Mu didn’t want to think about the boat – ferry, whatever – since he was pretty sure he would have plenty of time to think about it in the future. On the next boat. The way things were going, he was sure the next boat would be the same, or something similar, because everything had changed.
Waving arms in his peripheral brought his attention to some human-looking person in too few of layers for the current climate.
Mu cocked a dubious eyebrow at the person’s legitimacy for being given any attention, while reading his rapidly moving lips.
“You look like a mancer, let’s spar.”
All these new words were unfamiliar to Mu. He hadn’t come across this one yet, except when bundled with a list of new things that people had become. Somewhere between fae and stompers.
Mu would have explained that he wasn’t one and that he didn’t know what one was, but the person was already raising fireballs that scorched the ground and spat chunks of rock in all directions as though the earth had turned to hot oil.
So instead he tried to explain that he wasn’t anything. But non-aggressional communication didn’t seem like something the fireball creating madman was interested in.
Mu ducked behind a sizeable boulder when the first fire projectile was sent his way. A considerable portion of the boulder was blown away, and when the flames finished flying overhead, Mu shot his middle finger up in the air and promptly at the stranger.
Mu was not anything. He had the hardest time explaining this to people. Nevermind the goblins and the dwarves running about; the human baker even had some sort of magical inclination. The ferryman could whistle whole songs; bass, melody, harmony and something eerily akin to a vocal track. Mu only knew this because the parts manifested as coloured streams of air emanating from the man’s mouth and the woman trying to figure out why the ferry worked the way it did managed to explain it to him better than anyone had been able to explain that some people just turned into faeries. Some turned into animate objects that were the sort of animate object before. Some inanimate objects turned into animate objects.
Meanwhile, Mu whipped a stone at the person intent on charring Mu to ashes.
“What? Don’t want to practise? It’s the only way to get stronger.”
‘Suck a bag of screws.’
The mass of flame the person had been readying to throw lowered, gently cooking the ground beneath it at a simmer. “What do you mancy?”
Just over the top of the boulder, Mu continued to glare at the person who thought it was a good idea to fling burning at things that could burn, mainly people. And, apparently, boulders.
He stood, warily watching the so-claimed mancer whose gently floating weapon quivered and readied for potential attack. Satisfied that the other person wasn’t about to take a first strike to him just then, Mu straightened his cardigan, made sure nothing in his bag was obviously broken, and fixed the most terrifying glare on the stranger. ‘Nothing.’
The stranger sputtered.
‘And where, where do you get the idea that it’s acceptable to throw fire at a person? People may have magical-fucking-powers now, and some people aren’t even people anymore, but I’m pretty sure society still rules a person doesn’t attack another person at will unless they want to maim, kill or steal.’ Mu had managed to make half the distance between them without the mancer doing anything but being in a state of shock mixed with some form of shame. Figuring there was at least an ounce of guilt in there, Mu decided not to completely ream out the person. ‘I don’t have superpowers. If I did, I probably wouldn’t go around attacking other people at random, as though existing is consent to battle.’
Next to him, the stranger’s ball of fire sucked itself into a wisp of fading smoke.
‘Ask for consent, asshole.’
Your training isn’t useful here. I tell myself.
I’m surprised they let you go with everything they taught you. But to you it’s a job, and you can resign or quit or whatever you did to not be there anymore.
I avoid your use of those skills I purposefully unlearned, used here in this social environment. You seem so adequately aware of your surroundings, you already memorized the back shelf and I’m pretty sure you’ve mapped all the exits ‘just for funsies’.
Meanwhile I get flustered trying to figure out which way to open the door without looking completely foolish. And flustered twice as much when I’m confronted with ordering something, even with words in front of me that I’ve already chosen.
You ask how I’m doing and I manage to keep your gaze, and continue.
Because you know me too well, and you can tell that I’ve been sleeping less than the less that I eventually do. You don’t know why.
I can’t tell because your skillset soars above mine in a way that reads peoples’ minds and manipulates them ever-so-slightly, so we get the corner seat where my shakes can disappear momentarily. And when they decide to make infrequent appearances, I’m well enough away from the world that it’s okay.
Because you’re the only person who can see from here.
