’tis our last Sunday of posting The Powers That Be. And… I’m unsure how to explain myself for this chapter ahead of time, but I’ll do it in the comments.
(Ho boy you’re all scared now, aren’t you?)
In the meantime, have a towering stack of links to all the other parts you need to read before getting this one.
And presenting part 31!
That hospital visit, I wasn’t in an official coma. There wasn’t any disoriented perception that I’d ruined everything and died and gone to Hell this time. I had sort of . . . fuzzy patches of memory at certain parts. But it was well over a week before I was fully awake and myself again.
And it probably would have been less time if they had actually trusted me to stay still instead of pumping me full of drugs.
I felt a lot better at least. I could breathe without feeling like I was being stabbed. The break in my nose was only slightly obvious. A slight bump on the bridge and it was a little sore. All my cuts and bruises were barely even there anymore.
The main lingering effects were mental, as far as I could tell. Worse claustrophobia, again. A few nightmarish moments of panic for no particular reason apart from trying to carry on a conversation with someone.
It felt like I’d slept through some mild version of the apocalypse, judging by everything going by on the news.
All the Heroes had gone back to normal as the switchboard blew up, just like I thought. Silverwing had been brought to the surface, was condemned and was now in the process of being torn apart and getting its claws ripped out of the SPI.
News’s and my reputations were still in question as far as the SPI was concerned. I wasn’t sure about how lasting my media fame in the public would be, but the ruling authorities were a little annoyed by my habit of building myself up a reason to go to jail, then smothering it with some incredible act of heroism.
They still wanted some private sort of trial meeting to figure out what they were doing with me.
So that was my first appointment as soon as I was on my feet again.
And it actually didn’t go too bad.
They let me off with a warning and a fine, plus some community service for helping out with the opera house I almost burned down. Of course I’d need to get the money together for the fine and all . . . which would mean getting a job.
I can at least ride my fame on that front, right? People would be more eager to hire a proclaimed hero now.
Eh, we’ll see.
I pushed through the doors of the SPI building and out into the blaring late-July sunlight that soaked heat right into the black of my jacket.
I was too glad to have the jacket back on to really complain about it. The heat and the city smell of tires and asphalt were a welcome change from being stuck into the clean little hospital room with too much air conditioning and the antiseptic smell that still clung to me.
I turned, stepping down off the sidewalk to go to my car. I was still able to drive it, thankfully. Even if I didn’t have my old Dalek keychain attached, spare keys were a lifesaver. News had sent them over with Dallas when he heard I was getting out.
Along with a message for me to come see him at the Den as soon as I finished “whatever SPI monkey business” I had to do. He said he had something to show me.
Must have been some pretty big project he was working on because I literally hadn’t seen him since my half-conscious confirming he was alive. And his staying away had seemed pretty intentional too.
I mean, he left the hospital way before I did and had probably stopped in to say hi when I was zonked out. It’d still be really nice to actually see him up and about instead of being stuck with only my exclusive knowledge that he had a pulse the last time I checked.
I got into the driver’s seat and stuck the keys in, my hand moving to avoid the keychains that were no longer there as I turned it. The car engine came to life, kicking the radio and the air conditioning back into action as I pulled back out onto the road.
The route back to the Den was a well-worn trail for me from this point. I shifted into automatically taking all the necessary turns as I wove my way out of the city.
I smiled a little to myself.
Yeah, after that long eating hospital food, it was about time I got some ice cream from News.
I turned the steering wheel, coasting the Mustang over the bump into the parking lot of the Den. Just the same old place as ever, with the peeling paint, graffiti and shadows of old store sign letters on the front. It felt like I’d been away for a year.
News’s truck was parked off to the side, one spot over from his normal place, and I drove up, parking next to it.
I pulled out the key, opened the door and stepped out of the car onto the pavement. It was around lunchtime so News was probably in there making grilled cheese or something. I couldn’t see anyone out the front windows so it was still in question whether Liza was here or not.
I stuck my key in my pocket and got up on the sidewalk, starting towards the door. I took note of a few sizable dents on the front of the Newsmobile. So it didn’t come through that house-ramming totally unscathed.
Still, that was a sight to see. The big front end of the black monster truck just smashed straight through that front door . . .
I grinned to myself as I pushed my shoulder into the door and stepped inside the cooler air of the Den. The sunlight from the front windows stretched out towards the aisles, my shadow blocking a part of the light. The rattle-y old air conditioning hummed in the background. And sure enough, I smelled grilled cheese cooking.
