Talk 4-V

A Rope Around Your Neck

A quick recap on the state of the room.

A few hundred students (~300?) who, if they were anything like me, were slightly worn out from the emotional whiplash, but mostly just terrified.

Three (3) supervillains scattered about the room, the teleporter and Metalface unconscious, the former in Stump’s hands, the latter in Black Armor’s restraints, and Combat Gear still struggling and swearing in the same.

One (1) inhuman doppelganger with a fork through its hand, currently pretending to be me as it was tended to by a few of the students around it/me. None of them really seemed to know what they were doing, but it was a nice thought.

One (1) very much human doppelgangee, currently about this (I-I) close to just curling up into a ball, sticking her fingers in her ears and tunelessly humming until everything went away.

Five (5) young superheroes, standing in the remains of what used to be the doorway into the room, the two halves lying, smoldering, on either side of them. Their costumes bright and distinctive, they stood in a very… cinematic pose, that was slightly ruined by the fact that they were all completely baffled by what had just happened.

And one (1) ambiguously-human wood creature, currently very angrily stalking his way across the room to his teammates, with the aforementioned one (1) teleporter dragging behind him in wooden restraints.

He passed by me, and without thinking, I started to follow. I’m not even sure why; I think it might have been more inertia than anything else. If I didn’t find something to do, I was going to crash, hard, and while that sounded appealing, I still had to deal with the issue of my double. Right now, it was surrounded by people, and the injury it had received meant it probably wasn’t going to get left alone any time soon.

Darn it, the injury. I’d forgotten about it, but there was no way that the many people who’d seen it happen would if I showed up with a perfectly unblemished hand. One more complication to go on the pile. The long and short of it was that for now, I’d have to leave the double running until I could get it away from people.

Plus… I was curious. Not only because these six people were celebrities of an order that was hard to surpass, but also because the whole fight that had just happened was weird and kind of suspicious, and I wanted answers. So yes, I used superpowers to spy on the people with superpowers, which is probably not the smartest thing I’ve ever done.

The New Chicago Guardians were all young, the oldest probably not even twenty. According to Sabah, the Tower went for second-gens a lot harder than firsts, and because seconds tended to be around the same age bracket (currently around 15-20, which I fit comfortably into), youth teams like the Guardians weren’t uncommon. They, and their parents if they were under-18s, would have signed waivers releasing the Tower from being liable for certain dangers, and there were government-mandated restrictions on how long they spent in costume, the situations they went into, that sort of thing. It was apparently an airtight web of bureaucracy, paperwork and legalities that had kept the practice going strong for more than two decades, even back in the first wave.

They turned as Stump approached, and, a few paces behind him, I got my first proper look at them. There were five, three boys and two girls, six with Stump. Comet, their leader, stood in the center, wearing an orange jumpsuit patterned with flame decals that shifted and flickered in the light, and a helmet that covered her eyes, but let her long black hair hang down her back. On her left stood Thrust, sleek grey plating over dull maroon leather, and Fog, floating slightly above the ground in her pale, intricate lace dress of white and pearl, thick clouds of moisture covering the ground around her and the bottom of her legs. On the other side were Chain, silvery-blue steel links cast into black armor that covered him almost completely, and Instance, a full grey bodysuit, with light armor that slowly shifted across the entire spectrum as it approached his center of mass, which was red. It should have looked silly, but the colors were muted, and the grey was prominent enough that it actually ending up working quite well.

The crowds had noticed the heroes, and although they didn’t want to get to close, they hovered at the edge of some invisible perimeter, phones out, taking pictures and recording. Stump looked around at them, and his disposition seemed to sour further. “Instance,” he said to his teammate, “can you give us some privacy?”

He closed his eyes for a second, then nodded, gesturing Stump to move a little closer. I did the same, trying to keep my breathing quiet, although there was enough ambient noise that I probably didn’t need to bother.

