JUSTICE LEAGUE

38

Running Away
 

It was a cold, misty morning, and he went jogging. There was freezing rain to the south, they’d said on the news, down around Pennsylvania and southern Jersey, but for now it was just cold and misty here.

It had been a long time since he went jogging- he wasn’t exactly on the track team anymore. But today he stood on the front steps of the Hall, stretching his leg muscles and swinging his arms, working out all of the kinks and cramps grown from months of inactive crime fighting.

He wasn’t wearing his costume. I’m just full of surprises today, he thought, He’d put on a pair of black bike shirts, and his old Hugo Danner Track Team sweatshirt, and a pair of Reeboks. He’d let his mask, and his sunglasses, on his bedside table. There was no way he could run in those, and it wasn’t like anyone would see him- the rest of the Justice League was asleep, and the woods were (relatively) well protected from outsiders.

He jogged down across the lawn, towards the rough, dew-sodden path in the woods. They’d made it years ago, just for kicks, and it looped around, through the woods, and came back out on the other side of the Hall. He guessed that it was, roughly, a mile. Close enough, at least.

The grass made his sneakers slippery very quickly, and there was the familiar touch of dew splattering up on his socks. His heart was accelerating, a bit faster than it used to. After all, it had been a long time since he went jogging.

He reached the path and felt the reaffirming touch of solid earth, and his strides became more natural. His heart was still pounding, and he was probably breathing in more than he had to, but at least his legs were still up for this.

He tried to control his breathing, like he’d learned to do in eighth grade. He’d noticed that a lot, during chases, he ran out of breath pretty quickly. He did, the guy who had run a mile every morning since he was fourteen, who had been Hugo Danner High’s top sprinter from his freshman year till halfway into junior year. He needed to get into a breathing cadence. He’d set it with his… right foot. At the heel strike.

He held his breath as he finished his current slide, and exhaled as his right heel hit the dirt path. He inhaled when his right heel came down again. Soon he had a cadence going, and his heart was beating nearly as fast as before.

It felt good to be out running again. He just wished that he hadn’t stopped before. Maybe, maybe he had had something of a good reason junior year, but after that? He certainly could have run when he was living in that abandoned warehouse, during his “solo career.” And the four years (just about, if you didn’t count 1999 or the current year as full years) he’d spent with the League- well, that was just plain laziness.

Can’t be slacking off so much, his inner weight trainer said. That muscle’s not going to stick around if you don’t take care of it. You’re not going to live forever, you know.

He frowned a little. No, maybe he wouldn’t live forever. But even death, it seemed, wasn’t permanent. Everyone was so excited about Violet Princess’ resurrection (or whatever it was), so happy to have her back, and at the same time he was so disturbed by the whole thing.

She had been dead. Dead. Shot in the midsection. Her diaphragm had been vaporized, her spine had been clipped. There was no way that she wasn’t dead. And yet, here she was, walking around and hanging out with them, like she’d never left.

If there was one thing that he’d always known to be true, it was this: when you died, you didn’t come back. Game over. Didn’t anyone else get it? Didn’t anyone else understand? Violet had died, and now she wasn’t. That didn’t happen. You didn’t reverse death, you just- didn’t.

Because what did that mean, if even death could be undone? Death was the constant. In the end, death was the only thing you could really count on. He didn’t mean to be pessimistic, but it was true.

He came to a bend in the trail, and went around it. He had to correct his stride and cadence a little. All of this deep thinking was messing up his rhythm.

It still didn’t make sense. Death wasn’t a two-way road. Did this mean that Superdude and Dragon Girl and OMEGA and Insipid Justice were all going to come back one of these days? And why was he the only one upset by all of this? Didn’t anyone else-

He stumbled a bit, but then regained his stride. No, no one else was upset by it. They were happy to have Violet back without wondering what it meant. He probably should have been, too. Then again, most of them probably believed in God, or some sort of God. Maybe it wasn’t as weird to them. Maybe he was the only one who saw death as the Big Sleep.

His right heel touched down. He breathed in. Left heel down, mid-stance, toe push. Right heel down. He breathed out.

This felt right. Running through the woods on a crisp morning in February, legs pumping, heart and lungs expanding and contrasting in controlled measures, like parts of a car engine. Sweat forming beneath his hairline, on his shoulders, behind his knees. All of this made sense. Him, the woods, the path he was on, the way his body worked- it was all of the same world, it all had some meaning. This was a concrete world-- life and death weren't supposed to be abstracts.

