Reboot 5.3.1/1.3.1

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Author’s Note: Real life interfered a lot with this update so expect the second half + another update on Sunday.

No one took the bait.

Her fault for using outdated plans made years ago. He was a smart man but he couldn’t predict what would happen. If he could, he would be here leading his organization. The irony of Creed’s organization not being run by Creed never escaped her.

He was gone now. Cameron didn’t want to say dead because she never found a body but he did disappear on the same day of the hostile takeover of his organization.

When she took care of her own personal vendetta then she’d track him down wherever he was hiding.

It was the deal she made with him a long time ago. He would get her the revenge she wanted if she worked for him. Creed may not have been around anymore to help but she still had access to some of his resources. The current leader of his organization didn’t like her but Creed always suspected something like this might happen to him. He had safe houses stocked with weapons, equipment, and money placed all over the world, one of them was in Avocet.

Cameron had checked the one in Avocet after she realized what happened. He hadn’t been there nor were there signs he had used it recently. When it became obvious Creed wasn’t coming back anytime soon, she took over the safe house, turning it into her own base of operations.

On the outside, it was a nice looking red brick house. Once upon a time, it was used as a church by one of those weird groups that worshiped superhumans. They couldn’t afford to keep it open so it had been left abandoned until Creed bought it and cleaned the place up. It was a little out of the way, sitting in the outskirts of town surrounded by a small forest the church had planted years ago to give them more privacy.

The floors above ground were pretty ordinary for an abandoned house, most of the furniture gone and what remained was covered in a thick layer of dust. On the lower levels were where all the good stuff was. The lowest level was just one big room.

A long sturdy metal desk with a shelf above it for two of the five computer monitors neatly positioned. All kinds of weapons and armor hung on racks and shelves throughout the room.

Cameron sat down in the big leather chair in front of the desk and turned on the computer. Creed was really fond of these classic villain chairs. If only she owned a cat.

The new guy running Creed’s organization wasn’t one to pounce on any perceived weakness, apparently. She was going to need to do something a little more drastic to get him to act.

Creed’s organization and the Automatons were the two top dogs of Avocet but a few criminals operated on the outskirts of town, far enough away from the tourist areas that they didn’t bother to drive them off. The criminals those two did run out of town sometimes moved to the next city over, about an hour’s drive from Avocet. With the right incentive, anyone from those areas would go up against the Automatons. If the Automatons were to be taken down it would open up a lot of territory then they would be able to try their hand at seizing a bigger slice of the pie for themselves.

Creed had dealt with many of them in the past and that meant he had a nice little evil address book on his computer. Some of them would obviously not work anymore but hopefully not everyone decided to change their phone numbers.

She scrolled through the list.

Phantom, the Coming Storm, Gladwell, the True Gods, the Reckoning… It went on and on. A lot of these groups and people weren’t even anywhere close to Avocet. Creed was very much a people person.

If she remembered right, the Coming Storm were a group of vigilantes too idealistic to join up with the government. She pulled up a page on them from the internet. The internet tended to be wrong about the little details but she just needed the broad strokes about who they were, what they wanted, and how they operated.

Like she thought, the Coming Storm were a group of idealistic vigilantes though they considered themselves activists. They thought the government was basically the devil incarnate, full of people whose first and only concern was money. The Coming Storm weren’t the peaceful type of activists that made signs and asked people to sign petitions. If the world wasn’t going to change, they were going to force it to. It attracted quite a few young people eager to make the world a better place.

It wouldn’t be impossible to get them to attack the Automatons but they probably wouldn’t listen to her if she contacted them as Creed’s protégé. Doing it as Point Blank was out of the question. She couldn’t contact them as a random nobody either or they’d just ignore it.

She had the same problem with most of the people on these lists. She had Creed’s stuff but she wasn’t him. She couldn’t convince people like he could, didn’t have people that owed her favors. No one was going to try and attack the Automatons unless they had a grudge against them or wanted to hand the city over to Creed’s organization. Creed’s organization would and could steamroll over a weakened Automatons and most groups trying to make a play.

Mercenaries were an option, she supposed. This place had cash along with her own stash she had kept hidden from Klein and the SAA. Hiring anyone decent would clean out her savings and that wasn’t a bridge she wanted to burn yet.

Cameron leaned back in the chair and groaned.

Why did everything have to be so complicated? She just wanted him to suffer like she had, for the world to be a little fairer than it was. She would have stormed the Automaton’s main base and take out their leader herself if she knew where it was.

She had hoped Creed’s organization or the SAA would find it once the fighting got underway.

Maybe if the Automatons committed some kind of atrocity the SAA would bring in reinforcements to take them down for good. There was precedent for it. They were too smart to do that, if she wanted to go down that route she would have to do something horrible and then attempt to frame the Automatons for it.

Too many issues with that idea.

Man, having Creed here with her would have made things so much easier.

Just having him here with her would have been nice.

Cameron climbed out of the chair. She hoped coming here might suddenly inspire her, give the exact thing she needed to use against the Automatons.

It obviously wasn’t going to happen right now. Sometimes you can’t force ideas to come and she didn’t have time to sit around and think all day. She had other obligations.

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Reboot 5.2/1.2

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Ian laughed, light and free. Cameron admired that about him, his ability to shrug off anything with a grin. He seemed to thoroughly enjoy life, completely happy with his situation in life, damaged motorcycle excepted.

His motorcycle was his livelihood. It and his power to grant the ability to turn any vehicle the person drove into an insanely fast and durable machine and giving them the skill to handle driving it. Of his gang, the Speed Fiends, he was the only one with superpowers, the others were friends of his he asked to join if he thought they were cool.

“Is it going to be as exciting?” he asked, eager. “Some of the boys are getting restless.”

“This will be more dangerous, maybe stupidly so,” Cameron admitted.

“Buy me dinner and I’m all yours.” He grinned, waving a menu in the air to call over a server. One came within seconds, notepad and pen in hand. “Give me a number four with an extra helping of fries and a Pepsi.”

If only the rest of life’s troubles could be solved with twenty dollars.

The server scribbled something down on the pad of paper and turned to look at her. “Just give me the same thing but the normal amount of fries,” Cameron said.

He nodded and left without a word, returning with two glasses filled with their drink and ice, a fake smile plastered on his pimpled face. He went back to this station, warily watching and waiting for one of the many customers in the restaurant to call him over.

“How’s work, anyway?” Ian asked. Ice rattled as he played with his straw, stirring his drink.

She thought about the training sessions, the debriefings, the reports, the report she had to write for today’s outing, and school, couldn’t forget about school and all the work that entailed. Cameron sighed, all of a sudden feeling very much in need of a nap. “I really want to quit sometimes.”

Ian sucked on his straw, gulping down his drink. He didn’t say it out loud but she knew what he was thinking. They’ve had this conversation before and nothing he could say was going to change her mind. As much as it sucked sometimes, Cameron was committed to the mission. At the end of the day, it was the only thing that was hers. It kept her going when she had been exhausted, cold, lonely, hurt, when nothing seemed worth it anymore.

“You should come by soon, the boys like having you around,” Ian said, an obvious attempt at changing the subject. She appreciated it.

She rolled her eyes. “Of course they do, they’re teenage boys and I’m a teenage girl. Not rocket science.”

“They like you for other reasons than the girl thing.” He leered. “The girl thing’s a bonus.”

The server returned, carrying a plate in each hand and a bottle of ketchup tucked between his body and arm. He put their meals in front of them and smiled. “Enjoy.”

Combo number four was a nice, big bacon cheeseburger. It was covered in fat and grease, tasty if horrible for her health.

She took a bite out of it.

“You should definitely come to this party on the weekend,” Ian said, after swallowing a mouthful of food. “It won’t break your probation as long as you don’t get caught drinking, right?”

“As long as I don’t get caught yeah,” she agreed. It wouldn’t even be hard. The guardian the SAA set her up with, Henry Klein, was one of the least responsible parents ever. He was always out, either working at his job as one of the SAA’s doctors or hanging out with his friends. He gave her permission to go out and do wild, crazy teenage things as long as she didn’t need him to pick her up.

“So, you in?”

She chewed slowly, thinking. It had been awhile since she last went to a party. Before she had decided to let herself get caught by the SAA and they decided to make her a superhero rather than send her to jail, Cameron had gone to parties all the time.

“I’m in,” Cameron said. “Text me the details.”

They ate and talked until their plates were eaten clean and nothing but ice in their cups.

Cameron paid the bill and included a generous tip for their server.

They stood in the parking lot, him on another one of his motorcycles and she leaned on the door of her car. It was empty of other people, they were already inside waiting for or enjoying their meals.

“The favor?” he asked.

She reached into her jacket pocket and handed him a carefully folded piece of paper. On it were instructions she wrote out ahead of time, much easier than saying it loud and hoping he remembered it all. Ian stuffed into his jacket and pulled on his helmet. “Don’t forget about my motorcycle,” he said, stern.

“Yeah, yeah, I won’t.”

He nodded, satisfied, and drove off into the night. Cameron got into her car and went home.

She trusted him to get it done. Ian was good. If he wanted to, he and his gang might have become one of the few criminals in town not affiliated with Creed’s organization or the Automatons. With his power, they were powerful enough to be a pain to deal with and they didn’t scare away tourists or interfere with anyone else’s business. They wouldn’t bother to take him out and Ian had no interest in getting involved with them.

Klein lived in this nice apartment building on the rich side of town, a penthouse apartment. She was surrounded by doctors, lawyers, businessmen, and trust fund kids. Hell, Klein was two of those things. While his job as a doctor working for the SAA provided a good, steady income, it was mostly his parents’ wealth that let him afford his apartment. They had made an agreement with him. From what he told her, if he became a doctor and got a job, they would pay for basically anything he wanted. If he didn’t, he would have gotten disowned so it wasn’t much of a choice to make.

Sometimes it was hard for her to believe this was her life. Not long ago she was living on the streets, getting by with the money she stole from unsuspecting passersby. From rags to riches.

Cameron parked her car in the underground parking lot under the building and took the elevator up to her floor.

The apartment had a bachelor vibe to it, very high quality furniture, clothes occasionally strewn over chairs and wooden flooring, bookshelves with untouched books, and plants he always forgot to water. It was designed to impress, the arrangement was a little too good to have been done by anything less than a professional.

Klein was home, sitting on the couch with the TV on. He didn’t tear his eyes away from the screen. “Hey, Pierce, where’ve you been?”

“Eating dinner with a friend,” Cameron said, hanging her jacket in the closet by the door.

“Get anything for me?”

“Nope, order takeout or you know, actually cook something,” she replied on her way to her room. She shut the door and locked it.

The walls of her room were painted a light blue, not her choice. It was left over from when Klein’s little sister lived here years ago before she got her own place. Everything else was hers. Books she actually read, a desk she picked out, ironic superhero posters of herself and her teammates on the walls, and a closet full of clothes. All were belongings acquired within the last year. The few items from before were carefully hidden in her closet. Being a superhero was annoying at times but they paid well and Klein had no problems sharing his wealth with her either.

Cameron sat down at her desk and opened up her laptop. She had schoolwork to finish but that could wait until she finished her report. Agent Hayes got cranky when people didn’t hand in their reports on time. Considering he had the power to send her to jail, it was best not to get on his bad side.

It would be nearly impossible to accomplish the mission from the inside of a jail cell.

She leaned back in her chair and spun slowly, taking in her whole room. It was nice. Her life, as it was now, was good, everything she wanted when she was young. She had money, she was doing something important, and people knew her, her alter ego. It was still her anyway, just with a helmet to cover her face.

If she gave up the mission then this life could stay hers.

But it wouldn’t be a life she deserved if she had to give up the past to live it. She’d be betraying the younger version of herself, who suffered and endured because she knew one day she would get her revenge for the things taken from her.

A childhood stolen, a family torn apart, a father gone.

She walked over to her closet and shoved a pile of clothes she let build up on the floor, partly because she was too lazy to hang those up and partly because it provided a decent hiding spot. Underneath had been a shoebox, a little worn around the edges. She returned to her seat and popped it open.

A pocket photo album, Dad’s ring, Mom’s necklace, a wad of money wrapped with a rubber band, old cell phone, and a netbook, not connected to the internet.

The Automatons were made up of science guys. Inventors, a term for superhumans with the ability to build highly advanced technology, if you wanted to get technical. They had computers just lying around and didn’t mind if she took one for herself. The idea of not having access to a computer in this day and age was appalling to most of them.

Cameron had her laptop now, much bigger and nicer than the netbook, but the plans she started were all on the netbook. It was easier to keep them on the netbook and not contaminate her laptop with incriminating evidence. If they suspected anything, the SAA would go through her laptop first if they weren’t monitoring it already.

Besides, the netbook was already loaded with some neat encryption programs created by the Automatons.

Cameron flipped through the photo album. Pictures of smiling faces dominated nearly every one. They hadn’t been a happy family most of the time but these pictures gave them the appearance of one. It was their way. Even when they were poor they did what they could to hide it, spending money they didn’t have.

There was some clanks outside, pots and pans hitting each other as Klein looked for one the right size. A reminder she wasn’t alone.

She closed the box and put it in a new hiding spot, under another box on the shelf in her closet. Those were both decent places to hide things as long as nobody was looking. It wouldn’t hold up if anyone decided to search her room. She liked having them close. Hopefully she’d realize if anyone suspected she was working with supervillains.

Cameron wandered out of her room a few hours later and settled on the couch. Klein had gone back to his room, doing whatever single men did alone in their rooms with the door closed.

A couple clicks of the remote and the news was on.

In the background was an UltimateTech lab, three gaping holes in its side, glass shattered. Police and SAA cars surrounded it. A cop was putting tape around the area sealing it off. The reporter, an attractive blonde woman, stood a safe distance away.

“-iends but the authorities have not confirmed it.”

It was a little known fact that the Automatons worked with and for UltimateTech Industries when it suited them. Cameron knew for a fact the Automatons had sent some of their inventions to that lab in the past. There was a pretty good chance that was still true.

One Speed Fiend to trash this lab, three others to trash one of the Automatons bases.

With one of their bases destroyed, Creed’s organization would capitalize on that weaknessand attack, in a bid to end their stalemate and take over the city. Agent Hayes wouldn’t be able to help himself either and try to capture at least some Automatons or a few members of Creed’s organization while they were distracted fighting each other.

It wouldn’t be all out war on the streets, which was bad for everyone.

This wasn’t a perfect plan by any means but maybe, just maybe the leader of the Automatons would be taken down in the chaos by the SAA or Creed’s organization.

If things went really well, she’d get to do the honor.