If things were any worse, your training would have been useless.
I say this from the perspective that we were so well tagged and followed that even after we finished, I didn’t want to go home. Unless those are the same thing, then maybe one or the other and then probably both just to be safe.
The lingo was something I never paid attention to. Maybe I should, it wouldn’t be hard.
It would just solidify the fact that I’m here.
At least after all the action parts – or during – I get to do the computer thing. Which is really the only reason I exist. This whole era of faceless suits in the bidding of others’ desires really took a swan dive into technology.
Not that you’re faceless. You just happen to wear a suit.
Your training is something I’d probably call class ninety-nine. As in no power-ups in the world will gain me the experience points to come under even meagre comparison.
Unless someone is a fan of comparing a speck to Jupiter’s third moon.
You look at me weird when I start talking about gravitational pull. Probably because it has nothing to do with what’s going on.
Probably because the discussion of gravitational pull has yet to prove productive in escaping sticky situations. Your class ninety-nine is able to use gravitational pull in these situations regardless, as well as static electricity and something I prefer to call reverse rule fifteen.
Because you’re just that good. You’re good enough to carry around my dead weight.
Still a dead weight despite my considerable aim, when needed, which is reserved for inanimate objects. I know you don’t appreciate that.
But I don’t appreciate killing people.
I can’t decide if I hate you. Not that you’ll know, you just understand situations innately. I think it’s your training.
The last time we were here, you don’t remember. You were bloody and incoherent and I apologize for the scars because I’m not a field medic in any way.
I’m glad you didn’t die though. That would suck.
You don’t remember the words you wheezed out while coughing up the blood you couldn’t quite swallow. And I’ll never repeat them back to you.
It would only take six weeks for your bones to heal – then again, ribs are tricky – and I don’t know how long it took for you to get your mouth patched up, but I still don’t have an op with you for a while.
I try not to show I’m excited, I try not to mess it up, I try not to get you killed.
If I hated you, I probably wouldn’t try so hard.
It’s early in the morning now, and I’m actually done the computer thing, so I should probably crash. But if I wake you now, you’ll stay awake and you’ll make coffee or something stupid like that and the coffee makers in these places are the loudest, most offensive objects in the universe.
You don’t remember the words you wheezed out but when I wake up still in the chair at my computer, there’s a pillow attempted to fit between my head and the backrest and something resembling a blanket draped over me and tucked around my toes.
I would laugh about the first time if I didn’t know better. Most laughing would be directed at how your training disappeared.
I was also a little out of sorts at the time.
After all the narrow escapes and the part with the car, I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t code either, not even for the stress relief.
The bed was already warm and I didn’t know the time so I couldn’t tell how long it had been since you pulled the covers over your head to hide from the monitor glare. With how cold you can be, at the warmth perhaps surprised was something I was.
You were considerably moreso.
You could have killed me if you wanted to, you probably did want to, once your training caught up. I just wanted to sleep.
Somewhere, past the day of weaving in and out of traffic and my whining about wifi signals, you understood enough of that. That I just wanted to sleep.
But I couldn’t anywhere else. The world was full of people and various inanimate objects that deemed it fit to kill us. So shoved as far as I could away from you while still in the same space, that was the only place I could sleep.
Because you were breathing.
And because I was too.
He confides in you, just a little. The breeze from the window was doing its best to fold his mohawk over but it stood defiant of the world around him.
If he smoked, he would be just then, sitting against the windowframe. You imagine him doing it any ways.
He makes you promise, but you’re not sure what for. Nothing specific. Just nothing. He wants nothing to happen, nothing to change, nothing to be said, nothing. You think he means no tears and that he hopes you won’t think different of him.
But apparently you don’t know him that well.
Apparently the agency didn’t know him that well either, and they had files on him that you’ve never seen and probably more you haven’t even heard about.
You’ve never been much for physical contact, you want to hold him regardless. Just to tell him he’s all right, even though you know it will be condescending and worse than anything else you could do just then.
So he sleeps in his own bed that night.
And when the op is done, you retire. You invite him to drinks, outside of work – because you’re not working there anymore – even though he doesn’t drink.
