We were on the fourth floor when I finally realized what was missing. “Umm, why aren’t there any fire alarms going off? Or maybe sprinklers?” Even though there wasn’t any fire in the stairwell, I could smell smoke through my mask.
“There aren’t any,” GL’s voice responded. Somehow he managed to make this fake voice of his sound disgusted and angry. “Believe me, I know how to look.”
Com flickered into sight. “A topic that will no doubt come up when we investigate the building owner. Keep going to the fifth floor, there’s a section of hallway blocked off by the fire. There’s no safe path to guide people out.” He disappeared again, hopefully doing his part.
“Understood.” I wasn’t sure if he heard me or not, but I was willing to follow orders in this situation. As much as I didn’t like Com, listening to him was better than running around blind. Ego could wait until people weren’t burning.
I grabbed the door to the fifth floor, which opened without issue. Except the part where a fireball slammed into my face, knocking me back. My power kindly let me know that the trenchcoat was already starting to burn. The high price insulation layer was doing just fine.
I took a breath and charged in, mentally thanking Dad and The Bastard for insisting I actually protect myself instead of relying just on my power. I’d probably have respawned two or three times already without this stuff. Cassie’s insistance on good eyewear meant I could actually see, if barely, in the fire and smoke. One of them, I’d actually thank with words later.
“This is the worst of it.” I heard Com’s voice, but couldn’t see him. “I’ve told the occupants to stay put and wait for help. At least the doors are metal, so they’ll hold for a little while.”
The heat finally got to me, and I found myself back in the stairwell, about ten steps below the door. I nearly collapsed from exhaustion. What the fuck, power? This was the first time I ever teleported more than touch range, and damn did it suck.
“He’s out here,” GL said. “Are you okay?”
I took a slow breath, forcing myself to shrug it off. “Yeah.” I started back up the stairs. “Surprised me is all.” After months of not being able to feel tired for any reason, I’d forgotten what it felt like. “I can get through the flames, but getting people out is going to be a problem. Can you do anything to stop fire?”
“No.” GL’s voice was absolute. “My powers are all kinetic. Hearing’s the only normal sense I have. I can’t even see fire, let alone manipulate it.”
God damn it. So he’s basically useless except to unlock doors.
“So you’re saying you rushed in without an ability or equipment that could actually make a difference?” Com didn’t bother to hide the contempt in his voice, and I felt myself getting angry, more at myself than anything.
“At least I didn’t lose my virginity to my own belly button.” I was going to blow all my comebacks on the same day at this rate. I reached into my coat and pulled out my other knife, holding it out to the open air. “Take this and cut some pipes. We’ll make our own sprinklers.”
“I’ll do what I can,” GL said. I felt nothing but the knife as it lifted out of my hand by his power. The deep, midnight-blue blade was just like The Bastard’s, only a different color. It was some kind of special Gadget-glass called mithril by its maker, sharp enough to cut steel while being light as aluminum. And somehow, if you put it in its sheath and then cooked it in the oven, it sharpened itself.
“So, gonna charge me for the illegal weapon?” I asked Com. “Because good luck proving it’s mine.”
“Actually, I was just asking a teammate if it was possible to get water pressure to this building increased. The answer was ‘no’, by the way.”
Water started dumping from the ceiling, pushing the fire back some. Enough for me to get to the first door. I felt the heat through my glove and tried to turn the handle: it was still locked.
With a mental sigh, I pulled off a glove. I was hoping to use it to surprise a supervillain, but this was more important. With a thought I summoned my knife back to me and slid it in the sheath. Then I teleported the door off its hinges. Well, technically the hinges came with the door, but whatever.
I pushed it and it landed on a patch of flame; maybe that’d help a little. Then I stepped into the apartment. A woman about my mom’s age cowered back, holding two small children. A little boy and a baby I assumed was a girl based on the pink onesie. She said something, but between her panic and the fact that she was speaking Spanish I had no idea what it was. Probably begging me not to hurt her.
“Ummm… hola? Habla Ingles?” Today was the first day since last year’s report card that I regretted not paying attention in Spanish.