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Reboot 5.1/1.1

Author’s Note: So, this need a little bit of an introduction before you read this update. The beginning of Knave has always made me cringe because of how terrible it is in a lot of respects and it’s hard to build a serial on a weak foundation. I had planned to rewrite it but reading it over again, it needs something more than a rewrite to fix. Which brings us to the title, Reboot. This is essentially a reboot but I’m not quite sure if I want to start all over again.

The next arc will basically be a rebooted version of Knave, if you and I both prefer this version to the original, then it’ll become the ‘canon’ version and I’ll continue this version and we’ll all quietly forget the other one exists. If this new version doesn’t work out, we’ll pretend this arc happens in an alternate universe and quietly go back to the version of Cameron and pal you’re already familiar with.

Very sorry for the suddenness of this but I think it’s necessary and perfect timing, story-wise, with the end of the arc and the introduction of alternate universes. Your feedback will be especially appreciated, now more than ever.

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It was too nice of a day to spend it chasing after supervillains.

Cameron stood on the rooftop of UltimateTech Industries’ corporate headquarters, the tallest building in Avocet. She was so close to the edge a strong enough gust might send her falling to her death.

It did give her a very nice view of the ongoing chase happening down below. A bright red blur sped through the empty streets. In the air following the blur’s trail was a ship, a tiny bird-like thing, a sphere in the center, two wings sticking out of it, and a sharp, pointed beak on the front. You’d think something so stupid looking might at least be fast to make up for it but the ship wasn’t even close to catching up to the blur, and Cameron was being charitable here.

“Point Blank, do you have eyes on the target?” Agent Hayes said, speaking on comms.

He was the boss, the Man, the agent in charge of coordinating Avocet’s superheroes. Her boss.

She tapped the side of her helmet three times with her first two fingers. “Yeah, I see him,” she said. “You’re sucking really hard right now Ionic.”

Ionic, the pilot of the ship, didn’t bother to reply.

“Can you take him out?” Agent Hayes questioned, harsh and demanding.

Her eyes tracked the blur in spite of the speed it moved at. It was pretty easy to do once she had time to get a feel for how fast it was going then she could predict where it would be fairly accurately. It came with her intuitive knowledge of an object’s position, as long as she could see it with her own eyes.

“If I can’t, we’re kind of fucked aren’t we?”

“That’s not an answer.”

Cameron smirked, hidden by the helmet she wore, and he wouldn’t be able to see it anyway, sitting in his office at the base, watching and listening.

She drew her laser gun from its holster. There was no scope attached. With her thumb, she turned the dial on the side to three. That would be enough power to hurt their little blur without killing him even if she got him in the head but it would do some damage.

She took aim.

“I’ll give it a shot,” Cameron said.

No one reacted to her stellar pun, not even a small chuckle or an acknowledgement. Geez, what was the point of being a superhero if no one appreciated a good joke?

If she wanted to, Cameron was pretty damn sure she could knock him off his ride, stopping him dead in his tracks. She didn’t want to.

Cameron pulled the trigger and a laser beam faster than the human eye could see came out of the barrel. The blur spun in place before righting itself and going on its merry way, at about half the speed. Still too fast for Ionic in her ship to compete with.

The blur slid out of the area they had blocked off, escaping into traffic.

It was too dangerous for them to try and capture him now. Forcing him to stop by hitting the other wheel of his motorcycle would send him crashing into another vehicle and at the speed he was going, it wouldn’t bode well for whoever was in the car. They would be the ones who got blamed too. As dangerous as it might seem, a motorcycle driving down the streets faster than some jets, its driver took care to not damage property or cause any harm at all.

He was still breaking the law and people wanted him caught and arrested but they would be quick to turn on their superpowered civil servants.

“Damn,” Cameron said.

“Ionic, Point Blank, come back to base. Go immediately to the debriefing room, the rest of the team will be waiting for you there,” Agent Hayes ordered, sounding tired.

“Roger,”Ionic replied and Cameron saw her ship turn and fly in the opposite direction. They had worked together for long enough now for Ionic to know Cameron never wanted a ride back unless she physically was unable to get there on her own. Ships were great and all but they took too long to get where they were going for Cameron’s liking.

From where she stood, Cameron could practically see everything if she looked hard enough, including the people down on the streets going about their business. It took her a second to spot the SAA, short for Superhuman Affairs Agency, base. It was situated downtown, surrounded by shops and restaurants with superhero themes. It was a tourist hotspot, the entire city was.

She teleported, appearing on top of the base in an instant. There was a helipad on the roof for ships and other flying vehicles to safely land on and a door leading down to the rest of the building.

She hopped off the pad and walked to the door. The tiny LED light beside it turned from red to green as she approached. Her costume automatically sent a signal to the door to unlock it or something. Ionic was the main science person, not her.

It’d take Ionic a couple of minutes to get here. She would have teleported Ionic and the ship straight to base and save them all time if her power worked on other superhumans.

Cameron strolled down the stairs and to the debriefing room. The top floors of the building were reserved for superheroes, lower level agents weren’t allowed up here for security reasons. Some of them had secret identities to protect.

The debriefing room consisted of a long rectangular table, far more chairs than there were superheroes in the city, a big screen TV on the wall playing the news, and potted plants in every corner. Agent Hayes sat at one end, silent, glaring at the TV across from him. Not all of Cameron’s teammates were here, they were rarely all gathered together. If there was no need for them to be here, they didn’t come.

Other than Agent Hayes, Tyler and Kate were here, sitting on opposite sides of the table, both of them surrounded by empty chairs. Tyler was a precog, he had told Agent Hayes their speedy friend would be taking another ride around town today and Agent Hayes had decided today was the perfect time to try and take him in. Kate was the team’s other science person, she had helped Ionic build the ship.

They were in civvies. They didn’t need costumes, considering they both weren’t field agents.

Cameron sat down beside Kate and took off her helmet. She rested her feet on the table and leaned back in the chair. Agent Hayes was too distracted by other things to yell at her.

They waited in silence.

Ionic came in and claimed the seat on the other end of the table.

“That was horrible,” Agent Hayes said, shaking his head. “This was our second attempt at capturing one of them and we failed again. From what we can tell so far, the Speed Fiends are just a bunch of thrill seekers. A gang of stupid teenagers and we fail. All we needed to do was capture one and convince them to tell us who their leader is, the one using his power to make them move so fast.”

We’re kind of a gang of stupid teenagers,” Cameron said.

Avocet’s superhero team was made up of almost exclusively teenagers. Their adult members hadn’t been as lucky as they were. Well, it wasn’t luck, exactly. Each generation of superhumans were more powerful than the last. The older members simply were as strong as they were.

“We’ll do better next time, sir,” Ionic said, her voice was altered by her helmet, making it sound more mechanical, more robot than human. “We’ll upgrade the ship.”

“I have some ideas of what we can do to improve,” Kate chimed in.

Agent Hayes sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. “That’s fine. You’re all dismissed, don’t forget to write up your reports.”

Ionic was the first person out the door. In a rush to finish her report and get back to working on the ship, no doubt. Kate followed. It wasn’t easy trying to keep up with Ionic’s work ethic. The girl literally had no life outside of superheroing.

Tyler and Agent Hayes were still sitting when Cameron left.

Tyler hardly ever talked to anyone on the team but he and Agent Hayes got along swimmingly, she assumed from all the time they seemed to spend in each other’s company.

Agent Hayes was desperate for a win. All the deaths on his team looked terrible on his record and she bet that if he didn’t shape up soon he would have to go looking for a new job. It was hard to score a win when their opponents, the Speed Fiends excepted, were so well organized while they had never bounced back from the events that led to the death of their older, more experienced members. Cameron hadn’t been a superhero back then but some of the others had and they talked about it maybe once or twice in the entire time Cameron had been with the SAA. It was a touchy subject for them.

Avocet had two major villain groups, the Automatons and Creed’s organization. It didn’t have a name for whatever reason. The Automatons and Creed were peaceful, as far as criminals went, and stopped other villains from setting up shop here. They were basically matched when it came to strength so the city was equally divided in half. Their team wasn’t good enough to take out either one at this point and they weren’t a big enough problem to call in backup from other cities.

Cameron went to her room, located on the same floor as the debriefing room. It was decently sized, mostly undecorated, and furnished with nothing but a bed, a nightstand, and a mannequin for her to hang her costume up on. At one point, during her early days of being a superhero, Cameron had lived in this room but now it served the purpose it was supposed to, she took naps here sometimes if she was dead tired after training or a mission and stored her costume and weapons here.

She changed into some clothes she had left in the closet.

Other than the report and mandatory training sessions, Cameron was free to do whatever she wanted with her time unless called upon to do a mission. Very rarely did superheroes go on patrol because the chances of actually stumbling on a crime worthy of their powers was pretty damn low. The police could handle muggings and getting cats out of trees. Superheroes only tended to go on patrol to let the public see them out and about, so they felt safe and protected.

Her car was parked in a special section of the garage, only superheroes or high level agents were allowed access. It had a secret tunnel that led to a parking garage down the street so heroes could enter and leave the building without having their identities compromised.

It was kind of a pain in the ass for Cameron. It added an extra five minutes whenever Cameron was coming or going.

It probably meant she was going to be late in meeting up with her friend, Ian.

Of course he didn’t have to attend debriefings.

They had scheduled this ahead of time, she was going to meet with him at this cheap burger joint on the other side of town. Ian was strapped for cash most of the time and he definitely wouldn’t be able to afford anything too expensive now that she damaged his motorcycle with her laser gun earlier.

Cameron smirked. Ian was going to be pissed.

And the glare he gave her as she slid into the other side of the booth confirmed her suspicions.

“That’s the last time I ever do you any favors,” he huffed, running a hand through his dark, messy curls.

Cameron was still smirking. “Had to make it look good, you know? Don’t want them to start thinking I suck ass.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know,” Ian said. “You’ve whined about what happens if they do before. Can we go back to talking about the motorcycle?

She rolled her eyes. “I’ll pay for it, but first, I’m going to need another favor from you.”

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Max Bladen, Superhuman Internal Affairs

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1994

“For the good of all,” the group chorused, loud, spirited.

Max muttered it, a tad out of sync from the people around him. No one seemed to notice, too focused on the man standing at the front of the room and the words he spoke so confidently it was easy to get swept up in them and not pay attention to their meaning, to the message the man was teaching.

Nineteen years of this, of sitting idly by as his parents and siblings were brainwashed, suckered into being part of a cult. It was what this was, a cult. More than half their earnings given to the man up there, to the Guider, to Dedov.

It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that Max realized what had been done to him, what he had been robbed of. He had so much of his life attending these sessions, believing every lie out of Dedov’s lips and he didn’t even know the man’s first name, and he wasn’t certain Dedov wasn’t the man’s last name either.

It was hard for him to fathom ever being so stupid.

Max had tried to wake his parents up to the truth but they didn’t listen to him, were on the verge of sending him off for private sessions with Dedov before he played it off as a test, to see if they were as devoted to the Guider as he was. They had praised him afterwards for being diligent in rooting out unbelievers.

His siblings… He didn’t even know how to approach them. How did you tell someone that everything they were ever taught was wrong, something made up to use and abuse you?

He tried not to fidget. The fold up chairs they sat on were uncomfortable and the scent of the candles placed all around the room made the inside of his nose itch. As far as he could tell, no one else was bothered by it so he couldn’t be either, if he didn’t want to attract attention. If they realized he didn’t believe then his parents would reject him, disown him, and he wouldn’t be able to help them or the rest of his family if he were separated from them.

“…and above all else, we must protect ourselves from the world beyond these four walls. Within, we are safe, surrounded by truth and good. The outside world will seek to rob us of this if they are aware of the good held within this room and ourselves. Spurred by jealousy and evil they will try to destroy it, twist it until we are as wicked as they are. To protect ourselves and our goodness, you must not speak of me or the good of our sessions. At the same time, there are those out there lost and confused, the good inside of them baffled and shunned by the evil around them. It is our duty to reach out to them, to spread the good,” Dedov said, turning his head to look at the entire room full of people. “For the good of us all.”

They repeated it, then stood up, going to talk amongst themselves.

Dedov went from group to group, saying a few words and collecting money before going on to the next. The session would officially end once Dedov made his rounds and returned to the podium at the front and dismissed them.

Max had a plan. If confronting his parents didn’t work then he’d confront the cause of their problems. Force him to admit to everyone he was a fraud. He would do it privately, away from everyone else. He was scared they might try to mob him and he would do something he would regret if they did. As misguided as they were, they were still people he had known for most of his life, people he cared about.

Dedov approached Max and his family. His little brother eagerly handed Dedov a wad of bills his parents had given him. Dedov took it with a smile, putting it into his pocket. “Your contribution is much appreciated, if only everyone in this wicked world of ours was as the good contained within you all,” he said.

“Speaking of good,” Max cut in, before his dad could say anything. “Can I talk to you alone, Guider? I need some advice, there’s this girl at school who I think might be lost and confused, like you were saying earlier. I want to help her, her parents only care about money and not about the good.” The lie was effortless. He had practiced this, carefully planned out every word. The line about money would be like catnip to Dedov.

“I see, that’s very unfortunate for her, yet at the same time she is very fortunate to have someone enlightened, such as yourself, there to help guide her. Yes, come with me, let’s discuss this in greater detail,” Dedov said. He turned and headed for the door behind the podium.

Max followed.

Inside was a small office with a desk, most of it occupied by a computer monitor, two chairs, one behind the desk and the other in front of it, and a bookshelf in the corner near the door.

Dedov closed and locked the door behind them. Neither of them sat down.

“Now, tell me about this girl, Max. You mentioned her parents were overly concerned with money. They are wealthy, I’m assuming? Businessmen, perhaps?”

Max moved to put himself between Dedov and the door. “I know the truth about you Dedov. You’re a scam, a fake, and you’re going to go out there and tell them that while you can.”

Dedov laughed, a throaty chuckle. “Why would I ever do such a thing?”

Max stretched to put his hand on top of the bookshelf without moving away from the door. He took a deep breath. His hand sunk through the wood, much like a ghost would. His hand had become immaterial, not as there as it should have been. As quickly as it had become immaterial, it shifted back to being solid, creating a hole in the bookshelf the exact shape and size of his hand. He pulled his hand out of the hole, unharmed.

“Because I can do that to your head,” he said, hoping he sounded convincing.

His eyes nearly bulged out of his skull. “Fuck,” Dedov breathed out. “Fuck, you’re one of those freaks. Shit, I didn’t expect this.”

Max hadn’t expected it either. Five weeks ago, he had been an ordinary guy.

