It had been over a week since the videos were released. The Internet was abuzz with questions, speculation, skepticism, blind belief, and even people claiming to have been the Waterbender herself. The government had officially declared it a public test of unreleased technology. Hollywood had declared it a movie promotion. Radicals called it a sign of the apocalypse. The number of opinions was staggering.
Derek remained mostly ignorant of them. He went about his week as if nothing was amiss. Which meant avoiding Lucas as much as possible while still confronting him occasionally, and filling out the brute's homework some of the time. It meant sitting at lunch discussing things, listening to the conversation topics drift away from anything on YouTube to more mundane things like school or music, as well as Lauren becoming gradually integrated into the lunch table group. It meant homework and tutoring after school. It meant Carol shooting Derek annoyed glances in Spanish class.
It also meant secretly practicing with some of his powers, for "just in case" purposes. He figured it would be better to practice a couple of them until he was good at them, instead of all at once and being slow to learn for each individual one as a result. Combined with the chance for collateral damage, physical space, and unknown abilities, this limited him to the Water form, the Invisibility form, and a couple others with obvious powers.
There was a rain storm one night, so Derek had switched to Amelia's Water form and controlled a tendril of collected rainwater outside the window. This worked out well, until his Dad walked in. Derek fumbled to keep the water from falling onto the carpet and stammered in explanation, but Derek’s dad left before Derek could say anything. Another day, he tried out the form with a cat-eared headband, and quickly discovered this form had enhanced senses. He could feel his mother walking downstairs from the vibrations. Fortunately, he could pick and choose what senses to enhance, as he tried using them all at once and got a major headache.
The next week, though, something else had his attention. The extra credit class trip to the museum. Derek didn't need the credit, but he wasn't gonna pass up a chance to see the new Terracotta Soldier exhibit for free.
"You sure?" said Trevor the day before the trip.
"Yeah," said Derek. "I already signed up. You should go. It's not every day we go to the museum."
"It's a museum," said John. "It's boring. Anything that's there, I can just go online to find out about it."
"Some of us don't have that luxury, John," muttered Derek.
"Well, I'm going," said Arthur. "Derek said it was a free trip. Why pass that up?"
"It's only free because it's coming out of the fundraiser budget," said Lauren. "Which means you already paid for it if you contributed."
"Which fundraiser?" said Trevor.
"All of 'em," said John. "Any leftovers from an individual fundraiser for sports equipment or something goes into the school's excess budget. Field trips come out of that excess."
There was a bit of a pause as the others looked at John.
"I'm on the committee," he said simply.
"That explains the rarity," said Trevor. "Most trips this school gets are away games, and that's only free for the teams."
"Exactly," said Derek. "So we should take advantage of any non-sport school trip we can get."
"I dunno," said Trevor. "I got this science project coming up."
"Hey," said Lauren. "At least consider it. It'll get you out of the house for the rest of a day."
"Science project coming up," Trevor repeated.
"Aw, come on!"
"No," said Lauren. "You can't go."
"But why not!?"
"Because it's for Creek. You'll be in class at Yeager. Sorry."
"It's not fair! How come you get to go and I don't!?"
"John, listen. You can't go because only my school is doing this. And you'll be in class tomorrow. I'm sorry, but it's just not possible."
"RRGH! You never let me do anything!" John then proceeded to go to his room, slamming the door enough to make Lauren's ears ring. There was the sound of something being moved.
Lauren rolled her eyes as she figured John was trying to block the door again. "You make a mess, you have to clean it up."
"Shut up!" came the boy's voice. Followed by the sound of him hitting the wall.
Under her breath, Lauren muttered, "I am so glad we don't share a wall."
Instead of going to history class, Derek went straight from math to the bus ramp. He wasn't the only one; Lauren came right from...whatever her second period class is (Spanish, as Derek would later find out), and soon Arthur from his Science. Fortunately, they managed to get seats near each other, Lauren getting a window seat next to Arthur, with Derek right across from them.
"Pants today?" said Derek. Lauren had forgone her usual skirt in favor of black Capri pants.
"Told you I had other things to wear," she said.
"Where'd the purse come from?" said Arthur.
"Well, we don't have to carry as much stuff today, so I left my bag at home."
Unfortunately, Derek soon found himself cut off from his friends, being crammed against the window by Mike.
"Uh... Hey, can you move?" said Arthur to Mike. "We kinda wanna talk to our friend there."
Mike looked at Derek, then back at Arthur. "Nope," he said. Then he turned his attention past Arthur to Lauren. "Hey, haven't I seen you before?"
"Not that I'm aware of, no," lied Lauren.