Com flickered into position and started talking to her in Spanish, too fast for me to follow. He pointed at me, then at the door. I recognized ‘fuego’ in the chain of words, but that was about it.
She hesitantly stepped toward me. I nodded emphatically and stepped back toward the door. The water was making a difference, at least this close. I stepped into it, letting my costume get soaked and gestured toward the stairwell only a few feet away. She got the message, picking up both kids and running.
She hesitated only for a moment at the doorway. “Thank you,” the words were hasty and poorly pronounced, but the feeling they caused was indescribable. For the first time I was enjoying being a hero for the purpose of being a hero.
I was at the next door in a heartbeat; this one opened without me needing to break out my power. I almost cringed, seeing the older man, probably past his sixties, and in a wheelchair.
Fuck! I hesitated; there was no way I could get him down stairs- alive at any rate- and save anyone else. I considered turning around and moving to the next door instead. Save the others, come back if I had time.
Lucky for him and me that was the moment my body gave out from the heat. I duplicated and almost turned and slapped my disintegrating copy upside the head for stupidity. “Com, can you get Sapphire up to that window? Tell her to hurry.” I didn’t wait for the answer. If she said no I’d ask GL to do it. “Sir, I’ve got a plan to get you out, but I’ll need a thick blanket.”
“They’re in the bedroom.” The man didn’t seem upset or nervous or anything, which was a little weird. “Do you know if Julia’s okay? She’s my wife.”
“If she’s still here I’ll get her out.” I was already past him, going for the hall where the doors were. They were all in arm’s reach of each other. The first door I opened was the bathroom, which was empty. So was the bedroom, but I found a quilted bed cover that would do the trick. By the time I got out Sapphire was by the window, her arms crossed.
The windows here weren’t much bigger than in my place; knock the glass out, and a small child or contortionist could probably squeeze through. I put my hand on the glass and discarded it to the side, then forced the balled up blanket out. “Take this and drop down a couple feet. Be prepared to play catch.”
“What are y-” I didn’t wait to hear the rest; time was way too precious.
I put my hand on the man’s shoulder. “Okay, sir. This’ll feel weird, but it’s perfectly safe.” I didn’t wait to hear his response as I back to the window. I forced my arm through enough to make sure he didn’t hit the wall when he fell.
I respawned, and was relieved to see I still had the guy in ‘memory’. I had to push my arm through again. “Okay, hope you’re ready.” She would have to be, because I teleported the man outside and only regretted I couldn’t see the look on Sapphire’s face as a naked old guy appeared out of nowhere for her to catch. As an afterthought, I grabbed his clothes and shoved them out the hole.
The fire was even worse when I got back to the hall. The fire and smoke were blinding, and the water from the pipes a mere trickle.
“You can skip the next two doors, they’re empty. 514 is the next room with people. Hurry, the fire’s already inside.”
I almost wanted to ask Com how the fuck I was even supposed to get to the next two doors. Or, for that matter, if they painted the walls here with kerosene. “GL, I’ll need you to guide me through like before.” I clenched my teeth and ran blindly forward. I felt my foot go through the floorboards, and anticipated the coming teleport to the hall.
It didn’t come. The force distributed across my costume wasn’t much stronger than a child in any given area. But there was a lot of different points, and the total strength added up, pulling me forward and giving me a chance to get my footing. I took advantage and ran that much harder; I needed to get through before my power kicked off.
A tug to my right made me turn. I barely saw the door frame in time to avoid running into it. When Com said the room was already burning, he meant it. A boy, maybe ten or eleven, was screaming and crying near a gap where the floor had caved. A woman was holding him, trying to pull him back. Four more adults were in the kitchen, furthest from the flames. There were a couple of twelve- or thirteen-year-old girls with them, as well as quite the little Thanksgiving feast.
Between the roar of the fire, and my own protective gear covering my ears, I couldn’t make out any words. I got close enough to get ahold of the boy; he struggled to pull away, and I saw why.
A man was trapped in the wreckage in the room below. A board was sticking out of his stomach, low enough to miss the lungs or heart, but it might have hit a kidney. Not that it would matter when the fire got to him. I pulled again, helping the woman I assumed was his mother drag him away from the edge. “I’ll come back!” I shouted at the man. I wasn’t sure if he heard me.
