Sympathy 1 - Vignette

Every Cop is a Criminal

1 & 1/2 years ago, or thereabouts.

The old warehouse looked like it was on the verge of falling apart. Metal sheeting hung loosely from the roof, often held on by a single join. The windows that weren't broken were dirty with years of grime, and the walls seemed to almost be crumpling under their own weight. And if that wasn't enough, every single one of the buildings on either side of it looked exactly the same, stretched out in an unbroken line of griminess. 

Though, Flint Perez mused as he inspected the building from the top of the apartment block opposite, that might have been the point. No-one had probably been to this area of the docks in years, and even if someone did come by, they wouldn't expect anyone to be inside the abandoned warehouses. In another area of the city, there might have been squatters, drug dealers and 31 different flavors of criminal, but a combination of the nearby upscale districts and their prevalence of law enforcement officers, along with recent developments in the area, meant that Lakeside Avenue was a crime-free area. 

Flint glanced at his watch. 18:55, it flashed at him muted LED: five minutes left. He'd been waiting in his vantage point for nearly an hour now, and not a single person had shown up. No pedestrians, no cops, but more importantly, no other costumes. Either none of the supposed others had shown up early, or they'd found better vantage points than he had. 

Or, of course, the whole thing could be a trap. He'd been tossing up the possibility in his head for the last couple of days, ever since the encounter with the woman in white. On one hand, it was incredibly suspicious. A random costume approaching him while he was patrolling, acting like she knew him and then inviting him to a meeting? Flint may not have gotten the best grades, but he was far from stupid, and the whole thing set alarms bells going in his head. On the other hand, though... the way she'd talked, about doing something bigger, helping more people... he considered himself a pretty good people reader, and to him, she'd been completely and utterly sincere. Despite himself, he'd decided that he'd at least listen to what she had to say. And if it was a trap?

His fingers tightened around the handle of the short sword at his side. If it was a trap, she was going to wish she'd never tried it. 

The watch beeped as it ticked over to 7:00, and there was still no one present. He absentmindedly ran a hand through his dreadlocks, pushing them back beneath his hood, and blew out a blast of air through his nose. He'd decided he wasn't going to be the first one in, and he was willing to deal with being late. Better to be seen as tardy to walk into a trap. 

A humid summer breeze rolled over his neck, tinged with the slightest dusk chill. Just a few hundred feet past the warehouse, the sun's last rays glinted over the waters of Lake Michigan.

The completely still waters of Lake Michigan. 

Before the realization had even had time to fully form, he'd thrown himself to the side, tucking in and rolling across the rough concrete. He skidded behind an exhaust block, sword whipping out of its scabbard with a soft rasp. The metal clanked softly against his back, sending an echo ringing down through the shaft.  

A loud, sharp noise snapped out, and he instinctively ducked to the side, before realizing it was the sound of someone clapping. 

"Impressive. Not, like, sarcastic 'impressive', but actually impressive."

He sighed; he recognized the voice. "Oh," he said as he stood up from behind the block, "it's you."

The woman in white stood on the opposite side of the roof, arms folded across her chest. Seeing her in better lighting, he realized that the trim that he'd thought was black was actually a bloody crimson, marking the edges of the plated armor she wore as well as the cape draped down her back. She was taller than he was and full-figured, but the mask that covered her face made it hard to guess her age. Probably mid-twenties, if he had to estimate. Oddly-styled red hair fell down to her shoulders: ordinary ginger on one side, and a deep glossy red on the other. He couldn't imagine any way that it could be real; it'd be nearly impossible to conceal in her civilian identity.

He pointed the sword at her warily. "What, exactly, did you think you were going to achieve by sneaking up on me?" he asked, glaring at her. 

She shrugged nonchalantly. "I wanted to see how well you'd react, that's all."

"Really," he said flatly.

"Yep, really. What tipped you off, if I'm allowed to ask?"

He considered not telling her, but decided it couldn't hurt. "The breeze," he said, gesturing out at the lake. "The water was perfectly still, and it hadn't been windy at all before."

"And what if the wind had just picked up?" she asked, sounding amused.

It was his turn to shrug. "Then no harm done. You're lucky I did, though. If you were closer, I'd probably have gored you on instinct."

She laughed softly. "I'm sure you would have tried," she said kindly. 

He bared his teeth, and whipped his left hand forward, the one not holding the sword. There was a soft chink as the shuriken he'd concealed in his palm buried itself in the ground in front of her foot. She jumped back, swearing. 

"I could have put that in your gut," he said in a controlled, measured tone. "Don't condescend at me, lady, or I will make you regret it."

She looked down at the shuriken, then up at him. And then she laughed. His grip on the blade's handle tightened, and he began reaching for another projectile. 

She noticed his reaction, and held up her hands, gesturing submission. "Sorry, sorry. You're right, that was uncalled for." There was still some amusement in her tone, but he slowly lowered his hand. "It's just... the whole ninja thing. Throwing stars? That scarf? And what is that, a shoto?" 

He blinked in surprise. "...yeah. How did you..."

"Internet," she said, waving a hand dismissively. "Seriously though, what's that whole thing about? You're obviously not Asian," she said, obviously referring to his dark skin. 

He gave a small, noncommittal gesture. "I worked with what I had available."