“Now go out there and tell them,” Max ordered. “After that, we’re going to go to the police and you’re going to give us all our money back, you motherfucker.”

2010

Max glanced up from the screen of his phone every few seconds to peer at the woman sitting at a table by herself eating a muffin and drinking coffee.

He would have been a lot more discrete about it if the woman wasn’t as attractive as she was. She, and the others in this quaint little coffee shop, would just assume he was looking because she was hot, not because he was investigating her. According to her co-workers and boss at the SAA, she had been acting very strange lately, slacking off at work, missing weekly training sessions, being rude to her teammates. There were concerns whether she was stable.

Superheroes were still human under the costumes they wore, capable of being corrupt or unhinged as any other human out there. It was up to Max and every other member of the SAA’s internal affairs division to make sure the public could trust the people protecting them.

The woman, Mia Calvin, had so far looked to be normal if different. She had spent her mornings here since the start of the week, buying a blueberry muffin and coffee for breakfast. It was a new routine. According to her teammates, Miss Calvin skipped breakfast most of the time in order to arrive to work on time and get as much sleep as possible. On the few times she woke up earlier enough to eat, she did so at home, being a bit of a cooking enthusiast.

It was strange, the sudden change in routine. There was no discernible reason for it.

Miss Calvin rose from her seat leaving her empty plate and mug on the table for the workers to collect later. She left and from the big window at the front of the store, he saw her head in the direction of the city’s local SAA building, away from her apartment. By his estimate, she would arrive more than ten minutes late.

He stayed where he was, enjoyed the good coffee and the game he played on his phone until he received a message telling him Miss Calvin was at work now.

Good, now he could search her apartment without needing to worry when she would show up.

It was a quick drive to her apartment. Getting in was easy enough, he pulled on a pair of gloves then phased his arm through the door and made his hand solid to unlock it while leaving the rest of his arm intangible.

A shame he was only capable of making parts of himself intangible at a time.

The apartment was a mess, everything torn from shelves and tossed onto the floor. A sea of belongings, covering up most of the carpet. It reminded Max of an amateur’s attempt to search an apartment, no care taken to put things back where they were.

It begged the question of what the person was looking for.

There wasn’t enough evidence for him to conclude Miss Calvin was the one who did this. A spurned lover, perhaps, seeking revenge. It wouldn’t be the first time he came across that one.

Max walked around the apartment, occasionally picking up items of interest lying on the floor. The closet inside her room was empty, the contents, her clothes, were everywhere. On beds and the ground. There weren’t as many clothes as he might have expected, from what he knew about Miss Calvin. She often went shopping according to her credit card statements.

A theory crossed his mind. The mess, the missing clothes… There was a chance she was planning on leaving town in a hurry. In her rush to get all the essentials packed, she could have made quite a mess while searching for some key item.

The why still eluded him.

He continued looking through the apartment, stopping when he saw a bookshelf almost as tall pressed against a wall. He would have ignored it if he didn’t see the tracks left in the carpet. Someone had dragged the shelf from across the room to its current position.

It was just a hunch but years of doing this had made his hunches remarkably accurate.

Max pulled the shelf away from the wall.

There was a door behind it, no knob.

He phased his hand through the hinges of the door then made them solid, destroying the hinges. He pushed and the door fell open, clattering to the ground.

The woman inside the room flinched at the sound, an inch or two away from being hit by the door as it fell down. She had handcuffs around her wrists and ankles. There was tape over her mouth, stopping her from talking. She was a mess, red hair disheveled, clothes torn. Her eyes were wide not with fear but with relief.

A dead ringer for Mia Calvin.

Max walked over to her and ripped off the tape.

“Oh thank god you found me. You gotta get me out of these before she comes back,” she said, her voice hoarse, panicked.

“Before I do, I’m going to need an explanation. You’re Mia Calvin?” Max questioned, as calm as she was not.

She nodded with too much force instead of speaking.

“And the she you mentioned, that would be someone who looks exactly like you?”

She nodded again.

“Secret evil twin or shapeshifter?”

“Oh god this is going to sound crazy but you have to believe me. She’s me but from an alternate universe, she’s trying to take over my life,” she said.

Max quirked a brow. People joked about alternate universes all the time but as far as he knew, they didn’t exist. It wasn’t out of the realm of possibility. Nothing was.

“Okay,” he said. “If she’s an alternate version of yourself, I assume she has the same powers? How did she get here then? As far as I’m aware, you don’t have the ability to travel through universes.”

“I – Wait, how do you know about my powers?” Miss Calvin said. Ah, she was starting to think rationally again after getting over the joy of being rescued.

“I work for the SAA, Internal Affairs. Answer the question.”

“She has some device, this chest plate kind of thing.” She raised her hands. “Please, can you get these off?”

“Depends. How do I know if you’re the Mia Calvin of this universe and not the alternate?” Miss Calvin looked a little horrified, her mind scrambling for an answer. He smiled down at her. “That was a joke. It’s kind of obvious you’re this universe’s Mia Calvin.” Using his power, he waved his hand through the chain connecting the cuffs and severed them. He did the same to the one binding her feet. He gave her a helping hand, to get her back on her feet. With his other hand, he took out his cell phone and typed out a message to the agent in the charge of this city.

She would make sure the other Miss Calvin stayed at the SAA building until he and this Miss Calvin arrived and they could sort the whole thing out.

If they could sort the whole thing out. Max knew how to handle all kinds of situations, alternate universes weren’t one.

Miss Calvin was a little unsteady on her feet, it took her a moment for her to stand up straight without support for him. “We’ll take my car to the SAA. There’s no need to rush. Would you like to use the bathroom before we go?” Max asked.

She nodded and slowly walked out of the room, careful not to trip over the door on the ground. Max waited a moment, looking at the room Miss Calvin was held in. A walk-in closet, the clothes missing.

Where had the alternate planned to go? Miss Calvin wasn’t an inventor and he had no reason to believe her alternate was one either. The device had to have been made by someone else. It was possible there were others from that Earth here on their Earth. A world capable of traveling to theirs while they did not have the same ability.

His bosses really wouldn’t react very well to the news.

Max went to the kitchen while Miss Calvin was in the bathroom. He had a feeling she might be in there for awhile.

The fridge was empty, the cabinets bare. He should have bought something at the coffee shop while he had the chance, instead of just getting a cup of coffee. He wasn’t hungry yet but he would be, very soon. They wouldn’t resolve this before his stomach started growling.

As much as Max loved his job, it could be a pain in the ass sometimes.

Miss Calvin came out of the bathroom, her hair brushed, face washed, looking far better than she had just moments ago. It had less to do with the effort she put into looking presentable but the effect of taking a minute to freshen up had on her. She got a chance to get her bearings, to transition from captive to Mia Calvin, superhero extraordinaire. “Do you mind if I go change before we leave?” She gestured at the ripped blouse and jeans she wore. The tears weren’t placed in spots where it would make her indecent, in fact it could pass for a fashion statement. God knew he saw his little sister in similar outfits.

“Feel free,” Max said. “Like I said, there’s no need to rush. Take whatever time you need to find whatever clothes you want to wear in this mess.”

She smiled at him then went into the bedroom to look at the piles of clothes on the ground there.

In the meantime, he took out his phone. The head agent had sent him a progress report. The alternate Miss Calvin was still in the building, working out, lifting weights.

It took her six minutes. This time, she ready to go. They left right away, locking the door on their way out. She waved and said hello to a few people here and there when they passed them in the halls or on the street. Records said she had lived in this building for years, she was bound to become familiar with some of the residents.

They got into the car and drove off.

Miss Calvin was the one who broke the silence. “Do you mind if I ask you a question?”

“That depends on the question. I’m not allowed to answer certain questions about who I am and what I do.”

“Figured as much. Our side doesn’t really know a whole lot about your side, except that you’re there and that you’re watching us. I was just going to ask how do I know you’re who you say you are. You could be working with her for all I know.”

Max smiled, amused more than anything else. She was throwing his earlier question back at him. “Well, Miss Calvin, it’s a little late to be asking that, isn’t it?” He paused as he made a right turn. “To be honest, there is no way to know absolutely. I could be an alternate, as far as you know.”

“That’s not reassuring,” she said.

“No, it’s not,” Max agreed. “It’s very easy to get paranoid in this business of ours.”

She laughed, shaking her head. “You sound like an old man giving advice to the youngster. You can’t be that much older than me.”

“You’re twenty-five, I’m thirty-five, that’s a whole decade. You wouldn’t believe half the things I’ve seen in those ten years. Or well, I suppose you might, considering what has happened recently in your life.”

They didn’t speak again until he parked his car in the underground parking lot and took the elevator straight to the floor reserved for superheroes. He used his override to get Miss Calvin allowed despite the fact her alternate was already there. A perk of being a part of internal affairs, having much more power and access than their more public peers.

He checked his phone again. The head agent had ordered the local heroes to subdue Miss Calvin’s alternate. They succeeded, got a little banged up for their trouble, and were keeping an eye out for any tricks she might pull while he and Miss Calvin rode the elevator to get to them.

She was fidgeting beside him, eyes darting here and there.

“They’ve got her secured, I wouldn’t worry,” Max said, stuffing his hands in his pockets.

“I’ll believe it when I see it, she’s a lot smarter than you would think,” Miss Calvin said. “She beat me and has been pretending to be me for days.”

“People noticed, I wouldn’t be here if they hadn’t,” he said. “You think she’s capable of beating your teammates?”

“I think we shouldn’t underestimate her, that’s all.”

He nodded. “That’s fair.”

The elevator stopped at their floor and the doors slid open. His reflexes were good but they weren’t superhuman. He saw it coming for him a second before it hit. He pushed Miss Calvin aside, out of the way, moving in the opposite direction as he did. It wasn’t enough, the elevator was too small. Legs hit him in the chest and he fell under the person thrown at them, getting entangled in a messy pile of limbs.

Someone strode in and forcefully removed a person from the pile. He couldn’t see who, not with a pair of legs over his head, covering his eyes, but he could guess.

Max pushed the legs aside with little regard for their owner, earning a grunt of pain from them. He climbed to his feet and looked down. The head agent, Agent Jinks, was on the ground, groaning in pain.

She didn’t have powers. Being thrown like that would hurt like hell.

She’d live, which is something he couldn’t say for Miss Calvin, being strangled by her alternate.

It was odd, Miss Calvin was barely struggling, practically lying there and letting herself be strangled. A power, perhaps?

Miss Calvin’s teammates were on ground all around the room, most of them without their costumes, doing little more than twitching. He wouldn’t be getting help from any one of them.

That was fine. He worked by himself most of the time anyway.

He drew the gun hidden by his jacket, in a shoulder holster. It was an actual gun, not a stun gun like most SAA agents used. When Max got into a fight, the other party was typically too dangerous to let live.

Max stepped out of the elevator and fired, hitting Miss Calvin’s alternate in the shoulder.

She let go of Miss Calvin, one hand putting pressure on the wound. She glared at him.

He shot her again, in the knee this time, and she toppled to the ground.

One of her hands reached under her shirt. The chest plate, the universe traveling device, she was wearing it under her clothes. He moved to pull the trigger again, stop her from escaping but his finger wasn’t cooperating. It was frozen.

Miss Calvin had the ability to speed up movements, she could make someone else run twice as fast, and they’d be locked into that movement, stuck running, until her power wore off. Her alternate had the opposite power, it seemed, the ability to slow down or stop movements.

If he remembered correctly, Miss Calvin could speed up a punch but the kicks would be unaffected. He tried to kick her while she was down, only to find she had stopped that movement too.

The alternate was glowing now, her device activated.

She might die not long after getting to wherever she was going, but she’d still be gone, all his evidence with her.

Max closed and covered his eyes as the room was flooded with light, brighter than anything he could remember ever seeing. His arms and eyelids weren’t enough to completely block the light. It hurt, like staring at a monitor too long without blinking.

Once the light was gone, he moved his arms away from his face. It took him a minute before his eyes cleared and adjusted until he could see.

Miss Calvin’s alternate was still here. A woman wearing a jumpsuit with glowing lines like circuits, a utility belt around her waist, and a trench coat on top of it was standing over the alternate. Her hair was tied in a neat ponytail and she looked younger than him, maybe the same age as Miss Calvin was. She was of Asian descent, Japanese if he had to guess.

“Who the hell are you?” Max asked.

The woman ignored him, reaching into her belt and pulling a small white canister. She bent down and a mist came out of a tiny hole in the canister. A white foam appeared on the alternate’s bloody kneecap. She did the same for the alternate’s bloody shoulder.

Max waved the gun in her direction. “I don’t want to shoot you, miss, but I will if you don’t respond.”

“An ordinary gun like yours won’t do much damage to my suit,” the woman said, her voice altered, made to sound robotic, monotone. She rose to her full height, which wasn’t all that impressive compared to his. “I’m here to take her back to where she belongs. She’s a criminal in her own universe. I assume she planned on living her for the rest of her life to avoid her upcoming execution.”

“Nice information to know but that doesn’t exactly answer the question of who you are. Are you from her world?”

“I’m part of an organization that deals with people who attempt to abuse the ability to travel or communicate with alternate realities. I’m not from her particular universe although I’ve been assigned to work there.”

Max liked to think of himself as a guy who rolled with the punches. Alternate universes were one thing but a whole organization dedicated to policing dimensional travel was pushing it, a little. “I can’t just let you go,” he said. “I have reports to write and hand in and that’s going to be hard if you take away the only evidence I have for the existence of alternate universes.”

She smiled and he got the impression it was a pitying one. “You don’t need to worry. I’ll file my report and it’ll get in their hands soon enough.”

“Wait, what? Are you trying to tell me – ”

The woman grabbed Miss Calvin’s alternate and in another blinding flash of light, disappeared.

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Buyer’s Remorse 4.3

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With the hard drive in his hand like that, there was no way he wouldn’t notice if she teleported it. Teleporting it would be too overt, anyway. If Michael was already working against her and Creed, he would know instantly who she was if she did that.

It would need to be taken through force. With the element of surprise on her side, Cameron felt confident she could knock him to the ground and rip the hard drive from his hands. That would draw the attention of everybody here and she wouldn’t be able to escape without teleporting, which again, wasn’t good for the secret identity.

Cameron stayed back, watched him. Tyler came to stand by her, shaking his head.

“Yeah,” Cameron said. “And I know where it is too. Over there, boot guy.” She titled her head in the direction of Michael.

Tyler turned. “I see it. Any ideas?”

She thought about it. “Not any smart ones,” she admitted.

He took too long to respond. “Your unsmart plan might be all we got. It’s reckless but not that bad,” he said, as if it pained him to say it.