"Yeah," said Mike. "It was a couple weeks ago in the locker room."
"Wait, when was this?" said Arthur.
"A couple weeks ago," said Mike. "I was looking for this loser-" He jabbed a thumb at Derek. "-and you came out with some pilot chick from the 20's or something."
"Oh yeah," said Lauren. "I remember now. I would've reported you for barging into the wrong locker room if I didn't have to be somewhere else."
"Who was that chick anyway?" The bus started up at this point.
"I dunno. We left the room at the same time. What's with the third-degree?"
Derek mentally sighed at Lauren's evasiveness.
"I just wanna know. See if I can meet her or something."
"Well if I see her, I'll tell her to keep the hell away from you."
"Hey, can we ignore him?" said Arthur. "I'd rather have a conversation about something interesting."
"Sure," said Lauren. "Though I'd rather have Derek in the conversation. Hey meathead, can you trade seats with him?"
Mike's response was to scoot closer to the window, actively squishing Derek against it. And he kept a smug grin on the whole time.
"Mike, get off," said Derek.
"Tch. Make me," said Mike.
Derek put both hands on the wall and pushed, trying to give himself space. He seemed to succeed in pushing Mike back, until Mike slammed backwards, smacking Derek against the window and straining his elbows.
"Hey!" said Arthur. "What the hell's your problem?"
"Ha ha. Fuck off, buddy," said Mike.
It was Lauren's turn. "HELP! MOLESTATION ALERT!" She pointed over Arthur's head at Mike.
All attention was drawn to the four. Despite both the accusation and half the attention being aimed directly at what Mike was doing, Mike still didn't give Derek any breathing room. Instead, he looked at Lauren, giving a face that seemed to say "What the hell are you doing?" all on its own.
["Alright, what is going on back there?"] came the bus driver's voice.
"Yeah, he's crushing my friend on purpose," said Arthur.
"Am not!" said Mike. But he still wasn't moving.
"You are too," said Arthur. "You're still crushing him."
The bus turned off, and the driver got up. She was a bit overweight and in her late forties, wearing a teal blue T-shirt with the local elementary school name on it, her short-ish brown hair in a ponytail. She looked over at Lauren, Mike, Derek, and Arthur (who joined Lauren in pointing at Mike too), and scowled. "Young man, I drive grade-schoolers who are better behaved than you. Give him some breathing room or I'll write you up."
"Ooh," said Mike mockingly. "I'm so scared! A write-up!"
"Do you want me to call the AP?"
"Like they're gonna do anything."
The bus driver turned back to her seat and grabbed her radio. "This is bus 1182 parked at Cypress Creek High School. I need an assistant principal to bus 1182."
Mike either didn't get the hint, or he deliberately ignored it, because he pushed even closer to the window, squishing Derek even more.
This didn't last long as the AP was there in less than ten seconds. "What's going on?"
"One of those boys is crushing another one against the window."
The AP looked over at Mike, who was actively leaning back against Derek. He then sighed. "Mike, come on. Let's go."
Mike didn't move. "Why? I signed up for this trip."
"Mike, we both know how this is gonna end, so let's just skip to that part. Off the bus."
The AP sighed again. "Alright. If you wanna go there." He pulled up his walkie-talkie. "Constable to bus 1182. It's Mike Parker again."
"Alright, I'm going." Mike got up and followed the AP out the door.
"Thank God," said Derek and Arthur in unison.
The bus ride up was relatively uneventful. Arthur had brought his DS and was playing Scribblenauts, which caught Derek's and Lauren's interest. Arthur was testing things out on the title screen and made a lawyer wield a chainsaw against a vampire with a baseball bat, just for the hell of it.
The bus finally pulled up to the museum at around 10 and let everyone off. A school staff member who had gotten there early handed wristbands and entry tickets to each student as they left the bus. Derek, Lauren, and Arthur followed the rest of the students to the front door, noticing the giant sundial on their way in.
The museum was divided into two parts. The lobby stretched down the middle, holding the ticket lanes, snack bars, bathrooms, and some theaters on the left side, and ending at the far end with the impressive butterfly habitat. The right side held the actual exhibits, with a few entrances running down the wall.
"Okay, so where do we go first?" said Arthur.
"How about there?" said Derek, pointing to the first exhibit entrance. "That's where the Terracotta Soldier is, right?"
"I don't know," said Lauren. "They didn't give me a map."
"Who needs a map?" said Arthur. "We're here until 2 anyway. We can probably just wander."
