Hint 29. Make It Right
Alex was in bed when I got back last night and he’s long gone by the time I wake. I only find him at his desk, turning to stare as I arrive at work with just my jeans,T-shirt, and a look of final resolve. The station is over full, bustling with response teams for yesterday’s chaos. They ignore me but Alex does not. His face creases in anger for a second before he smoothes it away, standing to address me.
“What are you doing here, Maya?”
I ignore him, weaving through busy people. Their whole world seems like a different one to mine. This is the last time I’ll be able to do this, the last time I’ll be able to stand as their equal.
“Maya…” Alex pushes his way towards me but he’s too slow. I make it to Ripley’s office first, stepping over the threshold and allowing myself a second to glare at his outrage.
“We need to talk,” he hisses.
I shut the door in his face.
Ripley is already standing when I turn to face him. His whole face is beetroot red, the veins on his neck pulsing. I raise an eyebrow as his fist curls involuntarily into his paperwork.
“Where the fuck were you yesterday, Kurtis?” He blusters. “What the fuck do you think you’re on? Half the city’s in anarchy and you decide to just…”
I drop into the chair opposite him, swinging my feet up onto his desk with a bang. The noise and the disrespect surprise him. His sentence never reaches its end. Now that I have his attention, I remove my fist from my pocket, dangling the mask in my fingers before his eyes.
“I solved the Whisper case,” I say, slowly wrapping the material around my face. “Turns out it was me.”
“This isn’t funny.”
“It’s not a joke.”
A strange stillness wraps itself around Ripley’s shoulders while I glare at him, eyes narrowed through the mask. I had expected him to get angry but instead he just looks sort of… tired.
“And what now?” He asks. “Alex is Shark? You gonna tell me Amber’s The Lady?”
Ripley drops back down into his chair. The old metal squeaks as he leans back, dragging a calloused palm across his face.
“Why are you doing this to me, Kurtis?” He asks. It almost sounds like begging. “I’m too old for this shit.”
“I’m sorry,” I say and I really do mean it. “But that’s why I’m here now. I’m making it right.”
“I’m not talking about the whole being a superhero thing - of course you’d want to be a bloody superhero - I’m talking about telling me. Why the fuck are you telling me, Kurtis?”
I pull back, confused.
“I don’t understand.”
“What am I supposed to do now? Now that you’ve told me, what am I supposed to do?”
“If you’d come to me quietly, Kurtis, not out here in front of the whole station…” Ripley waves his hand dismissively and I turn, taking in the fifty pairs of staring eyes, peering through the glass of Ripley’s office windows. I grin at their open curiosity. The vindictive part of me cocks my head behind my mask, baring white teeth. The only one missing, stark in his absence, is Alex.
“So what?” I shrug.
“We could have discussed this, we could have made it right. No one would have had to know.”
“I don’t want to brush this under the table, Chief.” I lean over the desk, presenting my wrists out to him. The bruises on my face might be almost gone but Jack’s handprint remains on my arm, bright red and painful. Everything about the movement is a challenge and I can tell from Ripley’s heavy eyes that it’s a challenge he’s unwilling to take. “I fucked up,” I say, “and I’m bringing myself in.”
“Fine,” Ripley shakes his head, turning his gaze away from my wrists. “Where can we find the others?”
“Don’t know,” I say. “I know as much about them as you do, Chief. It was a need-to-know type deal, nothing more.”
“Don’t lie to me, Kurtis. There’s nothing about you that’s even slightly capable of keeping things on a need-to-know. You’re all about mixing personal with professional.”
“Look,” I say, wiggling my proffered fingers beneath his nose, “I came to give myself in, not to squeal. Shark’s business is his own, I’m not helping him anymore. I don’t know where he lives, don’t know what his name is. Chief, I don’t even know what his face looks like and that one’s far more heartbreaking to me than it is to you. Trust me.”
“Just do it,” I say, voice softer than it was before. “You know it’s the right thing to do.”
“I’m not sure it is, actually,” Ripley says, “but you aren’t exactly giving me much choice.” Ripley ignores my splayed hands, resting a massive palm on my shoulder instead. He sighs. “Come on then,” he says, nodding his head for me to follow, and I stand.
The station parts before us, people I worked with just yesterday staring at me like the whole world has been ripped out from beneath their feet. I feel immediately self-conscious, reaching up to remove the mask from my face and scrunching it into my palm. At my side, Ripley breathes heavily. Amber’s looking around herself desperately, head flicking from side to side as she tries to catch every gaze in the room. I can see the confusion in her eyes. She doesn’t know why they’re letting this happen, why they’re just accepting my confession for what it is.
