Scene 4 – February 14th
Interior MLED Compound, Late Afternoon
I liked being a Journeyman. It kept me nice and busy, giving my mind no time to worry about my uncertain future or obsess over the mysteries of my past – between school, training, and patrols, it was rare that I had time to be caught by anxious thoughts.
Console duty, unfortunately, was one of those rare times.
Oh, it was important, to be sure – interfacing with the police and other emergency services, keeping track of the news and alerts, and directing the patrolling heroes to where they could do the most good was vital, and they were tasks that they had no time to do themselves. But while I acknowledged its importance, console duty was slow, for the most part.
Patrols in general were slow, and so, in fact, was heroism – Abe had once remarked to me that the kind of crisis which actually required superheroes, supervillains and similar, usually only happened once or twice a year, at least in New Venice. Most of the time, heroes were just patrolling – maintaining visibility to discourage villains from beginning those crises, and dealing with non-powered crime on the way. But, while it was far from uncommon to come across muggers, thieves, and other such crimes, that very visibility meant that crime, in the area of a hero’s patrol, was actually pretty low – criminals tended to scurry away when a hero was around, rather than commit their crimes. Prevention, rather than apprehension, was the strategy, much like the mere presence of a security guard in a mall stops more shoplifting than they could ever personally prevent. As a result, it wasn’t rare for patrols to go by entirely without incident.
But patrolling was also a very physical activity – moving across the city rooftops for four hours at a time, power-assisted or no, was quickly getting me into the best shape of my life – and that physicality drove a lot of thought from my mind. I was focused on spotting any crimes that were happening, on moving to the next rooftop, and on maintaining banter with whichever hero I was patrolling with – even Adam was beginning to open up. Starling had never bantered with me, but he had also been transferred out, as Abe had promised, at the beginning of the month.
By contrast, on console there was nothing to do but watch – and while there was a lot to watch, between several scrolling newsfeeds and the occasional remarks from Vulcan and Sequoia, who were currently doing a walkthrough of the docks, I was all-too-good at multitasking. I was entirely capable of manning the console while filled with anxiety – and musing about my ability to do that could only stave it off for so long.
“Heya, Quinn,” came a familiar voice from behind me, and I broke out into a grin.
“Holly!” I cried, spinning the seat to look at her. “Please tell me you’re here to relieve me of my mind-numbing duty?”
“Sorry,” she said, pulling up a spare seat. “You’re only half an hour into your shift – you’re here until 8.”
I sighed. “I know, I know. I just hate console duty.”
“I’m aware. Which is why I’m here.”
“But not to replace me?”
“No – to keep you company.” She smiled at me, and produced a lunchbox. “And to share some snacks.”
“You’re a life-saver,” I told her, taking the box and looking to see what she had brought – chips, apple slices, pretzels… I snagged a bag of sliced apples and popped one into my mouth. “Honestly.”
She leaned back in her seat, watching with an indulgent look as I turned back to the console. “So, anything interesting happen so far?”
“Not so far, no. How did your day go?”
“Well, I’ve been planning out my magical studies thesis…”
Scene 5 – February 17th
Interior Coulton Library, Early Evening
January had been a nice break from school, but I was well and truly back into the swing of things – especially with the addition of a thesis to write. Thankfully, the classes I had taken for my final semester at UNV were relatively light in comparison to those I had completed the previous semester – I had planned ahead, and left some simple classes for the last semester so that I would be able to put most of my energy into a thesis.
Of course, I mused as I knelt in front of a bookshelf, trying to find the book on the history of magical treatments in medicine that I needed for my History of Magical Science class, that didn’t mean I could just breeze through them. I still needed to do the homework and write the essays, even if – as in the case of Professor Marigold’s class – they were simple for me at this point.
And today, unfortunately, the book I wanted to use as a source wasn’t on the shelf.
I checked one last time, seeing that, yes, I was in the right place according to the Dewey number, and that, no, the book still wasn’t there. With a sigh, I sat back on my heels. “Fuck.”
I could, I supposed, find a different book for this paper. But the summary had been so perfect for what I wanted to write about, I really didn’t want to. So what were my options? It hadn’t been available from any other libraries in the city, nor did I think I could I afford to buy it. I could maybe find it online, but I had always found it easier to focus on physical books…
Something shifted in my sense of presence, and I noticed someone approaching behind me. “Hey, is everything okay?”
“Yeah,” I said, looking up. “It’s all – Devon?”