They talked back and forth for a bit before deciding to start with the dinosaur exhibit. The prominent feature was the diplodocus skeleton standing in the middle of the room, the tail having to curve so that the whole thing would fit. There was a diagram saying which of the dinosaur's individual bones were actual fossils and which were replicas (and a good most of them were replicas). Nearby was a classic T-Rex fossil.
"Hey," said Arthur, "wanna go see if the Egypt section has some gold tablet or something?"
"Why?" said Lauren.
"You know, like in that movie?"
Derek and Lauren looked at him in confusion.
"Am I the only one who saw Night at the Museum?"
"Oh," said Derek. "That. Right. Sorry, forgot."
"I wonder who came up with this. Putting the Periodic Table right next to the Loch Ness Monster."
"Loch Ness?" said Arthur.
Lauren pointed to the Plesiosaur fossil that sat encased in glass, separating the base for the Diplodocus and the curved wall that had a glass Periodic Table of Elements on it.
They soon wandered away from the main two-story dinosaur chamber and into the smaller ground-floor section on smaller dinosaurs and Ice Age animals. Derek still wanted to turn around and see the Terracotta Soldier, but it wasn't gonna get up and walk away, so he could afford to wait.
At the end of the prehistoric section was the science section. Stuff like weather, space travel, and oil. The centerpiece of the section was a massive pendulum strung from the ceiling two stories up. As the pendulum swung, the Earth's rotation would cause it to slightly turn, and eventually it would knock over a domino. There were over a hundred dominoes arranged in a circle, several of them already knocked over. The pendulum was getting close to tipping one of the dominoes, but that was still minutes away from happening.
"Who picks those dominoes back up?" said Derek.
"A staff person?" said Lauren.
They wandered back to the chemistry section for a bit, then went up to the second floor above the science section. There, they were met with surprise. The Terracotta Soldier exhibit was there, rather than further back.
"Huh. Guess we don't have to backtrack after all," said Derek, wandering ahead.
"What's with him and history?" said Arthur to Lauren.
"I dunno. He said it was his best subject. Never seen him act this excited over stuff before." Which was...true. She hadn't actually seen Derek get excited about his powers.
They started to look towards one of the displays when Arthur spoke up again. "Sooo... You and Derek are friends, huh?"
"Huh?" said Lauren. "Well, kinda."
"Kinda? I saw you and him talking in the cafeteria before class on Monday. What's the deal?"
Lauren hesitated only briefly before pulling up a plausible...no, an entirely correct answer. "Well, he was looking for a math tutor, and I volunteered."
"Ah, yeah. Makes sense." But then he paused again. "So, how come you started to hang out at our table?"
"I dunno. Derek seemed alright. And when I saw him sitting near Carol, I thought maybe I could, I dunno, try to patch things up."
"Yeah, sorry about her."
Lauren shrugged. "She's not really the best kind of friend, looking back."
There was an even greater hesitation now before Arthur spoke up again. "Hey, there's a McDonalds type thing downstairs. You wanna go grab a bite to eat or something?"
Lauren looked over at him, first in slight surprise and confusion, then in incredulity.
"Oh, right," said Arthur. "Guess you have a thing about that. Um... Well, I'm gonna go eat."
And with that, Arthur wandered towards the stairs. But he looked back at Lauren. He considered going over to her, but decided against. She's spending more time with Derek, he thought. 'Sides, it's not like she's the only girl out there.
Lauren and Derek met back up in the middle of the exhibit. It was relatively crowded, being the exhibit's opening day and all, so they tried to pull towards the corner, near the African Animals exhibit. "Where's Arthur?" asked Derek.
"He went downstairs for food."
"Ah. Yeah, it's getting close to lunch time."
"Nah, we've still got an hour or so."
"Alright, so...there's the American History exhibit right above us."
"What is with you and history?" said Lauren. "I've never seen you this excited about stuff."
"Hey, you'd probably be the same way if-" Derek leaned in to whisper. "-this were a comic book museum."
Lauren hesitated for a moment, before nodding in agreement.
"Right, so let's go." Derek started to head towards the stairs.
Lauren followed, but someone bumped into her. "Sorry," she said.
"'s alright," said the man, before continuing off.
Lauren took a couple more steps before she noticed something was off. "Wait, did..." She looked down at herself, then over at the guy. "Hey!"
"What?" said Derek.
"That guy stole my purse!" She started running after him. Derek followed.
The man stepped around and behind a display. When Lauren darted around, he wasn't there. "What? Where'd he go?"
Derek only paused for a few moments at the confusion before continuing on, slowing down and looking left and right to see if he could spot the stranger. He wasn't in the animal exhibit, and he wasn't visible in the dinosaur exhibit below.
