The breeze was light, the ever-present night fog swirling thinly along the footpath, carrying a diffused echo of the streetlamps and shop neons above in its ghostly cotton curls. The sky above was clear and cloudless, the Milky Way and its denizens bright and beautiful, and the sweet sound of crickets could be heard in the air.
In other words, it was a Perfect Night – but on this night of all nights it was especially perfect.
Though he sat patiently, his serious face turned upwards to the sky, in his mind he had already left the flat, tracing a mental route through oft-traversed streets and over rooftop pathways to get to his intended destination for that night.
“Kei te reri, e hoa?”
Shockwave turned on the step. In the open doorway behind him stood Rehua, faithful friend and loyal partner in non-crime, dark eyes creased in a smile as warm as the night was cool. In one hand he held his own scarf, and as he stepped down onto the landing he began to tie deftly it around his arm, the dark red colour almost blending into the sleeve of his bomber jacket.
“Just waiting for you, mate,” Shockwave replied easily, and he rose from the steps and dusted off the knees of his navy sweatpants. “No hurry, though. We’ve got time.”
“Yeah, right,” Rehua replied, pulling the knot on his scarf tight. “You always say that. Res would say we’re running late.”
Shockwave rolled his eyes and gave a wry smile, reaching past his friend to pull the front door shut.
“Typical Res,” he said. “Always early.”
“More like typical you,” Rehua retorted. “Always ‘just on time’.”
“Just on time is still on time.”
Rehua only scoffed, following after his friend as he descended the front steps.
“Speaking of, where’s Res at tonight? Is she coming?”
Shockwave nodded and turned right out onto the main street.
“She said she’ll meet us there. She got called in to help out with some other crew tonight, so–”
“Hey! Kei te haere koe ki hea?”
Shockwave turned to see Rehua had begun to head left upon exiting the front gate, a baffled look on his face.
“Where am I going?” Shockwave echoed, equally confused. “Where are you going? It’s this way.”
“Sure, if you want to arrive by next year. This way’s faster.”
The two of them locked eyes and in the silence their challenge was made.
“Walking only?” Rehua offered.
Shockwave nodded stoutly.
The second they turned their backs on each other, they both took off running into the night.
Clare breathed onto the glass and traced a little cloud into the mist with a finger.
“I can’t believe they don’t just let people up here, you know?” She shoved her hands into the pockets of her blue jeans and watched her little mist drawing evaporate. “Construction’s done, the place is all furnished, and like, eighty percent of the floors haven’t even been leased out yet. Why not invite people in to have a look at how cool things are from above, right?”
“Uh huh. Or better yet,” Linus added, tossing his curls out of his eyes. “Let some folks live up here while it’s vacated, yeah? Share some of that alofa with the city.”
Clare breathed in deep, taking in the smell of new wood furniture and freshly painted walls, and smiled.
“Reminds me of summers down at the beach,” she said. “My pappoúli used to have a bach up by the West Coast before he passed away. Smelled kinda like this. More salty and less metal though.”
Linus smiled, wriggling his socked feet against the carpet beneath him.
“The view from up here is something else, huh?” His blue eyes were fixated on the coloured dots of light eighteen storeys below, but he was staring someplace even further than Clare could see. “Puts me in a good mood.”
“Oh yeah?” Clare glanced at Linus. “Like what – a Top Vigilante Crime-Fightin’ kinda mood?”
“Mm, I’m thinking more like a creative kind of mood?” Linus thought for a second, then nodded. “Yeah. Like writing a song.”
“Oh yeah? What’s your song called then?” Clare sat down on the floor and lay back on the plush red wool, folding her hands behind her head. Linus followed suit, humming thoughtfully.
“I’ve got a few ideas,” he said. “But I’m thinking maybe, ‘He was a good looking dude, but it’s too bad about the murder thing’.”
Clare laughed out loud, but then caught a glimpse of the clock on the wall to their feet and gasped. Launching herself upwards into a sitting position, she pulled her phone out of her back pocket and looked to Linus with alarm on her face.
Linus glanced at the clock on the wall and surprise crossed his features.
The two of them scrambled to their feet, Clare snatching her indigo anorak off the floor and Linus all but diving for his shoes.
“Mallory’s gonna kill us,” Clare groaned, shoving arms into her sleeves. “We’re gonna be late!”
Linus straightened and the two of them stared at each other. For a second there was dead silence, but then they both burst out laughing, the sound bouncing off the walls and furniture and echoing throughout the vacant floor.
“Oh man.” Linus’ shoulders were still shaking with laughter as he zipped up his white and grey hoodie. “D’you think that’ll ever get old?”
