Hint 30. Don't Cause A Scene
“Yo! Maya, get ready for Jack and Maya on the news, episode three. It’s the one where Docklen acts like a dick… wait, no. Is that the second one? Or all three?”
For a second Alex’s casual joking confuses my sleeping mind and I almost believe I’m at home, that I never waved my mask under Ripley’s nose. I’m not entirely sure what it is that brings me back to reality, perhaps it’s the rough surface of my previous night’s bed but, more likely, it’s the rough timbre of Jack Docklen’s barely concealed irritation.
“Get out of the way, Higgs.”
“Ow! Jesus, Docklen, I bruise easily you know.”
By the time my eyes have opened, everything is back to its natural order. Even the expression on Alex’s face is pinched and despite the words he used to wake me, it’s still very apparent that we’re not friends again just yet. Or ever.
Both men pile into the tiny cell, Jack first, Alex at his heels.
“What are you even doing here, Higgs?” Jack snaps as the small cell forces them too close together. “One, it’s your day off. Two, I did not require an escort.”
“Yeah, like I’m bloody leaving you alone with her,” Alex mutters, voice low. “Ripley switched my schedule. If you’re in, Docklen, I’m in.”
Jack just grumbles nonsense, angry spluttering under his breath.
“Thanks,” I whisper as Jack reaches down to grab my arm, leaning past his shoulder to smile my gratitude up at my housemate.
“Yeah. Fuck you, Maya,” he mutters, turning away. I flinch but generally it’s a good sign when Alex’s anger takes on senseless insults. It’s when he’s eloquent that I’ve got to worry.
I’m not paying enough attention, not jumping fast enough to satisfy the whims of Jack Docklen, and he forces me to my feet, fingers digging into the soft skin of my underarm. I attempt to shrug him off but he just grits his teeth, shaking me in response.
“Fucking hell,” Alex and I mutter at the same time, “we’re not in a war camp.”
I grin but Alex isn’t having any of it, folding his arms and scrunching up his face.
“Oh whatever, Alex,” I say as Jack drags me past and out into the corridor. “You know you don’t have it in you to stay angry at me forever.”
Jack takes us up the stairs and across the office floor. It goes quiet as we pass through but I stare at my feet. I don’t even want to know who’s in, let alone catch any eyes. Alex gets edgy as we walk towards the front door, darting round from behind to block our path.
“Hey,” he says. “I thought you were joking about taking her out there. You know you can’t do that kind of thing without a lawyer present.”
“She didn’t need a lawyer when she was prancing around for them on top of Townhall.”
Jack doesn’t even falter. He just keeps walking, tugging me forwards, and Alex falls back beneath the inevitability of his moving feet.
“You were the one that was so insistent we fit her with the GPS,” Alex continues, skittering backwards as Docklen bursts through the office doors and out into the corridor, dragging me along at his side. “What do you think it’s going to do when we take her out there?”
“I put it on her. I set up the perimeter. It sends its alerts to me,” Docklen grunts. “Stop being an idiot, Higgs.”
Jack’s fingers tighten on my arm. I can sense the anger in him, coiling tight, just below the surface. It is a thing I have slowly come to dread.
“Alex, it’s fine,” I say, just trying to get him to stop complaining before Docklen tears the whole street apart. “Leave it.”
“Like you’ve got any place to tell me what I should and should not ‘leave’,” he mutters but it’s already too late.
Jack shoves me unceremoniously through the front doors and I spill out onto the street, stumbling. His hand finds its way back onto my arm, anchoring me to the top of the station steps, and the shrill bleeping that had just begun to awake from my ankle is silenced.
When I am quite certain that my feet have grounded properly, I take my own weight, shaking myself free of Jack’s grip and dusting myself down. I straighten, turning my gaze out across the car park.
There is a pause as we assess each other; me, at the top of the station steps, and the three hundred journalists amassed on the swathe of tarmac where, on a normal day, people park the patrol vehicles.
I’m struck dumb, trying to work out what the hell is going on, and for a while they just stare back. Eventually, almost apologetically, the first camera goes off, half blinding with its flash, and the flood gates open. More flashes light up the space before us, as bright and fleeting as a meteor shower at midnight. People are screaming, accusations, questions, I don’t know. The sound melds into one, a giant roar of inhuman sound.
At my side, Jack smirks. Eventually people start to realise they’ll hear nothing if they continue to shout and the noise begins to settle. Jack leans down, hissing in my ear.
“Tell them who you are, Whisper,” he demands, shaking me again, just for added effect.
“I’m pretty sure,” I reply, “that my lawyer, had you allowed me to get one, would very definitively tell me not to do that, Jack.”
“Yeah, like I’m going to allow Shark to plant his influence right under my nose like that.”
“Oh come one, Maya, I wasn’t born yesterday. I know Shark’s got half of Justice in his pocket. There’s not a lawyer in this city that isn’t either in his pay or terrified of him.”
I decide not to tell Jack that Shark vowed not to help me and that I’m pretty sure this includes finding a shady underground lawyer to represent me.
“Docklen, just take her back inside,” Alex begins, making the mistake of trying to rest a calming hand on Jack’s shoulder.
