Greys 10-Vignette

Never Claimed To Be Nice

One day ago, or thereabouts.

A loud gasp spread through the crowd pressed up against the windows, as the woman with the mechanical arms sent a blast of flame roaring down the street. From where he was sitting, a higher platform at the back of the restaurant, the man with the white tie could easily see over their heads and down at the spectacle unfolding on the street below. Thankfully, he wasn’t the only person not crowding to the windows: a few other patrons had remained at their tables, some shooting irritated glances at the ooh-ing crowd. That was good; if everyone had moved, he would’ve had to too to avoid suspicion, and he despised crowds.

He wasn’t particularly noticeable, brown eyes behind thin glasses over brown skin under close-shaven brown hair. His tie was slightly unusual, but the plain blue shirt and brown slacks made up for it. Too many people, when trying to avoid attention, went for ‘boring' over ‘average’, not realizing that it had a certain distinctiveness all of its own. This man knew better, and he doubted he had ever received a second glance in his entire career.  

The woman, the hero, he reminded himself, dodged a flying car with a flare of flame from her shoulders. He took a sip of his tea, and made a small note in shorthand in his notebook. He'd pushed the remnants of his frankly average meal to one side, along with the teapot and his phone, to make space for taking notes, the real reason he was here. Now, if they could just-

On the other end of the street, another woman came into view. Unlike the hero, who was merely wearing jeans and a black turtleneck with the arms torn off, the second member of this little brawl had an actual costume. A long coat done in jagged black and white slashes hung over reflective plated armor, but, unusually, her face was left uncovered. The man in the white tie didn’t particularly care about any of those details: all that mattered was that he could see both combatants now, and observe properly.

The villain summoned a dagger of crackling black energy into her left hand, and flicked it outwards. The hero went to block, crossing shiny black arms across her face, but it wasn’t aimed at her; it sunk into a parked car, and flickered slightly. If the cyborg was surprised by this, she didn’t show it, and she immediately charged down the street, thrusters in her shoulders rotating and flaring. The flames they produced were tightly focused and white-hot, leaving a trail of haze behind her as she rocketed down the street.

The woman in the coat stretched out her other hand and another dagger, identical save for being white instead of black, appeared. She hurled it forward, at the hero this time, and flew fast and unerringly straight right for her. The cyborg barely even missed a step as she dipped and let it fly over her, but an impact had not been the aim of the throw. The car, with the black dagger still embedded in it, began to slide across the ground, following the path the white dagger had taken and rapidly picking up speed. It began tumbling, as if free-falling, a hulking mass of metal bearing straight down on the half-human hero.

Interesting, the man thought idly. There wasn’t much emotion behind it, merely mild fascination, as if he had just seen, perhaps, a slightly unconventional fashion choice. Was it primarily a projection power, with the alteration being its Distinct, or was it a hobbled alteration power, with a… he tapped his pen on the page for a second as he thought. Most likely an animation effect for the visuals, he decided. He was leaning towards primarily projection, but one had to be thorough.

With too much speed to successfully dodge something as large as the sedan, it looked for a second as if the woman in the coat would be victorious. But the hero wasn’t going down that easily. Not even bothering to slow down, she leapt forward into the air, twisting and spinning into a ferocious downwards kick. As she did so, a curved arc of hazy heat appeared around her foot, and sliced through the thick metal of the car's chassis like it was butter. Both halves crashed to the ground behind her as she landed, her feet now hot enough to begin melting the tarmac and set her pants on fire. Unfazed by this, she barely took a second after landing before charging forward again. Some of the crowd started applauding, the idiots.

That was truly interesting. He'd assumed that the woman was a Forge and had constructed her arms, and apparently legs, and had thus dismissed her as unimportant. But if she could generate that amount of heat, there was no way that she was the product of only one power. The power source and the limbs themselves couldn’t have been made by the same Forge: an A-Class couldn’t make a power source strong enough to support the limbs as well as that level of heat, and a B-Class couldn’t build artificial limbs of that quality. Or, he supposed, the A-Class could have built the limbs and had a B-Class build the flamethrowers, or the woman herself might be a heat animator, and the limbs merely provided a channel for that power. Regardless, there was no putting it off.

