Differences 8-I

HANNAH

Put Our Differences Behind Us.

My powers seemed to be pretty diverse. Invisibility, duplication, density manipulation. So hey, maybe probability manipulation wasn’t out of the question, because the sheer unlikeliness of everything that had happened so far was kind of doing my head in.

I stared down the alleyway at the group of… well, I didn’t know what they were. They obviously weren’t associated with the Tower, not with Fog’s reaction, but they’d intervened for much the same reasons. I decided, tentatively, to extend a measure of trust.

“I’m…” I trailed off. What should I say? I couldn’t tell them to call me Hannah, obviously. Should I make up a codename? But what if it sucks? And then I’ll be stuck with it forever, and everyone will laugh, and I won’t be able to go out in public ever again, and…

I may have started hyperventilating, I’m not sure.

Thankfully, they didn’t seem to notice. The woman in grey was still standing in the mouth of the alley, watching me, but the man in the balaclava and goggles had leant against one of the walls, arms crossed, and the one dressed as a pilot had dropped down into a sitting position, her arms wrapped loosely around her legs. Apparently, that explosion had taken something out of her.

The dark-skinned woman chuckled. “New, huh? Don’t worry, we were all there at some point. I’m Skew. This is Freefall and Flatline.” She gestured to the woman in the bomber’s outfit and the man in the balaclava, respectively. “I’m guessing from that little display that you're not associated with the Prettiest Princess back there?” She flicked a thumb over her shoulder in the direction Fog had fled in, and I gave an involuntary snort.

“No, I'm not… She just showed up, and I tried talking… she wouldn't listen and I…” a horrifying realization ran through me. I'd antagonized, intentionally or no, one of the Tower’s biggest biggest heroes, and by extension, the whole organization. “I was just… just trying to stop him,” I finished lamely, gesturing to the tattooed thug still gasping for breath on the pavement.

The lady, Skew, looked down at the man and clucked her tongue. 

“Right, him. Probably not the best audience for this conversation.” She tucked her hands into her pockets and began walking down the alleyway. “Walk with us, Scarf Girl?” The other two fell in behind her.

“...sure.” I fell into step with her as she passed, but not before taking one last glance over my shoulder. “Do you… think he'll be okay?” I asked tentatively.

“Well, he’s probably going to have a bit of an issue the next time it snows, but yeah, that wasn’t long enough for serious damage.” She looked up at me and grinned an insouciant grin. “And believe me, I’d know.”

“I… umm, should I be scared?”

She laughed and chucked me on the arm. “Relax, kid. We’re basically the good guys.” The way she said the word ‘basically’ made it sound like it belonged in parentheses.

“Are you?” I asked, hesitance momentarily forgotten. “Because… as soon as you showed up, Fog started swearing like a sailor and ran away, and that kind of doesn’t sound like the reaction a hero would have to ‘the good guys’. Even if she is kind of shitty.”

Skew laughed again as we rounded the corner, but this time it was laced with bitterness and anger. “Alright, first lesson on the street, Scarfy. Just cause the Tower calls themselves the heroes don’t make it so.” The tinge of an accent began creeping into her voice, something South American, maybe? “Once you peak behind the curtains, you start seeing them as what they are; actors playing a role because they like the attention.”

I leaned away unconsciously. She must’ve noticed, because her posture loosened, and she blew out a breath. “Sorry, sorry. Touchy subject for me. For all of us, actually.”

Wisely, I decided to leave that alone. “Us?” I asked instead. “Are you ‘the good guys’, then?”

That got a snort out of the man, Flatline or Freefall, I couldn’t remember. “Shut up, you,” Skew said over her shoulder. Then, to me, “We’d like to think so, yeah. In practice, who knows? At the very least, we’re better than the Tower.”

“Are there more of you?”

She nodded. “Us three and seven more.” Ten?! Who are these people, and how have I not heard of them? We generally only come together for big stuff, at least in theory.”

“And you’re the leader?”

“In absentia,” she said with another smile with a bitter undercurrent. “Our leader proper has a bad habit of being flaky.” The other woman snorted at that. I wondered why they weren’t so much participating in the conversation as reacting to it. Maybe they were used to Skew talking for them.

“But enough about us,” she said, and my gut felt like someone had clamped a vice around it. “What’s your story, morning glory?”

I panicked.

“VerysorrybutIhavetogonowverynicetomeetyougoodbye,” I babbled, before reaching down into my core, shutting off my power and vanishing in a cloud of smoke.

Suddenly, I was back in my body, standing near the opposite end of the alleyway, breathing heavily. I dropped my back against the wall, and slid down it until I was sitting.

“Darnit, Hanners, I thought we were over this.”

I know, I know, it’s just… it’s just a whole new situation, and I’m in costume, and they’re actually other people with superpowers, and they were asking about me, and I don’t have a name and my costume is stupid and-

“Just calm down, okay? Deep breaths, in, out, there we go. Now get back up and go apologize to the nice people. Apart from being the only people who have actually been nice to us tonight, they might know about Green Cloak.”

…right. You’re right.

“Of course I am. I’m you.”

I stood up, and brushed off my pants, then walked back towards the way we’d been walking. When I rounded the corner, the three of them were only a few meters away.

Skew skidded to a stop, a wild grin on her face. “Hah! A teleporter! Fucking beautiful! Okay, I was kind of being coy about it, but screw that noise; if you’re willing, the Outliers would love to have you.” That name sounded familiar for some reason. 

“Oh,” I protested, “no, I’m not-” I snapped my mouth shut. These people seemed nice so far, but they didn’t need to know how my powers worked. Heck, I barely knew how they worked. “It only works for me,” I said instead, “and it takes a while to recharge.” A lie that would be easy enough to hold up.

She visibly deflated. “Aww. Still, offer's open.”

“I’ll… think about it,” I hazarded. “Anyway, sorry for running off like that. I’m just nervous about, well, everything.”

“Most people have breathing exercises for that, Scarf Girl. Bursting into wisps of smoke is a bit more of an unconventional coping method, no?”

I gave a weak chuckle. “Sorry, I panicked. And…” something in her sentence caught in my brain. One of the words.

Yeah. Yeah, that’ll do.

“The long and short of my story is that I’m looking for someone,” I said. “And..."

"You can call me Wisp.”


Party 7-Vignette


Not The Prettiest Girl in Town

2 years ago, or thereabouts

Flint Perez slammed through the door at a dead sprint, sending it rocketing back on its hinges to smash into the wall behind it. Cheap sneakers skidded on the concrete as he turned, creating loud squeaks that echoed back through the corridors behind him.

He wasn’t sure how long he’d been running, or even where he was. He’d started at the bottom of the office complex, and he didn’t think he’d gone up more than three sets of stairs, but was one floor one set or two? The windows were all boarded over, so he couldn’t look out to get a sense, and even if they weren’t, he didn’t exactly have the luxury of being able to stop. Not with those people on his tail.

The boards were inexpertly placed, and light leaked through in places, casting orange beams that illuminated the dust particles hanging in the air, and settling into odd patches on the desks and chairs that, for some reason, had been left behind when they removed the carpets and stripped the walls. Another time, perhaps, it would’ve been pretty, and a small voice in the back of his mind urged him to take a snapshot, to remember it so he could draw it later. The voice, he thought to himself, did not have his priorities straight.

What he didn’t understand was where they’d come from. He’d seen Edith walk into the condemned office block, like she had every single other time he’d followed her here. The only thing he’d done different this time was follow her in, and he’d been thorough beforehand; there hadn’t been anyone watching. And yet when he’d sidled through the front door and approached the counter, the door had slammed behind him. When he’d turned, two people stood in the doorway.

