Good 17-Vignette

I Will Lie.

Two years ago, or thereabouts.

The light in the kitchen was on. That wasn't particularly unusual, except for the fact that it was three in the morning. Flint froze, halfway down the corridor. He'd been basically one sheep away from being fully out of it, but as soon as the light registered in his brain, it was like getting dunked in cold water. For a few moments, he just stood there, listening. Apart from the usual background noise, he could just barely hear, from down the corridor, the sounds of a man grunting.

He narrowed his eyes, and began padding down towards it, rolling his feet and placing his steps to make as little noise as possible, sticking as close to the wall as possible. As he grew closer, the sounds grew louder, accompanied by rustling and the occasional clunk and clatter of a drawer.

He frowned, nervous and tense. If there was someone there, he really should call the police, shouldn't he? At the very least wake his mother. They didn’t-

“Hey, Flint,” came a tired voice from the kitchen.

Shocked, he abandoned his attempts at stealth, shooting up straight so fast he almost left the ground. “Dad?!”

Sure enough, when he rounded the corner, Marco Perez was standing there, behind the kitchen counter. His shoulder-length black hair was bound back in a ponytail, and he was wearing the tattered remains of what looked to have once been a very nice suit. He was covered in bruises and wounds, and one. Strangely, one side of his mustache was just gone, giving his face an odd, lopsided look. On the kitchen counter in front of him sat a first-aid kit; a proper one, not the little one that only had five bandaids and some cream. He had a bandage between his teeth, the other end wrapped around one of his biceps, and as he pulled it tight and tied a knot in it, Flint could already see the blood seeping through.

“Jesus fuck!” he swore, involuntarily, and his dad looked up at him with a pained grin.

“Keep it down. We don't want to wake your mom.”

“W-wa- bl- wha?” he spluttered. “Dad, what the fuck happened to you?!”

Marco finished up with the bandage and walked over to the sink. He dipped a cloth in some water, and began wiping at his cuts. “I… got mugged,” he admitted, wincing as the cloth touched each open red gash.

“Mugged?!” Flint demanded, a little hysterically. “That's not what getting mugged looks like! You look like you fought a bear! Two bears!”

Marco laughed ruefully. “Well, I didn't say I just let them mug me, did I?” He put down the cloth, and held up his hands in front of him in a mockery of a boxing poze. “I fought back.”

“Isn't that… like, the exact opposite of what you've always told me to do?”

“Well, yes,” he admitted. “But, Flint, sometimes it's important to know when to back down and when not to. And these guys, well, if I'd just handed over some cash, it wouldn't have ended well for me. Besides,” he gestured to his satchel, sitting on one of the swivel chairs, “I had important business stuff, and if I lost that…” He laughed, but he didn't sound like he thought it was particularly funny. “Those guys would've been the least of my worries.”

Flint walked over to the counter, and reached down for the satchel. “What's so important that-”

In a blink, Marco’s hand was there, resting on top of the satchel and holding it closed. “Sorry, kid,” he said lightly, “you know the rules.” He withdrew the hand, and the satchel with it.

Flint groaned, lowering himself into the now-vacated chair. The Perez family didn't talk about Marco’s work. Period. Flint had managed to glean that it was something highly classified, which was the the main reason they didn't, and it required him to travel a lot. When he was younger, Flint had thought that maybe his dad was a spy. Most kids do, but in his defense, it was a little less of a ridiculous idea in their case. But as he'd grown up, he'd realised that if his dad was a spy, he was a very boring one. “When did you even get back, anyway?”

“A few hours ago.” He shrugged off his destroyed jacket and began bandaging another wound. “I was on the way back from the train station when I got jumped. I was going to try surprise for you two in the morning, but I guess that's gone now.”

“Who were they?”

He frowned. “That's a bit of a strange question. Nobody. Just some thugs who thought that knives made them tough.”

“They had knives?! How many of them were there?!”

Marco shrugged. “Three or four. Relax, Flint. I'm fine.” He reached into the first-aid box and pulled out some salve, which he began applying to his wounds, wincing all the while.

“You're very obviously not, Dad.”

“Nothing’s broken, I don't have a concussion, and I'm not bleeding out. That's fine in my books.”

Flint stared at his father, baffled. “How in God's name are you so calm about this?”

“Because I survived. Besides,” he laughed, “you should see the other guys.”

Flint stared at him with a mix of horror and awe. Marco saw it, and chuckled. “See, this is why we do self-defense.”

“This seems a little far from self-defense.”

“Sometimes the best defense is a good offense.”

Flint gestured at the first-aid kit. “You sure about 'best’?”

Marco chuckled. “Fair enough.” He stood up, stretching. “I'm going to go and wash. Do me a favor, don't tell your mom about this?”

“Uh, yeah,” Flint said, a little distractedly. “Sure.”

“Good man.” He patted him on the shoulder and strode off towards the bathroom.

Once he was out of sight, Flint leant over the counter, and picked up the suit jacket he'd left lying there. It was a dark navy, made of some thick, rough fabric that he didn't recognize. It was probably missing a good third of its original mass, with a good half of one of the sleeves torn right off. It looked like it had gone through a wheat thresher, and Flint struggled to think of any way a human being could do that kind of damage to it.

