I threw up while laying under that dumpster.
I tried to be quiet about it, turning my head toward the wall that was already stained with decades of much worse than my puke. My body hunched in on itself as I lost what little was left in my stomach from the dinner I’d had however many hours earlier. I wanted to curl in even tighter and close my eyes until all of this went away and I woke up safe in my bed without having to deal with… with… any of this. I wanted it to go away. I wanted it to be a dream.
It wasn’t, and I didn’t wake up. The smell of my own puke was enough to convince me of that, to say nothing of the… other glorious scents under that dumpster. I wasn’t going to magically wake up back in my bed. And if I didn’t move before those guys came back this way on their search, I’d probably never see my bed again. Unless they took me to Simon before killing me.
Simon wouldn’t kill me. Would he? I… no. No, I didn’t think he would.
But then, I didn’t think he’d kill anybody and look where that had gone. I hadn’t seen him do it himself, but he was definitely completely fine with ordering it done. And he had shot that guy just for not being able to find me. He… he… wanted them to kill whoever saw them execute those other two. He was responsible. He ordered it. My brother ordered people killed.
My brother ordered people killed.
I threw up again. Mostly dry heaving, and I did it as quietly as possible. Still, every little noise that I made made me cringe inwardly. I had to get out of here. Had to move while they weren’t looking, while they were distracted searching elsewhere. Eventually they would circle back to see if there were any more clues about where I’d gone or who I was. And when they did, I couldn’t be here.
Even knowing that, it still took me another few seconds to work up my nerve. Slowly, I inched my way out from under the dumpster, peeking with just my head for a moment to make sure things looked clear. Nobody. There was nobody in sight. Taking a breath of (slightly) fresher air, I pushed myself up to my hands and knees, staring out of the alley with the paranoid attention of a squirrel taking food from a dog’s own dish. Nothing. I could hear voices in the distance, but they were coming from far enough away that the people were probably at the front of the motel.
Right. Now I had time. But if they were up near the front of the motel, they’d probably see me going out of the alley. I had to get over this fence. And I was pretty sure they’d hear it rattling and shaking if I climbed the thing. And that would take too long anyway. I needed to be quieter and faster.
I needed that paint stuff. But I’d tried it before and it hadn’t worked. Why? Was it just because I had panicked? Because I didn’t know how to work it? Because I’d run out? I wasn’t sure. But I did know that every second I took worrying about it and fretting was another second that those guys might make their way back around, or cut off my escape some other way. I had to try.
Right, okay. Do it, Cassidy. Stepping back, I stared at the ground while hesitantly raising both hands to point toward it. Paint. Blue paint. It was the blue stuff that repelled things. So… so just make it come out. Squirt. Spray. Shoot. Make paint. Whooo paint, you can do it!
Was I seriously giving my own superpowers a pep talk?
Narrowing my eyes, I focused. Paint. Blue paint. Just a little spray of–
It came. I was paying attention that time and actually saw what happened. It didn’t come from inside my hand. Instead, I saw a tiny, spinning ball of paint appear in my palm before a spray of the stuff shot out toward the ground. A second later, there was a blue puddle there, a couple feet across. It worked. It worked! I made paint come from my hands just by willing it!
Okay, so as far as super powers went, maybe it wasn’t the flashiest. But still, it was me! I did that! I made paint! There were like a dozen people I wanted to show off for.
Then I remembered that one of those people was my brother. And… oh yeah.
That brought me back down to reality real quick. My face dropped like a stone. A stone that fell into my stomach. I took a quick glance over my shoulder, my nerves suddenly returning. I had to get out of here. To that end, I watched the paint for a moment before hesitantly picking up a little pebble from the ground. Carefully, I dropped the pebble onto the paint.
Nothing. It just sat there doing nothing. Except getting wet paint on itself. The stuff wasn’t bouncy or repellant at all. I slumped, head shaking. I wanted it to be boun–
The pebble went flying into the air. My gaze snapped up to try to follow it, but it disappeared. I looked to the paint then, testing it by putting my foot close. Just before I was about to touch it, my foot was forcefully shoved upward so hard I almost lost my balance and stumbled a little. It worked! It was working! It– it was gone. As I caught myself and eagerly looked that way, I found the puddle of blue paint fading right before my eyes.
