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Not Awkward At All


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November 25, 2014
5:32 PM

There was something horrible up in space.

That's mainly what Eliza knew right now. The thought had been turning over in her head for the past few weeks. Something had utterly destroyed a planet. And Sharl had been there to witness it. For the past few weeks, she and him had been talking. It had helped to deal with the crushing existential dread that came with everything, on both their parts. It didn't necessarily help with classes, but somehow, she was having a little trouble focusing on Intro to Lit when dealing with the possibility that whatever had destroyed Lor-Van might be coming their way.

They'd kissed that night. And while it had been pretty good, she was still wondering. What next? Sharl had been talking about getting back together, and she wasn't adverse to it. And she'd seen weirder splits in relationships in her time, ones that had managed to weave back together. But... was this what they needed? Or what they wanted, in the face of a greater threat?

This was why she'd picked out the Bean Bar near Freedom College. They needed to talk. And hopefully, they'd get all the answers by the time it was done.

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The streets of Freedom City, alien though they still were, were at least a comfort to Sharl - at least here he wasn't alone the way he was back in Tronik, with only his own shoulders bearing the burdens of an entire world. Nobody had panicked despite the general awareness that there was a crisis in space; after all, these people were used to their heroes handling that kind of thing. Just like the people of Lor-Van had counted on the Star Knights...


The holographic teenager carefully weaved his way through the -pre-Thanksgiving crowd, trying to get back into the feel of his projected body. With his emitter in his pocket, he'd only 'stumbled' once - and luckily the man who'd bumped him had been too busy to pay attention to the teenager whose body he had abruptly passed through. He headed into Eliza's restaurant, wrinkling his nose for a moment at the alien smells in the air (what was the point of coffee, anyway?) before lighting up at the sight of his hot alien girlfriend. "Hey, cute stuff." He headed over and pecked her on the lips, then pulled up a seat to join her at the table. "You look gorgeous," he told her truthfully. 


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"Thank you," said Eliza. "You're not looking too bad yourself." It was meant as a standard compliment - even with the authenticity behind it - but Eliza did notice that Sharl looked more grounded. It had been some weeks, of course, but he did seem to be back on his feet, to the Sharl from before. She wished she could be entirely the same way. She didn't know the threat the same way Sharl did, but she still knew it was hanging over head. That put her one up on the others in the Bean Bar, who were just going about their business, trying to focus on the upcoming Thanksgiving break and the suite of finals that would be awaiting them when they came back. There was nothing bigger than that.

Not yet, at least.

She focused on her drink, trying to drive the deeper stuff away. "I've spread word amongst the intelligences I know. They'll render up word if something tries to infiltrate the local networks." She looked to Sharl. "How're you holding up?"

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While they chatted the bell on the coffee shop door jingled and a young woman with a flawless milk chocolate complexion and cascades of bright red curls sashayed inside, every movement dripping with confidence. The straps of her little black dress were arranged to leave precisely the right amount to the imagination and the novel shape defined by her heavy eyeliner drew attention to piercing grey eyes. Tucking the smartphone in her hand away somewhere that really should have affected the lines of her outfit but didn't, she approached the counter with a broad smile. "Hail, oh purveyor of caffeinated delights! I shall have an espresso with... pray, how many shot can you offer without concern of legal reprimand?" Looking over her shoulder toward the door for a brief moment she added. "Ah, should a tall, some might say over-muscled woman of a distinctly feline disposition arrive asking after me, I hope I may trust in your discretion?"

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"I'm doing all right," said Sharl with a little shrug. "Better now," he added with a grin that was almost entirely real, putting his warm, electric hand on hers and looking deep into her exotic alien eyes. "Other-me is covering for both of us in Tronik, so I can stick it out up here for the duration. Miss A and the Freedom League are on the case." Actually drinking coffee was about as far as he could go in eating out outside of very special occasions, which was probably why Eliza had sent them here in the first place. "I'm sleeping better." 


