That's what she came here to do. To spread it. To tell it. To scream it from the top of the MedHall building if she had to. Yes, there was something wrong with her but something told-forced- her to believe that everything would work itself out.
It didn't matter that everytime she tried to say 'My name is not Blackwell' she would gag or even if she tried to split hairs. It didn't matter that her forehead and nose were throbbing as though she had managed to vomit part of her brain out through them. It didn't matter that with her words she would be ending, not only her career but the lives of several other men and women she worked with. Nor did it matter that she wouldn't be walking out of the PRT without a pair of handcuffs because what she'd done to keep Sophia out of trouble walked, if not, crossed the line of what was legal.
With Taylor's school record tucked under her arm, she waited in the interviewing office eyes locked on the cup of water left before her. Then she made the mistake of looking at the trashcan in the corner and thought about putting the file in.
TELL! THE! TRUTH!
The words echoed, rang, and sung in her veins. She gasped for breath and struggled to keep her balance, her eyelids blinking away at stars and black spots as she tried to refocus her vision. There was still no genuine pain, just the same sickening pressure throughout her brain as if her skull was in a hug that was just on the wrong side of too tight.
She couldn't remember how long after that she'd waited but eventually, a man entered. His armor, right down to his goatee, was recognizable. Armsmaster-judge-shut the door behind him and sat down at the table. He didn't smile. Neither did Blackwell. This wasn't a smiling time after all.
"How familiar are you with your students, Miss Blackwell?"
And this was how it started, She knew what she wanted to say but what she wanted and what she NEEDED were two very different things.
'Very' was what she wanted to say but everything that followed tumbled out like a upturned wastebasket.
"Very, but only to those who have a certain value to the future of the school."
An eyebrow was raised. Lips pressed together tighter. "And what does 'value' mean?"
Well, every student is valuable to the future of this city.
"Those with wealthy parents or with an actual vested interest in learning." She began, unable and at this point, unwilling to stop herself. "Winslow is the trash pile of the city, after all. Where those too poor or too misbehaved for Arcadia or any other school here are left to rot as it were. I'm sure most of the graduating class this year will be in a gang or dead by that time. As such I can't be bothered to deal with such..." A pause to find the right word, waving a dismissive hand in the air. "Lost causes."
A slight frown. Why? She is being honest. Quite confusing. "And was Taylor Hebert considered a lost cause? Any misbehavior or acting out?"
Yes, actually. Quite the problem child that one. I suspect there might have been a rough home life or maybe even abuse that she refused to address. In my experience with the man, Mr. Hebert had quite a temper.
"No, certainly not. In fact, her grades alone could be considered the best of her year." Blackwell pause a moment. "For a time before the bullying had really shaken her up." She felt it. Truth pouring from her in pulse after pulse with only the simplest of prodding. Truth. Truth. She needed to tell the truth. And the pressure left with every word she said. "No, she was a necessary sacrifice."
No reaction that time. Was that good? Bad? She couldn't see his eyes behind that visor and he wasn't moving. Even his voice was monotone.
"In what way?"
"Well, if you look at this," She handed over Taylor's school record and watched as he opened it. "Taylor made a substantial amount of bullying acusations which I can varify are true as several teacher personally witnessed them. Most all of them Sophia Hess, your Ward, were behind them. Including the 'Locker' incedent which you will see on page 34."
Silence as Armsmaster's silent looming bulk flipped page after page after page. He didn't get half way before he shut the file. His voice is tense now.
"Why weren't we told any of this?"
There is no hesitation in her answer. It's the easiest question.
"They were suppressed. In several conversations between me and her PRT handler, we decided to allow her to keep up her current activities as long as she didn't go too far. The school needed the money, after all. Or rather I needed the money"
Another frown, frustrated and clearly upset.
"Let's take this from the top, I want to know everything."
And thus, Blackwell, soon to be former Principal of Winslow High School, told Armsmaster just that.
And she felt good to do so.
A hiss of frustration left her lips.
Emily hadn't slept that night so she was unprepared for the monumentally large amount of bad news that rolled across her desk this morning. FIrst, Dragon had alerted them that Taylor Hebert was no longer in the city, having been caught on the traffic cameras to I-75 leading west out of the city. Unfortunately, she could only be tracked so far out of the city before hitting rural sections of the interstate which had no surveillance whatsoever but Dragon promised constant scans of every camera in the nearest area where she was lost.
