Scene 7 – October 28th
Interior MLED Compound – Afternoon
I found myself back at the MLED compound shortly afterward, trying to commiserate with the Journeymen and failing – instead of allowing me to complain, they were insistent on seeing me do impressions.
“I had no idea you were such a good actor!” Holly said through her laughter.
“This, uh, this isn’t acting,” I said, still in Jeff Goldblum’s voice and fiddling with my fingers. “At best it’s, uh, it’s improv at best. Learning lines is not, uh, my strong suit.”
“It’s still great,” she insisted. “What else can you do? Han Solo, Elvis, William Shatner, Christopher Walken, Jeff Goldblum…”
“How about Oprah?” asked Hypnos – he still hadn’t revealed his identity, insisting that he wouldn’t share unless I joined.
I paused considering. “I haven’t actually taken the time to work one up properly, you understand…” but they were looking at me expectantly, and I don’t want to disappoint my new friends. So I put my hands together, leaned forward a little, and said, “the thing about Oprah is that she often speaks in a very low, very emphatic voice, often about how important something is or how meaningful it is. And sometimes,” I brought my voice higher, adding in a touch more excitement, and point, crying, “she gets excited, and then you get a car, and you get a car, everybody gets a car!”
They both laughed, and Holly clapped. “You’re underselling yourself, Quinn,” she told me after we had calmed a little. “I disguise myself all the time as Loki, I know how hard it is to alter your body language and expressions on the turn of a dime like that.”
“Yeah, it’s really impressive,” Hypnos agreed.
I shrugged. “Well, let’s see one of yours,” I challenged her.
“I don’t have a ton of specific people,” she warned. “It’s mostly archetypes, like street thugs and innocent civilians.” Hypnos gestured for her to get on with it, and she took a deep breath. “Let me just step into character here…”
A shimmer went over her body as she stepped to the side, and suddenly she was a heavily built street thug, bearded and slightly balding. “You know what’s good for you, you’ll get the hell outta here,” she warned in a deep voice, pointing over my shoulder. “You don’ wanna know what’s goin’ on.”
“How about an innocent?” I asked.
She straightened and shrunk, turning into a young man in a button-down, sweatervest, and glasses. “I already know everything,” she said in a slightly nasal voice, adjusting her glasses. “There’s a 93% chance that you’re dealing drugs, and an 68% chance that you have a gun – oh.” She swallowed in exaggeration fashion. “Maybe I’ll just go, then.”
I laughed as Hypnos remarked. “That’s mean, shit-talking Vulcan behind his back like that.”
Holly huffed. “I would never shit-talk Vulcan like that!” she protested. “I would shit-talk him like this.”
Her body swelled into something even more muscular than the gangster form, but her clothes remained the same as she said, “I’m Vulcan, and despite being the most muscular man in the city with a jawline that could by mistaken for an anvil, I’m incredibly socially awkward and no one understands how I ever got a boyfriend.” She shifted her weight from one foot to the other and adjusted the position of her arms, and there was a creaking sound as the sleeves of her button down tore, the massive biceps beneath them popping free. “Oh dear,” she said, Hypnos now laughing so hard he fell off the couch, “I seem to have lost some of my clothing again. I feel quite embarrassed, but at least no one seems to mind -”
“Hey!” came Anima’s voice from the console room. “Don’t make fun.”
“Sorry mom,” Holly called, returning to her normal form – or at least, what I assumed was her normal form – with a shimmer.
“Yeah, sorry,” Hypnos echoed.
I raised an eyebrow. “Anima is your mom?”
She shook her head. “No, we just call her that because she mothers us all the time. It’s sweet, really.”
“If a little overbearing at times.”
“Huh.” I sat on the couch Hypnos wasn’t occupying, and Holly flopped down beside me. Her bare feet ended up in my lap and, after a moment of anxious panic – had she meant to do that? Was this intentional flirting? Was it flirting at all? What should I do? What should I do? – I took a breath and let my hands gently rest over her feet. She wiggled them slightly and I squeezed instinctively.
“Ooh, that felt nice. Keep going, please?” she asked, and I obliged. I felt like I was getting mixed signals overall, but that one at least was pretty clear.
Hypnos smirked at us, but didn’t say anything.
“Listen, I didn’t come here to do impressions,” I said. “I wanted to get advice on whether I should join the Journeymen or not. And costume ideas, because to be frank, that deadline is a lot sooner.”
Scene 8 – October 28th
Interior MLED Compound, Continuous
“Okay, okay, sorry,” said Holly. “Costume ideas and hero advice. Right.”
“Don’t join,” Hypnos said immediately, and I blinked at him.
“That didn’t seem to take much thought,” I noted.
He shrugged. “I thought about it for a long time – before I joined and after.”
“But you did join,” Holly pointed out. “And you haven’t quit.”
“My circumstance is different than Quinn’s,” he said. “I’m here because it gives me access to training and support for my power. It’s not…” he seemed a little embarrassed as he continued, “completely under my control. When I first got it, four or five years ago, I had no control at all – whenever I fell asleep, I would randomly project somewhere. Anywhere.”
“But you have better control now, right?” I asked.
“Yeah, I can do it on command now,” he agreed. “I can control where I project to, as well. But I can’t project only a few of my senses with any consistency – it’s all or nothing, most of the time. And I know it’s possible, because there have been a few times that I was able to send just my sight or just my hearing, and even a few times that I was able to divide my senses between the projection and my body. But not consistently.” He sounded kind of angry now. “And I still project without intending to when I sleep, half the time!”
“Sounds frustrating,” I offered.