"And what you had available was shurikens and a short sword? You look like you escaped from the Karate Kid reboot."

Despite himself, a small chuckle escaped his throat. She pointed accusingly. "I heard that, Mr. 'Look-at-how-angry-and-moody-I-am'."

He glared at her. She didn't seem fazed. "Come on, let's get down there. We're already late," she said as she strode past him. She stopped at the edge of the roof, and turned back towards him. "Are you coming or not?" she asked. 

He looked over the edge, and at the street below. "I think I'll stick with the stairs."

She shrugged. "Suit yourself," she replied, and stepped backwards off the edge.

He watched as she fell, oddly slow, towards the pavement. When she landed, it looked less like a human body that had just fallen 12 stories and more like a feather that had gently come to a rest. She turned around and saw him looking down, waved, and crossed the street towards the meeting point. He waited a minute, then walked back towards the door to the stairwell.

He descended slowly, checking every corner before he rounded them. Just because she hadn't attacked him on the rooftop didn't mean it wasn't still a trap. When he got to the ground level, he paused in the lobby for a second, gathering his wits, then sprinting out across the road, weaving and juking in case of any ranged attackers. 

There apparently weren't any, or they were biding their time, and he reached the door unmolested. He pressed his back up against the wall next to the doorframe, and slowly pushed it open with his sword. The hinges creaked as it swung open, but there were no explosions or gunshots, so he slipped in through the crack. 

"That's a bit paranoid, isn't it?" 

The inside of the warehouse looked much like the outside had, except with more dust and debris. One of the support columns had fallen, and the section of the roof it had been supporting was crumpled and sagging in a manner that he didn't like the look of. A small amount of light was managing to trickle in through the dirty skylights, and it provided a scant view of the figures standing in the center of the room. 

There were four of them. The woman, a guy in makeshift armor who looked vaguely Indian, a white guy with no sleeves and a balaclava and goggles, and a figure of indeterminate gender in full combat gear. The voice that had spoken had been male and sounded fairly proper and English, so he guessed it was the Indian-looking one.

"There's no such thing as too paranoid," he said to the figure. "There's paranoid enough, and there's dead."

His guess had been wrong: the white guy, Balaclava, opened his mouth and replied. "That doesn't seem like the healthiest of mindsets to be living by."

Flint fixed him with a glare. "I'm a vigilante. They really are all out to get me."

The Indian guy snorted. "Wow. Who invited this clown? What, you think you're a ninja or something?"

"Foresight, please," said the woman in white, holding up a hand in a forestalling gesture. "I invited him, like I did everyone else. As for why, if you'd join us," she said to Flint, "I'll begin."

He cautiously approached the group, until they were standing in a loose circle, a few feet between them. 

The guy snorted at him, but didn't say anything else, just folding his bulky gauntlets over his chest.

"So," she said. "Welcome. In case you hadn't guessed, I invited you here because you're all the vigilantes of this city." We all looked at her silently. "Not the only ones," she amended, raising her hand, "or even the highest profile ones, but the point still stands. You've all managed to stay under the radar, mostly dealing with your own areas, and it took a significant amount of time for me to track you down."

The figure in combat gear spoke up, revealing themselves to be female. "Why don't ya just fuck right off, ya snooty bitch. If we wanted ta hear shit we already knew, we'd be atta school." Now there was a sentiment Flint could get behind. He had to wonder about her accent, though; it didn't sound like any he'd ever heard. She'd pronounced three uses of the same sound three different ways, and there didn't seem to be any sort of pattern to it. Maybe it was intentional, a way of hiding her voice?

The woman raised her hand again; it seemed to be a habit of hers. "There is a point, I promise, and I'm getting to it. In case you hadn't guessed, I'm one of you, or I at least do the same thing, but I've not been so under the radar. Have any if you heard of the Steelmill Phantom?" Flint vaguely recalled hearing something about it on the news a few weeks ago, but he hadn't paid any attention to it, brushing it off as more Tower business. The rest of them either nodded, shook their heads, or shrugged. "Well," she said, spreading her arms, "you're looking at her. I've been giving the so-called 'heroes' a bit of trouble in the area, and apparently they've decided I've warranted a name."

"How much trouble?" asked the gauntlet guy (Foresight, she'd called him) suspiciously. 

Her posture shifted slightly, and although he couldn't see it, it was obvious to Flint that a huge grin covered her face. "I was stopping a mugging when Fog and Thrust showed up and tried to bring me in. I refused. They tried to make me come anyway, and I… nicely convinced them not to."

Flint gave a low whistle. Fog and Thrust belonged to the Guardians, the local Tower's junior hero team. But junior didn't mean weaker, and they were both tough customers: if this Phantom had 'convinced' them both, then she was either very lucky, lying, or really strong (or some combination of the three). But if she had...

He swore out loud, his sword appearing in his hand. "You lying... This whole thing! You just want us to be here when they find you!"

The others looked at her, eyes narrowing and fists clenching as the implications of his words sunk in. "Is that true?" asked Balaclava. "Because if it is, the next few minutes are going to be very unpleasant for you." There were angry murmurs of assent all around, Flint included. He'd worked very hard to make sure he didn’t attract attention to himself, and if this woman thought she was going to mess that up, she had another one coming. 

