“That should just about do it for paperwork.” Paul took a moment to shuffle his papers back together. “It has been quite the experience doing business with you.” I didn’t like the way his eyes lingered on Cecelia just a little longer than necessary.
AmusementDisdain. Oh, I’m sure it has been. I managed to avoid glancing at Jaz, but I couldn’t keep the snark from entering my head.
Paul extended his hand to me. TerritorialDistrust. Domenic reached over and grabbed it for a firm shake before I reacted.
“It has been an education.” With any luck, Paul wouldn’t suspect Domenic’s barb at his expense. “We might be able to do this again soon, but I expect we’d better wait until hurricane season’s over.”
Smart. TrustRespect. Hurricane season ends in November. If we’re clever, we could time it for Christmas break. I folded my papers up and slid them into my briefcase; a small investment before the trip, because every good businesswoman had a briefcase. “I’ll make certain to contact you as soon as we have a business registration. Should take no more than a week.”
“That gives me time to arrange the first couple payments.” Paul brought his hand up and set it on Davin’s shoulder. “I know the contract didn’t call for payment until the end of the month, but now I’ve got Wiki here to do most of my legwork.”
IrritationAmused HarmlessGlad. Cecelia and Domenic echoed my own thoughts on the matter.
“I’m a business tycoon, now!” Davin, at least, seemed excited. “I’m going to need a new costume, and a business suit! Oooh! I can have a business suit as my costume! And a toupee! I need a toupee! And a Nordic girlfriend! Daybreak, you’re a blonde, you can be my girlfriend!” He brought his hand up, so his finger joints touched his lips. “No, wait, you’re still gay. Maybe one of your friends? All hot chicks have hot friends, it’s a law.”
On one hand, I was glad that Jaz and Davin had found a chance for, if not a normal life, then at least a happy one.
“Davin!” Jaz moved around Paul and stepped between us, her back to me and her hands on Davin’s arms. “You can’t just say things like that, it can upset people!”
Paul chuckled, and one of his hands moved to Jasmine’s. “Don’t be so hard on the boy, we’re all adults here.” I detected no irony in the man’s tone, for what little that was worth.
As he spoke, his hand trailed up Jaz’s arm until it rested on her shoulder. “Besides, he’s right, attractive women do tend to bring other attractive women with them. You’re here, after all.”
Jasmine’s blush was visible on the back of her neck.
“Eww! Gross! That’s my sister!”
On the other hand, something about Captain Cline didn’t sit right with me. Watching them, it felt like Captain Cline had taken something that belonged to me. Not in a romantic sense; I had no attraction to Jaz, and loved Domenic regardless. For a moment, I thought back to my parents. Oh, that’s what it is, I thought of them as my employees.
Now that I understood the problem, I could ignore it. I smiled, and if it looked in any way forced, I’m sure it was because of the awkward scene which played out while I wrestled with my thoughts. I trained my focus on Jasmine. “I take it that means you’re accepting the job offer?”
Jaz jolted, and her eyes pulled away from her new boyfriend. “Uh… I thought we’d try it out.” Her eyes shifted, as she did her best to look at everything expect me and Paul. “You don’t mind, do you?”
“Why would I?” Aside a dozen reasons thanks to my my control-freak upbringing. “You did your jobs great, and found a more permanent job in the process. At least this way, I know you’ll be available when we need you for round two.”
Jaz relaxed some, though she still managed to remind me of a field mouse which had found its way into a bag of coffee beans and live snakes. “We’ll be there.”
Paul gave me a knowing smirk; at some point, he had to have realized Wiki and Jaz were superfluous to our business, and he knew I know that. “I guess next time they’ll be on my payroll.” I had to hope he saw it as an act of charity for a friend, rather than a more sinister motive.
Jaz glanced at him, then back to me. “You’re sure you don’t need a ride home? It was kinda part of the deal, and I’ll need to head back eventually to sort things out with my apartment and landlord and other stuff.”
ThreatDiscovery. Right, how do we pull this off. “Don’t worry, I can take her back in my vehicle.” Jaz shied away from Domenic and his power-altered voice. “It’s no inconvenience, and it means we all get paid sooner.”