Even though he doesn’t want to know you anymore. Even though he’s dressed in a pink shirt one size too large and he managed to sneak at least one computer with him, so he could do ‘something’ at least.
He rolls back and yawns, rubbing his eyeballs out, which concerns you just a bit but he seems like he can still see when he blinks up at the ceiling. His mohawk is down for the first time you’ve seen and you honestly weren’t sure it was him when he came out of the bathroom.
This safehouse is decidedly safer than the last two but we’re both still on edge even here, because the last two were broken into in a blaze of gunfire and flash grenades. He had started his job with PTSD and it has grown increasingly exponentially during your time with him, and you can’t imagine what he was like in the beginning anymore nevermind trying to fathom him without it.
Maybe you should have tried to know him in the beginning.
You certainly know him enough now, there was no point in resisting.
You know him enough to feel the need to place your hand on his shoulder and you know him well enough to keep it there when he jumps because his field training never really settled in. He wasn’t going to fight back, not until after he processed whose hand that was.
In a way, you hate him for his naiveté, but you also hate the way he looks with his hair washed clean of whatever keeps it so perfectly upright. It’s dry and half-dead and he eventually explains that the conditioner wasn’t adequate – paraphrased – before attempting to shrug your hand off and attempting to not seem desperate to do so.
You tell him these guys would use smoke bombs over flash grenades, and you wince when he doesn’t even try hard to hide the fear in his smile before the smoke rolls between you.
His choice words about the situation were less than choice. His mohawk probably had more time devoted to it.
You can’t remember him acting like this during a debrief, ever. He normally sits there, playing with a pen, looking bored out of his skull and probably wishing he was home. Or at a show. Or buying pickles.
A fiasco of its own right.
Like the shouting, and the being dragged out of the room. You want to follow him but protocol states mandatory debrief. Apparently protocol doesn’t include choice words and shouting under its consideration of debrief.
You don’t see him for months, again. You had just become accustomed to frequent operations with him and you find yourself floundering a bit, in situations without him, in situations with other agents, in situations where you’re just at home at leisure even though you never actually see him outside of work.
And barely outside of the operations.
So it’s five months before you learn he insisted you be there during the debrief.
There was something wrong about his mohawk today. It looked kind of sad.
You try and tried not to think about it, but after cleaning all the weaponry and hardware twice, there’s nothing else to do or think about. Mostly because you’re not the tech, he is, and all there is to do even vaguely important to the current objective requires a lot of typing and pages of code.
You pretend it doesn’t make your eyes hurt, but he’s quick to tire of you looking over his shoulder and confronts you before you get a headache.
You never understand how he could hack in the dark.
Plus, it’s somewhere past seven AM so the radio is getting all sorts of convoluted with talkative hosts. He turns it off.
It doesn’t take long for the ‘discussion’ – as he so ‘lovingly’ finger-quoted – to veer into “no, I’m fine. Yes, I’m certain. No, even if I wasn’t fine, it would. not. affect the mission.”
About a week and a half, or maybe just an even two, you find out his last living sibling wasn’t, anymore.
Talking outside of mission time is something you don’t do. So it’s about three months until you see him, and then you don’t even know if you should bring it up.
Jackson studied the bottle opener modelled after the talking squirrel from an animated series he watched often enough.
Perg groaned over shirts.
They had been scouting – or Perg had been scouting and Jackson was researching local shops for Perg’s next longboard – around Avignon when a producer had called Perg about some of the original storyboarders being guests at the comic expo running that weekend in Paris. Four hours later they were in line and Jackson was studying the neon green nuts and bolts he had acquired on the way.
Inside the expo, Perg was waiting on information – “they’re not going to be out on the floor, mostly, well, good luck finding them if they are, their panel’s in like… an hour though” – and still griping about T-shirts.
“You want the one with the original art,” Jackson said, knowing Perg all too well.
Perg snorted, as though he had said the most obvious thing in the world. “But his horns always line up on my tits. Awkward as fuck.”
“What’s awkward as fuck is you saying awkward as fuck next to the six-year-old Batgirl in a tutu.” Jackson stuck out his tongue at Perg’s mildly melodramatic face of shock and horror. “Je suis navré, mon amie est teton tabarnak.”