A man and a woman, costumed. The man, a white high collar that made him look like a priest over thick navy robes, and a domino mask of the same color. Shiny blond hair fell to his shoulders, and a smirk twisted his mouth. The woman, a crown of thorns over a shaved head, red (red!) eyes unnaturally blank, tattered cloth hanging loose from every limb. It was stained in places with a deep, blotchy crimson, and he really didn’t want to find out if it was part of the costume or not.

“Lost, little boy?” It was the man had spoken, but Flint had found himself focusing on the woman. She was… nothing. Her eyes looked at him, but they didn’t seem focused. Her posture was taut or relaxed, her bearing aggressive or peaceful. Was she even breathing? He couldn’t tell. Although the man was being more aggressively creepy, the woman was far more unnerving.

He hadn’t realized he’d been backing up until his back hit the desk. And so he’d run. The man had obviously expected a dialogue, perhaps an exchange of witty repartee, but Flint saw no reason to stand around chatting when two obviously-hostile supers appeared in front of him. He’d broken away to the left, into the stairwell next to the lifts, ignoring the loud cracks and plums of dust from behind him. And he’d kept running.

He fumbled his phone from his pocket as he weaved through the maze of desks, nearly dropping it a few times. Hastily, he flicked through menus and, after a few false starts, dialed the number he’d memorized.

It rang three times, then clicked, and a voice spoke. “‘ello?”

 “Lisette?”

“Yeah,” she replied warily. “Who’s this?”

“I-it’s Flint. Flint Perez? You gave me your number, after,” he paused to take a deep breath, “the alleyway?”

“Oh yeah, I remember ya. Whatsup?”

He rattled off an address, stuttering over a few words. “There’s two people here, chasing me. They’re supers, I think. No, they’re supers for sure. You said-” he grunted as he went through the door to the stairwell, “I could call you if I needed help. I- I really need help. Please.” He lowered his voice. “They’re gonna kill me.”

There was a brief pause, in which all he could hear was the slapping of his feet in the stairwell. Then a hiss of breath. “Dammit. I’m on a job right now, so this ain’t gonna be easy. But… dammit!” she swore again. “Can ya get to the roof in about three minutes?”

“I’m almost there already,” he panted. He’d left the other stairwell in the hopes of throwing them off, but it had been a silly idea, and he was taking this one all the way to the top.

“Then can ya stay alive for three minutes?”

“I-” his voice broke. “I don’t know.”

“Try,” she said firmly. “Good luck.”

The phone beeped, and without even thinking, he threw it over his shoulder, hearing it crack with a mighty boom. No, wait, that was his pursuers. They were obviously going to catch up to him, soon.
He poured everything he had into his legs, taking the stairs two, then three at a time, bounding up higher and higher. Finally, with a wince of pain at his maligned shoulder, he broke onto the rooftop.

It was a plain concrete block, marred only by the door he’d exited from and a few scattered pieces of ventilation equipment. The setting sun cast a warm, rosy glow over the scene, low shadows lying flat and long over everything. Around him, buildings of various sizes and styles towered and sat, watching impartially. Again, he was struck by how pretty it was, and again, the irrational urge came to pull out a pencil and some paper and sketch it. Not that he had his supplies on him, but still.

Lacking better options, he ran over to one of the pieces of air-conditioning equipment and dove behind it, pushing his body as close to it as he could. There was a small gap between the bottom of the block and the ground, and he could just see the door from
Not a moment too soon. The door blew open, skidding away, and a network of cracks spread out through the floor. Out of the doorway stepped the man, and then another man stepped out behind him. Flint blinked. No, his eyes weren’t deceiving him: it was the same person, just… twice. Three more duplicates stepped out, and then the woman, and he gave an involuntary shiver.

“Come out to play, little boy,” called the man, five of the same voice in unison. “We can always just collapse this whole roof in, so this is really the best option for you.”

As Flint watched, the cracks spread through the entire roof, hairline fractures and larger fissures passing underneath with slight crunches. Somehow, he didn’t doubt they’d actually do it. 
Especially not that woman.

He looked at his watch. It’d been a minute and a half since the call. He’d just have to hope he could last for that long, and that that Lisette girl would come through on time.

Slowly, he pushed himself off the ground and stood up, facing the… well, he doubted they were heroes.

“What do you people want with me?” he asked, his voice shaking a little. “I haven’t done anything.”

“Ah, but you have!” the man… men, replied. “You followed someone here, didn’t you, little lamb. Do you have a crush on her? Do you stalk her to prove your love?”

“Edith,” he said quietly, almost to himself. Then, louder: “What have you done with her?”

The men laughed. “Done? We’ve done nothing. Where you went up, she went down.”

It took him a second to realize what he meant. A chill ran through him, bone deep. Edith was associated with these people? Why? How? Were they blackmailing her? Why hadn’t she told him?
“Please,” he said out loud. “Just… just let me go, please. I won’t tell anyone…” What? That he’d seen some people go into a building? That they’d attacked him. “I won’t tell anyone anything,” he finished lamely.

“Oh, no, that won’t do at all,” said the men lightly. “You’re going to have to die, I’m afraid. I don’t suppose you’d like to throw yourself off the edge like the lemming you are? No? Shame?”

The men charged at him, glowing faintly in slightly different colors. Underneath his feet, he felt the concrete shift and change, as the cracks expanded and contracted in seemingly random patterns.
He looked at the oncoming threat, head full of panic, heart pounding, and something inside him clicked.

Suddenly he could see it, see the momentum. The men, approaching him like arrows to skewer him, surrounded in thin faint coatings that almost seemed soapy. The little flickers of the woman’s hands, the strange gyrations and motion of the cracks in the concrete, also shrouded in that same sensation. And he could feel the cold in his core, springing up and out through his hands. He focused it, like forming a lasso, and threw it, flinging out his hand. It wrapped around the men, and without knowing quite what he was doing, he yanked.

There was a sickening series of cracks, and the men collapsed to the ground. They didn’t slide forward, but just went straight from moving forward to moving downwards, a change that did not do good things for their legs.

Flint stared at them, wild-eyed, as they screamed, legs crumpled and bent at horrifying angles. “I-I,” he stammered, “I’m s-sorry, I-I didn’t-”

The ground collapsed out from underneath him.

He fell in a shower of concrete, landing one level down on a sturdy desk. It crumpled as he hit, and there was a sharp sting of pain from his tailbone.

For a moment, he just sat, watching the light filter down through the dust. Then, in a flash of white, Edith was standing in front of him.

“E?” he asked, disbelieving, as she grabbed his arm and pulled him from the wreckage. She was wearing all white, what looked like loose clothing, except it sparkled. He stumbled as he stood. “What’s going… who are these… why are you-”

She cut him off with a wave of her hand, not looking at him, but staring up through the hole, eyes narrowed. “Flint, you shouldn’t have followed me here. This is why I said we couldn't- You need to go, now.”

“But-”

“NOW!” she roared, and his legs obeyed without any concious thought, running towards the staircase.

He looked back to see her disintegrate into a cloud of white. And though his mind was full of terror and confusion, he found himself wondering exactly who this person that he thought he knew actually was.


Party 7-VI

Never Put Much Stock in Suavity.

“Now, I don’t want to play into clich├ęs here, but I say we just kill him,” Fragment said nonchalantly.

