Sorry guys, family issues have unexpectedly arisen and I’m still sort of scrambling in the wake of it. I’ll try to get the extra update I promised you sometime this weekend too but I can’t make any guarantees. Again, I’m really sorry.
A/N: Realized it was going to take 2-3 more updates to finish the arc and by now, I think you’ve seen enough to make a decision one way or another regarding this reboot. Please cast your vote here. A side story will run for a week or two while I decide what to do and give you all a chance to vote. A special bonus update will be posted on Wednesday.
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The whispering and hurried closing of doors served almost as well as any bell. Trouble was coming and for boarding school students, that meant administrators. Jen glanced around her dorm. Little knickknacks she salvaged from the nearby ruins sat openly on her bookshelf and desk. All of them contraband. The headmaster hated the ruins and banned everyone from going there. With the amount of stuff she had, the punishment would be severe.
Stripped of clothes and belongings then banished to the wilds. It was the worse punishment the headmaster had at his disposable, worse than death.
Jen activated her power. The whispers were silenced, no more closing doors. For once, not a sound could be heard in the dorms. It was her power at work, everything except her and the items she touched were slowed down to the point it looked like they weren’t moving at all. She collected all the knickknacks and hid them in the closet behind stacks of packaged lined paper.
By the time the world resumed going at its normal speed, Jen was lying on her bed holding her electronic book reader to her face. She needed to look casual. If one of the administrators got it into their heads that she used her power during a patrol, she’d get punished. It didn’t matter if they had evidence of it or not. Their word was law.
It was a military school, she supposed, they were going to be strict. Bradley Blake had really hated going to military school too.
She turned her gaze away from the screen to the door as she heard heavy boots pounding against the floors, getting louder with every second.
Mr. Hume passed her room without sparing it a glance.
Jen dropped the book reader onto the bed and crept toward the door. Mr. Hume wasn’t slowing down to look into anyone’s dorm room. He knew where he was going and wouldn’t be distracted or stopped.
“Oh boy, someone is in deep shit.”
Diana stood beside her, watching Mr. Hume’s retreating back. Her brown hair was tied in a simple braid to help cover up the greasiness of it. She smiled and stuck her hands into the pockets of her oversized jean jacket. “If you get out of the way, I’ll fill you in.”
Jen got out of the doorway to let Diana in. Their door joined the many other shut ones in their hallway. Diana’s eyes were so pale it looked like she was blind except for the glowing outline of the irises.
“You’re watching?” Jen asked, although the answer was obvious.
Diana always knew what was going on at school and it was due to her being clairvoyant and willing to break the rules. Using powers without permission was one of the big rules but Diana had never been caught.
“Yeah, we’ve got Bell and Eda doing the no pants dance with each other,” Diana said, plopping down on her bed. It was on the other side of the room from Jen’s bed, a coffee table sitting in-between. “And not for the first time, either.”
Jen sighed and shook her head. “You’re so gross.”
The smile on Diana’s face didn’t falter in the slightest. “A girl’s gotta have fun somehow, Jen.”
Jen shook her head again as she settled on her own bed, back to the wall. It was a good thing Diana and her were roommates. She doubted they would have become friends for any other reason. It would be far too dangerous being enemies with the girl who saw everything. She thought about the pile of stuff she had hidden in her closet.
“Did someone rat them out?” Jen said, curious.
“I don’t think so. Those two are just loud as fuck when they go at it. I’m shocked they haven’t got caught sooner.”
Having sex was a minor offense. Protection was hard to come by – so she heard anyway – and getting pregnant or the risk of it was enough of a punishment in the headmaster’s eyes. As long as the girl was willing to give up her baby and let it be raised like the rest of them had, no parental ties except the ones established with an administrator, she would only get a slap on the wrist. The boy’s depended on their history and how merciful the headmaster was feeling that day. Considering this was Bell they were talking about it was likely he was going to get expelled. Being expelled was better than being banished. They at least let you take some stuff with you if you’re being expelled.
Diana laid down so she faced the ceiling, her legs dangling over the edge. “I wish you could see what I’m seeing Jen. I have never seen Hume so flustered. Heh, I think he may have enjoyed seeing a naked Eda way too much for a guy that’s like thirty.”
“And now I’m very glad I can’t.”
Jen actually turned on the book reader. There was about a hundred more pages she had to read by tomorrow if she wanted to ace that test in English class.
“Whacker’s on the move too. Damn, I wouldn’t want to be either of them right now, damn,” Diana said out loud.
Ms. Whittaker – nicknamed Whacker behind her back – was the one administrator you never wanted to meet. She got her nickname for a reason. If Mr. Hume was an enforcer, she was the executioner. Bell rubbed her the wrong way the few times Jen and him talked but she wouldn’t want her worse enemy to be whacked.
She returned to reading her book. Once Whacker had her eyes set on someone, there wasn’t much to be done. The only exception as far as Jen knew was Vega but she was long gone.
Diana shot up out of bed as Jen’s head snapped upwards. That didn’t sound like a good sign. “What is it?” Jen asked slowly.
“You need to leave right now. Eda is ratting you and telling Whacker everything about your stash to get Bell a lighter punishment,” Diana said, pushing the coffee table to block the door. “She’s got proof too.”
“What? That’s – How the hell does Eda know about it? What evidence does she have?”
“It’s a video of you out in the ruins, it’s like three hours long.” Diana shook her head. “There’s no time, you have to get out of here before they –”
The door burst open, unimpeded by the coffee table. The table hit Diana’s legs as it was pushed by the door and she fell. Mr. Hume slipped through the opening. “Jennifer, you need to come with me,” he said in his no-nonsense tone.
She wanted to say she was innocent but she wasn’t. She wanted to fight but she didn’t stand a chance. Mr. Hume had the power, him and the rest of the administrators.
He took a step forward and by instinct, she activated her power.
He stopped. Everything stopped.
Jen had a moment to think, to process. She took deep breaths. She always knew this happening was a distinct possibility when she started exploring the ruins. It still came as a shock. It was dumb. She had known the risk rationally but it had never felt likely to happen to her.
She grabbed the duffel bag she had kept under her bed since Vega left. It already had what she needed along with the few of the best items she scavenged from the ruins.
She gave her room with its lumpy mattresses and clutter one last look, trying to memorize the scene. As sucky as it could be sometimes it was home, the only one Jen had ever known. The only one Jen might ever come to know.
Heart pounding, she jumped out the window.
With her power on, gravity had less sway on her, everything did.
The problem was her power didn’t last forever. She spent too much time being sentimental. The world turned back to normal when she was halfway to the ground. Rolling the second she touched ground reduced the impact but it still hurt like a bitch. Today was not a good day to be wearing shorts.
Jen slung the duffel bag over her shoulder and ran, ignoring the sharp sting of her scraped knees.
The guards stationed at the fence spotted her immediately. Hard not to when she was the only one in the yard. Some raised guns, others glowed as they activated their own powers.
The other problem with her power was that it needed time to recharge.
A minute into her great escape and she was already screwed.
“Stay where you are, student!” one of the guards yelled from where he stood at the fence.
If she moved the guards would shoot and kill her here and now. If she didn’t, Mr. Hume or Whacker would catch up and then she’d get banished.
What would Bradley Blake do?
He’d… save up his strength and fight when the opportunity rose. He always fought for what he wanted, no matter what. It was what made him so dangerous, a threat to everyone.
So she waited.
Her heart was on fire, beating so fast it blended together into slow painful throbs. Bradley Blake had loved the feeling. Jen never understood the appeal.
Whacker came out first with Mr. Hume trailing behind. They walked at an even, measured pace. Neither were afraid. Administrators were capable of being administrators because they were a lot stronger than the average person. They were used to being the most powerful people in the room at any time.
Could she use that against them?
“Jennifer, what you did was ill-advised,” Whacker said. “We’ll have to make the punishment worse. We can’t have anyone else getting it into their heads that they can disobey us. Do you understand?”
“Yeah,” she said, clutching the strap of the duffel bag. “I – I panicked, I’m sorry.”
“You knew the consequences so I must ask: why did you commit the crime?”
She needed to play along, buy more time, but she didn’t know how to answer. Her fascination with the past never made sense to her. She knew the risks but couldn’t stop herself from venturing into the ruins. She knew it started the moment she finished reading her first Bradley Blake book. Vega had given it to her on her birthday a few years ago.
“I thought it was cool,” Jen said.
Mr. Hume scoffed. “I’ll never understand children.”
“Come,” Whacker ordered. “I’m taking you straight to the headmaster and we’ll find a suitable punishment for you.”
Going inside would only increase the distance she needed to cover to escape. That little well she felt inside herself still needed time to fill itself. A few more moments. Using it at any less than full would have diminish the effect. Whacker wouldn’t be stopped by anything less.