Second, Hebert had been outed. It was a certainty that she would, but I had been faster than she'd expected. A video of the school incident had been taped by someone and her face, placid and calm like she was watching a cloud drift by, was quite exposed as she blasted Sophia with lightning and crushed the other girls arm like cheap cardboard. That video, along with testimony and witness accounts pouring through the internet forums had shaken things up in the city slightly. Every informant that had been inserted into the gangs that kept the Bay in a constant stranglehold, reported that Empire and Merchant grunts alike had been alerted to keep on the lookout for her. No doubt they planned to 'persuade' her into joining if they'd caught her. And she certainly didn't like the name they stuck her with, 'Bolt' just sounded ridiculous. Then again, the girl was running away so maybe the name was a little one the nose/
Lung simply put a hit out on her, with a reward for whoever managed to put a bullet in her skull for the simple reason to keep her from ending in E88 clutches. And Danny Hebert was caught in the center of it. Plain clothes agents had been able to recognize certain faces, informants for the gangs in the media circus that was now camped out in front of his house. No capes, thank god. But it would only be a matter of time. Hopefully they could spread the word that Taylor was gone, maybe they might just back off.
But now, the cherry on top of this was the interview of Winslow's Principal. It was meant to get a gauge of Hebert's attitude in school. How she worked with authority and the like. However instead of a rebellious disrespectful attitude towards her teachers, instead Emily got a story of a young girl who worked within the rules of the system, who all but got on her knees begging for help, and was either ignored or outrightly turned away by everyone who could do something about it. Reading about the locker incident and the way it was handled, put a bad taste in her mouth. All but blackmailing the Hebert family not to press charges in exchange for paying the hospital bill. How in earth was Blackwell even going to explain that in a budget meeting?
Even so, no matter how she felt about it, Taylor Hebert was clearly in the wrong. A teenage girl pushed to her limit but still in the wrong.
The woman closed another file, turning her chair around to look out the window, letting out a mental sigh. She was in one of the various meeting rooms in the building, Assault and Velocity were out on patrol, leaving Battery, Miss Militia, and Armsmaster in the room to sit with her, each of them looking over their own copies of the report the tinker had printed out for them to read.
On the projector in the room was the interview that he'd recorded, paused in the middle of the very VERY long confession of wrongdoing on Blackwell's part which ranged from criminal negligence, on the part of her care for the students, to felony charges of embezzlement of the extra funding that was sent to the school in exchange for Sophia's attendance.
"Shit." Hissed Battery, echoing Piggot's own thoughts. "This is a PR nightmare."
No one refuted the statement. A ward causing another student to have a trigger event. Even if most of the world wasn't quite sure how parahumans got their powers, there was enough guess work and actual evidence to draw close conclusions. Even worse was that they were actively funding those who, if not directly, actively supported Miss Hebert's tormentors.
If some media mouthpiece had a real active imagination, they would twist the story into the PRT and Protectorate were trying to turn bad schools into cape factories. Emily shook her head, trying to remove the thought from her mind.
"Even so, this changes nothing." She stated, looking back at the heroes assembled before her. "Shocker is still a fugitive, who needs to be brought in as quickly as possible."
"But when this story comes out..." Militia began before fading leaving the implication hanging.
"That is exactly a concern." Armsmaster picked up, glancing the the frozen face of Blackwell on the wall. "Currently the principal is in one of our holding cells but we will have to turn this over to the local police and, by proxy, the court of public opinion even if we take Sophia Hess out of the equation we still have a principal who's admitted to skirting and outright breaking the law, embezzling both our money and the school districts, and having multiple teachers on her 'payroll'. Someone is going to question why she's being arrested and some will suspect a connection between her and the attack." His mouth flattened into a thin line of displeasure, the closest Piggot had ever seen him get to expressing frustration. "Between creating a story of sympathy around a fugitive and certainly destroying the very slim chance she might surrender to us peacefully, this story can't get out before we are ready."
Battery and Militia looked at him, clearly not liking the direction this line of logic was going.
Emily raised an eyebrow. "You want to suppress the story?"
Armsmaster nodded in the affirmative. Yet before either of the other two capes present could voice any kind of objections he raised a hand. "Temporarily."
"Throughout the entire interview, I was wondering why Blackwell was telling me the truth."
An air of confusion filled the room. "Guilt, maybe. She probably knew that there was going to be an investigation of the school and wanted to avoid a public..."
Battery was cut off as the tinker shook his head. "No, when I mean she told the truth she told the truth the entire time. My detector didn't even pick up so much as a misdirection nor did she attempt to downplay her actions or pass the blame. Really listen to the questions I ask and what she says."
The recording was played over, this being the fifth time, Emily knew the beats of how this was going to go. But then as she really listened, she began to notice a pattern.
It was Militia who spoke first though, voice incredulous. "She doesn't just answer the questions."
Again, Armsmaster nodded. "With no prompting, she gave me details I didn't ask for, personal opinions that weren't needed. Afterwards she even gave me an exact dates and amounts of money stolen, again with little effort on my part to ask her to elaborate." He then pointed at the rather calm and collected face of Blackwell. "Except for a very gifted mind or a parahuman with a talent for memroization there was no way she'd be able to give me exact dollar and cents amounts. I've done the math and it's exactly right. EXACTLY."
