Talk 4-V

A Rope Around Your Neck

A quick recap on the state of the room.

A few hundred students (~300?) who, if they were anything like me, were slightly worn out from the emotional whiplash, but mostly just terrified.

Three (3) supervillains scattered about the room, the teleporter and Metalface unconscious, the former in Stump’s hands, the latter in Black Armor’s restraints, and Combat Gear still struggling and swearing in the same.

One (1) inhuman doppelganger with a fork through its hand, currently pretending to be me as it was tended to by a few of the students around it/me. None of them really seemed to know what they were doing, but it was a nice thought.

One (1) very much human doppelgangee, currently about this (I-I) close to just curling up into a ball, sticking her fingers in her ears and tunelessly humming until everything went away.

Five (5) young superheroes, standing in the remains of what used to be the doorway into the room, the two halves lying, smoldering, on either side of them. Their costumes bright and distinctive, they stood in a very… cinematic pose, that was slightly ruined by the fact that they were all completely baffled by what had just happened.

And one (1) ambiguously-human wood creature, currently very angrily stalking his way across the room to his teammates, with the aforementioned one (1) teleporter dragging behind him in wooden restraints.

He passed by me, and without thinking, I started to follow. I’m not even sure why; I think it might have been more inertia than anything else. If I didn’t find something to do, I was going to crash, hard, and while that sounded appealing, I still had to deal with the issue of my double. Right now, it was surrounded by people, and the injury it had received meant it probably wasn’t going to get left alone any time soon.

Darn it, the injury. I’d forgotten about it, but there was no way that the many people who’d seen it happen would if I showed up with a perfectly unblemished hand. One more complication to go on the pile. The long and short of it was that for now, I’d have to leave the double running until I could get it away from people.

Plus… I was curious. Not only because these six people were celebrities of an order that was hard to surpass, but also because the whole fight that had just happened was weird and kind of suspicious, and I wanted answers. So yes, I used superpowers to spy on the people with superpowers, which is probably not the smartest thing I’ve ever done.

The New Chicago Guardians were all young, the oldest probably not even twenty. According to Sabah, the Tower went for second-gens a lot harder than firsts, and because seconds tended to be around the same age bracket (currently around 15-20, which I fit comfortably into), youth teams like the Guardians weren’t uncommon. They, and their parents if they were under-18s, would have signed waivers releasing the Tower from being liable for certain dangers, and there were government-mandated restrictions on how long they spent in costume, the situations they went into, that sort of thing. It was apparently an airtight web of bureaucracy, paperwork and legalities that had kept the practice going strong for more than two decades, even back in the first wave.

They turned as Stump approached, and, a few paces behind him, I got my first proper look at them. There were five, three boys and two girls, six with Stump. Comet, their leader, stood in the center, wearing an orange jumpsuit patterned with flame decals that shifted and flickered in the light, and a helmet that covered her eyes, but let her long black hair hang down her back. On her left stood Thrust, sleek grey plating over dull maroon leather, and Fog, floating slightly above the ground in her pale, intricate lace dress of white and pearl, thick clouds of moisture covering the ground around her and the bottom of her legs. On the other side were Chain, silvery-blue steel links cast into black armor that covered him almost completely, and Instance, a full grey bodysuit, with light armor that slowly shifted across the entire spectrum as it approached his center of mass, which was red. It should have looked silly, but the colors were muted, and the grey was prominent enough that it actually ending up working quite well.

The crowds had noticed the heroes, and although they didn’t want to get to close, they hovered at the edge of some invisible perimeter, phones out, taking pictures and recording. Stump looked around at them, and his disposition seemed to sour further. “Instance,” he said to his teammate, “can you give us some privacy?”

He closed his eyes for a second, then nodded, gesturing Stump to move a little closer. I did the same, trying to keep my breathing quiet, although there was enough ambient noise that I probably didn’t need to bother.

Instance tilted his head to the side, then the other, and then flicked his hands out to either side, and suddenly all the sounds disappeared. I turned, and a slightly shimmering, crackling barrier had appeared just in front of the invisible line. “There,” he said. “Nothing’s getting in or out.” Instance was a power copier, with the caveat that he couldn’t copy whole powers, but instead imitated specific uses of them. Presumably, the Tower kept him well stocked with a bunch of handy tricks like this one.

