Port City, USA
A set of small row houses near the docks
The first floor of an unassuming duplex in the middle of the row.
A few minutes after one AM, Sunday.
Chelsea slips quickly into Sharon's apartment, closing the door behind her and pressing her back against it. She lets out a deep breath.
Sharon is sitting at her little dining table in a nightdress. "Long night?" she deadpans.
Chelsea slides down to the floor, sitting in the entryway. She can see the television flickering from where she finds herself, but the angle is wrong, she can't see it, and it's muted. She can only guess at what Sharon's watching, but she assumes that it's the news. "Very long."
Sharon nods and, with a gesture, invites her friend to sit at the table.
Chelsea instead buries her bare head in her hands. "Fuck," she says into her knees.
Sharon nods and walks over to the fridge. "Beer, wine, vodka?"
"Jesus, no." Chelsea doesn't move. "Coffee."
"Got it. Won't ask if you want it Irish." Sharon pops the lid on the single-serving coffee maker. "Flavored?"
"Sweet as you can."
Chelsea lifts her head and watches her friend move about the kitchen, putting water in machine, getting one of those ugly little pods, putting a mug under the spout, pushing the start button. She watches as Sharon walks over to the doorway and offers her a hand. She hesitates. Sharon waits.
Chelsea sighs and grabs her friend's hand, letting Sharon hoist her to her feet.
"Wanna talk about it?" Sharon says, leading Chelsea by the hand to the dining table. She motions towards the television, where footage of the incident earlier that evening was playing.
"Three words. Only three words," Chelsea replies, sitting down and again burying her head in her hands.
"Yeah? Those are?"
Chelsea lets out a sigh. "Fuck Sterling Grey."
Sterling Grey's office
11 AM Saturday
Sterling sits at his desk. Elena sits on the opposite corner, wearing blue, her body turned away but leaning to face him. Another man stands in the doorway, not overly tall, casually dressed but carefully and neatly arrayed, enough that his jeans and plain t-shirt seem like they ought to be fancier.
"Elena, excellent job, as ever," Sterling says, reading an article on his computer.
"That's what you pay me for," she replies.
"What's the reach of this, Thomas?" Sterling asks, looking to the man at the door.
He steps into the office. "Far as we could push it. I got the social media team working on it."
"Any idea to the reaction?"
Thomas nods. "We got the narrative out quick enough, and it seems like we're getting positive response across the board. The usual detractors, of course, but we've even got a little mainstream reporting. Mostly just, 'Here's an interesting take on Thursday's fire,' but at least we've got the message out."
"Seeds of doubt," Sterling says. "Perfect. Buys us time. Great work, you both of you."
Elena stands up. "So what do we do today?"
"We watch and wait, I think," Sterling replies. "Not much we can really do until they give us a response."
Thomas' phone makes a melodic noise. "May I?" the fastidious man asked.
Thomas pulled the smart device from his glances at the lock screen. "We may have our response. Police chief's giving a press conferenece."
"On a Saturday morning?" Elena exclaims. "Must be serious business."
"Can you bring it up, Thomas?"
"On it, boss."
Sterling sighs. "I wish you'd all stop calling me that." He gets up and walks around the desk.
"It's faster than saying 'Sterling,'" Elena points out, standing on the other side of Thomas. "More fun, too."
"She's got you there, boss." Thomas held up his phone so the three of them could watch. "You should really get a TV in here."
"I spend enough time in the office as it is, I don't need an excuse not to go home."
The buffering catches up to the live video feed just as Chief Marrol is stepping up to the podium.
"Ooh, the chief himself," Elena says. "Not the ocmmunications officer. This must be serious."
"I'd like to thank the press for coming today. Due to the urgency of this situation, I do not have time to take questions afterwards. This is merely to keep the public informed."
Thomas frowns. "Never a good sign."
"The fire in the Dockworks Cafe seems to have been deliberately set, and has revealed evidence of a larger-scale smuggling operation within the docks."
"Shit." Sterling puts a hand to his forehead. "Elena, —"
"I'm already working on it."
"Due to the sensitive nature of the operation I cannot reveal more at this time, but we have decided in consultation with city council and the Bright Society to request the aid—"
"Of costumed superheroes in patrolling the docks," Sterling says at the same time as the chief of police. He's audibly angry at this development. Thomas is tense, working to hold steady so the other two can see the broadcast.
"There will be visible patrols of superheroes working with the Port City Police Department to patrol the docks and investigate any suspicious undertakings. The first such patrol will be tonight."
Sterling sighs. "We have hours. We have to organize a response."
Thomas nods. "I'll get the beehive buzzing." He shuts off the broadcast and heads towards the door.
