Two-Step

Discovery 1-06 (Summus Proelium)

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In that moment, I acted faster than I ever had in my life. Apparently fear was one hell of a motivator. Even as Simon started to say something, my hands moved. One I pointed above my head and behind me at the two Easy Eight thugs. The other I pointed down and forward past my stomach toward the two guys who stood with my brother. Red paint shot from both of my hands to cover the guns that they all held. An instant later, the guns were torn from all four of their grasps as I activated the power in the paint.

The guns flew to meet each other in the middle, right where Two-Step was standing. He had to jerk and duck out of the way as they collided in the air right above me before starting to fall. They would have fallen on top of me, but I snapped my hand out to the side, shot another bit of red paint out to hit a car nearby, and made my glove red as well. The power yanked me off the ground and sent me flying to the car. I collided with it hand first hard enough to send a shock through me. Ow. I should have used orange paint too. Dammit.

Apparently I also should have used green paint to speed myself up. Because before I could get my bearings, Two-Step was already there. One of his hands caught my neck and shoved me down over the car hood while the other found its way to the middle of my back to keep me there.

He started to say something, but I quickly shifted my whole costume to blue and activated it. The paint sent the man flying backward away from me with a cry of surprise.

Unfortunately, at the same time, the car I was leaning over slid away as well, leaving me to fall onto my hands and knees with a grunt. Shit, I should have just made my back blue, which would have used less paint too.

The guys were recovering, and Simon was spinning toward me. Lastword had also appeared and was moving to involve himself. Shit, shit, shit. I had to get out of there. I had to get the hell out. Shoving myself over to face the guys coming after me, I threw my arms out into a wide wave, sending a bunch of yellow paint flying. Most of it struck randomly everywhere, but a bit got on almost everyone, slowing them down considerably. Almost everyone, that was, aside from Lastword, who created some kind of force field in front of himself that the paint got stuck on.

I was already running, using that time to scramble back to my feet and take off. Unfortunately, Simon and all those guys were between me and the exit. I had to run deeper into the car lot, toward the auto shop garage. I could get out the other side, I just had to run all the way through.

Then something invisible struck me hard in the back, and I went sprawling. What a grunt of pain, I rolled over just in time to see Lastword creating another force field with one hand, which he sent flying at me with a quick push. That was what had struck me. He could do more than just make force fields, he could also send them flying around. Great.

Was it wrong that if I had just been watching, I would have thought this whole thing was really cool? I was being attacked by superpowers. I was using superpowers! This whole thing should have been awesome.

It was terrifying.

Shifting the front of my costume to orange, I threw my hands up in front of my face just as the forcefield struck home. It did almost nothing, dissipating against me. I felt the impact, of course, but it was akin to a light shove.

Then I was on my feet. As my costume shifted back to its base white, I made a little bit of green paint appear on my chest. It was shaped like a hand with an upraised middle finger, pointed right at Lastword.

Juvenile? Yeah. Worth it? Definitely.

Besides, it served a purpose. At that point, it was probably all the paint I could manage, and I used it to speed myself up, spinning around to run away again with Lastword, Two-Step, Simon, and the rest of the bad guys right on my heels. They were taller than me, and had longer legs. But I ran track, and had my ten second speed boost for a head start.

It was going to be close. I had to do something to give myself more of an edge. Then I remembered what I was wearing. Glancing down, I smacked my heels together to bring the wheels out on my pace-skates.

A gun shot rang out. Then another. They were shooting at me! The shots weren’t coming anywhere close, but they were still shooting at me! And I didn’t know if I could make any more paint for the moment. Go! I had to go!

More importantly, I had to get out of sight before they actually hit me. Adjusting my course as I skated across the lot, I ducked low, rolling under the partially open door of the auto shop. I could hear a couple more shots pinging off the wall, and a sob of terror escaped me before I could stop it.

I fell forward onto my hands once in the garage, before shoving myself back up. They were still coming, but I wasn’t trapped in here. There were doors at either end. My hand snapped out to hit the button that closed the door behind me, and I skated to the other side.

Thankfully, this side was open too. Behind me, I heard shouting to go around, even as something heavy and powerful slammed into the door I had closed, denting it inward. It hit the door again, almost taking it right off the frame. Lastword. He was either hitting the door with his forcefield thing, or using some other power. Either way, in about one more hit, it was going to be down.

I kept skating, throwing myself out through the open garage door and across the lot toward the far side of the lot. Behind me, I heard the pounding footsteps of guys coming around the side of the garage, as well as the loud clanging of the door being knocked in. They were all coming.

I skated faster. It felt as though ten minutes had passed since I last used my paint, but it was probably more like ten seconds. I had to wait. I had to keep moving. I had to get the hell out of there!

What the hell was I thinking? I should just tell Simon who I was. He wouldn’t kill me, or let them do so. Right?

It was a mixture of my own fear and my revulsion at the thought of looking Simon in the face while knowing everything I did that drove me onward. I heard shouting behind me as they all met up on the side of the garage and kept after me. They weren’t just going to let me escape. Especially now that they knew I had powers. Thankfully, I was pretty sure they didn’t know exactly how they worked, or how low I was running.

Nearing the fence, I skated between two vehicles and prayed to God that I’d waited long enough to use more paint. My hands stretched out, shooting a puddle of beautiful, beautiful blue right in front of myself. It worked! It fucking worked! With a loud, half-crazed whoop that probably accidentally sounded more taunting than relieved, I hit the paint and sent myself flying up and over the fence.

Awkwardly, I sprawled across the ground on the other side, remembering at the last instant to make a little bit of orange so I didn’t sprain or even break anything. Still, it was anything but graceful. But I was over the fence, and I could hear angry shouting even as I push myself up to keep going.

Behind me, Two-Step hit the fence with that red bat of his, instantly knocking a hole in it somehow. I could hear the metal sizzling.

Oh, right. This wasn’t a game. There was no rule that said they had to stop at the fence. I had to keep going, had to fling myself across the empty street while they kept chasing me.