“R-right.” Jasmine stepped back, more or less pressed against Paul’s arm behind her. This seemed to give her more confidence. “Thank you for everything.”
I resisted the urge to do the same with Domenic; we’d have to wait until there were no prying eyes. I’d prefer that, anyway, when I could touch him rather than the metal. “I guess this is goodbye for now.”
Paul looked between us for a second. “You’re not going to wait for the ferry?”
“Sorry, but we’re already running late.” The fault of two more finds while heading back to the port. As Paul said, it was a good problem to have. “And since it’s just the three of us, we can ferry ourselves back faster than a boat. Give your mom my regards.” She’ll be happier if we don’t disrupt her boat with our presence a second time, anyway.
“That I will.”
I followed behind Domenic and Cecelia on their way to the other side of the island. Around us, the new collection of vacationers behaved like the old and gawked at us the whole way. Rapt attention was given as Domenic’s metal reshaped itself around him into angel wings made of swords, with orange lightning running along the joints. ImpressedDangerous. She’s right, that is cool as hell.
“There are warlords out there who wish they had a power like yours,” Cecelia said. A glance at the beach suggested that, if anything, she understated the effect Domenic’s presence. Though I had trouble imagining that people would follow warlords around with their cell cameras out. Then again, warlords are known for their egos… they’d probably kill people for not following them around.
PrideUncertain. “If you say so.” The metal folded forward, interlocking as orange sparks danced throughout. By the time we’d made it to the opposite shore, it had begun to fuse into a steel canoe. “All aboard the USS Screw Physics.”
Cecelia jumped in, with Domenic behind her while I took position at the helm and sank my fingers into the metal. “Buckle up, I’m about to give the internet something to talk about.”
I gave them a few seconds, then accelerated as fast as I could without ripping the boat in half. PanicFear ThrillExhilaration. I found my max speed at the point where the boat lifted out of the water and skipped across the surface like a stone. We made it to the mainland in a couple minutes at most.
“That was awesome!” Cecelia stood in the boat. RealizationPlan. She turned to where poor Domenic had chained himself to the boat in a cocoon of steel. “Hey, I got a great idea. How about if you drive home, and we go ahead by flight? It’ll be night by the time we get there in your truck, and everything will be closed down then.”
ConcernUncertainty. “But-” he looked at me. What he wanted to do was ask if I was okay with Cecelia alone so long, as if she couldn’t tell despite him not saying it.
“I think it’s a good idea.” SupportEager. “She can’t hurt me, and I think we’ll have enough juice to make it hope easy, and have time to register. Then we can meet up tomorrow to sort the last bits out.”
TrepidationAcceptance. “You’re right, it’s a good plan. Just stay near the road, so if you have to land I’ll be along to pick you up.” Domenic stood on shaky legs as the boat melted into liquid steel to rejoin his armor. He reached out for Cecelia. “Here, to help you on the trip.” Metal flowed out onto her shoulders, then extended into something reminiscent of a hang glider.
ApprovalRespect. “We’ll have to think of something more permanent later.” Cecelia stepped closer to me. “Going up?”
I looked back at Domenic. Love you. LoveLonging. We couldn’t say it out loud, for various reasons, but the thought came as natural as breathing. If anything, it was better because we could share rather than tell.
I fell upward into the air, taking us well above the tree line in seconds, then allowed myself to fall backward. ThrillFreedom. Cecelia held on to the decorative armor on my shoulders as we picked up enough speed to set her wings horizontal.
I took my usual face-down feet-first position as we fell out of range of Domenic’s emotional influence. “Sorry, I prefer flying like this. Everything else I’ve tried makes me feel sick.”
AmusementDesire. “Oh, I don’t mind at all. I’ve got a great view from up here.” Lightning danced across my skin like raindrops, each invigorating me as my reserves were no longer depleted.
No, that’s not disturbing at all. “Uh… just warn me if I’m using up your energy too fast.” I picked up speed, until Cecelia’s emotions suggested caution, for whatever reason. I had no way of guessing our speed, but we couldn’t hear to each other over the roaring wind. All said, we made the three hour trip in less than half an hour.
