My phone buzzed a text and checking revealed it was my basic report for the day. I’ll just call the cops for everything and be done with it. There’s no red or- Oh, god damn everything.
My special future-code was there, the one that proved Muwth was hiding things from me. One yellow, followed by two green, followed by a yellow and then a green, all within an hour of each other. The final green meant everything.
Cassie reached over and squeezed my knee. “Zach? Are you okay?”
Fuck. Why tonight of all nights? If it was anything other than ‘black’, I’d have given it to the police. I could even throw the police heroes a bone by giving them a red call. The whole chain was set to happen around eight, so there was even a chance I could go to the game and still be there on time. Muwth’s powers see the future, so if this is ordained maybe I can do both?
I closed my eyes and sighed. “Tell Alex I’m sorry.” I didn’t know enough about how the Interaction worked to risk it.
“Oh,” Cassie’s voice didn’t hide her disappointment. I felt the same way. It had been a pain to convince Mom to let me off the hook for a night, and I wanted to be able to support Alex like he supported me.
“I’m sorry to you, too.” It was also the first opportunity for what passed as a real date with Cassie, without the whole ‘supers’ thing taking position front and center. “It’s just-”
She smiled and put her finger over my mouth. “You don’t have to apologize for saving lives.”
I kissed her finger. “I don’t deserve you.”
“And don’t you dare forget it.” She leaned in and gave me a real kiss. “So how long do we have?”
“I can stick around until it’s time for you to go.” I wasn’t about to tell her I might even be able to go to the game and get back in time, in case she convinced me to try it.
“Mmm, okay then,” Cassie rested her head on my shoulder. “The real tragedy is you won’t even get to see me in my cheer outfit.”
I set my hand on the small of her back. “You mean the one that’s mandated by law to be less revealing than your normal clothes?”
“Yup.” She looked up at me. “So, any clue what you’re up against tonight? I mean, Alex has like a thousand game plans depending on how everything goes.”
I shrugged, causing her body to shift. “I just wing it. Glen can do some scouting, but it’s usually just me running in and getting wailed on until I figure out how to get through their powers and take them down.”
“I don’t think I like how your strategy is letting people kill you until they get tired.”
“Better me than anyone else.” She’d been bringing up the whole ‘you die’ thing a lot, lately. It was nice that she cared, but I didn’t want to think about how creepy my power was. “There are worse ways to die than ‘comes back to life in under a second’. Like all of them, for example.”
“I know, but what happens if you come across something that you can’t come back from?”
“I’m a Tank eight,” I said. “That means there is nothing that can put me down.” A bald faced lie and I suspected she knew it. “Well, except maybe aging. It’ll be a few years before we know if I get older.”
“If you get older?” Cassie sounded hesitant. “You mean you could live forever?”
“It’s not that weird,” I forced a smile. “About two percent of us can’t die naturally, and some can’t die at all. Usually happens with regenerators and time powers, but immortals can happen with almost anyone.”
“So, what do you plan to do if you are immortal?”
“First, I hope cougars are still a thing in the future.” I paused and braced myself for Cassie’s punch, but it never came. “Then there’s that spear in France that kills immortals. Most use it around a hundred and fifty, so I’ve got another century before I worry about the retirement plan.”
Cassie seemed too stunned to say anything, so I kept going. “Everything has to die eventually, I just get to do it more than once is all. Oh, while I’m thinking about it, tell Kayla to get a good angle for your cheer routine. I’ll pay her twenty bucks if there’s a good panty shot.”
Cassie sighed and shook her head. “Have I ever told you you’re an ass?” She tried to sound mad, but she couldn’t hide the amusement in her voice. “Besides, we wear modesty shorts.”
“Then it’s only worth five- ow!” I respawned in a shimmer of light and the realization that she jabbed me in the ribs hard that time. I brought my hands up as if to ward her off. “Okay, okay. Please don’t hurt me!”
“That’s what I thought.” She somehow managed to both smile and scowl at me. “Now get back here, you’re on pillow duty.”
“Yes, Mistress,” I groaned in my best impression of a zombie. I plopped down on my bed and she placed her head on my stomach. I stroked her hair while we stayed silent for a bit. If she realized she just murdered me for comedy, she hid it well.
The rest of the time, we talked about nothings and homework. Our history class had just started a new project on the transcontinental railroad, so Cassie and I jumped on the chance to work together.
After she left I was right on the computer looking up the guestimated locations Muwth gave me, a route that had me going west to Annandale and then south to Springfield. Based on the area, I was expecting it to be Lightbringer related, either as the villains or the victims. I’d almost figured out where I was going to the house by the time I was ready to go.
Tonight was a solo act. Glen was going to Mike’s for game night, and I wasn’t going to try to talk him or Anima into coming for the ‘I can do it myself’ codes I had tonight. That would be reason enough, but more importantly I didn’t know where their loyalties sat. If it turned out Muwth was playing me, they might side with her over me. They might even be in on the scheme.
