Laura’s face went white. Well, whiter than usual. “Zach, I think it’s Kitten.”
My stomach clenched. Now? It’s Christmas Eve and she picks now? I was up and had the phone before I even had a thought. “Did you hurt Cassie?” Another thought hit me. “What about her family?”
“Hmmm~ that depends.” I could hear her smiling and tilting her head in that fake-cute way. “Which answer gets you here faster?”
“You don’t need to touch her.” It was true, but I didn’t know if her lie detection worked over the phone. “This is between us, she doesn’t matter. You can let her go.”
“Don’t worry, I didn’t do anything to hurt Cassie.” I would have felt better if I believed her. “I just invited her over for some girl talk about our favorite boy-toy. She was a little nervous at first, but a little gentle persuasion and she wouldn’t shut up. We’re bestest buds, now. But she had to take a nap, poor girl doesn’t have our staying power.”
Oh god, fuck, dammit, shit! This can’t be happening. “Where are you?”
“And spoil the surprise?” Kitten laughed. “Nope, I’m giving you instructions on how to get here. I know how fast you can move, so you just follow my lead, one minute at a time. Think of it like a scavenger hunt. Oh, and if anyone’s following or helping, I’ll be very disappointed.” Her voice got low and sultry. “This is a private date.” With that, she hung up.
I felt bile rise in the back of my throat. My phone beeped at me: a text from Cassie’s phone, giving an intersection and a time. She was giving me a bit over four minutes to make it a mile. I could move a lot faster than that, and she had to know it. She wants me in costume. “GL, you heard that?”
“Every word,” he rumbled. “We need to form a plan.”
“You form the damned plan, I’ll buy time.” I grabbed my costume and went for the bathroom, using my power to change as fast as possible.
“I don’t think Kitten knows about Muwth.” I realized that was stupid, everyone knew about our mystery precog. “Or how she can track me with her power, maybe. Let them know we need Anima.”
I knew GL could hear me through the wall, probably see me, too. He was smarter than me, and Muwth was smarter than all of us. I had to trust them to do their part while I did mine. I’d changed and was running for the door.
“Zach, what-” Mom started.
“No time!” I rushed past her and jumped down the stairs. “Ground me later!”
I landed hard enough to break my feet, and ignored the brief shudder of pain the way I always did. I was too busy thinking about what that monster might have done to Cassie. Once out the door, I was on a dead sprint south. I knew my power could keep this up forever; only fire and weird energy draining powers were a threat to me.
I was in eyesight of the intersection when I got another text. Another address, about two miles and only another four minutes. I wasn’t going to make that without some extra speed, so I pulled my knife and slashed my hand. Each duplication was another few feet per second, an extra couple miles an hour. I made it to the intersection only seconds before my next set target.
The words ‘silent night’ passed through my mind as I rushed down the cold, empty streets. Any other time, it might have been peaceful, beautiful even. Or as beautiful as these shithole neighborhoods ever got. She was leading me north and west, but I couldn’t be sure where that’d take me. I had to cross the river, maybe she was just seeing if I was truly alone or not.
It took ten minutes of running before I found myself in a series of warehouses outside of town. They were abandoned, not for being old, but for being too new. Some of them weren’t even warehouses yet, just concrete floors and steel frames.
I got one more text: #6.
I counted down the line. Six was one of the more finished buildings, and I didn’t waste time, just teleporting the door off its hinges. With any luck, I just set off some silent alarm that’d bring the heroes.
The inside was pitch black. “Whipping Boy! I was afraid you wouldn’t come!” Kitten’s greeting echoed across the empty building. She could have been almost anywhere, I was blind and the echo made it impossible to follow her voice.
I have to buy time, as much of it as possible. There was no way to lie to her, I knew that, so I had to find a way to stall without being obvious. “You didn’t have to worry. I’ve been thinking about you ever since our first meeting.” Every word of that was true.
“Really? What about?”
About how many ways I’m going to kill you. I almost said it, but I wasn’t sure how she’d respond. Based on what Flux said, she’d probably like it, but I didn’t want to take the chance. “Destiny.”
She clapped excitedly. “So you do get it!”
No. “Maybe. I think it’s one of those things you can never be sure about until it happens.” Anything to keep her talking. My eyes were adjusting to the dark, but they could only do so much in near pitch blackness.
“You’re not ready yet,” Kitten sounded annoyed. “How can you hope to beat me if you can’t even understand destiny?”
“I don’t know how to program, doesn’t stop me from using the computer. If destiny or whatever wants me to win, I’ll win, right?”
Something slammed down on my shoulders, causing me to respawn. I twisted to look at my disintegrating copy, only to take a boot to the face. This time I was ready. In the dim light my power offered, I slammed into Kitten from behind and fell with all my weight on top of her. Or, at least, I tried. Something stabbed me in the gut, and she rolled out from underneath the third dissolving copy.
“You have been practicing!” Kitten exclaimed as she hopped to her feet and bounced up and down like a happy child. This time, she’d decided she wanted to look Asian, or maybe Hispanic, it was too dark to tell. “I mean, it’s not gonna be enough, you’re still only a stage three. You have to accept your destiny before you’ll be on my level.”
“I thought I was only stage two?” I only surged once, right?
“Nope, definitely three.” The light was almost out, but I could make out her patronizing look. “You can see it in your colors. Stage one has a color.” Blue light started swirling around her, replacing that from my now vanished copies. Claws of ice started forming on her hands. “Two gets another color.” Her eyes started glowing red. “Three…” she trailed off as the sources of light blended together into a whirlwind of purple that drew the ice up her arms.
