New Rourke Unmasked
What Invoked the Wrath of the Writer
Tempora Mutantur Robots | Tempus Fugit Sideways | Time Enough For Bullets

Akiva Shen had never really been sure what justice was. Sure, she had, in the past, devoted herself to punishing the wicked and protecting the innocent, but justice always seemed a rather wishy-washy concept to her. How did someone go about balancing the scales so that they came out even? She hadn’t met anyone who seemed to have a satisfactory answer either. Perhaps that was why statues of Justitia were blindfolded. Over the years she had come to the conclusion that justice was about diffusing anger; spreading outrage thin so that more shoulders made it less of a burden to bear.

* * *

That evening, as most of Mrs. Malrooney’s guests were leaving, Akiva pulled up to the house in the old, brown, pickup truck she had gotten from Rick, followed by a car driven by a salt and pepper haired Hispanic man in a plain, dark, suit with a burgundy briefcase. Fortunately, at some point, Akiva had managed to find a brush for her mussed up hair, but she remained in her partially singed clothes. They approached the door and waited patently while Mrs. Malrooney said her goodbyes.

”Can I help you?” Mrs. Malrooney asked.

”I’m sorry. I know it’s late.” Akiva answered. “I didn’t get a chance to thank you properly for letting me use your phone earlier. May I come in?”

Mrs. Malrooney frowned. “It is late.”

”Yes, I know. I promise not to take up too much of your time.”

Mrs. Malrooney gestured to the man. “And who is this?”

”Oh, this is Leon Laverez. He’ll wait outside.”

Maybe it was the time, or maybe it was the pitcher of long island iced tea, but Mrs. Malrooney put up her hands in a gesture of surrender. “Alright, if you must.”

Akiva stepped inside then Mrs. Malrooney closed the door. Akiva looked around at the frilly pillows, abandoned card table, and multitude of framed pictures of pugs, completely unsurprised by the décor. Mrs. Malroony’s pug, Mr. Squibbles, dozed upside-down on an ottoman.

”You have a charming home.” Akiva said, trying not to clench her jaw.

”It is a bit of a mess right now.” Mrs. Malrooney said, plopping down in an overstuffed chair. “The girls can be a rowdy bunch sometimes. You were saying?”

Akiva clasped her hands behind her back and peered at a bookshelf over laden with knick knacks, yet very few books. She turned around, cocking her head at the old spinster.

”Mrs. Malrooney, have you ever heard of Eleanor Darcy Vanderbilt?”

Mrs. Malrooney shook her head noncommittally. “No. Should I have?”

”She’s a writer…of some note. She mostly writes bad romance novels.”

”Mrs. Malrooney blanched. “I really don’t know what you are talking about, Ms. Shen.”

Akiva frowned. “That’s odd, because the people at Mieter Publishing seem to think that Eleanor Darcy Vanderbilt is the nom de plume of a Mrs. Leslie Malrooney. Isn’t that your name, Mrs. Malrooney?”

Mrs. Malrooney crossed her arms and attempted to squeeze her frame further into the seatback. “What are you getting at, miss?”

Akiva narrowed her eyes at the diminutive. “You do write under the penname Eleanor Darcy Vanderbilt, do you not?”

”Yes, alright.” Mrs. Malrooney stomped to her feet. “I use the pen name so that my friends don’t find out I write anything so tawdry. Are you satisfied?”

”Not quite.” Akiva pulled a small object out of her pocket. “Do you know what this is?”

Mr.s Malrooney stared at the ceiling; her face was turning red. “I wouldn’t have a clue.”

Akiva’s voice took on a noticeable edge. ”Look closer, Mrs. Malrooney.”

”That’s a bullet.” She glared.

Akiva held the bullet up, examining the scratches in the metal. “Do you know what makes a bullet work? Trajectory, momentum, a whole lot of kinetic energy, intention, and the time it needs to get where it is going. However if you remove one of those properties, in this case time, you’ve still got a very dangerous object. At the moment, this one only needs the intention altered before it is given back its time.”

Akiva released the bullet. It shot from her hand, halting inches from Mrs. Malrooney’s face. Mrs. Malrooney fell back into her chair screaming. Mr. Squibbles rolled over and made a burping bark noise.

”I have fourteen more bullets like that in my pocket.”

“How dare you come into my house and threaten me, you little freak!”

”I’m not threatening you, Mrs. Malrooney.” Akiva said, coolly. “I’m illustrating a point."

Akiva calmly plucked the bullet out of the air, placed it back into her pocket, then opened the front door.

”Please come in, Mr. Laverez.”

Leon walked over to the card table, where he sat down and pulled a stack of papers out of his briefcase.

”What is going on‽” Mrs. Malrooney yelled.

”Mrs. Malrooney, I’m a lawyer for Mieter Publishing.” Leon said, looking over the papers. “I have here your publishing history along with a copy of your publishing agreement. In the last six years, you’re published seven books with us. The first five sold fairly well, but the sixth did poorly, so Ms. Shen was brought in to edit and help make changes on the last book, Sparrow Gondola. While sales did increase, and your work became profitable again, Sparrow Gondola also managed to get better critical reviews than any of your previous ones.

