In Skye’s Head
Natasha’s standing over the bug-girl, sweat beading on her forehead as she bends the grimy wrists together behind the perp’s back. Her ebony braids are all out of place and her eyes almost crimson with passion. She’s as beautiful as the day I almost dropped a spaceship on her.
“Stand down!” she roars. “Call off your bugs and stand. Down!”
Fermi squirms in Natasha’s grip, but Natasha’s Thunder plasters her face against the ground, and for my part I make sure every creeping thing that dares lift an antennae out of a crack to assist gets fried to a crisp.
And I see the moment when Fermi’s face sags, and she gives up. Her teeth grit, but we’re five, and she’s one. You know, ‘cuz the math just doesn’t add up. S’why I called her here.
But, uh, no one else knows that.
In Natasha’s Head
Not sure why I let Skye drag me to his team meeting. I had assignments to work on. Cases to crack back home. Now I’m covered in insect slime. A welt’s growing between my knuckles, down my arm. Not feeling it when Skye sidles up to me, his eyes sparkling like the convoluted strings of lights under the train tracks where I hunt pimps…
“Hey, we work well together,” he says. Like it’s a date at the ice cream shop. Like he doesn’t see his teammates, busy hauling butt to get this creepy-crawlie fanatic into a glass jar. They’ve got a giant glass jar, first of all–that’s impressive and surprising. I hear Robot-man’s constructed a different holding crate for each villain in town.
Oh, Skye, dangit with this cute grin. I don’t deny that we kicked butt, but I’m still shutting him down. “I heard you call me Natasha to your buddy over there,” I say. “You don’t get to use that name. I’m Thunder to everyone who’s not my family.”
“Got it.” He makes a sawing motion above his head, like he’s cracking open his own skull. He reaches in, mimes as if he’s takes something out, and throws it away. “Name erased,” he grins. “I don’t even know what we’re talking about anymore.”
“Okay.” I point to the rest of the group. “We should help.”
The little spiky-headed girl, Pink, plays bad cop right up in the bug-girl’s face. “Us, the bastions of corruption? I’m telling you, you see some corruption, some police tyranny, any place, any time, I’ll rip it to shreds with my teeth, swallow it, and crap that sucker right out!”
Black Butterfly steps between them, as graceful and polite as if she’s studded with gems and dancing in a ball gown, instead of sopping wet and covered in bug bites. She translates: “What Pink is trying to say is that we’re not employed by the government. You won’t see us taking in marijuana users or handing out parking tickets, for example. We exist to save lives and stop human rights abuses. That’s all.”
I like her style. Bug-girl doesn’t. “Don’t patronize me. I know what you do. It’s what you don’t do.” She spits on the floor of her glass enclosure, and the spit comes to life and crawls its way up her arm. She plays with it as she speaks. “You help the government by taking out the toughest criminals, leaving officials all the time and resources they want to oppress the poor. The government has to abuse someone, and when you do their job for them that abuse directs at us. At you–at me.” She crushes the spit-bug under her fingers.
They let her monologue. It’s a sign of a good detective. I’ve only been at this a year, but when you listen more than you talk, you avoid a lot of trouble. Like accidentally-arresting-the-prostitution-victim-instead-of-the-pimp, kind of trouble. She rants on: “Criminal elements and government bureaucrats exist in a delicate balance of power, and if that balance is thrown, if one mangy dog kills the other, the remaining mutt turns on the rest of us. And that’s happening, right now, because of you.”
“I’m really sorry you feel that way,” Butterfly says. “But we’re not responsible for government employees we don’t control. By your same reasoning, someone here may have farted and through the butterfly effect caused a hurricane, but until we can find the steps in between, we can’t do anything.”
“I can find the steps!” Fermi growls. “The Scythes. The Scythes know the steps!”
Scythes? Before we can even share dramatic superhero glances of confusion Pink interrupts. “Look, BB, we don’t gotta listen to this schizophrenica crappity majangle.” Not the patient type, apparently, or the type to use words like God intended, either. “I’m takin’ her in.”
“But perhaps we can arrive at a mutual–”
“BB. She tried to eat us alive with ants. You really think you’re gonna reason mutual mishmash with ants? Get errybody under diagnostics to check for poisons and crap, and don’t bug your brainmeats with this crazy no more.”
Does this girl not know language has rules? BB begins to protest, but Robot-man raises a hand to BB and nods assent to Pink, and it looks like that’s that. He’s basically the Guardians’ mentor, about five years older than any of us, and he makes all their equipment, so I guess it’s fair if he calls the shots.
“We take care of each other first,” he says.
“Damn straight,” says Pink, as she wheels the giant glass jar out the warehouse door.