That's when Derek spotted something odd. Two police officers in front of the entrance to the mineral exhibit. Derek led Lauren over to them. "Hey," he said, "have you two seen a guy with a purse running through here?"
"Pfft," said one of the guards. "A guy with a purse? What kind of queer would do that?"
"Well," said Lauren, "the purse is stolen for one. He bumped into me, swiped my purse, and ran off."
"That would make a lot more sense," said the same guard.
"What'd the guy look like?" said the second guard.
"I dunno. I didn't get a very good look at him. Black hair, kind of a light blue ja- That's him!" She pointed into the hall.
The guard turned and looked. "There's nobody there," he said, turning back. "That hall's empty."
"But there was someone in there. Check the security footage." said Derek.
"That's the reason there's no one in there," explained the second guard. "Security camera are out, and the gem vault won't open for some reason."
"Couldn't you keep the mineral part open and have some cops in there?"
"Better safe than sorry," he said. "Now, what'd this guy look like again?"
Lauren gave the man's description, which she understood a lot better now that she'd seen him. Maybe not the facial details, but it was unlikely that there'd be two skinny white men with black hair dressed in the exact same blue jacket, black shirt, jeans, and Converse sneakers.
While Lauren was giving her description, Derek was fidgeting. He saw the guy too, saw how he stepped out from behind a wall, then simply vanished when the cop had turned to look. That wasn't possible, was it? But then, neither was flying or shapeshifting. So what was it?
Lauren had finished her description as well as the description of her purse, its contents, her name, Derek's (as witness), and the school's. The security guard assured her that her purse would be found, and they'd flag down a school official when they saw the guy. The other guard stepped back into the hall to check for any sign of anyone. Meanwhile, Derek said he and Lauren would go downstairs to look for an AP and give them a heads-up.
Downstairs, Derek was leading Lauren towards the bathroom next to the T-Rex, when they spotted the guy again. He bumped into some woman, then seemed to jump forward spontaneously, holding the woman's purse in his hand. The strap was unbroken and fell unsupported. The man then stepped around an exhibit, out of sight.
"You see that?" said Derek.
"Teleporting," said Lauren.
"That's what I figured. What now?"
"I dunno. The cameras and the gem vault not working sounds like a perfect set-up for a hideout."
"We have to check it out."
"How? You'd have to be invisible to get past those guards."
Derek looked at her, ready to say the idea had already crossed his mind, but saw she was looking at him like he should take the damn hint already.
"Right. We have to be careful." He entered the men's room.
"Wait, shouldn't you..." She tilted her head towards the women's bathroom.
"I'm not going in there like this," he said, letting the door close. He also remembered the last time he was in the women's bathroom and wasn't eager to be in the same place. Though now that it had crossed his mind, the memory was springing up.
The sound of someone peeing snapped him out of it. He couldn't very well change if someone was in there. But then the stalls had privacy. He stepped into a small stall and locked it, then waited. And waited. And finally the person left. He took a deep breath. Okay, here we go. With a bit of willpower, he began to transform, hoping nobody would come in and see his feet morphing.
Fortunately, that didn't happen. After a second or two of no interruptions, his transformation was complete. She only briefly noticed a vague reflection of her long white hair before turning her attention immediately to turning invisible, hiding herself from everyone.
Stepping cautiously, she left the stall and approached the door. It offered surprisingly little resistance. Derek stepped around the exhibits and up the stairs to the second floor. It's a good thing I'm invisible, she thought, or this would be very embarrassing. She thought so because the shin-length dress around her was far too loose and flowy, more like a nightgown than a dress, and it and a pair of panties were the only thing she was wearing. It was like she'd just gotten out of bed.
The cops didn't see her at all, thank God, as she stepped past them. They were talking for a moment about seeing nobody in there. Derek stepped through the hall, around the exhibits, rounding the corner, to find both doors to the gem vault closed. Definitely a perfect hideout, thought Derek. Now, how do I get in and find out if that's what it's for? Derek put her hands on the vault door. How to get in? She turned over the ideas for a second before one came to her. Could...could I really...
She turned to face the vault door and put a hand on it. Alright... Now. She willed her thought into reality as her hand sank into the door as easy as it would move through air. It was hard for her to believe it, considering she wouldn't dare make herself visible, but she could somewhat feel the texture of the door's interior. She stepped forward, not daring break her concentration, and soon felt the feeling of air on her hand, with the metal door around her elbow. She continued further, until her face was at the wall. Fighting aside the understandable natural instinct to not try and walk through walls, she...well, walked through the wall. She pulled back for a second as her nose found it impossible to take in air, then held her breath as she pushed her head through.
