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The Scarab: City of Lost Children

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The Scarab's Lair, August 15th, 2008

Elena shot up in her chair, bursting out of a deep sleep as she grabbed for the arm next to her. The arm was female, sheathed in a grey suit-jacket sleeve. Her eyes followed the arm up to Sofia's face, then back down to her hand. Sofia had been tucking a heavy wool blanket behind Elena's shoulders.

"Sorry," Elena mumbled as she picked the sleep-goo out of her eyeballs.

Sofia chuckled. "Didn't mean to wake you. You fell asleep down here again."

Elena let slip a wry grin. "Yes, I figured that out too. I am psychic, you know."

Sofia leaned back against the desk and crossed her arms. "You weren't answering your phone. I didn't even bother checking your apartment this time. I'm starting to think you're wasting your rent money up there."

"I've got an image to maintain. A cover to keep. If nothing else, it's more money in the Foundation coffers. More money for you to save the world with. Though come to think of it, I own enough shares in the company that owns the building that I'm basically my own landlord. I probably break even on dividends..."

"Very funny. No one can change a subject like you. The Foundation is throwing a fundraiser at the Historical Museum this Friday night. Bob and I are going. We've got a sitter for the night. Thought you might want to come."

"Sign me up for two plates, or tickets, or whatever system they're using."

"You actually planning to ever show up to one of these things?"

"The charity doesn't care if I show up or not as long as my cheque clears. The only people attendance matters to are the guests themselves, and they only care about being seen."

"What was that you said a minute ago? Something about having a cover to maintain?"

"...Fair enough. I'll try to put in an appearance."

Sofia picked up the packet sitting in front of Elena and scanned the first page. "Missing persons list again?"

Elena absent-mindedly grabbed the nearby cup of coffee and tipped it back to take a sip. She pulled it back suddenly, shook it, then, hearing nothing, raised an eyebrow, frowned, and set it back down on the desk. "Those cases have gone unsolved for months. In some cases, years. If the police could find them, they would have. They need my help."

"They need help, no argument there. But not necessarily yours. You shouldn't push yourself like this. You have to pace yourself, or you'll burn out. Learn to delegate. You're not the only superhero in Freedom City, you know."

"Says the only C.E.O. in the Fortune 500 who brews her own coffee, sends her own faxes, makes her own copies, and answers her own phone. Not to mention somehow finding time for a husband and three kids."

"I had a first impression to make. And a responsibility to set an example for hard work."

Elena looked up at Sofia and smiled. "Exactly."

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The Scarab's Lair, August 15th, 2008

Elena dropped the printout of the missing persons list on her desk and closed her eyes. She reached out and pressed her index finger on a random spot, then opened her eyes and read the name. "Maria Gonzalez. Let's see what they know about you so far." She turned to one of the workstations of her computer mainframe and began searching the Internet and publicly-accessible databases. She mumbled to herself as she skimmed and scrolled. "Age 9. Missing for 3 months. Mother, Carla, also missing, considered prime suspect. Father, Ed, has pressed kidnapping charges against his wife, is offering $5,000 reward for information leading to her apprehension. Odd. One would usually assume the mother was also a victim. Why would he assume that she was the culprit? This doesn't feel right. Bears looking into."

Sofia leaned down and hugged Elena briefly with one arm. "I'll leave you to it. Have fun." Elena smiled and reached up with a quick one-armed hug of her own. "Thanks. Give my regards to the family."

As Sofia left, Elena leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes. She reached out with her mind, decoupling it from her body. She sought out Police Headquarters, scanning the minds of one police officer after another. It was relatively easy and straightforward, since she was searching for a specific piece of information: Which officer was working the Gonzalez case. When she found the detective in question, she sifted through his mind like a file cabinet, looking for the folder containing what he had learned so far. Not much, she thought, disappointed. He didn't have the case long before the F.B.I. pulled it out from under him, since Mom crossed the state line. Mom was clever. Used one of her husband's credit cards to buy bus tickets online. Twenty of them. Twenty different cities, with possible destinations including every stop on the way. This won't be easy. But if it was easy, the cops would have found them by now.