He went to put it back down, but as he did, one of his fingers caught on something on the back. Curious, he flipped it over to see what it was.

In the dead centre of the back of the jacket was a small patch of black scorching. And in the center of that, was the unmistakable shape of a bullet hole.

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Good 17-V

You Ain’t No Good.

Shoulder injuries are the worst. Sure, others can hurt more, or seem like they're a bigger deal at first (I'm not counting things like dismemberment or stuff like that: those aren't injuries, they're backstory fodder). But the thing about shoulder injuries is, they have the best/worst pain/inconvenience ratio. You don't realize how much you use your shoulder until it suddenly hurts every time you do. So you either have to disable an entire, fully functional arm by putting it in a sling just because the shoulder is injured, or you keep using it, push through the pain, and injure it even further.

Or maybe I'm talking nonsense, who knows.

I slowly swam my way back into consciousness, feeling like a bag of bricks that had been hit by another, larger bag of bricks. Something cold was wrapped around both of my wrists, digging into the skin with a chill edge and holding my arms above my head. Sagged to the side the way I had been, most of my body weight was on my left shoulder, and I could tell right away that it was bad. I tried to move, and a bolt of searing pain shot through it, causing me to cry out. I clamped down on the sound almost immediately, but it still rang out.

My feet dangled below me, brushing against rough concrete. I suspected that if I managed to straighten up, I'd just barely be able to stand. But doing that would require moving my arm…

Fuck it. I clenched my jaw, mentally preparing myself, then pulled myself upwards, using my right side as much as possible. The same searing pain still came, but I managed to not scream. My feet scrambled weakly on the ground, and slipped for a terrifying moment, but I managed to get them underneath me. I was right: they only barely touched the ground at full hang, so I had to stand on my toes to take some weight of off my shoulders. Not great, but better than before.

Well, no time like the present. I took the plunge and dragged my eyes open, eyelids feeling like they were made of lead. Thankfully, all that was revealed was an empty room. A perfect, empty, concrete cube, with a single steel door opposite me, a lightbulb mounted firmly into the ceiling, and… a grate, in the centre of the room. Oh boy.

I tugged experimentally at the chain attached to my right hand, which I could now see was attached to a bolt driven firmly into the ceiling. There was no give in the chain or the shackle; both well-made and secured properly, it seemed. If- when I got out of this, I was going to figure out how to do that freaky thumb dislocation trick you always see in movies.

The hinges on the door squeaked, and it opened to reveal Santa Claus, in full regalia and carrying a big sack of presents over his shoulder! No, of course it didn't, that's fucking stupid. It was Edith. Who else was it gonna be? She'd ditched the body suit, and was now wearing a baggy black t-shirt and jeans, hair hanging loosely over her face and shoulders.

“Nice kill room you've made yourself here, E,” I said, as conversationally as I could manage. “I'm sure municipal water really appreciates having entire human bodies’ worth of blood being poured into their mains.” The humor was a bit strained; so sue me, I was in a lot of pain.

Edith said nothing, stepping into the room and closing the door behind her. I couldn't even see her eyes behind her hair, and combined with her emotionless movements, it made for a pretty discomfiting sight.

“Also,” I continued, “where do you even buy manacles and chain these days? Is there someone on eBay who does that? Heh 'for sale, steel manacles, never worn’. Suck on that, Hemingway.”

She walked right up to me and punched me in the gut.

It hurt.

As I wheezed, trying to double over but prevented by the chains, she spoke. “This is how this is going to go. I am going to hit you. I am going to keep hitting you, until you tell me where the datapad is. Then I'm going to hit you some more, for screwing this all up in the first place.”

“So basically,” I managed to choke out, “you're going to keep on hitting me no matter what I do? Great plan, E. Really working that grey matter.”

She hit me again. Same spot, but it actually hurt less this time.

“See,” I continued weakly, “everybody knows torture doesn't work anyway, because people will eventually just tell you whatever you want to hear just to get the pain to stop.” I paused for a moment, expecting a blow that didn't come. “But you've removed that incentive as well, so now you're just hurting me for the sake of-”

The face this time, right where the Disciple had hit me earlier. She said something, but my head was ringing so much that I couldn't actually hear it.

“Could you repeat that?” I could barely even hear my own voice. She growled, and her lips moved again, but the ringing was still too loud. “You know what, don't bother.” I giggled, a little woozily.

Her scowl deepened, and she turned away from me. Posture and movement indicated she was talking, and as the ringing began to fade, I could hear what it was again.

“...could have found her. It was everything I needed, after all this time. And you just had to come in and ruin everything, didn't you?! You ruin everything.”

“I think blaming this on me-” I coughed roughly. “Oh hey, blood. Blaming this on me is a bit of a stretch.”

She spun back around to face me again. “That datapad was the key, Flint! It would have led me right to her. And you took it away, and now you're going to give. It. Back.”

“Okay, back up. One. How did you even find out about this datapad? Two. Why are you so convinced that it's going to lead you to Eve? It's just random scrolling text.”

“So you do have it,” she snarled.

