“You can’t put that down there.” The words were hushed, furtive. May’s mother snatched up the violin case that May had just set down. In the process of straightening up, her hands fixed May’s shirt collar, then smoothed her hair down. “Everything matters.”
May put one hand inside the other, rubbing where the weight of the case had pulled at her fingers, her expression unmoving under the attention of her mother. A kiss at the top of her head, a smoothing of the hair, another kiss.
“We’re going to be late,” she murmured. A strategic move. In the moment, mentioning the time took the attention off of herself and put it toward the time. Toward digital clocks on the walls, the number of people gathered at the subway platform.
Even in her distraction, her mother’s hands were still at her shoulders, rubbing through thin, papery-crisp fabric. Her mother’s lips absently pressed against the top of her head again. She was embarrassed, and in her glances to either side, she saw a group of girls about her age, talking and joking together. They weren’t looking at her though. They were roughhousing.
“My friend thinks you’re hot!” one of the girls shouted across the subway platform, aiming the comment at a guy that was at least two years older than any of them. The other two girls, a blonde and a redhead, tried to shush her, one of them pinching her hard, the other trying to cover her mouth.
“Don’t be distracted. Play the music in your head. Go through the words, remember the inflections. If you’re confident about the singing, work through the violin piece. If you’re confident about the violin, think about the singing. Visualize.”
May was distracted. The blonde girl dragged her friend away, while the redhead pushed. All of them had faces that were varying shades of pink, from exertion, from embarrassment, from fun.
And the one who had shouted- she was seemingly the only person on the platform who paid attention to May. A long, lingering look, encompassing May and her mother, the aura of ‘fun’ momentarily dampened by what May imagined was a pitiable sight.
It was a moment that struck her as profound, the kind of moment she imagined would be with her forever.
And that girl, who looked like she could have been May’s sister, who could have been one of the many, many people who evacuated Japan after the attack, who might have changed her name to be more American like May had changed hers, she would probably forget this momentary meeting of eyes. May’s heart swelled with a childish sort of longing, a mad desire that- if she could only push that feeling out, couldn’t it be the kind of wish that drove fairy tales?
I want to be you.
I want the clothes off your body, so I can wrap myself in them and be them. I want the friends who are pinching and shoving you and laughing with you.
“Which are you focusing on?”
An encouraging rub of the shoulders, reminding her of how thin the fabric was, how scratchy it was. The pleated wool uniform skirt was worse, but it at least didn’t touch her legs when she wasn’t sitting down.
“You’re going to mess up the ironing if you keep rubbing like that.” Another deflection, a diversion.
The hands dropped away.
“Remember to smile. You never smile enough,” the voice in her ear said. “You have such a pretty smile.”
May nodded. The deflections and diversions were only that. It was like kicking at the water at the edge of a beach, creating a momentary divot that was immediately filled in, pressing in from all sides.
I want a life that’s a balance of life and work, not weeks of waiting for a break in my schedule, so I can have a scheduled, calculated few hours of fun. This movie, because it will help with my English and because it’s a classic. An actual playdate for a thirteen year old, my ‘date’ chosen carefully, because their parents are the right people and they’ve never been in trouble.
“I’m so proud of you. I know you’re going to be great. If we aren’t late. Are you still visualizing the singing?”
“Yeah. I murdered the time, when I ran through it with Ms. B.”
Nervous hands fluttered at her collar, fingernails running along her neck as fingertips and thumbs pinched at the fold, pressing it tighter. Fingers brushed imaginary dust off her shoulders. May’s hands remained clasped in front of her.
“Where is that train?”
May’s mother ushered her one way, closer to the edge of the platform, closer to where the train would come, so she could stand at the yellow line, peer past and around, maybe hoping to see the light of the train, though there was no sound.
Just off to one side, a taller homeless woman had approached the group of friends, her tone urgent, angry.
May didn’t want to stare, and with a lack of people to look at, met the eyes of the man who was the homeless woman’s friend or boyfriend.
She could remember how, the last time she was sick with the flu, she’d longed to be well again so much that she’d promised herself she would cherish the days when she wasn’t sick. She had done the same thing when she had a toothache.
Did the homeless man have days like that? Was his every day like that, filled with longing to not be… that? Was she supposed to be happy she was where she was?
Because she couldn’t. Happiness was by accident only. Happiness was when the tutors got the times wrong and there was a break in the schedule, and mom just so happened to be busy with something. Or when mom had just bought the violin and cupboards and fridge were running empty, and mom messed up the timing on the preheating for the chicken kiev, so it was raw on the first bite, and there had been money only for a dollar burger and side salad.
The homeless man had a bottle in the pocket of his ankle-length jacket, and all she could think was that he was free. Free to make all the bad decisions. Free to dress like that, free to eat whatever, if and when he had the money. She would rather go hungry six days out of seven if it meant eating what she wanted on the seventh.
The shouting got louder, and it got louder because it was closer. Hand at fun-girl’s shirt, the homeless lady drove her toward the edge of the platform. Flailing, reaching out for help, fun-girl ended up pulling at her friend, who was moving forward to help. She groped for May’s mother, of all people.
May’s mother toppled, because she was leaning forward and totally unaware of what was happening in reality.
And in toppling, she pulled May down, because there was no reality where she would let go of May.
All of the emotions that had been brimming inside of May were left standing behind her like a cloud of dust after a cartoon character was whisked away, they had to be, because they were gone in an instant, replaced by the feeling of falling, and then the feeling of pain, as she landed, a few feet down. A springing feeling in one hand, like a sprain or a twist.
“Are you okay?” her mother asked.
“My hands. I think I hurt my hand.”
“Stand up. Let’s get up before-”
Someone else fell. The red haired friend of fun-girl. People were pressing forward, trying to stop the attacker, trying to reach down but getting in the way. Fun girl was on her back on the platform. Her head stuck out and over.
“I hurt my hand, I can’t play violin.”
“It doesn’t matter,” her mother said. “We have to get you up. Stand up!”
May tried to stand. She was wary of the tracks- was there a third rail? She remembered something like that. Was-
She saw the violin case and grabbed it.
May’s mother, face streaked with blood, lifted May up, hands at her waist. May reached forward, where people were helping, where people were focused on helping one of the white girls, or the man that had fallen onto the track, the latter groups more obstacle than anything.
