Hint 7. Question The World
I leave Docklen at his place, some shiny flat in the North, and go straight home, materialising in my bedroom so I don’t have to face Alex. I collapse on the bed, fully dressed, and fall straight asleep. I only wake up the next morning when Alex shakes me.
“It’s time to go, May-May,” he says, grinning. “What time did you get back last night?”
“Late,” I say, pushing him aside so I can get up.
“I saw you leaving with Docklen,” he says.
“Did you fuck him?” He asks.
“Do I look like I fucked him?”
“No,” Alex scrunches his eyebrows together in confusion. “It looks like you went out and got wasted. Have you got a hangover, Maya?” He shouts. “Have you!?”
I roll my eyes.
“No. Now get out, I need to get dressed.”
“What did you do last night?"
“That’s none of your business, Alexander Higgs, get out.”
“How mysterious,” he drawls, disappearing into the corridor. “I know you, Maya,” he continues, sticking his head back round the door. “You can’t keep a secret.”
I throw a pillow at him and he slams the door shut, chuckling.
I get changed, teleport into the bathroom to clean my teeth, and meet Alex in the kitchen. The whole process takes less than ten minutes.
“Lover boy’s got the day off,” Alex says, cocking his elbow for a lift. “No need to rush.”
“He’s not my lover boy,” I say, “what do I care if it’s his day off.”
“Oh,” Alex turns to face me, lifting an eyebrow suggestively. “Got a new boy now, have we?”
Thirty minutes of speechlessly staring at a seasoned criminal doesn’t count as getting a new boy, right? I shake my head, trying to remove the image of the masked Shark from my mind. It doesn’t seem to work. I feel as though his face is seared across my the inside of my skull.
It doesn’t matter. It’ll fade: I’ll probably never see him again.
“Maya?” Alex clicks his fingers, pulling me out of my reverie. “Seriously, you need to consider getting to bed on time.”
“Sorry,” I say, taking us to the station. Despite my ability, I’m thirty minutes late by the time I sit at my desk.
The station is in uproar all day. Ripley’s marching up and down the desks, his face red and voice raised. Search teams must be formed and sent out, hunting for the serum heisted yesterday. The command must have come down from somewhere high up. There’s barely anyone left for normal patrols and Ripley begrudgingly assigns me to one of the boring suburban routes. I’m grateful. It means I don’t have to spend the day feeling guilty knowing I’m the only one that’s seen that serum since it went missing yesterday morning.
I couldn’t tell Ripley about the ruined factory, I know that. It would almost certainly put Docklen on some criminal hit list. It’s distressing not having him here though. There’s so much about last night that I don’t understand. I expected him to be familiar with the people behind the job, what I didn’t expect was for them to be so close. There are so many strange loose ends, like how Docklen fell onto the concrete floor without injury and whatever it was that happened just before we left, that strange feeling when the Lady turned to look at us and very single hair on my body stood on end.
By lunchtime I’m exhausted already. I want to concentrate on my job. I should be happy that Ripley let me out in the real world again but I can’t explain it. I keep thinking about Shark. With the added detail I get from being able to store memory as Sapient+, I can more or less relive the whole evening, analysing his every movement, every expression to flash across his face.
We finish the patrol around four which means I get an hour back at my desk, watching the search parties come and go. Everyone that leaves, leaves hopeful. Everyone that returns, returns dejected. The whole station is buzzing with tense disappointment and it drains me even more.
I just want to go home but it’s Friday and Amber insists we all go to the pub. She gets off half an hour before me so I join her, Alex and a few others at the bar after they’ve already got two rounds in. There's a lot fewer in attendance than usual, most of the serum search parties are still out there.
Amber already has an arm round Alex’s shoulders and I can’t help but grin. This is going to end badly, no doubt about that.
I pull out a seat and someone thrusts a beer beneath my nose.
“Look at you, Maya,” Alex chuckles, “Thought you were going to be behind your desk until next month and you’re already free, terrorising the neighbourhood once again.”
“Yeah, hardly a challenge to terrorise Libertine, though, is it?”
