Dayfall at the Edge of Breakfast (short fiction)

Super Janine
Sometimes, you wake up and realize you’ve made a horrible mistake, and the only thing you can do is roll over and put off dealing with it for a few hours more. I glanced over at where Robert would be sleeping, but he wasn’t there anymore. I imagined he was off plotting his plans for world domination or bragging to his cohorts about his conquest last night.
God, I hoped he was planning world domination.
The curtains of the dozen giant windows in the bedroom parted as soft music filled the room. I pulled the pillow over my face and suppressed a scream. I couldn’t believe I’d done it. It was such a cliché. Superhero and villain, archenemies, lovers.
Archenemies? That was a stretch. My team had stopped him from conquering the world once or twice, but who hadn’t? He had always been industrious.
Lovers? It was just one night. I was getting ahead of myself.
The doors opened with a soft click, and I heard the sharp tap of heels as Robert’s personal valet entered the room. She marched across the exquisite Italian tile and stood by the bed, not saying anything. The pillow covering my face, I couldn’t see anything. But I could sense her. Like a cobra, waiting to strike.
I waited for her to say something. I waited a while more. But she just stood there, waiting for me.
I pulled the pillow away. Madeline was a striking woman, tall and lean. The snakes of her hair writhed around her green face. She wore sunglasses to hide her piercing blue eyes, able to kill a person at twenty yards, give or take.
She smiled, revealing sharp teeth, but still not entirely unfriendly. “Robert was hoping you would join him for breakfast.”
I pulled the blanket up higher to cover me, and if Madeline was judging, she hid it well. Even with the snakes and scales, she was beautiful. I wasn’t built like that. Never had been. It was stupid to feel self-conscious. Didn’t stop me from feeling it.
The sun was high in the sky outside the windows. “What time is it?”
“Eleven minutes until noon.”
“Little late for breakfast,” I said.
She straightened her jacket and folded her hands behind her back. “Shall I inform him you’ll be joining him?”
I was hungry, and assuming Robert was nice enough to lend me a jet, it was still an hours flight from Apocolyptistan to home.
I sat up, letting the covers slide down a little. Madeline might have been taller and slimmer and more alluring, but I could still break her in two if it came down to it.
“Yeah, sure. Why not?”
“Very good. Feel free to use the bathroom to refresh yourself. You’ll find your clothes, washed and pressed, in the wardrobe. No need to rush. Please, at your leisure.”
That might have been sarcastic. She was impossible to read.
She turned and walked away, not tapping at all this time.
I went to the window and surveyed the countryside. The grassy plains around Fortress Destiny were lush. A small village, looking like something out of an oil painting, sat on the horizon. Apocalyptistan was beautiful. Always had been. Robert had never been the kind of villain to strike out mindlessly. He’d always tried to make the world better. Sometimes, that involved lifting an impoverished nation into one of the most prosperous countries on earth. Sometimes, it involved creating robot armies and death rays. He was a complicated guy.
I took a shower and got dressed. I didn’t hurry because I didn’t want Robert to think I was snapping to his command. Also, I wasn’t looking forward to the morning after. When I opened the bedroom door, Madeline was waiting for me. It might have been good timing, or she might have been standing there for the twenty minutes it took me to get ready. Either way, she said, “Right this way” before leading me through the castle.
Fortress Destiny was different in the daylight and also when I wasn’t smashing my way through it in a mad rush to destroy a doomsday device. The Grecian column I’d used as a baseball bat to crush a hovertank had been replaced, and all the fire damage from that time Reactroid had exploded hadn’t left so much as a radioactive scorch mark.
But that had been years ago.
Madeline led me to a quiet nook where Robert sat at a small table, swiping on a tablet. I still expected him to be wearing that cape, that metal skull mask that he shouldn’t have been able to make work. There’d always been some debate what he’d looked like under there, and a lot of people were disappointed when it proved to be just a face, neither especially ugly nor particularly handsome. His cheeks were too round to be suitably villainous, and he had a small scar over his right eyebrow that didn’t strike anyone as noteworthy. Without the powered exosuit and voice modulator and “I shall rule the world” dialogue, he was just a guy.
He set down the tablet and stood as I entered. He smiled and I smiled back, despite myself. He gestured at a seat at the table, which Madeline pulled out for me. He waited for me to sit. He’d always been a touch old-fashioned.
His first words were for Madeline, to have the kitchen make whatever I wanted for breakfast. I ordered scrambled eggs and toast, so as not to make a fuss, and after she left, Robert and I sat in silence, smiling awkwardly, for a few moments.
“Well . . . . ” he said.
“Well . . . . ” I replied.
It was weird seeing Robert tongue tied.
“I had a great time last night.” He put his hand on mine but glanced away at the same time, like he wasn’t sure what to do.
“Me, too.” I put my hand on his, but it all felt strange.
I’d never been great at dating, and after getting my superpowers, I’d been too busy foiling giant robot attacks and alien invasions to think much about it. It’d been years since . . . .
God, how many years? Better not to think about it.
“Robert, I did have a great time last night, but I’m thinking–”
“Bad idea,” he interrupted.
It was a relief to hear him say it. Also, disappointing.
“I know you’re reformed now, but–”
“Oh, I’m not reformed,” he said.
The admission derailed my prepared speech. I pulled my hands away, and it was his turn to be disappointed.
“You’re not?” I asked.
“Depends on what you mean by reformed, I suppose.”
He stood and turned his back to me, gazing out the windows. It was only then that I realized the view outside was of daybreak, that the clouds and birds hung suspended in the sky, unmoving.
“Dawn is always my favorite time of day,” he said. “That’s why I had this room built. Never could get my time modulator to reverse temporal flow, but I can stop it. In this room. A perfect moment.”
An edge crept into my voice. “Don’t tell me this was all sort of elaborate ruse to get me in a helpless position.”
He turned and frowned. “No. How could you think that after last night?”
“You just admitted you were still a bad guy.”
“No, I said I wasn’t reformed, but I’ve never been a bad guy.”
“The world you’ve imperiled might disagree.”
He laughed. “If I’ve imperiled the world, it’s only because it refuses to accept my attempts to improve it.”
Supervillain talk. What had I done last night?
“My goals remain the same,” he said. “It’s only methodology that has changed. The robot armies, the doomsday devices, everything like that, it fell apart every time. No matter how perfect the plan, no matter how flawless my execution, there was always someone there to thwart me. And it dawned on me on this very moment that I’ve bottled in time that I could never win through brute force or intellectual superiority.”
“So are you a villain or not?”
“That’s a loaded term. One nation’s hero is another’s villain. But I’m not interested in the more flamboyant designs, if that’s what you mean. For now.”
I still couldn’t make heads or tails of it. Was he warning me? Trying to win me over? Both?
Madeline brought in my eggs and set them before me with a glass of juice. He dismissed her, and I ate as he stood at the window.
“I get it,” I finally said. “Thanks for being honest with me.”
“I’ll always be honest with you, Janine.”
There was a sadness in his voice. He wanted to lie about it, and I wanted him to. It’d been a great night, and he was a great guy in so many ways. But he was who he was, and I was who I was.
“I’m surprised you didn’t ask me to join you,” I said.
“Would you have said yes?”
I didn’t answer, and he smiled and winked. I’m not saying I would’ve gone for his “Together, we will rule the world” speech, but a girl liked to be asked nonetheless.
“It was a lovely night,” he said.
I joined him by the window and took his hand. “And a perfect morning.”
And in that room, in that moment of time, we enjoyed it for a few hours more.
Posted in Short Fiction | 3 Comments