When the new arrival came in, Sharl glanced her way - and then again. Hey, I think that's - He looked back at Eliza and realized what she was probably thinking. "That's Set," he said, pointing that way. "You know, from the Internet." He'd seen plenty of the pseudo-godling's antics online that he recognized Set in both male and female forms. "Wonder if she rode here in her flaming chariot," he muttered. 

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Eliza turned around as casually as she could to notice Set. She and... she always felt weird about using pronouns in cases like this, so she would go with "she" for now... had never really met when she wasn't wearing the mask. She still didn't know where she stood with Set. Sure, Set's flirtations were a part of her, for the most part, and Eliza took them well. But after what had happened in Boston, it felt like she had seen something more of the goddess, something that Set might not have shared if Eliza hadn't been... available? Receptive? Or if she hadn't trusted her? Where did that trust put them?

It was best not to dwell on this right now. Especially with Sharl sitting right across from her. "I've seen her about," she said. "She and Sekhmet manage to clean up. Mind you, there's usually a good deal of selfies involved."

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"Yeah, well, I know she's a superhero and all," Sharl had seen the male Set too, and while a Terran in his position might have assumed there were two Sets, the idea of someone with minor bodymorphing abilities wasn't that bizarre to a Claremont graduate familiar with a galactic civilization. Some aliens had two genders, some had ten, some had none. "But it's this whole divine...thing," he went on, "that annoys me. I know Terra has a lot of extra-dimensional entities running around," he ticked them off on his fingers. "Hades, Horus, Baron Samedi, that winged guy who used to be on the Freedom League, all the rest, but c'mon, why do people still cling to these old primitive mythologies?" Normally Sharl was a better liar, but he'd had a long day and was maybe speaking a little too loudly. "If the Freedom League had tried to set themselves up as gods back home, we'd have laughed in their faces."

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"Laughing in the Freedom League's faces, you say?" a warm voice interrupted as Set smoothly slid uninvited into their unoccupied third seat and rested her chin in her palm with her elbow on the table. "Good times! Well. Bad times, but fun! Until the evil and the foiling. Laughter, though! Good for the ba." The godling's smile was undeniably charming as she glanced between the pair but although she didn't say anything to suggest she'd heard the more dismissive part of Sharl's comments there was an unmistakeable air of needling boundary pushing to her abrupt self-inclusion into the conversation. "So, no need for introductions, your discussion looked so intense I truly had to know the topic. Do go on!"

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Don't make this awkward, don't make this awkward, don't make this awkward... Eliza was momentarily frozen, trying to figure out how to sell this. The longer she stayed frozen, the more Set might realize something was up - and then he might realize who she was. Which would be... okay? Probably not the best thing to happen in a busy coffee shop, but it wasn't like it would be a huge problem. But right now, the best choice would be to play it cool. If she realized anything, then she would, and Eliza would deal with that later.

"We were just talking about the belief some people put in spiritual entities, especially when it comes to said entities' interference in the everyday lives of the people who put stock in them," she said. "At what tier does one's influence go from 'superhuman' to 'divine,' and matters like that."

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Never one to hold back in these kinds of conversations, Sharl was in a particularly combative mood today. "I mean, come on," he said, spreading his arm out as if relaxing. "You've got some electromagnetickinesis for the lightning, the weather stuff, the silica, and the darkness tricks, you've got some biomanipulation for the shapeshifting, you've got a relative who can do the same stuff, why spread all the superstition onto it?" Talking this way to a worshiper of the Egyptian gods would have been one thing - but a worshiper of a god probably would not style hirself after them. Really, Sharl decided, that was the worst part - that people out there might believe it. "These people have fought the Gorgon and punched the Curator in the face." Images of his own death, watched on a monitor, flashed clearly through his mind. "Who's actually impressed by that hocus-pocus stuff?" 

