Archive: Spotlight Chapter 2: Name Calling

I’m thinking about reposting complete Spotlight chapters here as I finish them. Seems a reasonable idea to use my repost weekend updates to catch this blog up with the already-existing chapters, then. Cut tag so we don’t get too frightfully long, as before

Chapter 2: Name Calling

“The Human Megaphone?” Hillary asked.

“I am not ‘The Human Megaphone,'” Liam insisted.

“That’s what the news reports are calling you.”

Liam pushed himself up in his hospital bed to object further, but fell back, hissing, as his ribs screamed at him. Hillary stood up in her chair, came to the side of the bed, but Liam waved her back down.

“I’m fine,” he said. “Just … ow.”

Hillary sat back, crossing her arms. Other than a cut above her eye–nearly healed under the butterfly bandage they’d given her–she had clearly fared much better than her brother during the riot a few days prior.

“Then … Sonar?”

Liam sighed. “I’m definitely not Sonar. But you noticed too, huh?”

“Hard not to, when your little brother’s obsessed with the story.”

“I wrote one opinion piece on it.”

Hillary raised her eyebrow.

“Okay, a couple.”

Eyebrow.

“Fine, it was a multi-part series with a one-year-anniversary follow-up. But come on! The only supposed traitor in sixty years of The Stone choosing? That’s news!”

“And now so are you.”

Liam sighed. “That’s what the publicist tells me.”

Hillary rolled her eyes. “Publicist. They got you set up for ‘Teen Beat’ covers, do they?”

Liam bit his lip and said nothing.

“Oh my god, they do!”

“What? I guess Spotlight has a contract, so after the costume fitting–”

“My brother in lycra and a cape on the cover of Teen Beat…”

“No lycra!” Liam said, clearly horrified at the concept.

“But a cape?”

“Um … maybe?”

There was a knock at the door. A man in trendy glasses and a well-tailored suit slipped in: Trent, the aforementioned publicist.

“Ma’am, I’m afraid we’re going to have to ask you to wrap up the visit. Your brother’s going to need his rest if he’s going to heal up and get back out there to fight for justice,” Trent said, doing his best go-team air-punch.

Hillary giggled.

“After all,” Trent added, unfazed, “the world needs The Human Megaphone.”

Liam groaned, sinking down in his hospital bed as his sister broke out in hysterical laughter.

*****

“You’re early, aren’t you?” the nurse, Devin, asked. He smiled. Bruise shrugged.

“The new guy’s on the mend upstairs, so team meeting is here this week. Thought I’d drop by.”

“Well, I’m sure they appreciate it,” Devin said. “First curtain’s empty if you want some privacy.”

“When don’t I?”

Devin just laid a hand on Bruise’s shoulder. “Thanks again.”

Bruise shrugged again, but did let the barest hint of a smile through as Devin moved on.

Quietly, the brooding young man entered the ward and slunk behind the first curtain. He pulled the flimsy material around the rack, then sunk back on the bed. As his head rested on the thin pillow, he breathed in the stale hospital air and opened himself up.

Waves of pain washed over him, throbbing in his ears, screaming in his stomach, burning in his chest. He hissed slightly as he adjusted, then channeled it through himself. From slight discomfort to utter agony, he siphoned the pain around him, feeling it as it passed through him, locking it away in the storehouse The Stone had given him.

As the pain spiraled around his spine, clawed at his heart, then fell away, behind whatever psychic insulation his powers used to contain it, Bruise wondered again how much his well could hold. He’d poured so much into it, never wanting to be without, to open the floodgates at an enemy and have him merely laugh at a pinprick, and yet there always seemed to be more room.

He could ‘feel’ the entryway, for lack of a better word. It was how he directed the pain into it, how he sealed it, opened it, forced pain back out and into whomever he chose. But he was always afraid to turn his senses fully to it, to look inside. What if his sense of self fell inside? What if there was no bottom?

So he trusted that he would sense if he were ever near to filling it. For now, at least, it was enough to pour the pain around him into the well, and eventually he might have the courage to explore the well itself.

“Hey, emo-san. No sleeping on the job.”

Startled, Bruise sat up straight. It was Stallion, standing over him in full Alpha Male mode.

“I have a name,” Bruise mumbled, coming back to his senses, carefully closing off the storehouse as he filtered out the pain around him again.

“Whatever. Come on, Chewy.”

“Chu.”

“Again: whatever. Time to play cheerleader for newbie.”

Bruise sighed, running his fingers through his hair to get it out of his eyes.

“Fine. Let’s go.”

As the two stood waiting for the elevator, Stallion shuddered, his mane flying with the motion.

“Seriously, dude,” he said, “who picks the children’s burn ward as a good place to nap? That place is creepy and depressing.”