“Stage four, can do this.” Her light darkened, making her all but invisible. Spears of ice stabbed into me, returning my own light to the battle. I got a look at her, now covered in a costume made of blackened ice, and hoped that armor meant she was slower now. I called my knife to my hand and stabbed myself, closing the gap between us. She dodged, but not quite fast enough to stop me from hitting her in the shoulder.
I pulled the trigger on my gauntlet, and the explosion took my arm and sent her rolling. I duplicated and rushed her, only to slip and fall face first on the ice trail she left behind. I respawned on my feet, but she was already standing and ready, ice growing into the hole I put into her armor. Her arm dangled useless at her side, but her giggles echoed through the building.
“What’s so funny?” I recalled my knife, the light giving me a chance to see again. There’s an idea. I started summoning the knife to my hand without ever letting it go, making something sort of like a torch.
She smirked at me. “You blew your load too early.”
What. I didn’t speak, I just stabbed myself and teleported. Fuck buying time, I’ll kill her myself. I slipped a few times on the ice, but that just meant some copies probably looked stupid before breaking down. She jumped back and brought her hand up, putting a wall of ice up in my way. I hit the ice with both gauntlets at full power, but it didn’t break.
“If you’d just waited a while longer, maybe you’d have had a good shot, but now I know about your weapon and you’ll never have another chance,” Kitten berated me. “You don’t trust in destiny, and that’s why I outrank you.”
I dived to the side, landing hard on my shoulder. “Fuck destiny!” I stepped on my own duplicate for the traction to jump forward. “Fuck rankings!” Kitten casually ducked under me and threw me forward. Ice covered my chest. I fired the gauntlets down at her, duped, and fired again.
She casually avoided the first shots, then blocked the other pair with her ice armor. “And fuck you!” My next copy was too close for her to dodge, and I fired both barrels at once. Nothing happened. I pressed the triggers again and again.
The ice over her face cracked and broke off. She was breathing hard, but otherwise didn’t seem to have a care in the world. “Delicate electronics don’t do well in extreme cold.”
“How?” I respawned them and pulled the triggers again, but nothing happened. I looked into them with my power, seeing where the ice had formed inside and cracked wires and even some of the metal.
“I know it worked on that cutie from your school, but it’s not good enough for me.” Kitten stepped forward, running her hands along my gauntlets. We both knew I had no way to win now; I couldn’t even summon my knife. “You’re close, though. So close to embracing our destiny. You didn’t even ask about that girl.”
I took a slow breath, she was right, and now she wanted to gloat. I swallowed, looking for ways to buy time. I only had one desperate move left up my sleeve. “She doesn’t matter to me like you do.”
“Such a smooth talker,” Kitten wrapped her arms around me. “She said the same thing when we talked, you know. That you didn’t care about her, and wouldn’t come for her. She was right, wasn’t she?”
I want to save her from you bad enough to do… this. “She’s a backstabbing bitch.” Is that true enough to beat Kitten’s lie detection? “All I want is you.” It was the first thing that came to mind that didn’t sound like a death threat, even if it was stolen from a shitty Christmas song.
She smiled up at me, and if she was any other human being I’d have said the look was loving. “Alright, I guess you’ve earned your Christmas present.” My stomach churned, and not in a good way. The stupid part of my brain wondered if I’d ever be able to enjoy Christmas again in my life. “Now undress me.”
“I, uh, don’t think you have a zipper on that thing.”
“Aww,” she pouted. “Don’t pretend you don’t know, or I’m going to think you like her better.” The threat in her voice was tangible, and I could only imagine what sick shit she might do to Cassie.
Slowly, I reached out, trying to force my arm not to tremble. My gloves had holes in them so I could touch things for my power. I touched her cheek and tried very hard to make it look like I was enjoying it. My power mapped her body, with all the stuff I now knew to look for.
She was absurdly healthy, without a scar or old injury, and only minor bruising from the one good hit I got on her. I tried to think of ways to hurt her like this, some spot nearby I could teleport her to that would do the job, but there wasn’t anything that would work.
A shimmer of light, and her ice suit shattered against the ground. She was naked now, illuminating herself with her own blue light. She stepped back and ran her fingers along her chest and down her stomach. “Like what you see?”
I couldn’t lie my way around that question. I was too busy being disgusted by the person to care about her figure. “Honestly, I kinda have a thing for older women.” I almost said ‘sorry’, but that would have been the biggest lie of my life.
“Sorry, I can’t shapeshift that much.” She looked almost self conscious for a second before her smile returned. “But I promise I won’t disappoint!”
Does that mean she really is the age she looks? I might throw up. “Trust me, I’m not afraid of that at all.” Just don’t ask me what I am afraid of. “So, umm, about that gift you mentioned?”
She licked her lips. “Boys, always so eager. First, it’s your turn to strip.”
I didn’t argue with her, and I couldn’t risk making her mad by playing dumb a second time. My costume dropped beside me in a shimmer of green. I didn’t try to cover myself, but I didn’t do a display like she did. She could see through walls, and thus probably clothes, anyway.
“Wow, you really have filled out since last time,” Kitten’s compliment only disgusted me. She stepped forward and pressed her body against mine, then pulled me down and started kissing me. I closed my eyes and tried to imagine I was kissing Cassie, but a traitorous part of my mind didn’t take long to realize how much better at it Kitten was.
Her hand trailed down my chest, to between my legs.