Sterling puts a hand on his shoulder to stop him. "Don't dawdle, but take your time, keep me informed. I'm assuming that we're only going to have one chance here, so we have to make it count. We're in a hurry, but we still have to be careful." He turns to Elena. "Go with him. We're going to need to get people together, and not just online. You and the press team are the best weapons we have right now. Get everyone you can on call. I want this first patrol to be a fucking disaster for the Brights, and I want that disaster to be very, very public."
Elena gives a quick military salute, making Thomas chuckle. "You got it, boss."
Sterling sighs, but his face does slip into a smile, almost against his will. "We're gonna take a few hits on this one, we've got to be ready."
He watches them go, before sitting down on the edge of his desk and letting out a long breath. He says to no one in the room, "Alright, Gerry, you want this fight, you're gonna get it."
We return to Sharon's kitchen, 1:13 AM
Sharon reaches across the small table and pats the top of Chelsea's head. "There, there."
Chelsea looks up. "Don't make me freeze your ass to that chair."
"Ooh, temper." Sharon laughs. "Your wings stay folded in here, because if you chill me out, you won't have anyone to rant to, or to make you coffee."
"Don't test me right now," Chelsea growls, but her tone is at least a little bit lighter.
"When do I get to test you?" Sharon gets up and grabs the now-full mug.
"Wednesday night would have been a good time for it."
"I was a little busy being tested myself," Sharon points out, putting the coffee in front of Chelsea and stood next to her. "And, let's be frank, loving it."
"Yeah, I get it." Chelsea takes a grateful sip, then blows an icy breath on the mug. "I was, too." She sighs. "And I enjoyed Thursday, too, before we found out about Tanya."
Sharon sits down again. "He was a gentleman, too, after you did find out."
Chelsea lets out a sigh. "He's a good guy. Even tonight, he was a good guy."
"I thought you were the good guys."
Chelsea drops her head back down to the table. "I just hope that we are."
Near the edge of the docks
A small well-hidden Bright Society saferoom underground
9 PM Friday
"So, ready for your first patrol?" Reggie asks. He and Chelsea are the only two people in the underground space, having arrived separately, with their equipment dropped off before they got there.
"Well, not until I get dressed." Chelsea looks around the small room. "Uh. Where do we...?"
"Right here," Reggie says, unbuttoning his dress shirt. "These saferooms aren't really built for comfort."
He isn't kidding. The room is warm, but poorly furnished. There are two chairs and a cot, and a handful of lockers. A small powder room opposite the stairs houses a clean toilet and sink. There's no door.
"Or privacy," Chelsea replies.
Reggie grunts an affirmative, unbuttoning his slacks. "You get used to it after a while."
Chelsea turns her back politely. "I suppose I will, but..."
"Not yet, got it. I won't peek, then." Reggie chuckles. She hears his pants hit the floor. She looks down at the chair nearby, at the box with her alter-ego name stamped on it. She opens it, seeing the costume inside, the only equipment she has. Her weapons are all natural, if it can even be called that when it's something that only she can do.
Nothing but to get to it, I suppose, she thinks to herself, pulling her shirt over her head.
"I'll be a bit here anyway," Reggie continues. "I have a bunch of gear to put on."
"Have to admit," Chelsea says unbuttoning her own pants, "I've never seen you in action."
"Never witnessed the fury of Flamehammer, hm?" His tone is self-parody, but something in it suggests an element of pride behind the comedy.
"Not up close. But you've never seen the Arctic Angel doing her thing, I guess." She unhooks her bra and lets it fall; the dress has its support built in.
She hears the sound of metal clanking, and resists the urge to turn around. "Not in the field, but I saw you in training, remember?"
"Oh, right." Chelsea pulls the shimmering silver-and-pink backless dress from the box. Custom made by a good friend. She refused to have it modified to include the Bright Society logo. Tanya would never forgive her if she did.
She pulled the dress over her head, adjusted the straps and the belt, made sure it fit perfectly and snugly. Wouldn't do to just pop out mid-fight. The Arctic Angel was counting on her divine image as much as her powers to make an impact.
"Are you decent?" Reggie's voice cuts through her thoughts. "I hope you haven't put on your wings yet."
Chelsea blushes, but turns around. "Yes, I'm in my dress, and no, I haven't transformed. Why?"
Reggie is wearing several pieces of metallic body armour; a few other pieces sit in his personal effects box. His legs are covered in thin, dark red panels, but his muscular chest is uncovered. Chelsea hadn't been aware that he was ripped; his choice of suits doesn't emphasize his strength, which she figures must be part of his secret identity.
"Because I was hoping to see the change, if I might." Reggie slowly, almost tentatively, turned around.