Her hand full, she passed the violin forward and over the wall of people, before her mother couldn’t hold her up anymore.
Why did I?
“Again,” her mother said, voice warbly with emotion. She wiped at her eye, where it had blood running into it.
The next attempt started and stopped in the span of a second. A waste of strength, when nobody was positioned to catch, lift up, and receive.
In the back, the black man who had been in the attacker’s company was pacing, hands at the sides of his head, where his hair was shaved. May reached, and he didn’t see. His eyes were on his friend, who was being clawed, beat, pummeled and pushed, but who wasn’t being moved.
May’s feet hit the tracks. Her mother let go of her to wipe at the blood in her eye again, and May stepped back, almost instinctively putting distance between herself and the hands, the attention.
There was an alcove. May retreated to it.
Everything matters. Every detail.
It mattered that her mother had hit her head, and had blood running down one side of her eye, that her mother reached for May and found someone else, the blonde girl. She lifted, noticed something was wrong, and by then, was locked into the course of action. She wasn’t a bad person, wouldn’t drop the girl to look for her own daughter.
But she did look, and with one eye squinting shut, she didn’t see May.
The train could be heard. The lights visible in the tunnel.
There was still time. Just enough.
She reached forward, but she didn’t –couldn’t– call out.
This accident bigger than chicken kiev. Bigger than tutors missing an appointment. She wanted it to be a happy one and in the instant her mother turned and met her eyes with the one eye that wasn’t squinting shut, May wasn’t sure it was.
The train flew past, and May’s outstretched hand was positioned just so, that the fingertips were grazed by the rivets at the side of the train, but not struck clean off her hand. She might have imagined it, but it seemed to her that as the train hit all the other people, it paused for just a hair. A single tenth of a tick of the clock.
She heard the screams, and she bowed her head. Conscious of what she’d just done through her silence.
She opened her eyes, but she saw only darkness, and she wondered if she had died after all. She saw figures writ in onyx black against a black background, dressing themselves in roles. Again and again, on the stage, curtains closing, crashing together like waves, fragments flying in every direction, then backstage, figures dressing themselves in a new set of roles for another performance, then the performance, so fleeting compared to the preparation and what followed…
She felt an elemental sort of urgency as she minded the repetition, the drum-beat flow of images so big she had to abstract them in her head. In trying to define that elemental urgency, she reached for a comparison and found one in her mother, driving her, not demanding perfection, but needing it.
In that touchstone of reality, May found her way back to clarity and sense. To feeling nauseous and bewildered, numb and hypersensitive to the smell and taste of blood, the smell and taste of the train’s oil and engine. To touch, the scratchy feeling of blouse on skin, sweat coating her.
The sounds. People still screaming.
To get away, she had to get through. Between train cars- she had to step on a segment to get up and forward. Up to the platform.
Reaching hands tried to pat at her and check that she was okay. Used touch to assuage their own anxiety.
Dimly, she realized some of the blood droplets she was walking on were her mother.
Driven by the thought, she pulled away from the hands, ducking down, looked for her violin case, and found it lying on the platform. She ran up the stairs, stopped and hugged the side as people ran down, and escaped the ones who paused long enough to notice that the scratchy blouse had dots of crimson on it, each dot bleeding into fabric and spreading out into circles.
A man screamed, and it was a different sound than the other screams. They were reacting to something that had happened a minute ago. The man- the homeless man with a mop of dreads at the top of his head, he was screaming because of something that was happening now.
May winced at the sound, then winced again as her thoughts were briefly scattered. Onyx figures that weren’t figures, choosing roles in contradiction to one another.
She shook the thought away, took long seconds to find herself again. The hands were reaching down, now, trying to get her to stay still.
May charged through the forest of hands like a linebacker, violin case held against her upper body.
Up to the street. She hailed a taxi. She had some money. She was careful to hold the violin case so it covered up the blood on her shirt. Her hands wiped at the blood on her face.
In shock, in numbness, she told herself that she couldn’t be late. Her mother wouldn’t want her to.
“Julliard,” she said.
“You look too young to go there.”
I’m just going to show off for someone important, not to apply.
“Julliard,” she said, instead of articulating herself. A machine, a metronome.
The taxi pulled onto the street. She was free, for better or for worse.
Delicate touches for the gear shift, one hand firmly at the wheel, March let the car coast down the length of shattered highway. She flicked on the hazards.
“Why are we stopping?” Ixnay asked.
March leaned into the wheel, pointing. Snow and dead plant life danced across the road, tracing curious paths where they abruptly turned at right angles.
“Vista,” March said. “Cute kid. If she’s actively using her power, then driving into it would be bad.”
“Bad how?” Dino asked, from the back.
“It doesn’t affect us,” March said. “Our ride would turn into a pretzel around us while we stayed the same.”
She smiled, and she looked at the others for reactions. Only Tori matched the smile. Tori, the Goddess cluster’s fourth. Tori, who had a tractor beam as a power. Tori’s was a friendly smile, not one of appreciation for the novelty of the situation. Not that Tori was really the type to get excited about novelty, danger, or those sorts of things. Not often.
March hit the accelerator, shifting gears. She caught a glimpse of alarm on her megacluster’s faces as they sped toward the effect.
There was a paradigm shift, a sudden lurch, and she heard a yelp. From Ixnay, the baby.
“That was only ice!” she crowed, steering into the slide. The wheels found traction again.
“Ice is still dangerous!” Tori reminded her.
She had to swerve around sections of road that had broken as the ground had resettled. More wind brought more flurries of grasses that hadn’t had enough sun over the past year, gone dry over time and now scattered in even drier, windy weather. It brought dead leaves that hadn’t decomposed, dust, and meager twists of snow.
A light gray plain beneath a dark gray sky, no light from the streetlights, no illumination in houses they passed. What wasn’t dead was slowly dying and what wasn’t slowly dying was being killed. It was cold and yet wildfires burned elsewhere, and the smoke from those fires turned the horizon from a line of light into a line of black. There were places near the cities where the water had chemicals in it and in places that meant that there wasn’t any ice, or ice could coexist with water that roiled in the wind, gray in reflecting the sky and white where it frothed.
