I took a slow, deep breath. Okay, this is it. Time to go out there and be a hero. I didn’t know why I was so nervous, my power made me unstoppable. I looked out the windshield, psyching myself up.
We’d stopped in the parking lot between a bowling alley and a bar; the former was closed and the latter would be soon. A woman took a drag of what might have been a cigarette while watching us like a hawk. The miniskirt and high heels she was wearing in the middle of October left little question as to her career path.
I looked back to Laura and gave her my best smile. “This is where I get out and you drive off.”
She scowled at me through her metallic blue bangs, ignoring the audience. “No. This is Erica we’re talking about. You do not get to ditch me here, you owe me this.”
If it were any other thing, I would have agreed with her. “My powers won’t let me protect you. A stray bullet is all it would take for me to be avenging two deaths instead of one. I can’t lose you.” I hesitated, almost adding the word ‘too’ to the end of that. I need to cover that up.
“Please,” I whispered, desperate for her to actually listen to me for once in either of our lives.
We sat there for a minute as she studied my face. I did my best to project confidence, but there was no one who could read me better than she could. Still, there was no way in hell I could risk her getting hurt out there. She must have realized the same thing, because her determined look gave way to regret and acceptance.
“Hurt them extra for me.”
I wasn’t really sure how it was possible to hurt them more than I was planning, but it was an easy promise to make. “I’ll be sure to torture them before the police to show up.” A lie; the cops had their chance and failed. Besides, I had no intention of letting them live that long. I reached over and pushed the button on her CD player. “Making them listen to this should just about cover it.”
She slapped my hand away. “Leave my music alone, asshole!”
“Yeah, you’re right. That’s gotta be a violation of the Geneva Convention or something.” I had no idea what the CD even was; knowing her tastes, it was tribal or techno. Not half as awful as I pretended it was, but I wouldn’t be caught dead telling her that.
She pushed the disk back in the player. It kicked on and treated us to some of synthetic stuff with a sort of Indian sound. “Touch my music again and I’ll break your fingers. Again.”
Not much of a threat, given my powers. After a minute of awkward silence other than the music, she finished the conversation. “So, how long will this take you? Should I wait nearby?”
I shook my head. “No. If this gets messy, the cops might get called.” I patted the hilt of the sword hidden under my coat. She got my meaning; we knew this wasn’t legal. “Better they think I came alone.” Or at least that I won’t turn over my accomplice. “They’ll go easy on me since I’m a minor, and a superhero.” If the internet could be trusted, that might be true. Maybe.
Either way, I didn’t need it to be true, I just needed her to believe me. And now to distract her so she won’t realize how stupid everything I just said was. I gestured at the literal and figurative streetwalker who was still watching us. “She seems nice, if you wanna kill some time.”
“Just get out of my car.”
I’d already pulled the handle and was moving to escape, and then her foot hit me square in my lower back. I stumbled forward into the gravel while Laura’s car drove off and turned onto the street.
The prostitute’s eyes narrowed as she looked at me. Then I realized that there was shimmer of light coming from under my trench coat, which meant my power went off.
Fuck. Funny thing about pain; the bad injuries don’t hurt, at least not at first, and for me that wasn’t a problem anymore.
I fumbled in through the coat, pulling the edge of the sword out of my lower thigh with one hand while pulling out my cell with the other. I turned it on before pulling it out and took it to my ear, hoping the glow of the screen was enough to fool her.
“Hey, yeah, I was just about to call you.” I tried to make my voice sound deeper. Please work, please work. “Sorry, we’re not gonna be able to make it to the party. Car problems. Yeah, fuckin’ sucks. See ya Monday.” I closed the phone and put it away.
My power fixed my leg long before I finished my fake call, so I stood up and started walking. The direction I needed to go took me pretty close to the prostitute. “Sorry babe, I tried.” I had no idea why I felt the need to acknowledge her, but after she’d watched all that, saying nothing to her felt weird.
“Better luck next time, lover.”
With that she lost all interest in me, taking another drag as I walked away. It took me all of another five minutes to find the building whose address I had spent all day memorizing and staring at on the maps. It wasn’t anything special, just an abandoned auto repair building in a set of neighborhoods that had no interest in keeping things nice. There weren’t any obvious guards, but that didn’t mean much in the age of cell phones.
Oh well, I don’t need to be careful. My power’s too good for that. I pulled down my cheap ski mask and stepped out of the alleyway. This is the moment.