Okay. Okay, okay, okay. I could figure this out. Later. The details could wait for later, but right now, I needed more paint. So I focused, making another puddle of blue paint. Again, I tested it with one foot. Nothing. I just stepped in blue paint. At least it was the one that still had a shoe.
Then I thought about what I wanted. I thought about it being bouncy or repelling things. Staring at it, I took a breath (ignoring how silly it felt) and jumped with both feet into the paint, like a kid hopping into a puddle.
I was thrown way up into the air, enough to clear the fence. Somehow, through what had to be a miracle, I avoided screaming. I even managed not to break my back by landing on it on the other side of the fence. It wasn’t a graceful landing at all, as I basically fell into what amounted to a half-roll, half-sprawling heap, scraping my bare foot a bit. But I was on the other side of the fence, with a minimum of noise. The first arch-enemy in my fresh career as a super-powered person, an eight foot tall fence, was thoroughly conquered.
Then I went to stand up and promptly accidentally kicked over a trash can, sending it clattering along the ground while the stray cat that had been sleeping behind it bounded off, yowling loudly.
God damn, I was really bad at this.
Panicking at the sound of voices, I looked around quickly. Above me was a balcony. No one seemed to be right there, so I pointed my hands at the ground and made another puddle of blue paint. At least I knew how to do that. Somewhat.
The paint worked, and I quickly jumped on it, bouncing myself up to the balcony. I’d just managed to haul myself up and over, ducking down behind the short brick half-wall surrounding it, when the voices I’d been hearing entered the alley.
Actually, I realized it was only one voice I’d been hearing. But it was definitely at least two sets of footsteps. They were making no effort to be quiet, the guy who was talking doing so in a normal tone without whispering. “Yeah,” he was saying while they stopped just beneath me, “I’m just gonna go ahead and guess that whoever that kid is, he’s not stupid enough to be five feet from where he was last seen and make a bunch of noise when there’s a bunch of guys with guns ten feet away.”
Oh good, they were overestimating me. Maybe they’d overestimate me over a few blocks so I could escape this one.
And speaking of being stupid, I slowly lifted my head. Telling myself it was a bad idea, yet unable to resist, I very carefully peered over the edge of the roof and looked down. Immediately, I regretted it. Because the two below me weren’t normal thugs. They weren’t any of the guys that had been working with Simon.
They were Touched. I knew that as soon as I saw them. The one who was talking wore a pair of black slacks, black combat boots, a red turtleneck with an attached matching scarf that covered the lower half of his face, a red bandana over his hair, and a black leather jacket. On the back of the jacket was an image of a red baseball bat. The same kind and color that he carried in one hand.
The other guy was dressed in a modified soldier’s combat uniform. Green camo pants and jacket, with a black balaclava, dark mirrored ski goggles that had a green trim, and heavy silver and green gauntlets on each arm. The boots that he wore were also made of metal. And he carried a complicated-looking rifle that looked like it belonged in a sci fi movie.
I knew them. I knew who they were. Both of them were Selltouched. Mercenaries, Touched who worked for the highest bidder. Selltouched varied a lot in just what they were willing to do for money, but for the most part they would work either side.
These guys were either brothers or lovers, depending on who you talked to. The one who was doing all the talking, with the red bat, was called Two-Step. His power basically gave him a sort of… semi-solid ghost he could call on at any time. The ghost would act like his shadow, copying any action he’d taken within the past hour. Usually he used it in the middle of a fight, letting his shadow follow his attacks so that anyone who fought him had to keep track of what he was doing and what he just did a second ago. Or ten seconds ago. Or thirty seconds ago. Or whatever. I’d seen interviews with heroes from the Conservators and Ten Towers alike who said that fighting him was a pain because the whole time you were doing it, his ghost-self could pop up doing anything he’d done throughout the entire fight up to that point.
The other guy, his brother or lover, was Lastword. His powers were weird. As far as anyone could tell, he sort of… changed his powers every time he spoke. Or rather, every time he stopped speaking. Whatever the… well, last word he spoke was, his power would randomly change to somehow fit that word in some way. Like if he said something about fire, he’d get fire powers. If he said something about traveling, he’d get some kind of movement power. If he said stop, he might freeze things or halt momentum. It was pretty random. But he could also get powers that let him build things. That was where his gauntlets, gun, and boots came from.