She could see how it happened. The order of things, laid over one another. A fallen tree branch over a patch of leaves, telling a story. A car that had crashed, gone rusty, that rust a history and a timetable. Paring through it all, she could get a sense of how it had played out. A clock had ticked down without anyone the wiser and when it had hit zero, a world had ended. These were the consequences and the casualties.
To throw paint at a surface and see it mid-motion, splashing against itself, to see the potential, that was best. The next best thing was to see the aftermath. A rolled vehicle, a collapsed building with plants trying to grow over it, finding root in the clean water that had pooled in recess.
“Home,” she said.
“Sad,” Tori said. She touched March’s arm.
March shook her head. “No.”
The car sped by a long line of bodies covered by sheets. Rain had smashed down the sheets and the sheets had molded to the bodies, going stiff or getting stained, following the bodies on their to decay.
“…Maybe a bit,” she decided.
“I’m worrying about the pretzel thing,” Ixnay said, leaning forward a bit. His costume was black, a red ‘x’ across his face as part of his mask.
“She’s a hero, Ix, she’s not going to lay a trap that might hurt a civilian or any friends that are coming to help her. And she’s a teenage girl. What teenage girl is going to sit still and keep her power in place somewhere while doing nothing with it, when she knows the people she’s up against are making plans? She’s going to be anxious.”
“This is going over my head,” Ix said.
“Smart thing to do would be to lay a trap. Watch from a distance. There would be almost nothing we could do about it. But she doesn’t think that way. She thinks the impressive part of her power is what she does when she’s used it for a while. Not the weird things that happen while she uses it. She’s not going to do the smart thing and lie in wait. She’ll get ready to drop a mountain on us or something. That’s the teenager approach. Reach for the big guns.”
“I don’t think that’s a teenage girl thing,” Tori said. “You were a teenage girl not that long ago.”
“And I am impatient. I’m reckless, and I don’t dwell on the quiet parts of my power as much as I could. But she was younger when she started, and she still has a way to go. If she lived another ten years, I think she’d settle into it.”
There was a length of road with a hole in it that a car could disappear into. March swerved around it, coming close as the wheels skidded on an invisible patch of ice. She checked the rear-view mirror to make sure the others were fine. They were going a little slower, a little wary, and were following her path fairly closely.
“Not that little Vista is going to live that long,” March said.
There was no argument from her megacluster. Ixnay fixed his gloves, one looser-fitting than the other.
Off the highway. Onto the side road. They had an incline to go up, and with the ice on the roads, it was a tricky route to take.
The signs indicated the destination. ‘Brockton Bay’.
As they made their way down the road, the view between the mountains and hills became clear.
A city folded into itself, a landscape from half a continent away pulled close. Another side of the city raised up. An end result like a cardboard box turned on its side, just the one side open. Inside, buildings ran horizontally, vertically, upside-down, even diagonally in places, where they jutted from corners. None collided with any others, and water, parks, and hills all factored into the architecture.
March broke into laughter, seeing it. She let their ride coast to a stop while they still had the view.
Too dangerous to go forward. There would be traps. Pits, divots, uneven ground. The ground could be raised into spikes, or a wall could suddenly appear in their paths. She hit the hazards to notify the other team, then pulled over, before putting their ride into park.
She couldn’t let go of her amusement over the sight.
“You really think the quiet stuff is what makes her strong?” Ixnay asked.
March managed to stop laughing, uttering a gleeful, “I really do! But this is great! I can’t wait!”
The others climbed out. Ixnay, Dino, Enyo. Tori lingered behind.
“Don’t die,” Tori said.
“It doesn’t matter.”
“Don’t die. We just found each other again, and you’re old enough I don’t think it’d be weird, and…”
Tori’s hand brushed the side of March’s face. March took it in her hand and kissed it.
“Our thing is temporary. You can’t get attached,” March said.
“You always say that. Temporary because you plan on dying?”
March shook her head. “Because, until I figure something out, we can’t be together long-term. It’s unfair to pretend we can.”
“I’m worried what your solution would look like. She got you good. Wormed her way into your head.”
“It’s not that she got me,” March said. “I got it. I figured it out.”
March looked in the rear view mirror, saw Tori’s expression, deathly serious.
She twisted around, kissing Tori, to make that expression go away, because there were few things that bothered March, and one of those things was people she loved being unhappy.
“I won’t die,” March pledged, her words breathed against Tori’s cheek. “I promise.”
“We’ll be together for a few decades, I think. Unless we’re interrupted.”
The smile faltered a bit. Tori shook her head. “You’re messing with me, not making any sense.”
“I’m the most sensible rabbit I know,” March retorted.
“You say interrupted, but you mean dying. You promise me decades but you tell me no long-term?”
“Yes on all counts. Yes, dead is always possible, and you know that. Yes, decades. Yes, I can’t get your hopes up about long-term.”
“You’re fucking with me. Lying to me by dropping ‘decades’ in there, or pulling some double-meaning on me.”
March shook her head. She kissed Tori again. “Talking about it makes me sad. Let’s just enjoy the time we have together, without commitment?”
“Thinker neurosis. Like the fire thinker having a thing about arson. Except you somehow think decades aren’t a commitment?”
“Sure. Let’s call it that.”
“Or is it the relationship that isn’t important enough to count?”
“You are important. You count.”
“But not as much as Flechette. Not as much as Homer.”
“They count in a different way.”
“I should be glad that you don’t want to drink my blood.”
“I don’t want to drink Flechette’s blood either. But…”
“But if I could? If I can? I’d map you to our cluster, so I could do all the Kiss and Kill things I have to do to them to you, too. And you would be the most important person in the world to me, then. I’m going to look for ways.”
Tori touched March’s face. There weren’t many people she was willing to let touch her like that. Tori knew, too.
“I’ll stick my sword through that teenager, and I want you there when her power comes undone and this city slowly folds back to the way it’s supposed to be. It’ll be like watching a flower bloom, all around us.”
“That’s not nearly as romantic as you think it is.”
“Sticking metal through kids,” Tori said. When March didn’t respond, she added, “You’re so weird.”
“I’m ahead of the curve.”
“You’re weird, and I like it.”
March pulled away, settling into the driver’s seat, locking eyes with Tori through the rear-view mirror. After the distraction, she had to hype herself up, remind herself of what she was doing, and get her mind off the subject of how impermanent this all was. “Time against space, let’s see who wins.”
