Adrian Perez

Pink 12-02 (Summus Proelium)

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A/N: There was an extra commissioned interlude for Heretical Edge posted yesterday. If you haven’t seen it and read that story, you might want to click here after reading this chapter

We didn’t go straight to the track or either of the museums. Instead, Dad led the three of us across the lot to a restaurant near the track. Technically, it was all owned by the same company, a company my father had a large stake in. The track, the museums, the restaurant, all of it was partially owned by my family. And that was just on the surface. Part of me wondered how much of the city my parents owned through the whole Ministry thing. Actually, come to think of it, I probably didn’t want to know right then. It would just be depressing to think about how much power they had when I was supposed to be trying to relax and show Izzy a good time. 

The restaurant was basically a hamburger place, but not exactly a McDonalds. The burgers were really thick and came named after various cars or drivers. They even did a thing where the top of the buns would have an image of a race car lightly burned into them. And the fries were the really long shoestring versions with Parmesan and truffle oil. They were amazing. I really didn’t have to fake that much enthusiasm for coming here, given how hungry I was. 

Apparently, Izzy had never been there before. Or to the track itself. As we walked in the front door of the restaurant, she gasped at the centerpiece of the foyer. It was a full-sized, actually working race car. Specifically, it was a 1967 Ford GT40 Mark IV, beautifully red with a white number 11 on the side. The Mark IV was the only model of the GT40 line that had been built here in the US, since the first three versions were built in England. It was also the only car that had been designed and built entirely here in the US to win at Le Mans in France. 

I told the other girl all of that while the two of us walked a circle around the car. Izzy nodded appreciatively at the right places, but I had the funniest feeling that she really didn’t care all that much. She was one of those people who just thought a car was a car, and that as long as it got you where you wanted to go, there really wasn’t much of a difference between them. Heathen. 

The restaurant manager was talking to Dad and Simon while I was explaining the car’s history to the younger girl. By the time I got that far, it was time to go. My father beckoned, and we followed as the manager (a really friendly man named Kevin whom I had met a few different times since he was always here ready to direct us to a table when we came in) led us to the back of the restaurant. We passed through a couple doors to reach a private dining area with huge floor to ceiling windows that provided a good look at the track off in the distance across the lot, where we could see some of the cars taking practice laps. 

Izzy and I sat on that side of the long table, so we could turn our chairs a bit to look out at the track. Menus were passed out and the manager promised he would be taking care of everything personally. He took our drink requests, assured my father that our food would be out in plenty of time for us to eat before catching the first actual race, and hurried off. Our drinks were brought in and put on the table almost before he’d actually made it out of the room. Yeah, I’d never really paid that much attention before, but I supposed my father was something of a big deal. 

Simon was tuned out again, lost in his phone. But Dad stood up, moving over to stand next to Izzy and me as he gazed out at the cars doing their practice laps. There was a fondness in his voice as he told us about the first time he’d snuck into the track to watch cars pass by. It made him sound… human and simple, just a kid who couldn’t afford a ticket to see something he loved. I glanced over to see his face, and my father looked nostalgic, lost in his memories. It made me want to ask him how so much had changed. Not only in how much money and power he now had, but where his innocence had gone. I wanted to ask him if he was happier this way, if he had any idea how much misery he brought to other people through this Ministry bullshit. 

Instead, I simply listened quietly while he told us about that first race he’d watched, and about how he’d had to run from security before it was over. His run from the security officers had been a race in and of itself, one that more than a few spectators had actually put money on, apparently. 

“Did you get away?” Izzy asked, apparently enraptured by the story. She was sitting there, arms on the back of the chair that she had turned around in and chin in her hands as she stared at my father with a wide gaze. “They didn’t catch you, did they? Otherwise you would’ve been banned from that track.” 

In response, Dad chuckled. “Well, first, you’ll find that many ‘lifetime bans’ disappear when your name shows up on a lot of the checks that pay the salaries of the people who banned you.” With a wink, he added, “But no, I wasn’t caught. Actually, I owe that to my wife. That was the day…”

Then he trailed off. A slight frown touched his face before he shook his head. “Never mind, probably not the best time. Suffice to say, Elena and I had an interesting first meeting.” Turning from the window then, as he had been staring out at the track through all that, Dad smiled broadly. “And now we’re here. See how things work out in the end when you keep at it?”  

Huh. There was something there. Actually, now that he had talked about it being his first meeting with my mother, I really wanted to hear more of that story. But I knew pushing wouldn’t work, not right now. I was going to keep that in mind and maybe ask Mom about it later. Or I’d find a way to ask Dad when we were alone. 

Either way, that was for later. Right now, I was going to focus on our little outing, and on making sure Izzy had a good time. There would be time to handle all of that other stuff. Instead, I looked at the girl beside me and nudged her before pointing. “See that car over there? The driver’s name is Pranav. He’s really cool, and he’s from Hyderabad. He’s got a lot of stories about India. When the race is over, maybe we can talk to him for a few minutes. I bet he’ll let you sit in his car.” 

“Really? Cool.” From the look on her face, I was guessing that while Izzy did think that was cool, it wasn’t nearly the kind of ecstatic feeling I’d had when I got to sit in Pranav’s car years earlier. It had been like Christmas morning for me, to the point that I’d barely been able to sit still. She thought the idea of sitting in a race car was just… cool. But at least she wasn’t against it. 

We ate our food as soon as it came, while Dad and I told Izzy stories about car races and various drivers. Simon piped up now and then, but he was mostly interested in his phone throughout all of that. Every once in awhile, he’d look at Dad when he thought I wasn’t looking and mouth something, but I could never really catch much of what it was. My best guess from what I did catch was that he was reporting numbers. Numbers of what, I had no idea. I didn’t know if it was weight, times, amounts, all of the above, something else, or anything. All I was sure of was that it had to do with Ministry stuff. And it was important enough that our father didn’t make him put his phone away during the meal. 

The food was, of course, amazing. Kevin made sure we had dessert, and then we left to head over to the track. On the way, I told Izzy about the time I’d been so excited to get to the race that I’d grabbed the hand of a stranger thinking it was my dad and dragged him toward the door. 

“It was funny,” I started, “because when I–” Then I stopped. The memory that had flashed into my head was that I’d told someone about that the day after and they–he… told me about something he did that was like that.. He told me… He… he was… he was…

A rush of pain flooded my head. I stumbled just a little before catching myself. Dad’s gaze snapped to me, hand rising. “Cassidy? Are–” 

“Sorry, sorry,” I blurted, shaking my head while doing my best to ignore the nausea-inducing pain that was still pulsing there. “I got distracted and tripped over my own feet. It’s fine, I’m fine. I just–I need to use the restroom.” 

“Take Izzy,” my father murmured. “Are you sure–” 

“Dad,” I insisted, meeting his gaze, “I’m good. Trust me, we’ll be right back.” It took everything I had not to double over and clutch my head right then. I really wished one of my paints erased pain like this. 

With that, I took Izzy’s hand and walked with her. Restroom. I knew where the restroom was. I just had to go that way, get in a stall, and sit down for a minute. Then I could get through this. The memory that kept trying to shove its way into my head was painful enough that it had nearly made me fall over back there. I had to get a handle on it, quick. Before my dad started getting more… worried about my reaction. I’d gotten lucky with the whole doctor thing yesterday, the last thing I needed now was for my parents to insist on a hospital visit. 

Izzy was watching me as we walked, her own expression pensive. I could tell she wanted to ask something about all that, which she finally did with a hesitant, “Are you okay? I mean, I know you don’t want your parents to be all worried and stuff, but if you really have a head injury…” 

“It’s totally fine,” I quickly insisted. “I mean, probably not totally fine. I’ve got bruises and all. But I don’t need any kind of doctor or anything. I’m just, you know, I need to get some water.” 

“Maybe you can use these too?” Izzy offered while holding up a bottle of Ibuprofen. When I glanced that way, she added, “I asked Mr. Jefferson if we could stop to pick up pain relief and he gave this to me when I told him it was for you. Did you know he has a whole medical kit in the car? Not just a normal emergency first aid kit, it’s like a whole ambulance supply shelf.” 

Taking the bottle, I swallowed a couple of the pills before nodding. “Thanks, and yeah, Jefferson’s really big on being prepared for anything. I…” Biting my lip, I glanced to her. “You asked him for headache medicine for me before I had a headache?” 

She managed a little smile, shrugging. “You got hurt just like… a day ago and now we’re out in bright daylight around a bunch of loud cars. Of course you’re gonna need something for pain. I just… wanted to help.”

I could hear the guilt in her voice. She still felt bad about everything that had happened. And I wasn’t sure why, exactly. Unless… if I was right about one or both of her parents being supervillains, of course she would feel guilty. Of course she would. Duh. How did I feel? How easy was it for me to feel that guilt overwhelm me? Yeah. Yeah, that was it. Again, everything fit. 

Grabbing a couple water bottles after feeding ten dollars into the nearest vending machine, I passed one to Izzy before gulping down about half of mine. For her part, Izzy stared at the bottle, her face twisting. “Five dollars for a bottle of water? It’s water! How do you make people pay five dollars for twenty ounces of something that’s seventy percent of the world?! There’s over three hundred million trillion gallons of it! Are we on Mars? Did we go to Mars after all and nobody told me?!” 

Snickering a little despite everything, I shook my head. “It’s just marked up for being in a venue like this. You should see how much a hot dog costs.” Pausing, I added, “I mean, I assume it’s supposed to be a lot. Everyone else says it’s a lot.” 

Izzy was staring at me. Her mouth opened and shut a couple times before she managed a weak, almost pleading as though hoping I could make some logical sense of it for her, “It’s water.”  

“Very expensive water, apparently,” I replied while patting her shoulder. “So you should drink it. But first, let’s do our business.” By that point we were at the restroom, which I gestured toward before heading in. 

I took my time, sitting in the stall with my head in my hands. My mind was racing, now that I’d given it the chance. The day after that whole thing at the race track years ago. I’d told… someone about it. I knew I did. I told someone the story and they told me a story about… about…

Uuuuuggggghhnnnnnn. The pain was almost too much. I had to quickly bite down hard on my knuckle to avoid giving an audible reaction. My vision swam for a second, and it was a good thing that I was already sitting down. Damn it, damn it! 

