Capes 6-Vignette

Stupid Little Stick Figures.

"Dispatch to 128, over."

The voice buzzed in Lieutenant Murphy's ear as she shot over the landscape, almost inaudible over the sound of the thrusters. She activated her noise cancellers, and opened the channel with an eye gesture. "128 reads you loud and clear, Dispatch. You got an update for me, Noah?"

Dispatch, Noah, cleared his throat. "I do. Fight's in its last legs, but some of the Tower heroes-"

"Don't call them that," she interrupt without thinking.

"...right. Some of the Tower operatives, then, are attempting to enter the building."

Murphy pursed her lips. "Dammit. How critical is the situation?"

"Not extremely; everything we have says there's about half an hour before the field starts to decay and the whole building comes down."

"Right." She checked her map, watching the computer-generated landscape speed by, and did a quick calculation. "Our ETA's three minutes. Order them to stand down."

When Noah spoke, there was a tremor of hesitation in his voice. "I don't think I really have the authority to-"

She cut him off, probably a little harsher than she needed to. "But I do, and the order is coming from me. They stand down." Then, in a more reassuring tone, "I'll take any flack for this. You just pass on the message."

"...yes, sir." The line crackled, then shut off, and the lieutenant refocused as the city of Austin came barreling over the horizon. As the city's fringes began to pass underneath them, she opened a channel to her team, who flew in a V formation behind her.

"We're coming in to the scene now, people. Dispatch tells me that the fight's mostly over, and that we have about half an hour before the building collapses," she relayed to her squad.

"What's the bad news?" Lichenko, her de facto second-in-command asked.

She didn't bother asking how he knew. "The bad news is, the Tower's apparently decided that their 'heroes' are good enough to handle the situation." The sarcasm practically dripped from her voice.

"Well, shit," muttered Aaronson.

"Strike that from the record, Aaronson, professional behavior on the job." Aaronson was the newest member of her squad, and while the stringent entry requirements meant she wasn't anything like a rookie, she had a lot to learn. "But yes, that's about right. I've gotten Dispatch to tell them to stand down, but whether they'll listen is up in the air."

"Fuckin' Tower," the greenie swore.

"Enough, Private!" Internally, she agreed with the sentiment, but they were professionals, and if Aaronow wanted to work with them, she'd have to learn to act like one.

They were coming into the city center now, and as they slowed to navigate between the gleaming maze of skyscrapers, their objective came into sight.

Murphy had seen a lot of things in her five years with the MERIT's First Responders, things that boggled the mind or emptied the bowels. But she'd never seen anything quite like this.

Half a skyscraper hung suspended in the air, chunks of rubble floating around it like a miniature asteroid belt. The bottom half of the building was mostly intact, but a few pieces of debris hovered around it too, one in the process of smashing through the top floor. The whole scene looked like someone had taken a scene from a bad action movie and paused it. Except this scene was very real, and very, very dangerous.

Figures in bright, colorful clothing were buzzing around the edges of the time distortion, and Murphy noted with relief that none of them were moving over the fuzziness in the air that seemed to mark the edge of the field. Most of the figures seemed to be reporting to one in white and gold robes, or maybe the one in black standing behind him. The Lieutenant gestured to her team to follow her as she swept down towards him.

The thrusters on her suit were designed for long-distance flight and speed; they didn't do well at soft landings. Once she deemed she'd passed the maximum safe distance, she shut them down, coasting through the air on her momentum for a few seconds. As the ground hurtled towards her, she reached into her core, tapping into the well of cold energy that rested their, pulling it up through her limbs, then pushing it out her hands and chest. There was a roar distinctly different to the ones coming from the suits of her squad, and jets of crackling, rushing blue energy erupted from her hands and core. She modulated their thrust, pointing them forward and cushioning herself cut them off and dropped smoothly to the ground about two meters from the robed figure. She landed with a heavy clunk as her suit adjusted to the landing. Considering that the armor weighed about a ton, this was a movement that would kill or severely injure most people. Lieutenant Jennifer Murphy was not most people.

As she hit the ground, her shield flared and rippled along her skin, buffering the metal away and keeping her in the center. It wouldn't stop bullets, she’d learned that the hard way, but it helped cushion her from impacts, and it stopped her rattling around in her armor like a pinball. Because of her abilities, the think tank of Forges hadn't needed to include precision thrusters or cushioning like they had with any of the others, and that meant she had a whole bunch of nifty gadgets squirrelled away in various sections.

Her squad landed behind her with varying levels of control, their various abilities making the process easier or harder. The expression on the hero's face wasn't awed or impressed, but it wasn't as cavalier as she suspected it had been before, which was good enough.

"Report," she snapped as she strode past him. The movement threw him off his stride; he'd obviously been expecting her to talk with her, and for a brief second, he hovered in place, unsure. The approach of the other members of the squadron quickly galvanized him, and he hurried to catch up with her as she reached the edge of the disturbance.

"Who in God's name are you?" He asked. He had one of those 'refined' Southern accents, all smooth, yawning vowels. He probably thought it made him sound cultured, but she just thought it grated. Granted, she thought that about most things.

"Lieutenant Murphy, MERIT," she said, turning to face him and tapping the badge emblazoned on her chest. "And if you couldn't figure that out from the suit, you're obviously even more stupid than that costume makes you look." He gaped up at her behind the fancy mask he wore, struggling for a response. She didn't give him a chance to find one. "Now, report, before I decide you're completely incompetent and find someone else."

His mouth flapped open and shut noiselessly, his eyes wide with shock.

" Forget it." She reached up to rub the bridge of her nose, before remembering that there was a good 4 inches of metal between the two body parts and dropping the hand. She gestured to her squad and began barking out orders. "Alright, we've got 25 minutes on the clock, and I want to be in there by 20. Lichenko, Janson, figure this field out. We're not stepping one foot in there until we know exactly what it is." They nodded in acknowledgement. "Chung, find me whoever's next in this farce of a command chain." The woman in the red suit gave a quick informal salute and hurried off. "Aaronson, you're with me." The private started, but quickly complied.

Murphy turned, hands on hips, and inspected the scene. "What's your read on this, Private?" she asked as her subordinate arrived.

For the most part, MERIT teams consisted of metas with physical powers, ones that would either aid in assisting in containing situations, or in containing the metas responsible for them. Aaronson, though, was a bit of a special case. She’d had her application for First Responder turned down four times before Murphy had stepped in. She’d had to call in quite a few of the favors she’d accumulated in her years in the force to make it happen, because the reason the now-Private’s applications had been denied was that she was ruled to be simply too valuable to be put on the front lines.

This was because Private Alexis Aaronson was a Forge.

"Uhm, well, ah," she stuttered, put on the spot. She paused for a second, seemingly gathering herself, and when she spoke, it was in a terse, professional voice that was distinctly at odds with what Murphy had seen of her. “Depending on the size and strength of the explosion,” she paused, retracted her helmet, and stared at the frozen debris intently, mouthing numbers to herself, “somewhere between 5 and 10 seconds have passed inside the field, while at least 5 minutes have passed outside. Given that the current record for non-UR-powered time distortion is one second inside for every two out, and with a field size a centimeter in diameter, it is highly unlikely that there’s a realtech device powering the field. It is possible,” she amended, “but highly unlikely. Something of this scale would be consistent with a Class B Forged device.” She paused again for a second, twitched a little, and then continued. "How this goes down depends on that distinction. If it's realtech, and the shields in the armor can't protect us, then there's basically nothing we can do, because as soon as we go in, we'll be operating in their time frame

"Mmm," Murphy said noncommittally, trying to hide her discomfort with the sudden change in the young woman. "And if it's not?"