Tori rolled her eyes.
March pulled on her mask, put on her cap, with the flaps that covered her real ears, flipped up her collar, and drew her rapier from between the two seats.
Tori, getting out the other side of the car, wore blue contact lenses that colored her eye from corner to corner, an electric contrast to her brown skin. The rest of her mask was only going on now – around the eyes, silver with blue highlights. More blue feathers dangled from the braid that hung from her temple down. Her costume included a long coat with cobalt blue chains around the collar where a fur collar might normally be.
March didn’t know how Tori didn’t get her hair caught in those dozens or hundreds of chains, but she liked the effect.
Tori was joined by Jace and Megan. The other two wore blue as well, though Jace favored midnight blue, painted onto armor that had scuffed here and there, the silver showing through the paint. His shield was a metal riot shield, painted on the front side with the paint rubbed away with fingers and the side of the hand, in a way that was clearly a handprint, but also clearly meant to be a rabbit- two fingers for each ear. The inside had three handprints in blue against a steel background, one at the top left, one in the middle by the shields handle, and one at the bottom right.
Megan wore sky blue. Scarfs and cloths, with a scarf around brown hair. She too wore the contact lenses, but her look was more of a dancer. She wasn’t a fighter, and being even this close to danger had her on edge. Jace seemed to sense it and drew nearer.
There were the Graeae twins, Dino and Enyo. Silver haired, wearing gray and silver, they had rabbit patches sewn onto their sleeves.
Then Ixnay, as alone as she was, though she could pretend he had a bit of company with the arm he had borrowed.
They had other help too. Kingdom Come, injured, could still use his power, and the corner world warlords Deader and Goner had lent her Noose, Shiv, Matches, Bash, and Banger. They’d owed her from a favor she had done them a year ago.
The other half of her forces were split into two groups. With the phones dead, she would have to find another way of coordinating with them.
But this would do. She was excited.
“Let’s play, Vista,” she said, smiling. With a two-note whistle, she gave the cue for her army to fall into step.
Her hand went up, hand signal, and her power kicked in. Two, three, fist pointed left.
Jace and Megan began to jog forward, taking the side path. With only sound cues and awareness of where they had been before, March could visualize their locations. She knew how fast they moved from how fast they had moved before, she knew how long it would take to get where she wanted them to go, and she knew them well enough that she knew their behaviors and they knew what she wanted of them.
One, two, hand flat in ‘paper’ sign, pointed right.
That was Kingdom Come, Tori.
Ixnay stuck by her. He knew the signs too.
“Newbies,” she announced, without turning to address them. “I’ll walk you through the hand signals. If you follow them, we will win. Keep up.”
The shortest path from the road to the city was sloped dirt, loose earth and ice. She angled her feet to slide down the slope, with Ixnay following after. As she reached untenable ground, she hopped up onto a rock.
Looking back, she saw the newbies from Deader and Goner’s group were lagging back.
“Keep up!” she ordered. Her hand went up. Paper sign, again, pointed skyward, then turned into a beckoning gesture.
Megan hit her with the power boost. March felt her perceptions shift, her power take on new dimensions. The dimensions it would have permanently if she got her hands on Foil. The world slowed down as her perception of time increased. That perception of time was linked to a perception of movement, and all of this would become child’s play.
She would crack open this particular cereal box, find her treat, and please the people who were going to try to corner Foil. Even if they succeeded, they’d weaken her or wear her down, and March would be free to act.
She’d skin Foil and wrap herself in Foil, she would soak herself in Foil and gorge herself on Foil’s flesh. Foil’s clothes would be decoration, as she had fancied once upon a time. She would be in and of and greater than and less than and equal to Foil. Then she would be in and of and to and through Foil, and vice versa.
And if Foil made it, which she would, provided March didn’t make any hilariously bad slips with the knives, which she wouldn’t, then what was left of her would come to accept it in time. She would see that it all made sense.
She would even come to love it.
“They didn’t let me sing or play,” she said. “But if they had, I would have killed it.”
“Shit,” was the response, a sluggish utterance, tired and not all the way there.
May shrugged. It had been a good while now, since she had stubbornly insisted on playing, while the person she was supposed to play for tried to get her to calm down and sit still. To explain why she had blood on her.
She had almost, almost used her power on the woman.
She abandoned the conversation, and had doubts her conversation partner would even know she was gone. It was late, or early, depending on interpretation, and anyone here who wasn’t addled was getting other people addled.
A trio of half-naked teenagers ran through the mansion, hucking vinyl discs at one another. May skipped forward, her power kicking in, and she caught one of the discs out of the air, her finger at the little hole. It spun with latent momentum, and her finger traced along the underside, carving out a line of power, which became a spiral rather than a complete circle, as she moved her finger further out.
She judged, connected to the timing, and visualized the avenues it could travel. She threw it frisbee style, lining up her own body with the ghost images.
The vinyl passed into the boughs of an apple tree, detonating just as it reached the center. The entire tree shook, and apples began raining down. The two people beneath shrieked and made a run for it as the hail came down.
May pumped her fists in the air. As the apples stopped falling, people ran to go get some for themselves.
A twenty-something guy offered one to her. She clapped, and he ran across the poolside before throwing it. Not the most accurate throw, but she was an accurate catcher. She ducked low, hand behind her back, and let it slap into place between index finger and thumb. Nobody was really looking, but that hardly mattered. She was wearing a mask and kept her hood up, either way. Dime store mask, borrowed sweatshirt. Notoriety or fame didn’t matter much when it wasn’t even her face.
“What are you watching?” as she approached the couch. A twenty-ish girl was sitting there, laptop out, while three people crowded around.
“New hero,” the girl said.
May looked, watched the video play, an introduction with some poses and close-ups of costume parts. White and blue, a tinted one-way visor. PRT quality, PRT production. Polished but… boring.
The girl wasn’t, admittedly. May watched as the girl threw darts, cleaving through the top of a series of soda bottles. While the caps were still in the air, she threw again. The darts embedded metal caps to the wall.
May picked up a bottlecap and set it to spinning on the table.
“I don’t miss,” the girl on the screen said. She threw again, beheading another series of glass soda bottles. Foam sprayed and caps flipped through the air. She ducked low, and threw the darts through the short wall of cinder blocks that had held the bottle. They struck more caps, sticking them to the wall.
