A/N: Well, my first Static Shock story. Enjoy!
It started about an hour ago.
A zap, followed by a squeak. Zap. Squeak. Zap. Squeak. Zap. Squeak.
There is only so much any reasonable person can take.
"Virgil! Stop that!"
"What?" he asks, eyes wide in innocence.
Innocent. Right. And I'm Hawkgirl.
"Stop zapping the rats," I reply, grinding my teeth.
"I have to, Rich," he says. "If I don't scare 'em off, they'll keep coming back."
"They'll keep coming back anyway. It's twenty below outside!"
Okay, so that's an exaggeration, but not by much. The cold snap that held all of Dakota in its icy grip shocked residents and forecasters alike. Crime is at record lows, mostly because any sane person, criminal or no, right now prefers to spend all their time curled up next to a space heater or six. The rats in the city, taking advantage of the unseasonably warm weather not even a week ago, a distant memory now, had bred, well, like rats. Now, they were invading any semi-warm place they could find.
The gas station barely qualifies. A small gas heater is the best we could come up with. It's situated on the floor in the center of the room, but if we moved more than three feet away from it, we might as well not have it at all. Virgil's sitting on the old couch we managed to salvage from the side of the road about a month ago. He's huddled in his Static jacket, not because we think we'll be needed, but because it happens to be the warmest thing he owns.
"Gear" is wearing Richie's trenchcoat. I pull the collar up higher on my neck and my mind once again strays to my nice, warm home. Actually, it strays to Virgil's nice warm home, which I'm sure says something about me and my current family situation, but I'm too cold to give a damn.
Zap. Squeak. I cringe.
"Are you done yet?" Virgil asks before I can snap at him again.
I look pointedly down at Backpack, which is in pieces on the desk in front of me. The soldering iron in my hand sputters a bit. Turning back around, I look at Virgil over the top of my glasses.
"Do I look done?" I ask mildly.
"No." Virgil's practically pouting.
"You don't have to hang around, bro," I tell him. At this point, I'm secretly hoping he'll agree with me. I'm cold, I'm tired, and I want to get this done and go... well, somewhere else. It's hard to do when Virgil keeps clamoring for my attention.
Virgil shrugs noncommittally. "Better here with you and cold than sitting at home and feeling ill watching Sharon and Adam make kissy faces at each other."
Ah. Well, that explains that. When I told Virgil I was going to rebuild Backpack this afternoon, I was surprised when he jumped at that chance to join me, since he knows how testy I can get when I'm working. Since Sharon and Adam announced their engagement, they've been intolerable.
As for myself, I was looking for any reason to get away from home. I don't think I can stand to spend another day, hour, or minute at home with my dad, who currently doesn't have any work to do. The inclement weather caused his company to shut down construction on the high rise for a few days. The lack of pay makes him cranky and cranky means he'll start looking for any reason to criticize me. He has plenty to choose from.
Zap. Squeak. I sigh, putting my mind back on the work in front of me.
I hear Virgil stand up, restlessly wandering around the room before turning up the volume on the police scanner. Since Backpack is slightly out of commission and unable to scan for metahuman activities, we're having to rely on more traditional methods. Still, it's not exactly interesting. They're mostly chattering about nonsense. All we've heard of any interest so far tonight is a report about a domestic dispute. Apparently, Mrs. O'Grady decided to threaten her husband with a frying pan because he refused to take out the trash. We didn't exactly leap into action. Mr. and Mrs. O'Grady are in their late 80's.
Suddenly, Virgil is right next to me, his face less than an inch from my ear. I don't look up, intent upon replacing a very important transistor. Besides, my looking up would only encourage him.
It doesn't take a super genius to know that encouraging Virgil when he's clearly bored out of his skull is never a good idea.
"I'm thinking about getting my ear pierced," he says randomly, gently flicking at the metal hoop dangling from my ear. "Gold's not conductive, so it wouldn't interfere with my energy field. I also think Pops would flip. Is this what they call teenage rebellion?"