Bruise just shrugged as the elevator doors opened.

*****

“You’re sure you can’t stay?” Crowd asked as she stood from her chair at the cafe. She already knew the answer.

Gloria smiled and hugged her tightly. It wasn’t one of the powerful hugs that Glo-Ray gave, and it never would be again. Though who the hell was Crowd to complain, she thought. Every time she used her power, she pumped out yet another version of herself that was … what did Trent always …? that’s it: “Off-model.” No, she wasn’t in any position to complain. It was a good, solid hug, full of warmth and comfort.

Still doesn’t feel right, came the internal voice unbidden. She pushed the mopey alter aside and focused on the hug.

“We’ll see each other again soon, little one,” Glo assured her as she broke the hug, her hands lingering on Crowd’s shoulders and giving them a small, reassuring squeeze.

“I know. Decompression.”

Glo chuckled.

“Only so many of us Trent can spin at once. Gotta give the followup team time to figure out the new sales pitch for de-powered me. I mean, look at me,” Glo said, stepping back and throwing her arms wide. “It’s a lot of woman to handle.”

Though she didn’t quite cut the Amazonian figure she had as Glo-Ray, Gloria had been a personal trainer before The Stone chose her. Her sports top and fitted jeans still hugged the figure of a woman who turned heads.

I’d turn her, all right.

Crowd gave her own weak smile as she ignored the letch in her head, though another stray whisper from deeper down killed even that poor cover.

“I read up on Sonar, you know,” Crowd muttered aloud.

Glo’s smile fell away now, too.

“I told you, I was just in shock. It’s just … it’s a coincidence, is all. You don’t need to worry,” Glo said.

Easy for her to say. She’s running away. He’s probably possessed. Kill us in our sleep won’t even wait until we’re asleep eat our brain smash us to little bits run run hide he’s coming–

Glo’s hands squeezed at Crowd’s shoulders again, and the younger woman jumped slightly, catching a gasp before it turned into a scream. Glo fixed her with a worried stare.

“How often are they getting that loud?” she whispered.

Crowd merely shrugged.

Good answer.

“I’m just … when I get worried it’s harder, I guess.”

Glo gave a tight-lipped smile and nodded.

“You have my number if you need it.”

Crowd nodded.

“Alright, then. How about I give you a ride to the hospital? Only super power I have left is access to the Spotlight limo service, so we’ll get you there in style.”

Crowd nodded again. Gloria wrapped an arm around Crowd’s shoulders and walked her out of the restaurant to where the limo waited, the two friends enjoying the silence.

Good riddance to her, the skank. Always getting up in our business. Now we get you to ourselves. Like we deserve. Shh, now, she’s abandoning you, but we’re here. It’ll all be okay.

Well, Crowd assumed Gloria was enjoying some, anyway.

*****

“About damn time,” Stallion grumbled as Roc made her way into Liam’s hospital room. The newest member of Spotlight found himself unable to find a comfortable position as Roc fell victim to the annoyed glare Liam himself had been subject to in the long, uncomfortable silence as they had waited to start the team meeting. As Roc returned it with equal malice, Liam made a mental note never to get between those two.

“So, then, how does … how does one of these things–?” Liam started.

“Firstly, green, it starts with me,” Stallion snapped, holding up a hand to cut him off. He seemed unwilling to break the staring contest.

“Why you?” Roc answered, cocking her head to the side and crossing her arms. She wasn’t going to blink, either.

“Because I’m the leader.”

“Says who?”

“Says seniority, pebbles.”

“Horseshit,” Roc returned, and Liam wasn’t sure if that was a slam on Stallion or just a label on the situation. Probably both. And, was his bed shaking?

“I have eight months left to make this group of losers into something everyone’s going to remember,” Stallion snapped, hooves clattering on the floor as he moved muzzle to nose with Roc. Liam realized it wasn’t the bed shaking as the floor buckled.

“Guys, let’s maybe calm down?” Liam tried, pushing himself up out of bed.

“Don’t bother,” groaned Bruise, rolling his eyes. He took a few stumbling steps over the roiling floor to flop into the room’s chair with a bored sigh. Just in time, as a sheet of concrete ripped up from under the linoleum he’d been standing on a few moments before. It spun and twisted around Roc, forming her stone armor.

“The only loser here is you,” Roc said, “You walking, talking ass.”

“Guys…”

“Seriously, noob, let it go,” Bruise said as he lolled his head back and looked up to the ceiling. “Calling him a donkey always gets his juju going. Find your center or he’ll make you cray.”