Tyler had looked into the future to when she had explained her idea, saving her from having to explain it. At least he wasn’t trying to claim credit for this one. It wasn’t a good enough plan to steal, anyway.

“Executing it is going to be a bitch,” she said. “Unless you’re hiding something in that jacket of yours.”

He shook his head. “I didn’t see this happening, couldn’t plan for it.” The idea had barely formed in her head when he rubbed his chin, the cloth covering his chin anyway, and nodded. “Don’t think it’ll work out as well as we want but yeah, let’s do it.”

Her plan was a pretty simple one. They would wait until Michael decided to leave and then they’d go after him, attack him, and take the hard drive. As long as they didn’t start the fight here, inside where the Automatons and everybody else would be obligated to stop them, they might have a chance.

Michael knew how to take care of himself but his power wasn’t really combat-focused. He created illusions, which would have been useful if she wasn’t capable of seeing through them. He would have brought protection with him, and they would have powers good in a fight.

She wished she had her laser gun with her.

“If it comes down to it, how helpful are you going to be?” Cameron asked, quiet.

“Barely any. I’m not a fighter,” he answered.

Cameron would have laughed, if it didn’t draw attention from those nearby. It was the answer she expected but still, she had hoped he wouldn’t be completely useless. As confident as she tended to be – used to be? – going up against an unknown number of superhumans with unknown powers would be hard enough already, without thinking about how she was going to do that without any obvious uses of her power.

A challenge. Challengers were fun, in their own way, if it hit the middle ground of being hard enough to take some effort to solve but not too much effort. She doubted this challenge would.

“How’s the future look?” she said.

This close up, she saw his mask shift, a grin. “I don’t think I can without wreaking whatever chance we have.”

“It’s already wrecked, though. I mean, the other side has a precog, probably.”

“Very possible but telling you what I saw won’t help you, or me,” Tyler said. “We’ve got a good amount of time before he leaves. Why don’t you go chat to that friend of yours?”

“And lose the enjoyment of your company? Never.” Cameron grinned.

“Okay, let me be less subtle. Go talk to him. I’ll keep an eye on things.” He was pushing this pretty hard. Was it a future thing or did he need a minute to think by himself? Either way, there was no point in sticking around if she wasn’t wanted. She gave him a sloppy salute and headed off to find where Creed went.

It wasn’t hard to find him in a space like this. He was talking to the silver and gold Automaton. They parted ways just as Cameron reached him, the Automaton going off to chat with more guests.

“Did you sort everything out with the gentleman you were looking for?” Creed asked. Everything, from the way he stood and talked, made it seem casual. She would have been fooled if she didn’t know him as well as she did. He was the curious type, liked to know things. Something out of the ordinary like this? Yeah, he’d be dying to know. Not that he would ever admit to anything of the sort.

“Not yet. We’re thinking of talking to him later, privately,” she replied.

He nodded, knowingly. “I would advise you to talk to the shortest one first. Element of surprise will be key. He’s not so good when caught unaware. Everything will go a lot smoother if you convince him early on.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Cameron said. “Hey, earlier, you said you wanted to get in touch with the Detective?”

“I did, yes. I think I understand what you’re about to ask. The answer would be yes.”

His power really made conversations go faster. She smiled. That was useful information to have. Maybe not right this moment, but it was a clue. There had to be a reason beyond what Tyler had said for picking her to help him and for him getting her to come with him in some alternate universe where he didn’t know about the hard drive. “Okay.”

Tyler came up to her, then. He gave Creed a glance and a nod. Creed returned it. “We should get going, now.”

“Sorry, looks like I’ve got to run off again,” Cameron said, to Creed.

“Best of luck in your endeavor.”

Cameron saw Michael holding some kind of miniature cannon on their way out. Once they got settled into the car, she turned to Tyler. “So?”

“He should be out in a few minutes,” he said. He buckled his seat belt. Cameron didn’t. “I wasn’t joking earlier, when I said these outfits are tougher than they look, but I wouldn’t rely too much on them.” Tyler paused. “And… thanks.”

She pulled out her gun and flicked off the safety. “I’m going to take that as a sign that things go really fucking badly.”

“Maybe. Having second thoughts?”

“No.” She had already went to the trouble of agreeing and coming here with him, might as well go all the way. “But just tell me one thing, since you and I might die and all. Why do you even care so much about what happens? What makes you do this?” She gestured at the building they had just left. “What’s worth risking your life for?”

He didn’t think about it. “People.”

“Do you really care more about the lives of strangers than your own?”

“I do. We were given these powers and it’s our duty to do something with them. To do something good with them, because most can’t do what we can.” It was odd to see him so passionate, sincere. Most of the time he seemed to hover between being smug or annoyed.

“Most people wouldn’t if they could.”

“You don’t know that,” Tyler said. “They – He’s coming out.”

Cameron whipped her head around to the entrance. Michael and three other guys walked out the door. Michael seemed to be in a good mood, his hands moving rapidly as he spoke. The shortest one in their group was in the lead, his head turned as he looked over all the other cars, settling on theirs for a brief second.

They kept walking, hopping into a nondescript white van and driving off, fast. The short one and Michael had sat in the back. The other two sat in the front.

Tyler waited a moment before going after them. There was no other traffic at this time of night, in this part of town. It was pretty damn obvious they were following Michael’s group. They were waiting for Tyler and her to make the first move, she was betting. When they did, Michael would order his goons to take out their guns and demolish Tyler and his car.

“Is this car bulletproof?” she asked.

“Not as much as I’d like it to be,” Tyler answered.

“You don’t have to stick around, you know. You’re not going to be much help either way.”

“I’ll stay,” he said. “I’ll be more help than you think. The headset works as a comm unit too. I’ll talk to you through it, tell you anything important I see.”

She frowned. Did that mean he heard everything she said to Creed? It would explain why he wanted her to talk with Creed so badly. Irritating to get outplayed like that, she should have realized it sooner.

“Whatever you’re doing, do it now, I think we’re far enough away from everyone else,” Tyler said, interrupting her train of thought.

Cameron pulled out her knife, holding it in a reverse grip, held tightly at a spot below her knee. She aimed her gun at the floor. “Try not to die.” She swore she saw him smile in the briefest moment before she teleported onto the roof of the white van.

Her hat fell off and flew away.

In its new location, the knife cut into the roof. Her grip on it sufficient to keep her from flying off and hitting the pavement. Cameron had appeared above where she remembered the short guy sitting. She squeezed the trigger, twice. The bullets made a dent but didn’t go through.

Stupid, to think their van wasn’t bulletproof.

She teleported the gun so the barrel went through the roof, displacing the material already there. Another two shots and she was gone, crouching above the driver’s seat, knife and gun both poking through the roof. This time, when she pulled the trigger, she knew she had hit her target.

Flecks of blood hit the windows.

She had killed before but it was different this time. It energized her, a rush of adrenaline that made her feel unstoppable, a force of nature.

Cameron took out the driver’s friend in the same manner.

She pulled the gun out, carelessly tossing it back into a pocket, and inched toward the door on the driver’s side. It was dangerous to move around at the speed the van was going. One wrong move and bye bye Cameron Pierce. She stuck her hand in the hole her knife made earlier and then pulled the knife out, putting it away too. The gloves helped, stopped the material of the van from digging and cutting into her skin.

She got into position and slammed her feet against the window. She broke it on her first try. She felt something sharp and pointy press against her legs but it didn’t cut her. Tyler hadn’t been lying, after all.

Her foot fumbled around a bit until she got them securely under the body of the driver, using his weight to help hold her in place. She let go and climbed inside.

It was cramped, between her and the body. She hit her head more than once on her way in.

She barely felt it.

Cameron teleported driver onto his buddy, to get him out of the way. She slammed the brakes. Once the van came to a complete stop, she hopped out.

Tyler was a keeping a safe distance away. It’d take him maybe half a minute to close the distance, at the rate he was going.

Cameron retrieved the gun and knife. Only one person would have gotten hit, and there was no guarantee she actually got them. She didn’t hear any movement inside as she walked to the back of the van. She shot the tires on her way, to get rid of their only mode of transportation.

Tyler skidded to stop just as Cameron reached the back.

The door swung open, smacking her in the face and off her feet.

This she felt perfectly fine. Her head throbbed where it hit the road and her vision blurred. There was something wet on her lips. Blood. Broken nose, she was pretty sure.

The short guy hopped out of the van and immediately took aim and fired at Tyler with a machine gun. Cracks appeared in the windshield.

Still lying on the ground, Cameron raised her arm and shot at the short guy. Either she missed or the form-fitting armor he wore was a lot tougher than it looked. He stopped firing and turned to face her. She teleported just as he pulled the trigger and sent a barrage of bullets where she laid less than a second ago.

Some teleporters were capable of perfect, split-second teleports. Cameron was not one of them.

She landed on the ground, her back joining a growing list of body parts in pain.

Cameron climbed to her feet. It took her a second to realize where she had ended up. She was behind him, on the sidewalk beside the road. She dropped the gun, whipping out the baton instead. She charged at him.

By the time he spun around, she had closed the distance, and knocked the weapon out of his hand. He caught her second swing and lashed out with his foot, kicking her in the stomach. She stumbled backwards, hunched over, the wind knocked out of her. He moved to get closer and she swung the knife to ward him off.

He backed up, her baton held in his hand, not any worse off than he was at the start.

The laser gun would have been real fucking useful in this situation.

He didn’t try and attack, giving Cameron time to recover. The hand that had the baton was red, covered in blood. Fingerless gloves, the guy was actually wearing fingerless gloves. Unbelievable, she was getting her ass kicked by a guy wearing fingerless gloves.

“I’ll give you a chance to leave, while you still can,” he said. His voice carried a different kind of chill than Allison with her helmet on, than Gladwell when she killed, than Cameron‘s when she first saw her mother’s body in the bathtub, motionless. It was laced with grim finality. The odd thing about it though, was she got the distinct impression he was pleading with her, begging her to leave so he wouldn’t be forced to kill her.

He hadn’t extended the same mercy to Tyler.

And Cameron Pierce didn’t run from anybody or anything.

“You got a name? Or a codename?” Cameron asked, standing up straight.

“Phantom.”

“Well, Phantom, since you were so nice, I’m going to give you the same option. Get the fuck out of here.”

He tossed the baton to her and she caught it. Phantom pulled out a pair of metal escrima sticks. He twirled them with casual ease. He sighed so hard his shoulders slumped. “Go ahead, I’ll let you make the first move.”

Very polite of him.

Cameron wished she could take off the mask and wipe some of the blood off her face. It was starting to irritate by flowing into her mouth.

So far, Phantom hadn’t done anything that was obviously beyond human capability. His power had to be good if he was so sure of his victory. She shouldn’t use her teleportation abilities more than she already had. At this point, Phantom hadn’t seen enough for him to confidently say she was a teleporter. She wanted it to stay that way but when it came to close combat, she was pretty sure he was better than her. It might her only option if she wanted to win and if she was going to do it anyway, might as well do it now.

Cameron could always kill Phantom and Michael, to protect her identity.

It was the smart thing to do, wasn’t it? Saved her the trouble of having to kill Michael later, if and when Creed succeeded in taking over the True Gods.

Had she always been so quick to go straight to killing or was this the result of Gladwell messing with her head?

Phantom stood by all the while, patiently watching her, relaxed. As if he would be comfortable standing here all night as she figured out what to do next. What the hell was up with him? It was hard for her to get a good read on the guy.

Fuck it, she wouldn’t let Gladwell win.

“Nice of you to offer but I’ll pass,” Cameron said, knife and baton at the ready. There wasn’t really any good move for her to make in this situation. Despite being shorter than everyone else in his group, he was still taller and bigger than her, probably stronger and more experienced. Might as well let him make the first move and see if he made a mistake.

He shrugged then threw the stick in his left hand at her. She stepped to the side, out of the way, instead of swatting it out of the air. Before it could land on the ground, it went into reverse, pulled back into Phantom’s hand.

Keeping his distance. It was smart tactic, with her gun on the ground somewhere behind her and two close ranged weapons in her hands.

She avoided the next five throws and he retrieved them in the same way. They were walking in a circle.

A stalemate.

Phantom threw both sticks at the same time and charged. Taking time to get out of the way gave him time to get close. She swung at him and he took a step back, fell into a crouch, and spun, one leg out to hit both of hers. Seamless. The thought went through her mind as she was swept off her feet.

He tried to follow up with a kick to the face but she rolled out away and back into a standing position.

He threw his stick again and this time, when it moved back towards him after she dodged, she caught it mid-air. She had to drop the baton to do it. The force pulling on the stick wasn’t too strong. Cameron threw the knife and let go of the stick at the same time. It wasn’t meant to hurt but to distract.

She went for the machine gun he dropped earlier.

No bullets came out when she pulled the trigger. Out of ammo, great.

He came at her, swinging his escrima stick at her, aiming for her face. She ducked under it.

The telltale sound of gunshots. The timing of it was too good, he had to have been waiting for it this entire time.

Phantom stumbled backwards. His armor was tough enough to handle a few bullets but it still hurt like a bitch, apparently. Using the gun as a club, Cameron hit him over the head.

He fell.

Tyler came running up to them, a gun in his hand. He stood a good distance away with his gun aimed at the fallen Phantom.

“You couldn’t tell me?” Cameron asked, between pants.

Always the worst part, the pain and exhaustion that came when the adrenaline started wearing off.

“Nope,” Tyler said, looking fresh as a daisy. “Go get it and let’s get out of here.”

Cameron jogged to the van and hopped in. There was a lot of blood on the inside, smeared on the floor. Michael was lying on the ground, his shirt had been torn open, a blood-stained bandage covered his shoulder. Phantom must have patched him up after Cameron shot him.

It took her a second to find the hard drive, tucked away under the seat.

Tyler was already in the car when Cameron stepped out of the van, headlights on, engine revving. Cameron joined him, hard drive in hand. Phantom didn’t try to get up as they drove off.

“There’s a laptop and wire in the backseat,” he said.

“Aren’t you an eager beaver,” Cameron commented. It was kind of hard to see a black laptop on a black seat at night but she manage to find it. The USB wire was already attached. It was on so they didn’t have to wait for it to load up.

She plugged the other end of the wire into the hard drive.

A window popped up almost instantly. Some non-English language. Russian, maybe? Cameron didn’t need to read it to know what the blinking line and empty white box meant.

It made a lot of sense, honestly, for the hard drive to be password protected.

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Buyer’s Remorse 4.2

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By the time Cameron got to her apartment, Tyler was already there, leaning against the wall, looking annoyed. He glanced at his watch and his frowned deepened. “You’re six minutes and forty-three seconds late,” Tyler said, crossing his arms.

