<Should I contact the police?> Doctor Abernathy asked even as I told my forcefield to play up its lightshow. Electricity started dancing across my skin. <He’s clearly part of this conspiracy, and now we have the evidence that’ll let us crack->
<Don’t bother,> I said right back. <I can handle this.> More than my ability to handle it, I wanted to deal with this guy myself.
I bolted forward as Stormbreaker leaned back, putting his legs forward. The left was fully extended while the right knee bent at a roughly ninety degree angle with the toes pointed at me. That’s the Unbound Foot variant on the Art of the Intercepting Fist. Wait, the hell was that? <Bug in the computer. It’s auto-translating Chinese martial arts into English, even when I’m not speaking out loud. Also still can’t detect Stormbreaker with my computer.>
That train of thought happened in the half second before I made contact with Stormbreaker.
A light ‘jab’ from his extended left foot forced me to twist to avoid a kick to the face. He clearly expected me to go for the inner path, toward the center body mass as a fighter is trained when fighting a kick-boxer. Instead, I stepped to the outside, leaving me with little opportunity to do damage, but no chance of taking a boot to the head.
I took the opportunity to punch his calf muscle as hard as I could while he was off balance. As expected, it was like punching a brick wall, but he cursed out of surprise rather than the pain. He’s damage resistant enough to be caught off guard when something can bypass the defense.
Surprised or not, he reacted like a fighter and twisted, bringing his right leg around and down in an arc on top of me. I rolled back and kicked my feet up to meet his leg coming down. The cheap particle board flooring splintered under my back, but our strength countered one another. <Less important topic that should have an easy answer: how’s my strength compare to his?>
I rolled out of the splintered crater in my floor and came up as his left foot swept toward me. Unable to dodge, I blocked with both arms and went sailing into the combination kitchen-dining room. The table held up about as well as the floor, and I found myself in even more garbage psuedo-wood.
I was ready for his followup kicks, this time taking the inside route. As expected, he kicked with his bent right leg, but I was already leaning back to reduce the impact of the blow. I took a glancing blow to the chest, but kicked him in the back, and this time he smashed the architecture of my ceiling.
<Full bore? You have him beat in strength by a factor of between three to five,> Abernathy was speaking as I traded blows with Stormbreaker. <If you want to maintain your cover, he is roughly twenty percent stronger than you are. You are significantly more durable than he is. You are registered as having superhuman reflexes while he’s still baseline.>
<Baseline expert fighter, you mean.> I rolled to the side to avoid the shower of dust and plaster from the ceiling. Stormbreaker came down in a wide roundhouse kick which kept me from getting close enough to exploit his temporary blindness. <And specific training to use his powers to their greatest advantage.>
<I can still contact the police,> Professor Abernathy offered.
<And spoil my fun?> I scooped a handfull of debris of the ground and tossed it to the side. Stormbreaker turned to the direction of the clatter, leaving him vulnerable for me to get a solid punch to his jaw. He flew backward, but halted himself midair, with a boxer’s defensive pose. I smiled, despite no one being able to see it. “You’re right, that did feel good.” In truth, my fist stung a bit, but if anything that just added to the enjoyment.
“Cheap shot!” He levitated higher up, again blocking with his legs as he cleared his mask of the dust which blinded him.
“Sucker gets a sucker punch.” I took a standard Krav Maga stance, with my hands in front of me ready to block or strike as necessary. In the end, it was the style I was most familiar with, and I was supposed to be former armed forces in this persona so there was no harm in revealing military training. Although, if I was doing Krav Maga for real, that sucker punch would have involved me climbing onto his face and punching it until the struggle stopped. Certainly, I wouldn’t stand here trading quips while waiting for him to get his bearings. Stupidest thing in any fighting movie, and here I am doing it.
This time, he was the one to charge forward, but he dived at the last moment, going so low to the ground that he must have scuffed my floor with his ass. This time, I took to the air, flipping backward in midair and planting both my feet into the ceiling. The panels splintered into dust around my ankles, but the balls of my feet planted firmly into a support beam. I positioned my arms in a guard position not unlike a boxer’s, and jumped downward. Both elbows planted into Stormbreaker’s stomach.
I rolled to my feet, resisting the urge to curse up a storm as pain radiated from my elbows. Even with my biomed analysis systems down thanks to whatever weird power was going on, I could tell by the difficulty of moving my right arm that I’d broken my elbow on his abs. I stretched my arm, willing my face not to show signs of pain. My fingers were completely numb. I hope it’s just dislocated so I don’t need to get another reconstructive surgery.
Stormbreaker rose into the air, holding his stomach while curled up in a fetal position. I could begrudge him the sign of weakness, seeing as he just took two elbows to the solar plexus. “H-how?” It took him several seconds to gasp out the word.
“Did I hand you your ass?” I fell back on the asshole role I was meant to play, though I kept a smile on my face. Ate up about four percent of my batteries. “You’ve never killed before.”
Despite his mask, I could imagine the look on his face. In an act of mercy, I elaborated before he could wheeze a denial. “Yeah, your power may have made some scum kill themselves, but you’ve never personally got up close and personal and ended someone. It’s a whole other creature. I’ve seen people on the battlefield point their guns at the enemy and stand there while the enemy mowed them down, because they couldn’t pull that trigger. You don’t know how to kill. I hope you never learn.”
“First. Time. You were real.” It was painful, watching Stormbreaker struggle for air while talking. “Finally. Past the. Bullshit.”
