Pepsi logo below his name was larger than I’d personally prefer, but smaller than I imagined it might be — almost tasteful really. The second Pepsi logo I later noticed covered half his back. That wasn’t tasteful at all.

“Relax everybody,” he said. “You’ve got nothing to worry about. I destroyed the device and the police will be here shortly.”

“Police?” I must have said it louder than I realized, because he faced me and nodded.

“Sorry about that, but we can’t avoid it. I’m in the middle of a case and it looks like one of you might be part of it.”

He paused to smile at us. He had perfect, white teeth. They matched the rest of him. He looked like a big, blond god. His mask covered the top of his face, but from what I could see of the rest, he probably could have worked as a model.

Protection Force used him in their publicity for a reason.

Someone behind us said, “Can I have your autograph?”

A blond girl wearing black pushed past us holding a pen and a napkin. Two other people followed her.

I glanced at Haley quietly saying, “Maybe we should go?”

“We could stay. It’d be fun to meet him.”

“Not like this,” I said.

“Well, okay.”

“I should grab my coffee though,” I said. I’d left it inside. Who goes into a fight carrying a mocha latte?

As we began to push through the people behind us, Solar Flare said, “Looks like someone has the right idea. Everybody needs to go back into the coffeehouse, and I’m sorry, but no one gets to leave until after the police come by and ask you some questions.”

That killed that idea.

Everybody followed us back into the coffee house.

We waited about ten minutes for the police. Meanwhile Solar Flare walked around the shop and asked questions. The goth girl with the napkin and the barista were pretty enthusiastic to talk to him. The barista had one of the goth guys snap a picture of the two of them with her camera.

The tallest of the goth guys amused me most. Throughout the short conversation, he acted extra relaxed. I didn’t hear much of it, but what did carry over (“Yeah, I’ll think about that”) sounded just on the edge of rude.

I suppose most goths don’t go for the sort of heroes who sell advertising on their costumes. It does scream “corporate tool.” On the other hand, what kind of supers did goths like? I didn’t know, but guessed they might prefer something dark and brooding.

He came over to us next.

Not surrounding by burning yellow energy for the moment, he pulled up a chair from a nearby table and sat with.

“Hi, I’m Solar Flare. Nice to meet you,” he said, holding out his hand to me and then Haley.

It felt warm.

“Hi,” I said.

Haley said, “Weren’t you on TV last night?”

“One of your local stations interviewed me, but I couldn’t tell them much. It’s that kind of case.”

He grinned at both of us.

“Who are you after?” Haley said, smiling back at him.

After the initial thought that she seemed awfully interested, it struck me that she might be trying to get information out of him.

“Sorry,” he said. “Can’t tell you. I couldn’t tell her either. It made for a lousy interview, believe me. If it helps, this is the biggest break anyone’s had on this case in years. So if you answer my questions, I’ll be able to tell everyone sooner.”

“We’ll do our best.” Haley’s tone came straight from a pep rally.

“I hear you were the first ones out the door,” he said.

“She saw something floating above the building across the street and we went out to see what it was,” I said.

“Ever seen anything like it before?” He asked.

“No.” Not that I hadn’t created myself at any rate.

“You?” He turned toward Haley.

“No. Not unless you count TV.”

To me, both of us sounded like normal people, but he stopped smiling for a moment as if he’d sensed something significant.

“Have either of you been north of town lately? Do your families or friends have a house on the beach?”

“No,” I said.

“My family’s got a cottage,” Haley said, “but it’s not just ours so I haven’t been there since late summer.”

Solar Flare nodded. “That sounds cool,” he said, “but what do you mean by ‘not just ours?’ Who do you share it with?”

“Just family,” Haley said. “We all choose weeks. So one week it’ll be my family and the next week one of my uncles’ or aunts’. That’s all.”

“It sounds like you’ve got a big family,”

“People tell me it’s huge.”

“I know what you mean,” he said. “I’ve got a family like that myself. Does your family rent it out this time of year?”

Haley shook her head. “We never rent it out. There aren’t enough weeks in the year for everybody to get all the time they want now.”

“Well, all right,” he said. “Those are my questions. I should go bug someone else. Don’t leave though. The police have questions of their own and don’t tell anybody, but we may have to put everyone in this place under police protection until we know more.”

Police protection? I groaned inwardly. Well, crap. Let’s just make this more complicated.

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