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Smile for the Camera [IC]


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2pm, Thursday 2nd June 2011, GBN Tower

Siobhan's hands shook in the small dressing room she'd been assigned, the glass of water in her hand shaking enough to splatter wet droplets all over the couch she was hunched over on. Oh why, oh why, did I agree to be on the Kirk Talon show? she lamented, trying to keep her composure.

Nonetheless, she got up and paced back and forward nervously. Vampires? Fine. Werewolves? Great. Television debate? Nonononono. She put the glass down on the table, and her head in her hands.

"Well, wasn't this a bright idea," she sighed. Glancing at her watch and realizing she was on in fifteen minutes, she let loose a string of swear words and sat in front of the mirror, clicking her fingers over and over again to find an outfit she was happy with.

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Gabriel had been somewhat surprised by the television station's request.

'Still. It should work out for the best. I have a feeling I'm going to play "middle ground" here; Equinox is sincere, but a bit headstrong at times. And this other guy; I haven't heard a whole bunch about him, but what I have heard leaves me a bit frustrated. Painting a bad image on the Church much, pal? This should be "interesting", in every sense of the word.'

He looked around his dressing room. Seemed a bit pointless; his costume and mask covered so much the makeup tech had thrown her hands into the air and walked out, and there wasn't any need to change outfits. So he stood up and walked out of the room. After a moment, he nodded and walked down the hall a short ways to Siobhan's room. Stopping outside, he gently knocked, even as he used his incredible gift with sound to speak to her directly.

"Hey, Siobhan, you alright in there? Not too nervous, I hope. You ready for this?"

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With her back to the door, Siobhan clenched her teeth. "Yes. No. Maybe. I don't know." She grimaced, and spun, opening the door.

She was clad in a knee length black dress and black pumps, her pentacle hanging on the usual silver chain around her neck. She also had small, unobtrusive studs in either ear, and a bare minimum of make-up besides a little blusher and eyeshadow. "This looks alright? Because I told the wardrobe people I could just click my fingers and do it, but then I realised I wasn't sure what I was doing, and..." She caught herself and forced a bit of composure. "Let's just say, as a rule the mystic superhero community haven't got much experience with the media."

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Gabriel took an involuntary step back as the door opened a bit forcefully.

'She's in a mood for sure. Hopefully I can calm her down. Seems like nerves.'

Almost instantly, he gave her a soft, charming smile. He raised his hands in a calming, placating gesture.

"Hey now. Take another couple of deep breaths. It's alright if you're nervous. I'd wager your recent announcement has generated a fair bit of stress. But I imagine it will pay off in the positive. Just like today will probably stress us both out, but will be worth it in the end. If it helps, keep telling yourself I'm still on your side, even if we end up disagreeing here and there."

He gave her a conspiratorial wink, then a very quick, mostly objective once-over.

"You look more than "alright", my dear. I daresay you you "smashing", as the English might say."

He managed not to chuckle at giving her a measly English compliment.

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Siobhan nodded, and forced a small smile. "Thanks. You're right." She went to walk past Gabriel towards the set, patting him on the shoulder, then turned and actually gave a genuine smile. "But, please, don't use the English accent, even to compliment people. Just... don't."

Then she kept walking towards the bright light of the set. "Better hurry up, we've only got a few minutes before I have to show you up on national television." She tried to keep the grin from this fixed to her face as the sound technician fitted her up with a microphone.

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"There's a rare event. A woman telling me I'm right with no reservations. I'll have to remember that."

He blinked at the English accent comment. He normally had excellent control over his voice, especially in costume, such that he had no real discernible accent.

'She's right. I did sound like a bloody Brit there. Glad my parents didn't hear me. Dad would be mortified.'

He shook his head, and when he next spoke, it was in a light Irish accent, one that seemed utterly natural (though it wasn't quite as thick as his true natural accent). There was a large grin threatening to split his face.

"I suppose I'll spare everyone my horrible attempt at an English accent.

As for showing me up, my dear? I daresay I'd enjoy seeing that happen."

He followed her, pausing as she did to get his own microphone affixed. No reason to burn the energy to get heard without one.

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"Gooooooooood evening, and welcome to the Kirk Talon show!" smiled the clean cut, blond man, blue eyes twinkling as he waved to the audience in his clearly expensive suit. "Tonight, we're going to tackle the topic of magic, and its role in modern society" He gestured up at a blue carpeted set of steps to the left of the stage, leading up to a pair of unnecessarily showy red curtains.