She took a step back, arms raised up in front of her like a shield. "Whoa whoa whoa. Hold your horses, people. I promise, that wasn't my intent at all.  Though," she said, “you did touch on a point that’s relevant to what I was getting at.”

“Then maybe,” he suggested sarcastically, “you should just fucking say it, rather than dancing around it like the prettiest ballerina at the show.”

“Aww, you think I’m pretty.”

He growled. “I will kill you. Right here, right now.”

She laughed again. “You are way too easy to rile up. But the main gist of what I’m trying to say is this: I want to form a team.”

They all stared at her for a second. “Is that a joke?” Balaclava asked at last.

“Nope,” she replied. “Dead serious.”

“Why?” Flint asked.

“Well, if you’d let me ‘dance’ a little longer, I would’ve gotten to that. Look, it’s pretty simple; ‘United We Stand’ and all that. We’re all working towards the same goal, and if we work together, our ability to do that increases exponentially.”

Foresight scoffed. “So, you want us to do what, exactly? Get matching costumes and get into fights with the heroes?”

“Nothing that complicated. All I’m suggesting is that we assign areas, keep in communication, that sort of thing. If any of us get into trouble, the others come and help out. That way, we can make sure that we’re covering the most areas, and we don’t have to worry about the Tower finding us.”

“I’m pretty sure we’d still hafta,” the armored figure of ambiguous nationality said. “It’s the fuckin’ Tower.”

Phantom snorted. “Please. They play up their rep, but they’re not a government agency; they can’t go around spying on people or anything like that. Besides, half of those pansies they call heroes haven’t been in a real fight in their life. The five of us? More than enough to take on anything that gets thrown at us.”

“And if we don’t like the idea of having things thrown at us in the first place?” Balaclava asked. “I don’t know if you’ve forgotten or if you’re simply willfully ignoring it, but the rest of us,” and he enunciated in such a way to make it clear as the not-so-subtle dig that it was, “have managed to be just fine flying under the radar.”

“Maybe,” she admitted. “I’m not expecting an answer right here and now. All I’m asking is that you think it through, and judge for yourself which way’s going to allow you to do more good.”

“Wha’ makes ya think ya can trust us?” Combat Gear asked. “S’not like you actually know any of us. We could jus’ stab ya in the back or something.”

“Maybe I’m just a trusting person,” Phantom replied easily. “Or maybe I’ve been watching you all for a while now and think I’ve gotten a good measure of you. Pick whichever answer make you more comfortable.”

“Telling us you’ve been spying on us isn’t the best way to get us to trust you,” Flint said suspiciously.

“Man, you’re just like a broken record, aren’t you?” she asked with a smile in her voice. “Do you want a big neon sign that says ‘I Have Issues’ or something? I’ve said my thing. Once you get home, look me up, and you’ll see that I’ve been doing exactly what I said I have. Put aside your own issues for a second and look at this… what’s the word? Um, without bias and that stuff?”

“Objective?” asked Balaclava dryly.

She clicked her fingers. “Yeah, that one. Look at it objectively, and you’ll see what I’m saying makes sense.”

He stared at her, then at the others. “This isn’t a joke, is it? You’re serious. You,” he pointed at her,” are actually serious, and you lot,” he gestured at the others, “are actually considering it.”

“You’re just now getting that?” she asked, sounding surprised.

Balaclava shrugged. “She does have something of a point.”

He threw his arms up in exasperation. “I give up. You’re all stupid, this idea is idiotic, and you’re going to end up dead or in jail because of it. Hell, now you’re probably going to get me dragged down along with you. So thanks a fucking bunch, but I’m done.” He turned away from them and strode towards the door.

“Oh, come on,” Phantom called after him. “You’ve got to admit that knowing who the other vigilantes are is useful. At least give me that.”

He stopped and sighed. “Fine.” He turned and pointed to each of them in turn. “Steelmill Phantom, works in the industrial area. Frequent gunfire in the slums means that’s probably Combat Gear’s stomping ground. “Foresight” sounds preppy as hell, so I’m assuming he’s working near the burbs. Balaclava, no idea. Happy?”

Balaclava spoke up. “Slums, in case you’re interested.”

“I’m really not.” He moved to leave again. “Have fun with your little suicide party.”

“What about you?” Phantom asked innocently. “Least you can do.”

“Yeah,” Combat Gear said, sounding annoyed. “’Specially since ya got all pissed about her watching ya, then turns out, you’ve been doin’ the same.”

“I haven’t been spying on any of you,” he replied, irritated, not turning. “I just did my research, specifically to avoid this scenario.”

“Uh-huh,” she said, not sounding convinced.

“If you really want to know, I’ve been working here. Stay out of my turf, and I’ll stay out of yours.”

“You got a name?” asked Foresight.

He snorted dismissively. “Names are for poseurs and arrogant shits.”

They all stared at him for a second. “Void,” the woman in white said flatly, tapping her chest.

“Flatline,” said Balaclava, sounding amused.

“Ricochet,” and she looked like she was death staring him.

“Names are kind of important these days,” Void said. “You might want to reconsider that stance.”

“Whatever,” he said, stepping out the door. “Don’t contact me again.”