The gem displays were still lit for some reason. A couple dozen gemstones cut, set, and polished in exactly the right ways to make their values skyrocket into the tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars. Beautiful gems of all colors set in ornate decorations of all metals. Each secure in its own glass enclosure, some of which sitting in the middle of the room like a table.
And in a pile in a corner was a pile of purses.
Derek dropped her invisibility and looked for Lauren's purse. Finding it wasn't hard. But then she had to figure out what to do with everyone else's stolen purses. And how to get them out, considering she remembered when she'd gone invisible the first time but her backpack didn't. She assumed that applied to passing thr-
"Hey!" said a voice. Derek spun around in surprise to see the man staring at her, another purse in his hands. "How the hell did you get in here?"
Derek stepped backwards a bit, forgetting the pile of purses long enough for her to trip over them.
This got the man laughing as Derek stood up. "Alright, that. Was funny," he finally said.
"Who are you?" said Derek in a voice that was a bit high-pitched and almost childlike, but still sounded reasonable for a 16-year-old.
The man sighed. "I don't think that matters. What matters is how you got in here." He tossed the new purse into the pile and took a step. Derek stepped back, around the displays in the middle.
"How did you get in here?" said Derek.
"I asked first."
"I don't think I have to answer that."
"Good, then neither do I." He turned his attention to the purses and started to look through the new one.
"What are you doing with those?"
"Just taking what I need," he said, pulling out a wallet. He looked through it and found some cash. "Sheesh. Ones and fives? Big spender, lady." He folded the cash and stuffed it into a brown bag Derek hadn't noticed.
"Put that back!" said Derek. "That's not yours!"
"Am I supposed to care? Look, you're some kind of do-gooder from the sounds of things, so hear me out. I'm not taking credit cards; they can just cancel them later. I'm not taking phones, not when they all have GPS stuff nowadays and can track me down. I'm leaving the keys, the ID, the cameras, the Tic Tacs, the makeup... Really all I need is the raw cash. They can have everything else back, which is worth more than a few dollar bills, so in the end I haven't really taken anything they'll miss." He picked up a purse at random and handed it to Derek.
"Stealing is still wrong. What if they still need that money? Now give it back."
Derek reached for the bag, but the man grabbed his wrist. "Can't let you do that, Star Fox."
Escape was easy. Derek just phased her arm and pulled away, causing the thief to look on in surprise at Derek's powers.
Or, that's how it would've gone, if her powers worked that way. As it was, her hand remained in the man's grip. Derek looked in confusion at this. "What? Why isn't it working?"
"Isn't what working?" said the man. Derek suddenly felt a slight disorientation, and saw her surroundings were slightly different. She was still in the vault, her hand held by the guy, but they were in a different corner. The man let go, then just disappeared.
She heard shuffling, then looked at the corner again. He was by the pile of purses, picking cash out of them. "A fifty? Score."
"Your teleporting looks like bad editing," said Derek.
"Yeah, now's not the time to put some flair on it," he said, "but if you insist..." He then disappeared, leaving a puff of smoke to billow briefly like a mushroom cloud before fading away. The noise of him working was coming from behind him now. Derek stepped to him, but he poofed away again, this time leaving a few purple sparkles where he was that too faded away. Derek stepped back to the purse pile, where he was before disappearing again in a puff of smoke.
"Hold still!" she said.
"Yeah, not likely." This was from immediately behind Derek now, startling her enough to make her jump backwards.
Towards a display. Derek only had a brief time to react before crashing. So she phased through the glass, the gem, everything before stopping.
Unfortunately, phasing through the glass meant she tripped some sensors she didn't know were in the display cases. Which set off an alarm. A resounding THUNK came from the door as it unlocked itself.
"Aw crap," said the man. "I thought I cut that one." He poofed over to the purses and started working even faster. "Look, Kitty, fact is you're in a vault full of gems and stolen purses with the guy who took 'em. You wanna get out of here, or..."
He was interrupted by Derek gasping for breath.
"Huh. Guess there's no air in there to breathe with. Well, that should buy me some time."
"No," said Derek. "You're gonna stay here and answer for your crimes."
"Oh jeez, really? Come on. I'm the Little Leagues here. Purse-snatching? Why don't you go after murderers and rapists, instead of something this minor?"
Derek grabbed a purse he was starting to pick up, but he teleported a few inches to the side, taking the purse with him. "You're new to all this, aren't you?"
"So what?" snapped Derek.
"So, I'm pretty sure superheroes having visible underwear isn't supposed to be that literal." Derek looked down at herself while the man kept talking. "What, you couldn't afford spandex?"