Ah, it felt like home.
I scuffed my shoes on the floor and stuck my hands in the pockets as I walked down one of the aisles to head back to the kitchen.
A flapping noise came from overhead and there was a joyful screech. I barely turned in time to see Lucius barreling towards me. He pulled up at the last moment and just flapped excitedly around my head, bumping me with his wings occasionally.
“Hey, buddy. Been a while, huh?” I laughed.
Lucius came to rest on my shoulder, ruffling his feathers a little before he settled down and sat quietly like nothing had happened.
I rubbed a finger over his feathers, still grinning to myself. “Sorry about running off like that. Sort of . . . yeah, in the hospital again.”
That was when I noticed another sound coming closer. Kind of a . . . it was running. And I heard something like nails clicking on the floor. Like . . . a dog?
A joyful “woof” confirmed my guess and a medium sized dog with a harness around his middle skidded around the corner, nails clacking on the floor as he skittered into one of the empty shelves. It didn’t deter him for long. He recovered and came running for me, still barking and furiously wagging his short little tail. Lucius didn’t seem bothered by it, simply keeping his perch.
I just stood there and stared. Was this what News wanted to show me?
He’d . . . gotten a dog?
It was wrinkled as an old towel. And the splotchy pattern of its grey and tan coat more gave the appearance of a moldy towel. Not an attractive dog by any means. But definitely a happy one.
It hopped around my feet, wiggling happily.
“Whoa, there . . .” I raised my hands in an attempt to calm him. “Just . . . down, boy.” I edged further towards the end of the aisle towards the kitchen, moving slower this time since I had to step around the dog this time.
This better not be his yearly weird present for me. He’d just gotten lucky that one time when he gave me Lucius, on that front. My birthday wasn’t until next month anyway.
“News?” I called as I came around the end of the long shelf row and the kitchen was in view.
Bad News stood behind the counter, flipping grilled cheese on a griddle. Fedora, sunglasses and tie in place as always. I took note that the sandwich ingredients laid out flat in a weird arrangement next to him instead of his normal haphazard stacking of everything.
News looked up, his face lighting up in a smile. “Hey, man! Glad you made it!” He pulled the sandwich off the griddle, clunked the spatula down next to it and stepped out from behind the counter, running his hand along the edge as he did. “Just in time for lun-“ he cut off as his leg whacked against one of the barstools. He flinched and sucked in a breath through his teeth, rubbing at his knee as he continued limping towards me. “Dang, keep forgetting about those things . . .”
I stopped my advance for a second. He was going straight for a little camp chair set up at the end of the counter. What’s he doing? “News, there’s . . . another one . . .”
Bad News stopped and nonchalantly stepped to the side, not even looking down at the chair I’d been talking about. He laughed, shaking his head. “I swear, man. Inanimate objects are trying to murder me. It’s like southern California all over again.” He looked up like he was trying to talk to me, but his head was turned, looking slightly to my right.
Like . . . he couldn’t see me.
Couldn’t see anything.
A pit started growing in my stomach. I stood there, trying to reason out some other explanation than the obvious.
Just . . . Please no . . .
The dog left my side, wagging his way over to stand by News, carefully staying out of the way of his feet.
“So they finally let you out of there, huh?” News asked, still looking off to my right. He kept striding over, cautiously slowing his pace a bit and tilting his head. “You feeling back to a hundred percent yet? Get your pardon and all that? No jail time? I just got like some fine to pay.”
“I . . .I’m over here.”
“Ah, gotcha, sorry.” Bad News corrected course towards me at the last moment, bumping against me as he stopped. He took a step back, putting his hands on my arms and patting me down while he looked right over my head. One hand hit Lucius and he apologized to the bird. “Yeah, feels like you’re all in one piece again. Long as this doesn’t hurt anymore, right?” He poked at my ribs.
I was too busy fighting back the sick feeling of dread in my stomach to notice if it hurt anymore.
He couldn’t see me.
Come on, he’s joking. Maybe he painted his sunglasses over for some sort of weird self-challenge . . . He’s pulling my leg.
“N-News,” I started. “You . . .”
“Your nose too? That all fixed up?” He groped one big hand around until he got it on my face and tweaked my nose.
I whacked his hand back, snapping out my next words harsher than I intended. “Baden! Stop goofing off! What’s wrong with you?”