“Good,” Stump said, and threw the supervillainess to the ground in between them. “Then you can all tell me what the hell that was!”

They all seemed taken aback; clearly this wasn’t the reaction they’d been expecting. “What do you mean?” Thrust asked, sounding genuinely confused.

“I mean,” he replied, sounding perilously close to yelling, “why you just burst into a delicate situation with all the wild abandon of a bunch of frat boys entering a party!”

“We burst in because we thought you needed help, you ungrateful b-”

“Thrust,” Comet cut him off. Her voice was quiet, and oddly hoarse, but it had a good weight to it, and he fell silent. “We were instructed to make a good entrance. With this many live video streams, they thought it would be good publicity.”

Good publicity?! It was a hostage situation!

Apparently Stump agreed. “And so you prioritized that over, you know, the couple of hundred students being held hostage?!”

Comet sighed. “Stump, I’m sorry, but I did as I was instructed.”

He snorted, the sound coming out oddly. Did he even have a real nose? “Yeah, well, you can tell them that their orders lost us a vigilante.”

That got their attention, Fog’s especially. “Who was it?” she asked, some thick Southern accent overlaying her words. “Was it that Void bitch?”

Stump didn’t move, but I felt like he’d made a face. “No. It was some big guy, wore brown, made these black forcefields. I think they were energy-absorbent or something similar. He took out the energy projector and the touch-range one before I had a chance to do anything”

“Sounds like Stonewall,” Instance said. “I’ve run into him a few times. I wonder what he was doing here?”

Comet waved him down. “Save it for the debrief. Right now, we need to deal with this scum.”

“Yeah, Stumpy,” Chain said, “because you couldn’t even deal with them on your own.”

He spun on him. “One more word out of you, Chain, and I’ll break you like the weakest link.”

“What, did you think that was funny?” he replied, snorting. “I could take you and you know it.” Tough words, but his posture said he wasn’t as sure of them as he sounded. I sucked in a breath as I waited for-

“Wait,” Chain said, spinning around. “Did anyone else here that?”

Oh shi- shizzle.

“Hear what? You pussying out?”

“No, you moron. It sounded like someone breathing. Someone el-”

I never thought I’d be glad to see someone hit with a flying body. Out of nowhere, a limp form came smashing into the heroes, throwing them back. They crashed to the ground in an awkward heap, except for Fog, who’d managed to dart out of the way, and Stump, who was standing slightly away from the rest of the group. I’d only just avoided being hit, and I’d felt the wind rush by my head.

A large, bulky man came charging into the bubble, surprisingly quick for his size. Metalface. He swung at Stump, who seemed to shocked to react, and sent the wooden man flying. Barely stopping, he grabbed the woman off the ground with one hand, and charged towards the heroes. They were struggling to untangle themselves from each other and the limp figure, who I realized after a second was Combat Gear, when he reached them. But instead of steamrollering over them, he simply grabbed his over teammate, and then slapped the woman. Hard.

I winced involuntary, but she jolted in his hand, and then all three of them disappeared, leaving that vacuum I’d come to recognize behind.

Within seconds, the heroes recovered, and began bickering and pointing fingers, but I didn’t stick around to listen. I left the bubble, quickly darting through the hole that Metalface had left, but as I made my way back to my double, my mind was elsewhere.

"Not what you were expecting, were they?"

No, I admitted to myself, they weren't.

After all that, after everything that had happened, those... monsters had gotten away, because the 'heroes' had been too busy bickering and making 'cinematic entrances'.

"Doesn't seem right, does it?"

No, it doesn't.

"So, what are you going to do about it?"


Talk 4-IV

Miss Very Well

“Okay, does there have to be a shocking revelation like every five minutes? I mean-”

No, shut up, shut up, now is really not the time.

It almost felt like a reversal, some sort of cosmic karma. Heads turned, faces shocked and panicked as they desperately sought the source of the sound.

Standing on a table on the other side of the room, next to the corridor that lead to the bathrooms, was the speaker. For the briefest of moments, I had thought it was the resident teleporting sadist, but that was just the nerves talking; the voice sounded nothing like hers, deep and possessing an odd hollowness compared to her light and clear tones.