"I-" But then, Derek remembered what else she could do, and promptly faded to invisibility.
The man looked surprised, but then smirked. "Good trick," he said, teleporting next to the vault door, holding the brown bag of money. He could faintly hear people on the other side. "Well, wherever you are, looks like it's time to make my dramatic escape." He teleported to the other side of the opposite wall, to the exhibit with ocean shells and sea fossils, but quickly realized something. An invisible hand was clutching his jacket. "What the- Let go of me!" he said, shoving the invisible Derek aside, then teleported again.
Derek recovered and phased through the exhibit, spotting him over to his left, at the balcony between the stairs and the mineral hall. He was looking down at people, his expression unreadable.
Hoping to waste no time, Derek started towards the man, still invisible, hoping to grab the bag of stolen cash out of the man's hand. But someone shouted at him, and he looked over at the mineral hall, then teleported away. Derek spotted him on the other side of the room, directly across from him, separated by a wide gap through which the dinosaurs were visible. People were staring, whispering, shouting.
Right now, Derek's mind was filled with one desire: "Catch him."
Derek ducked back behind the exhibits, crouching down and looking left and right to see if she'd be spotted. For now, she was in the clear.
First, she transformed back. Her invisibility failed the instant she tried to, but she was only a nightgown-clad girl in public for a second before she was back to his fully-clothed normal self. Then, he transformed again.
Lauren was in the lobby area looking for a school official. She spotted a cameraman and a reporter headed towards the back, probably going towards the Terracotta Soldier exhibit. Everyone else was. She wondered why they were here. The exhibit was on the news before, weeks ago when it was announced. It wasn't exactly a national story. Maybe it was just a local interest broadcast.
If this teleporting thief was caught on camera, that broadcast's priority might jump up to national levels. She was sure people might be trying to flag down the reporters; she and Derek couldn't have been the only people to notice him in action.
"Hey!" came a familiar voice. Arthur waved her over from a lunch table.
As Lauren approached, Arthur was about to say something when she cut him off. "You seen an AP around here?"
"Not recently, no," he said. "Why?"
"Well, someone stole my purse, and I need to flag down an AP and tell 'em."
"Ouch, that sucks."
"No kidding. It has my phone, my credit card, my Social Security Number..."
"Why do you keep your Social in your purse? Where people could steal it?"
"I dunno. Just in case I need it."
"Well, let's... Hey, what's that?" He looked past Lauren, towards the main entrance. There was something moving in the air. Something that looked like a person wearing brown...
"Oh no," said Lauren. Ignoring Arthur, Lauren started towards the scene.
The teleporting thief popped closer, and Amelia turned and spotted him, flying in his direction. "Get back here!" she shouted. He held still for a moment, before teleporting again, this time appearing near the food court. An amused smirk on his face. He looked back at Amelia.
His smirk vanished when he saw Amelia was right in front of him. She grabbed his jacket just before he had time to disappear. And then both of them vanished.
"What the hell was that?" said Arthur.
Lauren was just staring.
The two of them appeared above the roof by a few feet. Between gravity and momentum, they were going to land in a way that would crash him onto concrete and gravel. So he teleported again, back indoors. Sideways, so that the near-vertical cable of the pendulum would be right in front of Amelia and not the thief.
Unfortunately, the pendulum was in such a place that the thief hit the cord, not Amelia.
The impact still jarred Amelia enough to make her let go, not to mention she had to suddenly steer and brake to avoid crashing into stuff or people. She looked back at the thief, who had recovered enough to stand on his feet, holding the bag with a taunting smirk.
She flew towards him, but he poofed away again. "Behind you," he said. Amelia turned around and flew towards him, and he vanished again, appearing in the lobby, making sure she could still see him. When she was in the lobby again, he teleported further down, and she gave chase. Then he teleported up, and grabbed a beam on the ceiling with one hand, holding the bag with the other. Amelia looked around, wondering where he was. "Up here!" he shouted, and she turned to face him, flying up after him. Then he let go and teleported to the ground.
"Hold still!" said Amelia.
"Why? This is too much fun!" He teleported further back, closer to the bulk of the crowd. "You're so hung up on catching me. Trying to make me return this." He held up the bag, before teleporting again. "Trying to make me 'face justice' and all that. I gotta admire your focus, kid. Not to mention your powers; ghosting, flight, and shapeshifting between the two. A lot of people would kill for even one of those. You lucked out. Though I really wish I could've seen you change. Heh."