“Never,” Clare replied, grinning. “You ready?”
They stood to face the window they’d been citygazing out of moments before. Linus placed one hand on the glass and held out his other hand to Clare, who took it as she had many times before. Their faces lit up with effervescent smiles, they stepped up onto the windowsill and leaned into the glass, vanishing into its crystalline surface like raindrops into a pond.
When they reached the ladder, they headed up instead of down, swiftly ascending the rungs with the agility of a gymnast to slip through the roof hatch and step out into the night.
Straightening up on the theatre roof, Fang stretched her arms up above her head and smiled. It felt good to be out here tonight. She’d spent the last few hours skulking around in the dark, making her presence as unnoticeable as possible while still doing the job she was called in to do – and while stealth was definitely a specialty of hers, there was nothing better than having the freedom of movement. Up here on the rooftops, she had free reign of the City and all the obstacles it had to offer. What could be better than that?
The hatch Fang had just climbed out of opened then, and a red-haired girl dressed all in black poked her head out and smiled at her.
“Thought you might be up here.” She said. “Thanks for all the help tonight. Sorry again for calling you in last minute – and tonight of all nights, too.”
“Hey, don’t worry about it.” Fang flashed the girl a thumbs-up. “Always happy to help.”
“I’ll leave you to it then,” the girl said, and prepared to duck back down. Before she did, she cast one last, lingering glance of admiration back at Fang.
“You really are as good as they say!” she said, then closed the hatch and disappeared.
Fang drank in the cool air of the City and grinned. As much as she enjoyed her work, she was glad to be out here in the open again. It had been a long day for her, and an even longer week – she’d been looking forward to tonight for a little while now, and by the looks of it the weather was perfect for it.
A breeze swept over her bare arms then, and Fang shivered a little. Well, alright. Maybe it was a little bit on the cool side. But what was a little wind-chill to Fang? She was a Vigilante. She’d run her fair share of nights, seen her fair share of sights, fought her fair share of fights. After all the things she’d been through, a little weather wasn’t about to hold her back from an evening out.
Although, Fang thought as she gave a sneeze, her immune system was a different matter. She could hear the scolding from her teammate already. E hika e!, he would lament, Bring a top, for crying out loud. Your Ability’s no defence against Tāwhiri-mātea’s might!
“Sorry, partner,” Fang said out loud. “Look like I forgot again.”
Pulling out her phone from the pocket of her sweatpants – black tonight, like her t-shirt – she checked the time and nodded. Good – she could still make it with minutes to spare. She reached back over her shoulder and pushed her phone through the opening of the drawstring bag on her back, pulling the cord tight; the bag’s leather strap with its brown and blue triangles settled comfortably in the crook of her neck, and the sensation soothed her in its simple familiarity. Pulling out her blue scarf from the waistband of her sweats, she shook it out and tied it loosely around her neck.
Walking towards the wall of the building next to the theatre, she rolled her shoulders in preparation for her run and began to contemplate. How would she make her way to her destination tonight? Would she stay skywards and traverse the City’s network of rooftops, crossing gantries and shimmying along metal cables? Or maybe she’d head down to ground level, vaulting railings and running alleyways and leaping down flights of stairs? More likely it’d be a mix of both – rooftops, railings and mid-levels all. She was in the mood to be a little more playful tonight – it’d put her in the right mindset for what was to come later.
Drawing in a deep lungful of air, Fang closed her eyes, held her breath, then slowly exhaled and counted to ten. When she opened her eyes again, she was a different person.
The Vigilante Resonance pulled her scarf up over her nose and mouth, took hold of the drainpipe of the building before her, and swiftly began to climb.
With a lightness in her step and a twinkle in her eye, Mallory made her way eastwards in the second stage of her three-stage mission for tonight. The first stage had already been completed – the bags at her sides and the jingling of the loose change in the pocket of her mechanic’s overalls was a testament to that. The second stage was the longest, but easiest part – the journey. If she had been Clare or Linus, it would have been both quick and easy, but she didn’t have the skills that they did. The third and final part was even easier than that, but by the butterflies in Mallory’s gut, one could have been fooled otherwise.
Mallory wasn’t often the kind of person to show big emotions outwardly. Being expressive and emotional was Clare and Linus’ jobs – staying cool, calm and collected at all times was hers. It was how they managed to dial back on the trouble they encountered often these days.
That being said, on this night Mallory found herself almost buzzing with excitement. It was such a little thing, this mission that they had tonight, and yet the prospect of it filled her heart with its simple happiness. Or perhaps it was less the specifics of their quest and more the company she would be spending it alongside. Who could tell, really?
