A sudden gust of wind nearly knocked me off my vantage point on the roof. I gripped the edge and pulled myself back, then glanced at Anima. If she noticed that I nearly fell, she made no mention of it. Her costume today was a simple set of white robes and cowl. Normal clothes, not the telltale cartoon images of her power in action. She was too busy staring into space to pay much attention. “Are you okay? If you’re cold, maybe we should find somewhere else to wait.”
She started a bit, then looked over at me. “I still think this is a bad plan. Whatever the problem, it should be the police handling it, not us.” I went to open my mouth when Anima cut me off. “That problem, too.”
I pulled my mask back. It, like the rest of my currently nonexistant costume, was still in the ‘work in progress’ stage. Currently no more than a blue ski mask with some green trim and safety goggles sewn in.
I started speaking, the fog of my breath clear in the unusually cold air. They were predicting snow on the ground for Halloween. “You already shot down plans A and B, this is pretty much all we have left. It’s this or I drop out of school. How is letting the fucking gangs win not a worse decision?”
That was a bit melodramatic. Transferring schools wasn’t dropping out, and my school life being fucked with by a few assholes couldn’t be called a great victory for criminals everywhere. Honestly, if I was given the chance to quit school, I’d probably take it. I just didn’t want to be run out.
She glanced around, not that there was much to see from where she stood, well away from the edge. “I know, I know. I already agreed to help, against my better judgment. That doesn’t mean I have to like it. I don’t like this kind of glory seeking.”
She means the police heroes. And Sapphire, especially. I still hadn’t worked out why she despised Sapphire so much, she was pretty tight lipped on the subject. And Muwth, if she even knew anything about Anima’s past, never said anything either. All I knew for sure is Anima despised Sapphire, and I had to admit I wasn’t terribly happy with her showing off as much as she did, either.
Like all the press about a Halloween charity ball that she and other heroes would be attending this weekend. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problems with breast cancer research and charities funding it, but not at the cost of the so-called heroes hanging out with rich people instead of doing their fucking jobs. Like, I dunno, maybe trying to stop the serial killer that was running around in their city? Just throwing that out there.
I inhaled slowly, letting the chill hit my lungs. They tightened, and that meant I didn’t have long before having an attack. “And I’m eternally grateful. This isn’t about me trying to grab at fame the way… others do. That’s not the kind of person I am. But I have to if I want to protect my family.”
Anima’s eyes turned back toward the sky, in the general direction of the ocean. We were too far inland to see the water from here. Just all the airplanes. “I think I actually believe you.”
I ignored the growing pain in my chest, I didn’t have much time left before the attack started. “That’s good, I’d hate to build a team of people who think I’m a liar.
She watched me for a moment. “I’m not a part of your team.”
“Oh well, nobody’s perfect.” I watched her eyes narrow a bit, though whether she was glaring, smiling, or glaring to try not to smile. I couldn’t be sure with the rest of her face covered as it was. “How about we make this part of a trade? You’re helping me, so if there’s anything you need help with just let me know. Anything at all, I promise I won’t argue or anything.”
“Anything at all?”
Oh boy, what did I just agree to? “Well…” I drew it out a bit. In part to set up the punchline, in part to give me time to force my breathing under control. “Almost anything. You see, I do have a girlfriend and as much as it pains me, I’m afraid I’d have to turn down any acts of a carnal nature for her sake.”
Anima simply stood there in stunned silence for a moment. I took that time to slowly draw in a breath. “You’re a pig.”
I brought the back of my hand to my forehead. “Woe is me, I hath offended yon fair lady.” It was deliberately bad acting that strangely enough wasn’t as bad as my real acting. “I must atone for my caddishness.” I kicked out and rolled backward off the side of the building, clenching my jaw to keep myself from screaming as I took the five story trip to the empty alleyway below. The pain of impact was mitigated by the relief from my lungs, and I reappeared to the usual shimmer of light.
Moments later, a Tinkerbell-like pixie flitted down to me. “My queen bid me to give you this artifact. Break it when you require her aid.” It dropped a beautiful sphere into my hands. It was made of the same not-matter as all Anima’s constructs, and looked like a cartoon drawing of one of those Fabergé eggs. Inside was a glowing blue fluid, or an imitation of one. It had no weight at all, but when I moved it, I could feel the liquid slosh inside. And here I thought my power was bizarre.
I folded my mask and dropped it in my coat pocket. Convenient, being cold enough to justify a coat even if I didn’t need one. As far as my power was concerned, if it was cold enough to shiver, it was cold enough to copy. Muwth’s guess was my power might be overcompensating for cold thanks to the fact that Kitten had ice powers. That it did double duty in guaranteeing my cover would have been accidentally blown sometime this winter was just a special perk.
Well, time to get to work. I wrapped the trinket up in my mask and crossed the street over to the bank.
The teller gave me a look, the one that meant I’d be kicked out soon as they had the chance. Maybe they’d call a truancy officer. Are truancy officers still a thing? That’s something to look that up when I get home. And Mom is gonna be pissed when she finds out I skipped school today. On top of that, Muwth still hadn’t worked out how to get real details from our future selves, so all I knew was something highly visible to the media, and requiring Anima’s help, was going to happen. I made myself comfortable on a couch. It was a very nice couch.
Moments later, two supers walked into the bank. I didn’t recognize the outfits, but then there weren’t a lot that I would.