As the two metahumans continued to duke it out on street level, the man in the white tie sighed, removed his glasses and tucked them into his shirt pocket, and closed his eyes. He disliked doing this, as it always gave him a splitting headache and he’d generally gotten good enough to go without it, but sometimes, one has to take the plunge. When he opened them, the world was overlaid with glowing colors. They covered everything, bright and dim, shiny and dull, often overlapping in multiple layers. The layers didn’t mesh together; he could focus on different ones and leave the others to fade into the background. In the crowd in front of him, he could see the heat they emanated, the pulses of bioelectricity in their brains and nervous systems, the kinetic energy as they fidgeted and moved to get better looks. He could see their potential energy, the sounds vibrating out from their mouths and noises and even their hearts and blood, the blankets of the fundamental forces that permeated everything, and, most importantly, he could see the traces of UM radiation that showed who had come into contact with metahumans and their powers. It was like looking at a painting- no, like multiple paintings, all somehow occupying the same point in space without touching one another. He allowed himself a moment to appreciate it, before turning to the matter at hand.

If the crowd was a fine painting to his enhanced vision, then the scene on the street was a kindergartener's tantrum in the arts & crafts room. Smears and blotches of intense heat were scattered liberally around the impromptu battlefield, and as he looked, the hero created another one, a crescent arc that narrowly missed the rapidly-retreating villain. For her part, streaks of altered gravity lay across the street like a stick pulled through treacle, all going the same direction. The cerulean glow around her hands matched the tint of the gravity alterations, and also the golden well of UM that sat in her core. The radiation denoted her as a metahuman, as if that wasn’t already obvious, but the cerulean indicated that her power was primarily a projection one, with hints of alteration’s green discoloring the blue. She created another black dagger, and he saw the link form between it and its white counterpart at the opposite end of the street, albeit still hazy and disparate. It launched forward, and actually managed to pin the hero on the arm, and as soon as it did, that connection immediately snapped into focus, and gravity began pulling her backwards towards the office building that was now ‘below’ her. She flared her thrusters again, holding herself in place, and pulled the dagger out, ending the effect. She tried to throw it back at its creator, but she waved a hand, and it disappeared before even getting close.

So his initial hypothesis had been correct; she was a fairly standard projection-type, nothing worth further investigation. The satisfaction of being right clashed against the disappointment of not finding a new case to study, so he instead chose to ignore both and focus on the other woman. She too had a glowing well of UM sitting within her, but hers was untainted by any other colors. Instead, her head glowed a subdued silver, the sign of an A-Class Forge. Her mechanical parts, which his vision revealed also included a significant section of her torso, bore the same glow, albeit far less pronounced, and slight strands hung between them and her brain. High in her chest, just below the heart, a third glow sat, bearing a mix of green for alteration, yellow for animation, and a dull gray string that led off into the distance. The latter of these would be the link to the second Forge who had constructed it, and judging by the faintness of the link, they were far away indeed. Sadly, that meant that the least interesting of his theories was true. Yes, there were interesting and unexpected interactions between the two types of Forges, but those were fairly well-documented already. He sighed in disappointment. Another wasted lead.

The hero had stopped going for direct attacks, and instead was now superheating the tarmac around her opponent, trying to box her in. For her part, the villain had given up on targeted strikes, and was instead flinging black daggers around wildly, creating a veritable waterfall of debris to contend with. Shutting off his vision, and wincing as the beginnings of the headache immediately began to appear, he decided that he might as well stick around for the conclusion.

At that moment, though, his phone buzzed. He frowned at the device on the table in front of him. He wasn’t fond of the device, and his colleagues knew it, so if something had come through, it was probably worth his time. He picked it up and quickly scanned the message. “NC was a bust,” it read, “but they did make it out of the school. Hornet’s nest has been kicked, and the Tower is buzzing. Advise?”

If this aspect of his job was his favorite, then managing patsies was its direct opposite. But one didn’t get to choose in this line of work, so he stood and left a few nearly folded bills on the table, before concentrating and fading away into nothing.

It was time to pay that irritating teleporter and her colleagues another visit. 

Vote for Outliers on Topwebfiction

Rate or leave a review on Webfictionguide