Metal flowed over Domenic, leaving only his mouth and eyes visible. “I know.” He reached out his hand to my cheek, creating a metal mask over my face. My scalp tingled as the liquid steel wrapped over my hair and hid even that identifying feature.
“It’s not perfect, but the best I can do on short order. Just be sure to keep your eyes glowing once we’re visible.” Metal flowed over Domenic’s mouth, eyes, and then the rest of his body.
Fully encased, he went from looking like a tall, awkward teen boy to a living steel statue. Curved blades extended over the wrists, elbows, knees and shoulders, adding the sort of menace that would make for a great villain. The final embellishments were curves to imitate a muscular man, like one might see in a comic book.
I could only think of one response. “You’ve been practicing without me.”
“Some. Now follow me.” The echo of his voice passing through his armor sent a much less pleasant shiver down my spine compared to before. If Domenic ever wanted to be a supervillain, he indesputably had the look for it.
He ducked out the side door, and I chased after him into the darkness between his yard and the neighbor. In truth, I didn’t know how to determine where the shots came from. “Do you know where we’re going?”
“One of Bea’s friends was holding a party.”
Oh, that’s why he was so eager to get involved. “Lead the way.”
I followed Domenic for a couple blocks through alleyways, startling a half-naked couple en route, specifically the bottom half. I couldn’t quite decide what it said about them that they didn’t stop after the gunshots.
When we got to the site of the party, it was obvious the shooting took place here. Some people had fled, and the remainder were in disarray not related to festivity.
Domenic leaned against a brick wall, huffing. “Y-you go.” The heavy breathing reminded me of Darth Vader. “I need. Breathe.”
It’s still my fault he’s in pain. I wanted to apologize again, but that could wait until after. “Understood.” Domenic and I were a lot alike when it came to our sense of duty; the best way for me to help him was to follow instructions.
The air crackled as I drew upon the full extent of my power. Still not comfortable with flight, I leapt from our hiding place, across a street that needed at least twice as many streetlights as it had, and into the yard of the party. People backed away, understandably frightened by my presence.
“What happened here?” I noticed the girl crumpled up near a plastic table. A couple other girls were already there with her, but neither seemed to be doing anything other than trying to comfort her.
Not waiting for a response, I burned another quick burst of power to reach her. I landed on my knees in front of her. I noticed three things right in he first second. First: she was young, perhaps even younger than I was. Second: she was holding her stomach as blood ran through her fingers. The final, most heartbreaking detail: she was several months pregnant.
Shaking, I reached for the girl. My first aid training screamed at me for touching her without gloves; I hadn’t tested how my shield responded to blood. “Miss, you need to move your hands so I can check the injury.”
Through the shaking sobs, I could barely understand what she said. “I can’t feel my baby.”
My power surged, and I drew my hands back, for fear I’d hurt her if I touched her while radiating like I was right now.
Domenic’s the one who wants to be a doctor, he’ll have a better idea of what to do. All I could be certain of was stomach wounds required near immediate surgery, doubly so for her pregnancy. On the plus side, such as there was one, her ability to cry which ruled out a lung or diaphragm puncture.
I pointed to one of the girls. “You! Find some clean cloth! A fresh bedsheet if you have to!” My own voice startled me, crackling with anger and my power, but it did the trick; the girl rushed into the house without hesitation. I gestured at the other. “Tell me who did this.”
Her eyes widened in fear. “I… I…”
I’m not going to get anything useful from her. I stood, using my power to draw me about a foot off the ground. “Anyone!? I know you’re witnesses, give me a name!” People backed away, but kept their mouths shut nonetheless. Most of them didn’t even notice Domenic approaching.
“Guy in the wifebeater.” Domenic pointed over at one of the men in the corner, with a couple other guys. “Has a gun.” Given the echo of his voice through his armor, I was the only one who recognized the pain in his breathing.
I didn’t wait for elaboration, and in a single burst I was inches in front of the man. Of the three, he was the darkest, only a bit lighter than Domenic. His two buddies stumbled over themselves to flee from me. I might have been able to catch them, but I had the one I wanted.
“Y-you can’t touch me! I know my rights! You can’t prove I did nothin’!” Of those three statements, the first was true. Imbued got a lot of leeway when it came to most laws, but use of powers on civilians was always prosecuted to the fullest extent. I could do nothing but talk unless he attacked me first.
I still wanted answers.
“His name’s Ian.” I heard Domenic’s unmistakable voice moving behind me. He was still approaching, though more toward the girl than us. I wondered if he was using his armor was amplifying his voice. “Real sack of shit.”