“Was that ever in-” I tried shrugging, and immediately regretted it. “Oh god, I think I'm going to throw up.”

“A reliable source,” she said coldly, “informed me of its existence, and of its contents.”

“Oh, and what reliable source was this? Some random hobo off the street?”

She… blushed? No, that was rage. Bad read, Flint. “He had enough power and influence to appear in front of me, on a job, on camera, and not attract any attention and not appear on any footage, so no. Not just some random hobo.”

I sighed. “Are you kidding me? Some random person appears in front of you, gives you free information, and you trust it?! I cannot believe we ever dated.”

“Neither can I,” she shot back immediately. “And what would you have done, Flint? Offered the first lead in a long time, what would you have done?”

“Well, I wouldn't have brought every knock-off Illuminati and their pals to New Chicago by immediately stealing some of their stuff,” I said sarcastically, “that's-”

A whirling blade of salt was suddenly half an inch from my eye. I froze perfectly still, staring straight at it.

“Do. Not.” Edith said. Slowly, she moved the blade away, and I allowed myself to breathe again. “Sooner or later, Flint, you are going to tell me where that datapad is. You'd better hope it's sooner.”

That's gonna be a bit tricky, I felt like telling her as she turned and stalked out of the room, considering I have no bloody idea.

“Fuck,” I said quietly to myself.

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Good 17-IV

Losin’ The Race.

Two against three now. Better than one v two, but actually not as good as one v three in some situations. See, two on three is a straight-up fight, and the numbers advantage works exactly how you'd expect it to, most of the time. But if you're one against three, it's hard for all of them to attack you at once, and it gives you more opportunities to use them against each other. Plus, you don't have to worry about cutting loose, whereas they have to avoid hitting each other. Sadly, this wasn't that, so we'd have to make do.

Edith collapsed into her salt form and shot towards us, as the goon on her left reached down to the ground. I lost sight of him as Tide and I threw myself to either side, but I didn't need to see him to know what he was doing. Occam, the Cabal’s one-trick-iest one-trick-pony. He could form super-sharp blades out of any solid surface, but apart from the edge, they were just swords, and he wasn't actually that great at wielding them. Junction, the other one, made unstable portals that only lasted a second at most. I didn't know what happened if it shut off while something was halfway through, but I was pretty sure it wasn't anything pleasant. Together, they made a pretty odd pair of picks for Edith to bring along as backup. If she'd just been expecting me, Strongarm would've made the most sense, and maybe that forcefield guy?

I rolled onto my feet, spinning around so I could see both Edith where she'd reformed slightly behind us, and the other two goons at the same time. Tide did the same, significantly more gracefully, then immediately slapped a hand on the ground to produce a fast-moving wave at about knee-height. I used the distraction it provided to hop back over it and place myself firmly by her side. She specialised in wide, sweeping attacks, and I didn't want her having to worry about hitting me.

“How's your power?” she asked me under her breath as Occam charged at us, concrete blade in each hand.

He swung at me, and I caught his arm at the wrist and flipped him to the ground, narrowly avoiding getting nicked by the other sword. Tide kicked out at him, creating a smaller wave that picked him up and threw him into Junction’s legs as he charged at us. “Not great,” I replied. “Two or three good ones.”

“Great,” she said, then grabbed me by the waist and threw us to the side with another wave as Edith whirled towards us. “Run?”

“Run,” I confirmed, glancing at the Cabalists as the wave deposited us basically back where we'd started. “Also,” I raised a hand to my ear and activated my radio, “any and all Outliers, situation’s gone quite south. Backup would be appreciated.” The air brushing across the back of my neck shifted slightly, and I ducked forward, resting one hand on the ground for support as I kicked backwards. It caught Junction square in the torso as he stepped out of one of his portals, and sent him staggering backwards.

“Still too scared to face me on your own?” Edith called to me dismissively. “Calling in your bodyguards.”

I stared at her. “See, that makes even less sense than it did before, and it didn't make sense then! You literally just summoned your goons!”

Tide clicked her tongue. “I think she's just kind of dumb, Skew.” Another circular wave knocked Junction down as he was beginning to stand again, and forced Occam to abandon a charge he was about to make. “Add the whole 'crazy’ thing, and the fact that she looks like an emaciated scarecrow, and I'm having to seriously question your taste in relationships. I'm guessing the sex was really great?”

I stared at her, baffled.“What?”

“So no, then.”

“W- no, we didn't… why is that where your head went?!” I demanded.

“Yeah, that's pretty weird,” interjected Junction.

“Shut up,” Edith and I said in perfect sync, then glared at each other.

“Look,” Tide said with a shrug, “I'm just saying. She's kind of a pretty garbage catch.”

Edith growled, and shot towards us again, but Tide picked us both up with a wave and swept us away from them. I gave a jaunty little wave of the hand. “Seriously, though, you're going a little far. Where's all this coming from, anyway?”

She shrugged again, staring straight ahead and concentrating on moving us steadily down the road. “Nat must be rubbing off on me. Oh, heads up.” Occam had leapt out of thin air in front of us, screaming wildly and brandishing his blades. Seeing as how that's not really conducive with anything close to good form or stance, I had very little trouble punching him in the gut and grabbing the handle of one of his swords as he fell away behind us. It was surprisingly light, and uncomfortable; it still had the texture of concrete.

