Chapter 9:

Manufactured Smiles and Real Tears

Half-Paid Heroes

As conversations switched sides and the more extroverted Chris became part of the hubbub, Ella's green eyes analysed her cup of apple juice.

"Oh dear, did we leave you out?" This was Jamie, giving one of those manufactured smiles Ella had only seen teachers perfect. "I'll let you in on a secret."

Ella leaned in, noticing the glint of the golden watch as it fell down the older woman's right forearm.

"...You must've seen the website for the Company, right? I'm the one in the promotional video. Impressive, right?" Now Jamie was in complete sunny-but-fake smile mode.

During that fight involving the giant robot, if someone had pressed their face to any window on the second floor and looked up as Ella had done, they would have seen clouds of what appeared to be blasts of air coming out of the cockpit. At that point in time, only one management member had been missing from their desk space and that had been Jamie, so it was an easy guess as to who owned those powers. (No offense squad member owned such powers.)

"You're part of the management though, Why do you have powers?" Ella queried, punctuating this query with a cup-draining gulp.

The older lady shook her head and turned away. One of the hands on her lap curled into an involuntary fist, and when she looked up again, in her mind's eye, her previous coworkers stood in front of her - all Caucasian men with a rainbow array of business suits, faces ruddy from laughter, surrounding her. Pointing fingers at her. Jeering at her.

"I bet you can't do anything aside from fighting, because you're expendable!"

"If you get fired here, no one'll want a savage like you because of your skin colour. The boss only took you in to wreck your own reputation."

"You're a woman, and you want some respect? You're never going to get it. The world of superheroes started as a man's job, and will continue to be like that."

Ella placed her hand over her mouth when a tear fell down Jamie's face, but despite it, the woman plastered a smile on her face again and swept the tear away with the back of her hand.

The blonde couldn't guess what she'd triggered in her coworker's mind, but there was no use looking into it any further.

Not from Jamie's end, anyway.
As Ella entered for her shift the next day, Akihisa was prostrated under the desk in what appeared to be a poor attempt at hiding.

"Sir, is there something wrong?" she asked, kneeling down to properly talk to him.

Without crawling out from there, he gave a shake of his head and typed into the notes section of his phone, showing his employee what he'd typed after he was done: "Lost voice."

Keeping this in mind, she was careful not to kick him while she grabbed the manual and checked the offence squad's section. Just as she suspected, there was a section on how devices with non-transformative powers had a capability of using a cloaking technology to either become invisible or disguise the user as someone else. This was probably what Jamie used.

A hand grabbing her ankle momentarily made her yell, but a small cough from Kirikagura reminded her who was under the desk.

Kirikagura's fingers flew like lightning over the touchscreen, despite his position on the floor. "Sorry there are no jobs right now. After the previous incidents, the government made a law giant robots and 'rogue superpowers' are too destructive to normal living. I've had to shut down the company for the time being."

"Why didn't you warn me?" She hadn't noticed it, but Ella was now at the brink of tears.

"This is one case where powers are useless in the face of the enemy," came his silent reply.

Gerry Hines