My father’s old doctor blinked at me in surprise, and crouched to join me near the floor. “Quinn! I almost didn’t recognize you – your hair’s grown a bit, hasn’t it?”
I ran my hand through it – it had been over a year since I had gotten a haircut. A few weeks ago, it had finally lost its long war against gravity, and now instead of rising into a jewfro it rolled down to my shoulders. “Yeah, I should get a haircut at some point,” I agreed. “Or buy some hairbands, at least.”
“Maybe,” they said, then paused. “I heard you swear. Is something wrong?”
I showed them the note I had written. “I’m just having trouble finding this book, that’s all. I need it for class. Well, want it for class.”
“Oh, that’s no trouble,” Devon declared, rising. “Don’t move.” As I watched, they dashed down the aisle – quietly, it was a library, after all – and returned a minute later with the book in hand. “Here you go!”
“Devon, you’re a literal lifesaver,” I said, thanking them profusely. “Forget the doctor thing, this is your good karma for the month.” They laughed. “How’d you know where it was?”
“I had taken it down from the shelves for a project I’m doing. Don’t worry,” they assured me, “I’ve already made copies of the parts I want to quote. It’s all yours.”
“Thanks a million,” I said again, slipping it into my bag.
“So… still in college, huh?”
“Yeah. Last semester and it was already paid for – no reason not to, right?”
“Right. But…” they leaned in a little and whispered. “You’re Newton, right?”
“Gee,” I said, flatly, “however did you know?”
“Well, you were having that crisis over a job offer a few months ago, and within a few weeks of that Newton joined the Journeymen, and made it quite public that they’re the first superhero to use they/them pronouns. Other than Multiplex.”
I rubbed the back of my head awkwardly. “Well… turns out I was wrong about that, actually. There’s an independent hero in Toronto who uses they/them, and they’re kind of annoyed at me. Since they’re not part of the MLED, the PR guy’s sweep missed them.”
“On the other hand, I’ve been messaged by a few other nonbinary heroes who said I inspired them to come out publically, so… ups and downs, I guess?” I shrugged. “It’s complicated.”
Devon chuckled. “Believe me, I know.” They stood and turned to go. “I… should probably get back to my project. But… I just want to ask if you’re doing all right, with… I mean, it’s only been a few months…”
I flinched internally, but realized, after a moment, that the expected twinge of internal pain and grayness in response hadn’t come. Instead, there was just a faint sadness, a bit of grief that passed before long. “I’m… doing all right,” I assured them, a little surprised to find that I was telling the truth. “It still hurts sometimes, but… I’m getting better.”
Scene 6 – March 13th
Exterior Dagobah Beach, Late Morning
“Come on guys,” Holly encouraged us, “let’s get a good spot!”
We tromped onto the beach, glancing around – it was the first weekend since the previous summer that it was warm enough to visit the beach, so Holly had put together a group outing for the Journeymen – as well as our partners, for those of us who had them. Of course, Nic – who had finally revealed his identity to me a few weeks ago – was dating Jack, and the only other member of the group who wasn’t single right now was Molly – she had been dating a boy named Tristan for the past two months, although this was the first time I would be meeting him.
Unfortunately, it was a nice enough weekend that we weren’t the only ones there – it seemed that half of New Venice had had the same idea, and the beach was very crowded.
“Come on, we just need a little space,” I begged the world at large, looking around for somewhere to pitch the tent. “Just a little!”
“Oh, hold on! I got something…” Molly’s boyfriend said cheerfully, digging through his bag. “One of my moms gave me…” He produced a small statuette and poked at a glowing button on its base. “It’s some kind of magic thing that’s supposed to stop people from bothering us. Mom is always worried about privacy, you know.”
“May I see it?” Holly asked, holding out a hand for the statue as people began to leave our vicinity – from the snippets I heard as they left, they were remembering urgent appointments, deciding to get lunch, or simply moving closer to the water. “I’m a mage myself, and I’m a little curious.”
Tristan hesitated briefly before passing it over. “Just, uh, be careful with it. She made it herself.”
Holly nodded as she peered at it. Her fingers brushed against each other and a series of glowing runes and sigils began appearing on, and floating in the air near, the statuette.
I stood on my tiptoes and rested my chin on Holly’s shoulder, finding myself curious as well, even though I knew I wouldn’t be able to understand any of it. From this close, my presence picked out Holly’s expression right through her illusion – she was biting her lip with a faint frown, her brows furrowed with concentration. It was adorable, even if I couldn’t actually see it, and I had to remind myself yet again that I wasn’t ready for a relationship yet.