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"Somebody has spent an awful lot of time memorizing my vital statistics," Set drawled with just enough throaty purr mixed into her tone to suggest she was still toying with the disrespectful skeptic. "Tis always lovely to meet a fan. I shall sign something for you should you like." Her voice cooled a bit as she warned, "Have a care who's relatives you speak against, however, or-- Hold." Something that had been itching at the back of her mind worked itself into a complete thought and caused the godling to stop mid-sentence. "Say that again. Not you." She placed a forefinger firmly against Sharl's lips to hold them closed, ignoring the slight tingle of static while turning her attention to Eliza, eyes darting about the lines of the young woman's face. "You. Say 'spiritual' again."

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Oh, hell, Eliza thought. She had to try and play it coy and go "spiritual." Why couldn't she have just stuck with "supernatural" or... no, "ephemeral" probably would have been even worse in these circumstances. Still, she'd stepped in it. The longer she paused to try to scrape it off her sole, the more suspect it would look. And besides, this wasn't going to end badly... would it?

"'Spiritual,'" she said, making an effort to say it in her usual "Eliza" voice and not the haughty, ice queen tone she adopted whenever she became Temperance. "I just wanted to cover the wide range of entities that claim to influence the world from behind the scenes. From the big capital-G gods, to the smaller things held up by faiths like Shintoism."

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Crap! Sharl was no fool - this girl was putting Eliza on edge, and it wasn't hard to guess why. 


"Oh come on, you're what, two, three seconds on Google? And that's if I scroll past the pictures," he went on, in fact doing just that while they conversed thanks to the cafe's excellent wi-fi. "Now don't get me wrong, you've done good stuff, and-" 




Double-crap! It's the laptop for sure if this gets out! 


"...all right, look, it doesn't matter what story you want to tell about yourself," he went on begrudgingly. "But c'mon. What's telling people all that gonna do?"

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It was not unusual for a god to transcend the trivialities of language; language was after all a means to convey ideas and gods were, to a certain way of thinking, ideas conveyed in their ultimate form. As a patron of foreign lands and those that lived there, however, Set's gift for tongues went well beyond mere comprehension, from idiom and inflection to enunciation and euphemism. Having recognized something in the infinite subtleties of an individual voice she saw through the attempt at obfuscation immediately and lit up with a beaming smile that would have put and sun deity to shame.

"Oh captivating corundum, we really must work on your skills for deceit," she chided teasingly, brushing her fingertips briefly along Eliza's forearm in a gesture that was familiar but almost demure compared to how readily she'd placed her hand in Sharl's personal space. "What an excellent surprise! To think you obscure such regal cheekbones behind a mask. Criminal." Set vaguely indicated the young man she was doing a fantastic job of thoroughly ignoring in favour of this revelation and added, "One wonders somewhat at the company you keep in your off hours, however."

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Eliza plastered as warm a smile across her face as she could, given the circumstances. Oh, is this how we're going to play that? she thought, feeling her temper flare as Set talked crap about Sharl right in front of her. Yes, Sharl could be... stand-offish when it came to matters of the supernatural, but she still wasn't up for seeing the two of them tear into one another.

"This is why I usually let the mask do the obscuring," Eliza said. "As for Sharl, he and I have had our differences on matters of the spiritual, but he's a steadfast man who's done some incredible good. He just has issues with the matter of worship and divinity."

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What are you doing? A voice demanded in Sharl's head. Squabbling over your girlfriend while Lor-Van burns? 


But all the touching at the table was making him uncomfortable - he could take the rude touching from the faux-divine all day, since no one on Terra had any idea about personal space anyway, and honestly at least Set didn't smell of unwashed flesh or the ashes of toxic leaves, but the way Set was stroking Temperance the way Terrans did their lovers was not sitting well with him. Everyone is watching - and she likes it! It wasn't just unsettling; it was deeply, stomach-churningly alien, like watching a corpse be left to rot in the topsoil. 


He forced himself to look away and check the crowd. A few people were watching the argument with interest, but nobody had gone for a cameraphone to take the just-outed-superheroine's picture. 