I feel I should interject something at this point. Superpowers have been around for my whole life. The only points of reference I have for a world without them are literature, media and the experiences of previous generations. I've been raised not only as a member of "Generation Cape", but by parents who interact with them on a regular basis. My best friend is a cape geek, my school is a few blocks from the very first Tower, in the city with the highest concentration of powered individuals in the world. Superheroes, supervillains; I'm used to them. They’re very much part of an ordinary world for me. So you should take it on faith that when I say something’s abnormal, it’s ab-friggin-normal.

The… thing standing on that table was abnormal.

Vaguely man-shaped, it had no distinct features; no face, no musculature, no… bits. Instead, it was a shifting conglomerate of what appeared to be large, brown, oddly-textured worms of various thicknesses and length. They curled and twisted around each other, forming knots and whorls, ducking in and out of visibility as they slithered along. I was too far away to actually make out any sound, but in my mind they squelched and made other appropriately disgusting noises.  

I think I might have actually shuddered, and the rest of the people in there seemed to share that opinion, including Black Armor. He visibly recoiled, and a staggered shield appeared in front of him, angled plates that blocked off the majority of his mass while still giving lines of sight.

“Hey, that’s a pretty clever little shield, isn’t it? He doesn’t really seem the type.”

Because we know so much about him. And would you please just shut up?

Worms seemed to notice the reaction he (it?) was getting, and reacted accordingly. The worms froze for a second, then began moving again, faster this time. After a couple of seconds of frantic movement, they held position, then contracted, and suddenly instead of a horrifying alien mass, there instead stood a man-shaped figure, almost smooth, with sculpted musculature that reminded me of the statue of David. With a start, I realized that the brown tendrils weren't worms at all. They were branches. Once I’d noticed, it became obvious: the strange texture was gnarled wood, the small outcroppings twigs.

Were they some kind of shifter, one with the ability to transform into a living mass of plant matter? I didn't know for certain, but I was pretty sure that shifters were normally inorganic matter when they transformed. Sabah would know for sure, but Sabah wasn't here.

"Sorry about that," he said in that some hollow voice, sounding slightly sheepish. "I tend to forget how scary combat mode can look." He gave a little shrug, and the motion was surprisingly normal for something that had looked like an eldritch horror. It was actually quite disarming. "I was just about to finish up," he lifted an arm to reveal the teleporter, trussed up in tendrils, "and switch back, but then I realized that I had the perfect opportunity for a really cool entrance, and I think I jumped the gun a little."

Black Armor stared at him from behind his shield. I couldn't see his face well, but if I had to hazard a guess at his expression, I’d say somewhere between confusion and caution. “Who are you?” he asked warily.

The wooden man held his free hand up to his face. “Gasp,” he said dryly (and yes, he said the word ‘gasp’), “you mean you don’t recognize me?”

“No, I do not. Should I?”

“Well, sure. I mean, I'm only part of…” he trailed off, as if remembering something. “Oh, of course, they haven’t made the announcement yet. Silly me.” He flourished his hand, and gave a bow. “You can call me Stump, and I am the newest members of the New Chicago Guardians.” He rose, and tilted his head in a manner reminiscent of a grin. “You can all treat this as a bit of an exclusive preview,” he said to the crowd, before turning back to Black Armor. "That's me, so now it's your turn. Who are you?"

"No one important," he replied slowly. "Just someone trying to help. So if you'd just take these two, I will be on my way."

Stump shook his head. "Sorry, but I'm afraid that's not how it goes. Right now my team-mates are working on getting rid of the little surprises that this lot left behind, and once they get here, they're going to want to have a little chat with the mystery guy who somehow appeared in a terrorist-held school cafeteria, and somehow subdued them. Though," he added,"you didn't exactly do a bang-up job of it. If I hadn't dealt with little miss teleporter here, she'd probably have done some very nasty things."

It was subtle, so subtle that I almost missed it, but Black Armor's shield was expanding, ever-so-slightly growing larger. "And if I do not want to 'have a chat'?"

"That's funny, I don't recall saying that it was optional." He looked around, and sighed. "Come on, man, do we really want to do this?"

"No we do not."

"Seems we're at an impasse, then." He paused, then clicked his fingers. "Oh wait, no we're not! Because in less than a minute, the rest my team are going to come busting through that door, and-"

It happened almost too fast to process. A ball of fire came smashing through the main doors, sending them spinning away. At the same time, Black Armor snarled and waved his hands, and suddenly everything was black. He'd blanketed the entire room in that black field of his. I tried moving, but I couldn't: there wasn't any resistance, my limbs just wouldn't move.