God, oh God, I had to get the hell out of there. I had to get away before they caught up again. Before they started shooting again. I looked frantically for something to do, a way to escape. There was nothing. Just an empty street and silent, imposingly tall buildings. I was trapped. They’d catch up with me and then… and then…

My eyes snaps to the building directly in front of me, and I swallowed the sudden fear that I felt at the thought that came. Forcing that down, I ran for the building, retracting my skates on the way. Behind me, the guys were catching up. I heard Simon blurt not to kill me. They needed to know who I was and what the hell I was doing. And how much I knew.

That was something, at least. But I wasn’t planning on being killed or captured. Reaching the building, I created a quick blue puddle in front of myself and jumped on it. The paint shot me upward a good ten or twelve feet, and I snapped my hands out, my gloves turning red while I made more red marks on the wall itself.

It worked. My hands caught against the wall and I stayed there, kicking my feet inward while making the boots red too. Red paint shot from my feet as well, giving them something to cling to. For about ten seconds, I would be able to cling there without falling. Of course, after about ten seconds, I would be screwed. Because Simon and the others were right there. Lastword was already getting ready to do something, and Simon shouted something at me about coming down.

Instead, I pushed up with my feet, throwing myself further up the wall just like in rock climbing class at gym. But instead of having to find places to stand, I made my own, creating more red marks on the wall for my gloves and boots to stick to. Just like that, I scrambled up the wall, partly climbing, partly jumping, and partly crawling. It was disorienting and confusing, but I kept going even as they shouted behind me. I heard guns being readied, and quickly made an orange frowny face appear on my back.

They fired, and I felt a bullet hit my leg. I felt a bullet hit my leg. Thanks to the orange paint, it didn’t actually penetrate, but it still hurt. It was like being hit with a paintball, and I would have fallen if staying against that wall wasn’t an automatic thing. As it was, I nearly stayed there too long. Just as the power in the paint faded, I jumped again, while Simon shouted below me for them to get me down already.

Two-Step was coming after me. He was using his ghost somehow to keep boosting himself up, making pushing motions with his hands as he went up the wall that his ghost duplicated behind him to keep him climbing against the smooth surface. He was catching up quickly. I had to go.

Just like earlier, the terror was an excellent motivator, and I scrambled my way up the rest of the building like that, making spots of red paint to climb that faded behind me until I finally reached the top and scrambled over onto the roof. My leg hurt. I was limping, even as I tried to ignore the pain. I didn’t have time to think about it, aside from being glad I was only hit once and with my paint active.

Two-Step was just a little bit behind me, and I caught a glimpse of Lastword rising off the ground, having apparently worked his way into a flight power of some kind.

But for the moment, I was out of sight. And I used that, racing toward the roof access door that would lead into the building. There, I tried the door knob. It was locked. With a grunt, I turned my arm purple, quickly using the strength that it provided to punch the door open. It slammed inward, revealing a stairwell beyond.

I ran in, but didn’t go down the stairs. That would have just led to more chasing. Instead, I quickly turned, using the lingering strength that my purple paint provided to throw myself up into the space just above the door. Turning one of my arms and one of my feet red, I shoved both arms and feet against the walls to hold myself there. I was basically bunched up into the corner above the doorway, my arms bracing myself against one side while my feet braced against the other to stay in place. With the help of my red paint, of course. Sitting like this, I could wait until the paint almost ran out, then shift to making the opposite foot and arm red to keep myself there, alternating back and forth a time or two.

Luckily, I didn’t have to wait long before my two pursuers were there. They came charging through the doorway at a sprint, never even looking up as they passed me and began racing down the stairs, Two-Step blurting something about the others cutting me off at the bottom.

I let them go, listening to their footsteps descending the stairs before I dropped from my perch, making a bit of black paint on my feet to silence my landing. Dropping to a crouch, I carefully leaned over to peer down at their descending forms. My throat was dry, and it felt like I needed to throw up.

They were gone, but I had to get out of there in case they doubled back when they found out I wasn’t at the bottom. Quickly, I scrambled back to my feet, still silent, and ran back out to the roof.

I needed a way out of here. Moving to the edge of the roof nearest the other building, I leaned over and looked down. It was a long drop, and I didn’t know if my orange paint could take it. Instead, I looked over to the next roof. I could make that jump, with a little help.

Moving back a few steps, I put out my hands to make another blue puddle. Then I took a breath, psyching myself up for a couple seconds before running forward. As my feet hit the blue paint, I jumped, launching myself through the air while barely repressing the urge to let out a cry that would have been half-terror and half-excitement. Remembering to make my legs orange just before landing on the other side, I still sprawled out across that next roof before rolling onto my back. I barely had the wherewithal to pull myself behind the nearest air-conditioning unit on that roof so that I couldn’t be seen from the first one. Then I just stared at the sky and tried not to whimper. I was safe. I made it out out there. I could breathe again.

I had to stop breathing then, as I heard my brother’s voice from the first roof. He was speaking loudly. “Yeah, like I said, he’s not here! He fucking disappeared!”

Quickly painting myself completely black and using the silencing power, I waited a second before chancing a peek around the air conditioning unit. There. I could see my brother’s back as he spoke to someone out of sight. He looked nervous somehow, even from behind. It definitely didn’t seem like he was giving orders like he had been earlier and last night.

“I told you,” Simon was saying, “I don’t think he saw you last night. He didn’t go that far in.”

The person he was speaking to came forward, moving beside Simon. It was our dad. The sight of him made me want to disappear even more. He gave my brother a dark look, his voice firm. “Then why did he play dress-up and come here tonight? How did he even know about this?”

Simon’s head shook. “Hell if I know.”

Dad’s hand snapped out, catching hold of Simon’s collar to pull him close. His voice was dangerous. “Find out.” Then he gave him a slight push back, his tone softening. “Come on, son. You can do this. You’re ready for the responsibility. Track this kid down and find out what he knows. Bring him in, and we’ll talk. If he doesn’t know anything damaging, we’ll find a use for him, whichever side he leans toward. If he does know too much… well,  there’s more room in Lake St. Clair than there is in the city for new Touched. Okay? I trust you. Prove me right. Show me that I can hand some of this off to you.”