Chelsea feels hot. "I suppose. I mean, it's not... anything special."
"Are you sure?" he asks, tenderly. "I could turn back."
She steels herself. "No, it's perfectly fine." Chelsea closes her eyes and takes a breath. She feels the cold (the ice) in her heart, bound up tight, and she lets it free, lets it flow through her veins (changing). She feels the power stretch her muscles (her skin), her bones (her blood), reshaping (recreating), rebuilding (redefining), becoming (a part of her) instead of apart from her. So different from the other night when the power threatened to overwhelm her will and spill out all over—and (her hand throbs), for a moment (her pussy throbs), did.
She opens her eyes and looks down on Reggie. Untransformed, she stands about even with him—she is a little taller than average for a woman, he a little shorter for a man—but now she towers over him, having grown about six inches. He stares up at her.
"Your eyes," he says. "They're the most brilliant blue."
They are. She knows. She also knows that her tan has faded to give her a frosty pallor, and that her hair cascades down her back in waves of blue-tinted silver, and her wings flared from her shoulders, framing her body with crystalline feathers. The dress which had covered her loosely to her ankles now has its hem at her knees and was much more form-fitting.
"You're staring," The Arctic Angel says, smiling. Her voice is different, deeper, somehow warmer despite her powers.
Reggie shakes his head. "I didn't realize you'd look so different. It was a bit of a shock to watch it happen." He smiles back at her. "No wonder you don't need a mask or anything."
"I look, move, and sound different like this. My power comes with its own disguise."
"You even talk differently," Reggie says, turning back to his gear. "It's quite impressive." He sounds a little envious.
The Angel pulls her boots—thigh-high, matching her white shimmering dress—from the box, pulling them on easily. "I don't usually use the full transformation," she explains. "My power can be used in smaller ways. I figured that we're aiming for 'dramatic' tonight."
"So long as 'dramatic' helps us keep things quiet." The metallic clanking of Flamehammer's armor going on accompanied his words.
"That's the point." She turns back to Reggie, almost fully-equipped in his deep-red metal plates. All that remained for him to do was put on his helmet. "If we can make a dramatic-enough appearance, we can keep from doing damage."
Reggie pauses a moment, holding the helmet in his hands. "Dramatic. Right." He puts the helmet to his head, ready to slide it on. "I'm plenty dramatic."
"I never really asked, what do your powers do?"
The helmet lowers the tone of Flamehammer's already deep voice, gave it an eerie, otherworldly, almost demonic echo. "I LIGHT THE AIR ON FIRE THROUGH FRICTION. THE PANELLING ON THE ARMOR PUSHES THE HEAT AWAY FROM ME AND INTO WHATEVER I WANT."
Arctic Angel nods. "That's pretty dramatic." She walks towards the entrance; the small room was starting to feel uncomfortable. "Shall we?"
Flamehammer nods and falls in behind her. "LET'S TAKE CARE OF THE DOCKS."
Sharon's kitchen, 1:21 AM
"So what do you do now?" Sharon asks.
Chelsea sighs. "I don't know. I don't know, Share." She lifts her head. "There are people I can talk to in the Society. They have... I dunno, legal help. Stress relief. Counselling. Advice. Fuck, I have to work tomorrow."
"Noon 'til midnight."
"You know I'm not letting you go home."
Chelsea blows her friend a kiss. "Think you're gonna get a repeat of Wednesday?"
Sharon winks, playing along with the joke. "Might be considering it."
Chelsea laughs. "Oh God, sex is about the furthest thing from my mind right now."
As soon as she says it, her power flares (her pussy throbs), as if to contradict her statement. But she can contain it. It's satiated with its use, for now.
A small single-story building in the heart of the docks with an unusual amount of wiring attached to it
The headquarters and heart of Dockworks Communication
Working office of Thomas Holfers and his closest associates, jokingly refered to as "The War Room"
Half-past nine, Saturday evening
Five people are in the room, operating four of the nine terminals arranged around the walls, with Thomas supervising the work from his personal desk, equipped with as much equipment as any two of those terminals as well as three landline telephones.
"Visual contact," Vanessa Silva says calmly, looking at the feed from an outdoor security camera on her monitor. "Two Bright, heading east on Water. I recognize Flamehammer, but there's a tall one with him."
Thomas quickly mirrors Vanessa's monitor on his own. "Good catch, Van," he says, equally calmly, looking at the well-known figure of Flamehammer and the very tall winged person walking a step behind him. "Anyone else see anything?"
Paula al-Masri raised their hand. "Sure do, got a patrol car on the north side. Moving slow."
