“We’ve got to figure out what’s going on at Sum Industries,” I told Hellfire and Cathect, the three of us huddled around the coffee table in the living room.
“I agree,” Hellfire said. “Something there’s not right. We don’t know what sort of danger we’re in until we figure out what they want with Blue.”
“I disagree,” Cathect said. “And in fact that’s the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard. Scratch that, it’s the second stupidest idea I’ve ever heard. The stupidest is trickle-down economics.”
“Oh my god. Can you not with the politics?” I asked.
“I can’t not, so I will.”
“I–” that one threw me for a moment, “What?” He smirked, but I said, “You know what? You slept through an attack on the team. You’ve lost all talking privileges.”
“It was a ninja attack,” he said. “Of course they were quiet. If they’d been a bit louder–”
“They broke through our door!” I said.
“Yeah, but they broke through the door in a ninja-like way,” Cathect said.
“There are only so many ways you can break a door,” I said.
“We’re losing track of the point,” Hellfire said. “We’re in danger.”
“Maybe,” Cathect said. “Maybe we’re in danger, or maybe you guys are just being paranoid. Maybe you should trust Blue’s judgment.”
“We have no reason to trust Blue. Known her for less than a month,” he said.
Hellfire had a point. Agent 09 had made us a team, but that didn’t actually make us a team. It just made us a group of people who lived together and fought bad guys sometimes. Which, actually, is pretty much what a team is. But we didn’t have the team-yness. We didn’t have the trust and love that made it work.
“Look, even if you decided to go behind Blue’s back and check this place out, how would you go about doing it? They haven’t actually done anything illegal, so no one with any authority would back you up. And they have a lot of security. A lot of firepower. One wrong turn, and you’re in jail for breaking and entering, or worse.”
“We’ll find a way,” Hellfire said.
“If you can’t trust Blue, why should I trust you?” Cathect asked.
“Because I always find a way.”
Cathect, who had just a second ago looked serious all hunched over the coffee table, smiled. His shoulders relaxed, he sat up, and wagged his finger at Hellfire.
“That’s it,” he said.
“That’s what?” Hellfire asked.
“That’s your catchphrase! ‘I always find a way.’”
“I don’t do catchphrases,” Hellfire said.
“Trust me,” Cathect said, “That’s your catchphrase.”
“What would he want a catchphrase for, anyway?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” Cathect said. “Catchphrases are just something all good superheroes have. Think about Prometheus: ‘You’ve got power, I am power.’ Or what about Peacemaker? ‘No more fighting. Not while I’m here.’ I guess it gives superheroes a kind of calling card. It’s like branding.”
“I’m not a brand,” Hellfire said.
“Nice try,” Cathect said. “But that’s a much weaker catchphrase.”
“You’re missing the point,” Hellfire growled.
“Right,” I said. “We have to figure out what’s going on at Sum Industries.”
“We also have to figure out why Sotto Voce is stalking you,” Hellfire said.
“Isn’t it obvious?” Cathect asked. “Or do demons have really bad gaydar?”
I figured I would just ignore Cathect for now.
“I’m not too worried about her,” I said. “She seems nice.”
“Doesn’t matter how it seems,” Hellfire said. “She’s stalking you. That’s dangerous. We need to figure out why.”
“Danger this, danger that,” Cathect said. “We’re superheroes. We’re always in danger.”
“And I think we’d be better off focusing on Sum Industries,” I said. “So let’s just kind of hang out near their headquarters and see if we see anything.”
“That’s your big plan?” Cathect asked. “Hang out nearby?”
“You have a better plan?” I asked.
“Yeah,” Cathect said. “Not doing anything. That’s my plan. I don’t think it’s such a bad idea.”
“We have to figure out what’s going on,” Hellfire said.
“Why?” Cathect asked.
“To make sure there aren’t a bunch of people who want to stab us?” I said. “That seems like a pretty good reason?”
“I’ll try out some catchphrases,” Hellfire said.
“Screw you guys,” Cathect said. “But alright. Yipeekiyay, motherfucker.”
“Is that your catchphrase?” Hellfire asked.