"Then a whole new avenue opens up. If it is a Class B, and our shields and/or produced UR can prevent us from being affected, then it's possible we might be able to prevent any and all damage. Depending on whether it's a complete stop, or just extremely slow, from their perspective, it'll happen instantaneously, or just incredibly fast, respectively. But that brings with it the issue that any force we exert is going to be magnified by virtue of being applied over a single instant. Moving any of the people could very well kill them."

"I suspect that, at least, won't be a concern." She clapped a hand on the shoulder of the other woman's suit. "Good read, Private.

At the physical contact, or maybe the clang of metal on metal, Aaronson flinched, and the lines of her face softened and dropped, settling back into a familiar frown. She made a hacking noise in her through, then leant over to the side and spat onto the ground. “Fuckin’ hate that,” she muttered. “Tastes like goddamn puke.”

“Language,” Murphy said, barely noticing she had. “Go join up with Lichenko and Jansen and see if they’ve figured out anything you haven’t, or vice versa.” The scowling Private nodded, brought her helmet up to cover her face again, and strode away in the direction her colleagues had gone in.

“Lieutenant, sir.” Chung had returned, with two people in tow, a young woman in an ornate mask and flowing blue-green clothing and the man in black Murphy had noticed on the approach. “This is Verdebris, says she’s second-in-command of the Tower forces, and Taylor, head of Charon, the private security firm that the owners of the building contracted.”

The heavy-set man gave her a grim nod. “Lieutenant.” She returned it with a quick one of her own.  

“You,” she snapped at the hero. “Full report of this situation, one minute or less. Go.”

And surprisingly enough, she did just that, quickly and efficiently summing up the situation, without the malice or rancor Murphy had been expecting. Apparently, the Tower had been called in based on reports of a meta attacking the Peyton building, and they’d sent a few medium-ranked heroes to deal with it. When they lost communication with those heroes, they sent everyone. From Verdebris’ description, it had just been the one meta, some sort of whirling mass of meat and bone that had torn through some of their best without faltering. They’d eventually managed to drive it off, she didn’t specify how, but not without incurring significant damage to the building, damage which had only been worsened by the bomb that went off shortly afterwards. The explosion had caught them unawares, and as such it was a bit of a double whammy when, not seconds later, the time distortion popped up, trapping anyone inside, including any of the heroes not using their powers. Murphy made note of that; it confirmed Aaronson’s speculations.

“Have you made any attempts to enter the field?” she asked the hero, who shook her head. “Good. Thank you for your assistance. Rally your people, and have them stand at the ready. We don’t know what’s going to happen next.” She turned to the security contractor. “What were you hired to protect, and who wanted it?”

He gave a small shrug. “I couldn’t tell you the specifics. Our clients kept information, offline in secure vaults. We never looked at any of it, so I have about as much idea as you do.”

“That doesn’t seem like very good security,” Murphy noted.

“I agree, which is why I fought the clients very hard over it, but they wouldn’t budge an inch. I would’ve turned it down, but we needed this contract, what with Blacklight eating up the market like they have been.”

“Did you lose any people in the fight?”

“Yes, one. Got torn to pieces when that… thing first came in. Caught unprepared. Damn shame, too, he was good.”

As the consultant left, the lieutenant turned back to inspect the collapsing building, processing information. It was most likely that with shields up and powers running, her team could enter the field safely. With her cushioning force field, she could move those in danger relatively safely, as could Lichenko, with his momentum-alteration powers. The others would have to stick to removing debris, as them handling people would just create red smears of mist. The main problem would be the timeframe: if they-

It happened between blinks. She was looking at a building frozen mid-collapse in space and time, blinked, and then it was whole again. She blinked again a few times, but it stayed that way, as if nothing had happened-

No. No, that wasn’t true. Because painted in large, loose letters on the side of the building were the words ‘NAUGHTY, NAUGHTY’, and then, underneath them, the number 113.

As a massive intake of breath was collectively made by the crowd of heroes, Murphy spun on her heels and walked away, leaving the stunned Chung behind. She could spend useful time being bewildered, confused or relieved, but that was as good as wasting it. No, Lieutenant Murphy decided that it was time to talk to Taylor again, and ask him some very pointed questions about his clients.

Capes 6-V

Words Are Useless.

School was out, in case you were wondering. Don’t think I’ve mentioned it until now, how I was out and about unimpeded. They weren’t going to make us all come back in until next week, not after what had happened, but mom hadn’t been given the same courtesy. When she worked, I often didn’t see her for days; add to that dad still being down in Old Chicago for work, and I basically had complete autonomy.  This had happened before, but normally I’d had school and routine to keep me busy. Considering the situation I’d managed to get myself into without them, it seemed there was a pretty good argument to be made for having them in place. (I would like to think that the superpowers would count as extenuating circumstances, though).

“Now, I’m not saying it outright, but have you check yourself for trackers or bugs lately?” I thought to myself as I stared frozen up at the hero hovering in the air. “I mean, this is the second time in two days that one of them has shown up in the same place as you. Just a thought.”

Fog. From what I remembered (and was currently experiencing uncomfortably up close), she created the stuff, or her own personal version of it, which she could manipulate and freeze into ice. I didn’t recall anything about flight; the glow beneath her dress was probably indicative of some kind of hover boots or board or something like that. I was pretty sure that the Tower’s local Forge specialized in stuff like that, and I thought I could just make out some mechanical humming and whirring over the background noise of the city, so it would make sense. I’d have to ask Sabi sometime.

So, she thought I was a criminal harassing some poor innocent man? No, that wasn’t right; she’d called him a s-heel, hadn’t she? Based on the little I’d overheard back in the cafeteria, calling a random person rude names did seem to be in character for her, but this didn’t feel like that. Plus, there were the tattoos, which I’m sure she knew the meaning of. So it was just a misunderstanding, easily fixed.

I dropped the thug, the ice encasing his torso crunching loudly against the ground as I turned to face Fog. She tilted her head at me, and although a still mask covered her face, I got the sense of confusion and caution. She hovered upwards, away from me, and thick, grey fog began streaming down from her hands where they hung by her sides. Why was she-

Oh. The ice. Right. I looked behind me to see two thick trunks of ice, at least a foot and a half in diameter and the same tall, with a vertical break in each and fragments scattered around them. Geez. That was… a lot of ice, and I hadn’t even noticed that I’d utterly destroyed it. I could see why she might react the way she had. I went intangible to avoid a repeat.

As her fog pooled below her, spilling out and down the alleyway as the dirty brick and concrete walls channeled it, I raised my hands up beside my head. Ignoring the return of the dread welling up in my stomach and chest, I spoke, trying to project as best I could. “Sor-” I choked, took a breath, and tried again. “Sorry about that. I come in peace and all that stuff. I found this guy and two others trying to mug someone, so I stopped them, and I was just, uh,” I tucked one leg behind the other, a semi-unconscious gesture, “politely asking him some questions.”

She stared down at me, suspicion written all over her. “Uh-huh,” she said slowly, drawing the sound out. I thought I caught the barest hint of some accent in there, something nasally.

“Really,” I replied, doing my best to keep my voice level. I wasn’t even lying, but it felt like I was scrabbling to cover up some massive fib. “In fact, maybe you can help me out. Were you at the Dresden High incident yesterday?” Okay, so I was lying a little. I already knew she’d been there, but pretending like I didn’t would dissociate me with people who were, who would’ve known that already.

“…are you punking me?” she asked after a second. “Am I being punked?” She swooped in closer to me, as if inspecting the situation.

“I... what? Why would I be… what?” I stammered, confused.

“Is this,” she held up a hand and began ticking off fingers as she listed things, “a prank, joke, punking, ruse, jest, gag or other stunt?” I stared at her blankly. “Come on, this isn’t a hard question.”