“You think you can just run?!” Edith yelled from behind us, and I turned to see her gaining on us. “You can't hurt me, and you can't get rid of me!”

“She does have a point. Corner coming up, hop in three, two, one-” We both jumped as we hit an intersection, and the wave we were riding sank back into the ground as a new one appeared under our feet, moving perpendicular to the old one.

“You’ve been practicing,” I noted appreciatively.

“Figured it would be helpful.”

“Good call.”

Edith rounded the corner just behind us, losing less speed than we had. If/when she caught up to us, neither of us could really defend against her.

Which is why I had grabbed the sword. I swung it through the air just in front of her, and she shied back, shifting her form to avoid touching it. I grinned. “What's this?” I asked mockingly. “I thought we couldn't stop you?”

“You can't,” came the cold reply. She seemed surprisingly unfazed.

“Well, I guess we're going to have to-”

And then, for the second time in less than ten minutes, I was tumbling and sprawling and bouncing on the ground. Even half-concussed as I was, it wasn't hard to figure out that we'd run into something, and as my vision stopped resembling the view from inside a tumble drier, I could vaguely see a partially see-through, brown-tinted plane stretching vertically across the path we'd been moving along. So she had brought the forcefield guy. I tried to laugh, and it hurt, a lot. Everything did, actually. My vision swam, going dark around the edges, and the last thing I saw before I faded out entirely was Edith reforming over me, an unreadable expression on her face.

“I told you so,” she said, her voice echoing and ringing oddly, and then everything went black.

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Good 17-III

Don’t Owe You A Thing.

It hurt my neck, kind of, to look up at the sky, but I did it anyway, squinting against the sun. “Hey God?” I said up to it. “You're kind of dealing me a shitty hand. Recently, and also, generally. Could you maybe lay off, thanks? That'd be great.”

“Don't blaspheme,” Edith snapped at me. She was wearing her white jumpsuit, the crystalline one, but now the hands were stained in shades of crimson all the way up to the elbow. I didn't know whether it was a design change or if she'd just gotten people killed recently, but I knew which one was more likely.

“Who said I was kidding?” I shot back. “You would not believe how garbage my life has been recently. Oh, no, wait, you would, because you're responsible for like half of it!”

“You don't get to talk to me about hardships, you flippant little piece of human waste. If you'd endured even a fraction of what I've had to-”

“Ooh, yes, let's have a misery-off,” I cut her off, sneering. “That always goes so well.”

Thing 2, at her feet, made a pathetic whimpering sound, as he weakly grabbed at her leg. Edith's face contorted in an ugly grimace, and without looking, she kicked him in the head. There was another blur, the same disgusting, wet sound, and he fell to the ground, completely limp, a brutal gash in his forehead and his eyes blank. Through it, I could actually see his partially liquefied brain, beginning to seep out, and I had to struggle not to throw up.

“Jesus,” I muttered, before turning to the people further down the street, the ones too stupid to run away completely. “For God’s sake, one of you idiots call 911!” Thing 2 was so very clearly gone, but Thing 1 could still make it.

She laughed scornfully. “Idiot. Do you really think you have a better chance escaping than I do when they show up?”

“I was thinking,” I snapped back, “that maybe someone can stop that guy from bleeding out, you fucking psychopath!”

She snorted dismissively, and kicked again, at Thing 1 this time. I was ready for it, though, and her foot went sideways instead, and she nearly toppled before righting herself. “I can't let you do that, E,” I said, probably a lot calmer than I felt.

Her sneer deepened. “He's a piece of human trash, Flint.” I winced a little, but no one was near enough to hear her use my name. “He's not even worth the air he's wasting.” She didn't attack him again, though.

“So, you're the fucking Punisher now, is that it? You think you're the anti-hero or something? That's not how it fucking works.”

Her glare was ice and venom. “I think, that all I care about is Eve. And anyone who gets in the way of that can either remove themselves, or have me do it for them.” Sad thing was, I almost got it. “So, which is it, Flint? Are you going to get out of the way? Or...” the edges of her form began to come apart, “are you going to continue to be an obstacle?”

“First mistake: never give Skew a chance to be an obstacle. He can't resist them.” A figure in blue dropped from above me, and landed on the pavement between us. As it hit, the ground sank, like a trampoline that's just had a heavy object dropped on it. Instead of springing the figure back up into the air, though, the depression spread outwards like a ripple as the centrepoint returned to its original height. I stepped over the rolling gap as it reached me, and Edith did likewise, a little more hurried. “Well, I'm sure you've made more than one mistake,” Tide continued as she stood up straight, stretching her neck and rolling her shoulders. “But you get the point. You dead yet, Skew?”

“Not yet, but I'm doing my best. Nice entrance.”

“You think so? I've been trying to figure it out for a while now, and it seemed like a good moment for a field test.”

“Oh, definitely.”

Edith watched our little exchange with something halfway between irritation and confusion. “So you can't even fight your own fights now, Flint?”