“Honestly, I’m inclined to agree,” Flatline replied. He picked up one of the chunks of metal and tossed it up and down in his palm a few times. “Are you getting the disconnect between that guy and these? I feel like I’m holding a ball bearing, not a small part of a mass-murderer.”

“Have you ever even seen a ball bearing? They’re not even half that size.”

“I was making a joke. You know what a joke is, correct?”

“Enough, you two.” I flicked a hand at them. “Quite apart from the fact that we have no idea how to kill this guy, or if we already have, we’re not murdering someone.”

“And why not?” Fragment asked. “He just killed like, twenty people, and somehow I doubt this was his first rodeo. We would be doing the world some real, proper good by removing him from it, and please keep in mind that I’m saying that.” He looked at Flatline. “Honestly, I’m surprised you’re agreeing with me.”

“It’s amusing that you have us pegged as heroes,” he replied calmly.

“Oh-kay,” I cut it, “he is speaking for himself there. I would definitely consider myself heroic, at a bare minimum, and again, we are not killing him.”

“And again, why not? If you think that just because you’re the ‘good guy’ you don’t kill people, you need to re-evaluate, because that’s not how life works. At all.”

“Oh believe me, I know how life works,” I shot back. “You have no idea who I am or where I come from, but believe me. And it’s not a question of sheer utilitarian morality, because as much as I’d love to debate that with you, it’s not really a question of morality at all.”

He frowned at me. “I fail to see your point.”

I held up a finger. “One. As you said already, and this is the most practical of these arguments, how? For all we know, we could drop all this in a vat of molten metal and he could come out completely unscathed.”

“Please,” he scoffed. “Flesh burns far before metal does.”

“Yes, but flesh also doesn’t explode or pack enough of mass to tear people to shreds while moving at impossibly high speeds inside a meat-storm. We don’t know enough to make an attempt, because hey, we don’t get a do-over."

He frowned. 

"Because then he kills us,” I added.

“We got it, thanks,” Flatline said dryly.

“Two. We’re illegal vigilantes, you’re a supervillain. When the Tower eventually gets their heads out of their asses and stumbles on this,” I waved a hand at the slaughter, “they are gonna go apeshit. And once they bring in all their psychics and precogs and postcogs and whatever, and they find that we murdered a guy, what do you think’ll happen?”

But Flint, you’re saying (sounding suspiciously like Fragment), wouldn’t they see killing that guy as a good thing? After all, he did murder a whole bunch of people? To which I’d reply: ha! No. The Tower probably wouldn’t be too concerned if one of their guys did it, they’ve probably got paperwork for it, but they’d never, ever pass up an opportunity for leverage. It’s the bag thing, but with, you know, purposely extinguishing another human being’s life.

Plus, despite what I was saying to convince Fragment, heroes don’t kill people.

(Guns kill people).

“Alright,” he admitted, “I get your point. But we can’t just leave this here.”

“No we cannot,” I agreed. “I was thinking maybe… hmm.”

“Bury them,” Flatline said nonchalantly. “All over the place.”

We considered it. “That… could work,” Fragment said. “We’d have to dig, though. Not sure how we’d do that. Maybe we could- Ahh!”

He’d looked up to see the trail of glowing white light falling towards, and flinched backwards, tripping over a piece of what I really hope was wood and landing on his ass. Credit to his reflexes, though, because the instant afterwards, a shield of metal had formed around him, a half dome angled towards the light.

The burning comet streaked downwards towards us, growing brighter and brighter until I almost had to look away. Right when it seemed like it was about to hit the ground, though, it vanished, and Jess dropped from thin air about two meters above the ground.

She landed with a heavy thud and the slightly mushy crunch and snap of old wood. As soon as her feet hit the ground, though, she listed to one side, and I noticed she was clutching one hand pretty close to her body. And that there was a pretty significant bloodstain on that area of her jacket.

Flatline and I rushed over to her, leaving Fragment to stare confusedly around the lip of his shield at the complete lack of (additional) destruction. She looked up at us and grimaced. “Get him?”

Straight to the point. I thumbed over my shoulder at the pile of metal. “Got him.”

She bared her teeth in what could approximately be called a grin, but then immediately winced. I couldn’t get a good look at her hand, but there was definitely a non-trivial amount of blood seeping from it.

“Are you okay?” I asked instinctively. Both she and Flatline shot me a look. “Sorry, stupid question.” I didn’t normally carry first-aid supplies, which I probably should, but… “Here,” I said popping off my cape. I laid it down on a tabletop, and tore a few straight strips out of the end. It wouldn’t be clean, but we were in a bar. “Flatline, go see if there’s some rubbing alcohol behind the bar.” He nodded and walked off. “Do you need me to do it, or can you?” I asked Freefall. She obviously couldn’t, but I think she would’ve been annoyed if I hadn’t offered.

She reluctantly held out her hand. The tips of her middle and ring finger had been sliced off, leaving exposed bone and muscle. I think what we’d just been through had desensitized me, though, because I didn’t even wince.

Flatline returned with a half-empty of rubbing alchohol, which I soaked half the bandges in, then quickly wrapped them around her hand, followed by the dry ones. She gnashed her teeth a little as they went over the wounds, but didn’t make a sound.

It was a quick and dirty job, and I said as much, but it’d have to do for now.

“What happened?” I asked as she inspected the bandage.

“Landed, turned around, he was right there. Hands went up on instinct,” she mimicked the gesture and I nodded, “before I teleported again. Fucking fast.”

“That he was,” I agreed. “We were actually just deciding what to do with him.” I paused, wondering if it needed to be said. “Killing him’s out.”

She frowned. “The lake?”

“The lake works,” Fragment said, still behind his shield. “How would we get it there, though?”

“I can go up and drop them,” she replied. “Spread them out.”

“I dunno,” Flatline hazarded, “that seems kind of… torture-y.”

I raised an eyebrow at him “This from the guy who was willing to kill him a few minutes ago?”

“That’s different.”

“I sort of assumed we were working on the assumption he’d get out eventually, to be honest,” I replied. “At least this way, when he does, there won’t be anyone around.”

Fragment’s shield disintegrated into a swarm of shards. “Lake it is, then,” he said as he stood up, bits and pieces of his armor reforming from the swarm. “Now, with that sorted, I’m going to run very far away and have some serious nightmares. Nice meeting you all, and I hope it never happens again, because I’ll probably be stealing something.”

We watched him leave, and Freefall looked at me questioningly. “He helped us stop him. Dunno why, he didn’t seem like most of the thugs from this place. So, can you do the lake drop now?” She nodded. “Fantastic. Let’s do that, and then let’s go home, because I have had enough shit for at least three nights, and if anything else happens, I’ll probably scream.”


Party 7-V

The Picture of Urbanity.

Again, he was faster than us. In a blink, the cloud of bone and flesh had shot off back towards the crumbled remains of the Shithole.

Thankfully, he wasn’t quicker than radio waves. “Freefall,” I yelled into my mic as I sprinted back towards the bar, “go up, now!”

What?”

“Just do it!”

“Why are you-” The feed cut out with a crackle.

“Dammit!” I swore out loud. “Something’s happened to Freefall. We need to figure out some way to take this guy down, and fast.”

“How?” Fragment responded. “He just tore through my best effort like it was nothing.”

“We’ve tried going after both his forms,” Flatline pondered out loud. “Maybe we could try interrupting the transition?”

“It’s a thought,” I said. “It’s not like we have any other options. What if we-” We burst in through what remained of the front door of the Shithole and froze, conversation forgotten.

