“So,” I asked the girl, as I sat down on the edge of the roof and swung my legs out over the gap, “do you have a name? I’ve been calling you Mirror in my head, but that was more out of necessity than anything else.”
I'd brought us back up to the rooftop where my real body was stashed. It was relatively private, and it was definitely reassuring to be back near my body. Plus, the weather was nice, so hey, why not?
Mirror was leaning against one of the ventilation stacks, arms folded over her chest, jacket held closed against the wind with a piece of what looked like string. She’d pulled another, identical pair of reflective sunglasses from one of her myriad pockets, and donned them almost immediately. Maybe it was a comfort thing, maybe she didn’t want me seeing any more of her face than I already had, or maybe she was just photophobic or something. I dunno. Whatever it was, they seemed to settle her, and she was a lot calmer now.
“Yeah, no offense, but I'm not in the habit of just giving out my name. To anyone.”
“That’s fair,” I conceded. “Is there something I can call you, then?”
She considered it for a second. “Kai,” she eventually said. “It’ll do for now.”
“Alright, it's a start. I'm H-Wisp.” I managed to catch myself just in time. Should probably practice that. Is that something people do? Practice introducing themselves with their cape names? I mean, it makes sense, right? You don’t want to do… exactly what I almost did just then. But then you might get into the habit of using that name instead of your real one, so you'd have to also practice introducing yourself with that, and then you’re right back where you started. Oh! You could train yourself by putting on the costume and practicing with the cape name, and then practice with your real name in civvies! Yeah, that'd-
Oh. Right. Kai had just finished saying something, and was looking at me expectantly. “Sorry, could you repeat that? I drifted off for a moment.”
“Drifted off,” I repeated with a sheepish grin. “Sorry. My thoughts run away from me sometimes.”
She gave me an odd look. “You’re… uh, not very… heroic, for a hero.”
“Hey!” I exclaimed, affronted. “Who just saved your sorry butt?”
“Uh, right, sorry. I meant, like, behavior-wise.”
“Oh yeah? And how does a hero behave, according to you?”
She shrugged. “I don’t know, just less… whatever you are. Distracted, for one.”
“Well, let’s see you- ah no, sorry, let’s not make a thing out if this. What was it you were saying?”
“Oh- it was just some snide comment about your name. Forget I said anything.” She sounded contrite, so I decided to let it slide.
“Right. So, anyway…” I paused for a second, gathering my thoughts, “there’s a few things to discuss. Primarily, and probably the most important to you, is the question of whether or not I hand you over to the police.” She stiffened, her hands instinctively grasping at the points on her jacket that, I assumed, corresponded with the pockets she'd hidden the money in. She realized she was doing it, and hastily returned them to their original position. “Yeah. First things first, I'm assuming you’re homeless?”
She bit her lip. “…yeah.”
“No family? Friends? Can’t you… uh, okay, I'm gonna admit, I don’t really know anything about being homeless, but are there not… shelters? Aid or something?”
She scratched at the back of her head awkwardly. “There is some stuff, yeah, but… well, it's not available to me for certain reasons.”
“Personal,” she said curtly.
Oooookay then. I didn’t pry, although I really wanted to. “Right. Well, what I was obliquely asking was whether stealing is the only way to get by for you, which I'm guessing it is."
“Yeah,” she repeated. “I don’t go around picking pockets or whatever; I just stick to stuff like this, salvage, I guess.”
I nodded. “Okay, assuming you’re telling the truth, and I’m somewhat inclined to believe you are, that makes my opinion towards you a little more favorable. I'm not making a decision yet, but I’m having a hard time feeling judging you poorly for stealing from them. Do you do this a lot?”
“No,” she shrugged, “as little as I can. Usually, I get by with whatever I can get busking before someone comes along asking for a license, plus trading for stuff. Sometimes I do ‘magic tricks’,” and she created a small mirror for a second, “for kids or whatever.”
Busking? Oh right, the singing. “If you’re good enough to make money performing, can’t you just get a license?”
