S-so c-c-cold. Climbing out of the river bank was painful; my new form was far heavier than a human being, and the river bank kept giving as I climbed. After a while, I lucked into a concrete slope, which held my weight so I could make it to the surface. I didn’t need to breathe, but I was going to freeze to death.
Not far from where I climbed out was a machinist’s workshop, but I didn’t care about the business so much as the building. I forced my limbs to move, listening to the snap-pop of each step. I don’t feel pain anymore; I feel cold, but nothing hurts. My clothes cracked and fell off in pieces.
Later, I’d look back and think that the shedding of clothes could be either symbolic or humiliating, but at the time I was beyond caring. Irony, humiliation, my feelings for Zach, and my memories of Kitten, all forgotten in the desperate need for heat, for life.
I reached the door to the building which promised warmth. Please have super strength. I gripped the handle, tugging at it in hopes that I could force it open. Ice spread out from where I touched the door, and the handle broke apart in my hand like cheap plaster.
Somehow, this made me feel better, warmer. Mist rose off my skin in the heat of the building, condensed, and formed into a sheet of ice over my skin. I imagined I’d be trapped in an unbreakable shell of ice if I stood still too long, so I kept moving with chunks of ice falling off my body onto the floor.
I spotted one of those blow torches near the wall. Those are hot. I moved as fast as my frozen muscles would allow, which wasn’t fast at all. Praying that I didn’t freeze it with my touch, I pulled the nozzle down. C’mon don’t you break on me. Please don’t break.
If I still had the ability to cry, I would have been bawling as I fumbled with the nozzle, then weeping for joy when light burst from the torch. YES! The torch shook in my hand. I brought my free hand closer to the fire. The warmth felt so wonderful that I stuck my hand into the path. The sensations were indescribable, the best thing I’d ever experienced. I ran the torch over my arm, leaving behind lines of red that faded into the blue had become my new, permanent, skin color.
I lost track of time while drawing the torch across my body, reminiscent of using a detachable shower head when taking a bath. I regretted the loss of my clothes; had they not broken off, I’d have set them on fire for the extra heat. Instead, I kept making do with the blowtorch, bringing my temperature up slowly but surely.
A new glow flickered into the dark room, casting a red glow that reminded me I had been operating with night vision up until this moment. For a second, I almost thought I was looking at a Santa impersonator, but then I realized it was an illusion, a red picture of a man who just so happened to be fat and sporting a beard.
“This is the police! Stay…” he was turning as he spoke, then went silent when he got a look at me. “… where you are?”
I wondered what he thought of me, naked and pointing a blowtorch at my leg. None of which mattered, as whatever weird senses I had told me that there was a lot of warmth to be had in him. I dropped the torch on the ground and stood.
“Cold.” My mind was a little clearer, but I was still freezing, still hungry for energy. My limbs worked better as well, allowing me to walk with in a way that was a more ‘human’ and less ‘zombie’.
“Miss? My name is Com, and I am an officer. I’m here to help. Are you alone? Do you need help?” He glanced around, but his eyes came right back to me, though it wasn’t my face he was looking at. I may have been frigid, blue, and covered in flakes of ice anywhere I hadn’t torched in the last minute or so, but I was still a babe. “What about clothes? I’ll be happy to make sure you get some blankets.”
I took another step forward, not bothering to hide my nudity. “T-touch me?”
He didn’t move at all, and the look on his face was that of a man who had no idea what to do. “Miss, I can’t touch you. This is a hologram, I’m not really here.” To prove his point, he moved his hand through one of the many workstations. “If you’re willing to wait for officers to arrive, we can get y-“
He never got a chance to finish what he was telling me; with a lunge of strength that I could feel dropped my temperature by a few degrees, I stuck both arms into the man’s belly. His eyes went from confusion to shock to pain as power rushed into me, filled me in a way minutes with the torch could not.
Only after I finished feeding did I stop to realize what happened. Only now was the hunger reduced enough that I could think. Oh god! I have to get out of here before-
“GET ON THE GROUND!” Sapphire of all people flew into the room. She held her arms out to her sides, palms up, and a dozen chunks of material the same color as her costume levitated around her. They came forward in front of her, shaping themselves into six floating swords. They hovered around her as if she possessed three extra pairs of invisible arms to carry them. “I will carve you to pieces if I have to.”
Oh shit! Ohshitohshitohshit! I took another step back. “It’s not what it looks like!” What does it look like? “I…”
“It would be easier if you cooperate,” another girl stepped out from the shadows near the door I’d broken. She wore a medium blue sun dress and domino mask, looking more like a girl going to a costume ball than a superhero. “I can tell you’re new to your abilities.”
She can tell that? “I didn’t mean to hurt anyone.”
The girl tilted her head a bit to the left. “I believe you. You’re a thermovore, your power consumes massive amounts of heat energy from the environment, which you use…” She hesitated for a moment, as if staring through me. “What must you have suffered, for a power like that?”