“Can I ask you a question before we do?” Jen asked.
Mr. Hume scoffed again and glared at her, his fists clenched at his sides. “We won’t. We have no reason to after you pulled that stunt of yours. We don’t have time to waste. I would prefer it if we had her out shivering the wilds before her roommates has a chance to spread what she saw to the rest of the school.”
“I concur,” Whacker said. She gestured toward the entrance to the school. “Go now, last warning.”
Great, now or never, then.
Jen activated her power. The world slowed except for Jen and Ms. Whittaker. The woman looked mildly surprised, glancing over at her frozen peer. She bolted, going straight for the fence and the world beyond it. She was going to have to go to the wilds either way but at least this way she had a fighting chance. She would have supplies, clothes, and a few personal things.
Whacker followed, still moving at her leisurely pace.
Jen gripped the chain link fence and hurried to climb over it. She didn’t look back, didn’t have time to see what Whacker was doing.
She almost lost her grip and fell when she heard the loud crack of a gun. Guns weren’t supposed to work in this state. It never did for her. The sharp panic she felt at the realization made her climb faster than she ever did in gym class during obstacle courses. When she neared the top, she heard another gunshot. There wasn’t time to climb to the bottom, not with her power about to run out and Whacker trying to whack her.
The pain from the fall barely registered, easily trumped by a bullet going through her upper arm.
She couldn’t let it stop or slow her down. She made a run for the forest a little ways away. Trees could provide decent cover against bullets, better than the sitting duck she was currently. She would be dead already if Whacker was a faster and better shot.
She didn’t stop running even after her power wore off and she was among the tall, leafy green trees. She didn’t stop until she tripped over a root and fell on her face.
They would come after her. When Vega left, they searched for her for weeks until the headmaster gave up. Vega was a warrior, fearless when she needed to be. It was something Jen had admired and envied.
In the end she had been too scared to leave and now she had no choice. Things would have been so much better if she left with Vega when she had the chance.
Bleeding out, legs burning, tired, alone, face down in the mud, this is what she had wanted to avoid by staying at the school. More frightening than all those combined was the prospect of not knowing where to go, what to do. At school, she knew what was expected of her, had things to occupy herself with. It could be boring and sucky but it was something.
What did she have to live for? Her friends at school, the only real family she had, were lost to her. She didn’t have any dreams or ambitions, really. Nothing to push her forward beyond the basic need for survival.
If she died here, who would even care?
If Bradley Blake died, hundreds might cheer but thousands would mourn. He made an impact on the world he lived in. It was a lot easier to do having superpowers in a world mostly populated with the powerless. It was a lot harder to do in a world where the powerless didn’t exist.
She pushed herself into a sitting position.
That was enough wallowing. It was starting to get uncomfortable lying there and she needed to get a move on before they caught up with her. She took off her jacket to examine the wound. Her arm had a trail of blood dripping down it, oozing out of the hole. With her good hand she unzipped the duffel bag and pulled out a first-aid kit from it. Getting it had been a real hassle. She traded a month’s worth of desserts for it.
She knew how to clean and dress the wound. Doing it with one hand was a new experience but she managed well enough. Since she already had the kit out, she decided to do her scrapped legs too. Out in the forest, an infection was all too easy to get and a lot of trouble to deal with properly.
With that done, she stuffed everything into the duffel and got to her feet. She lost track of how deep into the forest she ran but better to be safe than sorry when people were no doubt after her.
Where did she go from here?
Jen knew for a fact there were some superpowered animals living in this forest and in the wilds surrounding the school. She encountered a couple in the ruins too.
The ruins would be safer for her than the forest. It was farther away from the school and nobody knew the ruins better than she did. There was this one building with a whole lot of maps in it. She kept one of the city the ruins used to be once upon a time but left the rest alone. If she had those maps she could figure out where the nearby cities were and how to get there.
From there… Well, she would just have to wait and see.
Jen started walking.
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So I think I’ve let the reboot run along enough. You probably either decided you love it by now or hate it so it’s time to vote. Be advised that I will take your opinion into account but this vote won’t be the be all end all of my decision. Ultimately, I will decide what I think is best for this story. I do really want to know what you guys think though so please vote!
A side story will run for a week or two while I decide what to do and give you all a chance to vote.
“Basically,” Cameron repeated. She raised a brow and stared at Tyler, looking for the smallest tell. “So this is confirmed? The sensors are right, the Automatons didn’t figure out a way to screw with them anymore than they can already do?”
Tyler smirked and shrugged, declining to answer. Ionic kept typing away on her keyboard in hopes of finding the answer to Cameron’s question. They didn’t have much in common but they were in agreement when it came to Tyler. Cameron had a natural dislike of precogs and Ionic’s reasons were her own and she didn’t care to share them.
“What are the locations?” Matt asked, leaning over Kate’s head to get a better look at the screen.
She pressed a key and a map of Avocet popped up with blinking red dots. “At Rocket World,” Kate said.
“The amusement park?”
“Just because they’re criminals doesn’t mean they don’t like having fun,” Kate said as she made the map fill her entire school, zooming in in the process.
“Could also be a sign they’re screwing with us,” Cameron said. “Can you imagine if we all went there dolled up in our costumes, ready for a fight? I won’t have a problem escaping from tourists but…”
Matt laughed, dry and sarcastic, each ‘ha’ carefully spoken.
Kate spoke up. “We can have some Ion drones go check it for us. The close range detectors might work better.”
“That’s a good idea,” Ionic said, distracted with her own work trying to sort out the sensors.
She closed the map and opened half a dozen other windows so fast Cameron wondered if Kate happened to become a speedster under certain conditions. Shit like that could happen, who the fuck knew when it came to superpowers?
Cameron sighed and returned to her seat. God, they should have done all this before they called her. It was a waste of her time and she needed all the time she could get now that she was starting to get proactive again when it came to her revenge. The longer she waited to strike, the more time Missile had to decide whether or not she was a danger to him. He already thought she was a threat big enough to warrant being tailed.
Tyler came over, leaning against the wall beside her stool. “In…” He made a big show of glancing at his wristwatch. “Six minutes, Allison will find something.”
Ionic was hammering away as if the rest of them weren’t here.
“Came to taunt me?” Cameron asked.
He shook his head and crossed his arms. “You wanted to know.”
“Wanted to know what’s going to happen and when, not just one. Only knowing one is actually kind of worse.”
“I know the feeling,” Tyler mumbled. If he stood even a step farther away, Cameron bet she wouldn’t have heard him. She doubted he wanted her to. Not for the first time, she wondered what went on in the head of Tyler Lam. As it was, she was only left with guesses and people were far more complex than they appeared or acted. She could spend a lifetime with someone and still never truly understand them.
“Well, how about a hint then?” Cameron asked, hitting him in the shoulder to get his attention and draw him out of the introspective mood he fell into.
“Feeling impatient?” He tapped his chin, seemingly thinking it over. He stopped. “There’s no point in doing it now. By the time I finish explaining, Allison will find out and she’ll explain it to everyone.”
“Or you could have explained it right away to everyone and save Ionic the trouble of figuring it out giving the rest of us more time to deal with whatever is going on then we can all go back to our everyday lives. I wouldn’t have minded a few more hours of sleep.” She sighed wistfully.
He shrugged. What did it take to rattle this guy? Almost a year of knowing each other and Cameron couldn’t remember a time he genuinely lost his composure. It was probably easier to look calm when he already knew what was going to happen and when. He had time to prepare when it did happen.
It was Cameron’s hope to change that at least once before she eventually left the SAA. After Missile was dead and whatever help they may or may not have given was no longer needed.
“I’m getting nothing from Rocket World,” Kate reported.
Before the six minutes were up, every cell phone in the room rang along with every speaker. Screens flashed, blinking bright red. Not what Cameron wanted to hear with a massive headache with medicine that obviously hadn’t kicked in yet.
Cameron pulled the phone out and tapped the screen twice to end the noise. The red screen was replaced by a black one, text appearing line by line as someone in the building typed. Out of the corner of her eye, Cameron saw that Tyler hadn’t moved an inch, content to wait for everyone else to catch up with him.
“They’re fighting,” Matt said. He almost sounded like he was in shock.
She tried to keep her expression even. She wouldn’t give Tyler the satisfaction. “Yeah, that doesn’t happen every day,” Cameron commented, looking up from her phone. Kate was still reading and it didn’t look like Ionic bothered to read it at all. She must be close to a discovery. The six minutes were awfully close to being over.
“Care to shed some light?” she said it out of habit. She knew she wouldn’t get an answer. It made it clear and obvious to the others that Tyler knew and refused to share. Do it often enough and resentment would build, a rift would form in the team, and Tyler would become less trustworthy in their eyes. Maybe that doubt would save her the day Tyler realized who she really was.