”Shortly before Sparrow Gondola was released, when we were doing the initial promotional phase, you did an interview in which you said, and I quote, ‘Bringing in a new editor wasn’t my idea. I’m sure Akiva Shen is competent, but she made changes to my manuscript that I didn’t fully agree with. Yes, the early reviews have been good, but it’s not my vision.’.”

Akiva forced a surprise gasp. “I’ve had a famous author living down the street from me for years and she never said anything. And she thinks I’m competent too! How neighborly.”

Mrs. Malrooney rubbed her temple. ”What does that have to do with anything?”

”You may have noticed that my house was destroyed this morning.” Akiva growled. “You probably also didn’t know that I am a…semi-retired superhero. Well, I tracked down who was responsible, and do you know what I found? A supervillian with an unhealthy obsession with mediocre writers. He was ranting about my crimes against art. He had every one of your books including large autographed posters of the book covers. Even one for Sparrow Gondola which he had covered in some rather hurtful slurs.

”I’m not responsible for what my fans do, or who they are!”

”In principle I would agree with you.” Leon said. “Unfortunately, your statements in that interview, however innocuous you perceive them to be, hurt Mieter Publishing. We pride ourselves on our relationship with our writers and staff. A public statement like that puts us in a bad light. After that interview was published we received several pieces of hate mail. There were some threads on our forums which had to be closed for disruptive behavior. But worst of all, your actions led to Ms. Shen’s home being destroyed and her life being put in danger.”

Mrs. Malrooney sighed and leaned back in her chair. “What do you want me to do about it?”

”This isn’t much the company believes you can do in this case.”

”So, you’re going to stop publishing my books? Is that it?”

”As a matter of fact no.” Leon said packing his papers back into his briefcase. “I’ve been authorized to tell you, that Mieter Publishing looks forward to future submissions by you. Your contract will remain the same. We are willing to purchase the publishing rights to any books or short stories you write in the future at the standard minimum price.”

”Minimum price!”

”Yes, eight thousand dollar advances with a set royalty rate of ten percent.”

Mrs. Malrooney waved a white-knuckled fist at Leon. “You can’t do this!”

”I’m pretty sure we can.” Leon replied. “A portion of the profits will go to reimbursing Ms. Shen for her loss of property.”

”I’ll take my work to another publisher!”

”You are certainly free to do so, Mrs. Malrooney. However, your option clause clearly states that Mieter Publishing has first look rights on any future work you do. It also stipulates that if we make an offer on that work you must accept it without accepting any higher offer from our competitors. If you try to sell your work to another company, you will be sued for breach of contract.”

“Wow.” Akiva’s brow furrowed. “That’s…bad. Who negotiated your agreement?”

Leon closed his briefcase and walked to the door while Mrs. Malrooney fumed.

”Why are you taking her side? She’s just an editor. I’m a writer damn it!”

Leon paused. “Mrs. Malrooney, you have published seven books with us. Ms. Shen has been with Mieter publishing since it was a small independent press working out of the back of a used book store. In the last year alone she has edited nine books, ghost written four, and brought two new writers to our attention. Ms. Shen is a cornerstone of Mieter Publishing. You are simply a resource we are willing to use. You are free to attempt to renegotiate after your next book, but I would suggest you get a good lawyer first. Good evening ladies.”

After Leon left, Akiva stood in the living room watching Mrs. Malrooney cry her rage out.

”Why?” Mrs. Malrooney croaked. “Why did you make them do that?”

Akiva frowned. For the last few minutes she watched as most of her anger and frustration had transferred to someone else. Over the years she had come to the conclusion that justice was about diffusing anger; spreading outrage thin so that more shoulders made it less of a burden to bear. She decided it was perhaps time to reassess that idea.

”I didn’t make anyone do anything.” she said calmly. “I just told the company what happened, and they made the decisions.”

”You little bitch.” Mrs. Malrooney muttered.

”Call me what you want, but you know you aren’t innocent in all of this.”

”Like hell I’m not.”

Akiva felt the sudden urge to slap her neighbor, but she resisted. “Fourteen bullets, Mrs. Malrooney. You knew who I was. You knew I was working on your book, but the only contact I ever had was from the office. We could have worked together to make it something we could all be happy with. Instead, you got mad. Then you got petty. For months you’ve brought your dog over to shit on my lawn. You insulted my work in as subtle, and public, a fashion as you could conceive. That caused me to loose everything but the clothes on my back. Fourteen bullets.”

She opened the door, clenching the doorknob. Again she fought down a rising bubble of anger. Enough damage had been done.

”I can move time around, but I can’t reverse it. That’s what I do, Mrs. Malrooney. I’m not a bad person, and I’m sure you don’t really want to be one either. You fired the first shot. I stopped the rest. I don’t think I want to carry them anymore.”

Akiva stepped outside into the cool night air. The breeze felt good on her face. She walked to the truck, then one by one took the bullets out of her pocket, stood them up on the sidewalk, and accelerated their natural decay until they were little more than piles of tiny metal fragments. When she stepped back, she watched them shoot up into the sky and float out over the city.

Thanks to Lucy-S for pointing me toward info on what can go into a publishing agreement.
Granted I did exaggerate a bit to the negative side.
Thanks to Jet-Poop for some inspiration.

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