“I never said I’d be here on time,” Cameron retorted. She lightly kicked the duffel bag sitting on the ground beside his feet. “That mine?”

“Yeah,” he said. “My stuff’s in there too.”

She took out her key, unlocking the door with it and the hidden fingerprint scanner in the doorknob. She opened it up wide and let Tyler go in first. He picked up the bag and walked in, giving the apartment only a cursory glance. He dropped it onto the kitchen table then unzipped it.

The logo on the clothes he pulled out earned him an eyebrow raise from Cameron.

He didn’t turn around. “Save it,” he said. “I already know what you’re going to say and it’s not nearly as funny as you think it is.”

The logo, a white simplistic magnifying glass inside a circle on a black background, was one she saw at the beginning of her superhero career.

The Detective.

Case closed. That was one mystery solved. Sort of.

“You work for the Detective?” she asked.

“Yeah, it’s how I got myself a ticket tonight.” He gestured at the pile of clothes he had just taken out. “Get dressed, I don’t want to be late.”

She rolled her eyes, grabbed the heap, taking it with her to the bathroom.

The outfit consisted of a black jacket ending at her knees, the logo plastered on the shoulders and back, black pants, gloves, and shirt, a white mask with black domino mask painted on it, and a fedora hat, also black.

It didn’t seem like it’d offer much protection at all. Maybe that was the point, make their hosts think they weren’t here to start a fight. Maybe she was overestimating Tyler’s intelligence. Allison had warned her.

“Hey,” she said, stepping out of the bathroom. “I’m going to haunt you so hard if I die because this can’t handle a bullet or two.”

Tyler wore an identical outfit. His face was covered by his mask, like hers was, but somehow she knew he was smirking. “Don’t worry about it, tougher than it looks.”

“I’m going to take that as permission to use you as a body shield if push comes to shove,” Cameron said. “Are you going to tell me what we might end up stealing or is it going to be another one of those ‘wait and see’ you’re so fond of?”

He reached into his jacket and pulled out a folded up piece of paper. She teleported it out of his hand and into hers just as he was about to hand it to her. He let his arm drop to his sides. Hopefully he enjoyed that as much as she enjoyed his company.

Unlike the well-done drawing she saw earlier today, Tyler’s preferred medium was words. Cameron was willing to bet he had no other option, having no artistic talent and still requiring a way to get down as much information he could from his visions of the future or however his type of precognition worked, before it faded from his mind.

It’s been shoved into a corner, a back table they don’t expect anyone to spend a lot of time in front of. It looks like a hard drive, white. It’s eye-catching because of it, sandwiched between black guns and armor. Someone walks by, confident, as if he knows exactly where he’s going and what he’s looking for.

He picks it up without reading the holographic screen floating above it and goes to purchase it.

I don’t pay a lot of attention to him or it. The time frame is roughly 9:30 to 9:50. It’s Cameron that tells me about it after. She makes a comment, implying she knows him and that whatever he’s up to, it can’t be good for either of us.

We leave later, without incident, getting what I came here for. Information, not weapons unlike nearly everyone else. I check out what Cameron told me, looking into the future. It’s not good. The perfect window to stop him would have been earlier. I’ve failed, horribly. Whatever the future was, it has left me feeling devastated. I make it worse, so a past version of me sees this and can do something about it.

The weight of the world crushes me and I call Mom, even though I know she will not answer. It makes me feel worse when I get her voice-mail but this is more important than me.

Cameron wasn’t sure she wanted to know most of this stuff. The thing about the hard drive, yeah but the other stuff just gave her more questions she wouldn’t get an answer to anytime soon. The part about his mom she could have definitely done without. Cameron knew all about having a shitty mom, had one herself. It made him a little harder to hate, knowing they came from similar places. It was the whole point of leaving it in, or fabricating it, if she wanted to be paranoid. He had access to her file, her history, everyone seemed to. She passed the paper back to him.

“I was worried there you were going to ask me to sneak out a tank or something,” Cameron said. “A hard drive shouldn’t be a problem.”

He nodded. “Teleport us down to the street, the car’s parked out front.”

“It doesn’t work – ”

“Yeah, I know. I’m decent at controlling power resistance, it shouldn’t be a problem,” he said, interrupting her again. It was becoming an annoying habit.

Whatever, even if he wasn’t as good as he thought he was there was no harm in trying. She walked over to the window and he followed, after grabbing the duffel bag. She got a better view of the roof of the building beside them than the street. She grabbed his wrist and teleported there.

It didn’t come as easily as it normally did, the transition less smooth. They didn’t appear in the locations Cameron had meant them to, two steps to the left away. The next teleport brought them to the sidewalk near the car. She had wanted to drop them off right beside the car door.

No one lost an arm so it wasn’t too bad.

They climbed into the car, Tyler taking the wheel. Cameron would have preferred to drive them to their destination but she didn’t need to be a precog to know the answer Tyler would give.

She fiddled with the radio, switching from station to station, much to Tyler’s obvious annoyance. He swatted at her hands to keep them away from the radio. He jerked a thumb at the duffel bag he tossed in the backseat. “If you really have to do something, look through that. The weapons are in there, you can hide them in the inside pockets of your jackets.”

Cameron teleported it to her lap.

The weapons Tyler brought were pretty low-tech. Gun, taser, knife, baton, and a canister of pepper spray. She tucked them inside her jacket. The only items left was a headset and a metal rod, the size of a pencil. She held it up to her face to get a better look. There was a little LED light near one of the ends of the rod, the other end had was pushable.

“Voice modifier,” Tyler said, before she could ask. He pointed at the rod. “Put the headset on and push that to turn it on.”

She nodded.

They went right through the bad side of town and into the only area in Avocet worse off. The same tragedy that left many powers dead had also tore up a sizable chunk of Avocet. UltimateTech Industries bought up most of the property and was slowly fixing everything. The rubble had been cleared but many of the buildings looked ready to collapse at a moment’s notice. They parked behind a building near the heart of the area.

The building stood alone, whatever buildings had stood beside it had been destroyed and taken away. A big sign, as long as the building itself, hung above the door. In golden, flowery script was the store’s name, Canary Florists. The last time she had been here was more than a decade ago. Probably. Dad bought flowers for her mom from Canary Florists on their anniversary, or maybe a birthday. Some celebration. It didn’t matter much now. Their relationship and this shop were both long gone.

On either side of the front door was a window, where their best and prettiest flowers would be on display. Both windows had been smashed and shards of glass still littered the ground around it, joining dead petals left behind and forgotten as they were devoured by insects.

It was dark inside, no sound except their own breathing.

“You sure this is the right place?” Cameron asked.

Tyler strode forward, putting on his headset as he walked, and went in through the gaping hole in the window, ignoring the jagged edges.

He disappeared, gone the second he had passed the threshold.

A hologram?

Cameron went after him. She hesitated more than he had. Despite his assurance, what she wore seemed like they’d be no help against the sharp point of the glass. It didn’t cut when she hopped through.

The light stung her eye,  too bright compared to the darkness she saw a moment ago.

The abandoned flower shop went away with the darkness. Cameron stood on an expensive looking red carpet. A chandelier hung above her head, oak tables with all sorts of gear on them were strategically placed throughout the available space as to not have any one table too close to another, and paintings were on the walls, depicting some really old people that may have been famous historical figures.

History never really interested her.

People stood at the tables, dressed in costumes, their weapons openly displayed. People who maybe didn’t normally wear costumes still had masks on but wore suits or dresses.

Tyler tapped her on the shoulder to get her attention. She gave him a nod.

He walked past the crowd, heading straight for a man in lightweight armor, an Automaton. Cameron stayed a step behind him at all times. It gave the impression that out of the two of them, he was in charge, which she supposed he was. Anyone approaching them would talk to him. It was better if they did, less chance for Cameron to mess up and make it obvious she wasn’t really working for the Detective by saying something someone in her position should know.

This Automaton looked to be more of an entertainer than the the Automatons stationed throughout with heavy armor and heavy weapons, helmets turning left and right, on the lookout for any trouble that might arise. Like his friends, his armor was made to look similar to old school robots, block-y, buttons and switches on his chest, antennas sticking out of the side of his helmet. His in particular was painted gold and silver, flashy compared to the black and grey of his associates.

“Welcome,” he said, voice sounding normal and not at all robotic. “Thanks for coming.”

Tyler reached into his jacket and with an audible click, he activated his voice modifier. “Thank you, for having us here. We appreciate you inviting us here.” His voice came out much deeper than his usual, but not to the point where it was unnatural or fake sounding.

“I can hardly say no to the Detective or to her associates,” the Automaton said. “Not when she’s such a useful ally to have.”

“Having her as an ally also has its costs,” Tyler replied, holding out his hand.

“Of course, of course.” The Automaton pulled out an USB stick and dropped it on Tyler’s palm. “This should satisfy her. Give her my regards if and when you see her.”

Tyler nodded. “I will. Thank you.”

“Stay as long as you like, enjoy yourselves. If you’ll excuse me, I have some other guests to entertain.” He didn’t wait for an answer and headed to talk to a group of people, all wearing bright red clothes.

That would be the information Tyler had originally came for. Now that that was taken care of, there was nothing left for them to do but find the white hard drive before this other person could. It could be a good idea to split up. She could go look for this person, someone she knows apparently, and distract them while Tyler went to get the hard drive, buying it before anyone else could.

“Let’s split up. You go distract and I’ll get it,” Tyler said.

Cameron frowned. Did he just look far enough into the future to experience her telling him her plan then tried to steal it, pretend he was the one that came up with it?

“What a brilliant idea. Almost as if I came up with it,” she said, evenly.

“Weird.” He shrugged. “Let’s get to it. Come on, we don’t have time to waste.”

That wasn’t true either. They had a solid twenty minutes to do this. It shouldn’t be too hard, considering their opponent would act the same as he did in the future Tyler saw, unless he was a precog too or worked with a preocg.

They split up, Cameron going in one direction, Tyler in the other.

The number of people she knew who could be at an event like this was small. Creed was one, maybe a few of his trusted lackeys, and…

Michael. Michael had the connections to score himself an invitation. She doubted that if Creed had been the one to find and pick up the hard drive, she would have told any version of Tyler that whatever he was planning was bad for the both of them. Michael, on the other hand, was a completely different story. She considered him a friend but in time, circumstance would force them to come in conflict. It was inevitable.

Maybe Testament knew and had asked Michael to collect the hard drive for him, a weapon he planned on using against Creed. If Michael had come here at Testament’s command, maybe they weren’t in as good shape as Cameron had assumed.

Cameron combed through the crowds, looking for someone with Michael’s build or height.

There were more than a few and checking out any one might lead to Michael slipping out of her grasp.

“It’s unexpected, seeing you here.”

She recognized the voice before she turned around to face Creed. He wore a black suit and tie, a mask with a stylized ‘C’ concealed his identity. The suit was deceptive, made his shoulders seem broader than they were, made him look taller and skinner. His suit, she knew, would be able to take more than a bullet or two, despite it looking like it offered no protection at all.

“How is the Detective, these days?” Creed continued, without missing a beat. No mistaking it, he knew.

Cameron reached into her jacket, fumbling a little as she tried to remember which pocket she put the rod into. She found it and clicked it, turning her voice modifier on. “She’s great,” Cameron said.

“Wonderful to hear,” he said. “I don’t suppose there’s any way I could help her, is there? I’ve been meaning to talk to her for awhile now, and it would serve as a good gesture to help out one of her associates, wouldn’t it?”

“Not really. Well, there is one thing. Have you seen someone around here, a guy, he’s been known to hang around you, not so much recently but – ”

“I know who you’re referring to,” Creed said. “I talked to him just a few minutes ago. You’ll find him to my right, the one in red, looking at a table full of jetpacks and hover-boots.”

She spotted him, holding up a metal boot. “Thanks, I’ve got to go.”

“Yes, don’t let me keep you if you have better places to be. I would like to talk to you later, if you have the time.”

Cameron nodded and headed off to confront Michael.

Distracting him without him realizing who she really was might be more difficult than she wanted to deal with right now. Michael was smart, smart and knowledgeable.

As she got closer, she saw what he had in his other hand, a white hard drive.

Stealing it is, then.

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Buyer’s Remorse 4.1

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A statement like that, it was supposed to shock her. She felt mildly surprised, at best. Maybe this whole Gladwell fucking with her head wasn’t so bad. Her mind was focused, cold, and swift, a weapon forged and refined.

Tyler had come alone. If he intended to tell anyone, he would have already, and if he had, he would have come with backup to protect him and subdue her. He came with another purpose in mind. Blackmail, it was the only thing that made sense.

“A whole week? Wow,” Cameron said. “I don’t even know what I’m going to wear tomorrow.”

“I’ve seen it,” Tyler said, stepping into the room and closing the door behind him. “It looks good.”

She raised a single brow and pointedly glanced at the shut door. “I really hope, for your sake, that’s not part of the reason you’re here.”

He ignored the insinuation. “I need help and you’re going to give it to me. You can figure out what happens if you don’t.”

“I’m going to bet this thing you need help with involves illegal stuff,” Cameron said.

“It does,” he admitted. “But I doubt it’d make you lose any sleep.”

A week from now, he had said. Did that mean sometime this week Creed was going to finally give her something concrete to do? She would have been lying if she said she wasn’t the least bit curious about Creed’s plans to take over the True Gods.

“I’m going to need some more information, Fore. You can’t expect to blackmail me into doing whatever with something I may or may not do.”

“Sorry, it’d affect the future,” he said, smiling in a way that showed he wasn’t sorry at all. He enjoyed being an asshole. She could respect that, in the past she liked to rile people up too.

Still did, probably.

“Knowing about your relationship with Creed is more than enough blackmail material,” Tyler said, quiet. The chances of them being overheard was low but playing it safe never hurt, she supposed, even if it was boring.

She eyed the utility belt in her closet, holstered there was the gun Allison made her. In an instant, it could be in her hands and one shot would definitely kill him. “So, talking hypothetically, what stops me from killing you right now and making a break for it?”

“Nothing,” he said. He stood with his shoulders squared, arms crossed, expression even, eyes meeting hers without a hint of fear. He saw the future and knew she wouldn’t go through with it. It wasn’t for moral reasons, she had killed before. Killing him would only make escape harder for her. Agents and heroes sent after her would look harder, be less forgiving, lethally so. The SAA wasn’t kind to those who took out one of their own.

“I could still just leave, it’s not like you could stop me.”

“You could,” he agreed. “I think you’ll realize doing this favor for me is your best option.”

