Hint 38. Capes Are For Children
Tonight is the first night since I began Facility confinement where I am not assaulted by the nightmares. This is not due to any outdated concept of chivalry, the idea that sleeping here in this fourposter bed with Shark at my side might allow him to protect me from my subconscious. It is because I cannot sleep at all. And without sleep, the nightmares have to wait.
Alex’s screams echo along every corridor. They’re inescapable. They seep under every door and wind around the loose dust covers of the drawing room. There’s something about the emptiness of this abandoned place that gives them life, like old ghosts stalking the halls. Even in here, with my head buried beneath the pillows, I can still hear him. He has a muffled quality, like someone’s trying to smother him with a sheet, but the pain is still the same.
“By this time tomorrow,” Shark breathes, “it will all be over.” Somehow I know he means more than just Alex’s torment. He means Jack, he means the terror in our lives, everything.
I slowly untangle myself for the covers and look at him. He’s lying on his back, blankets around his waist, and he’s just staring sightlessly up at the canopy above us. His hands are thrown upwards, cushioning his head, and I roll towards him, curling myself around his side, slotting my body together with his like two pieces in a puzzle.
“By this time tomorrow, we could be dead,” I say because I don’t want to forget it. I’ve seen enough of the reality of the world to know you can’t survive long by following only the best possible outcome.
“Yes,” Shark sighs, still staring blankly up at a sight I cannot see. I suddenly realise how much worse it must be for him, he can hear more than just Alex’s screaming. “There’s something I have to tell you,” Shark says, “in case I don’t get the chance again.”
He finally turns to look at me.
“It’s stupid,” he says. “You know how you always get me to say the stupidest things.”
“Just say it. You know how much I love it when you’re a teenage girl.”
Shark smiles at my grin, leaning over to run a rough thumb along my cheek.
“I was worried I wasn’t going to get to see that smile again,” he says.
“Don’t change the topic. Tell me your thing.”
He chuckles slightly, tilting his head to press little butterfly kisses up my neck and across my ear. “I love you,” he breathes.
I roll back, looking at him in confusion. I hardly know the man without the mask. There’s so much to him, buried beneath the layers of his past, and I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface. It’s way too soon to be thinking about love.
“Don’t worry,” he says. “You’ll get there.”
“I’m not worried about me,” I say. “What I don’t understand is how you got there already.”
“That’s where it gets stupid,” he says. “I think I always have.”
“That is stupid.”
He laughs, tucking a strand of hair behind my ear.
“Maya,” he breathes, “I can see your everything. I can study, in avid intimacy, the very building blocks of your personality. I can relive everything that ever happened to you with just the smallest amount of prompting. I watch every decision as it slowly forms in your mind, different factors coming together to form one crystalline outcome. How many minds do you think I touch on the average day? How long do you reckon it takes me to get the measure of a man? There’s no one, not in all my years of trawling through minds, that I’ve ever met who’s quite like you. The difference between what you think and what you do is so marginal it’s almost nonexistent. There’s no duplicity in you, no lies. You look at the world with stark honesty. You feel everything, breathe everything, live everything to its absolute fullest and I think it’s perfect. You’re my soulmate. Suck it up and accept it, Maya, it’s a fact.”
The screaming stops in the early morning and the resulting silence, after hours of agony, is so strong it aches. I make to stand, reacting immediately, but Shark grabs my arm, pulling me back to his side.
“Let him sleep, Maya,” he says. “He needs it.”
“Is he alright? Did it work?”
“What’s he thinking?”
“He’s not thinking anything, he’s sleeping, just like you should be.” Shark wrestles me back onto the pillows, laughing as I struggle, and presses his lips into mine. “Sleep,” he commands and I do.
I wake in the morning to more agonised crying. It takes me a while to realise that, this time, it’s me. I still my lips, shuddering as the nightmare washes from my shoulders, and catch Shark looking at me. He has propped himself up onto one arm, watching me carefully.
“Those are some pretty vivid dreams, Maya,” he says. “Are you sure you’re Ok to come today? I’ll understand if you think it’s too much. Jack hasn’t exactly been… kind… to you.”
I’m about to reply but, from somewhere down the distant corridor, Alex interrupts. For a second I think he’s screaming again but there’s something about the tone that’s different from last night, less eerie, more ecstatic.