"I guess." The transistor is finally settled just the way I like it. I reach for the new processor I'd salvaged, snapping it into place. "I doubt your dad would freak as much as mine did, though. Might take some of the fun out of it."
"Yeah." Virgil drags a chair over and sits down next to me, picking up a piece of Backpack and twiddling it in his fingers. "How long did you stay at my house after you got that hole in your head?"
"A week," I tell him, reaching over and extracting the piece from his hands, setting it firmly on the table.
"That's right," Virgil says, nodding. "At least we managed to find all the secret endings to Chrono Trigger that week."
"And defeat Lavos with nothing more than a mop." I'm grinning at the memory, even if I'm still mostly focused on putting Backpack back in one piece.
"Yeah!" Virgil laughs. "Remember in the programmer's ending, when..."
Virgil stops and my head snaps up as a new call comes over the police scanner.
"Home, this is 240. We have a 10-70. Requesting an 11-99. Over."
"Roger 240. What is your 10-20, over?"
"Fifth and Lamar. Suspect has been identified as a 10-25, Carmen Dillo. Over."
"Roger, 240. All available units, 10-40 to Fifth and Lamar. Suspect has outstanding warrants and is considered armored and dangerous."
"Finally!" Virgil jumps up, grabbing his mask and yanking it over his head.
I look down at Backpack and frown. "Better go without me, bro," I tell him. "I'll put Backpack back together as quick as I can in case you need me."
"It's only Carmen Dillo," Virgil says, sounding disappointed. "My sister could take him out, but I guess it's better than nothing."
"I... guess." There's a flaw in that logic somewhere. I'm sure of it. "V, do you ever think our priorities might be a little screwed up?"
"Probably," Virgil says, unfolding his disk and jumping on it easily. "See you in a bit. Have fun!"
"You, too," I call back as he flies out the door, shivering a little at the brief flash of cold air that hits my face. I double check that my Shock Vox is turned on before going back to work.
Without Virgil as a distraction, I finish rebuilding my little robot buddy much quicker than I would have liked. Putting on my helmet, I interface with it, making sure everything is working properly. It all looks good so far.
Virgil has never asked how I control Backpack and I've never offered an explanation. I pretend it's an AI, saying things like, "Backpack did this," or "Backpack is doing that." I shout verbal commands, which seems to put everyone's mind at ease.
Backpack is not an AI and it doesn't have any way of responding to verbal commands.
In my original version, the control center was in my suit. I could flex certain muscles to control the robot, getting textual and numerical read-outs displayed on my helmet's visor. In the current version, I've done away with all of that. The processing speed was too slow when it came to producing those kinds of readings or reacting to muscular stimuli. Backpack needed to react instantly.
Now, instead of text or numbers, I've programmed my visor to flash tiny point of lights, thousands of them a second. The location of the flashes and the pattern in which they appear works like a kind of rapid-fire binary code, which I'm able to interpret in my brain faster than any processor could manage. I give Backpack commands by the way I flick my eyes in the periphery.
I've imagined trying to explain this to Virgil, trying to tell him that my brain could process essentially mathematically created static into physical commands. I've tried to imagine what his reaction would be if he knew the depth of my newfound mental abilities. I've often wondered what he would think if he knew even a fraction of the thoughts I have dancing around my skull at all times.
It's easier to say, "Backpack did this."
Satisfied that Backpack is in working order, I take off my helmet again, rising to my feet and stretching the kinks out of my back. I look around the empty room and sigh. The gas station seems oddly lonely without Virgil's presence. While I may have thought I didn't want him around while I was working, it's hard to keep him from getting under your skin. Virgil's just like that. He's friends with everybody who wants to be his friend, but I have the special distinction of being his best friend.
I wouldn't change that for the world, annoying little quirks and all.
Turning back to the desk. I start to reach for my tools. The most unmanly shriek I've ever heard comes out of my mouth and echoes against the concrete walls as I jump up and back about four feet. I look around quickly; Thank God nobody heard that.