“Oh, and swearing in French is better.”
“It’s Quebecois, it doesn’t count.”
“How does it not count?”
“We’re in France, it’s different.”
“It’s not like Quebecois is the Las Vegas of French.” Perg was deadpanning at Jackson straight on, when she cleared three vertical feet. “Augh, phone.” She elbowed Jackson in the gut when he tried peering over her shoulder at the text conversation. “Hey, they’re heading to their panel in a sec, do you mind grabbing a couple of drinks for them, for panel-like?”
Jackson was still rubbing their gut. “I wouldn’t mind for shit.” He said it because it was obvious and therein said it the most obviously as he could. “Are we sneaking them alcohol?”
Perg’s face jumped to sudden joy and excitement, because Jackson had the best ideas. “Yes. Yes we are.”
He shows up in a pink shirt one size too large and a Batman belt buckle. His mohawk looks defiant today.
While he’s blabbering about a jar of pickles in the fridge and dirty bowls sitting on top of an empty dishwasher, you remind yourself that he’s the specific kind of crazy you told yourself not to get involved with.
Meanwhile, you’re weaving in and out of traffic at high speeds and trying not to freak out too many kids in the backs of minivans and SUVs.
The insane – but friendly – grin doesn’t help, but neither does the chattering of the man in your passenger seat now gesticulating the frustrations of precision soldering by hand.
In the safehouse you try explaining why he should sleep in his own bed but you know today’s trauma means he won’t.
Except he didn’t shave that morning when he left his place for this op and beard rash is one of your least favourite things, even if he’s just brushing against you every time he rolls over.
They were standing on the edge of the world and Vac moved to push Phileas off.
“Don’t fucking even.”
Vac shuffled backwards and laced his fingers together behind his back. The banana floating by his head drifted downwards momentarily in dejection.
Phileas was busy eyeing horizon of nothing, where the stars and night sky met the day.
“You ready for this?”
Over red rimmed glasses, Phileas shot Vac a dirty look past a stray dreadlock. Phileas never doubted that audacious was a fitting adjective for Vac, he never doubted it was a fitting verb for himself, but given that Phileas had years upon years of experience and Vac was in preschool in comparison, Vac was being a little facetious perhaps.
Vac raised his hands in a gesture of surrender. “I’m just saying. End of the world, edge of the world, some pretty heavy stuff, I’m thinking things might be a bit on the difficult side.” Next to his head, the banana was being peeled.
Phileas watched him grab it and proceed to consume it while another banana took the previous one’s place. He didn’t know where Vac kept those, but he knew the man didn’t know any magic – still – or had any special materializing powers. “Nah,” he dismissed Vac and all their animosity over the last minute. “This will be a snap.”
Down below the edge of the world, something stirred.
“Piece of cake,” Vac replied, cautious of the precipice.
“Walk in the park.”
Vac held out his banana peel. “As pie.”
Phileas shook out his fingers. “A cinch.”
“A breeze.” The banana peel dropped and plummeted downwards.
For a long, terribly long stretch of time, nothing happened. Nothing had been happening before, stirring aside. The edge of the world was surprisingly stark and soundless. A wind blew against Vac’s mohawk as best it could, briefly, and tossed Phileas’s stray dreadlock across the many piercings stippling his face.
“You ever notice how we wear the same boots?” Vac asked, new banana spinning in slow circles.
And then the edge of the world sheared clear from the rest of the world and the two were sent plunging towards the dropped peel and the contents of below. While Phileas gathered massive canon balls of element to fling below, Vac managed to indicate that he wasn’t a fan of apocalypses.
Caellis woke up with a groan, finding a cool cloth on his head and a water bottle sitting next to his flattened self. He frowned and looked around for all of the second it took to find Gaige poised over the screens and interface twenty feet away. Stumbling to a stand, he cracked open the bottle with sore nerves and limped to the furiously typing man. “You had the time to get up, tend first aid to me and start – is that supposed to be a tracking–? – and didn’t wake me up?”
“Tried, you were out cold.” Gaige glanced to the side and took Caellis’s water before he could take a drink from it. He kept typing with one hand.