He teleported, now standing on Amelia's shoulders, weighing her down. In instinct, she spun, causing him to stumble, but he once again teleported and was now on the ground, propped against the wall. "Shoulda seen that coming. Where was I? Oh yeah. See, you got one small problem." He teleported to resting his stomach on a beam. "Your almost single-minded determination doesn't really help. When you're doing anything, you gotta look at the bigger picture."
"Like what? Arresting you?"
He smirked, and 'ported to another beam. "Lemme tell you a story. I could've easily just jumped to the roof and got away scot-free. But, see I've been waitin' for a couple months now for an excuse to show off. So here I am, collecting funds for my light bill, and what happens? Some girl ghosts through the wall and tries to be a hero. And that's all the excuse I need to drop the act, to stop hiding or pretending this doesn't exist."
"And the point of this is...?"
"Don't you get it? Smile. You're on Candid Camera." He gestured with his free hand to the crowd below.
Amelia followed his hand gesture to notice the people below her. Staring up at her, gawking, whispering, pointing, aiming their cell phones... Was that a news crew!?
"Not used to the spotlight, huh? Have fun!" And the thief vanished again, taking his pilfered cash with him.
Amelia hardly noticed. Her attention was on the crowd. She was inwardly panicking.
And then the questions started. "Hey! Who are you?" "Who was that guy?" "What's your name?" "Are you a superhero?" "Did he say something about shapeshifting?" "Freebird!" "What's with the Amelia Earhart getup?" "Are you a witch?" "Don't just float there. Say something!" "Miss! We need your report for the police investigation!"
Amelia looked up--well, forward, really--at the balcony and saw the police officers from before.
"Your report? For the police investigation?"
"Uh, right. Yes!" Amelia flew to the balcony and landed safely on the ground.
The crowd below was starting to move towards the stairs.
"That's not good," said the cop. "We need to find somewhere we can keep them out of."
"Back rooms?" suggested Amelia.
"That- We don't have much time. Let's move."
Lauren and Arthur were waiting at the food area, Arthur busy looking online from his cell phone. "Hey, look at this," he said, showing Lauren a forum thread about the girl. People were apparently trying to find a name for her. Her resemblance to Amelia Earhart was a common starting point, but plenty of names were suggested. Most of them crappy, embarrassing, or already copyrighted.
"I think Supergirl's a good name," said Arthur.
"Yeah, that one's taken," said Lauren.
"By who?" said Arthur.
"Comic books? I thought it was common knowledge."
"So what? Someone in real life gets to claim the name."
"Well if someone famous enough already has the name, that'd be stealing. Or copyright infringement."
Some woman's name was announced on the intercom, instructing her to go at the front desks. No doubt to retrieve her stolen purse.
"Fine. What about..." He scrolled down the speculations. "Red Flyer. No, wait, that's a wagon company. Um... The Red Baroness?"
"That...doesn't really sound very 'heroey'."
"That..." Lauren paused for a moment.
"Nah, that one's not really a superhero type name. What about-"
"No no no no, what's the reasoning behind that one?"
"Huh? Uh... Well, she looks like Amelia Earhart, so that's part of it. And that warping guy said she had other powers, so there's that one. But come on, that's not really a clever name. What about the other more superhero-ey names? Power Girl's gotta-"
"A copyrighted DC character?"
Another name on the intercom to collect their things at the front.
"Come on. You've gotta pick one of-"
"Do I have to choose? She'll pick the name she wants to pick." Lauren made a mental note to look for this forum later on her laptop.
"Yeah, but come on. You gotta have some sort of idea here. A preference or something? Here, what about Wonderella?"
"I dunno. That sounds more princessey than heroic."
"The Flying... Failure? Oh, this guy doesn't think she's very 'heroic' at all. She didn't catch the bad guy."
"He was teleporting. You try catching Nightcrawler on his best day."
"I didn't say that. It's this guy online. I saw what you saw. That warp dude wasn't even trying. Was like he was just messing with her."
["Lauren Carter, please report to the front desk. Lauren Carter to the front desk. Thank you."]
"That's my cue." Lauren stood up and walked to the front lines area. Meanwhile Arthur followed her, still scrolling through the list.
"There you guys are," came Derek's voice.
"Derek!" exclaimed Arthur. "Where were you?"
"Bathroom. Burritos, I guess. And then there was a big crowd. I tried to figure out what was going on. They said something about a superhero fight?"
"Aw man. You missed it! This flying girl comes from out of nowhere and starts chasing down this teleporting guy, who keeps jumping around with a bag of cash or something. And she can't even catch him 'cause he's spamming his powers like a jackass. Man, it was cool watching that stuff happen. Can you really believe it?"
Derek hesitated before saying, "I guess. I mean, I saw that Waterbender at Galveston. This doesn't seem that impossible, really."