“I would,” Tyler said slowly. “If I knew. I see the future. I don’t have an analysis power to go with it. We still didn’t know in the point in time I saw. We had some guesses. A deal gone wrong was the one that seemed most likely.”
Her luck wasn’t that good. The True Gods wouldn’t just decide to launch an attack against the Automatons when she needed them to most over a deal gone wrong. Was Creed giving her a helping hand? No, something so overt wasn’t his style. Creed didn’t get along well with the True Gods anyway, she remembered. He didn’t agree with their agenda. World domination sounded nice in theory but in practice, it’d be more trouble than it was worth and it wasn’t sustainable.
Yesterday she did pretend to be Creed though. She came to Park as Creed asking for his help in taking down the Automatons and then the next day the True Gods initiate a fight with them out of nowhere. There was a connection, had to be.
“Is there something you want to share with the rest of us, Cameron?” Tyler said. “You look like you’re thinking hard.”
She blinked. Now wasn’t the time to get lost in her thoughts. She shrugged and grinned, to hide her surprise. “Nothing concrete. So, Ionic, got anything yet?”
Tyler kept his gaze fixed on her. Her change in subject wasn’t very subtle. Damn.
“Yes, I think so,” Ionic said. She had stopped typing. “Those forty-two superhuman signatures aren’t actually forty-two superhumans. They’re mostly coming from one person. A power thief or copier.”
“Gladwell?” Matt said. Gladwell was the best known power thief out there. No one had an exact count of how many powers she possessed.
“My first thought as well but it’s doubtful, Gladwell’s was seen in South Asia three days ago,” Ionic said. “It could be, I suppose, but very few people are willing to work alongside her and the number of people she’s willing to work with is smaller. I don’t see any reason the True Gods would change their mind and recruit her help in fighting the Automatons, if the True Gods are indeed the ones in the city right now.”
“It is them,” Tyler said.
“Either way, it’s safe to assume it’s not Gladwell. My best guess on the identity is Replicator.” A life-size hologram of Replicator materialized in the gulf between Ionic, Matt, Kate, and Cameron and Tyler. Replicator was pretty damn short, more than a head shorter than Cameron. With the number of powers she had and her height, it was easy to guess she was young, probably a few years younger than Kate, who was fourteen and the youngest of them.
Replicator’s costume wasn’t so much a costume as slightly modified clothes. In the hologram she wore jeans and a black track jacket with spiked pads over her knees, shoulders, and elbows. Real armor probably wasn’t needed when Replicator was no doubt packing a form of super strength and durability, with those powers being so common.
Her face was concealed by a cheap, plastic skull Halloween mask, her shoulder length red hair was uncovered.
“We can’t confirm because electronics get shut down within a certain radius of the battle field,” Ionic continued. “We’ll leave immediately and come up with a plan of action once we discover who we’re up against.”
Matt rushed out of the room to get his sword. Ionic walked to the corner of the room she kept her armor and weapons. “Your electronics won’t get shut down?” Cameron asked.
“I think my equipment can handle it but we’ll see,” Ionic said, already pulling on her armor. “You should go and get ready. We need to leave immediately to prevent them from causing too much damage.”
Property damage, the reason superhumans avoided having big brawls on the street. Hero or villain, it was a pain in the ass to deal with. The villains that didn’t care were often the ones that didn’t last long. Heroes worked extra hard when lots of money was on the line.
Cameron left the room and teleported down the halls until she reached her own room. It only took maybe half a minute to put on her costume. They had all went through the drills until the time it took them to get ready was cut down to an acceptable time by Agent Hayes’ standard.
That had been a huge pain in the ass but it worked.
They met up on the roof where Ionic’s ship waited, primed and ready. It wasn’t fast enough to keep up with Ian on a good day but it’d get them there in moments.
Cameron was the last to arrive. They took off the second she stepped inside.
“How big is the no-tech radius?” she asked. “We’re not going to accidentally fly into it, are we?”
Ionic didn’t turn back to look at her. “Scared?”
Cameron woke to a small puddle leaking out of her mouth and onto whatever the hell she was lying on. She sat up and wiped it off her cheek with the back of her hand.
The dull pounding in her head made it hard to think. It took her much longer than it should have to realize this was her room, her bed, her drool covered pillow. The party, she went to that party with Ian last night that much she remembered. She remembered a red pill and the bearded glasses guy who had inadvertently revealed that Creed was still alive and well.
Everything else was a blur.
She climbed out of bed slowly and searched for her phone. She found it tucked under a messy pile of clothes she wore yesterday, tossed at the foot of her bed. They still smelled strongly of beer and other not so great smelling things. Definitely would need to give these a good wash. She teleported them into the laundry basket.
Her phone turned out to be not very useful in helping her to figure out what had happened. She had a few messages from Ian, an undecipherable mess of letters, and the email she got from Creed.
Cameron fell back onto her bed, far too tired for it to be only a little bit past noon on a Sunday.
The distinct, loud sound of sirens ruined the short moment of peace.
Another one of her cell phones. The sirens were the ringtone she set the SAA phone to. It seemed funny at the time, not so much now. She didn’t need to look to find it, it was always in the drawer of her desk. A black box sat in the middle of the screen, text written inside in white. The SAA wanted her at base as soon as possible.
Great, as if she didn’t have enough on her plate with the whole revenge thing, which now included the Vanessa and Phantom things, and the Creed thing, sooner or later.
Cameron paused halfway to the bathroom. The Vanessa thing. She had forgotten about Vanessa. Was Vanessa alright? She didn’t remember approaching the girl at the party but few things from that night were crystal clear in Cameron’s memory.
Something to check later when she wasn’t needed for a mission.
She got ready as fast as she could and was out the door, heading straight for her car. It was Sunday so Klein would be out having lunch with his family unless whatever mission she was being called to be a part of required his assistance.
Everyone, minus the adult members and Tom, were gathered in the debriefing room. As per usual, Cameron was the last person to arrive. She sat in the closest empty seat.
They all looked so awake and alert. Compared to their fresh faces, it was obvious which person in the room had a wild Saturday night.
Agent Hayes scoffed a little at seeing her. “Now that we’re all here, let’s start.” He leaned forward in his chair and let his palm rest on a transparent glass block cut out of the table. A hologram flickered, coming to life on the surface of the table. It was a young boy or girl’s head, hair shaved off, eyebrows likewise gone. Kind of unnerving to see a human face without a trace of hair on it. “Meet Johnathon Barley. Mr. and Mrs. Barley strongly suspected their son was a superhuman after he woke up one morning hairless but he ran off before when they brought up getting him tested. They want him back in their care as soon as possible.”
“Do we have any idea what powers he may or may not possess?” Ionic asked, the good operative she was.
“The parents don’t have a clue and that means neither do we. His friends were equally confused by all this when we questioned them,” Agent Hayes said, taking his hand off the glass. “But given his newfound hairless-ness we have reason to suspect he’s on the higher end of the scale, power-wise.” He looked deliberately at Cameron. “There’s a definite correlation between physical transformation and power level.”
“I knew that,” Cameron grumbled, defensive. She did – probably, the memory was just hidden under a massive headache.
He shrugged unconcerned. “That’s why I’ve decided to have everyone not already involved in an important mission on this. We all are aware of how dangerous superhumans can be especially those who have only recently discovered their abilities.”
Tom was no doubt who everyone was thinking of, although no one said it out loud.
“If we don’t know his powers, do we know other stuff? Where he might go, people who might cover for him?” Matt asked. His hands were clasped together on the table, eyes glued to the little hologram.
“We checked his call and internet history. There are a few of his friends we thought were close enough to help him out but we have already had agents search through their homes. He didn’t, as far as we’re aware, get in touch with any superhuman aid organizations. I already have some agents going through other possible locations our sensors have picked, we’ll know soon enough if he’s hiding in one of them,” Agent Hayes answered.
There were a number of superhuman aid organizations out there, nowadays, as the population of superhumans grew. Loads of people were still uncomfortable with superhumans and many of them couldn’t – wouldn’t – handle the stress of raising a superhuman. They often ended up on the streets if their parents weren’t kind enough to call a superhuman aid organization that would come and take them to a safe place.
“So we’re just going to go around the city looking for a freaky looking kid with no hair?” Cameron asked. “Can’t your mundane agents handle this? They’re already doing a bang up job. Searching shit, interrogating people.”
Agent Hayes smiled, a rare sight. “I was waiting for someone to ask me that. The True Gods have been spotted in Avocet.” He swiveled his gaze to look at Tyler. “Isn’t that right?”
“Yeah. Can’t say anymore than that,” Tyler said.