At first I don’t question it when we don’t immediately walk towards the cells. It’s only as we pass Alex’s empty desk and I see him standing there, arms folded, that I dig my heels in. He’s leaning up against his office doorframe, snide grin twisting his new scars maliciously. My heart turns to ice and I shake free of Ripley’s grip, searching for any way out of this. I’m panicking already and the fight or flight in my head is just telling me to run.
“Morning, Kurtis,” he says, “Shark finally get tired of you? He does that.”
“What’s he doing back?” I spit, whipping round to face Ripley.
“My job,” Jack replies before Ripley can speak. “Something you could have considering doing a little more of lately.”
I hiss, turning my fear into fury and laying every ounce of it down onto the man trying to return his hand to my shoulder.
“What the fuck is this? You just going to hand me over to him? After everything? He’s a maniac.”
“Stop overreacting, Maya. It’s his case - you know this, you were working on it with him - I’m washing my hands of the whole thing.”
“You don’t understand…” I begin but Ripley’s already walking away, gesturing for the whole station to follow.
Jack smirks as they leave.
“I wish I’d never met you,” I say, turning my back on him.
Jack appears content just to follow as I make my slow way down into the overnight cells. I know how this works, know I’ve got an uncomfortable night ahead of me as Ripley decides whether or not to charge me with anything.
Jack’s footsteps tap hollowly on bare concrete floors as I traipse to the end of the row. He braces himself up against the door, watching as I cross the tiny six by eight and drop myself down onto the built-in bench at the back.
“If you’ve got questions,” I say when he doesn’t leave, “put me in an interrogation room. You know how this works. I’m not telling you shit in here.”
“Oh come on,” Jack rolls his eyes, “you’re not telling me shit either way. You’re a disciple now, an avid believer in the bible according to Shark.”
“Yeah. I’m just a brainless lackey. That’s why I parted ways with him and came down here. Makes sense.”
Jack’s eyes narrow.
“You’re mine now, Kurtis,” he says, “you get that, right?”
“I can leave whenever I want. You get that right?”
Jack sneers, reaching round to his back. He pulls out the standard set of cuffs that we all have to carry, swinging them lazily around his finger.
“Sure,” I say. “Cuff me to something, that’ll work.”
Jack saunters over, examining the split knuckles on his left fist, acting all nonchalant like he doesn’t care.
“I’ve got a GPS enabled house arrest band on its way already and, in the meantime, I’m not going to cuff you to something,Kurtis, I’m going to cuff you to someone. And that someone is me.”
He drops down onto the bench at my side and my throat clenches shut.
Three painful hours later, Alex’s hand reaches lazily through the bars in the tiny cell window. His elbow rests on the ledge and his fingers drum a casual beat on the metal of the door. He arrived nearly ten minutes ago but he hasn’t said anything yet and I have my head turned to the side, not even looking at him.
Jack has sprawled himself across the bench, legs wide, hands resting in between his thighs so that my arm has no choice but to cross his knee. We fought over the positioning of our conjoined hands but I lost, obviously. Jack really thrives in situations like these, so instead feeling any awkwardness or remorse over my discomfort and Alex’s irritation, he just grins.
“Your GPS band arrived an hour ago, Docklen, you arse,” Alex snaps eventually, “and I know you know it. The courier’s kicking up such a fucking fuss because you’re the only one that can sign for it. We haven’t got time for this shit, not after what happened yesterday, and we can’t afford to waste resources by having you just sit down here.” He turns his glare onto me. “We’re already one man short as it is.”
There’s no reply from the cell. Jack’s grin just grows and I continue to stare furiously at the wall.
“For fuck’s sake!” Alex kicks the door and the hollow ring of reenforced metal bounces across the floor. “Docklen get your fucking arse upstairs. You know she’s not going anywhere, I just need to talk to her on my own. Jesus Christ, I don’t want to have to get Ripley, we’re not children, but you know I will if I have to.”
“Ripley doesn’t give a shit anymore,” Jack says and my throat tightens.
There’s a sudden commotion on the basement stairs and Ripley’s bellowing voice assaults all ears simultaneously.
“I think you might be wrong on that point,” Alex says.
A second later Alex’s face is pulled away from the tiny window, replaced by Ripley’s great red beachball of a head.
“You fucking chained yourself to her?” He explodes, bursting through the door. “Get those cuffs of right now, Docklen. I swear to God…” He pauses, placing his hands out in front of himself, as though the gesture is enough to steady him. Alex slinks smugly into the room at Ripley’s back.
