Seven Days 5

The unfortunate fact was, Laura would know her own twin bed anywhere.

It hardly seemed worth opening her eyes.

She wasn’t in a League cell yet, but it wasn’t like she had anything to look forward to. She was certainly unemployed again, and there was no need to look to know that she had no horns, no tail, no sensual curves—although, discordantly, the monster in her lower back was quiescent. That inexplicable bit of relief didn’t really outweigh the other part, but at least she didn’t need to immediately grab for pain meds. She wasn’t wearing her red dancer costume, but that was just as well, it wouldn’t have fit; instead, she had her own old nightshirt on, a knee-length grey thing with an annoying chirpy slogan about it being time for bed. She didn’t care how that had happened, either.

She might as well get up. She needed the bathroom, and she was ravenously hungry.

She rolled over, and nearly knocked the phone on her pillow on the floor, barely catching it. It wasn’t her cheap old one; it was the better one she’d bought as Carnal. When she touched it, the screen woke up, showing that she had notifications.

She left it on the bed, and visited the bathroom. Her body felt awkward and heavy and out of sync, and her head felt strangely light without her horns, and her balance was askew without her tail countering every motion. She avoided looking in the mirror while she did what she had to, and returned. If she reset the phone completely, she could sell it for a few dollars.

There was a text message from Jaz: «Please tell me you’re okay. We’re all safe.»

Another message, from an unfamiliar anonymous number, said, «Look on your computer.»

Someone had obviously been in her apartment, since she had no recollection of anything other than passing out in the Plaza, but what was that supposed to mean? Had the computer been more than a couple of steps away, it might not have felt like it could possibly matter, but she could manage that much.

Next to her laptop was a bright pink USB thumb drive.

She opened the laptop, and winced when the first thing she saw was the slowly-spinning image of Carnal. With that window minimized, she plugged in the drive.

It had a folder named, Watch These In Order—and a txt file named There’s food in your kitchen.

What was going on?

She did check her kitchen, and found a basket on the tiny counter, filled with apples, peaches, plums, bunches of grapes, and paper cups of several kinds of berries. Next to it were a trio of plump red tomatoes and a loaf of fresh bread from a bakery she recognized.

In the fridge were three different kinds of sliced deli meats, cheese, and of all things, a large lasagne in a ceramic pan, clearly homemade.

Shoved to the back of the fridge were one bottle of each flavour of of Eureka Energy!

She shied away from the bottles, but the increasing insistence, verging on pain, in her stomach insisted that she eat something. Wasting food was bad, especially when replacing it cost money she didn’t have, and all of this would spoil. She cut a piece of the lasagne and put it on a plate, leaving it to heat in the little convection microwave this apartment had instead of a proper oven. With a quick sandwich, she returned to her computer.

The folder had video files with no names, just numbered sequentially. She shrugged to herself and clicked on the first one.

A popular young female influencer that even Laura recognized—barely—was on the screen. This must be just a clip from the middle, since it lacked any intro.

“Carnal made sure that that scream of pain and righteous anger and… and injustice was heard across the whole world, by all the people who really needed to hear it, all the people who thought they were the only ones and who were suffering in silence because who would dare call out the League? And she’s right, just look around. We can’t blame the League for everything wrong in the world, but they’re not really doing anything to make things better, and there are a lot of things that they have to take responsibility for. If they want to look out for the rest of us, why don’t they? There are lots of global issues they could be tackling instead of spending their time fighting so-called supervillains who just don’t want to join up. They say they can’t interfere, but they’re just fine with interfering when they decide they have a good reason. Which usually is a challenge to their monopoly.”

The second was a middle-aged man, maybe Latino, she didn’t recognize.