Not even bothering to check to see if the door was locked, I withdrew my cavalry saber and slashed the door handle. The sound of metal rang out as my sword smashed the knob more than cut it. I kicked the door and walked in, dragging the blade across the concrete behind me. The blue and yellow sparks of my power shimmered along the blade mending the damage it took. Damn my power is badass.
My vision was replaced by darkness before I had a chance to say something cool. The sound of a gunshot rang through the building before my vision returned, awash with light as my power pulled me back together.
Chunks of my body exploded into glowing dust and reassembled with each bullet that tore through me, but just kept walking forward as my body mended. The pain wasn’t that bad since I only felt each blow for a heartbeat, and their handguns didn’t have the stopping power to knock me back.
Then I stumbled and dropped to the ground. I may have shouted, but no one could hear anything over the roar of gunfire. The fuck?
I looked at where a crossbow bolt was sticking out of my shin. It shimmered and then was forced out of the wound even as more shots came in. For the first time, I bothered to pay attention to my surroundings.
I was up against four men, but only three of them had guns while the last was reloading an honest to god crossbow. I rolled out of the way the next time he fired. Bullets were nothing, but that thing hurt.
Maybe it was some kind of gadget weapon?
I was up on my feet and running toward him after he missed the second shot. He dodged out of the way of my swing, and my sword cut the cheap talbe. Cards and money spilled over the ground. A certain part of me hoped crossbow dude was winning that game.
My backswing was better, catching his weapon and knocking it out of his hand. I also it was expensive.
The other men stopped firing, either because they didn’t want to hit their buddy, or because they’d figured out bullets were useless against my power. I pointed my sword at the crossbow guy and took a step forward. He stumbled back, but that just pressed him against the wall. The man was probably twice my age, a few inches taller and a lot broader than I was. I did my best not to think about how much he looked like my algebra teacher.
“Now, there’s only two ways for this to go down. Tell me where to find Flux, or we’ll find out if your immortality is as good as mine.” I wasn’t even tired; another fun effect of my power. I didn’t need to eat, never got tired, and I could hold my breath forever.
His eyes never left the tip of the blade only a few inches away from his chest. “Uh. He’s in the other room, with Kitten.”
“What’s Ki-” My question was interrupted with a sudden crunching sound, and my view had changed. Where before I was looking at a man, now I found my head had been twisted around backward, and I got a look at the slender young blonde. A few years younger than me, easily. I knew she was Imbued from the indigo glow of her eyes.
“You interrupted my nap,” she growled at me. Which wasn’t a figure of speech; she sounded like a wild animal instead of human.
A man’s voice spoke up. “You should not have done that.”
I twisted and swung my sword. She had powers, and that made it okay for me to hit her even if she was a little girl. Also, she just broke my neck, which fucking hurt.
I needn’t have worried, since she ducked under the blade anyway. Crackling filled the air as deep purple color swirled along her arm and around her hand. Blades of purple ice formed into claws as she slashed upward across my jaw and face.
Once again I was blinded, but this time I didn’t have time to recover before something hit me hard in the gut. If it was a punch, she had super strength. If it was a kick, then she had somewhat lesser super strength.
I hit the concrete wall of the building so hard that most of the bones in my back crunched. I fell to the ground because my legs were paralyzed.
“So, you’re a new face.” She smiled down at me while I healed. “High level regeneration, even extends to your clothes. That’s kinda neat.” My vision cleared, and I got a really good look at her. Almost a foot shorter than me, she wearing a tight tank top and pink cotton panties that made it clear she hadn’t reached puberty long ago. Coupled with her short cropped hair, she could have been mistaken as a preteen boy. “Got a name, newbie?”
I answered by grabbing my sword and swinging at her while moving to my feet. She jumped back, landing feet first on a cheap folding chair.
Somehow, she managed to stay balanced, and spring boarded off it at my head. Her knee cracked into my face and I found myself on my back. She landed with both feet, toes first, in my stomach. That move hurt, and forced me to cough.
“Okay, fine, be that way.” She turned her head. “Hey, Flux? My powers don’t know how to kill this guy.”
“Think he has some kind of power that nulls your senses?” I got my first look at Flux, better known as the fucker I was here to kill. I recognized his costume from pictures I’d found online. Black, with a thin yellow lines in a sort of circuitry pattern across it. For whatever reason, Gadgeteers loved circuit costumes.
“Nope, they work just fine.” She kept standing on me while having her conversation! I slid my hand into my coat as slow as I could. “I can kick his ass, but there’s nothing I can do to kill him.”