Real, huh? I wonder. While my experiences as a soldier were real enough, it wasn’t something I felt like discussing with this man who started a fight in my house. “If you insist. Got some empathy power to go with the emotion control? I hear it’s pretty common to get both.”
“No powers, just a good judge of character.” Stormbreaker let himself touch the ground with his feet, though he was still hunched over. I still couldn’t get a lock on him with my bioscan thanks to the tech blind spot, but I knew the board I propelled myself off up snapped under the pressure I put on it. A normal human wouldn’t have much on his mind other than crushed organs, had they been on the receiving end of such a blow. “Like how I don’t think you’d kill me.”
“No, it was a kill shot, just one you’d probably live through.” I made my words as dismissive as possible. “People survive stomach wounds all the time. Especially when I bet you got a healer girlfriend ready to kiss everything better.” <We got an ETA on explaining why I still can’t think of Bruce Lee’s martial arts of choice without it translating into English? Sorry for putting you on the spot, but it does seem oddly specific.>
“Healer boyfriend, actually,” he looked at me as if ready to get back to fighting. “That’s not gonna be a problem, right? How about you? Got a healer to take care of your bruises?”
<No. And it doesn’t make any sense,> Abernathy said. <Cantonese isn’t just not in your active library, it hasn’t even been decompressed from the backup files. You’ve never had cause to access it. Speaking of doesn’t make sense, why are you suddenly acting all buddy-buddy with this guy?>
<Some men just talk with their fists.> “Depends. Did you remember to wash your hands before punching me?” I neglected to mention my own healer, thus avoiding the hour long conversation which inevitably ended with ‘it’s complicated’. “And I think your ego’s taken worse bruises. I’m already fine.”
<Does that mean I have to punch you?> Turns out, said healer was listening in on the conversation anyway. Professor Abernathy must have called her in to attempt to diagnose the strange language glitch, or other problems associated with the tech blackout.
“I’m wearing gloves, and you’re an asshole.” Despite the language, and still being hunched over, Stormbreaker had a smile on his face.
“I know there’s a gay joke in there somewhere, but fuck it.” <It’s for platonic relationships only, Phoebe.> Given her powers and the sheer scope of all the machines monitoring my vitals, the hope that she couldn’t tell I was lying was a pipe dream at best. The fact that she didn’t respond with a whine killed that hope better than any words she might have spoken.
I decided I’d given Stormbreaker enough time to recover from having the wind knocked out of him; I may have lacked my machinery, but my sense of smell confirmed there was no real injury done to the man. Like most Tanks, the moment something got through the defenses he crumpled like cardboard. “Since you didn’t wait to ambush me in the shower, I’m going to assume you had a different reason for attacking me in my home.”
“Just a bit of a grudge match,” he said without convincing anyone. “And because I wanted to get your measure.”
<Remember, you’ve still got to be impolite, even if Stormbreaker’s a friendly rather than deceiving you,> Doctor Abernathy said. <We know that either his powers are a lot stronger than advertised, or there is at least one other Imbued monitoring the situation.>
<Confirmed. Still in colossal jackass mode.> “Get to the part that wouldn’t be better served by ambushing me in the shower.”
He shook his head, but at least now he was standing and breathing normally. “I wanted to know if you meant it about taking out the trash.”
This is it. <I never would have pinned this on him.> Remembering my role, and more remembering that the surest way to drive off allies and dates alike was to appear over-eager, I narrowed my eyes. “I meant what I said the first time. Was I not clear enough?”
<It may not be him,> Abernathy said. <The psych profile suggests he has a strong sense of personal duty. If he’s not involved, yet suspects that you are, it would explain the situation without his need to be directly involved. But it’s probably him.>
“First you say you don’t feel guilty about, in your own words, ‘taking out the trash’,” Stormbreaker said. “Then you go for a nonlethal takedown in our fight. Then you talk about how I’m not a trained killer and you hope I never become one. All things considered? Yeah, you can afford to be a bit clearer.”
“Fine, you want the real answer?” No one deserves to be hunted down and butchered like an animal. I pushed that thought out of my head and focused on Skeletor, and what he did to Vine and that Thassan child. From there I moved on to the babies left sitting on top of bombs in the hopes that it would draw the Americans just a little closer, maybe take more of us out.
“Some people,” I spit the word. “Don’t deserve to be treated like people. Most people are good. They’re helpful, loving, kind, and want nothing more than a better future for themselves and the world. Not gonna say they’re all smart or good at doing the right thing, but at least they try, dammit. And then there’s the monsters who come along and burn the world down for the fun of it.”
I must have been drawing from at least a dozen different sources, half of which were snippets quoted from movies that I forgot I watched years ago. In fact, I was certain I pulled the ‘people who don’t deserve to be treated as people’ from a movie. Interestingly enough, I seemed to recall something to do with a supers battle on the moon and thinking it was silly and there weren’t any Imbued capable of having fights on the moon. So much for that theory.
Stormbreaker watched me, and it struck me how much I’d come to rely upon my scanner technology to clue me in on human behavior. I could smell him, but through the dust and heat of our fight it only told me that he’d been in a fight. I could hear his heartbeat, but he seemed almost too calm under the circumstances. The full body costume made it impossible to draw more advanced conclusions. We stood there in relative silence, save for one of the ceiling tiles dropping to the floor, for exactly one minute and twelve seconds before he spoke.
“I have some friends you should meet,” he said.
“Is that so?” <Contact Patil. We’re in.>