“It can’t be my catchphrase,” Cathect said. “I didn’t make it up!”
— — —
The three of us sat right outside of a Starbucks, sipping on coffees. Hellfire had straight black coffee, while Cathect and I both had White Chocolate Mochas.
“I look like a white girl,” Cathect whispered.
“That’s not my fault,” I said. “You could’ve just gotten a regular coffee.”
“When in Rome,” Cathect whispered. “And anyway, I’m not used to fire and sulfur. My taste buds weren’t forged in the fiery pits of Hell.”
“I always find a way,” Hellfire said.
“What?” I asked.
“Trying out the catch phrase,” Hellfire said. “I like it. I want more.”
“You’re not doing it right,” Cathect said. “You don’t use it in regular situations. You save it for bad-ass situations, like when you’ve just tricked a demon into giving you its soul.”
“Do demons have souls?” I asked. “No offense,” I said, looking at Hellfire.
“No,” Cathect whispered. “That’s why it would be so bad-ass.”
“Why are you whispering, anyway?” I asked.
“I don’t want people to notice that I’m sitting at a Starbucks,” Cathect whispered. “It’ll ruin my street cred.”
“Whispering draws more attention than just talking like a regular person,” I said. “Though if you just like never wanted to talk again that wouldn’t be such a big deal.”
“Look,” Hellfire said, nodding his head towards Sum Industries Headquarters.
I did. Gabriella Marquez, CEO of Sum Industries, walked out the revolving door. She looked so confident, with her chin held high. She was carrying an attache briefcase, and I wondered what was in it. Weapons? Chemicals? Papers?
It was probably papers, but who knows?
“Don’t look,” I said, turning my gaze away from Marquez.
“Why not?” Cathect whispered, “I thought the whole point of us coming here was to look. We’re looking. For things. Because apparently that’s what lame superheroes do.”
“We want to look,” I said. “But we don’t want anyone to see us looking.”
“Who made you Queen Spy, anyway?”
“My mother’s a spy and my other mother is a private eye. I think I know a thing or two about this.”
“Alright, then,” Cathect said. “Steal a glance and look where she’s going, Modesty Blaise.”
I didn’t know what the Hell Cathect was talking about, but I didn’t really care. I turned my head ever-so-slightly to the left and saw Marquez. She was headed our way.
“Shit,” I said. “Oh my god.”
“What?” Cathect said.
“She’s walking towards us,” Hellfire said.
“So?” Cathect asked.
“So she might be a supervillain and maybe she’s going to kill us and I’m too awkward to die,” I said.
“Too awkward to–” Cathect began. But then he saw that Marquez was within hearing distance, so he changed topics. “You know, this White Chocolate Mocha is so great. I am such a white girl and I fit in so well here.”
Marquez, her slanted wide brim hat covering half her face in shadow, shot Cathect an obvious look of amusement. I, in turn, shot Cathect a look of pissed-off-ness.
Hellfire gazed at his black cup of coffee. “This stuff really isn’t any good.”
I hadn’t noticed before, but he’d only taken two or three sips.
Acoustic hipster-y music could be heard for a second as Marquez opened the door to the Starbucks. The door closed again, and so our ears were saved.
“We probably could have planned this better,” Cathect said. “It would be nice to hear what she’s saying.”
“What? You want to hear her coffee order?” I asked. “God, you’re so annoying. This was definitely the place to sit.”
“Are you nervous?” he asked.
“What? No,” I said.
“Your hands are shaking,” he told me.
I took my hands off the coffee and set them in my lap, below the table.
“Shut up,” I said.
“It’s not like she’s going to slaughter us, or anything,” Cathect said. “At least not here. At least not now, for this.”
“Probably,” Hellfire said. He put a hard look on his face, gazing out into the distance like he was thinking about something real serious or whatever. Then he took another sip of his coffee, swallowed it, and winced. “This stuff really is awful.”
“Then why are you drinking it?” I asked.
“I can drink it,” he said.
“Yeah, but why would you?” Cathect asked.
Hellfire kept that grim look on his face, that sort of look that suggested many hardships and a knowledge of what lurked deep within the dark hearts of mankind.
