Our race started bad for me. In less than a minute before my chest tightened, and I was on the ground next to two copies of myself. One in mid running stride, the other planted face first into the rubber of the track.
I knew based upon my fight with Kitten that I could get up to seven or eight bodies under the right circumstances, but there was dignity in having your ass handed to you by one of the scariest Imbued on the continent. Seeing it stuck up into the air like this, not so much.
At least it broke down fast enough that my classmates didn’t get a chance to look. “Okay, does your power always work like that?” Except for Alex. He offered his hand to help me up.
I accepted, and the snap of information flooded my senses. Dude was in stupid good health, or at least I couldn’t detect anything that suggested otherwise. “Nah, just lost my balance. First time I’ve tried to run with these powers.” And it hurt like a bitch, too. “I’m pretty new to them.”
“Wanna call off the race?” Alex offered.
“Nah, I think I’m good, gotta figure it out some time, right?”
“Cool.” We got in position. “Three, two, one, go!”
This time, when I took off I was prepared for it. I lasted a bit longer before my lungs started to burn, and then there was the snap of pain as my body was remade and the old one returned to light. I stumbled, but kept my footing and kept running. Alex was ahead of me, but not by as much as I’d expected. I can do this. I pushed harder.
There was a snap as my power activated again, and this time I barely slipped at all. It hurt, like a hard slap only covering my whole body, but I was no stranger to pain. Throughout my life I had to be careful of everything.
Asthma like mine was one of those things that trained you to fear breathing, let alone a real workout. Compared to the surgeries and fear that the next incident could be the last, this pain was meaningless. No, it was very much meaningful. It was liberation from the past. It was freedom.
Snap. My perceptions shifted again. Now that I was paying attention, I discovered I could control where I appeared. Before I’d been doing it on instinct, getting myself in positions that could let me attack Kitten.
Now I was aware that I had control, I manifested in front of my old self, cheating in a foot of distance each time. Alex still had the lead, but I was catching up. More than that, I was getting faster now that I figured out what I could do, and he would have to slow down when he got tired.
It took six laps for me to do it, but I did take the lead. By this time, the four teams on the football field had stopped playing to watch us race. For the first time since my powers became public, I was having fun.
We were getting to the final stretch and I was going to- and then Alex shot past me. Holy shit, he is faster than me, by a whole fucking lot in fact. And just like that, I lost the race.
You asshole, you let me think I could win. “So, what was that at the end?”
He was bent over, gasping. “That. Hardest. Ever run. Water. Please.”
Well, at least I made him work for it. “Uh, sure, I’ll be back in a minute.” I started jogging over to where they kept the bottled water, then decided that it was more fun to sprint, considering I only had seconds before I set off my asthma no matter how I ran. A couple snaps of my power later, and I was back to Alex. “Here’s your water. I’m pretty sure it’s not really from a mountain spring.”
He smiled and took the bottle. “Sure it is. The Potomac is from a mountain spring, too.”
“Plus or minus sewage, drug needles, and a few bodies.” I watched as he chugged the bottle. “So, why’d you hold back until the very end there?”
“What?” He looked at me, confused.
“Letting me have the lead until the end. You coulda beat me whenever you wanted.”
“That’s how you’re… well, how everyone without powers, is supposed to run. You can be a machine, but I have limits. Burning up too much strength early means you’ll tire out before the race is over, so you save it for the last possible moment.”
He took another deep breath, then stood upright. “If we’re being honest, I almost didn’t make it. One lap longer, or if it were much hotter or colder out, or you were even a bit faster, or if I didn’t have years of training to know my limits and how to push past them. I was so close to losing it’s not funny.”
“Good to know. Too bad I’m disqualified from sports forever and will never be able to use it.”
“I dunno, you could apply it to fighting villains. Let them think they have a chance, then they’ll wear themselves out trying to fight you instead of realizing it’s impossible and running.”
“That’s a pretty good idea.” It even almost worked on Kitten, and she had super combat skills to fight me with. Though I had no clue if she could get tired, considering she was able to regenerate. “Maybe I can use that to help a team. Draw fire until everyone’s too tired to fight before my friends finish the job.”
“That’s a strategy some track teams employ. Having one of their own run too hard, and hope the other team tries to keep up and burns out. It doesn’t work that well, since everyone knows that trick, but it might work against supervillains. Unless they’re like you and don’t get tired, at least. Even then, you’ll be able to figure out how their powers work without anyone getting hurt. Call yourself the Human Decoy or something.”