Jack reacts immediately, bristling, and Alex stumbles backwards a few steps. From the expression on his face, it’s apparent that he only registered the shove after it had already happened. For the first time, I don’t feel panic as I sense Jack’s temper begin to slip away.
“Let’s not cause a scene, yeah?” I snap, forcing them both back through the doors. I’ve only been awake an hour, my mouth still tastes like cotton wool and the pits of hell, and this day is already a disaster.
Alex doesn’t take well to all this pushing. I slam the front door behind us, leaning against the handle so that anyone who wants to go back out there has to go through me first. He sets his shoulders, straightens his back, and I can see him calculating the risk in his mind, working out whether or not it’s worth it to throw the first punch at work. He’s not normally like this, not normally so quick to anger, and I realise Jack’s power is swirling through the air again, confusing things.
“Alex,” I say warily, “get back to your desk.”
“Just go away. I need to talk to Jack alone.”
“Maya, don’t tell me…”
“Now!” I scream it and he hisses.
“Fucking hell, Maya,” he grumbles, slouching away. “You’re turning into your mother.”
“You love my mother.”
Alex hunches over as he forces the office door open with an idle kick, dragging his feet all the way back to his desk. I feel sorry for him. He’s my friend, he’s probably struggling with this almost as much as I am, and he’s just trying to protect me. Ironic, really, because I’m only sending him away now because I’m hoping it’ll save him from Jack’s anger.
“Find somewhere private,” I command, turning back to the offending party. “And, for God’s sake, take a deep breath.”
After a second of gritted teeth, Jack does as I say, closing his eyes. It has bought us maybe a minute but even as he steps forward again, reasserting his grip on my arm, the lightbulbs above us begin to crackle and spin, sending strange shadows out across the floor.
I tumble into an empty interrogation room, stumbling on my own feet and the force of Jack’s throw. For a second, the door won’t close behind him and he loses patience, slamming it repeatedly against the frame. I remember, then, that his power can be as much his enemy as it is ours. I take pity, stepping forward, and gently remove the handle from his grip, clicking the latch into place.
“What happened to you?” I ask him.
He never stepped away when I joined him at the door and now he’s standing too close. For a second I’m terrified that Shark will get the wrong idea but then that empty ache at the back of my mind begins to throb again and I wonder if he can even hear any of this.
“What do you think happened to me?” He snaps, narrowing his eyes accusingly.
“Me?” I ensure the distance between us widens drastically, throwing up my hands at his implied accusation. “I think you’ll find that you’re the thing that happened to me, Jack Docklen, not the other way around.”
“You betrayed me,” he snarls. “I trusted you with Shark and you took the first opportunity to go running off with him.”
My responses are getting fuzzy in my head, the table at the centre of the room has begun to rattle. He never used to be this out of control.
“Just stop, just stop a second,” I snap when I’m finally capable of putting more than three words together. This is going to get so out of hand so quickly. “What I meant, with my original question, was what’s happened to you lately? You used to have a short temper but not this short and even if you got mad, doors and tables wouldn’t start to rebel straight away. When was the last time you went to The Facility, Jack?”
He stiffens and, for a second, his body appears to warp and change. His teeth sharpen, his pupils stretch, making his face look so much more reptilian. And then he’s back to normal, shoulders trembling with passion. I realise that, just perhaps, I have said the wrong thing.
“What?” I ask. “What was that?”
“What right…” he spits, struggling with the words. The floor cracks at my feet and I jump back. “What right do you have to ask that question?”
“You think he can tell you just one story and suddenly you know the truth of it? You don’t know what I am. You don’t know what I go through, day by day. Tell me, Maya, what is it that they do to me at The Facility, and if you can tell me true, I’ll go back right now.”
I bite my lip, awkward.
“Yeah, I fucking thought so,” he says.
He doesn’t say anything. Nothing. I can taste it in the air, the moment when he switches from angry to crazy, the moment when he loses himself completely. My only reassurance is that, if needs must, I can still get out of here. It’s a reassurance that only lasts a second, though, as I realise I couldn’t leave Alex and Amber and all the rest of my colleagues here at his mercy.
Jack doesn’t go for me, though, not this time. Instead he leaves. He marches from the room and out into the corridor. I hesitate a second and then I’m following. He wrenches the door from its hinges, punishment perhaps for its earlier insubordination, and I duck under the creaking wood with a fair degree of trepidation.
He’s a good distance ahead of me by now and I jog to catch up. I don’t know what I intend to do just yet, I’m just not prepared to let him out of my sight.
He makes his way to the front of the station and strides straight out into the carpark, into the waiting mass of hundreds of unprepared journalists. I can hear them screaming already, screaming questions, not fear, but by the time I make it to the station steps myself he’s already halfway through them, tossing bodies to the side as if they were nothing.
“Jack!” I call out his name, darting down behind him, and it’s only as I reach the bottom of the steps that the band on my ankle begins to wail. I pause, looking down at it, looking back up at him, and remember that I’m not a superhero anymore. I remember that this isn’t my responsibility. It’s not supposed to be my responsibility.
I take a step back. And another. I return to the front door, hovering awkwardly beneath the doorframe. Standing at the boundary, the furthest distance I’m supposed to travel from my cell, I fold my arms and simply watch him go.