He strode down the street, passing in and out of the pools of light cast by the streetlamps. Those idiots didn’t know what they were getting themselves into. Sure, they might get something going in the short term, but he’d met good money that within a year, year and a half at the most, either the Tower would stomp them out, or they’d stumble into something bigger than themselves, and one of the groups of criminals would do the Tower’s job for them. And he’d had warned them, of exactly that. It was a shame, but what it wasn’t was his business. He’d just keep doing what he was doing, saving people.

So why did it bother him so much?

Sympathy 1 - IV

Next Chapter

Previous Chapter

Guess My Name

First things first. Although Pubic Lice was the most obvious threat, he was busy holding Tide and Stonewall hostage. Plus, Strongarm was attacking one of my teammates, making him the obvious target. If I took him down quick enough, I could even the odds, making it two vs. three if Ribbon was okay, before they noticed anything was happening.


I reached the edge of the crater and jumped outwards, flinging myself towards where Strongarm was currently pulling a Hulk move on Ribbon and smashing her back and forth into the ground either side of him, using one freakishly oversized arm. I winced.

So not two on three, then.

I hit the edge of the crater and slid down the incline, going right between his legs. As he jolted back, I clasped my hands into a fist above my head and used my power, sending me cannoning up into…

Hmm. How do I put this delicately…?

Eh, fuck it. I hammer-punched him hard enough in the balls to make sure he’d never sing anything but soprano for a couple of years.

I never liked etiquette class anyway.

He screamed, as high-pitched as you’d expect, and fell to the ground, writhing in pain. I’d have liked to stop and check on Ribbon, who looked pretty bad, but I couldn’t risk stopping. I gave Strongarm a solid kick as I ran by, rolling his body in between Ribbon and the center of the crater. Not a perfect solution for what I had in mind, but it’d have to do for now.

Medusa and Mr. Krabs had noticed me, and I ducked as the ground behind me cracked and snapped as it turned into stone. I dodged to the side again and continued running towards where (fuck it, I’m out of names, I’m just going to call him Pincer) Pincer was holding Tide and Stonewall’s (presumably) unconscious bodies. He tried to throw them at me, but I reached out with my power as they fell towards me and bounced them over my head and out of the crater. It wouldn’t be a particularly pleasant landing for them, and they’d probably end up with even more bruises than they would have otherwise, but it would still be more pleasant than leaving them there for what was coming next.

Medusa screamed at me, high-pitched and painful, as I danced backwards towards the edge of the crater, dodging the petrification blasts she sent my way. Her hair, prehensile and sharp, was whipping up a storm around her. Eye-scream was still standing next to her, not really doing anything but ‘guarding’ Thunderdome’s body, which made me think either he didn’t have any long range offensive capability, or that he was saving it as a trump card. I considered sending one of Medusa’s hair strands into his face to see how he’d react, but the cold well of power in my core was running pretty low, and I reckoned I’d need everything left for what was coming next. Speaking of which…

Skew, ETA 30 seconds.” That was Freefall on the radio.

“Gotcha,” I said, spinning to the side to avoid yet another blast. I began a countdown in my head; if I mistimed this I could get turned to stone. “I'm about halfway up the crater on the tree side; aim directly for me.”

I'm not sure what it said about her, or me, that she didn't even question that. As my internal countdown reached five, I jumped over a blast and sent one of Medusa’s hair strands straight into her own face. She screamed as the razor-sharp lock drew a crimson line, the noise sounding as much like frustration as pain. It wouldn't occupy her for more than a second, but that was all I needed. I looked up to see a bright white shape directly overhead, growing in size rapidly. I reached inside myself, pooling the last reserves of my power, and just as the glowing meteor was about to hit me, I used that power on it, sending it 90 degrees from its original, downwards path.

Straight towards the forcefield.

Freefall’s power, like a lot of paranormals, was actually a few lesser abilities that synchronized together into a ‘theme’, for the lack of a better word. Her main power allowed her to store up energy while airborne and release it upon impact. The longer she was in the air, the more energy she built up. She had a secondary ability that allowed her to survive a fall from any height, or maybe that was the first ability sending all her momentum outwards in the blast, but it was her third power that really made her formidable: namely, the ability to teleport straight up. It would’ve been an annoying limitation (and you can’t imagine how useful it’d be to have a proper teleporter) but it synced up well with her other power.

Pincer had obviously wised up to the gist of that, because most of the strength in his forcefield was focused around the top. The crater was maybe 8 feet deep in the center, and the shield about the same, shaped like a sphere. When I say I was about halfway up, I was probably closer to three feet down. What all this added up to was that when Freefall slammed into the shield’s side…

Well, ever seen an egg get hit by a bullet? Take that, and replace the bullet with an artillery shell.

I was thrown back into the inclined ground as a shockwave of pure force erupted from the point of contact. I tumbled and rolled, deprived of any avoidance my power could have provided, and blinded by the cloud of dust thrown up by the wave. I coughed, and a sharp pain shot through my chest. Aw hell. That was not good. Wheezing, I pushed myself up onto one knee. I opened up a channel to the whole team on my earpiece. “All-,” I broke off as I choked on some dust in my throat. “Everyone, report in,” I finally managed to grate out.

This is Li- uh, Ricochet. I got eyes on the scene, jus’. You okay, Flint? Ya don’t sound great.”