Sounds like a painful battle plan. “That’s goddamn perfect.” Then I thought about the things Kitten suggested, like Captain Jihad and Whipping Boy. Human Decoy had unpleasant connotations. “The name needs a lot of work, however.”
Not much was said after that. Little ideas about how to use my power to draw fire toward me instead of more vulnerable targets, costume designs, stuff like that. Then Alex hit the showers early. Since my power was apparently self cleaning except for other people’s blood, I skipped the shower and changed back to normal clothes before anyone else got to the locker room. I didn’t plan on changing around other people.
Biology was next, and that went about as well as biology always did. I was kinda curious how my senses would handle dissecting frogs, but that would never happen. They weren’t gonna give us access to scalpels or chemicals. So this was one of those boring classes where the teacher didn’t try to make us do group projects or any such crap as that. Sit down, shut up, and get instructed on what you’d need to test for this week. It was boring as hell, but I was left alone.
The hallway after school was when things got interesting again. Now that about fifty people had seen my power used I don’t know how many times, the only doubts left about my abilities was just how much I was capable of. The common wisdom, which I had no idea if was true or not, was that every Imbued had at least one way to hurt someone. The ones that didn’t were even more scary, like the mind readers and precogs who could ruin your life without violence.
A pair of hands wrapped around my face from behind. The flash of power insight let me know it was Cassie before she even spoke. “So, I’m guessing you don’t come with eyes in the back of your head, either.”
After giving Alex a run for his money, I was feeling good about myself right now. “Nope, but what I do have is infinite stamina.” Huh, so apparently I can tell if someone’s breathing and heart rate jump up. “Didn’t you say something about requiring me to ask nicely, first?”
It didn’t take long for her get control of her emotions. She took her hands away from my eyes. “Have to give you the chance to ask, right?”
I shrugged, realizing what I just said. Making jokes was one thing, but following through with someone who implied she’d say yes was scary as hell. That and everyone was watching us right now.
“Yeah, I guess you have a point.” I turned to face her. “So, what’s up?”
She fidgeted. “Just wondering what you had planned after school.”
“Umm, studying.” I glanced at the other students filing past us. One of the hottest girls in the school chatting up the only known Imbued in the school wasn’t enough to risk missing the bus. Although if the statistics were right, there should be at least one or two more of us here. Maybe even as many as ten, since this school had a lot of ‘at risk’ students. They were much better at hiding their powers than I was.
“The teachers giving you a hard time?”
“No more than usual, but that’s half the problem.” I looked around, in case someone was eavesdropping too close. “There’s a lot of things I need to know, now that I have powers.”
“So, you’re totes doing the hero thing, huh?”
“Hey, maybe I wanna be a villain instead, ever thought of that?”
She laughed, perhaps a little louder than was needed for such a lame joke. “I really didn’t take you for the bad boy type.”
I had no idea how to approach that one. My mind went immediately to Erica, the kinds of guys she liked. Her taste in men was worse than my sister’s, which was saying something. “No, I can’t imagine anyone would.”
“That’s a compliment, trust me,” she smiled, stepping just a little closer. “I know a lot of girls go for that sorta thing, but they’re stupid. Bad boys grow up to be bad men, with drug problems and a felony.”
“Well, drugs don’t work on me, so no problems there.” But if you want a guy who’s not likely to have a felony, you may want to keep looking. I tried to ignore the implication that Erica was stupid. “It’s gonna take weeks before I’m ready to actually go out on patrol. Now, I’d better go before I miss the bus.”
“I can drive you home.” She hesitated for a moment. “Y’know, it’ll be faster. Then you can maybe get a head start on the whole hero business.”
“That’s…” I was about to tell her no, but then I caught the look in her eye. The one that no heterosexual man was going to say no to. “… really nice of you. But I wouldn’t want to inconvenience you.”
“It’s cool. My afternoon’s pretty clear today. We can hang out for a little while, you can show me what you’re doing.”
“Well, I’m not gonna say no twice. Let’s go.”
Cassie’s car wasn’t all that impressive, the thing was probably older than she was, but this was not the sort of school that had ‘rich kids’. Those of us that had nice cars usually got them by selling drugs. Or themselves, there was always that option. We road in relative silence, making small talk about the day, classmates, and me filling her in about my race with Alex. She heard a few things from some of the other girls. She tried to make it sound like I was the star of that spectacle, but it was clear enough that Alex won the popularity contest. After all, he managed to beat the superhuman.
