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Static Justice

By @maykrebey

Justice Begins

As a child, Cas would spend the afternoon everyday sitting in front of the TV, too close to be good for her eyes. She could see how some of the pixels had become cloudy and more faded compared to the rest by excessive use. She would hold a remote in her small hands, and with her pointer finger, pointedly change the channel continually, letting the speakers crackle and pop before a new image and matching voices appeared. Then she would push the button again. She built up a rhythm, making a snap decision to pass by various commercials, soap operas, and college sports games. Even when she saw something that caught her attention, she kept pressing rhythmically, moving on to the next channel before that spark of interest could stop her. She always had to backtrack to find what had caught her attention.

One night, when she was about twelve years old and home alone, she heard, “They must be stopped—” before the tv crackled and popped again. She clicked back to the scene of a press conference. There was a man with a green mask and a brown quiff that caught the light of flashing cameras held by the reporters who surrounded him. His eyes sparkled as his face crinkled into a smile and he spoke charismatically into the dozen or so microphones.

“—n’t care what it takes to bring these monsters down. They’re a menace to our society. They rob our banks, terrorize our streets, and put our citizens in danger. They draw us heroes out, hoping to take us down so that they can run rampant. They incite a brawl with heroes like me, and destruction and death are the results. Their misconduct requires us to enforce justice, and it’s our job to do whatever it takes to ensure they don’t escape justice. They’re cowards who don’t care that their choices result in destructive consequences. There is no hope for them.”

As he spoke, Cas read the text that was scrolling below the row of microphones:

Mistress Inferno Breaks into Museum; Neighboring School Destroyed in Brawl with The Green Giant, Super Villain Bites the Dust When She Tries to Flee the Scene.

By now, any remaining smile had been erased from the masked man’s face, and his eyes flared with scorching heat. His voice rumbled deep in his throat as he spoke more aggressively. “This scourge caused the many deaths that happened today, and so she had to be taken down. I don’t regret what I did. I was doing my job of protecting our fair city from those who ignore the law. It isn’t always easy, but those who pose a threat will have swift justice as long as I am around.”

The screen jumped to the scene of a newsroom, where a well-groomed older man in a gray suit and a young blonde woman were gently nodding along with what was being said, broad, megawatt smiles on their faces as the camera zoomed in on them. The man turned his chair to face the camera, ultimately staring deep into Cas’s eyes as he declared, “What a hero. You can’t help but have immense respect for these people who protect us, who fight for justice and defend the law.” Cas couldn’t tear her eyes away, though a tightness of anxiety filled her heart. She didn’t understand at that moment why her heart filled with doom, but her stomach churned, cueing her that something she was witnessing was not quite right.

The plastic-looking female co-anchor took over the screen, and with glee, tittered, “It is truly amazing! For those who have just tuned in, Mistress Inferno, an infamous super villain who has been responsible for many robberies and heists in our society’s greatest landmarks and most affluent banks, starting when she was sixteen years old. Today, she was stealing several pieces of artwork from the Downtown Metropolitan Museum of Art and Culture when the super hero known as the Green Giant intervened. She tried to flee the scene, resulting in a showdown, ending with the destruction of several civilian cars, police vehicles, as well as the costly damages to Brighton Elementary School—”

The image changed to an aerial shot of the devastated downtown area, and though the anchors kept speaking over the footage, Cas only heard her heart beating in her ears. Brighton Elementary? That’s where mom works! She leaned closer to the screen as she studied the rubble, hoping that one of the moving pixels would reveal that her mother was part of the crowd that gathered from behind the police barriers. What she was too close to see and comprehend at the time, but would later connect in her mind, was there weren’t any fire trucks in action at the scene. The school was not burning, as would be expected from a villain whose power was solely fire. It seemed like it had been crushed, like a goldfish cracker on a preschool classroom tiled floor. As if a Giant had stepped on it as it rampaged through the city.

The house phone loudly rang, breaking her concentration. She rushed to the phone, looked at the tiny screen, and saw that her dad’s name up on caller ID. She pushed the green button to answer, as she had done thousands of time before, but the sickening fear flipped violently in her stomach as she raised the phone to her ear.

“Hello? Dad?”

“Sweetie, I need you to listen carefully. I need you to grab a duffle bag from the hall closet and grab some changes of clothes. Grab some clean shirts for me from my dresser. Your grandma is coming to pick you up, so she should be there in twenty minutes. Be ready to leave as soon as she gets there. I’ll meet you guys there, okay?”

“Wait, Dad, what’s going on? Where are we meeting you?”

There was a slight pause, and for a second she thought she heard a small, shaky sob under the crackling of the landline, but it was too faint, she might have imagined it.

“Cas, Mom is at the hospital.”

Her heart locked up in her chest, and her fear-filled stomach dropped to the floor. Her thoughts seemed to be short circuiting, crackling and popping without stopping to rest on an image or sound entirely.

Crackle, pop “Brighton Elementar—” Crackle, pop “What a her—” Crackle, pop “Inferno, an infamous super vill—” Crackle, pop “I pledge allegiance to the flag of—” Crackle, pop “I’ll see you after schoo—” Crackle, pop “They must be stop—” Crackle, pop “I love you to the moon and—” Crackle, pop “I don’t regret what I did. I was doing my j—” Crackle, pop—

“Cas? Cas, are you still there?”

She was shaken from her daze, and in barely a whisper answered, “Yeah, I’m still here.” After a moment, her voice returned to her, and she asked what she thought she knew but didn’t want it confirmed. “Is mom going to be okay?”

A pause roared in her ears like a waterfall, making her feel like she was going to be submerged and eventually drown. Finally, he said, “I don’t know, Cas. I don’t know.”

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