My phone buzzed in the middle of Thanksgiving dinner- well, more like lunch, really. I ignored Mom’s angry look as I checked the text: Code Black, 2:10. That was followed by a phone number, probably for one of Muwth or Anima’s dummy phones, and an address where the event was going to take place.
Time and address were never completely precise; they could vary by about ten minutes and be up to a block from Muwth’s estimate, so she always gave the earliest possible time. We knew I’d spot the crime if I was in the general area. Questions about causality and the concept of free will left unasked for fear of actually getting an answer.
The most important detail was Code Black. We had a color system, where Green meant I could take care of it myself, Yellow for calling the police to handle it, usually for nonviolent crime, and Red for when I needed Anima for backup. Black meant we used every resource available, calling for help from the government heroes for whatever reason. It was the best code we could currently get out of the Muwth-Respawn Interaction.
Yes, there’s enough of these weird power combinations that it has a naming convention.
I focused back on the task at hand: the message. This was worth getting in real trouble for. I stood from the table and went straight to my room. Mom got over her shock quickly, shouting something that probably translated to ‘if you do what I think you’re gonna do, I will disown you’. I wasn’t paying attention.
The moment my door was closed I grabbed my dresser and pulled it the couple feet needed to block the door. Other than the bathroom we didn’t have internal locks on any of our doors. I undressed the fast way, using my power to teleport clothes off. I dialed the number Muwth gave me as I pulled the bottom drawer out of my dresser.
“You got the news?” Turns out, I got Anima’s number. She sounded terrified.
“Yeah,” I confirmed. I tried to think of what to say as I unzipped the bag my costume was in. “So, are you in? I mean, I know you want to avoid this kind of thing, but this signal means I’ll need all the help I can get. Lives are at stake.”
I ignored the pounding on my door. Or was it the pounding of my door on my dresser? “Zach, open up this instant!” Yup, I am gonna be disowned. Hopefully, it’ll be worth it.
I was halfway into my armor’s underlayer when Anima answered. “I know. I’ll be there.”
“Thank you.” I then hung up. Part of me wanted to resent her for having the luxury of doubt. She had nothing to lose and still didn’t want to, while I was listening to my mother shout at me through the door while I got into costume. Except the mask, that part I’d save for when I actually got there. Fully decked out in my primarily dark blue and light green outfit, I pushed my dresser out of the way.
Mom actually slammed the door into my face, causing me to respawn. “Now tell me just what the hell you think y-” she hesitated for a moment. “Where did you get that costume?”
Of all the dumb questions to ask. “My buddy Craig. He has a list.”
“You’re not going out like that,” she went full Mom Voice, plus glare. If it had been any other situation, that would have worked.
I looked past her, where Grandma and Grandpa were standing in the hall. They looked more confused and worried than anything. “I’m pretty sure I am. Sorry about ruining Thanksgiving. I promise it’s for a good cause.” I have no idea what cause that is right now, but I trust… uh, theoretical future me to have my back.
Mom put her hands on both sides of my doorway, blocking my path. “Not happening.” I almost rolled my eyes. My mother might have weighed a hundred pounds if she replaced her skeleton with steel. Blocking my way was a joke and she knew it. “I’ve been doing some reading of my own: they don’t take well to using powers on civilians. Go ahead and try pushing me out of the way. If going to jail is what it takes to keep you safe, then so be it.”
Well, okay, maybe she can block me. “So be it,” I agreed, then turned and walked to my bed. I looked back, to see her relaxing just a bit. She thought she’d won. I put my hand on my window and pushed it open. It wasn’t a big window, maybe enough to squeeze a cat through, but all I needed was a hand. Then I pulled the street legal knife out of my pocket with the other hand.
“Zach, what are you doing?” Mom actually sounded worried. That wouldn’t last.
“There’s a reason cops take away weapons before locking the perp in the cell, Mom.” Okay, maybe that was a little melodramatic, but two could play at the overreaction game. I brought the knife into my side.
For a moment, I even heard an echo of Mom’s scream through two sets of ears. Or maybe I was imagining that part. Either way, I duplicated outside the window, and enjoyed the ten -or-so foot drop to freedom.
What little dirty snow sat on the ground wasn’t enough to break my fall, and I duplicated again. Landing gracefully was not something I’d been practicing. Given my power it just didn’t seem important. Maybe I should try throwing myself at the ground and missing.
There was a honk from the street, and I looked up to see Laura’s car. I ran for it, getting into the vehicle as fast as I could. “You do know Mom’s going to disown both of us for this, right?”
Laura hit the gas, driving us away. “Just one more Christmas card I don’t have to send out.”
I wanted to say something, that it was a much bigger deal than she was making it out to be. I just couldn’t find the right words. “Thank you.”
“You know, Zach, I was supposed to be the wild child.” Laura smiled and shook her head. “I was the one who snuck out at night, and had boyfriends old enough to buy beer for me and my friends. And used a fake ID to get a tattoo of a unicorn on my butt.”
It’s a unicorn? “Wait, you have a tat on your butt?”
“Three, actually. But only one of them needed a fake ID,” Laura responded. “I don’t think the guy who did it was fooled for a second. He just wanted to look at my ass.”
“Eww.” I looked at her with a combination of disgust and shock. “Is there a reason for all this TMI?”