Anthony. It had to be Anthony, right? He was my age, he’d been erased from my memory. I’d told someone about taking the hand of a person I thought was my father and walking off with a stranger at the racetrack. Yes. Yes, that was right. It was clear in my head. I told that person about it, kind of laughing but also kind of scared by the memory. I told them, and she–

Wait.

She? No. No, that was wrong. That was wrong. No, the person that had been erased from my memory was Anthony. And Anthony was definitely a he. So… why did I think ‘she’? What memory had I lost that had to do with a she? That didn’t even make sense. Why would there be some other friend who was… no, no I was wrong. It had to be Anthony. This was just my erased memories playing a trick on my brain. That was the only explanation for it. The person I’d told that story to the day after was that Anthony kid, not some weird girl I couldn’t remember. 

Shaking off those feelings, I cleaned up at the sink, splashed water on my face, then met up with Izzy to leave the restroom. The two of us walked out together before I turned in a circle to orient myself about where we were going. Right, we needed–

“Cassidy?” A voice from nearby called, and I blinked that way to see a familiar guy wearing a race uniform with Ten Towers logos over it. 

“Adrian?” I blurted. It was him, the guy who had been abducted and roughed up by Uncle Friendly and Mister Harmful just because he happened to drive Ashton’s brother Josh out of the city. The guy who had driven me home that first night, the night that I… the night I found out about my family.

“You know him?” Izzy piped up, blinking back and forth between us with a curious frown. 

“Sort of,” I replied. “Oh, uhh, Adrian, this is my friend Izzy. Izzy, this is Adrian. He was an Uber driver, and also a janitor at school. But then–I mean, something… happened? I don’t–” 

“It’s a long story,” he assured us. “And probably not one we should get into. But yeah, I guess I’m not really either of those things anymore.” 

I gestured to his uniform. “Yeah, I guess not. Looks like you upgraded.” 

Chuckling self-consciously, Adrian rubbed the back of his neck. “Yeah well, I’m not exactly a race driver. Not yet, anyway. Gotta earn that. But they let me drive the pace car, and I get to put the Ten Towers rides through their paces. Mostly I’m a mechanic though. But hey, it’s a living. A pretty good one. Plus, it means my brothers get to live on campus.” 

I smiled a little at that. “Cool. That’s really cool. I’m glad everything–I mean, I’m glad you’re okay. You disappeared from school, and no one really knew what happened exactly.” 

“Thanks, kid–I mean Cassidy,” the guy quickly corrected. “You have a good day and all. And hey, try not to be out so late all the time. Things get pretty dangerous out there. Good to meet you too, Izzy. You guys enjoy the race.” 

Giving him a thumbs up, I headed off with the other girl, lost in thought. So, Adrian was doing okay. He was safe with Ten Towers, especially now that the whole search for the vials was over. At least there was that. I could think of a lot of worse ways closer over that whole thing could have gone. 

“Hey, Cassidy!” Once again, I was dragged out of my thoughts as Izzy and I approached Dad and Simon. Those two were there, but there were a couple others as well. 

“Amber? Jae?” I spoke up, blinking back and forth between the two girls. 

“Your dad told us you were coming here,” Amber explained, after Jae murmured a quiet greeting. “He said we could join up with you to watch the race.” Belatedly, she added, “Hey, Izzy. What’s up?” 

While they greeted each other, I looked toward my father. He raised an eyebrow, mouthing, ‘Sorry, is that okay?’ while nodding toward my two classmates. In turn, I offered him a quick smile and nod. It was fine. Today was about relaxing and not having any problems. I needed a break from… all of that. Having a couple totally normal friends around like Amber and Jae was just what the doctor ordered. 

“Well, guys?” I pushed as soon as the greetings were over. 

“Come on, let’s go see this race.”

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Becoming 2-09 (Summus Proelium)

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The array of armed men seemed to hesitate slightly when the three Minority people showed up. Apparently they were okay with chasing down one Touched (particularly when they didn’t know anything about them), but having three more of the known variety appear gave them pause.

Or, more likely, they didn’t know shit about me and had no reason to really be nervous or afraid. But they did know these guys. Kids or not, the Minority knew how to deal with armed thugs.

With a sing-song, melodic voice, Carousel was the first to break the silence, her jester mask facing me. “Whoever you are, you’ve set a high bar. These guys are no joke. They’re such dangerous folk. We’ll help and give you a hand, then see about joining the band.”

Joining the band? Was she talking about– my thoughts were interrupted then, as one guy (or two, rather) who didn’t hesitate at all was Janus. With his Mister Harmful side facing us, the man cracked his neck before lashing out with both hands. His fists each grew to the size of a small car, while his arms stretched clear across the parking lot. In an instant, those massive fists were coming straight for us.

From the corner of my eye, I saw Whamline catch hold of Carousel before three glowing metal coil things shoved down against the ground to throw the two of them to the right. At the same time, an arm wrapped around my waist and the world briefly blurred around me, my stomach lurching.

It was That-A-Way. She’d grabbed me and supersped both of us out of the way just as those giant fists passed through the space where we had been. Now she let me go, before suddenly disappearing, only to reappear a few feet away from Janus. Her hand produced a small, handheld device of some kind, and she took a step that way.

But the rest of those armed thugs had snapped out of their brief indecision by then. Several of them snapped their guns up and started shooting, even as I blurted out a warning.

It wasn’t needed. That-A-Way was moving east. She was invulnerable. The bullets ricocheted off of her, just before several of the men were caught by metal coils that Whamline sent at them. The coils exploded a second later, the concussive force knocking the men to the ground, their weapons flying.

Carousel, meanwhile, used her own power to yank those guns into her orbit. They shrank down, spinning around the girl rapidly before she released them to fly one by one at other thugs, using them as projectiles. Except somehow she made the magazines stay behind, sending the guns back without ammo.  

By that point, That-A-Way had reached Janus. His Uncle Friendly side was facing her, apologizing politely even as he caught hold of her with hands that were as big as she was. The device she’d been holding was shoved up against his hand and she triggered some kind of electric shock. Taser. She was holding a taser. And a pretty powerful one, apparently, since as tough as he was, Janus still staggered a bit and released her. Only for a second though, before his hand caught her side once more and he sent her flying, hurling the girl toward the nearby building. In mid-air, she teleported further ahead, landing on the roof of the building.

Wait a second, why the hell was I just standing here?! I was supposed to be helping! I wasn’t supposed to be some random rubbernecking civilian, damn it, I could actually contribute! I just had to get my thumb out of my butt and actually do something.

Snapping myself out of that bit of open-mouthed gawking, I quickly spoke the code to make my skates pop out. Then I painted my legs green to boost my speed and launched myself forward.

The guys who were still armed reacted quickly to my sudden movement, snapping their weapons my way. But my hands were already raised as I skated past them, sending a spray of blue paint at them. The paint covered their arms, guns, chests, even some of their legs, and the men were sent hurtling away from each other, their weapons flying. The blue paint even sent some of them into the air as it struck the ground by their feet.

As I skidded to a stop somewhere to the side of Janus, I was able to take a quick look at what else was going on. The guys I had painted were all still picking themselves up from the ground, while Carousel caught all their guns in her power, disarming them. Meanwhile, Whamline had moved to help That-A-Way try to deal with Janus. He was facing Mister Harmful while the girl was on the opposite side, handling Uncle Friendly. The two-faced man had each arm extended in opposite directions, fighting off two Minority Touched with fists as large as his torso.

Okay, okay, I had to help. But should I keep dealing with all the random mooks with Carousel, or help Whamline and That-A-Way? The guys had already been disarmed, and were still picking themselves up. But even without their guns, they could still be a threat. Meanwhile, Whamline and That-A-Way had Janus outnumbered (in number of arms and legs involved, at least, even if there was an asterisk), but he was still the bigger threat.

Standing there, briefly frozen, my thoughts were interrupted by Carousel. “Go help them!” she blurted while catching two of the tiny floating guns that were revolving around her, using them to point at the recovering thugs. “This tide I’ll stem!”

Right, she had this. Pushing off with my skates, I focused on Janus. They were in the midst of trying to backhand That-A-Way, but apparently she was moving… whichever direction it was that let her turn intangible, because the massive hand went right through her. At the same time, Whamline had wrapped several of his cords around the men’s other arm, only for that to grow so large it snapped the cords. Before the boy could recover, that same massive fist collided with him, sending Whamline to the ground.

Skating full-on straight at the men’s exposed side while they were each focused on their respective opponents, I covered myself in purple paint and powered it up before launching myself at him.

For guys who had literal eyes in the back of their head, being taken by surprise probably didn’t happen much. They certainly weren’t expecting it as I slammed into their side with enough force to knock the bastard(s) flying. They went back a good dozen or so feet before crashing to the ground, bouncing twice along the pavement as they ended up sprawled head over heels.

“Holy shit, dude!” That was That-A-Way, staring at me. “Just how strong are you?” Something about her voice struck me as… familiar, but that was probably just my paranoid imagination after everything I’d found out about my family.

“Uh,” I so eloquently started, before being interrupted as a foot bigger than my entire body nearly slammed into me. That-A-Way grabbed my arm, and we teleported closer to the building. North. She could only teleport north. Unfortunately, that took us further away from Janus, who had turned their full attention to Whamline. The guy was in trouble.

Quickly looking to That-A-Way, I blurted, “I can make you really fast, really strong, and really tough for about ten seconds at a time.”

I saw her eyes widen behind the mask. “Wait, that’s what the different colors you’re doing mea–and it works on othe-duuuude! I’d kiss you, but it’d get weird.” With that, the girl grinned. “Can you get me back over there?”

Nodding, I spun that way, extending both arms to spray her down with green, purple, and orange. Then I added a blue circle onto the ground. “Trampoline!”

To her credit, she understood immediately. Maybe she’d seen what happened when I sprayed those other guys with it. Either way, the girl lunged onto the blue paint, even as I activated all of that paint.