I cocked my head, curious. “That's… a really weird criticism. I've always done the team thing? It's not like you're just discovering this. Did you just say it because you thought it sounded cool?”

“Yeah,” Tide agreed, “that was weird. Hey, Skew, how come she knows your name?”

“Wait, have you not-” I ran back through my memories. I realized the two of them had never interacted before: Tide (and Ribbon with her) had joined after those first few tumultuous months where most of our run-ins (with the recent exceptions, of course) with Edith and the Cabal had taken place. “Oh, right. Tide, meet Edith Ellis, my psycho ex.” She gnashed her teeth at that, and it was probably not the best way to describe her, but I was past the point of caring.

“Huh.” Tide looked at her critically. “Are the psycho and ex parts linked, or independent?”

I grimaced. “Actually, not the best topic to joke about? It's complicated.”

She nodded. “Sorry. It is cool if we kick her ass, though, right?”

“Oh, absolutely.” At that, she grinned, and turned towards Edith.

“Ooh, yes, so witty and cool,” Edith said, rolling her eyes, “the two of you. You always manage to attract 'funny’ ones, don't you, Flint.”

“Okay, you're making it sound weird, and also intentional. Don't do that.”

“She does sort of have a point, though,” Tide noted.

“Well, you're just proving her right, aren't you!”

“So arrogant,” Edith sneered (lots of sneering going around), “thinking you've automatically won this because there are two of you now.”

“Well, I know I'm bad at math, but that is generally how it works when one party outnumbers the other.”

“Who said anyt-” Edith started, but Tide cut her off.

“And I am good at math, and I can confirm that that is how it works,” she said with a little smile.

I glanced over at her with a grin. “Why don't we do this more? This is some great banter.”

“Who said anything-” Edith tried again.

“We don't do this more because you're an ass, Skew.”

“Tide, you wound me right to my core.”

“Who. Said. An-”

“That can't be hard; you're incredibly shallow.”

Edith growled, and snapped her fingers, and two figures stepped out of thin air behind her. Junction and Occam, two more of the Cabal. “I hope you think that joke was worth the pain you're about to receive,” she snarled.

Tide and I glanced at each other for a moment. “Yep,” I said with a grin as she nodded in assent. “Totally worth it.”

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Good 17-II

Comin’ For You.

A hush washed through the crowd quickly gathering around me. Which I found odd (people don't usually pay this much attention to cape fights), until I remembered the reason I was in this fight in the first place.

Am I…

Am I famous now?

I considered it, then took another look at the expressions on the face around me. Maybe infamous, then. That was more my speed, anyway.

I grinned up at the crowd suddenly, causing a few of them to recoil in shock. “Fear not, citizens!” I said, springing up onto my feet. “Just your friendly neighborhood… uh, me. Hi.” Another murmur swept through the crowd. “Oh, you might all want to run away now. I didn't exactly throw myself from…” I pushed myself up on my toes to see over the crowd, and spotted the alleyway entrance on the opposite side of the street. “Wow, all the way over there?” I prodded myself in a few places. I was hurt, duh, but not any more than I'd been before that little flight. “It is actually amazing I'm not dead.”

The crowd didn't seem to quite know how to react to me. A couple of people were taking photos, and I did my best to angle my hood to block my face. Probably futile, but it made me feel a bit better, so eh.

There was a flicker of motion through the crowd, and another look revealed the two Disciples, I'm going to call them Thing 1 (crazy) and Thing 2 (mildly less crazy), stepping out around the corner. “That wasn't a joke,” I said to the crowd, “you all should really run away now.” They stared at me. “What, do you think I'm fucking kidding?! Ru-” A foot slammed into my gut, knocking the wind out of me before I could finish, but they seemed to get the message. Some screamed, which helped get the point across.

Thing 1 wasn't messing around, and another blow knocked my feet out from under me before I could recover, and I hit the ground, again. Hello, concrete my old friend. You still taste like shit. I growled, pushing myself weakly onto my hands and knees, but then something slammed into my side, knocking me over again. It wasn't amazingly strong, though; like being hit with a speeding truck, only made of pillows. Thing 2’s whatever blasts, which apparently deteriorated with distance? Or maybe he'd just done a weaker blast because it was all he needed. Either way, I still went back down.

Fuck. I'd been trying to avoid this, but they weren't going to give me a second to get my feet under me unless I made them. And the only way to do that was my power.

Two quick switches sent Thing 1’s leg out from under him, and his falling form careening into Thing 2, knocking them both into an awkward pile. It also sent my already-low reserves dipping even lower: I'd been trying to conserve them as much as possible until I was back up to full. Still, the sacrifice was worth it: I managed to haul myself to my feet, ignoring the aching cries of pain from my everything, while the Disciples struggled to extricate their limbs from one another's. More importantly, it gave me a second to think.

Two v. one. Not impossible, but not great odds either. Especially considering they both seemed to have pretty strong powers, and I couldn't really use mine, and they'd already beat me up quite a bit. I'd ordinarily try and take the fight straight to them; Thing 1’s power would actually be a disadvantage in close-quarters, and if I maneuvered right I could use the threat of hitting his fellow Disciples to keep Thing 2 from using his force blasts. The state I was in, through, meant that even then I couldn't guarantee I'd win that fight. Maybe, possibly, but I'm not super fond of maybe & possibly when the end result might be me getting tortured and killed.

