Planting Notions, or A Supervillain Finds Love in the Most Unlikely of Places
By Alexander Leach
Cognit got three steps through the door before the sound stopped in in his tracks. Years of enduring similar treatment, however, meant he weathered it with little more than a tightening around the sides of his mouth.
The woman next to him rolled her eyes contemptuously. She didn’t hear anything, of course – nothing but the buzz of fluorescent lights, and ticking of a nearby clock, and the angry stream of obscenities from one of the ten doors lining two of the walls, five each. The cells were not soundproof, after all, so that they could hear anyone attempting escape, or if the restraints shattered. The other nine cells, despite being fully occupied, were silent.
Cognit, however, heard everything. He could hear the small man, restraints on his wrist anchoring his ethereal flesh to this world, looking at every crack and discolouration in his room to find a way to break the door. He could hear an austere woman, her nose wrapped in bandages, repeating the works of Milton backwards. He could hear the large man, rippling with fiber-enforced muscle, repeating “it’s all going to end” over and over, his mouth wavering incoherently. Soundproofing meant little to someone who hears things that aren’t sound.
His companions stopped when he did, prompting a sigh from the woman. Cognit deliberately ignored her. The other one, a spiky-haired teenage girl who would look like something out of a skate magazine, except for a metallic claws for hands, stood silently
Geez, he’s usually a lot quicker than this, the girl thought. Picks the weak link right away and breaks it, without even looking in.
“You don’t usually bring in entire superhero teams.” Cognit replied. His voice was reedy, like his body – rail-thin, clad in the high-collared black jacket pagged with grey squares. A reinforced suit, psychically resonant; perfect or evening the odds against a larger foe. The standard uniform of their master, who he judiciously ignored behind him.
The teen, dressed in a similar coat, but red, blinked in obvious surprised. “Damn, it’s creepy when you respond like that.” the teen said. “Can’t you just talk into my mind or something?”
“I do that, and you say it’s creepy.” Cognit replied, his deadpan tone giving his voice a droning quality. “I write it down, and you say it’s creepy. I have surmised that you will, in fact, find any of my responses creepy, Cleaver.”
“When you say it like that, yes, I will.”
“Enough!” The woman next to them snapped, catching Cognit’s attention. Part of him immediately recoiled in horror as he watched her, seeing only a void where his eyes saw a tall, exquisite woman with long, black hair and sleek features. Her own coat was open, revealing her black, metal-lined jumpsuit and impeccable physique. He was the only one here who knew her real name, the only one who could divulge the location of her family to the circle of costumed vigilantes they had sworn to destroy.
Cognit absently ran his hand over his head, his metal skull-cap blinking with lines of blue as it worked to channel the ever-present aura of kinetic energy he produced. It was a nervous habit, one his employer recognize. She didn’t bother to mask her look of disgust behind her black domino mask.
“Can you please get on with it?” the woman snapped at him.
“Yes, sure.” Cognit turned away quickly, fixating on the doors. Thoughts and memories surged, attempts to prepare oneself. He knew what he was looking for, so he looked.
And something caught his attention. A personality, replaying a muted echo of a memory.
He pointed. “That one.” he said quickly.
The woman in black narrowed her eyes. “Are you sure?”
“Has he ever been wrong about subjects he picks himself?” Cleaver answered for him, rolling her eyes. “Geez, trust the guy to do his job.”
“I’ll trust him when he learns how people work without that head of his.” She shot back. “Now open it.”
The red-haired woman shakes her head, stepping forward. Cognit focused on her – she worked here out of a love for violence, a desire to hurt others. It was useful for her, but Cognit couldn’t find any practical purpose for it himself. Lust for violence didn’t interest him at all.
The cell contained a woman, strapped to a table. Her armour was scuffed and cracked, its bright white paint stained by ashes and scorch marks. Her eyes peeked through black hair, her Asian features twisted by pain and delirum.
Cognit’s boss immediately stopped. “The Torch? Really? She’s the one you’re going to interrogate?”
“Yes.” the psychic didn’t turn, stepping forward. Cleaver stayed by the other woman’s side, glancing at her as she raised her voice.
“She’s barely even a member of their team. She was independent until a month ago. What possibly makes you think she’ll know anything?”
Cognit said nothing. He was already fixated on the woman, leaving his companions unacknowledged at the door. His mind was already working through her thoughts, amid the fractured, murky ripples of the narcotics.
“Well, maybe she knows something the others don’t. New girl, in he biggest superhero outfit in the Western world; she might not be as gung-ho into it.”
“She’d better.” The woman in black replied.” Hero teams are getting more organized. They’ve stopped ignoring the world outside of the United States. China, Australia, even Canada were the Wild West until recently.”
“The US’ has been fixated on the rest of the world since World War-fucking-Two.” The clawed villain ran her signature along the wall. “Weird that their superpowered-heroes never cared.”
“Globalization means nothing to them. Businesses and even nations operate beyond their borders all over the globe, and these masked vigilantes still can’t see behind New York Harbour.”
Cognit heard this, but didn’t care. He was too busy looking, diving in through the waves of muggy blackness into the thoughts within. He could see his prize already, but he made himself confirm it. He wanted to seize it in his mental hands before letting anyone know, even his boss. She wouldn’t understand, anyway, he thought; she shows him nothing but hatred, even though he saved her life in Russia, and kept her secrets safe…
He was interrupted as a black hand grasped his shoulder and pushed him away. He grasped the edge of the restraining table, looking at the cruel eyes of his employer.
“Enough of your mute digging!” She snapped. “Wake her up! I want to actually question her.”
Cognit straightened up. His eyes, dulled with the senses only he had, stared at a point past her mask. “You don’t think I know what I’m looking for?”