“I always find a way,” he said, taking another sip of coffee. He winced.
“You ruined it,” Cathect said. “You ruined your catchphrase. It was a cool thing, but then you used it too much. Now it’s lame. You turned a ‘Yipeekiyay’ into a ‘Dy-No-Mite.’”
“I don’t understand the reference,” Hellfire said.
“I don’t care,” Cathect said. Cathect stiffened when he heard the acoustic music for a second. Marquez had once again left the room. “So that’s when I said, Prada? Prada? Only if the purse matches the Ugs!” Cathect broke into fake laughter.
We were all quiet when he stopped. Marquez was still within hearing distance, so we probably should have responded to him in some way, trying remotely to sound like we were having a real conversation. But I had no idea how to respond to that. I just didn’t. And Hellfire wasn’t a man/demon of many words. Despite that, he was the one who broke the silence.
He took another sip of his coffee. He winced, and muttered, “Awful.”
“Seriously,” I said. “Just throw it out. Are you too lazy to throw it out? I’ll throw it out for you. I don’t know why you’re doing this. You deserve better than black coffee. Be good to yourself.”
Thankfully, Marquez walked out of hearing range, back towards Sum Industries’s Headquarters. Less thankfully, I realized that we’d learned nothing.
Cathect looked disappointed, like he was thinking the same thing.
“So that was pointless,” he said.
“I wouldn’t say pointless,” I said.
“What would you say?” he asked.
“Nothing,” I said. “I think this has been kind of pointless, but I wouldn’t say it out loud, because that would be admitting that I made a mistake, and in general I make it a policy to never do that.”
“You guys didn’t notice?” Hellfire asked.
“Notice what?” Cathect asked.
“She was carrying a gun,” he said. “Concealed weapon.”
“How do you know?” Cathect said.
“The way she was walking,” he said. “She was wearing a thigh holster.”
“That’s great!” I said.
“But what does it mean?” Cathect asked.
Hellfire took a sip of the black coffee. This time he managed not to wince. “She has enemies.”
“That doesn’t mean she’s a bad guy,” I said.
“Anyone she pointed a gun at would disagree,” he said.
“Maybe she doesn’t have enemies,” Cathect said. “Maybe she thinks she has enemies. Or maybe she wants to make some enemies.”
“What?” I said.
“Maybe she shoots people for fun. You know, Most Dangerous Game? Or maybe she shoots her henchmen when they mess up.”
“That,” I said. “Is incredibly stupid.”
“I’m just spitballing,” he said. “There aren’t any dumb ideas when you’re brainstorming.”
“Clearly you’re wrong,” I said. “Because that was a very dumb idea. Look, we’re not going to figure all this out sitting in front of a Starbucks.”
“This was your idea!” Cathect said.
I took out my phone.
“What are you doing?” Hellfire asked.
I ignored him, looking up Sum Industries online. They had a number listed on website, so I called it.
“Hello,” a robotic voice said. “You’ve reached the number of Sum Industries. If you speak English, press one. If you speak Spanish, press two. If you speak raptor, press–”
I pressed one.
“Hello,” the voice said. “You’ve reached Sum Industries. If you would liked to talk to our botany department, please press 1. If you’re dealing with one of our homicidal sphinxes, please press 2. If you believe in aliens, please press 3. If you have had sex with a faun in the last 24 hours, please press 4. If you would like to speak with our PR department, please press 5. If a limbless knight–”
I pressed 5.
“If you’re a journalist looking to discuss the fairy dust spill, please press 1.”
“What are you doing?” Hellfire asked.
“Calling Sum Industries,” I said. “Talking to a voice machine right now.”
“I am not a voice machine,” the robotic voice said. “I am a fully autonomous robot. I do not appreciate your rude slurs, bitch.”
“I–” I didn’t know how to respond to that.
“If you’re a journalist looking to discuss one of our staff, please press 2.”
I pressed 2.
“I have feelings,” the robotic voice said. “If you prick me, do I not bleed?”