Something’s off, but I don’t say much. I’m here to listen, crack a few jokes, and keep an open mind for opportunity. Trying not to judge them for getting caught off guard in their own home. Skye’s on my elbow, but I walk over to Robot-man as he draws needles from a compartment on his forearm.
“Is it cool if I–?” He gestures between the needle, and my arm. “Rapid mini-HPLC, analyzes your blood for the most common insect toxins in my database.”
“Sure, why not.” I stare at the needle as it digs under my skin, almost tasting the pinprick when it stings. Robot-man hooks the three of us–BB, Skye, and me–up to his forearm, and we’re standing here like some weird cultists on a blood ritual, waiting for the guy’s arm to think. It’s surreal. It feels…connecting. I’m…in this. With them.
I need to snap out of it. Make conversation. “Why couldn’t we run this analysis with the bug-girl here? So Butterfly could talk to her.”
“Muchacha,” Robot-man laughs. “Last time BB tried to reason with a bad guy we ended up in a shark tank full of Kool-Aid.”
“We literally drank the Kool-Aid,” Skye grins. Agh, that stupidly cute grin.
Butterfly blushes. “Klaus was an extremely gifted young man with severe schizophrenia,” she summarizes.
“Wait, Klaus, as in Evil Santa, Klaus?” I ask. I read about that case!
“Yeah, Evil Santa had us eating out of his hand,” Skye says.
“Literally,” Robot-man adds.
“Eating out of…” I trail off.
“It’s a long story. I’d love to tell you over ice cream,” Skye winks. We’re standing too close to each other for that wink.
Robot-man’s forearm beeps. “Ice cream will have to wait,” he says. “Results are in.” He unplugs our arms. The pinch hurts; a little drop of blood stains my skin. “Nothing worse than formic acid and some inflammatory agents. We’ll itch for a while. Hold up, ‘migos, I’ll go get the hydrocortisone cream.”
“Huh, no poison? She really did want to rip the flesh from our bones, I guess,” Skye says as Robot-man leaves.
“But what about Pink?” I wonder. “Doesn’t he need to check her blood?”
BB lifts her cell-phone with a funky grin. “She just texted our private line to say she’s immune to all toxins.”
“Is that–a thing?”
“Certainly not. She invents new superpowers for herself every week. They’re never real, but somehow she’s always okay. I think she has a private doctor.”
“A private doctor boyfriend,” says Skye. “Also possibly a vampire.”
“That’s–not the leading theory,” BB says. Her phone buzzes, and her face lights up. “I’ll return promptly.”
I’m alone with Skye in a room reeking of burnt bugs, and before I can come up with an excuse to leave he turns to face me squarely. “Hey, if I’m–too much, or whatever, I’ll lay off.” I wasn’t expecting this from Mr. Mouth. He clasps his hands together in front of him. “You’re super-cool, and rad, so I’m maybe acting weird around you. Also I’m dizzy because your sonic blast almost knocked us all out.”
“Trust me, you were acting weird before my sonic blast,” I say.
“You say the word, and I’ll leave you alone,” he says, raising his hands palm-out. “I didn’t mean to drag you into a mess–I just figure, cool people should meet each other! You’re cool, my friends are cool, so, you know, cool plus cool equals such a low temp we’re approaching zero Kelvins!” That is…the nerdiest thing I’ve heard all day. “And Kelvin’s a cool name, so that’s cool, too.”
“Better stop over-using the word cool, you’re sucking all the meaning out of it,” I say.
“Nah. Some words can’t lose their meaning. Like beautiful. Or sunset. Or cool.”
“Yeah, you’ve ruined that word for me.” But I’m feeling warm, and respected, and maybe for that reason, or maybe because of his silly Kelvin comment, I’m smiling. Hey, I’m still here trading lines with him instead of working on my history paper, so maybe I’m…having fun?
In Skye’s Head
All part of my plan, mwahaha.
Okay, no, not part of my plan. My brain’s racing a hundred miles an hour as I try to come up with ways to keep this conversation going. I just wanted to hang out with her, see what my friends think of her, see if I’m crazy for…I don’t know, the things I keep thinking. Mom says I’m too young to date, and I don’t think she’s wrong, but then again, people don’t live so long in this line of work, so I gotta live while I can! What if I die tomorrow?
Slow down, Skye. Sure, I rush into things. I rushed into luring the bug-girl here–luring is such a weird word, isn’t it? Luring…luring…luuuuuuuuur…
Anyway, I’m kind of panicking because the bug-girl came the same day Natasha came, which wasn’t my goal at all, and if I get caught in this Luring thing I’m screwed, and this Natasha thing is going way better than I imagined, and that’s freaking me out, too, and–
I swallow the freak with a deep breath. That’s totally not me. Next step, smooth guy.
“So…you wanna go for ice cream?”