“This is on a bit on the edge, legally speaking,” Holly informed Tristan after a moment as she handed it back to him. She put a hand up to my cheek, and I leaned into her palm instinctively. “It’s not quite to the point of flat-out mind-controlling people, but it’s definitely sketchy. I hope your mom hasn’t done anything that goes any farther than this.”
He shook his head. “I don’t think so. She mostly does technomagic stuff, she just threw it together for this trip.”
“Really? It’s pretty advanced mind magic… still,” Holly glanced around the beach, “I can’t argue with the results. Let’s get this tent up so we have somewhere to put our stuff.”
We set up the tent and plopped chairs in the shade under it, leaving our bags and towels on chairs, and before long my friends began arguing about what to do.
“It’s been years since I’ve been to the beach,” Jack said. “A shame, really, since we do live on the coast. I don’t think I’ve made a sand castle since I was ten – I’d kind of like to make one again. See how much better we could do.”
Nic scoffed. “That’s kid stuff, babe.”
“Well, we are kids. I don’t know about you, but I want to make the most of having no responsibilities while it lasts.”
“I barely know what to do,” Molly admitted, absently playing with her boyfriend’s hand. “It’s been years for me as well, and even then I never really had a good time. Too dysphoric, and even now I’m not super comfortable…” Indeed, she was wearing a swim shirt over a one-piece suit, while the rest of us had doffed the clothes we had worn on the way here and were just in swimsuits.
“I know how you feel,” I told her sympathetically, “but I promise, you look great – no one is going to look twice at you.”
“Especially with mom’s thing,” Tristan said, nodding to the statuette – currently sitting on a chair of its own – and bringing her fingers up to his lips to press an encouraging kiss to them. “Is there anything you feel like you missed out on that you want to try?”
She bit her lip nervously. “I guess… I know little girls sometimes get sand packed over their legs in the shape of fish tails? I kind of want to try that.”
“Ooh, I wanna do that too!” Simone cried. “It’s been, like, a year since I got to be a mermaid!”
“We can make you both mermaids,” Jack promised. “You can even lie in the range of the statue if you want, so that no one will look.”
Holly glanced at the statuette, making that same under-the-illusion face of concentration for a few moments as Molly thought, then made a gesture. A transparent bluish bubble appeared around us, extending at least 15 feet away from the tent in all directions. “That’s the edge of its effect. If you’re within that, no one will pay attention to you, and no one outside of our group will enter it.”
With that assurance, Molly nodded. “Then yes, I’d like to be a mermaid.”
The younger members of the group began digging up sand to cover Simone and Molly’s legs. I, meanwhile, dragged a chair out from under the tent’s shade in order to get a little sun – Holly set up another next to mine and produced a book, one which I thought I had seen Miriam reading a few weeks before.
“Convenient that Tristan’s mom – one of his moms, did he say? – happens to be an artificer,” I commented.
She shrugged. “It’s not as unusual as you might think. Magical studies majors are becoming more and more common anyway, and there’s a revolution in artificing coming soon, I think. One of my professors says that within five years, magical technology will be competing with the regular stuff in the commercial market – if his mom is one of those researchers, something like that is probably pretty easy. Although,” she admitted, “I’ve only ever looked at artificing theoretically, myself – some of the same principles went into those magical earpieces, but it’s not quite the same when the spell is anchored a person rather than an object. Fewer power considerations, entirely different UI. My parents do it more often, I think.”
I turned to look at her. “How… are you doing with your parents, by the way? I know you’ve been talking with Dr. Wagner, but…”
Holly let out a long sigh. “Yeah, it’s… healing is slow, you know?” I nodded. “But I’m making progress. I’m planning to actually confront them about it, soon – next weekend, probably.”
“…are you going to want any support?” I asked.
She reached over and took my hand, squeezing it tightly. “I appreciate the offer, I really do, and I’ll think about it, but… I think it’s something I want to do on my own, you know?”
“Yeah, I get that.”
“But I’m almost definitely going to want to curl up and watch something light and fluffy afterward, so if you want to join me for that…”
“I’ll have The Princess Bride queued up and a pillow all fluffed,” I promised.
Holly smiled at me in a way that made my heart flutter. “Forget the pillow. Your shoulder will do fine.”
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