“I’m… no, this isn’t a prank?” I didn’t like the way I unconsciously made that into a question. “At least, not as far as I’m aware. Why would you think it would be?”

She made a little sucking noise with her teeth. “Cause the other option is that you’re just really fucking stupid.” She tapped a hand to her ear. “Hey, Dispatch,” she said in a mockingly sugar-sweet tone, “what’s the protocol for unregistered metahumans? Oh really? Bring them in? Isn’t that just fascinating?”

“I know you’re not actually talking to someone,” I pointed out. “You didn’t leave any pauses.”

 “Shut it,” she snapped, dropping her hand. “So how you wanna do this, huh? Cause I am super happy with either option.”

I raised my hands again. “Look, ordinarily I’d be happy to oblige, but I’m kind of busy right now,” I said, gesturing to where the gangster was still struggling in his icy bonds. “Hey, tell you what, this guy was just about to tell me where one of their offices was, because the trio from the school hit it a few weeks ago. How about you come along and help me do that, and then I’ll come with you to the Tower?” I wasn’t super keen on doing that, for reasons I couldn’t voice in words, but if it got me some help with the next step, I think I could bear it.

She considered it for a second, then shook her head. “See, you don’t actually have any leverage in this situation. And I got no interest in sticking my neck out for you when I can get what you’re offering easily anyway. So no deal.” The billowing masses of condensation stopped in place, then flowed rapidly towards me, forming a wall almost as tall as me (and I’m not short). When the edge of the wave hit me, it froze into a solid mass of opaque ice, surrounding me and quickly filling the entire alleyway. She apparently didn’t want a repeat of before.

The temperature had dropped rapidly, enough that I could even feel it in my real body around the corner. That didn’t seem to deter Fog, though, and she kept filling the alleyway with her power, until all I could see was undulating grey. I wondered if she could actually sense her ice; given that if she could, she’d have noticed that I was still intangible, I thought not.

Unhindered by the glacier she’d created, I crouched down and pushed myself off the ground, floating upwards out of the ice and mist. When I broke the top of the bank, I found Fog facing away from me, talking into a headset. “Yeah, yeah… unregistered super, need transport, code whatever … yeah, 113, that … what, you expect me to remember all of them? That’s your job.”

“I really don’t want to do this,” I called out. She flinched, spinning around to face me, hand outstretched.

“What the shit?!” she exclaimed. I was within reach of the wall, so I increased my weight slightly and grabbed a handhold, placing my feet against the wall and hanging easily. “What the shit,” she muttered again.

So this wasn’t good, but I think I had a chance to salvage this. 

“Look, I think it’s pretty obvious that this isn’t going to-” I was cut off by a hurtling mass of ice that shot straight through my head. I jerked back all the same, instincts not quite on the level with my powers.

“What the s?!” it was my turn to exclaim. “That could’ve killed me?”

“You were all strong and shit, I figgered you could take it.” Still, she seemed perturbed.

“Wha-” I took a deep breath. “Look,” I tried again, “I think it’s obvious that your way isn’t going to work. So how about we try-” 

Another frozen projectile. “Oh come on! You already knew that wasn’t going to work, anyway!”

She shrugged. “Thought you might’ve been distracted.”

I felt like pulling out my hair. “Just… just listen to me, please? You can get want you want, if you just help me out a little?” Not sure why I made it a question. “You know, like a hero?”

“Yeah, I don’t really do that whole thing.”

“Wh-what?” I spluttered. “You don’t do that whole thing that is literally your entire job description?!”

“Someone obviously hasn’t seen my contract,” I managed to catch her muttering.

I threw my free hand into the air, exasperated. “Oh my… fine! I’m just going to go, then.”

She shook her head, and the fog began flowing towards me again. “Nope. May not be able to hurt you, but I bet’cha still need to breathe.” It flowed over and through me, quickly freezing into a solid again.

I let go of the wall and dropped to the ground, back into the mass of ice. I didn’t think I needed to breathe, but if she kept spreading her power out, she might cover my real body, which did. And there was still-

The thug! I looked around, trying to spot him through the solid, glassy surroundings, but saw nothing. He was under there somewhere! I tried to go solid, to smash my way through it, but it didn’t work, probably because I was already inside something. Fine. I jumped up again, ignoring Fog’s reaction, but once I was clear, I made myself super heavy, dropping with a crunch onto the top of the block, which was at least 3 metres tall at this point. The ice splintered, but didn’t shatter, so I started stomping, trying to move towards the dark shape I could vaguely see at the bottom.

“What the hell are you doing?” Fog called from behind me.

“You trapped that guy in there, you… utter nincompoop!” I yelled back, still stomping and moving downwards.

“Oh, is that all? He was a Disciple, man, nobody gives a shit.”

“I give! I give quite a bit!” I started jumping up and down, which seemed to work a bit better. I was maybe halfway down now. “How do you-”

I was interrupted by an explosion and a wave of energy, shaking the ground and utterly destroying the block. I dropped to the ground, the ice underneath my feet suddenly gone. I suspect that if I hadn’t been super dense, I would’ve been flung a long, long way away. Whatever the force was, it threw up a massive cloud of dust and fog and ice chips, which my goggles protected me from. When it cleared, I saw that, somehow, Fog was still hovering above, although looking a little worse for wear.  I also saw a figure standing in the middle of the alleyway, at the point I judged the explosion to have come from, and two more at the end.

The one in the middle was wearing what looked like a WW2 bomber pilot’s outfit, but in tan with blue trim. One of the other two was just wearing a dark sleeveless turtleneck and combat vest, and what looked like goggles over a balaclava. The last one had a light grey jumpsuit with various pieces of dull armor attached in various places, a peaked hood leading down into a tattered cape, and silver reflective goggles and a scarf covering their- no, her face. There might’ve been a symbol scratched into the chestpiece, but I couldn’t make it out.

“Turns out we give quite a bit too,” she said in a surprisingly husky voice. She sounded amused, staring up at Fog with casual posture. The balaclava guy had his arms crossed, but he seemed pretty relaxed too. The last one wasn’t even looking up at the hero, instead staring at the ground, not seeming to be paying attention to anything going on around her.

“Oh, no, fuuuuuuck this,” Fog said, the glowing from below her now-tattered skirt increasing as she lifted up further into the sky. “Fuck, fuck, fuck fuck fucking fucking nope,” could be heard trailing off into the distance as she fled.

The one in the bomber’s outfit snapped her head up, but the hood waved her down. “We can’t follow her,” she said. “Besides, I think we’ve got other things to deal with.”

They all turned to face me. 

I gulped.

“So,” she asked casually, “who’re you?”

Capes 6-IV

Confront the Problem.

My breath fogged in front of my face as I ran. As much as I wanted to, I wasn't pushing myself, just a steady, even pace. I don’t normally do a lot of running and didn’t want to show up wheezing and out of breath.

The flickering streetlamps cast weak circles onto the concrete and asphalt, pools of refuge from the thin, almost watery darkness. There was enough ambient illumination that I didn’t have to worry about watching where I stepped, but not enough to reveal more than the largest, most conspicuous details of my surroundings. Without any other signs, there was a decent chance I’d miss the source of the scream entirely. I was… fairly certain in the direction, but that wasn’t much help. The slower pace of running was actually helping me here as well, giving me enough time to look down the alleys I was passing, gaps between warehouses on one side and apartments on the other.

Another scream rang out, still from up ahead, and this time a had a better sense of where it was coming from. I increased my pace, sprinting up to the corner and skidding around it.

