“Because she loved you, you got the power to continue the fight for her.” I wanted to turn, to tell Sympathy that she was wrong, that she was lying. Erica wasn’t Imbued. Even if she was, she still wouldn’t have started a fight with Kitten. And even if all that was somehow not true, it would have been Laura that got her power, not me. Because Erica didn’t love me.
I didn’t say a word, I just stood there struggling not to cry or retreat from this bitch who was trying to fuck with my head. ‘Sympathy’ my ass. Anima said she’d say anything if it suited her, that it was part of her powers to manipulate people with words.
Digging my fingernails into the palms of the fingerless gloves I made into part of my costume and trembling. Trapped between turning around and starting a fight that would end with me in a cell, or running away crying like a child.
Somewhere, some part of my body snapped, causing me to regenerate. The pain and the loss faded. Not gone, not like it was with Nano’s power. More like I fell asleep crying, and woke up the next morning feeling somehow well rested in spite of myself.
Nothing quite like dying to put it all in perspective. Sympathy’s bitchery aside, I came here for a reason and I still needed to make that happen.
I walked quickly out of the bank, and straight toward the news van. I had to wonder who tipped them off. It wasn’t me, and I couldn’t imagine it was Anima or anyone in the bank. My next guess was Muwth. That sounded right. She probably pulled more strings per day than most people did per lifetime.
Either way, the cops had only just started arriving. Four officers had their hands full ordering the reporters to back off, along with the slowly forming crowd of gawkers. Being the enterprising professionals that they were, they spotted me immediately.
The reporter brought his arm up and shout “Hey, are-” only to be interrupted when the police officer pushed him back. Too far away for me to actually hear what the cop was saying, but I could guess.
The other cop looked back, spotting me. I didn’t run up to them, that would be undignified. I took a few steady, calming breaths. In a way, I almost had to thank Sympathy for her bullshit. If not for my thoughts on Erica, and the unknown drama between Sapphire and Anima, I’d probably be wetting myself in fear of the cameras.
I wasn’t normally terrified of public speaking, not like some people, but normally I was just presenting something for class, not having my face plastered all over the news.
I waved at the cop first. Middle aged guy, just starting to get gray in his hair. Kinda looked like an older, fatter, and far less friendly Will Smith. I’d met him a twice on Wednesday, when I busted a mugger and some jackass robbing a gas station. Both during his shift.
I gave a glance at the camera crew with my eyes, careful not to turn my head. They were pointing the camera at me. Good. “Hey, man, fancy meeting you again. How’s the job been treating you?”
“You were a part of this?” He did not sound pleased at all.
I shrugged and smiled. There was gonna be people all over that footage, I needed to sell every part of this performance, and that meant smiling even if I didn’t think they could see my face. “Hey, it’s what heroes do. Already gave my statement to Sapphire.” I gestured back toward the bank with my thumb. “Suffice it to say the baddies are down for the count, everything’s on tape, and I’m off to my next grand adventure.”
AKA: find Anima, ask what the fuck happened back there. Find out about that ‘Mark of Cain’ stuff Sympathy said.
I walked forward, past the cop and making like I was going to ignore the camera crew entirely. “Excuse me, young man, I’m Chad Arnold from Channel Twelve news. Can you spare a few minutes for an interview?”
Why yes, good sir, that would be awesome. “Only a couple minutes, Mister Arnold. And only because you’ve got two first names. I’ve got class to get back to.”
“Please, just call me Chad.” He offered a polite chuckle, at this joke he’d no doubt heard a million times before. “Classes? You’re a college student?” I let him lead me away from the police cordon. Why they were even bothering with one, I didn’t know. It’s not like they needed to gather any evidence when they had a dozen witnesses and security footage.
“Nope, high school.” I answered smoothly, ignoring the slowly growing pounding of my heart. Know what I said before about not having a fear of public speaking? Turns out I’m a damn dirty liar. “I know I’m ditching class. Kinda hope stopping a bank robbery is good for extra credit.”
He waited patiently, letting me talk. Maybe there were special rules about talking to minors he was considering. Probably something about making sure their parents couldn’t sue. “Wouldn’t that risk them learning your identity?”
“If they don’t know by now, that won’t be enough to clue them in. My powers went off in class the day after I got them. And at least once or twice a day, every day, since then.” I hoped my voice didn’t betray my frustration.