“Flatline, reporting in lieu of Vortex. We’re just a few streets back, and it shouldn’t take us more than a few minutes.”

“…Foresight, still standing guard over a bunch of unconscious bodies.”

“Freefall.” Her voice was low and quiet. “At the center of the crater. Going to use the cloud to retreat.”

“Acknowledged, all. And negative to that, Freefall. I need a short blast, clear out the dust cloud, and hopefully stun the remaining Cabalists long enough for the others to arrive. Can you manage that?”

There was a tense silence for a second, then a short burst of static. “Ten seconds til impact,” she said, sounding pissed. Yet another thing to deal with later.

“Right. Ricochet, as soon as the dust clears, I want a stun shot on the brown one, he’s a forcefield generator.”

Gotcha. Ready an’ waitin’.”

“Good. Vortex, Flatline, get in here as quick as you can. Freefall and I’ll keep ‘em occupied til then. Let’s en-” There was a thump, and another shockwave slammed into me, but this one was only strong enough to make me take a few steps back.

As the dust cloud rolled past me, I got eyes on the center just in time to see Pincer convulse and collapse to the ground as a crack sounded out in the distance. Medusa and EyePhone were on their backs and struggling to rise, Medusa due to getting hit by two shockwaves in a row, and EyePad because Freefall had just booted him in the face. With a spray of blood from his nose, he went flying back to the ground, landing on top of Thunderdome and the duffel bag that lay next to her, not looking like he’d be up and about any time soon.

So probably not holding some powerful ability in reserve, then. But hey, who knows? Maybe he was just incredibly incompetent.

Medusa had struggled up onto one leg, facing Freefall and seemed to be preparing to send a bolt out at her. I took a perverse pleasure in hooking her leg out from under her and sending her face into the dirt. I rested one of my feet on her head and pushed down, grinding her face into the dust.

“Ok, Gorgon, there are two ways the remainder of this ass-kicking can go down. Option one is that you continue to lay in the dirt until our friends show up, and we all go on our way with a minimum of broken teeth. Option two is-” I felt something yank on my leg, pulling me down and sending me crashing to the ground just past her. I tried to hide the involuntary wince as my chest spiked with pain, and looked down to see her hair wrapped around my leg, and, just beyond that, her face looking up at me, with malice oozing from every pore. She bared her teeth, unnaturally sharp and pointy, and began pulling my foot towards her mouth.

So I used the foot she wasn’t holding to kick her in the mouth.

Point of information: I like very heavy boots. She reeled back, screaming through the hand she held to her mouth. I jumped up onto my feet (and dear God did it hurt), and grinned through the pain. “You have selected option two: a maximum of broken teeth, and you biting the dust until our friends arrive. Would you like to confirm your choice?”

She screeched and charged me, sending a blast forward in front of her as she sprang off the ground. I ducked under the bolt and waited until she was close, then feinted to one side. She followed the fake, hair whipping forward, razor-tipped strands ready to cut me to pieces. They slashed through the space I had been standing a second ago as I bounded forward, grabbed a handful of her hair, and yanked down as I went past her. Her head hit the ground with a dull thunk, and I jumped back away, cognizant of her hair this time. 

“You have selected Option Two. Thank you, and enjoy your beating.” I gestured to Freefall. “Keep her down, and grab the bag: I’m going to find your squad. When the others get here, send Vortex out to help, and then we’re clearing out. Get Foresight to make sure he’s not being tailed, and then tell him to go home.” I turned and began climbing out of the crater. “Ricochet. Nearest hero team?”

Uhh, the Guardians, I think?”

“Estimated ETA?” I’d spotted Tide easily in her distinctive blue costume, and I began heading towards her.

Precisely fuck-if-I-know minutes, boss.”

I groaned. “Har-de-har-har. We really need an info guy.” I’d reached Tide now, and I kneeled down next to her, waving a hand in front of her face. “Earth to Shauna,” I said softly. “Anyone home?”

Her eyes flickered behind her mask. “Skew…? Feckin’… argh, everything feckin’ hurts.”

“Yeah, getting bearhugged by a forcefield will do that to you.”

Her eyes widened slightly. “Is… Nat’s okay?”

I grimaced slightly. “She’s… not dead.”

“Where is she?! I need-” She tried to sit up, but only got halfway before clenching up in obvious pain.

“Hey, whoa there.” I put a hand on her shoulder, pushing her gently back down. “Nat’ll be fine. Come on, we’re going.” Over her feeble protests, I picked her up in a fireman’s carry, not hard, considering her slight frame. I turned back towards where Vortex was parking the car, with Flatline jogging down into the pit, and began heading back in that direction.

Standards gettin’ that low, Flint?”

“What?” I asked, confused for a second. “Oh, the thinker thing.” Lis had a bit of a habit of that: if she decided a conversation wasn’t done, she’d keep bringing it up until she felt it was. “Well, what can I say? If it’s a choice between recruiting a thinker and ending up in jail, guess which one I’m going for? Hint, it’s the one that doesn’t end with my ass distended a couple of inches.” I opened the car door, struggling for a second to avoid dropping Tide.

Aww, but if ya don’t like that, what are ya gonna do when you finally get a guy into bed?”