Simon muttered some kind of agreement, and Dad nodded before starting to look around. I ducked back, but he wasn’t looking in my direction. He was scanning the sky. I frowned, tilting my head up to look as well before returning my attention to him, confused. What was he looking for?

A moment later, all of my thoughts about what my father could have been looking for vanished, along with every other thought I had or possibly would ever have. Because in that moment, he stepped up on the edge of the roof while a featureless metal helmet expanded and grew up and over his head. It matched the sleek silvery armor that he wore. Then he simply floated off the roof and turned to look at Simon before saying something I didn’t catch. In the next second, he was flying away. My father was flying away. He was flying. He was a Touched.

And not just any Touched. Because as I crouched there, hidden behind the air conditioner, I knew who he was. There was no mistaking it. The suit was very distinctive. And I had a lot of history in looking at pictures of him.

Silversmith. He was Silversmith, the leader of the local Conservators. My favorite hero, by some twisted sense of irony. I’d always love to follow his stories. I’d looked up to him for years. And now…

My father wasn’t a villain working for villains. He was a villain… leading heroes.

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Discovery 1-05 (Summus Proelium)

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Please note that there is an update on Patreon goals in my first comment following this chapter, for those who have any interest in such things (and/or would like to see longer chapters). Feel free to check that out after reading this, and thank you!

I didn’t exactly have a costume sitting around my (rather expansive) closet. Well, okay, I did have several costumes from various parties and holidays. But nothing like what I needed now. And I wasn’t going to assemble something out of what was there, mostly because there was too much chance of one of the maids recognizing the stuff later if they saw it. There was a lot of stuff so the chance wasn’t that great. But still, I wasn’t going to risk it.

So I needed something new. Which was why I’d asked Simon to take me to the mall. It got me out of the house, which was a huge plus as far as I was concerned right then, and I could do a little shopping around to put something together that would ensure Dad and Simon didn’t recognize me if they saw me while I was spying on them.

Not that I had really decided what I was going to do yet. Finding proof of what my family was up to and taking it to Silversmith was basically my only plan. And even that I wasn’t entirely sure about. I kept asking myself if it was really right to turn my own family in. They were my family.

But then I would think about the two people I’d seen those guys execute on what was clearly my brother’s orders, and probably my dad’s too. I thought about what they deserved, whoever they were. Did they deserve to just die without the people responsible for it being brought to justice? Did their families deserve that? Because they had families too. It wasn’t just about me.

No. Whatever the rest of my family was into, I had to do something about it. I had to find out more and…  go from there. And the first step toward doing that was putting a costume together.

Carrying a bag with my pace-skates (I hadn’t wanted Simon to recognize that I was wearing them) and a few other things in it over one shoulder, I made my way through the mall. But I wasn’t planning on buying anything there. There was too much of a chance that wherever I bought it from would have records, cameras, people who remembered me, and so on. I wasn’t going to risk it. Instead, I found an ATM and withdrew a few hundred dollars, then went to the food court, had a milkshake, and doodled on a notepad as I thought up various ideas and thoughts.

But no amount of doodling would accomplish anything until I could see what was available. So, after about twenty minutes of that,  I left the mall. On the way out, I reached into my bag and took out my lone remaining shoe from the night before, the one whose partner was with Simon. With a soft sigh, I tossed the shoe into the garbage can by the exit before heading out. Pulling my pace-skates from the bag and putting them on then, I tapped the heels together to bring out the wheels before starting to skate across the parking lot and down the street.

My destination was a few blocks away. I only knew about it because one of my friends at school, Tae, had to work there for a few months about a year earlier as some kind of community service thing. Some of us had gone down there to visit them, and ended up donating some things.

Yeah, it was a second-hand goods store, like Goodwill. They had basically everything in there. And best of all, they were cheap enough that they didn’t use cameras. They had them, but according to Tae, they never worked. That coupled with the fact that all the employees were bored and didn’t care that much basically meant I could be pretty sure that even if someone came asking about the things I bought later, they wouldn’t get that much information about me.

It was the best I could do, anyway. So I skated my way up to the place in question, clicking my heels to switch back to ordinary shoes, and walked inside.

“Leave your bag by the door,” the old woman reading a magazine by the checkout stand absently told me before flipping a page. She only glanced up enough to see that I was holding one, her response so automatic that I wasn’t sure she even recognized that she had said it.

I did, setting my bag down there before grabbing a shopping cart as I made my way back to look through the aisles. The place wasn’t very busy, considering it was a weeknight and they were closing in another hour. Still, I tried not to look at anyone without looking like I was trying not to look at anyone.

Yeah, I probably looked ridiculous. Eventually, I made my way to their sporting goods aisle. There was a lot of stuff all jumbled up there, even a few things that looked promising, but ended up not fitting me.

Then I found it. ‘It’, in this case, was a set of white motorcycle coveralls. Basically it was a jumpsuit with a bit more padding. I took the jumpsuit into the nearby dressing area and tried it on. It fit, somehow miraculously. It was a little baggy, but tight around the wrists and ankles, so it wouldn’t trip me up or anything.

Since I was already in the sports aisle, I added a set of knee and elbow pads, also white. Then I looked around a bit more. It took another few minutes, and I was about to give up on finding anything I actually liked. But then I saw something glinting in the light down in the bottom corner of one of the shelves, and reached down to move a pile of old jerseys out of the way.

Oh God, it was perfect. It was a helmet. Like, a motorcycle helmet. But this one was modular. Basically, it looked like a full motorcycle helmet with the part covering the mouth and chin, the dark visor, and all that. But with this one, the part covering the mouth could flip up to the top of the helmet, uncovering the face aside from the black visor, which stayed where it was. So with the front of the helmet flipped down, my entire face would be covered. With the front flipped up, just the top half, including my eyes and down over part of my nose, would be.

This was it. This was what I wanted, what I needed. The helmet was red, but I could take care of that. I took the helmet, adding it to my cart.