Thomas grabbed the image on Paula's screen. "Alright, it's starting. Eyes open, gang. I have to let CRD know if there's anything going down." His eyes flicked over to the map on his other screen and clicked in the two spots where Paula and Vanessa had spotted the incoming enforcement groups. Two markers appeared with timestamps, visible to anyone with a device linked to the communications center. He grabs his smartphone and sends a text message.
Thomas H: Sterling, I have two Brights in the south, and one cop car in the north.
He puts the phone back and thinks, idly flipping back and forth between Vanessa's image tracking the Brights and Paula keeping an eye on the police. "Last chance for a break," he says. "Once we're go, it's all hands, all the time."
"All good, Thomas," replies Tom Harvey, the grey-haired IT veteran. "I'm ready."
Mark Spirit, the newest member of communications team, gets to his feet. "I'm going to hit the bathroom quick," the green-haired man with multiple rings in his face says. "Can I get anything for anyone on my way back?"
Thomas thinks for a moment. "Nothing for me, thanks, Mark."
"Grab me a soda, hon?" Vanessa asks as Mark walks by. The two of them share a fist bump.
Thomas would not have guessed the 30-something button-down nerdy Brazilian immigrant would pair up with the 19-year-old high-school dropout with the punk aesthetic, but the two of them had been tight almost since the day she'd started training him to work communications.
He means to ask Sterling about that. He figures, somehow, that he'll get an evasive non-response.
The War Room was made up of a dozen people in the communications department. It was usually just him, Tom, or Anna Tolman in there when there wasn't something needing centralized communication going on, which was almost all of the time. There was always someone there, just in case, but it was usually one of the easiest jobs in the department.
On this Saturday, though... while it isn't quite all hands on deck, it's everyone available. If things developed and they needed more crew, they were around. Anna, for one, was ready to join them at the drop of a hat, if they needed more tactical vision or another hand directing things. Unfortunately, the sudden nature of the operation meant that a third of the team was elsewhere. Thomas assumed that that was part of the reasoning for the police starting their patrols on a Saturday and with only a few hours' notice, guessing that the response wouldn't be ready.
Well, with luck, the rest of the team will see it on the news. With good luck, they'll be happy with what they see.
Of course there's illegal activity on the docks. That's a given. Hell, the co-operative was harbouring an unregistered superpowered individual in Silver Tongue, which made then all criminals by association. And there was a little light smuggling now and again. Most of the criminality wasn't coming from the co-op, but regardless of that, the police would use anything they found to insist on more and more of a crackdown, and they would find something if they looked for it. Strictly-enforced curfews would be next, almost certainly.
He remembers stories from his teenage years, of police descending on clubs he had fortunately not been old enough to visit at that point. Cautionary tales from his politically-active mothers, both of whom had spent time in jail, separately and together, about keeping his head down and not making waves, even while they continued to march in protests and butt heads with authority.
Too many people are counting on the freedom to just live their lives and work their jobs. He's not going to let the docks become another battlefront between the people and the police, not if he can help it.
"Vanessa, Paula, can you two keep your eyes on your targets, let me know if they converge? Tom, the instant they hook on to our cell network, I want to hear what they're talking about." All three mutter something in the affirmative, and Thomas gets back to his terminal. "I'm your point of communication right now. No messages go out from this room except through me. Got it, Mark?"
The spike-haired kid nods, coming back into the room. He walks over to Vanessa's terminal and hands her a lemon soda. "Anything you want me to do, Thomas, other than not tell people what's going on?"
"Yes, actually," Thomas replies. "Get a good look at the Flamehammer's companion, and find out everything you can about her."
Mark takes a glance at Vanessa's screen. "That's the Arctic Angel," he says immediately. "I'll get you a write-up." He saunters back to his own desk.
Thomas stares at Mark as he returns to his workstation. "The who?"
"Arctic Angel. She's pretty new on the scene." Mark starts typing away.
"Then how do you know about her?"
He shrugs, not looking away from his work. "I keep up with Brights. Gotta know these things sometimes. Flamehammer'll fuck you up bad, put you in the hospital or worse. Arctic Angel just freezes people for a couple hours. It's annoying, but it's not bad, I guess."
Vanessa spins in her office chair. "How is that not bad, exactly?"
"It's not fucking good, that's for damn sure," Mark replies. "But like one of those feathers shoots off from her wings and hits you and it feels like you got smacked with one of those big foam-covered sticks, and then everything gets cold, and then you wake up and all your friends have fucked off and left you standing there for hours."
"Personal story?" Tom asked, deadpan.
"A bit, yeah." Mark sends a file to Thomas and turns to face the front of the room. "There's just about everything publicly available on her, at least that I can come up with in two minutes."
