Home 16-IV

We’re Not In Kansas Anymore.

The recap was as comprehensive as I could make it. I started basically just after I'd last seen her, with the abandoned Disciple hideout, Mirror and… Carnage, that was it. She raised her eyebrows when I described getting poofed. “I thought you were invincible?”

I shrugged awkwardly, lying on my back. “Apparently not? You're the power nerd, you tell me.”

“Heroes, not powers,” she corrected absently. It was an old bit between the two of us. “Hmm. It could be that you're physically invincible, or very tough at least. Was there anything, uh, distinctive about his hands? Apart from the rubber wrists.”

“Oh! Yeah, they were glowing.”

She nodded. “That'd be it, then. Oh, wait, was his name Carnage?” I nodded. Of course she knew that. “Okay, so… powers can sort of... short-circuit other powers, sometimes?”

“What?” I asked, sitting up straight. “Are you kidding me?”

“Nup.” She shook her head. “It's not very well known, and it frankly doesn't come up very much, especially because it's pretty inconsistent. Basically… hold on, you can’t do anything external, right? Like, affecting other people?”

“I can hit them?” I offered.

She snorted. “Yeah, hah hah. But no, okay. Powers with an external component, so anything directly affecting other people, don’t function as well when trying to affect someone or something that another power is already affecting. It’s based on the amount of power on each side, though, so you can overcome it just be being stronger or pouring more energy into it. Conversely, if a power that’s way stronger, or an attack or something that has more energy poured into it, comes into contact with a weaker one, it can basically short it out. If I remember correctly, Carnage’s power basically made his hands completely invulnerable to powers, turning them into wrecking balls, effectively. I actually think they had him in the Pit for a little while, and they did some studies on him, and found that…” she began to rise, heading for her desk, but I hooked one leg around hers, stopping her. “Right, sorry. Later. Anyway, the point is that on top of that, his powers are specifically tuned to not be affected by other powers, and invulnerability takes a lot of energy by default. So while you were probably pretty close to physically invulnerable, he wasn’t actually attacking your physical form.”

“I… don’t get it,” I admitted.

She sighed. “I might not be doing the best job of explaining it. Here, try this. Imagine that the physical aspect of a power is a puppet, and the power is the strings controlling it. So your puppet is the weird smoke clones, but for someone else it might be… fog, say.” I made a face. “Your puppet is strong and dense and stuff, but Carnage didn’t attack the puppet, he cut the strings.”

“Hmm. Yeah, I think I’ve got it now. That was a nice metaphor, by the way.”

“I try.”

“So then, could I use that somehow?” Being able to break other people’s powers would be pretty useful.

She pursed her lips. “Probably not? It generally only happens with external, directed powers without an intermediary component, and sometimes it doesn’t work at all. Carnage is sort of an exception there. It does probably mean you’ll be mostly safe from that, though? Maybe even this you-” she poked me in the chest, and I swatted her hand away, “-as well, because of the invisibility. Probably not as much, though. Less physics-bending, less power. Power as in energy, not as in super-. Sorry, confusing terminology.”

“S’okay, I got it.” A thought occurred to me. “I think you’re right, actually. When I was down in the sewers, that blurry woman tried doing something, and it was like-”

“Woah woah woah, slow down. The sewers?”
“Oh, right.” I kept the story going, the arrival of the two heroes, my latching on to them, the encounter in the sewers, the trip to the Tower, the whole thing with the Outliers. Oddly, she didn’t ask any questions during it, just sat there with a sort of pensive look on her face.

“So,” she said slowly once I’d finished. “You… you, after saying you were going to stay away from the illegal, dangerous vigilantes, did the exact opposite of that. Not only that, you broke one out of prison?!

“Well,” I said awkwardly, “it sounds bad when you put it like that.”

“It sounds bad any way! It is bad! You’re already a criminal for not registering, which, by the way, I have not forgotten about, and now you’ve aided and abetted known fugitives! Do you want to get yourself thrown in jail?!”

“It’s not… I wasn’t…” I protested weakly. “I just wanted to… and I-”

“You just rushed into it,” she said flatly, “without thinking. Like always.”

“...yeah,” I replied, the wind gone from my sails. “I didn’t mean to, it just… sort of happened, you know?”

“And you keep doing it anyway.” She’d lost the fire, though, and she just sounded tired.

“I don’t mean to!” I repeated. “From my perspective, there’s a very logical chain of decisions going on here. It’s just when you take a step back that it seems dumb, and it’s hard to take a step back when you’re in the thick of it. It’s just… it’s just me.”

She sighed. “I know, Hannah. But before all… this, the worst that could happen was you’d lose money, or embarrass yourself, or end up in charge of a club you have no idea how to run. But now, there’s a not-insignificant chance you’re going to get killed.”

I snorted. “You're exaggerating-”

She cut me off, slamming her hand down besides her. The effect was lessened slightly because it was a soft surface, but it got the meaning across. “No. I'm not. The Dre- those people from the school, they were going to kill people. They almost killed you! And now you’re trying to find them again, so they can have another shot at it!”

“I’m trying to stop them.”

“Yeah, and how effective have you been? You destroyed a random building, let them get away again, and then aided illegal vigilantes.” She glared at me. “Great. F***ing. Job. Wisp.”

I stared at her, shocked. “Sabah, I…” this was… I’d never seen her like this.

“Nope. I’m giving you an ultimatum. Join up with the Tower, get yourself registered. Or stop.” And she pulled out her phone. “Because sh*t like this? It cannot keep happening.”

On the screen was a news report of the battle in the bank. And in the background, clearly visible, in some suspiciously costume-esque clothing, was me.

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