She hit it, bouncing off it and forward to propel herself through the air with a loud whoop. Between the blue paint bouncing her and the purple strength-boost, she went fast enough to collide with Janus before they could even think about reacting. They stumbled sideways, falling to one knee when the girl drove her knee into Uncle Friendly’s stomach, then onto his back (Mister Harmful’s front) when she swung both arms hard into his face.

By that point, Whamline had recovered enough to send several metal coils to latch onto the fallen man’s arms, holding him down. It would only last for a second. But a second was long enough, given the speed boost I’d given her, for That-A-Way to produce that taser thing in her hand again. Without hesitation, she jammed it into Uncle Friendly’s chest and triggered it while both he and Mister Harmful (the latter muffled by being against the pavement) bellowed out loud and spasmed violently.

Unfortunately, while that was enough to hurt them, it wasn’t enough to take them down. Their arms snapped out of the coils that Whamline was using, before they planted their palms against the ground and extended their arms to shove themselves upright. That-A-Way was dumped onto the ground just before one of those massive hands caught hold of her and threw the girl straight at Whamline. He caught her with a couple of his coils, stumbling backward a step.

Mister Harmful was glaring at me. Just as I realized that, my gaze meeting his, they twisted their legs around so that their feet were facing my way. Then they were running at me. Those long, enormous arms were incoming, and they extended their legs with each step to cover a lot more ground than they should have. Suddenly I had two giant hands, bigger than I was, about to slam into me from either side. It was like a guy clapping his hands around a fly.

With what was probably a pretty undignified yelp, I covered my entire costume from head to toe in blue and orange stripes, then put my arms over my head. I would’ve prayed, but there wasn’t time. Those giant hands clapped against me from either side, slamming into my body with enough force that I felt it even with the orange paint. Without it, I probably would’ve ended up with at least a half-dozen broken bones. As it was, it just hurt enough for me to collapse to one knee.

But Janus paid for it too. Because that blue paint I’d also covered myself with made their giant hands instantly snap backward away from me. Suddenly, their arms were flailing back behind themselves just as their charge brought them right in front of me.

Mister Harmful’s face was right there. His shared arms had no chance of getting back in to block anything. One of their legs was extended (quite a ways in fact) behind him, while the other had just come down. They would recover quickly, but for that one single instant, the conjoined-man was completely open.

So I did what any rational, totally normal person would do in that moment. I painted my entire costume purple and hurled myself into the hardest leaping uppercut I could manage, right into the man’s chin. While, of course, screaming, “Shoryuken!

The blow was right on target, knocking Mister Harmful’s head back, his eyes briefly crossing. They stumbled, almost falling. Teeth and blood went flying, and his jaw looked wrong, like it was broken. When his head snapped back upright, his eyes were closed. They stayed that way, and I realized that he had actually fallen unconscious.

Unfortunately, apparently knocking out one of Janus’s halves didn’t knock them both out. I wasn’t… sure how that worked. But then again, I wasn’t sure how any of their stuff worked. Either way, Uncle Friendly was still awake. His head snapped around to look at me, pausing very briefly. But Whamline and That-A-Way were already coming, and it looked like the troops that Carousel had been dealing with had all made a break for it. They were scattering, leaving Uncle Friendly as only one half of Janus left to deal with the rest of us.

He clearly didn’t like those odds, because the man suddenly lunged past me. His legs extended up like stilts, allowing him to quickly reach the roof of the motel. From there he jumped, extending both his legs and his arms to grab the roof of another building before hauling himself up there as well. Then he was gone.

“Okay,” Whamline finally spoke while looking my way. “I’d say we should go after him, but maybe finding out what’s going on is–”

Eyes widening behind my mask and helmet, I remembered the entire reason I’d done any of this. My mouth started to blurt out Adrian’s name. But then I realized that saying his name would probably be a bad idea as far as keeping my identity secret. Every little clue helped, after all. So, I managed to keep myself to a simple, “They had a hostage!” Then I was running back to the strip club. Behind me, I heard a few muttered words before the sound of the other three following.

Making my way quickly back to the room in question, I found Adrian still there. Which made sense, considering he was chained against that wall. Where else was he going to go?

He was also very confused about what was going on, visibly jumping as I came through the door. His eyes widened, and he blurted, “You won?!”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” I muttered before added, “I had help.”

The three Minority members made it then, all of them doing a brief double-take at what they saw. Carousel was the first to find her voice. “This thing we’re observing… is somewhat unnerving.”

“Okay, no idea what’s going on here,” That-A-Way announced, “but I’m pretty sure we should get this guy out of those chains.”

Whamline did just that, by creating two of his own coils, wrapping them tightly around the chains, and making a contained explosion that broke the chains off the wall. They were still attached to the man’s wrists, but at least he could move.

“No, no, no! Not me!” Adrian was suddenly stammering, his eyes wild. “My family, they’ve got my little brothers back at the apartment! They’ll hurt them! They’ll–”

“They’re safe,” I quickly interrupted. “They’re staying with a neighbor. I sent them there before coming this way. I promise, I already made sure they were okay and, um, dealt with the bad guys there. That’s why they couldn’t call back.”

“You… you saved my…” That was as far as Adrian got before he was just grabbing me off the ground. His arms wrapped around me tightly and I was hauled up to be crushed against his chest. “Oh God. Thank you. Thank you, thank you. What–who the hell… who… how did you…”

Wanting to head off any of that line of questioning, I quickly squirmed free and dropped to the floor, looking over to the Minority people, who looked utterly baffled. “That bank robbery the other day, the one at the La Casa place. One of the guys who worked there, Ashton Austin, set the whole thing up. He tricked those Easy Eight guys into robbing the place as a distraction so he could take something out of a safe deposit box. Now he’s on the run and everyone’s after him to get whatever it was. There’s a million dollar bounty on him. Some other guys were after his brother, Josh, and this guy gave Josh a ride out of town. That’s why these guys took him, because they think he knows where Josh is, and they think Josh knows where his brother is.”

Wow, spelling it all out like that, this was a really complicated situation. And that was before you added in any of my personal stuff. But apparently I did a good enough job of explaining, because Whamline immediately nodded after giving the other two a quick look. “Okay, come on. We’ll get you back to your apartment, make sure your siblings are okay, then get your family into protective custody. It’ll be okay.”

Letting those guys take over, I slipped back. That was enough. I could leave now. I had to get back to school anyway, before I ended up getting in trouble. Taking a deep breath, I allowed myself to smile a little at the look of intense relief and joy on Adrian’s face as the fact that he and his family were safe sank in. Then I turned, slipping out of the room as quietly as possible.

I made it just out of the building before That-A-Way caught up. “Hey, hold on!” she blurted, catching my attention. As I pivoted, she stopped, both of us standing there in the parking lot. “Um, what do you call yourself?”

Hesitating just for a second, I swallowed before replying, “Um, Paintball?”

“Paintball,” the other girl echoed, head tilting a little. “That’s cool, man. And hey, you did really good back there. I mean, really good for someone that’s new to all this. You… are new to it, right? When we saw you running across the city back there, you looked awesome. Whammy thought you just moved here from somewhere else. But I think you’re new.”

Resisting the urge to keep silent or be more secretive, I gave a tiny nod. “I’m… new.” That was safe enough to say, right? They couldn’t get anything about who I really was from that.

“Well, you look really cool,” That-A-Way informed me. “So if you ever want to… you know… join…”

She said something else after that, but all I could think about was how much I really hated the fact that my dad was both a bad guy and Silversmith. Because there was basically nothing I wanted more than to say yes. Working with the Minority? How cool would that be?! Seriously. I wanted to. But I couldn’t. It was too risky. The Minority worked under the authority of the adult heroes of the Spartans and the Conservators. And Silversmith, my evil dad, was leader of the Conservators. There was way too big of a chance that he would find out who I was, no matter how careful I might’ve been.

Something in my body language must’ve given me away, because That-A-Way stopped talking. She paused, biting her lip before adding, “But if you don’t want to do that, you should still take this.” She was holding something out to me. It was a simple white business card, entirely blank aside from a single phone number. “If you change your mind, or you need help with something, or you just want to train, or… or whatever. Call that. One of us will answer. We can help, I promise. You know, with… whatever you need.” It looked like she wanted to say something else, but left it at that.

Help with whatever I needed. God, I wished that was true. I wished I could just tell her everything I knew about Silversmith, about all of it. But that was too risky. I didn’t know if she would believe me, or if she was part of Dad’s whole corrupt crew, or if anyone she would talk to was. I just… didn’t know. And that made it too risky.  

Swallowing hard, I took the offered card while trying not to react too much. “Thanks,” I murmured, not knowing what else to say.

For another few seconds, the two of us stood there, staring at each other. Then I popped my skates out, pivoted, and took off with the business card clutched tight in one hand.

Maybe I couldn’t tell the Minority everything just yet. But things were still pretty good. I’d helped save Adrian, after rescuing his little brothers. I’d made a few possible new friends from the Minority, people who might actually be able to help at some point.

But, I realized upon remembering the look in Uncle Friendly’s face after I’d knocked out Mister Harmful, I’d also made enemies. Powerful ones.

And on top of everything else, I was late for sixth period, and I never got any lunch.

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Becoming 2-08 (Summus Proelium)

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Three’s Paradise, the motel and strip club. That’s where I needed to go. Somehow, even just putting that name in my phone to look for directions made me feel dirty. I kind of wanted to wipe down my phone screen with cleanser.

But at least I got the address. The place was only about six blocks away, which I just had to hope was close enough for me to get there before they realized something was wrong with those guys back at the apartment and ended up doing something horrible.

Thankfully, I now had a little edge in that regard. My little trip through the city earlier had already taught me how to use my power to get around faster using the rooftops and walls of the buildings. And I used that now, throwing myself off the apartment with a blue puddle that sent me flying into the air before yanking myself toward a high billboard with some red paint, running along the side of it, then leaping off to land on the roof of the next building over. Dropping into a roll before popping back to my feet while blurting the command to bring out the wheels of my skates, I took off again. Six blocks. I could get there in time. I would get there in time.