I went into a slaughterhouse when I was a kid. It was a school trip, because everyone knows that seeing industrialized slaughter is a valuable and important learning experience for children. I don’t remember it that well, I think I repressed it, but what always stuck with me was the smell. That thick, cloying smog that was almost sweet, catching in your throat and nose and sinking into your clothing, impossible to remove. I vaguely remember crying and vomiting, and not being able to sleep for weeks afterwards; I still can’t eat meat because of it. I’m actually pretty sure someone got fired over it, which is pretty justified in my mind.

Anyway, the point I was trying to get at is that when I say it was like a slaughterhouse, that was not in any way an exaggeration.

I gagged as the stench hit me, reeling back. Behind me, one of the others made a retching noise, I’m not sure which one. Limbs were scattered across the room in various states of solidity and attachment. A body lay slumped over the bar, and I could see a blood-spattered and torn trenchcoat lying on the floor, divested of any corpse. Spoiler lay splayed out over a broken table, seemingly dead, but I could see a bloodied makeshift bandage on what remained of her arm, and the slight rise and fall of her chest. Some of the other villains had gotten off comparatively easy and were still in one piece with various bits missing, but the sheer number and variety of the separated pieces guaranteed that not all of them were so lucky. And the blood… God, it was like someone had given maroon paint to a pack of doped-up toddlers.

None of this made any sense. He’d done… this, in a manner of thirty seconds or so, and yet he almost seemed to be toying with us, waiting for Jess to fall again, not directly attacking us, and probably intentionally giving me warning when he came at me. I’m good, but I’m not good enough to dodge the speeds this guy was moving at.

Actually, how had he even known Jess was going to come back down? He’d acted like we were unexpected, but then somehow knew exactly what her power did? The more I thought about this whole scenario, the less sense it made.

He was standing in the center of the room, back facing us. He was clutching something in one of his hands, but I couldn’t make out what. Of Jess, there was nothing to be seen.

A drop of crimson fell from his clenched fist, splattering on the floor. “Interesting,” he said, loud enough that we could hear him even with his head facing away. “I was expecting a recharge time. It’s always interesting how these things turn out. Very quick.”

He opened his hand, and something small and pink fell out, splashing into the blood.

It was the tip of a finger.

“Not quite quick enough, but interesting all the same.”

It wasn’t the smartest thing I’ve ever done. In fact, it probably ranks among the dumbest. But I doubt that, in that moment as my vision went red, I could have done anything else.

I charged straight at him.

Freefall’s landing had collapsed the roof in, leaving pieces of rotting wood all across the floor and what tables were still standing. I ran through the debris, pushing off a large support beam as I vaulted over a table. The man watched me approach, not reacting, still grinning that terrifying grin. Like he wanted me to hit him. Still playing with us, still playing with me.

Good.

Judging by the way he’d shrugged off the electricity, I was willing to bet he was pretty durable even in his human form. Even if I kicked him in the head, I doubted it’d be more than a love tap for him.

Interesting tidbit, though. No matter what superpowers you have, anatomy tends to prevail. And this guy had been proving the whole time that his anatomy was fully functional.

Yep. I faked the lead-in to a high kick, dropped low and put all my body weight and strength into short, sharp jab straight into his exposed genitals.

You have no idea how satisfying it was to actually get a reaction from the guy. He roared, a genuinely angry sound, and exploded. In about three seconds, I’d probably be torn into mush.

Thankfully, I was ready for that too.

As the giblets surrounding (and covering) me began to tremble and lift, I closed my eyes and tapped into the well of cold power I’d left untouched until now. Reaching out, I found the momentum of all those tiny pieces and locked on. Not without difficulty, it was like grabbing a bar of soap, but I just pushed more power into it to compensate for the power already controlling them. As the scattered flesh and bone flew inwards, I lined up the pieces of what I wanted to do in my mind, snapped my arms outwards, and pushed.

Suddenly, all the pieces that had been heading towards their originating point at speed found themselves flying off at random 90 degree angles. They flew out for about a meter, before slowing to a stop in midair, and beginning to fall back inwards. I already had the action lined up, so it was trivially easy to do it again, sending them spinning away.

“A little… help… here?” I asked through gritted teeth, repeating the action again.

Flatline’s face was white, but Fragment nodded, and a swirl of metal flowed off him as his armor disintegrated. When I deflected this time, tiny balls of metal began to form around them, dropping to the ground with dull clanks. They rattled a little, but apparently the individual pieces didn’t have the same penetrative power as the whole did.

It was actually easier than I thought it was going to be. It seemed 
like we had actually found a legitimate weakness in this otherwise-overpowered ability; the pieces couldn’t move around until they’d reformed into a whole.

The flow of metal began to slow after about a minute. Fragment just bound the last few pieces together in one large chunk, and then it was over.

I lowered my arms slowly, breathing heavily. Much longer and I’d have run straight out of power, and I did not want to be standing in the middle when he reformed.

Fragment and Flatline walked over to me, the latter looking about as exhausted as I felt. He’d done some seriously impressive shit, and I was duly impressed.

“You know,” Flatline said… flatly. “I’m feeling a little superfluous right now.

I laughed, I couldn’t help it. I think it was partly exhausted delirium.

“So,” Fragment said after a minute, “what now?”

I looked down at the pieces of metal around us.

“That’s a really good question.”


Party 7-IV

Sullied Clothes and a Sullen Frown.

I’m not much of a runner. I’m fit, don’t get me wrong, and I have good stamina, but it just wasn’t something I’d ever focused on particularly. I did most of my ‘off the job’ exercise inside, and I didn’t have a treadmill or anything like that. Plus, I’d found doing drills and weights distracted me in a way that running didn’t, and these days I was not overly fond of being alone with my thoughts. It tended to get a little…

Well, anyway, the point is that given my current situation, I’d more than happily take some retroactive painful introspection in exchange for some running experience, because even sprinting as fast as my legs could carry me, I still wasn’t fast enough.

The only warning I had was the slightest of noises, a sort of fleshy whirring, if that makes any sense. I threw myself to the side and the meat cloud barreled past me in a blur of yada yada, see previous descriptions. I hit the ground hard, tumbling a little before managing to get my feet underneath me and skidding for a bit. I felt an unexpected twinge of pain in my ribs, and bit back an exclamation. Seemed my injury hadn’t healed as much as I thought it had, or something in that motion had (literally) touched a nerve.

We’d burst out of the house containing the shithole and swung right, heading down the empty two-lane street. I was at the back, with the stranger out front and Flatline in the middle, and Meat-cloud had come at me from an oblique angle. From where I’d landed, Flatline and metal guy were to my right, and the meat-cloud was directly in front, both having stopped when I’d dived. There weren’t any street lights working, but it was a bright night, so I could see that he was actually back to being a human being again. It made me wonder if he couldn’t hold the form for long. Might be something we could exploit.

I tensed, watching him in the hopes I could still react in time with my injury, but he didn’t do anything. He just stood there. And wow, he was… really fucking excited. It was very distracting.

“So don’t take this the wrong way, but are you actually going to do something, or just stand there creepily?” The words slipped out without any conscious thought on my part; it’s a problem I have. Well, it’s never really been a problem before, but it certainly was now. I should probably work on that, but I’m not entirely sure how.

“Skew,” Flatline said quietly, walking towards me without moving his gaze from the meat guy, “maybe don’t antagonize the man? Just a thought?”

“I never thought I’d say this, but I agree with the Pom.”  Surprisingly enough, the villain had followed Flatline, until we were almost standing in a little formation. “I, for one, am perfectly happy if he chooses to do nothing.” I wasn’t sure, but I thought I heard him chuckle quietly. “Heh. I, for one.”