There's a rat sitting on top of my toolbox, warming itself in the afterglow of my soldering iron.
"Virgil," I say aloud, backing away from the furry, fanged, evil-looking thing that's about the size of a small dog, "you can come back and zap the rats now."
I think now is a good time to go outside. Maybe I'll play in the snow, reconnect with my childhood. Yeah, that seems like a really good plan.
Bracing myself, I throw open the door, shivering as icy cold wind blasts into the room. My boots are not as waterproof as advertised, I realize, as I crunch my feet into a frozen snow bank and my toes are instantly damp and numb. It takes all of my strength to close the door behind me.
Crossing my arms over my chest, I make my way to the ally, where the wind is less intense. The scent of garbage fills my nose as I huddle next to the dumpster. I envision how pathetic I must look right now and all I can do is let out a short, barking laugh, which is quickly swallowed up by the wind around me.
Yep. The life of a superhero. This is great. Just like in the brochures.
Cold and miserable aside, it's not so bad out here. Sure, the atmosphere isn't great and the view is lacking, but there's something about snow, even blizzard-like snow, that makes everything kind of beautiful. Besides, Virg should be back soon. He can zap the scary, mutant rat, we'll laugh about it, and I'll go with him back to his house to crash for the night. We'll make up something to tell his dad, if he wants to know why I'm staying over on a school night.
Although, it's getting harder to come up with excuses. Mr. H spends the majority of his time hanging around troubled kids with family problems. He's heard every line in the book. Thankfully, he's yet to push the subject with me, but it's only a matter of time.
Three more years. I just need three more years and then I can go to college or get a job, rent a place with Virgil, and I'll be free. I can make it. I'm sure of it.
For now, though, I'm just going to hang out in this ally, feeling the wind biting at my skin through my clothes, watching the snow fall, and listening to that odd rustling sound coming from the dumpster.
Odd rustling sound?
I stare at the dumpster for several seconds. It would have been smart to bring Backpack and my Shock Vox out here with me. At the very least, a nice, heavy tire iron would be good right about now.
It's funny how common sense and pure genius tend to part ways when your primordial instincts are shouting, "Ew! Icky rat! Flee! Flee!"
My curiosity is getting the better of me. Hesitantly, I approach the dumpster, putting my hands on the edge of the lid. The cold metal freezes my fingers to the bone. Gloves would be a big plus right about now, too.
"You better not be a rat," I tell whatever it is that's rustling around in there, "or a nasty Bang Baby of some kind, for that matter."
Summoning up all my courage, I throw the lid up, giving a little yell meant to inspire fear and intimidation in whatever awaits me on the other side. I pointedly ignore the fact that it came out more as a terrified squeak. A man has to keep his illusions, after all.
Peeking over the rim of the dumpster, I squint down into the refuse, barely illuminated by a flickering street lamp overhead.
Oh... that's cute.
Well, not really, but who am I to judge?
* * * * * *
I've been back inside the gas station for twenty minutes when Virgil finally returns, looking cold and wet, but otherwise, no worse for wear.
"Man," he says, jumping off his disk and stripping off his snow-covered jacket before sitting down next to me by the space heater, "was that ever a waste of time. I felt kind of bad, though, because Carmen was just after..."
Virgil stops short, grabbing my shoulder with a cold hand and pointing his other across the room.
"What the hell is that?" he asks, pointing a little more emphatically, his teeth chattering slightly.
"Isn't she cute?" I put down my copy of, On Divination and Synchronicity: The Psychology of Meaningful Chance, by Marie-Louise von Franz. It's light reading, honest. I tug my blanket up a little higher on my arms.
"Cute is not the world I would use," Virgil says after a moment, looking at me as though I'd lost my mind.