“There’s no taking cover from this.”
As the video cut to a series of rapid-fire shots, each zoomed in on a different cap, leaving an afterimage of a letter as things moved to the next shot, May stopped the cap, fingertip striking it down flat against the table, set it to spinning again, stopped it-
The letters on the screen spelled out ‘Flechette’. An edited-in graphic stamped in ‘Ward – NY1’ below it.
“You’ll see me patrolling the streets of New York, starting February first,” Flechette said. She picked up a new bottle with blue liquid inside, took a drink, then flipped the bottlecap back. Without turning around, she threw a dart behind her.
It caught the cap, and embedded the cap to the lip of the camera, just in front of the lens. A Flechette in miniature on the cap.
The scene, of course, was ruined by the squawk as the ad shifted to cramming in as much merchandising as possible in the last one point eight seven seconds. T-shirt, poster, limited time energy drink collectors item.
Buy now, buy now, buy now!, she translated it.
The video stopped.
A few people looked up at May.
“Familiar?” the girl with the laptop asked.
“Yeah. A bit.”
“Do you know why?”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m seventeen, in my first year studying powers,” the girl with the laptop said. “I can tell you things.”
“What do you want in exchange?” May asked. She was leery of being indebted to anyone. Leery of being trapped again.
“To study you. Talk to you. I’ve been meaning to for a while.”
“You could just ask.”
“I did. But you were pretty drunk, and I was geeking out,” the girl said.
The party was one of about fifteen benders that May had participated in since her mom had died. She had a hundred thousand dollars in inheritance, and after the state had found someone who qualified as a relative, she’d ducked out, grabbing the folder that her new guardians had been left, with details on her trust.
They were leaving her access to the account, probably because they thought it would help lead them to her. As far as they were concerned, she always just barely got away. For her, it was trivial.
And with money and people who enjoyed spending money to keep her company, she’d settled into a group of teenagers and college students who were crashing at houses. It started at their relatives houses, then migrated to people they knew of. This time, those people they knew of were confined to a back bedroom. Food was being tossed into the pool because some guys wanted to see if they could fill it up enough that they could ‘walk on water’, clothes were being modeled and despite the fact that it was five-something in the morning, people were still at it, still dismantling the house or boning or scraping the bottom of the liquor cabinet with the stuff that apparently wasn’t supposed to be drunk straight. They’d turned it into a punishment game.
“It happens when a bunch of people get powers all at the same time. The powers get fractured and different people get different pieces. She triggered when you did. Ring any bells? Does anyone stand out?”
“Maybe. Some people, I guess. I don’t even know what a trigger is.”
“They say if you do something really triumphant, you get good powers. If you don’t… you get the flawed or broken ones. You trigger at major moments. Best days. Worst days. That’s the line, anyway. Does it hold up?”
“I got good powers, so…” May paused. She thought about how she’d let her mom die. Was that supposed to be a triumph? “I guess I did something good.”
The student with the laptop smiled. “Can-”
“Police!” a kid yelled. “Shit, shit, shit!”
There was sudden panic. People who were in the heaviest of make-out sessions pulled clothes back on. Others hurried to find shoes and boots.
“They’re by the pool!”
At the back of the property. We’re surrounded.
“Fuck!” one of the oldest people present shouted. One of the sober people. He was tattooed, and he’d been the one supplying the drugs. He paused for reflection, then uttered a louder, fiercer, “Fuck!”
“You’re not scared,” the girl in the chair said.
May shook her head. “I can get away.”
“Can you get me away too? I’ll tell you everything I know about Flechette, your multi, what it means…”
“I don’t care about Flechette.” I know who she might be. I still don’t care.
“What do you want, then? Get me out, keep me out of trouble, and I’ll help you with whatever.”
“Out?” the guy with tattoos asked. “You can get us out?”
“She has powers,” someone remarked.
“I can get everyone out,” March said. She smiled. “If you follow my instructions exactly.”
She could see the excitement of the girl in the chair.
“Raise your hand if you can count to thirty… okay. Which of you are confident you could count to one hundred?”
There was a heavy series of bangs on the front door.
“Police! Open up!”
May counted eight hands.
“The moment I snap my fingers, get started. Count carefully. We can’t run until we stop enough of them. You- upstairs. There’s a fire extinguisher on the wall. Count to a hundred starting at the finger-snap, make sure you have it by seventy. You’ll want to stick your head and arms out onto the roof on that side of the house at one hundred and start spraying right then.”
That got her a nod. She snapped her fingers, putting the mental model into effect. Timing, visualizing the person going around the corner, up the stairs. She could adjust her mental model, backward, forward, which would be useful when the numbers got larger.
“You – front door. Blockade it, dining room table, should take you twenty seconds. Take four of the people too drunk to count to help lift. Go now. You-
Ixnay’s waves pulsed through the air, making the air condense into rings, and some of those rings served to stop some of the drones and the ice crystals that were flying through the air. As the waves hit, the things were suspended, rotating slowly on the spot. If released, they would continue their current trajectories.
“Megan, your three!” March gave the order.
Megan turned, hand extending out. She tractor-beamed an ice crystal her way, driving it into the back of a cape that was stampeding toward her.
“Back three steps! And five!”
Megan hurried back three steps as the stampeding cape crashed into the ground. He coasted on icy ground, stopping just before colliding with her. Her trust in March was enough that she’d already turned, was grabbing a drone out of the air, pulling it to her-
The stampeding cape rose to his feet, only to have the drone crash into him.
“About face!” March shouted.
She loved these moments.
Without asking, with trust, her megacluster spun one hundred and eighty degrees. Switching who each of them were fighting, changing targets, shifting priorities.
“Jace, shield, ten!”
Jace half-turned, shield going up.
Noose, faced with a gauntlet of tinker soldiers dressed up as knights, hesitated.
“Belay that! Turn right and help Matches!”
March burst into a run, straight for the gap that Noose had refused to jump into.
“And for the record!? You would have been fine if you hadn’t hesitated!”
March was a target for the forces defending the Brockton Bay time bubbles because she was so clearly the leader. Now they were finding what they saw as an opening. Two capes came at her from different directions.
