Doors 14-I

HANNAH

What Does It Take To Impress Young People These Days?

With a grunt of effort, the manhole cover popped out of the road, flipping up into the air. Brown tentacles slithered out of the now-open hole, forming a net that caught the heavy metal disc before it could hit the ground. Carefully, they placed it to the side, then spread themselves around the edges, digging into the concrete. They tensed, some unseen weight pulling them downwards, and then a brown mass sprang up through the center.

Stump landed on the tarmac, smaller than he had been before, the tentacles sprouting from his back and trailing behind him. He paused, then shifted his stance slightly, and the appendages shot back towards his body. There was a blur of motion as they wrapped around his body, and then he was back to his original size, the tentacles integrated so well that there was no sign of them.

He sighed, and turned towards where I was standing off to the side, having just faded right though the cover. “Of course you can do that.”

I shrugged with a half-hearted smile. “Hey, I don't pick the powers.”

“If you did, we would be having some words,” he muttered. I don't think he intended me to hear it, but I did. What's that supposed to mean?

“It means, you dummy,” I replied, “that he's obviously been transformed into a being of living wood, which must, you know, suck.”

Oh. Wait, I assumed he was a shifter.

“No shifter can maintain an alternate form for as long as he's done.”

How do you know that?

“We know that because Sabah’s talked about it before. I had to remind you because you were too busy checking out Francois Bellevue to listen.

Wouldn't that be your fault, Miss Libido?

“...he had both a sexy accent and sexy bod. I cannot be held accountable. The point is, he's likely actually made of wood, which would suck for all sorts of obvious reasons.”

Is that even possible?

I don't know. Would it be any stranger than creating mass-shifting clones?”

I think they're more like projections than clones.

“A stick is a stick is a stick. Doesn't matter what you call it.”

It's about the terminology, though. A clone implies that it's actually making real copies of me and then giving them the mass-shifting power. Given the smoke, and the mass-shifting, it's more likely that it's a function of how the copies are made. Ergo, projections, not clones.

“Well, that's simplifying it to a-”

“Wisp?” Stump was looking at me with concern. “Are you… okay?”

“Hmm?” I replied, shaken out of my reverie. “Oh. Yeah, I'm fine, sorry. Just lost in my own thoughts.”

“Should've guessed,” he muttered. “Okay, hold on a second, I need to get us a ride.”

“A ride? Why? Can't we just walk?”

Silently, he pointed. I followed his finger, and saw a crowd of civilians pointing their phones at us and chattering.

“Oh.” Instinctively, I reached up to check my scarf and goggles were still in place.

He nodded, raising one hand to his ear. “Dispatch,” he said, “can you patch me through to Mr. Graves, please?” Pause. “Hello? Sorry to interrupt, but I need a ride.” Pause. “I'm really very sorry.” Pause. “Thank you very much.”

“So what kind of ride are we talking about here?” I asked, as he lowered his hand.

“Wait a moment and see for yourself.”

I harrumphed and folded my arms. But sure enough, within a minute, there was the sound of an engine, and some kind of flying platform swooped down towards us. About eight feet long, it was sleek and silvery, and looked like a motorcycle if motorcycle had glowing green plates instead of wheels. It hovered about a foot off the ground, perfectly still in the air.
“See? Just took a little patience. Hop on.” He strode over to the ‘bike’ and swung a leg over it. Oddly, it didn't move at all as he mounted it, which just looked strange.

Cautiously, I approached the bike. “Question. Is it going to drive us back, or fly?”

“Fly. Why?”

“Right. Right.” I licked my lips nervously. “I'm not… great with heights.”

“Oh just get on the d*mn bike,” he replied, an eye roll implicit in the tone. “You have density powers and you're afraid of heights.”

Oh. Good point. I could just float safely down, couldn't I? Besides, I definitely wasn't staying here with the paparazzi. I climbed up onto the seat behind him. There didn't seem to be any handholds, so I wrapped my arms around Stump’s torso. It felt… warm, surprisingly enough. Almost like it was alive. Maybe he was actually like that. Did he still need to eat? What about the... opposite end? Was there a brain inside that twisting mass of tentacles?

I was jarred out of my thoughts by the bike suddenly rising into the air. I clung tighter to Stump, but the motion was ridiculously smooth. If I'd closed my eyes, I doubted I’d have noticed we were even moving. I wasn’t going to do that, though. The only thing worse than being able to see the terrifying drop was letting my imagination fill in the blanks.

The crowd ooh-ed as we took off. Shouldn’t this have been normal to them. I asked Stump as much. “We try not to use these very much,” he replied as the bike spun to face the Tower. “I’m really the only one who can’t get around on their own, and I’m fairly new. All the cape nerds know about it, but it’s entirely possible this is the first time these people have seen the bike.”

“S’that what you call it?”

“Well, Mr. Graves has some complicated name, but yeah, we call them the bikes. Saves time.”

I'd been so distracted by the shrinking figures below us that it took me a second to realize we'd started moving. I'd been in maglev trains with rougher rides than this. “How does this thing work?” I breathed in awe.

Stump chuckled. “Antigravity. It's Graves' specialty. To the bike, it's not so much moving as falling very slowly.” The ground below started moving by faster. “Okay, so maybe not so slowly. Hold on.”

I gulped, raising my head. The Tower glittered ahead of us, rapidly getting larger. I almost faded on instinct (and it was strange, how quickly it became so), but stopped myself. The wind was tugging at my legs, and the only reason I wasn't feeling it worse was because the hero in front of me was blocking it. If I went light, I'd get pulled right off. I made do with clinging to Stump like a vice. Once I wasn't experiencing mortal terror, I expected I'd feel embarrassed about that. The hero seemed unfazed, but then again, how was I supposed to tell otherwise?

As we approached the Tower, wind now strong enough to be pulling at my hood even behind Stump, we didn’t seem to be slowing down. “Stump,” I yelled over the noise, “please tell me we’re not going to crash into the side.”

“Relax,” he replied, sounding calm. “We keep the hangar closed most of the time for safety.”

Sure enough, a segment of the shining silver surface was sliding open, revealing a spacious hangar. We shot inside, rapidly decelerating, and the momentum squeezed me against Stump’s body. I figured we were inside now, so I went light, and the pressure lessened. We came to a stop directly in the centre of the large room, in the middle of a few identical bikes sitting haphazardly on the ground. Our bike hovered for a second, then slowly lowered itself down.

I stepped off, glad to feel solid ground underneath my feet again. But as soon my feet touched the ground, a klaxon blared out, painfully loud, and two large guns dropped from the ceiling, pointing directly at me.

“UNAUTHORIZED INTRUDER DETECTED,” a robotic voice boomed. And then the guns fired.

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