I jerked myself awake the next morning, my feet already hitting the floor as I eyed my bedside clock with zealously-pressed dispassion. Five hours forty minutes – the same as every night, never more or less, and never any dreams or even memory of going to sleep. My last clear recollection of the previous evening, after laboriously IDing all five of Vivi’s kidnappers and briefly confirming that the girl had been safely claimed, was the sound of the almost-dead vibrating toothbrush against my tongue as I looked myself square in the eye.
Unusual metabolism and sleeping habits are very common in supers, at least according to the few studies that have been conducted since the Stevens scandal. Some few require an excessive amount of sleep, either regularly or after any significant exertion. Others seem to operate with a frugal circadian budget.
I never have been sure whether to slot myself in this latter group, as my own reduced sleep schedule is accompanied by an ambient fuzziness that seems to discourage feats of energy or focus. Nor can I go back to sleep to dispel it – once I’m up, I’m up for the day. Three memorable hours of fruitlessly lying completely still in bed one early morning rendered me quite confident on this.
My solution is pharmaceutical. 45 mg amphetamine salts taken twice daily – an admittedly ridiculous dosage for an average man of my weight, but the minimum amount that keeps me fully clear and alert. I have a bona fide prescription… for 15 mg a day, that I fill in parallel with six different online dispensaries.
Four pills (including a morning anti-nausea med to help with the high stimulant), a quick shave and shower, and a load of laundry later, I pulled out of my driveway in my 10-year-old sedan and maneuvered my way across town to Northboro. My only sartorial nod to the weather was a light windbreaker; my car’s heater blasted chill air that warmed incrementally as I dodged through traffic.
Even on a dry morning, Detroit looks somehow damp in the pre-dawn sterility of street lamps. It’s not a city that goes dark, at least not the industrial and commercial areas and the better residential neighborhoods. There is always traffic, full stop, no exceptions. But if you beat the sun by enough, it’s worth cutting through the city rather than looping around, even when moving between distant ‘burbs.
Northboro, like Dogwood Hills where my neighbors and I reside, is a solid middle class neighborhood. Both reflect the color palette of that designation: a solid mix of black and white families in varied proportions. The really nice areas have little such mixing, nor do the truly poor ones – if for no other reason than the money skews heavily towards one race and away from the other.
It fits, then, that families like the Donnell household in which I was raised – homes of mixed parentage – find their way to these same neighborhoods. Dad had grown up in a white neighborhood but he and Mom had moved into a mostly black area when they were first married. It worked out for them to move into Mom’s parents’ home when Paris was small.
In this case “small” is a relative term. Paris has always been a deceptively large woman, tall and well-built. She has Mom’s beautiful black features writ large.
As I pulled up the driveway, my lights briefly illuminated the smooth purple painted facade of the two-story I called “home” for many years. The front of the house looked no different than it had fifteen years ago, not a single change in decoration or plant life – a consistency that took solid seasonal effort from Dad. Annual paint jobs, monthly pruning and landscaping: not a bad retirement hobby for him according to Mom. I wouldn’t enjoy it, but my own “hobbies” will undoubtedly eat up as much time as I let them.
I turned the knob and appreciated that the door has been unlocked for me (Dad would never let them leave it unlocked overnight). Paris was already at the table with a cup of coffee in hand. Her hat was perched on the table, her only concession to pre-shift informality. She always looked the model officer in her uniform – all polished metal and pressed blue – under a carefully looped bundle of tight black braids. She never wore her hair down anymore as far as I could tell.
As I made my way back to the kitchen, a tiny feminine form in a flannel gown flitted from around the corner and took me in a quick hug. I lowered my head for the obligatory maternal kiss and morning greeting.
“Two minutes left on the muffins,” she announced quickly as she headed past me to the stairs. “You kids be good.”
“Yes’m,” was the extent of my answer. Although both Mom and Dad preferred to sleep in these days, she would often wake up early and make breakfast before retreating for a couple more hours’ sleep. Blueberry muffins were a favorite of both mine and Paris’s, and neither of us had the knack for baking them.
Having stood up to greet me, my much taller and thicker sister stepped forward and opened her arms for a hug. She let me come to her, and I happily did, squishing myself against her as closely as possible.
As always, it felt like hugging a warm, cloth-covered statue. Her flesh had absolutely zero give; none of the feminine softness we all take for granted when in contact with our distaff friends and relations. Still, my daily encounter with the sensation had accustomed me to it, and it now had the comfort of long familiarity and association with my only sister and best friend. I lingered as long as she wanted; I would not cut short one of the only times in the day that Paris would deliberately touch another human.
Like me, Paris was a secret and unregistered super. Unlike me, her powers could not be concealed for deployment at a convenient time. Paris constantly and involuntarily projected a powerful forcefield that neutralized forces, great or small, that might otherwise impact her flesh. It made her, for lack of a better word, physically invulnerable.