She traced a half-circle on the ground with her rapier, then stepped back from it. That covered one flank. The other- her rapier caught a stone on the ground, flicked it into the air. As she pushed her power through the rapier and into the blade, the weapon traced a 9/10ths circle around the stone as it flipped it up.
The ice cape threw ice at her, and as the line on the ground detonated, it intersected the flying shards. Frozen shrapnel scattered across the battlefield.
A little messy, but-
At the same time, the stone detonated a second after being flicked, well before touching the ground. It was at eye level for the cape who had sound-manipuating touch, fingers singing as they moved through air and the ability to deafen on touch. He reeled back with a bloody nose.
Not his biggest concern. March put her rapier through his chest cavity, pulled it out, and then drew a line through the face with her power. A hole in the heart, and four point three seconds until face became crater.
A merciful way to go. It was also about to become a dramatic and cool way to go out.
She cut a scrap of his costume away, doing a small circle with her sword to keep it airborne, cut it in half, then pushed her power into one of the halves. Time delayed explosion. While Megan’s power boost was running through her, she could work with shorter fuses.
The explosion was just in time to intercept a lob of ice through the air.
Her sword danced, keeping the other scrap alive. “Bash, right turn! Deal with ice guy for three seconds!”
Ice guy reacted, backing away instead of going on the offensive. That was fine too.
“Tori, about face! Your twelve in three, two, one!”
The explosion at the face knocked the cape’s helmet off. Tori caught it with her tractor beam, pulling it to her with the same force as if it had been thrown full-strength. It clocked the ice guy across the side of the head, while he was focused on Bash.
Across the battlefield, a cape created a flash of light. As it faded, March found herself alone, in a maze filled with moths.
One by one, defenders of the ruined Brockton Bay began to appear in the maze with her. Phased into this space.
Do you want to see me go all out? she thought.
“If this is a hallucination, I’m not bothered,” she said. “I trust my team to handle things while I’m out.”
One of the capes shook his head slowly.
I still have the power boost from Megan. One against seven. No, eight. And the world is moving in slow motion for me.
She could do this.
“What do you gain by messing with this stuff?”
“That would be telling, and you would put more people between me and what I want.”
March smiled. “You guys are the crazy ones. If you knew what I knew…”
Homer had grown, in a lot of ways. He was well-dressed now. He still had the dreads, but they were shorter, bound in gold – it looked like wedding rings. His mask, too, was gold. He had a golden baseball bat, and as he walked, he dribbled a baseball with the bat. A flowing black costume swept around him.
He liked the aesthetic and she didn’t hate it, herself. She watched the baseball bounce up and down. Black skin, gold stitches. It was getting a beating, just from being dribbled.
“I think I got the singing from you,” Homer said. “I remember the violin case. Some musical talent. I guess not violin, specifically.”
“I sang before. It’s been a while since I did.”
“If you picked it up again, I’d lose the ability,” Homer said.
“It’s subtle,” he said.
“I’ve been really into putting all kinds of fun things up my nose and into my arm,” May said. “Is that from you?”
“I was never an addict. I used regularly, but I never had to,” Homer said. He paused. “I haven’t used in a while.”
“We each get what the others don’t want.”
“Seems like it. Or what we have in abundance.”
“I checked in on our third,” May said. “She’s serious now. Dedicated, disciplined. She doesn’t hate it either. I’m the opposite. She and I switched places.”
“I tried to reach out to her. She wasn’t interested. I don’t think she understood,” Homer said.
“That she’s not alone? It’s ironic, isn’t it? New school, new foster parents, moving away from friends, she’s lonely and she’s making up for it by jumping into the Ward thing, but if she stopped and listened…”
“The Ward thing is better than the mercenary thing,” Homer said. His voice took on a different tone, hollow. “I’ve stepped on toes.”
“I was thinking about going that way. I’ve burned through a hundred thou in an alarmingly short span of time.”
“If you do, step carefully. Find a mentor, find the people who are worth listening to. Once you step on toes, it can’t be undone.”
“You said you had a reason for reaching out.”
“The private investigator I hired said you needed cash. I’m not sure what will happen when things catch up with me, but… I hope you don’t keep getting pieces of me.”
They entered a tunnel beneath a bridge. Homer hit the ball, striking it sideways, so it ricocheted off floor, wall, ceiling, wall, then lighted onto the bat, stopping with only a slight bob from the bat to catch the momentum.
He did it again, harder, hitting the ball instead of catching it, to keep the speed going. The ball glittered and glimmered as it reached its peak speed.
They were out of the tunnel by the time it stopped, and Homer resumed dribbling it.
“The kind of people who rise to power in New York aren’t the kinds of people you cross. When you get hired by someone, it’s your job to do the due diligence and make sure you aren’t digging yourself into shit with the wrong people. Gotta do it before you sign the deal, too.”
“You could run.”
Homer shook his head. “I’ll try. I’ll reach out to our third another time before I go. But… I wanted to look after you two. I got things from you, like the capacity to love, and satisfaction, and respect for other human beings. I owe you. So I’m going to set you up.”
“Can I have your contact list?”
Homer hesitated a good while.
“I’ll be careful. I’m good at staying out of trouble.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t stop it.”
“Stop- the train?”
“The attack, people getting pushed onto the tracks. I- our powers mock us, you know?”
“I had that feeling. A friend of mine said something similar.”
“I couldn’t. She was too important to me, and I couldn’t stop her, but I had to stop her. I finally took action, she turned on me, and she got killed. Worst of all worlds.”
“And I can’t do a thing with this power that doesn’t hit people right where it needs to to kill them. I can smack something clear the opposite way and the ricochets put it right into their temple, or over their heart.”
“I’m ready, whatever comes. I wanted to say my goodbyes.”
She rolled her shoulders as the light flared around her. Centipedes, giant moths, and seven of the eight capes who had followed her into the maze.
She had to adjust her mask, and she had to adjust her boot, because she had been so intensely at it that it had come unlaced, then nearly come off. She’d had her toes at the heel and her heel at the top of the boot for the last part of the skirmish.
She stabbed her weapon into the ground, and bent down to fix her boot. Her people waited. One injured while she was gone. It was Shiv. No loss.
Checking herself over, she verified everything was okay.
“Check-” she started, before her lack of breath stole the words away. She gave signals instead. One, there, phone. The universal pinky and thumb extended provided the ‘phone’ sign.