I tried breathing, couldn't, and started to freak out, but after about 5 seconds, it disappeared, and I stumbled forward, gasping for breath. Everyone else was having a similar reaction to me, so thankfully no-one noticed the conspicuous breathing coming from thin air.

I spun, looking around. At the door, a team of heroes stood, scanning the room, and Stump still stood on his table, looking around frantically. 

Black Armor, though, had disappeared.


Talk 4-III

A Priest or a Bandit

There was a brief second of stunned silence. Every head in the room turned towards the source of the voice in a movement that was actually probably quite creepy, now that I think about it. Standing on a table, he was tall and… uh, solid-looking, to be polite; one of those people who looked like they’d been modelled off a beer cask, or in this case, like someone had managed to shave a bear, get it standing on two legs and give it an armored jumpsuit. Bands and plates covered the dark brown fabric in various places, made out of a material so absolutely black it looked like it was actually leeching the light from the air. 

Wait a second... I squinted at the armor, trying to get a closer look. I couldn't be sure, but it seemed like it actually was leeching the light, or at least doing something to it. Well, at least this guy had powers; one against three is bad enough odds when they're all metas, and if some Batman wannabe had tried to go up against them, he'd probably end up as paste.

The teleporting woman suddenly laughed, bright and sharp, and it sounded… pleasant, which was just wrong. Evil people shouldn’t have nice laughs, darnit. It started pretty light and clear, but quickly descended into uncontrolled giggling, bent over at the waist and clutching at her stomach.

“Y-you, y-you…” she lost it for a second, “oh-oh, tha-that, pfffffftttt…” Everyone was staring at her now, including the unidentified superhero, and both of her teammates.  “Ehehehehehe, ohhhh, man this is great. You just, hah, think you can, can…”

“What?” said the hero, sounding slightly puzzled.

“Bombs, you moron!” She giggled a little bit. “Or did you miss that bit?”

I felt a sinking feeling in my gut. She did seem to have to touch the cutlery bombs to set them off, but, I mean, teleporter.

But the hero seemed unfazed. "Oh yes, bombs. They would not happen to be like these," he gestured to one on the table besides him, "would they?" He tapped it with his foot, and it immediately collapsed into pieces, the force that was holding them together apparently gone.

“I appreciate you talking for so long," he said casually. "It made my job quite easy."

The woman tensed, grinding her teeth together, but then suddenly, just like that, she was upbeat again. "Ah well, that’s a shame. I suppose I'll just have to console myself with the fact that it's three against one in a target rich environment."

"We shall see about that."

And then, chaos.

A black shell appeared around the man with the combat fatigues, enclosing him completely except for a hole around his mouth and nose, a fact that he immediately took advantage of by letting loose a veritable flood of profanities as he struggled to move. The other me was telling me that the same had happened to the metal-faced man.

Wait¸ didn’t his power-

A crimson lance of energy shot out from the exposed half of his face, spearing towards the hero. He spun away, but the blast caught the edge of his black armor and tore it to shreds, sending wisps of it floating into the air. Metalface took advantage of the few seconds of distraction to direct the lance downwards and free himself. Considering that the lance stopped as soon as it hit his skin, I guessed my theory about the faceplate was wrong.

The hero quickly recovered from the hit, and tried encasing the villain again, but he was on a roll now, and tore through it with no apparent effort. He barrelled towards him, moving with surprising speed as he vaulted over a lunch table, nearly knocking the block off of a student who hadn't quite managed to move out of the way. the hero had quickly recovered from the blow, though, and he dodged to the side as Metalface fired another one of those destruction beams at him. 

Something seemed off about the armor that he'd made for himself, something about the way it moved. It didn't seem like it was actually attached to him; when he moved, it seemed to drag behind his movements by a half-second or so, and when he stopped, it took about the same amount of time to resettle to where he actually was. If it was the same stuff that he was projecting, then I guess it made sense; he probably couldn't actually move it, and was just extending it and removing the bits behind it.

Despite my best instincts, I moved closer to them as they fought. I might have tried to justify it with some weak reason about wanting to stay near in case I could help, but really I just wanted to get a closer look.