She shook her head. “Not that simple. Technically, or legally or whatever, I don’t actually exist. My parents were…” she trailed off for a second, lost in thought. “Well, not exactly top-notch, and because of a whole bunch of other stuff, there isn’t a system in the world that has my name or face in it.”
“Huh. I can see why that might make things difficult.”
“You don’t know the half of it.” She created another mirror, slightly larger this time, and inspected it turning it on different angles. “Though there are some benefits, too.” I imagined it would be rather easy to be a thief when you don’t exist from a bureaucratic standpoint, for one. “Anyway, I try to only do stuff like this when I need something that I can’t afford, or, like with this one, when an opportunity opens up.” She snorted. “Look where that got me.”
“Safe and unharmed, with pockets full of cash, thanks to a certain someone?” I asked wryly.
“Okay, fine, but you know what I meant.”
“A thank you wouldn’t go amiss,” I muttered. “How do you know when ‘an opportunity opens up'?”
She shrugged one shoulder. “Grapevine, I guess. It’s easier to keep an ear to the ground when you’re already at the bottom of the totem pole.”
Interesting. Interesting, and potentially useful. “Okay then. I’ve made a decision. I'm going to let you go.” She breathed out slightly, although she thought I didn’t notice. “I’ll even let you keep the money. But.” I held up a finger. “In return, I need something from you.” I felt a little bad, making decisions from a position of power, but I wasn’t asking that much, and I was being pretty generous to boot. “I’m looking for some people. Villains, three of them; a woman in a green cloak, a man in red with a metal mask, and a man in navy combat gear. I want you to keep your ear to the ground, like normal, and if you hear anything about them, let me know.”
“How?” she asked, sounding intrigued.
“Can you memorize a number?” She nodded, so I rattled off the number to the burner phone the Outliers had given me. “Call that number if you do hear anything, and let me know. Deal?”
“It’s not like I have a choice,” she said, but with no real malice behind it. “Deal. As long as I can also call that number if I’m in trouble, and need a ‘hero’.”
“I don’t like those implied quotation marks,” I said with a smile, “but yeah, sure. I'm… I’d be happy to help.”
She smiled back at me for a moment, but then quickly looked away and coughed. “So, uh, what were the other things you wanted to say?”
“Oh right! Well, first of all, you’ve got to tell me how your power works. It's fascinating!”
“What, really?” she sounded surprised.
“Sure! Are they actually mirrors, or are they some kind of portal or something? How did you reach through them like that, on an angle? How big can you-”
“Whoa,” she said, a little hastily, holding up her hands. “Calm down.” I looked down to realize I'd been leaning forward towards her. Just a little creepy, so I leant back and tried to relax. “Sorry, I just get excited.”
“For the record, this is what I meant when I was talking about behavior.” I'd like to see you meet Fog, I thought to myself, see how heroic you think she acts. She summoned a mirror. “As far as I can figure out, they're like portals, but where the entrance and exit points are the same.”
I cocked my head. “…I’m not sure I follow.”
She moved the mirror so it was perpendicular to me, and held her hand out. “So a normal portal, stuff goes in one end, out the other, right? But if the out and in are at the same point,” she moved her hand towards it, “then you can’t go through, because you hit yourself coming the other way.” Her hand stopped as it reached the mirror. “But if you come in on an angle,” she retracted her hand and did so,” then you can avoid hitting yourself, somehow.” She stuck her hand in, and her fingers emerged on the opposite side, waggling slightly.
I stared at it. “My brain is telling me that that shouldn’t work like that.”
“Well, it does, so tell your brain to shut up.”
“No, seriously. If you're stopped by your own hand coming the other way, then coming in at an angle shouldn’t matter. You'd still-”
For a second, everything froze. There was a sound, like a frog being blended, only backwards, and then the whole world warped and distorted. When it snapped back into place, two figures were standing on the rooftop with us. One in rainbow armor, and one that appeared to be made of branches.
“Dammit,” said Stump to Instance. “I told you we should’ve flown.”