Hope you’re enjoying the read so far. WC 18,300 ish
Chapter 11 — Empty Victory
Russ’ appointment with Phinneas was a ways out. As eager as the guy seemed to be he insisted preparations needed to be made. Understandable, considering he claimed the Macro Corp. had presented bogus evidence to a court of law. It wasn’t exactly the gentlest of accusations.
Russ stuck around the courthouse for a little over an hour, giving the reporters his brand of cautious disappointment. He may have openly been against the Macro Corp, but part of why his campaign was so successful came from the way he went about it. No one listened to a raving mad man, at least not anyone worthwhile.
He even offered a polite congratulation to Mech. His goal was the truth, no matter what.
The drive home went without incident, he felt too drained to perceive time slowly, almost to the point of vulnerability, but he wanted nothing more than fall asleep when he got home. He opened the front door and saw Kari, in plain clothes, leaning on the main staircase banister.
“Here to gloat?”
“A little,” she said. Kari was a ticking publicity time bomb in and out of costume. If the general public knew Ray was shacking up with her, the tabloids would have a field day. As such, she dressed extremely casual in the house. Today was no exception.
She wore a pair of incredibly short shorts and a sleeveless t-shirt. Kari was the type of girl that nothing was really modest, especially if it was a snug fit.
Russ glanced away scowling, trying to make his way to the kitchen.
“Hold on,” Kari said. She sauntered down the stairs, stopping on the final step. “I wanted to thank you. You made a convincing stand.”
“Coulda done without the ‘jerk’ label.”
“Well, you kind of are one. To the public eye I mean.”
Russ rolled his eyes. Looking at Kari irritated him. She played up the perfect girl friend act and he wasn’t buying it. He couldn’t decide if she really was just using Ray, but she certainly owed him a lot. “Well, you’re welcome. Would’ve been nice to be let in on the big secret. Damn near gave me a heart attack.”
“It was my idea not to tell you,” Kari said. “Ray was against keeping you in the dark, but because of what you said– it made it easy to convince him.”
“So he told you, huh?”
“Not on purpose. Ray’s bad at hiding things from me.” Kari pressed a finger on his nose. “All men are.”
“Well you cheat. Between your powers and your hypnotic fun-bags you could probably coax the pope out of his lunch money.”
Kari laughed. “I always forget how blunt you are. It’s cute.”
“I’m too good a friend to Ray to even consider flirting with you,” Russ said. “So since you heard me, what’s the real answer?”
“Hard to say,” Kari said. “I mean, it certainly would have been easier to kill the guy outright. I did the best any goody-goody super hero could have done. I checked it against the common denominator of ethical action for an average person. My choice was the best one. Problem was– it’s impossible to prove.”
“I dunno, you proved it pretty good in court.”
Kari shrugged. “That was bullshit.”
Russ stared with his mouth hanging open.
“Henry’s right, it’s all conjecture.”
“That conjecture got you acquitted.”
“Yeah… Dave’s a real miracle worker, ain’t he?”
“I–I can’t believe this. You committed perjury to get aquittted?”
Russ clenched his jaw, searching for the words to lash out at her, but came up blank.
“Look, Russ. I know you’re mad, but here’s the thing. I have a good thing going here. You guys keep me out of jail and I help the Macro Corp. under contract. It was a lose-lose situation, we improvised. Would you be happier if I got arrested for all the wrong reasons?”
He calmed. She had a point. “I guess not.”
“You and I both know if I wanted to I could have blasted by way out of that courtroom or any prison they tried to put me in. Think of all the people who could have died then.”
“We’d stop you,” Russ said.
Kari lost her smile. “You’d have to kill me. Think of how Ray would take that.”
“Believe me, lady. I know that better than you do,” Russ said. “I’m not saying I’d try and sell you out, you’re a colleague. I’m saying we could have made it work. That’s my thing. Heroes don’t cheat to make things happen, we use the fact we’re heroes to appeal to the people we’re protecting. If we don’t play by the rules, what are we? Mercenaries, that’s what.”
“I’d rather be a free Mercenary than a jailed hero,” Kari said. “The world is a rough place. You keep up with that naive crap, you’ll get burned.”