Amber laughs and Alex furrows his brow quizzically.
“Average age in Libertine is sixty five,” Amber explains. Obviously Alex, the chosen one, has never been burdened with a Libertine patrol.
“Better than nothing,” he says.
“Better than being in one of the search parties,” Tim mutters.
“Tough, was it?” I ask.
“But you’re back already,” Amber says, “Can’t have been that bad.”
“It wasn’t the searching part that was bad,” Alex says, “It was the bollocking we got from Ripley when we got back.”
“He wasn’t happy?”
“Get your arse right back out there, Higgs, and don’t even think about coming back here until you’ve found something.” Alex says, imitating Ripley terribly.
“What did you say?” I ask.
Tim sighs. Alex chuckles.
“I said it’s five pm, and that’s the end of my shift. I’ve passed over to the night boys and that’ll do me for the weekend. All I’m looking for now is the bottom of my glass… but if you want to know when I’ve found that, I can pop back in to show you no problem.”
“You never said that.”
Alex just shrugs. I look over at Tim who’s nodding slowly.
“Well,” I say, “that’s gotta take some balls.”
Amber giggles and Alex smiles, leaning back into her arm. I wonder if I should warn them but they’re grown ups, they know mixing with colleagues is a bad idea. If they want to go there, that’s up to them.
I stand, getting my round in, and, an hour later when they leave for our place, I realise that after a long day, I’m going to have a long night too. The walls in our flat are as thin as the doors.
It’s midnight when I materialise in my living room. I was too tired to drink so I’m more or less sober. The flat is dark, eerily silent, empty, and I fight the urge to switch all the lights on in the common areas to calm my nerves. I grab a glass of water, wondering where Alex could have gone, and slip into my room.
Moonlight streams across my pale carpet and, as the wind blows in from a window I never opened, my curtains billow out in great waves. The glass slips from my lax fingers, water darting out in one large arch around my feet.
“Don’t worry.” Shark smiles. “It’s just me.”
My heart does that stupid beat skipping thing again but I ignore it, adrenaline flooding my system. For the first time all day, I feel awake.
“Where’s Alex?” I ask, stepping back. “Why are you here?”
“I just arranged for your housemate to get distracted for an hour or two.” Shark waves a hand dismissively, “Don’t worry, he won’t get hurt. I want us to be friends.”
I look over my shoulder. I’m home alone with this man, a man called Shark. Where’s The Lady? Did he bring her too?
“It’s fine,” Shark says, stepping out from the shadow next to my bed. “I didn’t bring her.”
I force myself to keep my eyes level. I want to touch him. Why do I want to touch him?
“How did you know I was thinking about The Lady? Did you read my mind? You can’t be Sapient+, you’re a criminal.”
“Let us not forget that I’m a criminal with a van full of Sapient+ serum,” he says, “but no, I did not read your mind. You’re looking behind you like some great beast is going to jump out and take you, so I can only imagine you’re looking for The Lady. She does that to people. But as I said, there’s no reason to fear. I didn’t bring her. She’s not exactly the diplomatic sort and I wanted to be… alone.”
I swallow nervously and Shark steps forward again. He’s still at the opposite end of the room but with every word, he draws closer.
“What’s Docklen to you?” He asks suddenly. Another step. Two. Three. He’s getting too close now.
“Just a colleague.”
“No,” he says, “he’s more than that. Stay away from him. He’s bad news.”
“And I suppose you think you’re good news, then, to be giving me this advice?”
Shark’s grin grows exponentially. He steps forwards, a confident, final stride, pushing all the way into my personal space. I try and escape but my back bumps up against the wall, no way out.
“Oh darling,” he says, placing a palm on the wall beside my head, “I’m the worst kind of news but at least I don’t pretend to hide it. I don’t cover myself in flashy good-deeds in the hope that one day, maybe, I’ll be able to forget what a terrible creature I am inside.”