She held up fingers, then pointed at Shiv. Slow at first to recognize they were the number, Banger found his wits, stepping forward to pick Shiv up. March, meanwhile, adjusted her calculations. Any instruction given to Banger would have to account for delays like that. The guy was slow on the uptake.
No phone. No way to contact her reinforcements or other squads.
Maybe they wouldn’t need them.
Finally regaining her breath, she plucked her rapier from the ground, and she pointed it at the center of the city. Another five or ten minutes of walking, and they’d be at the foot of the construction.
Her group set out.
She’d come to like travel. It helped that other people were usually driving.
They’d settled into an informal role. Jan was the power expert, March the bodyguard.
Jan had no interest in being a gal in a lab coat in the PRT, but she did have an interest in writing about powers and people with powers.
Which meant hunting down interesting things. Which interested March, too. She was set for a good long time financially, and with this, she was feeding other passions.
Maybe the insatiable curiosity was Flechette’s. Maybe the poor girl was enduring her first few months with the PRT, being expected to learn these things, and it was being raised as a talent or inclination, discarded because Flechette had other priorities.
They got each other’s scraps. They were stabilizing over time, but now and again, things would get passed over. If Homer hadn’t pointed it out, then she might never know.
“This is a heavy one,” Jan said.
“Heavy how?” March asked.
“Six people. They triggered like you did. All together.”
Six. When Jan and March reached the town, there were three.
Three at a table in a shitty pub, four looking worn out, scared.
“I’m Tori,” one member of the group introduced herself.
“Jan. This is March, my bodyg-”
“Can you help?” the plea from a man, who was prematurely balding, and who had veins at his forehead, not from stress, or maybe only partially from stress, but because that was the way his forehead looked. He didn’t seem superhero-ish. “Please.”
“I can try,” Jan said. “March is a cluster too. We’ve been researching things, and new information is coming out every month or two.”
“Do you have a carousel?” another member of the four-person group asked. A woman, brunette.
“A carousel. It’s what we termed it. Silly of me to think you’d know what I meant. Any game? A gimmick? A way the power passes power around?”
“I’ve picked up some skills, I think. And addictions.”
That only got her a head-shake in response.
“Start from the beginning,” Jan said.
“Did you hear about the quarantine at White Rock?”
“Do you know the reason why they quarantined White Rock?” Tori asked.
“Yes,” Jan said.
“No,” March said. “Quarantine?”
“Someone dug a hole,” the other woman in the group said. “I’m Megan, by the way.”
“They made a hole between worlds. And… some people here started using it. A few years back.”
“Me,” Tori said. “Jace.”
The guy raised a hand.
“Smuggling. Passing information. Scientific research. Music. There’s so many ways to profit, with a link like that.”
“Of course,” Jan said. “Something went wrong.”
Megan nodded. “People started getting sick. We thought we took precautions, but…”
“I lost someone, several someones,” Jace said. “They traced things back, connected it to the suspicious material, the fake IDs we made to push stuff out into the right channels… they shut down the boundary.”
“The wrong people got stuck on the wrong sides,” Tori said. “I got stuck here.”
“What was the inciting event? You all triggered at once?”
“No,” Tori said.
“That’s the way it works. Multiple triggers within a minute of each other.”
“Days,” Megan said. “Days.”
“The portal,” March murmured. As heads turned her way, she said, “The portal? If there’s a lot of energy or interference, or connections or… whatever. We talk about powers passing stuff between people, but maybe they need to draw energy from somewhere to do that.”
“An open door between worlds as a big signal booster?” Jan asked.
Jan nodded. “That would make it easier for six to happen, absolutely.”
“With the quarantine, and the inhumane treatment, and the suspicion we were doing it on purpose, as a biological weapon…” Megan said, trailing off rather than forming a full sentence.
“Well, that gives us some answers and food for thought,” Jan said. “But… you asked for help. Why?”
“The carousel,” Tori said. “Every day, one of us would become strong, and the rest are weak, or normal, or… or whatever.”
“I’ve heard about similar cases,” Jan said.
“We- there’s a loyalty effect,” Megan said. “It’s messing everything up. It’s messing us up.”
“Loyalty?” March asked.
“We couldn’t say no. We didn’t want to say no. And each of us have fragments of a power that influence people’s moods or views of them. Change how other people treat us. There were two who were problems. Two who had us robbing people, hurting people. One of them told us to like hurting people, and I don’t know-”
Megan trailed off.
“I did. A little bit, for a little while,” Jace said.
Tori nodded. “And for a while, things were okay, because we all knew that if we did something unconscionable, then in a few days we would be at the mercy of whoever we did it to.”
“Things changed?” Jan asked.
“One of our group took charge and- she went after the other. They were both the worst of our six… for very different ways. He was the monster but she- she had the strongest control power. She went after him and she took his day of being in charge. The day of having all the power. And she came after each of us, one by one.”
“To do what?”
“Take our days. And she got even stronger, if that’s possible.”
“What happened to her?”
“She disappeared. A while ago. And things have been okay for a couple of years now.”
“But the other – Bill. He called Jace. Reached out. He wants to try doing what Bianca -the other woman- did to him. Even though we’re already spent, we don’t have any days any more, and we barely have power. He was trying to convince Jace to kidnap us. Promised money, safety…”
“We don’t have anywhere else to go. People made Bianca disappear when she became a problem, and we’re not exactly in anyone’s good books since the portal mess.”
“I was barely even involved,” Megan said.
“He got Ysmine,” Tori said. “He’s coming for us.”
This wasn’t fun. It was hardly a game. But to be trapped, March could sympathize. It hit so close to home that she worried it was designed to.
She laid her hand over Tori’s.
She’d reached the city. A folded-up Brockton Bay. She whooped as she ran forward, leaping, hurling herself at a bend in space.
The bend swept her up. Gravity flowed in another direction.
With hand signals, her teams fanned out. Tori was absent. In two minutes, Tori would fire a blue flare off to one side. It would signal the reinforcements, if the reinforcements hadn’t been wiped out.
“March!” a hero bellowed. He stood on a rooftop directly above her, looking up at her while she looked up at him. Twenty feet separated them.
“Hallo!” she shouted. The bent space captured her voice, made it resound in different ways.