She nodded along in gentle time to her soundtrack, her plastic bags rustling at her sides as she went. After a little while, lost in her own thoughts, Mallory suddenly became aware of the sound of something through her music.
She stopped walking and raised a hand to take out an earbud, cocking her head to listen the racket with a perplexed expression. How strange it was to say that this sound was so familiar to her now. The grunts of exertion, the roars of fury, the tussle of fists and fabric – it was the sound of a fight. But a street fight out here at this hour? It wasn’t even close to midnight yet. Either there were civilians were out here getting sloshed already (considering the night, she wouldn’t be surprised) or someone had a serious axe to grind.
Another voice echoed out of the dark then – “You can do better than that!” it said – and Mallory felt her whole body lighten.
Turning abruptly on her heels, she began to walk quickly towards the noises, making her way through a serpentine labyrinth of side streets until–
There. In the alleyway before her. Leather-gloved fists flying, combat boots kicking, and long brown braid swinging with the momentum of her movements, the infamous Fisticuffs, local Urban Legend and Vigilante Army-Of-One, stood her ground against the force of an angry mob, laughing in the faces of her aggressors. Half her assailants were already on the ground with split lips and grazed faces, groaning in pain – the rest stood tentatively around her, seeming to want to attack but not wanting to join their companions on the concrete.
Maybe it was the rustle of Mallory’s plastic bags in the wind or maybe it was the sensing of the Vigilante energy that they both shared, but Fisticuffs looked up from her fight then to look straight towards her. The second their eyes met, her antagonising grin became more amicable, and she straightened and dusted off the shoulders of her tough charcoal jacket.
“Hey, lady!” she said cheerfully, raising her hand in greeting. “Whatcha up to?”
Mallory smiled wryly, more to herself than anyone else, and adjusted her hold on her bags.
“Did you forget?” she called back. “About tonight.”
“Forget?” Fisticuffs’ brow crinkled in confusion. “Forget what – oh.”
Mallory laughed a little.
“I thought so,” she said. Then she nodded. “Watch out.”
One of the mob, seeing an opening, took the opportunity to take a swing at Fisticuffs, but she batted his arm away and slammed her fist into his gut, dropping him to the ground. The last two assailants left standing stepped backwards immediately, their resolve faltering at this easy win.
Fisticuffs turned back to regard Mallory again and laughed, and the pure amusement in the sound made Mallory’s heart flutter.
“Okay, okay,” Fisticuffs raised her hands in defeat. “I remember now. Just give me a minute, alright? I’ll finish up and be right there.”
Mallory raised an eyebrow.
Fisticuffs winked at her.
Upon realising their exit point, Linus rubbed at the back of his neck in a sheepish fashion.
“Sorry. I mean to get closer but I got excited.”
“You doof,” she said affectionately. “At least it was around the back. Come on, then.”
They were still holding hands. Clare pulled Linus out into the open air and the two of them disappeared into the fog like smoke into the wind.
When they whirled out of the fog again a second later they were twenty minutes away from their initial location, standing at the edge of the container terminal on the other side of the Waterfront.
A long, dark shadow sat amidst the faint wisps of mist scattered across the harbour’s still, inky waters, and Clare pointed towards it.
“There it is!” she declared proudly. “A perfect view of the mark.”
“And five minutes to go,” Linus added, pulling back his sleeve to check his watch. “No way would we have gotten this good a view this late at our usual spot!”
“About time!” came a voice from somewhere nearby.
Clare and Linus turned to face the wall of corrugated steel behind them to see Mallory two crates up, leaning out from over the lip of a shipping container to peer down at them.
“Mal!” Clare spread out her arms in an enthusiastic greeting. “You’re here!”
“Yeah, and you’re not,” Mallory replied teasingly. “So much for getting here before me. Get up here already.”
Once Clare and Linus had clambered up the side of the containers to join Mallory, they settled down beside her and sat back to admire the view.
“Sure can’t beat the City on a good day!” Clare remarked. “Always something to see, something to do…”
“And someone to punch,” another voice broke in, and the three teens turned around to see Fisticuffs and Resonance appear over the side of the container and pull themselves up to join them. Clare and Linus cheered in unison.
As Fisticuffs knelt down beside Mallory, she placed a hand on her shoulder.
“Told ya I’d get here on time, didn’t I?”
“Only because I reminded you,” Mallory pointed out.
“As if I’d ever forget to make good on a date.”
“Hope you haven’t been waiting too long,” Resonance said apologetically, throwing herself down beside Linus. “Meant to be here earlier but it’s been a busy day.”
“No rest for the wicked, huh?” Linus grinned.
