She left it on the lap of a carved goddess on the frieze at the museum. I don’t know what gave Lannis that idea, but I approve, overall. I could wish she’d chosen a different goddess to leave the note with – there’s some ancient history there I don’t like to think about too much – but there’s no way she could have known that, empath or no. While I don’t much like skulking around corners, staying masked around these girls, I don’t really have a choice. I would love to be back in a normal community setting, where we all know each other’s’ names, jobs, significant others, kids, just like a family. Much that I know about normal families!
The museum’s like an old Greek temple: pillared colonnade, wide flat steps down into the manicured gardens all around. Good for concealment, so I take Lannis’ note carefully between finger and thumb, avoiding the goddess’ marble stare, and slip away down the colonnade to read it by the icy moonlight. Moonlight, streetlight, starlight – we get along just fine.
Opening the envelope, I only spot the pressed flowers folded into the paper after I’ve spilled them all over the ground. I would like to keep them, drop them between the pages of my dictionary, as a good-luck token, but I can think of a better use. Violets for humility, and heartsease for peace: perfect. I lay the flowers back in the lap of the carved goddess, and only then do I read the note. She wants to meet tomorrow afternoon at the café. That means appearing masked in daylight. Dare I? Pulling this thing together into a working team is worth a few risks. I dare.
The next day, the sun is snared in the treetops around the park, when I crouch, froglike but certainly not amusing, on a high rooftop across the road, and study the interior of the café through its plate-glass windows. It is not dark enough to suit me; won’t be for an hour yet. So I’m not totally certain if it’s really safe. Some days I feel like a wild animal, waiting for the night so I can stop hiding behind my name and be my real self again. And though I’d be the last to admit it, and I’ll shove it down forever, these days I’m all but running scared. I don’t know how much longer I have, don’t know what Rhadamanthus will demand of me in payment for new powers. Don’t know if I can afford to pay. Don’t know if this Teenaged Superhero Society is on the level.
Have to take a few risks to get anywhere, Starlight, girl. No guts, no glory, that’s the creed. I can see Lannis dusting something on the high shelves behind the counter, and Saxon reading a book at the table in the corner. There’s a backroom door, but Lannis set the time and place, presumably for a time when she doesn’t expect anybody to be there but us. I’ll just have to trust her.
And then, too late, when I’ve come down and I’m too close to turn and walk away, I remember why I don’t trust anyone. Another girl, one I’ve never seen before in my life, comes out of the backroom, wiping her hands on her apron, smoothing her dark hair. Lannis leaps down from the chair she was standing on, and flaps her duster vaguely from me to the stranger.
“Starlight, Kayla. Kayla, Starlight.”
Not amused, I press my lips together and lay Lannis’ note on the counter. “I’m sorry, who -”
“She works here,” Saxon answers before I finish asking, then ducks back behind her book.
Kayla opens her mouth, shuts it again, changes her mind, and starts to babble.
“Oh my goodness. Oh my gosh. Starlight? For real? I’m such a big fan! Starlight! Can I have your autograph?” Well, she’s either a good actress, or genuinely a fangirl with more burble than brains.
“Of course.” It’s not dangerous. I’m a southpaw. Starlight, after ten years’ diligent practice, is right-handed: our handwritings are very different. I scribble ‘Starlight’ on the sheet of paper Kayla holds out to me, then turn to Lannis, tap the note on the counter.
“I’m sorry, citizen, there must have been some mistake. I’ll maybe see you later. You ladies take care now,” I add to the room in general, and wander out into the gathering darkness of the park. I’m making for Rodham Block, in hopes of finding something on which I can wear off a little frustration.
I cut through the housing project on the way – which isn’t my normal way, but then, nothing is normal today. And so I am not terribly surprised at being surprised anymore. Just as well, because someone flings up the window on the fourth floor and starts hurling things out of it. A telephone. A pan. A plant in a pot. I can hear three voices: two men, both angry, one drunk, and a girl either yelling or crying, not sure which. A rapid survey of the area, and I work out how to do this: swing up to the fire escape and look.
The girl is Audrey. I knew she lived somewhere around here, but not the exact address, so I file that information for future reference. The two men are fighting, and the drunk one seems to resemble Audrey somewhat. It’s the other one, the fat one, throwing things out the kitchen window, and shouting about eviction.
“Everything all right, gentlemen?” I ask politely.
“This deleted son of an adjectival sea-cook is getting out of my building, everything’s wonderful,” says the fat man, stopping for an instant.
Audrey was shrieking at the top of her lungs at him – frankly, I had rather expected to see a fireball before now; apparently, her control is better than I had dared hope. Now she turns to me. “No, everything’s not all right! Georgio’s throwing us out on no notice!”
I nod, maintaining a glacial calm, pretending not to recognize Audrey. “That’s not legal.”
“And who’s gonna stop me? A girl?” he snaps, flinging a lamp in my general direction. Throwing a change, I blow the liquid remains of the lamp back in his face.
“No. Two.” I smile briefly at Audrey, flick my fingers to imitate fire. “Straight out the window, if you’re standing by the stove already.”
Audrey catches on fast, and I only just have time to somersault out of the way of the jet of flame shooting out into the alley. Then the floor evaporates under the fat man, Georgio’s, feet, and he tumbles to the next story. I’m at that window as soon as he gets there.
“You are not evicting anyone. In fact, you have three days to get the dangerous gas stove and the rotten floorboards mended, and that fleatrap fixed up to something resembling human habitation, because at the end of that time, I’ll be back to check. And I might have some friends who’d be very interested in this whole building!” I smile, now that I’ve won. You come to see it in their eyes, after a little while. The defeat.
I deliberately don’t go to talk to Audrey: impartiality, and all that. I can make myself believe I would have done the same for anyone, but only so long as I can pretend I don’t know her. She’s a civilian, but she’s also the next thing to being one of the team, and it’s rule number three that when one of the team needs help, you drop everything and help them. Not that it makes much difference: Audrey comes running after me across the roofs, and I stop, to prevent her rushing on and ending up as strawberry jam on the sidewalk.
“Star, wait up. Have you been by the café this evening?”
“Yes,” I say from the other side of the road, where she can’t reach me. “There was a… Kayla there. Next time you see Lannis -”
“That would be now,” Audrey interrupts. “And you’re coming with me. We need to talk – as a team.”