There were three of them, four if you counted the victim. The aggressors, two men and a woman, and the lady pressing herself up against the wall. At a guess, I’d say she was homeless, or very close to; her clothes were ragged and tattered, and what little of her face I could make out in the light looked worn and dirty. The thugs all looked fairly interchangeable; all wearing a particularly drab shade of black, with shaved heads and tattoos of various colors stretching back across their skulls. They weren’t particularly ornate, just jagged, asymmetrical lines that started and ended at seemingly random points along their skulls. The larger of the two men seemed to have the most, and had a few yellows amongst the reds and oranges the others seemed to be limited to, so at a guess I’d say he was in charge.

The tattoos were a marking, indicating membership of the main group of organized criminals- no, that makes them sound too sophisticated. They were the main gang in the city, the Disciples of Shiva.

Yeah, that Shiva. The insane Scalebreaker devastated most of India after sparking, and currently resides there in an uneasy truce of mutually-assured destruction with the rest of the world. He thinks of himself as a reincarnation of the god of the same name, and to be fair, he is an unkillable being of ridiculous power, so, you know. Anyway, generally, when you get someone powerful declaring themselves to be a god, you get a bunch of crazies deciding to worship them, which is exactly what the Disciples… aren’t. I don’t know if they have some strange reason behind the name, but there’s no worship involved in what they do. They’re just criminals, some powered, some not. Based on the fact that these three were mugging a homeless woman, I’d hazard a guess at them being the latter, with a decent helping of brainless on top.

Everyone spun to face me, glares from the thugs, a mix of hope and fear from the woman. I opened my mouth to say something, maybe a witticism or something cool.

Nothing came out. Suddenly, I was very thankful I’d gone for the scarf, because if I’d stood there for a good few seconds with my mouth visibly hanging open, I might’ve spontaneously combusted with embarrassment.

“Who the fuck are you?” snarled the big guy, the leader one. I mentally assigned him the name of Yellow. “You know who you’re fucking with here?” He turned away from the woman to face me, and his two cronies came up to stand beside and slightly behind him. “Don’t make us do something you’re gonna regret.” Huh. That was actually kind of clever. Wouldn’t have called it.

Silence had worked so far, so I saw no reason to change that up. I reached inwards and activated my powers, then ducked away out from the edge, now invisible. Hopefully, the transition had been seamless, or at least close enough that the darkness covered it. I closed my eyes, and switched. When I opened, them there was fist hurtling towards my face.

I instinctively flinched away, going intangible, and the meaty fist went straight through my face, which, let me tell you, is something else. For a brief second, I actually saw the tendons and muscle inside his arm. It was pretty gross.

Overbalanced, he toppled forward, crashing to the ground. The two other goons halted their approach, staring and snarling at me. Behind them, I could vaguely make out the shape of the woman running away in the opposite direction. I smiled beneath my scarf. If nothing else, I’d at least know I’d done something good tonight.

As Yellow struggled to his onto his knees, I walked forward through him, trying to make it seem like this was just a normal thing I did, and not something incredibly freaky. I wondered idly what it was that allowed me to pass through him fine, but stay firmly planted on the solid ground beneath my feet. And then I immediately stopped wondering once the thought occurred to me that not thinking about it. Don’t think about a purple elephant.

My conjecture about the intelligence of the thugs was apparently on point, because the woman tried taking a swing at me. This time, I switched things up, going in the opposite direction.

I wonder if I should come up with names for this stuff, I thought to myself as the woman swore, clutching her hand close to her chest. No, that’s stupid, I decided as Yellow hit me from behind, yelling inarticulately. You don’t see Awestruck going around yelling ‘Awe Blast!’ or whatever.

I turned around to find Yellow doubled over, cradling his bruised hand. Carefully, I grabbed him by his collar and lifted him up off the ground. Behind me, I heard two sharp intakes of breath, and then the sound of feet slapping against pavement.

Okay, deep breaths, Hannah. You can do this.

“Can you imagine if you started stuttering now. That’d just be hilarious.”

Oh my god, shut up!

“Hello there,” I said eventually. Somehow, his deep-set eyes widened further. Keep it simple. “I’m looking for some people. You’re going to tell me anything and everything I need to know.”
He stared down at me for a second, then tilted his head back and pursed his lips- he was going to spit on me. Oh no you don’t! I flicked my arm up slightly and he jolted, then began coughing and choking. Presumably, some of it had gone down the wrong pipe. “None of that. Now, there are three of them. A woman in a long green cloak, a man with a metal mask, and one in navy combat gear. The woman is a teleporter, the one with the metal mask fires lasers. Ring any bells?”

“Wow, you’re really getting into character, huh?” my inner voice said. “Maybe tone down the Batman a little.”

“Like I’m gonna tell you anything, bitch!” he managed to choke out between coughs.

I pursed my lips, then shook him up and down a few more times. “Wrong answer. Let’s try again.”

“You think I’m-” I shook him a little harder that time. When I stopped, he was looking a little green about the gills.

I made a buzzer noise with my mouth. “Third time’s the charm?”

He glared at me, but a little shake replaced it almost instantly with an expression of nausea. “Fi- ulp,” he swallowed, “fine, fine, just stop shaking me, please.”

I shrugged. “Stop giving me reasons to.” A little bit of fog was starting to pool around my feet, swirling in odd eddies and flows. I think it added to my intimidation factor.

He looked at me like he wanted to say something, but wisely bit his tongue. “…I don’t know where those nutjobs are, okay? They just showed up at one of our bases a few weeks ago, busted a few people up, took some stuff and vanished. Why would you expect me to know where they are?” The fog was thickening now, and the temperature was dropping. There was probably big batch of snow coming in soon.

“I’m taking a trial and error approach to this whole thing. Where’s the base they went to? And don’t even bother being defiant, I can make you hurl your dinner with a flick of my wrist.”

He swallowed. “It’s… it’s on the corner of-”

And then he froze. No, he literally froze. Ice snapped into being around his torso and limbs, seemingly out of nowhere. It covered my hand too, reaching down to just above my elbow, and when I looked down, I realized my feet were encased too. What the-

“Put the shitheel down and put your hands on your head!” bellowed a voice from above me. I looked up, and saw a figure hanging in the sky. An ornate lace dress hung from a thin frame, and I could vaguely make out a glow from beneath it.

"Try and resist, please," yelled the hero. "I haven't had any fun in ages."

Capes 6-III

Luck Favors the Prepared.

The person standing in front of me looked like a stranger. Which was good, of course, it was what I was going for, but a little disconcerting all the same.

I(/we) was(/were) standing in an abandoned warehouse near the docks. The recession of about a decade ago had hit the city pretty hard, especially the shipping industry, and now there was this whole section of the city near the waterfront that was just empty warehouses and deteriorating apartments. One of Sabi’s moms is a lawyer, and when I asked her why the whole place hadn’t been torn down and replaced with some swanky apartments, she told me that there was some super-complicated legal battle being fought over the properties, although she didn’t know the exact details.

The costume had come together pretty nicely, I thought. The cloak had ended up being a no-go, but I’d found something else that worked. It was some sort of asymmetrically-layered poncho type deal, with a hood and everything. I’d spray-painted it in alternate layers of white and lavender, and it covered my head and shoulders and draping down to just above my waist on both sides. The ski goggles went over my eyes, and the scarf covered the lower half of my face and trailed out behind me; combined with the hood hiding my hair, the only distinguishing feature anyone could associate with Hannah Eiling-Kingsford was the height, and that wasn’t exactly a smoking gun. Lacking any sudden bursts of creativity, I’d just done stripes of purple straight down the sleeves and legs and left the boots and gloves plain white. All in all, I think it worked pretty well, especially because I could get a proper, objective look at it, thanks to the other reason I was here.

For whatever reason, I hadn’t been able to replicate what had happened back in the cafeteria, with the… smoke clone operating autonomously as me. It had been the first thing I’d tried actually, though if you’d ask me to explain just exactly what it was that I tried, I’d be at a loss. Project Hannah-drone would have to sit on the sidelines for a while. Way I saw it, it was my fallback, seeing as it had triggered instinctively the last time.