"Allow me to introduce our first guests... Dr Karen Golding!" A blond bespectacled woman appeared from behind the curtains, clad in a navy blue pant suit, her hair tied up in a tight bun. Smiling, she walked down the steps and shook Talon's hand, taking a seat on one of two couches on the right hand side of the sound stage as the audience applauded politely.

"A professor of metahuman physics at Freedom City University, Dr Golding is here to represent a scientific view on our topic," continued Talon. "Our next guest is Gabriel, one of our city's respected superheroes and protectors. Give him a big hand everyone!" he shouted as the crowd began cheering and clapping loudly, looking at the curtain in anticipation.

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Suddenly, there was the sound of a trumpet, clear and strong, ringing throughout the studio. It cut off just as the curtains opened, and Gabriel walked through the opening. Or rather, floated through. He made the motions of walking, but there were distortions around his feet, and he was about 6 inches off the stage as he came down the steps. He waved energetically with both hands, a broad smile on his face. His whole person practically shines in the bright lights, his coat clearly having been cleaned and treated recently, to restore a nearly-new luster to it. He moved around as if his presence here was natural and good. When he spoke, his voice rang out crystal-clear, both to the live audience, and the people watching at home.

"A blessed evening to all of you here and abroad! It's my great honor to be here, it really is! I think we'll all have a great time tonight, and hopefully learn a little bit more than we knew before!"

With that, he float-walked over to his seat, swept his coat into a comfortable position, and sat down.

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Kirk Talon faltered slightly as the white-clad superhero stole the spotlight from him, but rallied admirably. Cutting off the fading off his smile by redoubling his efforts, widening his grin to show his pearly whites, he once again gestured at the curtains. "Ahem. Our next guest is Sven Yoltsin, the founder and president of The Movement For Youth Values. You may know him for his huge charity bash last week, which was covered here... on SuperVision!"

Yoltsin appeared at the top of the stairs, a tall man of obvious Russian descent, with high cheekbones and pale blond hair. His black eyes seemed to stare straight out from his face menacingly, but were offset by an effortless, disarming smile, which the man flashed before bowing politely at the mention of his charity work. Shaking Talon's hand, he walked to his seat casually, to the right of Gabriel, his entire demeanour charming and composed.

"Now, for our final guest. This woman has recently made the decision to go public with her secret identity in order to champion her cause, and has agreed to join us here tonight to bring her point of view to this discussion... Siobhan Drake, or as you may know her better, Equinox!"

Siobhan appeared at the top of the stairs, smiling nervously. Unsteadily, she made her way down the stairs, and sat down on the far right of the seating arrangement.

Talon grinned at the crowd. "That's all our guests, so let's get down to the real business of the show! First question, and a simple one, I think..." He pulled several cue cards from his pocket, and read from the top one. "Do you think magic is dangerous? Simple question, Gabriel, would you care to start?" One could barely notice him grit his teeth as he addressed the clearly more charismatic superhero.

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Gabriel kept his smile on his face, even as he noted the slight falter in Talon's steps.

'Hn. He should have known what he was getting into when he invited me. And if I can get the crowd excited about me being here, it'll make everything else easier.'

He managed not to narrow his eyes at Sven Yoltsin. He didn't quite like the man already, and his odd demeanor didn't help. He smiled more genuinely when Siobhan walked in. He spoke into her ear such that no others heard, and his mouth didn't seem to move at all.

"You're doing fine, Siobhan. Just take a couple deep breaths and relax. You'll do fine. May the best dashing hero in blinding white win."

The chuckle after he spoke assured her his bravado was only meant to relieve stress. Then, of course, they got down to "business". Gabriel settled back into his seat, affecting a posture of careful contemplation. When he spoke, it was in clear, measured tones with no discernible accent, what some might call "Newscaster English".

"You say it's a simple question, but it's not. Let me put it this way: Do you think gravity is dangerous? Friction? These are basic parts of our lives, but in the wrong context, they can kill us. Or, for a less abstract thought: Automobiles. In 2010, the United States experienced 32,708 deaths due to automobiles. Yet few people seem to think automobiles are some dangerous thing that should be banned. Instead, we recognize that accidents happen. And when negligence or malicious intent occur, we hold that party responsible.

Magic, in my mind, is the same way. I've met practitioners of several philosophies and methods. I've studied history to see examples of even more. Some used their magic to protect, some to heal, some to build, some to kill, some to conquer. Granted, our exact understanding of every aspect of magic is less, but we have plenty of evidence it is, in the end, a tool. And any tool can be dangerous, in the wrong hands.

So my "simple answer" would be: No, with a small smattering of Yes."

He gave the camera a wink and settled back, a polite grin on his face.

