Barefoot, Penny braves the cool waters of the English Channel. She shivers as the waves push sand between her toes, tickling at her with only the merest hint of the epic power of the ocean: creation and destruction like the shrug of a Titan. It’s nice to get lost in something so vast.
Michelle’s hand finds Penny’s shoulder, squeezing comfortingly. “Are you okay?” Her voice is soft, almost lost in the noise of the sea. Penny turns to her friend, bringing her in for a close embrace.
“I think so,” she says. “It’s… hard to tell.” Michelle’s hair tickles at her face as she speaks.
“Hey!” Diana’s voice echoes across the beach, and Michelle and Penny gracefully disengage from one another to watch her wade into the water, waist-deep with her rope coiled around her forearm. “Want to see something cool?” Before either girl can answer, she launches herself skyward, whipping her rope side to side and pulling herself towards the heavens. She makes it about fifteen feet into the air before she comes crashing back down with an enormous splash that leaves all three girls drenched in seawater, giggling like nothing else matters.
The seawater stings at the blisters on Penny’s chest, but she pays it no mind.
Diana looks up, water dripping down her cheeks. “One day,” she declares, “I’m gonna fly. Real superheroes can fly.”
There’s no such thing as a real superhero, Penny thinks to herself, but she doesn’t say anything. It would ruin the moment. Besides, if anyone can do it, Diana would be the one to bet on.
Before long, and all too soon, the three girls are back on the shore attempting to dry themselves out. Michelle’s rubbing dry sand on her limbs to soak up the moisture, while Penny’s doing complex prestidigitations to convince the water molecules in her clothes to evaporate. Diana simply basks in the warm sunlight.
One she’s reasonably dry, a thought comes into Penny’s head. She vocalises it before thinking: “Ten to twenty years…”
Diana perks up. “What’s that?”
“Yarn,” Penny explains. “He said… ‘in ten to twenty years, you can get what you want’.”
Diana shrugs dismissively. “You can get what you want now, though. Fuck his timescale, I’ll help. So will ’Chelle.”
Michelle snorts. “I don’t think anybody’s called me ‘’Chelle’ before.” She pauses. “No, I don’t think I like it.” Her smile softens her words, but her meaning remains clear.
“It’s not me I’m worried about,” Penny says. “With the twenty years thing, I mean. I… I know I’m not the only one like me, like us. I’ve seen the reality TV, er…” She trails off, aware of the awkwardness of her own words. “The Lucerists are only going to make things better if it fits their own schedule, you know? I don’t think we’re going to be a priority.”
Diana nods, solemnly. “That’s true. How many people like us do you reckon there are?”
Michelle’s the one to answer. “About a percentage point,” she says. “According to the books I’ve been reading, at least.” She looks down, as if in thought. “Actually… they never phrased it like it was a big number, but that’s quite a lot of people, isn’t it? There’s got to be about a dozen just in our school.”
Penny blinks, staring into the middle distance as she tries to take this information in. The sound of gears turning in her head is almost audible. “So… what can we do about it? The Lucerists will only help those people when it suits them…”
“Which is probably ‘never’,” Diana interjects.
”…and the Umbratists don’t want to help at all. There’s got to be people in the same boat. People who could benefit from magic who won’t, regardless of who wins the power struggle.” The words linger in the air, giving the beach scene a rather melancholy tone.
“Depressing, isn’t it?” Diana asks, somewhat rhetorically.
Michelle smiles wryly. “Whoever wins, we lose,” she says, clearly quoting something or other. Penny, not recognising the words, gives her a blank look. “…remind me to show you Alien versus Predator,” she adds, a little deflated.
Diana gives Penny an eager grin: it looks like she can tell where this conversation is heading. “So, what’ve you got in mind?”
Penny returns the same smile, but broader. “We’re not going to call it the ‘Super Friends’,” she declares.
Diana giggles. “I was thinking more like the ‘Justice League’, as it happens,” she retorts playfully, her voice effecting mock indignance. She clearly has every intention of giving as good as she gets.
Michelle sighs with all the theatricality of a daytime soap opera. “What am I gonna do with the two of you?” she says, though she’s obviously enjoying this too.
A mischievous thought strikes Penny’s mind, one far too tempting to pass up on.