“You can’t do this! You can’t touch the time bubbles! Every person with a power that looks at the future says the result is bad!”
She laughed again, gauging the bent space, then ran, leaping over a chasm, letting the bend in space redirect her leap, putting her near another rooftop.
Her people were making their way up now. Getting used to the vectors of this particular battlefield.
“You need to stop!”
“You need to get out of my way! I get what I want, and anyone who tries to stop me dies!”
“It’s not a game!”
She laughed again, using one hand and both feet to quickly ascend the light post that illuminated the newest roof top, dragging her sword against the length of it as she ran; it was the roof where the distance between rooftops was shortest. She stopped, pausing, then leaped.
The leap carried her a few feet up, helped by the fact that the space in the neutral territory between buildings was neither up nor down. Then the light exploded. The blast from the explosion tipped her over to the far end of the neutral territory. She fell up, rather than down.
All around her, buildings began to move. Leaving her less in the way of escape routes.
Vista was in play. Vista was getting in her way. They’d had a few run-ins already, when March had paid visits to Foil and had run afoul of the city’s heroes. This city’s heroes, she had to remind herself.
She smiled, and she moved her hand, signaling her team. Heroes were mobilizing, moving across every plane, like a topsy-turvy funhouse, but each facet was a different hero and a different power. Each moved in slow motion. She had time to remind herself of what each of them did. The ones she wasn’t sure of, she sicced her people on. A hundred cans of paint in the midst of being tossed onto surfaces.
When this was done, all would be crimson.
“I’m so sorry.”
“Shhh,” Tori murmured.
“I’m so sorry. I was supposed to save you.”
March’s head sagged.
A flashback. A brief and violent struggle. She was good at timing, but she had to know what her enemy did.
And the people of this cluster did so very many things.
A man, heavyset, with a false magnificence that filled her with equally false strength, just to be around him. False enough that she tested and exceeded her limits, hurt herself in mind and body. A telekinetic shield that seemed to parry things just as effectively as her own timing power and enhanced baton did. He teleported short distances, and made the building shake like it was in the midst of an earthquake when he appeared. Power and force and when she finally cut him, he grabbed the line she’d drawn on him and threw it away, like it was a scrap of cloth.
Now… now she bled.
Now a tube in her arm drained her and kept her at the brink of life. She faded in and out and every part of her hurt.
For Tori, who was just close enough for March to touch, it was much the same. Blood drained. She passed out, came to with weak startles.
For Megan… for Jace, for Ysmine.
And he was getting stronger. And somewhere, a disappeared Bianca was getting weaker.
He’d drained March in hopes that he could take her power like he took the others’. He didn’t get the power. Now, instead of killing her directly, he killed her by neglecting to check her vitals, neglecting to ensure he didn’t take too much. She didn’t get the drugs or the food the others did.
So she talked to the ones in earshot. Tori, primarily, when the two of them were awake at the same time and the sedatives weren’t too strong. About love and life and hopes and missed opportunities. About mothers and violins and about the differences between their worlds.
By millimeters, she was brought closer to a futile end. Her hands were bound in a position where she couldn’t activate her power, and her sense of accuracy and timing only helped her to track the time she had been here.
Slowly, she slipped closer to oblivion.
Carmine facets, with veins instead of edges, kaleidoscopic when she tried to wrap her head around the shape.
Carmine walls, that she could almost imagine were the inside of her, because she saw herself reflected in this wall or that surface.
She’d remarked on the power of portals, and as she felt things hum through the structures that made up this oblivion, she imagined it was much like that. Vast amounts of power being redistributed, like the amount it took to hold up a breach between worlds. Governments had tried to harness the power of Haywire’s portals and they’d decided it didn’t work because any means of gathering it didn’t stand up, durability-wise.
A tidbit from Jan.
Poor Jan. Dead Jan. She hadn’t been any use to Bill. The bloodletter. The blood priest.
March sank deeper into the oblivion. She saw patterns in the energy that ran through things, and for fleeting instances, those patterns resembled people, ideas, events. Too much to read. They weren’t for her.
But there was something here for her. Codified into everything in the same way she was being codified. Homer.
She could see the empty space where Flechette was meant to be.
She communicated with Homer, and it was different than anything she’d done or felt as flesh. She felt his sadness and knew he’d died sometime after she’d left. Swallowed up by the worst of New York’s villains.
She could sympathize with the blood priest, who was scrabbling so viciously for this. He told himself it was for power, but… he was really after this, she felt. He wanted this connection.
Something beyond the short and fleeting life. A heaven where she would never be alone. Forever in the company of another, running through, over, under, into, communicating through shared events and bursts of static, riddling each other out.
And when Flechette died-
The view dimmed.
And when Flechette died, she would have Flechette forever. Until the end of a species that intended to last beyond the end of the universe. And Flechette would have her, and what happened in flesh would be swiftly forgotten.
The view dimmed further. For an instant, she felt a fear bigger and more horrible than any she’d ever considered. That she could be teased with this, then to have it taken away.
It all went black, and she wailed with a body that no form and a voice that had no sound.
Her heart resumed beating. She sat up, and was instantly pushed down. A doctor.
Already, the particulars were fading. But an impression that deep- that would never go away. She knew.
She could remember the feeling of the portal, so close. Past a veil. A huge source of energy. An amplifier.
Maybe that helped make the impression deep enough, strong enough.
“They’re taking us to Bianca. So long as we’re with her, none of us will be able to try this again, and if we do, at least we’ll be somewhere we can’t interfere with other stuff.”
March tried to sit up. Doing so gave her a blinding headache.
“It’s okay,” she said, not sure if Tori was still there. Or any of the others. “None of this matters.”
“It doesn’t matter. I love you. Thank you for talking to me.”
“Be safe, March.”
It doesn’t matter if I am.
All of this is a teaser. A chance to flirt and toy with our reality before we move on. Little more than a game or a dream that sets the tone for the day.
She shivered. She felt nauseous. She felt glorious.
She didn’t hear or see, but by the feeling of the air, she sensed that Tori was gone. The others were gone.
She would see Flechette, of course. There was no way that she wouldn’t, when they were fated to revolve around each other for an eternity. Joined by gentle Homer. Surrounded by the muted presences of others.
How delighted Flechette would be when she found out.