I could always run. They'd attacked me, after all. The only investment I had in this fight was getting some ass-kicking in, and I wasn't too attached to that. But if I ran, they'd follow, and even if I was uninjured, they'd probably still catch me. Thing 1’s power was no joke.

So somehow, I had to stay and beat these two in a fight, without staying at long range, and also without closing to close range, and also without using my power. So, basically-

Oh. I'm an idiot, aren't I? I raised one hand to my ear, activating my earpiece. “Any Outliers in the industrial area,” I said quickly, “I could use a hand. Two Disciples, outside a factory on Winston Road.”

There was a brief, terrifying moment of silence. Then, “I'm nearby, Skew.” Tide's voice. “I'll be there in just a minute.”

“Roger,” I replied curtly, even though I was relieved. The two Disciples were getting to their feet. They didn't seem to have heard my conversation, so maybe…

“Look,” I said, holding up a hand, “can we pause for a second?” The two of them glared at me, but didn't attack, so that was something. “Thank you. Let's start at the beginning. What do you actually want from me slash us?”

Thing 2 laughed scornfully. “You know what we want.”

“See, that's the thing!” I said, raising a finger. “You're assuming I do. But for all you know, I could be thinking of something else entirely! You're setting yourself up for failure.” They seemed confused. “So, I'll ask again, what is it you actually want from us?”

Thing 2 gnashed his teeth. “The datapad,” he ground out.

“See!” I clapped my hands. “Now we're making progress. We're on the same page and stuff. Second question,” and I dropped the upbeat air, “how the fuck do you know about that?!”

He stepped back a little, which I was quite proud of, but he recovered quickly. Thing 1 was still grinning his vacant grin, not really focused on me. “You have no idea what you've stumbled into, Outlier. You and your little posse are far over your heads, and I intend to see you drown in it. Now, where have you-”

He froze, an odd expression on his face. “Hah,” I crowed, “sucker! Fell for the oldest trick in the-” He collapsed to the ground, completely limp, and red began seeping from underneath his torso. That was not Tide’s doing. Before he even had time to react, there was a wet, schlicking sound, and Thing 1’s arms fell off at the elbow, before he too collapsed to the ground. Doing so revealed, where his body had been a second ago, an indeterminate, swirling mass of white, which quickly resolved itself into the shape of a person.

“Isn’t that funny,” said Edith. “I was just about to ask him the same thing.”

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Good 17-I

A Weapon In My Hand.

Something wet and squishy slapped me across the face, and I recoiled. “What the actual-” Something distinctly less wet and squishy followed it, striking me right across the cheekbone and sending me tumbling to the ground. “-fuck!”

I hit the ground and rolled, banging up against a trash can and the wall behind it. The stinging in my cheek and jaw was quickly blossoming into full-blown pain, and if that ringing was any indicator… yep, I’d have a hell of a headache after this. Plus, whatever the hell that squishy thing was had gotten all over my face, and my goggles. I reached up and wiped at it with the back of my hand, but it just sort of smeared. Using one hand to push myself to me feet, I held the other up to my nose, sniffed, and-

“Did you fucking peel a banana and throw it at me?!”

The man ahead of me only cackled in response, one arm buried in the dumpster as he rustled around for more projectiles. He was scrawny, almost to the point of malnourishment, and bald, with jagged red tattoos stretching back across his scalp. His clothes were ragged, faded, baggy and torn, and although he laughed, there was something… missing in his eyes.

The Disciples of Shiva aren't nice people. Yeah, duh, they're criminals, but even in that subgroup they're pretty low on the whole morality hierarchy. See, their inspiration and namesake, the big S, is a nutjob who destroyed an entire country and now just sits there, babbling to himself and occasionally tearing up the landscape when he has a fit. So, if the Disciples see that as the pinnacle of a powered person, the example by which the standard is set…

Yeah. I don't know if they only recruit crazy people with powers, or if they… induce it, somehow, but the few I've encountered have been distinctly not right in the head. And this guy was no exception.

I'd been on patrol, in the industrial district, doing my level best to keep a low profile. Evidently, it hadn't worked, because I'd been stalking along the alleyway behind a factory when, well, banana to the face. Evidently, our little TV appearance had caught the attention of the Disciples.

My theory was confirmed when another man stepped out from behind the dumpster, also bearing the tattoos on his shaven scalp. His ran from red all the way to green, and I raised an eyebrow, surprised. More colors indicated higher status in the cult/gang, and I rarely saw above orange or yellow. He'd be the handler, then.

He smiled grimly when he saw me. He was missing a tooth, the left, uh, sharp one. Whatever they're called. “Outlier. Tell us where it is hidden, and this need not be lethal.”

I made another pass with my hand, clearing up my vision a little more, and flicking it to the side. “Well, you cut straight to the chase, don't you? Here, let me reciprocate.” I pointed at him. “Fuck off, or I'll make that gap a matching set,” shifted the finger to point at the madman, “and shove a fuckin banana so far up his ass he'll be able to digest it.”

