Original Short Story–“Canary Code” by Jackie Kessler and Caitlin Kittredge


Black and White.jpg
Introduction by Jackie Kessler:
I used to watch The Electric Company when I was a kid, and there was a terrific segment on it called “Spidey.” Spider-Man would appear on the scene to help people — but he “spoke” only in dialogue balloons, so the other people had to pause and read the content of those balloons aloud to have a conversation with him. Cool idea, one that helped kids like me want to read. (But I wound up thinking for the longest time that Spider-Man was mute. Oops.) After “Spidey” came actual comic books, which I read with my dad every week, from the time I was 8 until I went to college. (Yes, swapping an issue of The New Teen Titans for, say, an Avengers West Coast was a family tradition.)
Even though I stopped reading comics religiously, my love for all things superhero never went away. When I met Caitlin Kittredge, I was psyched to discover that she and I were both fangirls at heart. And so we decided to write our own superhero novel, one that focused on two women: Jet, the superheroine who worked with shadow, and Iridium, the supervillainess who worked with light. To best use our voices, Caitlin wrote all the Iridium-POV chapters and I wrote all the Jet POV chapters. The result? BLACK AND WHITE, the first book of The Icarus Project.
There are a few other Icarus project stories that Caitlin and I wrote. And now, for the first time, you can find them here at Unbound Worlds.com.
“Canary Code” after the jump!

“Canary Code”
An Icarus Project short (short) story

by Jackie Kessler and Caitlin Kittredge

“Stop me if you heard this one. Three rabids fly into a bar.”
Samson groaned. “Christo, Were, you’ve only told us that one three times in the past week.”
The shaggy-haired boy grinned. “Yeah, but did I tell it to you with hand motions, or just words?” He made a hand motion to demonstrate.
Sam rolled his eyes. Were was a damn good partner, and an OK roommate–if you didn’t mind the shower always being clogged with hair. But Sam wished to Jehovah above that Were would stop thinking he was a comedian. Or that he’d get better material.
“Were,” Jet said tersely, “could you please spare us, just this once?”
Sam wanted to grab Jet’s hand and squeeze it tight, but they were still being quiet about their relationship. The Academy frowned on the extrahuman students showing public displays of affection, so Jet took pains to act as if she and Sam were just friends.
So instead he smiled at her, and imagined kissing her. Jet was a quiet girl, and she tried to keep her emotions to herself. Sam was flattered that she lowered her guard when they were alone–that she showed him the real Joannie Green, the girl behind the Shadow power. Sam liked that he could make her smile.
Sam liked her.
Jet caught his look and blushed fiercely, which made Sam want to kiss her even more.
“Aw, lighten up, Jet.” Were chuckled. “Hah, I made a funny!”
“You did?” Red Lotus arched an eyebrow. “When?”
Were sighed loudly and turned to Samson. “Back me up, here, partner. None of these guys have a sense of humor.”
“We do when you say something that’s actually humorous,” said Iridium.
Before Sam could reply, Frostbite said, “Daft sighting, three o’clock.”
All six of them at the table–Frostbite, Were, Red Lotus, Jet, Iridium, and Samson himself–craned their heads to watch Tyler Taft, code-name Hornblower, saunter into the library. The large boy made a big show of looking around, and when he spotted Samson and the others, Hornblower sneered. “Come on,” he said to one of his ever-present fans. “I didn’t realize Dewey had set up a white trash section.”
“Ooooh,” Iridium said. “I bet he practiced that line for hours.”
“Days,” agreed Frostbite.
Sam was glad the others could joke about Tyler Taft. All he wanted to do was punch the boy’s perfect teeth out. But because Samson was an Earth power, he would have probably rearranged Hornblower’s face. Permanently. So he kept his anger in check.
As Hornblower and his groupies walked past their table, Sam watched Frostbite create an ice ball–very tiny, certainly not big enough to set off the power wards–and toss it to Were. Once Hornblower wasn’t looking, Were lobbed the ball at the back of Hornblower’s head.
The six of them immediately became engrossed with their various datascreens–good little birdies, all doing the right thing. Even by-the-book Jet followed the Canary Code, as long as the only one getting shat on was Hornblower.
As Sam pretended to review his calculus equations, Hornblower stormed over to them. Sam quietly readied himself for battle. Just in case.
Tyler Taft grabbed the back of Frostbite’s neck, lifting him bodily from his chair. “You think you’re cute, you little fa–”
Samson slammed his hand down on the table. “Let go of him, Tyler, and just walk away.”
Hornblower shook Frostbite like he had candy inside him. “What, he can’t fight his own battles? Figures.”
Frostbite had learned a long time ago that sometimes you just didn’t fight back. Half the time, he felt like he was watching himself move through his life at the academy, and that there was an entire part of himself that was invisible, dark as Jet’s shadow powers.
It figured that out of hundreds of so-called extrahuman students, only that jerk Hornblower had figured out what everyone else didn’t see.
“Tyler, for Christo’s sake,” Iridium huffed. “It was a joke. Grow that stunted sense of humor.”
“You going to stop me?” Hornblower demanded. “End up in jail like dear old supervillain Daddy?”
Iridium knocked her chair back, bolting to her feet. “What did you say about my father?”
Frostbite guessed that he was lucky to at least have Samson, Jet, Iridium, Were and Red Lotus. Chen wasn’t jumping to his defense–he just watched, tensed every so slightly. There if Frostbite needed him.
That was the Canary Code–Always have your friend’s back.
It was the one rule of the Academy Frostbite didn’t have any trouble obeying.
And it was lucky for Frostbite that Tyler was distracted by his friend. It gave him plenty of time to ice up the floor under the bigger boy.
Hornblower went down like an ungainly sack of permacrete. Frostbite regained his feet, but he wasn’t quick enough. Tyler got back up, and he came in swinging. “I shoulda clipped your wings a long time ago, fairy!”
Frostbite stood his ground, waiting to be hit. It wouldn’t be the first time and it wouldn’t be the last.
Before Hornblower could land a fist or a sonic blast, though, Samson stepped between them and landed his fist in Tyler’s jaw.
Tyler sat down hard, his eyes filling with reflexive tears. His mouth opened to release the sonic power that would blow Samson across the room.
Frostbite did what came naturally.
He froze Hornblower’s mouth shut.
Jet stood, and curled Samson’s bruised fist into her hand. Iridium put her hand on Frostbite’s shoulder. “Are you okay?” she asked.
Frostbite looked at Chen. Chen stood up, deliberately, and leaned into Hornblower’s face. “You so much as look at either of us again, I’ll take you apart.”
Frostbite smiled at Iridium. “Yeah, sweetie. I’m fine.”
He could never tell Chen all of the thoughts that swelled inside him, and if he wanted to stay out of Therapy, he could never bring that shadow part of him into the light.
But he had friends, and he had Chen.
Frostbite left the library with Iridium, but caught Chen’s eye over his shoulder. Chen smiled at him.
Frostbite figured that it wasn’t perfect, but it was a start.

© 2009 by Jackie Kessler and Caitlin Kittredge

Jackie Kessler is the author of the Hell on Earth series, a sexy, funny dark paranormal about a succubus-turned-stripper who ran away from Hell (devilish antics ensue). Caitlin Kittredge is the author of the Nocturne City series and the upcoming Black London adventures. Black and White is their first collaboration, which came out June 2009, and their next book in the Icarus Project series, Shades of Grey, comes out in July 2010.