"Yeah, sorry for doubting you on that."
"Excuse me?" It was a woman. Dressed professionally. With a microphone. And a guy with a camera. "I couldn't help but overhear. You saw what happened?" Her attention was on Arthur.
"Yep," said Arthur.
"Good. We're conducting an interview for Channel 11 news about the recent event. Would you like to give your take on what happened?"
"Sure," said Arthur. "Well I was just eating lunch, then our friend comes up and-"
"Hold on a sec. We need to get the camera rolling."
"Actually I'm gonna step over here," said Derek.
"Camera shy?" said the reporter.
Derek shrugged. He couldn't say that he didn't want to risk people figuring it out. But then, that in mind, avoiding the camera would look suspicious. "You know what? Never mind."
The camera man started up and counted down a bit, after which the reporter repeated her question to Arthur. Arthur answered, giving Derek an interesting account of things that happened. She then turned her attention to Derek, who elaborated on Arthur's point about Lauren's stolen purse, brief meeting with the cops, and subsequent search for an AP.
"I thought you went to the bathroom," said Arthur.
"I'm not allowed to take bathroom breaks?" said Derek.
"So, what about the incident at Galveston? You said you witnessed it?"
And Derek retold what he saw happen. Or, his cover that he told Jason and his parents shortly after it happened. He was glad he remembered it and was practicing it in his head.
"Would you say the two incidents are related in any way?" asked the reporter.
"Probably," said Arthur. "Warp said that flying girl had some kind of shapeshifting. Could've been the same girl."
"Oh, the Internet's already guessing about stuff. They named that teleporting guy 'Warp'."
"Interesting. But, we're not here to speculate names from the Internet."
"Well, I have to say, thank you for your time and input."
"You're welcome," said Derek.
"No problem," said Arthur.
A few more pleasantries, and the reporter went somewhere else. Derek then addressed Lauren, who arrived early on but kept back, listening to the whole thing.
"How come you didn't want to be on camera?" asked Derek.
"How come you did?" replied Lauren.
Derek hesitated for a moment, then nodded, admitting to her point.
"So, now what?" said Arthur. "All this superhero stuff, I don't think the museum's interesting anymore."
"I'll be honest," said Lauren, "I'm kinda curious to how this is gonna play out. Superheroes are real. Maybe a hundred people saw live proof of that, and it's gonna make national news."
"Yeah," said Derek, "and it sounds like that Warp guy isn't gonna just hide." He was saying that partly to himself.
"Warp was gonna show himself anyway," said Arthur.
The three of them thought for a moment before Arthur suggested to Derek, "Hey, you missed it. There's a bunch of YouTube videos. Wanna check 'em out?"
"Sure," said Derek. He rarely got to see himself using his powers.
"It was kinda cool to watch," said Lauren.
They returned to a table and watched the video. There were no subtitles, and the audio was choppy, so they couldn't make out what Warp and the flying girl were saying.
"Okay, yeah, that was pretty cool," said Derek. "Dang. Wish I'd been out here."
"You and just about everyone online," said Arthur.
"One forum and some YouTube pages don't qualify as everyone," said Lauren.
"Forum? Oh yeah, the forum." And Arthur showed them the forum. Aside from the name topic, there was a topic for the superheroine's powers, one for her motives, conspiracy theories, government reactions, secret identities, all sorts of things. And it hadn't even been an hour since she'd first appeared.
"Wow. Internet works fast," said Derek.
"'Course it does. That's Twitter and stuff. A guy farts and half the world knows about it instantly."
"Internet," mused Lauren. "I don't think I've ever heard of a superhero in the Internet age. ...well Tony Stark maybe, yeah. And Thor."
"Who?" said Arthur.
"...You don't know who Thor is?"
"No no, he's a Norse god or something. Who's Tony Stark?"
"Iron Man, right?" said Derek.
"Ah yeah, him," said Arthur. "There's that cartoon about him."
"And two movies, yeah," said Lauren.
"I saw the commercials a few years ago," said Derek.
"Well, whatever." He turned to Derek. "You gotta check out some of these names they're coming up with."
They spent their time browsing the forum, talking about the superheroine, or eating (since they were hungry). But eventually, the excitement died down, and they turned their attention back to the museum. They decided to check the downstairs exhibits about space, caught an IMAX film about black holes, and checked out the butterfly habitat. Derek also took a detour to see if the pendulum was realigned (it was). And before they knew it, it was two o'clock, and they were back to the bus. This time, Derek had the window seat with Lauren, and Arthur was across from them.
As the bus started up, Derek made one quick whisper.
"Amelia Powers. Definitely."