The goon sneered at me. “You'll regret that.”

“Buddy, even if you won, I wouldn't regret it.” I gestured at them both. “Bring it, asswipes.” He began reaching for something on his belt, and I shot him with a stun round. “Psych!”

He convulsed, gagging as he dropped to the ground, and I laughed. “Never gets- oof!” Something solid had hit me in the chest, and I staggered back at the unexpected impact. My first instinct was that the other Disciple had hit me, but he was still hanging out of the dumpster a few yards away. Had he thrown something? No, there was nothing on the ground. How did-

Another blow, this time to my side. I was half-expecting it, though, so I managed to negate it a little by rolling with it. Still hurt, though. I immediately snapped my gaze back to the madman, and sure enough, there was a slight flicker around his free hand, just for a brief moment. He was still swinging it back forth, quite enthusiastically, too. Was that his power? Some kind of force transference?

He dropped down to the ground suddenly, the trash arm emerging with a grasp on a small esky. He reared back to throw it at me, still with the creepy grin, and I balanced on the balls of my feet, ready to dodge. His arm flew forward, and I ducked to the left, but there was immediately an impact on my left leg, knocking it out from underneath me and sending me tumbling. I landed awkwardly, on top of something hard, and as I rolled away, it revealed itself to be the esky. Somehow, he'd managed to throw it at my leg without crossing the intervening space at all and while clearly aiming elsewhere.
I rolled onto my feet again as he cackled maniacally at me. Okay, this was getting old real quick. So far he'd gotten multiple hits on me, and I hadn't even gotten close to him, let alone landed a blow. Good thing I had a gun. I whipped it up, sighted at him and squeezed the trigger.

And just as I did, a finger come out of nowhere and poked me in the wrist, throwing off my aim and sending the shot sparking off the wall. “Are you,” I said flatly, “fucking kidding me.” He laughed again.

Fuck it. I snatched up the esky and hurled it at him. He stepped to the side, dodging it easily, and I saw his hand flicker at the wrist as he flicked it outwards, then disappear. I flipped a mental coin and got lucky: I danced to the left as the fist came in out of thin air on my right, narrowly missing me. His grin faltered a little, and he jabbed it forward as soon as it reappeared on his wrist. If I was right… I took a quick step back, and it whiffed through the air in front of me.

Gotcha. He couldn't adjust the direction, it looked like; it was just a straight displacement. I grinned right back at him, and charged forward. His face didn't change, but he took a step back, and snapped both hands out to the sides. As soon as I saw him doing it, though, I immediately stopped running for just a second, skipping forward on momentum for that moment and breaking up the flow of my pace. Sure enough, his blows appeared slightly ahead of me, and I ran straight through him.

Before he could even fully retract from that attempt, I was on him. I juked to the right, into the side of the dumpster, and used one leg to spring myself up into the air for a spin kick, that was, quite frankly, really damn sick. And just as I did, I saw the other Disciple, looking distinctly not stunned, sitting up, with both fists pointed at me.

Things get a little blurry and bouncy and hurt-y after that point. I groaned as my senses began returning to me, and realised I was lying on my back. I was surrounded by… trees? Very short trees? With cloth covers and yep, those are people.

I grinned, pained, up at the upside-down face of a young man above me. “Hey there.”

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Excerpts from an interview with Shahdi Rafat, one of the only first-hand witnesses to 9/11.

(This one was really buried, ma’am. Even our people had trouble finding it with all the layers of black tape and intentional misfiling, not to mention the security restrictions. I'd ask you to reconsider my proposal to allow the trawlers and researchers full security clearance. It's not fair to ask them to find information that they're not allowed to know, and it's inhibiting their ability to do their jobs. If you'd even just take another look at the original proposal, I'd be very grateful)


INTERVIEWER: So you were a college student?

RAFAT: Yes, that's correct. She laughs nervously. Liberal arts. I changed it afterwards. It felt too… frivolous, I guess.

INTERVIEWER: So where were you at the time of the incident?

RAFAT: Right there, right next to the fountain. Right at the very center of it all. She laughs again, more ruefully this time. Hell of a way to discover you have powers, I'll tell you that.

INTERVIEWER: That's how you survived?

She nods.

RAFAT: The next survivor was about two kilometers further out. I'm… She pauses. I'm, as far as I know, the only survivor from the park. Aside from, she waves a hand, you know.

INTERVIEWER: So what were you doing that day, in the park?

RAFAT: A picnic, if you can believe it.

INTERVIEWER: In a Chicago autumn?

RAFAT: I know, it was silly. But it… it was a beautiful day.

INTERVIEWER: So when did you first realized something was wrong?

RAFAT: Well, I was there with my boyfriend. When I say I was at the center, that wasn't an exaggeration. I can actually remember seeing the two of them walk into the park. Two men, one short and bald in flowing robes, the other with… god, it was a Metallica t-shirt, wasn't it? Isn't it funny, the things you remember. I don't think I could tell you what I was wearing that day, but I can remember that t-shirt, clear as day. It had a hole, right here. She taps herself on the chest, just below the right shoulder. Isn't that strange?