“Wake. Her. Up.” The woman repeated, slowly and with weight and edges.
The psychic didn’t move, but he complied. The Torch convulsed, as her brain forcibly produced enough adrenaline to snap her out of her stupor. She looked around, her eyes wild and agitated by the sudden dangerous cocktail she’d created. They passed over Cognit and Cleaver, before lingering on the boss.
“Imperatress.” the woman says, with a hint of a Korean accent.
“Torch.” The woman in black kept things formal. “You should have stayed freelance. We want to know where the rest of your team has escaped to.”
“What makes you think I know?” She spat back, a trail of smoke running from her lips. Cleaver flexed her claws nervously; Cognit didn’t blink.
“He told me.” She glanced at the psychic,standing there with lights playing up and down his skull-cap.
The Torch laughed dismissively. “Bullshit, he told you.” When Imperatress frowned, she continued with zest. “You’re a stuck-up moviestar, and Claws over there’s a mad dog, but Cognit? Everyone’s knows him. He probably learned everything I knew just be looking at me.” She looked the psychic in his eye, though he kept his gaze on his boss. “And you’re always honest, aren’t you?”
“Yes, I am.” Cognit replied.
Imperatress stared at him as her captive spoke. “So he didn’t tell you anything.” The Torch remarked. “Though that was a lie. He wasn’t completely honest with you.”
“And how’s that?” Imperatress asked indignantly, reaching for her gun.
“Because he would have told you that I’ve been running heat through the power suppression cuffs since you slapped me in here.”
Imperatress had her gun in her hand as she was thrown backwards. Cleaver also snapped back, thrown out the door before the wave of fire erupted out, throwing a table against the wall. The Torch stood at the center of the halo of flame as it curled back around her.
Cognit knelt on the ground, as the superhero stepped down. A circle of floor was unblemished around him amid the blackened, melted synthetic. His skull-cup dimmed, the light fading.
The Torch looked at him with glowing eyes. “You saw something you wanted in my mind?” She replied. “It’s sure not information on other heroes….”
She held up her hand, fire gathering. Cognit stood up, staring right at her. The thoughts were gone, his prize lost in her mind behind waves of arrogance and power. She released the fire in her hand, arcing towards him.
The flames guttered out in a wave of blue static, filling the air with swimming sparks that hung like trapped fireflies. The Torch didn’t have time to cry out as the wave washed over her. The walls bent under a sudden wave of telekinetic force. Arcs of lightning passed between the furniture, and their psychic master.
Cognit’s eyes glowed brightly as the sparks were drawn back into his skeletal plate, the lines regaining their original, coursing light. The Torch lay across the now-downed restraining plate, her eyes rolled back. The psychic crossed the floor to her side, peering down over her.
Her mind was a wash of pain, barely conscious as from the massive sensory overload. He waited, watching the incoherent mass twist before him…
…and there it was. She called up the memory again, clear as day. A room with a sofa. A tall lamp that lit the ceiling blue. A painting of her mother. And the source of the memory, his arms around her, pulling her into an unmistakeable embrace.
It started Cognit to see it. He’d not expected this passion here – he saw more memories, of him telling her he’d stand by her even if she joined the United States Patriot League, of him calling her to tell her he was proud, of him declaring he’d never betray her on a live feed from a spider-like supervillain’s lair. True love, if there was such a word. Reciprical. Developed.
Cognit reached out, and grasped it, plucking it from her mind. Her eyes went still, as she took her last breath; he forgot her, as he stood up, the feeling in his mind.
He looked around.
Cleaver was nowhere to be seen; a good thing. Imperatress lay sprawled across he floor, her psychically-dampened jacket burned to cinders, leaving only her resistant body-suit. Her skin was remarkably untouched by the flames. Cognit’s shielding was as good as he wanted it to be.
Without ceremony, he walks over, and knelt by her. He couldn’t have predicted this moment, but his hypercognition could show him exactly how to make it play out when all the pieces were there. It told him he had a window of time, and that he was already there. The feeling of certainly, the knowledge that he has already achieved his goal but for the pasing of time, invigorated his addled, maladjusted mind.
And with a thought, he placed the memory in its new home.
Imperatress’ eyes fluttered open. She looked about for a moment, in cold calculation, her eyes lingering on the Torch’s body. Her eyes finally came to Cognit, as if seeing him for the first time.
Her face softened. “Kevin.” She said, and her face curled into a warm smile. “Are you alright?”
“Unharmed, Imperatress.” Cognit replied. “Torch is dead.”
“I see. What did she know?”
“She thought she knew the location, but it was a false memory.” he replied with his droning monotone. Outside, he could feel Cleaver’s thoughts stirring in dreams of crafting a wood-carved wolverine with her claws. “Planted in her. I will need to examine the others.”
“Not today, though.” Imperatress told him firmly. “I made an error today, and risked your life, Cleaver’s and mine. We will need to ensure that this does not happen with one of the others.”
“It will not.” Cognit told her, and it was no lie. He reached down, placing his fingers against her domino mask, and with a gentle tug, removed it.
She allowed it, revealing her impressively-cut nose and regal browline fully, but smiled bemusedly. “Really, I’m fine, Kevin. Your shield protected me.”
“Just making sure. I am always concerned with your well-being.”
“I know that.” She lifted her hand. “Help me up?”
The psychic took her hand, rising along with her. She looked around the room, her old contempt returning to fixate on the corpse. “Bah, Torch never was good at anything but destroying things.”
“Igniting was all she’s good for.” Cognit replied, face stone.
Imperatress gave him a bemused look. “Well, she’s better off dead.” She said with finality, turning to the door.
“Yes.” Cognit replied, moving to follow her, leaving the burnt room and the dead body behind. “She’s already served her purpose.”
Copyright Alexander Leach, 2017