Differences 8-Vignette


The Pride of [Subject Hometown Here].

The young woman who called herself Comet flew through the sky, trailing a fiery corona.

The flames surrounded her, clinging to her figure, ghostly and ethereal. They didn’t burn or even feel hot, although she knew that they could burn through steel. As she shot upwards, the whistling of the wind muted by her helmet, they left streaks of blue and red and orange hanging in the air, marking her passage.

As she reached the apex of her flight, the flames began sloughing off behind her, until she was at the peak, hanging unprotected in the air. Already, she could feel the harsh mistress of gravity beginning to reassert herself, the chain around her legs pulling her back down to earth, back to reality and back to her problems.
She would not have it. She was in control now.

With a slow breath out, she released the tension in her core, the one she had grown so used to maintaining that it had become second nature. She felt the spark ignite, the swell rise, and then the nimbus of cold power roared out of her and for the briefest second, she was whole again.

It didn’t feel like something was leaving her or flowing through her. It was more like… finally stretching out fully after a long, cramped car ride. As always, it sent a little shiver down her spine. It spun around her, holding her in place, far wider and stronger than she could normally let it be. There was nothing up here she could damage; just her and the sky.

Oh, and birds and airplanes, she supposed. But Dispatch had cleared her flight with Air Traffic Control, and any birds dumb enough to fly into the flames were probably better off dead.

The ghostly flames flickered into being, orange at first, then red, then blue, then finally white as they grew hotter and hotter. They swirled and eddied, forming an abstract flow of colors, and she couldn’t help but laugh with joy. These, more than anything else, were the moments she lived for.

For a few moments, she simply hung there, watching the fire spin around her. She could feel the burn beginning to set in, but she fought it for as long as she could, holding onto the moment for all it was worth. When the burning finally became unbearable, she released her hold on the flames and let them carry her up into the sky.

She rocketed upwards again, far faster than before, leaving behind a plume of rapidly dispersing fire. She punched through a cloud, leaving a spike behind as bits clung to her for a second. Again, she began to slow, and at the top she repeated the process, then once more.

Eventually she found herself far, far above the city. The air was thin, but she was used to it, and took deeper breaths without consciously thinking about it. The city spread out below her, an uneven disk shooting out from a central spire, with a large splotch of green disturbing the otherwise industrial colors. She was high enough that she could see Old Chicago too, a dull mass of grey and brown on the other side of the lake. She wondered idly if she could maybe fly over there. Lateral movement was harder for her, but she’d had an idea recently that she thought might-

A small window with a waveform on it unfolded on her visor, marring her perfect view and throwing her out of her own thoughts. She sighed, then made the small eye movement to answer it as gravity took over and she began to fall.

Mask… on.

“Comet.” She recognized the voice; it was that woman, Annabelle something or other. The Korean one. “There’s an all-hands on the West Side. The Ball and Chain. I’m putting the location on your visor.”

A small icon appeared, marking a building. “Acknowledged,” she said. “Anything else?”

“That’s a negatory, Comet.” There was a spitting noise, and she made a distasteful expression. Didn't she know that stuff was terrible for her teeth? “Dispatch out.” The window shut, but the icon remained.

She began steering herself towards the dot, shifting her limbs to direct the airflow. Ordinarily, she’d get joy out of even this, but she was on the job now. There was no time for that.

-----

Comet landed in a rolling carpet of flame on the street. The power inside her arrested momentum after a few seconds when let out, and she’d taken advantage of it to stop herself from splatting like a particularly bloody pancake.

Admittedly, if she had, she’d have fit right in. She remembered the Ball and Chain as the dive-iest of dive bars, a crappy establishment in a crappier building in an even crappier part of town. She didn’t remember looking like it had had a Red Cross van dropped on it. From orbit.

The roof had caved in, and debris was scattered everywhere. Not just wood, but flesh. Pieces of bodies were scattered around, and blood had been spread so liberally there was more blood than clear surface. Even through her helmet’s filters, she could smell it all, and she had to stop herself from gagging. Not now, not on the job.