“The hashtag # CarnalTruth has gone absolutely viral, folks, and if you have any illusions left about the League caring about regular people, you need to go check that out. The website that was set up overnight by a coalition of human rights organizations, asking people to share their experiences, gives you the option of whether to make it public or keep it private for them to add to their data. I’m sure some are exaggerated or outright lies, that always happens, especially when there’s an option of being anonymous, but a look at the stats counter giving a more-or-less live snapshot of the number of stories coming in is just staggering. All of a sudden, everyone is talking about this, and asking some questions with really difficult answers, like, What’s an acceptable level of collateral damage and who decides that? How many of the threats that the League spends its time combatting are ones they created themselves? And what the hell do we do now, considering that they have some very real and dangerous powers along with the backing of virtually every government, big business, and one-percenter on the planet? But difficult answers don’t mean we should avoid asking the questions.”

The third was longer.

Someone with a camera had had an excellent view of the table Carnal had been dancing on, and kept recording somehow even when the power blew. Someone behind it shouted, “Jolt’s over there, keep something on him!” and the video cut to the roof of the purple van and the young man standing on it while he played with enough electricity to completely fry a normal person; that laughter didn’t sound like malice to her, more like joy. The video cut back to Carnal, with the musicians and crew around her and Jaz pressed close beside her, and green vines with big flat leaves spiralling up out of the ground to surround them in a living fence, smaller tendrils growing from the main vines to lace it all together. Arable was known for manipulating fruit-bearing domesticated plants before all else, and downright notorious for what they could do with grape vines; they must have taken the chance on being at the Plaza, despite the risks. More vines caught and deflected the debris from a quartet of falling drones, keeping it from hitting anyone underneath.

On the video, she saw herself, through the green fence, go bonelessly limp, and Jaz struggle to catch her alone, and then two of the others added their own hands to lower her gently to the top of the table, stepping down onto the bench seats around it themselves.

She watched as the two League teams she’d noticed, and two others coming from different directions, struggled to reach her and were thwarted by the press of bodies. Aquila climbed up on another picnic table to have room to spread her eagle-like wings, then looked up at the arcing snakes of electricity above and cursed audibly. Tecton roared and slammed both fists together, stomping on the ground a heartbeat later; the camera shook, and showed everyone in range staggering, but before he could repeat it, building up the instability towards a full-on quake that would inevitably cause immense widespread damage, he started swatting frantically at something too small for the camera to pick it up as more than a vague cloud, the eddies of which occasionally caught the light.

“What’s that?” someone asked, behind the camera.

“Oh my god, those are bees! That has to be the Queen Bee! Mellifera’s here too!” someone else said.

The man Laura thought was Yeoman eyed the green fence, and hooked a hand around one of the horizontal vines, then reached up with the other, clearly intending to climb it.

The pale woman in white and shimmery scales strolled out of the darkness, light radiating softly around her. “We control the horizontal and the vertical. We can shape your vision to anything our imagination can conceive.”

Yeoman spun so fast it was a wonder he didn’t give himself whiplash. “Fuck. You.”

“That’s Hologram!” the voice behind the camera said. “She’s usually wherever Jolt is, they’re Eureka’s top lieutenants. And she’s an off-the-scale powerful illusionist!”

Hologram, on the screen, just smiled. “No, we’ve covered that, Yeoman, you will not fuck me. But you can tell the League that we will not let you have Carnal. You already did your best to destroy her life, like so many others. If you created a new superpowered enemy by your own lack of compassion, well, it’s hardly the first time, is it? And that’s on your heads. But I think you lot are going to have more to think about than one dancer who managed to capture millions of hearts, eh? This is your only warning. Tell the others to back off. I’m going to stop this riot before it goes any farther, but I’m only doing it to keep anyone innocent from getting hurt. I’m pretty sure that if you try anything stupid, it’ll just flare up again.” She spread both arms palm-up, closed her eyes, and said, “There is nothing wrong with your television. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are now controlling the transmission. We can deluge you with a thousand channels or expand one single image to crystal clarity and beyond. We can shape your vision to anything our imagination can conceive.”

The sun rose, washing the Plaza with golden light.

The fracturing pavement melted away, turning to lush green grass liberally sprinkled with wildflowers in a riot of colours.