Coveralls, helmet, knee and elbow pads, what else? I went through the winter stuff and took out a ski mask, checking it over a bit. I already had the helmet, but if I lost that, my face would still be covered. Worth it. Definitely worth it.

Along with the mask, I added a pair of thin gloves. Then I started putting more things in the cart. I didn’t really care what they were, I just wanted to cover up everything else that I was buying so it didn’t immediately stand out. I threw a bunch more random stuff in there, toys, games, more clothes, a few shoes, and so on. Then I went to the checkout stand.

The lady there raised an eyebrow at how much stuff I had, which was a point I hadn’t considered until that moment. Still, I kept my head down while trying to be as pleasant, yet unmemorable as possible. I passed the money along, let her count and check it, then took my bags and left with a few mumbled words about having a good night.

Once I was outside, I looked around before checking my phone. I still had an hour before the meeting was supposed to happen. So, I took my bags and hauled them around the back of the store. Abandoning the rest of the stuff that I didn’t actually need at the donation box for the store I had just bought them from, I took the rest in a couple bags and kept going until I reached an alley a couple blocks away. The whole place was empty and quiet at this time, so I could quickly do what I needed to without being interrupted.

First, I made the helmet (aside from the visor), the ski mask, and the gloves all white to match the coveralls. As far as I’d been able to tell, the color would stay unless I actually powered it up into the whole glowing flashlight stuff. It also dried instantly, which was useful.

After giving a quick glance around, I changed clothes into the coveralls. Sliding them on, I zipped the thing up and jumped up and down a couple times before leaning one way, then the other to test the range of motion. It all felt good. Adding the knee and elbow pads, I tested it again. Still okay. Then I tugged on the ski mask and tucked it under the collar of the coveralls before slipping my hands into the gloves.

Finally, I picked up the helmet and put it on my head, sliding the visor down over my eyes, then the whole front plate. Now I basically looked like a dirtbike rider or something, wearing a white jumpsuit and safety protection. I didn’t look like a superhero, I looked like a stunt driver. A male stunt driver, given my general luck.

But whatever, this was good enough. And it would hide my identity, which was the whole point.  

Putting the rest of my clothes in my bag, I hid it behind a nearby dumpster before checking my phone. Right, time to call a…

Wait.

Shit. I couldn’t call an Uber or a taxi like this! What the hell was I thinking? It might just stand out a little bit. And I couldn’t even quickly change back to normal clothes to get a ride, because that would still put me near the scene if they checked records or anything later. I’d already risked that enough with the ride last night. Taking this one would… yeah. I had to get there another way.

Skating. I was going to have to skate, taking the back alleys as much as I could to avoid crowds. At least my costume looked simple enough that it wouldn’t instantly make people point and say ‘Touched’. I would attract some looks, but (hopefully) not a huge crowd.

Slipping my pace-skates on, I used the voice code to pop out the wheels, shifted my bag on my shoulder, and took off. Skating out of the alley, I crossed the street around a couple cars, hopped the curb, and went through the next alley over on my way to Simon’s meeting point.

Too slow. I needed to be faster, or I’d miss the whole damn thing. Hurry up, Cassidy!

Right, I could be faster. I just needed to use my green paint. Pointing a hand down at one my skates, I started to summon my power… when my skate suddenly turned green all on its own.

Wait, what? I was so startled by that, I actually lost my balance and, with a yelp, went sprawling across the ground. Owww. At least I was in the alley so no one saw.

Rolling over, I stared down at the skate. It was still green. How–what–huh?

Thinking about it for a second, I squinted intently at the skate and thought, red, red, red.

It worked. The pace-skate turned red. My eyes widened and I covered my mouth. Then I looked at my arm and focused once more. Blue circle. Blue circle. Blue circle.

A blue circle appeared on my arm. It worked. It worked! I tried it a couple more times sitting there in the alley. I couldn’t just make color appear everywhere, but I could do so on anything I was wearing. I had to spray paint at anything else, but I could make whatever I was actually wearing turn various colors with just a thought. Holy shit, this was useful. This was–

Late. I was going to be late! With a yelp, I scrambled to my feet. Then I looked down at my skates. Green.

Both turned green, and I activated the one on the right while pushing off. Suddenly skating a hell of a lot faster (I had no idea exactly how fast, but if I could run about thirty miles an hour when it was activated, skating had to be even more of a boost), I blew past a crowd of very confused pedestrians, narrowly avoided a car in the street that blared its horn at me, and kept on going. Despite myself, a loud whoop escaped me that I immediately felt embarrassed about as the boost wore off and my skate turned back to its normal color, almost as if it was embarrassed too.

Then I remembered that no one knew who I was. So I activated the green paint on my other shoe and took off again. As I all-but flew through a parking lot next to a fast food joint, I raised my fists and gave a loud yell. Oh my God, that felt good. For a few seconds, I forgot about what I was actually doing and just skated. The paint on that shoe wore off, but I just quickly recolored them with a thought and took off again.

I didn’t use the boost constantly, just enough to keep me going so I wouldn’t miss Simon completely. Taking back alleys and side streets, and keeping track of my progress on the maps app of my phone, I skated my way to the address.

It was an old used car lot. When I was still a couple blocks away, I slowed and coasted behind an empty doctor’s office. Then I looked down at myself. Bright white. That was probably a bad idea.

But now I knew what to do about it! With a thought, I turned my entire outfit completely black. From the top of the helmet down to my pace-skates, all of it went dark. There, that was better.

With that done, I checked the map on my phone once more, zooming in before heading around the building the doctor’s office was in. Shifting the skates back to shoes, I climbed the fence there, dropping off the other side before making my way past a few more buildings.

Finally, I reached the back of the car lot. The place was dark, the big overhead lights that were meant to show off the cars shut down, either to save power or to hide whatever was actually going on there tonight.

There was also a larger fence in the way, this one topped by barbed wire. I wasn’t going to be able to just climb over it.

So, I took a few steps back and hyped myself up while spraying out a bit of blue paint into a circle at the base of the fence. Taking a quick look around, I whispered to myself, “You can do this. You can do this. Just jump. You did it earlier. No big deal.”