Her words hit me like a physical thing, a single sentence which brought everything back to me. I fell to my knees, to a sound not unlike a bowling ball dropped on concrete which echoed through the building.
My body emulated sobs, responding to pain I no longer felt. The loss was still there, but my body felt nothing. My lungs drew breath, but didn’t care about the oxygen. My heart didn’t pound in my chest, I couldn’t tell if it beat at all. My stomach didn’t cramp and my eyes no longer had tears to give. Even my knees, which hit the floor hard enough to shatter normal human bones, caused me no pain. I touched my own skin, to be sure, and felt nothing.
“It’s not fair. Everything went so wrong.” I looked up at the two women, both of whom were still keeping their distance. “I’m so sorry.”
It wasn’t the heroes that I was apologizing to, it was myself, and Zach, and Kayla. I knew she was disappointed when I listened to those rumors about Zach, rather than staying by his side.
If I’d been stronger, less stupid, less afraid of what others thought about me, then none of this would be happening. Maybe Kitten still would have kidnapped me, did what she did because she was a monster, but then Zach would have been able to rescue me. Even after I betrayed him, he rescued me. I manage to find one good man, and then I have to throw it away by being a stupid, selfish bitch. I did this to myself.
“We understand,” the girl in the sun dress said. “We’re here for you. We can help you understand your powers, learn to control them. Then you’ll be able to make things right.”
“How?” The idea that it could be done, let alone that I could do it, wasn’t coming together in my mind. I couldn’t unfeel what Kitten did, I couldn’t make Zach love me again, and even if I could, I didn’t deserve it.
“Time,” she said. “Time and hard work. I won’t lie to you, it won’t be easy, and there are no shortcuts. But with time, you can fix it. You can earn your happy ending. That starts, here and now, by coming with us. Think about it. Really think.”
I took her advice, tapping into an undiscovered instinct which awakened whole new avenues of ability. I acquired multiple new thought avenues, each a separate mind within my own, following its own logic and priorities. I devoted a path to Kayla and by extension the rest of my family, another to Zach, and a third to resolving my situation with the police. Meanwhile, a fourth pathway dedicated itself to fact-checking the others, eliminating errors in real time.
The third thought-path was, by far, the least complicated. In retrospect, it was obvious that the girl in the dress was an Esper of some description, perhaps even an Infiltrator. If she was, then she underestimated the degree to which my powers would augment my mind. Now that I was thinking rather than feeling, it became clear that this woman was manipulating me into joining the police, playing by their system.
A system that Zach expressed nothing but contempt and disgust for. A system which betrayed him, much as I had. My fact-check pathway decided that siding with the police would increase the difficulty in reconciling with Zach, as well as increase the threat of disaster from other sources.
Short term cooperation carried less risk; while they would no doubt attempt to manipulate me at every opportunity, they had no means to force cooperation outside the usual bounds of law.
The cold began to creep up through me, and the more complex Zach and Family logic chains collapsed without power to sustain them. The fourth pathway informed me that I could only maintain my boosted intellect for a short period. I terminated the Police simulation next; while the long term was complicated, cooperation would suffice in the short term.
Even running only the Monitor, my time was running short. I had it assign some basic points that would remain in my memory once my intelligence reverted to normal. With that minor adjustment, I cut deep enough into my power that hunger pains had begun.
Cold. I brought my arms up to hug my shoulders, trying to warm myself. Only then remembering that I’d been naked this whole time. Condensation began to form on my skin again, though I hadn’t lost so much heat that it became ice. “I-I’ll go with you. P-please, bring me somewhere warm.”
“Of course,” the girl said. “We have some Tech that generates a rather large amount of heat at the testing facility. We’ll be happy to give you access.”
“T-thank you.” I needed to cooperate, to gain access to enough energy to use what I now thought of as ‘Cassandra’ mode. She left me with a few instructions, such as doing what the cops asked for now. “Will Com be alright?” A question Cassandra told me to ask.
The girl stopped for a moment. “He’s more in shock than any true harm. Nobody’s ever managed to harm his projections before, and that’s startled him. Plus, he’s experiencing an Esper backlash.”
“A what backlash?” Another question Cassandra predicted I’d need, and left a few possible ways to ask about it. She knew there was something important about this girl, secrets which ran deeper than she dared guess. To help me, she needed me to learn as much about her as I could.
“Esper backlash,” she said while walking to the door. “Long story short, every type of power comes with certain complications. Each is unique, but they have patterns, like snowflakes or fingerprints. Techs need raw materials, Brawlers tend to destroy their own bodies, and Snipers have limited uses per day. Some Espers give themselves headaches if they overtax their powers. Most deal with far worse…” she trailed off, her silence making it clear she wasn’t going to continue.
Esper powers, like what I used. Cassandra, who burned an incredible amounts of energy running for thirty seconds. The ‘me’ that was better than me; stronger, smarter, better than I could ever be on my own. I was still stupid and weak, but now I had her to do what I could not do for myself.
Through her, I can be good enough.