I stood up slowly, doing my best to act nonchalant despite the spike of pain it caused. “Now, don’t get me wrong,” I said in a low voice, “I’m certainly not complaining, but why’d you stop?”

“This guy just negated a thirty second head-start in two. Didn’t figure it would do me any good.” It was the first time I’d gotten a good look at the guy, but I was pretty sure his armor had been in different places earlier. He probably just reformed it with his powers, I thought to myself, or maybe I’d just imagined it. Right now, it was dull silver plates over important areas, not dissimilar to my armor, and a mask that covered the upper half of his face but stopped short of the shock of black hair on top. He probably wasn’t much older than me, I realized. There was nothing obvious that said so, but it was just… small things, body language, that type of stuff. What had he been doing in the Shithole? He didn’t seem to fit with the rest of that crowd.

I nodded at him. “That’s the sort of self-centered behavior I’m more comfortable with. You got a name?”

He seemed to be thinking about it. “Fragment,” he said at last. “It’ll do for now.”

I pointed to myself, then Flatline, gave him our names. “Seeing as he’s apparently giving us planning time, I say we take advantage of it. That thing you did with the sphere, could you actually hold him with that?”

He frowned. “I doubt it, he tore right through it like tissue paper.”

“Okay, then how long do you reckon you could hold him for?”

He spun around, taking in the surroundings. “Maybe a minute or two, I think? I’ll need prep time though. Why?”

I told them what I thought about him having to switch back frequently. “There’s no reason for him to otherwise.”

“That’s a bit shaky,” Flatline said skeptically.

“Do you have a better idea?”

“And what are you and I supposed to do while this happens?”

“Well, the idea is that once he’s back in human form, you can knock him out. I’ll try and keep him occupied until then.”

“How are you going to do that?” Fragment asked.

“Like this,” I said, and then I turned around and shot Meat-cloud right in the chest.

So let’s talk about shock rounds. They’re not Forged tech, or at least I’m pretty sure they’re not. To the best of my knowledge, they’re products of an actual power, like Steelsilk. They’re regular bullets, they act like regular bullets, they fly like regular bullets, right up until they get real close to someone (and no, I don’t know how they distinguish between people and not-people. Power bullshit). Then, they take all that kinetic energy and heat energy and turn it into electricity, which then does whatever the hell it is electricity does. (Apparently, they also convert the sound energy of the explosion too, so each shot just sounds like a small pfft). Effectively, it’s like a cable-less taser at bullet velocities, but with a complete lack of physical impact. You fire at someone and they collapse, writhing on the ground.

So when the blue light flashed and the man didn’t move an inch, I wasn’t that worried. When he utterly failed to collapse, I was a little more worried.

He grinned at me. He had blood on his teeth.

I shot him again. Nine rounds, everything left in the magazine. I could actually see the crackle of the electricity as it coursed through him, and he didn’t even seem fazed.

“Yeah, I wasn’t really expecting that to work,” I muttered as I changed clips – no, magazines, sorry. Guns weren’t my thing, but Lis had pestered me into learning how to use one and getting into the habit of carrying.

Flatline and Fragment had run off, evidently taking my action as the start of the distraction, which was good, because if I’d done that for nothing I’d be really pissed. And he was still just standing there, just grinning.

I pointed the reloaded pistol at his chest, but didn’t fire. “Alright,” I said carefully. “Seeing as you’re obviously waiting for something, howsabout we have a little chat.”

There was a deep rumbling laugh. “If you insist, little man.”

Goddamit, I’m average height. Average. Height.

Thankfully, I managed not to say that out loud. “Fine. Whatever. You said that those guys 'knew'. What, exactly, do they 'know'?” I asked him.

“Too much.”

“Oh well cheers then, that clears it all right up,” I said under my breath. “How did they know too much? Literally all they knew was to stay away from some place.”

“The situation has changed. Drastic measures were needed. A greater warning than before.”

“More like a greater target. I may not like the Tower, but they’re at least upstanding enough that they’re not going to overlook something like this. Plus most of the villain community, they can be surprisingly solid.”

“You say that as if it is something to be afraid of.” Yeah, that was pretty much what I was expecting.

“Okay, then, how about what you’re waiting for? Please don’t get any ideas, but you could have killed all of us by now.”

That got a deep belly laugh. He really liked his menacing laughs, this guy. “Perhaps I-”

And then he was covered in metal. I hadn’t even noticed the wave of particles that had swept across the ground, but now they flew up and onto him, forming thick layers of metal that covered him and kept growing. I turned around to see Fragment with his arms outstretched, tense and straining. I also saw that quite a few of the lampposts had disappeared.

Pretty quickly, there was at least two meters of plating around the man, and the young villain dropped his arms as the particles stopped flowing. I gave him a thumbs up, and he wearily returned that.

“Flatline!” I called, not seeing him. “Get your ass over h-”

I was interrupted by a streak of light that came falling from the sky and smashed into the Shithole. Oh right, Jess. I’d actually forgotten about her, which was a bit embarr-

Again, the whirring noise was my only warning, and again, my ribs spiked as I hurled myself to the side.

“I was waiting,” said the man, not even breathing heavily from tearing through battleship levels of armor, “for that.”


Party 7-III

Burn Holes in the Carpets.

This was going to be a little tricky (he said, massively understating). I’d already established an antagonistic relationship, but seeing as I needed info from these guys, I couldn’t just taunt and mock them. I needed to provide incentives for them to listen, while still keeping them frightened of us – or at the very least wary. 

“Right!” I said, rubbing my hands together. “There are a whole bunch of ways we can do this, but let’s just pretend there’s two, because that’s easier. You can either just tell us what we want to know, and we leave you alone to drink your piss and eventually devolve into a barfight. Or, we blow up your bar, beat the shit out of every single person in here, and then we get what we want anyway.” I shrugged. “Standard easy way, hard way deal. You know how it goes.”

“You’re bluffing,” called a voice from the back. Didn’t see who, didn’t care. “There’s ten times more of us than you.”

“Please,” I scoffed. “Like none of you would take the opportunity to act out some old grudges.” I placed a single finger on my chin. “Oh wait. Besides, if you think this is all of us…” I trailed off, chuckling. “Well, let’s just say you’ll be in for an unexpected surprise.” The unexpected surprise would, of course, be that we are mere fleshy mortals who can’t neutralize powers. But hey, they didn’t know that.

“So,” I continued. “I’m guessing you’ve all heard about that $20 million that the Tower's got its brissy britches in a bunch about.” That actually got a little bit of a chuckle, though it was still growly and vaguely hostile.  That was good, remind them that we weren’t on the Tower’s side either.

“Yeah, what if we have?” Spoiler said, apparently having elected herself spokesperson for the rest of them. “Do youse have it?”

I scoffed. “Are you kidding me? If I had twenty million, you think I'd still be here, doing this? No, we don't have it. We just wanna know where it is.” Pause for dramatic effect. “And where it came from.”

That was the response I was looking for. A wave of murmurs and darting looks washed through the room. What facial expressions I could see in the low light looked hostile, but also nervous. They knew something, something big.

“Alrighty then. Let's not bother with the pretense of me not having seen that reaction and not knowing exactly what it means. Out with it.”

Spoiler glared at me and opened her mouth to say something, presumably uncreatively explicit, when a voice from the back of the room cut her off. “The Cabal,” he said, and I realized it was some guy at the back with metal armor plating. “Rumor's that the Cabal have it.”