Sometimes Cameron wondered if they used the precog card to just get everyone – mostly her, everyone else listened to Hayes’ orders without questioning them – to shut up and do whatever he wanted them to. It was effective. She couldn’t come up with a good argument against it beside ‘you’re so full of shit’ which didn’t tend to go over well.
“You didn’t answer my first question,” she pointed out, annoyed.
“No, we’re not going to have you all search the city. We have no reason to believe Johnathon is dangerous to anyone. My agents and the police can manage that on their own. What I do need all of the field ready agents to do is find where the True Gods are hiding and force them out of the city. We don’t want their presence in Avocet especially with a young potentially powerful superhuman on the loose.”
The True Gods believed superhumans were naturally superior to regular humans and thus should rule over their weaker counterparts. The SAA and other government organizations really didn’t like the idea, it made them jumpy. The True Gods were one of the few groups with enough manpower to be an actual threat to the world they were all used to.
“Your sensors are up to the task?” Agent Hayes questioned.
“As long as the True Gods don’t have the ability or the means to block them,” Ionic answered.
The Automatons, those annoying bastards, had figured out a way to get around Ionic’s superhuman scanners a long time ago. She was still hoping Ionic found a way to improve them and find all those fuckers for her. Cameron wasn’t going to bet on it, though.
“All the information on this mission so far will be sent straight to your phone, if you, for whatever reason, want to go over it again. Remember to check for status updates. Unless you have further questions, you’re all dismissed,” he said, leaning back in his chair. A series of beeps coming from all over the table let Cameron know he sent the info already. Not that she was going to go over it again. She paid attention the first time.
They stood up and followed Ionic out including Tyler. They were heading for Ionic’s lab where her special, super strong sensors were located.
“Got any Advil around here?” Cameron asked. “Forgot to take one before I left.”
“You shouldn’t need it in the first place,” Ionic commented.
Ah, right. Partying went against her probation. Agent Hayes hadn’t said a word about it so she was going to assume she wasn’t in trouble. Getting busted for partying was better than getting busted for working for, with, and against supervillains without the SAA’s permission anyway.
“I have some,” Matt said, tapping the backpack he had on. “In there. Smallest pocket.”
Cameron smiled and stepped back to unzip and reach into the indicated pocket. There were a whole bunch of on-the-go painkiller packets in there, the ones with two pills inside that you had to rip open. She opened one up and swallowed both of them down. “You always come through, Tin Man. Why do you have your backpack?”
He shrugged. “I was on my way to the library to study when I got the message from Agent Hayes.”
She rolled her eyes but chose not to comment on that.
Tyler did. “You’re wasting your time studying.”
They reached the lab. Kate and Ionic went straight to a row of computers on a table pressed up against the wall. Both became incredibly focused on the screens in front of them as their fingers hammered away on keyboards. The rest of them found seats on stools and chairs and waited. Let the science geeks do the science.
“A waste, huh? What should I be doing instead then? What you do with your free time?” Matt fired back.
“Of course you should be. Your work at the SAA is far more important than school could ever be,” Tyler said, crossing his arms.
“Not everyone hates school. Some of us care about getting good grades, getting into a good college, getting an education,” Matt said, glaring at Tyler. “I can do both. School and superhero work. I’ve done well in balancing both, so far.”
Tyler shrugged and smirked in that arrogant way of his, so confident and sure of himself. “I’ll remember you said that in the future. We’ll both get a kick out of it.”
“Hey Ty, did you ever think that maybe if you just fucking told him what happens in the future, Matt here would actually follow your advice?” Cameron said, rolling her eyes again. “You and your cryptic future bullshit, I swear.”
His light brown eyes gleamed when he met her eyes. “Oh Cameron, you should be fucking glad I haven’t said anything about your future.”
Tyler was bullshitting. If he knew anything incriminating he would have told Agent Hayes already and she would be rotting in jail right now. Yet something in the way he said it made her doubt herself.
Nobody spoke for awhile after that.
The sound of keys clacking and the occasion whisper between Kate and Ionic filled the silence.
“I – I think I found something,” Kate said, loud enough for all of them to hear.
Cameron hopped off her stool and came over. The boys were hot on her heels.
The lines of code and line graphs meant nothing to her. “Anyone willing to translate that for me?” she said.
Ionic frowned. “The sensors are apparently picking up more than a dozen new superhumans in Avocet, other than the ones in the building.” She turned back to her own screen and typed something on the keyboard. More lines of code appeared on Ionic’s screen. The graph changed. “The closest estimate I have is forty-two. There are approximately forty-two new superhumans in Avocet.”
“And they’re all True God members?” Matt said dumbfounded.
“Basically,” Tyler said.
Cameron couldn’t remember what letter had been inscribed on the pill she swallowed.
It cleared her mind, taking away the fog the alcohol she drank casted. Red was a special color. It killed any regular human that took it or sometimes activated their powers if they had the potential for powers and hadn’t gotten them yet. For superhumans, it boosted their power. There had been a quite a few cases of superhumans dying shortly after ingesting a pill. No one knew why or if they did no one felt like sharing it with the general public.
Whatever caused them to die apparently didn’t affect her which she already knew from the times she took it in the past.
That would have really been a dumb way to die, by her own hand in an act of recklessness. Though it wouldn’t be a great loss to anyone. She liked it better this way.
She straightened and turned to look over at Ian. He was grinning wider than she had ever seen him. The green ones… They were happy pills, if she was remembering correctly. The person became incapable of feeling any negative emotion.
The world started to distort again. The leaves on the lawn changed colors, nearly vanishing before her eyes as they became almost as black as the night. The people around her became more vibrant, as if they were absorbing the leaves’ color. They practically glowed as bright as neon lights.
Ian was red. Scenes were playing out all over his body, as if it was a television screen. She saw herself in a few of them. Those ones were located close to his heart and his head.
Cameron didn’t know what to make of that.
“This is really fucking weird,” she mumbled. Did this happen last time too?
Ian was too busy bouncing on the tips of toes to hear. He would be no help in figuring out what the hell she was seeing. Those wacky images were playing on the surface of nearby cars too, and on trees, even the house.
While it was interesting, it didn’t make anything easier or better.
She took out her phone and held it flat on her palm. She teleported it an inch above her hand and watched it land. It didn’t come any easier than it typically did but then again, it always had come easy.
Damn, this red pill was boring. She should have taken a green one like Ian. He seemed like he was having a blast, more than she could say for herself.
Cameron drained the cup of its beer, every last drop.
She saw something move in the corner of her eye, a bright explosion of color. It was predominantly yellow with a few hints of orange and red. She turned to look at it head on. Cameron found hard to make out the person hidden within the cloud of color but she could tell a person was in there. She saw its silhouette. The cloud had taken several steps in her direction, stopping when she turned.
It had images on it too and in many of them she saw the guy she met at the table, the older brother of the host.
She approached it – him – slowly, careful to not trip and fall. She was still a little unsteady. Ian didn’t seem to notice, too wrapped up in the effects of his drug. This was a bit of a gamble. If she was wrong the worse that could happen was someone thinking she was really weird or really high. “Hey, I fucking see you. Where did you go? I was looking for you.”
Cameron stood, waiting.
After a moment, the cloud faded until she could clearly see the person hiding underneath. Somehow, she saw the images playing on him and him. Two layers, side by side, and she saw both.
“I didn’t see that coming,” he said.
“You’re following me and you didn’t answer my question from earlier,” Cameron said.
He smirked and she was reminded of a wolf, baring its teeth for the first time in the presence of sheep. The images suddenly changed in the same instance, different scenes taking their place. “Will you let me go if I don’t?” he questioned, gone was the playful edge to his words.
Cameron smirked right back at him and didn’t say a word. Silence was better than speaking when she couldn’t come up with a good line that would sound threatening enough.
“Well, okay, I tried.” He shrugged, more to himself than to her. “I was hired to follow you around for awhile. Only really started this week. Somebody is real interested in you, Cameron. He went by Missile, I think.”
Her heart went from jogging to an all out sprint. She couldn’t believe it. “Missile?” she repeated.
“That’s what he said in the emails he sent to me. Paid a hefty sum for me to keep my lips sealed.” He mimed zipping up his lips.
Missile hired someone to track her down. Either this was one big coincidence or he already knew she was behind the attack on the Automatons. “Then why the hell are you telling me this?”
“He paid me a hefty sum but someone else called me up and paid a heftier sum. I do whatever the money wants me to do and the someone else doesn’t care if you found out you’re being watched or not as long as I do my job and not tell Missile what he wants to hear.”
Creed? He was the only person she could think of with money and resources to do something like that on her behalf. The pressure she almost always felt pushing at her from all sides lessened if just a bit. More evidence to add to the ‘he’s in hiding’ pile.