So I couldn’t have another me running around. But maybe if I took the ‘another’ out of it… I closed my eyes and concentrated, again not entirely sure on what, trying to manipulate the humming strings in my core.

When I opened my eyes, my double was gone. Darn it. I’d been going for brain hijack, not turning my power off. Except, why could I still feel the humming…?

And then I noticed that the lighting was subtly different, and remembered the invisibility.

Okay, so maybe not autonomous, but Hannah-drone is a go! I flexed experimentally, and everything felt about the same, if a little bit… lighter. Right. I’d forgotten about the intangibility as well. Really on a roll, Hanners. I tried swiping my hand through the space I was about 90% certain my real body was still occupying, and it just went through it like it wasn’t even there. Unless I’d missed, and I was pretty sure I hadn’t, that was pretty strange, because I could still touch myself-

I mean, I could still touch my body-

I mean, even though I was intangible, I could still clap and scratch my arms and stuff. Geez.

So, effectively, I have a remote-control me with density powers, while the real me is safe and invisible. Not going to lie, that’s pretty sweet.

Speaking of density powers…

I tried shifting back to normal weight, and swiped my hand through the air again. This time, it connected with something solid, and I winced as a jolt of pain went through my hand. So pain was still on the table. Good to know. Though, I didn’t feel anything from my real body, which might be problematic. Until I figured out how to be in two places at once, I’d have no way of checking in on my real self beyond switching back and forth.

Next test. I’d been thinking about the intangibility, and how it seemed to be density manipulation, and I’d started wondering if maybe it might work in the opposite direction too.

I made myself light again, then immediately grabbed the sensation of doing so, and yanked it as far in the opposite direction as possible. If that doesn’t make sense as an explanation, then I’m sorry, but believe me, it’s like explaining color to a blind person, and I’m doing the best I can.

It didn’t feel any different, but neither had the other way, so I did a little experimental hop. Jumping still felt the same, but when I landed, the ground actually cracked a little.

Holy sh- crud.

I waved an arm around in front of me. I definitely wasn’t moving any slower. So then how did I… oh right. “F=ma, right?” I said to the empty warehouse. “The a’s the same, but I’m adding a heck of a lot more m.” I pulled a coin from my pocket, glad to see it had been duplicated along with the costume, and flipped it off my thumb.

There was a small chink, and I looked up to see a small cloud of dust floating down from the ceiling and the tiny gleam of a piece of metal embedded in the ceiling. I gaped up at it.

Awesome,” I whispered. Then, running on instincts I couldn’t place if I tried, I crouched down and jumped. As soon as my feet left the ground, I went light, floating up to the coin, propelled by my mass-altered strength. Once I reached the roof, I went solid, grabbed the coin just as I started to fall again, then shifted all the way down into heavy again. This time, when I hit the ground, the cracks went out for a few meters.

I puffed out a breath, adrenaline flowing through my veins. How the holy heck did I just do that?! I looked around at the ruined concrete. I… should probably not hit any normal people when I’m like that.

Instinct was apparently a more important part of this than I’d thought. If I’d been consciously thinking about it, I wouldn’t have been able to pull that stunt off, and yet I had. It had honestly felt like one of my gymnastics routines, one of the ones I’d done so many times that my thoughts would wander while performing it. But those I’d practiced for years; I’d never done that before. So where had the experience come from? The power itself? But that would mean that… had someone had this power before me?

I found that idea pretty disconcerting, to be honest. I’d barely had the thing for a day, and yet it already felt like part of me. Thinking of it belonging to someone else was like discovering that one of your hands had previously belonged to another person.

I shook my head, willing the thoughts away. Not only were they disturbing, they were also unhelpful. I still had one last test to try. I took a deep breath, and shut off the power-

And I was back in my own body, feeling vaguely nauseous as wisps of lilac smoke disappeared in front of me.  Well, that was good. Hopefully, it would also kick in if something lethal happened to my doppelganger.

I’m not particularly religious. My parents never indoctrinated- sorry, raised me with any, and I didn’t find Jesus or Krishna or Mohammed or whatever on my own. But I’ve always liked the concept of fate, and so I chose to believe that it was predestination that carried the scream over the wind to me.

I spun in the direction it had come from, eyes tightening. No more experimentation, Hannah. This is it.

Go and kick some butt.

Capes 6-II

No Capes.

I got off the train close to the city center, near the tip of the wedge that was the business district. The train lines were set out in a series of concentric rings, with lines connecting them going down the center of each of the slices that formed the city of New Chicago. I’d taken the line up to the smallest ring, then gone a few stops around. Second-hand clothing stores had seemed to be the best place to start, and I’d dragged Sabi along to this one once, so I thought I’d start there. I still hadn’t seen my friend, or heard from her, but I’d rung her parents, and they said that she was okay, but a little walled-in right now. Apparently, her agoraphobia had kicked in between us going our separate ways and the Incident, and she’d had to go home. This had happened before, and I knew that the best thing I could do was give her her space until she felt better.

The storefront was small, and a bit dingy, which someone had attempted to cover up by draping it in as much Christmas regalia as was physically possible. It… hadn’t really worked.

The bell dinged as I pushed the door open, the blast of warm air rushing over me in a satisfying wave. Thankfully, the store seemed to be empty, a middle-aged women reading a book behind the counter. She looked up at the bell, and I gave an awkward half-smile and nod. Apparently satisfied that I wasn't a criminal or lowlife, she returned to her reading with a grunt.

I pulled off my jacket and hat, letting my hair free from its damp enclosure. I’d intentionally dressed down for this trip, using one of my dad’s old beanies and my half-brother’s worn ski jacket

The store itself felt... appropriate, I suppose, a decor that matched its intent. It was a bit dingy and beaten-up, the clothes stored on old racks and cheap steel shelving. But, it was clean, and the bright light filtering through the glass gave it a pleasant, almost rustic look.

“So are we going to talk about what happened?”

I grabbed a basket from the pile next to the door, and began browsing.  Costume, costume, costume. I hadn't really given much thought to it, honestly. I just wanted something that would conceal my identity, and hopefully look cool. Of course, it would be ideal if it also offered protection, but I'd done a little research, and Steelsilk was definitely out of the question. The only ways to purchase it were through licensed stores, which require proof of identity and keep a record of all who purchase, or online, which was simply not an option for me. So unless I wanted to explain to my dad why I'd bought industrial grade body armor, I'd have to go without, at least initially.

“Hey! Don’t ignore me! This isn’t something you can just brush off.”

As I browsed, fingers brushing through fabrics of all sorts, something caught my eye. A lavender scarf lay on one of the shelves, folded sloppy and loose. I picked it up, running it through my fingers. The fabric was surprisingly soft; it might have even been silk, not that I knew anything about fabric. Still, whatever it was, I wanted it. I held it up in front of the light, and as it shimmered, an image began to form in my mind.

“We’ve read the same books; I know you know repression isn’t a way to-”

You can either help me shop, or shut up the heck up, I snapped internally.

A quick search revealed a thick, long-sleeved white shirt in my size, and I took that and the scarf up to the counter. The clerk didn't even look up from her book as she scanned the items, and I paid with cash and left. I didn't want to buy everything from the same place, as it might be a little suspicious, which is why I ventured back out into the cold and headed towards the large mall that lined one side of the Tower Plaza.

Once I'd made it inside, my nose blue from the cold, I headed towards a shoe shop on the opposite side of the main area, past the fountain that sat in the middle, illuminated by the sun filtering through the skylights above.