“I didn’t think robots–”
The phone began ringing, and I got kind of nervous. I probably should have been made nervous by the pissed-off robot who called me bitch, but at least he sounded like a voice machine. This was different. I was talking to a real human person, who would judge me if I sounded super awkward on the phone. And anyway, I had to hella lie to her if I wanted to learn anything.
“Hello,” a voice droned.
“Hi,” I said. “I’m a reporter from the Daily Cape, looking to ask about one of your recent hires. I believe she was recently involved in an underground fighting ring?”
“The Daily Cape shut down three years ago,” the droning voice responded.
“Obviously, I know that,” I said. “I reported for them before they shut down, and now I work as a freelance reporter, representing the same quality journalism they championed for so many years. I’m from The Daily Cape, in that I learned my trade there. But also in spirit, because who can forget their values, their legacy?”
“You sound kind of young to be a reporter from there.”
“I was a prodigy,” I said.
“A junior reporter?” the voice asked.
“A junior prodigy,” I said.
“Who wrote for a tabloid, a tabloid which no longer exists.”
I hung up.
“What happened?” Hellfire asked.
“You do that a lot,” Cathect said.
“I mean, I wouldn’t say I panic a lot. I panic occasionally. More often I get a rush of anxious, sometimes paralyzing energy.”
“Which is the same thing as panicking,” Cathect said.
“Um, it’d be really great if you could stop talking right now. Because you talking is the same thing as you being a jerk.”
“What happened?” Hellfire said.
“I don’t know if the lady believed that I was a journalist, but it doesn’t really matter. Because either way, she wasn’t impressed.”
“So what do we do now?” Cathect asked.
“Uh, that’s a good question,” I said. “Order more coffee?”
Gabriella Marquez left the Sum Industries building again.
“Shit,” I said.
“What?” Cathect asked. He craned his neck and saw Gabriella Marquez walking towards us. “Shit,” he said.
Why would she leave the building twice in ten minutes? Had she left something at the Starbucks? Had she wanted to sit at Starbucks for a while, only to avoid it because she’d left something in her office? What if she realized we were totally following her? What if I told her I was a fan? Would that be a good cover? What if she asked me why I was her fan?
Um, I guess I could say that I appreciated her first name? Like, as a series of letters? As a series of letters, Gabriella wasn’t half bad?
I was doomed.
“Oh, yeah,” Cathect said, in an obnoxiously loud voice. “I think I saw that on Tumblr. You know, Tumblr? Where us horny white girls go? Man, that Harry Styles is so attractive. The things I’d like to do to his butt.”
Oh. My. God.
Why was Cathect this way? Why couldn’t he stop? It wasn’t like this was a completely new thing. It’s not like we were strangers anymore. We’d officially known each other for several weeks, and I swear he was just getting more annoying.
“You’re proof that God doesn’t exist,” I told Cathect. “You’re annoying and you’re stupid. That said, you make me feel better about myself, so that’s nice.”
A voice from behind me laughed. It was a deep, loud, feminine sort of laugh — the sort of laugh you made when you didn’t care who could hear you. Turning around, I saw it came from Gabriella Marquez.
“Hi…” I said, taking a couple seconds to finish my sentence. “You.”
She laughed at that, too.
“You’re the reporter?” she asked.
“What? No!” I said, laughing. She didn’t look amused. “Yeah, I’m the reporter that just called.”
She smirked at that, shaking her head. “You just called, but you’re no reporter.”
“What makes you so sure?” I asked. It was hard to get the words through my throat — it felt like trying to shove golf balls through the eye of a needle. But I did it.
“I’m sure,” she said. “Which makes me wonder. Who are you and what do you want from me?”
“Long lost daughter looking to find her place in the family?” I said.
“Wrong,” she said.
“Pregnant friend of a friend looking to ask for money.”
“Wrong,” she said.
“Time travelling version of your future niece coming here to tell you that your child will lead a rebellion against robot overlords, but only if he manages to survive his infancy.”
“I don’t have any siblings, so I’m skeptical, to say the least.” She leaned in so that her face was an inch from mine. “You have a reason for being here. Tell me now, or things could get dangerous.”