Tower personnel swarmed over the site like ants, taking samples and cordoning off areas. Two men were at the center of the commotion; one in a rumpled suit and the other in a black and grey bodysuit with a long flowing cape. Director Cayle and Awestruck. Gingerly, she made her way over to them, stepping carefully to avoid getting blood on her boots. Awestruck looked up at her as she approached, and turned on a smile like a floodlight. “Comet! Good, you’re here.”

She nodded to both men. “Awestruck, Director. What happened here?”

The Director sighed, running a hand through his thinning hair. “We’re trying to figure that out now. A decent number of the superpowered criminals in this city, slaughtered like lambs. We don’t know how, but anything that can do this is a serious concern.”

“Then, with all due respect, sir, why the all hands? It seems like it would be better to wait until we’ve conclusively determined who or what did this.”

Awestruck responded instead of him. “We don’t know for sure, but the preliminary report suggest this was most likely the work of the same metahuman that assaulted the Director a few weeks ago. He seems to be a Dragon level threat at a minimum, and I wanted everyone to see this first-hand to emphasize that.”

She took that in, silently. She could understand the logic, she supposed, but something about it irked her. Something about him did. Awestruck was one of the greats in the public eye, but having actually met the man, she’d always found him to be rather… fake. He played the part that was expected of him, but every now and then she caught a glimpse of something underneath, something she wasn’t sure she liked.

“Director,” came a voice from behind her, and she turned to see a young woman in loose, floppy clothing walking towards them, flanked by a man and a woman, both in body armor. She was tall and thin, black hair in a 50s sci-fi bob-cut, and her eyes seemed to be staring into space.

“Ah, Miss Ivette. Have you found anything?”

She nodded, the motion slightly vacant. “It was your Primal Man who did this. Very violent. Very quick.”

Primal Man? Director Cayle merely nodded, though, looking disappointed. “Any idea why?”

She smiled at a point about a foot to the left of his head. “You know that’s not how it works.”

“I don’t, actually.”

“You do now.”

He sighed. “Is that all?”

“No.” She shook her head, then paused, then did it a few more times. “No, no, no, no, no. There were others, other paths I haven’t seen. Or have seen, but not yet. Or haven’t seen already. Definitely, definitely one of those…” She trailed off, but snapped back up after a second, spinning to face partially away from them. “Anyway. There were four, three that mattered. The Dame of the Plummet, a Man of Angles and the Deadly Touch. The Masks were there too, but they aren’t important. They fought off your Primal Man, scattered him to the winds. He’ll return, though. I can see the ripples he’ll make.” With that, she swept away, her bodyguards trailing behind. She hadn’t acknowledged the end of the conversation in any way, just assumed that because she had said her piece, they were done. It was refreshing, in an odd way.

“Sir? Who was that?” she asked the director, watching the girl go, twitching and moving on odd paths.

“Rose Ivette. She consults for us. We don’t use her often because… Well, you saw.”

“I did,” she acknowledged. “Sir. Man of Angles? To me, that sounds like Skew, of the Outliers.”

Awestruck tilted his head at her. “Who?” How did he not know about that? Did he not watch the news? Or for that matter, get briefed on anything?

Cayle nodded slowly. “You might be right. It would complicate this situation immensely, but it might also provide us an unprecedented opportunity.” He seemed to reach a decision. “I want you to take your team and bring them in. They’re connected to this slaughter, and that gives us a motive.”

She raised an eyebrow. “All of them, sir? They outnumber us.” She didn’t comment that there was almost no way the Outliers could have actually been involved in the slaughter part of the incident. Cayle was smart enough to realize that, and if he was ordering her anyway, it meant he didn’t care.”

He grunted. “You can request extra personnel as needed. Just get it done.”

She nodded. “Was there anything else, sir?”

“That’s all, Comet. Get it done.”

“Yes, sir.” She turned and strode away. Bring in the Outliers… no small task. They generally only concerned themselves with small fry, but that by no means meant that they belonged in that category. Skew and Ricochet, especially, had reputations for being slippery and tricky customers. Still, she had a few ideas that she thought might help.

And if that failed, well... 

Just because there were ten of them didn’t mean that she had to take them on all at once.