“Calling the police is a waste of time!” I could tell he was using some kind of voice changer. It wasn’t completely electronic, but it had a slightly off quality that hit the uncanny valley hard. His costume looked a bit like the one Flux wore. Full body with patterns resembling circuitry. Almost like a red Tron outfit. He held up a similarly decorated staff. “My name is Nano, and I’ve disabled the security systems and set them on a loop to keep anyone from getting suspicious.”
Okay, so Gadgeteer, and a damn good one to do all that. Fortunately, Gadgeteers were usually squishy once you got through their tech, and my powers were perfect for that.
The woman who followed him had to be a Brawler. She didn’t wear a costume, simply jeans and a t-shirt. She was also six feet tall, shaped like a body builder. What really gave her away as Imbued was the mottled white, black and gray skin with no real pattern, like snow on the side of the street after it starts getting dirty. Solid white hair and black eyes. She was probably really powerful, the ones that lost the ability to look human usually ranked a three or above. Unless she had a normal looking form and this was just a combat mode, in which case she was probably a pushover.
A lady customer bolted for the door on the other side of the bank, only for the villain to reach out and close her hand, then yank back. The woman jolted backward, sliding across the ground. Great, so she has some kind of telekinesis or something. That’s just peachy.
“My partner’s name is Shadow Boxer,” Nano announced. “As you can see, she can stop you if you try anything. See that office back there.” He gestured to a room with glass walls that seemed like a small meeting room. “I want everyone except the employees to calmly wait in that room. We don’t want to hurt you, and there’s no need to play hero, we’re only here for the bank’s money, not yours. Now, are there any questions?”
Well, he’s the one who asked. “Sure, I’ve got a couple.” I stood up and walked into the center of the little waiting area, as far away from people as possible. “First, why are you wasting your time robbing a bank? You’re only gonna get like four grand and then go to jail. Why don’t you use your tech to fuck with North Korea or ISIS or something? You could make four grand an hour and get a parade in your honor.”
I wasn’t sure if that was true or not, but it sounded good. Shadow Boxer glanced over at Nano, and then started to approach me. Maybe she had a range limit? Nice of them to not want to hurt me, at least. “Second question. What happens if I’m not playing hero?” I unfolded my mask, allowing Anima’s bauble to hit the ground and shatter while I pulled on the only part of my costume I actually had.
“Fuck!” Nano’s voice sounded hilariously wrong when cursing.
Shadow Boxer lashed out, connecting with my face hard enough that I’m sure my cheek was broken. Okay, so her waiting wasn’t a matter of range limits. A cloud of white fog rushed out in every direction from the broken bauble, more than could possibly have fit inside it. I had no idea what Anima was doing, but maybe the goal was to make the power appear like mine instead of hers, somehow? I resolved myself to distract the supervillains and buy time. It helped that they were nice enough to not want to hurt them.
I looked over at my copy and said the only thing I could think of. “You’re not acting like the per-” And boom, I was copied again. “-erson Mister Rogers knew you could be.” I hid my reactions, glad my face was covered, because that last one hurt. Apparently her TK attacks extended to kicks in the groin.
Around us the fog was still growing. It was waist high in some areas. Strangely, the fog seemed to avoid the two villains that I was walking toward. Instead, it seemed to be concentrating around the shockingly calm bystanders that were still making their way to the office that Nano told them to enter.
If I needed to take a beating to give Anima time to do her thing, then that’s what I would do. “You’re going to have to try harder than that. Maybe if you shout ‘hadoken’ first, that’d help?”
She growled at me, and swung her arm. This time she broke my jaw. Whatever limits her power had, she didn’t seem to feel the impact of the long range attacks she threw my way. Which meant that I couldn’t beat her simply by waiting for her to wear herself down by attacking me.
“No. It’s pronounced ha-do-ken.” I spoke like I was talking to a small child. “It’s not-” Crack, she actually broke my neck that time. “that hard. At least you don’t have to shout kamehameha.”
“There’s really no need for us to fight,” Nano offered. “You saw us in action, you know we weren’t going to hurt anyone. We just need the money. Besides, we’re robbing a bank. Banks are assholes, and it’s okay to rob assholes. Especially since banks have insurance, and insurance companies are even bigger assholes than banks.”
He took a couple steps forward, holding a hand open. The other, the one with the staff, he kindly pointed away from me. “If it makes you happy, we can run now and you can call it a victory. Get a sort of nemesis thing going on where you foil our plans once or twice a month, and let us get away with a just a little bit each time. A lot of indie groups work like that. It’s like sports teams playing up rivalries. The news shows love stuff like that. Everyone wins.”
I hesitated for a moment. That… wasn’t that bad an idea, really. Anima wasn’t a fan of hunting criminals to begin with, and a guaranteed news worthy event every few weeks would give me the momentum I needed to keep the gang pressure off. It wouldn’t need to be a permanent thing, either. Just long enough to put together a real costume and a team, and I could move on to more organized attacks against higher profile opponents.
“You’re still criminals.” I really wished I had a better line to use than that.
Nano waited for a moment. “Tell you what, you have a couple minutes to think about it. Whether you agree or not, you still have to fight Shadow Boxer in order to get to me. And in the meantime, I grab a couple grand, only half what you think we’d get. That’s a fair compromise.”
He had a point about Shadow Boxer. I didn’t have ranged options, so no matter what I did I’d need to fight my way through the telekinetic bodyguard no matter what I did. I turned toward her, taking what was no doubt a shitty combat stance.
“I knew you’d see reason.” I could tell Nano was smiling, even through his full body costume and voice disguiser.