Before I could chicken out, I took a running start and jumped onto the blue circle. It propelled me up and over the fence, as I actually cried out. Thankfully, I was smart enough to activate a bit of the black paint on one of my shoes to silence myself. Which also silenced my landing as I half-sprawled between two SUV’s with prices painted across their hoods.

Footsteps. Someone was coming. Hurriedly, I rolled under the nearest car, watching with wide eyes while someone walked past. Carefully poking my head out, I saw a man in a suit with close-cropped black hair. More importantly, I saw the gun he was holding. I wasn’t exactly an expert, but it looked like some kind of submachine gun held loosely in one hand, like he didn’t actually expect any trouble.

But relaxed or not, the guy was still holding a gun. An actual gun, just like the guys who had shot at me last night. And as I watched, the man met up with another guy dressed the same way holding a gun of his own. They were clearly patrolling the lot.

What the hell was Simon involved with here?

“We good?!”

As if in answer to my question, my brother’s voice suddenly interrupted my thoughts, as he came out of the nearby sales office. Simon, just like the other guys, carried a gun. In his case, it was a pistol of some kind. He was looking to the men who had just met up.

“All good!” One of them called back with a wave. “Lot’s clear.”

“Good,” Simon announced. “Keep it that way.” Then he took a radio from his belt, held it up, and ordered, “Bring them in.”

A few seconds later, a car approached from around the corner. It slowed before parking near Simon, and two men got out. Seeing them, my eyes went even wider than they had already been. Because I recognized them. Or rather, I recognized the symbols on their clothes. Both of them wore ragged old jeans full of holes and random leather jackets. Nothing unusual. But on the back of each jacket was the symbol of the numeral 8. Behind the 8 was a letter E, with the ends of the latter poking through the holes in the former so they were almost on top of each other, interlocked that way.

It was the symbol of the Easy Eight’s, the collection of street gangs that had allied together to stand up against Oscuro. They were the ones Dad was working with?

Oh, right. Evidence. Digging into my pocket, I took out my phone and held it up to start to record a video of what was happening.

“You got it?” Simon asked, standing there expectantly as the two men moved around to the back of the car. I shifted a bit, trying to keep the camera from my phone on them the whole time.

And then a hand caught hold of my arm. I let out a surprised yelp, almost dropping my phone as I was yanked out from under the car and dropped onto my back.

Two-Step. It was him, the Touched mercenary from last night whose power let him create a semi-solid duplicate of himself that copied everything he did. He stood above me in his black slacks, red turtleneck, and black leather jacket, his face covered by a combination of a red scarf over the lower half and a bandana over his head, leaving only his eyes exposed. The same red bat he’d had the night before was pointed down at me. “Well, well, well,” he drawled. “What do we have here?”

All around me, other men were appearing. Simon was pointing his gun at me, as were several other guys in suits. Even the two Easy Eight thugs were aiming their own weapons my way.

Ummm….

Shit.

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Discovery 1-02 (Summus Proelium)

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I threw up while laying under that dumpster.

I tried to be quiet about it, turning my head toward the wall that was already stained with decades of much worse than my puke. My body hunched in on itself as I lost what little was left in my stomach from the dinner I’d had however many hours earlier. I wanted to curl in even tighter and close my eyes until all of this went away and I woke up safe in my bed without having to deal with… with… any of this. I wanted it to go away. I wanted it to be a dream.

It wasn’t, and I didn’t wake up. The smell of my own puke was enough to convince me of that, to say nothing of the… other glorious scents under that dumpster. I wasn’t going to magically wake up back in my bed. And if I didn’t move before those guys came back this way on their search, I’d probably never see my bed again. Unless they took me to Simon before killing me.

Simon wouldn’t kill me. Would he? I… no. No, I didn’t think he would.

But then, I didn’t think he’d kill anybody and look where that had gone. I hadn’t seen him do it himself, but he was definitely completely fine with ordering it done. And he had shot that guy just for not being able to find me. He… he… wanted them to kill whoever saw them execute those other two. He was responsible. He ordered it. My brother ordered people killed.

My brother ordered people killed.

I threw up again. Mostly dry heaving, and I did it as quietly as possible. Still, every little noise that I made made me cringe inwardly. I had to get out of here. Had to move while they weren’t looking, while they were distracted searching elsewhere. Eventually they would circle back to see if there were any more clues about where I’d gone or who I was. And when they did, I couldn’t be here.

Even knowing that, it still took me another few seconds to work up my nerve. Slowly, I inched my way out from under the dumpster, peeking with just my head for a moment to make sure things looked clear. Nobody. There was nobody in sight. Taking a breath of (slightly) fresher air, I pushed myself up to my hands and knees, staring out of the alley with the paranoid attention of a squirrel taking food from a dog’s own dish. Nothing. I could hear voices in the distance, but they were coming from far enough away that the people were probably at the front of the motel.

Right. Now I had time. But if they were up near the front of the motel, they’d probably see me going out of the alley. I had to get over this fence. And I was pretty sure they’d hear it rattling and shaking if I climbed the thing. And that would take too long anyway. I needed to be quieter and faster.

I needed that paint stuff. But I’d tried it before and it hadn’t worked. Why? Was it just because I had panicked? Because I didn’t know how to work it? Because I’d run out? I wasn’t sure. But I did know that every second I took worrying about it and fretting was another second that those guys might make their way back around, or cut off my escape some other way. I had to try.

Right, okay. Do it, Cassidy. Stepping back, I stared at the ground while hesitantly raising both hands to point toward it. Paint. Blue paint. It was the blue stuff that repelled things. So… so just make it come out. Squirt. Spray. Shoot. Make paint. Whooo paint, you can do it!

Was I seriously giving my own superpowers a pep talk?

Narrowing my eyes, I focused. Paint. Blue paint. Just a little spray of–

It came. I was paying attention that time and actually saw what happened. It didn’t come from inside my hand. Instead, I saw a tiny, spinning ball of paint appear in my palm before a spray of the stuff shot out toward the ground. A second later, there was a blue puddle there, a couple feet across. It worked. It worked! I made paint come from my hands just by willing it!