Thomas opens the file and pores over it fairly quickly. Let's see, active since last winter or so, disappeared for a few months, no know affiliation... well I guess we can update that to include Bright Society now. The inactivity could be explained by Bright Society induction and training, or maybe just being busy; most supers had lives, after all. And simply because there was no public activity didn't mean that there was no activity, although from what Thomas can see, Arctic Angel isn't exactly subtle. He estimates that she's over six feet tall, and she has tremendous wings and some impressive costuming.
"Mark, is there any unexplained activity that matches her M.O. in the last, oh, six months?" Thomas asks.
Mark shakes his head. "I'll do a deep look but I sure don't think so. Nothing that I know of since the start of the year. She's got fanart, though."
Thomas rolls his eyes. "I bet, and I can guess some of the content."
Tom clears his throat. "Thomas? We've got incursion."
"Hacker?" Thomas asks.
"Looks like. I'm sharing now, but I can handle them for the moment."
"Think it's co-ordinated with the Brights or police?"
Paula speaks up. "Timing's awfully coincidental if it's not."
"Want me in on the defence?" Mark asks.
"Not yet," Thomas replies. "If Tom needs it, for sure, hop on, but meanwhile, feed us info." He grabs his phone and checks for notifications—none—and types out another message to Sterling.
Thomas H: Brights are identified as Flamehammer and Arctic Angel. Looking for info on the second one. Seems to be capable of freezing blasts, significant crowd control. New to the scene.
"I've got him handled but I won't be able to tap phones all that well." Tom replies. "Seems like a cop hacker. Incompetent like one, anyway."
Vanessa raises a hand. "The girl's a flyer. Those wings work. I've lost her."
Thomas nods. "Keep an eye on Flamehammer. Mark, can you try to get Arctic Angel?"
"Do I get to fly a drone?" He sounds like a child.
He is a child, Thomas reminds himself. "Yes, Mark, send it up."
"Don't fly it at her. You're just keeping an eye on things."
Mark gives him a look that says 'Yes, dad,' and switches over from his research to the drone program.
Thomas' phone blips at him, and he checks the new message.
Sterling: Ready on the ground. Point us at the Brights.
"Alright, team, this is the moment." Thomas looks at his monitors. "Vanessa, we're going to guide the protest to Flamehammer. Paula, we want to keep it away from the police patrol as much as possible. Tom, keep us rolling. Mark, find Angel, and once you do, keep the eyes where you can help us."
Each of the other four make some sort of affirmative sound.
"Good. Vanessa, Paula we also want to make sure the protest has a place to move if they have to, so warn me if we're going to run them into a pincer."
"Of course," Paula says. "The cops are taking their time. Maybe we should have—"
"Sorry to interrupt," Mark cuts her off. "I got a second patrol car approaching, following behind the Brights, I think."
"Got a third," Paula says. "Marking the maps."
"Okay, this just got complicated." Thomas grabs his phone and puts in an earbud. "Keep talking to me." He opens Sterling's profile and taps on the 'call' icon. "Let's make some magic, team."
Chelsea finishes her coffee and breaks the silence. "You know, about that other night..."
Sharon leans forward, eyebrows raised.
"Something about what he did to me, I mean."
Sharon tilts her head. "What, Sterling?"
Chelsea nods. "When he was doing that party trick. With my hands."
"Mmm. Yeah, I know what you mean. That's something else."
"It is." Chelsea lets out a sigh. "I nearly lost it when he was doing that. Not... I mean, not with... not sexually, or... I mean, yes, sexually, but also—"
"You're babbling, sweetie." Sharon gets up and takes Chelsea's mug to the kitchen. "Sterling was touching you, talking to you, and..."
Chelsea bites her lip (her hand throbs). "I asked him to stop, remember?"
Sharon nods, stands beside her, puts a hand on her shoulder. "Because?"
"I nearly lost my self-control. I nearly just... let loose. Blasted the room with ice."
Sharon grins. "That's a pretty direct metaphor, don't you think?"
Chelsea laughs. "Oh, fuck off, Share! Not like that hasn't been done dozens of times in cheap stories. The superpowered person cums, and their powers just go off. The worst fucking cliché in the book."
Sharon laughs with her, then squeezes her shoulder. "Alright, I'm guessing that this hasn't happened before?"
"Uh huh. It was..." Chelsea shrugs. "It was so different."
"I'm guessing you don't just mean because I was there."
She puts her hand on top of Sharon's. "Honestly, Share? At that moment, you could have been halfway around the world. It was all... it wasn't even Sterling. It was all me."
"You're freezing my fingers."
"Shit!" Chelsea pulls her hand off of Sharon's (her pussy throbs). "Sorry about that."