“I wasn’t lying earlier when I told you to go home and forget about whatever you’re tangled up in. Those two people who talked to me are dangerous. I wouldn’t mess with them if I could help it,” he said. “You could still do that. People hire pay me when they want people followed, not dead.”
He looked bigger and stronger than her but his power had to be invisibility or cloaking or some shit, teleporting combined with this vision upgrade trumped that. “I’m dangerous,” Cameron said. Her excitement grew and so did her smile. She might not need to deal with Vanessa and Phantom at all. “So you be a good mercenary and tell me what you know about Missile.”
“I know less than you do, probably,” he assured her, shaking his head. “He contacted me through email, heard about me from an old client. I don’t know what he looks like or where he sleeps or what he likes in his coffee in the morning.”
“You know his email,” she pressed.
He raised an eyebrow and a few scenes flickered then changed. “If I had to bet money on it, I would say it’s going to be impossible to trace the email.”
“I know that, I’m not dumb. Having his email is still useful.”
He stared at her for a solid minute before holding out his hand. “Got something I can write it down on?”
Cameron unlocked her phone and opened a note application and gave it to him. He took out his own and tapped the address onto the note then returned her phone. “You didn’t get it from me, obviously,” he said.
“I don’t even know your name,” Cameron said, pocketing her phone.
“Great, nice working with you Cameron.”
“It would be nicer if you agreed to stop following me.”
He shrugged. “The someone else wants to keep an eye on you and I do what the money tells me to do. Are we going to have a problem?”
She was okay with Creed knowing what she was up to. It gave her comfort that he cared enough to bother checking on her at all. There was no guarantee this guy’s real boss was Creed or that he had another boss in the first place. “You have a way of contacting the someone else?”
“Why, do you want their email too?”
“Unless you want to have a problem, yeah.” Cameron wondered why she went to the trouble of threatening him when he didn’t have the decency to look suitably threatened by her.
Instead he looked amused like she was some adorable puppy barking. He passed his phone to her, open to a blank email, the email address already filled in for her.
Cameron didn’t know what to write. If this really was Creed then this would be the first words they exchanged since his disappearance. It should be a good message, something to make him smile or get another good reaction from him.
“Are you going to write something or will I be standing here for the next hour?” he asked, hands on his hips.
She glared at him.
But she started to tap out a message anyway.
this is CAMERON PIERCE the chick you’ve decided to spy on like a creep. while i think i may know your identity, i would like a CONFIRMATION. send a message to my email pronto or i may i have to do some HARMFUL and ILLEGAL things to your latest employee. in the email, you will provide proof of your identity. if you don’t answer fast enough i’m going to assume you’re not who i think you are and PROCEED with my current plan of DEATHLY actions.
Cameron hit send.
There was no rhyme or reason with the all capitals. It something that might annoy someone who thought it was a secret code waiting to be deciphered. Villains could be paranoid and preying on that for her own amusement was not beneath her. She didn’t need to witness it for it to be amusing.
“We’re going to wait until I get an answer and then you can go do whatever you’re doing and I can go enjoy the rest of my night in peace,” she said.
Nobody said anything for awhile, the sound of music and people filling the silence.
“So, how did you even see me?” he said. “Out of curiosity.”
Better not to say especially when her new-found power would fade away when the drug wore off. It was good to keep him on his toes.
She shrugged. “What the hell is your name? Since you obviously know mine.”
He stroked his beard, pondering. “What is a name, really? Would a rose not smell as sweet if – ” He stopped, his eyes glued to the glowing screen of her phone.
Cameron felt the vibration and looked down at the phone. An email from an unknown email address, different from the one she had just sent an email to. She typed in her password and read.
Dear CAMERON PIERCE,
It would be a terrible shame if my newest employee was harmed through your actions or others but yours especially. So I will comply with your instructions and prove my identity to you.
March 14th, 11 years ago.
I assume that will be enough to satisfy you, Miss Pierce.
Seeing that date on the screen, she couldn’t breathe. It was an important day for her and one very, very few people knew about. Other than Creed, the only people who knew the significance was her father. For obvious reasons, this couldn’t be him.
She let out a breath she didn’t know she had been holding.
“You can go,” Cameron said. “No problems here.”
No problems ever.
She had something to live for now, after she got the revenge her dad deserved. She would have purpose.
Sometimes her mind went to very dumb places. Vanessa probably had been inside her car on her way to the party when she wrote the post, safe from being spotted by Ian.
Her randomly walking down the street, even though driving was much faster, at around the same time Ian decided to walk down the same street. It was improbable. The universe would really have to be trying to fuck with her.
Did it matter though, if Ian and Vanessa flirted and make out, maybe have sex? It might be a tad awkward if Vanessa found out they were good friends or if Ian found out about her deal with Vanessa’s dad but it wouldn’t ruin anything. Ian wouldn’t approve but he wouldn’t try to stop her. There was a good chance Vanessa wouldn’t care at all.
The thought bothered her and she couldn’t figure out why.
It wasn’t – couldn’t – be jealousy. Cameron was aware of and met several of Ian’s old girlfriends and one night stands, she hadn’t been annoyed at all. And she didn’t like him in that way at all. He was cool and good-looking but she wasn’t a relationship person, didn’t want or need one.
Cameron made a beeline straight to the refreshment table and poured herself a drink.
The scent of bad breath and sweat was overwhelming and someone here apparently had a thing for really shitty, really loud music. Something to dull the senses was exactly what she needed. Might even make the party tolerable. It was worth any decrease in other departments.
There was no point in seriously attempting to tackle the Vanessa problem tonight. If she knew a damn thing about turning your life around and becoming a model citizen she wouldn’t be doing Park this favor at all.
“Woah, save some for the rest of us. That’s like your third.” He stood to the left of her, filling up his own cup with beer from the other keg. His head barely turned in her direction. He looked too old to be at a party made up of mostly teenagers and the occasional young college kid. In his thirties with a messy untrimmed beard, glasses that hid bright blue eyes, his brown hair was tied into a small ponytail, and his sleeves were rolled up, showing off colorful tattoos covering his arms. Rainbow dragons, by the look of them.
“Who are you, my dad?” Cameron retorted. She took a sip.
The corners of his lips curled upwards into a slight smile. “Was that a crack aimed at my age?”
“It wasn’t. If I wanted to say something about that I would have called you or a pedophile,” Cameron said, idly, staring into her cup instead of him. “Except it would be really witty and hilarious when I said it.”
“Pedophile? Woah, hey, I live here. My little brother is the one throwing the party.” The comment had caught him off guard, his words tumbled out of his mouth, a touch too defensive.
Cameron shrugged exaggeratedly.
He tried to cover up his scowl by downing the contents of his cup.
She didn’t hide her smile. “Don’t you have anything better to do with your time than hang out at your baby brother’s party?”
“Don’t you?” He leaned toward her until their shoulders touched. “No offense but you don’t seem like the kind of girl who would be willingly going to one of these.”
“What kind of girl am I then?”
He waved the hand carrying his cup, as if the words would materialize if he spun it fast enough. “You have that look to you. An ‘I’ve seen some shit’ look mixed with an ‘I’ve done some shit’ look.”
“I was joking about the pedophile thing but now I think I was – “
That look of disgust flashed across his features again. He put his cup on the table. He put his newly freed hands on her upper arms, holding her in place. “Would you stop with the accusations for a sec and listen? I’m trying to impart some wisdom to a young soul like yourself, one I do not want to sleep with, cool?”
It would be really easy to get out of his grip and knock him onto his ass.
“Well, lay it on me, wise old man,” Cameron said.
“You get out of here, you go home, and you follow every rule your parents or teachers or bosses tell you to do. You be the good girl you should be and enjoy your life.”
She had hoped it would have been at least a little entertaining. “Says the random forty year old dude I just met at a party.”
“Says the random forty year old dude you just met at a party,” he repeated with the same bored inflection. “Trust me on this one, you’ll be happier in the long run if you listen to this random dude. I’ve been there and it won’t give you what you need, or want. It’ll bring pain and misery to you and everyone who will stand by you.”
She furrowed her brow. “Hey, who the hell are you, really?”
He patted her arms and let go, retrieving his cup. “Just a random dispenser of good advice.” He gave her a small smile as he walked backwards and merged into a crowd of rowdy teenage boys. She went after him but he was gone. She looked through the whole house. There were a lot of people making a mess and making out but no creepy old man with tattoos and glasses. He had appeared and disappeared too easily.
A ghost, almost.
“Why thank you,” Ian said, grinning as he approached her. He stole the red cup from her and frowned when he realized it was practically empty at this point. “I’m going to get us more.”