Pastel unicorns grazed quietly, and diminutive jewel-toned dragons played together; a long-legged flightless bird trailing a fiery peacock-line tail stalked by, and multi-tailed foxes chased each other.

Weirdly, fixtures like poles and tables and vehicles remained, a discordant note in the whole pastoral image.

Everyone in sight simply stopped, looking around in bewilderment.

“Holy shit,” the voice behind the camera said. “I swear I can smell flowers!”

Hologram’s voice echoed from everywhere at once.

“Please don’t! Anger can be useful, but if you give in to it now, you’ll give them an excuse to hurt you! Protest peacefully. Tell your stories. Don’t let the League twist the narrative around this or anything else. Help each other remember why you’re so angry right now. But don’t let it explode here, there will be collateral damage, and any of that is too much!”

The pastoral scene faded back into darkness with electricity whipping through the air overhead.

“Holy shit,” the voice behind the camera repeated.

“She’s right, though,” said the nearby voice. “People get hurt during riots.”

“Yeah. And it looks like she broke a lot of the… the mob mentality that was ramping up. I mean, I wouldn’t believe you if you said that worked on everyone, but…”

Hologram turned to face directly into the camera. “We’ll keep Carnal safe. Now you see her…” She snapped her fingers, and not only the green fence but the space immediately around it simply vanished, leaving only empty Plaza. “Now you don’t. You’ll want to check back in the morning with your crew. Arable and Tefnut and Monolith will be leaving the city a gift.” She winked. “Just don’t tell the League and spoil the surprise.” The light around her blinked out, and by the time the camera adjusted, she was nowhere to be seen.

The surprise?

The next video had the answer to that.

Someone was walking in daylight, with a camera on a stabilizing gimble, a woman in maybe her forties or so who was probably Native. “Can you believe this? Right in the heart of Toronto!”

League HQ was recognizable in the background as she did a slow three-sixty.

The Plaza was gone.

All around, everything was green, except for a spire of… was it rock? No, it was chunks of pavement, and a waterfall spilled down the side, nurturing… that wasn’t grass. It wasn’t wilderness, either. There were young trees scattered around, and grapevines climbing the poles that supported cables and streetlights, and chest-high banks of some kind of plant, and everywhere there were flowers. So many flowers.

“Toronto is actually built on top of some of the most fertile soil in the world. Arable and Tefnut and Monolith gave us back a little piece of that. I know plants, people, especially the kind that grow food. Those are apple and peach trees for sure. And those are banks of raspberry and blueberry brambles, and there are grapevines everywhere, I would love to see a couple of tasteful trellises in here to give them more support, and those are strawberry plants in those beds that are low to the ground. There are honey bees everywhere, working like mad, so I think it’s safe to say Mellifera has a hand in this too. This is going to mean fresh fruit for anyone who cares to stroll into the garden and pick it, and some healthy flowers for pollinators too, and some absolutely gorgeous green space for people to enjoy, not just flat mowed grass but actually alive and productive. And it’s really convenient for one group in particular.”

Around the base of League HQ, at least fifty people came into view, sitting and standing and a few lying down, but they had protest signs propped up, and the signs said things like, Supervillains aren’t, and Zero collateral damage, and We matter too!

“Word online is that there are sit-ins like this all over the world. I’m getting really tired of the stupid jokes like, ‘Wow, it must be really bad if Canadians stopped being polite’ which just proves that they have never seen a hockey riot when a home team just won a major game.” The camera swung back around to focus on the garden, not the protesters. “Me, I have just one question. If a handful of so-called supervillains created a pocket Eden overnight that’s going to provide beauty and food and environmental goodness, why won’t the League do things like this that would actually benefit the rest of us? Or better still, collaborate with the so-called villains to do even more? # CarnalTruth, everybody.”

There was one final video.

This one was just a single woman facing the camera, sitting on a computer chair with a wall behind her painted dark teal and studded with squares of acoustic panelling. She didn’t look particularly noteworthy; only the shock of hair coloured golden-yellow, deep azure, and vivid rose stood out at all. She was wearing faded jeans and a sky-blue T-shirt with cute kittens on it. She had a phone in one hand.