A Sea of White

I can always do better.

We all can.

As a writer, I’ve come to see is the lie of “Colorblind” writing. The idea presented is that if writers don’t deliberately describe a character, the audience is free to imagine that character in whatever fashion they might want. It’s a great idea in theory. One of the things I love about writing is how much I can allow the audience to do the work. My own style is often mistaken for YA-influenced because I’m not a big fan of overlong descriptions. It’s not because I am trying to write simpler. It’s because I honestly don’t give much of a damn about stuff like that, often finding it uninteresting in stories I read. When I describe something, it should matter. And if it doesn’t matter, I don’t tend to describe it.

Posted in Blog, Writing | 3 Comments

The Real World and Wakanda (and Why It Matters)

What follows are some thoughts about Black Panther and cultural context. These are, by default, outsider’s thoughts in many regards. I acknowledge this in advance.

Reality influences fiction. As much as we might want to separate art from the moment, especially pop art that is meant to be mostly enjoyed, we can’t really do that. Nothing exists in a vacuum, and while I’m not interested in limiting or censoring creative output (even “vacuous” output that is as much product as art), I think it’s good–important even–to discuss how our popular media relates to the world around us.

Posted in Blog, Comic Books, Commentary, Movies, Writing | Leave a comment

Longrunners and the Cruelty of Time

I’ve written before about how I find Star Wars to be uninteresting in terms of storytelling analysis. There’s simply too much baggage around it for any kind of judgment, either good or bad. But I do find Star Wars interesting in how it sits in our popular culture, especially how that culture has changed over the course of 40 years. If you think about it, that’s a lot of time for something to stick around, and like all longrunners, Star Wars is shaped by the culture of its past and the culture of its present.

Posted in Blog, Comic Books, Movies, Writing | 1 Comment
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