In the relative comfort of the not-burning part of the room I knelt next to the others. We were cut off from windows here. “Okay, I’ve got a plan to get everyone out. Please, just stay calm.” What I wouldn’t give to have Anima here right now.
I stabbed my knife in the wall, then stepped and gave it a solid kick to sink it to the hilt. I respawned when the blade snapped from the force and sliced my foot open.
A thought later it was new in my hand. Another stab, another kick, and this time it held. Then a third, enough that I could teleport a triangle sized chunk out of the wall. If the building was, y’know, not complete shit, it wouldn’t have worked. But then it we’d have had fire alarms and maybe an extinguisher.
I saw Sapphire’s costume through the side; she was carrying a blanket. I had to give them credit: they worked fast.
Com flickered in next to me. “Children first,” he commanded, speaking more toward the family than to me. “Starting from youngest to oldest. Just touch his hand and he can teleport you outside the building. We have professionals ready to catch you.”
I started working my arm through the hole I’d made. A moment later, I realized I was fucking stupid and forgot to take off my glove. A quick teleport fixed that problem. The woman practically had to shove her little boy into reach; he kicked and screamed the whole way. But then he was outside, and safe. His clothing dropped near my feet as the swirl of colors moved through the walls.
“Yeah, sorry about that,” I said. “My power will only take you, not the stuff you’re carrying. Clothes included.”
“We have flyers and blankets ready on the other side, as well as an illusionist to hide you from witnesses.” Com was actually pretty good at projecting authority. “Please hurry and make contact. We’ll do our best to get you out safely.”
No, the best you could do involves Sapphire using her goddamn super strength to kick down the fucking wall and save everyone. This isn’t even close to the best you can do. I bit my tongue to avoid saying any of that. I could have been wrong. Maybe Sapphire had some weird limitation that kept her from breaking walls.
The man that, based on their shared blond hair I guessed was the father of the other two kids, nudged the younger girl toward me. “Go ahead, Sarah. We’ll be right behind you.”
She shook like a leaf and refused to move, to the point that the other girl, who I assumed was her sister, stepped past her and slapped my hand. “I’ll take frostbite over burning alive any day.” The joke was forced, but she wasn’t wrong.
I didn’t bother waiting, I just sent her over.
“We’ll need about thirty seconds before we’re ready for the next person.” At least no one panicked or screamed. The younger girl tentatively touched my hand, while the older pair of adults comforted the lone woman, holding her as she sobbed.
My heart went out to her; from her perspective we were leaving her husband to die.
“We’re ready,” Com stated after a moment. The girl’s clothes joined the pile on the floor. “And we can take the next passanger soon.”
The blond guy spoke up again. “Umm, can you take two at once? My wife and I can share a blanket. Or. hell, I don’t need a blanket- anything to get everyone out faster.”
I felt like I needed to answer first. “Well, I’ll have to teleport you one at a time. How they carry you on the other side is out of my hands.”
“Meteoric says he can handle both of you,” Com responded after a moment of hesitation. “It won’t be graceful, and you should send your wife out first.”
She barely touched my fingertips with hers, and I moved her across. The guy wasn’t nearly so timid, giving me a rather tight handshake. Not painful, but much harder than it needed to be. “In case I don’t get a chance to say it later: thank you.”
“All part of the job.” I teleported him immediately after.
The woman was next, her eyes watering. “A-are you really going to save Rod?”
I took a line from Ferne’s book. “I’ll try my best.”
“Okay. Please…” She touched my hand and I sent her on her way with every intention to keep my promise.
The older couple, grandparents I guessed, were next. They both reached out at the same time. “We’ll go together if that’s alright.”
“It’s fine,” Com confirmed. “Same instructions as before.”
The woman touched my hand, followed by the man. They were holding hands, not that it made a difference; I sent them across one at a time. Then I wrenched my arm back hard enough to force a respawn; I needed myself fresh for the next part of this. I ran toward the burning hole in the floor and jumped.
Please, please let this work.