He was getting warm under his sweatshirt, and considered shedding it. But, no, he had to get back into routine. He jogged around a puddle, clouded with mud. He wondered when the rain would start.

It was quiet here, in the early morning. Everything seemed so slow and calm-- there was no way this would ever change.

It was cold, but he didn't mind. In fact, he didn't want the sun to come out from behind the clouds. With the sun came the actual day, and everyone would be awake and the stillness of this moment would seem a lifetime away. Sweat simultaneously appeared and cooled on his brow.

Maybe things weren't so bad. Violet was alive, at least. Even as he thought this, he realized that he didn't particularly feel like seeing Violet, or anyone, for that matter. His lightened mood, he guessed, came from finally being alone.

It wasn't that he was anti-social or anything. The Hall was great. And, for the most part, he liked all the people he was living with. But he had grown up an only child-- he was solitary by nature. He would never want to be a hermit or anything, he needed some human contact-- but it was nice to be alone.

It made him think-- what would he do after the League? Would there be an after? Maybe, someday. What would he do? Maybe by then he'd be too old to care. He thought that, no matter what happened, he'd be happy if he could run in the morning.

He slowed down as the trees ended a few feet ahead. He'd forgotten about this-- the enormous crater left after Jarhead's attack on the Hall two years ago. The crater was now a sort of muddy, shallow lake from all the melted snow.

He jogged around its edge, now running on the Hall's back lawn. He could see the back wing now, and the dark windows of the trophy room. It was probably nice and quiet in there. He thought about Violet's picture, up with all of the other past Justice League members.

He finally got around the crater and rejoined the path. He was almost around to the other side now. By then, the others would be waking up, and he could sneak in, shower, and put his costume back on. That world seemed heavier, somehow, than the quiet, misty one he was in now. Heavier, louder and faster.

But he wasn't there now.

His right heel hit the path. Exhale. His left foot hit, settled, pushed back up again. His right heel hit the path again. Inhale. His left foot…

***

A knock boomed on the door, startling Scarlett. She considered not answering it at all, but since she was passing right by it and nobody else seemed to be around (well, except for Oreo Avenger, who was sprawled across a chair in the living room, napping), she seemed the logical candidate for the answering. After all, if someone had gotten this far through their new security system, they deserved to at least have the door personally slammed in their face.

Scarlett checked the monitor. All the camera showed was a shiny badge. The police? What were they doing here? She opened the door.

“Hello.” The man tucked his badge away in a pocket of his sport coat. “I’m Detective Hall. We have a warrant for the arrest of a Miss Oreo Avenger.” The man brandished the warrant at Scarlett and motioned for the two uniformed officers behind him to enter the Hall.

Hearing her name, Oreo Avenger looked up. Her face paled as she saw the officers coming toward her. Wildly looking around, she leapt straight up and up, finally crashing through the newly-repaired skylight.

The cops all drew their guns the moment Oreo moved, but she escaped before they fired a shot.

“Briscoe, go to the back!” Detective Hall barked, running under the skylight. “Green, cover the front!”

“You won’t catch her,” Scarlett drawled, secretly pleased perfect little Oreo fled at the sight of the cops. “Not unless you have a couple helicopters out there.”

Detective Hall swore and holstered his gun. “Are you Miss Lori Dixon, also known as Scarlett Fyre?” He didn’t wait for her confirming nod, talking over anything she might have said. “I’m gonna ask you to come down to the station, Miss Dixon. I hope you realize that using your powers now would be a big mistake.”

***

From the moment she heard her name come from the detective’s mouth, Oreo Avenger was on autopilot. She was already to the park by the time her brain realized what happened.

She didn’t like cops. They’d always scared her, tall and uniformed with scary hats and scary guns. They’d been no help after her mom was murdered, just stopped looking after a couple weeks. Her stint as a crime fighter hadn’t driven up her opinion of them at all.

Landing in the park, she tore off her mask and cape and shoved it in her bag. Disguise. Needed a disguise. If only she had some warning before the cops found her, she could’ve packed up some great disguise Oreos. The Average Girl one she was working on; it made the eater look like a totally average girl, undistinguished in every way. All she had in her satchel were a few squirrel Oreos and that Molly Ringwald one she never found an excuse to use.