“What are your powers, if you don’t mind me asking?” I’m sure this guy was figuring out what to do with that information. Having someone research me online, probably. Not like the other students were lacking in websites to post cell phone pics of me on.
“I can’t be hurt.” True enough, and my illusion to sell to the world. “I instantly heal from any attack, no matter what. It even extends to my clothing.”
“That’s quite the power.” I had to wonder if he meant it, or was just buttering up the kid. “And you stopped a bank robber all by yourself?”
“A pair of supervillains.” Chad didn’t quite manage to hide his surprise. Yeah, don’t underestimate me. “Well, I had a partner, but she was busy protecting the bystanders from getting hurt.”
“Who’s your partner? Anyone we’d know?” That question wasn’t a surprise.
“She’s calling herself the White Lady, but she might change it. She’s kinda camera shy, and pretty new to the whole ‘superhero’ thing.” Specifically, the ‘hero’ part of it.
“Well, hopefully you’ll talk her into giving us an interview. Speaking of, we didn’t catch your name.”
Oh shit, I forgot to think of a name! Buy time! “Actually, I’d rather wait until we put a whole team together. Duos are fun and all, but we can’t cover every base.”
Now, names. I thought back to my conversation with Anima. ‘Sacrifice’ was rejected on face, reminded me too much of Kitten’s comments. So was anything to do with blowing myself up. “I think the five man band is ideal, depending on what powers we’ve got.”
Bastion? No, there were like eight guys using that name already. Generic and easily relatable, hinting but not outright stating my powers. Immortal-something? No, that’s dumb. Has to be something snappy. Horus? Nah, god names are just terrible. Who does that? Also, way too much incest.
Human Decoy? Better, but still too close to ‘whipping boy’. Ooh, I got it! “Oh, wait, you meant my name, not the team. Sorry, you can call me Respawn.” Easy to remember, fun to say, thematic, and it has geek cred. It’s perfect. “But I’ve gotta get going, now.”
“Respawn, then.” Chad agreed smoothly. “My next question was going to be about your future plans, but that’s been covered. Do you have anything you’d like to say to the people before you go?”
I hesitated for a moment. Well, now that I think about it. I faced toward the camera. “I haven’t forgotten.”
Chad’s smile never wavered. “Are you going to explain what that means?”
“The person it’s meant for already knows.” There you go, Kitten. Now you know I’m doing all of this just for you. Hope that makes you happy until I finally kill you. “Besides, my image consultant tells me that mystery is sexy.” I turned and walked off, it just seemed like the perfect moment.
“And there you have it, folks, a new hero on the scene in our fair city,” Chad spoke to the camera as I made my hopefully awesome exit. I quickly walked around a corner and disappeared from the film crew’s sight.
Then I started sprinting. It didn’t take long before my power activated, clearing my head of most of the panic attack I just barely didn’t have. I followed the side streets, avoiding the traffic of the main roads as I made my way to meet up with Anima.
Today was supposed to be a good day. I was supposed to do something awesome enough that the gangs would be afraid to start a fight. I was supposed to get my name out there. And then god damn Sympathy had to throw that god damn curveball at me.
/Snap/ My power kicked in, and I felt a litte better. And now I have to question everything I thought I knew. If it was true about powers jumping to new people, then maybe she was right. Maybe Erica did have feelings for me. It wasn’t impossible, right?
I thought back to a couple years ago, a memory I had almost forgotten. I was playing with a laptop Laura gave me when she bought a new one. Then there was a knock on the door. I opened it, stopped only by the deadbolt to peak out at Erica.
“Hey, Zach, your sister ready?”
“Umm, almost I think. Come in.” I closed the door enough to undo the bolt and let her in, and at the same time shouted back into the house. “Erica’s here!”
“Tell her I’m almost ready!” Laura shouted back. My sister always forever getting ready for anything. Party? Three hours. School? Hour and a half. Grocery store? At least half an hour.
I looked back at Erica, now that the door was open. She was always beautiful, but right now she was in a dark green dress that showed off every inch of her amazing figure. Tall and curvy with deep amber colored hair and eyes. The eyes were natural, the hair was probably Laura’s work.
Erica interrupted my thoughts. “Like my dress?” Her voice was just as beautiful as the rest of her.
Dammit, she caught me staring. “Yeah. Uh, green’s my favorite color.”