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"If I might interject," said Yoltsin politely, smiling. "They're not quite the same thing, are they? To drive a car, someone has to sit a driving test and get a license, pay for insurance, and when held accountable, can be tracked though these details. How would that work for magic users? No one is tracking them."

"I don't know," smiled Siobhan falsely, to hide her annoyance at this... person... annoying her quite so much. "The whole flying around glowing with a bright white light makes going incognito somewhat of a chore." The crowd gave a polite titter at this. "And frankly, we're not the only people around with dangerous powers. Look at, say, the entire superhuman population of Freedom City. Yes, there are villains, those who use their powers and skills for criminal ends. But..."

She threw up her hands. "Well, I don't think I should have to point out the good the Freedom League and the myriad other capes in this city do. Unless you want to advocate a new Moore Act, that is?" She raised an eyebrow at Yoltsin, but not before glancing behind her so the cameras wouldn't see and winking at Gabriel.

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Gabriel kept the smile on his face, as well as the relaxed posture. He did raise an eyebrow at Yoltsin's words, though.

"I will concede you have a point, Mr. Yoltsin."

He paused for dramatic effect.

"My analogy was decidedly imperfect. Here's another. Would you propose that everyone who does any level of weight training, martial arts training, self defense training, or similar activities has to go register themselves? Because that actually covers the reality of the range of magical abilities better.

Some people have a very, very minor talent and skill set. They can accomplish things on the scale of "my tomato plant grows healthy all the time" or some such. These would be like people who do simple weight training; in a desperate situation, maybe they would have more advantage to keep themselves alive than someone who lacks what they have. But it's not a huge factor. As I understand it, quite a lot of practitioners would be like this.

Another large chunk would be similar to those who do things like basic karate classes, or perhaps tai chi chuan, an art often employed by those of more...experienced...years in their life, to help increase their health. They have some basic skills applicable in a fight, but they're certainly not the type who could go out looking for one. In the same way, many others have some measure of skill and talent, but still can generally only do small things.

Only a select few could be compared to the likes of those we see movies made about, those martial artists who actually can take on 6 armed men without a scratch. And as Siobhan so gracefully pointed out, those individuals generally either become heroes or villains anyways. I don't see why magic should get treated more harshly than metahuman abilities, or various technological gadgets, when it comes to hero-centric legal codes. And villainy is villainy, whether it's some crazed necromancer, Doctor Stratos, or the Grue.

So, really, it comes back to the same point: Magic simply is. Barring some very specific fringe examples, it is neither good nor evil. It's simply a set of tools, tools that often seem to be custom-fitted to the user."

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"Well, exactly as you say, magic use should perhaps be tracked because of its wide range. The authorities have no way of knowing what any individual magic user can do, whereas a man who can shoot lightning is generally only able to shoot lightning," replied Yoltsin calmly.

"And yet there is still a wide range of effects one can perform with lightning control, with the sufficient scientific knowledge," said Dr Golding, ending her silence. "The ability to create magnetic forces or shut down machinery have been documented in my studies, and many other 'narrow' superpowers can actually be incredibly versatile in the hands of an experienced metahuman. Which ties neatly into Gabriel's point here, in that there are various ranges in skill in any field, be it magic, martial arts, or shooting lasers from one's eyes."

Talon quickly moved in, flicking over another card. "Alright," he said, in an exaggerated accent, nodding and winking for the camera. "Good points all round, but I think perhaps we're getting a little bogged down here. New question... why isn't everyone doing magic? If it can be so useful, and is allegedly a trained skill... why don't we all know it?"

Siobhan sighed. "A slang term often used in the community for having magic is "talent". And that works, to an extent, literally. At the risk of sounding arrogant, I have a lot of it, which is why I can do a lot of magic. But your average person just doesn't. It's not like learning guitar in that anyone can do it. It'd be more analogous to the only people able to play guitar being those highly skilled heavy metal musicians."

Yoltsin asked, without having the slightest hint of malice or sarcasm in his voice. "So it's a trait you're born with? Like, say, the Terminus Baby phenomenon? A malicious, unnatural external force, if you will?"

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"That's not really what I was aiming for as a point, no."

He lapsed into temporary silence as the others spoke, his smile a bit more genuine as the scientist spoke up in their favor as well. Then Talon asked his next question, and Gabriel let the real expert speak for a minute. Then Yoltsion opened his mouth, and Gabriel couldn't help himself any more.

He started laughing. Not a chuckle, but a good belly laugh that lasted about 15 seconds before he calmed himself.