There, I found a pair of comfortable running boots, which I also bought with cash. The housewares section of a department store yielded a face mask and two cans of spray paint, one white and one lavender, the same shade as the scarf. The outdoorsman store yielded a pair of thick, loose cargo pants with plenty of pockets, and after a little searching, I found a small carpentry store tucked into a little nook on the third floor that sold me a pair of durable gloves and a thick roll of duct tape.

Finally, I found myself standing in an upmarket ski shop, looking at goggles, the kind of place I’d probably have gone if I’d ever been skiing in my life. I found a pair that I liked the look of, and I was inspecting them when a voice cut through my stream of thought.

I looked up to find a pretty sales assistant looking at me questioningly, a bright smile on her face. She was about my age, maybe a year or two older, with long dark hair and a slim nose.  Her name badge had "Chloe" written on it, and I tried to focus on that instead of… her.

"Uh, sorry, but could you, um, repeat that? I was a little," I waved my hands around, "uh, spaced-out."

"Sure," she said. "I just wanted to know if there was anything I can help you with."

"Err, no. I mean, no. I mean yes!" I replied, flustered. "Arghh. Sorry."

She gave a small chuckle. "That's okay. What do you need?"

I held up the goggles I'd been looking at. They were unusual in appearance; instead of having a border with padding around the eyes, they stretched out further, curving so that the padded edge looked like it would sit on the side of the head. "Why different do- I mean, what's about these spec- I mean, how do these are differ-" I gave up, blushing furiously.

"What's different about these ones, you mean?" she asked with a smile. I nodded, not trusting myself to speak. She took them and spun them around, displaying the curve. "They're designed for dangerous skiing: they're durable, very glare-resistant, and offer as much peripheral vision as possible compared to ordinary goggles."

"Oh," I stammered, "that's not... I mean, I don't dangerous..." I trailed off again. "I just thought they looked cool," I finished lamely.

She laughed softly. "Hey, I'm not judging. I think they look awesome."

"I, ah, do like the peripheral vision thing, though. I, uh, think the biggest danger to me while skiing is… myself."

That got a laugh, high and sweet. "And you'd probably never have to worry about damaging it."

"Y-yeah." They were good points, although I wasn't thinking about it in the context of skiing. Damage-resistant and non-vision-obstructing seemed like good things to have when superheroing. "I take I'll think it," I said, not even bothering to try and correct myself at that point. "But... does it, uhm, come in other colors?"

Five minutes later, I walked out the door of the store, the proud, extremely embarrassed owner of 1 (one) brand new pair of white ski goggles with purple-tinted lenses.

"Oh come on. That was just… wow. You were all over the place.”

Shut up.

“See, that's the kind of situation that I'm for, and you don't even think about me?"

Shut. Up.

"Look, I'm just saying, what's the point of having me around if you're not going to ah crap no no no, ignore that, it's very important that I stay."

And why is that?

“Well, for one, we haven't gotten anything to cover our head.”

...okay, fine, you can stay. I was right, though; with what I'd gathered so far, my head, and more importantly in this weather, ears, were still going to be uncovered. I needed...

"A cloak. We should totally get a cloak. It'll look really cool."

I considered the idea. It would cover my head and ears, and help conceal me better. Plus, it probably would look pretty cool.

Okay, a cloak it is. I wonder if there's a costume shop around here somewhere...

Capes 6-I


Never Look Back.

New Chicago Supervillains. I paused for a second, finger hanging over the search button, then tapped the screen. The screen blanked for a moment as it loaded, then began filling with results, links, and most importantly, news articles.

It turns out that, in the wake of a hostage situation, it’s surprisingly hard to get a moment to yourself. After the villains had disappeared, the heroes (with plenty of help from EM responders) had quickly organized the room, interviewing people and getting medical attention to those that needed it. Myself belonging to the latter category, I had to vaguely hover around my visible body as it had its hand bandaged and answered questions in an awkward, stammer manner, trying not to breathe too loud or bump into anyone. It was rather disconcerting, watching this stranger who was me, watching all the things she did that I hadn’t consciously noted were habits of mine, like rubbing her nails against her palms or tilting her head to the side whenever she was trying to look like she was listening. Eventually, they’d left me alone to deal with others, but I still couldn’t find any privacy before my parents had arrived, and it was more through luck than skill that I managed to get in the backseat of the car.

I opened a few of the most relevant-sounding ones in their own tabs. The first one was a general piece from the Insider, talking about the sudden surge of superpowered criminal activity in the last few days, of which the attack on Dresden High belonged to. According to the article, the authorities had been caught off guard with the wave, crime usually taking a dive during the season due to heavy snows. The embedded video showed a clip from the police chief's press conference, talking about some major robbery. Apparently, approximately 2 billion dollars in bearer bonds had been stolen by a group of supers, although I noticed that he didn't actually mention from whom they'd taken it. I copied the video file and relevant bits of the article over into my notes, then replayed the video, writing down the most relevant bits. The prime suspects were apparently the Disciples of Shiva, the Cabal of the Enlightened Savior, and some coalition of vigilantes, so I gave each of those their own section in the notes, blank for now.

A knock sounded out from the door, and I lay back in my bed and sighed.

"Hanners?" It was my mom. "Can I come in?"

"It's open," I replied, putting my pad face-down beside me.

The door swung open, and she poked her head in. When it comes to appearance, I'd not followed in her footsteps. With her black hair, dark eyes and general height, she looked more like Sabi's mom than mine (and when we were kids, she'd often been mistaken as such). The only trait she passed to me was her nose, which we'd always joked looked like a horse's. She'd obviously just gotten back from work, dressed to the nines in a fancy suit, complete with hat.

"How are you doing, honey? I got out from work as soon as I heard."

"You shouldn't have bothered," I said, still staring at the ceiling. "I told Dad I'm fine."

She came over and sat on the edge of the bed. "Are you sure? You don't sound very fine."

"Mom, I'm okay," I insisted. "It wasn't even that bad. No one even got hurt."

She raised an eyebrow at that. "Really?" she asked, looking down at my heavily-bruised hand. "Not a single person?"

"Seriously hurt," I amended. "No one was seriously hurt."

She frowned. "That's a little hard to believe, honey."

I shrugged, the motion rustling the duvet. "It's the truth. Did you not read any articles or anything? Didn't Dad tell you?"

"I thought it was best to hear it from you, and he agreed."

I groaned, and rolled onto my side, facing away from her. "Really?"

"If you don't want to..." she said gently.

"Ugh, fine." I gave her the same highly-edited version that I'd given the paramedic who'd looked at my arm, one where after getting stomped on, I just lay on the floor and cried, which had the believability benefit of being corroborated by multiple sources. I'd meant to tell Dad the proper story, but I'd chickened out, and now I had to lie to Mom as well, which… didn’t tear me up as much as it probably should have.

I’d spent most of my story staring at the wall and fiddling with my hands (and now that I knew I did it, I couldn’t stop noticing), so it wasn’t until I finished and rolled back over that I saw The Look on her face.

I groaned inwardly.

“Oh you poor dear,” she cooed, an expression of utmost concern and pity. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

I ground my teeth together. “Mom, you know I love you, right?”

“Of course, honey,” she said, sounding confused.

“Good. Because I’m going to have to ask you to leave now, before I have to rescind that statement.”

“I’m… not sure what you mean, dear. Are you-”

“Mother,” I cut her off. “Leave. I can’t do this right now.” I rolled over so I wouldn’t have to look at her.

There was a catch of breath, as if she’d started to say something but refrained, and then the click of the door told me she’d gone.

I breathed out a long sigh, full of… I’m not really sure. A mix of frustration, exasperation and worry, I suppose. Mom and I have a bit of a complicated relationship. When I was younger, we got along like a whole suburb on fire. I adored her in that way only young children could, and she returned it with interest. I have more fond memories of those years than I could count, but unfortunately they’ve become slightly tainted with the current state of things. Long story short, I grew up, mom didn’t handle it well. She still tried to treat me like I was the six-year-old with the gap-tooth and overalls, which went from mildly annoying to outright rage-inducing depending on the situation. Needless to say, I got on better with Dad these days.