Sharon brings her hand to her mouth and breathes on it, warming it. "Is that what you meant?"
"Yeah. Sorry again." She swallows, trying to keep a lid on things. "It's... I was brought right to that edge, and that's why I had to stop, because..."
Sharon nods. "It's different. Can't let him know."
"Can't let him know," Chelsea agrees. "I did lose control a little, hearing the two of you. That's when..." she opens her bandaged hand. "I froze my water glass."
"Ah, now that makes sense."
"And the really rough thing, Share, is that..." Chelsea feels herself flushing. "I like it."
Sharon waits a moment, before asking, "You like what, exactly?"
Chelsea sighs. "I like feeling like I'm on that edge. Like I might lose control any moment."
Chelsea looks over at the television, showing the aftermath of her contact with the rioters. "I think I might've been over that line."
A central structure in the docks, the community hall
10:49 PM Friday night
Sterling touches the bud in his ear, listening to the positioning of the patrols, the directions from the communications department. He turns to the cohort of about eighty people waiting.
"Alright everyone," he says, stepping up on a box to be more visible. He waits a moment for the attention of the crowd. "We head out the door in two minutes. We go left, away from the ocean. If you're separated and worried about anything, head away from the water. Always go uptown. If you're confronted, either by police or by Brights, do not fight. If you're alone, and they're intent on taking you in, surrender. We will have you out of jail by Monday evening. I want to stress this now, again, and I know you've all heard it before, but I want no one hurt—no dockworker, no police officer, no Bright, no bystander. Are we clear?"
The general, nervous murmur from the crowd is positive.
"We'll be joining with the other two groups at Water and Pardie. With luck, we'll be in from the west, and the other from north and south. Remember, we are a peaceful demonstration."
He raises a hand and puts a finger to his ear.
"Go time, boss," Thomas' voice came over the line.
"Alright everyone, grab your signs, and let's go."
Sterling had been a part of protests and strikes before, but the darkness of the night and the awareness of police patrols and an imminent confrontation with Brights made this march much more tense than he was used to. No one was chanting, no one was laughing, no one was cheering. It was some eighty people moving in silence, their uneven footfalls resonating and echoing through the streets.
Leading this many people makes his power sing. He isn't using it, hasn't used it, but it's pulling at him, egging him on. Eighty people could easily become eight hundred, eight thousand... a force, an army, a military... a town, a city, a nation.
That's not the plan, he tells himself. That was never the plan. That never will be the plan. Focus on today.
He hears the voice before he sees Flamehammer, but that's because Flamehammer isn't actually speaking to him. He quickly looks up, seeing a flash of light.
That's why they had picked this spot. Several high buildings. An ideal spot for multiple angles of recording.
The flash also served another purpose, illuminating a winged figure in the intersection, hovering about three feet above the ground.
"Arctic Angel," he says loudly, over the murmuring of the crowd behind him.
She turns towards him, fluttering up higher. "Keep back."
"I will do no such thing," he said, drawing in his power. "This is a public space and a legal gathering. You have no grounds to hold us back."
Arctic Angel seems confused for a moment. Flamehammer, coming around the corner, does not. "THIS CROWD WILL DISPERSE AND WILL CEASE INTERFERENCE WITH POLICE BUSINESS" he bellows.
His earpiece buzzes to life with Thomas' voice. "Sterling, we have visuals, three official streams, and the drone's up. The police are moving to your location to pen you in against the Brights. If there's a better time, I don't know what it is."
He takes a breath, and steps forward to greet Flamehammer.
"I think you saved lives, all the same," Sharon says. "Over the line or not."
Chelsea lets out a breath. "I don't think you get it. I stepped out, and I loved it." She sighs. "I'm worried about that."
Sharon shrugs. "Isn't it what they tell us about powers all the time? They want to be used?"
"Well sure, but..." Chelsea runs a hand over her head. "What would you say if you knew that I was thinking about freezing more than just your hand? Right now, just letting out a quick blast of energy."
"Not like you haven't frozen me before," Sharon points out. "And your powers don't cause any damage."
"You're really be coo—be okay with that?"
Sharon smirks at the unintentional near-pun. "I mean I wouldn't want you to make a habit of it, but..." She raises her hands in a noncommittal gesture. "Not like it's really gonna affect my life negatively if you do it right now. Might be a different story if you made me late for work or something."
Chelsea stares at her friend. Her hands (throb) twitch. It's probably the most absurd thing she's heard in a week full of absurd things. She can't help it. She grins.
Sharon grins back.
Chelsea raises her hands. "Don't tempt me, Marrol."
"Do your worst, Angel."
Their eyes meet. They dissolve into laughter.
