I didn’t have a costume to show up in anymore, since Mom confiscated it. Not that there was a lot she could take to begin with. The mask was about it, everything else was just clothing. Granted, I didn’t need gloves, boots or a coat with my power to protect me, but even if Mom knew, she wouldn’t just take those away. Probably.
I arrived at the bridge about ten minutes early, going around the fence that kept people from falling off, and then down under. The bridge was also something of an overpass, with a small road going under alongside the creek. Not far away, that smaller road also crossed the creek. I recognized Ferne in her red and white costume, standing on that bridge. She was watching the water.
As I made my way down the concrete slope, her head snapped in my direction. Her costume was good, it made her look like a completely different person. Even her body language was different. Animalistic, almost. Not in Kitten’s deranged way, but she stood alert, maybe deer-like was the best way to describe it. I was briefly reminded of Alex’s advice on acting different in costume.
I gave it my best shot, standing taller as I made my way to her. She wasn’t an enemy to fight, and this wasn’t a drug deal despite the parallels. I decided to skip pleasantries when I was close enough to talk to her. “So, how do we do this?”
Muse answered immediately, her voice still disguised. “Well, when I said I grant powers, it’s more or less literal. The ability you get depends on you own desires and personality. I have some small level of control, able to guarantee a physical advantage or a mental one. Beyond that, it’s all on you. Or that’s how it normally works, I’ve never tried with another Imbued before.”
“So guess that means it’s the first time for both of us.” If Ferne got the joke, she chose to ignore it. She simply waited in silence while I considered my options.
Physical abilities weren’t that useful to me, my power already made me unkillable, and I could do as much damage with the right weapon as any power. That Bastard proved skill trumped powers by kicking my ass all day using nothing but fighting dirty.
My decision was made for me. “Definitely mental, umm…” What did The Bastard call it? “Situational awareness. I need to be able to read people and anticipate their actions, especially in a fight. Can you grant that?”
“I can only promise to try.” Muse extended her hand to me, revealing that her palms weren’t covered by her costume. “The effect requires skin contact for approximately thirty seconds. Remember to focus on what you want the whole time. It seems to help.”
“So we literally have to shake on it?” I pulled off my glove and grabbed her outstretched hand. The cycle of information from Ferne’s power was intense and ever changing, now that I didn’t immediately jump back from shock. There had to be at least a dozen different identities I was looking at, all being flickered through in the span of a second.
I hadn’t managed to identify any of them, not even Ferne herself, by the time she slipped her hand out of mine. “And the deal is complete.”
“I don’t feel any different,” I said, and then I started to think. About Kitten, about the crap at school, and about my mother. And everything seemed so obvious. For about three seconds, at which point I respawned. All those insights, the ideas, the answers, were gone. I couldn’t even remember them, I could only remember that I once had them.
“I’m sorry.” I wasn’t sure if Muse was sincere. Between her general weirdness, that voice disguiser, and my current emotional state, that was to be expected. “I guess my power doesn’t carry over when your power activates.”
Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck! “We’ll do it again! Even if it doesn’t stick, I can write things down or send myself a voice mail!”
She stepped back from me. “No. I can’t.”
“But you just did! Why is it any different this time?” I stepped toward her. In retrospect, not my finest moment. I just had the solution to all of my problems right in front of me, only for it to be taken away. I wasn’t thinking clearly.
“It is the same as the first time.” Ferne’s disguised voice didn’t waver while she took a combat stance. If my half-assed training with Alex and The Bastard were any indication, she actually knew how to fight. I don’t know why that surprised me, seeing how her power worked. “Granting powers is costly. I can’t afford to do it twice in one night, especially if it’s not going to last.”
“Then we do it next week or something, after your back,” I begged. “You have no idea how important this is!”
“No!” For the first time, she raised her voice. “It’s not an option and the sooner you accept it, the better. I’ve already got a headache, and I don’t even have the benefit of another partnership. This night has been a complete flop for both of us.”
I hesitated a moment, then took a deep breath of frigid air. “Sorry. You’re right, I’m acting stupid. I… I don’t even know if whatever your power did for me was actually going to help, or just another bad idea that sounded good at the time. But, hey, at least now you know your power works on other Imbued. That’s gotta be worth something, right?”
Muse, I forced myself to remember to think of her as her costumed identity, nodded slowly. “You’re right, on both counts. At least I know it can work, if not on your specific kind of power.”
Why did my power reject hers like that? I countered Nano’s as well. Does she have a sort of mind control built into her ability? I didn’t feel anything like that for the few seconds I had that boosted ability. “So, I guess that’s that. You can go if you want.” I’m just gonna stay here and feel sorry for myself for a while.
Muse hesitated for a moment. Or, at least, I think it was hesitation. “Listen. I can’t solve all of your problems. But I do have some friends who might be able to do something about some of the gang stuff. It should be enough to get you some breathing room. I wish I had the kind of power to do more. Oh, and before you ask, I’m still not interested in joining a team.”
Damn, and she could be so useful. “Even knowing it gives you more access to Imbued to try your power on?” I briefly considered Laura dealing with Muse. She was already smart, and having a small power of her own would… make her a part of this. And such was the death of that idea.
“Especially knowing I can enhance superhumans,” Muse emphasized. “I have a power whose main function is to make others stronger. All Imbued are potential tools to others. Powers like yours make you a weapon, if someone tries to use you, you can fight back. I’ll just be a resource to exploit. Can you blame me for wanting to stay off the radar?”