As an attempt to distract myself, both from my parental issue and the Event, as I’d unconsciously begun referring to it as, I threw myself back into my research. I dug through articles, blog posts, forums, the whole nine yards, but nothing returned a single mention of any teleporters in green cloaks or men with metal masks or combat gear. Even the news articles reporting on the attack didn’t include any details about them, a fact I wasn’t sure whether to attribute to suppression or mere lack of knowledge. It wasn’t until, on a frustrated whim, I expanded my search parameters to the surrounding area, that I found something.

It wasn't much, just an article about the happenings of a county fair in some small town a few states southwest. But in the middle of a poorly formatted paragraph sat the tiny lead I needed.

Apparently, a hooded woman, accompanied by two men, one large and one lean, had attempted to extort some money from a shopkeeper, but had disappeared when confronted. A day later, the local bank found that all their money had mysteriously disappeared, and the night watchman had been replaced with a bloody smear on the wall. It seemed their threats at the school weren't bluffs.

Another quick change to the search parameters to incorporate general crimes and to focus on locations close to the last article, and I started finding more breadcrumbs. There'd been no more sightings in any of the towns nearby, but one to the northeast had experienced a string of unsolved burglaries. Given the proximity, I didn't doubt for a second that it was related. Reapplying the search to that town, yielded another result, and again and so on, until I began noticing a pattern. Acting on a hunch, I took a map and marked out all the locations I'd found, which confirmed my suspicions. Aside from an outlier, the path between them all pointed towards New Chicago. The only reason it'd taken me so long to notice was the zigzagging pattern necessary to actually move between them. I'd be willing to bet that if I followed the pattern, I'd find a string of larcenies, extortions and straight-up murder all the way up to Lake Michigan.

All of which told me... absolutely nothing. I sighed, and leant back against the wall. Well, that wasn't exactly true. I had a better sense of their methodology now, as well as some idea of the type of target they might go for next. 

Except they hadn't followed the pattern, had they? In everything that they'd done before, they'd managed to keep a low profile, only appearing in passing mentions, never directly relating themselves to whatever crimes just happened to take place near them. But this time, they'd attacked a school. Something had caused them to break their routine, and if I could discover what it was, there was a pretty good chance it'd lead me right to them. And then...

Well, I'd burn that bridge when I came to it. For now, with no concrete leads I was going to have to resort to more... Batman-esque investigative methods.

And for that, I needed a costume. 

Calling 5-Vignette

Just Like It Hasn’t Been Three Years

Three years ago, or thereabouts

The pen clicked irregularly as Flint pushed it against the desk and released it, over and over. He watched it jump up into the air, then caught it before it could land and clicked it downwards again. Up, and down, up, and down, up, and down, click¸click, click-

"Would you stop that?"

He looked up from his pen, surprised at the sudden interruption. It was… dammit, what was his name? Something generic, he thought, like Johnson or Smith. “What?” he asked without looking up, still clicking the pen.

"What do you think it is, shit-for-brains?" he hissed back. "Your pen, idiot. Stop clicking it or I break it and your fingers.”

Click, went the pen. “That’s nice, Jones,” Flint mumbled, still not looking at him. Jones seemed as good a guess as any. He went to click the pen again, but a hand much larger than his enclosed the pen and his hand alike, stopping them from moving.

Flint looked up, following the large meaty arm that started with the large, meaty hand up to a large meaty body and a surprisingly non-large but presumably still meaty head. “First, it’s. Not. Jones.” Not-Jones applied more pressure to his hold, and Flint winced. “And second, my mom’s a goddamn lawyer, Perez. I could pop your eyes out, and walk away scot-free. So stop. Clicking. The Goddamn. Pen.”

Doing his best to ignore the pain, Flint met the other boy’s eyes. “Yes, Thompson, your mom’s a lawyer,” he said quietly. “She’s such a good lawyer that she’ll manage to convince a jury that the multiple angles of security camera footage were, I dunno, a government cover-up?” He tapped his chin thoughtfully with his free hand. “No, I know! They were caused by the light reflecting in strange ways from all the gas that you can’t stop producing.”

Not-Jones-and-probably-not-Thompson’s eyes narrowed, but before he could issue whatever retaliation he had planned, a voice interrupted them. 

“Perez, Jorgensen!” Mr. Koenig had turned away from the board to face them. “I don’t care if you want hurt each other, but I’d rather you did it somewhere other than Math class! Turn around, shut up, and if you’re not going to pay attention then at least pretend!”

Apparently-Jorgensen (so much for normal-sounding) settled back into his chair, but not before muttering in low tones “I’ll get you for this, Perez.”

“Oooh, scary,” he shot back, slouching down into his own seat. “Hey, maybe next time try “you’ll pay for this”, or even “Curses, foiled again!”. Reeeaaaally up the cliché factor.” Then he picked up the pen, and, staring at the back of Jorgensen’s head, brought it down onto the table’s surface.


It turned out that walking was surprisingly hard with a bag of ice over one’s eye. He’d already tripped over the gaps between three separate paving stones, and had given up on trying to navigate crowds entirely after unwittingly participating in an impromptu game of human bowling pins.

He adjusted the strap of his bag with the hand that wasn’t full of ice, quickly realizing yet another disadvantage to the ‘one eye covered in ice’ situation; namely, that it was really bloody cold. It was already one of those awful cloudy winter’s days, and layers didn’t do much to help when a large source of cold was pressed right up against one’s face.

His foot caught on another gap, but he managed to catch himself before falling. Whoever had decided that cobbles were a good idea should burn in hell, he thought to himself. It was most likely a testament to how damn upper-class the school was that someone had decided that large lawns, ovals, and cobbled paths were a good idea in the middle of an urban metropolis. That’s not to say he didn’t like it, but it was a strange decision all the same.

He chuckled to himself as he recalled the little fracas. Jorgensen was almost a shame. He was born in the wrong era; thirty, forty years ago and he’d have been a legitimate threat, a schoolyard terror. But now, he was just kind of pathetic. The whole incident would be reported to the office, but it probably wasn’t going to amount to anything. His mom was a lawyer, after all, and while he was still certain she couldn’t get her son cleared if he popped someone’s eyes out on camera, it would be trivial to make something like this disappear. Considering the way Jorgensen was acting, she probably already had, multiple times. He wondered if-

The impact knocked him back, jarring and out of nowhere. Caught up in his thoughts, he hadn’t been paying attention to where he was going, and had slammed headfirst into someone coming the other way, someone with their head buried in a textbook. They both staggered back clutching at their heads. The girl tipped to the side, then fell on her ass with a thud, and Flint slipped on the ice and landed on his knees. The girl’s bag had fallen from her shoulder, and he winced as the computer fell towards the ground and – skipped across the pavement before coming to rest in a pile of snow? That was… odd. He was sure he’d seen it falling. Maybe he had a concussion.

“Oh god, I’m really sorry-”

 “Aw dammit, sorry about that-” 

Both of them spoke at the same time, and stopped just as suddenly. There were a few seconds of awkward silence, and then Flint grinned a little crookedly and reached over to grab her computer bag from the ground, taking a quick peek inside. “Looks fine to me,” he said, handing it back over to her and offering a hand. She took it gratefully, hauling herself to her feet. She was surprisingly heavy, and Flint, not exactly being on the heavyweight side of the equation, had to lean back quite a bit to avoid getting pulled down. “Like I was trying to say, I’m really sorry about that. Had my head in the clouds.”