I rolled my eyes as I placed her limp body into the backseat of the car. “For what has to be the 50th time, I’m not gay, Lis.”

Until I see proof, you ain’t convincin’ me, pal.”

“And what kind of proof do you want?”

Getting a date would be a good start.”

“Hey, I went out with…” I faded out. Uncomfortable memories there for both of us.  “…anyway, in case you hadn’t noticed, I don’t exactly have the most active social life.” I hopped down back into the crater, Flatline looking up and nodding at me. “Leave Bad Hair Day conscious, if you don’t mind,” I said to him. “She’s going to send a message for us. Once we’re done here, Ricochet, wait 5 minutes, and then clear out. Make sure you haven’t got a tail, then head back to base.”

Gotcha” she said. I crouched down in front of Medusa’s limp body. Her eyes burned with hate and she still breathed, but she didn’t have any control over her facial muscles, so she looked like a very angry incontinent. Flatline’s power meant we used him as a disabler slash trump card slash clean-up crew. Right now, he’d left her conscious but unable to use any of her limbs, which would wear off in about an hour, same as the other Cabalists. I reached out and flicked her nose.

“Here’s the deal, Medusa,” I said over the angry noises she was managing to muster up. “We’re taking your prize in the duffel bag, whatever it is, which should be embarrassing for your little group. The heroes are going to be here in, I’ve been told, precisely fuck-if-I-know minutes, and I’m sure they’re just going to love finding you lot. But once you inevitably escape, spread the word. Tell them we’re the Outliers. And tell them to remember the name. They’ll be hearing it a lot.”

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Sympathy 1 - III

In Need of Some Restraint

I blew out a stream of air through my nose. “Well, shit. I knew everything was going too well. How quick can you get your fat ass over there?”

“Pretty damn quick. And I’ll have you know my ass is fabulous.”

Flatline clicked his fingers. “Move now, flirt later. I’m guessing you’ll want me to watch over this rabble?”

I didn't bother to correct him on the flirting bit. “No, you’re too useful to leave here. Foresight, you’re playing watchman.” I looked at Flatline. “They’ll all be out for an hour, right?” He nodded. His power gave him the ability to nullify electricity at touch range, and because it extended to bio-electricity, he could completely shut down a lot of bodily functions with a tap. Needless to say, we were all very glad he was on our side. “Right. In that case, there shouldn’t be any problems. If we’re not done in 55 minutes, get the hell out of dodge." Foresight nodded his assent. "In the meantime, see if there’s any valuables around here.”

He smirked, and began to walk past me, but I stuck out an arm and stopped him in his tracks. He turned and glared at me, and I matched it with one of my own.

“And Foresight? No scrounging around for ID. Not now, not ever. If I find out you’ve violated that, you’re gone. No strikes, no warnings, nothing. We clear?”

“…yeah, we’re clear.” He strode past, and I heard him mutter under his breath “Clear as fucking mud.”

I sighed internally. Not an ideal resolution, but it’d have to do. Hell, for all I knew, his power could let him figure out the Cabal’s civilian identities on his own. Not much if I could do about it if he was, but it was a disconcerting thought all the same. This wasn’t quite the unwritten rule, but it came in a close second. There were exceptions, but most of the nebulous ‘us’ didn’t go after civilian identities, or attempt to discover them, with the assumption that others would do the same; quid pro quo, in a way. Of course, some less-scrupulous supers still attempted to collect that information as leverage, but in doing so they risked bringing the ire of everyone involved in the agreement down on their heads. Others, like our group’s eminent idiot, simply seemed to do it simply because, for whatever reason, they could.

I’d deal with it later. Or, hopefully, Void would. I gestured to Flatline and Vortex, and they came over to me. “You two, take the car. Put some of the emergency plates on, get there as quick as you can.”

“What about you?” Vortex asked.

“I’m gonna try and get there over the roofs. Now, go!” 

We all moved out through the door, Vortex and Flatline heading down, and me going towards the stairway that led to the roof. Thankfully, it was a square spiral, and my power made the climb much easier. I burst out onto the roof, took a second to orient myself in the direction of the park and to let my eyes adjust to the darkness, and then ran straight ahead, vaulted over the railing and threw myself off the roof.

The wind rushed through my hair, blowing back my hood and I took a second to savor the feeling of freefall. There was nothing quite like doing something insanely dangerous with the absolute certainty that you’ll come out the other side. I fell, calculating, waiting, and once I was halfway between the building and the next, I used my power – on myself. Suddenly, my fall turned into an upwards arc, sending me flying up to the next rooftop.

The beautiful thing about it was that there was no jarring or whiplash; one moment I was moving in one direction, the next I had shifted directions 90 degrees, smooth as cream. I sailed gracefully over the cusp of the next roof, and crashed far less so straight through a table of drinks. As bottles and cups flew around me, the ground rushing up towards my face, I bounced myself back forward in a miniature version of my roof-hopping move, keeping most of my momentum. Barging through a group of confused-looking students, I slapped a drink out of the hands of a pretty young woman who couldn’t have been older than seventeen.

“It’s Monday evening, sweetheart,” I called out over my shoulder as I barreled for the edge. “Time to start reconsidering your life choices.”