I thought to Muwth and the ‘Cold War’ she described as her lot in life. Ferne’s power was potentially just as valuable, if not moreso. And probably not as easy to monetize and play off others as Muwth’s was. Just being part of a team, or even government employed, probably wouldn’t protect her.
“I get it.” What more could I say? “But if you, like, ever need help, I’ve got a few friends of my own. Between us, there’s not much we can’t hunt down and end.” I felt kinda bad functionally promising Muwth and Anima’s help, but I couldn’t imagine either of them refusing if it came up.
“Thank you.” To my surprise, it was actually Ferne’s voice. She’d turned off her voice disguiser. “I really do need to go pop a few pills and sleep this off. See you around?”
“Yeah, see ya.” I turned and started back to Dad’s place. I’d finally accepted that there were no quick fixes to my problems, no magic bullets to undo all the problems in my life. Getting powers only made things worse, and Ferne’s ability to cheat the system wasn’t an option. So I’d take the only other option: hard work.
And for most of November, that’s what I did. I was still grounded as hell, so I spent my nights studying for school, and designing my costume. Allowances were something that happened to kids whose parents had money, but Dad slipped me a few bucks to buy some stuff as an ‘early Christmas gift’. I diverted that money to Laura, since she needed it more than I. Muwth gave me a bit of money, enough to more or less fund the complete outfit.
At school, I was either working out, actually doing school work, or spending time with Alex or Cassie. The novelty of me having powers wore off, and without me patrolling or fighting supervillains, I didn’t have any more cool stories to share. I tried not to be disappointed, but going from the center of attention to mostly forgotten in favor of parties, dances, and the school’s shot at winning the state championship kinda stung.
I was happy for Alex, though. Even if I couldn’t show up to games I encouraged him as best I could. Apparently this was basically his full ride scholarship in the making, and he was working so hard for it. He earned all the attention he got. Plus I was still dating the hottest girl in my grade and arguably the school, so it was hard to be too bummed out.
Ferne remained her usual quiet self, continuing to pretend she barely knew me. She did make good on her promise to cause trouble with the gangs. Within the first week a few of the more important members found themselves arrested or expelled for various reasons. I chose not to ask how she pulled that off. It’s not like they were innocent or anything. And with that distraction the gangbangers mostly forgot about me just like everyone else. The occasional hostile remark, but no threats and no violence, so I was happy with that.
Anima and Muwth were both pretty understanding. Anima seemed almost relieved at things going on break, and I wasn’t close enough to find out why. I still worked with Muwth, secretly trying to send messages from the future, but it was slow to progress. Her power just wasn’t that precise. And I tried not to think about it too hard. My ‘patrols’ were now a matter of Muwth playing anonymous tipster. The cops were more than happy to take all the credit. But without me actually there, we had a lot of false alarms.
My time at Dad’s was spent training for real. The Bastard’s skills were top notch, and completely no frills. I still don’t know who taught him how to fight, but they skipped all the parts about playing fair. Or letting your opponent survive. He had me focusing on aiming to break knees or elbows in a fight, and my argument that I could do all that with a knife since my power made me unkillable only got me stabbed with said knife. Eventually he relented and taught me a couple grapples and pressure points, but that was about it. I was being taught to maim and kill.
My costume reached completion as well. I cobbled together something respectably tough, complete with an environmental protective weave. The Bastard swore by the stuff, saying it would hold up anywhere from Antarctica to Vietnam. Only flaw was it couldn’t stop a bullet, which didn’t mean much to me. Proper goggles, complete with recording device. Specialized zip ties to use for handcuffs. Two knives, one of which was more like a steel dagger. A container of pepper spray that I was told required more permits to carry legally than a gun, much like the big knife required permits I didn’t have.
Dad and The Bastard didn’t seem too worried about the law. I got the feeling that if I let them know that I basically had infinite ammo hacks running they’d have hooked me up with guns and a grenade.
And I did start testing my powers, finally. I did have infinite ammo hacks. If I set something on fire I could recreate it at will, restoring it from ash and smoke. The heat from the fire, or damage it did to other things, would remain. Those experiments also taught me I had a time limit of roughly five minutes for restoring something after I touched it. I didn’t know why the timer was reduced to only seconds during the fight with Kitten, but probably had to do with being on the ass end of an ass kicking at the time.
I also learned that I could only restore myself, my clothing, stuff I was carrying, and one single other object I’d touched. But my power had funny ideas of what it considered ‘a single object’.
A closed box included all the stuff inside. An open box only did the box. Clothing was a separate object, unless it was a single object that covered the whole body, then it and the person inside was one object. Small objects plugged into each other were all one object until connected to something too heavy for me, then the chain ended.
I also had a weight limit, and that weight was slowly increasing. At first, I thought it was just me getting better, but then I discovered it was based on my strength. I was getting stronger, so the objects I could respawn were getting heavier. Which explained why Shadow Boxer was immune: she was an easy five hundred pounds of solid muscle. I expected a lot of Brawlers and Tanks, who were sometimes superhumanly large, would give me trouble.
Kitten remained hidden during this time. I hadn’t found her once during any of my precog assisted patrols. We had a signal worked out for emergencies big enough to break my grounding for. Kitten was obviously worth that signal.
Muwth guessed that since Kitten could see people through walls from about four hundred feet away, and recognize ones she already knew, that she was probably avoiding me. It was either that or she skipped town. I ruled the latter theory out entirely, and wasn’t sure about the former.
It was, all in all, a pretty boring month until Thanksgiving.