At my side, Shark tilts his head, and starts to laugh. “Alright,” he says, tugging me from the bed, “he’s endearing. I’ll give him that.”
I throw my clothes on in a rush, fumbling over zips and buttons, and Shark takes pity, lending me a hand.
“Should I be jealous,” he says, “you’re so keen.”
I laugh. “I never met a guy who got jealous about me putting my clothes on before,” I reply.
Anna is standing in the corridor as I burst out of my room. She’s wearing nothing more than a thin tank top and a tiny pair of shorts. The edges of her new scars crawl out from behind the material. The skin’s still red and raised but it has already begun to knit back together. She’d be in trouble if she tried to change again, of that I’m sure, but I understand, now, how she’s able to move so fluidly once again, at least in the shape that she is now.
“He’s having a bit of a fit,” she says with a smirk as Shark appears at my side.
Her head rolls over her shoulder, taking in the door of their room just as Alex explodes through it. I’ve never seen him move so fast.
“I was blind and now I see!” He shouts, waving his hands in front of his face like he’s never seen them before. “I can’t believe I let them take this away from me the first time. I’ve been living in cottonwool.”
“Morning, Alex,” I say. “How are you feeling this morning?”
“Horrendous,” he replies and though it’s probably true, he doesn’t sound like he means it. His eyes are sunken, his skin pale. “I think I’m going to die.” He turns to Anna, tilting his head. “You didn’t tell me you had a gardener, I thought you said we were going to be alone here.” He rushes to the end of a corridor, where there’s a massive window nestled into the stone of the wall, and flings it open.
I push him over, joining his side, and look down at the little old man trimming the roses.
“How did you know he was there?” I ask.
“I heard him. Can’t you hear him?”
“I can’t even hear him now,” I say. “He’s not saying anything.”
“Yeah, but the clippers and stuff. He’s breathing, it’s a bit difficult to pick that one up over the wind in the apple trees,” he points to a distant orchard, “but I’ve got it now.”
“You’re mad,” I say.
Anna arrives between us, pulling Alex away from the drop and shutting the window.
“Don’t let him see you,” she hisses. “I told you I made the serum better.”
“Better!” I exclaim. “This isn’t just better. He’s…” I run out of words.
“What else can I do?” Alex asks.
“In theory? All the standard Sapient+ improvements should be further heightened, all five senses have been pushed to their peak and your endurance should be off the charts.”
“That should come in handy,” he says.
“Additionally, I used knowledge of my existing powers to give you a few other perks. You should be able to move and heal faster, at a rate that potentially exceeds my own, but we’ll have to wait and see on that front. I could have made your neural pathways as efficient as mine but I wanted to play about with your brain as little as possible, sorry. I didn’t want to mess with your personality. I like you just the way you are.”
“You’re actually disgusting,” I say as she smiles at him.
“You gave him your speed?” Shark asks. “Is it wise to just throw your edge away like that?”
“He was already fast enough to shoot me,” she replies. “He earned it. Besides, that one’s just my little gift to him. I won’t give it to anyone else.”
“And your original power?” I ask. “Did you get it back?”
“We’ll just have to wait and see,” Alex replies.
“Jack hasn’t moved since yesterday,” Shark says, “but I can’t see it lasting forever. These powers are exciting and all but is he ready?”
“Don’t ask me, ask him.”
“I feel like death,” Alex says, “but I’m as ready as I’ll ever be. Let’s go save the world.”
Alex looks fearsome in a mask. Anna has obviously been planning this for a long time. As I slip easily into my standard Whisper ensemble, Alex appears in an outfit painstakingly matched to Shark’s. The leather straps buckled to his upper thigh make him look some kind of steam punk superhero and tight black jeans hug his hips, topped by a jacket and a hood. Unlike Shark, Alex wears his hood pulled low, casting his brow in a deep shadow that betrays the natural softness of his eyes.
“I want a cape,” he says, tugging absently at a matching set of leather buckles on his right arm.
He joins my side, just the two of us in the drawing room, and looks at himself in the mirror. It reminds me of the first time I wore the mask.
“Capes are for children,” I say.
“I don’t want a stupid one,” he says. “ I want a cool one, like it’s a thick scarf around my throat but then it blows dramatically in the wind. Or a single shoulder one, like a matador.”