Instance tilted his head to the side, then the other, and then flicked his hands out to either side, and suddenly all the sounds disappeared. I turned, and a slightly shimmering, crackling barrier had appeared just in front of the invisible line. “There,” he said. “Nothing’s getting in or out.” Instance was a power copier, with the caveat that he couldn’t copy whole powers, but instead imitated specific uses of them. Presumably, the Tower kept him well stocked with a bunch of handy tricks like this one.

“Good,” Stump said, and threw the supervillainess to the ground in between them. “Then you can all tell me what the hell that was!”

They all seemed taken aback; clearly this wasn’t the reaction they’d been expecting. “What do you mean?” Thrust asked, sounding genuinely confused.

“I mean,” he replied, sounding perilously close to yelling, “why you just burst into a delicate situation with all the wild abandon of a bunch of frat boys entering a party!”

“We burst in because we thought you needed help, you ungrateful b-”

“Thrust,” Comet cut him off. Her voice was quiet, and oddly hoarse, but it had a good weight to it, and he fell silent. “We were instructed to make a good entrance. With this many live video streams, they thought it would be good publicity.”

Good publicity?! It was a hostage situation!

Apparently Stump agreed. “And so you prioritized that over, you know, the couple of hundred students being held hostage?!”

Comet sighed. “Stump, I’m sorry, but I did as I was instructed.”

He snorted, the sound coming out oddly. Did he even have a real nose? “Yeah, well, you can tell them that their orders lost us a vigilante.”

That got their attention, Fog’s especially. “Who was it?” she asked, some thick Southern accent overlaying her words. “Was it that Void bitch?”

Stump didn’t move, but I felt like he’d made a face. “No. It was some big guy, wore brown, made these black forcefields. I think they were energy-absorbent or something similar. He took out the energy projector and the touch-range one before I had a chance to do anything”

“Sounds like Stonewall,” Instance said. “I’ve run into him a few times. I wonder what he was doing here?”

Comet waved him down. “Save it for the debrief. Right now, we need to deal with this scum.”

“Yeah, Stumpy,” Chain said, “because you couldn’t even deal with them on your own.”

He spun on him. “One more word out of you, Chain, and I’ll break you like the weakest link.”

“What, did you think that was funny?” he replied, snorting. “I could take you and you know it.” Tough words, but his posture said he wasn’t as sure of them as he sounded. I sucked in a breath as I waited for-

“Wait,” Chain said, spinning around. “Did anyone else here that?”

Oh shi- shizzle.

“Hear what? You pussying out?”

“No, you moron. It sounded like someone breathing. Someone el-”

I never thought I’d be glad to see someone hit with a flying body. Out of nowhere, a limp form came smashing into the heroes, throwing them back. They crashed to the ground in an awkward heap, except for Fog, who’d managed to dart out of the way, and Stump, who was standing slightly away from the rest of the group. I’d only just avoided being hit, and I’d felt the wind rush by my head.

A large, bulky man came charging into the bubble, surprisingly quick for his size. Metalface. He swung at Stump, who seemed to shocked to react, and sent the wooden man flying. Barely stopping, he grabbed the woman off the ground with one hand, and charged towards the heroes. They were struggling to untangle themselves from each other and the limp figure, who I realized after a second was Combat Gear, when he reached them. But instead of steamrollering over them, he simply grabbed his over teammate, and then slapped the woman. Hard.

I winced involuntary, but she jolted in his hand, and then all three of them disappeared, leaving that vacuum I’d come to recognize behind.

Within seconds, the heroes recovered, and began bickering and pointing fingers, but I didn’t stick around to listen. I left the bubble, quickly darting through the hole that Metalface had left, but as I made my way back to my double, my mind was elsewhere.

"Not what you were expecting, were they?"

No, I admitted to myself, they weren't.

After all that, after everything that had happened, those... monsters had gotten away, because the 'heroes' had been too busy bickering and making 'cinematic entrances'.

"Doesn't seem right, does it?"

No, it doesn't.

"So, what are you going to do about it?"