I stopped at every location and sent my signals. A quick stab in my hip for green, slashing a wrist for yellow. I found my way to the place in question, a quiet looking suburban neighborhood. Not an upscale place, but not ghetto either, and there weren’t any businesses. I began to wonder if my stunt failed and lying to the precog half of our Interaction broke things somehow.
Still, I waited in the shadows, wondering if there was some neighborhood watch that’d call the cops on me. A scream and thud came from a nearby house. Maybe this was some Imbued getting attacked in their civilian identity. It wasn’t common, but if anyone was going to pull that shit it would be Kitten. I bolted to the house and stopped at the front door.
“Stop! Help!” A male voice, sounded tired and weak. On the plus side, I now had theoretical permission to enter the house. A shrug of the shoulders dropped my backpack onto the grass even as I drew my knife and sent the lying signal to Muwth. I’d long given up trying to figure out what we were doing to causality, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t supposed to work like this.
I placed my hand on the door and teleported it off the hinges. The house was messy inside, with dishes piled up in the sink and various bits of trash strewn about. I decided the owner was probably a single man. A soft attempt at a scream led me to the living room, where a young brunette girl was straddling a man. Red mist was bleeding off of him, and it looked for all intents like she was inhaling it.
That was all I needed to see, so I charged forward, slamming into the girl and taking her hard to the ground. She was quick, and rolled like an expert fighter to put me face first into the television.
I respawned facing toward her, she’d already taken a combat stance. There was no way she weighed more than half what I did, but she knew how to fight and I would never underestimate another little girl in my life. I rushed forward and let her grab my arm for a classic throw.
She never got the chance, I gripped the handle of my gauntlets and sliced my own finger, duplicating behind her. Now that she was off balance and facing the wrong direction, I grabbed her arm and pushed it up behind her back. “Okay, lady, I don’t know how much punishment you can take, but I promise I can dish out a whole lot m-”
What came out of my mouth after that might have been a scream, I was in too much pain to know. The part able to think noticed that I didn’t respawn after the attack. I lost my grip and fell to my knees, trying desperately not to throw up from the pain. Red mist flowed off my skin and made its way to the girl.
She walked away, toward the man she started on. “S-stop,” I gasped. She ignored me in favor of her earlier victim. I forced myself to my feet as my head cleared, and I realized what my power told me during the attack. I’d felt it a couple times before. “I know it’s you, Ferne.”
That stopped her, and she turned back to me. Now that I had a good look, I could only barely tell it was her. The wig was so believable that I wondered if it was her real hair and she wore a wig to school. Her makeup was perfect, she could say she was twelve and most people would believe it. “Oh, Zach, why did you have to say that?”
“Y-you know me and my big mouth,” I forced a smile that I just wasn’t feeling.
She rushed me fast enough to catch me off guard, and her hand made contact with my chest. Even braced for it, I wasn’t ready for the pain. I slammed into the ground hard, with Ferne’s entire mass following along. I was pretty sure my ribs cracked in the fall, but that pain was nothing compared to whatever Ferne’s power was doing to me. It wasn’t just pain, it was weakness. It was dying in slow motion.
Back when I was a child, I spent a lot of time in hospitals for one reason or another. While there, I spent a lot of time hanging out with what the doctors called the ‘chemo kids’ behind our backs. They thought we didn’t know about that, but we did. Most of them got better pretty quick, in and out stuff.
It’s the ones who didn’t respond, who couldn’t be sent home for outpatient care, that I got to know. I watched as they went from hopeful and energetic to losing their strength, then their enthusiasm, and then their hope. I stayed hopeful through all my own problems because no matter what I was going through, it didn’t hurt like they hurt.
Not until today. Today it felt like I was going through what they went through, only a thousand times faster. I was so tired that I didn’t even care about the pain anymore. I thought of Kitten, hoping to call on anger to push me through.
“For what it’s worth, I’m sorry.” I heard Ferne’s voice through the fog of pain and fatigue.
No. I can’t allow myself to die like this. It took everything I had to reach my hands up, toward Ferne. She even helped me, taking my hands in hers and guiding them to her shoulders. I didn’t have much strength left, so I let my hands rest for a moment before dragging them down her body to her chest.
“Really, Zach?” I wasn’t sure if I pissed her off or amused her, and I was beyond caring. “Well, maybe I don’t feel as bad as I did a m-”
The world in front of me exploded into a shower of smoke, gore and noise. All I could see or smell was the blood covering my mask and visor.
My arms slammed into the floor and I realized I couldn’t feel my hands. I didn’t have the strength left in me to care. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I wondered if Kitten would be disappointed that she couldn’t be my first anymore. Then, for the second time since I got my powers, I slept.