At least it wasn’t hard to find the place. Skidding to a stop on the roof of the last building, I looked straight at the billboard ahead of me. Given the risque image of two women fawning over a shirtless guy, I was going to guess it wasn’t advertising McDonalds.

Sure enough, peeking over the edge of the roof and looking down, I saw the building in question. It was far below me, almost eight stories down. There were three buildings arranged in a rough triangular formation, with a pool in the middle. One of those buildings had a bunch of neon signs on it, which probably made it the strip club. The other was longer than the other two, which made it the motel. The last one I was going to guess was the office, laundry, and whatever. The parking lot for the whole place stretched around all three buildings and looked almost completely empty aside from a half dozen cars.

Right. This was definitely the place. But what building were they holding Adrian in? I could see a couple guys standing around outside, probably keeping watch. Nothing, however, gave me any idea of where the rest of the guys were. I was leaning toward the main office, but they might be holding him in the strip club too. And it was broad daylight. I couldn’t exactly sneak around there very easily without being seen. Especially with those guards outside. Hell, I couldn’t even get down there to look. Unless…

Waiting until the view of both guys was blocked by one of the buildings as they patrolled, I took a few steps back, breathed out, and then ran forward while shooting a bit of blue paint down. I turned my legs purple to get more force while jumping straight onto the blue blob. It sent me careening into the sky and out over the lot, as I barely restrained myself from crying out. Windmilling my arms through the air, I looked down, waiting until my arc took me over the nearest building. Then I pointed down, shooting a bit of red while also painting my gloves and boots to match. Abruptly, as the red paint struck the roof, I was yanked straight down into a directed fall. On the way, I sent a shot of black paint down as well.

Just before I landing, I painted my legs orange to absorb the impact and put a black silhouette of a hand holding up two fingers in a peace sign on my chest. Between the black on my suit and the black that I’d shot onto the roof, my landing was completely silent. It wasn’t exactly the best looking, since I crashed and rolled halfway across the roof, yelping along the way before finally sprawling out in a heap. But hey, at least I didn’t make any actual noise. I got points for that, right?

Grunting silently as I rolled over onto my back. I breathed for a moment before pushing myself up to my hands and knees. Listening for a moment just in case one of the men had spotted me, I heard nothing. So I cautiously crawled to the edge of the roof and peeked over.

I was on top of the motel building. It was a small place, only two stories high, with doors that opened right into the lot. The two guards were walking together on the far side of the next building over, the strip club part of this whole glorious place. I saw them pass just into view for a moment, ducking back to hide in case they glanced my way.

Okay, I was down. Bully for me. Now what, exactly? I still couldn’t just wander randomly through the buildings, or just ask one of those guys where they were keeping their prisoner.

I could, however, make the guys inside show me where they were. To that end, I looked over the edge of the roof for the parking lot where a couple of the cars were. Whispering an apology if they actually didn’t belong to bad guys, I shot two bursts of red paint, one at either car. Then I activated it, sending both vehicles colliding violently into one another. With a spray of glass, the parking lot was suddenly filled with the sound of two horribly blaring car alarms.

Yup, it got their attention. Both guys outside went running that way. They were joined by several others that came rushing very quickly out of the strip joint part. All of them were very obviously armed, as they rushed to where the cars were, shouting and looking around.

Right, so the strip club was where I needed to be. Thanks for answering that, guys. You’re super-helpful.

Now I just had to get in there without being seen by them. Which meant it was time for another distraction. Looking down to the lot again at the guys who were all milling around the smashed-together cars as they tried to figure out what the hell just happened, I smiled to myself behind the helmet and mask. Then I looked to the other side of the lot, at a lone sedan parked there. Carefully, making sure no one was looking close enough to see my paint flying through the air, I shot a bit of red at top of the car. Then I shot another bit further off into the lot.

“Okay, boys,” I whispered under my breath. “Go fetch.”

With that, I powered up the paint. The sedan was yanked over onto its hood and went skidding that way. Shouts and curses went up from all the guys, as they sprinted after the car. That was the opening I needed. Painting myself green for the speed boost, with a little black to silence any sound I might’ve made, I leapt from the roof of this building. A shot of red paint to the roof of the opposite one yanked me over to it, allowing me to land on the roof of the strip club.

From there, I made my way along the roof quickly and quietly, moving away from the front where the guys were. On the way, I was leaning over the edge and looking down, watching for a window.

There. I spotted a window about halfway down the building. Crouching there, I counted to ten, trying to calm myself down. I had to pace myself, had to make sure I had paint to deal with whatever was inside. That meant slowing down a bit and being careful. With that in mind, I waited another moment before painting my hands and knees red. With a bit of red on the wall, I crawled down along it until I was just above the window. Then I leaned very carefully to peek through.

It was an office of some kind. An empty office, which was good for me. Trying the window, I found it unlocked. Another bonus. Before my paint could run out, I opened it, reached in to get a handhold, and hauled myself down inside, dropping into a crouch on the floor.

Kneeling there, in the office, I looked around. There was a simple, mostly bare wooden desk with a nearby leather chair, a couple filing cabinets in the corner, two metal folding chairs in front of the desk, and an incredibly explicit calendar on the wall. Seriously, the bare gazungas on the blonde bombshell on that picture looked like they came straight off of the Hindenburg.

Shaking myself away from that distraction, I focused on listening carefully. Voices. There were voices coming from somewhat nearby. Slowly, I crept closer to the door before listening again.

Yup, definite voices. I couldn’t make out what they were saying, but from the sound of it, they weren’t very happy. Carefully, I opened the door, cracking it just a little at first. The voices still weren’t clear, but I could tell that they were coming from a room nearby. Taking a breath, I peeked out, looking both ways down the short corridor. To the left was a hallway with a couple closed doors. At the end was an emergency exit that was labeled as being alarmed. To the right was another hall that seemed to open up at the end into a much larger room. Probably the dance floor. There were a couple other doors as well. And through one of those I heard the voices. One was raised, letting me hear a few angry curses, while the other was more muted.

Before the guys outside could give up and come back in, I silently hurried to that door. Crouching there, I pressed my ear to it and listened.

“I’ll tell you what you need,” the louder voice all-but shouted. “You need to answer the goddamn question! What else did he say? Where was he going?!” The words were punctuated by a loud slam, as if the man had kicked something over.

That was followed by a quieter voice. “I apologize for him. You must understand, my brother gets a little… emotional when he feels like people are lying to him. Are you lying?”

“No.” I knew that voice. It was Adrian. He sounded weak, his voice cracking a little. “I’m not… lying. I don’t know… I don’t know where he went. I told you, I just… dropped him off.”

“Oh, I hope you’re right,” the softer voice murmured. “I really wouldn’t want to find out that–”

“You’re lying!” the violent, furious voice cut in. There was the sound of a hard slap or punch or something, and Adrian cried out. The angry voice continued. “I’m done. You’ve had enough chances. You’ve got four little brothers? Well maybe it’s time you lose one of them.”

As Adrian protested, he was cut off, his words dropping into a pained wheeze as he was apparently punched hard in the stomach.

“Maybe we’ll just cut something off right here, hmm?” the angry voice snarled. “Lose something off your body for every sibling you lose? Let’s make it an arm for each of the older kids and a leg for each of the younger ones. Right at the elbows and knees. That’s fitting, isn’t it? You don’t tell us the truth, and you’ll come out of here without any brothers and without any limbs. They can call you Stubby. Stubby the only-child. Has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? Let’s see… older or younger, older or younger… let’s go with… left arm.”

There was a panicked shout from Adrian, and I couldn’t wait any longer. Putting the purple outline of an arm showing off a bicep on my chest, I used the strength to kick the door as hard as I could, while blurting, “Hey, assholes!”

My entrance definitely got everyone’s attention. As I shoved my way into the room, my eyes quickly scanned to look for where all three men were. I saw two right away. Adrian was chained up against the wall opposite the door, almost straight across from me. Another figure was standing right next to him. But that was it. I could only see two guys. Two. Where was the third?

And then I focused on the figure next to Adrian, and understood. Fuck me, I understood.

The figure wore a blue suit, with a red shirt and blue tie. His entire head was covered by a silver metal helmet. On the front of that was a glowing smiley face made out of soft blue lights, its grin wide and distorted.

His hands were covered in gloves that were white on the first three fingers and black on the last three. Yeah, each hand had six fingers. Two of those were thumbs, one on each side.

But having two thumbs on each hand was far from the creepiest thing about this guy. Because even as I stood there, staring, the figure turned around. Or rather… his torso did. His legs stayed firmly planted, while the man’s torso pivoted one hundred and eighty degrees to face me.

I wasn’t looking at the man’s back. I was looking at his other front. His suit had a frontside here too. Instead of blue like the… other front, this side was red, with a blue shirt and red tie. His side of the silver metal helmet showed a frowning, angry face made out of glowing red lights.

Janus. That’s what this… guy… these two… whatever. That’s what he–they called themselves. He… or they… or… however it worked was actually two men fused into one. Like conjoined twins or whatever. Apparently they’d been two different people before both had touched the same Summus Proelium orb. And now, they were one joined being that didn’t have a back. They had two fronts fused together, each facing the opposite direction. Their head had two faces on it, one on either side. Their bottom half rotated independently of the top half, while each leg could twist a full three-hundred and sixty degrees. The same went for their arms, which seemed to have no limit to their rotation, able to function forward or… their other forward as needed, while each hand had six fingers with a thumb on each side.

They called themselves Janus together, but each was also separate. The smiling half was known as Uncle Friendly, while the angry half was called Mister Harmful. Mister Harmful and Uncle Friendly, Janus. Together (as they always were), the conjoined pair were one (two?) of the leaders of the Easy Eights. Not the leader. That honor went to the woman who called herself Deicide. Rather, Janus was/were one of the leaders of the eight individual gangs that had joined up together to form the Easy Eights in order to combat Oscuro. Now he/they were considered lieutenants or captains or whatever. I didn’t really know much about Fell-Touched politics.

But I did know, in that second, that I was in trouble. Caught flat-footed, I stared for a second while Mister Harmful glared at me with that glowing light angry face of his.

