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Chapter Fifteen: Getting Real

Was the world really crazy, or was it just me? Was all of this normal? Like, really?

“The bipedal penis has escaped the building,” a cop yelled into his walkie talkie, running down the hospital’s hallway.

No. There was no way in Hell this world was normal.

Detective Kirby was standing there, breaking the bad news to me. Cathect and Blue were there, too.

“I’m sorry,” Kirby said. “We don’t know where Charlie is. But she was a valued member of the force for a lotta years, and we’re dedicated to finding her.”

The words didn’t feel like words. They were just random sounds that I was supposed to comprehend, but couldn’t: Charlie was missing. Agent 09 was missing. My parents were missing.

Marquez was Plastique.

But what the Hell did it all mean?

“I understand,” I said. “Things have gotten pretty crazy, haven’t they?”

“These past two days have been crazy. Metahuman Affairs crippled, all of these villains getting broken out of jail,” Kirby said. “Haven’t seen anything like this since Hell opened up and I arrested Satan.” The lady who’d arrested Satan had promised she’d find my mother. That had to count for something, right?

“Whatever happened to Satan?” Cathect asked, like we were suddenly in some bad VH1 show that looked into the past.

“He escaped,” Kirby said, though really she grunted it more than saying it. You know, the way angry vigilantes talk? “Not on my watch, though. He would never escape on my watch.”

“Is there anything we can do to help?” Cathect asked.

“A lot of heroes are coming together, but you’d have to talk to your handler to find out more specifics,” she said.

“Our handler is missing,” I said. “Our handler is my other mom.”

“I–” Detective Kirby looked for the right word. But it didn’t seem rambly or unconfident, as it often seemed when I couldn’t find the right word. It just seemed like she wanted to say the right thing. “I’m sorry.”

“Me too,” I said.

“I should go help out,” Kirby said. She put her hand on my shoulder. “You’re going to be alright, kid. You got that?”

“Yeah,” I said. “Thanks.”

Kirby nodded her head, then made a quick exit, rushing down the hall.

“We should do something,” Cathect said.

“No,” I said. “What the Hell’s the use, anyway? Superheroes end up sad. Superheroes end up dead. Screw it, I’m not even a real superhero.”

“You can’t think like that!” Cathect said. “I’m going to call–”

“I don’t care,” I said, walking away. I felt bad about that, but I really didn’t care. I just wanted to be out of here. I just wanted some space to think.

I knew Cathect and Hellfire were talking, but I couldn’t hear whatever it was that they were saying. I just slinked off towards Hellfire’s room.

I opened the door. Hellfire was still there in a coma, but I saw that Barry Ring was on. His female co-host was talking (thank god):

“Essentially, these two guys dressed up like various film characters while they ran around and got hired by a bunch of supervillains. They would mess things up for one organization, then move to another one before they got caught. Turns out it’s all part of a PR stunt for a new superhero video site called ‘Blundered Capes’.”

Barry Ring nodded his head, sagely. “Andrea, if I’ve learned one thing in my sixty years of journalism, it’s this: there’s no quiet way to unwrap a Rice Krispie Treat. Unwrap it quickly, and it crinkles everywhere. Unwrapping it slowly is even worse. Just as loud, but that much slower.”

Andrea forced a smile. “Barry, what does that have to do with the new website?”

“What website?” Barry Ring asked.

I almost laughed, but put the TV on mute. It felt kind of disrespectful to watch this show while I was in Hellfire’s hospital room, seeing as how he didn’t really like it much. Which makes sense, knowing him. I mean, Barry Ring wasn’t exactly cool.

Hellfire looked at peace. His chest rose and fell at an unhurried pace. It was calming, even though I wondered if everything was going to be alright.

Cathect said he’d be fine, said he was just astral projecting. The doctors agreed that he was astral projecting, but they were less sure about the results. Sometimes people ended up fine, finding their bodies and going right back to what they were doing. But other times, they weren’t so fine. The body separated from the soul, and the two couldn’t come back together.

“You okay?” Blue asked.

“Yeah, I’m not the one…” my thoughts trailed off. “You know.”

“Yeah,” Blue said. “It’s a lot to take in. Agent 09 missing, Marquez evil, Hellfire gone. Do you want to talk about it?”

“Yeah,” I said. “I do. I just don’t know what to say.”

Blue nodded her head. She turned her head, looking out the small hospital window. A tree branch was pressed against it, green leaves blocking most of the view. Under the window was a hospital bed, where Hellfire’s roommate lay. He snored. Not obnoxiously, though. He was a quiet snorer.

“Say what you feel,” Blue said.

“I feel bad,” I said, which was dumb. I mean, that was a given, wasn’t it? Of course I felt bad. But why did I feel bad? “I feel like bad things happen to superheroes. I feel like I was happy, before I figured out how things really worked.”

I went on, “Or maybe the problem’s that I’m an adult now. I mean, things were easy when we were kids, right? You just do your best, have fun, and try to be nice. That’s all it takes to be a good kid. But it’s like, now that I’m an adult, there’s so much more responsibility. It’s not good enough to do your best. You do your best, and the world still finds a way to make you feel awful.