Okay, so as far as super powers went, maybe it wasn’t the flashiest. But still, it was me! I did that! I made paint! There were like a dozen people I wanted to show off for.

Then I remembered that one of those people was my brother. And… oh yeah.

That brought me back down to reality real quick. My face dropped like a stone. A stone that fell into my stomach. I took a quick glance over my shoulder, my nerves suddenly returning. I had to get out of here. To that end, I watched the paint for a moment before hesitantly picking up a little pebble from the ground. Carefully, I dropped the pebble onto the paint.

Nothing. It just sat there doing nothing. Except getting wet paint on itself. The stuff wasn’t bouncy or repellant at all. I slumped, head shaking. I wanted it to be boun–

The pebble went flying into the air. My gaze snapped up to try to follow it, but it disappeared. I looked to the paint then, testing it by putting my foot close. Just before I was about to touch it, my foot was forcefully shoved upward so hard I almost lost my balance and stumbled a little. It worked! It was working! It– it was gone. As I caught myself and eagerly looked that way, I found the puddle of blue paint fading right before my eyes.

Okay. Okay, okay, okay. I could figure this out. Later. The details could wait for later, but right now, I needed more paint. So I focused, making another puddle of blue paint. Again, I tested it with one foot. Nothing. I just stepped in blue paint. At least it was the one that still had a shoe.

Then I thought about what I wanted. I thought about it being bouncy or repelling things. Staring at it, I took a breath (ignoring how silly it felt) and jumped with both feet into the paint, like a kid hopping into a puddle.

I was thrown way up into the air, enough to clear the fence. Somehow, through what had to be a miracle, I avoided screaming. I even managed not to break my back by landing on it on the other side of the fence. It wasn’t a graceful landing at all, as I basically fell into what amounted to a half-roll, half-sprawling heap, scraping my bare foot a bit. But I was on the other side of the fence, with a minimum of noise. The first arch-enemy in my fresh career as a super-powered person, an eight foot tall fence, was thoroughly conquered.

Then I went to stand up and promptly accidentally kicked over a trash can, sending it clattering along the ground while the stray cat that had been sleeping behind it bounded off, yowling loudly.

God damn, I was really bad at this.

Panicking at the sound of voices, I looked around quickly. Above me was a balcony. No one seemed to be right there, so I pointed my hands at the ground and made another puddle of blue paint. At least I knew how to do that. Somewhat.

The paint worked, and I quickly jumped on it, bouncing myself up to the balcony. I’d just managed to haul myself up and over, ducking down behind the short brick half-wall surrounding it, when the voices I’d been hearing entered the alley.

Actually, I realized it was only one voice I’d been hearing. But it was definitely at least two sets of footsteps. They were making no effort to be quiet, the guy who was talking doing so in a normal tone without whispering. “Yeah,” he was saying while they stopped just beneath me, “I’m just gonna go ahead and guess that whoever that kid is, he’s not stupid enough to be five feet from where he was last seen and make a bunch of noise when there’s a bunch of guys with guns ten feet away.”

Oh good, they were overestimating me. Maybe they’d overestimate me over a few blocks so I could escape this one.

And speaking of being stupid, I slowly lifted my head. Telling myself it was a bad idea, yet unable to resist, I very carefully peered over the edge of the roof and looked down. Immediately, I regretted it. Because the two below me weren’t normal thugs. They weren’t any of the guys that had been working with Simon.

They were Touched. I knew that as soon as I saw them. The one who was talking wore a pair of black slacks, black combat boots, a red turtleneck with an attached matching scarf that covered the lower half of his face, a red bandana over his hair, and a black leather jacket. On the back of the jacket was an image of a red baseball bat. The same kind and color that he carried in one hand.

The other guy was dressed in a modified soldier’s combat uniform. Green camo pants and jacket, with a black balaclava, dark mirrored ski goggles that had a green trim, and heavy silver and green gauntlets on each arm. The boots that he wore were also made of metal. And he carried a complicated-looking rifle that looked like it belonged in a sci fi movie.

I knew them. I knew who they were. Both of them were Selltouched. Mercenaries, Touched who worked for the highest bidder. Selltouched varied a lot in just what they were willing to do for money, but for the most part they would work either side.

These guys were either brothers or lovers, depending on who you talked to. The one who was doing all the talking, with the red bat, was called Two-Step. His power basically gave him a sort of… semi-solid ghost he could call on at any time. The ghost would act like his shadow, copying any action he’d taken within the past hour. Usually he used it in the middle of a fight, letting his shadow follow his attacks so that anyone who fought him had to keep track of what he was doing and what he just did a second ago. Or ten seconds ago. Or thirty seconds ago. Or whatever. I’d seen interviews with heroes from the Conservators and Ten Towers alike who said that fighting him was a pain because the whole time you were doing it, his ghost-self could pop up doing anything he’d done throughout the entire fight up to that point.

The other guy, his brother or lover, was Lastword. His powers were weird. As far as anyone could tell, he sort of… changed his powers every time he spoke. Or rather, every time he stopped speaking. Whatever the… well, last word he spoke was, his power would randomly change to somehow fit that word in some way. Like if he said something about fire, he’d get fire powers. If he said something about traveling, he’d get some kind of movement power. If he said stop, he might freeze things or halt momentum. It was pretty random. But he could also get powers that let him build things. That was where his gauntlets, gun, and boots came from.

Lastword and Two-Step. Selltouched. They were obviously working with… for Simon. Or for my dad. Or… or… fuck, fuck. Touched. They were right there, and they were looking for me. Fuck!

Okay, keep it together. I had to stay… not calm, but not freak the hell out either. They didn’t believe that I was stupid enough to still be there. I just had to stay quiet.

Sure enough, it wasn’t long before the two of them started to walk off. They were heading toward one of the other buildings, Two-Step saying something about how I might’ve run for the freeway on the far side and that someone else they could talk to might’ve seen me for a better description.

Okay, I knew where I wasn’t going. Watching them head off, I finally let out the breath I’d been holding and straightened up. There was no sign of anyone else, so I could get out of there.