Lastword and Two-Step. Selltouched. They were obviously working with… for Simon. Or for my dad. Or… or… fuck, fuck. Touched. They were right there, and they were looking for me. Fuck!
Okay, keep it together. I had to stay… not calm, but not freak the hell out either. They didn’t believe that I was stupid enough to still be there. I just had to stay quiet.
Sure enough, it wasn’t long before the two of them started to walk off. They were heading toward one of the other buildings, Two-Step saying something about how I might’ve run for the freeway on the far side and that someone else they could talk to might’ve seen me for a better description.
Okay, I knew where I wasn’t going. Watching them head off, I finally let out the breath I’d been holding and straightened up. There was no sign of anyone else, so I could get out of there.
Now I just had to get down. And that was harder than it should’ve been. Awkwardly maneuvering myself over the wall and down to hold on by my hands, I cringed before letting go.
Ow. Dropping like that hurt. Once more, I sprawled against the ground and just laid there for a couple seconds. My eyes closed briefly before opening again hopefully.
Nope. Still not a dream. Still had to get up. Still had to escape. Still had a brother who ordered people to be murdered.
Dragging myself off the ground, I looked around quickly before starting to move as fast as I could. It wasn’t running. I couldn’t run while missing one of my shoes. Which was too bad, since running would’ve been really good right then. I liked running. I’d done track at school for awhile, and still jogged a lot. Though track meets were a pretty far cry from being hunted by guys with guns. I’d also done a lot of skating, but that wasn’t exactly helpful right now either, since I couldn’t magically make my pace-skates appear any more than I could summon any of my other shoes to replace the missing one..
Distance. I needed distance. Fast-walking away from that alley as quickly and quietly as I could, I kept an ear out for anyone. My hood was still up and my head was down. Right now, everyone who was after me thought I was a boy. The last thing I wanted was for them to get a better description. I couldn’t even pretend that it wasn’t me, since I was literally missing a shoe. I had to walk fast, keep my head down, and get enough distance to use my phone for a ride.
That’s what I did. Keeping my head down and moving as fast as my bare foot would let me, I made my way through the interconnected parking lots and alleys of several buildings. I stayed quiet, ducked out of the way whenever people came anywhere near, but otherwise tried to keep going. I had no idea what I was going to do about… about any of this. I didn’t know how to deal with it, or even how to accept it. I just knew I had to keep going.
It took forty-five minutes. Forty-five minutes for me to walk what amounted to about six blocks. Far enough that I was pretty sure I was outside of their immediate search area. There was a twenty-four hour Mexican fast food place there, with a few people sitting around outside of it. But I didn’t go any closer. The last thing I wanted was witnesses to describe me if any of those guys came this way.
Instead, I lurked around the corner and used my phone to signal an Uber. Then I stood there, staring at the phone indecisively.
The cops. There were two dead bodies back there. Or at least, there had been. They were probably already moving them, but I’d seen enough cop shows to know that there might still be some kind of evidence. But if I called them with my own phone, they’d be able to track me down immediately. My dad and brother would both know that I was the witness. Could I… could I…
I couldn’t. Not yet. I had to know more. I couldn’t let them know it was me. But I also couldn’t give up without sending the cops there, even if I had to do it anonymously. But how?
Then I remembered. The Doephone. Doe as in Jane or John Doe. It wasn’t a physical thing, it was a service, an app that the Ten Towers group had put out. You download the app for your phone, use it, and it would let you call either Ten Towers itself or to any of the emergency services completely anonymously. Basically it acted like a VPN for your phone. You called through the Doephone service and Doephone itself connected you to the cops or paramedics or whatever. That way people could call in tips or report problems without exposing who they were. It was also used by solo/unaffiliated Touched who wanted to let the police know where to find bad guys they’d subdued.
Quickly, I downloaded the app and used it to report the bodies to the police. I spoke quickly and in as few words as possible, just telling them that there were two dead people back in that building and where to find it. Then I disconnected. If by some chance either Simon or my dad ever heard the recording, I didn’t want them to recognize anything about how I spoke.
After that, it was just a matter of waiting for about ten minutes. And that was ten of the longest minutes of my life. I pressed my back to the wall, praying silently as my eyes kept darting one way, then another, like a paranoid rabbit.