As I fell again to the backdrop of an appropriately shocked collective gasp, I grinned to myself. Let their inebriated minds try to figure that out.

Ramsay Park wasn't a 'take your kids for a play' kind of place. When the city had been built, someone had evidently thought it'd be good to have a nice little bit of greenery bridging the residential area and the financial one, something to split up the monotony of concrete and metal while also serving as a remnant of the national park that had used to be here.

Presumably, somewhere along the way the plans had been eaten by a dog, or replaced with a Greenpeace pamphlet about the Amazon, because Ramsay Park gave new meaning to the term urban jungle. A thick wedge of evergreen foliage surrounded by a border of manicured lawn, both coated in frost, it looked more like a video game arena than a real place. 

The Cabal's away team had used it as their retreat from whatever job they'd been pulling, using the dense forestation to lose any pursuers they might've had. Jess, Freefall, had obviously realized that, and had waited until they'd been about to clear the edge to make her move. A large, donut-shaped crater lay at the border, maybe six feet deep at its lowest and three times that in radius.  Around the edges, turf had been thrown violently away by the impact, and two trees that had been close enough had shattered and splintered, trunks collapsed backwards and leaning against the other trees. Oddly enough, there seemed to be bits of concrete scattered through the debris; maybe there had been a bench there?

At the center, on the untouched plateau, a shimmery, tan forcefield stretched out, completely encompassing the flat piece of ground, and inside it stood four of the five Cabalists. The low light made them a little hard to make out, but it looked like that along with the guy with the crab-esque armor, who was evidently the forcefield's creator, there was a lean female figure with swarming, scale-like hair who I recognized as Medusa, as well as the guy with the eye patterns that Ricochet had mentioned and an unconscious figure in black combat gear who practically bristled with weapons; presumably Thunderdome. Apparently her power sent those it affected back to their original positions, which was interesting, and something I should have already realized when Lis had come back.

The fifth Cabalist, though, wasn't inside the forcefield. He was in the crater, whaling on Ribbon, who was only barely staying on her feet. Strongarm had probably one of the grossest powers I'd ever seen, shifting his ridiculous amounts of muscle mass around beneath too-loose skin to make himself stronger and tougher. Right now, his arms looked like they belonged on an ape, and he was using them to swing blows strong enough that they were leaving dents in the frozen ground. Judging by the torn bits of cloth surrounding them and Ribbon's outfit, he was strong enough to break right through her enhanced fabric, which was no mean feat; I'd seen the stuff stop a sniper round. It looked like she was trying to use the scraps she had left of her normally-flowing costume to tie him up, but it didn't seem to be working too well. She was on the back foot, barely avoiding the pulverizing blows, and it kind of made me wonder why they were bothering to keep the forcefield up.

And then I noticed that the forcefield wasn't a regular dome; instead, it extended outwards at two points, forming doughy 'claws'. Doughy claws that encircled the limp forms of Stonewall and Tide.

Right. Less gawking, more doing.

I flicked on the radio as I jumped off my vantage point towards the battle. “Freefall, report!” I hadn’t wanted to call earlier in case I distracted her at an important moment, but what the hell at this point. There were a few seconds of nerve-wracking silence, but as I shifted my fall into an arc low over the ground, her voice burst into life over the line, the sound of rushing wind in the background.

Not good. Stonewall’s down, Tide too. Doubt Ribbon’s going to last much longer.”

I swore as I landed, running as soon as I hit the ground, bending into the landing to mitigate the impact. 

“Freefall, I don’t want to be an ass, but how the fuck did you let this happen?! You’ve got three of our heaviest hitters including yourself, and Ribbon’s no slouch either.”

Her voice grew terser, but she remained professional. “Forcefield one. Ricochet took out Thunderdome, he surrounded them all, shut me down. Strongarm got to Tide, and crab guy's forcefield is immune to Stonewall's.

I digested that information, tucking it away in my mind as I grew closer to the crater. “How far out are you?”

Few minutes. Went higher than normal, figured enough energy could break the shield.

“Not a bad idea, but I’ve got a better one. Aim for the edge of the crater, and let me know when you’re close. In the meantime, I’ll try and keep these goons busy until Vortex and Flatline arrive and we can start turning this around.”

Roger that. Good luck… boss.” The call cut off, leaving me alone against four supervillains.

I grinned.

Time to have some fun.

Sympathy 1 - II

Traps for Troubadours


The door went flying downwards, Vortex’s kick hard enough to break it entirely off its hinges. It toppled towards the ground, sturdier than I’d expected given the rest of the hotel re: its shabbiness.

That would make a pretty good entrance, but I reckoned I could make it better.

Time seemed to slow as I reached down into the cold, still well of power that sat in my core. As I tapped into it, letting it flow through me, my senses expanded outwards beyond such mundane means as sight. I could sense the kinetic energy in everything around me, including the figures inside the room as they spun towards the more important source; the falling door. As it fell, I reached out, grabbing (for lack of a better word) that energy and redirecting it. Due to whatever arbitrary system governed superpowers, mine has a pretty restrictive and arbitrary limit on it: I can shift momentum ninety degrees and ninety degrees only, which is pretty annoying.

I make it work, though.