“Hi, Laura! I’m Eureka. Please forgive me if I keep looking at my phone. I am very bad at breaking things down into explanations that make sense to other people, so Hologram and Jolt and I worked this out between us and I’m going to try really hard to stick to it in hopes of not confusing you. I really hope you aren’t hurting. We took the liberty of repairing your back before we took you home. Okay, technically, you have clones of Hologram’s spinal discs at L3-L4 through S1-S2, which is the damaged ones and the ones on either side. That might make a doctor do a double-take on an MRI, because they’re one-hundred-percent intact with zero age-related deterioration, but that was the best we could do because doing localized spot changes instead of a whole-body transformation is weirdly difficult. You won’t be in pain anymore. Also, I hope you’re eating. You really need to, I’ll get to why, and personally, I think my girl makes killer lasagne.”

The microwave had beeped while she was watching the earlier videos. Laura paused and went to retrieve the plate and a fork.

“So, um… yeah,” Eureka said. “As usual, my attempts at being helpful have had complications. Hologram says I need to tell you, immediately right now no delays, that Carnal isn’t just lost as deleted data or anything. That whole form, which is absolutely artistic I might add and it is so sexy and creative and I love it, is saved and can be retrieved. You can bring her back using the drinks we left in your fridge, because you still have the original code from the first time, and there are other ways too. But you need to understand what happened. Okay, so… do you have any idea what nanites are? Right, you can’t answer, so I’m supposed to just assume the answer to that sort of thing is ‘No.’ Nanites are microscopic robots, basically. Y’see, a few years back I invented a machine that transforms people to a limited degree and can repair some kinds of physical damage, and even with copies of it in trusted hands in several places around the globe, it isn’t nearly enough, so I recently invented nanites that could do the same thing. Testing is sort of a problem when you’re a supervillain. So we did the energy drink thing, and we’ve been leaving the machines in random locations for up to a day. They’re all laced with nanites that interact with the website to create transformations and also they scan for chronic damage and repair it. The nanites will deactivate after seven days and be flushed out of the body harmlessly, and the last thing they do is reverse all changes they’ve made. Sometimes that sucks, but until I am one million percent sure that they will not glitch or turn out to be hackable or anything, it’s a safety issue.”

This lasagne really was rather tasty, and it was disappearing fast.

All right. That told her how the energy drink had done its magic, anyway. Laura wasn’t sure why it mattered, or why Eureka was bothering to explain it. Was it just because Carnal had attracted League attention?

“Ah… what I said about my efforts to do good things having complications? Well… in a handful of cases across hundreds of tests, something about the process has triggered super abilities. No one actually knows what gives someone the latent potential for that, although I’m part of a group working on it and we have better data than the League does, and no one knows what activates it, ditto. You, um… you’re a super. Please don’t turn this off, there are things you need to know that are really important. The nanites flagged you as soon as that manifested, and we’ve been… kind of keeping track of you and looking into who you are.”

She couldn’t possibly have just said that Laura was actually a super.

“You’re a genuine psychic talent, with at least projective empathy—you can make people close to you feel what you’re feeling, which I’m told might lead to them focusing on you as the target of it. Possibly you could learn to do a lot more than that. The League system of ranking powers in tiers is bullshit—they act like it’s a static state, you are forever whatever you are at the time of assessment, but just like anything else, passion and motivation and intense practice can increase range and stamina and strength. Believe me, Hologram and Jolt are both spectacular proof of that! You saw what Hologram did. For Jolt, having the whole local power grid in that section of town running through him is just a high that ramps his nervous system up off the scale. For the record, he never let it get low enough to hit anyone. Mostly it was a distraction and a threat and a way of protecting everyone from attacks from above. He doesn’t very often get that much juice to manipulate. Neither one was able to do anything like that when I met them. Um, sorry, that was a sidetrack, I get a bit hyper over the people I love best.” Eureka stopped and checked her phone, muttering to herself.