She walked into the kitchen, spreading the scent of her perfume, which was vaguely peach smelling. “I hope you don’t mind keeping me company.”
“Um, uh, not at all.” I always looked forward to spending time with Erica. I couldn’t remember the first time I met her, she’d been my sister’s friend for most of my life. Of all my sister’s friends, Erica was the only one who always seemed happy to see me. And I was always happy to see her. “I was just playing a game.”
“Really? Cool.” She walked over to the computer, looking at the screen. “This is just a bunch of squiggly lines.”
“Yeah, the graphics are terrible, but it’s a really amazing game.” I sat down, angling it to show her. “See, this is a sort of kingdom building game. You get a bunch of units to control and have to do all kinds of things with them.” I tapped a few hotkeys, bringing me to specific parts of the fort as I described them.
“I’ve already got farms and farmers set up, so there’s food. Now I’m working on getting the metal and glass industries up and running. Glass is good for trading, and the metal’s for the military to fight off monsters. And you have to be careful what you build with and how you set up your army. Some weapons are really good against certain enemies but suck against others. And some materials are really good for edged weapons, but are too light to make a good bashing weapon.”
Erica just shook her head, but never stopped smiling. “Sorry, that all sounds like Greek to me. You have to be really smart to manage all that.”
My heart jumped in my chest, and I tried very hard not to glance down her dress while she was bent over to look at the screen. “Not really. This is a new fort. My old one died because I couldn’t make enough clothes, and they started killing each other over socks.” I shouldn’t have said that, now she’s going to think I’m a weirdo.
Laura’s voice interrupted my thoughts. “Hey, I hope the dweeb didn’t bother you too much.”
“Nah, he’s my buddy.” She ruffled my hair. “Isn’t that right, Zach?”
“Uh, yeah.” I agreed nervously. Don’t blush in front of my sister. Do not blush in front of my sister. Dammit, I’m blushing in front of my sister.
“I wasn’t asking you.”
“Cheeky bitch.” Erica laughed. This wasn’t anything new, the two of them were always mouthing off to each other.
“Fatass slut.” My sister walked to the door, wearing a dress every bit as red as her hair. If Mom saw her leaving in that number, there would be a murder. “Hey, Zach, let Mom know we’re going to be out late.”
“Yeah. Of course. Have fun.”
“By, Zach,” Erica sang as she stepped out the door. “At least I have an ass. All we have to do is throw some white and blue in your hair people would mistake you for the flag.”
/Snap/ The tears were gone, and I was pulled out of the memory. How am I even supposed to take this news? If Sympathy is right, that means I legitimately stood a chance, and I have no one to blame by myself. Loving someone that didn’t feel the same way was painful, but part of life. Finding out she really did have feelings for me, and I just didn’t have the balls to go for it hurt worse than anything Kitten managed to do to me.
/Snap/ It can’t be true. She didn’t love me. Erica was a grown woman, almost six years older than me. When she was my age I was just a kid. She had her own life to worry about. I was just her best friend’s little brother. Sure, she was nice to me, more than was needed just to be polite and make Laura happy, but it wasn’t like that. She didn’t love me, she couldn’t. At best she was just nice. At worse, she felt sorry for me. She would have chosen my sister.
/Snap/ Maybe not. Sympathy didn’t say Erica was in love with me, just that she loved me. I love Mom and Dad. I love Laura. If someone like Kitten found a way to make me stay dead, and what Sympathy said was true, Laura would be the one who got my power.
/Snap/ But would she? I didn’t want her to deal with this responsibility, and all the bullshit garbage that came with it. If it were my place to choose, I wouldn’t want her to be the one. I’d pick someone who was strong and smart. It’s not that Laura wasn’t, but I meant more heroic. And of everyone I knew, that would be Alex. If anyone deserved powers, it was him. He’d make a damn good hero, there was no one I’d trust with power more.
/Snap/ That’s what Sympathy said, wasn’t it? That I am the one Erica trusted and believed in. I am the one she chose to fight for her. But in the end, it didn’t matter. Even if I never stood a chance with her, and my feelings were as one sided now as they ever were, that didn’t matter. Even if Sympathy was wrong and Erica didn’t have powers to give me. None of that mattered.
My path was the same today as it was when I got my power a few weeks ago.
I will kill Kitten.