She shook her head. “Nah, its fine. I had my nose in my book anyway, and you look like you got it just as bad as I did.” She was fairly pleasant looking, with brown eyes and brown hair with a skunk stripe of blond, and looked to be maybe two years older than him. She gave him a strange look. “Worse, actually. Did you just happen to have a bag of ice on hand?”

He grinned ruefully, pulling the bag away to reveal the quickly forming bruise, and she sucked in a burst of air through her teeth. “Not… exactly, no.”

“How’d that happen?”

He shrugged. “Pissed off the wrong guy, ya de da, you know how it is.”

“I actually don’t, thank you very much.” She looked at him, then did a little double-take. “Hold on, I think I actually recognize you. You’re that guy who’s always sitting under the tree and drawing people, aren’t you?”

He sniffed. “I’ll have you know that I’m drawing the architecture, thank you very much.” He hesitated. “Mostly because I can’t draw people for shit,” he admitted, and she chuckled.

“Well, it’s nice to meet you either way,” she said, sticking out her hand. “I’m Edith, Edith Ellis. Nice to meet you,” she repeated, a little awkwardly. 

He took her hand and found it surprisingly warm. He gave it a firm shake. “Flint Perez, and likewise.”

She raised an eyebrow. “Flint?”

He gave a little sigh. “Blame my parents, they thought it sounded cool. Besides, it’s not like you’re one to talk, ‘Edith’.”

She reciprocated his sigh. “Parents too. Fire and brimstone, and they thought it was suitably portentous.”


“I manage.” She glanced at her watch. “So hey, I was just going to get some lunch. Wanna come with? It’d beat eating on my own.”

“Sure,” he said with a shrug and a smile. “Not like I’ve got anything better to do.” They started walking, but he stopped after a few steps.

“You… may want to grab your computer from that snowbank first, though.”

Calling 5-IV

Go Knock Them Dead

I shook my head sadly. “You’re really not doing great, are you?”

“Enough with the word games!” Her stare was wild, two pinpricks of strained sanity in a placid mask. “Enough with all this crap, Flint! Tell me!” Her voice rose in tone as she went on, until the last words were almost screeched.

I met her eyes, and then slowly and deliberately slipped my hands into my pockets. “Edith Ellis,” I said clearly, “you do not have as much leverage as you believe you do.”

I was taking a gamble with my posturing. Even if you're confident, which I wasn't, you generally don't want to occupy your hands when a fight is imminent. If she attacked me, it’d be that much harder to dodge, and that much harder again to use my power without my hands to focus it. But you can't gamble without risk, and if I was right in my estimation, the simultaneous display of non-aggression, self-disarmament and lack of concern would be enough to get her to stop and think.

Or she might just blast a hole in my torso.

For what felt like an hour, I stared down her arm like someone facing a gunman, face (hopefully) displaying casual nonchalance, all the while tracking the flow of salt from her hand and its complete lack of slowing. Then, finally, it stopped, and she lowered her arm.

“Dammit,” she hissed under her breath, probably louder than she intended. “Dammit dammit dammit.”

“Mm-hmm,” I said, not undeservedly smug. “Classic problem with death threats; they don’t work when you need the person alive.”

“There’s nothing stopping me from maiming you.”

“Mm-hmm,” I repeated, probably pretty obnoxiously. “Except for, you know, the fact that the Tower’s only a couple of blocks away, and there’s no way you doing that is going to go unnoticed.” I folded my arms across my chest. “You might be able to beat me, you might even be able to beat Lis, hell, you might even be able to beat one of the “heroes”.” I’d surrounded that word with quotation marks for so long that I barely even noticed myself doing it anymore. “But they won’t just send one. And unlike this little standoff here, they don’t need you alive.”

“Is that you admitting that you can’t kill me?”

“No, it’s me saying that I won’t kill you. Believe me, there’s a difference.”

She scoffed. “That’d have a lot more weight if you could actually back it up.”

“See, for this whole conversation, you’ve been operating on the assumption that I’m still, basically, the same level I was at a year and a half ago.” I gave a one-shouldered shrug. “And maybe you’re right. Maybe I am still about that strong. But the only way to know for sure…” I trailed off; it didn’t need to be finished. 

She glared at- no, through me for a second, and then her posture straightened. “Fine. We have a standoff, then.”

“Ehh,” I shrugged again. “Not really. I can leave whenever I want.”

“Then why don’t you?” Her tone was practically taunting, insinuating that I was too afraid of her.

“Well, to be frank, it’s not like there’s much else going on.” I grinned briefly. She did not. “Okay, so there is, namely sleep.”

“Sleep sounds nice,” Edith admitted, pointedly not looking at me.

“You’re telling me. I keep having this weird recurring nightmare, keeps me up all night.”

“And your solution is to go to a bar at 3 in the morning?”

I laughed. “No, that was Lis. I owed her a drink.” I paused, as a thought struck me. “How, exactly, did you find me anyway? I know you had your eye guy do his thing, but unless I'm wrong, he'd still need to have a general sense of where I was, wouldn't he?” I didn't actually know the first thing about his power beyond what she'd told me, but from that it seemed likely that it was either impermanent line of sight, where he could only look through the eyes of people he could see, or it was more like a tag, where he could do it remotely to people he'd seen before, or designated somehow. So I was fishing, hoping that Edith would talk about information she thought I already knew. Because if it was the latter, I'd have to be very careful of my movements.

“I… he was actually doing an unrelated job,” she revealed grudgingly. “I just happened to see you, and decided to make a move." Hmm. So he could share what he was viewing with others. Interesting. It wasn't certain, but her description was making me lean towards the former of the two options. It still could’ve been the latter, or something else entirely, but my instincts were telling I was at least partially right.

“So you just thought you could waltz up and beat it out of me, huh? Not your brightest move.”

“It’s not like I could bring anyone else. The only control I have over them is through money and fear. If any of them discovered that a bunch of high-schoolers led by my ex stole our contract from underneath us, they'd probably try and kill me.”

“Well, I guess every management style has its advantages and disadvantages.” My phone buzzed inside my jacket, and I instinctively reached in to grab it.

Her hand snapped up. “Don’t!”

Slowly, I pulled the device out and showed it to her. “Someone's jumpy.”

“Don't answer it.”

“Why not?”

“Just… don’t.”

“Great reasoning, there.” I tapped the answer button and held it up to my ear.

I didn’t even see her move, but suddenly she was in front of me, and my phone went flying from my hand as she knocked it away. “I said don’t.”

I stared down at her, then turned and walked over to where my phone had skidded along the icy ground. I picked it up and inspected it, and found that it had stayed surprisingly intact. “And I said why not.”

We faced off for a few seconds. Then she turned, and began walking away. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you,” she said over her shoulder.

I watched her reach the end of the alleyway and turn left, out of sight. The phone buzzed again, and I answered it and put it to my ear again.

“What, Lis?!”

Well geez, I’m sorry to drag ya from your little whatever, but ya kinda need to see this.” There were a few seconds of scuffling, then a video feed snapped into focus on my screen. Lis’s face filled the image for a moment, then she cursed, and the camera flipped around. She was still inside the bar, and the casual conversation was actually loud enough that I couldn’t hear the TV she was pointing it at, some form of police press conference. It was subtitled though, so I read along a few seconds after his mouth movements.

“…of course, working with the Watchtower Conglomerate on this matter, as all preliminary signs point to this case falling into their jurisdiction. Currently, we’re attempting to narrow down the suspect pool, which as of now consists of the Cabal of the Enlightened Savior, the Disciples of Shiva, Redline…”

I’ve never discovered anything new about my powers. Right from the start, they’ve always been the exact same, done the exact same. But if you’d asked me in that moment, I would have sworn to God in heaven that I had gained precognition, because I knew exactly what was coming next.

“…and a recently-emerged group, apparently called the Outliers.”