"If you're done with this little whatever it is, the lady and I are having coffee," he finally said, picking up the cup in front of him and taking a sip. 

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"Well, the worship tis negotiable, naturally." Set leaned back in her seat with a pout. It was a fantastic pout, too, drawing attention to her eyes and lips, just the right balance of wounded puppydog and maintained poise. It was hard to miss, however, that she was also keeping her hands pointedly to herself after Eliza's polite but firm rebuke, occupying them with her coffee cup instead. If she'd known she'd be interrupting a friend's personal time she wouldn't have sat down in the first place, the godling admitted inwardly, but pride meant she could hardly allow the obnoxious green-eyed cretin to have the last word at this point. She could either attempt to smooth things over and part amicably or aim for unequivocal victory.

Horus would have done the more selfless thing and left Eliza's friend to his sad little delusions in peace, she knew. On the other claw, Sekhmet would have already throttled the arrogance out of him by that point. Set felt reasonably good about splitting the difference.

"Then your sipping sounds strangely akin to disparaging remarks regarding the lineage of others, oh contentious clod. Mayhaps a visit to your physician would be prudent?" She quirked an eyebrow, keeping the expression she gave Sharl polite even if her words couldn't quite manage the same. "I require none to bow nor scrape before me. You have an unimpeachable character witness and your credulity be your own concern but I shall not suffer to be dismissed nor diminished by one ignorant of the subject."

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Eliza placed her coffee down on the table. We're going to have to do this, aren't we? she said. All right. All guns, ready rounds of Angry Black Woman for a short barrage.

"All I wanted was some coffee," she said. "Is that a whole lot to ask? With college, and the night work, and --"

Whatever the hell is up in the void of space, whatever it was that destroyed a planet --

"-- everything? Sharl. I know the whole idol thing is a sore spot for you. Set. I know the stock you put in your identity. You two want to carry on this beef in your free time, go ahead. I know I'm not gonna be able to stop it. But for the next few minutes, at least, can we keep things... if not civil, then quiet here? Especially given... well, everything that'd come with a debate like this."

Like, say, that he's a computer program and I talk to spirits. That kind of thing.

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Sharl felt the back of his neck flush red, hidden by his high collar and longish hair in the back. Between the three of them, he was sure everyone was staring now. Not for the first time, he wished himself back in a society with more order in its social gatherings - even as he admitted that if he was _really_ so happy back in Tronik, he wouldn't have made the journey that brought him to Terra in the first place. "Okay," he finally said to Eliza. "Okay." He thought about how Gina would handle this. Break into her harddrive and corrupt all her files...no, that wouldn't work. He thought about how his friends from Claremont would have handled it. I could turn into a giant silver monster and eat her cellphone...man! He set his cup down, lest he lose concentration from suppressed emotion on Eliza's, carefully not paying attention at all to Set. Or at least trying to seem not to, anyway. 

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The expression Set made as she folded her arms under her bust and pursed her lips was less pouting than it was annoyance and frustration being smothered by chastisement with some difficulty. "Hmph. Tis not as though I would have interrupted had I recognized you..." She glanced at Eliza and sighed in resignation. Satisfaction was obviously going to have to take a backseat; she had no desire to bear the brunt of the elementalist's ire particularly if it meant giving up the moral high ground to young man to her right. "Very well. Consider the matter closed. Although..." It hadn't escaped the godling's notice how uncomfortable Sharl was with public touching or attention. She looked him up and down with a smouldering intensity and slightly parted lips, one shin nonchalantly brushing against his calf under the table while she shifted her crossed arms slightly upward. "...should he truly be good enough in bed to warrant enduring the deficiencies of attitude, might I borrow him sometime?"

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And just like that, Eliza could feel ice forming in her synapses. She knew Set often had the perfect words to defuse any situation, but this was more like evacuating and letting someone perform a controlled detonation on the bomb before it went off of its own accord. She was at a loss for words, but still had just enough composure to not descend into stuttering and flailing.