(she imagines reaching up, grabbing Sharon's shoulder, pouring her power into her friend's unprepared body, leaving her frozen mid-laugh until nearly four in the morning)
The corner of Water Avenue and Pardie Street
Flamehammer steps in front of his partner. "THESE CROWDS ARE INTERFERING WITH POLICE BUSINESS AND WILL DISPERSE"
The tall, narrow man steps up. "These crowds are gathering legally. Last I checked, the presence of the Bright Society as agents of the police does not abrogate our First Amendment rights to free speech and free assembly." His voice is calm, irritatingly so.
This is Sterling Grey.
"WE ARE AUTHORIZED TO PATROL THESE DOCKS—"
"But not on our authority," Grey interrupts. "The people of the docks do not want you here."
Flamehammer scoffs, looking at the signs being carried and waved about. "WHAT A SURPRISE, THE CRIMINALS DO NOT WANT THE LAW AROUND"
"If you are agents of the police, then we are not criminals. We are innocent until proven guilty."
Flamehammer blinks. Something about that last sentence pushed him off his balance. "WE WILL FIND THE PROOF"
"You are an agent of the police. That is deeply unconstitutional."
"Flamehammer," Arctic Angel says, trying to get his attention. He ignores her.
Sterling steps closer. "You are here to threaten us with violence," he says.
Well of course they are. If you boil it down to the basic function, the purpose of the Bright patrols in the docks was to enforce the rule of law, and enforcement is impossible if it's not backed up by punishment.
"WE ARE HERE TO ENFORE THE RULE OF LAW"
"The rule of law doesn't need your help, not here."
There are a few supportive cheers from the crowd in front of him, and to his left. Most of the crowd is just watching. It's a bit unnerving.
"We have conflict resolution teams," Sterling continues. "We have security response teams."
"THEY ARE NOT THE AUTHORITY" Flamehammer's energy returns. This argument is his. "THEY ARE PART OF A CRIMINAL ORGANIZATION"
"Once again, Flamehammer, we're not criminals until you prove it."
Flamehammer's hands curled into fists. "THEN WE WILL TEAR THE DOCK APART, DOWN TO THE LAST STONES, AND WE WILL FIND WHAT WE NEED."
"Flamehammer, something's wrong!" Arctic Angel whispers loudly, flying close.
Grey closes the distance between them. "Violence, again. Always violence. You need violence. Worse, I think you actually want violence."
Want violence? Flamehammer thinks to himself. I want to do some violence to this little shit.
And then Sterling Grey is on the ground. On his knees, clutching at his stomach. The crowd surges forward, shouting. A young woman is the first to get to his side, and she kneels, attending to the injured. Others push forward angrily, advancing on the heroes.
Flamehammer's fiery fists blaze to life, and he takes an offensive stance. "BACK! ALL OF YOU!" Fire courses up and down his arms, enhanced by the plating on his armor, slowing the rush of the crowd. "DISPERSE! YOU WILL NOT INTERFERE WITH POLICE BUSINESS!"
A blast of icy air races past him, and a wall suddenly separates him from the rioters, trapping Grey and the woman who ran to his side in the ice. Arctic Angel lands next to him. "We need to go. Now. Before this gets worse." She leaps back into the air and whips her wings towards the rioters to his right; a cloud of crystalline feathes slams into the crowd, and everyone struck freezes in place almost instantly.
Realizing the situation, Flamehammer turns on his heel and marches towards the water, intent and purposeful. Angel flies overhead, taking a slow, circling path and covering their escape with ice blasts and crystal feathers. When they reach the water, she lands.
"SHALL WE WAIT IN THE BOAT?" Flamehammer asks.
"You do that," Angel replies. "I can fly. I'll go out over the water and back across the rooftops and go to the saferoom."
"WHERE SHOULD WE MEET UP?"
She shakes her head. "Tomorrow, debrief, like we planned. I want to get clear of this." She flutters up a few feet in the air. "I don't think they're following us. I don't see anyone."
Flamehammer indicates the secret Bright Society boat that serves as a secondary safehouse. "WHY NOT JOIN ME? I CAN HAVE THE POLICE BRING US HOME SAFELY"
"No, this one's my call. I want to get my effects. I know, petty concern, but it's what I need to do right now." She steps a little closer, looking around. "Besides, the dress is a dead giveaway, right? And it doesn't really fit me that well when I'm not the Angel."
Reggie takes his helmet off. He's smiling, carefully composed. He nods. "Alright, I definitely understand that." He lets out a breath. "You did good work."
She nods. "Thanks. I'll see you tomorrow."
With that, Arctic Angel runs towards the end of the dock and leaps out over the water. Soon she's gone from his view. Watching her go, his smile fades to a scowl.
