“Don’t worry, GL, this asshole’s mine,” I whispered to the night. “Just keep an eye out for his allies.” GL said his senses were better than human, I just had to hope he heard me and could do something. It was almost like prayer.
If I’d known tonight was my rematch with Kitten, I would have seen if Dad could get me some grenades or something. I spotted Flux standing in one of the footpaths between buildings. If he didn’t have those yellow circuits in his costume, he’d have been almost invisible.
I reached into my coat and grabbed the taser. The pepper spray might work on Kitten, but Flux was in a contained suit. The knives were overkill, emphasis on ‘kill’. The ‘Mark of Cain’ thing notwithstanding, I was only confident I could get away with murdering one villain, and I wasn’t going to waste it on him.
I charged forward, zeroed in on the neck where a hit would hurt even if his armor was insulated. About four inches from him, I found myself wrapped in yellow light and unable move.
“You didn’t think that would work, did you?” Flux asked.
“Worth a sh-” I respawned next to another building before I realized I’d been launched back. “-ot.”
Flux was still looking away from me, but I could see where he had his gun against his side, pointed backward. “My armor tracks and displays any movement within almost two hundred feet of my current position, predicting its momentum and future location.” He was using some sort of speaker, I could hear him just fine despite the distance. He turned to face me. “My current simulations suggest it is almost thirty percent as effective as Kitten’s combat senses.” Gravel crunched under his boots as he walked toward me. “You can’t even take me, what chance do you have against her?”
I clenched my teeth, the fucker was right. I bolted forward and he shot at me again. I did my best to dodge, but I respawned against the wall. So the direct approach isn’t going to work.
“I know you go to the worst school in Virginia, which is saying a lot, but what part of ‘momentum tracking technology’ did you not hear the first time?” Flux continued walking forward. “I’ll make this simple: you cannot evade me.”
I pulled my knife from the sheath with my left hand and held it in a reverse grip, and bolted forward again. This time, I had a plan.
“I’d say something about bringing knives to gun fights, but Kitten says it’s her favorite thing about you.” I had to hand it to The Bastard, that was the cruelest insult I’d ever heard in my life. He lazily tracked me with his weapon.
If dodging wouldn’t work, then I wouldn’t dodge. The moment I felt the jolt of movement changing, I bent my wrist and stabbed myself in the arm. I respawned and rushed forward again. The trick worked on the next two shots before I got into melee range.
I threw a solid right hook, knocking him back. So textbook that The Bastard would only complain that I didn’t stab the son of a bitch. Flux ducked down and punched me in the gut. I respawned and realized I didn’t get proper ‘contact’ for my power at any point.
I kicked forward, to take advantage of his crouched position, but he caught my leg and broke it. All without making physical contact between us. Why the fuck does everyone I fight have a forcefield? “Cute, too pussy to fight with your bare hands, huh?”
“Why work for it, especially against a c-lister like you?” Flux answered casually. His actions didn’t match his words, as he took a combat stance. That satisfaction was short lived when he burst forward in a halo of gold light, and planted his foot in my gut. My copy jumped forward, hoping he’d be off guard, but repelled before I made contact. I slammed into another damn wall.
“How the actual fuck is he only ranked a threat level of two?” I muttered. I get where he didn’t compare to Kitten, but he ranked lower than Shadow Boxer, and I would destroy her in a rematch.
“His field is limited to redistributing the flow of momentum outward,” Genius Loci rumbled. I jumped- in the heat of the battle I’d forgotten he was even here. “It can be beaten if you can get a full ring around it.”
How the balls am I supposed to do that? “Good to know.” Well, whatever I do has to be better than my plan. “I was just going to keep attacking him until the battery in that glowing gimp suit ran out.”
I bolted in again, watching the combat stance Flux took. I wasn’t an expert on martial arts, but based on the stuff Alex and The Bastard were teaching me, Flux was worse. He was relying on his powers to do all the work, a habit The Bastard had spent the last month literally beating out of me.