Almost as one, the room turned to glare at him. He raised his gloved hands. “Come on, it’s not like it actually affects us. We tell them and they leave.” Ignoring the response from his compatriots, he continued. “Where it came from… we don’t know.”

I raised an eyebrow. “That was not a ‘we don’t know' reaction.”

He sighed. “We don’t know. But… look, you have to understand. When you’re at our level, there’s stuff you don’t touch with a ten-foot pool. Stuff that’s just above your level, stuff that you leave to the ‘big shots’.” The way he made quotation marks around it seemed familiar for some reason. “And then there’s stuff that’s above that, where you just pretend it doesn’t exist and hope it has the courtesy to do the same.”

I didn’t like the sound of that. “What sort of ‘stuff’?”

“Mostly locations, people, that sort of thing. You don’t rob them, you don’t threaten them, if it’s a person and they come barking around, you kowtow or you just,” he made a gesture with his hands, “poof.”

“And this one?”

“The worst of them all. Anyone who went near that place even smelling funny, they didn’t just disappear. They became warnings. Fingers left in beds or on shop counters, in between blinks. Sometimes entire rooms painted in their blood. Sometimes their brain on a stick, left in a location no-one else should know about.”

Jesus H. Christ. I tried not to let it show, but I was fucking horrified. Partially from the descriptions, but partially from the fact that… well, I had to be sure. “And that’s where the Cabal stole the money from?” I asked, hoping the nervous tremor didn’t come through.

He nodded. “That’s the rumor. Honestly, I fucking hate those cult nutjobs, and I’m still impressed. I mean, they’re probably all going to end up dead within the week, but that takes balls, you know?”

I did indeed. “Where is it?”

He laughed incredulously. Around him, there were a few chuckles, but apparently the majority of the villains had decided to let our conversation play out. “You want to go there? I mean, you busted in here, so you’re obviously a bit nuts, but still.”

“Like you said,” I replied easily, “it’s not like it affects you. Hey, you get us out of your hair.” He considered it. “Besides, we’re not planning on going anywhere near it. We just need to know.”

“Heh. Good point, I suppose. It’s the storage locker complex on the east side, corner of Seventeenth and Watson Drive.”

“Just one locker, or the whole place?”

“Whole place, and they seem to know everything that goes in the couple of blocks surrounding.”

I looked at Flatline, and he nodded. He’d remember it. “Well, thanks…” I looked at him questioningly, but he shook his head, and leaned back in his chair. “You’ve been surprisingly helpful.” He didn’t seem like he belonged in this dive; apart from his attitude, that armor actually looked pretty swanky. I’d have to remember to look into him, when I was less busy. “Now, if you’ll excuse us, we’ll leave you lot to your miserable, pathetic lives.”

Spoiler shot up out of her chair, faster than I could react. “Not fucking likely,” she swore. “You don’t get to just fuckin’ waltz in here whenever you like.”

I grinned at her. “Oh, you do not want to do this, Spoiler.” More to the point, I did not want her to do this.

“Shut the fuck up!” she screamed, and raised her arm.

And then it disappeared.

I had just a moment to think ‘wait, that’s not right’, and then the screaming began.

A whirling cloud of maroon and white was rushing through crowd, almost faster than my eyes could track it. In fact, it was faster; I hadn’t even seen the hole it had made in the roof until after it had already torn off Spoiler’s arm – and holy shit, was she bleeding. We’re talking full-on fountains of blood here, not just some-


Anyway, whatever this thing was, it was clearly not something to mess around with. It’d been in the building less than five seconds, and already the floor was slick with blood. It was actually pretty horrifying, and I’m pretty sure it was a scene that was going to be showing up in my nightmares for a good while afterwards, but in the moment, you don’t think, you just react.

I pointed my hand at Freefall, and flicked it upwards. She nodded, and disappeared with a slight pop. That was our contingency measure.

“2 minutes,” her voice crackled into my ear, and I nodded. Two minute’s build-up probably wouldn’t level the building, but it’d definitely collapse the roof in.

I turned back to the room, only to find the blur barely a meter from me. I flinched back, but it was moving on a perpendicular path to me, and passed by. I breathed out the air I’d held.

And then it stopped.

I see any obvious indicators in the maelstrom, but it looked like it turned to face me. I stared into the crimson and white, and felt something staring back.

Slowly, it drifted over to the side, towards a large man in a trenchcoat, who started scrabbling backwards away from it. There was a darting blur, and then a man was standing in the spot where the trenchcoat guy had been, as if he’d absorbed the other man. He was inhumanly large, at least eight feet, packed with muscle and crouched under the low ceiling. He had a long and wild beard, no clothes, and was… uh, very obviously excited about his current situation. Very, very obviously, if you catch my drift.

“Fascinating,” he said, staring at me. I could feel his gaze, physically feel it weighing down on me. “You’re not with this lot. You’re new.” I didn’t like the way he said new. I didn’t like the way he said anything, actually, but that word was particularly bad. “Well, don’t worry. Once I’ve dealt with this rabble, you’ll be next.”

I managed to find my voice. “What… why are you…”

He laughed, deep and booming. “Why? They know, you simple child. You did hear what the nice gentleman was-”

He’d stopped speaking because a large metal spear had thrusted its way through his chest. He looked down at it, actually seeming surprised, then laughed again, flecks of blood flying out.

“Go!” someone yelled, and I realized it was the villain in the metal armor, the helpful one. He had his arms outstretched and a cloud of particles spun around him.

The giant laughed again, and then exploded in a shower of blood and bone that scattered to the ground around him. The gore was still for a brief moment, then began rattling and lifting off the ground, spinning faster and faster, reforming the maelstrom.

The man in metal armor gestured, and the particles around him flew towards the maelstrom, quickly forming a metal sphere around it. Dents began appearing immediately, but he kept adding more metal to it as he ran towards us.

“What the hell are you waiting for?!” he yelled at us as he passed. “Run!”

That seemed like good advice.

We ran.


Party 7-II

Crash the Party.

Surprisingly enough, the trash of the supervillain world didn’t have their bar in a classy area of town. And here I was expecting marble pillars and a valet.

The small building was rundown and decaying; most of the bits that hadn’t yet fallen off were well on their way to doing so. Two stories, squat and stocky, it looked like it had been a bar in its past life, or, judging by the age, a saloon. Maybe even a tavern.  The windows were dark, and at first, silent, but if you really listened, you could hear the faintest mumble of conversation, just barely audible over the sounds of the city.

I pushed open the rotting door, and watched as it fell forward with a thud, and a squelch. I walked over the decayed wood to avoid stepping over the pile of crap that lay across the narrow hallway (that’s crap in the sense of ‘old junk’, and also crap in the sense of ‘literal human waste’). Freefall and Flatline followed close behind, Freefall sniffing as she smelled the place's odor. It was an unpleasant mix of old alcohol, dried blood and all-too-fresh sewage, and given what lay behind the false wall at the end of the corridor, it suited the place perfectly.

I rapped my knuckles on the false wall, and a section of paneling slid back and to the side. Behind it emerged a pair of beady eyes, belonging to the doorman of this dive. With a face not even a mother could love, a pathetic physique and an even worse power, Rat was the butt of the villain "community". His power gave him an affinity with rodents, obviously; not enough to actually control them, but they generally listened to him. The only reason he was the door guard for a place like this was because the people who frequented this dump liked to see him get hurt.

As for how that happens...

The sneer on his face slid away as he recognized us, and he froze in horror.

"Evening, Rat," I said cordially into the slot, then leant back and kicked the door open in his face.