She wasn’t even looking at me. I squeezed the trigger on the little nine mil I’d kept in an inside pocket. Shimmers of blue and white followed the gunshots, mending my coat from where the bullets punched through. Kitten simply flipped backward off of me, doing a handstand as her long skinny legs extended fully above her. Somehow, she avoided every shot.
“See, no threat at all.” She was still standing on her hands. I gripped my sword and took another swing at her while she was vulnerable. Again, she avoided the attack like it was no concern at all.
I sprang to my feet while she flipped back onto hers. A moment later, she kicked forward and I found myself blinded again. I reached up to my face, feeling around the damaged area. A piece of metal was sticking out of my face.
A crossbow bolt? Fu- and then my hand crunched into my skull, and my elbow shattered. It took me a humiliating amount of time to figure out she just kicked my arm so hard that my fist was behind where my eyes should be.
I fell back onto the ground, my power struggling to undo the damage even while Kitten was tugging on me. I couldn’t see or hear, but my sense of touch told me that I was being grabbed by legs and dragged. Later, I’d wonder what it meant that I could remember or feel anything without a brain, but that was lost on me right then.
By the time I’d managed to pull my hand and the crossbow bolt out of my own face, we were out back of the building with me laying in the gravel.
Kitten was hanging by her legs from the top of the same door I’d broken in through. “You really kinda suck at this, y’know.”
I climbed to my feet and noted the thugs who helped pull me outside had retreated back in. At least they were still afraid of me. “I don’t have to be good. You’ll get tired, screw up, then I win. I can keep going until you die of old age if that’s what it takes.”
“There’s a thought.” She put a finger up to her face, tilted her head, and made a good imitation of thinking about a problem. Even tilting her head up. “I guess if you become too much of a problem I could just bury you alive. Or do you have a power to stop that?” Fuck, I didn’t think about that. “Oh, you don’t? Man, people think I’m crazy, but to risk being buried alive forever? That’s just insane.”
She dropped off the door, somehow rolled in mid air to land on her feet, and rushed at me. She sidestepped my swing, and kicked my knee backward. I stayed standing, but it was becoming clearer with each hit that not only did she know how to fight, she knew how to make each blow hurt.
“It’s such an obvious weakness!” I turned to block her next attack, and the shimmering ice claw of her hand sliced through my wrist. “How is that not the first thing you thought of?”
Her foot came up into my stomach, sending me rolling back again. I wheezed as my body forced my lungs back into their proper place. Kitten didn’t seem at all tired. “Don’t worry, I promise not to do that to you. You’re fun to fight, in a sad way. Besides, it’s not like you’re a threat.”
I almost screamed as the fourteen year old girl evaded another swipe of my sword. She giggled and hopped back, smiling like she was playing with a friend rather than in a battle to the death.
“Speaking of which, where did you learn to fight? You move like all your combat skills came from watching Saturday morning cartoons. It’s boring. I thought Tanks were supposed to have some kind of backup trick? Like super strength or flying or claws? All you’ve got is super fast regeneration. It’s not good enough. You have to be stronger than this!”
I rushed forward, and she dodged with a backflip. I felt the lightest pressure as the sword’s tip briefly caught the inside of her shirt, slashing the cloth. Considering what she was wearing, I was a hair’s breadth from hitting.
This is my problem. It’s always been my problem. If I were only a little stronger, a little faster, I could win, but I’m not. I’ll never be good enough.
“Ru~ude!” Her voice was singsong. “I liked that shirt.” She tugged her shirt out and looked at the slice on the side. “Well, I guess it’s still good, battle damage adds character, right?”
I didn’t answer, trying to get her while she wasn’t paying attention. She ducked under, punched the sword aside, and caught me in a judo throw. I ended up face first in the grass, the shimmer of my power patching scrapes while I climbed to my feet.
“Kinda neat that you regenerate your clothes, though. Never met anyone who could do that before.” Kitten sounded like she was thinking. “Think it’ll work on more complex stuff? Ooh! Maybe you should think about strapping a bomb to yourself! Then you can go boom whenever you need to! Even I would have trouble fighting that kind of tactic, no matter how garbage you are in a fight. You could call yourself the Kamikaze Kid. Or Captain Jihad!”
I turned to face her, a growl my only response. I wasn’t ready to admit that she was right. I knew nothing about fighting past what I’d seen on television and in movies. I didn’t think I needed to know what I was doing, when my power made me unkillable and unstoppable. Turned out, that wasn’t enough to win this fight. I put the blade between us, hoping that with a bit of luck I could hit her when she attacked me.
