Calling 5-III

Watch You From A Distance

The wind whistled down the alleyway, playing a disharmonious melody off the weathered bricks. The rumbling of cars and the faint honks of their horns could be heard in the distance, and the low murmur of people echoed down from the square. I found the sounds calming, actually, a form of reassurance that all around me, people were living their lives. If I had to live in the countryside, I’d probably go a little nutty.

Heh. Because running around in combat gear and a half-cape and punching criminals in the face isn’t nutty at all.

The lights of a passing car briefly reflected off the thin layer of frost on the walls, illuminating us for a second before fading away again.

In the faint half-light, I studied Edith’s face again, and re-evaluated. It seemed that at least some of the harshness I’d noted before wasn’t inherent, and as she settled into a blank, neutral mask, she began to look a little more like herself.

Another car passed.

I hadn’t realized until now, but she’d actually changed the skunk stripe. It used to be a slightly dirty blond, but now it was a bit more literally named and pure white.

This time, the light actually lasted a couple of seconds, probably from a slower-moving vehicle.

“Umm,” I said at last, “so are you going to kill me, or…?

“Really, Flint? Over a year, and that’s how we’re starting off?” And then she grinned, and suddenly it was like nothing had ever happened between us.

“It’s only been a bit over a day, actually.”

“Oh yeah, I forgot about that.”

“You forgot being shot in the head with a stun round?” I asked incredulously.

“You kidding? Remember that time I forgot where my house was?”

I laughed. “Would you believe I completely forgot about that?”

“You did not.”

“No, seriously, completely just flew out of my mind.” I made a little whooshing noise, and she laughed. “God, that was great. Middle of the night, fast asleep, and then my phone goes off, “Flint, where do I live?””

“All I can say is that is made sense at the time.”

“As opposed to say, calling your… oh.” I winced.

“Yeah,” she said with a tight grimace.

“So I’m guessing…”

“Yeah, no, nothing.” She clenched her fists. “Still nothing.”

“Edith,” I said gently, “It’s been two years. At this point, do you really think you’re going to make any difference?”

And crack goes the eggshell-covered thin ice.

Her eyes narrowed. “You just want me to give up? What if she’s still out there, Flint? What if I’m just a month away? What if I’m just a week away?”

“Don’t try that with me, Edith. It’s a sunk-costs fallacy and you know it. How long has it been since you can say you’ve made honest progress towards finding her?”

“Shut. Up. I’m close, I’m really close, and I’m going to find her soon. If I just give it to them…” She trailed off, trembling.

“E, you’ve killed people. Lots of people. I’ve seen the corpses.”

“They were criminals, and they were in my way.”

I laughed, scornful and soft. “They were criminals? Says the girl who leads a superpowered cult, after killing its previous leader who happened to be her own mother?!”

She stiffened, and streams of salt began trickling out from between her fingers. Crap crap crap crap crap.  

“Sorry,” I said quietly. “That was not cool of me, Edith, and I’m sorry.”

“You should be,” she snarled at me. But the flow coming from her hands slowed, and then stopped. She took a deep breath, and her posture relaxed slightly. “…but that probably wasn’t the best reaction in this current situation.”

“Yeah,” I said, releasing the breath I’d been unconsciously holding. “Let’s… let’s not talk about that right now.”

“Please.”

“So, uh… how’d you find me?”

She shrugged noncommittally. “I know a guy.”

“Riiiii-, I stretched the word out sarcastically, then realized I was doing it and tried to pull it back to something more neutral, “-iiight.” Judging by her glare, I guessed it didn’t work. Shocker.

I coughed awkwardly. “So this’d be the guy with all the tacky eye symbols then?”

“Yeah.” 

I waited for her to elaborate, but she stayed silent. “So what’s he do?”

“You could say he’s… good at understanding other’s points of view.”

Cryptic, but if I’d interpreted it right… shit, that was cool. And creepy. Really, really creepy. “How well would he understand my… point of view, right now?” I asked tentatively.

“Not at all.”

“Well, that’s something,” I muttered. “Okay, now that we’ve established the incredibly creepy how, what’s the presumably troubling why?”

She rolled her eyes, and blew a strand of loose hair, of which there was a lot, out of her eye. “Isn’t it obvious?”

“Would I be asking if it was?”

“Yup.”

“Yeah, probably,” I admitted. “I’m guessing it’s something to do with…”

“You’re guessing right.”

“Well, now that I’ve got a streak going, I’m guessing that you want it back.”

“Ladies and gentleman, I present to you A+ plus student Flint Perez.”

I could deal with sarcasm, sarcasm was good. It was more reminiscent of the old Edith.

“I try,” I said, feigning both modesty and sincerity.

“Not very hard, you didn’t,” she said, a small smirk on her face.

“Hey, I graduated, didn’t I?”

“Barely,” she corrected. “You barely graduated.”

I waved a hand dismissively. “Semantics. What matters is that nobody knows I cheated.”

I saw a smile flicker across her face, but it was quickly replaced by a stony mask. “We’re getting off topic. You’re going to give… what you took back, and we’re both going to be better off for it.”

That last bit caught my attention. “So it’s going to bring less-than-friendly attention to us if we keep it?”

“Yes.”

“For the obvious reason, or the other one?”

“The other one.”

“Right. And your group will be able to handle this attention when we can’t”

“We won’t be keeping it, Flint.” There was a dangerous spark in her eye. “This could be it. If I just… this could be it.”

I sighed. “E, no. I can’t, and also won’t. You are, frankly, way too dangerous already.”

“Flint…” There was something dangerous in her tone.

“Plus, giving it back would be an incredible waste considering what we had to go through to get it in the first place.”

“What you had to go through?!”

“Yeah! I stubbed my toe kicking that Gorgon chick in the face, and it’s still sore.” She remained stone-faced. “Fine, whatever. Tide and Stonewall got the shit kicked out of them, and they’re better off than Ribbon-”

“The fat Asian one with the shitty fabric powers?” she interrupted.

I huffed out a blast of air. “Okay, yeah, no, thanks for that?”

“Thanks?”

“Yeah, for reminding me why I’ve been avoiding interacting with you for a year. It’s shit like this, and the shit you were pulling back in the bar.”

She huffed, irritated. “I have to maintain an image, considering my… employees.”

“Yeah, but it’s an image of a giant psychotic bitch, and I’m damn uncertain about the image part.”

She glared at me.

“Glare all you like, but it’s true. You’ve changed, Edith, and not in any way I’d call good.”

She hesitated, and for a second I thought maybe I was getting through, but then her glare returned, stronger than before. “You’re getting distracted, changing the subject. You’re going to return what you took.”

“Or what?”

“Or the Cabal will find your little group of pathetic vigilantes and kill every single one of them.”

“You’re not doing yourself any favours on the 'I’m not a psycho' bit,” I muttered. “But good luck with that, if you think you’re just going to a.) find us, b.) waltz in there and kill us all, and c.) find 'what we took'.” I made finger quotes and intentionally overdramatised my tone with the last one, a rather unsubtle mockery.

“Maybe,” she said slowly, “maybe not. But I think I have a better solution.”

“Which is?” I asked warily.

She smirked, but her chocolate eyes had gone dead again. She raised her hand and pointed it at me, the fingers fuzzy at the edges as salt trickled down to the ground. “You return the bag and the datapad, or I kill you where you stand.”

Lis was going to be insufferable.