There's a trick to breaking down doors. Most people just aim straight for the handle, and get nothing but a twisted ankle for their trouble. It's actually the strongest part of the door, and bones aren't stronger than metal (well, most people's aren't). You don’t want to try and break the hinges, either, for much the same reason. What you want to do, instead of trying to break the bit that’s designed to not break, is try and separate that bit from the weaker rest. If you kick just next to the knob and lock with enough force, you can break the whole assembly off: then, the door will just swing open. It’s like lifting an engine block: not easy, but pretty simple. It is possible to kick the entire thing off, but it takes a lot more force, and more precision. In this particular case, though, the hinges weren’t attached very well, so I got the same effect for a lot less work.

There was a crunch as the wood splintered, and the door smashed inwards, sending Rat flying backwards, blood streaming from his nose. The low buzz of conversation that had been humming along in the background halted, and as we stepped through the ruined doorway, all eyes were on us.

It's known as the Shithole. Not by the people who frequent it, or at least not officially, but the circles we moved in stuck with the nickname (we don’t move in any circles. That was a joke). I think, officially, it was called something like the Ball and Chain, but really, Shithole was more appropriate. If you've ever been to a dive bar in your life, you'd probably feel right at home. If you’ve ever been a rodent, insect or other pest in your life, you’d probably also feel right at home. Moldy slats covered a dirt floor, misaligned and splintered. The tables, chairs and bar were all the same, except that most of them were stained with beer and vomit. The lighting was shit-brown, the walls were shit-brown, and I'd be willing to bet that the beer was shit-brown too. Or, knowing the place, possibly just shit. 

The clientele, though, were anything but typical. Aside from the bartender, every single one of the thirty-odd people in the room was in costume of some kind. Some bright and garish, others dull and dirty, they all had one thing in common: they were ugly as hell. These weren't the high class super villains, and they sure didn't have wealth and taste. These were the put-upons, the dirty and the destitute, the scum that wasn't floating to the top any time soon. They didn't plan elaborate heists, they held up corner stores. They didn’t hold the President hostage, they mugged people. They, quite frankly, were pathetic, and the Shithole was where they came to bitch and moan about the supervillains that were actually deserving of the title.

A happy side-effect of all that complaining, though, was that they often had a good ear to the ground when it came to supervillain crimes (possibly because they were so close to the ground in the first place), and that's why we were here. If the idea that George suggested was to have any chance of developing into a full-blown plan, we needed information. 

There was some shock on the faces that stared at us, but not much. This was a villain bar, after all; they were used to people doing the door kicking thing. 

"Good evening!" Given that it was night, I'd not bothered with the scarf around my face, so the grin that was plastered across it was clearly visible. "Before anyone does anything stupid-"

A bolt of crackling electricity shot towards us, but Flatline stretched an arm into its path, and as soon as it touched his skin it disappeared. The man who’d shot it at us froze, arm still outstretched.

"-I'd remind you that the three of us could beat all of your asses raw," I finished smugly. "Anyone else wanna take a shot?"
None of them moved, but judging by their faces, it was still entirely possible one of them would try something. Secretly, I was glad that someone had already, and even gladder that whoever it was that fired off that shot used electricity. With Flatline's effortless shutdown of it, at least some of them probably thought he was a power nullifier, and that prospect was a pretty good deterrent. Lemme tell you, and this is me speaking from personal experience, there’s not a lot that’s more frustrating than watching your best shot fizzle into nothing, and these guys and gals had egos more fragile than fine china.

"Oh good, you can learn," I sneered. It was fun, getting to mock supervillains like this. These people were criminals, and it meant I could be the absolute asshole that I normally couldn't. And don’t you start making finger quotes, I am nowhere near as bad as I could be. Basically, dealing with these people meant I got to ham it up, and there was no way in hell I wasn't milking that for everything it was worth. 

“So,” I proclaimed, strolling over to the nearest table, “you’re probably wondering what this is all about.” I considered hopping up on top of it, but decided against it; having the high ground stops being an advantage pretty quickly when it collapses out from underneath you, and in a place like this, that was a distinct possibility.

Behind me, Freefall and Flatline had taken up positions on either side of the door, and observed silently. They were used to dealing with situations like this; when talking with villains, me and Ricochet were usually front and center. We could shit-talk like no-one else, if I do say so myself.

“Shut the fuck up, Skew,” a voice called from the back of the room. I recognized it; Spoiler, a minor villain who mainly focused on armed robbery. Her power gave her a weak decay effect on non-organic materials; not strong enough to collapse a wall or do anything major, but enough to fuck with machinery or anything fragile. She mostly did armed robbery, and I’d busted her a couple of times, left her for the ‘heroes’ to come pick up. Of course, she’d obviously escaped. They always escaped, but there was fuck-all I could do about that. “The fuck you think you are, coming in here? There’s ten times as many of us; fuck off, or we’ll fucking kill you.” 

She was also a big ol’ pottymouth.

I turned to her and gave her my best condescending smile. “I’m sure you’ll try. Hush now, the adult is talking.”

She snarled, and rose, but a minor use of my power sent her back down into the front of the chair, causing it to slide backwards as she slid off the front and hit the ground with a heavy thump. It was about power with these people. The three of us weren't actually powerful enough to defeat thirty-odd supervillains, even ones as shitty as these: at a certain point, it really did just come down to numbers. But there were metahumans out there who could, possibly without even breaking a sweat, and what we were doing was getting them wondering if maybe we could too. Flatline had stopped the lightning bolt cold, and now I'd effortlessly disabled Spoiler before she'd even manage to stand. With luck, they'd-

A rippling wave of laughter swept across the room, spiteful and mocking, and my fists involuntarily clenched. It wasn't directed at me, though; for some reason, all the humor was directed at Spoiler. I turned my head slightly so that Freefall could see my face and, checking that none of the villains were watching us, mouthed the word What? at her. 

I couldn't see her eyes behind the blue-tinted aviator's goggles, but I suspected they were mocking as she mouthed clumsy back, which really just served to confuse me. I tilted my head at her questioningly. What, did she mean that I'd used my power clumsily? What would she know?

She sighed silently, mouthed the word again and tilted her head towards where Spoiler was still lying on the floor, face bright red and furious. It took me a second, but I finally got it. They thought she was clumsy. They didn't realize that I'd had anything to do with it.

Huh. Well, that was annoying. I briefly considered just leaving it, and with a different crowd I might've done; it'd deflected their attention, and some of their unpleasantness, away from us quite nicely. But my instincts were telling me that that wasn't the right way to be handling this crowd. I needed them focused on us, and I needed them uncertain that they could handle us. 

Spoiler was finally getting off the ground, profanity streaming from her mouth. As she pushed herself up, I used my power again, turning her upward momentum sideways and sending her crashing into the ground once more. This time, though, I snapped my fingers as I did it, and when she fell this time, the attention of the room was all on me. 

I gave a mocking grin, baring my teeth. "Sit... stay."

That garnered the reaction I wanted. Some of the gazes were hostile, but others were hesitant, and no-one wanted to be the one to make the first move.

This whole situation with the bag and the datapad had had me stressed recently. I’m a pretty simple person, and I like problems I can solve by punching them. I normally left big-picture stuff to Talie, but with her absence I’d been forced to step up, and I did not like it, Sam-I-am. I didn’t really have the skillset to deal with complicated stuff.

A roomful of scared, violent criminals with superpowers, though?

This, I thought, this I can work with.


Party 7-I

FLINT

Trying So Hard.