He paused for effect.
"Plus her attitude gave to whole thing an air of casual conversation."
Oh, great. Emily almost swore out loud as it finally clicked. How had she not seen it sooner? "She's not even sweating."
"Not once did her pulse raise on the few times that I pressed her for more information. She wasn't nervous during periods of silence. She sits completely still. Simply put, there is a possibility that she's not in her right mind."
"Master/Stranger protocols?" Battery asked.
"Yes." Armsmaster answered. "I suggest isolation for the maximum period."
The director for the first time since the whole situation began, smirked. "A week to monitor the principal is an extra week we have to find Bolt before we lose control of the situation." The worst case was that Blackwell wasn't showing signs of being mastered. If she did...
Well, then they would cross that bridge when they got there. For now, they had seven more days on the reins than they had before. Emily turned to Hannah. "I want you at the hospital as a guard."
The cape striaghtend slightly. "For Sophia's safety or..." She faded the implication clear to the entire room.
"Both. If what Blackwell said was true then I want that girl's ass nailed to the wall until we get this mess figured out. God help us if the E88 get wind of this." She turned her chair to look back out the window, trying to ignore the pain rolling up and down her back. "And tell her probation agent I want her in my office yesterday. As for the rest of you, continue your assigned duties"
She listened to the door open and footsteps leave. Once it was quiet, she heaved a heavy sigh and felt her shoulders slump. The weight of what was going on loomed over her. Events were moving just too damn fast. One of her wards had caused another student to trigger and it had happened right under her damn nose. One of many cracks that had started showing in this branch of the PRT and she knew this was going to come back and bite her in the rear if it was solved or not.
For now they had seven more days. A week that was both too long and too short.
Seven days to get an angry girl who had no idea how much of a PR bomb she w...
Her thought was shut down as the voice of Dragon came from the intercom.
"I've found her last known location."
Sophia felt her stomach drop and her veins turn to ice. It was the first time she'd felt anything other then dull numbness or firey pain and it wasn't welcome. She glared into the eyes of the susposed brown haired wonder child that was Panancea, who was looking away like some embarrased school girl and not owning up to what she just said. Then she looked at Militia who, by the shifting of her brow, was frowning pretty hard under her mask.
The silence hung in the air as the healer seemed to almost buckle under her constant stare. If what she had been told wasn't so...so...angering, it might have been the pathetic sort of funny. Every passing second she avoided her eyes, she seemed to curl in just a little bit more until finally, Sophia spoke, one word taking so much energy from her that it was only by pure will power that she didn't fall unconcious.
"I can't heal you." The girl clearly understood the monumentus words that left her mouth, if her shellshocked half-whisper was any indication. Her hands tembled over Sophia's exposed arm, almost like she was afriad to touch her again. As if she was some fragile piece of glass.
"Why?" Was the only word that could leave Sophia's mouth. What she wanted to say was 'Why in the fuck can't you heal me? You're the fucking New Wave golden girl. People will swear up and down that you shit gold and piss vintage wine, so stop fucking around and heal me, you glorified fuckhead.'
But that was not what she could say. She wanted the shout, to be loud enough to make sure Panancea knew just how much she was NOT fucking around. Instead, her voice wavered in her throat.
"I've never seen anything like this before. Your cells are dying faster than they multiply. Even my powers have no effect on...whatever was done to you. Even if I heal you...it won't fix what is wrong.
"What do you mean?" It was Milita who spoke. She'd shown up shortly after the healer. The younger cape turned to the veteran, looking very unsure if she should continue or not.
"She..." Panacea looked back to Sophia, tears threatening to leave her eyes. "You're dying. The nerve damage alone would have turned a regular person into a vegtable. But it's deeper than that. If I were to heal you all it would do is give this...whatever it is more to work off of. I don't know what it is but it's actively working against me, against your body."
"I'm sorry, Sophia." The girl said as she left the room, clearly on the verge of breaking down. "I'm so sorry."
At those two words, Sophia saw red. Sorry? Sorry didn't fix this. She didn't need sorry. She didn't WANT sorry. What she wanted was Hebert's neck in her hands so she could squeeze and squeeze and squeeze until the life left her eyes. She wanted revenge for every second she had to suffer this embarassment. Just next to her was a small table of get well soon cards, that she wanted to burn. Evey second she had to rely on a nurse to clean herself. Every second she had to be fed in order to even eat. Every second she was stuck in this room HELPLESS...she was going to take it out of Hebert's hide twice over.
She swore that. Unnoticed by everyone present inculding Sophia herself, a vase two rooms down cracked.