Well, if the power launches you in reverse… what if. Moments before getting to touch range, I dropped down. My knees slammed hard into into the gravel and allowed me to respawn in a crouched position right in front of Flux. I came up with all my force, my knee hit his groin at almost the exact same instant as I slammed my head into his faceplace.
I respawned, blinded by a storm of rock and dirt. It was luck more than skill that let me find the shimmer of light from my old copy. I dived back into the fray, hitting that damn forcefield. Ready for it this time, I stabbed my arm to stop my launch away.
Figuring if it worked once, I dropped to my knees again. I duplicated and tried another body slam, but this time I missed. Something hit the back of my head, forcing a duplication and knocking the knife one direction and me another. I respawned the knife into my hand a heartbeat before slamming into the wall of a building.
When the dust cleared, Flux was hunched over but still standing. “Dirty. Trick. Fucker.”
I didn’t bother gloating, I just bolted forward again. He may have that damn suit, but I was a better fighter and had hurt him, while I couldn’t be hurt at all. I made for the same maneuver as before, dropping to my knees and forcing a respawn. Flux jumped to the side, which meant I missed, and it also meant I had him. A thought later, and my trench coat teleported into his path.
I moved forward and grabbed the other side of my coat, pulling him chest to chest with me as my knife dropped by our feet. This close, I had about four inches and fifty pounds on him. I headbutted him, and was knocked back, but I still held the coat so I didn’t go flying. His shield was now useless.
I smashed my skull hard against his faceplate a second time, forcing a respawn. Thanks to all my training, I didn’t lose grip on the coat, and smashed his face a third time. Then a fourth and a fifth. The sixth, I felt slicing and blood before respawning. I’d broken through the face guard, and I wasn’t about to stop.
The air around me crackled and filled with the scent of copper. I felt myself being pushed back by the forcefield, and this time the coat wasn’t enough. It bulged out like a parachute, then started to rip. I let go, allowing myself to fly back, called my knife and used the arm slash trick to stop my movement. I broke the one-item rule, so I couldn’t respawn my coat.
Flux had jumped up onto the roof of one of the buildings, holding his head with both hands. “Don’t you dare come near me, I can still end you!” It took me a moment to realize he was talking to GL.
I didn’t know if Flux had the firepower left to do that, if he ever truly did. “You’d better not, it’s not worth the risk.”
Problem was, I didn’t have any powers to get me to the top of the building he was on. He could escape at any time. Fuck it, if he’s going to escape anyway, may as well make it sound like I won. “Go ahead, run back to your girlfriend and let her know I’m looking forward to a rematch.”
“She’s not my girlfriend!” Flux shouted through his hands.
An opportunity to mock this asshole, how could I pass that up? “Funny, I seem to recall-”
“That I’m gay?” he interrupted.
“She said something about an exception.”
“And you believed her?!” His voice cracked. “Maybe you don’t know what ‘gay’ means? I am a man, who voluntarily has sex with other men. There are no exceptions! And even if somehow there was, it wouldn’t be for a psychotic fourteen year old!”
I hesitated for a moment, absorbing that news. “Why are you even working with her?”
“What choice do I have?” Flux shook his head, he hadn’t taken his hands away from his face this whole time. “I’m a third rater at best. I was getting by on petty theft, drug running, and just being not important enough to catch. Then this girl comes along, says she likes my style and I probably know every game in town. I mean, I knew she was a villain, but I didn’t realize who.”
I stayed quiet and waited. This wasn’t the time for one of my jokes.
“No doesn’t mean ‘no’ to her,” Flux eventually continued. “It means ‘pardon me, miss, I want you to extract all my vital organs’. And not even death could help me if I try to betray her now.”
“So, you mean she… you…” I trailed off. I knew what he was saying, and it fit everything I already knew about Kitten, but I couldn’t say it.
“Rape? Yes! Yes, that’s exactly what it is! Would you like a gold sticker?!”
“Oh, geez, I’m sorry…” I was at a loss for words. “How does that even work?”