"Wow, you ever heard of subtly, Yoltsin? Because we all know that the only naturally-born metahumans in the world are Terminus babies, right? Except there are plenty of people born every year with metahuman abilities that were never influenced by Terminus radiation of any sort."

Suddenly, Gabriel's face grows serious, and he leans forward a bit in his seat.

"Putting aside the rather shaky implication you're trying to make, that all people who've been somehow affected by Terminus energies are automatically suspect at best, you have to consider there's no inherent proof that "magic", as a whole, is any more "malicious" or "unnatural", than, say, gravity. Again, it's just energy. A tool. Only the very fringes in one way or another are such that they could notably affect wielders in some way or another, at least in the manner you're implying. I've seen several different sorts of magic-users. None of them were empowered by some sort of malevolent energy.

Now, the demons I've fought a couple of times, sure. But barring a couple of villain mages, no. In fact, I think I've met more heroic magic-users than I have villainous ones. I'd wager the overall statistics worldwide lean towards at least an even split. Kind of like, you know, humanity in general."

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"Ah, laughter," stared Yoltsin. "The mark of a true professional. And frankly, if you've not encountered any mages empowered by infernalism or necromancy without leaving aside those with more ambiguous sources, perhaps you're not especially experienced with magic. Ms Drake, I assume you can confirm that magic can be empowered by demons?"

Siobhan, in a stiff voice, managed to force out a "Yes." rather than a pyrokagius.

"So there is plenty of precedent for magic as a force powered by unsavoury sources. Now, as you admitted, you're unclear where the source of your powers are coming from. Now, I have never said you're a bad person for using them, but with that lack of concrete knowledge..." The man shrugged. "I don't think you can disprove my hypothesis."

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Gabriel's expression shifts from "mildly amused" to "annoyed" so fast the audience might get whiplash.

"Did I not just state there are certainly examples at the extreme edges of magic that are influenced by their source? Would that not include the likes of infernalism and the darkest necromancy? Or is it a mark of professionalism to engage in selective hearing?"

He calmly arched a brow at that question before pressing on.

"As for Siobhan, I think there is a saying from a book I greatly enjoy that applies here:

No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.

The Gospel of Luke. Chapter 6, verses 43-45.

The point being, of course, that we need only look at the fruits of her life to see that she is surely not empowered by some wicked, malicious energy.

And to head you off at the pass of "oh, but what about the fruit of evil mages", I'd remind you that it is, in the end, the choices people make that mark them as "good" or "evil" people. After all, I've seen technology work to harm scores of people, more often than magic, in fact."

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  • 2 weeks later...

"Woah, woah, woah," said Talon uneasily. "People, this is a friendly debate!" He laughed, clearly uneasy at Gabriel's raised voice, and the fact that Siobhan's jaw was clenched as she forced her eyes to remain in a non-glowing state.

"But, Mr T-" protested Yoltsin.

"Enough! We're moving on, people, I don't want my set trashed!" snapped the man, losing his cool, friendly cheesy demeanour. But with one deep breath, the grin was fixed back in place, and he professionally continued with the show.

"Now... how about you," he pointed at Yoltsin, grin fixed in place. "And Dr Golding." He smiled a bit more genuinely at the somewhat scared and bemused looking scientist. "Go take a break, while our two superheroes perhaps show off a little of what they can do for our viewers!" He turned to raise a hand at the audience, who began cheering and chanting.

"Well, Mr Gabriel? How about showing us something to entertain the viewers at home?"

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Gabriel blinked and actually leaned back a bit from the host. The smile that crept onto his face was genuine.

'I have to admire his determination to keep us "on-course".'

He cleared his throat and looked properly contrite when he next spoke.

"I apologize if I unnecessarily inflamed the rhetoric occurring here tonight."

Gabriel stood up with a smile and made a show of working out some kinks in his back.

"I'll show off a couple of the less destructive ones, though if some of you gents could bring me out a piece of inch-thick plywood, and maybe some sheet metal. Excellent, couldn't do it without you boys."

With that, he suddenly lifts into the air, the studio mikes just barely picking up the hum of the sonic energy swirling around him. A look of concentration crossed his face as he pointed to a spot in the air above the audience. Suddenly, what sounded like a very loud firecracker went off, but with no flash.

"Whew. It's harder to do that one so weak, instead of blowing everyone's ears out. But that wouldn't make for a fun show, folks! A lot of my "tricks of the trade" tend to work against people first, and aren't really the sorts of things I'll ask for volunteers regarding. Ah, there's my two bits of demonstration material. Stand back a bit, all."