They were fighting hand-to-hand now, throwing punches and blocking blows. I'd never really seen people fight in real life, just on TV and in books and games, but to me, it looked like neither of them was that experienced at it. The blows swung heavy and wide, the blocks clumsy and often ineffective. If I had to guess, I'd say from their build that they were both used to being strong enough that they didn't really have to know how to fight well, a mindset that didn't seem to be doing either of them much good.

The hero, Black Armor as I'd mentally named him, managed to step inside one of the villain's swings, taking the hit on his shoulder, and clocked him in the jaw. He staggered back, but his armor seemed to have protected him from the worst of the blow, and he managed to recover before his opponent could capitalize on it. Instead of diving back into the fray, though, he took a step back, steadied himself and created another one of those beams, evidently not interested in extending the fight any longer.

Black Armor created another field in front of him, and he was obviously prepared for Metalface this time, because the beam didn't immediately tear through it. Instead, it hit the surface and began streaming off, trails of volatile-looking orange-red energy that evaporated into thin air before getting close to the ground. Though, it wasn't a complete no-sell: it seemed to be affecting the shield, slowly but steadily eating away at it. Looking at it reminded me of when he’d destroyed the support beams earlier, and I realized what had been bothering me about it. If it had been a heat beam, then there would have been molten slag falling down everywhere. I looked back up for the first time since the demonstration, and got confirmation. The sections of the beams that he’d targeted were just… gone, poof. The ends of the bars looked frayed like thread, and with the way it was eating into Black Armor’s field, it seemed like it was some kind of disintegration power, or maybe just straight-up destruction. Either way, I didn’t want to see what happened when it hit flesh.

The beam had nearly eaten through the entire shield now, and I thought for a second that I was going to have to watch it happen anyway. But when it finally broke through, splintering the section of the field into tiny fragments that quickly disappeared, it shot straight through thin air. Black Armor had disappeared, or so it seemed for a second.

Metalface paused for a second. He must've thought he'd hit his opponent, because he visually relaxed. That fit with the disintegration theory, if he was used to no trace remaining. So when the bottom half of the field disappeared to reveal Black Armor crouched behind it, I would've bet good money that he hadn't been expecting it. 

The hero lunged forward, hand outstretched, and once again encased Metalface, this time enclosing the entirety of his face and leaving air holes on the sides instead. That same orange-red light began leaking from the holes as the villain tried to force his way out again. Like the shield before it, it didn't immediately splinter this time, although it didn't seem thick enough to hold together for more than a few seconds under the onslaught. Evidently, it wasn't intended to. 

With his opponent temporarily blinded, the hero took the opportunity he'd set up. With long, powerful strides, he charged at the villain, upper body twisting back. He didn't slow at all, seemingly putting all the force he could behind the blow. As he swung, looking less like he was trying to punch him than he was punching through him, he dismissed the field around the villain, and while I couldn't see his face, I didn't need to to visualize the look of utter shock that must have crossed it. 

The blow connected with a thunderous crack, and the villain went flying, tumbling towards a table of cowering students. Another field caught him before he collided, surrounding his body completely in a square prism of empty black. Judging by the way his head lolled, he was probably unconscious, or at least injured enough to get the same result. Despite myself, I found myself worrying. I mean, he might have been a supervillain who would've happily killed kids, but cranial injuries can be pretty serious; I'd had more than my fair share of concussions in my day, and even though they were fairly minor, each one was still not pleasant. A blow like that, enough to knock him unconscious...

"Oh come on, seriously? I mean, you said it yourself, he's a kid-killing supervillain. Who cares if he got a boo-boo?!"

A boo-boo? Head injuries are a bit more than a 'boo-boo', you know.

“Please refer to previous sentence; namely, ‘kid-killing supervillain’ and thereforth.”

Are you trying to sound like a lawyer? That was terrible.

“Maybe you should remember who you’re insulting. Hint, it’s you.”

You know what? I'm not dealing with this right now.

“Oh, what are you gonna-”

With the fight seemingly over, the hero was reinforcing the bindings he’d put on the two villains, as a hubbub of chatter swept through the room. It almost seemed like people didn't quite know how to react to-

Wait, two?

“Forget about something?”


Talk 4-II

Two Types of People

I stood frozen a few feet from my double, my brain going into shutdown. She was going to… going to…

“Whoa, okay, easy there," I said to myself inside my head. "C’mon, breathe easy. You can still be heard, remember?”