“I knew,” Ripley says. “When you started, Kurtis, I knew I was going to have my hands full. And you, Docklen, I knew you were trouble right from the off. There’s something seriously fucking wrong with you. Take those cuffs off and get upstairs now! I don’t want to see you talking to her unless it’s in an interrogation room and I’ve got at least three others in supervision. You hear me?”
Jack shrugs noncommittally. I’ve never seen anyone treat Ripley with so much disrespect.
“Sure thing, Chief,” he says, stretching languidly, taking his time. My arm jerks upwards with his movement and, much as I try to resist it, it pulls me closer. Jack grins as my shoulder crashes into his, leaning down to pat the top of my head fondly. “Don’t worry, love,” he says, “I won’t be gone too long.”
“Get the fuck away from me, Jack.”
He chuckles and twists the key in the lock, freeing me. I rub my wrists reproachfully as he saunters out, spinning the cuffs around his finger once again. He ignores Ripley completely but stops to give Alex a blue-eyed stare before he leaves.
“He’s gotten real weird since he came back,” Alex murmurs after the door slams shut. “Fucking madman.”
Ripley just grunts in reply and marches from the room.
Finally, and for the first time since Shark strode into my life, we’re alone together and the truth is in the air. Alex sighs and leans up against the wall, slipping slowly to the floor. He rests his hands on his knees, messing with his fingernails. I decide, eventually, to look at him but now he’s the one that can’t seem to turn to face me.
“Thanks for not telling Ripley about Whisper,” I say. “I needed to do it myself.”
Alex just grunts.
“What happened to you?” He asks eventually. “You used to…” He trails off. “When we…”
He can’t find the words to convey what he wants to say. I take pity on him, interrupting, because we’ve been friends long enough that I know everything he’s going to say anyway.
“I wanted to be something.”
“You wanted to… Shit. Fuck, Maya!” Alex degenerates into meaningless cursing and I flinch, curling my knees into my chest. “So you’re telling me you nearly got your best friend savaged because you wanted to, and I quote, ‘be something’?”
“Hey, it’s not quite…”
“How many people have had their lives ruined recently because you were playing at superheroes?”
“That stuff that happened yesterday, Alex, that wasn’t us. That wasn’t our plan. We were the ones that stopped it.”
“I wasn’t talking about yesterday, Maya.” Alex finally finds it within himself to look at me, driving his point home with narrowed eyes. “I’m talking about people trampled in protests, talking about politicians, people who, overall, have done this city good, who have been forced to flee. I’m talking about everyday civilians, suspects for this unrest, who have gone missing before we’ve even had the chance to get close to them. And why? Because you wanted to stir the pot, because if you cause enough trouble, maybe you’ll be something.”
I sigh, opening my mouth to reply, but Alex isn’t finished.
“Congratulations, Maya,” he spits, “because as of today, you are something. You’re a fucking criminal, not a hero, a criminal. Well done.”
“Stop it, Alex.”
He grunts and it’s followed by awkward silence.
“Anna,” he says eventually. It’s not phrased as a question but I know that it is one really. I bury my nose into my knees and nod. He curses.
“She’s The fucking Lady? Shit. Shit!” Alex’s fist finds its way into the wall. It’s solid concrete, no give at all, but he just calmly returns his hand to his side, pausing a second before reaching up to suck the sting from his knuckles.
“Sorry,” I murmur. “I didn’t know what to do with her. I didn’t know you were the one that shot her.”
Alex stands, folding his arms tightly into his chest.
“Stop crying, Maya,” he spits and it’s only then that I realise I am, silently sobbing, tears trickling down my nose.
“Alex,” I beg. “Please just stop and think about it, Ok? Think about a world where people can be who they want to be. Think about a city where you could be Sapient+ again and we wouldn’t have to sit around in the living room worrying about when The Facility would decide you’re too much of a liability. You’re the type of person that could benefit from this most. Think about it. Think about what you’d give to be that again.”
“I know you miss it.”
He doesn’t say anything, making to leave.
“Alex,” I say, “Alex you remember what it was like, being on the program. Everything I do, whether I’m on duty or off, is decided by someone else. I can’t be me. I can’t be seen to be me. Even your lifts into work are against the rules and you know the only reason we weren’t severely disciplined for that was because Ripley protected us.” I run a hand through my hair. “Alex no one’s happy. Sapient+ aren’t happy because they curtail us, hide us, brush us to the side just so that they have us there ready for the one-in-a-million chance that someone attacks the city.’
“You think everyone else is better off? You think they’re content with the way things are? Because they’re not. Shark showed me that.’