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Freedom City, August 16th, 2008

Elena sat low in one of the cramped plastic chairs of the bus depot. She shifted uncomfortably every minute or two, but kept her head down and her eyes closed behind her sunglasses, pretending to be asleep. She had been sitting in the bus station for almost 20 hours, moving only to obtain a coffee refill or take trips to the restroom. Her awareness stretched beyond her body, leaping from one transit employee to the next. She held in her mind pictures of Carla and Maria Gonzalez, and dug through the minds of each clerk, conductor, and baggage thrower, searching for a match in their memories. She had to dig deep; the closer a thought is to the surface of a mind, the easier it is to pluck out. Finding a memory the subject doesn't even consciously know they have was often next to impossible. But few people in any line of work possessed the mental fortitude necessary to even notice Elena's psychic intrusions, let alone repel them. Occasionally, one of the more perceptive clerks would look over their shoulder, startled from the distinct feeling of being watched. In those instances, Elena would quickly break the mental link, moving on to the next subject and returning hours later, when other matters seized their attention and the unsettling feeling faded from their memory.

Not all of Elena's senses were displaced as she scryed and probed the workers. More than once, she felt the trembling hand of a desperate or opportunistic soul reaching into her purse. The wallet it contained was a cheap velcro number, one of several she had purchased on her way to the station. They were all empty, save for a single $20 bill. Her actual personal effects were stored securely in one of the station's rented lockers. The key was inside the locker as well. When one decoy wallet would disappear, she would wait a few minutes, then feign waking up. She walked to her locker, pretended to fiddle with the lock in such a way as to obscure it, and used her telekinesis to pop the latch open from the inside. Then she would retrieve another decoy wallet, place it in her purse, sit back down, and resume her investigation.

Finally, in the middle of the third shift, she found what she was looking for: The driver who carried Ms. Gonzalez and her daughter over state lines without even realizing that he was aiding a felony. Sifting slowly and meticulously through his memories revealed the time, date, and route he drove her to, and the stop she got off at: Miami, Florida. I've got a long flight ahead of me. She relaxed, letting her senses snap back to her body, re-orienting herself to seeing through her own eyes and listening through her own ears.

She downed the last of her coffee, stood up, and walked to her locker. At least, that was her plan. She attempted to rise and begin walking in one smooth motion, and succeeded only in tangling her feet, tripping over herself, and falling to the ground. One of the security guards jogged over to her as she nursed the pain in her knees, elbows, and palms.

"Ma'am, are you alright?" he asked as he offered her his arm.

"I'm fine. Just a bit weak in the knees." She took his elbow, lurched upward, and accidentally smacked her skull against his. "OW! Sorry, I am SO sorry..."

He grimaced, pulled her the rest of the way up, and rubbed his forehead. "It happens. It's all good. You've been waiting here a long time."

Elena nodded. "I'm going to go check my voice mail. My sister should have been here by now."

"Good idea. You sure you're OK?"

"Really, I'm fine, thanks" she stammered as she nodded quickly, smiled weakly, and turned to leave, her skin flush red with embarassment. He called after her "Be careful!" He sounded more amused than concerned.

And the other superheroes wonder why I fly. Because in this body, I've never been able to walk in a straight line without racking up a body count.

Elena opened up her locker, retrieved her effects, made a fake call to her voicemail that she didn't bother actually listening to, and left the station, straining to force herself into walking at a normal pace. At least I successfully avoided suspicion. Now the employees will remember me as a clueless klutz for a couple hours, then forget me forever.

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Miami, Florida, August 17th, 2008

Carla wiped a bead of sweat from her forehead as she walked into the staff locker room of the Crescent Moon Hotel Resort, tired from a long day of cleaning floors and folding laundry. As she unpinned her "Hello, My Name Is Becky" badge, a voice whispered from behind her. "Carla Santos de Gonzalez."

Carla nearly jumped out of her skin. The nametag clattered to the tile floor. An imposing figure hovered above the floor in front of her, covered in armor of crimson & gold. A large cloak billowed out behind and around her, bathing Carla in shadow. A large Egyptian beetle adorned her chest.

"La Escarabaja."

The Scarab nodded. "You know your history. And you are a long way from home."