With good reason. Oreo Avenger had no desire to see anyone become the actress who’d so annoyed her in The Breakfast Club. It was the only Oreo in her bag that wouldn’t turn her into a small, scurrying creature, though, so she ate it.

The change was immediate. She shrank a little, shoes becoming too loose and pants almost falling down. Her dark red hair turned light and her eyes itched as they changed color. She wished she had a mirror to see how she looked.

Now to find out why the cops wanted her. She set out to find the nearest news source.

***

Interrogation rooms, they were all the same. Dark, bare, institutional. The mirror on the wall that was really a window. Scarlett glared directly at it. There was no clock in here, no way to tell time, but by Scarlett’s estimate she’d been waiting for close to forever.

Her gaze snapped to the door as it slowly creaked open. A middle aged man, fat, bald and smiling, walked in.

“Hello, Miss Dixon. Sorry for the wait,” he said, setting a steaming coffee cup on the table. “I’m Detective Quick.”

“It’s been over an hour.”

Detective Quick sat down. “Really?”

“Come on, what is this? Are you trying to sweat me out or something?”

“Pardon?”

Scarlett could smell the heavenly aroma of coffee waft through the room. “The wait. What? You sat behind the glass and waited for me to start crying?”

Detective Quick looked her directly in the eyes and smiled. “Now why would I do a thing like that?”

The looked at each other for a long moment, her glaring and he smiling. He finally looked down at the manila folder in his hands.

He opened it, shuffling through the papers. “It says here you hop around the city under the name Scarlett Fyre.”

“I’m sure it does.”

“Is that incorrect information?”

“No.”

“Any other aliases we need to know about?”

Scarlett glared at the mirror, hoping the invisible watchers could see it. “No.”

“You have the whadayacallit, right?”

“What?”

“The whadayacallit. The powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men.”

Scarlett shrugged one shoulder. “I guess.”

“You guess?”

“I do. I have them.”

“Pretty cool.” Detective Quick leaned in close. “What can you do?”

She shrugged her shoulder again. “I don’t know…stuff.”

“Are ya strong?”

“Stronger than you? Yes.”

Detective Quick leaned back in his chair. “Are you threatening me?”

“No,” Scarlett said. “I was answering your question.”

“Uh-huh,” he said, his smiling face showing naked disbelief.

“But what you’re asking…yes. I could, if I wanted, I could have walked right out of here. But I didn’t.”

“Still sounds like a threat.”

“Well…that’s not what I said.”

“So can you fly?” Detective Quick asked.

“In the Jet.”

“So you don’t bother with a costume,” he said, holding up a couple pictures of Scarlett in various red dresses.

“It’s just not me.”

“I would wear a costume.”

“Why don’t you, then?”

“A symbol can mean a lot to people.” He turned the photographs so they were facing him. “You take Studmuffin, for example. He uses his costume to express an idea. A belief. Something people can relate to. Trust.”

“You must not’ve seen his costumes,” Scarlett said under her breath.

“Hey, can you freeze things?”

“What? No.”

“No freezing powers? How about turning invisible?”

“No.”

“Can you look through-“

“I’m sorry, but what does this have to do with why you have me here?” Scarlett asked. “I mean, I’m trying to work with you as best I can, but I really can’t follow…Do I get a phone call?”

“Sure,” he said. “You know who asks for phone calls?”

“Who?” Scarlett asked, suspecting the answer.

“Guilty people.”

Scarlett stared at the table, determined not to ask another question.

“Let me ask you,” he said. “Have you ever met the Chi Dance Quartet? Love the CDQ.”

“No…”

“No?”

“Well, I know Studmuffin,” she said. “Although that Chi Dance Quartet is all-“

“He’s my favorite,” Detective Quick said. “What’s he like?”

“Um…he flies around in a red cape.” Scarlett was beginning to get annoyed with the detective. “Can we get to why I’m here?”

“Sure.” Detective Quick rustled the papers in his folder and pulled out another photo. “Do you know this woman?”

Scarlett glanced at the photo. “That’s Oreo Avenger.”

“I’ve heard you two are pretty close.”

“We work together,” she said coldly.

The man took out another photograph. “And is she in this picture?”

Scarlett squinted at the picture. It was black and white, grainy, from a security camera. A woman who looked remarkably like Oreo stood in the middle of the chaos and smoke, threatening a bank teller. Other customers were scattered around on the floor.

“Exploding Oreos,” he said while Scarlett studied the photograph. “Her last robbery sent two people to the hospital.” He chuckled as if amused by that fact.