“I’m assuming from the fact that we were both knocked out that they got away with the Interrupter?”
Gaige snorted condescendingly, handing back the water. “I’m not too upset about it.”
Five days ago, Gaige had been naming it Arbuckle and declaring it one of his favourite scientific developments of all time, and this was before it saved their lives from the initial blast in Belton. Caellis knew the man’s childishness was facetious and really just covered his genuine interest and appreciation for the device, as far as he knew, so this turn was a little unexpected.
So he took the direct approach. “And that would be because?”
There was that smile again, the one Caellis had witnessed too much as of late, especially with all the explosions and gunfire. “This,” he turned a screen towards Caellis’s face.
“See, they weren’t supposed to make it, but they did any way, which is entirely not fair, but I’m not even allowed to work in most bio-stuff,” Gaige rambled, standing straight. “Actually, that’s just bioelectrogenesis, which is a very small part of–”
“That’s a living machine.”
Gaige’s smile exploded into a grin. “Yes.” He crossed his arms over his chest as if its existence was a matter of his own pride. “And we’re going to get to it first.”
Jackson had no where else to be, so he was with Perg. Perg could be anywhere she wanted.
Jackson looked up briefly when Perg accidently kicked the coffee table forward when leaning over her toes for a chocolate. The screw he was loosening popped off the skateboard in his lap and sent him hunting in the couch for it.
“This show is bull.”
Again looking up at Perg, Jackson’s hand brandished the retrieved screw that had rolled awkwardly close to his crotch – as objects fallen on couches tended to do. “Huh?”
“Well,” Perg unwrapped the chocolate with her heavily inked fingers, “this supposed ‘society’ is mind-numbingly two dimensional, the economy wouldn’t function for as long as they say, if their primary resources were outsourced a hundred percent like they claim, and then I don’t even want to get into all the patriarchal bullshit surrounding the fact that I haven’t seen a single woman in the background of the mine shots.”
Jackson’s chest made a funny sound, and he was suddenly focused on not fumbling the screw and looking foolish.
“Plus the lighting in the underground scenes makes no sense at all, I haven’t a clue what the director of photography was thinking.” Perg tossed the chocolate in the air, tracking it with her eyes the tense moments before its trajectory lined up flawlessly with her mouth.
“So you were going to pick up that scout job for the summer?” Jackson asked, rather proud he had managed to avoid stammering and successfully landing the screw in the cup on the coffee table containing all the others that had no trouble being removed. He settled back into the couch, finding his drink and nonchalantly drinking roughly half in too few seconds before pulling off the tab and tossing it to the pile located under the coffee table.
Perg shrugged in the meanwhile. “They want me full time, and permanent, so I’d have to give up the TA gig come September.”
Jackson nodded and set the naked skateboard across his knees while hunting the floor near his feet for the new trucks. “Wait,” he frowned, pausing in grabbing the bright red hunks of metal, “what’s wrong with full time?”
“Well, everyone’s an assmunch and buggered off, so I figured I ought to stick around here.” She grinned at something stupid on the TV from the horribly outdated science fiction series they were watching. “What would be awesome, since you’re not up to anything currently, would be if you could come along with me, ‘cause you’ve always wanted to check out like… New Zealand and fuckin’ Ghana and shit. If they want me well enough, maybe I could convince them to hire you as my PA or at least pay an extra ticket and accommodations, or stash you in my room, and you can be my lackey for some months fixing up boards for me.”
The daydream that was Perg proposing Jackson follow her around to movie locations didn’t knock him back at all. It was routine for their whole social group to make wild imaginings of the future-to-come and its possibilities, which was why they were all on the other side of the continent in a start-up. Rather, he was blown away by the fact Perg was sticking around town and his place because the rest of everyone went away and Perg didn’t want him to feel alone.
“Actually, that sounds rad. I’m going to call Steve and see if something like that can happen at least until they start filming.” Perg was pulling her phone out of the pocket of her pants that were less pants and more bare inked skin. “Probably can get you a job on something then, yeah? Y’wanted to save up money for that 3D printer right?”
Jackson found himself nodding automatically. “Who’s Steve?”
Perg smiled. “Oh, you’re going to love Steve.”