He could have taken them. After the first two or three were broken, the others would fall back. A bit of fire would be enough to keep the others away. He slips onto the boat and belowdecks, starts to strip off his metal armor. There was a spare equipment box there for him—for any Society member, but he was the one here—to leave his gear for pickup.
For not the first time, he wishes that he could fly. Then they would have had no chance.
There isn't any question. He wants to do violence, now. He supposes he always did, but now, the dock workers had declared war. The signs they were carrying burn in his memory.
Dressed only in his boxers, he sits on a comfortable chair, with a can of soda from the bar fridge. Brights Go Home. Leave the docks to the workers. Vile slogans for vile criminals. It isn't their city, as one sign pugnaciously declared, it is his. By right of power, if nothing else, but he'd also put in the work. Years of the best schools, the best training, keeping his body and mind in peak shape, devoted himself to self-improvement. He deserves to set the city in order. It's his duty—his right—to do so.
And now these pathetic dock workers band together to keep the Bright Society—to keep him—from his entitlement. So naturally, he wants to do violence. He wants to restore the righteous order of things, and that requires putting the lessers in their places. And if that takes violence, then he will mete out violence.
He hopes it will require some violence.
"You alright with the couch?" Sharon asks.
"Wish I wasn't," Chelsea replies, honestly, "but yeah."
Sharon gives her a strange look. "How are you, Chels?"
She sighs, sitting down on the couch. "I want to punch someone. I want go back and blast the stragglers. I want a triple bacon cheeseburger. I'm fucked up, Share." She runs her hands over her head. "And I'm tired."
Sharon sits beside her and puts her arm around her friend's shoulders. "It's been a weird few days."
"D'you know what he said, before Flamehammer laid him out? Sterling's last words before I iced him? 'I think you actually want violence'." She looks at her hands. "He's right, Share. That's what I want. I want violence. I want" (to drop my hand onto your knee and flash freeze you) "action, Sharon. The night ended too soon. We ran, really. I flew out over the harbor, made my way back to the safehouse over the rooftops, and the whole time, I just wanted a fist fight."
Sharon turns and raises her fists. "Let's do it. Three rounds, right here. Bare knuckle brawl."
Chelsea laughs. "Have you ever thrown a punch in your life, Share?"
"There was that time I decked Bobby Larson in the second grade."
Chelsea smiles and shakes her head. "I dunno, maybe I should call a cab and just go home." You would be safer if I did, she thinks.
"No way, Chels. Mamma Bear says you stay. Whether you sleep or not, you don't go through that door." Sharon gets up. "You get me?"
An unreasonable burst of anger flares up. "You think you can stop me?" Her hands twitch, the wound on her palm throbs. Her breath is cold.
Sharon spins on her heel. There isn't an ounce of fear in her eyes. "I don't think I have to. No matter how much you want violence, the Angel's not coming for me." Her serious expression twists into a sly smile. "Unless she's in my bed."
Chelsea lets out a slow breath. "Sorry, Share, that was uncalled for."
Sharon nods. "It's alright, I get it." She chuckles, a bit nervously. "Might not have been so confident if I hadn't been frozen before."
"You really think I'd..."
"The way your voice was? The way you were talking?" She points to the still-active, still-muted television, showing the moment where she blasted Sterling and whoever was beside him, putting a wall of ice between the onrushing crowd and Flamehammer. "The way you looked doing that?" Sharon shakes her head. "I trust you, Chels. But if you'd hit me, I can't say I'd have been surprised."
Chelsea nods, swallowing. "You're sure that—"
"Yes. You're staying here until I have to go to work in the morning. Regardless of what happens to Sterling or Tanya or the Brights. You're on lockdown, Chels. And I'm making you pancakes."
Defeated again. Which of us has the superpowers, exactly? Chelsea can't help but grin, all the same. "If you ever want to diffuse a threat, Sharon, promise them pancakes."
"Works fine with you," she replies. "But..." The scene on the news shifts to show the brutal blow Flamehammer delivered into Sterling's gut. "I don't think that it would've done much for him."
Chelsea grabs the remote from the coffee table and turns off the television. "I was there, I think I've seen enough of it." She yawns. "And I think we both need some sleep."
Sharon smiles. "Alright, sweetie, I'm just in the other room if you need me."
"Thanks, Share." Chelsea stretches out on the couch, covering herself with a blanket. "I really appreciate it."
Sharon gives her a little wave and heads to bed, turning off the lights as she goes.
Chelsea needs sleep.
She's not getting it. Every time she starts to fall asleep, dreams pull her back to awareness.
She needs sleep.
She wants violence.