Now I just had to get down. And that was harder than it should’ve been. Awkwardly maneuvering myself over the wall and down to hold on by my hands, I cringed before letting go.

Ow. Dropping like that hurt. Once more, I sprawled against the ground and just laid there for a couple seconds. My eyes closed briefly before opening again hopefully.

Nope. Still not a dream. Still had to get up. Still had to escape. Still had a brother who ordered people to be murdered.

Dragging myself off the ground, I looked around quickly before starting to move as fast as I could. It wasn’t running. I couldn’t run while missing one of my shoes. Which was too bad, since running would’ve been really good right then. I liked running. I’d done track at school for awhile, and still jogged a lot. Though track meets were a pretty far cry from being hunted by guys with guns. I’d also done a lot of skating, but that wasn’t exactly helpful right now either, since I couldn’t magically make my pace-skates appear any more than I could summon any of my other shoes to replace the missing one..

Distance. I needed distance. Fast-walking away from that alley as quickly and quietly as I could, I kept an ear out for anyone. My hood was still up and my head was down. Right now, everyone who was after me thought I was a boy. The last thing I wanted was for them to get a better description. I couldn’t even pretend that it wasn’t me, since I was literally missing a shoe. I had to walk fast, keep my head down, and get enough distance to use my phone for a ride.

That’s what I did. Keeping my head down and moving as fast as my bare foot would let me, I made my way through the interconnected parking lots and alleys of several buildings. I stayed quiet, ducked out of the way whenever people came anywhere near, but otherwise tried to keep going. I had no idea what I was going to do about… about any of this. I didn’t know how to deal with it, or even how to accept it. I just knew I had to keep going.

It took forty-five minutes. Forty-five minutes for me to walk what amounted to about six blocks. Far enough that I was pretty sure I was outside of their immediate search area. There was a twenty-four hour Mexican fast food place there, with a few people sitting around outside of it. But I didn’t go any closer. The last thing I wanted was witnesses to describe me if any of those guys came this way.

Instead, I lurked around the corner and used my phone to signal an Uber. Then I stood there, staring at the phone indecisively.

The cops. There were two dead bodies back there. Or at least, there had been. They were probably already moving them, but I’d seen enough cop shows to know that there might still be some kind of evidence. But if I called them with my own phone, they’d be able to track me down immediately. My dad and brother would both know that I was the witness. Could I… could I…

I couldn’t. Not yet. I had to know more. I couldn’t let them know it was me. But I also couldn’t give up without sending the cops there, even if I had to do it anonymously. But how?

Then I remembered. The Doephone. Doe as in Jane or John Doe. It wasn’t a physical thing, it was a service, an app that the Ten Towers group had put out. You download the app for your phone, use it, and it would let you call either Ten Towers itself or to any of the emergency services completely anonymously. Basically it acted like a VPN for your phone. You called through the Doephone service and Doephone itself connected you to the cops or paramedics or whatever. That way people could call in tips or report problems without exposing who they were. It was also used by solo/unaffiliated Touched who wanted to let the police know where to find bad guys they’d subdued.

Quickly, I downloaded the app and used it to report the bodies to the police. I spoke quickly and in as few words as possible, just telling them that there were two dead people back in that building and where to find it. Then I disconnected. If by some chance either Simon or my dad ever heard the recording, I didn’t want them to recognize anything about how I spoke.

After that, it was just a matter of waiting for about ten minutes. And that was ten of the longest minutes of my life. I pressed my back to the wall, praying silently as my eyes kept darting one way, then another, like a paranoid rabbit.

It was also ten minutes where I had nothing to do (aside from panicking about every little noise) besides think about everything I’d heard. Dad. Dad and Simon. They were… they were bad guys? Like… really bad guys.

I wasn’t stupid. Err, usually, anyway. I knew our family wasn’t like… normal or super nice or anything. Dad made a lot of money. We were privileged. We lived in a multi-million dollar house (and had several others), our garage held a fleet of vehicles. We went to the most expensive private schools, took unbelievable vacations, and so on. I’d always had a pretty charmed life, all things considered.

And now I had to wonder just how much of that life had been paid for in blood. In murder. In the suffering, literal suffering of innocent people. I had an ATV at one of the cabins we liked to stay at. How many people had been murdered to pay for that. Was one ATV like… a percentage of a life? Did one person’s life pay for my ATV and that trip to Italy last year? Or did that take a whole family? How many people were hurt or killed to fund my Christmases over the past few years? How… how many…

Oh God, I was going to throw up again.

The Uber came then, and I saved myself from actually heaving before climbing into the backseat. The guy, a bored Latino guy in his twenties with a Hawaiian shirt and a black driving cap. He asked where we were going, and I told him. He whistled, making some comment about me moving up in the world or something before heading out.

I slumped back in the seat and looked out the window as we drove. Detroit, Michigan. That was where we were, my home. I’d heard that, before superpowers started appearing twenty years earlier, Detroit had basically been circling the drain. Once one of the most powerful and rich cities in the country, if not the world, the whole place crashed hard. Most of the automobile factories closed and it was looking pretty bad.

Then super powers started appearing. Touched became a thing, both good and bad. And suddenly there was a demand for advanced technology. Tech that was either built by and/or built in response to super powers. The military and police forces needed equipment and vehicles built or modified quickly. The various Touched teams, as they too began to be a thing, also required equipment, vehicles, places to build their designs.

Detroit had everything that was needed. Old factories could be brought up to speed quickly. Land and property was cheap. People were desperate for jobs. It was basically the perfect storm for something like that. The past twenty years had been a huge boom for the whole city and the surrounding suburbs. The rejuvenated factories lured in other businesses, and Detroit was once more one of the most important cities in the country.

But it had only been twenty years since the near-collapse of the whole thing, and all of this newfound wealth and power had basically sprung up right on top of the old Detroit. There was still a lot of crime, a lot of bad neighborhoods that no one was supposed to go near. There were a lot of problems.

So there were also a lot of Touched, of both the Star and Fell variety. Some of the good guys, like the Conservators, were Federal government-funded groups with actual military ranks. The Conservators operated in every state, and had authority everywhere. There was a branch right here in Detroit.