Thoughts of random dude went out of her mind, leaving her as fast as he had. “That your apology for being late?”
“I don’t apologize ever,” he said without a hint of shame. He drank what little remained in the cup and ran off in search for more.
Seeing him reminded her of Vanessa. She was probably here by now too. Cameron pulled out her phone. Vanessa hadn’t posted anything else. Too busy partying to take pictures or too drunk to write out a coherent message to the world.
Oh, oh, maybe Cameron ought to orchestrate a car accident. Nearly dying would certainly be a wake up call. It beat the hell out of sitting her down and forcing her to watch after school specials.
Ian returned with two cups filled to the brim. “I don’t know if I want to ask what you’re thinking about,” he said, nearly shouting so he could be heard. Someone had cranked up the music while he was gone. She hadn’t noticed.
“You really don’t,” she admitted.
He cupped his ear with one hand. He hadn’t heard, she guessed. Ian pointed to the door and then they went outside for some fresh air and conversation they didn’t need to yell to hear. “What did you say?”
“I said you were right, you don’t want to know what I was thinking,” she said.
“Plotting murder again?” A more sober Cameron might have been able to tell if he was joking or not.
He shook his head, still grinning. “You’re terrifying, you know that Cam?”
She kicked him in the shin. Ian stumbled, spilling beer onto the grass. “No nicknames, you’ve already been warned many times before,” Cameron said, solemn.
“How did I forget you were a violent drunk?”
“Head trauma induced amnesia?”
Ian punched her in the arm. “If you weren’t always working and do whatever we could have this level of fun all the time.” He took a step forward, invading her personal space. “Or next level fun, if you’re up for it.”
She scoffed. “That a challenge, motorcycle man?”
He fished in his pocket for a second. He handed her a gum packet, one of the big round ones with a top you flicked open. “I’ve been saving those. We had a hell of a lot of fun last time we did those, remember?”
Cameron didn’t need to open it to realize what was inside. “Oh, I remember. You almost got arrested.”
“Your fault. You were just going to leave me in front of a trashed cop car with a baseball bat.” He took it out of her hand, flicked it open with his thumb, and shook out a couple onto his palm. “You want one or what?”
The pills were small, the size of a fingernail, each was engraved with a letter and had a different color. They all had different effects to it, depending on the color.
It sounded fun. The future, Klein, her probation, all of it felt so distant, separated from her by an ocean wider than Avocet itself.
“Must have cost you a fortune,” Cameron said, plucking a red one out of his hand.
He shrugged. “Money’s made to be spent.” Ian nodded approvingly at the pill she picked. “Red sure is your color.”
These weren’t ordinary drugs. They were special, the really expensive drugs made by inventors. They were known for being stronger having less negative effects on the human body. Some, depending on who made it, could do really crazy shit. She had seen a guy swallow half a dozen pills and then proceeded to bench-press a car that had been parked on the street. In a way, they were more dangerous than regular drugs.
Ian took his time in selecting his own color. He went for a green one with a little H on it and dumped the rest of the pills back into the container.
The moon hung in the sky above him, illuminating him. His dark curly hair looked nice in the moonlight, darkness all around them.
He tossed it into his mouth, no hesitation. He chased it with a gulp of his beer.
She did the same.
The pill was chalky, more like candy than medicine. They dissolved quickly and easily. The both of them were bound to be feeling the effects within a minute of swallowing.
A sharp, high pitched laugh caught her attention. She turned. Walking up the path and steps to the front door was Vanessa surrounded by a group of friends also laughing. They went in as a group and then they were gone, out of her line of sight.
She felt dizzy. Everything got a lot clearer and for her, that was saying something. Her vision was basically perfect already. Colors became brighter, shadows got longer, the moon grew two sizes. It was warped.
The strangeness faded. Things returned to their natural color, shape, and size.
Cameron took a red pill because she liked the look of it. She hadn’t spent any time thinking and remembering what the colors and letters actually meant.
Red was used often as a symbol of danger.
“Creed. This is a little unexpected.”
“I apologize,” Cameron said, voice altered by one of Creed’s modifiers to sound deeper, distinctively masculine, almost menacing. “I would have attempted to give you a warning beforehand but I didn’t want to tip off my enemies. You understand, I’m sure.”
“Of course I do but it doesn’t stop this,” he stopped to wave his hand at her sitting in his chair, in his office. “From being unexpected and rude.”
Cameron slid off the chair, hoping it looked smooth and confident. All the padding and what was practically stilts she wore to make herself look like Creed, a grown man, and not like the teenage girl she was made it hard to move properly. She had stared at herself in the mirror for at least ten minutes to ensure the padding wasn’t noticeable under the lightweight body armor.
Park remained where he stood at the entrance, his gaze cold. “What do you want, Creed?”
Kevin Park was the CEO of UltimateTech Industries. It gave him power, different from the kind she had.
“I want what I’ve always wanted, Mr. Park.”
“Which is harder to achieve with your organization taken over. Is that why you’re here? You want my help in getting it back?”
Cameron shook her head. This was the part she was worried about. “I may no longer lead them but that organization is mine, it always has been. It’s apparent from the name. I won’t have any issue in reclaiming it. No, I want your assistance in a different matter. The Automatons.”
He laughed, a short sound. “You want me to help you destroy them? Have you gone insane? There’s a greater chance of me helping to stop you.”
“You’re a smart man, Mr. Park, of that I have no doubt. You pick the winning side, the side that will benefit you the most. That would be my side. The Automatons have worked for you in the past, they’re useful to you. Imagine how much more useful they’ll be when they’re fully under your control? If enough damage is dealt, they’ll have no choice but to accept your helping hand and that hand would come with costs.”
Confidence was key. With people like Creed, they assumed confidence meant competence.
Park glanced away for a second, considering it. “Not if they discover I helped you.”
Cameron stood straight as a rod. Creed didn’t fidget. “I would be discrete.”
“What kind of help are we talking here?” Park asked as he walked to his desk, closing the distance between them until Park was within arm’s reach.
“All the information you have on them, location of their bases or storage facilities, things like that. Information on their leader, Missile, would be particularly useful to me.”
Park smiled. “For that, I’m going to need something from you, Creed. Just in case what you’re doing doesn’t work out. You understand, I’m sure.”
She was glad the mask hid her scowl. The real Creed had a lot to offer but Cameron didn’t. “Of course, I do. Name your price Mr. Park and I’ll see what I can do.”
“I’ll give you everything if you do two favors for me, first. You know of my daughter. She’s become rebellious and while that’s not unexpected for a teenager, it’s a pain in my side. It’s not good publicity if she’s out partying all night with random boys she met on the street,” Park said. The last sentence was soaked with disdain.
Creed would be able to handle it. His power made him exceptionally good at dealing with people, changing them, manipulating them. He could have anyone eating out of his hand given time. Turning Park’s kid from a party girl to the president of the chess club wouldn’t make Creed break a sweat.
“Your other favor?” Cameron asked.
“I want you to track down Phantom and convince him to work for me again. He’s been a useful employee I’m finding hard to replace.”
If only he needed help stealing something, that she could do pretty well.
Fuck, this was probably the only deal she’d get.
“I don’t suppose you’ll be so kind as to tell me where I can find these two, Phantom in particular.”
He shrugged. “Consider this a test, Creed. If you’re incapable of handling this on your own, there’s no way you’ll be able to do any real damage to the Automatons which also means we have no reason to be talking to each other at all.”
Damn. She restrained the urge to punch him in the face. As satisfying as it would be to beat the answers out of him it would be better if she didn’t make anymore enemies than she had to, especially when she wasn’t ruining her reputation but Creed’s. Park was probably one of those bastards that got stubborn when things turned violent. “If that’s all, I see no problem with this,” Cameron said, sticking out her hand for him to shake.
He shook it, his grip surprisingly weak. “Once you’re done, come to my office again. Otherwise, I don’t want to see you again.”
“That’s fair. I’ll be seeing you soon but Mr. Park, if you attempt to betray me you can expect retaliation.”
Park laughed and it was genuine. “I got the message loud and clear when you got into my office without anybody noticing, Creed.”
That hadn’t been her intention but whatever, she’d take what she could get. She nodded at him and opened up the window. Climbing out the window wasn’t nearly as cool and stylish an exit she had planned. Cameron was just glad she couldn’t actually see or hear Park laughing his ass off.
There wasn’t a balcony or any sort of landing under the window. A fall from this height was certain death, no question about it. It was exhilarating, falling faster and faster, wind whipping around her. She relished in it for a moment then teleported to the rooftop of a building still below her. She stood on the roof, all the momentum built up gone. It was disorientating to go from falling to standing perfectly still. It was like getting off a drop on a rollercoaster, before it deliberately slowed down.