He nodded, and pulled back his hood to run a hand through his unruly hair. “It is, yeah. It’s gotten better since I joined, thanks to help from the Champions and the trainers the MLED keeps on staff, but… it’s slow going, and I’m not done yet.” He offered a half-smile, although I was pretty sure he was still angry – at himself and his power. “And the college tuition money doesn’t hurt either.”
“Sounds like a good deal,” I said.
“For me, yes. But that’s me. You aren’t in the same place,” he pointed out. “You don’t have any trouble controlling your power – not that you’ve mentioned, at least.” He paused, and I shook my head to confirm that I didn’t. “So you don’t need to training to keep your power under control. And you’re almost done with college, so I assume you don’t need the help to pay for that, either.”
“I sure don’t. Dad’s a professor at UNV, so I get free tuition.”
“All you’d be doing is putting a target on your back by becoming a hero,” Hypnos continued, “and for what?”
“The chance to help people?” Holly suggested.
Hypnos shrugged. “Look, heroing is a noble thing. But New Venice has a bunch of heroes, and not all that many villains.”
“There are a bunch of villains,” I protested. “The Crows, the Buff Boys, the Magnificent Maxwell, Motael, Voltage, Overshadow, Underlight, probably others I haven’t heard of… hell, Legion was here not too long ago, and the Mountain King was based here for his whole career!”
“All small-time as villains go,” he insisted. “There aren’t any serial murderers like Violet Mail or Graviton – the closest we get are accidental killers, like Voltage or Underlight. The Crows keep a tight lock on things, the Buff Boys are, lets face it, not much of a threat, and everyone else is on their own.”
“Overshadow and Underlight work together a lot,” corrected Holly.
Hypnos flicked a hand dismissively. “Legion is from out of town, and the Mountain King isn’t known to have ever killed anyone. And he’s retired, anyway. Well, probably.”
“What’s your point?”
“My point is that New Venice doesn’t need another hero,” he said. “You probably wouldn’t do much for the time you were on the Journeymen. And then, after graduating, you would probably be sent somewhere else.”
“That…” I sighed. I realized I had stopped massaging Holly’s foot when she wiggled it again, and I continued. “I don’t really want to leave.”
“Then don’t join,” Hypnos advised.
“Counterpoint,” Holly said. “If you officially turn down the offer, the loopholes we’ve been using to let you visit will close, and we won’t be able to hang out as much. And I don’t want to lose access to these foot massages you’re apparently giving out now!” She grinned at me impishly, wiggling her feet in my grasp again. This time when I let go, she pulled her legs back and shifted to sit on them instead of lying halfway into my lap.
“Very funny. Do you have any serious advice here?”
Her face fell a little. “That was serious, I’m afraid,” she said. “Well, not the foot massage part, as nice as it was. But there really are rules that allow ‘prospective members’ to visit ‘for the purpose of exposing them to the environment’.” Her words literally appeared in the air above her, quotes and all, and I marveled at the mundane utility of her light-bending skill. “It’s only intended to be for a single visit, but we’ve been bending the rules to let you keep coming.”
“Holly is right, I’m sad to say,” Anima’s voice said, and I started a little – I had forgotten that she could hear everything we said from her seat in the console room. “That particular loophole only works if you’re considering joining.”
“Well,” I sighed. “I still haven’t made up my mind. Anything beyond that?”
“One or two things. First up, it’s not guaranteed that you’ll be transferred out. Hypnos is right that it’s a strong possibility because New Venice doesn’t have the craziest villains, but it is a decent-sized city and we need more than a few heroes to keep it all covered. I’ve had to learn about scheduling stuff, but you should ask Canaveral if you really want to get an earful about it.”
“Is he in today?” I asked.
“He and Vulcan are in the New Champion’s wing at the moment,” Anima confirmed – Holly, Hypnos, and I were all in the central, shared space at the moment. “Since you’re over 21, you’re welcome to join them.”
“Do they have good beer?” Hypnos asked. “Please tell me I have something to look forward to if I can’t get my power under control in the next three years.”
“I’ll check,” I promised him.
“What I was trying to say,” Holly said, and we glanced back to her, “is that we could use another hero. I’m going to be graduating before long myself, but I know that Starling has been thinking about moving on from the city, so your chances of staying aren’t as bad as you think.”
“He’s leaving? Really?” Hypnos asked. “That’s surprising. He’s been here longer than me – longer than Canaveral!”
“Starling has been lobbying to be placed in charge of a team,” Anima informed us. “I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but he feels he was passed over for leadership of the Champions when Canaveral was placed here.”
“But he hadn’t even taken the leadership courses yet,” Holly said, sounding a little confused, and Anima made a noncommittal noise that I suspected accompanied a shrug.
“You’re taking those, right?” I asked Holly, and she nodded.
“Yeah, I have to as part of being the Journeymen’s leader. They’re okay, I guess.
“Holly’s an excellent leader,” Hypnos told me. “Her powers lend themself well to both gathering and distributing information and battlefield control, and she has a good head for tactics. We only won the last Champions-Journeymen paintball tournament thanks to her.”
“You’re gonna make me blush,” Holly protested – when I glanced at her, though, she showed no signs of blushing. Her eyes darted to meet mine a moment later, and then red spread across her cheeks.
“That was the first thing,” I said. “What about the second thing?”
“What things? Oh right!” She gave me a grin again, her blush fading, and said, “You should become a hero because it’s fun. It’s stressful and dangerous and the most exciting thing I’ve ever done. Magic is wonderful, yes, but it’s a slow and steady thing – heroing is like a rollercoaster. You never quite know what you’re going to get next.”
“Poetic,” I commented. “But what about costume ideas?”