Cecelia poked my shoulder as I came to recognize where we were. Sometimes I forget how powerful her senses can be. I slowed us down for the landing and banked left. After we ran out of speed for her to stay in flight, I carried her down to the roof of the PREP registry. “Hope you didn’t mind the flight.” She knew as well as I did how much Domenic hated flying.
“That was insane!” Cecelia’s temporary wings separated themselves from her shoulders, though she left them with enough charge that they remained in fluid state rather than revert to normal steel. She didn’t release her hold on me, however. “I tried to fly back when my shapeshifting was better, but I never could make it work!”
I smiled back at her, feeding off her energy in more ways than one. “I always wanted a more versatile ability, but if I’m stuck as a brick, at least I get to be a flying brick.”
Recharged, I took us into the air just long enough to land us in front of the facility. Cecelia separated herself from me, but stayed close as we entered the building that seemed to take its design plans from a small post office. In smaller towns, PREP didn’t even have its own buildings, and instead worked out of police or fire stations. Given that even in a town the size of Raleigh the building was empty more often than not, that was to be expected.
“Hello!” The college guy behind the counter jumped to his feet the moment we came in, then fumbled with his book before he set it face down on the counter. “I mean, how may I help you?”
Cecelia stepped a little closer. AmusementWeak. Yeah, he’s a bit of a dork. “We’re here to register as independent heroes. I think I’m on file with the police as Daybreak, but it was never my official name, and my friend is unregistered.”
“Umm… okay.” He went to work on his computer. “The process is quite simple. If you’ll just follow me over there to take your pictures while I ask about your powers, and your vocations.”
DisgustChained. And here’s the part where they probe us for information about our powers to stick us in the system as good little worker ants. “The team name is Arclight. She’s Spark, and I’m Plasma. Oh, and we’ll have a third member, who’s on record as Damascus but will be changing his name to Ballast to fit our theme.”
The kid looked back and forth between us. “Uh, one thing at a time, please.”
ImpatientAnnoyance. Yeah, you’d think they’d hire more competent people to be the government’s face for people who can ignore bullets or set things on fire with their minds. Needless to say, the next hour was a slow, frustrating process made worse for their requirement that Domenic register in person. We worked around it by registering the team as just the two of us, so we could just have him add his name later.
AnxiousOpportunity. Cecelia turned to me with a grin that came across more as a predatory cat than a person. “Hey, how about we have some fun before we go home?”
I wanted to tell her that we should wait for Domenic, but the words I said were quite different. “Sounds fun. What do you have in mind?”
SmugHappy. “Oh, nothing dangerous,” Cecelia’s voice was sing-song sweet. “I just spotted a drug house on the way here.”
That does sound fun. “You can sense that?”
She shrugged. “More or less. I’m good at spotting people who are hiding from the law. That many in one place, it’s either drugs or prostitutes, and if it were prostitutes there’d be more desperation and less violence in the strands. We go in, bust a few heads, and come out heroes.”
I should say no, but isn’t this what we’re planning for anyway? “There are laws against head-busting,” IrritationDisregard “but if we’re smart, we can beat them.” I stepped closer to Cecelia, and slid my arm around her before taking us into the air. “I’ll explain the plan on the way.”
We landed a few minutes later in front of a rundown farm house on the edge of town. I could have passed it a thousand times while thinking nothing except that it was another victim of economic downturn and multiple years of drought. I stepped up to the door and knocked. No one answered.
SuccessCowards. Cecelia waved at the window on the far side of the building. I took that as a sign, so I knocked again.
A man opened the door after another minute. “The hell d’ you want!”
RecognitionCertainty. “Oh, we just found out this is a drug house.”
“I know my rights, now git off our property.” The barrel of a shotgun poked out the door, just above the first man’s shoulder. If he pulls the trigger like that, and he’ll do more damage to his buddy than me.
“Yup, you’re right. There are all sorts of laws which say we can’t do a thing to you.” True on every level, save for one.