Cameron teleported again and again until she arrived at Creed’s old safe house.
She took off the costume and the stupid, ridiculous padding, definitely not looking forward to having to wear that again when she did those favors for Park.
Which she could start tomorrow. As fun as tracking down Phantom and talking rich teenage girls out of enjoying cool social activities like parties and boys was she had a party to attend later tonight. She told Ian she would go so she would. The least she could do considering how cool he had been lately.
There weren’t a whole lot of people in this world she trusted to have her back no matter what. Only the worse kind of people would betray that sort of loyalty. As cruel and vicious she could be at times that was a line she wouldn’t cross.
Cameron had a few hours to kill before she had to go get ready. Might as well go look up Park’s daughter, see what she looked like.
Who knew, maybe she’d see this girl at the party she was going to later. From what Ian told her, it sounded like it was the party to go to this weekend, the one that blew all the others out of the water. Anyone who was anyone was going and not going was the equivalent of social suicide and blah blah blah. Cameron may have stopped reading and responding to his texts when he went on a tangent about the party and how big of a deal it was that she went.
It was easy, the girl – Vanessa Park – was on several social media websites and wasn’t the least bit concerned with privacy. All her profiles were public including the many pictures she took of herself, alone and with friends. Most had some filter on it to make herself look more attractive but she was a pretty girl regardless.
Living in the digital age was real useful when Cameron needed to be a creep.
Vanessa’s profile was a jackpot of information. She frequently posted about her life, for example, what she planned to do tonight. Obviously she was going out, it was a Saturday night after all. She didn’t say it outright but apparently one party just wasn’t satisfying for her. Vanessa was going to be hitting up a number of parties with her pals. If this party Ian wanted her to go to was even half as great as he made it out to be then Vanessa would stop by. It was an opportunity to get in good with her and being liked by her put Cameron in a better position to manipulate her.
Too bad Phantom wasn’t one of those idiots that uploaded pictures of themselves in costume, mask off, to their social media website of choice. That mistake had sent far more young criminals to jail than one would have expected with the news coverage each incident received.
People were stupid sometimes, powers or not. Well, unless they had a superpower that made them smarter. Those superpowers were rare though, apparently, or they got them at birth.
After scrolling through several of Vanessa’s profiles and copying and pasting some of the more useful posts onto a separate document, Cameron drove home and got dressed in the proper attire for an event like this.
A top that showed off the right amount of cleavage, a leather jacket because it was cold out, and skinny jeans. All the exercise she got gave her nice legs, might as well show them off a little.
Klein was fortunately not home. He would have definitely asked if he saw her walking out the door and he wouldn’t have a problem with her attending a party but habits were hard to break out of. When asked a question by someone from this side of her life, sometimes a lie came out of her mouth before she had a chance to think about it. It was instinctive, as natural as using her power. They were small lies, inconsequential, most of the time. She lied about her favorite color once and now she was stuck with a green costume.
Moments like those made her wish she could travel back in time instead of traveling through space.
Ian was going to meet up with her at the party, as per usual. He and some of his boys would be there along with a bunch of other teenagers she probably didn’t know at all or well.
The party was in full swing by the time Cameron got there. A few kids stood on the front lawn, red plastic cups in hand, chatting but the majority were inside. The sound of loud music with a fast beat could be heard way before Cameron opened the door.
She checked her phone before she walked in.
Ian was going to be late. No surprise there. On a whim, she decided to look at Vanessa’s profile again. There were a couple of new posts, one of which was a picture she took of herself posing in front of the mirror, lips puckered, long black hair done in curls. Vanessa was apparently feeling very helpful today because her latest posts all had location services on which gave Cameron a handy dandy map of where Vanessa was if she tapped the tiny icon in the corner of the post.
Vanessa wasn’t here. According to the map, Vanessa had been in the middle of the street seven minutes ago, dangerously close to where Ian and his gang hung out.
Random boys she met on the street.
Everyone had different tastes when it came to what they counted as attractive, but Ian usually counted for most girls and some guys. He was also the kind of guy who would flirt with a girl that looked like Vanessa if he saw her.
Oh god, no.
Five Years Ago
“And this,” Missile said, the steel doors swinging wide open at his approach. “This is my office. Impressive, don’t you think?” He looked down at her, smiling.
“Um…” The room was empty. No chairs to sit in, no table to put coffee on. Empty, and white, very white. Too white, it kind of hurt her eyes if she stared at it. It wasn’t the room’s fault though, her eyes were pretty sensitive.
“You’re not impressed, huh?”
Cameron didn’t say anything, he might get angry if she told him the truth and he might get angry if she lied and he could tell. Dad got angry if she lied and he could tell.
Missile strode into the room and waved his arms in a sweeping gesture. Holographic screens and people popped into existence as his arms moved past. The screens rotated so Missile could see all of them no matter where he stood in the room. Cameron didn’t recognize any of the people but she was new here. Some moved their hands and lips as if they were talking but no sound was coming out. Recordings? Video footage? The room was crowded by the time he let his arms drop. He turned his head to look at her. “Impressed now?”
It was pretty cool, Cameron had to admit. She nodded.
Satisfied, he gestured for her to come closer. She did, careful to step around a row of guns hovering in the air. He rested his hand on her shoulder. “Tell me, Cameron, what do you know about science? About technology?”
Cameron didn’t know how to answer. There were a lot of different ways to respond and she couldn’t tell which one he wanted to hear. “I learned some stuff at school,” she mumbled.
“I always found school to be a waste, moved far too slow for me,” Missile said, stroking his chin. “You’ll never learn what’s important there. You’ll never learn to love science. You’ll never learn to crave more knowledge, to want to learn, to understand the world we live in. Take superpowers, for example. We don’t know the precise mechanics involved in why some are granted powers and not others. That’s a mystery worth investigating, don’t you think?”
Oh, this was an easy one. She nodded enthusiastically.
“Right!” He grinned. “If a child understands, grown men and women have no excuse. But, alas, most governments have agreed to not delve too deep into the subject, afraid of any one country having an army of superhumans at their beck and call.”
“Did they actually not um, delve too deep?” Cameron asked uncertain. She’d look really dumb if that didn’t mean what she thought it meant.
“Now that is a good question. I have no evidence one way or the other but I think they’re still studying it, despite what they said. It is a very interesting subject, I haven’t been able to stay away from it either. There’s just so much potential there.”
Missile said something similar earlier, she remembered. “To make a perfect world?”
“Yes, exactly. I think I’ll like having you around, Cameron.”
She tried to smile at him. It wasn’t like she had a lot of options. Dad owed them money and the only way he had of paying them was through her, having her use her powers to help them. Like how she helped him sometimes, when he tricked people. Some kids delivered newspapers, she committed crimes.
That was just how life was. People had to do things they didn’t want to do if they wanted to survive. Dad said stuff like that all the time.
“Come on,” Missile said, giving her a gentle push toward the door. “I’ll show you where we’re doing research on teleportation then I’ll take you to the room you’ll be staying in. Can you imagine a world you never have to sit in a car again? Think of all the time we’ll save!”
Cameron saw it in the corner of her eye. It floated, almost indistinguishable from the area it occupied. Experience and better eyesight than most let her identify it immediately.
She turned the chair until she faced it head on. It made the wall a touch darker than it ought to be. A shadow, almost. “Dad?”
It didn’t answer. She knew it couldn’t speak but it could have nodded or something. Any acknowledgement would do. Its presence here at the Automatons’ lab made her nervous. Dad never checked up on her when he knew she was working. He would only risk angering the Automatons by snooping around their lab if he was in life-threatening danger. He had powers too but his weren’t as good as hers.
“Do you need me to come home?” she asked. “I was just doing some homework on the computer, I can go at anytime.”
Nothing. It remained eerily motionless.
“Are you here or is this your power doing its own thing again?”
Not even a twitch.
“Goddamn it, Dad. Do you always have to make things harder than they need – “
It disappeared, the space it was in returned to its regular color.
That… That couldn’t be good. She grabbed her coat off the back of the chair. She shoved the laptop she was using into her bag and ran out of the little office they let her borrow if nobody else needed it.
There were a whole lot of people who might want to hurt Dad. Enemies from when he stole and conned people out of their money. He didn’t need to do that anymore with the income she brought in from working for the Automatons. They were nice enough to offer after she worked off the debt Dad owed to them.
Off the top of her head, Cameron couldn’t think of anybody in particular who was motivated to track down Dad years after the fact. Or maybe someone just got lucky and thought there was no better time than the present to get their revenge.
As far as dads go, he sucked but he stuck by her and did the best he could after Mom left when she was a little kid.
She couldn’t go through that again. She couldn’t lose another parent.