“Come on, pick up, pick up, pick up,” I muttered into my phone as I paced back and forth. “Pick up, pick up, pick up, PICK UP THE FUCKING PHONE!”

Hi. You’ve reached the voicemail of Natalie Wilson. I can’t make it to the phone right now; maybe I’m busy, maybe I’m dead, who knows? Anyway, just leave a message after the tone. Or don’t, I can’t tell you how to live your-”

I spun on my heels and threw the phone at the wall with considerable force. It left a dent in the plasterboard and shattered, sending spinning circuitry soaring. A bit of plastic pinged off of Jess’s forehead, and she glared at me from her chair. “What good did that do?” her look seemed to ask.

“Well, it made me feel better, alright?” I mumbled at her.

“So how many phones do you go through a month?” George asked, leaning back in his chair, arms folded. He was smirking, but this was George; that was like mentioning that he was breathing or blinking.  

“I’ll have you know,” I started, spinning and pointing a finger at him, but my heart wasn’t in it, and I trailed off. “At least two,” I admitted in a quiet voice, dropping the hand. Even when I didn’t get frustrated and start using them as projectiles, I had the tendency to drop, forget or otherwise render useless my devices. I’d taken to just buying them in packs, which I kept under my bed until I needed a new one.

The confession brought a grin to my friend’s face, displaying a row of uneven teeth, and I gave little smile in return. Jess, however, merely continued to stare down at the table, hands clenched into fists and resting on her knees. An understandable reaction, for someone who didn’t seem much to go for finding humor in bad situations.

The three of us were sitting in one of the side rooms off of the main warehouse that was our little home away from home. A large, uneven wooden table sat in the centre of the room, a relic of its previous function, and a bank of windows along one side gave us a fantastic view of the brick and concrete walls of the next warehouse over. Currently, they were actually clear of sleet or snow, lit by weak sunlight, but the bank of clouds I’d seen on the horizon earlier didn’t bode well for that continuing. The room wasn’t insulated, so the three of us were rugged up against the cold; no costumes, of course. Plausible deniability and all that jazz.

And yeah, I said three, and not ten. You’d think that the fact that we were suddenly suspects in a massive theft, after having successfully flown under the radar for over a year, would motivate more people to show up, but nooooo.

Okay, so I wasn’t being fair. I’d had to do some fairly shaky fast-talking to get out of my job, and I’m good at fast-talking; from what I’d been able to gather, Jess was in a similar situation to mine, and hadn’t been able to handle it anywhere near as well. George had it easiest; he didn’t actually have a job or anyone to answer to. Lis was apparently inextricably tied up in her current contract, but she’d also said that about the time I was being stalked by my psycho ex’s psycho friends because ‘someone’ had hired her to buy pop tarts. So, you know, take that with whatever amount of salt you find appropriate.  

As for the rest, Nat and Shauna were still in school, Ivan had answered the phone, growled something incoherent and hung up, Adib had left me a frantic yet vague voicemail and was now not answering his phone, and of course, our glorious leader was doing her best impression of a stripper’s dad.

Oh, and Sanjay, who I’d not even bothered trying to contact, because he can go fuck himself with a cactus.

So yeah, the Outliers currently consisted of the guy they’d put in charge thanks to the stellar attribute of being the least-shit option, the newbie with the disposition and temperament of an irritated bear, and George. Good stuff.

I pulled out of one of the chairs and dropped myself into it, sighing. “Well, I guess that avenue’s a bust…” I tilted my head to the side, listening.

“What are you-” I held up a finger, cutting George off.

Nothing happened.

“Dammit,” I said, lowering the finger. “I was hoping that would work.”

“Were… you expecting the phone to ring just then?”

“Yeah. Duh.”

“Despite the fact that the phone is currently in a multitude of pieces, scattered around the room?”

“…oh. I may have slightly forgotten that.”

He golf-clapped me, and I raised my hands in mock acknowledgment.

“But seriously, though, I think we might be fucked,” I said, after a glare from Jess. “I really wish Talie was here to deal with this, but at this point I’m not even sure why I still rely on her, considering that she’s been flakier than old paint.”

“How long have you been sitting on that one?” George asked with a smirk.

“Focus!” Jess yelled, slamming her fists on the table.

I frowned, acquiescing. “Right, sorry.” George echoed the apology, still smirking. “It looks like it’s on us to figure out what we do next.”

“Not to insult your intelligence, but don’t we already have a solution in front of us?” George queried. “Can we not just… return the bag?”

“To who?” I countered, then waved him down before he could correct me. “We’re sure as hell not giving it back to the Tower, and even if they did, think through what this means to them. We’re small fry, in the general sense of things, and while they’ve certainly made things irritating for us, they’ve never had the excuse they needed to crack down. It would not look good for them to ruthlessly overwhelm people trying to do good, and if there’s one thing they care about, it’s looking good. But now, we’ve ‘stolen’ a whole bunch of money, proving that we’re no-good reprobates, and they have the justification they crave. Even if we do give them back the money and explain the situation, they’d probably still cart us away, and then claim they took it back off us.”

“How can you know the word ‘reprobate’ but not the proper use of whom?” George grumbled under his breath.

I ignored him. “Even leaving aside the money, whatever’s on that datapad is bound to have painted a target on our backs; with the amount of security it’s got worked in, I can’t imagine it being something we’ll be allowed to keep knowing. That’s actually the only reason I’m not telling everyone to just keep laying low, because sooner or later, someone’s going to come looking for it.”

“They don’t know we have it,” Jess pointed out quietly.

“Yet,” I countered. “Once they get round to interrogating the Cabal…”

“They’ll tell them we took it.” George completed the thought. “They already might’ve.”

I shook my head. “I had a run-in with Edith last night.” George raised an eyebrow at that. “If she’s out, the rest will be. They’ll have to track them down again before they can wrangle that information out of them.”

“Edith?” Jess asked, sounding as confused as one can with her limited emoting. Right, I’d forgotten she didn’t know about that yet.

“Ado,” I clarified. “She’s… kinda my ex.” She gave me a flat look. “No, I’m not joking. It’s a long, complicated, probably multi-part story. Point is, we have a fairly small window before things become a lot worse for us.” I chuckled as a thought occurred to me. “On an unrelated note, we should have someone taking minutes of this to send to everyone else.”

Surprisingly, Jess didn’t comment on my joke. Instead, she stared down at the table, pensive eyes half-visible through lanky hair. “To whom?” she muttered, almost to herself.

“Yeah, yeah, I heard it when George said it.”

She shook her head. “To whom,” she repeated. “Whose is it?”

I tilted my head at her. “You’re going to have to elaborate more than that.”

“The bag isn’t the Tower’s. We return it to who it belongs to.” She shrugged, not looking up. “Seems pretty simple to me.”

I leaned back in my seat, considering the idea. “Not a bad thought,” I pondered out loud. “Not bad at all. Buuuuuut, there are two problems I can see with it. One, it still doesn’t change the fact that as soon as the Tower gets a whiff of us having it, the situation play out exactly the same. And two, whoever the actual owner of the bag is, they are also probably the owner of the datapad, and as such are probably not just going to let us off with their thanks.” She deflated a little. “It was a good idea, though,” I added hastily.

“It was,” George agreed, and I looked at him, surprised. He didn’t usually go for positive feedback. “In fact, I think it’s given me an idea too.” At that, he grinned.

“Are we going to like this idea?” I asked him.

“I think you’re going to love it.”

“Stop being cryptic,” Jess interjected. “Tell us.”

He told us.

I loved it.