“It could be anybody,” Scarlett said, pushing away the photo. She might not like Oreo Avenger much, but she should at least find out what that cookies crazed psycho thought she was doing before saying anything to the cops.

“Did you know we take pictures of the crowds at crime scenes?”

“Yeah.”

“Sometimes the criminals like to come back to the scene of the crime, see their handiwork.” Smiling, always smiling, he pushed another photograph across the table, a part of it circled in red. “Interesting how you had business at the bank the same day your friend robbed it.”

Scarlett glared at the picture. It certainly looked like her. “That’s not me,” she said.

“Of course not, Miss Dixon,” Detective Quick said, nodding. “Maybe it’s this Scarlett Fyre person. Or maybe it’s someone else altogether you have in there.”

Scarlett finally snapped. She was tired, she was hungry, and this was the last straw.

“Now you listen to me!” she yelled, standing, palms planted on the table. “I didn’t rob a bank! I’ve never even been to that bank! And you just called me crazy, right? Is that what I heard? Is it? You just said that to me? Did you just say that I have multiple personalities? Is that’s what you’re accusing me of, you stupid man? Is that your theory? Why? Because I don’t like wearing a stupid costume?”

He shrugged, smile never leaving his face. “Well, you do have a record.”

Scarlett narrowed her eyes. “I was cleared.”

“Because that chattering lawyer of yours talked the judge into dismissing the trial. And he’s a superhero too, isn’t he? Is that one of his powers?”

“Look, I wasn’t even in the country when that bank was robbed!” she yelled. “I was in the middle of the ocean!”

“Your friend Oreo Avenger flies, doesn’t she? Just tell us where she is.”

Scarlett leaned over so she was yelling directly in his face. “You know what?! Screw you! I don’t care! This isn’t right! All I’m trying to do is protect you stupid people and now I’m a criminal! Well, screw you, and screw-“

The door opened, interrupting Scarlett’s rant. “This is over.” A large woman in a black suit stood there, looking at Detective Quick. She walked into the room.

“And who are…oh.”

“Yeah, that’s right. I’m Bonnie Dasani, Ms. Dixon’s lawyer. Come on, Lori, let’s go.”

Detective Quick’s smile disappeared. “But we’re in the middle of-“

“Are you charging my client with a crime?”

“Client?” Scarlett repeated.

“We are questioning her,” he said, smile back on his face.

“Are you charging my client with a crime? Yes or no?”

They stared at each other in silence.

“That’s what I thought,” Bonnie Dasani said. “The next time you want to talk to her, you schedule it through my office.”

“Hey!” Detective Quick called after them as they left the room. “I don’t want her leaving town!”

“She won’t. Come on, Lori.”

Scarlett followed the lawyer out, unable to resist smirking at the detective as she left. The lawyer looked very familiar.

“Do I know you?” Scarlett asked.

“Maybe,” Bonnie Dasani said. “I’m a friend of a friend..”

“Did Phabio call you?”

“Claire Evans,” she said. A car pulled up to the curb. The driver leapt out and opened the door. “Remember not to leave the city,” she said. She pressed a business card into Scarlett’s hands. “Don’t hesitate to call if you run into any trouble,” she said, getting into the car. “See you at the next family reunion. Goodbye.” Bonnie Dasani closed the door, and Scarlett remembered vaguely that she a lawyer aunt.

Scarlett stared blankly at the business card. It was over, just like that. She was a free woman. Free to do anything but leave the city. Someone bumped into her and she jumped.

The bumper was a teenager of indeterminate sex, baggy clothes hiding everything. He, or possibly she, had red hair and one of those Oreo Avenger shirts, brown with a big white O on it.

“Scarlett!” the kid said. “It’s me, Oreo.”

“Okay, kid.” It was a girl, Scarlett decided. No boy should have a voice like that.

“It’s really me!”

“Listen kid, I’ve had a rough day and I just want to go home, so why don’t you go try your Oreo Avenger act on someone else.”

The kid reached into her bag and withdrew an Oreo. “Do I have to turn you into a squirrel to convince you I’m the real Oreo Avenger?”

Scarlett saw the angry gleam in the kid’s eye. “Fine, I believe you. Do you know how much trouble you’re in?”

Oreo Avenger hid her face in Scarlett’s arm as a pair of cops strolled past. “I caught a news report. Can we please do this where there aren’t so many cops around.”