Cameron stood up from the bed and strode toward Tyler, invading his personal space. “And I think you’ll realize I’m not some little bitch you can push around. Give me something concrete, or I’m gone. Whoosh.” She appeared behind him, position adjusted so she faced his back instead of the door.

He didn’t look around the room, momentarily confused. Tyler turned to face her, as if he had been waiting for this to happen the entire time.

Irritating. Theatrics wasn’t as fun when there wasn’t that shock factor.

“Alright, I can give you something concrete. Tomorrow morning, Creed’s going to contact you, asking to meet right away, and you will but when you get there, he’s nowhere to be found. Instead, you find an envelope, with your initials on it. You’ll open it up, read what’s inside, I’d tell you what it says but I don’t want to ruin the surprise.” He was back to smirking at her again.

“And what’s inside is going to change my mind?”

“Oh, it will, I’ve already seen it,” Tyler said. “I’ll be back tomorrow, after you’ve read it.”

He turned and had opened the door when Cameron spoke up. “You know, the future’s not set in stone.”

“I hope so,” he said, voice barely above a whisper.

He left.

Well, she’d be damned, Tyler was right.

When she got the text message in the morning, like he said, she knew he wasn’t completely full of shit but the idea of a few sheets of paper inside an envelope changing her mind to the extent she was willing to let Tyler win so easily, it just didn’t seem likely. Past or present, Cameron hated to lose. Losing to someone so sure of themselves was even worse. It fed their ego, reinforced the idea that they were better than her.

It felt weird to feel so strongly about something with no clue why she did.

She didn’t dwell on it.

No point in doing so, when there were other things she had to do. First, convincing the agent designated to drive her to school that she’d find her own way to school. The guy, no doubt about it, knew she was lying and going to blow off another day of school to do whatever teenagers did but didn’t seem to care that much. She wouldn’t either if she spent years training and preparing to become an agent only to be asked to drive a teenager around, like some kind of limo driver.

Cameron took a bus to get to the same diner she met Creed at last time. Her new popularity still hadn’t changed Hayes’ mind about giving her access to a vehicle and it’d be awhile until she saved up enough to buy her own.

Creed wasn’t there when she arrived, just as Tyler predicted.

A waiter spotted her and handed over an envelope, on the front were her initials written in Creed’s curvy handwriting.

She brought it out to the parking lot before she tore it open. The envelope held four pieces of paper, three were pictures, one was a note. The pictures were hand drawn, done in pencil. Each picture depicted a scene, the first looked an awful lot like her apartment with a body on the ground near her open safe, a heavily shaded in puddle surrounding the body, covering it in some parts. The drawing of her apartment was really detailed, getting the small stuff right like the damaged zipper of a jacket she owned, hanging on the back of a chair. Maybe to contrast, the body lacked any significant detail, a human-shaped blob. Cameron couldn’t tell if that was intentional or the artist got lazy.

The second picture was her, in her Point Blank costume, drawn with the same attention to detail her apartment got. In one hand was her laser gun, the other held a handgun, bullets coming out of it. Her helmet had a huge crack in it, bits and pieces of her costume had been torn off, exposing flesh, and right leg was bent in a funny way.

The third picture took a nosedive in quality compared to the first two. It looked like a quick sketch, each line was jagged and didn’t properly connect with each other. The background was non-existent, just an empty expanse of white. In the middle of the page was a person, from the general shape of the body and the hair tied in a ponytail she assumed it was a girl, on their knees with a black rectangle pointed at her head. A gun?

Cameron realized what these pictures were before she took a look at the note.

I have recently received these from one of my employees. They were drawn yesterday night, so as far as I am aware, they are accurate, for now at least. Her co-workers should be getting back to me soon with more information.

If there’s something you’ve done or decided to do last night, I advise you to alter it as much as you can before we stumble into an unfortunate future.

I’ll contact you again, soon.

Burn everything.

Some part of her didn’t want to believe, wanted to think this was all staged by Tyler. It wasn’t likely, though, that he could perfectly replicate Creed’s handwriting, get his hands on Creed’s phone, and know the location of their last meeting.

She had to be missing some pieces of information here, something Creed may have expected her to know. Precog stuff could get complicated, looking into the future would then change it, maybe making it so the events seen never come to past depending on the actions the precog takes and how those actions alter the actions of others. Why did Creed think it would be her actions that’d make the future depicted in the drawings happen? The precog Creed got these from could be more specialized than a regular one, she supposed. Had she and this employee of his met before?

It sounded plausible, but it was mostly guesswork. Fuck Gladwell, why would she even take that memory? Cameron couldn’t ask Creed either, without cluing him in on the fact Gladwell messed with her head. Things would change if he knew. She wouldn’t just be Cameron anymore, she’d become a ticking time bomb. He liked order and a bomb was the last thing he needed when he already had to worry about the rest of the True Gods.

Cameron shoved the sheets back into the envelope. She checked her pockets for a lighter. Sometimes she stashed things in her pockets and forgot about them, only remembering she left them there after she did laundry. She had more than a few soggy bills drying up on her desk. Nothing.

She folded the envelope until it fit in her jacket pocket. She could deal with it later, after she had another chat with Tyler.

After that, well, she would need to dig up some dirt on Tyler. Outside of developing the ability to wipe minds, finding good blackmail material on your blackmailer was one of the smartest ways to get out of being blackmailed. Mutually assured destruction, it wasn’t pretty but it got the job done.

The trip back to HQ felt a lot shorter, despite taking roughly the same amount of time. Tyler was sitting on the ground beside her door, playing a game involving numbers on his phone. He looked up at her, frowning. “You’re two minutes late.”

“Good,” Cameron said, punching in a code to unlock the door. She went in once the lock beeped affirmatively, leaving the door open. Tyler followed and closed the door. “So, I found the envelope.”

“And you’ve changed your mind?” Tyler asked, smug.

“Depends on what the hell you want me to do.” If his favor seemed like more trouble than it was worth, she’d take her chances with whatever future was in store for her.

“I need you to be my bodyguard, and maybe a thief, it depends on how it goes. You know about the Automaton showcase?”

The Automatons were a gang of inventors. They made a huge chunk of their money from selling weapons. Most of the crimes they committed was done to advertise their gear. Every once and awhile, they invited rich buyers from all over to come to their base in Avocet to check out and purchase their newest and best stuff. Creed always went. His organization and the Automatons were rivals, both of them trying to be the alpha dog in town, but it was a friendly rivalry, as friendly as supervillains could be.

“How the hell did you manage to score an invite?”

He shrugged. “You’ll figure it out, soon.” Tyler pulled out his phone, to look at the time, before tucking it back into his pocket. “One of the weapons they’re selling can’t fall into the wrong hands. I’ll try to buy it but if that doesn’t work, you’re going to need to steal it for me.”

Cameron sat down in her computer chair. “Starting trouble in a place like that, everyone’s going to be shooting at you. Me, I’m good at making quick exits. You, on the other hand, I’m guessing, are not. And it’s bound to make some enemies, for the both of us.”

“I don’t expect you to walk in as Point Blank,” Tyler said. “I’ll get you another costume to wear but the rest is up to you.”

Which meant she had to avoid overt uses of her power. There were plenty of other teleporters in the world but very few resided in Avocet. This was something very doable though, within her comfort zone, something she had experience with.

“Okay, I’ll do it,” Cameron said, begrudgingly. “When?”

He didn’t look at all surprised. “Tonight, nine.”

Cameron whistled. “Pretty short notice there, pal. What if I had said no?”

“I would have gone with my second choice but she’d be a lot harder to work with than you.”

“Anyone I know?”

“Spoilers,” he said. “I have to go, got other things to deal with first. Meet me at your apartment, at eight. Don’t worry about getting weapons either, I’ll handle it.”

“Shit,” she said, grinning in spite of herself. “What don’t you know?”

Cameron saw the barest hint of a frown on his face before he turned his back to her and made his exit. No fanfare, no goodbye.

It was still pretty early in the day, which gave her several hours to find out more about Tyler. Too bad she didn’t have the clearance to access personnel files, like the other members of the team did.

Creed could be able to help, probably, but she didn’t want to go running to Creed every time she got stuck. She needed to be able to handle her own shit.

The others on the team would know more about Tyler than she did, working with him for months, at least. It gave her a place to start. Out of everyone she had met, Allison seemed like her best bet. She would be easy to find, too.

As always, Allison was in her workshop, opening the door a minute after Cameron knocked. Cameron wouldn’t have waited that long if she hadn’t heard the sounds of metal on metal coming from behind the closed door. “Do you need something?” Allison asked. Her voice was as even as it always was, as was her posture and expression, yet Cameron could just tell Allison was itching to get rid of her. It was a gut feeling but her gut feelings tended to be right.

“I met Tyler,” she said. “Kind of an asshole.”

Allison nodded, in understanding. “And you want to know more about him.”

“What gave you that idea?”

“This isn’t the first time I’ve been asked.” She opened the door wider and retreated back into her workshop. Cameron walked in, finding it much the same as it was last time except a new project was occupying space on Allison’s worktable. She gestured to a bunch of stools and Cameron sat down in one. “What do you want to know?” she asked, putting on a pair of safety glasses.

Cameron adopted a thinking pose, rubbing her chin with one arm crossed. “Hmm. Well, how long has he been with the SAA?”

“Fours years, no time spent in the field.”

“You guys very friendly?”

Allison smiled, amused. “We co-exist.”

Hard to think of questions that wouldn’t seem too suspicious. Asking about his personal life was out of the question. “What about him and the others?”

“Not that I know of. He spends most of his time here with Agent Hayes.”

“Guess that means you don’t deal with his brand of annoying a lot?”

“You’ll have to figure out your own way of dealing with it.” Allison paused. “Don’t let him fool you, he’s much easier to trick than he thinks, or makes you think.”

Cameron smiled and stood up. “Thanks for the advice, A. I’ll see you.”

“Close the door on your way out,” she said, returning to her work.

Cameron did then headed back to her room.

What had Tyler said?

Second choice. Spoilers.

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The Hunt is On 3.7

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Sometimes, Cameron hated technology. Sure, she grew up with it, in a world where everyone had a phone, and thus a camera, in their pockets but never before had it dramatically affected her life.

The Italian restaurant had multiple cameras stationed all over the restaurant, the ones in the kitchen and basement had captured her – and later, Reckoning’s – fight with Gladwell. The cameras were set to automatically upload all footage to an online database. The restaurant owner agreed to sell it to the SAA at a very low price and signed a contract, promising to delete their copy of the video and not to give it to anybody else. In exchange, the SAA probably wouldn’t give them much trouble for threatening a superhero or possibly knowingly housing a dangerous supervillain.

They probably wouldn’t have had it so easy if it wasn’t blindingly obvious the restaurant was run by the Automatons. The Automatons were a group of technology themed criminals and along with Creed’s group, they ran Avocet’s underworld, kept it relatively peaceful.

The PR team, spotting a good opportunity, edited the not so wonderful parts of the video out and put it online for everyone to see. The public loved it and the video got millions of views within days. It made Cameron popular, going from brand-new superhero no one knew to the newest rising star in the superhero scene.

She supposed she could see why people were excited. The SAA had made a statement saying that yes, Gladwell was still alive despite what was seen in the video but it had made her seem less invincible. It showed the public that heroes were protecting them from the scary monsters out there and they were competent. The monsters were beatable.

Some guy from the PR team told her everything would die down when her fifteen minutes of fame ran out but the publicity was great for Avocet, it’d attract more tourists.

Her newfound popularity did save her from getting in trouble for breaking out of her room, knocking out a couple of agents, and going to fight Gladwell without backup.

Oh, sure, it was bad when they arrived on the scene and found her lying in an alley and there was a lot of talk of sending her to prison for violating her probation before the PR team got their hands on the video but things were mostly okay now. Agent Camelo wasn’t happy she disobeyed orders but he got over it when some power came in from another city to check her, see if she was being influenced or controlled by Gladwell.

The power cleared her. Cameron didn’t end up meeting him though, so she didn’t know how they were so sure.  They didn’t even tell her his codename or powers. Not that she was complaining, as long as she was still allowed to roam freely, more or less.

Agent Camelo and his team had left a few days after, when it looked like Gladwell was gone from Avocet for good.

On her ride to school, Cameron checked her work phone. There was some information about the interview she was scheduled for this afternoon. The PR team had included a PDF with tips, things she could and couldn’t say. They expected her to read it before they talked to her later, to make sure she was prepared. It was her first interview as a superhero.

The interview didn’t sound fun at all. They created a sort of fake personality for her, a kid friendly version of herself.

She sighed and glanced out the window. At least the weather was kind of nice, hardly a cloud in the sky, unusual for this time of year. There was something other than a cloud up there, she realized, after taking a closer look. It was dark, vaguely human sized, and it was flying in the air, alongside the car. It did look like a small cloud – or smoke, maybe.

Oh, one of those two powers that came to their rescue during their initial fight with Gladwell had looked kinda like that, hadn’t he? It was probably him, on his way out of town now that Gladwell was gone. With his mission done, there was no more point in staying.

“Hey, do you see that?” Cameron asked, pointing up at the human cloud thing.

The agent driving glanced at her then in the direction she was pointing. “Yeah. I’ll report it to HQ but as long as it doesn’t cause any trouble, it’s likely we’ll leave it alone.”

She shrugged and leaned back in her chair. She fiddled with the radio the rest of the trip to school. Her usual dread of sitting through another long school day wasn’t there, replaced by apathy.

“Nervous?” Agent Brown asked, as someone adjusted her helmet, adding a microphone or something, Cameron didn’t really care. “It’s okay to be nervous, most people are.”

Cameron rolled her eyes. They were in a changing room the studio had provided. Agents had already swept the room to ensure they didn’t place any bugs or cameras. She wore her costume, minus the helmet. “I’m not scared of public speaking.” Or anything.

“You don’t have to be, to be nervous about the interview. I’m sure it’s not easy pretending to be someone else?”

“Maybe for my squeaky clean teammates, sure, but what I was doing before, lying was kind of essential tool of the trade.” The smirk came easily, even if she wasn’t feeling it. That sort of comment needed a smirk for full effect, regardless of her emotions, or lack of.

Tech support walked over to her and handed her the helmet before Agent Brown replied. Great timing, she sensed a speech coming about how she could leave her old life behind her if she chose to let go of it.

Cameron put the helmet on.

“Right, let’s do this thing,” she said.

Tech support held the door open as she and Agent Brown walked out. Brown escorted her all the way to the stage, offering unnecessary words of encouragement.

She rolled her eyes hard at that. Agent Brown was probably about as close as she would ever come to having an embarrassing parent.