“You know the last time Agent 09 and I talked, she lied to me? What if that’s the last time she ever talks to me? I tried to be a good daughter, I really did, but it got harder the older I got, and at a certain point…” I didn’t know what I was trying to say.

“It sucks that she lied to you,” Blue said. “But she’s involved in some pretty bad stuff. Do you think she lied to you to protect you?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t know that I ever will know.”

Hellfire breathed in, Hellfire breathed out.

“Things are hard enough,” I said. “And then I have to make it harder by being gay. Why? Why do I have to– Things are already hard enough, you know?”

“Yeah,” Blue said. “Being different sucks. And I’m sorry. I’m sorry it sucks so much.”

“Worst part is, I don’t even deserve what I have. My life is shit, and it’s still more good than I deserve.”

“What?” Blue asked. She looked surprised, which didn’t surprise me. It was hard to see what I had to be thankful for these days.

“I’m fucking worthless,” I said. “I didn’t even earn this crummy life. Agent 09 allowed me to pass the Metahuman Fight Exam even though I shouldn’t have, she gave me a suit I didn’t even deserve, she gave me this team I didn’t deserve. Hell, the whole Sum Industries job was another thing I didn’t deserve. I didn’t even earn Marquez as a villain. Even my villains are hand-me-downs. I can’t do anything for myself.”

“It’s tough,” Blue said, moving her arm forward to scratch my back. Her nails felt good. It wasn’t even a romantic thing. Like, I still felt like she was pretty, but she was straight, and I totally understood that. It was just nice to come into contact with a person. It was nice to feel like I wasn’t crazy. “Life’s tough,” she said.

“What do I do about it?” I asked.

“Persevere,” she said. “I think that’s what we all do, in the end. That what adults do, I mean. We fight. That’s how we live. That’s why we live.”

“Sounds awful,” I said.

“I think you’ll get used to it,” Blue said. “Most people do.”

Hellfire breathed in, Hellfire breathed out.

“You’re young,” Blue said. “You, me, Hellfire, Cathect. We’re all young. So yeah, we might get help from our parents. Yeah, we’ll look stupid. Yeah, we’ll rely on the wrong sort of people, or we’ll rely too much on the right sort of people. Either way, we’re young. We’ll figure this out. We’re adults, but that doesn’t mean we can’t ask for help, you know?”

“Yeah,” I said. Maybe I needed a lot of help right now, but I guessed I wouldn’t always need it. Or at least, if I always needed it, I wouldn’t need so much of it.

“I wouldn’t worry about Agent 09 giving you the suit,” Blue said. “It’s useless, now. And I wouldn’t worry about her letting you slide by with the exam, either. You still have to fight, and really not having to pass the exam just made things harder, in the long run. And Marquez? I don’t think you should want to make your own enemies. I’m sure you will, since pretty much everyone else in this business does. But it’s not something to strive for. It’s not something to be so concerned with.”

I watched Hellfire’s roommate. The guy looked wild, decked out in green spandex, with a bright gold mask that covered the right half of his neck and curved up, obscuring only the left part of his face. They’d put a breathing tube in his mouth.

He breathed in, he breathed out.

“That makes sense. I guess–” I began to say, but then I lost my train of thought. “That makes a lot of sense.”

“I try,” she said, smiling. She took her hand off my back. “Do you want to get some food from the cafeteria? You haven’t eaten in a while.”

I was suddenly aware of how empty my stomach was.

“Yeah,” I said. “I didn’t– Yeah. Thanks. I’ll go do that.”

The blood rushed out of my head as soon as I stood up. I really needed to grab a bite to eat. My head was still swimming with everything that’d happened since the team had been formed, but somehow I felt a little more at peace. Like, maybe things were happening the way they were supposed to happen. It’d be tough, but I’d get through it.

I kept my line of sight focused on the floor, noticing grayish white tile after grayish white tile. I guess it was the repetition that I found so comforting.

I breathed in, I breathed out.

Superheroes dealt with problems all the time. That’s just what we did. And the more problems we faced, the more we got used to facing them. Things were tough at first, but eventually I’d settle into the role. Eventually, I’d feel like I knew what I was doing.

When I reached the cafeteria, I found Sotto Voce. She looked smaller than I’d ever seen her, looking up at the tall purple-haired woman. The woman, of course, was Agent 09. My mother.

She turned around when she saw Sotto Voce looking at me. I’d forgotten how tall she was. When I was little, I’d figured the tall thing was just because I was so little. But now I realized she really was tall. Definitely over 6 feet.

Sotto Voce practically squeaked out, “When I couldn’t find you, I found your mother.”

Agent 09’s face looked bloodied. She was breathing, too. Heavily. Her steely glance stared me down, and I knew shit was about to get real.

“Marquez has fucked with the wrong woman,” she said. “She has fucked with the wrong family. And Honey, believe me when I say this. We’re taking that bitch down.”

I smiled. I’d forgotten how cool she could be sometimes.

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