It was also ten minutes where I had nothing to do (aside from panicking about every little noise) besides think about everything I’d heard. Dad. Dad and Simon. They were… they were bad guys? Like… really bad guys.
I wasn’t stupid. Err, usually, anyway. I knew our family wasn’t like… normal or super nice or anything. Dad made a lot of money. We were privileged. We lived in a multi-million dollar house (and had several others), our garage held a fleet of vehicles. We went to the most expensive private schools, took unbelievable vacations, and so on. I’d always had a pretty charmed life, all things considered.
And now I had to wonder just how much of that life had been paid for in blood. In murder. In the suffering, literal suffering of innocent people. I had an ATV at one of the cabins we liked to stay at. How many people had been murdered to pay for that. Was one ATV like… a percentage of a life? Did one person’s life pay for my ATV and that trip to Italy last year? Or did that take a whole family? How many people were hurt or killed to fund my Christmases over the past few years? How… how many…
Oh God, I was going to throw up again.
The Uber came then, and I saved myself from actually heaving before climbing into the backseat. The guy, a bored Latino guy in his twenties with a Hawaiian shirt and a black driving cap. He asked where we were going, and I told him. He whistled, making some comment about me moving up in the world or something before heading out.
I slumped back in the seat and looked out the window as we drove. Detroit, Michigan. That was where we were, my home. I’d heard that, before superpowers started appearing twenty years earlier, Detroit had basically been circling the drain. Once one of the most powerful and rich cities in the country, if not the world, the whole place crashed hard. Most of the automobile factories closed and it was looking pretty bad.
Then super powers started appearing. Touched became a thing, both good and bad. And suddenly there was a demand for advanced technology. Tech that was either built by and/or built in response to super powers. The military and police forces needed equipment and vehicles built or modified quickly. The various Touched teams, as they too began to be a thing, also required equipment, vehicles, places to build their designs.
Detroit had everything that was needed. Old factories could be brought up to speed quickly. Land and property was cheap. People were desperate for jobs. It was basically the perfect storm for something like that. The past twenty years had been a huge boom for the whole city and the surrounding suburbs. The rejuvenated factories lured in other businesses, and Detroit was once more one of the most important cities in the country.
But it had only been twenty years since the near-collapse of the whole thing, and all of this newfound wealth and power had basically sprung up right on top of the old Detroit. There was still a lot of crime, a lot of bad neighborhoods that no one was supposed to go near. There were a lot of problems.
So there were also a lot of Touched, of both the Star and Fell variety. Some of the good guys, like the Conservators, were Federal government-funded groups with actual military ranks. The Conservators operated in every state, and had authority everywhere. There was a branch right here in Detroit.
Then there were the Spartans, the state-level team whose headquarters was here as well. They had smaller groups spread throughout Michigan.
There were also non-government teams, like Ten Towers. They were a corporate-sponsored group, funded by, of course, ten different companies. Ten Towers mainly operated in the midwest. They did a lot of good, though there were people who didn’t trust them because they were basically salaried employees working for big business. But, well… duh? Big companies like that could afford to pay the kind of wages that a superhero would need or want, especially when they pooled their resources like these ten had done. And they had a vested interest in keeping the cities running as smoothly as possible.
So there was the national team of Conservators, the state-level team of Spartans, the regional corporation-sponsored team of Ten Towers, and maybe three or four other individual hero groups of varying sizes. Not to mention the mercenary groups that were considered somewhat gray in morality.
All of those, and I had no idea who to talk to about what I’d heard, what I’d seen, beyond the anonymous report about the dead bodies that probably wouldn’t amount to much. Should I go to the police to tell them everything, one of those Touched groups, someone else? Should I go to a lawyer? To a teacher? To the military? To my dad and demand to know what was going on? To my mom? Did she know any of this?
While I was still trying to decide… anything at all, we reached my neighborhood on the far outskirts of town. The place had been built up in the past couple decades to accommodate the sudden influx of rich investors. Investors like my father.
It was a gated community, of course. The whole neighborhood was blocked off, and I didn’t want a record of me coming in. So I had the driver let me out about a block away. He seemed a bit disappointed that he wouldn’t get a chance to drive in and check out the rich people’s neighborhood, but he seemed to get over it after I paid the bill and left a forty-dollar tip.