Russ sighed. “I guess we have to agree to disagree, but please, give me a chance to make things right. Let me do it my way.”
“Russ, You’re home!” Kirin called from the top of the stairs. “We need to talk.”
“That’s my cue to leave,” Kari said, smirking. “I’ll give you a chance to prove yourself, but if I’m not the type to sit idle and watch things happen. Not all of us have all the time in the world to make choices.”
She waved and left to the study, likely to pester Ray.
Says the unemployed mooch.
Kari’s voice filled his mind. I heard that.
Russ winced. He forgot, his inner snark might as well be outer snark with her. “So what’s up Kirin?”
“I need your help fixing the damage to the forest. It shouldn’t take long, but we need to suit up to do it.”
“Ah, sure.” Russ said, rubbing his temples. It was the he last thing he wanted to do, but he couldn’t say no to Kirin. He’d have better luck trying to let a box of kittens drift off a waterfall.
They went down the hidden staircase split up to change. His suit felt heavy, like someone stuffed it full of lead. When he stepped out of the changing area, Kirin waited for him dressed and ready to go. Yikes, she beat me changing? I must really be out of it.
“I think if we repair the parts of the forest the animals will stop going crazy. I just need help getting around quickly.”
“Leave it to me,” Russ said. “I shouldn’t have any problem carrying you around.”
They made way to the vehicle deck, but the tight packed trees of the bayou would make anything in the hangar useless. He picked her up, checked his footing and tore down the tunnel at full speed.
Kirin squealed in surprise, clenching on to him tighter. It never ceased to amaze Russ how light she was. Kirin may have been small, but she was half the weight of any human her size.
They burst through the holographic wall and into the late afternoon air. Russ remembered the place he ran into Negator well, he assumed that would be as good a place to start as any.
Kirin regained her composure and chanted a spell. Her words were nonsense to him, but they always calmed him and brought him strength. The chanting dulled to a whisper and the forest around him shifted with blue energy. It heightened his focus and in the slow pulsation of creeping time he realized, two world overlapped in the same place. Kirin’s magic made it visible to him, seeing the order of balance between the two.
A rolling black smoke appeared in the distance, coming from the place he and Negator met. He relaxed and the world returned to normal speed, he slowed to a trot closing in on the source and released Kirin. They both hovered inches over the murky water.
“So this is what you meant by the forest’s soul. Crazy.”
“I can fix it, it just takes time. I think the animals were wounded by this… mass here.” Kirin pointed to the rolling black smoke.
“You think something like this could affect people?”
“Uhm… I think so,” Kirin said. “But it’d have to be a really bad rift.”
“Gotcha.” Russ landed at the edge of the water. “I’m gonna rest up while you work. I’ll keep a look out for trouble, though.”
“Could you– return me to normal size for this? I think I could do it better that way.
“Ah… sure.” Russ said, scratching his cheek.
She fluttered over to him and handed him a tiny pouch. He already knew its contents. After all, it was his fault she was like this.
“I’ll hold it out with my eyes closed, OK?”
Kirin nodded. “Ready when you are.”
Russ focused the other side of his power envisioned himself smaller and the pouch in his hands grew larger, into a pack large enough . In truth it was the other way around of course. The air always felt different when he was small, the scents of the bayou always seemed less distinct. He waited and listened, until Kirin took the satchel from him.
“It’s OK now, I’m dressed.”
Russ opened his eyes to see Kirin dressed as he had first seen her, clad in a simple hemp dress, stitched with dried flower parts.
“Thanks. This will make it much easier for me.”
Russ smirked. “Really? Now it’s a bigger job if anything.”
“That’s not how it works.” Kirin said, fluttering to the tear. “The size of the body doesn’t matter. It’s all about spirit.”
“Well I’ll make sure no animals come by and try to get a spirit sized snack.” Russ lounged against a nearby tree. “I’m glad I was lucky enough to find you. We’d be lost without you.”
Kirin chuckled. “Oh, I dunno. You do well enough. And I’m happy you found me too. Don’t worry about the animals, I’d sense their torment from far away. You can go ahead and relax and let me handle this.”
Russ had no complaints. He relaxed and drifted off to a comfortable sleep.