“‘Cept call the cops.” Cecelia leaned over to rest her head on my shoulder. “Pigs and dogs sniffin’ all over. Think you can flush all your product in time? Remember, they find even an ounce of pot and you lose all your money, too. Think they’ll put the house-” Whatever Cecelia was going to say was cut short by the explosion of a twelve gauge going off in our faces.
The increased durability Cecelia got from our Interaction stopped the slug with all the discomfort of a soft poke.
SuccessAttack! Cecelia had hold of his face before the smoke of gunpowder cleared, and his screams sounded more like a rabbit in the jaws of a fox than anything a human could make. Meanwhile, the other guy had fallen on the ground, either because she’d knocked him out of the way or because his eardrum got blown out by his buddy’s gun. I didn’t care enough to ask.
WeakBoringMore. Cecelia bolted into the house in search of other entertainment while I watched the fallen criminals. “I know you don’t believe this, but you got lucky.” I hovered over the discarded chew toys, then looked around for a phone. Huh, it still has a cord, don’t see that very often. I picked it up and dialed.
“911, what’s your emergency?”
“Oh, I was shot by a drug dealer. I’m fine, but I think he needs an ambulance.” Screaming echoed from some unseen part of the house. “Better make that two ambulances, just in case his buddies did something even more stupid. Oh, and maybe a K-9 unit and whoever it is that deals with Imbued.”
“Okay. Who’s calling?”
“You’ll have me on file as Daybreak, but I’m calling myself Plasma, now.” Another scream echoed, along with a crash. BoredomContempt. “Yeah, we’ll need two ambulances.” Hmm, I should make another call when I’m done here.
Several hours later, we stepped out of the police precinct. I was afraid they were going to detain us all night, but they kept us just long enough to nag at us about how we’re supposed to call the cops before confronting criminals, and then only confront them if someone’s in danger of immediate harm. I was unimpressed; this far south, we had great Vigilante and Stand Your Ground laws. They shot first, and Cecelia had used her electricity to inflict pain rather than damage.
Cecelia sighed. “Is that why everyone hates cops?”
I thought about my mother, also a cop. “Part of it. Oh, I got you a presant.” I pointed at the gas station parking lot next to the station.
AmusementEager. “Oh, did you?” She snuggled up against me. “Well, let’s go.”
I used a pulse of power to fly us over, more as an excuse to hold her than anything. A nondescript brown car in the corner struck me as the obvious place to start, a hunch which was confirmed when an older gentleman stepped out of the passenger side. “Good evening. Miss Plasma, I presume?”
“That’s me.” I set Cecelia down, then stepped forward to shake his hand. “Sorry it took so long, Mr. Grant, but.” I gestured at the police station behind me with my thumb.
“I thought it might,” he said. “Gave me an excuse to catch up on my reading. Imagine my surprise when you called the station, asked for me by name, and promised an exclusive interview. I had to show, if only to sate my curiosity.”
RecognitionApprovalSuspicion. I smiled my best. “No, you’ve never met me before today, in or out of costume. I only know you by reputation. But, it is an excellent reputation.” In truth, all I knew was he wasn’t tabloid trash and frustrated my parents, for reasons which were never discussed in front of me. I considered that to be a glaring endorsement, under the circumstances.
“Thanks. It’s always gratifying to know my hard work is appreciated.” He looked between me and Cecelia. “But if you’re using flattery to get a good spin on your story, I’m afraid it’s wasted on me. I’m the trust but verify type.”
HonestDanger. At least he has Cecelia’s approval, or something to that effect.
“I’d be disappointed if you weren’t,” I said. “But I’m afraid you might be disappointed. We’re not here to give you a conspiracy story or anything like that.” Even though I could drop a journalistic nuke at any time. “Like I told your office, we’re just hoping to get our name out there for now. No spin, but not a front page story, either.”
“But,” Cecelia’s voice was right next to my ear; she’d opened the faceplate some time ago. “If we do get big, we’ll owe you a favor or two in the future.” MischievousDesire. “Hey, would you mind getting a couple photos before we do the talking part?”
“Don’t see why not.” He grabbed his camera. “Lighting’s not great, but it’s a good camera and papers aren’t known for high resolution.”
I smiled for the camera, but then Cecelia pulled me back against her, and brought her lips to mine.