But it also came with a very significant downside. To conceal her powers, she had developed habits to meticulously avoid human contact (other than with me, Mom, and Dad). She couldn’t hug, shake hands, accept an arm around the shoulder – any of the above would feel weird to the other person and raise unanswerable questions. Dating was likewise out of the question.
I think it was at least in part because of this necessary avoidance that my sister had become something of a workaholic. She happily took on extra shifts, pursued difficult cases, and jumped into dangerous assignments. While on duty she was meticulously by-the-book, and her condition allowed her to rather easily take down a perp twice her size unarmed.
Few in the department were surprised when she was first in her year to make detective. And as it got around the department that she was completely hands-off with both men and women, there was no whiff of the usual rumors of quid pro quo for her promotions, either.
As we broke our hug, Detective Paris Donnell, DPD, let her smile drop and returned to her seat at the kitchen table. I poured myself a glass of milk while watching the clock, and at the appropriate time pulled the muffin tin out of the oven. While I plated two steamy blueberry muffins each for me and Paris, she pushed the tablet that she had been reviewing to my side of the table.
“Daniel and Josie Walker,” she showed me a set of pictures that looked like they were pulled from social media. Standard vacation poses, a couple that looked like they were taken in a dorm. “Met at Wayne State, married two years ago. Moved into the address you gave me last year. Moved out about a month ago; no forwarding address.” She took another sip of her coffee, waiting for my reaction.
“Yeah, that’s him. The timing works out on the move, doesn’t it?” I pushed the tablet back in her direction.
She nodded. “It does, and it explains why our initial leads came up as dead ends. Neither of them have roots in the area.” Paris sighed over her coffee, “Daniel’s stopped posting to his social pages but he didn’t scrub them. Extended records search probably won’t come back until tomorrow, but it looks like he moved back to the Minneapolis area. Probably told his family that they had a falling out and needed to start over.”
I shook my head. “Nothing really satisfying about this one, huh?”
Paris met my gloomy gaze with her own hard stare. “There never was gonna be, lil’bro. Even when we catch a real baddie – a career thug or a crazy – it doesn’t bring anybody back. Doesn’t fix the harm they’ve done to other people’s lives.” She upended her cup, sucking down the dregs, careful not to hit the ceramic too hard against her lips. “You tell yourself that this means they won’t be doing any more. And maybe the next one like ’em will think a little harder. And that’s the most you get.”
Paris shrugged up from the table, pouring herself another cup of coffee and grabbing another muffin. “And I have more bad news.” She raised an eyebrow, waiting to make sure she had my attention. I bit into my second muffin and nodded. “McQueen paid me a visit yesterday.” Assistant Director McQueen was her supervisor in Homicide. Paris tended to speak of him favorably as an investigator and a boss. I nodded for her to continue.
“The unusual number of solved cases these past few months has started to be remarked-upon… and not in a good way.” She slid back into her seat as I tried to process this.
“There’s concern that you’re solving so many cases? Isn’t that your job?”
A wry shug. “I’m told my job is to spend my time on viable cases, not hopeless ones. The fact that I… we… really you” – I wanted to protest but chose not to interrupt – “are solving them doesn’t help.” Her eyes rolled in unrestrained exasperation. “It makes it worse, because it makes the rest of the department look bad. As though I was wrecking the curve for the other students.”
I knew the exact moment when her facade slipped – when she decided to vent her anger in front of me. Her whole posture closed in and moved forward like a stalking predator. She slapped her hand against the table. “I’ve had it with them! I’ve dealt with this my whole life, and it just doesn’t end. First they get on me because they assume I’m not good enough – just filling a quota – then they get on me because I’m too good. Making waves, disrupting the system, whatever ridiculous excuse.” She pushed herself half up from her seat and looked me in the eyes. “They just… they don’t want me to succeed, Hector. They don’t.”
From what I knew of my sister, anger was a better reaction than grief to these frustrations. I nodded. “You don’t look like a detective, sis. You’re not male enough or white enough to be good at it – it messes with their view of the world.” I drained my juice. “Screw them. We’ll keep this up, and we’ll keep our eyes open for harassment or sabotage. They can’t do anything to you for being too good, and they know it.”
“But being under the microscope puts you in danger too, lil’bro.” She sat back. “Using undisclosed powers in law enforcement – either my own, or someone else’s – is still a crime in Michigan. I don’t suspect that’s going to change any time soon.”
I gave a nervous grin. “Eh, it’s not the most legally questionable part of my day.”
Paris wasn’t smiling. “For the hundredth time, this Delphic stuff is going to catch up with you eventually.” Looking at the time, she grabbed her hat and rose, tugging on her uniform. “Make an exit plan, okay?”
I moved in for a goodbye hug. “Okay, Paris, I will. Be careful out there.”
“Always.” She headed toward the garage.
I cleared the table and loaded the dishwasher… and then slapped my forehead. With the concerns about Paris and the homicide department, I hadn’t gotten around to telling her about Polarity.
Something to discuss at breakfast tomorrow.