“H-how do you know my name?” Ian tried to look past me at my partner.
I drifted in front of him. “So, Ian, do you like hurting little girls? Is that what gets you off?” I clenched my fists, drawing on just a little more energy. My light was still near-white; I had well over ninety percent power remaining.
“The girl’s his ex.” Oh. A wave of nausea hit me as I started putting together the puzzle. He’s in his mid twenties, and she can’t be much older than fifteen. I glanced at the others still at the party; this was information any of them could have given me, but not one had spoken.
“I… you can’t prove any of it!” Ian stepped back. “You got no witnesses!”
I jumped forward, halting an inch away from his face. “Go ahead, run, I dare you.” The sick thing is, he might have been right; none of these people seemed like they’d testify in court.
“I’m psychic, it’s enough to permit a search.” Under different circumstances, I might have smiled at Dom’s bluff. In truth, it was quite the opposite; powers were considered a violation of privacy, and could only be used for evidence gathering after a warrant was issued. Not that I expected Ian to know that. “The cops aren’t far, and all they need is the gun. Fingerprints, gunshot residue, striations. The gun isn’t legal, so they can hold you on that while waiting on other tests. Enjoy your last night of freedom, scumbag.”
I reduced my power just a bit, so the approaching sirens could be heard over the crackle of my field. “On the plus side, you won’t have to worry about girlfriends for a few decades. You’ll be the girlfriend.”
I might have smiled when the moron pulled the gun from its hiding place under his jacket. He leveled it strait at me. I had to give the bastard a little credit, he held the gun like someone who knew what they were doing. “Back the fuck off!” I drifted closer, slow enough to allow him to back further away from the others. “The bitch deserved it! She lied to me, said she was on the pill! She was trying to trap me!”
“That justifies murdering your own child?” I hoped my distorted voice was as frightening as Domenic’s.
Evidently, it was enough to push Ian to his last major mistake of the night; he pulled the trigger. Two bullets hit my stomach with all the fanfare of a couple spitballs, depleting a tiny fraction of my battery.
He tried aim toward the crowd, but I caught his hand before he could and squeezed. Not as hard as I could, not by a long shot, but enough that he felt it. With his hand locked in place, I used my palm to bend the barrel.
He squeezed the trigger one more time, causing a minor harmless explosion in my hand. Harmless for me, at any rate.
Ian screamed in pain and dropped to his knees, but I held his arm up right in front of me. Let these people see they have nothing to fear from this bastard. Part of me wanted to do more; a quick pull was all it’d take for him to be known as ‘lefty’ for the rest of his life.
It was only after the smell of charcoal and bad bacon cut through the tang of ozone that I realized my power did it for me. I pulled my hand back, followed by the sickening wet sound and strips of burnt skin stuck to my fingers. Oh god, what have I done?
Ian collapsed into a ball, his mangled and burnt hand half-fused with the ruined firearm. If his screams included words, they weren’t intelligible.
I stepped back. My forcefield pushed against the sticky flesh, forcing it away from my skin where it fell onto the lawn. By now, the ambulance had arrived along with a couple squad cars. Domenic was talking to the paramedics, while the cops approached me cautiously.
“I… I didn’t mean…” I looked back down at Ian. I couldn’t say I felt bad for hurting him, and maybe that was the problem. “It was an accident.” But was it really?
“Daybreak, we need you to step away from the suspect.” I obeyed the officers on shock and instinct alone. Domenic, too, had allowed the paramedics to take over for his care of Ian’s victim. We stood silently, watching as the scene was dealt with by professionals.
My stomach lurched when another vehicle’s doors opened. A pair of long, slender legs clad in indigo boots and leggings came out first, followed by a willowy figure. Starfall.
I considered running, but under the circumstances that would get me in a lot of trouble. Along with Starfall, a pair of other Imbued exited the vehicle.
The second, I recognized as Relativistic, in his black-and-white swirled costume. His powers had something to do with increasing or slowing time in a localized area, exact details were impossible to come by. I did know he was one of the longer serving members on the force, and arguably the most powerful hero in the state.
Eldritch flowed out through the roof, a mass of living orange smoke in an indistinct female form. She was one of the Altered, her features changed by her powers to the point where she was no longer able to pass as human. Other than being an amorphous gas that could pass through physical objects and take other shapes, I wasn’t sure she had any powers.
Eldritch approached Domenic while Relativistic stayed near the vehicle, but I barely registered them. I was more concerned about Starfall walking straight toward me.