Cameron took out her phone and called him. It rang and rang and rang but nobody picked up. She sent a text, in case he was busy and couldn’t answer. She got the feeling he wouldn’t reply.
The house was a mess, different than their usual mess. It looked like somebody tossed the place. “Dad!” she yelled as she walked into each room in search of him. No response.
She didn’t know what to do. If she knew who was after him she could try and hunt them down, ask the Automatons for help. They found her useful but they wouldn’t go out of their way to lend a hand unless she was willing to get into debt with them again. Cameron did another check of the house, searching for any clues they might have left behind. Praying her dad would give her a call or a text and yell at her for bothering him when he was out having a drink with his friends.
Blood. God, why didn’t she notice the blood sooner? There was faint traces of it on the carpet in the living room. Tiny red droplets. It was a lighter shade of red. A half-hearted attempt to clean the mess up?
Forget getting into debt. She needed the Automatons’ help and she didn’t care if they wanted to do the same painful shit they did back then. Who knew how much time Dad had if… if he was even alive at all?
Someone tapped her on the shoulder. She spun to face them, arm already swinging. Her fist went right through it, as easily as a hot knife through wet snow.
It was Dad’s ghost thing, his power. It was darker than it was before, seemingly made out of smoke like substance.
She exhaled, relieved. He was still alive, at least. “Dad – ” She stopped. It was moving, picking up a pen and loose sheet of paper off the ground. Its handwriting was atrocious but readable.
“The Automatons have me, I don’t have a lot of time left. I’m sorry,” Cameron read, quiet.
It nodded its head.
This didn’t make sense. Why would they do this to her dad? She hadn’t done anything to piss them off and neither did –
Or did he?
She remembered hearing Dad and Missile get into a screaming match from the other side of the door. Dad had wanted to talk to Missile privately for a moment on one of the rare occasions he came to pick her up. Her hearing wasn’t as good as her eyesight but she had heard the word ‘money’ thrown around a couple times.
It was in character for him to ask for more money. Spending too much was what got them involved with the Automatons in the first place. Maybe he threatened to get her to stop working for them.
They never did figure out how to make a working teleporter and she refused to let them do experiments on her after she earned enough money to make up for the money Dad borrowed plus interest. It was really smart if she thought about it. She just was on her way to beg them to help her, so desperate she would do anything to get her dad back.
They could have done this hoping she would come to them immediately and didn’t account for Dad sending her a message through his power before they had time to do whatever they were going to do to him. There was a very good chance they didn’t know he could use his power while unconscious, most couldn’t.
She kicked the nearest object – the coffee table – and sent it flying. Her foot stung from the impact. She hit it, again and again.
Why did he always have to fucking do this to her? What they had wasn’t so fucking bad, why couldn’t he leave it alone?
Goddamn it, Dad.
Fuck the Automatons, fuck them and their fucking perfect world. They were a bunch of deluded assholes if they thought they were going to make a perfect world.
How fucking perfect could a world be if people had to suffer to make it?
She stopped. There wasn’t much of a table left to kick. It was a piece of crap Dad found lying on the side of the road. Her sock felt wet.
The pulsing pain in her foot was nice in its own twisted way. Now her outsides matched her insides.
She gave the table one last, good kick.
It watched, silent, unmoving.
She hopped to Dad’s room. Dad kept a gun in the house, for obvious reasons.
Those assholes probably thought they were so fucking smart. They thought they could play her like that?
She took the gun out of the wooden box he put it in and checked to see if it was loaded. It was, more than enough bullets to kill the man responsible. Enough to kill some of his friends too, the ones he got to help him.
She passed her dad’s power on her way out the door. It followed, hovering in the air behind her.
Cameron was going to assume that meant he approved.
She teleported the rest of the way there. No way could she walk fast enough on her injured foot.
The great thing about teleportation was there wasn’t anywhere she couldn’t go.
She teleported a huge chunk of the wall off the lab so she could see inside and teleport in. Drones were deployed but she teleported past them, tearing out sections of the roof to find more places to move to.
She went up. That was where Missile’s office was.
Anybody she saw on her way there, she shot, keeping in mind the number of bullets left. Cameron didn’t feel a thing. No, that wasn’t true. There was the anger, the rage, always simmering in the background. Always waiting to come out, to explode.
The office was empty. Missile, the coward, had to have escaped the second the drones were sent out. Pulling on a fucking jetpack and flying off.
She fell to the ground, the sharp pain in her back took away her strength to stand.
She turned and shot at the cubed shaped drone. It wobbled but didn’t fall. More of them were coming, flying as fast as they could toward the office.
Cameron teleported a piece of the wall on top of the drone. That made it fall.
Cold night air flowed into the room through the freshly made hole.
She left, disappearing before the other drones could attack.
Cameron winced as she landed on her injured foot outside the building. “Fuck,” she breathed.
It made her feel a little better.
Everything wasn’t good, far from it, but it was a little better.
What more could she hope for at this point?
Author’s Note: This is the second half of Friday’s update. Sorry guys! Didn’t quite manage to write a bonus update like I hoped I would be able to do as an apology for splitting up this one update. I will, at some point, write a bonus update to make up for this when life settles down a little. I’ll keep you posted.
Cameron had complained before and often about the mandatory training sessions that came with being a superhero working for the SAA. It had less to do with the training itself, which she would have done on her own time anyway, and more with being forced to do it. She never had liked being forced into things.
But she didn’t hate it enough to not go. There were a lot of times in life where you just had to suck it up and deal.
Everyone that came to these were already there when Cameron arrived at the SAA’s big spacious gym. The sessions were mandatory but the team members with a little more clout could have them moved to more convenient times and days.
Ionic could have done that if she wanted, being the only one of them Agent Hayes trusted to not completely suck at leading their little team, but she liked to keep an eye on things, make sure they were all behaving properly and working hard.
Kate was here too, despite not being a field agent, practicing some hand to hand combat with Matt. He had been left out of the mission the other day against the Speed Fiends because he was a brute, not much else to him but strength and durability. Pure strength wasn’t so useful with guys too fast to engage in a regular fight. You wouldn’t guess Matt was the strongest out of them, he was tall and lean but nowhere close to matching the physique of a bodybuilder or even a football player.
Like Kate, Tom didn’t have to come but he always did. Kate did because she wanted to be a field agent more than anything but had failed the necessary examinations. It didn’t actually matter if she passed, her mom couldn’t stand the thought of her precious daughter in danger and the life of an active superhero was nothing but danger. Letting Kate work at the SAA in a non-combat role had been a compromise they came to after a lot of arguments, from what Kate told her.
It was different for Tom. He was dangerous. He didn’t have complete control over his abilities and when those abilities involved creating fire people – including his parents – got scared. Some incident he caused in the past didn’t help in quelling their fears. They sent him here so he could learn more control. It was one of the functions the SAA served beyond stopping superhuman crime.
He was in the special room they had for them to use their powers in without worrying about the damage that might be caused. The walls of the room could be set to transparent so everyone else could watch. Today it was. Tom was standing on one side of the room, two gigantic pillars of flame came out of his hands. The room was sealed so they didn’t have to worry about smoke or anything else escaping.
Ionic was in a corner by herself hitting a wooden dummy with a bunch of poles sticking out of it with her bare hands.
Everyone wore normal workout clothes, except Tom who wore a black fireproof jumpsuit. They didn’t wear costumes unless it was one of those special days where they did hardcore sparring with each other.
All teenage members. Cameron didn’t blame the adults for not wanting to hang out with them. She wouldn’t either if she were them.
Cameron went to the collection of treadmills they had in the corner.
Instructors came by once every two weeks to teach them martial arts or whatever they wanted. Matt, for example, liked to learn about different sword fighting styles. The rest of the training sessions were dedicated to making sure they stayed in tip top shape and practice what they learned from the instructors.
It wasn’t super useful, most of the time. She learned all about the proper way to fight from experience and what Creed taught her.
Her feet pounding on the treadmill, music playing from her headphones, Cameron got an idea.
The UltimateTech lab she had Ian destroy had to have had someone who was in contact with the Automatons. There was probably only one or two in the know, aware they had criminals working for them, to keep things as secure as they could. She hadn’t given it much thought at the time. Having Ian attack them too had been a whim, to send the Automatons a message that just hitting one of their bases wouldn’t have sent. Attacking both told them that there was someone out there with a grudge that knew a great deal about them and their business. Someone out there that knew what they were doing, someone with a plan.
That was what she told Ian to tell them anyway, if the Automatons ever came to question him.
The Automatons probably didn’t consider the two attacks much of a threat.
If the attacks were planned by someone with a reputation…
Someone the Automatons might actually be afraid of, that might cause them to act and if they acted, so would Creed’s organization.
Well, she hoped her acting skills were up to snuff.