Suddenly, the door was no longer headed downwards. It ‘bounced’ forward, the momentum that carried it towards the ground redirected forward, turning it into a makeshift projectile. I dashed past Vortex through the doorway, and took stock of the situation. The door had hit Ado on her way to the ground, knocking her (unconscious, thanks to Ricochet) body into Junction. However, she’d obviously managed to get a blast off before getting knocked out, which I redirected to the left, slamming into the ugly, fading paint next to Occam. He jerked away, hitting the arms of the chair and tumbling to the ground gracelessly.

I jumped over Junction’s prone form, kicking him in the face as he attempted to get to his feet, and then the door, now lying on top of Ado, going straight for the bathroom. I darted past the kitchen, where I caught a brief glimpse of knives flying through the air in erratic and unpredictable paths. I found myself very glad I’d assigned Vortex to deal with him, because anyone else was probably going to get creamed (in the sense that their remains would have about the same consistency as cream).

The bathroom was around a corner at the back of the room, through a closed doorway. Instead of slowing down to make the turn, I angled my body and slammed through the door, then used my power to send myself in the right direction and avoiding hitting the wall. As I slowed, Phantom emerged from the bathroom, phasing straight through the door, his black and mauve costume indistinct due to his being slightly transparent. Phantom’s power gave him enhanced speed, and intangibility that increased proportionally to how fast he was going. Without missing a beat at the sight of me, he charged straight down the corridor, fist back for what surely would have been quite the devastating punch and a low growl emanating from his throat.

I let him get within about a foot of me before I sent him straight upwards into the ceiling.

Powers have a tendency to interfere with other powers. If he’d had had more time to build up speed, there would have been no way I could have affected him at all; as it was, he lost maybe a quarter of his momentum in the shift.

But that was plenty. While he was going fast, apparently it wasn’t fast enough to send him completely through the roof: his head phased through the drywall before slamming into what was presumably a crossbeam. He crumpled to the ground, writhing around, and I gave him a swift kick in the balls. He was wearing a cup, judging by the resistance, but there's only so much one of them can do, and he crumpled further. I winced a little in sympathy, then grabbed a couple of zip ties from my belt and hogtied his hands and feet together. It wasn’t particularly elegant, but I didn’t exactly have power-disabling cuffs (because they don’t exist, before you get any ideas), and I needed to stop him from being able to fade out.

Two down, three to go. I stood, and ran back into the main room. I rounded the corner, pulling the same trick as before, just in time to see a sword heading straight for Foresight’s head.

Occam could make super-sharp swords from any materials he touched, and control them with his mind. Currently, he had four floating around him, which all appeared to be made from drywall, except for one that looked like it was made of fabric and wood, which was about a foot from Foresight’s face.

In a movement so smooth I could’ve sworn it was rehearsed, his head bobbed to the side, just enough that the blade just whistled by. Occam snarled, and spun the blade back towards him, but once again, Foresight moved in exactly the right way to have it just avoid him. He spun closer and closer to the supervillain, again and again coming within an inch of death, but every time, barely avoiding it.

Confident that he could handle his opponent, and frankly not that concerned with the jerk’s wellbeing, I turned my attention to Flatline, who was standing over the unconscious form of Junction. I hooked a thumb over my shoulder and mouthed “Phantom” and he nodded and jogged past me to the corridor. With that done, I turned my attention to the kitchen, and Maelstrom.

Maelstrom’s power was exactly what it sounded like: when he activated it, every object smaller than a fist within a 5-meter radius of him started flinging itself through the air in random directions and at random speeds. The objects never hit him, of course, but they did hit anyone foolish enough to venture into that particular storm.

Just like Vortex was doing.

Vortex’s power looked like ordinary forcefields, but they had an interesting twist; anything that hit the force field got pulled into a vortex at the center, forming a missile that he could fire off with a considerable amount of force. The whirling cloud of debris was the perfect environment for him; already, I could see a clump forming at the front of the shield, and after a few seconds, the shield winked out for a second as the projectile shot forward. It hit Maelstrom square in the head, and he collapsed to the ground with a clatter, as the force holding the remaining objects suddenly disappeared.

I nodded at him. “Good work,” I said, and he nodded back.

I turned and strode back into the main room. On the other side of the room, Foresight and Occam were still fighting, but Foresight obviously had him on the ropes. Occam’s blades were whirling around as a shield in front of him as he stood in a corner, a desperate defensive measure. But Foresight stood there for a few seconds, and then, as if on a timer, lashed forward, a single blow that slipped right through the shield, and knocked the blade-wielding supervillain cold.

“Took your time,” I said sardonically. Foresight turned and gave me a glare. “What, you want a medal?” I asked sarcastically. I turned to the others. “Once Flatline’s done, tie them up. I’m going to check in with the others-”

“Honcho! What’s up?”

“Lis?” I asked. It was pretty obviously her; the question was more instinct than anything else.

“None other.”

“Oh good.” I breathed out a quiet sigh of relief. “I’d say something inane like ‘So you won, then?’ but I think it’s pretty obvious what the answer to that is.”

“Too right. Turns out Thunderthighs here isn’t used to people being ready for her trick.”

“Well, good work. Once we’re done here, I’ll get you that drink.”

“Damn right ya’ will. But right now, get your asses over to the other squad, ‘cause I don’t think they’re doing as well as you did.”