“Ah, here we go. You need to get your own emotional state sorted out as quickly as possible. You very nearly burned yourself out. Super abilities take energy, just like physical exertion, and you were using yours almost constantly for a week with no control and no brakes and no filter while in a state of heightened emotion and intense focus. You literally could not eat enough for your body to keep up, and even with the nanites doing repairs at their maximum capacity, they could only partially compensate. I talked to a psychic friend and he thinks that learning meditation and mindfulness and possibly some therapy would help enormously. He’s actually a trained psychotherapist and his partner is a non-super but really amazing neuroscientist, they’re really lovely and sympathetic and kind and they despise the League, and they’re downright eager to help you if you want.”

Therapy. Everything that Eureka was saying pointed only to Laura being even more of a target for the League, which she hadn’t thought was even possible, and she was talking about therapy?

“But right now, you’re so drained that your range is probably not past direct contact, and just in case, I, um, I actually added a little chip inside your phone, the one I texted you on, that will set up a disruption field. Psychic abilities are all bioelectric and part of the human neurological system, and we invented a way to block them. Jolt doesn’t need it, but Hologram has one inside the collar she always wears and I have one and we give them to allies. The one you have works sort of opposite, it’s in your phone because it’s using some of the phone’s hardware to generate a narrow field around you instead of just protecting you from outside influences. If you open the back of your phone, there’s a bright red chip inside, just slide that out and it stops working. I thought that might give you some space to breathe and make decisions with no pressure.”

That was actually thoughtful, in a strange kind of way, and an unexpected relief.

“So, um, eat lots, okay? And please try not to worry. We’re not going to let the League reach you. It’s easier to keep someone out of their custody than break them out of it—we’ve done both. Look, this is a lot to absorb, and I’m sorry. I’m sorry you’ve been through what you’ve been through, and I’m just in awe at what you managed to do when my invention gave you even the smallest of opportunities, and I’m sorry that there’s no way to make this bit easier on you. What we can do is give you options, and you can mix and match these in any way that works for you. I can make you something that will block your psychic field indefinitely, jewellery or something you can wear, if that’s what you want instead of learning about it. I don’t think it’s going to be realistic for you to try going back to your life from before the accident, because eventually the League will put pieces together and figure out who you are. You can text me back and tell me you just want to disappear, and my allies and I will help you change how you look and start over anywhere you want. You have three weeks’ worth of regular nanites in your fridge, if you want to experiment. Or we’ll warm up the transformation machine and you can be Carnal for as long as you choose. You’d be welcomed into the supervillain alliance who are all looking out for each other and sharing resources—I think we can pretty much trust that you’re not going to run off and turn us in to the League. Uh… yeah, that was it. Oh, Arable sent the fruit so you’d have healthy stuff while you’re recovering. They were completely horrified at what the League did, it never occurred to them that they would do something like that. As soon as I told them who you were, they became one of your biggest fans. They got a friend to scatter grape seeds, well, mostly grape seeds, all over the Plaza so they’d be available whenever things went pear-shaped, and they reacted faster than that video acually shows because you can’t see the early sprouts. Basically, they weren’t going to let the League hurt you again if they could help it. We know this is overwhelming. We’re trying to give you some space. Please. Eat lots, and try not to worry. What matters right now is what you want to do. Just let us know, okay? You deserve to be happy.” She raised a hand in a kind of farewell, and the video ended.

Laura sat still for a long moment, staring at the computer screen without really seeing it. The plate of lasagne was empty, gone like the sandwich. She was still hungry, but it was milder now.

How was she supposed to figure out what she should do when she just felt numb?

Finally, she reached behind her for Carnal’s phone and texted Jaz.

«I’m safe. Can we meet somewhere?»

The timestamp on the reply suggested that Jaz wasted no time, but it felt like forever.

«Not busking today, but I’ll meet you in the park? Usual place? Give me an hour.»

«I’ll be there.»

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