Bad News’s smile faltered, looking painted on for a few seconds. He didn’t say anything. Just reached up and fiddled with his sunglasses, biting his lip. And they were normal sunglasses, too. Not painted over.
“News, seriously. I almost . . . it looks like . . .” I dropped my voice lower and it cracked slightly. “Is something wrong with your eyes?”
News gestured and scratched his head for a few seconds, then stopped. He let out his breath and pulled off his sunglasses with a shrug. His eyes that usually fixed right in on my face while he was talking . . . that seemed to see right inside and guess any lies I was telling . . . they looked right past me like I wasn’t even there.
He spread his hands. “Yeah, I’m sorta . . . blind.”
Bad News was . . . blind.
The icy panic inside me gripped tight around my chest as I stared at him. All the implications flooded through my mind. The huge chunk of his life that he’d just had taken away from him.
He can’t drive his truck anymore. Can’t read comics or recipes or . . .
“Some sort of wacked-out aftereffects from getting zapped by that weird helmet,” News started again with a shrug. He put his sunglasses back on to cover his blank eyes. “Buuut you know what’s cool is that blind people can pretty much bring dogs in anywhere. See, that’s why I got Ugly here. He’s a guide dog.” He reached down to pat the wrinkly head of the dog next to his leg. “Ugly News, get it?”
“He’s been a pal over the past few weeks. I can pretty much go anywhere I could go before as long as I got him. And other than remembering the barstools, I’ve gotten pretty good at finding my way around the Den by myself. Even got the kitchen all organized so I can still cook. Isn’t that great?”
News grinned at me, waiting for confirmation.
He’s blind. Blind because he caught that stupid helmet . . . because he came with me . . .
That’s Liza and him both now. Both hurt because they came along with me on my cockeyed, crazy plans.
It’s last year all over again. Another friend getting permanently hurt. Why can’t it just be me for once? I’m the one that deserves . . .
I rubbed my shaking hands over my face and up through my hair, finding it hard to breathe evenly. Lucius squawked and went to perch on the counter.
“You okay, bucko?”
“I . . . why . . . “ I wound my hair around my fingers and tugged, gritting my teeth. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Well, you were sort of conked out in the hospital for a while. And I wanted to get a bit of a feel for what things’d be like now before seeing you again. Well . . .” he stopped himself and shook his head, forcing a little laugh. “Not exactly . . . you know, seeing you again. But hey, I know I’ll never lose track of where you are. You never shut up, so all I need to do is follow the sound of your voice, right?”
I dug the heels of my palms into my eyes, forcing a slow breath. I need to sit down.
“You know, I can still listen to music. And did you know there’s like this whole blind-person language?” he raised his eyebrows. “Seriously, it’s like bumps that you read with your fingers and it’s super cool. Charles got me a little thing of it and I think I know how to spell ‘ice cream’ now.”
“I’m going . . . to sit down over at the c-counter,” I muttered, pulling my hands up through my hair again as I walked over to take a seat at one of the barstools.
News tilted his head slightly, following after my footsteps and getting behind the counter again. He leaned his elbows on the counter, looking in my general direction. “Want some grilled cheese?”
“Not hungry.” Apologies boiled inside of me. Some way we could make this right.
“Y-yeah. I just . . .” I took a breath and looked up, even though I knew it wouldn’t make a difference to News if I was meeting his eyes or not. “News, I’m so sorry.”
Bad News’s brow furrowed, his expression taking on a more serious tone. He leaned over reaching out and feeling for my shoulder.
That just made me feel worse. I dropped my head onto the counter. Lucius leaned down and sympathetically plucked at my hair with his beak.
News got his hand onto my shoulder and patted. “Hey, it’s okay, man.”
I cursed. “You’re blind. That’s not . . . nothing about that is okay.”
Blowing out his breath, Bad News came around and took a seat next to me on one of the barstools, even if his legs barely fit under the counter.
It was quiet for a few seconds. Just the dog’s toenails clicking on the floor and the air conditioner rattling.
I sat up, still reflexively tugging at my hair. My hands still shook uncontrollably. Another random freak out like I’d been having in the hospital seemed like it could happen any minute.
News adjusted his tie, leaning forward to put his elbows on the counter.
I was already saying it enough times in my head, and it came out, my voice staying quiet. “I’m sorry. Seriously.”
