Fight 15-VIII

At Night They Sing.

“We have a TV?” I asked incredulously.

The black slab of plastic and glass sat on the main table, cords snaking out of the back and across the floor into a socket on the wall. It was old: there were a few inches of blank plastic around the edge of the screen, and it was ridiculously thick: almost two and a half inches deep by my reckoning. Shauna, wearing her armor without the helmet and her coke-bottle glasses back on her face, was fiddling with the remote, pointing it at the screen and hammering the buttons furiously. “Found it in one of the back rooms. It's still working, but this remote is-” the screen flickered into life suddenly, colors washing across it in staticky patterns. “There we go. Now I just need to figure out how I did that.”

“And also how to change the channel,” George interjected. He was lying draped over the arm of the couch like a freakin’ model, one arm hanging languidly over the edge. The effect was slightly ruined, though, by the half-eaten bag of chips lying against his stomach, and the orange salt stains on the fingers of his other hand.

“What, really?” Shauna replied sarcastically as she kept hammering on the remote. “Here I was, thinking I'd just play some nice, soothing static for the next little while.” She growled, then held the remote out in one hand and very deliberately pressed one finger down on a button. Nothing happened.

“Mm, I was sure that would work,” George drawled lazily. “We all know technology responds to dramatic gestures, after all.”

Shauna ignored him, repeating the motion a few more times, with increasing frustration. I sighed and walked over to them, flicking down my hood as I did. I pulled the scrunchie off my hair and flicked it at George’s face as I passed him; he caught it out of the air, his hand just appearing in place.

“I hate to make the obvious suggestion,” I said, “but have you checked the batteries?”

She rolled her eyes. “No, Flint, I didn't think to check the feckin’ batteries because I am a feckin’ idiot.”

“See,” George said, “that's what I like to see. Honesty about your only flaws.”

“George, shut up.”

“He’s saying the batteries are flat,” I said dryly.

“No, they're not,” she scoffed. “And how would you even know anyway?”

He waggles his fingers at her. “Electromagnetic fields, love.” She gagged at the sarcastic term of ‘endearment’, and I mirrored the expression. He frowned in response, but quickly moved on. “They're dead.”

She slumped, resigned, and tossed the remote up into the air. I caught it as she walked off, muttering things under her breath. I looked at George, and his carefully blank face, then pulled out one of the batteries and put it to my tongue. Nothing.

“You're an asshole, you know that?” I said to him, and he grinned, the mask breaking.

“Worth it.”

“Yeah, well,” I replied as I dropped down onto the couch, on top of his legs, “we'll see if you reconsider when Nat finds out.”

“Eh, I can take her.”

“You absolutely cannot.”

The discussion was cut off from going any further by the arrival of Adib and Ivan, through the main entrance. The former had dismissed his black forcefield armor, but still wore the brown jumpsuit, while Ivan still had his glowing vest on, helmet tucked under one arm.

“So I was on my way here,” Adib was saying, “when suddenly a woman made of flame comes out of nowhere and hits me! Out of nowhere!” He shook his head. “It's shameful.”

Ivan nodded, clearly trying to keep himself from laughing and not doing very well. “Oh, shameful.”

“Exactly!” That was Adib for you. Couldn't sense sarcasm to save his life, and almost painfully naive. Like if someone took the Kingpin, made him Middle Eastern, then swapped his brain with a puppy’s.

He noticed us, and rushed over, Ivan trailing behind, biting his knuckles. “Guys! I was just telling Ivan about how they captured me! Do you want to hear?” His face was stretched into an earnest smile, and I found myself mirroring it. I couldn't not: it was contagious.

“I think we can infer from context.” He stared at me blankly. “We get it,” I clarified.

His face sank. “Oh. I was really excited to tell you. I spent the whole time in there thinking about it so I could tell it really well.”

“Well,” I said hastily, “on the other hand, I'm sure we didn't get all of it. Why don't you tell us later?”

He perked back up. “Okay! Just let me finish telling Ivan.” He turned back to him, and the other guy quickly schooled his face back into order. “So I get hit, obviously, and-”

Ivan held up a hand. “Why don't you tell us all at once? Save the trouble.”

“Oh, okay. Sure!” He turned so he could see us all. “So it was night, and I was coming back here-”

“Later!” the three of us chorused in unison.

“Later what?” asked Shauna, walking back towards us with an entire bag of batteries in her hand.

Adib opened his mouth, but George shot upright and cut him off. “Nothing you need to worry about. Are you sure you have enough batteries? Maybe you should get some more to be safe.”

She ignored him, instead giving Adib a quick side-armed hug. “It's good to have you back, big guy. Hey, George, maybe you should follow his example and get yourself locked up. Save everyone some trouble.”

“Oh, they could never keep George,” came a voice from above us. “He'd drive everyone there to suicide within an hour or two.” We all looked up to see Talie slipping through the skylight above and beginning to float down to the ground.

“So, by that logic, you're all ghosts, then,” he shot back.

“First thing to look for,” I said, “is if other people interact with us. Sixth Sense tips.”

“Or if we show up in mirrors!” said Adib, excitedly.

“That's vampires,” Ivan told him.

“Well, it would still work for ghosts.”

“Would it?” I pondered. “You're just seeing the ghosts in your mind, right? So they might not show up in mirrors then, or your mind could fill in their reflection.”

“What if the ghosts are just on a different wavelength of light?” Shauna asked, sounding amused, as she popped open the remote and replaced the batteries. “Then they'd still show up in the mirror.”

“Oh yeah, good point.” A thought struck me. “Are there any supers who can see ghosts?”

“Why would any of us know that?” Talie asked.

“I dunno, I was just asking.” The TV flared into full color signal, bright and crisp, and we all turned our attention to it, stupid ghost conversations forgotten. Shauna flicked through the channels until she found a news station. Unfortunately, it was on ad break.

“I guess it would be too much to ask for it to just be playing,” Talie admitted, disappointed.

“Movies have lied to us!” I half-shouted, mock-indignant. It got a few giggles and chuckles from the others.

After sitting through a few minutes of awful commercials about all sorts of stupid junk, most of it pills and infomercial crap, the news came back on. Jess had just walked back in, to a wave of murmured greetings, and she took up a spot at the back of the group as the graphic finished and it cut back to the news anchor.

Our top story tonight is from New Chicago, where the case that is being called the heist of the century has taken an unexpected turn.” And, in one of the most satisfying moments of my life, it cut to the footage of all of us, standing in the lobby of the Tower. “The twenty million dollars in bearer bonds, that for the past few days has been the subject of a national high-priority search, has been handed in. A metahuman vigilante group known as the Outliers, who you may remember were suspects in the case only a few days ago, appear to have been responsible for recovering the stolen money, claiming to have recovered it from the original thieves.” They played the clip of me saying as much. “Shortly afterwards, the Watchtower Conglomerate’s young hero team, the Guardians, arrived on the scene, and, according to eyewitness accounts, instigated a conflict with the until-then peaceful vigilantes.” The others whooped and cheered at that as the footage right before the blackout played, but something caught my eye. In a flash, I snatched the remote from Shauna’s hand and hit the pause button.

“Hey!” she said, surprised. “What the hell, man?”

I ignored her as I leaned in close. Yep. There, in the back, just between the heads of two women. A flash of almost-pink hair, and a face I recognised more from shape than features.


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