That wasn't helpful. At all.

“Well, do your breathing exercises, then, but try and be quiet. Gosh, do I have to do everything around here?”

No, the voice in my head doesn't swear either.

Once again, the tunnel vision slowly receded. So what do we do now? I asked myself, once I’d recovered enough.

“Well, nothing.”

What?!

“Can you think of anything?”

That’s your job! That’s the reason you exist!

“Yes, and so if I can’t come up with anything…” I couldn't come up with anything either. Darn it.

…sorry.

“Don’t apologize to me, I'm just imaginary. But seriously, I don’t think we can really do anything.”

But they’re going to start killing people!

“And we can’t do anything about that.”

We could sneak up on them or something, we’re invisible.

“One can teleport, one can shoot lasers from his face, and we have no idea what the last one can do. How do you think that encounter will go?”

…well, we could try and save the people they’re going to kill…

“Was that a question or not?”

We could try and save the people they’re going to kill, smartbutt.

“So butt is appropriate, but the a-word isn't? Sometimes I don’t like living in this brain very much. And just think through that idea for… oh wait, that’s what me talking is. It’s a dumb idea.”

Yeah, I sort of knew," I admitted, "I'm just trying to spitball. Maybe we could try and get out, warn the heroes.

“The heroes already know, remember? But it’s not a bad idea, except that we don’t know far we can get from the double, and if it’ll disappear or stop behaving like us or something like that.”

Oh. And we can’t experiment now, because if we screw up, they’ll notice and kill us.

“Careful, if you keep doing all the thinking yourself, you might stop needing me, and then I’ll disappear and you’ll have basically killed me and will therefore be a murderer.”

...I'm pretty sure that’s not how this works.

“Oh, because there’s a certified rulebook for imaginary head-voices as representations of one’s logical reasoning?”

Hmpph.

“Also sarcasm and libido, but you only have yourself to blame for those.”

I felt like burying my head in my hands. Please no.

“Fine, fine. But let me just say, you see the pecs on that guy back there? Nice.”

Just… just don’t.

“Hmpph,” I repeated. “Does the fact that I don’t like you very much say something about us?”

I think it just means you've expanded into self-deprecation too. Pretty soon it’ll be all you up here.

“Maybe then I’ll finally be able to swear.”

(I promise I’m not crazy. I have a certificate that says so.)

So what do we do then?

“Same plan as before. Observe, try not to be one of the ones they kill, and hope the heroes either give them what they want or kick their… butts.”

Gather information, got it.

“Well, no, that’s not quite what I-” But I was already moving closer to the man standing on the table, trying to get a closer look now that I’d manage to section away the panic. I was still cognizant of the strings humming in my core, as well the other... iteration, I suppose, of my self that seemed to be running in the back of my brain, one where I’d been hit by a flying fork, and would probably be killed if I tried to get off the ground.

All of my earlier observations about the man seemed to be accurate. His armor was red-tinged plates of overlapping metal, held by some means onto a jumpsuit of red Steelsilk, its unique patterns clearly visible thanks to the dye. The faceplate seemed to be another such plate, but I thought I could see something black around the edges. Insulation, maybe? Not all supers were immune to their own powers, and his laser had looked pretty hot. Perhaps the faceplate protected him from the heat.

Something wasn’t quite right with that, something nagging in the back of my mind, but I couldn't figure out precisely what it was.

But, nothing more to see here, no point in puzzling over it and spending more time near the supervillain. I moved away, trying to pad softly on the tiled floors, very aware of the sound of my own breathing. I was probably worrying about nothing, as there was a constant, worried murmur throughout the room as people tried to freak out without attracting attention to themselves. Really, it wasn't the breathing or footsteps I had to worry about, but the possibility of the teleporter running into me. But there was nothing I could really do about that except move slowly and carefully, and try not to bump into anything.

“2 minutes,” came a cry from the woman. “What do you think, kiddies? Are they going to give in and appear weak, or stay strong and let us kill a few of you?” She checked her watch, which I idly noticed she wore on the inside of her wrist, rather than the normal way. “Oh, it’s only one minute now. I'm starting to think it’ll be the latter, which is a shame; I would've liked this to be easier.” She paused for a second, tapping a finger to her chin contemplatively. “Not that it’s really going to be that much harder, but still. You wanna pick someone, or should I?” she asked the guy in combat gear, suddenly standing next to him.