“Okay, bucko, really.” News smacked one hand down on the counter. He looked over at me, having a better fix on where I was at now. “I’ll be totally honest that this isn’t fun. Being blind kinda sucks but . . .” he spread his hands. “What am I gonna do? Not like I’d fix my eyes by being a stick-in-the-mud about it. It happened. Big whoop. I’ll figure out how to work with it. Talking to Liza, it was honestly lucky I didn’t just kick off when I got that big of a zap.”
“But if you hadn’t . . .”
He shook his head. “I would’ve come with you anyway, buddy. It wasn’t like I was letting you go anywhere by yourself the way you were. And yeah, catching the helmet . . . was sort of on me. But . . .” he shrugged again. “We won, didn’t we? We took down all those Silverwing jerks. I figure I’ll learn some new stuff from this. I got a dog. I can still cook. I can still eat ice cream. And it’s not like any mafia blackmailers are gonna be chasing me down right about now.”
I rested my head in my hands. “This isn’t . . . News, this is lifetime crippling level of bad.” My voice cracked again. “It’s not funny.”
Lucius squawked and flapped and I jumped.
News tilted his head, a sideways smile coming across his face. “Well, me bumping into you was . . .”
News sighed, reached over and patted my shoulder again, finding it easier this time. “Hey, it might not be lifetime, y’know? I mean . . . we’ve got Charles on our side. I’m pretty sure he’s got some trick up his sleeve that might help things out. Straighten out the kink in my head that’s doing this. The Man Upstairs’s got a plan, dude. It’ll be okay, so don’t beat yourself up about it.”
I stayed in the same position, closing my eyes for a few seconds. I mulled over News’s words and my spirits lifted slightly.
Bad News almost seemed to sense the slight easing of tension through his hand on my back. “Better?”
I took a breath, giving a short nod before remembering he couldn’t see that.
“C’mere.” With about half a second’s warning, he leaned over and squeezed me in his enormous hug. Even without the lung damage, it was hard to get a breath in one of those.
He pulled back and grinned, clasping his hands on the counter as he looked at me, somewhat off-centeredly. “Now. I’ve got a sort of idea that might make this a good thing. And I’m gonna plow through and tell you ‘cuz I can’t see you rolling your eyes about it.”
I raised my eyebrows, wincing slightly at yet another reference to his blindness.
“Okay, so I’ve got enough money backed up from the ice cream shop to pay that fine that they gave me. But if I remember right, you’re sunk unless they take payment in ramen noodles.” News raised his eyebrows. “Soooo, you’ll be needing a job. And see, what I was wanting to do next was this.” He leaned forward. “I bought a food truck. Already painted it all up and Liza’s actually out in the garage getting it in working order for driving right now.” He pointed off in the vague direction of the one old musty garage bay we had.
I frowned. “But News, you can’t . . .”
“Can’t drive, yeah I know. But food trucks are seriously a good business and . . .”
“That doesn’t mean you should drive blind!”
“Shut your yap and let me finish, jeez. I’m saying you should come with me and drive. We can split up the money and maybe even . . .” he wiggled his eyebrows, “if Liza could get your powers working again, we could have ice cream and barbeque. I mean, how showy would that be? Like, all natural flambé, right there in front of the people to cook their food.” He shrugged. “And even if that doesn’t work, I still need a driver. And you still need a job. Maybe I could even learn some cool blind-guy tricks to show people. There are a couple of legit blind chefs out there, so we’d get even more business.”
He snickered. “And if I mess something up, I don’t even have to see the ugly looks on their faces about it.”
I just stared at him for a second.
So most people go blind and sink into despair. Baden News goes blind and . . . time to get a dog and start a food truck.
News laced his fingers together. “Well?”
I opened my mouth soundlessly before summoning my voice. “H-how . . . are you even thinking of this stuff?”
“You know,” he pushed off the stool. “Life hits you with lots of stuff. You can laugh or you can cry, man. And I’d much rather laugh. Come on, I’ll show you the food truck.” He reached out and ruffled my hair on the second try on his way past.
I followed, feeling like the break in my heart had been stuck with band-aids in the appropriate Baden News fashion.
You know, some people . . . unhappy endings didn’t even work on.
Yes, that just happened.
-gives everyone conciliatory ice cream-
ONE MORE PART LEFT PEOPLE
AND IT’S ONE I’M ACTUALLY REALLY HAPPY WITH SO BE EXCITED
See you on Thursday,