I’d snuck in and out of the neighborhood enough that I knew the patrol patterns of Steve, the guard who worked this time of night during the week. He was off on his rounds right then, so I was able to just duck under the bar blocking entrance for vehicles, and make my way along the dark sidewalk.
Just as I was approaching the gate to our driveway a few minutes later, I heard a car coming up around the bend that I had just turned. And not just any car. I knew the sound. I knew the engine. It was Royal Thunder, the 71 Cuda. I knew it anywhere. It had to be Simon.
Quickly ducking out of sight behind a nearby shrub, I watched as the car passed by. It reached the gate, paused briefly while Simon entered the code into the nearby panel, then headed in as the gate rumbled open.
Waiting for another few seconds, I then quickly started running as fast as my bare foot would let me. At least now I was on a very nicely maintained sidewalk, so I wasn’t stepping on pebbles or loose concrete all the time.
I also had to watch the slowly rotating security camera on the corner of the wall. Timing my run to get there as the camera was pointed in the opposite direction, and just before the open gate started closing, I slipped through and onto the grounds of my family’s mansion. Normally there was a guard at the gate, but I knew how Henry worked. When Simon drove in, Henry would walk up from the little shack there to open the door for him in the garage. It gave me a window to get through without any questions.
Our house was huge. There was no other way to put it. The grounds were huge, the house itself was huge, the pool house around back was huge. When Dad had the place built, he spared no expense. It sat on six and a half acres, the house itself just a bit under sixteen thousand square feet. There were nine bedrooms, seven bathrooms, a full library, a whole wing for servants, a small theater, four different offices (three of which I was never allowed into), a kitchen that belonged in a five-star restaurant (the chef belonged there too, Dad had poached him from one).
It may have been been super modern on the inside, but from the outside, the place looked like an old castle even though it had been built just sixteen years ago, the same year I was born. Dad liked it that way. He said it gave it charm.
Despite its old appearance, there were other cameras around the grounds, but I knew how to avoid them. Making my way off the driveway and across the dark grass, I crept closer, slowly moving toward the open garage. I would wait until Simon headed in and started closing the garage door, then slip in myself.
Those plans vanished as soon as I heard my mother’s voice loudly announce, “Thank you, Henry. You can go now.”
My heart fell into my stomach, and I dropped flat behind the nearest tree to the driveway, right on the edge of the grass. Belly-crawling closer, I hesitantly poked my head around the low-hanging tree and stared into the open garage.
Mom was there. Elena Evans, née Russo, was a tall, strong Italian woman with long, curly dark hair and a beautiful face that people said reminded them of Marisa Tomei. She stood there, staring at my brother. My brother. Staring at him from my cover, I really looked at Simon. Like our father, he was tall (and like our mother, for that matter, where the hell did my shortness come from?), with blond hair cut short save for a longer bit up near the front that he deliberately let grow long enough to fall over his blue eyes for that dreamboat look.
Mom wasn’t impressed. She pointed to his hand, making an annoyed noise in the back of her throat.
I looked too. And my heart fell further. My shoe. He was holding my shoe. Wait, did he know? Did he know I was there, that it was me, that I was–
“And what precisely is this?” Mom interrupted my wave of horrified panic.
“Shoe from the kid,” Simon muttered, waving it absently.
In a flash of movement, Mom snatched the shoe from his hand before using it to smack Simon across the face. My eyes widened, and I smothered the gasp that came with my hand. Simon, for his part, barely made a sound. He simply straightened sharply.
Using the shoe to point at him, Mom snapped, “Che cazzo è? You bring the shoe of a witness to two murders into my home?” She smacked him with the thing again, then threw it at him and gestured to the car. “Go! We have no evidence here, figlio mio. You know this. You are better than this.”
“Yeah, yeah, ma, I’m going.” Simon muttered. “God, it’s just a–” He took a quick step back as Mom raised her hand threateningly. “I’m going.” Striding back to the car, he got in and slammed the door after himself before peeling back out, leaving Mom shouting after him in a rush of Italian. Then she sighed and started to look toward the tree where I was, so I ducked back, hugging the grass.
It wasn’t just Dad and Simon. It wasn’t. Some part of me had held out hope that it would be, but… but Mom knew. She knew all of it. She was part of it. My dad, my mom, and my brother. They were all… criminals. They ordered people killed. They… they probably killed people themselves. They were evil. My family was evil.
What the hell was I supposed to do now?