Carla's shoulders sank, and she slumped down onto the bench facing her locker. "How did you find me?"

"I looked. I looked everywhere. Behind every curtain, every door. Under every stone and leaf. You cannot hide from me. No one can hide from me. Where is your daughter?"

Carla rested her elbows on her thighs and buried her face in her hands. "So you're here to take me away, then?"

The Scarab floated down to the ground. "No. You have a story to tell me. And I am here to listen."

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Freedom City, August 20th, 2008

The Scarab's mental powers were legendary. Carla Gonzalez knew better than to even try to lie to her. She told her story. And The Scarab didn't like it.

Not one bit.

Eduardo Gonzalez, or "Ed" as everyone called him at the firm, remembered leaving work early that afternoon. He remembered the "errands" he ran on his way home to his high-priced Pyramid Plaza apartment. He could recall with crystal clarity chopping the cocaine into a fine powder on the glass coffee table in his living room, and telling the two "working girls" how much fun they were going to have tonight.

But he didn't remember how or why or when his companions left his apartment, or what happened to all that blow. He didn't feel high...

You flushed it down the toilet. Or rather, we flushed it.

"Wha-" Ed gasped as he saw the crimson & gold figure out of the corner of his eye. He tried to speak further, but lost his words as some invisible force grabbed his legs, yanked him into the air upside-down, and threw him across the room. He crashed into a shelf on the far wall. The shelf toppled down with him, burying him in a pile of literature and shattered wood.

The Scarab's voice echoed in his mind. These apartments are separated by a foot of solid concrete. No one will hear.

She gestured toward Ed, who was jerked back up into the air. He went flying again, this time into a shelf filled with glassware. Most of the contents shattered on impact with his skin, inflicting a hundred tiny cuts all over his body. He slid down the wall, groaning and gasping.

No one heard when you abused and terrorized your family. And no one will hear now that it's your turn. Ed went flying a few more times, tossed around the room like a rag doll, smashing into one wall after the next.

"Please...please stop...it hurts..."

How many times did she ask you to stop? How many times did you hurt them?

You didn't like it when she talked back to you. When she told you what she didn't like. Being yelled at. Being threatened. Beaten. Cheated on. She didn't like it when you came home high on drugs, or when you brought home disease. But the last straw broke when she found out where the money came from. How you could afford such a nice apartment, such a nice car, and of course, all the drugs.

"No...she's lying..."

I SAW IT. THROUGH HER EYES. I SAW IT ALL.

The Scarab reached one hand toward Ed. He was pulled up into the air again, but this time, instead of flying toward a wall, he just hovered. She reached her other hand toward the window, and pulled her arm back, closing her fingers into a fist. The window shattered, imploded. Shards of glass rained down on the living room carpet.

Everything was in your name. She knew the kind of lawyers your ill-gotten gains could hire. She felt trapped. She panicked. So she took her daughter, and she ran. She ran from you.

The Scarab flew out the window, and Ed Gonzalez came flying with her.

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The Scarab, with Ed Gonzalez in tow, went flying out along the Freedom City coastline. The cool night air made Ed's cuts and scrapes sting and burn. But that pain was quickly numbed as The Scarab used her powers to dump him into the water. She spent several minutes speeding away from the coast, deeper into the ocean. She remained a few feet above the water, dunking Ed up and down like a yo-yo. Each time, she kept him submerged just long enough for him to truly panic, but not long enough to actually drown him.

Eventually, The Scarab decided Ed was too disoriented and demoralized to suffer any further, and she plucked him out from the water and flew him back to the coast, back to the city. She shielded the two of them from any prying eyes and ears, and soared all the way to the top of Pyramid Plaza. She dropped him down on the roof of Building 1, then used her powers to drag him to the edge. He waved his arms in circles, but he couldn't move his legs, no matter how hard he tried.

"Please...PLEASE!"

She brought him to rest at the edge and let him dangle off the precipice, facing inward. If anyone could have seen him, it would appear that he was leaning back against some invisible ramp that kept him from falling off the roof. With Ed suspended there, whimpering and blubbering as he struggled not to look down behind him at the street below, The Scarab pulled a folder out from the folds of her cape and handed it to Ed.