“Look it’s quite simple,” he says. “All I’m saying is next time, if I don’t get a cape, I’m joining the dark side.”
The Lady returns as he speaks, arguing with Shark. Alex wrapped the whole left side of her body in tight bandages, a preemptive move in case she tears any existing wounds in the upcoming battle, and beneath her flimsy outfit she looks like something from a Japanese horror movie. The gauze goes all the way down to her wrist and up again.
“Fucking hell,” Alex breathes as she flicks her hair, glaring at Shark angrily.
“I don’t care,” she says, “I’m taking it. If there was ever a time that justified a sword, it would be now.”
She tightens the belt around her waist and I look down, noticing the deadly black scabbard she has disguised against the material of her clothing.
“She gets a sword?” Alex asks, put out. “I want one.”
“I knew you would,” she says, anger melting off her face as she turns towards him with a brilliant smile. “That’s why I brought you this.”
She holds out a wicked blade, allowing the sun to shine cruelly off it’s honed edge. The light almost seems drip from it like water.
“Nice,” Alex says as she finishes displaying it proudly and slips the blade into a dark scabbard.
“It goes across your back, like this,” she says, placing it across his spine and securing the buckles on his chest. “Can you draw it easily enough?”
“Of course,” he replies, pulling the weapon free with a clean ring. Waving it about with some practiced moves, he tests its weight, finding its balance with a single finger.
Across the room, Shark’s jaw clenches. I want to complain, tell him to stop playing with fire and put it down, but I’ve caught him sneaking out to enough nerdy medieval reenactment battles to know Alex is more than capable with a wooden sword. Even though it would never have been in earnest, he’s almost certainly tested himself with a real one before.
“Do you want one, Maya?” The Lady asks, bending down to slip a pistol in the nest of buckles on his thigh. Alex sheathes his sword and she hands him a small knife that he secrets behind the leather on his arm. They’ve been planning this since I disappeared into the Facility cells, I can see that now.
“No thanks,” I say. “I think I’ll just stick to the gun.”
Shark smiles at my decision, although he must have known it was always going to be that way, and hands me a pistol. I check the bullets in the chamber before securing it to my waist.
Ripley is already waiting as we stride into the station. He has his arms crossed over his stomach and his face folded into a heavy frown. He takes one look at Alex, completely unrecognisable in his superhero ensemble, and says, “Well that explains a few things. I hope you know what you’re getting yourself into, Higgs.” Alex doesn’t reply, blinking cooly behind the mask, and Ripley turns to me. “You look like you’re preparing for war,” he says.
“I think, in way, we are,” I say.
“I let all this happen,” he says. “It was my station and I had the responsibility to see what was happening to my people. I owe you an apology.”
“No worries, Chief,” I say. “All’s well that ends well.”
As we speak, I am aware of shuffling movement in my peripheral vision. I turn, watching as the rest of the station slowly pulls themselves to their feet. There’s a general readiness that hangs in the air. Those that are Sapient+ wear their new badges with pride, fluorescent lighting glinting periodically off their polished surfaces. There are a good few of our number without powers but they don’t seem in the slightest bit phased. They stand, Amber among them, and join the rest in a tight crowd around our shoulders.
Amber walks over to The Lady, standing too close to her personal space for me to be comfortable, and folds her arms.
“Don’t come anywhere near me,” she warns, eyes flicking briefly over to Alex, “either of you.”
“Nothing would give me more pleasure,” Anna replies and I swallow nervously. If there was ever anything for Jack’s chaos to take advantage of, it is their open hostility.
Amber stalks away, settling herself at my side, and I give her a smile.
“I told you he was a dick,” I say.
“Yeah,” she sighs. “You did.”
Ripley taps his foot on the ground, surveying our amassed numbers with a critical eye. At first he looks dissatisfied but eventually the tension seeps from his shoulders. He puts out a hand, palm up, and one of the Junior Constables places a gun in his grip with something close to reverence. Ripley gives the weapon the same critical stare he gave us before grunting in satisfaction and slipping it into his belt alongside an old-school riot baton. I open my mouth to complain but Shark reaches out, stopping my speech.
Did you ever really expect him to stay behind?
Ripley nods once to himself. “Let’s do this thing,” he says.