Cameron sat in the chair beside the host’s desk, reserved for guests, when the crew told her to. The host, Katie Ward, was already behind her desk, smiling at the camera. Her makeup was done to highlight her features, enhancing her natural beauty. She was dressed casually, in t-shirt and jeans, to make her seem more like a regular person, like the audience was, except much prettier.

That, along with her dorky persona, made her one of the most popular talk show hosts on TV.

She smiled so brightly her eyes shined. “I’m so glad you’re here, I’ve been waiting all week for this, literally. Ask anyone here, they’re all sick of me talking about this. I think they were thinking about gagging me but gosh, I can’t help it. I love talking to superheroes, you guys are always so interesting and wonderful.”

Her show had a live studio audience, many of them smiled at Katie’s short ramble.

All of them watched her, soaking up every detail. When the show actually aired on TV, late at night, there would be discussion on forums analyzing small things like the words she chose, the way she sat. Superheroes were big and people rarely had an opportunity to see a superhero in this setting. It was a chance for the public to learn what the hero was like, instead of just knowing how much ass they could kick.

Some people might shrink away from the spotlight, feeling self-conscious. Cameron thought of it as a fun challenge, basking in the attention. It made her feel better, in a way she couldn’t quite describe.

Cameron smiled and the smiley popped up on the front of her helmet, earning her a ooh from the audience and look of amazement on Katie’s face. “Trust me, you wouldn’t think we were so wonderful if you saw us without our masks.” She pointed to her helmet. “I have acne like you wouldn’t believe.”

A small lie to endear herself to them. People loved shit like that, according to the PR people.

Lying was second nature to her and sometimes she lied without intending to. Today wasn’t an exception, it was the opposite really. Today had been a non-stop stream of lies, saying and doings things that didn’t quite feel natural anymore.

Going through the motions.

“Beauty is on the inside, though, right guys?” Katie said, turning to the audience. They cheered. Once it had died down, she continued. “Well, since they’re being so nice tonight, I think I’ll start off with the questions our lovely audience and viewers have submitted.” She made a big show of opening up a drawer and pulling out a pink slip. She cleared her thought. “Let’s see. This is from Lisa, sixteen years old. Dear Point Blank, what’s your backstory?”

“Dead parents,” Cameron said, solemn. Her helmet changed the pitch of her voice but the tone was unaffected. She waited a second for it to sink in before shaking her head and laughing. “Sorry, that was mean. It was a joke.”

Katie wagged a finger at her, mock disappointed. “One more joke like that miss and I’m going to give you the boot.”

The boot was some running joke on the show. They told her not to be alarmed if Katie suddenly threw a yellow rubber boot at her head.

This question was asked nearly every time a superhero was interviewed. Cameron had the company line memorized. “I wish I had something interesting to tell you guys but I don’t. My childhood was kind of ordinary, minus the whole superpower thing.”

“So your parents aren’t dead?”

“They’re as alive as you or me,” Cameron lied.

Cameron was left alone, most of the time. There was training, checkups with Dr. Klein, sessions with Agent Brown, but otherwise she could choose to spend her time doing whatever she wanted.

She wished they hadn’t.

The lights of the amusement park were bright, blocking out the stars above. Another hour and they’d close, the lights would shut off and darkness would reclaim the space stolen from it, the noise made by rides or people would be silenced, everyone would leave.

It’d be empty.

She sat on a bench, eating a big, greasy, overpriced hot dog covered in ketchup and mustard.

People passed her by, smiling and laughing, enjoying the company of their friends, family, or significant other. Happy, at least for a little while.

God help her, for a moment she understood. It wasn’t fair, everyone around her got to be happy, got to have family and friends. Bitter, angry, with too much power in her hands, lashing out, forcing everyone else to join her in her misery, it sounded appealing, better than sitting here feeling sorry for herself.

She took another bite out of the hot dog.

Fatty foods were supposed to make you happier. Right now it wasn’t but fuck it, she already paid for it, might as well eat the damn thing. Wasting food never sat right with her, never growing out of the habits ingrained by years of wondering whether they could afford to eat tomorrow.

They.

It was the question that had brought her here, in search of comfort food.

There were holes in her memories, she was almost positive. Things she couldn’t quite remember, like a word on the tip of your tongue.

If it had been just that, Cameron would have ignored it and moved on.

Gladwell won. It had just taken her awhile to realize it.

She finished up and dumped the wrapper in the nearest garbage can. There was still time left for her to grab something to drink. She was in the mood for something cavity-inducing and tongue-coloring.

There wasn’t a line at the slushie stand. It looked like they were just about to turn off the machines and close for the night. The blue and red machines were already down. She bought a pure green one. She preferred to her slushies to be a mix of different colors but this was a minor annoyance compared to everything else.

Cameron left after that, called and paid for a cab. She could have walked or teleported but goddamn, she was tired. She wanted to sit down and do nothing but enjoy the sugary drink she purchased.

At night, there weren’t as many agents roaming the hallways. Still, she wasn’t in the mood to be around other people, to pretend and return pleasantries. Cameron teleported straight into her bedroom once she got a good look at the open window of her bedroom. The lights were on.

Someone stood in the doorway to her bedroom, his arms crossed over his chest. A teenage boy, short and thin, pimples all over his face, and Asian. His eyes were hard when they landed on her. It reminded her of a veteran, someone who had seen some horrible, awful things and came out of it serious and a bit haunted.

“Can I help you? Or is this some misguided attempt at flirting?” Cameron said, returning the favor, stare for stare.

“Tempted,” he replied, dry. “I’m Tyler. I’m also Foresight.”

She remembered Hayes mention a Foresight, once. A precog, almost definitely.

Cameron sat down on her bed, breaking eye contact, and took off her shoes. “And?”

His lips curled into a smile, smug, confident. The look of someone who knew he had won and was waiting for the moment his opponent realized it. He lived for that moment, probably, thrived on the satisfaction that came from proving your superiority.

“I know who you are, Cameron, who you’re working for, what you joined to do, what you’re going to do, a week from now.”

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The Hunt Is On 3.6

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Cameron winced. Gladwell was licking the blood off her bladed hands, in a cat-like manner. She didn’t need to up the level of her super-vision to tell the connection between them was getting stronger the more blood was cleaned off her hand. She felt it, the tendrils of Gladwell’s power under her skin, digging deeper, entrenching themselves.

It was like Gladwell was off in her own little world, she hadn’t spoken since she started licking. Too busy expanding the connection to pay attention.

Using what little strength she had left, she raised her arm. The shaking made it harder to aim properly. Fuck it. She couldn’t wait until she got her shot lined up properly, she pulled the trigger. A headshot would have been ideal. She got a chest shot.

Gladwell stopped and looked down at her, startled.

For a second, Cameron felt another blade go through her, higher up this time. But no, there was nothing sticking out of her chest. The pain was there regardless, and this time it burned. She gasped. She couldn’t breathe, it felt like there was a hole in her chest but rationally, she knew there wasn’t one.

Gladwell’s lilting voice was barely audible through the haze of pain. “Should have thought that through better Cammie. Superpowers and memories aren’t the only things I can make us share.”

Being called Cammie annoyed her more than having her own attack turned against her.

That annoyance sharpened her focus. She teleported one of the tables blocking the door, placing it above Gladwell’s head. It did little damage.

The pain lessened, all of it. The sudden lack of it was disorientating. Her head felt heavy, like she was about to fall asleep. Gladwell gently placed her hands on the sides of Cameron’s helmet, turning it so their eyes met. “I still do like you. I think I’ll play around with you for a little bit, go through your head and take some of your memories away from you, until you become the kind of person who’d accept the offer I made. I bet they’d be really fun to hang out with.”

Cameron thought about the blond guy who had rampaged through the mall. Was that the result of Gladwell’s playing around?

She tried to pull away but Gladwell’s grip was tight and she felt so weak.

Nothing happened when she tried to teleport away. God, she couldn’t think clearly.

It reminded her of Dad. His stupid spirit tossing her in the closet, trapping her there. She had pushed as hard as she could but she was powerless against the spirit. She was weak and useless, too panicked to think of a way out.

All these years and what did she have to show for it?

She used that feeling, anger at herself for being so pathetic, as fuel.

Superpowers didn’t work well against superhumans, but with practice, they could train their natural resistance, lessen it when it became inconvenient or if they were really good, they could turn it off completely. She had plenty of experience with it.

Doing the reverse, increasing her natural resistance to superpowers, well, that would be new.

It had never, before this, come up. The strength of her power resistance was strong enough to deal with everything she had went up against. It was only the rare exceptions like Gladwell, who were able to directly use their power on another superhuman.

She felt those tendrils worm their way into her skull, shoving themselves into her brain.

For a moment, time became inconsequential.

Gladwell stepped away and smiled. “I didn’t know you had such interesting friends, Cameron. I’ve met Creed, you know. He was alright, but his boss pissed me off. Condescending asshole. You’d think he would be smart enough to know not to piss me off. I’ve been trying to kill him since but he’s surprisingly hard to find. You wouldn’t know where he is, would you?”

She needed to concentrate but answering gave her a little more time before Gladwell decided there was no time better than the present to mentally destroy someone until they became crazy psychopaths. “Shouldn’t you know if I did?”

“I did some digging through your memories but not through all your memories, there are a lot of them. I do know you’ve got reinforcements coming.” Her smile widened to show her sharp, white teeth. “It’ll be a good chance to add to my collection.”

A hand suddenly thrust out of Gladwell’s chest. Another soon joined it. The hands grabbed onto Gladwell’s hips and pushed, then, inch by inch, another Gladwell climbed out. It – she – fell to the ground at Gladwell’s feet, fully formed. It felt like the new Gladwell should be naked but she wasn’t, she wore the same clothes the original Gladwell did, clothes that surprisingly didn’t have a giant hole through them from a human being coming out of them.

The sound of metal scraping against metal. Gladwell whipped her head around toward the source of the noise.

The new Gladwell was rising to her feet, when a white blur went through her skull, gore splattering everywhere.

Cameron wiped off a few tiny drops that hit the green visor over her eyes on the helmet she wore. A white sword had impaled the ground where the new Gladwell’s dead body had fallen. It, like the other duplicate, seemed to die once significant damage was done to their brains.  She was hardly an expert on the subject but the sword looked similar to one she saw a gladiator wielding in a movie, except a thin red beam of light covered the very edges of the blade.

“Well, this is an unpleasant surprise,” Gladwell said. She was looking at a newcomer, a tall man dressed in a brown leather jacket and jeans. Looking to be in his late thirties or early forties, he was still very much in shape, on the same level or better than a pro athlete. His black hair was cut short, a fuzz covering his head. He held a sword identical to the one stuck in the ground in his left hand. “I was hoping for a power I didn’t already have.”

He went to retrieve his other sword, stepping on the dead Gladwell in the process. Gladwell let him.

“I’m not going to let you escape, this time,” he said.

She scoffed. “You said that last time, too and look, I’m still here, still alive. I know you’re old, Reckoning, but changing things every once and awhile won’t kill you.”

Reckoning.

Cameron frowned at herself. How did she not realize who he was before Gladwell identified him? This was Reckoning, a mercenary on the same level as Gladwell. An Ultra, a superhuman whose power far stronger than their peers. His face used to be plastered all over the news before he went into retirement five years ago.

Creed must gotten in touch with him somehow. It looked like there was a lot of history between Gladwell and Reckoning, Creed probably used that to convince him to come and help out.

He surged forward, every movement tight and controlled, and swung the sword in his right hand. Gladwell blocked it with her left bladed arm. The sword dug into her skin.

She set him on fire. Reckoning didn’t seem bothered, and stabbed his other sword directly into the arm she used to block. While it was difficult to see at this angle, Cameron swore she saw the skin on his face repair itself the second it was burnt.

Gladwell vanished and for a moment, Cameron wondered if she had teleported. Reckoning pulled out his sword and swung again at the air in front of him. Blood dripped to the floor from an invisible source.

Somewhere, in the middle of everything, Cameron had to have accidentally turned off super-vision.

Reckoning had no problems hitting Gladwell despite her being invisible. He chased her around the kitchen and swung one of his swords and every time, more blood would hit the floor. It wasn’t a one-sided fight, Gladwell got some good hits in too but every wound inflicted healed in seconds.

In the midst of their game, Cameron was forgotten.

They were too close to the door to the outside for Cameron to go through there. She retreated to the basement. The fire had went out, dying along with the Gladwell that created it.

Gladwell had shared some of her regenerating power with Cameron. The nasty hole in her stomach was gone, nothing but unblemished skin there now.

A fight between two high-level regenerators was going to take a lot of time, if it ever ended at all. This was the perfect opportunity to try severing this dumb connection between Gladwell and her, without anyone distracting her.

It also gave her time to try and figure out what the hell she was supposed to do.

Decreasing her power resistance required intense focus to get it to the level where people could actually use their abilities on her. Ian had taught her how so he could use his power on her so they could ride around Avocet at speeds so fast, no one was able to catch them.

She breathed, in then out, until her mind quieted. Like this, she could feel it rolling over her, similar to how steam felt against the skin. She thought of it as a fog, because it looked like fog when she first saw it using super-vision, but it was energy, the energy powers used to make their abilities work.

Controlling it without using her power was hard, unnatural. When decreasing resistance, she forced the fog to stay still while some other fog rolled over and seeped into her. Then to increase, she’d try and make the fog move and push against the foreign fog.

Easier said than done.

She activated super-vision. It helped when she could see it, made it feel more tangible. She quickly went through each level of super-vision until she saw the fog with her own eyes.

Cameron tried to push outwards with her mind, all while focusing on an idea, a concept. Defend.

She watched as one image grew larger and larger around her. The fog moved around the image, until it grew even bigger and started sucking the fog into it, feeding on it to increase its growth. Empowered by the fog, the image changed, became more solid, clearer.

It grew, stopping only when it the image covered Cameron from head to toe. A barrier, similar to a forcefield. Everything that wasn’t the image either was absorbed into it or bounced off of it. The not so little strip of light, connecting Cameron with Gladwell, wasn’t unaffected.

The strip fought harder than the fog did and she couldn’t get it to detach from her completely but it did shrink back to its original size.

Not ideal, but like this Gladwell couldn’t mess with her head.

Shutting off super-vision so she could see, Cameron noticed the smoke for the first time. The smoke was coming down from the kitchen and was pressed against the ceiling of the basement. Gladwell wasn’t going easy on the pyrokinesis. Cameron went up the stairs, anyway. She felt sore all over but it was especially noticeable around her stomach. Lowering the connection had also made it so Gladwell couldn’t share her healing factor.