“The great Oreo Avenger can’t handle a few police officers?”

Oreo glared at Scarlett. “I only have a few more minutes on this Oreo before I change back. Do you want to be seen in the presence of an alleged bank robber?”

“I’m not going anywhere with a thief.”

Oreo sighed, irritated. “I didn’t rob any banks. If it was me who did that, and it wasn’t, I would’ve done it a lot more neatly with no casualties.”

“Fine,” Scarlett said. “Where are we going?”

“When I first started fighting crime, I got an apartment around here. I’ve kept up the rent over the years.” She shrugged. “Every superhero needs a place of her own, you know that. Let’s go to the Apartment of Solitude.”

***

After dragging the cardboard box to her “new” room, Scarlett had given Violet some time alone to look through it. For the first time, she realized how little she really had. Not that she minded, but as a superhero she never needed much, or at least nothing that the JL couldn’t provide.

Quickly, she rummaged through her dresses, mostly black. A few pairs of jeans and some tank tops, now in the dresser draw. He won’t mind. He kept it mostly empty.

A photo album, she threw it on the bed. A college book that was never opened. Violet hadn’t gone to college. She barely finished her senior year in high school. The book was bought with the hope that, maybe, she could teach herself something. She failed. The book was pushed under the bed.

A velvet bag tied with a cord. Violet opened it up-it was her chess pieces. A marble set she’d gotten as a gift from X-Raytor. It too was slid under the bed.

The last of her things were a few magazines and a couple of cheap snow-globes she’d gotten as a child. The snow-globes were placed on the desk. Violet would see if one of the younger JLers wanted the magazines. They were outdated by months.

Morbidly, she wondered if her subscription still came to the Hall.

Violet folded the box of and stuck it in the corner. She grabbed a pair of black pants and a lavender shirt from the open dresser draw and put them on. Later she could deal with memories. For now she just needed a familiar face.

Violet left the room and headed for the rec room. Good ol’ TiVo, she thought. You’ll never forsake me. We’re kin! Violet looked down, a watch appeared on her hand. Oh, good, Buffy’s on. The watch disappeared and she swiftened her pace.

***

“Wait a second. Before we go anywhere, you’re going to need a better disguise than that if the Oreo’s going to run out soon.”

“What are you suggesting?”

“Have you got twenty minutes left, do you think?” Scarlett asked.

Oreo pondered. “Just.”

“Let’s go!” Scarlett grabbed Oreo’s arm, yanking her in the direction of the nearest clothing store, the Clothesette. Not the best place in town, but it would do in a pinch. Besides, they were having a sale on high heels.

“Whoa! Where are we going?”

“To get you a disguise.”

“Do you seriously think what I wear is going to make a difference?”

Scarlett thought for a second. Where had she heard that question before? She decided to worry about that later. “If your credit card can handle what it’s about to be put through, then yes.”

“I bet they froze my account. Even if it works, they’d use it to find me.”

“Don’t worry about it. This is why I have connections.” Scarlett paused and looked Oreo up and down. "Besides, you look like hell. Always kind of have with that get-up. You really could do better--and I'll have failed as a superhero if I can't at least help you get decent disguise clothing."

***

Ten minutes later, they walked out of the Clothesette and made their way to the Apartment of Solitude. “I won’t wear any of this,” Oreo told Scarlett, scowling.

“Oh, yes, you will. And you’ll look a heck of a lot better in them, too.” Scarlett looked at the sacks from the Clothesette with pride. Now Oreo owned outfits. Not just clothing, mind you. Outfits.

After a few minutes of walking, Oreo stopped.

“Here it is.”

“Here?”

“You can’t fly, so we’ll have to go inside and take the stairs.”

“Isn’t there an elevator?”

“I’ve found it’s better to avoid the elevator.”

“How many floors?”

“It’s on the 12th floor.”

“I’m taking the elevator. I’ll meet you in the hallway.”

“Fine.”

Oreo flew up the stairs and stationed herself in front of the elevator doors. After several minutes, the doors finally opened, and Scarlett walked out, eyes wide.

“You were right about not taking the elevator.”

“Yeah.”

“Crazy stuff going on there. I bet you could write a book about everything that goes on in that elevator,” Scarlett said, glancing back at the elevator, her eyes still wide.

“Probably.”

“So where’s the apartment?”