I was okay with letting him have the spotlight. It was kind of a risk letting the gangs know I could be beaten, if only in a foot race, but he earned it. Besides, I had a lot of ideas how to actually use my powers as a weapon now, thanks to him. Things I wish I knew about when I fought Kitten. The more I thought about it, the more things I knew I did wrong in that fight.
It didn’t take long before we arrived; I must have been a terrible conversationalist. “So, umm, thanks for the ride.” I had no idea what I was supposed to do next. “Do you, uh, want to come in? I can show you my work.”
She smiled at me. “Sure, that sounds like fun.”
It wasn’t until we were inside that I realized I made a slight miscalculation. “Umm, we’ll have to go to my bedroom. That’s where I keep my computer.”
“I guess that makes sense.” She followed me back, taking the occasional glance. I hoped I didn’t make too bad an impression. Ours wasn’t the ritziest house, but at least we weren’t livin’ it ghetto style. I tapped a kitchen chair on our way through.
“Sorry, my room’s a bit disorganized.” I kicked a dirty shirt under my bed. I’d pick it up later.
“No, that’s fine. You should see my bedroom.” She looked around after a moment. “Uh, you only have one chair.” She smiled slyly. “Do you want me on the bed?”
Oh, you have absolutely no idea. I activated my power, calling up the chair my power had memorized. “Nah, I got that covered.”
She stepped back, looking at the chair. “You have the power to create furniture?”
I set the chair down next to my computer desk. “Nah. I can just teleport things I’ve touched. It’s how I can use my power without, y’know, losing my clothes.” I decided not to tell her I could do that to other people, sans clothing. I didn’t want her thinking that I could just randomly undress her with a thought. Not yet, at least. “If someone hits me with a weapon, I can take it away from them. Or a bunch of other tricks that’ll help me fight villains.”
“That’s really cool.”
“I know, right?” The powers thing was damn cool, after all. I slid my nice chair out, and let it roll a bit to Cassie. “Here you go.”
“You’re letting me use the nice chair?”
“You’re kinda my guest, it’d be rude not to.”
She smiled at me, pushing the chair back. “Thanks, but I think I have a better idea. Have a seat.”
“Uh, okay?” I sat down, and she sat down on my lap.
“So, do you think this works?”
I have a girl in my lap. So yes, whatever it is, it’s working for me right now. Oh shit, I need to find something to think about other than her in my lap. “Yeah, this works, now let’s get to work.” I used my feet to pull them over to the computer. It was only on sleep mode, so it booted up fast enough. I started going through details about all the different hero and villain groups, how I was planning to take out a few of the smaller ones first just to get a reputation, then build a team and go for the bigger names.
“Uh, why don’t you just join the official heroes?” Cassie asked after a bit.
Kitten. “I don’t think they’re doing a good job. Seriously, when was the last time you met a cop that helps people? Powers or otherwise. They only protect the people who have money and power, the ones that don’t need them to begin with. I want to help the people who need help. Joining the police will only get in the way of that.”
Cassie hesitated for a moment. “I guess you’re right.” She leaned back against me, giving me a view that distracted me from the computer. “It would be kinda nice to have heroes be heroes again, instead of just cops with extra powers.”
“Uh, yeah. So, umm, does this count as ‘all over me’, now?” I shifted my head a bit closer to hers. She was really, absurdly, beautiful, and at some point I just lost interest in trying to ignore that.
She looked over her shoulder to face me. “I guess it does.” She leaned in a bit, and a moment later I was surprised to realize we were kissing. Her lips were really, really nice. Soft, warm, and they tasted like cotton candy. I didn’t even know they had cotton candy flavored lipstick, but that’s what Cassie was using. “I’ll just pretend this is how you asked nicely.”
“That works.” I went in to kiss her again, glad she didn’t seem to think I was doing a bad job. I wrapped my arms around her, and let my hands do a bit of wandering, slipping under her shirt. Her heartbeat started to increase, and I let my hands slide up.
Then she grabbed my arms. “No!”
I stopped, and she stood up. “Uh.” Fuck.
She glanced at my door. “Umm, I think I should go now.” She was already rushing out the door. I thought about chasing after her, but then what would I say? God damn it.
The rest of the night wasn’t exactly thrilling. Mom came home with more takeout, and I tried to focus on school or hero work instead of on Cassie. I’d have to see her tomorrow, try to find a way to talk to her in private. Apologize for fucking up and scaring her off. I just didn’t want her to… I wasn’t even sure what I wanted. I’d just have to start with finding a way to tell her I’m sorry.