Shit, the entire kitchen was on fire. She could barely make out two silhouettes in the midst of the flames and smoke.

Her costume was fireproof and had an air filter built into the helmet but staying inside a burning building wasn’t smart.

With her super-vision on, set to the lowest level, everything around her became clearer, crisp.

Cameron raised her gun, aimed, and fired. The beam cut through everything in its way. She adjusted her aim then fired again. She wasn’t one hundred percent certain which silhouette belonged to Gladwell, so might as well hit both.

The ensuing path created by the beams showed her who she managed to hit.

A smoking hole was in Gladwell’s chest and Reckoning’s nose was blasted out of existence.

Reckoning recovered first and used this chance to lop off Gladwell’s head.

He didn’t stop there, his swords sliced through limbs. Gladwell was reduced to a messy, crimson pile of body parts.

Cameron kicked up her super-vision a few notches until she could see the strips of the light connecting the pile to distant locations. There was one strip, thicker and brighter than all the others.

Then the strips were gone, in an instant.

The one connecting to her remained, but it wasn’t leading to the pile anymore but to some far off place.

Gladwell was far from dead.

Her strip disappeared too, at that realization. Gladwell severed it, to prevent Cameron from using it to track her down later.

Reckoning glanced in her direction and nodded at her. Already on fire, he ventured further into the flames, disappearing, the only thing visible was a silhouette of his retreating back.

She needed to leave too. Teleporting out would be a no go, she couldn’t see well through all this smoke and fire. She never tested how fireproof her costume was before. This was as good a time as any, she supposed. Cameron ran through the flames as quickly as she could, toward the only exit.

Overall, the costume was pretty fireproof except for the hole Gladwell had made when she gutted Cameron. It stung like a bitch but she pushed onward. She didn’t have time to deal with the pain right now.

Reckoning had torn through her barricade on his way in.

A few jagged edges hit the sides of Cameron’s costume as she ran past and out the door.

The other door, the one leading to the alley, had been knocked off its hinges. She stumbled out into the alley.

Falling onto all fours, exhausted, she heard the sound of sirens, off in the distance, getting louder by the second.

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The Hunt Is On 3.5

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It took Cameron a couple of minutes to decide what to do next. Telling the agent assigned to ensure she didn’t leave her room that she discovered a way to track Gladwell might not go over that well. There was a chance they would all think this was a trap, orchestrated by Gladwell to lure them somewhere and kill them. They wouldn’t believe her and when they saw she had broken out of her restraints, they’d be doubly suspicious and lock her up somewhere far more secure, somewhere she could never break out of.

So she’d do this without the SAA’s help.

They had left her in her room, with all her belongings exactly where they should be. She took her burner phone out of its hiding spot, the inside pocket of a jacket tucked in the middle of a pile of clothes. Cameron sent Creed a text, telling she needed people willing and strong to go up against Gladwell.

He was always so good about responding to texts in a timely manner.

Already done. Do you have a location for me?

She replied:

not yet but will soon i’ll be in touch thanks

First things first, Cameron needed to get out of this room and arm herself. She normally kept her equipment in her room but agents had taken all of it after the Gladwell fight to clean it. It was standard procedure, couldn’t have their heroes walking around covered in blood, that didn’t help to make the public feel safe. A little inconvenient but fixable, she had been a highly successful thief, after all. Sneaking around here was no big deal.

Not all her weapons, she realized, spotting a gun sitting on her desk beside the keyboard. On second thought, no, this wasn’t her gun, a regulation stun gun given to her by the SAA. Its design was different, much sleeker with smooth curved lines and a nice round barrel. It was painted green and black, matching her costume’s color scheme, and had a dial on the side. There was a note attached, written in incredibly neat and precise handwriting. I had some extra time and finished early. A manual is in your desk drawer.

It didn’t seem all that complicated. Point, pull the trigger, then someone got hurt. Cameron opened up her drawer and took out a thin stack of stapled papers. She glanced at the sub-headings. A lot of dealt with how to take care of the gun and the rest was on its features. She read the section on the dial. The higher the number the dial was turned to, the more damage the gun would do. On its higher settings, it’d be strong enough to kill a person.

Cameron tossed the manual onto her desk and tucked the gun into the pocket of her jacket, checking to make sure it was off first. This would be a good offense, now she needed to go get her defense.

There were two options for escape, either through the window or the door. Going through the door required knocking out every agent stationed out there, which, honestly, she could do. It would take time though, and be loud. A black screen covered the window from the outside, blocking her view. She needed to see to use teleportation. The screen may or may not have some kind of alarm or sensor, going off the instant someone messed with the screen. Both options had different risks attached.

Window was definitely the smarter choice.

Cameron teleported the screen to the floor of her room, being careful to have it laid flat against the floor so it wouldn’t make any noise and alert anyone standing guard outside. From there, she teleported herself onto the rooftop across the street from her window. Another series of teleports, using other rooftops as landing points, brought her to the other side of the SAA building where she got a clear look at the inside of a window. And then she was inside again.

It was a workout room, full of equipment. A row of treadmills faced the window and the three agents using them were startled as she suddenly appeared. She gave them a quick smile and ran out, not giving them time to question or stop her. She didn’t know if they were informed about the current situation about Gladwell and her being connected. Cameron walked briskly the rest of the way. Running would attract too much attention but she did have a time limit here.

There were agents guarding the equipment room where costumes and weapons were repaired, washed, or made. Their hands immediately went to the guns – only stun guns – at their sides. They knew. Cameron teleported the closest stun gun to her hand and shot the other agent. She fell, and her partner joined her a second later. Quickly and efficiently, she searched for one of their access cards and then used it to get inside the equipment room. Her costume was still there, sealed behind a glass case and worn by a mannequin. Another use of her power had her costume against a long table, laid out nicely.

She changed fast and holstered her new gun onto her utility belt, tossing her phone into a pouch while she was at it.

She rushed out of the room to the nearest window to teleport herself outside, giving only a second’s thought to how easy this was. Cameron was probably only a minor concern compared to Gladwell.

After moving a safe distance from the SAA, Cameron stopped to figure out the next phase in her plan.

Obviously finding Gladwell was what she needed to do now so she could tell Creed and he could send in his guys but there were some problems she needed to sort out. Deeper level super-vision and teleporting didn’t mesh well together. Deeper level super-vision didn’t mesh well with any kind of action, really. It was too hard to focus on the super-vision and anything else that needed to be done.

But she didn’t have a whole lot of time to waste. Who knew when Gladwell wised up to what Cameron was about to do?

If she didn’t already know.

As long as Gladwell move around too much, Cameron could use super-vision to find what direction the strip of light headed to and then moved in that direction, stopping occasionally to see where the link was pointing to now.

The idea worked even if it got annoying when she accidentally went too far and had to go back and then move in the correct direction. Throughout it all, Gladwell mostly stayed where she was.

Cameron wanted to laugh when she realized where she ended up. Of all the places Gladwell could have chosen, she had picked the stupid Italian restaurant Cameron visited the other day, the one she searched and overheard an oddly familiar voice talk over the phone to an employee, the one Michael went to because he had business there. It was a scary thought, Testament and Gladwell working together to kill Creed and those loyal to him or worse.

Never could leave out the worse part.

Criminals didn’t tend to be nice to their enemies.

Her heart was pounding hard enough Cameron worried she might pass out. Come on Pierce, keep it together. It’s just one crazy supervillain, not like you’re fighting an army of them.

She took a deep breath.

Wait, shit, Gladwell had the power to duplicate herself.

It was intimidating, to face someone who had been inside her head, knew about the complicated feelings she had for her dad, maybe knew all about the insecurities she tried to ignore until they went away, although they never did. Con men were hardly as effective when people knew they were cons, and Gladwell knew. She took a deep breath, then another until her nerves calmed down.

Cameron retrieved her cell phone from one of the pouches on her belt. She only needed to keep Gladwell distracted for awhile, give time for Creed’s reinforcements to arrive. That was doable, it had to be.

She texted Creed the location and told him to hurry before putting the phone back in its spot.

Now or never.

She teleported from the roof to the ground, right in front of the locked alley door she used to sneak in the first time she was came, looking for Gladwell. There was a nice sort of symmetry to it. Ending where it started – sort of, technically it really started with Ian pissing off Gladwell. The knob turned easily in her hand. Ominous, maybe Gladwell had left it unlocked intentionally. She was cocky and arrogant, of course she had a right to be. You could act however you wanted if nobody had the power to stop you.

This time, she didn’t try to be stealthy. Cameron walked forward, back straight, shoulders squared, boots pounding against the ground. The sounds of her boots were drowned out by a TV, a violent, explosive show or movie playing in the kitchen. She supposed it wouldn’t all that busy at this time, too late for lunch but too early for dinner. She peeked into the kitchen and saw employees sitting around the small TV, attention focused solely on the screen.

Cameron turned on super-vision. No images, just at a level where she could see through invisibility.

Gladwell wasn’t among the employees.

A quick look at the strip of light, and she knew where to go. She teleported to the corner of the kitchen, a few steps away from another door. Her teleportation was silent, it didn’t come with some dramatic visual effect. They wouldn’t realize she was there unless one of them happened to look in her direction. They didn’t. That had to be one entertaining movie, maybe she ought to get the name of it on her way out.

If she got out.

The door didn’t budge when Cameron tried opening it. She sighed, turned her head a little, before teleporting it off its hinges, doorknob included. It fell to the ground beside her with a loud clatter. The employees were looking at her now, warily. One or two pulled out guns, another reached for a knife sitting on top of an unused cutting board.

Definitely weren’t ordinary restaurant workers.

Cameron felt a surge of confidence. It was kinda cute that they thought they stood a chance.

Their weapons were out of their hands and on the ground in front of her before they knew what hit them. Just as easily, she could have teleported it into their skulls and killed them all, provided one of them wasn’t secretly a power.

She smiled at them and her helmet lit up with a smiley face. “You’re missing the good part,” she said, pointing at the television. “Go ahead, watch, I’ll try not to make too much noise.” She winked and the smiley turned into a winky, one eye a dot, the other a straight line, a line curving upwards for a mouth. She bent down and picked up one of the guns. She lightly tossed it up in the air and caught it, for dramatic effect. “Can’t make any promises, not with the company you’ve decided to keep.” One of the employees, a older man with huge arms, slowly inched toward the walk-in freezer, eyes still staring right at her helmet. Cameron lazily pointed the gun at him. He stopped in his tracks.”If I were you, I’d rethink that decision. If I were you, I’d go in the other direction, out that door and into the alley.”

She changed targets, pointed and shot pearly white plate in the sink. The sound of it made most of the employees jump, except the few experienced ones. She had plenty of experience with guns, too much to be surprised at the noise they made. A classic scare tactic, it would make them consciously aware of how easily their brains could be reduced to a bloody smear on the wall.

It took Cameron waving the gun in the direction of the door for the employees to start to leave. She waited until they were gone before barricading the door with all the furniture in the room. She sent another text to Creed, to clarify where in the restaurant Gladwell was. Whoever he was sending shouldn’t have too much problem breaking through the barricade.

Cameron walked through the threshold, down the stairs and into the basement.

Gladwell was waiting for her. She sat on a lumpy sofa, feet propped up on the table, looking like a blonde bombshell. “Well, Cameron, I don’t know what to say. I gave you such a nice offer, I even said I wouldn’t kill you for it, and you decide to spit in my face and come kill me.”

Gun still in her hand, Cameron fired off two shots, one in head, one in the throat. Gladwell’s skin shifted, flowing like waves to push the bullets out so she could heal properly.

Bullets were going to do shit. She dropped the gun and drew the laser gun out of its holster. She turned the dial to five and squeezed the trigger. It wasn’t like the lasers she was used to seeing. There was no brightly colored beam of light shooting through the air. One second she was pulling the trigger and the next, Gladwell was clutching her stomach, in genuine pain. The laser had torn through entire layers, her internal organs visible between the gaps of her arms. The couch she sat on and the wall behind her were untouched.

Cameron followed up with more lasers. If she had an advantage, she was going to take it.

She didn’t get a chance.

Arms from behind her encircled her throat, a choke-hold. Cameron teleported out of her grasp, a foot away from where she had stood. She spun around and saw another Gladwell standing at the foot of the stairs.

Stuck between a Gladwell and a Gladwell.

The one sitting on the couch had recovered and rose to her feet, her hands morphing to deadly sharp swords. She swung and Cameron barely got out of the way in time. There wasn’t a whole lot of room to move here in the basement, especially with another Gladwell standing on the sidelines, eyes gleaming with a predator’s excitement.

Each wave of her arms was calculated to drive Cameron closer to the other Gladwell. The swings came too fast, dodging took too much of her focus for her to teleport away. Guns wouldn’t be useful at this range and the baton was even more useless when Gladwell had the strength to easily knock it out of her hand.

This time, after dodging another swing, Cameron jumped forward, tackling her. There wasn’t enough force behind it to knock Gladwell off her feet but it broke the rhythm they had settled into. Her head was positioned in just the right way to look over Gladwell’s shoulder while their bodies collided. She landed on top of the table, far away from both Gladwells.

The other one already had her hand out, flames extending from her palm to light the table on fire. Instead of jumping off, she teleported again, this time to the foot of the staircase. Then she was back in the kitchen. She turned to face the staircase and shot the ground at the bottom of the steps, a warning. The Gladwells stayed put, out of her line of sight. It gave her time to fiddle with the gun. There wouldn’t be a manual if this was all there was to it. Allison wasn’t that crazy. The gun had a trigger and the stupid dial, no other thing that screamed push me for maximum destructive capabilities.

Push. The thought triggered a memory, a line she saw when she glanced through the manual. If this worked she was going to slap herself later when she wasn’t in life-threatening danger. With her index finger, she pushed the center of the dial down. It moved.

A pillar of flame so big it filled the entire staircase shot out at her. Cameron hurriedly backpedaled. It was dumb, in retrospect, her costume was fireproof.

The Gladwells walked out of the flames, were wreathed in it, smirking as fiendishly as any devil.

Cameron pulled the trigger.

The laser itself was too fast for Cameron to see but the path it left behind wasn’t. It pierced through Gladwell’s head and kept going, cutting through the flames and the wall behind her. That Gladwell fell to the ground.

The other Gladwell was nowhere in sight.

Most of her anyway.

Cameron saw the crimson blade coming out of her stomach before she felt it. Then it was gone and her strength went with it. She fell to the ground, the hand not holding the gun moved to press against the wound.

Gladwell raised her hand above Cameron’s head, like an executioner’s blade, ready to deliver its sentence.

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