Shark stares down at me and I can’t help but tilt my head back, matching my gaze with his. The air crackles between us and I watch his eyes slip down to my lips. He hovers, moving closer. He’s so near, all it would take is the tiniest of movements. I could pull the mask down. I could see his whole face in all it’s glory.
Shark blinks. He pulls back so suddenly, snapping the tension, whirling away so that there’s so much distance between us, I’d never be able to reach him.
“Don’t even think about it,” he growls, lifting a hand to his face.
“You can read my mind!” I exclaim, victorious.
Shark pauses, thinking, reading my mind, and a grin breaks out across his face.
“And you can go anywhere with just a thought. What a pair we make,” he says.
“So you did know how to use that serum.”
“Hmm,” Shark waves a finger, pulling his hand back to stroke his chin. “Let’s get back onto that later, Maya.”
The cat's out the bag now, he’s even grabbing my name from my head.
“Actually,” he says, "I got your name from Jack’s head last night already.”
“Can we do this conversation with just our mouths, please,” I ask, “You’re confusing me.”
Or we could save our mouths for something far more interesting. The words shoot across my brain like electricity. They’re almost painful.
“Did you just… say something?”
“It works forwards and back,” he says.
“Don’t do that again. It hurts.”
“I hear you get used to it.”
“I don’t care.”
Shark, pauses, cocking his head. I try and stop thinking inappropriate things because I know he can hear them. The distance between us is almost agony. I ache. I want to press myself up against him, skin against skin.
“Stop being so disgusting,” he says, “you’re distracting me.”
“Stop listening in then,” I snap, embarrassed.
Shark just laughs.
Why on earth would I deny myself that pleasure?
Shark walks over to my bed as I shake the echoes of his words from my head. Perching on the edge, he looks up at me, tapping the space at his side. I refuse to join him, folding my arms. He’s a criminal. I should have reported him already and, apparently, I can't trust myself to be within three metres of him. He grins, completely unmoved by the fact that he’s constantly invading the privacy of my head, and leans back, stretching his arms out behind him.
“Listen, Maya,” he says. “Allow me to plant the seeds of something in your mind.” He tilts his head again, staring at me through the mask. “I can see who you are, I can see you have it in yourself to see this city as it really is. You’re already questioning, questioning your role on the force, your place in life. I can see you trying to find out what it really means to be more than human.”
I say nothing, waiting for him to continue.
“Why are there no superheroes, Maya?” He asks rhetorically. We both know the answer to this. There are no superheroes because we don’t need any. There are no super villains, for starters, and since Sapient+ came into full effect, the crime rates have been bottoming out consistently, year after year.
Shark smiles again and I purse my lips. It’s his tell. When he smiles, it means he knows what I’m thinking.
“Do you think it’s right, Maya,” he asks, “for the government to have that much power?”
“Who else would you give it to? We can't have housewives with nuclear weapons. Same difference.”
“Ah, no.” Shark leans forward, broad shoulders hunching over as he rests his elbows on his knees. “No government uses its nuclear weaponry on its own people. But this government, in this city, exclusively uses its Sapient+ operatives to curtail the freedom of civilians. Do me a favour, Maya. Next time you’re out on patrol, stop looking at the criminals. Watch the innocent people, the normal people. Try and tell me what they think of you.”
“We’ve never done anything to hurt innocents,” I say, anger flaring slightly.
“You haven’t,” Shark corrects, “But you haven’t seen the things I’ve seen, either. Tell me,” he says, “why is Jack Docklen the newspaper hero? He hasn’t got any special powers. He doesn’t do anything special.” Shark stands, walking towards me again. He speaks with feverish passion, his eyes wild, and this time as he leans over me, my back pressing into the wall, I am afraid. “Why aren’t you in there, in the paper?” He asks. “Why aren’t people like you celebrated? Why can’t you tell anyone you’re Sapient+? Why is it so forbidden for you to be who you really are? Why, Maya? Why?”
“I don’t know!” I wail, flinching away.
Shark pauses, face just inches from mine.
“Find out,” he commands, hot breath dancing over my neck. I close my eyes, praying for the brush of his lips against my skin, and by the time I open them again, he's gone.