“You don’t feel it because you’re here, you work with us, and you had your chance at being more than human but the rest of the public don’t have that chance. Every stranger on the street could be someone from Townhall to them and what do they have to protect themselves from that? I wanted to be the protector, Alex. Policemen are supposed to protect people. You were the one that said that and, if Shark gets his way, you and me, we could be those protectors.”
Alex pauses for a second, just long enough that I think he might be listening. I don’t know what I hope to achieve by it. I brought myself here so it’s not like I want him to let me out. I don’t want him to defend me. It’s just that he’s my friend and, of everyone, what he thinks is what matters to me the most.
“You’re delusional, Maya,” he says, “just as mad as Jack Docklen.”
It’s dark and cold and uncomfortable in the cell at night. These things aren’t exactly designed for long stays and though I’ve only been here a few hours, it’s really starting to grate on me. I’m a free being, can go anywhere I like, and forcing myself to stay here with my hip digging into concrete and my arm for a pillow is becoming increasingly more difficult. Sure, Jack took great pleasure in securing the GPS band to my ankle and it’s not like I can forget it’s there: He also took a lot of pleasure in ensuring he locked it on just a little too tight. But it’s not actually stopping me from leaving, it’s just ensuring that they’ll know that I have left, if I leave, and they’ll know exactly where I went.
There’s not much point in even thinking about leaving, really. I can’t go home, Alex would kick me straight out, and I certainly can’t lead them to Shark’s place.
I shuffle about on the concrete, wrapping the blanket Amber gave me around my shoulders. It’s official; I’m miserable.
Maya… What are you doing? Shark’s voice, when it crackles through my head, is strangely tentative.
I was wondering when he’d turn up.
What took you so long?
I have answered too casually, too unconcernedly. He is angry and, when his voice assaults me a second time, all the gentleness of his first sentence has been replaced with a bitter tang.
Still trying to come to terms with the concept that you left me. It was a shock, you see, as I was labouring under the impression that we’d agreed not to act like fifteen year old children.
Great. Alex is miserable, Shark’s miserable, I’m miserable. It’s impossible to win.
Get your arse back here right now.
Even if I did want to go back, I wouldn’t be able to. The digital screen wedged beneath my anklebone is enough of a reminder that I’ve committed to this now.
You think someone in my position doesn’t have the means to remove a GPS tracker? Christ, Maya, you’re full of insults today.
“Look,” My lips are curling round the words even though I know he’s probably already heard the sentence before I can add voice to it. “The whole reason I had issue with the Sapient+ program in the first place was because I had to hide what I was. Turns out, that’s exactly what being a superhero means too. I’m sick of this, sick of trying to choose sides.”
There’s a pause and in the absence of his voice, this whole room just seems so much smaller. For a second I wonder if he’s left me, if for the first time since I met him, I’m truly on my own.
And then he’s back, filling my head with his fury.
You don’t have to hide yourself around me, Maya. You couldn’t even if you tried. Fucking hell this is all just bullshit. Lie to the rest of them as much as you like but I know you turned yourself in for one reason, and one reason alone: Because it was easy. You gave in.
I don’t even try and reply. He’s probably right anyway. He’s Shark, he knows everyone better than they know themselves.
I told you we’d come up with a plan for your housemate. Did I not tell you we’d find a way to fix it?
I try and keep my mind blank, try not to satisfy him by providing an answer.
I fucking did. Of course I did but instead you take the first opportunity to come running back here. You know, I’m not even sure this has anything to do with getting caught without your mask. I’m not even sure this has anything to do with being a superhero. Did it scare you, when you discovered that I meant more to you than just a pretty face? Did it upset you, the concept that we might actually be perfect for each other?
I huff my frustration. He’s acting like a little girl again. I’ve been thinking about him all day, been waiting for him to talk to me all day, but now that he’s done so, I just want him to leave me alone.
You didn’t stop for a second to think about this, did you? Of course you didn’t, I would have known. You’re so rash, Maya. You always do first, consider later. This is ridiculous, you’re supposed to be an adult. I’ve half a mind not to help you with this one, teach you a lesson about consequences.
I don’t want his help. I didn’t come here for his help. I’m sick of people interfering with my life.
Fine! I won’t interfere. I won’t interfere with anything. Then we’ll see how long it takes you to realise that we’re the good guys, that people actually need us.
As his presences disappears, it leaves a strange emptiness in my mind, the removal of a warm, comforting closeness that I hadn’t noticed before. Everything seems colder without it, without him, and the ache hits me immediately. I miss him. I would have been missing him all day but he was always there, sitting snuggly at the back of my head, ready to be called upon with just a second’s thought, and now he’s gone.
For the second time today, I let myself cry.