***

Ari left her room after awhile- she was just too tired to sleep- to watch TiVo. When she got there, Violet was just coming in from a different direction. The two froze, and watched each other.

Violet moved first, towards the sinking sofa and the remote. Ari dived and hit the sofa with a thunk, sliding it a bit, and the remote clunked to the floor. Under the sofa. Momentarily stunned, Ari rubbed her head and got to her feet slowly. Giving Violet necessary time to begin groping for the controller under the couch. Regaining her senses, Ari pushed the sofa, along with Violet, and reached for the remote on her side. She felt something and pulled it out, smiling victoriously.

Her smile faded when she saw what she held- a huge cockroach, the size of a shoe. Her eyes grew the size of saucers and she flung the bug from her hand and began wiping it vigorously on the carpet. Violet smiled as her illusion faded when it hit the ground, and pulled out the real remote.

"All right, time for Buffy!" She crowed.

"Curses!" Ari shook her fist. "I was in the mood for some...uh...nevermind."

Violet dropped onto the couch and aimed the controller.

Ari slouched onto the sofa and crossed her arms, frowning. "Stupid giant radioactive bugs." She suddenly sat up. "That's it! 'Bye, Violet!" She jumped up and ran off.

"Uh...Okay." Violet said, pressing the power button. Nothing happened. She tried it again. "I don't believe it, the batteries are dead." Disgusted, she tossed the controller onto the ground.

***

So, where are we going, mate? asked Jarhead.

“We aren’t going anywhere,” Studmuffin muttered under his breath.

Oh, but I’m sorry. I believe that where you go, we have to go, too. Pothead said, almost gleefully. It is your fault we’re stuck here, after all. You just had to kill us.

“You shut up,” Studmuffin arrived at his destination.

The grocery store. He didn’t know what was going on in the Hall these days, but he did know one thing. There were no chilidogs. A problem that simply had to be remedied.

He also knew that they all thought he was depressed, but he wasn’t. Not really. Sure, the thought of his tribe and his wife was still heartbreakingly painful, but he was trying to move on. And besides, the League didn’t even know about that. They didn’t know anything.

And that’s the way it’s going to stay, he nodded to himself as he browsed the aisles in the store. He couldn’t let them find out about the Intellect or about the Seekers in his head. Another reason for his silence. He was afraid that if he started talking, the Seekers would somehow come through. That would not be good.

Then there was the matter of his powers. He was absolutely terrified to use them. What if he couldn’t control them anymore? What if he changed forms again and killed someone else? Would that voice be added to the ones in his brain? It wasn’t something he wanted to risk. He hadn’t even tried to use his powers since Rosma had stopped him in Antarctica.

And Rosma. What was up with her, anyway?

Zee girl zinks zhat she can save you, Mughead remarked, reading Studmuffin’s thoughts, as usual. She seems to believe zhat zee two of you share some special bond.

An’ it’s quite a bond at that, eh? Keghead laughed. That was some show.

Studmuffin sighed, but didn’t say anything. He calmly put his items on the counter and paid the cashier, who glanced warily at his costume. He didn’t notice the look and headed back outside.

Halfway down the block, his path was suddenly blocked by a pair of high heels. Studmuffin glanced up to find a microphone in his face and a camera pointed at his head. Before he could react, the woman started talking to the camera.

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is Grace Williams reporting live from downtown. I was here to cover the grand opening of the new bookstore, but look who I’ve found in the process. I’ve gotten an exclusive interview with one of the Justice League, Studmuffin, right?”

“Um…yes?” Studmuffin blinked.

“Studmuffin, what can you tell us about the search for Oreo Avenger? Do you know where she is? Do you know why she robbed the bank?”

“Er….she….well….no comment!” his brain finally connected, although he was still confused. Oreo didn’t rob a bank, did she?

“What do you know about the arrest of Scarlett Fyre?”

“Nothing?” he looked around for an exit, but a crowd was gathering.

“Our viewers understand that you’ve been away for quite some time. Where have you been?”

Yeah, tell them what you’ve been doing, Pothead taunted.

“I haven’t been doing anything!” Studmuffin was getting a headache.

“Are the rumors true? Did Jennifer Aniston really get married to Gary Condit? Is OJ hiding out in El Segunda to avoid arrest for his illegal drug ring?”

“What?”

The real story is even better than that bloody nonsense. You should tell ‘em, mate.

“I’m not telling them!” Studmuffin was losing his temper.