“Will you shut the fu–!” Liam swallowed his bile before he finished. Out of nowhere, his impulse to calm everyone down had turned into the irrepressible urge to smash someone in the face. Then he remembered Stallion’s pheromone ability. Not as directed as mind control, but Liam still felt it, scratching at his hindbrain. He clamped down, tried to focus.

“Crowd?” The young girl was cowering as her teammates postured and threatened to turn the hospital into a battleground. It looked like she was babbling to herself, but he couldn’t hear for the rumbling.

“You think you can take me?” Stallion yelled, shoving at Roc. Despite the weight her armor must have had, his strength knocked her back several steps. This was going to get bad. Liam focused, bending the sound of his voice so it went where he wanted it.

“Okay, Crowd?” She looked up at him, through the fall of her stringy hair. Good. She could hear him. “We need you. All of you. You understand?”

She bit her lip. Liam gave what he hoped was an encouraging smile. The young girl returned it with a weak one of her own, then a small nod.

And then the room was full of counter-Crowds. Every inch of the room, stuffed with alternate versions of her, so full that no one could move. It was hard to breathe, all those bodies, pressing against him, threatening to push him down, trample on–

Liam pushed the panic down like he had the pheromone surge. He forced himself to breathe, and noticed the rumbling in the room had stopped.

“I think we’re good, Crowd,” Liam said to the body closest to him. The girl, sporting a scar down one side of her face, nodded, and disappeared along with the other press of bodies, until there was only one Crowd, scar-less, left standing. Stallion and Roc seemed about to chastise her, but they saw her smile as she looked to Liam.

So much for avoiding either of their glares.

*****

My eight-month stint as leader of Spotlight saw the group at its peak…

Trent slid Stallion’s latest resume update to the side on his tablet, pulling up the readout for the Phile-tech sound dampeners he’d had installed in the new kid’s hospital room. From the levels on the monitor, he’d been right to insist on them. He sighed without meaning to, immediately glancing up to make sure none of the nursing or security personnel noticed. He flashed a disarming smile at the curious stare of a guard at the elevator, then turned his attention back to the tablet.

That’s when the floor started shaking. Medical staff ran for cover as security drew weapons and prepped for whomever had decided to stage a hospital attack.

“Don’t worry, folks,” Trent assured everyone, raising his hands as much to keep his balance against the temblor as to draw attention to himself. “The whole team’s here already. I’m sure they’ll have this in hand in–”

He didn’t get to finish, as the hospital room door strained and popped open, three counter-Crowds spilling out into the hallway even as the shaking stopped. One of them, pale and blonde and waifish, looked up sheepishly to whisper, “I think they’re done fighting,” just before she and the others winked out of existence with a slight rush of air. Trent didn’t even have a chance to shut his mouth before it was over.

The staff was already starting to gather. Trent spun around, pressing the door closed with his back as he tapped a proprietary app on his tablet. Active…

“What did I tell you, folks?” he said with a wide, confident smile as he tapped again on the list that popped up. Elemental, Earth-based…

“But what just…?” a security guard began.

Trent took that long to scroll through the list and find what he was after. He cut the security guard off to announce, “Crowd was just telling me: Major Earthquake seemed to think he could use some stolen teleportation tech to assault our newest recruit while he was down, but it’s already over. Man ran away as soon as he realized how outmatched he was. And that’s why Spotlight’s still golden, am I right?”

The small gathering looked to each other, apparently considering, then went back to work. Trent held the sigh back this time and thanked the spin gods for jaded personnel on the Supers Ward. Since it seemed the kids were done doing anything useful, Trent smoothed out his vest and moved into the room.

“…think that The Stone chose all of us, and I think that means we should all have a voice in what we do,” the new kid was saying, though from the looks on the others’ faces, they weren’t quite sure.

“A new leader gets great coverage,” Trent said, fingers flying across his screen as he started brainstorming press releases, “but a full structural shift opens up a much bigger news cycle for us.”

“Hey, I am all about more cover time,” Stallion piped up. “The world needs to see as much of this as possible,” he said, flexing for those assembled.

Roc rolled her eyes, but nodded her own support. “I’d definitely welcome interviews discussing Spotlight as the New Round Table…”

“Interviews?” Crowd mumbled from where she still sat, knees pulled to her chest, eyes wide.

“Just throw a one-off to do the talking,” Bruise offered up from his chair.

“All right then,” Trent said before things devolved again, “Looks like everyone’s a fan of The Human Megaphone’s –”

“The Voice.”

Trent turned at Liam’s interruption.

“I realized it when I was talking before. I want to be a voice for change, and good, and … yeah. So that’s what I am: The Voice.”

Trent didn’t fail to notice the mild reverb the kid added to that last bit. Yup. This one was going to fit right into the madhouse.

Originally published at Spotlight

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