He shrugged, then spoke for the first time, his voice surprisingly normal. “I’ll do it, I think. You recognize any important faces in this place?”

She spun around, looking. “Nah, no-one I recognize.”

“Hm. Then I guess it’ll be…” he pointed a finger at a random girl sitting near him, “her.” I didn’t know the girl, but her face looked familiar; I think she was in the grade below me. She froze, face ashen white, trembling in fear. “Sorry, kid,” the man said amicably as he approached, everyone else around her scrambling away. “It really is nothing personal. Hey, we’re in a school, so maybe think about it as a lesson: the Effectiveness of Terrorism 101.” He chuckled, and reached out for her with one hand, and I felt a sudden spike of terror, and shame. Why wasn't I doing anything? I was in the perfect position to help, barely ten meters away, and I was just standing there. I broke into a run, concerns forgotten.

Time seemed to slow as I approached. Maybe 8 meters, and the man’s hand was half a foot away.

6 meters, 3rd of a foot.

4 meters and he was barely 2 inches away.

2 meters, and I knew I wasn't going to make it in time, as his hand closed the distance and touched the pitch-black skin of her-

Wait, what?

The entirety of her arm had been encased in a sheath of solid black, a void that seemed to suck the very light surrounding it in. The man’s hand was touching against it, and he was looking at the girl with a puzzled expression, matching the one on her face, and probably on mine.

Did she... did I just witness someone spark?

“I’d thank you to not try that again,” boomed a voice from across the room.

"So no, then."


Talk 4-I

HANNAH
If You Have to Shoot.

The man standing above me, one foot in my salad, was tall and bulky, his face hidden by a red-tinged plate of metal. Similar plates covered his body, overlapping in a manner reminiscent more of scales than of armor.

Everyone at our table was frozen, but the rest of the room seemed to have not noticed. That is, until the man reared his head back and, with a thunderous roar, sent a beam of energy streaming towards the ceiling, where it ate through the thick supports with a flash.

The room fell silent.

"Greetings, rich pigs," yelled a voice, and we all jerked our heads around to the other side of the room, where another supervillain was standing on a table. As soon as it seemed like everyone was looking, though, she disappeared. "You may be wondering what is happening,” the voice said again, this time from the opposite side of the room, causing everyone to spin around again.

I got a better glimpse of her this time, before she teleported again; she seemed to have a long, hooded green cloak, with, surprisingly, no mask, although I didn’t manage to get a glimpse of her face. “Well, it’s quite simple,” she spoke for the third time, and while a lot of heads still turned, some people, like me, were cottoning on to the fact that she was just going to keep doing it, and accordingly hadn’t turned.

"The simple answer is that we're kidnapping you." Worried murmuring swept across the room. The voice was now bouncing around between multiples points within a sentence, and I'd given up on following it, and was just staring at the desk. "The more complicated answer is that we’re holding you hostage.”

There was a beat of silence. “Well, I didn’t say it was much more complicated. Now, is anyone filming this? Of course someone is.” There was a surprised yelp. “Now is this thing… ah, there we are, broadcasting. Excellent. I’m sure a number of you have already sent messages out, so thanks for that. Hello!” she said, seemingly to the camera. “My name is- well, you don’t need to know what my name is. What you do need to know is this.” A brief silence, presumably while she showed the camera the crowd. “Yup. So, if anyone official is listening, you know what we want- oh, that reminds me.”

Suddenly, she was right in front of me, standing next to the scaled man, pointing the phone at him. “This is one of my colleagues, whose name you don’t need to know, and he is a very angry man. What is he angry at? Damn near everything, actually, so you probably shouldn’t try anything, unless you want him to do something nasty to these kids. Hell, for all I know, he might anyway.” She disappeared again, and there was suddenly a strong pull coming from the spot she’d been in, sucking up cutlery and other small items into a compact ball, which dropped the table with a clunk.

What is that? I thought, unconsciously reaching for it. Before I could touch it, though, the man stomped on my arm, hard. I cried out sharply, and suddenly the woman was there again.

“Aw, does that hurt, you little shit? Good.” She gestured, and he let my arm go. I clutched it to my body, tears pooling in the corners of my eyes. Gosh-darnit that hurt. “Was baby trying to touch the ball?” she said in a mock sing-song voice, pointing the camera at me.