Then his arm snapped up and extended. Extended all the way across the room, that was. Even though I was standing about nine feet away, the man’s (Men’s? This was confusing) arm grew and stretched all the way to reach me. At the same time, the hand itself grew to several times its normal size, until it was as large as my torso. It slammed into my chest, knocking me hard against the wall.

Yeah, because just having two bodies fused together with incredibly fucking creepy range of motion wasn’t bad enough. Janus could also grow and extend any of their limbs to absurd lengths and sizes. I’d seen news footage of the guy(s) stretching their arm the length of a city block, their fist blown up as large as the SUV that they were punching. Because of course they had super strength too. They were incredibly strong and tough in addition to everything else.

Basically, I was in a little bit of trouble. Oops.

Mind racing as I yelped from the force of being shoved hard against the wall, I found myself completely at a loss. I was basically panicking, as Mister Harmful stepped toward me. Their torso rotated all the way around, hand briefly leaving me before they spun far enough for the opposite one to catch on and shove me even harder back. Then I was looking at Uncle Friendly.

“Why, hello,” the man almost cheerfully announced, his smiling-light face focused on me. “I don’t think we know you, do we?” He looked me up and down briefly. “And what do you call yourself?”

His hand jerked back as his torso rotated to make me face Mister Harmful once more. “Who cares what the hell he calls himself? He’s a trespasser. He’s–” He spun back, showing me Uncle Friendly briefly while he looked at Adrian. “He’s with him. He came to rescue him.”

“Is that right?” Uncle Friendly asked, his voice sympathetic and gentle. “Did you come to save this poor guy?”

“F-forget me!” Adrian blurted. “My brothers! Just go, they’re at–” He was silenced then, as Mister Harmful shoved a hand across the length of the room to cover his mouth.

“Nuh uh,” the angry man snarled. “We didn’t ask you to talk yet. Don’t interrupt.”

The worst part of this whole thing was that I couldn’t even take advantage of his distraction as he focused on Adrian. Because his other half was looking right at me. The man literally had eyes (and a nose, and mouth, and everything else) in the back of his head.  

Then I remembered a very important point. I had powers too. In the shock of the moment, I had actually forgotten that. Oops.

“My name?” I finally spoke up, finding my voice after those few seconds of blind panic. “It’s Paintball. And you know what? I don’t like you touching me.”

With that, I covered my torso in blue paint. It activated, sending the enormous hand that was holding me against the wall reeling backward with enough force to make the conjoined men stumble.

Before they could recover, I sent a spray of yellow onto Uncle Friendly’s chest, slowing him down. At the same time, I painted myself green to move even faster. Dropping from the wall to my feet, I threw myself into a forward roll that took me under their oh-so-slowly moving arms, before popping up behind Friendly and in front of the already-bellowing Harmful. Spinning that way, pivoting on one foot, I painted my arm purple while slamming my fist as hard as I could into his chest.

They went flying, crashing into the same wall that I’d been shoved against. Which gave me a second to focus on Adrian.

He was chained. How the hell was I supposed to–

An enormous hand, almost as big as my entire body, closed around me. With a yelp, I was yanked back, then thrown to the side. I put orange dots across my body just in time to collide with the window that I was hurled at. With a loud crash of shattering glass, I went flying through that window, hit the asphalt of the parking lot beyond, and rolled with a series of yelps.

Lifting my head a second later, I saw Janus lifting themselves through that same window. Mister Harmful was facing me, his glowing expression seeming even more furious than normal. Worse, there were guards already running to surround me, guns raised and pointed my way.

This… this was bad.

“Hey!” That unexpected voice came from just behind me, as a figure abruptly appeared. I caught a glimpse of a skintight purple costume, with white arrows drawn in every direction all over it.

That-A-Way. One of the members of the Minority, the youth hero team. And she wasn’t alone. Even as Janus and the rest of their troops reacted to her sudden appearance, she was joined by the jester-like Carousel and Whamline, a guy in a black and brown army suit and ski mask with big metal gauntlets. More Minority team members. They were here. I didn’t have to face these guys by myself.

Was it weird that in that moment, with everything else that was going on, I still kind of wanted to ask for their autographs?

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Becoming 2-03 (Summus Proelium)

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I only knew where one exit from this place was, and that was one of the directions that people were coming from. So I did the only thing I could in that moment and ran for one of the doors leading deeper into the building. The guy who had been chained up was right on my heels as we sprinted through the open doorway and found ourselves in a carpeted hall.

It was pretty dark in here aside from some emergency lighting. But I could see enough to notice the stairwell to our left leading up. Hearing the sound of a lot of people storming their way into the room behind us, I pivoted that way and started up. But first, I made a bit of black appear on my chest while shooting another bit of black onto the guy behind me.

The guy stumbled, clearly taken aback when he realized there was no sound coming from him. Turning to him, I made a sharp jabbing motion up the stairs before grabbing his arm to pull. We could already hear people shouting back and forth in the other room about what the hell just happened. Thankfully, the guy got over his surprise quickly enough and we ran silently up the stairs.

On the way, I finally had a chance to really look at the man I was busy rescuing. He looked like he was a few years older than me, maybe just out of high school. He was a pale, thin guy just under six feet tall, with scraggly brown hair that was in bad need of being cut and styled. Or at least combed. He had a goatee and had clearly not shaved the rest of his hair for a few days, given the stubble. His dark green eyes were wide with panic.

Hitting the second floor landing, we pivoted to go up to the third. Unfortunately, that was when the door just above us was slammed open and a guy with a gun burst through. He saw us immediately, his weapon snapping toward me.

Somehow, I was faster. A shot of blue paint went from my outstretched hand to the floor at the guy’s feet. It instantly launched him up into the ceiling, making his gunshot go completely over both of our heads.

The guy dropped, his gun falling while he groaned from the force of being hurled headfirst into the ceiling. But the damage was done. I heard people shouting below and running for us. So much for doing this quietly.

We ran past the guy, hopping over his outstretched arm before continuing up the stairs. I wasn’t exactly sure where we were going aside from up, but at least it was away from all the angry guys with guns. For now, at least. Once we ran out of building… well, I’d figure something out then. Hopefully.

By the time we reached the fourth stairwell, the guy blurted, “Look, man, I don’t know who you are or what you’re doing this for, but where are we going? I mean, thanks, seriously. But there’s only so many stairs in this place.”

I couldn’t exactly be annoyed, considering it was the same thought I had just been having. Shooting the man a quick glance, I gave him an exaggerated shrug while deepening my voice a little bit. Between that and the way the mask and helmet together muffled it, I would probably keep passing as a guy. “I’m kind of making this up as I go. So if you’ve got a plan, I’d love to hear it. Maybe we could ask those guys.” I gestured grandly back the way our pursuers were coming from. “They sound pretty helpful.”

The man paused (verbally, neither of us slowed down physically) before admitting, “Good point.”

So, we kept running. Running away from what sounded like an army of guys who seemed awfully goddamn intend on catching him. I still didn’t know why they wanted him so badly, or what was going on. And there wasn’t time to ask.

With the sound of stampeding bad guys just a little bit behind us, we reached the top floor. I looked around quickly before spotting a door labeled ‘roof access.’ It was locked, but a quick burst of purple paint let me kick it open and I half-dragged my companion through.

One short flight of stairs later, and we were on the roof of this eight story building. The guy with me put both hands out and turned in a circle while blurting, “Now what?”

Instead of answering, I ran to the edge of the roof. He muttered something and followed after me. Below, we could hear the bad guys starting up the last set of stairs to catch up with us.

Leaning over the edge, I looked down. There was another building next door that was about half the height of this one.

The guy at my side started to ask something. But there wasn’t time to listen. There wasn’t time for me to explain anything. The bad guys were already bursting out onto the roof. We were out of time, period.

So, instead of explaining, I shot orange paint onto the guy, covering his upper torso as much as I could. Then I used purple paint on my arms, caught him by the back, and gave him a hard hoist and shove. His horrified scream filled the air as he plummeted.

Oh God, oh God. Please work. If it didn’t, I was about to fit in with my family pretty well by becoming a murderer.

To buy a little time, I spun back to where the bad guys were and shot a wide spray of blue paint. It covered several men who had already emerged, sending them flying in various directions as they were repelled from each other.

Good enough. Spinning back, I hurled myself off the roof with a scream of my own. Only in mid-air did I mentally stop to hope that I hadn’t just run out of paint.

I hadn’t. Spots of orange appeared on my feet and legs as I dropped to the roof below, crashing into a roll that took me tumbling end over end before coming to a stop on my back.

I lay there for a second before the sound of heavy, panicked breathing reached me. Turning my head a bit, I saw the guy I had rescued, laying there with his eyes wide open, his face pale. “What the f-fuck, what the fuck, what the fuck was that? What the fuck was that?!” With each repetition, he grew a bit louder.

“It’s called rescuing you,” I replied simply before pushing myself up. “Do you want to complain, or do you want to get out of here?”

He chose the latter, scrambling up as well. Together, we ran to the roof access door for this building. Above and behind us, guys were already appearing. A couple shouted when they saw us. But they had no way to catch up.

That, however, didn’t stop them from opening fire. A few bullets ricocheted off the roof around us, and I let out a squeak of fear before I could stop myself. Grabbing the door, I yanked it open and unceremoniously shoved the guy through before joining him.

Together, we raced down the stairs of this new building. Huffing a bit beside me, the guy stammered, “Th-they’re not gonna stop just like that, you know. They won’t just give up.”

Realizing that I finally had time to ask the question that had been bothering me this whole time, I demanded, “Why the hell are they so obsessed with you? This is insane. You weren’t just being mugged or something.”

“Being mugged?” the guy echoed, his gaze jerking to me as we hit the last set of stairs. “Are you serious? You don’t even know what’s going on?”

My head shook quickly. “Dude, I’m kind of new to this. I thought I was rescuing you from a couple random thugs, not a whole pissed off army.”

The guy visibly flinched a little before nodding. We had reached the front door of the building by then. It was locked, but that didn’t mean much when I brought a splattering of purple across my chest and shoved at it. The door broke open while an alarm began to blare. Great, that was just what we needed.