I could even admit, in some way, that I missed her and was glad to see her. After tonight, I yearned for a hug from my mother. Whatever her faults, she never tried to murder me in the womb.
I pushed those thoughts away. I wanted to stay angry at her betrayal, but that anger had lost its edge. Instead, I settled on the next best emotion: suspicion. It felt a little too convenient that my luck-manipulating mother show up when I wanted to see her most. “What are you doing here?”
“A pair of mostly unknown Imbued show up out of nowhere and maim a suspect.” Starfall, my mother, showed no sense of familiarity in her tone. “The real question isn’t why we’re here, it’s how many more of us are nearby, waiting to respond if you turn hostile. As one of the more recognizable heroes, I’m often a representative under such circumstances.”
She always did have the most effective ways to tell me when I asked a stupid question. I took a breath, picking the best way to answer. “I only touched him after he tried to point the gun at the crowd. My power produces heat, I underestimated how much.” Every word true, some details she’d already know, and I was sure they were pointing some sort of lie detection at me.
“You will need to come to the station, to fill out paperwork.” Fuck. “If you feel it risks your secret identity to do so now, you can ask to postpone for up to seventy-two hours. Is that acceptable?”
I blinked back my surprise. “Yeah, we can work with that.” When I told Domenic they made things convenient for us superheroes, I hadn’t realized how right I was.
“I’ll make sure it’s entered into the system.” Mom looked over at Domenic, and I allowed my eyes to follow. Eldritch was still speaking with him. “We have a few minutes. Walk with me?”
I wanted to say no, but something in Mom’s voice made me change my mind. “Okay.”
I allowed her to lead us away from the others in silence, until we were well out of earshot. “It never gets any easier.”
“This neighborhood, the others like it. They treat each other like animals, because that’s what they are. Animals.” A part of me wondered how certain we could be that no one listening in. Mom was taking a rather large risk with this line of dialogue. “We’re out in places like this more often than the rest of the city combined, and always for the sickest, most inhuman reasons.”
The painful part wasn’t that she was saying such things, it was that I found myself agreeing with her. After what I’d seen tonight, how not a single person at that party tried to help. The shooter didn’t even bother to run after the fact.
“That’s not true!” I don’t know which of us I was trying to convince, but I drew on indignation where I couldn’t find evidence. “Some are bad, but others have been nothing but kind to me!”
Mom stopped, regarding me for a moment. “Are you so certain? No ulterior motives? Not to use you, whether for money, or because of your powers, or…” she scanned me with her eyes, not even bothering to hide her distaste in my costume. “More physical reasons? You’re a smart girl, if you tell me you’re certain, I’ll believe you.”
I hesitated for a moment. She’d ruled out Domenic’s grandmother, and argument could be made against Domenic. Yet, he stuck by me even when he could have made more money by blackmail. “A hundred and thirty percent. I cost him money, and he knows nothing physical is going to happen.”
“Is that so?” Mom managed a smile I believed was genuine. “So, maybe he is the exception that proves the rule. But in the end, doesn’t that make it even worse?”
What? “How does that make it worse? It just proves your philosophy is bullshit.”
“If true, it only proves I’m too idealistic,” Mom’s smile faded. “When a pig rolls in filth, or a dog shits on the lawn, that’s forgivable because they’re animals. Human beings are held to higher standards. When a crocodile kills its own young, it’s because it’s a disgusting beast that doesn’t know any better. When a human does it, what excuse can you offer?”
I wished I had some retort, capable of defending my stance. I no longer hoped for one that could convince her that she was wrong. I only wished for one that could convince me she was wrong. “And where do I fit in your beliefs? Nazis aren’t fond of gays, either.”
“I told you before, we’re not Nazis. Our stance on homosexuality is neutral. As long as you’re an upstanding human being, you’ll be accepted.” She sighed softly. “As a mother, my feelings are more complicated. No one likes knowing their child is going to face a more difficult life, with fewer chances to marry and have children. But in this world of overpopulation and artificial insemination, there’s no longer a duty to do so for the family. As long as you leave the world a better place than you found it, I’ll be proud of you.”
I could feel the wetness of my tears, pooling in the mask Domenic created for me. It’s not fair, the racists are supposed to be the unreasonable ones.
“I would hug you, but the onlookers think we’re strangers.” Mom said after a moment. “Or, most of them do.” She nodded her head toward where Domenic was standing a block or so away. “Just, remember that when you’re ready to come home, we’ll be there for you. You’ll never stop being my daughter.”
Mom started walking back toward the crime scene, while Domenic came toward me. If they said anything to each other in passing, I didn’t hear it.