The bus down Main Street was still running in the wake of the battle. Wearing an oversized hoodie to cover her costume and hide her face, Mismeret rode home, curled up in a corner and trying to drown out the voices. Her head echoed with tearful text messages and panicked phone calls, people trying to find each other and come to terms in the wake of the destruction. It was all getting too much, so she put on her headphones to filter out the signals.
The bus drove in complete silence. This far away from the nearly-destroyed West Side Mall, most of the people had avoided the worst of the damage, but watching the news coverage of the fight, knowing that if the portal had opened in a slightly different place it could’ve been their homes destroyed, their families separated or worse... so they stared ahead, glassy-eyed and numb. And there was that unspoken statement, what people were too tired to say but were obviously thinking – it was all because of those goddamn Supers. Supers are monsters. Supers should go to hell. Mismeret pulled her hood up tighter, so that her face was hidden in shadow.
She hadn’t even meant to be there. She’d just wanted to go shopping. But then, everything had gone to chaos – a portal opened in space and time, demons pouring out, and then there were superheroes fighting monsters and everything was being torn to pieces. She couldn’t just walk away, not when she knew she could help. So she’d donned her electric gauntlets and joined the fray, beating the monsters back to their own universe. The fight itself was a red blur, but the aftermath was vivid – in a few minutes, the mall was in ruins. She saw people who’d literally been crushed in the rush to escape, victims of humanity being turned into a stampede, people concerned only with survival and literally trampling each other underfoot.
This fight shouldn’t have happened. The attack should’ve been predicted, stopped before it could begin. Those people, crushed to death when fear had overcome compassion, that wasn’t heroic.
We’re not heroes. We’re just... soldiers, fighting an endless war to keep the status quo.
She hugged her knees to her chest and hoped against all hope that no one would come up to her and try to comfort her, she didn’t want their sympathy, didn’t deserve it, she just needed to go home and collapse there. Her hand shot up to her headphones and she turned down the signal blocker just a bit, just so she could detect anyone approaching by their smartphones without having to look up. And then she heard music.
Mournful violins were layered over an achingly slow piano, and between them hovered an old, pain-ridden voice singing of a lifetime of hurt. She looked over to the source of the music – a girl a few seats away, wearing headphones, with an utterly empty look in her eyes. Mismeret had seen a face like that once before, after Atlantean outlaws had attacked a cruise ship. She’d been clambering over debris, searching for survivors, when she’d looked in the water and seen a woman’s face. The woman looked so calm, staring gazelessly up at the sky. She didn’t look dead at all, save for her pale skin and blue lips – just lost, so lost in thought. Looking at this girl’s face and hearing the music she was listening to, Mismeret knew why she reminded her of that woman – you didn’t always need water to drown.
The bus driver announced the next stop. Hearing her cue, the girl got to her feet, and without noise or expression walked to the door and got off.
Mismeret turned her filter down further, and she tried to keep the girl’s signal in her head as the bus pulled away. The first song had ended, and another by the same singer followed it – a cover of an old traditional hymn, familiar, but she’d never heard it sung with such raw sadness. There were no strings on this one, no crescendo, just a lonely guitar and a lonelier voice.
The signal was going to fade the further away the bus got. For now, they were connected, but only Mismeret knew it. For all the girl knew, she was alone, utterly alone. There was only one thing Mismeret could do.
She pulled out her own phone and searched for a song, any song that might help. It wasn’t much – it was barely anything, really – but it was the very least she could do and, dammit, she’d spent the day watching people die and just once she wanted to try and save someone. There – if there was any song that could heal a broken heart, this one was it.
She clicked “play” and closed her eyes, focusing on the girl’s signal, the phone playing that deeply, deeply sad music and slowly drowning her. The song shorted out – maybe she’d think it was just a glitch, Mismeret hoped she’d think it was just a glitch, or maybe an act of God. She didn’t want to be seen, she just wanted to help. A new song was playing on the girl’s phone now, streaming all the way from Mismeret’s playlist to hers. It started off with some strings and a distant choir. After a few moments of building, the first verse broke in:
When hell’s gone cold and angels sigh
You can’t stop moving or boom, you’ll die
You’re freezing to death on the cold hard ground
So get up on your feet and choke your pills down
Mismeret turned her filter all the way down. Her head flooded with noise, but she needed to get through, just for another couple minutes. She didn’t have much time. The guitar kicked in, picking its way towards an uneasy peace, while the choir grew louder in the background:
Skies are grey, nowhere to run
And you can’t see it now, but you know there’s a sun
So keep your head up, keep your feet on the ground
It’s gonna clear up
Don’t need to cheer up
Not today, but keep on moving to the sound
Of your beating heart
She was swimming through a sea of panic and fear and anger and coldness, but there was a thin, thin lifeline connecting her to that girl, and she clung to it even as the connection grew fainter and fainter. The rope was starting to fray as the final verse repeated, the choir chanting “keep on moving to the sound”.
The rope broke. All at once, her connection was lost. Mismeret was back in the bus, listening to a song, alone. She paused it, turned her filter back up when the noise got too much. She glanced out the window and watched the city lights gliding by. She was smiling in spite of herself, because she’d never know whether she’d just accomplished anything, she’d never know whether she’d given that girl any hope or a sign that someone cared about her, she’d never know whether she’d changed her mind or given her even a moment’s peace.
But maybe she had. Maybe she’d just saved a life.
Her stop was next. Mismeret pulled down her hood and stood up, smiling in the face of the night and for once feeling like a goddamned superhero.