Wait. Actually, it was. Maybe the idea of the cops coming would scare off our pursuers. Not likely, of course. But I’d take anything at that point. At the very least, it might be a distraction.

As we ran onto the sidewalk and, without needing to discuss it, pivoted away from the building we had just escaped from to run together down the street, the guy started to explain.

”Okay, it’s about my brother. They think I know where he is, but I don’t. Not that they’d believe me. Ashton and me aren’t exactly on the best of terms.”

Grabbing the guy by the arm, I pulled him down an alley to get off the main street. “Why do they want your brother?”

The guy grimaced, muttering, “Because he’s a fucking idiot.” Belatedly, he clarified, “You know that bank robbery at Prime International a couple days ago? The attempted bank robbery, I mean.”

Blinking at him, I shook my head. “Uh, not really? I’ve been a little busy.”

He gave me a brief look as we turned the corner of the alley and kept going. “Okay, well, it was a pretty stupid attempt. I don’t know if you know, but that place is run by La Casa. It’s one of their banks. And a few low ranking idiots from the Ninety-Niners tried to rob it.”

Nodding slowly, I agreed, “Yeah, that does sound pretty stupid. But what is that have to do with your brother? Is he one of those idiots?”

Again, the guy grimaced. “Worse. He’s the idiot who talked those idiots into trying it. See, Ashton worked at the bank. He convinced those guys he could help them get away with it and make a name for themselves. You know, boost their cred in the gang. But he was just using them. He waited until everyone was distracted by the morons, and then he took something out of one of the safe deposit boxes in there. I think his first plan was to blame the theft on them. But they got caught too quick.”

We kept going, crossing another street to get as far from that place as possible while I murmured, “Let me guess, it wasn’t just some cash that he grabbed.”

He shrugged a bit helplessly. “Man, I don’t know what it was. But they’re all pissed off right now. There’s some kind of huge reward for his ass. That’s why those guys grabbed me. They thought I could tell them where he is. But you know what, I don’t have a fucking clue. No one’s going to believe that, though. That reward? Whatever Ashton took, it was worth putting a million dollar bounty on his head.”

That made me stumble a bit. Even growing up as I had, I knew that was a lot of money for most people. “No wonder those guys are so obsessed with catching you. What the hell did he take out of that bank?”

He offered me a new helpless shrug. “Fuck if I know. But it’s got all of those guys pissed off beyond belief. He kicked the goddamn hornets nest and left me to deal with it. He’s probably already skipped town. Which is what I need to do. I’ve gotta get the hell out of Dodge.”

He was right, I knew. For a million bounty, none of those guys were going to listen if he just told them he didn’t know where his brother was. His only chance was to leave town, at least until things calmed down a bit.

“Do you have a car or something?” I asked. “You know, a way to get out of here.”

He nodded. “Sure, I’ve got a car. But it’s at my house, which is where those guys grabbed me. And I’m pretty sure they’ve still got guys there. They’re tearing the place apart looking for anything about Ashton. They’d probably notice if I showed up to grab the car. And I’d take a bus or a train, but I’m just gonna guess that there’s guys watching those places too. Like I said, these people are obsessed.”

Slowly, I nodded. “Then you’ll have to take a cab or an Uber or something to get out of town. Get thirty or forty miles away and catch a bus somewhere else to go wherever you need to.” Reaching into the pocket of my costume, I took out the two hundred dollars that I had left. “Here. You can probably get pretty far with that. It’s a start, anyway.”

The guy stared at me, mouth open. “What the hell do you–why… who are you? What do you call yourself?” He still hadn’t taken the money. “Paintboy?”

“I… uhh, don’t actually have a name right now,” I admitted. I’d been a bit too focused on other things to worry about that. “I doubt I’ll go with Paintboy, though.”

His head shook. “Whoever you are, you don’t have to give me that. You’ve done enough. I’ll find some way to get out of here.”

“Yeah,” I agreed, “this way. Here.” Taking his wrist, I pushed the money into the guy’s hand. “Take it and get the hell out of town. After everything that just happened back there, I really don’t want to think about those guys finding you, okay? I… you need it more than I do. Just go.”

He took the money, swallowing a little while staring at me as if there was a dozen things he wanted to say. “My uhh… my name’s Josh. Josh Austin. I just… I just wanted you to know. I’ll find a way to pay you back for this, for everything you’ve done tonight.”

Meeting his gaze, I replied, “Pay me back by getting out of town and staying hidden. You have a place to go?”

“Yeah,” he confirmed. “I’ve got a friend who lives down in Illinois. I can hide out there for awhile. But you know, you kind of stand out like that. And if I’m gone, those guys that are after me… they’re gonna start coming after you instead. Especially if you make a name for yourself. You’ll be a target.”

“I know.” Trying to sound confident, I added, “Better me than you.” Even as I said it, my heart was hammering so much I was almost sure he could hear it. Shoving the fear aside, I gestured. “We’re probably far enough now for you to call a cab or whatever. Take the cash, get out of town. Go see your friend. Keep your head down. Stay safe.”

With that, I looked around once more to make sure we were alone before pivoting. Clicking my heels together to make the wheels come out of my skates, I took off back through the alley we had come through. As I went, Josh called, “When you pick a name, make it a good one! You deserve something better than Paintboy!”

I didn’t actually go very far. Instead, I waited until I was just around the corner before using red paint to climb my way to the roof of the two story building. Then I painted myself black, rushed to the edge, and lay down to peek down at the guy.

Part of it was to make sure he actually made it into the cab and out of town without being caught again. But I also had to admit that another part was to see what he did when I wasn’t there. There was a part of me who wondered if he was lying about any part of what he’d said. After everything I had found out over the past couple of days, trusting people wasn’t exactly at the top of my mind.

If he was making any part of it up, he didn’t give himself away. The guy fidgeted back and forth a bit before taking a phone from his pocket. I couldn’t see what he was doing with it, but he seemed to be summoning an Uber.

Sure enough, he was. I knew for sure a minute later, because I recognized the car that pulled up, and the driver inside. It was Adrian, the same guy who had driven me the other night, and had turned out to be a custodian at my school.

Okay, so this Josh guy really did summon an Uber. I heard him speak as he leaned down, showing the money I’d given him. “Hundred bucks enough to get out of town?”

Whatever Adrian said, it must have been an affirmative, because Josh opened the back door and got in. The door closed after him, before the car pulled away from the curb.

Straightening, I watched the vehicle until it turned the corner at the end of the street. As it disappeared from view, I let out a breath that I hadn’t realized I was holding.

It was done. He was gone. Whatever else happened next, at least I had managed to save one guy, who at least seemed to be innocent. Maybe it wasn’t a lot, but it was something. I had actually accomplished something that I could feel proud of.

That was what I was going to do, I realized. I couldn’t actually stop my family right now, not until I understood more. And maybe not even then. But I could make my own choices. Maybe my family were bad guys, but I could choose to be better. Until I actually had some actual idea of what to do about that whole… other situation, I could just help people.

Maybe it wouldn’t amount to much. Maybe I could never make up for everything bad that the rest of my family had done, and would continue to do. Maybe no matter how much good I did, it would never be enough. But you know what? I was sure as hell going to try.

And Josh was right, I should probably start by coming up with a name.

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Discovery 1-03 (Summus Proelium)

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I slept.

Yeah, it wasn’t exactly going to solve… well, any of my problems. But hey, I was really tired by that point. And I figured there really wasn’t anything I could do about it right then. I’d sent an anonymous call to the cops about the bodies. Short of actually confronting my mother right then and there, I couldn’t actually do anything in the middle of the night.

So, I crashed. At first, I’d thought it would be impossible for me to sleep, that I’d toss and turn all night. But as it was, I didn’t even have a chance to take more than my hoody off and fall face-down across the width of my bed before I was out like a light. There were no dreams, which felt weird. I would have thought that I would have nightmares. But I didn’t. I just slept through.

I slept so long, in fact, that it was the sound of the vacuum turning on that woke me up. The high pitched hum of the motor jerked me awake, sending me up and over the side of my bed to crash onto the floor with a loud yelp.

Slowly poking my head up over the bed, I stared at the self-satisfied smile of Jania Estrada, one of our maids. She was from Panama, before her mother brought her over the States in ‘68, when Jania had been fourteen. Now she was in her mid-sixties, but you’d never know it. She was basically one of the most energetic, cheerful, playful people I’d ever met. She was always playing pranks on the other, often younger staff members. Olivia, our head housekeeper, had tried to fire her a few times, but the butler, Dexter, had final say and never let it stick.

“Oh, good morning, Miss Evans,” Jania called over the sound of the vacuum in a sing-song voice that completely failed to convey any actual surprise that she had startled me. “I did not see you there. I thought you would be downstairs by now.” She gave me a significant look while methodically cleaning my carpet. Translation: I was late.

Groaning a little, I picked myself up and glanced to one of the clocks on my wall. I had seven of them, six showing the time from some other country. It was a product of Dad traveling so much, I’d wanted to know what time it was in the countries he was in the most so I’d know if it was okay to call him. By now I could basically figure it out myself, but when I was a little kid, it was useful. And they’d basically been there for so long that I didn’t want to take them down.

According to the Detroit clock, it was already quarter after seven. Which meant I only had an hour before school started.

School. How the hell was I supposed to think about school when my family was… when… when we were…

I shook it off. But Jania must have seen something in my face, because she stopped the vacuum, her voice turning serious. “Miss Evans?” she started, clearly concerned. “Are you alright?”

“I…” My voice faltered, and I very nearly went to hug her like I had so much when I was little. Or at least littler. I glanced to her, biting my lip before nodding. “Just waking up. I–thanks, Jania.”

Turning to my closet, I moved to open it and walked inside. The thing was big enough to be a small room of its own, and I basically had every single outfit I’d ever owned in there that hadn’t already been given to charity. There was even the cheerleading uniform from when I’d done that for a semester in junior high under the mistaken assumption that people would finally stop calling me a boy. Instead they just made jokes about how the school was so inclusive now because they finally had a male cheerleader. Hilarious.

