I will go mad, I swear I will go mad… flamethrowers can’t run, indeed.
“Can Audrey Skyburn run, then?” I snap. She is sauntering toward the door, or perhaps I’m just moving at high gear.
“Yes, as a matter of fact, she can.” I’m completely fed up now, and I grab her arm.
“Then run, vlákas!” It’s not very rude, and I don’t have time to see her reaction – the bad guys are already pulling out of the café parking lot onto the road that runs through the park, driving away in a blue Dodge sedan. Just in case we don’t make it in time, I call the car’s tags into the DMV for an APB – I beg your pardon. I inform the police that this car is to be stopped wherever they see it. Much to Audrey’s all-too-visible surprise, an instant later, we’re racing together up the invisible staircase I’ve built into the air, and skating down the icy-smooth ramp on the other side. There’s little enough friction, and I kicked off hard enough at the top, that we’ll easily be going thirty miles an hour by the time we’re back at ground level.
At least, we would have been, but Audrey lost her footing and went for a slide, butt-down. I haul her up and show her how to stand, with her body parallel to the slope, arms out for balance, leading foot turned. I spent time on the coast back in the day, and I know the classic surfer’s stance, among other things. We’ll have to be careful; I must assume Saxon’s in the car with Rebecca and the kidnappers. Now, if she’d been with me, we could have accomplished more, but I was raised to work for the good of the team, however spaz its individual members are being at any given moment.
I have trouble changing an item I can’t see or clearly visualize, so getting rid of the guns will be a problem. However, Lannis is poking at my mind, telling me Saxon wants out of the Dodge – now. Demanding young… but I sublimate the rear doors of the sedan anyway. It’s about all I can do to pull that change and keep my slope from dissolving under my feet.
The sedan skids around the bend out of the park and onto the bridge over the freeway, much too fast, making it almost to two wheels. And I suddenly remember: Saxon and Rebecca don’t know the doors are gone.
Okay, they do now.
Rebecca tumbles out, apparently alone, but I’ve worked with invisibles before, and I can see by the way she’s moving that Saxon’s right there too. Given their trajectory, I’m guessing they’ll be off the edge of the road and onto the freeway in a couple seconds. I let go the car doors, feel them snap back to solidity, but I still don’t have enough left in me to throw them a safety. Glancing down, I see we’re still nine feet up – nothing to me, but I’ve got no way of telling if Audrey knows how to fall. Okay, Starlight girl, this is going to hurt… let’s go. I turn all the air for ten yards around Saxon and Rebecca to liquid, for a soft landing, and the slope is whipped out from under my feet. On the way down, I have just enough time to catch hold of Audrey and swing her out so I’m falling under her. It’s not a trick I’m unfamiliar with, from either end, but it still isn’t fun.
We hit down on the sidewalk, me first, Audrey on top. My powers are all about will and concentration: it’s a little difficult to maintain a change when you’re landing on cement from nine feet up, with all the natural grace of a rhinoceros. I do not usually look this clumsy, but, when it comes to civilians, and when I need my entire mind free for holding a trick, grace and charm can go flying over the brink into Tartarus for all I care.
Saxon and Rebecca break the surface of my illusory lake, gasping and splashing, and strike out for the overbridge to join us. It’s hard work, but I keep the water there until they reach the edge. By the time they’re standing, the Dodge sedan is speeding down the freeway, and in a few seconds, it will pass straight under us.
“Saxon,” I say quietly, “can you get Audrey down there and set a firewall across the highway?”
One moment there, the next gone. I send Rebecca back to the café for mocha and sympathy, and stay on to keep track of operations, though God He knows I could use the caffeine hit right now. As soon as the fire is set, the blue sedan skidding to a halt to avoid running straight into it, I hop over the bridge rail and drop to the ground below, cape fluttering like a bat’s wings.
The crooks are scrambling out of the car, but they stop dead when they see me, and their mouths hang open under the ski masks. Silhouetted against the roaring fire, flexing my black-gloved fingers, because it’s a common rumor that I literally throw my changes, I smile sweetly at Saxon – still invisible – and Audrey.
“What shall we do, girls?”
Saxon answers, in the peculiar gravelly voice she uses when she’s invisible. “Teleport them into the foundry.” I drop the smile, and she reconsiders. “Um… hem them in and leave them for the cops.”
So we do that, and then all head back to the café to continue our somewhat disjointed first meeting. Saxon teleports. Audrey walks. I hitch a line to one of my throwing stars and swing up by way of a conveniently overhanging tree in the park. Then the adrenaline drains away, and I’m empty, and so, so tired.
Lannis notices. Well, she’s an empath. Even if I were as stoical as Mother – which, alas, I am not – Lannis would notice. Her first reaction? To hug me. Good grief.
“Thank-you-so-much-for-saving-them!” she says, all in a line like that, no gaps between the words.
I stiffen, and block her. “Unhand me at once,” I demand. There’s no telling what she’s already seen, and I know well enough that physical contact only enhances an empath’s powers. Oddly, I find I didn’t need to say anything: Lannis stumbles back away from me, face aghast.
“What… was that?” she says, in barely a whisper.
“It’s just me.” I was ready for this the moment I walked in the door; I’m always ready for it. But tonight… “Could I possibly have a caramel macchiato, Lannis?” I fish the coins out of a pocket on my utility belt, lay them on the counter. So tired. Usually, when I’m working, I don’t have to do a big, draining rescue, and then do people stuff straightaway. Unless Keller’s sniffing around for an exclusive or a quote, then all bets are off.
Tonight all bets are off. Jason Keller, freelance reporter – or so it says on his card – pokes his head in around the door.
“Starlight! Could I bother you for just the littlest moment?”
“I have no quote. I have no comment. I have no exclusive.” Fortunately Saxon stayed out of sight during the rescue, but I can see him eyeing Audrey, hungrily, lustful for news. “And neither does she.”
I know how he’ll spin this: Starlight Takes Sidekick! Hell, I wouldn’t deny the media the right to get the wrong end of the stick. It’s only what they do best. Lannis hands me the cup, careful not to touch even my gloves with her fingertips. I wonder what it was that she saw. I drink the coffee slowly, letting the foam swirl around my mouth, feeling the sugar and caffeine diffuse into my blood, then meticulously wipe the rim with a finger and thumb, removing every trace of saliva and lipstick.
I’m about to leave. This was a good idea that Lannis had, but I’m beginning to feel that community is not for me. Not with an empath. Not with the innocent. It’s not meant for me.