"Wha...what's all this?"

You recognize some of it. Evidence of your embezzlement. Documents that show how you've been stealing from your firm's clients for years. You're very good at what you do, Mr. Gonzalez. There were parts even I couldn't understand without reading your mind.

"You...you can't...evidence...thrown out..."

You misunderstand, Mr. Gonzalez. I'm not a cop, and I'm not taking you to jail. Copies of these documents will remain in a safe place. They'll give your wife the leverage she needs to make sure you stay out of her life forever. Her life, and her daughter's.

"...My...my daughter, too..."

NOT ANYMORE.

The Scarab withdrew whatever invisible force was holding Ed aloft, and he plummeted down toward the streets below. He screamed himself hoarse for several stories, before his descent slowed, then reversed, hurling him back up to the edge of the roof.

Scream all you want. No one can hear you. No one but me. And it's music to my ears.

Ed choked. For the first time since he was six years old, he wet his pants and didn't care.

You don't remember signing the rest of these papers, but rest assured, you did. Yesterday. You'll recognize your own signature on them. A new bank account, in your wife's name, where "you" deposited the bulk of your ill-gotten gains. The interest will pay your family's living expenses, and when she's ready, the principal will pay for your daughter's higher education. The leases on the apartment and the car, signed over to your wife. A no-contest divorce, granting your wife full custody of little Maria.

It just so happens that the people you ripped off work for Johnathan Grant. And I happen to hate him slightly more than I hate you. So rather than report you to the police, and see Mr. Grant get all his blood-money returned to him, I'm taking it and using it for a good cause. And if you ever again so much as say Carla or Maria's names out loud, let alone try to contact them, I will make sure Mr. Grant learns all about your little indiscretions. And when his thugs get their hands on you, you will wish I had turned you over to the police.

In the master bedroom, you will find two suitcases already packed. One contains clothing and toiletries. The other is full of cash. Take them and go. Go far, far away. You have 24 hours to get out of my city, and the rest of your life to stay out.

Ed slid on his heels for a few meters, then collapsed onto the roof. When he looked up, The Scarab was nowhere to be seen.

And remember...I am always watching...

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Freedom City, August 25th, 2008

Thank you.

It's not a problem. You help in your way, and I help in mine.

No, I mean it. Thank you.

"Ms. Santos? Mrs. Cruz will see you now."

Sofia Cruz's receptionist showed Carla into the office. Sofia stood up from her desk, walked over to meet Carla halfway across the room, and shook her hand. "Ms. Santos, nice to meet you. Please, sit down. Can I get you anything?"

Carla shook Sofia's hand timidly. "No, no thank you." She sat down, her demeanor still apprehensive. She glanced at the placard that said "C.E.O." "I'm not sure exactly why I'm here."

Sofia sat down and smiled. She rested her elbows on the desk and steepled her fingers together. "Ms. Santos, I'll get right to the point. I've recently been made aware of your situation. A rather unfortunate situation, up until recently. I was glad to hear your husband decided to drop the kidnapping charges before he left town."

Carla tensed up. Her voice dropped to a whisper. "What do you want?"

Sofia leaned back. "I want to offer you a job."

Carla stared, open-mouthed. "Excuse me?"

"As you are probably aware, the Rhodes Foundation is involved with dozens of different charities and nonprofit organizations. We have recently acquired a controlling interest in a company that provides shelter, aid, and counseling for battered women and children. But we've had to do some reorganizing." Sofia reached into a drawer and pulled up a single sheet of paper. "I've seen your resume, and I think you're more than qualified to be the new executive director."

Carla reflexively reached over the desk and snatched the paper. "How did you get my...?"

Sofia smiled. "That's beside the point. The point is, you can do this job. You got out. Now it's time to help other people get out, too. And this..." She wrote a number down on a scrap of paper and slid it toward Carla. "...is the starting salary."

Without looking at it, Carla crumpled the paper in her hand and dropped it into the trash can. "I...I think I understand. Where do I sign?"

Sofia jotted down another note. "Be at this office tomorrow at 9 A.M. Your new assistant will get you up to speed. And welcome to The Foundation."

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