“You mean besides horrifying my kid brother?” Laura asked, smiling impishly. “Surprisingly, yes! The point is I have a reputation to protect. My scrawny geek of a little brother-”
“Not so scrawny anymore,” I interrupted. Then I patted my arm for emphasis. Through the suit and coat, it wasn’t visible, but I’d picked up quite a bit of bulk over the last month and a half. There’s no way she didn’t notice.
Laura just smiled, hitting the turn signal and making her way into a grocery store parking lot. “You’ll always be a pipsqueak to me. Anyways, with you doing steroids and sending Mom into hysterics by jumping out of second story windows in the middle of Thanksgiving dinner, it’s making me look bad. If I stand back and do nothing now, I’ll forever be known as the good kid.” She faked a shiver of disgust. “And I just can’t allow that happen.”
Laura’s phone took that moment to buzz. “That’s probably her. Check it for me?”
I glanced at the screen, confirming that it was Mom’s number. “Should I answer it?”
“Not unless you want me to throw you out of the car while it’s moving,” Laura threatened. “You can talk to Mom while tumbling down the highway. How’s that sound?”
“I think I’ll pass.” I slid her phone back in the sleeve, ignoring the hum of it vibrating. “So, umm, I might need a place to crash if that’s alright. I guess I could stay at Dad’s, but…”
“But then you’re staying at Dad’s.” Laura nodded her head in understanding. “Sure, you can stay for a bit. But, there are laws about runaways. Mom’s not really going to disown you or kick you out. If anything, she’s just going to lock the cage that much tighter.”
“It’s amazing how easy it is to get emancipated. Practically all you have to do is ask a judge.” That wasn’t strictly true, but for Imbued it may as well have been. Most of us came from broken homes, and all of us were both dangerous and useful resources. If we wanted something, it was usually cheaper, easier, and safer just to let us have our way. “And you know Dad won’t argue if I stay with you instead of him.”
Laura forced a smile. “Sounds like you have it all figured out.”
“One of the benefits of not having to sleep anymore: lots of time to do research online.” I shifted in the seat and put my arms around her. Right now we both needed a hug.
After about ten seconds, Laura spoke. “Alright, enough mushy stuff. Now where are we driving to? Before traffic gets even worse.”
“Right.” I let go and slid back in my seat. Telling her where to go was a matter of looking at my phone and reading off the address. I knew we’d get there on time, otherwise Muwth wouldn’t have gotten information. Although I probably wouldn’t have without Laura’s help. All details I tried not to think about because of time travel bullshit hurts my head. We arrived with half an hour to spare.
Laura was full of questions on the trip, about how this whole ‘precog’ thing worked. She wasn’t happy when I refused to answer most questions on the subject, but she didn’t argue with me too much. She understood they weren’t my secrets to give away.
By the time we made it, there was already a crowd gathering. Three police vehicles were there, and officers were seeing to it that civilians stayed away. But there wasn’t a whole lot they could do. Laura parked a block away, and got out when I did.
“This time I’m going,” she stated before I could say anything. “You’ll just have to deal with it.”
God damn it. And I couldn’t very well stop her, not with all the help she’d been. “Fine, I’ll have White Lady keep you safe.”
I’d already spotted Anima on the roof of a strip mall that looked like half its stores were abandoned. We weren’t exactly in the nicest of neighborhoods, that was obvious. Did I stumble across a supervillain gang? I kept my eyes open for the event I noticed, whatever it would be. Thinking too hard about it would only give me a headache.
A red light appeared, revealing Com right next to us. He was warm enough that the snow near his feet was starting to melt. “Why am I not surprised to find you here? And who’s your friend? Is this the precog you’re working with?”
“Nope, this is my awesome but otherwise perfectly human sister, Laura.” I smiled at the joke that was coming, glad my mask hid my face. “Laura, this is the ghost of Santa Claus after he died of obesity. Also known as Com.” I’d been working on my material for this moment.
Laura kept from laughing, but she still smiled. “Oh, I’ve heard about you. How do you manage to fit down chimneys?”
Did I mention my sister is awesome?
Com didn’t have nearly the same sense of humor. “Ma’am. I’m sure your brother warned you that this could be a dangerous situation. Please don’t make it worse by getting involved.”
“Buddy, I haven’t met the man yet who can get my sister to listen,” I said. “Of course, I haven’t met any men who looked like the illegitimate love child of the Kool-Aid man and the Pillsbury Doughboy before, either.”
Sapphire landed next to us, startling me. “Did you find out what his precog predicted?” I didn’t even see her move. Either she was crazy fast, or I was paying way too much attention to messing with Com. Com’s red glow reflected off her metallic blue outfit.
“Sorry, ma’am, not yet,” Com answered. “It seems he’s brought his sister. A civilian.”
Sapphire’s head turned toward my sister. “I see. Stay behind the police cordon, or risk being charged with a crime.” She didn’t wait for a reply before looking back at me. “What did your psychic tell you?”
“Doesn’t work that way. You’ll have to wait about twenty five minutes to find out like everyone else.” I crossed my arms and watched her mirrored lenses through my own. Staredowns were so much less dramatic when you couldn’t look each other in the eye. I spared the moment to turn my eyes, but not my head, to look at the roof Anima was on. She’d ducked off somewhere, I wasn’t sure where or when.
Sapphire wasn’t moving, and so neither was I. It was going to be a long half hour.