Then there were the Spartans, the state-level team whose headquarters was here as well. They had smaller groups spread throughout Michigan.

There were also non-government teams, like Ten Towers. They were a corporate-sponsored group, funded by, of course, ten different companies. Ten Towers mainly operated in the midwest. They did a lot of good, though there were people who didn’t trust them because they were basically salaried employees working for big business. But, well… duh? Big companies like that could afford to pay the kind of wages that a superhero would need or want, especially when they pooled their resources like these ten had done. And they had a vested interest in keeping the cities running as smoothly as possible.

So there was the national team of Conservators, the state-level team of Spartans, the regional corporation-sponsored team of Ten Towers, and maybe three or four other individual hero groups of varying sizes. Not to mention the mercenary groups that were considered somewhat gray in morality.

All of those, and I had no idea who to talk to about what I’d heard, what I’d seen, beyond the anonymous report about the dead bodies that probably wouldn’t amount to much. Should I go to the police to tell them everything, one of those Touched groups, someone else? Should I go to a lawyer? To a teacher? To the military? To my dad and demand to know what was going on? To my mom? Did she know any of this?

While I was still trying to decide… anything at all, we reached my neighborhood on the far outskirts of town. The place had been built up in the past couple decades to accommodate the sudden influx of rich investors. Investors like my father.

It was a gated community, of course. The whole neighborhood was blocked off, and I didn’t want a record of me coming in. So I had the driver let me out about a block away. He seemed a bit disappointed that he wouldn’t get a chance to drive in and check out the rich people’s neighborhood, but he seemed to get over it after I paid the bill and left a forty-dollar tip.

I’d snuck in and out of the neighborhood enough that I knew the patrol patterns of Steve, the guard who worked this time of night during the week. He was off on his rounds right then, so I was able to just duck under the bar blocking entrance for vehicles, and make my way along the dark sidewalk.

Just as I was approaching the gate to our driveway a few minutes later, I heard a car coming up around the bend that I had just turned. And not just any car. I knew the sound. I knew the engine. It was Royal Thunder, the 71 Cuda. I knew it anywhere. It had to be Simon.

Quickly ducking out of sight behind a nearby shrub, I watched as the car passed by. It reached the gate, paused briefly while Simon entered the code into the nearby panel, then headed in as the gate rumbled open.

Waiting for another few seconds, I then quickly started running as fast as my bare foot would let me. At least now I was on a very nicely maintained sidewalk, so I wasn’t stepping on pebbles or loose concrete all the time.

I also had to watch the slowly rotating security camera on the corner of the wall. Timing my run to get there as the camera was pointed in the opposite direction, and just before the open gate started closing, I slipped through and onto the grounds of my family’s mansion. Normally there was a guard at the gate, but I knew how Henry worked. When Miles drove in, Henry would walk up from the little shack there to open the door for him in the garage. It gave me a window to get through without any questions.

Our house was huge. There was no other way to put it. The grounds were huge, the house itself was huge, the pool house around back was huge. When Dad had the place built, he spared no expense. It sat on six and a half acres, the house itself just a bit under sixteen thousand square feet. There were nine bedrooms, seven bathrooms, a full library, a whole wing for servants, a small theater, four different offices (three of which I was never allowed into), a kitchen that belonged in a five-star restaurant (the chef belonged there too, Dad had poached him from one).

It may have been been super modern on the inside, but from the outside, the place looked like an old castle even though it had been built just sixteen years ago, the same year I was born. Dad liked it that way. He said it gave it charm.

Despite its old appearance, there were other cameras around the grounds, but I knew how to avoid them. Making my way off the driveway and across the dark grass, I crept closer, slowly moving toward the open garage. I would wait until Simon headed in and started closing the garage door, then slip in myself.

Those plans vanished as soon as I heard my mother’s voice loudly announce, “Thank you, Henry. You can go now.”

My heart fell into my stomach, and I dropped flat behind the nearest tree to the driveway, right on the edge of the grass. Belly-crawling closer, I hesitantly poked my head around the low-hanging tree and stared into the open garage.

Mom was there. Elena Evans, née Russo, was a tall, strong Italian woman with long, curly dark hair and a beautiful face that people said reminded them of Marisa Tomei. She stood there, staring at my brother. My brother. Staring at him from my cover, I really looked at Simon. Like our father, he was tall (and like our mother, for that matter, where the hell did my shortness come from?), with blond hair cut short save for a longer bit up near the front that he deliberately let grow long enough to fall over his blue eyes for that dreamboat look.

Mom wasn’t impressed. She pointed to his hand, making an annoyed noise in the back of her throat.  

I looked too. And my heart fell further. My shoe. He was holding my shoe. Wait, did he know? Did he know I was there, that it was me, that I was–

“And what precisely is this?” Mom interrupted my wave of horrified panic.

“Shoe from the kid,” Simon muttered, waving it absently.

In a flash of movement, Mom snatched the shoe from his hand before using it to smack Simon across the face. My eyes widened, and I smothered the gasp that came with my hand. Simon, for his part, barely made a sound. He simply straightened sharply.

Using the shoe to point at him, Mom snapped, “Che cazzo è? You bring the shoe of a witness to two murders into my home?” She smacked him with the thing again, then threw it at him and gestured to the car. “Go! We have no evidence here, figlio mio. You know this. You are better than this.”

“Yeah, yeah, ma, I’m going.” Simon muttered. “God, it’s just a–” He took a quick step back as Mom raised her hand threateningly. “I’m going.” Striding back to the car, he got in and slammed the door after himself before peeling back out, leaving Mom shouting after him in a rush of Italian. Then she sighed and started to look toward the tree where I was, so I ducked back, hugging the grass.

It wasn’t just Dad and Simon. It wasn’t. Some part of me had held out hope that it would be, but… but Mom knew. She knew all of it. She was part of it. My dad, my mom, and my brother. They were all… criminals. They ordered people killed. They… they probably killed people themselves. They were evil. My family was evil.  

What the hell was I supposed to do now?

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