Resonance laughed and slipped off her bag to tuck it between her knees.
“Damn straight,” she replied. “Now where are those boys of mine?”
Clare opened her mouth to speak but then a distant, low rumbling interrupted her, and they all swivelled around in their seats to look out over the container yard behind them.
Resonance looked left, then right, then laughed.
Over the tops of the container stacks to their distant right came a tall, broad-shouldered figure in red and black, and to the distant left, another, slighter form in green and grey and navy blue – Rehua and Shockwave, running and jumping with long, dynamic strides over the maze of shipping containers before them. It was hard to tell when they were at opposing sides of the terminal, but it seemed as if Rehua had the barest of leads in their ostensible race – that is, until Shockwave took the penultimate gap with a dive front that put him ahead of Rehua by a split second, allowing him to land on the final container just a toe before his partner did.
They both straightened up, out of breath and barely able to speak, and Shockwave regarded his friend with a triumphant look.
“Told you,” he managed to get out.
Rehua pointed at Shockwave severely.
“Walking only,” he puffed, and Shockwave snorted and punched him lightly in the arm.
“Looks like everyone’s here then!” Linus pumped a fist in the air.
Clare snapped her fingers at Mallory with a grin.
“Looks like it! Time to pass ‘em out, Mal!”
Mallory reached into her shopping bags and began to pull out bottle after glass bottle of soda. She passed two up to Shockwave and Rehua, who both took them gratefully, but while Rehua opened his with ease, Shockwave struggled for a second before wordlessly holding it back out to Mallory.
Mallory smiled. Without touching the drink, she made a motion with her thumb as if flipping a coin, and the metal cap of the bottle flew off with a ping. Shockwave half-nodded at Mallory in thanks before throwing back his head and downing half the bottle in one gulp.
“Look who’s just on time then.” Resonance nudged Shockwave as he sat down on her other side. “Could’ve counted on that.”
“Just on time is still on time,” Shockwave replied easily, between gulps of soda. “You’re just too early.”
“And look who forgot to bring a top.” Rehua nudged Resonance as he sat down behind her. Drawing a bundle from the inside of his bomber jacket, he shook it out with one hand to unfold a cardigan – much too small to be his – and draped it over Resonance’s shoulders. “Could’ve counted on that.”
On the opposite side of the Waterfront from the terminal, tiny little lights could be seen amidst the silhouette of the crowds. Clare checked the time on her phone and nudged Linus and Mallory on either side of her.
“I think it’s time,” she said in a hushed, excited whisper. “And three, two…”
There was a shriek and a shrill whistle from the barge in middle of the harbour and a series of golden fireworks rocketed into the air to explode in a massive golden bouquet that lit up the clear night sky. They were followed by three, four, five more explosions, all bright colours and twinkling stardust, filling the air with noise and light and Clare’s heart with so much happiness that she thought she would burst.
She turned to regard the Vigilantes surrounding her and raised her soda into the air.
“A toast!” she declared emphatically. “To the City – Happy Anniversary Day! To the Māori New Year – Happy Matariki! And to us – the coolest dang bunch of Vigilantes this city has ever seen!”
“A pretty bold claim for such a newly minted Vig,” she said. “But I’ll drink to that. Gon bui!”
They all clinked their bottles together and took a collective drink. Fisticuffs lowered her soda and leaned in close to speak to Mallory, holding her bottle up towards her.
“And here’s another one,” she said. “To the coolest mechanic-Vig I’ve ever met.”
The braided Vigilante winked and took another sip of soda and Mallory flushed pink. Nonetheless, she found herself smiling, feeling as light and bubbly as the soda she was drinking. Perhaps it was less the specifics of their mission tonight, and more the company after all.
As the fireworks continued, the echoes of celebration came from the crowds on the other side of the Waterfront and Rehua raised his own soda to them in acknowledgement. He looked at the sparkling red flowers blooming in the sky, then to Resonance and Shockwave sitting before him, watching in rapture; Shockwave with his serious eyes and Resonance with her warm smile, cardigan wrapped around her shoulders.
“Kia pai tou tātou Matariki, e hoa ma,” Rehua murmured fondly, and smiled.
Clare watched a shower of silver sparkles rain from the sky with a fizzle and put her soda down, linking arms with Linus and Mallory and pulling them in close. She thought about the City, about her night life as a Vigilante, and of her friends here beside her whom she loved with all her heart.
“Do you think this’ll ever get old?” she asked softly, almost reverentially, watching the fireworks’ glittering trailing vanish into the mirror-like surface of the harbour.
Linus glanced towards her then looked up at the stars and smiled.