A feigned cough nearby interrupted her taunting. “Come on, Kitten. That’s just offensive. Besides, he’s clearly new to his power. Maybe he just hasn’t figured out what his other abilities are. Not everyone’s as lucky as you were to get super combat instincts built in.”
“Super ninja instincts!” She pouted and stomped her foot in the gravel. A small slash of ice spread from where she planted her heel.
As if it isn’t bad enough that I’m getting my ass handed to me by a little girl. Does she have to act like such a brat?
Flux continued speaking. “So, Mister Nameless Vigilante, do you have any limits on your powers that we should know about? Like amount of healing you can do per day? I know she said she can’t kill you, but her power can be wrong about these things. If you start feeling like you’re at your limit, you really should let us know.”
Kitten took her eyes off me. “Flu~ux,” she whined. “Stop taking the fun out of it!”
She went to say something more, but I didn’t give her the chance. I lunged forward now that she was open.
It didn’t matter, she stepped to the side without so much as looking at me. Her deep blue power wrapped around her arm, right before her claw sliced into mine. Ice crystals spread across my trench coat, and the limb went numb. Well, that’s a new trick.
She hadn’t even bothered to look at me. “And you stop being rude!”
I was covered in light as the damage to my arm, including the cold, was repaired along with the trench coat. At least I knew I wouldn’t have to spend a fuckton of money to repair my costume.
Her foot came up between my legs, and I almost threw up from the pain of flesh and bone being shredded. Being able to ignore pain didn’t include that pain.
I gritted my teeth, trying desperately to not think about the feeling of suction as she pulled her foot out of… inside me. Tears soaked through my mask, either from the pain or sheer frustration, I couldn’t decide at that moment.
“Oh, grody! Now you ruined my shoes!” She lifted her blood soaked foot, and the sandal she was wearing drooped down, heavy with stuff that should have been inside me.
My body started to repair itself. Shimmers formed across her foot as the blood and viscera converted into whatever it was my power turned it into, and it rushed back to me, restored to healthy flesh yet again. I was back to full strength, which was nowhere near enough to matter.
Kitten clapped her hands and laughed with all the glee of a child who got what she wanted for Christmas. “Oh, wow, that’s so cool! Look, Flux, he’s self cleaning! This is so much fun!”
“I can see that, sweetie.” His voice was amused, doting even. “Try not to be too rough on him. After all, if you break him you can’t play anymore.”
She again stopped paying attention in order to argue with her teammate. “Awww, but he’s not even tired!”
“Is that so? Because that looked like it hurt. A lot.”
“Fuck off!” I rose to my feet, my breathing having returned to normal. I readied myself for her next attack.
“See! He’s absolutely perfect!” She dove forward past my guard before I even had a chance to register that she moved. She landed hands first and kicked both her heels into my jaw.
My teeth slammed together, severing the tip of my tongue, and a whole bunch of bones got broken. By the time I hit the ground, I was blinded by the glow of my own power, not that being able to see was doing me any favors. Story of my fucking life. I’m supposed to be strong now. That’s what I was promised.
“You should wrap this up. We gotta go shopping for a new home. Or at least a new door.”
She’s way too fast for me, and what did Flux say she had? Combat instincts? I turned my head toward him. He was the one I had to kill. Maybe I should just try to get around her and go aft-
Everything went black and I could smell the dust through my cheap mask. I couldn’t even scream as my own sword found its way through my chest from behind, pinning me into the ground.
“Naughty, naughty,” Kitten whispered in my ear. “Don’t you know it’s rude to ditch a lady at a dance?”
She twisted the blade as she pushed it deeper into the ground. Pain exploded in my chest. “Where did you learn your manners? He’s right, though. We should wrap this up. My power’s telling me it will take you at least ten minutes to pull yourself out of this.” Another twist, and the only thing that kept me from screaming was the sword that cut off my lungs. “Face it, you’re just not strong enough.”
The pain wasn’t even the worst part. The worst part was knowing Kitten was right. I was weak, useless, I couldn’t save Erica when she was alive. I couldn’t tell her how I felt about her. I couldn’t even avenge her death. I’m not strong enough.
I felt the familiar tug in the back of my mind. It was there, the promise that I could have power I needed. It was within reach, if only I accepted it. I reached out, and then hesitated. I didn’t know how I could know, but if I accepted, something terrible would happen.
There had to be another way, like waiting to go after Flux later, when Kitten wasn’t there to protect him. Or even doing what Kitten said and trying the suicide bomber approach. I could feel the power slipping away again. I didn’t need it, and I didn’t want it. I could accept defeat now, because the price of victory was too high.