“Telling who?” the reporter asked, eagerly.

“I’m not telling you anything!”

“Ah, so all the rumors are true, then.”

“I didn’t say that!”

No, Oi’m afraid you ‘aven’t said much at all, lately, Jughead spoke up. Shame, innit? All o’ the interestin’ things ye could say.

“Shut up!” Studmuffin yelled, and the crowd took several steps away from him. He noticed and tried to apologize. “No, not all of you. I didn’t mean you!”

“Dude! There you are! I’ve been trying to find you since I got here!”

The crowd turned to the voice, which came from a van parked on the curb. It had pulled up, unnoticed. There was a strange symbol painted on the side where someone had tried to cover up an old camp logo. All of the windows were tinted. A guy who looked surprisingly like Studmuffin leaned out of the window.

“Hey, everyone!” he waved happily at the camera. “Ooh, am I gonna be on TV? Get my good side!”

“Roseidous?” Studmuffin stared.

“Yeah, it’s me. Are you getting in or not? I could just leave.”

“No, I’m coming.” Studmuffin looked relieved.

He walked through the crowd and opened the passenger door. There was a plastic woman fastened in the seat. He glanced at Roseidous.

“I’ll have to introduce you to Sally. You don’t mind sitting in the back seat, do you?”

“Er, no?” Studmuffin closed the door and got into the back.

Roseidous started up the van and pulled away. “I heard you were back in town and I thought I’d drop by to see you. It’s been a while.”

“Yeah, it has,” Studmuffin untangled his feet from some rope on the floor.

“Oh, that’s Tails’ rope. She must have left it in here.” Roseidous told him. “Speaking of rope, that reminds me. We’d better hurry to the airport.”

“Why?”

“That’s where I parked the spaceship. If the girls wake up and see that I borrowed it, I’ll be in lots of trouble.”

“I’m so confused. All I wanted today were some chilidogs.”

Roseidous grinned. “Well, from that crowd back there, it looks like you need a vacation. Camp Milk and Cookies, here we come!”

***

X-Raytor stretched his legs out and watched Studmuffin jump into a car with a known evil megalomaniac and drive away. On live TV.

"Well," X-Raytor said. "That's got to be good for PR..."

***

Frustrated with the remote, Violet had left the room as X-Y entered it. He had turned on the TV easily. Violet almost-- no, it was getting late. And maybe if she wasn't exhausted, like she was last night, there wouldn't be another nightmare. Plus, she'd be in her own nightclothes. And she'd found a night lamp, too. She'd be fine.

Violet pulled the covers over her head and forced herself to sleep.

On the ground. Violet was lying on the ground. It was cold. Silent. She couldn’t move. Something heavy was on top of her. She shifted her head enough to see it was a torso. Just a torso.

The scream wouldn’t come out. It was lodged in her throat. Violet tugged away. She was covered in blood. Her hands flashed red, then back to gray. She felt like she was in an old black and white movie.

Echoing shouts, gunfire. Two young men ran past her. Violet ducked down, but she was spotted. One turned around. He shouted to her, but she couldn’t understand. He held out his hand.

A bang. The young man felt to the ground. The other disappeared behind a building. Footsteps. Violet didn’t dare turn around. She pressed herself against the ground, crying and praying to live. Two heavy boots stood beside her head. Cold metal was pressed into the back of her neck.

A command. Violet didn’t understand. Again, a little different. The man kicked her. She felt two ribs break from the sudden force. Finally, “Get up.” Violet cried out and was kicked again. She struggled to her feet.

The man grabbed her by her hair and pulled her upright. No face. Where eyes and a mouth should have been was replaced by blackness. The soldier pointed her to the body of the young man who had fallen. He was Japanese, half his face torn away by lead.

“No,” she whispered. The soldier shook her. He said something in the language she couldn’t understand.

“You killed him. Say you killed him.” Violet whimpered. “Say it!” He shook her again. Violet felt pieces of her scalp tear away from her head.

“I killed him.”

“Louder.” In the distance, she heard bullets scream through the air.

“I killed him!” she cried.

“Do you know what the price for murder is?” He didn’t wait for an answer. A blade raked across her throat. She was dead. She knew she was dead. Her body fell beside the young man.

He looked at her and smiled.


Violet shot up, breathing heavy. Her hair was matted and her cheeks wet. Whimpering, she crawled to the far end of the bed and wrapped the blanket around her shoulders as she curled into a ball.