I said nothing. It seemed to be my best bet.

“Hmpph,” she said disappointedly. “Well, I’m guessing you’ll find out what it does sooner or later.” She reached out and tapped the ball, and it exploded.

I shrieked and fell backwards, hands coming up to protect my face as I fell to the floor. There was a sharp burn in one of my hands, a little twinge of pain on my forehead, and then as I hit the ground, there was a twang inside my core, and suddenly I was in two places at once.

One me was lying on the ground, clutching my arm to my chest, and wincing in pain at the cuts. I gave a muffled scream as I realized that the burning in my hand was in fact a fork.

The other me had rolled to my feet, crouching low and tense, before I suddenly realized that I was invisible. So this was the real me then.

was crouched on my hands and knees. An exact copy of me was doing a pretty-damn convincing job of being me as it pulled the fork out of its hand, hissing in pain. Really convincing; there was blood dripping from the wound and everything.

"Okay, I think we can agree that this is weird.”

Now you come back?

"Sure, we're not in immediate danger now, so our brain's calmed down enough to start simulating me again. Come on, you know this."

The sad thing was that I did, otherwise she/I wouldn't be saying it.

So what the hell's going on, then? I asked as I watched my double lying on the ground. The woman had teleported away again, and the man was staring at me dispassionately. A few of the other students looked like they wanted to help me, but any time any of them moved, he stared them down until they went back to sitting again.

"Well, taking into account a whole bunch of things, I'd say that the bomb triggered a defensive reflex in our power, and it created a decoy that protected us."

Hmm. But why is it moving this time?

"What, you can't feel that? In the back of our head- oh, right, I'm supposed to tell you about that. It feels like there's a second us in the back of our head, controlling the double." The second consciousness had the same feeling as the humming, which had returned as soon as I'd fallen. I paused for a moment, the revised the metaphor. They felt more like strings now, the bottom one vibrating in a manner not dissimilar to a guitar string.

I reached down for the second string-

"Best not," I interrupted myself. "We don't want to accidentally disrupt our power, especially now."

Well, what do you think we should do?

"Wait, observe, and hold out for an opportunity to experiment safely."

...fine. I tuned back into the real world and slowly un-tensed, standing back up. The woman was still talking: "...and I notice the heroes have finally arrived. Tsk. That's some pretty shoddy response time, eh?" She nudged the student next to her, who remained frozen. She sighed, but then perked up. "Oh, hold on. Brb." No, seriously, she actually said that.

She disappeared, then reappeared a moment later holding another man, who swiftly stepped away from her and surveyed the room with cold, calculating eyes. This guy, compared to the others, was pretty understated: his costume consisted a dark blue combat fatigues and a helmet that covered his head, eyes and nose.

"My other friend here has just finished rounding up stragglers," the woman yelled. She was still teleporting every few words, and I realized with a start that it was probably a precaution against snipers. "Now, I'm sure he didn't kill anyone," he shook his head slightly, "but knowing him, there's probably a few people bleeding out there, so you're," I was confused for a second until I remembered about the camera, "probably going to want to make this quick. Remember, all you have to is give us what we want, and then we'll leave." There was a couple of seconds of silence, and then the sound of a phone ringing. "Oh-hog," she crowed, "there we go. But I'm not giving up my feed. You," she said to a boy near her, "what's your name?"

The boy cowered.

"Come on, kid, I just wanna know your name. I'm not gonna hurt you."

Still he said nothing.

She sighed. "Fine. Tell me your name or I'll throw one of my bombs in your face and blow it up." She said it so casually, like she was talking about sports or the weather, not inflicting possibly-lethal harm on someone.

"J-Jason R-r-reeves," he stammered out, obviously terrified.

"There we go. Now, give me your phone." He nearly dropped it in his rush to get it out. She snatched it and teleported away.

"You see this phone?” she said to a student holding up their phone in quivering hands. “If you want to talk-" The phone rang out, interrupting her. "Oh good," she said sounding pleased, "you guys managed that, at least."

She answered it, holding it up to her ear. "Yello."

Pause. 

"Nope, sorry, not happening. Frankly, I'm amazed, and a little impressed you even tried that."

Pause.

"I've already said what we want."

Longer pause.

"Well, that's simple. Every ten minutes until we get it, we kill a student."