Instead, she just went stoic... and smiled. "I'm not sure I could fully speak for Sharl on that one," she said. "Judging by how things have gone so far, though, I can guarantee it would either be the worst honest sex or the best hate sex this world has ever seen."

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Sharl smirked and sipped his coffee, fighting the urge to drop it - or rather the urge to have no more material hands to grip it. He did avoid actually drinking this time, rather than risk messing on the seat if his concentration got pushed any further. I am not going to sink through the floor and come up swinging. This is not worth it


"Sorry, Set, I guess that's just another secret of the pyramids!" He chuckled and set down his drink with great care. "So anyway," he went on, deliberately being cryptic, "I was thinking that, if you wanted, I can take you back to my place sometime in the next couple of days." He was singling out Eliza for the conversation, and why wouldn't he? She was his girlfriend. He certainly wasn't attracted to the delusional shapeshifter at the table! Certainly. "I'd have to get the equipment set up and you might have a bumpy ride...but it's something I've wanted to show you for a long time."


He looked back at Set and winked. The Screw you! in his eye actually had a double meaning in both English _and_ the old-fashioned Lor he spoke; not that he'd have admitted to that. Under the table, after a moment's contact, Sharl's thigh was not there. 

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"Bumpy 'equipment'? You truly should consult a physician," Set warned with exaggerated concern, meeting the wink with fluttering eyelashes. "Still, I'm terribly difficult to stay upset with. Merely ask your lovely companion." She was surprised by how smoothly Sharl had recovered from her wanton suggestion; she could tell the young man was sweating metaphorical buckets but she could at least respect his fiercely maintained composure. 'Fake it 'til you make it' appeared high on her list of commandments, after all.

The abrupt absence of his leg, though, that was interesting. Not a spirit, presumably, given his ridiculous assertions of scientific explanations but perhaps not another simple metahuman either. "From whence do you hail, oh emerald eyed egoist?" Silently slipping off her sandal under the table, the godling probed a little more insistently, raising her foot toward the seat of Sharl's chair and straightening her leg, aided somewhat by a knee that could bend at whatever angle was most immediately convenient. Not wanting to be an inconsiderate guest, her opposite ankle crossed against Eliza's like an affectionate cat looking for attention. From the waist up Set remained perfectly stationary save for taking an expectant sip of her coffee.

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Eliza smiled, mainly because it kept the gasp from getting out. She'd never really had a core idea of what Tronik was, at its core. Well, yes, Sharl had explained it many times, and it had sounded wonderful - and strange, of course, but strange was the order of the day. She had no idea what she might expect when she made the trip. Her powers were immensely spiritual in nature, and given Sharl's proclivities, it was likely there wasn't much of a presence of invisible actors in the city. Even if the computer mainframe that hosted Tronik cast a spiritual reflection, that didn't mean the city itself would. But she would cross that bridge when she came to it. And it might be interesting to go somewhere that didn't have the spirit courts involved in everything.

"I'd love to," she said. "I may be tied up for Christmas break, but I'll see if I can pry away from the parents for a day or two." She tried to avoid Set's sentiments for now, but given how things were going, she had a feeling something might explode soon. Perhaps Sharl would be able to mitigate this thing... or perhaps everything would catch fire. She just had to wait and see.

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"Going now," declared Sharl with a little more emphasis than was really necessary as he disengaged himself from the suddenly legsy Set. Disengaging oneself from conflict had been a hard lesson to learn - once you pushed past a Tronikian's social bubble, the filters usually weren't there, but it was an important lesson for all of that. Especially when dealing with people who weren't actually criminals. Stupid. He cursed himself inside his head. I just made myself more interesting. By the time he'd stood up, his legs were solid again. "Let's walk and talk," he suggested to Eliza, letting her pay since he didn't actually have money. He looked at Set, one last cutting remark on his lips - 


My name is Rex! I am a scientist! 


and turned, stricken, and headed for the door. 

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