Okay, so the cat is hideous. The crooked teeth of her lower jaw jut out due to a massive under-bite, her fur a mangy mess of blotchy, mismatched colors of gray, orange, and brown, sticking out in all directions. Her face is flat and squashed, one eye long gone, and she has a chunk missing from her right ear, most likely from a fight.
She also has the tail of the evil, mutant rat hanging out of her mouth, though, so I am willing to overlook the imperfections.
Patting the floor, the cat rises to her feet and pads over to me, slurping down the rest of the tail as she approaches. She curles in my lap, her purr sounding like a Harley engine as I stroke her warm fur. Her good eye, a golden-yellow color that is clearly her best feature, closes in contentment.
"I think I'm going to call her Patches," I tell Virgil, who rolls his eyes and chuckles, even as he rubs his own arms in an attempt to warm them.
"Whatever floats your boat, man," he says, hesitantly reaching out a hand to pet her, growing more confident as it becomes clear contact with the little beast isn't going to give him any diseases. "You know me. I'm always happy to take in strays."
There is something more in that statement than meets the eye, but my mind is already too busy making plans to analyze it at this point in time.
"I'll take her to the vet tomorrow, get her fixed and make sure she has all her shots," I say instead, scratching the cat between her ears. She seems to like that. "After that, I'll go get everything else - food dish, water dish, maybe a few toys. I don't think she'll need a litter box. She can just go outside. Also..."
Zap. Squeak. Patches jumps off of my lap and runs across the room to tackle a dazed and wobbling rat. I glare at Virgil.
"You don't have to do that, anymore," I inform him.
"Hey, she's only got one eye," he says with a cheeky grin. "I figure, what with the lack of depth perception and all, she can use all the help she can get."
I pull my blanket tighter around me. "You know," I say, straightening the flannel, "I was going to share this with you, but now you can just forget it."
"I just stopped a nefarious criminal," Virgil begins, sounding affronted, though I know it's mostly an act, "and you wouldn't even share a meager bit of a blanket with your chilled and frozen partner?"
Letting out a dramatic, long-suffering sigh, I hold open the edge of the blanket and let Virgil slide in next to me. He really is cold. We sit together, in the light of the space heater, hearing the dying squeaks of a rat as Patches makes short work of it.
"Man, it's late," Virgil intones after a moment. "I should call Pops."
"I already did," I tell him, picking up my book again and flipping to where I left off. I'm quite capable of reading and carrying on a conversation at the same time nowadays. Virgil's getting used to it.
"What'd you tell him?"
"That we were going to stay at the pizza place until the snow died down a little or they kicked us out." Virgil rests his head on my shoulder, looking at what I'm reading. "He wanted to talk to you, but I told him you had a bad slice and couldn't come out of the bathroom just yet."
"Gee. Thanks, Rich."
Patches comes back over to us, a satisfied look on her face. Virgil snakes a hand out from under the blanket and scratches her head again. She rubs up against his hand shamelessly.
"I guess she's kind of cute," Virgil says, attempting and failing to smooth out some of her fur, "in that really ugly sort of way."
I nod, letting myself get more absorbed into my book. It's fascinating, really. Then, something occurs to me.
"Since when has Carmen Dillo been 'nefarious'?" I ask, glancing up at Virgil.
Zap. Squeak. Patches dashes off again.
Virgil just grins at me. Shaking my head, I go back to my book and Virgil's head goes back on my shoulder. I can tell he's nodding off. I don't blame him. Right now, I'm feeling quite comfortable myself, with Virgil by my side, the space heater and the blanket keeping us warm, and my cat killing all the nasty, mutant rats around us.
A/N 2: Whew. That came out longer than I planned. Aw, well. Now, it's time for a little shameless self-promotion. If any of you Static Lovers out there are involved in LiveJournal, I just made a SS community. You can find a link to it in my profile, since FF.Net, the bastard thing that it is, won't allow URLs of any kind into a document.
Wow... that shameless self-promotion stuff makes me feel kinda dirty. *shrugs* Anyway, thanks for reading!