Sometimes, Cameron hated technology. Sure, she grew up with it, in a world where everyone had a phone, and thus a camera, in their pockets but never before had it dramatically affected her life.
The Italian restaurant had multiple cameras stationed all over the restaurant, the ones in the kitchen and basement had captured her – and later, Reckoning’s – fight with Gladwell. The cameras were set to automatically upload all footage to an online database. The restaurant owner agreed to sell it to the SAA at a very low price and signed a contract, promising to delete their copy of the video and not to give it to anybody else. In exchange, the SAA probably wouldn’t give them much trouble for threatening a superhero or possibly knowingly housing a dangerous supervillain.
They probably wouldn’t have had it so easy if it wasn’t blindingly obvious the restaurant was run by the Automatons. The Automatons were a group of technology themed criminals and along with Creed’s group, they ran Avocet’s underworld, kept it relatively peaceful.
The PR team, spotting a good opportunity, edited the not so wonderful parts of the video out and put it online for everyone to see. The public loved it and the video got millions of views within days. It made Cameron popular, going from brand-new superhero no one knew to the newest rising star in the superhero scene.
She supposed she could see why people were excited. The SAA had made a statement saying that yes, Gladwell was still alive despite what was seen in the video but it had made her seem less invincible. It showed the public that heroes were protecting them from the scary monsters out there and they were competent. The monsters were beatable.
Some guy from the PR team told her everything would die down when her fifteen minutes of fame ran out but the publicity was great for Avocet, it’d attract more tourists.
Her newfound popularity did save her from getting in trouble for breaking out of her room, knocking out a couple of agents, and going to fight Gladwell without backup.
Oh, sure, it was bad when they arrived on the scene and found her lying in an alley and there was a lot of talk of sending her to prison for violating her probation before the PR team got their hands on the video but things were mostly okay now. Agent Camelo wasn’t happy she disobeyed orders but he got over it when some power came in from another city to check her, see if she was being influenced or controlled by Gladwell.
The power cleared her. Cameron didn’t end up meeting him though, so she didn’t know how they were so sure. They didn’t even tell her his codename or powers. Not that she was complaining, as long as she was still allowed to roam freely, more or less.
Agent Camelo and his team had left a few days after, when it looked like Gladwell was gone from Avocet for good.
On her ride to school, Cameron checked her work phone. There was some information about the interview she was scheduled for this afternoon. The PR team had included a PDF with tips, things she could and couldn’t say. They expected her to read it before they talked to her later, to make sure she was prepared. It was her first interview as a superhero.
The interview didn’t sound fun at all. They created a sort of fake personality for her, a kid friendly version of herself.
She sighed and glanced out the window. At least the weather was kind of nice, hardly a cloud in the sky, unusual for this time of year. There was something other than a cloud up there, she realized, after taking a closer look. It was dark, vaguely human sized, and it was flying in the air, alongside the car. It did look like a small cloud – or smoke, maybe.
Oh, one of those two powers that came to their rescue during their initial fight with Gladwell had looked kinda like that, hadn’t he? It was probably him, on his way out of town now that Gladwell was gone. With his mission done, there was no more point in staying.
“Hey, do you see that?” Cameron asked, pointing up at the human cloud thing.
The agent driving glanced at her then in the direction she was pointing. “Yeah. I’ll report it to HQ but as long as it doesn’t cause any trouble, it’s likely we’ll leave it alone.”
She shrugged and leaned back in her chair. She fiddled with the radio the rest of the trip to school. Her usual dread of sitting through another long school day wasn’t there, replaced by apathy.
“Nervous?” Agent Brown asked, as someone adjusted her helmet, adding a microphone or something, Cameron didn’t really care. “It’s okay to be nervous, most people are.”
Cameron rolled her eyes. They were in a changing room the studio had provided. Agents had already swept the room to ensure they didn’t place any bugs or cameras. She wore her costume, minus the helmet. “I’m not scared of public speaking.” Or anything.
“You don’t have to be, to be nervous about the interview. I’m sure it’s not easy pretending to be someone else?”
“Maybe for my squeaky clean teammates, sure, but what I was doing before, lying was kind of essential tool of the trade.” The smirk came easily, even if she wasn’t feeling it. That sort of comment needed a smirk for full effect, regardless of her emotions, or lack of.
Tech support walked over to her and handed her the helmet before Agent Brown replied. Great timing, she sensed a speech coming about how she could leave her old life behind her if she chose to let go of it.
Cameron put the helmet on.
“Right, let’s do this thing,” she said.
Tech support held the door open as she and Agent Brown walked out. Brown escorted her all the way to the stage, offering unnecessary words of encouragement.
She rolled her eyes hard at that. Agent Brown was probably about as close as she would ever come to having an embarrassing parent.
Cameron sat in the chair beside the host’s desk, reserved for guests, when the crew told her to. The host, Katie Ward, was already behind her desk, smiling at the camera. Her makeup was done to highlight her features, enhancing her natural beauty. She was dressed casually, in t-shirt and jeans, to make her seem more like a regular person, like the audience was, except much prettier.
That, along with her dorky persona, made her one of the most popular talk show hosts on TV.
She smiled so brightly her eyes shined. “I’m so glad you’re here, I’ve been waiting all week for this, literally. Ask anyone here, they’re all sick of me talking about this. I think they were thinking about gagging me but gosh, I can’t help it. I love talking to superheroes, you guys are always so interesting and wonderful.”