First he pointed at the slab of wood. He adjusted his aim, and there was a suddenly low-pitched sound that resonated in everyone's bones, a rippling of the air in a line between Gabriel and the plywood, and suddenly the sheet was cracked in half.

"Of course, that metal's got a bit more to it. Luckily..."

He again sent a "beam" of sound at the target, though this time the sound was more like a sort of *hum* that many people felt. The metal seemed to warp and even slightly melt before he stopped and walked over to it. A light push of his hand had it snapping in half, a few bits crumbling off. He turned back to the audience, dusting off his hands.

"Handy for fighting giant robots and the occasional super-zombie."

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As the audience hooted and hollered, applauded and gazed in awe, Kirk Talon came up behind Gabriel, laughing and clapping. And then whispered in Gabriel's ears, so the mic wouldn't hear him. "And that, Mr Self-Righteous, is why I stopped you 'inflaming his rhetoric'," hissed Talon.

"You may think you're in the right, and one of my friends was on that street when your girlfriend beat up that golem. I think she's in the right, too. But, sadly, supporting you two will piss off the guy sitting across from you, who's funding a good chunk of this station. And oh, it's mean, and oh, it's hiding the real truth. But in this economy? It also stops all the people in this damn network from being jobless. And after that display? It stops a fight breaking out involving a man who can bend metal using sound waves."

The man drew away, still clapping, that false grin back on his face.

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Gabriel smiled and waved at the crowd, taking a couple of bows as he floated around a bit. Of course, Kirk Talon wasn't the only one who could be subtle in speech. Gabriel's voice whispered in his ear, even from several feet away, with no obvious motion of his lips, and no one else seemed to hear it.

"I apologize that I nearly lost my temper. I do not apologize for standing up for a friend, though she is not my "girlfriend" as you put it. As for Yoltsin, well, I suppose you'll just have to keep pandering to him. I certainly don't want people losing jobs. But don't expect me to roll over and play dead for you, or him, Mr. Talon."

Privately, he considered trying to figure out how to talk to Yoltsin about allowing some journalistic integrity in his shows. He had a feeling it would be a wasted conversation, but it might be worth a shot. Sure the man could listen to at least some reason, right?

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"Really? Not your girlfriend? Reckon I've got a-" He caught himself and shut up abruptly. Apparently a break in filming was taking place, so the audience could take toilet breaks, get snacks from a cheap-and-cheerful assortment of teas, coffees and biscuits and the camera crew could fiddle with instrumentation.

Siobhan was talking to a couple of them about something, and as she did so she let loose a brief spark of fire from her fingers, then continued talking to them animatedly. "Listen, I don't much give a damn if you think I'm an ass, but I'll give you a piece of advice. The two of you need to laugh him off, and stop looking so wound up about it. People don't listen to long speeches, they just see two people getting defensive." He looked around furtively. "I can't support you, but I can't stop you making him look bad."

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Gabriel gave the TV host a long, searching look, before nodding once. He glanced around and walked over towards Siobhan. As he walked, she heard him whisper in her ear from across the room.

"Been thinking. A little birdie suggested we try slightly different tactics. We might be talking too much. I'm sure it's a shock to you it could happen to either of us. But it makes sense. Maybe we should do a one-two-punch sort of thing? I open it up, you button the scene? "

He reached the site of her and the crew, hands clasped behind his back, a friendly smile on his face.

"Gentlemen. Hope we're not giving you too much trouble out there, flashing our powers or whatnot."

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  • 1 month later...

"Are you sure it won't set off the sprinklers?" Siobhan asked to a clearly weary-looking cameraman.

"Yes, I'm sure," he said with the air of a man repeating himself more than he has any desire to. "We will turn off the fire alarm just before you start, and turn them back on just as you finish. Now, can you leave me to get set up, please?" pleaded the man.

"Okay, okay," sighed Siobhan. "I'm sorry, I just don't want to cause any trouble..." She turned to greet Gabriel as the cameraman walked away, muttering something about 'having to clean up the goddamn mess' and 'like superheroes well enough, but why do they have to be in my set...'

"Maybe," she said with a wry grin. "Let him talk until he looks stupid, then look like the more reasonable party?"

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Gabriel couldn't help but smile at the cameraman's frustrations; not so much because he reveled in the mans' frustrations, but that he seemed to be the "cantankerously helpful" sort.

"Your assistance is appreciated, sir."

Once he was gone, he turned to Siobhan. When she voiced her idea, he nodded.

"In essence, yes. But we have to try to keep it short and sweet. Many people live off of "sound bites". Let's give them some to chew on, hm?"

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