“A lot better for her than it does for me, I promise!” He just shook his head, but he’d started moving his hands. It was hard to tell from the ground, but it looked like he was collecting the bits of broken faceplate. “But if you really must know what Kitten’s idea of a good time is, she says your name while doing it. Not so funny now, is it?”
My balls retracted so hard that puberty was reversed. “I… I never said it was funny…” I muttered lamely. “So, why were you out here?”
“I was looking for you.”
“If you wanted my help with Kitten, there are easier-”
“I was trying to kick your ass!”
That explains nothing. “That explains everything.”
“Kitten’s obsessed with you. Like you’re the fucking Clarice to her Hannibal or some shit. She has a tape of your interview and she watches it every day. She fantasizes about some grand plot that ends with you either marrying or murdering her. Maybe both, I can’t tell, she’s goddamn insane.”
“If she’s that… that with me, then wouldn’t attacking me piss her off?” I was still busy trying to get my head around this. She says my name? I felt like I needed a scrub with steel wool. I couldn’t even imagine what Flux was going through. Yeah he was still an ass, but he didn’t deserve that.
“It’s a dominance hierarchy,” GL spoke from around me. “His theory is if he can beat you, then she’ll decide you were never worthy of her in the first place and move on to some other project instead.”
“She always has before,” Flux agreed. “Never staying more than a few weeks to find the deadliest badass in the city, kill them, and move on to the next city. This time’s different. She’s decided to start a war between Los Fieles, Lightbringer, the heroes, and anyone else who wants in. The rest of her plot reads like a bad romance novel that involves the two of you as generals leading your armies against each other while the city burns and…” mercifully, he didn’t finish the story.
“I think I get the picture.” It didn’t make any sense, but I got it. “At least she hasn’t started-”
“What world do you live on?!” Flux shouted. “Dude, she’s already butchered La Ahogado, Gripe, and Chaneque.” The only name I recognized was Chaneque, who used to call himself Banshee. He had a ghost-form that he could use to reach inside people and kill them. I wasn’t sure how Kitten killed him.
“She wants me to help doctor it to look like they died to bring down Dawn Star, who she went after tonight,” Flux added. “It’s stupid and crazy and the coroner’s going to take an hour to declare it an obvious sham, but it’ll still start a gang war.”
If true, that was bad. Dawn Star was one of Lightbringer’s heavy hitters, a forcefield using telepath that could temporarily boost others’ powers. Alone, she was tough. As part of a team, she was the reason Lightbringer still existed despite being outnumbered four to one. Rumor had it she was also Crucible’s lover, sister, or both depending on who you asked. “Why didn’t I hear-”
“Because the feds own the newspapers,” Flux interrupted. “Besides, they’re not white so at best they get a byline on page twelve.”
I had nothing to say to that. Erica didn’t make the front page before or after her body was found. More than anything, I wondered how all this could be happening behind my back. Muwth’s contacts or our Interaction should have noticed something. “So, what are you going to do now?” I asked.
“I’m going to go home, stitch up my face, and pray Kitten bit off more than she could chew with Dawn Star. When Kitten shows up with the corpse, she’s going to ask me what happened. Since I can’t fool her lie detection, I’ll tell her everything. I’ll even tell her I told you I’d tell her. She’ll be ever so thrilled to know you beat me and are more determined than ever to stop her. Please tell me you are.”
My fists clenched so hard the dagger in my left hand shook. I wasn’t so sympathetic to Flux to make him more important than getting justice for Erica, but I wasn’t so heartless to say that. I picked my words carefully. “As if I needed another reason. Let her know I’m going to make her beg for death by the time I’m done.”
“Great, there’s two hours of me pretending to be you tonight.” Flux was gone, leaving a streak of yellow light and a lot of unpleasant mental images.
I looked down at the knife I carried, then the damaged concrete and small crater from my battle with Flux. “I’m going to need better weapons.”
The air rumbled around me. “I think I can help.”