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This story was prompted by [livejournal.com profile] ysabetwordsmith and sponsored by Michael Olsen!  It takes place in my superhero series, Battle the Universe, but you don't need any context for this story.  Enjoy, and happy Shadowthon!

One Step Ahead

“Whooey!” Martial Law said with a chuckle. “You must really like them crackers.”

Lorry glanced down.  The pockets of his cargo pants were stuffed with the little cellophane-wrapped packets.  And he’d been toweling off just a moment ago.

“Don’t worry about it,” Law said, smacking him on the back. “Get cravings for salt myself.  Just don’t let the cameras catch you; image and all…”

Lorry forced a smile and hastily excused himself.  In the comparative safety of the handicapped bathroom stall (built after the All-Seeing Eye’s numerous complaints and a focus group test), Lorry checked his watch and the day-planner.

Fifteen minutes unaccounted for.  Great.

It took effort to pull back from the front, to think in that special frequency that reached the others. “Okay, who stole time?”

There weren’t that many candidates.  Lucinda was his wife, and even if she’d uncharacteristically gone behind his back, he would’ve felt her.  And Kara never fronted if she could help it.  Which left TJ and the Zombie.

“Dude, like I steal crackers,” TJ replied.

Fantastic.  The Zombie was the hardest for Lorry to reach, and it couldn’t talk.  Only TJ had any luck communicating with the thing.

“Well, tell the Zombie to knock it off, will you?  We just got this job, and I’m not losing it for this.  You want to go back to the Chicago docks?”

“All right, all right,”
TJ said, sulky. “I’ll talk to it.  Would hate to lose this stunning career opportunity—”

Lorry’s response was interrupted by a hammering on the door.

“Hey!  Who’s in my stall?”

“Good job, dude.  Stealing the handicapped stall, real classy…”

Lorry cringed. “Just a moment!” And he darted out to make excuses to the All-Seeing Eye.


Over the next four days, Lorry came home from training to find more food in his pockets, sharp objects stashed in his dresser drawers, and an emergency bag hidden under the bed.  He lost the entire weekend, finding only a lot of stolen infirmary equipment and granola bars.  The other members of Law and Justice kept asking whether he was getting enough sleep, and the All-Seeing Eye was starting to look at him funny.

“Would you like me to look at your brain?” He asked.

“No.”

“I know your issues with my powers, but I assure you—”

No, Eye!  I’m fine.  Fine.  Just… just adjusting.”

Lorry hustled through his interview and exercises on Monday, then practically sprinted back to his room.  As he locked the door, he saw that one of the keys had been filed to a sharp point, and he hastily tossed them away.  He strode to the mirror and stared the reflection in the eyes.

“What is your problem?” He demanded. “You want to go back to stacking crates in Chicago?  That it?”

Silence.  The back of his brain itched.

“We can make a difference here.  Save the world here.  Have health insurance here.  What are you so antsy about?”

The itching intensified, but it was TJ’s reedy voice that came out of the vessel’s throat.

“Gee, Lorry, I can’t imagine why.  Coworkers so nice and all…”

“Look, that’s not the point,” Lorry said. “We knew legit superhero work would be full of politics.  We don’t need to stab them with our goddamn keys—how did it do that, anyway?”

“Will you chill out?” TJ’s voice said. “You know how the Zombie deals with change.”

Lorry suddenly felt tired.  He rested his elbows on the dressing table and rested his head in his hands. “Yeah.  I know.”

“You know we aren’t in any real danger.  I know.  It doesn’t.  This is a lot of change.  Zombie’s going to be overcompensating for a while.”

Lorry sighed.  He’d always been too afraid to ask about the two years the Zombie had run the show.  The only ones who had access to that time were the Zombie itself, which couldn’t talk, and Kara, who wouldn’t.  All Lorry knew was that when he woke up, the president had changed, their mother had apparently died, and their apartment was gone.

“Okay, okay.  What can I do to make it feel better?  How can I tell it we’re safe?”

“Sorry, man.  Only time.”

“Damn it.  Okay, but—”

There was a pounding on the door.  Lorry resisted a groan.

“Busy right now!”

“With who, exactly?” came the acid reply.

Silently, in head now, TJ’s voice: “The hell is that?”

“It’s Eye!  Ssh!” Then, refocusing on the outside world again, Lorry went to the door.

The All-Seeing Eye squinted at Lorry suspiciously from the hoverchair, and Lorry felt a tingle, then a whiplash buzz and his wife’s silent voice, a stray thought: “Asshole.  Didn’t expect that, did you?” He sent her his wordless gratitude and refocused on Eye.

“You know how I feel about you trying to read my mind,” Lorry said, crossing his arms.

“Pardon me if I value our team over your eccentricity.  Talking to yourself?  Does Martial Law know you do that?”

“No law against talking to yourself,” Lorry said evenly and gave his love to his wife as she swore and stomped down another attempted entry.

The All-Seeing Eye’s gaze sharpened. “I’ve got my eye on you,” he said. “And Law listens to me.  Any funny business, one summoned demon, one Hyde episode…”

“I promise, that’s the furthest thing from my mind,” Lorry swore.

The Eye squinted at him, but finally turned his chair to leave.

“Watching you,” he said.

“That’s nice,” Lorry replied, and shut the door.

Letting his breath whoosh out, he collapsed on the bed, next to his keys.  In the back of his mind, he heard TJ, faintly: “Sure, buddy.  Can’t imagine why the Zombie’s paranoid… not like we have a history with mind-readers or anything…”

Lorry sighed.  He picked up the keys, ran his fingers over the sharpened one.

“It’s fine,” he said. “We’ve done this all our life.  We’ll be fine.”

But there was only silence.

Wow!

Date: 2014-02-19 01:37 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ysabetwordsmith.livejournal.com
This is a wonderful rendition of what it's like being stuck together, held accountable for each other's actions.

I have to wonder now if Zombie is the system scapegoat. It's often whoever is handling the survival mode.

Re: Wow!

Date: 2014-02-19 02:21 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lb-lee.livejournal.com
Zombie isn't so much a scapegoat as it operates on an entirely different understanding of reality than Lorry does, and Lorry lacks the imagination to comprehend its behavior most of the time. That Lorry has a very hard time getting any communicating done with it doesn't help his frustration. TJ, however, gets along with the Zombie fine, and Kara and Lucinda have a good understanding with it. It's just that it's so far back and Lorry is so far forward that it's hard for them to really see each other.

The Zombie, for all its quirks, is second to none at survival. It treats all people like terrifying, incomprehensible threats, however, so it's not exactly the best fronter for such an image-heavy job as the one they got.

--Rogan
Edited Date: 2014-02-19 02:21 am (UTC)

Re: Wow!

Date: 2014-02-19 02:27 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ysabetwordsmith.livejournal.com
>> Zombie isn't so much a scapegoat as it operates on an entirely different understanding of reality than Lorry does, and Lorry lacks the imagination to comprehend its behavior most of the time. <<

That makes sense.

>> That Lorry has a very hard time getting any communicating done with it doesn't help his frustration. TJ, however, gets along with the Zombie fine, and Kara and Lucinda have a good understanding with it. <<

At least they have some ways of getting things done.

>> It's just that it's so far back and Lorry is so far forward that it's hard for them to really see each other. <<

I like this sense of dimensional headspace and people's positions within it.

>> The Zombie, for all its quirks, is second to none at survival. It treats all people like terrifying, incomprehensible threats, however, so it's not exactly the best fronter for such an image-heavy job as the one they got. <<

I can see the conflicts there.

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