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The Cat Signal

Mari Ness has frequently appeared in Daily Science Fiction. You can also follow her on Twitter at @mari_ness.

Vigilante Turned Supervillain Disputes Guilty Verdict
- Normal City, Arizona
It's been three days since a jury found her guilty of three of the seven charges against her. Three days since she was transferred to a top prison built specifically to hold supervillains.
That doesn't mean Caracal's ready to admit she's guilty.
"I was just trying to help. To bring people together," she says, looking down her hands, which are so covered with scar tissue that, by all reports, she no longer has fingerprints.
That help was the Cat Signal, something Caracal built with the apparent assistance of two associates whom she still refuses to name. (Her lawyer, Caryn More, believes that this obstinacy may have been one of the factors that led the jury to convict her on two of the seven charges against her.)
"There's been a distinct lack of communication between us and them."
By them, of course, Caracal means the cops. The Cat Signal, she says, was designed to let cops know whenever she and the rest of her team--still unidentified--either needed assistance from the cops or had criminals to turn over to the cops.
"Usually, of course, it's the other way around--cops communicating with us. Except there's been a real breakdown in that regard, what with so many of us dealing with supervillains or getting involved with, well, episodes of mass destruction. There's been some tension. So this was my way of helping--safer, I thought, than using a cell phone, which would let them trace me."
Unfortunately, the Cat Signal ran into immediate problems. Designed to send a beam of light into the sky, and reflect an image of a snarling cat against the clouds, it was, Caracal has to admit, "virtually useless," on cloudless nights--the norm in Arizona, Caracal's chief base of operations.
And, of course, one week after she set up the Cat Signal, it crashed into a circus.
"That was an accident," Caracal repeats, as she has perhaps a thousand times since her arrest, even when her attorney advised her to exercise her right to remain silent. "A complete accident."
State prosecutors, noting that one of Caracal's most notorious enemies, the Bounty Hunter, was enjoying a quiet night at the circus with his family, were skeptical, charging Caracal with seven separate counts of reckless endangerment, cruelty to animals, cruelty to clowns, unauthorized vigilantism, unauthorized vigilantism without a registered team, unauthorized use of alien metals, and being a public nuisance. Her attorney managed to fight off some of these charges--no one could prove exactly where Caracal's weapons came from, leaving the remote possibility that they were of terrestrial origin--but a jury convicted Caracal on two counts anyway.
Caracal also faces additional civil suits from former neighbors who claim that the Cat Signal brought unwanted police attention to their neighborhoods and kept them awake, both the light and the sound made by the huge fans surrounding the signal to keep it cooled down.
Meanwhile, Caracal has been transferred to the Steele Penitentiary Complex, nicknamed the Frigid System, thanks to the cells there being kept abnormally cold in order to help control anticipation of the eventual capture of supervillain Firedance, a transfer her attorney, Daniela Wright, calls "outrageous."
"The most my client did--the most--was turn on the Cat Signal right before bravely choosing to face down the Moth. The Moth. Is it her fault that turning it on caused the Moth to fly straight at it, causing it to fall into the circus?"
State prosecutors and a jury thought yes, noting that the Moth's attraction to bright lights was well known--so well known that Caracal certainly should have known about it, and pointing to the extensive damage caused by the tumble of the Cat Signal--six terrified elephants, five injured clowns, six completely smushed clown cars (all, the state points out, custom made and irreplaceable), and the cleaning costs involved in what has been diplomatically called the resulting "cotton candy" incident, as grounds for forcing Caracal to serve her entire sentence.
"Not to mention that a trip to Steele hardly counts as punishment these days," said a state official who preferred to remain anonymous. "Everyone knows that if the supervillains are uncomfortable there, they'll just leave. So, except for the cells right around the Firedance holding area, it's basically like staying at a luxury spa."
Caracal hardly presents the appearance of someone staying at a luxury spa. She paces the single room set aside for visitors and interviewers, hardly seeming to notice the chain around her ankle, her only concession to the chill the prison jacket hanging around her shoulders. Her hair looks as if it hasn't been washed for days. Her hands tremble.
Allegedly, they've been trembling constantly since the day of her arrest, when local authorities called in no less a superhero than Dark Matter herself to remove her claws. It's been hypothesized that, over her years of working as a vigilante, Caracal developed an emotional dependence on her claws, thus her inability to keep her hands steady since her arrest. The current status of the claws remains a bit of a mystery: ordered to be put into evidence at her trial, they vanished from the evidence locker. Caracal says she has no idea where they are.
Her attorney plans to sue the state for their loss, as she appeals the verdict on procedural grounds. "Apart from the complete injustice of jailing a woman who was only trying to be a hero, this was not a jury of her peers," Caryn More says firmly. "That jury was filled with normal people, like you and me. Caracal is a superhero; she needs to be tried by a jury of superheroes."
The Honorable Taylor Withers, who presided over Caracal's trial, rejects that argument. "By her own account, Caracal, unlike others in the self-described 'superhero' community is not a mutant, alien, or person with otherwise extraordinary powers, but rather a person with intense martial arts training and illegally obtained finger weapons formed from unauthorized alien metal. And second, the law makes no distinction between superheroes and everyone else. Everyone on that jury was her peer."
Caracal isn't interested in these procedural matters, but she is, she says, eager to get back to the streets, with or without her claws.
"If I were a bitter person, I'd say that that my Cat Signal fell on the wrong clowns. Since I'm not, I'll just say that the people in that neighborhood need the fastest response they can get. They don't have a Cat Signal. They just have heroes. And the Moth is still out there."
Her hands keep shaking.
"This time, I won't waste time lighting a signal."
The End
This story was first published on Friday, September 23rd, 2016

Author Comments

Sure, the Bat Signal looks cool. But can you imagine living near it? I can barely handle ordinary street noise and dog barking.

- Mari Ness
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