Once I’d finally had enough up top to be considered breasts, people had switched to either asking if I was ‘mid-transition’ or if I was using padding. I deflected by making a comment about how if I was using padding, I’d use more of it. That was usually the best way to deal with that kind of thing.

I’d gone out with a guy for about a week during my freshman year, before people teased him about ‘being gay’, or complimented him for landing ‘the school’s pretty boy’, so he broke it off. My relationship last year, as a sophomore, had fared better. That had gone on for almost four months before Tomas ended up moving back to Britain with his diplomat dad.

That was my reputation. I had been called the prettiest boy in school since I was twelve, and it just wouldn’t go away. For awhile, I’d thought about only wearing things that emphasized what little breasts I had, but that just wasn’t me. I wasn’t comfortable like that. So I decided screw it, and kind of… leaned into the whole thing. I decided to out-boy most of the boys and kind of developed a reputation for throwing myself enthusiastically at any dare or bet they could come up with. I’d put myself in the emergency room a couple times just because I wouldn’t say no when someone dared me to do something stupid and dangerous. I mean, I had a limit, of course. But if I thought I could do it, I’d throw myself at it even if I was afraid.

If they wanted to call me a boy, I was going to do things that boys were too scared to do, damn it.

Standing there in the closet, staring at the old cheerleading stuff, I finally shook off the memories and grabbed my school uniform. It consisted of black shoes, black pants, a black blazer, a blue shirt, and a white tie. The name of the school was Cadillac Preparatory School, named for Antoin de la Mothe Cadillac, the French explorer who founded the place that eventually became Detroit (the car company was named after him too), and that name was written across the front of the blazer.

Taking the uniform, I ran into my bathroom to shower and dress in record time. I took one quick detour back to my room to shove a few things into a backpack and made it downstairs just as Jefferson, our driver, was looking at his watch.

“Two minutes late, Miss Evans,” he pointed out while tapping his watch. “You know how that affects the schedule.”

Yeah, I knew. Jefferson was obsessed with punctuality. He timed everything, to the point of knowing exactly what speed he needed to travel at to hit every green light on each of his daily routes. Me being late threw that off. And I didn’t even have a chance to grab breakfast. Not that I would have wanted to risk seeing–

“Aww,” Simon spoke up from behind me, making me jump. “Don’t be too hard on the kid. After all, maybe it was lady problems. I mean, she’s probably started puberty by now, right?”

It was light-hearted teasing. At least, that’s how I’d seen it before. But now, it gave me the creeps in a way it hadn’t before. Especially when he squeezed both of my shoulders from behind. I jumped, spinning around to face him as my hands went up defensively. At the last instant, I stopped myself from making any paint appear.

“Whoa, hey there, slugger,” my brother relented while holding up both hands in surrender. “Sorry, maybe that was too far.” He blinked at my expression. “You okay, Booster?”

He didn’t know. He didn’t know what I’d heard the night before, what I’d… I’d seen. Getting my breath under control, I quickly nodded. “Y-yeah, I just… I’m waking up. You should wear a bell around your neck or something. Maybe those clown shoes that squeak when you walk.”

God damn it, don’t mention shoes, for the love of fuck! Out of everything you could mention right now, why shoes?! And stop shaking, I told myself. Stop staring at him, stop trembling. Just stand still.

Simon was clearly distracted, because he didn’t notice my behavior. He just glanced at his own phone, mumbled something about meeting someone, and started off.

Jefferson wasn’t in the mood to wait any longer, and I didn’t mind, since I had no desire to run into any other member of my family just then. So I followed the man out to the garage, making a point of not looking at Royal Thunder. Instead, I headed straight for the black BMW that Jefferson called Henlein (after Peter Henlein, the inventor of the watch) and stepped into the back.

Despite my being late getting downstairs, we still made it to the school in record time. Jefferson let me out right at the front. I thanked him, walking inside past a dozen people who called out or waved. I had already plastered a smile onto my face, waving back as I made my way into the school.  

From there, I went all the way through to the back, bypassing my locker without a second glance. I was still walking, trying to keep to myself without looking like I was keeping to myself, when a voice stopped me.

“Hah, fancy seeing you here.”

Blinking, I turned to look over to where one of the janitors was mopping up a spill. My eyes rose to his face before I made a sound of surprise despite myself. It was that Latino guy from last night, my Uber driver. He was wearing the uniform of the school custodian instead of that Hawaiian shirt, but he still had his black driving cap. The nametag on his uniform read Adrian.

“You’re–you… I… you…” I pointed at him a bit dumbly.

“Driving doesn’t pay all the bills,” the guy replied, gesturing to the mop and bucket. “Gotta do something else while I wait to hear back from Spielberg about that script.” He winked then. “Hey, you ever find your shoe?”

“Shoe,” I echoed flatly before suddenly shaking myself. “Err, yeah. Yeah, it’s fine. I… you weren’t here before.”

“Only been around a couple days,” he agreed. “Mostly in the boy’s locker room. You know, new guy’s gotta spitshine that armpit of hell. Joke’s on them, I take care of four younger brothers, two still in diapers and the other two old enough to need deodorant but too young to care.” Gesturing to his face, Adrian added, “My sense of smell threw itself off a cliff years ago.”

My mouth opened and shut before I managed to cough, smiling despite myself. “I, um, yeah. I’ve been by the locker room with the door open. Trust me, your nose made the right move.”

Realizing that I needed to get moving then, I awkwardly excused myself and hurried on while feeling him watching me leave for a few seconds before the crowd swallowed me up.

Heading through one of the other doors, I greeted more people, heading across the football field. Halfway there, I heard the buzzer announcing that school was starting.

I ignored it. Picking up speed, I jogged the rest of the way across the field to reach the street beyond.

Yeah, after everything that had happened, I was in no mood to just sit in classes and fidget for seven hours.

I could have called another Uber (one that wouldn’t be Adrian), but my destination was only about nine blocks away, so I skated. I needed time to think, time to clear my head. Taking a moment by the back fence of the school, I took my pace-skates from my bag.

Pace-skates were an invention of one of the Touched whose powers lent themselves toward creating or building things. In this case, they were basically shoes or boots that could shift into rollerblades by clicking the heels together or speaking a codeword that was programmed with your own voice. They had been a huge fad a couple years earlier, but had faded a bit over time. I still liked them though.

On the way, while leisurely skating down the sidewalk, I took my phone out to check what had been reported the night before about the murders at the motel.

Nothing. Literally. There wasn’t a single story about the motel or any crime reported within a few blocks of there. No mysterious deaths, no signs of violence, not even a random jaywalking. There was nothing. Clearly the cops had gotten there, found nothing, and written it off as a prank or whatever. Great. Not that unexpected, but still.

With a sigh, I moved faster. A few people gave me second looks, but mostly everyone minded their own business. I made it all the way to where I was going without any interruptions.

As for where I was going, it was a building that was set back away from the street a little ways, past a chainlink fence and a parking lot. From the outside, it looked like a warehouse. It had been one at one point. But the place had closed down years earlier. A few months ago, one of Dad’s companies had bought it and started renovating the place for some kind of youth activities area, for the local kids. Unfortunately, work on that had stalled only a few weeks into the project. Something about permits. So the whole place had sat basically empty for all this time.

Empty, that was, aside from when I wanted to use it. I’d found the code for the door written down on a pad of paper on the kitchen counter one day, along with the address. Apparently Dad or Simon had come down to check the place out for one reason or another. I walked down during lunch that day, and had found a place that I could mess around in.

Slipping through the gap between the gate and the fence where the chain wasn’t tied tightly enough (yay for being small and thin), I made my way over the lot to the door. Looking around briefly, I input the code in the security pad nearby. It beeped, and I opened the door to step inside.

The place was dark, but the electricity still worked, so I flipped on the lights. It was… a warehouse. Mostly it was a huge empty room, with random junk everywhere. Taking up about a quarter of the enormous space, opposite the door where I had come in, was where the contractors had done most of the work while they were active. It was an indoor skate park. Or part of one. They had a couple concrete ramps set up, a half pipe, a couple quarter pipes, and a large bowl right in the middle. The whole place had been intended to get kids (read: teenagers) off the streets. Apparently there was supposed to be an arcade, a separate area for younger children to play in like… ballpits and stuff, and even tutoring.

But right now, there was this: an enormous empty room with a partially-finished skate park. Worked for me. I’d spent hours in here over the past couple of months, messing around. Whenever this place finally opened, if it did, it was going to be pretty amazing.

Setting my bag down, I opened it up and dug inside for the regular clothes I’d put in it. Quickly changing into the cargo pants and tee-shirt (doing so in a wide open room like this, even if I knew it was empty, still felt weird), I left the rest of the stuff in the bag for the moment. Instead, I walked over to the raised ramp nearby, muttering, “Okay, superpowers. Let’s see what you’ve got.”

Taking a breath, I extended one hand and focused. That small spinning orb appeared in front of my palm once again. It was blue, and, at a thought, a matching spray shot from it to hit the side of the ramp. Immediately, I gasped and stumbled back, staring that way. My voice was hushed, yet still echoed a bit in the mostly empty space. “Oh my God, it still works.”

Blue. Blue. That was the repelling or bouncy stuff. But I hadn’t, like… powered it or whatever that I was doing last night. To test that, I reached down to pick up a small rock from the floor, underhand tossing it toward the blue spot. Sure enough, it struck and just fell. Right.

Taking out my phone, I strolled back and forth for a couple minutes, answering texts. Some of my friends back at school wanted to know where I was, so I said I needed a ‘mental health day’. Then I checked for any news stories about that motel once more, or even anything in a local blog. There were still none, but it helped pass the time.

Finally, I looked over at the ramp. The spot was still there. It had been about five minutes. So the paint didn’t disappear unless I actually powered it. And each color had a different result from being powered. Okay. Okay, I could follow that.

To test it, I thought about the blue paint. I focused on it being powered up. It was hard to explain, but I felt a brief connection to it, like a spark. Then I tried throwing that little rock at it once more, winding up first before hurling the thing like a baseball.

That time, when the rock hit the blue spot, it rocketed off. The thing rebounded violently, shooting past my face as I ducked before it shattered loudly off one of the other ramps.