INTERVIEWER: So you knew something was wrong as soon as you saw them?

RAFAT: Oh god, no. They were strange, for sure, but you see strange stuff all the time. There was the possibility of them being supervillains, but they were just sitting there. And, you know, that sounds naive, but back then, the Golden Age Doctor Doom style was still the standard. Big, bombastic declarations, ridiculous names, you know? But they were just sitting, so everyone dismissed them. She pauses, collects herself. No, the first sign that something was wrong was when people’s hair started falling out.

INTERVIEWER: How long did it take for you to notice?

RAFAT: After the two men arrived? A few minutes, I think. Definitely not more than ten. Tyler, that was my boyfriend, he reached up to scratch his head, and a clump of his hair just… came right out. There was still some scalp attached. I think I might've screamed. I probably did scream. She glances down at her hands. I think it was fairly justified.

INTERVIEWER: What happened next?

RAFAT: Well, I sort of set everyone off. The next moment, everything was chaos. I think it was because we, Tyler and I, were so close, that we noticed first. But once something was obviously wrong, well… pretty soon everyone was screaming. And vomiting. And clawing at their own skin as patches of it began to flake off. She shudders. It was horrible.

INTERVIEWER: Except for the two men?

RAFAT: Except for them. And me, I guess, but I was too distracted to really comprehend that at the time. All I knew was that the park was filled with people who were literally falling to pieces, and then there were these two. Just sitting there. Well, the one in the robes was. The other one, with, you know, the t-shirt, he was standing. And he was staring up into the sky. It didn't take a genius to figure out they were responsible.

INTERVIEWER: So what did you do?

RAFAT: Nothing. Or, well, I might've done something, I don't know. I sort of blanked out for a while, maybe 5, 10 minutes. Which I think was a fairly reasonable decision, all things considered. When I came to… She fades out, looking sick.


RAFAT: There weren't any corpses. I actually think I could've handled it if they were corpses. I'd seen bodies before. But… She stares off into the distance. They were just… melted. Like action figures that had been stuck in the microwave. And so, of course, I screamed again, and the two men turned to look at me, because I was the only person there apart from them who wasn't… she waves her hand around incoherently, with a pained laugh. Slop.


RAFAT: And then, like she'd been waiting for a distraction. A sonic boom, and… there she was. Hovering between me and them, about 5 feet off the ground.

INTERVIEWER: Who was it?

RAFAT: A- She splutters. Are you kidding me? Who else could it have been? It was Pyrrha.

INTERVIEWER: Just needed it stated for posterity.

RAFAT: Oh. Sorry. But yes, Pyrrha. Which, you know, should have done it, right? Only idiots tried to fight her. But I guess these guys were idiots, because as soon as she showed up, the big guy grinned. Just, a full, beaming smile. Like an overgrown child on Christmas.

INTERVIEWER: What did she look like? Pyrrha?

RAFAT: Why? Everyone already-

INTERVIEWER: Posterity, Ms. Rafat.

RAFAT: …okay, then. Tall? It was kind of hard to tell, with the hovering. She was wearing a long, brown coat, the same on she always wears, and those big chunky goggles. I didn't really see her face, but you know, she was pretty obviously angry.

INTERVIEWER: How could you tell?

RAFAT: Posture. Also, the ground below her was compacting down the whole time.

INTERVIEWER: So she just flew down? She didn't attack them?

RAFAT: Not at first, no. I don't know why not. Maybe it was me. She didn't say anything, though; she just hung there. I don't know for sure if she even knew I was there, but… the fact that she placed herself between me and them makes me think she did. The big man - the other one was still sitting there like he was meditating - the big man, he said: She closes her eyes, obviously thinking. “Took your time, bitch. What, were you too busy saving cats from trees?”

INTERVIEWER: So they'd done it to lure her out?

RAFAT: I mean, that's what it sounded like. She didn't reply, though, and he snarled, like a freaking dog, and raised one hand and then-


RAFAT: I'm just trying to decide how to describe it. It was like something was pushing down on every part of my body at the exact same time, with the exact same amount of force. Or, no. Like something was pulling me down. It… it really hurt, actually, slammed me against the ground. And she wasn't even aiming for me. It only lasted about a second, and then everything was back to… heh. Well, it definitely wasn't normal. The two men were gone. And where they'd been standing was a crater.

INTERVIEWER: And Pyrrha… what, disappeared again.

RAFAT: No, that was the thing. She was still hovering there, hadn't moved an an inch. And then she turns around to me, says “I'm sorry”, and just falls into the sky.

INTERVIEWER: She spoke to you?

RAFAT: Uh, yes, that's what I just said.

INTERVIEWER: What did she sound like? Did she have an accent?

RAFAT: Uhm, normal? Kind of hoarse, actually, like she hadn't spoken in a while. Which makes sense, I guess. No accent, I don't think. Not a Chicago one. Maybe standard midwest?

INTERVIEWER: Hmm. There is the sound of rustling papers, and a chair scraping on concrete.

RAFAT: What, that’s it? That was… abrupt.

RAFAT: Hey, where are you going? You can't just leave me here. Hey! HEY!


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