Her show had a live studio audience, many of them smiled at Katie’s short ramble.
All of them watched her, soaking up every detail. When the show actually aired on TV, late at night, there would be discussion on forums analyzing small things like the words she chose, the way she sat. Superheroes were big and people rarely had an opportunity to see a superhero in this setting. It was a chance for the public to learn what the hero was like, instead of just knowing how much ass they could kick.
Some people might shrink away from the spotlight, feeling self-conscious. Cameron thought of it as a fun challenge, basking in the attention. It made her feel better, in a way she couldn’t quite describe.
Cameron smiled and the smiley popped up on the front of her helmet, earning her a ooh from the audience and look of amazement on Katie’s face. “Trust me, you wouldn’t think we were so wonderful if you saw us without our masks.” She pointed to her helmet. “I have acne like you wouldn’t believe.”
A small lie to endear herself to them. People loved shit like that, according to the PR people.
Lying was second nature to her and sometimes she lied without intending to. Today wasn’t an exception, it was the opposite really. Today had been a non-stop stream of lies, saying and doings things that didn’t quite feel natural anymore.
Going through the motions.
“Beauty is on the inside, though, right guys?” Katie said, turning to the audience. They cheered. Once it had died down, she continued. “Well, since they’re being so nice tonight, I think I’ll start off with the questions our lovely audience and viewers have submitted.” She made a big show of opening up a drawer and pulling out a pink slip. She cleared her thought. “Let’s see. This is from Lisa, sixteen years old. Dear Point Blank, what’s your backstory?”
“Dead parents,” Cameron said, solemn. Her helmet changed the pitch of her voice but the tone was unaffected. She waited a second for it to sink in before shaking her head and laughing. “Sorry, that was mean. It was a joke.”
Katie wagged a finger at her, mock disappointed. “One more joke like that miss and I’m going to give you the boot.”
The boot was some running joke on the show. They told her not to be alarmed if Katie suddenly threw a yellow rubber boot at her head.
This question was asked nearly every time a superhero was interviewed. Cameron had the company line memorized. “I wish I had something interesting to tell you guys but I don’t. My childhood was kind of ordinary, minus the whole superpower thing.”
“So your parents aren’t dead?”
“They’re as alive as you or me,” Cameron lied.
Cameron was left alone, most of the time. There was training, checkups with Dr. Klein, sessions with Agent Brown, but otherwise she could choose to spend her time doing whatever she wanted.
She wished they hadn’t.
The lights of the amusement park were bright, blocking out the stars above. Another hour and they’d close, the lights would shut off and darkness would reclaim the space stolen from it, the noise made by rides or people would be silenced, everyone would leave.
It’d be empty.
She sat on a bench, eating a big, greasy, overpriced hot dog covered in ketchup and mustard.
People passed her by, smiling and laughing, enjoying the company of their friends, family, or significant other. Happy, at least for a little while.
God help her, for a moment she understood. It wasn’t fair, everyone around her got to be happy, got to have family and friends. Bitter, angry, with too much power in her hands, lashing out, forcing everyone else to join her in her misery, it sounded appealing, better than sitting here feeling sorry for herself.
She took another bite out of the hot dog.
Fatty foods were supposed to make you happier. Right now it wasn’t but fuck it, she already paid for it, might as well eat the damn thing. Wasting food never sat right with her, never growing out of the habits ingrained by years of wondering whether they could afford to eat tomorrow.
It was the question that had brought her here, in search of comfort food.
There were holes in her memories, she was almost positive. Things she couldn’t quite remember, like a word on the tip of your tongue.
If it had been just that, Cameron would have ignored it and moved on.
Gladwell won. It had just taken her awhile to realize it.
She finished up and dumped the wrapper in the nearest garbage can. There was still time left for her to grab something to drink. She was in the mood for something cavity-inducing and tongue-coloring.
There wasn’t a line at the slushie stand. It looked like they were just about to turn off the machines and close for the night. The blue and red machines were already down. She bought a pure green one. She preferred to her slushies to be a mix of different colors but this was a minor annoyance compared to everything else.
Cameron left after that, called and paid for a cab. She could have walked or teleported but goddamn, she was tired. She wanted to sit down and do nothing but enjoy the sugary drink she purchased.
At night, there weren’t as many agents roaming the hallways. Still, she wasn’t in the mood to be around other people, to pretend and return pleasantries. Cameron teleported straight into her bedroom once she got a good look at the open window of her bedroom. The lights were on.
Someone stood in the doorway to her bedroom, his arms crossed over his chest. A teenage boy, short and thin, pimples all over his face, and Asian. His eyes were hard when they landed on her. It reminded her of a veteran, someone who had seen some horrible, awful things and came out of it serious and a bit haunted.
“Can I help you? Or is this some misguided attempt at flirting?” Cameron said, returning the favor, stare for stare.
“Tempted,” he replied, dry. “I’m Tyler. I’m also Foresight.”
She remembered Hayes mention a Foresight, once. A precog, almost definitely.
Cameron sat down on her bed, breaking eye contact, and took off her shoes. “And?”
His lips curled into a smile, smug, confident. The look of someone who knew he had won and was waiting for the moment his opponent realized it. He lived for that moment, probably, thrived on the satisfaction that came from proving your superiority.
“I know who you are, Cameron, who you’re working for, what you joined to do, what you’re going to do, a week from now.”