Slowly, I raised my head to stare at the blue paint. It vanished a second later, leaving the ramp blank once more. Then I turned to stare at the remains of the rock. “Holy shit.”

Okay, maybe I shouldn’t throw the next rock so hard. Apparently the blue stuff magnified the force applied to it when sending it away again. Right.

Next, I put a line of green paint on the ground. Once again, I tested it to make sure the stuff stayed as long as it wasn’t powered. Satisfied, I focused on powering it. Then I ran through it.

God damn. I’d been in track, but I’d never been that fast. It wasn’t like… super or anything, but it was definitely faster than I’d ever run before. I made a longer line after that one disappeared and tested it, nearly running into the wall before stopping myself.

Then I took my phone out and downloaded a speedometer app. Setting it up and making sure it seemed to work, I shoved the phone back in my pocket before drawing another green line, once again wide enough to run on.

Cracking my neck to either side, I hopped up and down in a circle, psyching myself up. Standing near the line, I powered it while crouching into the ready position. At a mental starting gun, I took off, running as fast as I could. As I hit the paint, my speed suddenly boosted once more. That time, I really did run into the wall, though I slowed down enough that I was basically just hugging it at the end, laughing despite myself. What a rush.

Then I checked my phone. Apparently I’d been running about thirty miles an hour. Which might not sound like much for a car, but it was really fast for me. Holy shit.

I tried to do it again, but I was only able to spray down about a quarter of the line before the paint just wouldn’t come. It took about sixty seconds for me to be able to make more. So there was a cooldown on it. Last night, I had sprayed so much paint everywhere that first time that I’d hit the limit right off.

But wait a minute… what if…

Blinking down at my shoes, I raised one leg curiously. Pointing my hand at the bottom of the shoe, I sprayed green paint onto it. Then I did the same with the other shoe. As a test, I took a couple steps. The paint didn’t leave any marks. So apparently even the non-powered stuff dried instantly.

Once more, I powered the green paint, this time on my shoes. Then I tried running. It worked. I was fast. Damn, was I fast. Even if it only lasted for a short time. Curious about that, I timed it on my phone. Ten seconds. The paint lasted for ten seconds once it was powered.  

Of course, it didn’t have to be on my shoes. I realized that belatedly, and tried spraying a bit of paint on my pants, my shirt, or even my arm. It all worked, making me move faster.

For a few minutes, I just kept doing that. I would spray more paint on my shoes, then run as fast as I could until it ran out. It was fun, and it let me forget about all the really serious, horrible stuff I should have been focusing on.

Yellow paint worked the opposite way. It slowed me down. Or whatever it touched. Right. Blue was bouncy, green was fast, yellow was slow. What was next?

Red. The sticky/magnetic-type stuff that pulled things it was painted on together. To test that, I first picked up two discarded rocks, each about the size of a softball. Squirting a bit of red paint on both, I held them in front of me, then powered the paint.

They were yanked out of my hands, slamming together before falling to the floor. Right on my foot, actually. Ow.

Next I tested the distance. Making a red mark on one of the walls, I painted another mark on a rock and tried activating it starting from just a few feet away before making my way further and further back. In the end, I had no idea how far apart they could be, because even from one end of the warehouse to the other, it worked. The rock was pulled clear to the other end as soon as I activated the paint on it, though there was a slight delay of a second or two the further it had to go before the rock reacted.

During the testing, I also figured out that I could paint multiple rocks red, and then activate them one at a time. Powering up one bit of paint didn’t power all of it.

Okay, so what did I know? The paint would stay as long as I wanted it to if I didn’t activate its power. And it instantly dried. Green made things go fast. Yellow made things go slow. Blue repelled things. Red pulled them together.

What about orange? That had been on the wall last night, but I never saw what it did.

Curiously, I sprayed a bit of orange paint on the nearby wall and stared at it for a moment. Orange. What did it do? Shrugging, I focused on giving it power (whatever that power was), then reached out to touch it tentatively.

Nothing. I didn’t feel anything. It wasn’t sticky, it didn’t push me or pull me or… anything me. I sprayed some on the floor and moved over it, first walking, then running, then hopping. I even tried sliding on it. It was just… paint. The hell?

Maybe I could prompt it to do something. Throwing several separate spots of orange paint on myself, I tried running around while activating one after another. I didn’t feel any different during it. Moving to one of the discarded hunks of wall that had been left in the middle of the room, I tried to lift it. Nope, orange paint did not make me strong. Nor did it give me laser eyes, flight, or anything exotic like that. I tried jumping, doing cartwheels, even a handstand that made me feel ridiculous. Nothing.

Then I got a little overly ambitious, walking too far upside down on my hands. I hit the edge of the skating bowl and lost my balance. With a yelp, I tipped over, already cringing inwardly as I fell. Ouch.

Except… not ouch. I landed hard in the bowl, but… it didn’t hurt. It didn’t hurt at all. It was like falling backward onto my bed. What…?

The orange paint. Curious again, I walked back up to the top of the bowl, looked around, and kicked the nearby ramp.

Ow. That was dumb. But worth checking.

More orange paint on my leg. I activated it once more, then kicked the ramp again.

Nothing. Like, really nothing. It didn’t hurt. That’s what the orange paint did. It made things tough, or invulnerable, or… something.

Okay, add ‘orange makes things tougher’ to the list. I wasn’t sure how tough yet, but that felt like something to be tested under better conditions.

Now I knew what all the colors I’d used last night did. But could I make any other colors? Moving back to the wall, I tried a bunch. Only four more actually did anything. Four more colors I didn’t know. Pink, purple, black, and white.

The white was easy to test. The second I tried powering it, the bit of paint lit up like a lightbulb. Okay, white paint glowed.

Black was fairly easy too. I painted a rock with it and threw it, then I didn’t hear anything. Even when it bounced off the wall, there was no sound. A little more testing confirmed, black silenced whatever it was on. I tried painting myself with it and screaming, only to hear no sound at all. It was creepy.

White made things glow and black silenced them. That left pink and purple. What could they do?

Purple, as it turned out, made me stronger. I wasn’t sure how strong, of course. Mostly because I had no idea what the random junk lying around the partially remodeled warehouse actually weighed. But I could basically use one hand to lift the heaviest bit there, which had to be a few hundred pounds. That was pretty freaking cool, actually. I’d always been small, so being able to pick up something that weighed as much as my entire bed and hurl it across the room was enough to make me laugh probably more than I should have.  

Purple made me strong. That left pink. I knew what all the rest did aside from that one. And no matter what I did, I could not figure it out. I tried for almost an hour, but it didn’t seem to do anything.

Okay, I’d go back to that one. Pink was a question mark still. But I knew what red, orange, yellow, blue, green, black, purple, and white did. Which wasn’t bad for a couple hours work.

Heh. Wasn’t bad. Wasn’t bad? I had superpowers! I had freaking superpowers! I could run fast, I could pick up really heavy things, I could pull things together, or repel them, or silence them, or… or…

This was so fucking cool!

For a little while, I forgot my whole family problem. I forgot everything else. I just played with the paint powers, spraying myself or the floor and running around. I sprayed blue paint in front of myself before jumping into the middle of it, sending myself flying over the ramp. Coming down, I sprayed a bit of orange paint on myself, before landing without any damage or pain.

Then I tried something that was probably dumb. I put green paint on myself, and purple. Then I sprayed a blue circle onto the floor and moved away from it. Taking a breath, I activated the green paint and ran as fast as it let me, straight toward the circle. At the last second, I activated the purple paint to make myself stronger and leapt as high as that allowed. As I came down on the circle, I activated the blue paint there.

Hoooooly shit. The next thing I knew, I was flying violently toward the far wall. And not just the wall, the top of it, near the ceiling, which was a good thirty feet up. Screaming despite myself as I hurtled straight toward the wall, I hurriedly sprayed a bit of orange onto my leg, activated it, and threw my hands in front of myself as the wall came rushing up.

My scream died in my throat as I hit that wall. It didn’t hurt. And… and I didn’t fall. Slowly, I opened my eyes, staring at my hands. Red. There was red paint on the wall. And… on my hands? I’d instinctively thrown red paint out just as I hit the wall. And now my hands were stuck there. My hands and my… legs? Looking down, I saw my knees pressed against the wall, with a bit of red there as well. I was basically crouched against the wall, stuck there by red paint. Holy shit. Holy shit. Holy shit.

Wait, it was only going to last–

It stopped. The paint disappeared, and I fell. A scream tore its way from my throat, even as I slapped a hand against my own stomach, spraying orange and desperately activating it.

It worked. I landed hard on my back, but it didn’t hurt. Even falling from thirty feet up and landing on my back didn’t hurt. I mean, I felt it, for sure. It felt a bit like being punched. But not that hard. And it sure didn’t break anything like it definitely should have.

For a couple minutes, I just laid there on my back, staring up at the spot on the wall where I had just been. I laid there, and my eyes slowly closed.

“My family are bad guys.” It came in a weak, trembling voice that I barely recognized as my own.

“What am I gonna do? What am I supposed to do?”

Why would the cops believe me? Why would anyone believe me? I didn’t have any proof, or… or…

That was it. Proof. That was what I needed.

I was going to get proof that my parents and brother were bad guys. I was going to get proof, and take that… not to the cops. To the Conservators or the Spartans, the federal or state-sponsored teams. I would get proof that they were doing bad things, that they… that they killed people, and take it to the superheroes. They’d know what to do with it. Maybe I could even meet Silversmith, the leader of the local Conservator group. He had basically been my favorite hero since I was a little kid. His power was an essentially unlimited supply of this liquid metal stuff that he turned into a suit, or weapons, or even vehicles. He conjured the stuff in liquid form, shaped it into what he needed, and then it solidified. When he was using it as a suit, it also made him incredibly strong, let him fly, and he could even go into space with it.

Silversmith. That’s what I needed to do. He’d know what to do about my family. I just had to get proof and find a way to take it to him.

Right, turning in my own family to the superheroes. That was the right thing to do. But… but could I actually do that? They were my family, my mom and dad, my brother. They were my family. Could I really just… betray them like that?

And did the fact that I was hesitating mean that I was just as bad as they were?

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